One of the great rock songs in classic hot music: that is, you’ll rock back and forth in your chair. Guaranteed. And here’s a splendid version by four of the best: Albanie Falletta, resonator guitar, vocal, tour guide; Jon-Erik Kellso, Puje trumpet; Evan Arntzen, clarinet; Jen Hodge, string bass.
Boundless enthusiasm and contrapuntal joy free of charge.
This was performed at Cafe Bohemia, 15 Barrow Street, New York City, before the lights went out on Broadway. Happily the city and the music blaze again all over town.
Albanie explains it all, but if you crave an even more detailed socio-geographical-musical history of “Milneburg,” the New Orleans neighborhood that the song is named for, visit here. And about the composer credits: the introduction is by Jelly Roll Morton (thus my title) appended to the New Orleans Rhythm Kings’ composition GOLDEN LEAF STRUT, which is its own universe.
But the rollicking music is its own glorious explanation:
That satisfies all of our daily food group requirements and more.
Tishomingo, Mississippi, is a tiny town: between 1910 and 2020, the census recorded a population of 423 at its height in 1940. But in 1917, Spencer Williams wrote TISHOMINGO BLUES. My guess is that Williams knew the city only by hearsay, and was entranced by the sound of its name (he was living in New York City). But it’s a delightfully moody jazz classic with evocative lyrics.
It’s also a very durable song: musicians love it and it sticks in the memory. Here is a splendid dark yet hopeful rendition from the Thursday-night-pre-pandemic-band-of-heroes who graced Cafe Bohemia, 15 Barrow Street, on January 30, 2020: Albanie Falletta, vocal and resonator guitar; Jon-Erik Kellso, Puje trumpet; Evan Arntzen, clarinet and tenor saxophone; Jen Hodge, string bass:
I hope that it’s not too cold and inhospitable where you are. If it is, play this music again. You’ll feel warmed.
If the hot jazz classic THAT DA DA STRAIN is known at all these days, it might be for the versions recorded by the New Orleans Rhythm Kings, Muggsy Spanier and his Ragtime Band, or Bud Freeman and his Famous Chicagoans. But this 1922 tune has not been forgotten, not by a long shot. The delightful evidence will appear below, I promise.
First, some history.
Wild Bill Davison called this tune “baby talk” when explaining its title to an audience, and another musician linked it to the Dadaist movement in art. Each to their own.
I had forgotten that the song — lyrics by Mamie Medina, music by J. Edgar Dowell — had lyrics. (I haven’t found out anything about either of them.)
And here they are sung, wonderfully and energetically, by Ethel Waters. She’s joined by Joe Smith’s Jazz Masters: Joe Smith, cornet; George Brashear, trombone; possibly Clarence Robinson, clarinet; Fletcher Henderson, piano:
How could you resist a song whose first words of the chorus are DA DA, DA DA (repeated)? I am avoiding the knotty question of whether the hyphen belongs in the title or not: see below.
And for those who want to play it on the piano while the gang sings along, here is the treasure, the Thing In Itself, thanks to the Detroit Public Libraries.
and now, the recent past, as delineated in my title. Jon-Erik Kellso, Puje trumpet; Evan Arntzen, clarinet; Albanie Falletta, resonator guitar; Jen Hodge, string bass. Performed at Cafe Bohemia, 15 Barrow Street, New York City, on January 9, 2020.
“Isn’t that wonderful?” I want to ask rhetorically, but on second thought, want to make it a statement: “Damn, that’s wonderful!” — the splendid mixture of down-home porch music, New Orleans flavors, and heat.
(I know this post isn’t about me, or ME, but performances like this are why I carry a heavy knapsack with cameras, batteries, tripod, and notebook. My body complains but my soul leaps.)
These four sterling musicians are doing the thing in various places: keep track of them for pleasure, pure and delicious. And Cafe Bohemia will host Matt Rivera and the Hot Club of New York starting Monday, January 9, 2023 (7-10 PM). Read all about it here.
Sometimes change is frightening; in this case, the promise of changes to be made is a delight.
Here are four heroes, raising the room temperature in the best ways: Jon-Erik Kellso, Puje trumpet; Evan Arntzen, clarinet and tenor saxophone; Albanie Falletta, resonator guitar, vocal; Jen Hodge, string bass. Performed at Cafe Bohemia, 15 Barrow Street, New York City, on January 9, 2020.
Be careful. It’s HOT.
Halcyon days. And so wonderful that these four creators are still on the scene. Follow them in person to gigs if you want these joys aimed right at you.
for the historically-minded, here’s the 1924 Gennett recording by Guy Lombardo and his Royal Canadians:
and the 1928 Columbia by Thelma Terry and her Play Boys (with Bud Jacobson, Gene Krupa, and Thelma propelling it all on string bass):
Ninety years later, the song explored by living people in a jazz club, our friend-heroes Jon-Erik Kellso, Puje trumpet; Evan Arntzen, clarinet; Albanie Falletta, resonator guitar; Jen Hodge, string bass.
Performed at Cafe Bohemia, 15 Barrow Street, New York City, on January 9, 2020. Remember that date: it will show up on the final exam.
“Why January 9?” you ask.
After a long hibernation, Cafe Bohemia has once again opened to present fine live jazz, and on January 9, 2023, the Hot Club of New York, the lovely creation of Matthew “Fat Cat” Rivera and his heroic friends, returns in the flesh to 15 Barrow Street.
Details as I learn them, but the phrases “rare jazz on 78s from the original source,” and “jam session” did stick in my head.
For now, let’s savor the glories of January 9, 2020, while we dream ahead to 2023.
Legend has it that this was Al Capone’s favorite song, and another accretion of story has it that Sal was a legendary madam of an Evansville, Indiana bordello. We do know that MY GAL SAL was composed by Paul Dresser, whose brother Theodore was known for large novels, shocking in their realism. (Vic Dickenson changed the first line of this ditty to “They called her Syphillis Sal,” which seems relevant.)
But here’s a legendary performance by four heroes who happily are still with us, making the best hot lyrical sounds: Jon-Erik Kellso, Puje trumpet; Evan Arntzen, clarinet; Albanie Falletta, resonator guitar; Jen Hodge, string bass. Performed at Cafe Bohemia, 15 Barrow Street, New York City, on January 9, 2020:
Magical music created by friend-heroes. Catch them at their gigs and be uplifted by their generous joyous sounds.
“On the night in question,” as they say on police procedural television shows, Jen Hodge, string bass, and Albanie Falletta, resonator guitar:
I recently uncovered much more music from this night — before the world went into its nightmarish nap — and hope to share it with you. What wonders were created! And, fortunately for us, the four heroes are alive and well and playing / singing beautifully today.
Where we were, when we were. Years gone by. “Feels like another universe,” says Evan. Glorious music in another time: December 26, 2019, at Cafe Bohemia, 15 Barrow Street, New York City. Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Evan Arntzen, tenor saxophone; Eddy Davis, now gone, banjo, vocal, electricity; Conal Fowkes, string bass.
The tune? CANDY, a Forties ballad, swung as hard as a band can swing. And watch the band fall into line and become a magical Basie small group right on the stage (with Jon-Erik’s nod to THAT’S MY HOME — don’t miss it).
That universe is slowly coming back, although Eddy took his leave of us not long after this session — in April 2020. But he lives on in his joys so generously spread. And the other luminaries: Conal, Jon-Erik, and Evan — continue to illuminate our world. So sweetly.
I can’t speak for everyone, but the fourteen-month period after mid-March 2020 felt for me like a) being locked in the basement with very dim lighting; b) a dinner-theatre production of RIP VAN WINKLE; c) induced coma with meals, phone calls, and my computer; d) a long undefined stretch during which I could watch uplifting videos here; d) all of the above.
But I feel as if spiritual Reveille has sounded, and the way I know that is that live music has been more out-in-the-open than before. (I mean no offense to those gallant souls who swung out in the parks for months.) I’ve been to see and hear the EarRegulars three times in front of the Ear Inn on Sundays (1-3:30, 326 Spring Street, Soho, New York City) and if the sun shines, I will be there this coming Sunday to say hello to heroes Jon-Erik Kellso, Matt Munisteri, Jay Rattman, and Tal Ronen; I am going to the Morris Museum in Morristown, New Jersey, on Thursday, June 10, at 8 PM, to see Colin Hancock and his Red Hot Eight with Dan Levinson, Abanie Falletta, Arnt Arntzen, Vince Giordano, Mike Davis, Julian Johnson, and Troy Anderson (details here). On June 13 I am driving to Pennsylvania (thanks to the Pennsylvania Jazz Society) to see and hear Danny Tobias, Randy Reinhart, Mark Shane, Joe Plowman, Pat Mercuri, and Jim Lawlor (details here).
And, one week later, June 17 — Evan Arntzen and Jon-Erik Kellso, with Dalton Ridenhour, Tal Ronen, and Mark McLean, playing music from the new Arntzen-Kellso dazzler, the CD COUNTERMELODY. Details here. Important, rewarding, exciting.
First, Bennie Moten’s 18th STREET STRUT:
and this, with the verse, no less:
Now, some words of encouragement. Some of you will understandably say, “I live too far away, the pandemic is not over, and Michael will go there in my stead and bring his video camera.” Some of that is true, although I am taking a busman’s holiday and do not expect to video Evan’s concert, for contractual reasons. (And even Michael knows, although he does not wallow in this truth, that a video is not the same thing as being there.)
I know it’s tactless to write these words, but wouldn’t you like to experience some music that isn’t on this lit rectangle? More fun, and everyone is larger. And you can, after the music is over, approach the musicians and say, “We love you. Thank you for continuing on your holy quest where we can be uplifted by it. Thank you for your devotion.” If this strikes you as presumptuous, I apologize, and the Customer Service Associate will be happy to refund your purchase price plus tax.
I hope to see you out and about. We need to celebrate the fact of our re-emergence into the sunshine.
Many compact discs are like visits to a new restaurant with a tasting menu. The listener has course after course brought to them, and with luck, every dish is not only delightful in itself but part of a larger experience. And one makes a mental note to go back and bring friends. Sometimes, of course, one beckons to the waitperson and says, “Please, can we skip ahead? I’m not happy with this. If you’d just bring me the flourless chocolate cake and the check, that would be great.” And the CD goes into that purgatory between give-to-a-friend-or-the-thrift-store-or keep-for-the-moment-but-not-forever.
The new CD, COUNTERMELODY (Dot Time Records), by Evan Arntzen and esteemed friends, isn’t a meal: it’s a brightly-colored, many-sided journey. Details here and here if the names above have already convinced you.
Before you read a word more, two samples which will reveal much and reward more:
SOLITARITY, by Evan:
and MUSKRAT RAMBLE, sung by Catherine Russell:
Although the terms “old” and “new” are dangerously weighted and too binary, COUNTERMELODY is a shining showcase for “old” music (nearly a hundred years old) played as “new,” and “new” music that passionately embraces “old” traditions. SOLITARITY is delightfully weird — that’s a compliment — but it also sounds so much like a New Orleans funeral, mournful and exultant at once. And to borrow from Billy Wilder, each of the musicians here has a face, a vivid, glowing singularity — a set of big voices, and I don’t simply mean Catherine Russell’s combination of trumpet and cello and full orchestra. Speaking of singers, Evan’s vocal rendition of GEORGIA CABIN is perfectly dreamy. I don’t want him to put down his horns, but he could do a lovely vocal album.
But back to the journey I was describing. The CD begins with a half-dozen “traditional” songs — MUSKRAT RAMBLE, 18th STREET STRUT, CAMP MEETING BLUES, GEORGIA CABIN, PUT ‘EM DOWN BLUES, and WHEN ERASTUS PLAYS HIS OLD KAZOO. Connoisseurs will check off the homages to Ory, Moten, Oliver, Bechet, Louis, and Dodds. But these are not formulaic choices. They come from a deep immersion in the repertoire and a desire to do the music homage in its full glory, not in the eleven tunes that everyone plays. The performances are totally energized but also respectful of the original outlines of the songs and of performance practice. The ensembles are strong (having two trumpets who can kitten-tussle in mid-air is a great thing) and the solos fierce or fiercely tender.
Then, SMILES, usually played and sung with a certain amount of sentimentality, whether it’s by Charles La Vere or Chick Bullock: the musical equivalent of a 1925 Valentine’s postcard, cherubs and hearts crowding in. But not here:
That’s two minutes and thirty-four seconds of exuberance. My initial reaction was “WHAT?!” But I was properly smiling as Evan and Charlie chased each other around the backyard, twin five-year olds who have eaten too much Halloween candy. Honoring the innovators implies a certain amount of possibly-disrespectful but loving innovation: the result is immensely restorative. While my nerve endings were still tingling, I had the rare pleasure of hearing Catherine Russell sing IF YOU WERE MINE as no one, including Billie, ever sang it, complete with the verse, which I’d never heard. A properly churchy DOWN BY THE RIVERSIDE follows, then originals by Halloran, Kellso, Benny Green, and Evan . . . and the disc concludes with two brief cylinder recordings of AFTER YOU’VE GONE and MUSKRAT RAMBLE, created by the band and the master of hot archaisms, Colin Hancock.
After that, I wanted a glass of ice water, and, after a pause, to play COUNTERMELODY again, and tell my friends, as I am doing here.
So don’t be the last one on your block to walk around humming and grinning because of COUNTERMELODY. You can receive it in its lovely package (fine notes by producer Scout Opatut) or digitally, here or here.
Postscript: someone said of me, with an edge, “Michael only writes good reviews,” to which I responded, when I heard, “I only review good music.” COUNTERMELODY is over the moon and beyond the beyonds in that way.
I think my subject line says it all. There are musicians who can swing when the band is swinging (they hitch onto the back of the truck and ride along). Others can swing the whole room, unaccompanied, in eight bars.
Chris Flory is a shining example of the latter species; his playing is full of emotion but limber, and his music always feels honest. Here he is, improvising on Harold Arlen’s I GOTTA RIGHT TO SING THE BLUES at Cafe Bohemia in the fabled past — November 14, 2019 — with Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Evan Arntzen, clarinet; Neal Miner, string bass:
Don’t let the red lighting disconcert you: everything Chris plays has, somewhere in it, indigos. They shine, and they warm us.
In the past fifteen years of being an involved observer in New York City, I’ve met many musicians. Sometimes the circles I travel in are both small and reassuring. But every so often I’ll come to a gig and there will be someone setting up whose face is unfamiliar, and I will introduce myself, then sit back and be ready to take in the new sounds. More often than not, the experience is a delightful surprise, so much so that I might go up to the person after the set and say, my enthusiasm barely restrained, “You sound wonderful. Where on earth did you come from?”
That was my experience with young guitarist Josh Dunn, whom I hope many of you have met in person as well as through videos — mine and his own. And when he said, “Tasmania,” I had to ask him again. “What?” “Tasmania.” And it finally sunk in — that he had traveled over ten thousand miles (sixteen thousand kilometers) to arrive here, bearing sweet inventive melodies and irresistible swing.
I first met and heard Josh at Cafe Bohemia on November 21, 2019 — where he was quite comfortable in the fastest musical company New York City has to offer: Tal Ronen, string bass; Dan Block, clarinet and tenor saxophone; Danny Tobias, trumpet and Eb alto horn. Hear how he fits right in and elevates the proceedings on LADY BE GOOD:
and a few months later, I had another opportunity to admire Josh’s steady rhythmic pulse, his intuitive grasp of the right harmonies (those chiming chords), and the way his single-string lines never seem glib but always offer refreshing ways to get from expected point A to point B. Here, again — on the last night I visited New York City — he fit right in with the best of them: Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Evan Arntzen, reeds; Sean Cronin, string bass:
And he understands the guitar’s honored and venerable role as a small orchestra, where a masterful player has to keep melody, harmony, and rhythm going on what George Van Eps called “lap piano.” Here’s a wonderful solo by Josh on a Duke Ellington- Barney Bigard composition, A LULL AT DAWN:
I’m inspired by how much music Josh makes ring in the air. But this video of THE GLORY OF LOVE stops abruptly — so be warned — it’s almost painful. I think, “I want to hear more!”:
Because I was impressed by Josh as a player — the evidence is here and on YouTube — and as a person (he’s soft-spoken, witty in an offhand way, and quite modest . . . he’s thrilled to be on the stand with these heroes) I suggested we do an email interview so that more people could get to know him. The results:
I come from an incredibly supportive, but non-musical family background. My family are mostly in medical/health-related fields, and as middle child I felt compelled to get as far away from that as possible, hence traditional jazz guitar. I told my folks I wanted to pick up guitar when I was about 7, I can’t recall if there was any reasoning behind this except that guitars looked cool. I still think they look cool.
For its size, Tasmania is an incredibly vibrant place for the creative arts, including music. I am really grateful that I had opportunities to grow up there, and play with and learn from such terrific musicians. My first guitar teacher in Tasmania, Steve Gadd, introduced me to a lot of the music styles I still listen to, practice, and perform now. However, Tassie is such a small community, and it’s hard to find opportunities to make a living playing music when you live on tiny island at the bottom of the world, especially in a somewhat niche style like traditional jazz.
I grew up listening to jazz and the more I learnt about the music and its history, the more I started to gravitate towards New York. I didn’t initially see myself living here (it’s about as far removed from rural Tasmania in lifestyle and environment as you can find) but in 2013 I received a grant to travel and study in the US for three months, and halfway through I arrived in New York and immediately changed my plans so I could spend the rest of the trip exploring the city. As someone who has learnt this music from afar, it was so exciting to experience jazz as a living music and culture, and it made me want to come and learn more. So from there I applied for the Fulbright and that provided the impetus to move to the US and play music.
An interlude from reading: Josh plays SMOKE GETS IN YOUR EYES:
So a big part of my informal jazz education before coming to New York was watching the Jazz Lives videos on YouTube, particularly the Sunday nights at the Ear Inn with Jon-Erik Kellso, Matt Munisteri and Company. It was how I learnt a lot of the repertoire, and discovered how this music was actually being played by contemporary musicians today.
Matt’s one of my musical heroes, so when I knew I’d be visiting NYC, I contacted him out of the blue and asked for a lesson. We emailed a little but somehow never quite managed to confirm a time, and I only had a few days left in NYC. So I took the drastic action of working out what approximate neighborhood he lived in from an allusion to a particular local venue in an online interview, and then just spent the afternoon wandering around that part of Brooklyn with a guitar, hoping for the best. Somehow it worked, I ran into him on the street, and we had our lesson, and it was only recently that we talked about how creepy it was to be approached on the block where he lived by a stranger from the other side of the world wanting a guitar lesson. It’s probably commonplace for Matt now, but I get the feeling that in 2013 it was a novel experience him.
You asked me for unusual NYC gig stories — I was hired for a mystery gig a few years back by a singer I didn’t know, I was just given an address, a dress code and a time, and it ended up being a private party hosted by a well known Hollywood actor. Which, as someone who’s only experience with that world was watching rented films while growing up in rural Tasmania, was a bit of culture shock for me.
I have no lofty ambitions of fame or fortune in music (but I admire those that do). The thing I have spent most of my life doing is playing guitar, usually by myself in my bedroom, but also with some of my favorite people in front of an audience. Since moving to the US I’ve somehow been able to turn that into something I get paid to do most nights of the week. So I want to keep learning and honing my craft as a musician, and also to continue making good music with good people. More recently I’ve started keeping a list of notes on my phone whenever I have the thought of “I wish someone had told me that a few years ago,” so maybe down the track I’ll be more involved in teaching in some form, but my main goal is to be in New York playing music.
More recently I’ve been enjoying the challenge of making solo jazz guitar an interesting thing to listen to for people who aren’t solo jazz guitarists. I could see myself pursuing this avenue too.
If you asked me for a compact embodiment of Beauty, as it happens now, I might very well reach for this:
Or if you asked me to define Collective Joy. You don’t see Josh until three minutes’ in, but you certainly hear what he adds is the real thing, and then:
I’ll leave with this. At one of the Cafe Bohemia gigs, I talked with a musician who’d dropped by to admire the band, and I said, “How about that Josh Dunn?” His reaction was immediate and emphatic, “We’re not letting him leave New York any time soon!” My thoughts exactly.
Care for a cup of caffeinated groove? Here’s Vincent Youmans’ 1922 Broadway classic, performed for a quietly appreciative audience at Cafe Bohemia, 15 Barrow Street, New York City. The noble players here are Neal Miner, string bass; Chris Flory, guitar; Evan Arntzen, clarinet; Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet.
I won’t write about the emotions that surround such a performance as I and others view it now: you can imagine. We live in hope that such marvels will come again, in a recognizable landscape. Until then, let the music help us to float from day to day, from poignant memory to poignant memory.
Certain simultaneous experiences resonate in my memory even though they happened decades ago. I believe that I heard Louis sing and play CHINATOWN, MY CHINATOWN in the same year that I was first introduced to that downtown New York City neighborhood, through the kindness of S.N. Zimny, so a hot performance of that song always tastes like the first bite of roast duck chow mei fun to me.
Louis loved Chinese food, by the way.
More recently, through the good offices of Joel and Mary Forrester, I found out about XO Kitchen Restaurant on Hester Street, pictured above and below.
They are open for business! I don’t have the psychic energy needed to go there, but I can dream. (If you go, know that they don’t take credit cards.)
WordPress is not yet sophisticated enough for me to send you dinner through this blogpost — you’re on your own — but I can and will share a hot performance of CHINATOWN that was created right in front of me on November 14, 2019, by Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Chris Flory, guitar; Evan Arntzen, clarinet and tenor saxophone; Neal Miner, string bass, at Cafe Bohemia, 15 Barrow Street.
Returning to the culinary thread for just a moment, Google Maps says it’s a 1.7 mile walk from Cafe Bohemia to X O — either way — that would take 12 minutes. They haven’t seen me walk, but no matter.
Here’s the music: as satisfying as any meal I could imagine and then some:
Perhaps 2021 will be the year when both these pleasures are once again available to us, freely and easily. For now, you can change the dinner menu in intriguing ways — perhaps add stir-fried broccoli? — and you can watch and listen, I hope joyously in both cases.
An hour ago, I was on the phone with my dear friend Matthew Rivera, and when we hung up I was pierced with nostalgia for past times, joys temporarily suspended. Nostalgia for pure New York City – Kansas City groove, first created by Eddie Durham. Nostalgia for 15 Barrow Street, Cafe Bohemia nights. Music by Chris Flory, guitar; Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Evan Arntzen, tenor saxophone; Neal Miner, string bass, created on November 14, 2019. The title? TOPSY:
I pray these gatherings will come again, and I know I am not alone in this.
It’s reassuring to think that romantic songs nearly ninety years old still have the power to move us. I know nothing about the composers of the 1931 LITTLE GIRL, Madeline Hyde and Francis Henry, aside from their credits on this Deco cover, but the song has an irresistible three-note hook that, as they say, hooks the listener.
Proof? Here’s a sweetly swinging performance of that song from a memorable Thursday-night session at Cafe Bohemia, 15 Barrow Street, Greenwich Village, New York, at the very end of 2019 (December 26) by Eddy Davis, banjo; Conal Fowkes, string bass and endearing vocal; Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Evan Arntzen, clarinet.
Eddy Davis and Conal Fowkes, Cafe Bohemia, Dec. 26, 2019.
That was the last time I saw and heard Eddy, who was in wonderful form on and off the bandstand, making this video both sad and joyous.
This 1915 composition is not only one but several paradoxes. It’s a multi-strain ragtime composition, not a blues, and it is anything but WEARY. For more about Artie Matthews, who had a rich life when he wasn’t composing, click hereto read an impressive biographical sketch by Bill Edwards.
Appropriately, the gentleman pictured above resembles some of us in early-pandemic, with a bundle of hand sanitizer, wipes, masks, gloves, and angst.
An electrifying performance of the WEARY BLUES is our centerpiece today. It leads us back to mid-March of this year. I won’t write about my experiences as the familiar world constricted, because everyone has their stories. But I am sure that none of your stories has such an inspired soundtrack.
This performance comes from my March 12, 2020, trip to Manhattan. Should I call it my “last” night in the city or my “most recent” one? Both are accurate, but the latter sounds more hopeful. And the music below radiates hope: created at Cafe Bohemia on 15 Barrow Street on that Thursday night by Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Evan Arntzen, clarinet; Albanie Falletta, resonator guitar, Sean Cronin, string bass, and guest Josh Dunn, guitar.
As you drink it all in, please admire the beauties below: a tempo both leisurely and intense, an ensemble that knows all the strains (so beautifully directed by Maestro JEK), eloquent lessons in individual approach and timbre, graduate work in the art of building solos and ensemble playing. Although there are only five players, this performance has all the orchestral density of a composed piece, yet it’s invented in front of our glistening eyes. There was only a small audience at Cafe Bohemia that night for this set — more cautious people were huddling at home or nervous at the grocery store — but now the audience can be world-wide:
What’s the paradox here?
The song is called Weary, but it’s joyously exuberant. Let it be our theme song as we turn aside from weariness to embrace life-affirming emotions.
We can celebrate and mourn at the same time, and the combination feels right today, because Eddy Davis — imaginative, unpredictable, magical, mysterious — would have been eighty today, September 26, 2020. Yes, he went away, but he is never far from us.
Eddy Davis and Conal Fowkes, Cafe Bohemia, Dec. 26, 2019.
I offer a triple homage: to Eddy, his hand a blur, his mouth open in song; to Jelly Roll Morton; to the good old New York that we had before the pandemic so altered our lives. Here are Eddy and friends, Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Evan Arntzen, clarinet; Conal Fowkes, string bass, at Cafe Bohemia, 15 Barrow Street, Greenwich Village, New York, where joy flourished regularly:
I look forward to a future where we can once again gather joyously. How I’ll bring my easy chair along is a problem, but perhaps they can be provided.
“Don’t forget OUR MONDAY DATE that you promised me last Tuesday.”
What the proper first word of the title is, A, OUR, or MY, depends on context: the instrumental version was labeled as we see here, and then when lyrics were added, it became OUR. MY is for possessive types.
It is, however, a durable song that can be performed to great effect no matter what day of the week it’s being played and sung. The version below happily blossomed into the air on a Thursday, December 26, 2019, at Cafe Bohemia on Barrow Street in New York City.
And the noble foursome was Eddy Davis, so sorely missed, on banjo here; Conal Fowkes, string bass and vocal; Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Evan Arntzen, tenor saxophone, with intermission 78s provided by Matthew (Fat Cat) Rivera.
Eddy Davis and Conal Fowkes, Cafe Bohemia, Dec. 26, 2019.
and here’s the lovely performance! — at a grownup tempo, because one never rushes through a DATE:
I wish I had a date to go to Cafe Bohemia again, and I look forward to the day when that is not just a wish. . . . and the sounds that Michael Zielenewski and Christine Santelli made possible can ring once more through the room.
As 2020 ticks on, I find myself daydreaming about being in JFK, my bags checked, the TSA pat-down concluded, walking towards my gate, knowing that soon I will be on a plane for an eagerly-anticipated jazz festival. Then the emotional mist clears, and I think, “Not yet, even if one is announced,” and I turn my thoughts to the local scene.
This is my local scene: the suburban apartment complex where I’ve lived for sixteen years. I no longer apologize for my nesting impulse, for the fact that I haven’t driven anywhere since March 24 (yes, I do start the car weekly) and that I spend hours in a triangular rotation of computer – kitchen – bedroom. This is as close as I can get to having a bosky dell, a garden, or a backyard, and it’s a consolation. And in this landscape where virus numbers often rise and rarely dip, it’s a good place to spend time.
I also love the song commemorating the pleasures of nesting. You may think of that vintage composition in connection with Al Jolson or Billie Holiday, but the lovely strains I prize happened right in front of my face, ears, camera, and heart on Thursday, March 12, 2020 — the last song of the last set of music I experienced in New York City (at Cafe Bohemia on Barrow Street) — a performance that, to me, would still have been transcendent had the circumstances been mild and predictable.
The noble improvisers here, the official uplifters, are Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Evan Arntzen, clarinet; Josh Dunn, guitar; Sean Cronin, string bass — with delightful visitors Kevin Dorn, drums (wire brushes and snare, to be exact) and Albanie Falletta, resonator guitar:
Why are tears forming in my eyes? They aren’t from despair, but from the effort necessary to sustain hope.
As for The Backyard, masked-and-prudent visitors invited. Transportation’s up to you, but I can provide iced drinks, unhealthy snacks, bathroom facilities, and gratitude. Two days’ notice, please. If I’m out, Maisie will take the message.
To start, JAZZ LIVES endorses social distancing, properly positioned mask-wearing (plain or patterned), hand-washing, hand sanitizer, vinyl gloves, intelligent caution, without reservation. But I miss the intimacies that were part of the common culture only five months ago, give or take a hug. When I watch any film or television show on YouTube these days, the casual peck on the cheek given and received causes me a real pang. And hugging? Unendurable.
But enough of sticking hatpins in myself while I try to write.
THE INTIMACY OF THE BLUES is a haunting piece. When I first heard it, without liner notes, I would have wagered that it was composed by Horace Silver — a dark blues march, so stark and elusive. I was startled to learn it was by Billy Strayhorn. And it makes me think of other improvisations that march. OH, DIDN’T HE RAMBLE? has a very clear shouting meaning: “We’re coming back from the cemetery, where we laid our dear friend Keith in the ground. He had a good life, it’s over, but ours isn’t, so we are going to celebrate himself and ourselves.” INTIMACY has no such clear direction: we are going somewhere, our feet are heavy, but where are we headed?
This performance has the same haunting quality, and I treasure it. The players, perhaps looking in to the void or just exploring a medium-slow blues, are Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Evan Arntzen, clarinet; Neal Miner, string bass; Chris Flory, guitar. It took place at Cafe Bohemia on Barrow Street in Greenwich Village, New York City, before Thanksgiving 2019. Ironically or perhaps coincidentally, Cafe Bohemia was the site of the most recent live-jazz performance I was privileged to witness and record, on March 12, 2020.
May we all assemble there again, intimacies no longer forbidden. Until then:
More than ever, I bless the courageous musicians who bare their souls to us. The most mournful song on the darkest stage is a statement of resilience.
Albanie Falletta and Jen Hodge, another night at Cafe Bohemia, creating beauty.
Great art doesn’t need a museum with guards or a concert hall: sometimes it happens right in front of us, and this was one of those moments: my last trip into New York City to be transported by live music before the world we all knew began to distort in front of us, a visit to Cafe Bohemia on 15 Barrow Street in Greenwich Village for the last of the Thursday-night-jazz-prayer-meetings. March 12, 2020.
I’ve posted music and written about that ominous and uplifting evening here and here— and I can still see in my mind’s eye the stairway down into the nearly-empty subway station, the feel of a produce-section plastic bag wrapped around my hand (I hadn’t found gloves for sale yet) so that I would touch as few surfaces as possible. A new world, and not an easy one. But I digress.
The music. The magical transmogrifiers I capture with my camera are — I use the present tense on purpose — Albanie Falletta, voice and resonator guitar; Kevin Dorn, drums; Sean Cronin, string bass; Josh Dunn, guitar; Evan Arntzen, tenor saxophone; Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet. The sad text that they make joyous — the great paradox of art — is Einar A. Swan’s 1931 WHEN YOUR LOVER HAS GONE.
That paradox fascinates me. If you look at the individual facial expressions as the alchemists below make their wise feeling ways through this venerable lament, they are not morose. Rather, they are the concentrated faces of people intent on making the result of their work (lifetimes of practice and contemplation) come out right. Were they to “break up their lines to weep,” to quote Yeats, the song would fail as each one retreated into their private universe of grief. And there is always enough to grieve about. But I think of Basie and Jimmy Rushing singing and playing the saddest song with a glint of mischief under their labors, embodying and celebrating the powers of art.
Here I’d like to quote from the unpublished journals of Sammut of Malta:
Nothing is ever strictly functional in music because all music is ornamental.
Music is not necessary for our well-being even if we come to need it on an emotional level. The fact is that if organized sound were never a thing, we’d still be here. But that’s what make something as simple as a triad so amazing. There’s really no practical reason for it to exist. But we wouldn’t want to be here without it. So that’s why I’d suggest there’s never any such thing as JUST A II-V-I progression.
We are such complicated humans and simplistic beasts all at once who can never see past our own noses. So when I hear a bass line—any bass line— I like to remind myself of its ultimate meaninglessness outside of my ears, but it makes it more special for that reason.
Or, as Hot Lips Page once told Steve Lipkins on the band bus, “Look, an Eb don’t mean shit unless you bring something to the fucking note.”
What Albanie, Kevin, Sean, Josh, Evan, and Jon-Erik bring to that Eb and all the other notes in this performance is precious — wafting past us in time, evaporating, but memorable. Bless them for moving us so.
And I will restate some thoughts that are even more pertinent in June:
This should be obvious, but people under stress might forget to look at “the larger picture,” that others have a hard time also. I’ve created this post for free, but what follows isn’t about me or what’s in my refrigerator. The musicians didn’t receive extra money for entertaining you. How can you help them and express gratitude? Simple. Buy their CDs from their websites. Help publicize their virtual house concerts — spread the news, share the joy — and toss something larger than a virtual zero into the virtual tip jar. Musicians live in a gig economy, and we need their generous art more than we can say. Let’s not miss the water because we ourselves have let the well run dry. Spiritual generosity means much more than a whole carton of hand sanitizer, or a really cool leopard-print mask.
What you give open-handedly to others comes back to your doorstep. Musicians remind us that there’s more to live for than lunch, and we must prize them for their pointing this out in every Eb.