Tag Archives: Eddie Lang

CELEBRATING ADRIAN ROLLINI, THEN AND NOW

Adrian Rollini has been gone from us for nearly sixty-five years, but his imagination, his huge sound, his virtuosity lives on.  He has been celebrated as associate of Bix Beiderbecke, Red Nichols, Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey, the California Ramblers and their spin-offs, Cliff Edwards, Frank Trumbauer, Annette Hanshaw, Vic Berton, Stan King, Abe Lincoln, Miff Mole, Fred Elizalde, Bert Lown, Tom Clines, Bunny Berigan, Eddie Lang, Joe Venuti, Lee Morse, Jack Purvis, Benny Goodman, Ethel Waters, Fats Waller, Gene Krupa, Wingy Manone, Joe Marsala, Pee Wee Russell, and many more; multi-instrumentalist: the premier bass saxophonist, a pianist, drummer, vibraphonist, xylophonist, and master of the goofus and the “hot fountain pen,” with recordings over mearly three decades — 473 sessions, says Tom Lord — to prove his art.

Here, in about six minutes, is Rollini, encapsulated — lyrically on vibraphone for HONEYSUCKLE ROSE, then playing TAP ROOM SWING (really THE FARMER IN THE DELL with a domino on) alongside Berigan, Teddy Wilson, and Babe Russin — for the Saturday Night Swing Club, with Paul Douglas the announcer. Thanks to Nick Dellow for this two-sided gem:

and later on, the vibraphone-guitar-trio:

I love the song — as well as the weight and drive Rollini gives this 1933 ensemble — to say nothing of Red McKenzie, Berigan, and Pee Wee Russell:

and the very hot performance of NOBODY’S SWEETHEART by Fred Elizalde:

Rollini died on May 15, 1956, not yet 53, so by most perspectives he is a historical figure, outlived by many of his contemporaries (Nichols, Mole, Hackett, Buddy Rich come to mind).  He made no recordings after December 1947.  But recently, several exciting fully-realized projects have made him so much more than a fabled name on record labels and in discographies.

The first Rollini exaltation is a CD, TAP ROOM SWING, by the delightful multi-instrumentalist Attila Korb, “and his Rollini Project,” recorded in 2015 with a memorable cast of individualists getting a full orchestral sound from three horns and two rhythm players.

Attila plays bass saxophone, melodica, and sings beautifully on BLUE RIVER and SOMEBODY STOLE MY GAL,  and is responsible for the magical arrangements; Malo Mazurie plays trumpet and cornet; David Lukacs, clarinet and tenor; Harry Kanters, piano; Felix Hunot, guitar and banjo.  Those names should be familiar to people wise to “old time modern,” for Felix and Malo are 2/3 of Three Blind Mice, and with Joep Lumeij replacing Harry, it is David Lukacs’s marvelous DREAM CITY band.  The selections are drawn from various facets of Rollini’s bass saxophone career: SOMEBODY LOVES ME / SUGAR / THREE BLIND MICE / BLUE RIVER / BUGLE CALL RAG / DIXIE / SOMEBODY STOLE MY GAL / PE O’MY HEART / TAP ROOM SWING / I LEFT MY SUGAR STANDING IN THE RAIN / SWING LOW / EMBRACEABLE YOU (the last a gorgeous bonus track, a duet for Attila and Felix that is very tender).  The performances follow the outlines of the famous recordings, but the solos are lively, and the whole enterprise feels jaunty, nothing at all like the Museum of Shellac.  You can buy the CD or download the music here, and follow the band on their Facebook page.

Here’s evidence of how this compact orchestra is both immensely respectful of the originals but — in the truest homage to the innovators — free to be themselves.

MY PRETTY GIRL (2018), where the Project foursome becomes the whole Goldkette Orchestra, live, no less:

THREE BLIND MICE, PEG O’MY HEART, SOMEBODY LOVES ME, BLUE RIVER (2016), showing how inventive the quintet is:

CLARINET MARMALADE, LULU’S BACK IN TOWN, BLUE RIVER, SOMEBODY STOLE MY GAL — with a caffeinated-Bach interlude, not to be missed (2017):

I would chase this band all over Europe if circumstances were different, but they already have expert videography.  And at the end of this post I will share their most recent delightful episode.

But first, reading matter of the finest kind.  For a number of years now, there has been excited whispering, “How soon will the Rollini book come out?”  We knew that its author, Ate van Delden, is a scholar rather than an enthusiast or a mere compiler of facts we already know.  ADRIAN ROLLINI: THE LIFE AND MUSIC OF A JAZZ RAMBLER is here, and it’s a model of the genre.  I confess that I am seriously tardy in adding my praise to the chorus, but it’s an example of “Be careful what you wish for.”  I always look for books that will tell me what I didn’t already know, rather than my thinking, “Yes, I read that story here, and this one in another book.”

RAMBLER, to keep it short, has so much new information that it has taxed my five wits to give it a thorough linear reading.  I’ve been picking it up, reading about Rollini’s early life as a piano prodigy (and the piano rolls he cut), his associations with the famous musicians above, his thousands of recordings, and more.  van Delden has investigated the rumors and facts of Rollini’s death, and he has (more valuable to me) portrayed Rollini not only as a brilliant multi-instrumentalist but as a businessman — opening jazz clubs, hiring and firing musicians, looking for financial advantages in expert ways — and we get a sense of Rollini the man through interviews with people who knew him and played with him.

He comes across as a complex figure, and thus, although van Delden does give loving attention to Rollini on record, the book is so much more than an annotated discography.  In its five hundred and more pages, the book is thorough without being tedious or slow-moving, and if a reader comes up with an unanswered Rollini question, I’d be astonished.  The author has a rare generous objectivity: he admires Rollini greatly, but when his and our hero acts unpleasantly or inexplicably, he is ready to say so.  Of course, there are many previously unseen photographs and wonderful bits of relevant paper ephemera.  The book is the result of forty years of research, begun by Tom Faber and carried on into 2020, and it would satisfy the most demonically attentive Rollini scholar. And if that should suggest that its audience is narrow, I would assign it to students of social and cultural history: there’s much to be learned here (the intersections of art, race, economics, and entertainment in the last century) even for people who will never play the hot fountain pen.

And here’s something completely up-to-date — a social-distancing Rollini Project video that is characteristically emotionally warm and friendly, the very opposite of distant, his nine-piece rendition of SOMEBODY LOVES ME, which appeared on May 23.  Contemporary jazz, indeed!

How unsubtle should I be?  Buy the CD, buy the book — support the living people who are doing the work of keeping the masters alive in our heads.

May your happiness increase!

STATE OF THE ART: DALTON RIDENHOUR and EVAN ARNTZEN (Scott Joplin International Ragtime Festival, Sedalia, Missouri: June 2, 2018)

Dalton Ridenhour, photograph by Aidan Grant

Duet playing in any genre is difficult — making two into one while keeping the individuals’ individualities afloat.  Improvised duet playing, as you can imagine, might be the most wonderful soaring dance of all but it is fraught with the possibility of disaster.  Can we agree on a tempo?  Is one of us rushing or dragging?  Do we agree on the changes?  Do we play the tag at the end of every chorus?  Do we change key for the final chorus?  Or, as Vic Dickenson said, “How do you want to distribute the bounces?”

Evan Arntzen, photograph by Tim Cheeney

But I am sure that some of my most enthralling moments have been as an open-mouthed spectator at some duets: Louis Armstrong and Earl Hines or Buck Washington, Al Cohn and Jimmie Rowles; Ruby Braff and Ellis Larkins; Ruby and Dick Hyman; Vic and Ralph Sutton; Eddie Lang and Lonnie Johnson; Zoot Sims and Bucky Pizzarelli, Andrew Oliver and David Horniblow, Marc Caparone and Ray Skjelbred . . . . and and and.  Now I add to that list the two fellows photographed above . . . on the basis of two songs in concert.

Here are two lovely examples of how improvised duet playing — by two people, expert and intuitive — can touch our hearts while we marvel at the risks taken and the immense rewards.  Pianist Dalton Ridenhour was playing a solo set at the Scott Joplin International Ragtime Festival in Sedalia, Missouri, and gave us a surprise by inviting his colleague and neighbor, clarinetist Evan Arntzen, to the stage for a dozen memorable minutes.

The tender and evocative THAT OLD FEELING:

The song I call CHANGES MADE (and then someone insists that THERE’LL BE SOME CHANGES MADE is the properly pious title . . . . what-ever):

I dream of a venue and an occasion where Dalton and Evan could play as long as they wanted . . .

May your happiness increase!

COLIN HANCOCK THROWS A PARTY, OR SEVERAL, FOR US

You might know the inspiring exhortation, “Be the change you want to see in the world.”  The quite remarkable Colin Hancock has put his own inventive spin on that, and I imagine “Be the music you want to hear!” is his motto.  I’ve written about Colin and his Original Cornell Syncopators as they appeared at the San Diego Jazz Fest last year (dig in here) and they will be appearing in San Diego again this November: make plans here!

And I had the pleasure of seeing the larger unit in New York very recently: hot evidence here.

Colin Hancock by 2E Photography

 

But this post is not about the wonderful young people who make up Colin’s bands.  All respect to them, no.  This post is about Colin, the one, the only.  The dazzling multi-instrumentalist and recording engineer and Imaginer, the young man who gets inside the music rather than copying its most obvious features.

Over the summer, Colin made some records.  That might not raise an intrigued eyebrow until you learn that he plays all the instruments on these records (and sings on one), that they are brilliantly loving evocations of time, place, and style, with no artificial ingredients.  They aren’t tricks or stunts: they are MUSIC.

There is, of course, a tradition of one-man-band records: Sidney Bechet for Victor, Humphrey Lyttelton’s ONE MAN WENT TO BLOW, and more — but Colin’s are deeper and more thoughtfully lovely than simply ways to show off multiple expertises.  What he’s done is make beautiful little alternative universes: imagine if __________ band had played ___________: what would it sound like?  Some bands have no single historical antecedents: they exist only in his wide imagination.  And the results are amazing on their own terms: play one, without identifying it, for a hot jazz fan, and see what she says; play one for a deeply scholarly hot jazz fan and hear the encomia, because the music is just right, imaginative as well as idiomatically wise.

Here’s an example, evoking Johnny Dunn’s Jazz Hounds:

a splendid visit to Red Hot Chicago:

and a tender creation honoring Bix, Tram, Lang, and their circle, casting admiring side-glances at Benny and Jimmy McP:

finally (for this post) a frolic, Mister Hancock on the vocal chorus:

You can hear more of Colin’s startling magic on his YouTube channel here.  And there’s a brand-new interview of this wondrous trickster here.

Fats Waller would have called Colin “a solid sender” or perhaps “a killer-diller from Manila!” but I think, perhaps more sedately, of Colin as someone who likes to imagine aural parties and then generously invites all to join him.  What gifts!

May your happiness increase!

BEAUTIFUL RARE SOUNDS: JAKE SANDERS, “ESTRELLAS DE RADIO”

I first encountered Jake Sanders almost a decade ago at Banjo Jim’s, when he was the leader of the Cangelosi Cards, the group that had Tamar Korn as its vocal improvising genius.  Later I followed him to other Cards gigs and an especially wonderful rainy evening in a dance studio where he swung like mad, Charlie Christian style, on electric guitar.  When he moved to Chicago, I saw and heard him with the Fat Babies in person, on record, and on video, and now he is blazing his own paths.  (Most recently for me, in a trio with Dennis Lichtman and Jared Engel which appeared at The Django in New York City — lovely eloquent music.)

His new CD is what we used to call a doozy, precisely because it follows no narrow formula.  Here’s a sample of the music Jake loves and plays with great feeling — captured at the February 2018 CD release party in Mexico City:

And here you can buy an actual disc or download the music (each for the low price of $10 USD) or hear four of the thirteen tracks, in case you need convincing.

and here is the prose (not by me) that accompanies the music:

Estrellas de Radio features the sounds of acoustic and electric guitar, mandolin, violin, piano, and upright bass. The songs and styles range across a broad spectrum of traditions, drawing from or expanding upon the roots of American jazz. The album features beautiful waltzes, rags, blues, and band arrangements of four guitar solos originally published in the 30’s which have never been previously recorded. Three of these rare and unique compositions are credited to guitar legend Nick Lucas.

Recorded over a two year period by Alex Hall at Reliable Records in Chicago, the album features a host of musicians from New York, Chicago and Detroit; these include: Jared Engel, Dalton Ridenhour, Dennis Lichtman, Aaron Jonah Lewis, Beau Sample, Paul Asaro, and Patrick Donley.

Three tracks feature the exceptional sounds of Fraulini Guitars hand-crafted by the esteemed luthier Todd Cambio. (Jake Sanders plays an Annunziata on Serate Primaverili, Speranze Perdute, and Flappers Trot; Patrick Donley plays an Angie on Speranze Perdute).

While the early Italian pioneers of the jazz guitar Nick Lucas and Eddie Lang made their mark on 20th century music, an earlier generation of Italian string virtuoso were also recording in America. Masters such as Giovanni Gioviale and Giovanni Vicari brought old world sounds to the new world. L’Ultimo and Serate Primaverili are adaptations of Giovale’s brilliant compositions originally conceived for mandolin. Speranze Perdute was inspired by a recording by Giovanni Vicari, as was the mazurka Mia Carina, which he recorded with The Continental Trio.

While Nick Lucas is famous amongst jazz aficionados both as a vocalist and for his early recorded guitar solos (Picking the Guitar and Teasing the Frets), he is also credited with composing numerous guitar solos which were never recorded, but appeared in folios and early flat-picking method books. Bootlegger’s Blues, Flappers Trot, and Gold Diggers are all examples of Lucas guitar solos which exist as sheet music, but have not been recorded until now.

The exquisite waltz, Margaret, that appears as a piece in The Nick Lucas Guitar Method Vol. 1, however, was composed by J. Nicomede. Sanders’ unique conception and arrangements of these songs are drawn from his nearly 20 years of playing roots music. (Flappers Trot, guitar and piano) (Bootlegger’s Blues, Gold Diggers, Margaret, guitar, violin, piano, bass).

Let Me Call You Sweetheart and Wang Wang Blues are classically-styled guitar and mandolin duets arranged in studio. Charleston Rag, known as a piano solo, is heard here uniquely arranged for piano, guitar, and upright bass. The Memphis Shakedown, made famous by the Memphis Jug band, is a common tune for old-time and jug bands performing today. However on Estrellas de Radio the tune becomes something altogether different, achieving new sounds in old music. The Sunset Blues is the album’s one original composition. Like any blues it borrows from the past, however its spare style, unusual form, and crafted melody give it a sound all its own.

ABOUT JAKE SANDERS:

Jake Sanders is a guitarist, bandleader, and arranger, whose musical career began in New York City at the end of the last century. After years as a street performer, playing jazz and American traditional music, Sanders formed the popular roots band, The Cangelosi Cards. They performed nightly in the back rooms and bars of the East Village, but soon traveled well beyond Manhattan, playing shows from Shanghai to Stockholm. After years with the Cards, Jake joined The Fat Babies, an acclaimed hot jazz band which continues to perform weekly at Chicago’s world famous Green Mill Cocktail Lounge. His last album with the group, Solid Gassuh (Delmark Records), made DownBeat Magazine’s “Best of 2017” list – a rare feat for a traditional jazz band in modern times.

A long time musical collaborator with vocalist and world-renowned Lindy hop champion, Naomi Uyama, Jake both plays guitar and arranges for her swing outfit, Naomi & Her Handsome Devils. Sanders has recorded with the great stride and ragtime piano player Paul Asaro, and has been featured on record and stage with the Jonathan Doyle Swingtet.

Jake Sanders has performed at The Chicago Jazz Festival, The Detroit Jazz Festival and The Brooklyn Folk Festival as well as countless clubs, dance halls and theaters throughout North America. Jake’s guitar playing has brought him across Europe and Asia and he is a regular performer in-residence at Cracovia 32, home of the emerging swing scene in Mexico City. As a solo performer or with the Handsome Devils, The Dotted Halves trio or with the quintet, The Lovestruck Balladeers, Jake Sanders is a consummate traveling musician who can be heard far and wide.

A few words from me, on behalf of JAZZ LIVES.  I trust Jake’s taste completely, so even though some of the compositions on this disc are not Hot Music in the established sense, I fell in love with the sounds here at first playing.  The only reason this post is written at the end of May rather than a few months earlier is because I wanted actual discs to play in the car.  I’ve amazed a number of unsuspecting passengers with ESTRELLAS DE RADIO, and one even said, “Michael, I didn’t know you liked beautiful music like this!”  I do, and you will.

May your happiness increase!

JAMES BIRKETT AND EMMA FISK PLAY VENUTI AND LANG, WITH GREAT AFFECTION AND EXPERTISE

The back covers of the long-playing records of my youth often were adorned with thumbnail photographs of other record covers, and this solicitation, “If you’ve enjoyed this LONG PLAY record, you’ll be sure to enjoy . . . .”

If you savor beautifully recorded chamber jazz, swinging yet leisurely, you’ll be sure to enjoy the new CD by guitarist James Birkett and violinist Emma Fisk, devoted to the music of Joe Venuti and Eddie Lang.

Since Eddie’s death in 1933, there have been many attempts to recreate the magic the two Italian boys from Philadelphia created: Venuti himself always looked for guitarists who could come close to Eddie’s splendors: Dick McDonough, Frank Victor, Tony Romano, Bucky Pizzarelli, Carl Kress, Perry Botkin, Bobby Sherwood, George Barnes, Tony Gottuso, Danny Perri, Barney Kessel, Lino Patruno attempted to fill that role on record dates and more.

As I write this, Nick Rossi, Kris Tokarski, and Glenn Crytzer are involved in similar small group projects, and I know I am leaving someone out.  Matt Munisteri does a peerless Lang behind John Gill’s Bing.  Martin Wheatley and Spats Langham both understand him deeply.

Venuti was a hard act to follow — I am leaving aside the sometimes cruel practical jokes — but he was often in love with speed and execution, and many violinists have tried to out-Joe Joe, playing his intricate originals faster and faster.  (Performance speeds have been inching up for decades: consider the Django-phenomenon.)  And for most instrumentalists, not just string players, tone gets sacrificed to speed.

Emma Fisk, a romantic at heart, doesn’t turn Joe into unicorns-and-rainbows on this CD, but she does remind us of Joe’s affectionate side, the part of his character that would linger over long tones and leisurely phrases.  She doesn’t slow everything down, but she does change the mood from headlong briskness to a kinder, easier embrace.  In this she is partnered splendidly by the elegant guitarist James Birkett, who is lyrical beyond everything else.  He is new to me, but he is kind to the ears at every turn, without being overly sentimental.  So even the faster numbers on this disc — RAGGIN’ and MY HONEY’S — are sweet saunters instead of being mad sprints.  The music breathes comfortably and well.

Here you can witness Emma and James making music — video and audio — through the media of Vimeo, Soundcloud, and YouTube.  And here you can celebrate the Spring, reward yourself for good behavior, or warm someone’s heart — by buying one or more of these life-enhancing discs.

A delightfully mournful sample, James’ EDDIE’S LAMENT:

May your happiness increase!

EMBRACED WARMLY BY MUSIC: DANNY TOBIAS, GEORGE RABBAI, PHIL ORR, PAT MERCURI, JOE PLOWMAN (Part Two): March 24, 2018

If you haven’t savored the lovely music these five players made in their first four performances, please click here.  The occasion was an afternoon concert at the lovely and welcoming 1867 Sanctuary Arts and Culture Center in Ewing, New Jersey, and the artists were Danny Tobias and George Rabbai on trumpets, fluegelhorns, cornet, and a basketful of mutes, with Phil Orr, piano; Pat Mercuri, guitar; Joe Plowman, string bass.

As Joe Venuti used to say, “This must be the place!”

And this was the banner for the occasion:

Here are four more memorable offerings.

What George called “the human condition,” I WANT TO BE HAPPY:

Pat Mercuri’s touching evocation of Eddie Lang, APRIL KISSES:

STARDUST, played as if brand-new:

And the closing number of the first set, Danny’s HOW’S IT GO?:

There’s a whole delightful second set that I will share with you, soon.

May your happiness increase!

BEAUTIFULLY PLAYED, WITH NOT A HOT SOLO IN SIGHT (1931)

A portrait of Eddie Lang, inscribed to Leo McConville. Courtesy of the McConville Archives.

I come from the generation of listeners who waited for the hot solo in the midst of what we were taught (by the communal listeners’ culture) was dull by comparison.  And some of those solos were frankly electrifying. Here is a memorable example:

The caricature of such listeners is the people who wore out the Bix solo on the Whiteman SWEET SUE but left the rest of the record’s surface black and gleaming.

But I have come to see how limiting that was.  Consider this 1931 recording of a sweet pop song.  It’s a Ben Selvin group, with a vocal by the demurely named Paul Small.  This record (and the other side, WHAT IS IT?) finds no mention in a jazz discography, yet it is very satisfying music.  For one thing, it is beautifully played — great dance music, wonderful strains to be holding one’s love, whether any apologies have been tendered or received in the recent past.

The other reason is the deliciously subtle but pervasive guitar of Salvatore Massaro, “Eddie Lang” to the rest of us — who begins the side with an instantly recognizable introduction, and is audible behind the vocal and uplifting throughout.

And they say men don’t know how to apologize.  What wonderful music, what danceable tenderness.

May your happiness increase!