Tag Archives: Evan Christopher

SUNDAY NIGHTS AT 326 SPRING STREET (Part One) — WE NEED TO HAVE SOMETHING TO LOOK FORWARD TO: SESSIONS AT THE EAR INN, featuring THE EarRegulars (2007 – the Future)

I am a relentless optimist — otherwise I wouldn’t be typing now — but there’s not much even I can muster up about the recent past and the continuing present.  My arms get tired.  But “we need to have something to look forward to,” wise words said by a friend.  So even though my hope for the future might be built on something more delicate than empirical evidence, I offer it to you.

This journey into the future starts in the summer of 2007.  It is not a lamentation, an elegy for what was lost.  Rather it is a celebration of joys experienced and joys to come.  With music, of course.

The Ear Inn, 2012 Photograph by Alexandra Marks

My involvement with this place — which looks like a bar but is really a shrine — goes back to the summer of 2007, before JAZZ LIVES existed.  Jon-Erik Kellso (friend-hero) whom I’d first met at Chautauqua in September 2004, and later at The Cajun in 2005-6, told me about a new Sunday-night gig at The Ear Inn, a legendary place I’d never been to.  I think I made the second Sunday, where he, Howard Alden, and Frank Tate played two very satisfying sets.

Incidentally, 326 Spring Street is a minute’s walk from the corner of Spring and Hudson, where the Half Note once stood.  There, in 1972, I saw Ruby Braff, Jimmy Rushing, and Jake Hanna one night.  Finest karma, I would say.

The band at The Ear Inn (not yet named The EarRegulars) — a collection of friends, eventually Jon and another horn, two rhythm, most often Matt Munisteri, guitar, and someone equally noble on string bass, held forth from around 8 to 11 PM.  Because I knew the musicians (or could introduce myself to them as Friend, not Exploiter) I could bring my Sony digital recorder, smaller than a sandwich, place it on a shelf to the rear of the band, record the sets and transfer the music to CDs which I would then give to the musicians when I saw them next.  The food was inexpensive, the waitstaff friendly, and I could find a table near the band.  It was also no small thing that the Ear was a short walk from the C or the 1; if I drove, I could park for free.  These things matter.

I thought it then and still do the closest thing to a modern Fifty-Second Street I had ever encountered.  Musical friends would come in with their instruments and the trio or quartet would grow larger and more wonderful.  Although I was still teaching and went to my Monday-morning classes in exhausted grumpiness (“This job is interfering with The Ear Inn!”) these Sunday-night sessions were more gratifying than any other jazz-club experience.  The emphasis was on lyrical swing, Old Time Modern — a world bounded by Louis, Duke, Basie, Django, and others — where the Fellas (as Nan Irwin calls them) came to trade ideas, where musicians hinted at Bix, the ODJB, Bird, and Motown.

When this blog came to be, I started writing about nights at The Ear — rhapsodical chronicles.  I’m proud that only the second post I wrote, DOWNTOWN UPROAR, was devoted to the seven months of happy Sundays at 326 Spring Street.  Again, I wrote about it EVERY SUNDAY AFTERNOON, WE FORGET ABOUT OUR CARES — a musical reference you’ll figure out.  In late April 2008, I could depict in words the session where a lovely graceful couple danced balboa in between the tables (the Ear, as you will see, got many people into a small space) and was my first chance to hear Tamar Korn, that wonder — FEELING THE SPIRIT.  And in all this, I had the consistent help and encouragement of Lorna Sass, who has not been forgotten.

Those who know me will find it puzzling, perhaps, that there has been no mention of my ubiquitous video camera, which I had been using to capture live jazz as far back as 2006.  For one thing, the Ear’s tables were close together, so there was little or no room to set up a tripod (videographers must know how to blend in with the scenery and not become nuisances: hear me, children!)  Darkness was an even more serious problem.  I had shot video in places that were well-lit, and YouTube allowed people to adjust the color and lighting of videos shot in low light.  The results might be grainy and orange, but they were more visible.  Early on, YouTube would permit nothing longer than ten minutes to be posted, so the lengthy jams at the Ear — some running for thirteen minutes or more — had to be presented in two segments, divided by me, on the spot.  But I am getting ahead of myself.

Rereading my descriptions I am amazed: “I was there?  That happened?” as in the presence of miracle, but something that I didn’t do and can’t take credit for changed my life — a video of the closing ten minutes of an October 2008 YOU’RE DRIVING ME CRAZY posted by Howard Alden, who was playing rather than holding a camera, alongside Jon-Erik Kellso, Danny Tobias, Harvey Tibbs, Evan Christopher, Dan Block, Sebastien Giradot, Chuck Redd:

Obviously The Ear Inn would never double as a Hollywood soundstage, but I posted this video on JAZZ LIVES.  I thought, “Let me see if I can do this also.”  But it took until June 7, 2009, for me to put my Great Plan into action, finding a camera (with the help of Jerome Raim) that would penetrate the darkness.  Here are the first two results, the first, featuring Jon-Erik and Duke Heitger, trumpets; Matt Munisteri, guitar; Neal Miner, string bass:

That is my definition of stirring music, and so is this — MOONGLOW, with Tamar Korn, voice; Dan Block, clarinet, Harvey Tibbs, trombone, sitting in, all creating a galaxy of sounds:

That’s slightly more than a decade ago.  There are currently no Sunday-night sessions at The Ear Inn.  But this post is not to mourn their absence.

I write these words and post these videos in hope for a future that will come again.  I have no date to mark on my kitchen calendar, but, as I wrote at the start, I am an optimist.  And I think regular Sunday-postings of music from the Ear will remind those of us who were there and enlighten those who were not.  Between June 2009 and late 2019, I compiled around 400 videos, and I plan to create regular Sunday experiential parties to which you are all invited.  It is not precisely the same thing as being there, saying hello to Victor or Barry or Eric, hugging and being hugged, ordering dinner and ale, waiting, nearly trembling with anticipation for irreplaceable joyous music . . . but I offer it to you in love, in hope that we will all be ready when the great day comes:

It is nearly three o’clock on a sunny Sunday afternoon.  In the ideal world, which can return, I would be putting my camera, batteries, and notebook into my knapsack, ready — too early, as is my habit — for a night at The Ear Inn.  I’m ready.

May your happiness increase!

GAME OF TONES: TWO BEAUTIES FROM JAY RATTMAN, SCOTT ROBINSON, CHRIS FLORY, PAT O’LEARY at THE EAR INN (May 20, 2019)

For nearly twelve years, The Ear Inn has been my Sunday-night shrine (that’s 326 Spring Street in New York City, via the 1 or the C) because of the EarRegulars’ sublime residency.

Two Sundays ago, Jon-Erik Kellso was in New Orleans, making records (I use the archaic term) with Evan Christopher, but the band that Scott Robinson — on tenor saxophone, contrabass taragota, and trumpet — assembled for the night of May 20, 2019, was stellar: Jay Rattman on clarinet and alto saxophone; Chris Flory on guitar; Pat O’Leary on string bass.  It was less crowded than usual at The Ear, because (I am told) it was the last episode of GAME OF THRONES.  Hence my title.

Beauty paid a visit to 326 Spring Street when this quartet of masters created melodies than floated in the darkness.

And the usual caveats: yes, there are people chatting over their drinks, the image is quite dark at points, and my camera wobbles occasionally because The Ear is not the place to bring a tripod . . . but even the most finicky viewer should be able, through closed eyes, be transported by the Tones: subtle rejoicing scored for four instruments on two rhythm ballads — sweet and slow music with a definite pulse.

Art?  Yes, today:

If you don’t think that performance lives up to Berlin’s title, we must politely but vehemently disagree.  And this 1945 classic by Harry Warren and Mack Gordon is up in the same clouds:

Jay, Scott, Chris, and Pat made loveliness tangible.  As they always do.

May your happiness increase!

BECKY MAILS IT! (BRYAN SHAW, DAN BARRETT, CARL SONNY LEYLAND, JOEL FORBES, EDDIE ERICKSON, JEFF HAMILTON)

Rebecca Kilgore is coming to New York in April 2019 to sing, uplift, and to teach.  In case you need to be reminded of her magic and the music she engenders in her fellow musicians, here’s a sunny example — with Jeff Hamilton, drums; Joel Forbes, string bass; Eddie Erickson, guitar; Carl Sonny Leyland, piano; Dan Barrett, trombone; Bryan Shaw, trumpet.  This swing miracle took place some years back (March 5, 2011) at Dixieland Monterey:

Communication is essential, even when you’re writing the letter to yourself in lieu of one you’re hoping to get.  And everyone on that stand knows how to send a heartfelt message Express Mail right to our hearts.

The dear Ms. Kilgore is coming east for the best reasons.  Hark!

Here is the link to the Facebook page, and you can see the website listed in the advertisement above.  April seems a long time away, but enterprises such as this fill up early, so don’t wait for the crocuses to burst through the ground.  Rather than sending yourself a letter, make yourself a gift of enrolling.

May your happiness increase!

“THE DIME NOTES” ADD UP TO HOT JAZZ PLEASURE

Before you ask the pressing question, please look under D: Cab Calloway’s Hepster’s Dictionary defines “dime note” as a ten-dollar bill.

It’s also the name of a rocking, utterly satisfying new band.  Cab would approve.

As the Elders used to say, “Here’s what I’m talkin’ about!“:

THE DIME NOTES are Andrew Oliver, piano; David Horniblow, clarinet; Dave Kelbie, guitar; Tom Wheatley, string bass.  And you can get a good idea of where their hearts lie by their chosen repertoire; ORIGINAL JELLY ROLL BLUES, ALABAMY BOUND, AUNT HAGAR’S CHILDREN’S BLUES, BLACK STICK BLUES, THE PEARLS, T’AIN’T CLEAN, SI TU VOIS MA MERE, THE CAMEL WALK, THE CRAVE, I BELIEVE IN MIRACLES, OLE MISS, TURTLE TWIST, WHAT A DREAM.  The first thing one notices is the presence of Morton, then Bechet, a few “jazz classics” with associations to Fats, W. C. Handy, and then compositions nobody plays: what band is delving into the Boyd Senter repertoire these days?  There’s also an original composition by Andrew, OTIS STOMP, “inspired by a small Oregon town called Otis Junction,” as Evan Christopher’s lavish liner notes tell us.

But a tune list is just that: some lesser bands would take this one and create something admiring yet completely dessicated.  Heroic, admiring copies of venerable 78s in twenty-first century sound.  That line of work can be a great pleasure, in person and on record, but THE DIME NOTES have come to play, which they do splendidly, with heartfelt understanding of all the music that has come before them and what its open possibilities are right now.

And here’s the secret of this engaging little group (a quartet that will not make you lonesome for a cornet, trombone, or drums): THEY SWING.  Let that sink in. Some groups that have given their study and energy to the music of the Twenties and early Thirties seem to have made it a point of honor to keep the rhythmic styles of the great innovators as they were, as if the way the music propelled itself in 1937 would be an insult to a composition first performed fifteen years earlier.  I don’t mean that this band plays hot jazz with a side dish of Dizzy, Bird, and Al Haig — but they do know that Count Basie walked the earth and improved it seriously.  So THE DIME NOTES benefit not only from the magnificent playing of each of the four instrumentalists, but they understand how to work together as a supple, rocking small ensemble.  To me, they are the Guarnieri Quartet of Hot.

They can swagger and soar and make it seem as if the disc in the player — the player itself — is about to take off and rocket around the room.  But they can also be tender and quiet, deeply lyrical, sorrowing, when the song calls for it.  And the disc is certified gimmick-free: no jokes, no tricks played on the listener.

This band is frankly irresistible.

And I’ve read somewhere that The Dime Notes are the only band I know to have its (their?) own chocolate bar, on sale in Whole Foods in the UK.  Until that commodity crosses my path, my hand, or my lips, I will content myself with their sounds.  Here you can buy their CD, or their “vinyl,” and see a video of them in performance.  Better than chocolate.  Longer-lasting.

May your happiness increase!

TOKARSKI’S NIGHTINGALE (AND OTHER RARE SPECIES)

Although I’ve only met the young pianist / composer Kris Tokarski a few brief times in person, I admire him as a remarkable musician with great wit, warmth, flexibility, and swing.

Kris Tokarski. Photograph by Scott Myers.

Kris Tokarski. Photograph by Scott Myers.

About sixteen months ago, Kris made his first CD as a leader, DROP ME OFF IN HARLEM — a delightful musical collation with Kris among his friends and peers James Evans, Evan Christopher, and Benji Bohannon.  Here’s what I wrote about Kris (with music samples) in April 2014.

Although Kris’ musical and emotional range is substantial, he is a great subtle player of older music with the right feeling — without being hemmed in by written manuscript, older recordings, or restrictive stylistic conventions.  Here is a recent video-recording Kris did especially for JAZZ LIVES — at home and informally — of Joseph Lamb’s RAGTIME NIGHTINGALE:

Notice his lovely touch, his gentle approach.  Would you like to hear more? That is easily accomplished.

Kris, photographed by Don Keller, in front of Jelly's house, Frenchmen and Robertson Streets, New Orleans

Kris, photographed by Don Keller, in front of Jelly’s house, Frenchmen and Robertson Streets, New Orleans

In March of this year, Kris, Hal Smith, drums, and Cassidy Holden, string bass, went into the GHB Studios in New Orleans to create a CD that would consider classic rags from a Mortonian perspective, with performances modeled on Jelly’s own evocations as well as songs known to be familiar during his career but not recorded.  The compositions are Pastime Rag #3 / Heliotrope Bouquet / Kinklets / Peacherine Rag / Elite Syncopations / Ragtime Nightingale / Grace And Beauty / Please Say You Will / Sunflower Slow Drag / Swipesy / Magnetic Rag / The Easy Winners / Cataract Rag / St. Louis Rag.  If you understand the concept, the CD is a magnificent invention; if you’ve never heard the Morton Library of Congress recordings, the CD will please just as deeply.

I was delighted to be asked to write the liner notes.  Here’s what I said:

SOFT, SWEET, PLENTY RHYTHM

In 1972, I had several opportunities to marvel at Eubie Blake, then nearing ninety.  He would play MEMORIES OF YOU, TROUBLESOME IVORIES, STARS AND STRIPES FOREVER, or CHARLESTON RAG, but he always concluded with a virtuosic display and a triumphant shout, “That’s RAGTIME!” It certainly was, but the music was more than notes on the page; it was shaped by the personality and experiences of its creator. Jazz improvisation is never pure (thank goodness): it’s all subliminal osmosis and hybridization.  Eubie’s ragtime was broad-minded: it cuddled up with stride, eight-to-the-bar, orchestral flourishes owing as much to Rachmaninoff as Joplin. 

I’ve heard many musicians approach the ragtime repertoire according to their spirit animal.  Some storm through a rag as if preparing for a martial arts tournament.  Others play it with reverent rigidity, the way a child in an antique shop sits tensely on the chair to which he’s been affixed.  This CD presents one, two, and three musicians embodying a radical idea: “Let’s play the music with joy and attention to detail, and whatever happens, it will be good.”     

On this CD, Jelly Roll Morton’s proud, playful New Orleans spirit is strong, although Kris Tokarski wisely avoids the Morton caricature: lesser pianists turn Morton into a large papier-mache figure at the keyboard. 

Kris’s playing is, as always, warm and delicate but you know there is stomping power beneath the surface. I admire his beautiful touch, the logic of his phrases, but he’s never so precise as to be chilly.  Kris animates the rags, reminding us that ragtime is swinging syncopated dance music: pastoral but not effete.

Masterful playing by Cassidy Holden and Hal Smith makes this a genuine trio, democratic and empathic.  Hear the low woody propulsive sound Cassidy gets (the right notes, the right changes, a wonderful pulse) as well as his cellolike clarity.  Hal’s playing appears uncomplicated, but it takes decades of devoted playing to know what to leave out, what sounds to make, how and when to make them.  I thought occasionally of Minor Hall and Tommy Benford, but most often of Hal.

These performances aren’t “recreations” of some imagined past, but neither are they free-form improvisations on the harmonies.  I hear echoes of the jungle (ANIMULE BALL) in CATARACT RAG, the Spanish tinge in MAGNETIC RAG.  But each song sounds like a movement in a dance suite – with echoes of marches, quadrilles, and street parades. PLEASE SAY YOU WILL moves so deliciously from waltz to a gently swinging rhythm ballad with a few closing moments of stomp (as Morton did on MY GAL SAL).  ST. LOUIS RAG – in the words of Jake Hanna – starts swinging from the beginning.  GRACE AND BEAUTY shows off this trio’s many virtues: they don’t get louder or faster, but you know the train is moving on the right track and it will arrive on time. 

SUNFLOWER SLOW DRAG is a history of the first decades of jazz, as it progresses from a tender, almost shy start to a romp.

We owe this session to Hal Smith, not only a master percussionist but a jazz scholar and detective.  He had long been fascinated by Morton’s transformations of famous ragtime pieces, and wondered how other rags would sound if played in Jelly’s style.  He knew that Kris would be perfect for the project, making the performances vibrant, not dusty.  Hal put together a list of rags that might have been played in New Orleans between 1900 and 1917 – and after swapping music and recordings, this wonderful group was ready – not for the river, but for the studio.  Thank you, Kris, Hal, Cassidy, for opening the magic toybox and offering us so much joy.

I couldn’t have said it better myself.  Or perhaps I have.

To purchase the CD, visit here. Or if you encounter Kris at a gig, I am sure he will be happy to arrange a mutually satisfying transaction.

And I am looking for several chances to enjoy Kris and friends in the coming months.  His trio — with Hal Smith and Tim Laughlin (yes, you did read that correctly!) — is a highlight of the Evergreen Jazz Festival in Colorado at the end of July; the “Hot Classicism” trio of Kris, Hal, and Andy Schumm will also appear at the 2016 Steamboat Stomp in New Orleans.

May your happiness increase!

A SECOND EAR-RING: JON-ERIK KELLSO and The EarRegulars: MATT MUNISTERI, EVAN CHRISTOPHER, KERRY LEWIS (on JAZZOLOGY)

The EarRegulars have come out with a second CD, and it’s delicious, even before one unwraps the package: the ingenious cover art is by Cecile McLorin Salvant:

EARREGULARS CD Jazzology

The first EarRegular CD featured Kellso, Munisteri, Scott Robinson, and Greg Cohen:

EarReg 1 CD

The splendid new disc features a New York / New Orleans hybrid: Kellso, trumpet; Munisteri,guitar / vocal; Evan Christopher, clarinet, and Kerry Lewis, string bass.  And they groove spectacularly.

And here are the notes that someone enthusiastic wrote:

I am proud to have followed The EarRegulars with delight, rapt attentiveness, and recording devices, since they first began to transform the cosmos on Sunday, June 17, 2007, at The Ear Inn (326 Spring Street, Soho, New York City). They’ve been consistently inspiring, a twenty-first century version of Fifty-Second Street many blocks to the south. (My only problem with The EarRegulars is that I can’t decide if they IS or ARE, for reasons beyond the grammatical.)

They are a Marvel of Nature, an expansive sonic orchestra that masquerades as a tidy improvising quartet. They model democracy in swingtime, where each of the four players is audible, recognizable, playfully sharing musical heart-truths. In their native habitat, they are small enough to fit in a New York corner (The Ear Inn is a compact place), where they reverberate not loudly but mightily. Their mailing address is the intersection of Translucence and Stomp, just off Lyrical.

And although the Official Jazz Historians try to force music into restrictive boxes, The EarRegulars create timeless and limitless music, joyous lyrical improvising. One hears the Ancestors (who are grinning) but this band is a triumph of the Here and Now. They cavort in the present moment rather than offering shelf-stable, freeze-dried jazz repertory. Their musical conversation is collaborative joy: one hears four creative individuals, easily amused, sweetly competitive, extending each others’ thoughts, capping each others’ jokes.

The pleasure, not only mine, of witnessing The EarRegulars live, Sunday after glorious Sunday, has been the feeling, “This is the way I imagine musicians play when all distractions and tensions are removed, when the ideal audience fully understands them, when they are surrounded by love, free to express themselves fully. What a blessing this is.” This bicoastal version of the band offers its leader, Jon-Erik Kellso, and his inspiring colleague, Matt Munisteri, alongside New Orleans heroes Evan Christopher and Kerry Lewis. Their sounds need no explication, merely your most fervent close listening. Each track has beauties it reveals on the third hearing, the twentieth, their approach a beautiful oxymoron, a delicate ferocity. And their flexible, playful approach reminds me of what Ruby Braff would do with any gathering of musicians: scatter them on the floor like puzzle pieces and reassemble them in surprising, fluid ways. So this quartet becomes a series of trios, duos, and solos, never predictable, never the Same Old Thing of ensemble-solos-ensemble. And the sounds!

The repertoire is gorgeously uplifting. Even though I have heard The EarRegulars take the most familiar song and make it new, this CD is full of delights. Jon-Erik’s OUT OF THE GATE has to be the soundtrack for an animated film, LITTLE JAZZ! — where superhero Roy Eldridge vanquishes the enemies of Swing. His EARREGULARITY (something to be sought out, not feared) is a 2015 ragtime dance. Evan’s SURRENDER BLUE is so touching! I hear it as lullaby superimposed on love song, the most tender music imaginable. The other songs have wondrous associations: the Casa Loma Orchestra, Benny Carter, the Hot Five, Ivie and Duke, Louis and Papa Joe, Fate Marable . . . all memorable but rare.

I think of these sounds as healing defense against the wounding clamor of the world, reminders that the cosmos will welcome us. Start with IN THE LAND OF BEGINNING AGAIN – sung so soulfully by Matt – and you will agree. I am honored to live in a time and place where such joy is not only possible but freely offered. Bless The EarRegulars and may they prosper. Forever.

Although I find it inconceivable that anyone encountering JAZZ LIVES would be unfamiliar with the EarRegulars, here they are — at least three-fourths of the latest combination — onstage at the Louisiana Music Factory.

BLUES IN MY HEART:

IN THE LAND OF BEGINNING AGAIN (vocal Matt):

Of course, you can purchase the disc from Jon-Erik at The Ear Inn or at other gigs, or visit here.  It is on Amazon as a download, and probably iTunes.  And available direct from Jazzology and Louisiana Music Factory.

Here’s a song direct from the CD — a poignant version of SMOKE RINGS — but do the right thing and help support the art and the artists by buying it:

One way to get a double dose of this joy is to visit Symphony Space at Broadway at 95th Street in New York City on November 2, 2015, at 7:15 PM  for the Sidney Bechet Society’s season finale, “Ear Inn, Uptown!” which will feature Jon-Erik Kellso, Evan Christopher, Matt Munisteri, singer Brianna Thomas, and others in a jam session saluting the jazz scene at The Ear Inn, the city’s oldest bar.  Tickets $30 in advance via mailorder from the Society, and $35 at the box office: Peter Norton Symphony Space, 2537 Broadway at 95th Street, New York, NY 10025.  (212) 864-5400.

May your happiness increase!

A STEAMBOAT, HOT JAZZ, THE MISSISSIPPI RIVER, A STEAM CALLIOPE, STRIDE PIANO, THE BLUES, and FRIENDS (September 18-20, 2015)

My title is, to me, the best one-line description of the Steamboat Stomp — happening in New Orleans, on the Steamboat Natchez, from September 18-20, 2015.

640_steamboat-natchez-new-orleans-reviews

Some of the performers who will be on the boat are Duke Heitger’s Steamboat Stompers, Steve Pistorius, Evan Christopher, Banu Gibson, Tim Laughlin, Solid Harmony, Yerba Buena Stompers, Miss Ida Blue, New Orleans Classic Jazz Orchestra, Stephanie Trick, Paolo Alderighi, Debbie Fagnano on the steam calliope, and more.

The schedule is here, and I can see myself fretting over it on the plane ride.  “If I see X now, I can’t see Y.  But I can see Y the next day.”  Jazz fest calculus, or perhaps chess.  But it’s always delightful to have more than one can handle rather than having long stretches of time.  However, on the Natchez, it’s entirely delightful to cruise up and down the Mississippi.  If one ignores the oil rigs outside, one can think of Huckleberry Finn.  Or, better, Fate Marable.

Here  is another site (the Stomp’s Facebook page) that offers different perspectives.

Finally, the hard facts one needs to know: prices, tickets, packages, reservations.

But here’s the best evidence, taken from the 2013 Stomp.

The official Jelly Roll Morton anthem of this carnival of joy:

Yes, you’ll have to pay something to board the Natchez, but your dollars will feel like dimes:

The way you’ll feel as soon as the music begins:

As Justin Wilson used to say, “I guarantee it!”

May your happiness increase!

SOLITUDE, AND THEN SOME: JON-ERIK KELLSO, SCOTT ROBINSON, HOWARD ALDEN, FRANK TATE (ALLEGHENY JAZZ PARTY, September 19, 2014)

SOLITUDE Columbia

Four of my New York heroes — Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Scott Robinson, clarinet, tenor saxophone, taragoto, cornet; Howard Alden, guitar; Frank Tate, string bass — onstage at the 2014 Allegheny Jazz Party, playing a most famous Ellington composition that, oddly enough, doesn’t get played that much, SOLITUDE, with great eloquence and  simplicity, in front of that rarest of things, a hushed, attentive audience:

No fancy arrangements, just beautiful solos and ensemble playing.

SOLITUDE Victor

Then, time for a Frolic on SOME OF THESE DAYS, which starts as a brass extravaganza and then builds:

SOME OF THESE DAYS

Quite amazing, I think, and I’ve been following these four musicians for more than a decade now.  This is just a small sample of what characteristically takes place at the Allegheny Jazz Party, a quiet spectacular of a weekend in Cleveland, Ohio. To have this experience for yourself, you might want to visit here to find out about the Party, taking place this September 10-13, 2015.

And . . . . Jon and Matt Munisteri and a cast of wonderful characters have just released their second CD as “The EarRegulars”: the first also features Scott Robinson and Greg Cohen; the latest one (on Jazzology Records) features Evan Christopher and Kerry Lewis.  Delightful music.

May your happiness increase!

BRILLIANT VERSATILITY: KEN MATHIESON’S CLASSIC JAZZ ORCHESTRA: THE GLASGOW SUITE / CLARINET GUMBO

Here’s what I wrote about Ken Mathieson’s Classic Jazz Orchestra when I first heard their three CDs (one devoted to Louis, one to Jelly, one to a jazz panorama) in 2010.  Five years later, it’s just as true.

It’s possible that you haven’t heard of Ken Mathieson, the leader-percussionist-arranger of the Classic Jazz Orchestra, but this post is designed to remedy this omission right away. For Ken Mathieson is a truly ingenious man who has made the CJO an equally flexible, innovative orchestra.

The CJO has been working since 2004, and Ken is a veteran leader, arrangger, and drummer with impeccable credits.  For fifteen years, he was the resident drummer at the famous Black Bull Club near Glasgow — where he supported and learned from Bud Freeman, King Benny Carter, Wild Bill Davison, Sonny Stitt, Art Farmer, Bobby Hackett, Al Cohn, Johnny Griffin, Ruby Braff, Sweets Edison, Teddy Wilson, Tal Farlow, and more.

And he’s offered his own solution to one of the problems of classic jazz performance.  Suppose the leader of a “classic” jazz ensemble wants to pay tribute to Ellington, Morton, Carter, or Armstrong.  Commendable enough.  One way is to transcribe every note and aural flutter on the great records.  Then, the imaginary leader can gather the musicians, rehearse them for long hours until they sound just like a twenty-first century rendition of this or that hallowed disc.

Admirable, but somewhat limited.  Emerson said that imitation is suicide, and although I would love to have my own private ensemble on call to reproduce the Morton Victors, what would be the point?  (In concert, hearing a band pretend to be the Red Hot Peppers can be thrilling in the same way watching acrobats — but on record, it seems less compelling.)

Getting free of this “repertory” experience, although liberating, has its disadvantages for some who take their new freedom too energetically.  Is POTATO HEAD BLUES still true to its essential self if played in 5/4. as a waltz, as a dirge, by a flute quintet?  Is it possible to lose the thread?

Faced with these binary extremes — wanting to praise the past while remembering that the innovations we so prize were, in fact, innovations, Mathieson has steered an imaginative middle course.  On two new CDs, he has managed to heed Ezra Pound’s MAKE IT NEW while keeping the original essences. Ken and the CJO have an open-ended and open-minded approach to jazz history and performance.  The original compositions stay recognizable but the stylistic approach to each one is modified.  Listening to the CJO, I heard not only powerful swinging reflections of the original recordings and period idioms, but also a flexibility that suggested that Mingus, Morton, Oliver Nelson, and Benny Carter were on an equal footing, respectfully swapping ideas.

The CJO has an unusual instrumentation which allows it to simulate a Swing Era big band or a hot trio: Billy Hunter plays trumpet; Phil O’Malley, trombone; Dick Lee, soprano and alto sax, clarinet; Konrad Wiszniewski, tenor; Martin Foster, tenor, baritone, and bass sax, clarinet and bass clarinet; Tom Finlay or Paul Harrison, piano; Roy Percy, bass; Ken, drums and arrangements.

Ken and his players seem to have made a silent pact with the music to treat it as if it were new: the solos exist in a broadly-defined area of modern Mainstream: thus, you are much more likely to think of Roy Williams or Scott Robinson than of Clarence Williams or Prince Robinson. I’ll leave the surprises on these three CDs to the buyers and listeners.  But in almost every case I found myself hearing the music with a delighted grim, thinking, “Wow!  That’s what they’re doing with that old chestnut?”

Now.  Here we are in 2015, with more good music on two new CDs.

The new CDs are KEN MATHIESON’S CLASSIC JAZZ ORCHESTRA: CLARINET GUMBO /WITH EVAN CHRISTOPHER (Lake LACD 133) and ALAN BARNES with KEN MATHIESON’S CLASSIC JAZZ ORCHESTRA: THE GLASGOW SUITE: THE MUSIC OF BENNY CARTER (Woodville WVCD 133).

CLARINET GUMBO, as you can guess, draws fervently and superbly on the New Orleans clarinet tradition, with delightful reed work from Evan, Dick, Konrad, and Martin — as well as several Jelly Roll Morton rarities which were part of the library of his abortive late big band, GANJAM, STOP AND GO, and JAZZ JUBILEE. evocations of Bechet, Bigard, Noone, Fazola, Simeon, and others — all voiced imaginatively and without cliche.  You can gather something about Ken and the CJO’s consistent ingenuity by noting this: the disc has five Morton pieces, including the venerable BLACK BOTTOM STOMP and the less well-known SUPERIOR RAG, but Ken has also reimagined Mingus’ JELLY ROLL as a musical scuffle between Messrs. Ferdinand and Chazz, each earnestly proposing that his way is the only right way.  Throughout the disc, even when the melodies are familiar (DARDANELLA, for instance, a tribute to Ed Hall) the scoring is fresh and lively without ever going against the essential nature of the song or its associations.  Beautifully recorded and nicely annotated, too.

Here’s FAZOLA from the clarinet CD: 

and the lovely, moody PELICAN DRAG: 

Tributes to Benny Carter are not as frequent as they might be, perhaps because his music is orchestral as well as featuring a saxophone soloist; it’s not easy to play well, and Carter himself created glowing examinations of his music while he was alive — which was only right, since his “old” charts still sounded wonderful. (I think of hearing his Swing Masters onstage at the first Newport in New York, in 1972.)

For this wonderfully varied tribute to Carter, the great Alan Barnes plays alto and clarinet — but as in the case of CLARINET GUMBO, he is one of many delights.  Those familiar with Carter’s recorded history will know A WALKIN’ THING, SYMPHONY IN RIFFS, HONEYSUCKLE ROSE, MALIBU, DOOZY, and a few others, but it is Carter’s five-part GLASGOW SUITE, composed in 1987, that is the delight of this CD.  Mathieson had the opportunity to work with Carter, and the two became friends as well as colleagues, something that shines through this recording.  It is not at all the endeavor of musicians hired for the moment to play scores they don’t love deeply.  Again, beautiful sound and warmly personal notes.

From the Carter tribute, here’s the perfectly sprightly DOOZY: 

and EASY MONEY .

(As an aside, I have grave reservations about YouTube’s practice of offering CDs in this fashion — no doubt without asking permission of the artists or offering them a thousandth of a cent royalty per view.  But I also feel that people need to hear the music before deciding to buy the CD . . . so I hope that these glimpses propel some readers to purchase rather than to “get it for free,” which has unpleasant effects on artists everywhere.)

Details of the CJO’s history and current performing schedule can be found here, and he Lake Records site is here.

These two discs, as is the case with all the CJO’s efforts, show a bright path into the future that carries the past along with it in the most tender way — while understanding that the innovations of the past need to be treated in living ways.

May your happiness increase!

PILGRIMAGES TO BEAUTY

I urge anyone who loves the music to experience it live.  For some, that isn’t possible because of cost or one’s health.  But even though I am proud of my video recordings, they are not the same thing as being on the spot while beauty is created.  And jazz festivals, parties, clubs, concerts can only go on if there are people in attendance.

My readers know all this.  But the trick is to make the great leap from an intellectual awareness (“I should go hear some live jazz . . . someday.”) to action. All of us who have said, “I’ll go to hear Hot Lips Ferguson some other Sunday . . . those gigs will go on forever!” know the sadder reality.)

End of sermon.

I cannot attend this year’s Steamboat Stomp in New Orleans, but my absence means there’s another seat for you.  It begins Friday evening, November 14, and ends Sunday afternoon, the 16th.  In  between I count nineteen one-hour sets of music, in addition to a presentation about the Historic New Orleans Collection, four steam calliope concerts by Debbie Fagnano.  Much of the music will be performed on the two decks of the steamboat Natchez, gliding up and down the Mississippi River.  The artists include Duke Heitger, Don Vappie, Evan Christopher, the Yerba Buena Stompers, Dukes of Dixieland, Tim Laughlin, David Boeddinghaus, Hal Smith, Banu Gibson, Solid Harmony, Jon-Erik Kellso, John Gill, Kevin Dorn, Clint Baker, Tom Bartlett, Conal Fowkes, Orange Kellin, Leon Oakley, Steve Pistorius, and another dozen.

I was able to attend in 2013, and had a wonderful time.  Some evidence!

SWEET LOVIN’ MAN by Duke and the Steamboat Stompers:

Steve Pistorius considers the deep relationship between music, memory, and love in A DOLLAR FOR A DIME:

Banu Gibson, as always, shows us her heart, and it’s full of RHYTHM:

and the Yerba Buena Stompers play a later King Oliver piece, EDNA:

INSERT FOUR-BAR MODULATION HERE.

I returned last night from the 2014 Whitley Bay Classic Jazz Party, exhausted and uplifted.  The exhaustion will wear off (it always does) after a day or two of treating myself like an invalid, nut the joy is permanent.  It comes from seeing people make friends through music.  The music began with rehearsals at 9 AM on Thursday and ended sometime late Monday morning (I heard the jam session at the pub as I was going up the stairs around 1 AM).  The texts for those mellow sermons were based on the teachings of Johnny Dodds, Count Basie, Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Charlie Johnson’s Paradise Orchestra, Jabbo Smith, Jean Goldkette, Bix Beiderbecke, Red Nichols, Chu Berry, Paul Whiteman, Cootie Williams, Adrian Rollini, Jimmy Dorsey, Joe Venuti, Eddie Lang, Johnny Dunn, Luis Russell, Bing Crosby, Helen Morgan, Jimmie Lunceford, Benny Carter, Don Byas, Willie Lewis, Sidney Bechet, Al Bowlly, Cliff Edwards, Eubie Blake, James P. Johnson, Chick Webb, Jelly Roll Morton . . . you get the idea.

And the performers!  Rico Tomasso, Duke Heitger, Menno Daams, Andy Schumm, Bent Persson, Claus Jacobi, Thomas Winteler, Matthias Seuffert, David Boeddinghaus, Graham Hughes, Alistair Allan, Martin Litton, Janice Day, Morten Gunnar Larsen, Keith Nichols, Richard Pite, Malcolm Sked, Phil Rutherford, Spats Langham, Emma Fisk, Frans Sjostrom, Josh Duffee, Nick Ball, Mauro Porro, Henri Lemaire, Kristoffer Kompen, Lars Frank, Martin Wheatley, Jean-Francois Bonnel. . . and sitters-in at the Pub, including Torstein Kubban.  (If I’ve omitted anyone’s name, it is because yesterday was nearly twenty hours of travel, which does terrible things to cognition.)

And the friends!  Everyone who was there will have a mental list, but I think we all start with Patti Durham — then I think of Bob Cox, Bobbi Cox, Derek Coller, Veronica Perrin, Chris Perrin, the young woman clarinetist, so intent, Jonathan David Holmes, Julio Schwarz Andrade, Andrew Wittenborn — and many more.

If you are wondering, the answer is Yes, I did bring my video cameras.  Plural. Safety first.

And I shot video of all the sets, one jam session / concert in the Victory Pub, and many of the rehearsals — several hundred performances.  It takes some time to upload and download, so I have nothing from this last weekend to share with you at the moment.  But I will.

While you are thinking, “How could I start putting money away for the 2015 WHITLEY BAY CLASSIC JAZZ PARTY?” (for that will indeed happen), I invite you to revel in this, recorded at a rehearsal at the 2012 Party:

All over the quite comfortable Village Hotel in Newcastle (with a very solicitous staff) are signs and photographs advertising the pleasures to be found there, all sharing a lower case “v.” at the start, both to show an intensity of feeling (“very!”) as well as remind you of the hotel chain’s identifying logo.  In the mechanism that takes you from one floor to another (I called it an elevator and was reminded that it was a “lift,” because I was in the  United Kingdom now) was a photograph of three pillows reading “v. snuggly” “v. cheeky” and “v.lazy.”

All I will say here, as a bow to the Party and to the Village Hotel and to my heroes and friends, is that I am “v.joyous.”

May your happiness increase!

MUSIC FOR A DETERMINED MAN (October 6, 2014)

ERIC

You could say many things about Eric Offner.  You could note his birthplace (Austria, 1928) or the date of his death (June 3, 2014). You could sum up his distinguished career in trademark law, or refer to his autobiography. But what might be most important about Eric is that he was transformed by the experience of jazz, and, as a result, founded the Sidney Bechet Society which produced 17 seasons of live hot jazz concerts. (The true-to-life photograph of Eric was taken by our friend, photographer Geri Goldman Reichgut.)

We know that people can contribute greatly to the health and vitality of an art form without being artists themselves, and Eric was one of those people. His distinguishing characteristic, to me, was a determined focus on an ideal: the kind of music his hero Sidney Bechet both played and embodied: hot, intense, impassioned, reaching back to a New Orleans past but simultaneously alive in the present.

The Sidney Bechet Society is honoring its president and founder with a concert this coming Monday (at the late-twilight hour of 7:15) at Symphony Space, which is at 95th Street and Broadway in New York City.  It features the clarinetist Evan Christopher, trumpeter Byron Stripling, pianist Bobby Floyd, string bassist Kelly Friesen, and drummer Marion Felder.  I know they will fill the room with music that both celebrates and mourns a man wholly devoted to the sounds that have so often healed us.

Here is the link where you can purchase tickets.

SBS 10 6 14

Like the music he believed in, Eric was determined — devoted to an ideal.  And that ideal will show its durability, its joy and ferocity this Monday night.

May your happiness increase! 

DUKE HEITGER’S STEAMBOAT STOMP (November 14-16, 2014)

I had a wonderful time at the inaugural Steamboat Stomp last fall — the pure pleasure of hearing hot New Orleans jazz on a steamboat cruising up and down the Mississippi River.  Mark Twain, Fate Marable, David Jones, and young Mister Armstrong all combined.

I cannot go to this year’s effusion of good times and good music (three festivals in one month is too much for me while I am attempting to hold a full-time job), so there will be an empty seat.  So I urge you to go in my place, and bring your jazz-loving friends.

Musical evidence here and here  — and there is more from the 2013 Stomp if you search JAZZ LIVES.

And here is what Duke Heitger, the generous beacon of hot jazz, has to tell us:

The second annual Steamboat Stomp is about 2 months out (November 14-16). This is a wonderful time of year to be in New Orleans, and we have added some marquee names to the already stellar roster including Evan Christopher, Jon-Erik Kellso and Hal Smith. This will surely be a weekend of great music and great fun. Weekend packages and a variety of exciting sponsorship opportunities are still available. As you know, the support and participation of folks like you are key to the success of events like Steamboat Stomp. Please visit www.steamboatstompneworleans.com for more information. If you have any questions with regards to hotels, reservations, etc… I will be happy to assist you personally at dukeheit@bellsouth.net. This promises to be a very special event. I hope to see you there!

What Duke’s letter does not say is . . . the Yerba Buena Stompers, Banu Gibson, Tim Laughlin, Topsy Chapman, Solid Harmony, the Dukes of Dixieland . . . joy-spreaders all.  Don’t let this weekend event steam right by you.

May your happiness increase!

THE REAL THING: WELCOME, KRIS TOKARSKI!

If you’ve been paying attention on the New Orleans jazz scene, you will already know the brilliant pianist Kris Tokarski, and the news of his debut CD, DROP ME OFF IN HARLEM, will be a pleasure but not a surprise.

If Kris is new to you, listen to these two selections here before moving on.

The first is the Hoagy Carmichael treasure (eternally associated with Billie) APRIL IN MY HEART; the second is Berlin’s ALL BY MYSELF.  You can also hear him play CAROLINA SHOUT and QUASIMODO if you are even the slightest bit diligent.  On the first three tracks, his cohorts are the splendid Evan Christopher or James Evans, and fine drummer Benji Bohannon.

cover

But today our focus is properly on Kris.  Yes, there are echoes of Teddy Wilson in his work, and I celebrate that, but he is on his own paths.

Kris has a strong but never overbearing reverence for the melody; his touch is lovely; he knows how to breathe through a phrase, when to leave notes out, how to create subtle carpets of harmony and oceanic swells of rhythm.  Although he is not interested in making the beauties of the past “modern” (whatever that might mean) he has a wide harmonic range; he’s heard the music that was played after 1936 and is being played now. He is a delightfully clear yet ringing orchestral pianist, someone who doesn’t lag or rush, push or pound.

He’s there when you need him, and his delicate playing isn’t effete but full of restrained wit and emotional empathy.  He knows how to swing and stride — with both hands — and his playing is fluid, supple — never stiff.  His accompaniment is the very definition of sweet teamwork, and his solos are full of surprises: you can’t tell where he is about to land, but it’s graceful and satisfying when he does.

Did I mention that this young man is 25 years old?  Allow that fact to settle in for a bit.  What graceful mastery for someone so young — let me correct myself here — gracious mastery for anyone!

His debut disc is consistently delightful.  Kris loves melodies and brings new light and shade to ones I thought had been done to a crisp by now.  He understands that the role of a jazz pianist is also to float alongside great players.  The first eight tracks are very lively homage to the piano-clarinet-drums trio so beloved of Goodman and Morton — with the clarinet offerings shared by Evan Christopher (LOVE WILL FIND A WAY, CAROLINA SHOUT, and APRIL IN MY HEART) and James Evans (DROP ME OFF IN HARLEM, IF DREAMS COME TRUE, PLEASE BE KIND, ALL BY MYSELF).  Two tracks that follow are duets for Kris and tenor saxophonist James Partridge (PRISONER OF LOVE, SWEET LORRAINE), and the closing WHAT’S NEW? is a piano solo.

The trio and duo selections honor but do not imitate any of the great recordings; rather they say implicitly, “Here we are together.  We know the tradition, but we trust ourselves to make our own lovely music.  What shall we do together as a friendly community with this song to delight ourselves and our future hearers?”

Thus a gently swinging lyricism permeates every note on the CD.  At times, I thought of PRES AND TEDDY; once or twice, of HEAVY LOVE (if you don’t know the references, they bear investigating); at other times I could find no objective correlative but simply basked in the sounds these people were so generously offering.

And where some young musicians feel the need to show off their skills — “Look how fast I can play this!  Look how many new chord changes I can put into this song!  Look how I can transform this standard into a ________!” Kris is serene and secure in his trust in melodic improvisation over swinging backgrounds.

He is also — and I admire this greatly — a deep romantic.  The disc is full of affection for the music and what it can give to us.  It’s not about egotistic display; it’s about affection.  Why else would someone begin a CD with the rhapsodic and optimistic and eternally hopeful LOVE WILL FIND A WAY?  And the closing WHAT’S NEW? is — while rueful — not bleak in its melancholy. I suspect that Kris has in his heart a deep knowledge of “love’s sweet amen.”  It comes through in his music.

I encourage you to follow this young man, to buy his CD, to cheer him on.  To buy the disc, follow the trail of breadcrumbs here.  Or if you are within range of the Louisiana Music Factory, lucky you! — click here.  The nicest thing to do, of course, would be to find Kris at a gig — his itinerary is posted on his site — and say, “Mr. Tokarski, could I buy a box of your CDs?  I heard about you and about it on JAZZ LIVES.” And then everyone would be beaming.

To know that Kris Tokarski exists, that he creates such lovely music, is very heartening news.

May your happiness increase!

LUCKY THIRTEEN: A NIGHT with the SIDNEY BECHET SOCIETY (Monday, November 5, 2012) featuring JON-ERIK KELLSO, EVAN CHRISTOPHER, MATT MUNISTERI, EHUD ASHERIE, PAT O’LEARY, MARION FELDER

The days slip away, and I see that I haven’t written a word about the final 2012 concert of the Sidney Bechet Society — an evening devoted to Sidney’s involvement with the New Orleans trumpet players.  Even though he said he disliked trumpeters because they got in his way, Sidney played alongside the very best.  This band at the Kaye Playhouse evoked but didn’t copy the great recordings he made:  in their thirteen performances, they managed not only to summon up Bechet’s musical worlds from 1925 on, but suggested how his spirit animated music being made in November 2012.

In short, a hot time was had by all.  

The members of this band exuded the fraternal delight one would expect from long-time comrades: Jon-Erik Kellso, Matt Munisteri, and Pat O’Leary are regular EarRegulars, with Evan Christopher an honored guest; Ehud Asherie and Marion Felder bring their own associations with sessions at Smalls and Birdland to the mix.

The first half of the concert was a more formal evocation of the title and of the hallowed recordings (some of them rather complex songs with multiple themes) highlighted by three vigorous romps — WEARY BLUES and I FOUND A NEW BABY (harking back to the 1932 Feetwarmers session with Tommy Ladnier and Hank Duncan); CAKE WALKIN’ BABIES FROM HOME (honoring Bechet’s early collaboration — or battle — with young Louis Armstrong on Clarence Williams’ dates).

A slower COAL CART BLUES swung with all its might, even though the tempo was less arduous (echoing the 1940 Decca “reunion” session for George Avakian’s NEW ORLEANS JAZZ album).  Three mood pieces took seriously divergent directions: Matt sang BLUES MY NAUGHTY SWEETIE GIVES TO ME in his own half-earnest, half-ironic way, very combustible; Evan took center stage for one of Bechet’s Haitian rhapsodies, TROPICAL MOON (“kind of a funky thing”) which had everyone swaying . . . as did the band’s EGYPTIAN FANTASY — with an “exotic” flavor that also drew on the “Spanish tinge.”

After an intermission during which we all could compare tales of Storm Sandy (many in the audience, I think, were going home to dark cold houses and apartments), the band reassembled for a looser second half . . . as if they had done their required assignment and could now play a bit more.

Some of the repertoire for the second half was drawn from the Kellso-Christopher-Munisteri BLUE ROOF BLUES: A LOVE LETTER TO NEW ORLEANS (Arbors) — one of the most completely realized jazz CDs I know: an intoxicating habanera-flavored PANAMA, a street-parade HIGH SOCIETY, with the famous Picou chorus played softly at first; Kellso’s lyrical JUST LIKE THAT, Evan’s intense improvisation on Tommy Ladnier’s MOJO BLUES, a solo feature for Ehud on WILLOW TREE, where Art Tatum, Cliff Jackson, and Christopher Columbus came for brief visits with Mr. Asherie; the concert ended with a rousing HINDUSTAN, with the always-surprising and always-gratifying key changes.

It was a great band: Marion Felder is one of those exalted drummers who cares deeply about sound, dynamics, and rhythms — a phenomenon rarer than you might think.  He will patiently stay on his snare drum or tom-toms and play simple rhythms for their sweetly intensifying dramatic effect; he can play a song as did Zutty Singleton but he’s always playing himself.  Pat O’Leary stayed in the background, but he is one of the essential guiding forces of any ensemble: his tone, taste, and choice notes keep everyone focused on melodic swing.

Matt Munisteri never fails to surprise: guitarists marvel at his technique, but I marvel more at the way every kind of music seems to osmotically work its way through him — and the end result never seems like a conscious synthesis.  Ehud Asherie continues to delight: his deep soulful range, bridging Then and Now, is a pleasure — because the influences have long since become a cohesive artistic whole, without one saying, “Oh, there’s a Fats lick!” again.

The horn players, as we have come to expect, worked together in friendship but there was the slightest edge of playful tussling — the kind of sweet competition that makes sessions rise above the ordinary.  Both of them are instantly recognizable, with big sounds: you know who’s playing in a bar or two, and the restrained intensity bubbles with elegant down-home ferocity.

It was fun — in case you haven’t guessed.  I’ll say more about the 2013 concerts when we cross into the spring.

May your happiness increase.

ONWARDS IN SWING WITH THE SIDNEY BECHET SOCIETY (November 2012 – October 2013)

As of today, November 2, the first concert is on!

Monday, November 5 (7:15 PM): Jon-Erik Kellso’s “New Orleans Trumpet Greats,” featuring Evan Christopher, Matt Munisteri, Ehud Asherie, Pat O’Leary, Marion Felder.  Tickets $35, available by sending check to: Sidney Bechet Society, 20 Joy Drive, New Hyde Park, New York 11040 — or by phone from the Kaye Playhouse box office (212) 772-4448 / and in person.  The Kaye Playhouse is part of Hunter College and is at 68th Street between Park & Lexington, New York City.

In 2013, the concerts move back to Symphony Space, at Broadway at 95th Street.  The March 20, 2013 (Wednesday) concert will feature the Jim Cullum Jazz Band; the April 15 (Monday) concert will star the dazzling Catherine Russell; June 3 (Monday) reedman Dan Levinson takes the stage; September 9 (Monday) will be Ed Polcer’s night; October 7 will be a showcase for Evan Christopher.  (And I hear, very quietly, that some hot surprises are in store for the 2014 season.)  The SBS is offering a discount package — five shows for $125 if you get your check to 20 Joy Drive, New Hyde Park, New York 11041, by December 1.  After that the price goes back to $150.  Visit bechet  for details.

I hope to be at Kaye Playhouse on Monday night — if the Fates, British Airways, the Long Island Rail Road and the Long Island Power Authority allow . . . . join us if you can!  It might take our minds off destruction and wreckage for a few hours.

May your happiness increase. 

A JOURNEY THROUGH “HINDUSTAN”: JON-ERIK KELLSO, DAN BLOCK, BOB HAVENS, JAMES DAPOGNY, FRANK TATE, PETE SIERS (JAZZ AT CHAUTAUQUA 2011)

In the name of geographers everywhere, here’s an 1835 map showing Hindustan:

And here’s the local paper — if you’d like something to read while travelling:

And here’s the sheet music cover for the song:

But enough of that.  What we’re concerned with today is an amazing extended hot performance of this song at Jazz at Chautauqua (Sept. 16, 2011) by a group led by trumpeter Jon-Erik Kellso, with Bob Havens (trombone); Dan Block (clarinet); James Dapogny (piano); Frank Tate (string bass); Pete Siers (drums).

Because the song has very simple harmonies — “chord changes” — and perhaps for the sake of variety, Jon-Erik had made HINDUSTAN into a key-changing exercise in swing on the superb CD, BLUE ROOF BLUES, that he created in 2006 with Matt Munisteri, Evan Christopher, and Danton Boller.  There’s something about key changes that’s inherently dramatic: the audience might not know that the band was in C for the first chorus and Eb for the second, but we feel it — even when (as is the case here) the band and the soloists keep shifting from one key to another . . . it seems exciting rather than mechanical.

This band is special to me because of its wonderfully paradoxical nature: they make it look easy, but you know their playing is the result of decades of study; it looks like great fun, but it’s very hard work (let the critics pick up a trumpet and try it sometime); they get hot but stay cool.  My heroes!

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to go check on my desert caravan.  The last time I unwittingly left it in a NO PARKING zone on the Upper West Side, I got a $65 ticket.

THERE’S GOOD READING TONIGHT: NEW ORLEANS STORIES

When I am looking for new information about jazz, often I have much more fun and learn more from the musicians themselves — as opposed to reading analyses of the music from well-intentioned people who don’t play instruments, so I can recommend a new book to you.  It’s called TRADITIONAL NEW ORLEANS JAZZ: CONVERSATIONS WITH THE MEN WHO MAKE THE MUSIC (Louisiana State Univ. Press, 244 pages, 2011), by Thomas W. Jacobsen, it is accurately titled, and it fills a gap. 

Although jazz often revels in its status as a subversive art form, the literature of jazz is as star-struck as any glossy magazine.  When it comes to New Orleans jazz, there are multiple books on Louis, Bechet, Jelly Roll, Bunk, and George Lewis – all deserving the attention.  But Jacobsen’s book collects interviews with musicians who play New Orleans jazz or who have strong ties to the city.  And only a few of the players depicted here are dead or inactive, which lends this collection a more lively aura. 

Jacobsen’s portraits are rewarding: he introduces his subject, provides scaffolding, but much of the text is first-hand.  We read of Duke Heitger’s early inspiration, trumpeter Jon-Erik Kellso; of Trevor Richards’ involvement with Zutty Singleton; of Brian Oglivie’s musical family; of Tom Fischer and John Royen’s early gigs; of Evan Christopher’s investigations of the Creole roots of New Orleans jazz.  Jacobsen also offers a group portrait of the young New Orleanians who came up under Danny Barker’s affectionate supervision – among them Herlin Riley, Gregg Stafford, and Dr. Michael White.  The oral histories touch on race relations and the business of playing Jazz in the city that was supposedly devoted to it. 

Jacobsen originally created these interviews for The Mississippi Rag, and most of them were published there in slightly altered form.  But now that the Rag has ended its long run, this book is a valuable collection.  Some of the interviews done between 1995 and 2006 leave us wanting to know more about the current lives of their subjects.  To that end, he has written brief introductions to say something about life after Hurricane Katrina).  The book is an original work, full of lively stories that only Rag readers with long memories or piles of newsprint would have access to.  I found it entertaining, heartfelt, and worth its price in compact discs.  You can find out more about it here: http://lsupress.org/authors/detail/thomas-w-jacobsen/

DAN BARRETT COMES EAST (September – October 2011)

To quote Henry Nemo, “‘Tis autumn,” and one of the more rewarding manifestations of that season is the annual Dan Barrett Comes East tour.  The inimitable Costa Mesa, California trombonist, cornetist, arranger, composer, pianist, singer, comes to this coast for a series of what have proven memorable gigs.

Thursday – Sunday, Sept. 15-18: Dan at Chautauqua Jazz Party, Chautauqua, New York (http://athenaeum-hotel.com/Jazz-at-Chautauqua/)

Monday, Sept. 19: Dan at Arthur’s Tavern, with Bill Dunham’s Grove Street Stompers (Grove Street & 7th Ave South; 7-10 pm)

Tuesday, Sept. 20: Dan in Cape Cod, Massachusetts, with Howard Alden & Frank Tate (details to follow)

Wednesday, Sept. 21: Dan at Birdland with David Ostwald’s Louis Armstrong Centennial Band (5:30-7:15 pm): see http://www.ostwaldjazz.com/live/ for details.  Dan will be joined by Bria Skonberg (trumpet), Vinny Raniolo (banjo and guitar), Marion Felder (drums) and others.

Sunday, Sept. 25: a double-header!  Dan will join Terry Waldo’s band at Fat Cat (77 Christopher Street), from 5:45 to 8 pm).  Then, Dan will go south and west for an evening at the Ear Inn, with Evan Christopher, Matt Munisteri, and New York’s finest, immediately after that (8-11 pm)

Monday, Sept. 26: Dan will again appear alongside Evan Christopher at a concert sponsored by the Sidney Bechet Society, beginning at 7:15 pm.  Evan’s “Clarinet Road” will pay tribute to the Master in “Blues for Bechet.”  Featured guests will include vocalist Catherine Russell, guitar virtuosi Doug Wamble and Matt Munisteri, and LaFrae Sci on drums.  The concert will take place at Symphony Space (95th Street and Broadway), and tickets are available here:

http://www.sidneybechet.org/purchase-tickets/

Tuesday, Sept. 27: Dan will join the brass section — on cornet — of Vince Giordano’s Nighthawks at “Club Cache'” — the lower floor of Sofia’s restaurant in the Edison Hotel, 211 West 46th Street.

Wednesday, September 28: Dan will again be part of David Ostwald’s Louis Armstrong Centennial Band at Birdland, from 5:45-7:15 pm, alongside Bria Skonberg, Pete Martinez, Howard Alden, Marion Felder, and others.

Sunday, October 2: Another double-header: Dan at Fat Cat again with Terry Waldo’s band; then on to the Ear Inn, 326 Spring Street, Soho, New York (8-11 pm)

Monday, October 3: Dan will be part of another Arbors Records event at Feinstein’s at the Regency with singers Rebecca Kilgore, Nicki Parrott, Lynn Roberts, and Harry Allen’s Quartet (Harry, Rossano Sportiello, Joel Forbes, and Chuck Riggs).

Alas and woe for New Yorkers, Dan flies home the next day.  Don’t miss out on the Barrett Comes East tour.  There are, as yet, no plans for souvenir sweatshirts, buttons, or pennants — merely fine jazz and many musical surprises.

And in case you are just discovering Mr. Barrett, here’s some musical evidence — his cornet lights up this August 2011 performance of MY BUDDY, recorded at the JAZZ LIVES party (with John Smith, alto; Vinnie Armstrong, piano; Marc Caparone, bass; Mike Swan, guitar):

MAGGIE BLACK’S HOT JAZZ FOR A BRITISH SUMMER

Maggie Black, whom I met at the 2010 Whitley Bay International Jazz Festival, sends word of jazz gigs that will surely interest JAZZ LIVES readers holidaying in the UK. 

Maggie Black Presents:

May 9:  The Pheasantry, 152 King’s Road, SW3 4UT.

JEFF BARNHART (stride/piano/singer), ANNE BARNHART (flute), DAN LEVINSON (clarinet), STEPHANE SEVA (washboard).  £15: 8.30pm.

May 26: Bloomsbury Theatre, 15 Gordon Street.  £20 £15-concs. 8pm.  Bookings: 020 7388 8822.

DJANGO A LA CREOLE: EVAN CHRISTOPHER (clarinet), SEBASTIEN GIRADOT (bass), DAVE BLENKHORN, DAVE KELBIE (guitars).  

August 27:

FREE DAYTIME JAZZ at Neal’s Uard (off Short’s Gardens) Covent Garden WC2.

JEFF BARNHART and ANNE BARNHART: “IVORY and GOLD”

Oct. 28: Bloomsbury Theatre, 15 Gordon Street

PARIS WASHBOARD: £20 8pm Tickets 020 7388 8822

Wimbledon Music Festival presents:

CLAUDE BOLLING, Ellington’s friend and disciple, his trio and THE Lebanese flautist, Wissam Boutany, playing the ‘Suite for Piano and Flute’ that Bolling co-composed with Rampal- which topped the charts every week for over a year!

Nov 14 @ Royal Wimbledon Golf Club £50.

For more information, contact Maggie Black at Maggie Black Presentations, Flat 6, Turner House, 2 Exchange Court, London WC2R 0PP. UK — or visit  maggieblackjazz.co.uk, or  www.travelsandjazz.co.uk.  Phone 020 7240 8866 (home/work) or 07891 602 878 (mobile), 06 33 74 22 01(France)

“PUT A SWING IN YOUR STEP” WITH CHRIS DAWSON and FRIENDS

Chris Dawson hasn’t received the attention his playing deserves, but his latest CD (for Blue Swing Fine Recordings) will fix that.  It’s superb. 

Need proof?

People who admire these musicians as I do won’t need any more prompting.  They can buy copies (note the plural) of the disc at www.blueswing.com.,  www.CDBaby.com., or email Chris personally at chrismartindawson@yahoo.com to purchase personally inscribed copies.  

Here’s some of what I wrote when I first heard the disc:

When a European jazz researcher asked Eddie Durham what he thought of Edmond Hall, Durham said it all in one sentence, “Edmond Hall didn’t know how not to swing!” Those words popped into my head as soon as this disc began to play, because for Chris and his friends inspired jazz improvisation is second nature.

Mind you, I don’t pretend to have cool objectivity.  I first heard Chris as part of the ensemble on a handful of sessions about twenty years ago (with Rebecca Kilgore, Marty Grosz, and Hal Smith) and he leaped out from the speakers although he wasn’t playing any louder than anyone else.  It was the absolute rightness of what he played: time, feeling, harmonic subtlety – an art that didn’t call attention to itself and thus was instantly compelling. Although I heard echoes of Nat Cole, Hank Jones, and Mel Powell, Chris was complete in himself, and his playing was more than a collection of memorized gestures.

It might seem melodramatic for me to write that I spent the next two decades waiting for this CD, but it it’s the truth.  I was delighted to hear Chris’s solo Christmas CD in 2009, and thrilled to see clips from these sessions appearing on YouTube.  Now, the evidence is here to share and treasure!

I doubt that these five players immersed themselves in Golden Era science fiction, but it would explain a great deal, for they are time-travelers who don’t need gleaming machines.  Chris and his gang have reached the kind of musical flexibility and maturity where all swinging jazz is equal and equally worth cherishing: James P. Johnson and Bud Powell live in the same building and chat happily in the elevator.  Listen to PUTTIN’ ON THE RITZ, where Chris melds the earthy yet delicate swing I’d associate with a 1938 Vocalion with the harmonic inventiveness and sense of space that characterized “Mainstream” several decades later.  It isn’t artificial: I never feel that he is thinking, “Now I’ll throw in an Augmented Nineteenth chord in the right hand (from Hindemith) over my Official Stride Pattern (Don Lambert) in the left”; it’s genuine and internal, in the manner of such stylistic investigators as Ruby Braff and Dave McKenna.

And although music has the power to make us reflect deeply on the great sadnesses we all face, this session is resoundingly happy – it echoes the reassuring pace of the steady heartbeat.  Even the lovely ballads on this disc aren’t hopelessly gloomy: while their sounds chronicle shattered dreams (as on OH, YOU CRAZY MOON), we admire the beautiful sounds.

Chris’s gang has a cohesive energy that could rearrange the landscape.  Listen to the pulse of that rhythm section, the way the players work together to the common goal.  And there’s the pure sound of Hal’s Sid Catlett- inspired brushes and rimshots, of Denny’s impassioned strum (he loves Allan Reuss and Steve Jordan), of Christoph’s woody, speaking bass, reminiscent of Ray Brown. Each of the members of this rhythm section could propel a big band on their own (hear Denny’s introduction to SAILBOAT); together, they are a living display of joyous synergy.  And with Dan Barrett on the date, no other horns need apply. To me, he is a jazz Midas, casually making everything golden.  (Dan is responsible for the nifty little riff that the band uses to send Christoph on his merry way on SWEETIE.)

Chris said to me, “I felt really fortunate and lucky to have this band. Each guy was my number one pick, so this was my dream team.  I’ve been playing with Christoph for about twenty years.  We met at USC, while he was working on his Masters and I was doing my undergraduate work.  He’s a very serious, dedicated musician, an inspiring player to know and work with.  I’ve known Dan for almost that long while playing gigs together in the local Los Angeles jazz scene.  I’ve been a fan of his for a long time and I respect his musicianship immensely!  I learn new things about music and what it means to be a professional player whenever we talk.  I met Hal while on an Evan Christopher gig around 1992.  I wouldn’t have done this project without him and I’m so happy I got him before he moved to San Antonio to work with Jim Cullum.  I was wondering which guitar player would suit us best, and Dan recommended Denny.  He was new to me, but I trust Dan 100% and it worked out great.  I wouldn’t change a thing.”

Although Chris doesn’t dramatically demand the spotlight, I find myself listening to a performance over and over, savoring at how Chris’s left hand knows what his right hand is doing, and vice versa.  And he’s my model of an ensemble pianist – how does he pick just the right notes?  Hear him support, cheer, and encourage everyone throughout this disc!

And the wonderful little charts – just right – are also from the noble hand of Mr. Dawson.  Chris told me, “One thing I hope that separates this project from others is those arrangements.  It isn’t a jam session, thrown together in the studio, but it’s a little more thought out.  For example, there’s the recurring introduction, interlude, and ending on THIS TIME THE DREAM’S ON ME, as well as the unison intro and ending on ALL I DO IS DREAM OF YOU.  Also I like to use key changes for variety – ALL I DO modulates from F to C; WE’LL MEET AGAIN goes from Bb to C and ends up in Eb; RITZ bounces back and forth between C minor and G minor before ending in C minor.  I love the way the Benny Goodman Trio did this kind of thing.”

Chris is not only a satisfying small-group arranger but a splendidly masterful pianist.  Admire his unerring gently propulsive pulse; his steady time; the ringing sound he gets out of the instrument; his chord voicings.  And what delights he can create in a small space: his four-bar introductions are gems.  MY IDEAL is a graduate course (for those who can hear) in how to make melody come alive, how to convey tenderness while keeping the rhythm going.  And his HANDFUL OF KEYS honors Fats – in ways both accurate and jubilant – adding his own touches to this great display of playful athleticism.

For once, the title of this CD is accurate, musical truth in advertising: this music will uplift you on your daily rounds in a way that no costly set of orthotics could. And the glowing, generous sounds and textures here will resound in your ears long after the disc has concluded. Denny told me, “Quite honestly, playing time with Hal and Christoph was like breathing air – so natural and so effortless. A real pleasure indeed – they did the work and all I needed to do was open my ears.” 

Pleasures untold greet those who listen!

And a little coda:

Chris is an original, not a copyist.  He isn’t a museum piece but a creative improviser . . . !  And what he does is irreplaceable.

CLARINETS IN MAY!

MONDAY, MAY 17, 2010 at 7:15 P.M.
 
The Lucille Lortel Theatre
121 Christopher Street
New York City
 
EVAN CHRISTOPHER’S CLARINET ROAD
with Special Guest Ken Peplowski and the veteran rhythm section of
Jackie Williams, James Chirillo, and Greg Cohen
Tickets are $35: available at The Lortel Theatre box office or
through Ticket Central (212) 279-4200
www.ticketcentral.com

THE MAGIC HORN OF “PAPA RAY” RONNEI (by Hal Smith)

Video by the multi-talented Katie Cavera:

The Magic Horn of ‘Papa Ray’ Ronnei 

by Hal Smith (originally published in JUST JAZZ)

It has been nearly 40 years since I first heard the cornet magic of ‘Papa Ray’ Ronnei… 

In the mid-‘60s I was a dedicated fan of the San Francisco style as played by Lu Watters, Turk Murphy, Bob Scobey, the Firehouse Five and…Vince Saunders’ South Frisco Jazz Band.  In 1966 my parents had taken me to Huntington Beach, California where the South Frisco band played weekends at the ‘Pizza Palace’.  We became instant fans of the SFJB after that first evening and made regular trips up from La Jolla to catch the band on weekends.  The band members were especially kind to a young fan.  Washboardist Bob Raggio, then an employee of Ray Avery’s ‘Rare Records’ was particularly helpful in locating several out-of-print Murphy and Watters LPs for me.   

Late in 1967, Bob sent a note along with an LP he had found for me.  The note mentioned that on the coming weekend, a ‘very special edition of the South Frisco band would perform at the Pizza Palace, with ‘Papa Ray’ Ronnei on cornet.’  I had heard of Ray Ronnei, but had not actually heard him play. 1  Even so, my parents accompanied me to Huntington Beach to hear the band. 

At the Pizza Palace we settled in at a table, not knowing quite what to expect, when the band took off on ‘You Always Hurt The One You Love’.  Ray Ronnei’s brassy, staccato attack and almost surrealistic phrasing was like nothing I had ever heard! 2  It was a glorious and unique sound; one I still have not recovered from!  The tune selection was a radical departure from the San Francisco repertoire I was so used to: ‘Bogalusa Strut’, ‘Salutation March’, ‘Big Chief Battle Axe’, ‘One Sweet Letter From You’, ‘Ugly Chile’, ‘Blue Bells, Goodbye’, ‘Sweet Lotus Blossom’, ‘Bugle Boy March’ etc.  This night at the Pizza Palace the first time I had heard any of these numbers! 3 

When the performance ended—much too soon to suit me!—we headed home to La Jolla.  My head was spinning from the spellbinding sound of Ray Ronnei’s cornet.  Despite my continuing interest in the San Francisco style, I wanted to hear this hornman again—as soon as possible!  I did not have to wait too long, as South Frisco’s cornetist Al Crowne took a leave of absence from the band in 1968.  His replacement: Ray Ronnei!  My family made dozens of journeys north to Huntington Beach during Papa Ray’s tenure with the South Frisco in 1968-69. 

The SFJB lineup varied during this period. 4  Trombonist Frank Demond moved to New Orleans and was replaced on by Eric Rosenau, then Roy Brewer.   Mike Baird was usually on clarinet, though Jim Bogen and soprano saxophonist John Smith sometimes filled in for him.  Ron Ortmann was the regular pianist, spelled at times by Dick Shooshan, Bill Mitchell and Robbie Rhodes.  Tubist Bob Rann was usually present, with Mike Fay on string bass in Rann’s absence.  Banjoist-leader Vince Saunders was a constant, as was washboardist Bob Raggio—until the latter moved to Pittsburgh to play at baseball star Maury Wills’ nightclub.  But despite the shifting personnel, that distinctive cornet sound continued to ring joyously over the ensembles.   

When the South Frisco repertoire expanded,  three of the ‘new’ tunes—at least new to me—caught my fancy: ‘Here Comes The Hot Tamale Man’, ‘Messin’ Around’ (by Cook and St. Cyr) and ‘Flat Foot’.  These three have been my favourite ‘trad’ numbers since hearing Papa Ray play them in 1968.  Though Vince Saunders was the bandleader, he frequently let Papa Ray kick off tunes.  The latter tended towards brisk tempos and kicked them off old-style, i.e. ‘one-two-three-four ONE!  TWO!  With only a little imagination I can still hear the powerful band roaring through all-ensemble versions of ‘Maple Leaf Rag’ and ‘Cakewalking Babies’ (with Papa Ray playing the same burst of capsicum on the outchorus that Mutt Carey played on the ‘New Yorkers’ record of the same tune).  The South Frisco Jazz Band in 1968-69 was truly one of a kind.   

In 1969, Papa Ray left the South Frisco group and Al Crowne returned.  Earlier, the band recorded an LP for the Vault label entitled ‘Here Comes The Hot Tamale Man.’  Unfortunately, that LP has not yet been reissued on CD.  However, Ted Shafer’s Merry Makers Record Company has released a CD of the South Frisco Band live at the Pizza Palace, recorded in 1968 by clarinetist Ron Going.  This disc ‘tells the story’ of just how exciting a time 1968-1969 was for fans of Papa Ray’s cornet work. 

While still a resident of Los Angeles, Papa Ray played with the Salutation Tuxedo Jazz Band, Crescent Bay Jazz Band and other groups.  Before signing on with South Frisco, he worked with Ted Shafer’s Jelly Roll Jazz Band in the Bay Area.  He returned to the Jelly Roll Jazz Band temporarily in 1969.  I was able to enjoy his music via tapes made previously at the Pizza Palace, LPs by the El Dorado Jazz Band, Jelly Roll Jazz Band and the then-new South Frisco LP.  On one occasion, our family was watching a San Francisco Seals hockey game on tv.  After a Seals goal, a jazz band in the stands struck up ‘Hot Time In The Old Town Tonight’.  Clarinetist Bob Helm and trombonist Bob Mielke were instantly identifiable, as was the peppery cornet—Papa Ray, of course! 

I continued to see and hear Ray Ronnei on his visits to the L.A. area.  Sometimes he would play at a Sunday-afternoon jam session at one of the local jazz societies.  On one memorable occasion, I was asked to play a set with Papa Ray, Dan Barrett, Ron Going, Dick Shooshan, Doug Parker and veteran New Orleans bassist Ed Garland.  I don’t have a recording of this session, but at least I got a photo! 

Living away from California, I would hear occasional news concerning Ray’s appearances on various jobs.  Later, there was a disheartening rumor that he had quit playing.  I had the recordings to listen to, but still hoped to hear the ‘real thing’ again some day.  In the early ‘90s I returned to California and wound up playing once a week at the ‘Hofbrau’ in Fullerton (Orange County), California.  The bands in rotation at the time included Gremoli, Evan Christopher’s Quintet and my own Frisco Syncopators.  One night, Mike Fay came to hear the band—with Papa Ray in tow!  Ray looked the same as he had the last time I saw him, in the ‘70s.  What a blast it was to see him, and in good health at that. 

Later, when key personnel became unavailable to play the Hofbrau, the Frisco Syncopators gradually became the New Orleans Wanderers.  Papa Ray was still making an occasional appearance at the club, though I had not been able to induce him to play.  But Mike Fay stepped in, describing the band’s sound and repertoire and we managed to get Ray on cornet!  With Alan Adams (trombone), Mike Baird (reeds), Vic Loring (banjo), Mike Fay (bass) and myself on drums, we hit ‘You Always Hurt The One You Love’.  It unleashed a flood of happy memories, of good times at the Pizza Palace.  And best of all, Ray had his lip and his drive.   No one had to shoulder an extra load that night!  I still don’t know why I didn’t take a tape recorder.  Unfortunately, no one recorded us that night!  The lack of recording is all the more unfortunate because Ray was unable to make the job on a regular basis.  The Golden Eagles’ Ken Smith stepped in and became our regular hornman. 

My last encounter with Papa Ray was in 1995, when the Wanderers recorded a session for release on cassette.  We assembled in Mike Fay’s living room in Claremont, California and saw that a guest was settling in to listen to the session.   Papa Ray was happy to see his musical friends and obviously enjoyed our performances.  He would not join in on cornet, but we managed to coax him into singing ‘How Long Blues’, which was released on the cassette. 

Since then, I continue to hear that Papa Ray has taken part in occasional sessions and the report invariably includes the line ‘He sounded as great as ever’.  I am sure the reports are true.  Hearing Papa Ray Ronnei on cornet has always been a magical experience; one of the biggest thrills I have experienced in jazz.   To me, he will always be one of the greats!

  

Notes

  1. I never heard the El Dorado Jazz Band in person.  They played mostly in bars where a teenager could not enter, according to California state law.  I bought the El Dorado Epitaph and Item-1 LPs after hearing Ray with the South Frisco band.  The band finally broke up in mid-1966, but this ‘special edition’ of the South Frisco Jazz Band would be composed almost entirely of El Dorado veterans. 
  2. At the time I was unfamiliar with the recordings of Freddie Keppard, Abbie Brunies and especially Mutt Carey, who were the premier inspirations for Ray Ronnei.   (Ray studied with Mutt Carey in the late ‘40s).
  3. I discovered Bunk Johnson, George Lewis, Kid Ory and ‘British Trad’ after hearing this ‘New Orleans’ version of the South Frisco band.  Bassist Mike Fay played that night, as did pianist Dick Shooshan.  Besides hearing Ray Ronnei for the first time and hearing a wealth of ‘new’ tunes, this was my first exposure to New Orleans style string bass and Jelly Roll Morton type piano.
  4. There were surely more substitutes and guests with the South Frisco Jazz Band during this period.  My listing is based on those I actually heard, or who were recorded at the Pizza Palace.

P.S.  Ray Ronnei, born in 1916, is happily still with us!  Although he no longer plays the cornet, his composition SALTY BUBBLE can be heard in the 2009 Woody Allen film WHATEVER WORKS, and Ray plans to continue composing!  The original recording can be purchased here: http://www.worldsrecords.com/pages/artists/r/ronnei_ray/ray_ronnei_64328.html