Clarence Williams would be so happy, and so are we. Here’s the multi-talented T.J. Muller and friends, telling the story once again of Sister Kate, who attracts friends wherever she goes. T.J. sings, plays kazoo and banjo; Ryan Keonig, jug; Adam Hoskins, guitar; Jacob Alspach, banjo, slide whistle; Joey Glynn, string bass; Ethan Leinwand, piano; Kellie Everret, harmonica. Later in the set, Valerie Kirchoff, sings (always a good thing).
Good time music in St. Louis!
Your homework for today? Find someone to shimmy with.
P.S. When Ricky Riccardi’s first volume of his invaluable Louis Armstrong trilogy, STOMP OFF, LET’S GO!, is published, you’ll find out even more about the genesis of this song . . . and its original, even less polite title — not the one the insiders know. Stay tuned.
Some twenty-first century efforts to evoke the vanished past — well-intentioned for sure — have the goofy effect of watching a child dressed up in adult clothes. You want to applaud, but the clothes are hilariously too big and the child has not grown into them. Come back in fifteen years.
Other times, the musicians have so internalized the sounds that, although you know “it’s not the original,” it is captivating, with its own energy — evoking that once-lost world. Late-night dancing, nickels in the jukebox, poignant singing to the accompaniment of a small band or a groovy pianist, hard times and deep fun.
That’s the case with this new CD (recorded in April 2020) by Miss Jubilee and the Yas Yas Boys, COOL IT IF YOU CAN. I was immediately pleased by a few things (even before playing it): a band that takes its CD title from a performance by Frankie Half-Pint Jaxon is already showing the right credentials, and the inclusion of MURDER IN THE MOONLIGHT, homage to mid-Thirties Red McKenzie on Decca, was further reinforcement. Could I pass up a CD where one of musicians doubles on “trash can”?
I’ve admired the work of Miss Jubilee and her band before here — their compelling joyous authenticity that never strains to be authentic. They just are.
Their new CD has the fierce playfulness of a good loud party (not the one your neighbors are having while you are trying to sleep). There are pots of delicious food on the stove, there’s plenty of ice for the drinks, you are encouraged to have a second helping of everything. And the music is swinging. Hear for yourself:
The band is Valerie Kirchhoff, vocal; Ethan Leinwand, piano; Richard Tralles, string bass; Kenneth Cebrian, trumpet; Ryan Calloway, clarinet; Ryan Koenig, washboard, guitar, banjo, trash can; Nick Pence, guitar, washboard.
And the repertoire, which comes from the aforementioned Mr. Jaxon, Clara Smith, Victoria Spivey, Red McKenzie, the Missourians, the State Street Swingers, Big Bill Broonzy, the Modern Mountaineers, the Harlem Hamfats, Lil Johnson, the Famous Hokum Boys, and Bob Howard — runs the gamut from what I think of as deep Black Chicago to good-time barbecue music, from acoustic Columbia blues moaning to let’s-get-drunk-and-truck. You’ll figure out your own associations when you hear the songs: YOU DO ME ANY OLD WAY / MURDER IN THE MOONLIGHT / MOANING THE BLUES / MISSISSIPPI SANDMAN / FAN IT / DON’T TEAR MY CLOTHES No. 2 / I’VE GOT SOMEONE / WEED SMOKER’S DREAM / PRESCRIPTION FOR THE BLUES / COME ON IN / THAT BONUS DONE COME TRUE / ANY KIND-A-MAN / No. 12 LET ME ROAM / THERE AIN’T GONNA BE NO DOGGONE AFTER AWHILE.
The disc is available here, where you can also learn more about the band and their previous — as they would say in 1940 — “waxings.”
In 2o18, I wrote, “They make the best noises.” Do they ever.
Here is the first part of the video interviews I did with the Esteemed Mister Cusack — a great deal of fun, good anecdotes, well-told, and new information about everyone from George Brunis to Phyllis Diller: a great honor and pleasure for me. Here’s the second part.
The first six segments were moderately autobiographical, but Kim doesn’t revel in himself as the only subject. So in the videos you will see below, my request had been for Kim to talk of people he’d encountered and played with whom we might otherwise not have known, although some of the players are well-known to those who relish the music: Barrett Deems, James Dapogny, Truck Parham, Little Brother Montgomery. Good stories, seriously rewarding insights not only into people but also into “the business,” including the Chicago underworld.
I’ll let the videos speak for themselves, as Kim does so well.
Norm Murphy and Frank Chace:
Art Gronwald and Little Brother Montgomery (this is for Ethan Leinwand):
Bobby Ballard, Bob Skiver, Floyd Bean:
Smokey Stover and Truck Parham:
Bob Cousins, Wayne Jones, Barrett Deems:
and finally for that afternoon, Kim’s portrait of our hero Jim Dapogny:
I hope to visit Delavan, Wisconsin, again — to delight in the company of Kim and Ailene Cusack and Lacey, too. And who knows what treasures I might bring back for you?
If you don’t get to St. Louis often, these two people may be unfamiliar to you. But they make excellent music.
You say you’d like to hear some? Consider this — a short film by Bill Streeter:
and this, which pairs Ethan with Valerie Kirschhoff:
A friend told me about Ethan and Valerie, and I’ve been listening to their CDs with great pleasure. I know that comparisons are not only odious, but they cause one to lose friends, but Ethan and Valerie, together or singly, have got it. By “it” I mean a certain easy authority and authenticity: when they perform their special music — the low-down St. Louis blues, rags, and pop of the time — I don’t feel as if they are children playing at being adults, nor do I feel that I am listening to copies of 78s. (However, if they’d been born a century ago, you would, I am sure, know them from their recordings on Paramount, Bluebird, and Decca. They’re that much in the groove.)
Ethan and Valerie have a certain brash tenderness that is very much appealing, and although I hear echoes of certain performers (famous and obscure) I hear the personalities of these two — in this century — coming right at me. This is rare and delicious, and even when they perform songs that are by today’s standards “ancient,” they seem full of emotion and fun.
And they are not shallow: by that I mean that certain young “stride” pianists have taught themselves AIN’T MISBEHAVIN’ and four other tunes; certain young singers know GOD BLESS THE CHILD and FINE AND MELLOW . . . and then it’s time for a break. One of the pleasures of the three CDs I have on hand: THE ST. LOUIS STEADY GRINDERS, MISS JUBILEE: “THROW ME IN THE ALLEY,” and Ethan’s solo piano offering, THE LOW-DOWN PIANO, is the scholarly breadth of their chosen repertoire. It’s not simply a non-stop parade of twelve-bar blues (incidentally, the closing video of this blog shows Valerie, with ukulele and friends, including Marty Eggers, making a meal of MURDER IN THE MOONLIGHT, which belongs to Mound City hero Red McKenzie, although Marty Grosz has brought it back in recent times).
In his solo recital, Ethan plays compositions by Romeo Nelson, Little Brother Montgomery, Jabo Williams, Montana Taylor, and others in addition to the expected heroes; I was familiar with two of the sixteen compositions on the GRINDERS CD, and MISS JUBILEE dips happily into Thirties ephemera, including THE DUCK’S YAS YAS YAS and JERRY THE JUNKER. (In fact, on that CD — with friends — the overall effect is somewhere between Clarence Williams and the Lil Hardin Armstrong small groups, with a dash of the Washboard Rhythm Kings, and completely refreshing — a kind of hot elegant rawness, a wild oxymoron that will make sense with the first listening.)
I am not writing as much as I might, because I’d rather listeners go to the videos and sound samples to enjoy for themselves. Ethan and Valerie have put up many videos on YouTube, and they have an expansive online presence, as one must these days.
Hereis Ethan’s website. And here is the site for MISS JUBILEE — the aptly-named group Valerie and Ethan co-lead. And the Facebook page for the ST. LOUIS STEADY GRINDERS— who also live up to their proud title, never faltering or hesitating.
You can listen to excerpts from and buy MISS JUBILEE’s CDs hereand the same is true for Ethan’s solo piano CD here.
They are very welcome: they make the best noises, and they spread joy in all directions.