Tag Archives: Edgar Sampson

MAKING IT NEW: DAN BLOCK, GODWIN LOUIS, ADAM BIRNBAUM, JENNIFER VINCENT, PETE VAN NOSTRAND (Fat Cat, May 31, 2016)

DAN BLOCK by Limoncino Oliviera

DAN BLOCK by Limoncino Oliviera

My title comes from Ezra Pound, whose serious instruction to hopeful modernists was MAKE IT NEW.  In its own way, jazz has always been about making it new; even when one generation was paying tribute to preceding ones, the act of homage was in some ways grounded in newness.  If, in 2016, one decides to play note-for-note recreations of an Alcide Nunez record, that act is bound to have 2016 sensibilities and nuances built in.  But what animates Dan Block is much deeper than that.  Dan, who embodies an extraordinarily wide range of music, is one of the most imaginative shape-changers I know.

For his most recent gig at Jazz at Lincoln Center, Dan assembled a surprising quintet: himself on clarinet and tenor saxophone; Godwin Louis on alto; Adam Birnbaum, piano; Jennifer Vincent, string bass; and for this rehearsal-session, Pete Van Nostrand, drums (Alvester Garnett played drums at Dizzy’s on June 7). The videos here are from an informal session held at Fat Cat on May 31.  I present them here with Dan’s encouragement: although the crowd was its usual boy-and-girlish self, the music was spectacular.  The band was advertised as “The Dan Block Quintet: Mary Lou Williams and Benny Carter Meet Hard Bop.” Intriguing, no?

Dan took half a dozen venerable songs from the Thirties — with connections to Chick Webb, Fletcher and Horace Henderson, Edgar Sampson, Mary Lou Williams, and Benny Carter — and reconsidered them, as if he were a very imaginative couturier. Take the song down to its sparest elements: strong melody, strong rhythm, familiar harmonies, and ask, “How would this look in lime green?  What about a very short denim jacket?” and so on.  As if he were fascinated by the essential self of the song — that which could not be harmed or obliterated — and started to play with the trappings — new rhythms, a different approach, new harmonies and voicings — to see what might result.

What resulted was and is terribly exciting — a blossoming-forth of exuberant energies from all the musicians.

HARLEM CONGO (from the Webb book):

PUDDIN’ HEAD SERENADE (Andy Kirk):

HOTTER THAN ‘ELL (Henderson):

BLUES IN MY HEART (Carter):

LONESOME NIGHTS (Carter):

BLUE LOU (Edgar Sampson for Chick Webb, then everyone else):

I think the originators, who were radical for their time, would certainly approve.

As an aside: everyone’s a critic, and cyber-communications have intensified this feeling.  If readers write, “I like the original 78 versions better!  This is not the way these songs should sound!” such comments will stay hidden. I revere the originals also, but I won’t have  creative musicians I admire be insulted by comparisons of this nature.

May your happiness increase!

GLORIOUS LYRICISM: ROB ADKINS, EVAN ARNTZEN, EHUD ASHERIE at CASA MEZCAL (Feb. 7, 2016)

How do you honor the past?  By being yourself and letting the ancestral beauties and lessons flow through you.  Here are three young musicians who not only understand that deep truth but embody it: Rob Adkins, string bass; Evan Arntzen, tenor saxophone (and a surprise vocal on DREAMS); Ehud Asherie, piano.  I offer you two lovely performances recorded at Casa Mezcal on February 7, 2016.

WAS I TO BLAME

I knew this gorgeous song through Louis’ Decca recording, then through Ruby Braff and Scott Hamilton (separately) but it was a thrill to hear this trio explore it with such deep fwwling but such a light tread.  And its title — and unheard lyrics — ask the eternal question:

Then, a Swing Era anthem — beloved of James P. Johnson, Lester and Billie, and many more.  The sheet music below credits Benny Goodman and  Irving Mills along with Edgar Sampson, but I’d give the latter full credit.

IF DREAMS COME TRUE

Incidentally, I’ve left the Louis version of WAS I TO BLAME? and the James P. and Billie-Lester versions to those willing to embark on a few YouTube clicks. I revere those records and have done so for decades, but comparison is — not necessarily odious — to me, disrespectful.  We should honor the giants who walk and create among us, shouldn’t we?  And thank them, not posthumously, but now, for their gracious, eloquent playing and singing.

May your happiness increase!

DREAMS, A LAMENT, A WILD BEAST: ROB ADKINS, DAN BLOCK, EHUD ASHERIE at CASA MEZCAL (October 25, 2015)

Some performances are magical — so much so that I hate to see them come to an end.  But “an end” only means that there are no more video surprises to post; it also means that I have been able to share eleven leisurely delights from one Sunday afternoon at Casa Mezcal (86 Orchard Street, the Lower East Side of Manhattan) featuring Rob Adkins, string bass; Ehud Asherie, piano; Dan Block, clarinet and tenor saxophone.  Here and here are the first two helpings of delight from that day.

Now, I offer — with mingled joy and regret — the final three improvisations from that very rewarding afternoon: a swing classic by Edgar Sampson that brings Billie and Lester and James P. to mind; a melancholy, rueful tone poem from the late Twenties, originally called LITTLE BUTTERCUP and (I believe) premiered with lyrics by Mildred Bailey — but also memorable thanks to Lester and Billie; and the tale of a jungle beast running wild in the best New Orleans way, whether or not Jelly Roll Morton composed it by adapting part of a French quadrille.  All wonderful.  Thank you, gentlemen-magicians Rob, Ehud, and Dan.

tiger_rag_cover

IF DREAMS COME  TRUE:

I’LL NEVER BE  THE SAME:

TIGER RAG:

May your happiness increase!

“THE HOME OF SWEET ROMANCE”: REBECCA KILGORE, DAN BARRETT, JOHNNY VARRO, WAYNE WILKINSON, NICKI PARROTT, DANNY COOTS at the ATLANTA JAZZ PARTY (April 18, 2015)

SAVOY

It wins you at a glance.

Where?  The Savoy Ballroom, of course.  The  Home of Happy Feet in Harlem stopped being a Swing mecca in 1958, but its spirit remains.

That spirit was very much in evidence at this year’s Atlanta Jazz Party, and on April 18, 2015, Rebecca Kilgore and a wonderful small band brought it even more sharply into focus with a performance of Edgar Sampson’s STOMPIN’ AT THE SAVOY. Her Stompers were Dan Barrett, trombone; Johnny Varro, piano; Wayne Wilkinson, guitar; Nicki Parrott, string bass; Danny Coots, drums.  (Does that closing riff owe its existence to Coleman Hawkins and Roy Eldridge?)

You don’t need a ballroom with these wonderful musicians.

May your happiness increase!

JAMES P.’S SPACIOUS UNIVERSE

Someone unknown to me — a generous anonymous benefactor — has posted on YouTube two of the irreplaceable 1939 piano solos by James P. Johnson.  I think they are uplifting creations that never grow over-familiar.

BLUEBERRY RHYME, Johnson’s own musing original composition, has not only several strains but feels multi-layered, as if two moods were moving along in time and sound throughout the piece.  One is sweetly, sadly ruminative — thoughts of a solitary seeker in a meadow, perhaps, with calm and loss intermingled.  The other is joyous — all of James P.’s most elegant trickeries offered to us at half-speed and half-volume, so that we could think, for an evanescent moment, “Hey, I could play the piano like that if I only practiced.” In this stratum, we hear what so many pianists — Tatum, Fats, Basie — worshipped and borrowed from him.  (There’s a tinkling figure at :20 that Tatum nipped off with and made his own.)

Is BLUEBERRY RHYME sweet thoughts of home, or of a love that might have been, musings on a pie, or something private to James P.?  We cannot know, but we can enter this world for a few minutes, its gently rocking motions and lingering melodies both comforting and elusive.

BLUEBERRY RHYME is followed by one of my favorite interludes, a joyous yet stately romp on Edgar Sampson’s IF DREAMS COME TRUE.  This recording has been one of my consolations and dear musical friends for perhaps forty-five years, and it not only provides happiness but embodies it.  Within the first ten seconds — that prancing bassline, the treble chords announcing the melody — we know we are somewhere elation is the common language, where all will be given over to the dance.

Each chorus is a complete utterance in itself, and each chorus’ variations look backwards to its predecessor and anticipate what is to come.  Stride piano is also misunderstood by some as a metronomic left hand with a freer but rhythmically-obedient right hand creating variations in its own realm, but notice the playful elasticity between the steady bass lines and the widening rhythmic freedom of the treble, in a playful push-and-pull that we feel as the performance continues. The dance gets more and more ambitious, but James P.’s time and volume are both steady delights, and form is never abandoned.

Compare, for instance, the opening chorus where the melody is explicitly stated in contract to what happens at 5:30, magical in itself. Although the performance has offered a certain ornateness, the thrilling competitive display the Harlem players loved, here James P. seems to pull back into softer enigmatic utterances, offering space and an abstraction of what he has been playing instead of attempting to dazzle the hearer even more.  And the three ascending chords at 6:19!  So simple and yet so memorable.  On my admittedly untuned piano, they are a C, D, and E — the first do re mi of a beginning student, but what ringing sounds they are here.

Should I end my days in a hospice, I hope I will have these recordings with me to take on the journey.  And I exult in them now.

Hear for yourself:

Coincidentally, James P. was the subject of a brief cyber-discussion the fine pianist Michael Bank and I were having, and Michael (lyrical in prose and music) wrote that James P. “creates a portal to the universe.”  James P. Johnson was and is his own universe, vast, inviting, heartfelt.  How fortunate we are to hear such beauty!

(Blessings on the often-imperious John Hammond, who booked the studio time in 1939 to make these recordings and treasured them when Columbia Records would not issue them, saving them for future generations.)

I have heard that Mosaic Records is preparing a James P. Johnson set.  Talk about DREAMS coming true.

May your happiness increase!

DREAMS COME TRUE: TIM LAUGHLIN, CONNIE JONES, DOUG FINKE, CHRIS DAWSON, KATIE CAVERA, MARTY EGGERS, HAL SMITH (San Diego Jazz Fest, Nov. 30, 2014)

In the early nineteen-thirties, Edgar Sampson (alto saxophone, composer, arranger, lyricist) wrote an irresistible song which he called IF DREAMS COME TRUE.  Benny Goodman’s name is on the sheet music, but I take that as evidence of the repellent practice of bandleaders and stars “cutting themselves in” on royalties for a composition they had nothing to do with in exchange for performing it and recording it.  Many beautiful recordings of this song — James P. Johnson’s, Billie Holiday’s, and Chick Webb’s come to mind.

Here is a contemporary version by some Masters of their Art (my posting inspired by Scott Ricketts) recorded on November 30, 2014, at the San Diego Jazz Fest — Tim Laughlin, clarinet; Connie Jones, cornet; Doug Finke, trombone; Chris Dawson, piano; Katie Cavera, guitar; Marty Eggers, string bass; Hal Smith, drums.

To me, it is the very epitome of floating swing lyricism — a leisurely cross-pollination of the Bobcats and a Teddy Wilson small group, a triumph of sweet individualism in this century:

I have only one problem with the song’s title, and it is a semantic one.  The song exists in the fragile realm of the doubtful, the conditional.  Dreams may come true but we aren’t at all sure.  Even changing it to WHEN DREAMS COME TRUE puts the happy consummation somewhere in the indistinct future.

Let’s be bold.  When Connie and Tim lead this band, DREAMS COME TRUE.  I will brook no arguments on this.  I know that they did and do for me, and for many in the audience.

May your happiness increase!

 

JAMES DAPOGNY’S CHICAGO JAZZ BAND at the EVERGREEN JAZZ FESTIVAL (Part Two)

James Dapogny’s Chicago Jazz Band is one of my favorite groups — whether they are expertly navigating through their leader’s compact, evocative arrangements or going for themselves. The noble fellows on the stand at the 2014 Evergreen Jazz Festival were Dapogny, piano / arrangements; Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Chris Smith, trombone, vocal; Kim Cusack, clarinet, alto saxophone, vocal; Russ Whitman, clarinet, tenor, baritone saxophone; Rod McDonald, guitar; Dean Ross (a Denver native), string bass; Pete Siers, drums.
The CJB was one of the absolute high points of Evergreen (which I documented here) and I offer five more tasty main dishes:
DON’T BE THAT WAY was one of Edgar Sampson’s great compositions, most often known through Benny Goodman’s rather brisk performances (it worked even better at  slow glide, as Lester Young proved) but one of the most memorable recordings of this song was done by a Teddy Wilson small group in 1938 — featuring those Commodoreans Bobby Hackett and Pee Wee Russell.  The CJB pays tribute to both the song and the performance here (although I point out that the CJB is not copying the solos from the record).  Tell the children not to be afraid: Mr. Kellso growls but he doesn’t bite:
 
IS YOU IS OR IS YOU AIN’T MY BABY? is a deep question, whether or not Louis Jordan was asking it.  Here Professor Dapogny and the Chicago Jazz Chorus make the same inquiry with renewed curiosity:
She just got here yesterday, and already she made an impression (I hear Ethel Waters pointing out these facts) — that’s SWEET GEORGIA BROWN:
I know that pianist / composer Alex Hill, who died far too young, is one of Dapogny’s heroes — mine too — someone responsible for memorable melodies and arrangements as well as fine piano.  DELTA BOUND is (for those who know the lyrics) one of those “I can’t wait to get home down South” songs both created and thrust upon African-Americans in the Twenties and Thirties, but its simple melody is deeply haunting — especially in this evocative performance, as arranged by Dapogny:
Valve trombonist Juan Tizol’s CARAVAN has been made in to material for percussion explosions for some time (perhaps beginning with Jo Jones in the Fifties) but here it is a beautifully-realized bit of faux-exotica (camels not required) harking back to the late-Thirties Ellington small groups:
Splendid playing and arrangements. And more to come.
May your happiness increase!