Tag Archives: Eric Alexander

NEW ORLEANS JOYS: CLINT BAKER, BILL CARTER, JIM KLIPPERT, MONTE REYES, BILL REINHART, SAM ROCHA, J HANSEN at CAFE BORRONE (June 6, 2014)

A few nights ago, on Friday, June 6, 2014, Clint Baker and friends turned Cafe Borrone (1010 El Camino Real, Menlo Park, California) into a New Orleans dance hall for two sets from 7:30 to 10 PM. Clint and friends are usually known as Clint Baker and his Cafe Borrone All Stars; for this night, because of so many long-time friends and colleagues gathered together to make music, they were his New Orleans Jazz Band.  Appropriately!

“Hear me talkin’ to you!” Clint, trumpet, vocal; Bill Carter, clarinet, ensemble vocal; Jim Klippert, trombone, ensemble vocal; Monte Reyes, banjo, vocal; Bill Reinhart, guitar; Sam Rocha, string bass, vocal; J Hansen, drums.

PUT ON YOUR OLD GREY BONNET (with ensemble warbling):

CARELESS LOVE:

BUGLE BOY MARCH:

I’M ALONE BECAUSE I LOVE YOU (vocal by Sam):

THE SECOND LINE:

SOME OF THESE DAYS (vocal by Clint):

OLE MISS:

SWEET LOTUS BLOSSOM (vocal by Clint):

ICE CREAM (ensemble chorusing. no artificial ingredients):

“KEEP IT REAL” Bb BLUES:

JUST A LITTLE WHILE TO STAY HERE (that rocking carpe diem):

LADY BE GOOD (with Monte’s justly famous vocal):

A friend gave me a copy of the latest issue of DOWN BEAT — with nice coverage of Eric Alexander, Brian Blade, Sonny Rollins, even a review of a new Bucky Pizzarelli CD.  But no feature on Clint Baker or the wonderful happenings at Cafe Borrone.  Their loss.  What would it take to get DOWN BEAT to come down here? I would buy the reporter a nice plate of polenta, carrots, kale, and cauliflower, or something else from their good kitchen: you have my word.  Until then, if you can get down here, you won’t regret the trip; if it’s too far away, please share this blogpost with people you know who would like it.  Clint and his pals are creating hot, subtle delights regularly — and your attention is perhaps the best tribute.

 May your happiness increase!

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HARRY ALLEN’S JOYOUS FIRST MONDAYS at FEINSTEIN’S

The good music that the Beloved and I heard and saw on the first Monday in December, 2011, still rings in our ears.  And there’s more to come.

The first Monday night of every month has taken on new significance since Harry Allen and his world-class musical friends (courtesy of Arbors Records) have been appearing at Feinstein’s at Loews Regency in New York City (540 Park Avenue (at 61st Street, 212-339-4095).

The December show was Harry’s Christmas extravaganza — with notable musicians to keep hackneyed tunes at a safe distance.  For those who dread “New York night clubs” because of imagined high prices, the cover charge for Harry’s Monday nights is twenty dollars a person, and it’s a very warm, unstuffy place — comfortable and friendly.  An excellent value: three hours of totally acoustic jazz.

The first set was devoted to Harry’s quartet, with Rossano Sportiello, piano; Joel Forbes, string bass; Chuck Riggs, drums.  Everyone was in superb form, and the program floated from a trotting PEOPLE WILL SAY WE’RE IN LOVE to a deeply yearning OVER THE RAINBOW with Harry’s astonishingly yearning Judy Garland coda.  Then came a faster-than-light WHIRLY BIRD, distinguished by Rossano’s playing,mixing Bud Powell and super-stride.  THE TOUCH OF YOUR LIPS went from romantic to raunchy in only a few minutes, with honors going to Joel Forbes, exploring the mysterious depths of the harmonies, and the set ended with an exuberant tribute to Johnny Burke and Jimmy Van Heusen in IT COULD HAPPEN TO YOU, capped with a Riggs snare-drum solo.  This is a working band, and they were having a fine time.

After a brief break, Harry called some friendly luminaries to the stand for a delightful concert in miniature, adding James Chirillo on acoustic guitar to the original rhythm trio.  Chirillo’s sound (to borrow Whitney Balliett’s words for Freddie Green, “bells and flowers”) was a sweet highlight.  Bob Wilber, in New York for a visit, led off with a medium-tempo OLD-FASHIONED LOVE, beginning with an a cappella reading of the verse, then offered LOVE FOR SALE.  Wilber showed that his incredible tone — on his curved soprano — is still glossy: he didn’t miss a step.

Two brothers-in-swing, Jon-Erik Kellso and Randy Sandke, took Wilber’s place to roam through WINTER WONDERLAND, exchanging epigrams and commentaries in the most affectionate, swinging ways.  A tenor trio of Harry, Dan Block, and Scott Robinson had a delightful romp through BLUES UP AND DOWN, each player displaying his singular approach to the blues, with John Sheridan taking Rossano’s place at the piano.  Trombonists John Allred and Tom Artin thought about holiday travel on LET’S GET AWAY FROM IT ALL, with Allred quoting AIN’T CHA GLAD early in his solo.  Harry gathered the troops for an eight-horn PERDIDO that brought back the Buck Clayton Jam Sessions right in front of us.

The closing set, led by John Sheridan, drew on his most recent Dream Band project — also available on an Arbors Records CD, HOORAY FOR CHRISTMAS — that depicted the many moods of the holiday — adding Becky Kilgore to the top of the tree.  She began with three less-heard celebrations: Don Sebesky’s HOORAY FOR CHRISTMAS, Carroll Coates’ A SONG FOR CHRISTMAS (done as a bossa nova), and a swinging version of Kay Thompson’s THE HOLIDAY SEASON.  Sheridan’s own CHRISTMAS WILL BE A LITTLE LONELY THIS YEAR was a melancholy triumph — the room was hushed and silent, a great tribute.

Becky then called on the masters of holiday music, Irving Berlin and Bing Crosby, for a song originally meant for Thanksgiving but apt all year round, I’VE GOT PLENTY TO BE THANKFUL FOR (her singing so graceful that Scott Robinson stood there, his arms akimbo, admiring every nuance); Scott brought his bass clarinet for a pretty Harry Warren ballad, I KNOW WHY (AND SO DO YOU), which led into an exuberant dismissal, LITTLE JACK FROST GET LOST, and a moody THE DIFFICULT SEASON (an instrumental with touches of the Alec Wilder Octet), and a closing jaunt through SANTA CLAUS IS COMING TO TOWN.

If you weren’t there, there are a few tangible ways to capture part of the delicious music.  One is John Sheridan’s Arbors compact disc HOORAY FOR CHRISTMAS.  Another is a new du0 of Harry Allen and Rossano Sportiello devoted to the music of Johnny Burke, a friend of Harry’s father.  Burke was the lyricist — but he collaborated on some of the finest songs of the twentieth century, including PENNIES FROM HEAVEN, MOONLIGHT BECOMES YOU, and OH, YOU CRAZY MOON (the last two given heartbreaking depth on this disc).  The disc is called CONVERSATIONS, and so far it’s available only at live performances, which is a good thing — an inducement to search out Harry and Rossano in person.

You’ll have twelve more chances at Feinstein’s in 2012, because the series will run throughout the year.  The January program will showcase Harry’s “Four Others,” a saxophone quartet inspired by Woody Herman’s “Four Brothers.”  Harry’s original band features three other swinging modernists, Eric Alexander, Grant Stewart, Gary Smulyan, plus his original rhythm trio of Rossano, Joel, and Chuck.  The February gala will bring Scott Hamilton to Harry’s side.  Great value and great jazz!

MONDAYS WITH HARRY: RIGHT NOW!

Arbors Records has created a new series featuring jazz performances and dancing at Feinstein’s at Loews Regency Hotel, 540 Park Avenue at 61st Street, NYC.  And it begins tomorrow!

Harry Allen’s Monday Night Jazz

It begins May 2, 2011, and will happen the first Monday of each month through the end of the year (except the second Monday in July and September).   Most performances will feature The Harry Allen Quartet (Harry, Rossano Sportiello, Joel Forbes, Chuck Riggs) with guest artists as listed below.

Dining and dancing from 7:00-8:00 PM — — Concert from 8:00-10:00 PM

Music Charge: $20.00, One drink minimum

May 2:  Frank Wess, Joe Wilder, Harry Allen, Norman Simmons, Joel Forbes, Ed Metz

June 6:  Harry Allen’s Four Others (Harry’s original arrangements based on Woody Herman’s Four Brothers) featuring Grant Stewart, Gary Smulyan and Eric Alexander with The Harry Allen Quartet

July 11:  Warren Vaché and John Allred with The Harry Allen Quartet

August 1:  Bucky Pizzarelli, Terell Stafford and Freddy Cole with The Harry Allen Quartet

September 12:  Ken Peplowski and Houston Person with Larry Fuller, Harry Allen, Joel Forbes and Chuck Riggs

October 3:  An evening of song with Lynn Roberts, Rebecca Kilgore, Nicki Parrott, Dan Barrett with Mike Renzi, Harry Allen, Joel Forbes and Chuck Riggs

November 7:  An evening of Brazilian music with Maucha Adnet (vocalist with Jobim for 10 years), Duduka DaFonseca (drummer with Jobim for many years), Nilson Matta (bass), Klaus Mueller (piano) and The Harry Allen Quartet

December 5:  Hooray for Christmas show with John Sheridan, Rebecca Kilgore, Jon-Erik Kellso, Randy Sandke, John Allred, Tom Artin, Dan Block, Scott Robinson,James Chirillo with The Harry Allen Quartet

Reservations: Loews Regency Hotel, 540 Park Avenue, NY, NY 10065.   Telephone: 212-339-4095

P.S.  When I was a child, I had a Danny Kaye record on which he impersonated a little boy, “Maurice.”  And the line that sticks in my head is Maurice’s insistent, “Not LATER!  NOW!”  Consider it your mantra for this series, no?

 

NATE CHINEN: “FIGS AND STONES”

Nate Chinen writes about jazz for The New York Times, JazzTimes, the Village Voice, and he also has a thriving blog, “The Gig”: http://thegig.typepad.com/blog/2010/04/mossy-stone.html#more

Until this year, I would have perceived him as living on the other side of the Jazz Divide, because we clearly loved very different — even irreconcilable — music.  But my opinion changed last January when Nate sent me a friendly email:

I don’t believe we’ve met, but I wanted to get in touch. I’m working on a JazzTimes column about the “new” strain of jazz traditionalism, and the ways in which the culture(s) of swing and bebop have continued to thrive, often well out of the reach of mainstream-media coverage. You struck me as an ideal person to sound off on such matters, so I’m wondering whether you might have some spare time this afternoon or evening. We could speak by phone or I could shoot you a few questions over email. Please let me know, in any case. I’ll look forward to making your acquaintance.

I was delighted — someone was graciously asking whether I would like to discuss my favorite subject!  So we spent an hour on the phone.  Nate asked pertinent questions, listened closely, and let me talk.  I told him that this “new traditionalism” was deep and inventive.  It wasn’t simply young people copying old records. 

I spoke at length about the performances I had seen in New York and elsewhere — musicians comfortable with many approaches to improvising, able to encompass Bud Powell, Art Tatum, and James P. Johnson in a single solo without seeming exhibitionistic or synthetic.  I told Nate about nights at The Ear Inn, where musicians of different “schools” found a common language  — connecting George Mitchell and Don Cherry — that was communal, genuine, and satisfying.  (I also urged him to join me there some Sunday, and he said he would.) 

Of course, I mentioned the names of my living heroes (my readers will be able to name a dozen) throughout the conversation, in hopes that he would understand that jazz — the religion of JAZZ — was very much alive here and now. 

As our conversation progressed, Nate was enthusiastic about his inventing a new name for the old — derisive — term for people who loved older jazz players and styles.  In the ideological wars of the Forties, they were “moldy figs,” defending their territory against the interlopers Bird and Dizzy.  Nate had come up with “mossy stones,” and his coinage made me think of a quotation from W.B. Yeats’s “Easter 1916.”  If I had been worried at the start that Nate was uncomprehending or hostile to my sensibilities, this phone conversation had given me reason to relax.

Yesterday, Nate informed me that the article had been published:   

Figs & Stones

Some time ago Michael Steinman, a professor of English at Nassau Community College, was out to dinner on vacation when the conversation turned to jazz. Hearing of his love for the music, someone at another table proudly claimed that he had been at Carnegie Hall in the early ’60s, for a concert that included tenor titans John Coltrane and Sonny Rollins. “I told him my taste in jazz went back a bit further than that,” Steinman recalls. “He looked at me and said, ‘Wait a minute. Are you a moldy fig?’”

The fact that you’re here, dear reader, probably means you know that them’s fightin’ words. To be seen as a moldy fig, at this point in jazz’s post-history, is to be lumped together with the loonies and curmudgeons, hopelessly out of step, terminally uncool. Like Renaissance faire habitués and Civil War reenactors, the moldy fig longs for some receding point on the timeline, striving to transplant its bygone values to an inhospitable soil. Jazz, for such a creature, is a firm ideal, lovingly and narrowly circumscribed.

What’s funny is the fact that “moldy fig” connotes two distinct jazz factions that should be fundamentally at odds. The term originally referred to the early jazz traditionalists who saw the music as having peaked in the 1920s. Soon it was also leveled at swing adherents who decried the advancing tide of bebop. Both meanings were in circulation in the 1940s, reflecting a pair of schisms in jazz at the time. As Bernard Gendron once put it, in a definitive essay on the subject: “The first of these conflicts pitted swing against the newly revitalized New Orleans jazz that it had previously supplanted, and the second against the bebop avant-garde movement that threatened to make it obsolescent.”

Pluck in the face of obsolescence is what unites the moldy figs of both persuasions today: the Benny Goodman fan club, say, with members of the Sidney Bechet Society. The term has even become a badge of honor among some listeners—though not for Steinman, who runs a blog called Jazz Lives. “Traditionalism to me is not tuba and banjo,” he writes in an explanatory note, distancing himself from the moldiest of fig trappings. But he’s clear about the music he loves—“[My] heroes include Bobby Hackett, Vic Dickenson, Ruby Braff, Eddie Condon,” he writes—and he uses his platform to champion it.

Lately I’ve been thinking about the moldy-fig legacy as it applies to the next wave of jazz traditionalists. While the music has advanced (I’ll refrain from writing “evolved”), the shadow of obsolescence has been lengthening. It no longer stops at the breakthroughs of bebop, or the refinement of modal jazz. So even though jazz’s mid-century modern constituency still has a lot to be thankful for—the Jazz Icons DVD series, for one, and present-day paragons like tenor saxophonist Eric Alexander—the center of the music no longer reflects that reality.

Perhaps you can identify. Depending on your tastes, you might be among the jazz diehards disillusioned with what’s become of the jazz media, with its fetish for newness. You nod your head when you hear of the death of jazz, as it’s commonly understood. Well, don’t look now, but you might be a mossy stone.

Allow me to explain. A mossy stone is a jazz adherent whose core stylistic allegiance is to the music pioneered in the 1940s, streamlined in the ’50s and diversified in the ’60s. This region of inquiry begins with bebop and ends with free jazz, cutting off at the early stirrings of fusion. Wynton Marsalis, once disparaged by critic Gene Santoro as a “latter-day moldy fig,” actually fits this bill: Though vocal in his advocacy of swing and earlier jazz, he’s a modernist at heart, as his own track record proves. (Listen again to his last few albums on Blue Note.) But you could despise Marsalis and still be a mossy stone. All it takes is a tacit understanding that jazz innovation peaked by about 1967, and that nothing of real, lasting value has changed in the music since.

Right about now you’re wondering why you’ve never heard of a mossy stone. Simple: I made the term up, while pondering the distance between results in critics’ polls and readers’ polls. Obviously I’m riffing on the aphorism “a rolling stone gathers no moss,” with its valorization of forward motion. I’m also invoking the Rolling Stones, and rock, with its progressive connotations. A mossy stone finds no traction in the straight-eighth groove and fusionlike flow of so many jazz albums today. He or she appreciates the Monkish aspects of a pianist like Robert Glasper or Jason Moran, but not so much the hip-hop inflections. You can be a mossy stone at any age—I bet there are more than a few working at the high school level—as long as you possess the same stubbornness exhibited by the moldy figs all those years ago.

As someone sympathetic to the mossy stone agenda—I too have wondered why young musicians can’t occasionally carve up a standard, or just swing a little—let me offer a reassurance. Moss may be disconcertingly similar to mold, but that’s fine. As Gendron observed, regarding the two schisms in 1940s jazz: “Both contests were fought on much of the same discursive terrain.” Likewise, the mossy stone and the moldy fig have two very different record collections, but they’re cousins in many respects.

Of course moldy figs have had a longer time to refine their contrarianism, honing an admirable combination of staunch defiance and pragmatic resignation. When I mentioned my new bit of jazz taxonomy to Steinman, he picked up on this right away, despite his reflexive wariness about labels, especially those dreamt up by jazz critics.

“Have you read ‘Easter, 1916,’ the Yeats poem?” he asked. Yes, but it had been a while. When I consulted the text, I found its vivid image of a stone planted in a stream. The water moves, as do the reflections of clouds along its surface. A horse and rider splash along. “Minute by minute they live,” Yeats writes. “The stone’s in the midst of all.”

Anyone who’s been interviewed dreads being misquoted, so I was thrilled to find that Nate had paid me the great compliment of accuracy.  And he had given me a short solo at the start, middle, and end — generous journalism.   But the piece does raise a few issues for me, and since Nate invited me to address them here, I will take him up on it. 

I am delighted that he gives such serious attention to this “new traditionalism.”  It would be very easy to depict this phenomena as more evidence of The Death of Jazz: “See, all we have left is these shrinking audiences on cruise ships and jazz parties listening to stale perfomances of jazz-by-rote.  People who are almost dead listening to music that certainly is.” 

Although I am not ready for Medicare, it would also have been easy to satirize or stereotype me: an eager chronicler of a moribund art, recording its final wheezes.  I am pleased that neither of these approaches color Nate’s essay in the slightest.    

But I find it curious that the musicians whose names I utter in his essay are all dead.  It suggests that my “new traditionalism” is entirely antiquarian, as if I did not delight in current performances by players very much alive.  Yes, my iPod is full of now-dead players, but I’ll bet Nate listens to some dead folks, too.  He even writes obituaries of them, as in the case of John Bunch. 

Was it that Nate didn’t want to turn his essay into a list of names?  Or was it that he did not want to offen worthy players by omitting their names?  I admire tact, but Nate’s editing makes me and the Mossy Stones (who share my initials) seem to be the Emily Griersons or Miss Havishams of Dixieland, if you will.

At first glance, changing Figs into Stones sounds wonderful.  But “moldy fig” is such an archaic term that only those deeply involved in jazz history (“Jazz Battle” or “Squabblin,” if you like) would even recognize it.  True, I am pleased to no longer be compared to rotting produce.  And Nate does generously praise the “mossy stones” for their insistent devotion to the art they love. 

But do these names really matter? 

Given the minute notice jazz gets in the larger media, is this meditation on nomenclature the most profound way to bring attention to rewarding music?  And, given the divisive nature of much of the writing purportedly about jazz, is setting up a new sub-category of listeners a good thing?  Perhaps we should be attempting to bring the “schools” and “allegiances” together, so everyone could be open to music that could go back to ragtime and forward to hard bop and beyond. 

But this is the beginning of a deeper conversation — an optimistic one, not mourning the death of jazz but celebrating the life around us.  Nate and I agree that there is astonishing music to be heard and loved, now and in the future. 

And my invitation to dinner at The Ear Inn is still open!