Tag Archives: Fat Cat

CHARLIE JUDKINS: NEW OLD MUSIC, ONE FLIGHT DOWN (December 17, 2017)

That’s one view of Charlie Judkins, ragtime / stride / traditional jazz pianist (taken in 2015); here’s a more orthodox one:

At the end of last year, I ventured down the long staircase to the underground home of improvised music, surrealism, and (it cannot be ignored) noise from “screeching fratboys,” to quote a friend.  You know it, you love it: it’s Fat Cat at 75 Christopher Street.  Terry Wldo was holding one of his Sunday piano parties, with his special guest being Mike Lipskin.  I’ve posted Mike’s two beautiful performances here.

During the afternoon, Terry and Mike played, and also a number of Terry’s friends and students.  The one who impressed me most was a young man with dark hair who played beautifully — and, even more pleasing to the ear, ragtime pieces new to me.  That’s our man Charlie, seriously talented and seriously young.

“Mule Blues” by Milo Rega (pseud. for Fred Hager and Justin Ring) 1921:

“Le Bananier” by Louis Moreau Gottschalk, 1846:

“The Delmar Blues” by Charley Thompson, written but unpublished, c. 1910:

Charlie Judkins (b. 1991) is a practitioner of Ragtime, Traditional Jazz and Blues piano, as well as a lifelong Brooklyn native. He began playing piano in 1997 at age six. In 2007, he was introduced to the music of Jelly Roll Morton and immediately began studying traditional ragtime and blues piano. Shortly thereafter he came under the informal tutelage of several highly-regarded pianists including Terry Waldo, Mike Lipskin, Ehud Asherie and the late George Mesterhauze. He is currently studying classical piano technique and theory under Jeff Goldstein.

His piano playing has been in demand at various public and private events in the New York City area since debuting as a professional bar-room pianist in the Summer of 2010. He also works as a silent film accompanist at various theaters in the New York area, and also provides scores for silent animation archivist Tom Stathes’s series of DVD/Blu-Ray releases.

Charlie will be performing on Wednesday, January 31, at Dixon Place: “I’ll be accompanying my friend Lara Allen performing obscure ragtime/comedy songs from the early 1900s/late 1890s that were featured by pioneer female recording artists such as May Irwin, Marie Dressler and Clarice Vance.”  Details here: Dixon Place is at 161A Chrystie Street, and the show begins at 9.

I’m very pleased to know that Charlie Judkins exists.

May your happiness increase!

HE STRIDES RIGHT IN: MIKE LIPSKIN at FAT CAT (December 17, 2017)

These performances make me think of Emerson’s words: “It is easy in the world to live after the world’s opinion; it is easy in solitude to live after our own; but the great man is he who in the midst of the crowd keeps with perfect sweetness the independence of solitude.”

The music I refer to is that of the great improviser Mike Lipskin — spiritual heir of Willie “the Lion” Smith — and two songs he reimagined on Sunday, December 17, 2017, at that downtown and below-ground secret shrine for improvised music, Fat Cat.  I applaud Fat Cat for its eccentricities: it is truly A Scene, but one of the ubiquitous elements there is the roar of the young crowd, playing ping-pong, billiards, and other games.  Exuberant youth isn’t silent, except perhaps when sleeping or texting, so Mike had unsolicited and unmusical accompaniment, which he brilliantly triumphed over.  And please note that Mike isn’t just someone lining up one Waller module after the next: his playing is harmonically sophisticated, swinging along in its frisky gentle ways no matter what the tempo.  He’s a class act at the keyboard.

Here’s Mike’s delightful musings on SWEET AND LOVELY, aptly named:

And here’s Vincent Youmans’ spiritual exhortation, much loved by Fats and other Harlem cosmic magicians:

Thank you, Mike.  Come back soon and play some more!

May your happiness increase!

“UNDERNEATH THE GROUND, WHERE ALL THE FUN IS FOUND”: TERRY WALDO’S GOTHAM JAZZ BAND (January 29, 2017): JON-ERIK KELLSO, EVAN ARNTZEN, JIM FRYER, TERRY WALDO, BRIAN NALEPKA, JOHN GILL, JAY LEPLEY

Even in January, it’s hot down below — when “down below” refers to Fat Cat, 75 Christopher Street in Greenwich Village, New York, and when Terry Waldo and the Gotham City Band are in session.  As they were last January 29 — one of their Sunday early-evening delights.  (I’d advise not looking at the club’s graphic too strenuously; it raises certain questions.)

Our text for today, Brothers and Sisters, is the 1916 hit DOWN IN HONKY TONKY TOWN, by Charles McCarron and Chris Smith.  I would never have added the Y to the penultimate word, but that was because I’d never seen the cover of the sheet music.  I have changed my ways.

This site, the source of the sheet music above, also has a wonderfully erudite discussion about the origin of “honky tonk,” which I found fascinating.

Here is the start of the chorus:

Come honey, let’s go down,
to honky-tonky town.
It’s underneath the ground,
where all the fun is found.
There’ll be singing waiters,
singing syncopaters,
dancing to piano played by Mister Brown.
He plays piano queer,
he always plays by ear.
The music that you hear,
just makes you stay a year.

(At this point the variant versions became too deep for me to delve into without a paid sabbatical, but you get the idea — an inducement to good times.)

Here’s the quite hot instrumental version created belowstairs by Terry Waldo, piano; Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Jim Fryer, trombone; Evan Arntzen, clarinet; Brian Nalepka, string bass; John Gill, banjo; Jay Lepley, drums:

The temperature is in the nineties today, so we don’t need anyone to get us hotter, but this will be homeopathically salutary, and you can also watch it next winter to keep heating costs down.

May your happiness increase!

PIPING HOT, EXPERTLY PREPARED: TERRY WALDO, JON-ERIK KELLSO, JIM FRYER, EVAN ARNTZEN, JOHN GILL, BRIAN NALEPKA, JAY LEPLEY at FAT CAT (January 29, 2017)

WEARY BLUES was written in 1915 by Artie Matthews as a ragtime piece, and the earliest recording we have (I believe) is this quite warm and well-seasoned  1919 rendition by the Louisiana Five:

Then it was recorded by many people — it’s terribly catchy with many breaks and it has a natural momentum.  I will only offer this piece of history, because my feeling everyone should know this hot record by heart:

But this blog isn’t about archaeology; rather, it’s about gratifying music performed NOW.  Down in the basement of Fat Cat (75 Christopher Street, Greenwich Village, New York City) on Sunday, January 29, 2017, Terry Waldo and his Gotham City Band created something beautiful and blazing hot out of WEARY BLUES.  The cooks were Terry, piano; Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Jim Fryer, trombone; Evan Arntzen, reeds; John Gill, banjo; Brian Nalepka, string bass; Jay Lepley, drums.

The savory dish, herewith:

Why do I live in New York?  Many reasons, but the possibility of wandering down the stairs on a late Sunday afternoon, making my way through young people focused on beer, ping pong, billiards, conversation, and hearing THAT is one of the chief reasons to be here and stay here.

For my readers: may the most heavy WEARY BLUES you ever feel be just this light upon your heart.

May your happiness increase!

THANKS FOR THE SWING! (TERRY WALDO, JIM FRYER, EVAN ARNTZEN, JOHN GILL, BRIAN NALEPKA, JAY LEPLEY at FAT CAT, January 29, 2017)

you-took-advantage-of-me

When it’s good, you can tell right off. And this — recorded at Fat Cat, at 75 Christopher Street, New York City, is good.

While Terry and Company were waiting for everyone to arrive on Sunday, January 29, 2017, they gently launched in to this 1927 Rodgers and Hart classic — once only a new pop song — and created some very fine and spiritually moving vibrations. The creators? Terry Waldo, piano; Jim Fryer, trombone; Evan Arntzen, clarinet; John Gill, banjo; Brian Nalepka, string bass; Jay Lepley, drums.

Music like this improves the world.  Blessings on you, gentlemen.

And a rather sour postscript, which has nothing to do with the glorious music presented here.  This video ends up on YouTube, my cosmic megaphone to broadcast the joy that others create.  But many people who post comments on YouTube do so to complain.  “The video is too dark.  The crowd is too noisy.  One of the musicians is not up to my high standards.”

My imagined response is, at its most polite, “Dear Sir (it’s always a male writer!), such complaining is rather like pointing to the wonderful free dinner, made for you by a world-renowned chef, and refusing to eat it because it is on what you think is the wrong china. Since the internet has made most people think that everything is free, and that their often tactless expressions of taste are true criticism, I simply sigh.”

Insert loud sigh here.  Now I will enjoy the video again, to be uplifted by the generous mastery of these musicians.

May your happiness increase! 

“IRISH BLACK BOTTOM”: TERRY WALDO, JON-ERIK KELLSO, JIM FRYER, EVAN ARNTZEN, JOHN GILL, BRIAN NALEPKA, JAY LEPLEY (Fat Cat, January 29, 2017)

okeh-irish-black-bottom

No, this isn’t an early celebration of Saint Patrick, nor is it a lesson in North American vernacular dance.  A week ago today, I had the delightful good fortune of being in the basement known as Fat Cat (75 Christopher Street) to hear Terry Waldo’s Gotham City Band — Terry, piano; Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Jim Fryer, trombone; Evan Arntzen, clarinet; John Gill, banjo; Brian Nalepka, string bass; Jay Lepley, drums.  And one of the lively excursions into hot archaeology that they offered was Percy Venable’s novelty number, IRISH BLACK BOTTOM, premiered by Louis Armstrong and his Hot Five in Chicago in 1926.  For the full history of this song and that performance, read on in Ricky Riccardi’s quite magnificent Louis blog.

And now, from 1926 to 2017, with a performance calculated to warm you more efficiently than heated seats in a new car:

The genial joyousness of that performance could win anyone over, even without the history.  But I also post this musical episode to reiterate a point.  Many “jazz critics” see the chronological advance of the music as one improvement succeeding another: Roy Eldridge was more “sophisticated” than Louis, Charlie Parker more than Roy, Miles and Trane and Ornette even more so. “Sophisticated” is a weighted word, especially when the appearance of complexity is taken as the highest good.  But for those who look at “Dixieland” as simple, I’d suggest that even a tune as lightweight as IRISH BLACK BOTTOM has its own sophistication, its own complicated routine, and it is not something one could pick up at one hearing, the Real Book notwithstanding.  Court adjourned.

May your happiness increase!

MISTER LIPSKIN PAYS A VISIT BELOWSTAIRS (Dec. 18, 2016): MIKE LIPSKIN, JON-ERIK KELLSO, JIM FRYER, EVAN ARNTZEN, JOHN GILL, BRIAN NALEPKA, JAY LEPLEY (a/k/a TERRY WALDO’S GOTHAM CITY BAND at FAT CAT)

Pianist / vocalist / scholar / composer Terry Waldo leads his Gotham City Band several Sunday afternoons every month (from about 5:45 to 8) at Fat Cat, 75 Christopher Street in Greenwich Village, New York City.

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Fat Cat is an unusual jazz club, even considering that it is roughly parallel to two other basement shrines, Smalls and Mezzrow: Greenwich Village’s answer to the long-gone Swing Street.  A large sprawling room, it is filled with the furniture one would expect from a college student union: ping pong tables, pool tables, and the like.  One may play these games for $6 / hour and many young people do.  The bar also offers homemade pomegranate soda for $3, a remarkable boon.  Another distinctive feature of this establishment is the singular adhesiveness of their low couches: once I sit down, I drop below sea level, and know I will arise only at the end of the last set after embarrassing flailing.)

On this Sunday, Terry’s band was particularly noble: Jay Lepley, drums; John Gill, banjo; Brian Nalepka, string bass; Evan Arntzen, clarinet and soprano; Jim Fryer, trombone; Jon-Erik Kellso, cornet instead of his usual horn.  Terry had been leading the group in his usual cheerful egalitarian fashion.  Then I saw a distinctly recognizable fellow — musician and friend — appear to my left.  It was the Sage of several states (California and Arizona), friend and protege of Willie the Lion Smith . . . Mister Michael Lipskin, known to himself and us as Mike.  He asked Terry if he could play a few . . . and he did, shifting the repertoire to two numbers rarely called in such ensembles (by Ray Noble and by Ellington) with splendid results.  And here they are:

THE VERY THOUGHT OF  YOU (at a very Thirties rhythm-ballad tempo, entirely charming):

I’M BEGINNING TO SEE THE LIGHT:

The latter title may be slightly ironic given the intense belowstairs darkness of Fat Cat, but the music shines brightly.

May your happiness increase!

“A PUPPY-DOG AT PLAY”: EVAN ARNTZEN with TERRY WALDO, JON-ERIK KELLSO, JIM FRYER, JOHN GILL, BRIAN NALEPKA, JAY LEPLEY at FAT CAT (December 18, 2016)

Everyone knows Evan Arntzen as one of the quietly dazzling instrumental virtuosi of our time, but we might not recognize him as a sweetly compelling storyteller.  Here he brings a Twenties pastoral to that least pastoral of spaces, Fat Cat (75 Christopher Street) making that cavernous student union – rec room into a bosky dell, 1924 style, thanks also to Mister Berlin:

May your happiness increase!

THE NALEPKA FAMILY MUSICALE: BRIAN NALEPKA, NORA NALEPKA, TERRY WALDO, JOHN GILL, JAY LEPLEY, JON-ERIK KELLSO, JIM FRYER, EVAN ARNTZEN (FAT CAT, December 18, 2016)

Talent runs in the family, they say.  And in this case, they’re right.  Brian Nalepka, string bassist, tubaist, accordionist, singer, and sage jester, is someone I admire: when he’s on the scene, I know the beat will be there too, and it will be swinging.  His wife, Mary Shaughnessy, doesn’t sing; nor, as far as I know, does daughter Ella.  But Nora Nalepka does, and she’s very good at it.  This isn’t a post about swing nepotism, but one about music.

On the most recent appearance of Terry Waldo’s Gotham City Band at Fat Cat (75 Christopher Street, Greenwich Village, New York City) — Sunday, December 18, 2016 — I was there to document and enjoy not one, but two Nalepka musical offerings.

how_keep_em_on_farm1

Here’s Brian — “asking the musical question” HOW YA GONNA KEEP ‘EM DOWN ON THE FARM?, a Walter Donaldson melody and one of the witty and relevant hits of 1919, after the Great War had ended. His colleagues are Terry Waldo, piano; John Gill, banjo; Jay Lepley, drums; Jon-Erik Kellso, cornet (for the occasion); Jim Fryer, trombone; Evan Arntzen, reeds.  If you haven’t noticed it this far, Brian is not only a great rhythm player and soloist, but he is that most rare thing, a swinging entertainer.

Nora — more modern, a child of the late twentieth century — picked a more “contemporary” song . . . from 1934: the Nacio Herb Brown – Arthur Freed ALL I DO IS DREAM OF  YOU, which many of us know from its delightful part in the 1952 film SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN.

all-i-do-is-dream-of-you

and, for a reason, here is the first page of that folio:

all-i-do-page-two

Although this sweet song is a love ballad, most bands and singers take it at a brisk tempo, which flattens its yearning appeal.  Note “Slowly (with expression),” which is the way Nora sings it.

She knows how to convey feeling; she improvises gently; she swings.  Not surprising, perhaps, but immensely pleasing.

This is my second Nora-sighting (I wish it would happen bi-annually at the very least); here is my first, eleven months ago, her sweet rendition of I CAN’T BELIEVE THAT YOU’RE IN LOVE WITH ME.

And — a secret pleasure — the phrase that Terry improvises on in his solo is Jess Stacy’s introduction to the issued take of DIANE (Commodore, 1938) featuring Jack Teagarden.  Years of obsessive listening pay off.

Dear Ms. Nalepka, if you plan to make a CD — call it, perhaps, NORA NALEPKA SINGS ANCIENT SONGS OF LOVE — let me know and I’ll contribute to the crowdfunding.  And Father Brian, keep on doin’ what you’re doin’!

May your happiness increase!

ECUMENICAL PLEASURES: TERRY WALDO’S GOTHAM CITY BAND at FAT CAT (August 14, 2016) PART ONE: TERRY WALDO, CHUCK WILSON, JIM FRYER, JAY LEONHART, JAY LEPLEY

In my adolescence, I read every jazz book on the shelves of the very well-stocked suburban public library.  I didn’t understand everything I read (when one reads Andre Hodeir’s harsh analysis of, say, Dickie Wells’ later style without having the musical examples at hand, it is an oddly unbalanced experience) but I absorbed as much as I could, from Rudi Blesh to Barry Ulanov and beyond.

I remember clearly that some of the history-of-jazz books (each with its own ideological slant) used diagrams, in approved textbook fashion, for readers who needed an easy visual guide.  Often, the diagram was a flow chart —

Blank-flow-chart

Sometimes the charts were location-based: New Orleans branched out into Chicago, New York City, Kansas City (as if the authors were tracing the path of an epidemic).  More often, they depicted “schools” and “styles”: Ragtime, New Orleans, Dixieland, Chicago jazz, Early Big Bands, Stride Piano, The Swing Era, Fifty-Second Street, Bebop, Modern . . .

Sectarian art criticism, if you will.  You had different dishes for New Orleans and Modern; you didn’t eat Dixieland on Fridays.  And you had to wait two hours before going in the water. It also supported mythic constructs: the earliest jazz styles were the Truth and everything else was degenerate art, or the notion that every new development was an improvement on its primitive ancestor.

The critics and journalists loved these fantasies; the musicians paid little attention.  Although you wouldn’t find Wingy Manone playing ANTHROPOLOGY, such artificial boundaries didn’t bother George Barnes, Joe Wilder, or Milt Hinton (the latter eminence having recorded with Tiny Parham, Eddie South, Clifford Brown, and Branford Marsalis).

Happily, the musicians are able to assemble — in the most friendly ways — wherever there is a paying gig.  No one has to wear a t-shirt embossed with his or her allegiance and stylistic categorization.  Such a gathering took place on Sunday, August 14, 2016, in the basement of 75 Christopher Street, New York City — known in the guidebooks as FAT CAT, although there are many variants on that title.

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The leader and organizer of this ecumenical frolic was Terry Waldo, pianist, ragtime scholar, vocalist, and composer.  For this session, his Gotham City Band was Chuck Wilson, alto saxophone; Jim Fryer (the Secret Marvel), trombone and vocal; Jay Leonhart, string bass and vocal; Jay Lepley, drums.

And here are four examples of the good feeling these musicians generated so easily.

DIGA DIGA DOO:

MEMORIES OF YOU (starting with Terry’s elaborate homage to its composer, Eubie Blake):

EVERYBODY LOVES MY BABY (with a funny, theatrical vocal by Terry):

OLD FASHIONED LOVE (sung by the romantic Jim Fryer):

Once again, this post is dedicated to the inquiring scholar from Bahia, who sat to my left and brightened the room.

More to come.

May your happiness increase!

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

DAN BLOCK by Limoncino Oliviera

DAN BLOCK by Limoncino Oliviera

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

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

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

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

HARLEM CONGO (from the Webb book):

PUDDIN’ HEAD SERENADE (Andy Kirk):

HOTTER THAN ‘ELL (Henderson):

BLUES IN MY HEART (Carter):

LONESOME NIGHTS (Carter):

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

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

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

May your happiness increase!

MORE HOT NOTES FROM UNDERGROUND: TERRY WALDO’S GOTHAM CITY BAND at FAT CAT (March 13, 2016)

Fat-CatBilliards, ping pong, and Terry Waldo’s Gotham City Band — on appropriate Sunday afternoons at Fat Cat.  On March 13, 2016, the downstairs revelers were Terry, piano; Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Jim Fryer, trombone; Evan Arntzen, clarinet / soprano; John Gill, banjo; Brian Nalepka, string bass; Daniel Glass, drums, with a guest appearance by Eldar Tsalikov on the final three performances.  I posted the first half of this delightful session here.

Here are some highlights from the latter half of this hot session.

A song I associate with that hilly city: setting the cordial barroom atmosphere firmly in place, SAN FRANCISCO BAY BLUES.  Terry’s vocal is confidential, but that’s part of the theatre — one doesn’t shout one’s heartbreak across the room:

Something for Bix, RHYTHM KING, with an appearance by Doctor Kellso and his patented glass medical appliance (it saves lives):

EVERYBODY LOVES MY BABY (vocal by Terry):

Hot from the oven, I AIN’T  GONNA GIVE NOBODY NONE OF MY JELLY ROLL, sung with serious charm by Evan (and hear the delightful alto sax of sitter-in Eldar Tsalikov).  Magnificent playing on this one — the power of sugar and white flour, no doubt:

BEALE STREET BLUES, with Jim telling the story, vocally and instrumentally:

RUNNIN’ WILD (with choreography, too!):

For more of the same, be sure to check the schedule at Fat Cat — where there’s interesting jazz seven afternoons and evenings a week (and admission is unbelievably inexpensive): that’s 75 Christopher Street, right off Seventh Avenue South, and very close to the subway.

May your happiness increase!

HOT NOTES FROM UNDERGROUND: TERRY WALDO’S GOTHAM CITY BAND at FAT CAT (March 13, 2016)

FAT CAT NYCPerhaps two Sundays of every month, Terry Waldo’s Gotham City Band descends the wide stairway to the expansive basement that is Fat Cat (75 Christopher Street, New York City) for a hot session from about 5:45 to 7:45. Ragtime, blues, W.C. Handy, Morton, Louis, vintage pop tunes, and more are the delightful offerings.  I took my camera down there on Sunday, March 13, and captured a dozen highlights — music created by Terry, piano / vocal; John Gill, banjo / vocal; Brian Nalepka, string bass / vocal; Daniel Glass, drums / no vocal yet; Jim Fryer, trombone / vocal; Evan Arntzen, clarinet / soprano saxophone / vocal; Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet / no vocal yet.

Here are the first six delights.

MANDY, MAKE UP YOUR MIND, which begins as a duet for Jim Fryer and John Gill and then takes on passengers:

AT THE JAZZ BAND BALL:

HESITATING BLUES, at a faster-than-usual tempo, with a soulful vocal by John Gill:

CAKE WALKING BABIES FROM HOME, delivered enthusiastically by Evan Arntzen:

THE SONG IS ENDED, happily not true, sung earnestly by Jim Fryer:

MAHOGANY HALL STOMP, Jon-Erik Kellso’s majestic evocation of Mister Strong:

Another half-dozen to come.  Look for Brian Nalepka’s up-to-the-minute announcements on Facebook for which roving masters will be with Terry on Sundays to come.  And remember — you CAN keep a good band down.  At least for two hours in the Fat Cat basement and rec room.

May your happiness increase!

BLOSSOMING UNDERGROUND: TERRY WALDO’S GOTHAM CITY BAND at FAT CAT (Dec. 27, 2015): JON-ERIK KELLSO, JIM FRYER, EVAN ARNTZEN, TERRY WALDO, JOHN GILL, BRIAN NALEPKA, DANIEL GLASS

violets

A good deal of inspiring music blossoms underground — I think of Mezzrow, and Smalls, and Fat Cat, that paradise of unusual pleasures: hot jazz, creative swing, a variety of games, soft couches from which one might never rise, and youngbloods having fun, playing games, coming in, out, and around.

Pianist / singer / composer / scholar Terry Waldo leads his Gotham City Band there most Sundays from about 5:45 to 7-something, two sets.  On Sunday, December 27, 2015, he had a particularly illustrious crew: aside from Terry on piano, there was John Gill, banjo / vocal; Brian Nalepka, bass / vocal; Daniel Glass, drums; Evan Arntzen, clarinet / soprano saxophone / vocal; Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Jim Fryer, trombone . . . thus the music was loose, expert, and  gratifying.  Here are several highlights of that late-afternoon session:

RHYTHM KING:

APRIL SHOWERS (where Brian reminds us that Spring is always on the way):

HAPPY FEET (vocal Evan):

WOLVERINE BLUES:

ACE IN THE HOLE (vocal John):

WILLIE  THE WEEPER:

All of the musicians in this edition of the Gotham City Band were well-known to me, many of them for over a decade, but the new fellow, Daniel Glass, is a stunning ensemble and solo drummer: he listens, he swings, and he has a whole peaceful arsenal of appropriate sounds.  JAZZ LIVES readers may know him better than I did, but he is someone special, and I will write more about his various enterprises in future.

Right now, I am going to think of violets descending from the sky, a lovely image.

May your happiness increase!

MORE SWING BELOW STAIRS: TAL RONEN, ROSSANO SPORTIELLO, JAY RATTMAN, KEVIN DORN, and TAMAR KORN at FAT CAT (Sept. 30, 2015)

FAT CAT interior

Here‘s the first part of this posting — four delicious songs from a quartet gig held in the basement funhouse that we know as Fat Cat (75 Christopher Street, Greenwich Village, New York) on September 30, 2015: the music-makers are Tal Ronen, string bass; Rossano Sportiello, piano; Jay Rattman, saxophone and clarinet; Kevin Dorn, drums — and guest magician Tamar Korn offering two Irving Berlin classics at the end of this post.

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The rarely played (but haunting) DEEP NIGHT:

LIZA:

And Miss Korn paid us a visit, in 3/4 time, with ALWAYS:

BLUE SKIES:

What a band.

May your happiness increase!

SWING BELOW STAIRS: TAL RONEN, ROSSANO SPORTIELLO, JAY RATTMAN, KEVIN DORN at FAT CAT (Sept. 30, 2015)

Fat-Cat

Fat Cat (75 Christopher Street, New York City) is a cavernous basement space notable for a bar, pool tables, chess sets, ping pong, other kinds of games, and an enthusiastic — often cheerfully vocal — young crowd.  Since it costs three dollars to enter and have your hand stamped with a feline silhouette (I always respectfully decline), it is happily frolicsome down there.  That is a gentle way of saying — for the members of the JAZZ LIVES audience who insist that music be played in reverent silence — that there is an audible background of human conversation and occasionally shouts and yelps of what I hope is pleasure.  Once the music begins, it is easy to concentrate on the jazz, so don’t quail and panic. Unless, of course, you’d rather.  Imagine yourself invited to a large party full of happy people where you can listen to a wonderful New York City jazz quartet for free.

FAT CAT interior

Generously, the kind and wise management also offers jazz of all kinds, from Terry Waldo’s happily loose Gotham City Jazz Band to much more modern experiments.

One of the happiest times I’ve had at Fat Cat was very recent — September 30, 2015 — and a delightful long set by the Tal Ronen Quartet.  Tal is a great string bassist but he’s also a fine catalyst: he puts together excellent groups of people who like and listen to one another.  This Quartet (with a special surprise guest at the end) was special: Jay Rattman, saxophone and clarinet; Rossano Sportiello, piano; Kevin Dorn, drums.  And here’s the first half of what they played.  And sung:

Frank Foster’s SHINY STOCKINGS:

A seasonal AUTUMN IN NEW YORK:

YOU’RE DRIVING ME CRAZY:

JUST IN TIME:

More to come.  And the Fat Cat music schedule is available here, with appearances by a wide variety of fine jazz players, from George Braith to Ehud Asherie to Billy Kaye and Harold Mabern . . .

May your happiness increase!

TAL RONEN and FRIENDS at FAT CAT: JON-ERIK KELLSO, ROSSANO SPORTIELLO, KEVIN DORN, ATTILA KORB (October 1, 2014)

When on October 1 I saw on Facebook — my current energetically subjective news source — that the wonderful string bassist Tal Ronen was leading a small group at Fat Cat on Christopher Street in Greenwich Village, I shook off my lassitude and headed there.

I had never heard this combination of heroes before, although I’ve been following three of them for a decade.  Along with Tal, there was Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Rossano Sportiello, piano; Kevin Dorn, drums, and for the closing two tunes, Attila Korb, trombone, sitting in on his first New York trip. (I knew Attila well from his work with the Bohem Ragtime Jazz Band, although we’d never met in person.)

This is really Tal’s International Group, its members hailing from Israel, Italy, Hungary, Allen Park (Michigan), and New York City — not that anyone really needs proof that the fine musicians exist all over the world.

The lighting at Fat Cat is properly subdued, as befits a Greenwich Village basement / recreation center, and the youthful crowd behind me was on its own path, but the band was a dream come true.

WHEN YOU’RE SMILING:

SEPTEMBER IN THE RAIN:

OUR / MY / A MONDAY DATE:

BETWEEN THE DEVIL AND THE DEEP BLUE SEA:

ROYAL GARDEN BLUES:

THERE’LL BE SOME CHANGES MADE:

After a brief break, the Quartet became a Quintet, thanks to the esteemed Mister Korb:

COQUETTE:

STRUTTIN’ WITH SOME BARBECUE:

You already know this, but music is one of the surest pathways to joy.

May your happiness increase!

HOT NOTES FROM UNDERGROUND: TERRY WALDO’S GOTHAM CITY BAND (featuring DAN BARRETT) at FAT CAT (Sept. 25, 2011)

Fat Cat is a large underground room located at 75 Christopher Street (off of Seventh Avenue South) in Greenwich Village, New York City.  Without much fanfare, it has been featuring jazz at night — sometimes three different bands performing each evening — as well as Sunday afternoon sets by pianist / singer Terry Waldo and his Gotham City Band.

Last Sunday, September 25, 2011, was a special afternoon, because Dan Barrett, the Pride of Costa Mesa, California, brought his trombone and cornet to the session.  Early on, the band included Peter Ecklund on trumpet; Pete Martinez, clarinet; Terry himself; John Gill, drums and banjo; Alexi David, string bass — with guest appearances from singers Barbara Rosene and Jerron “Blind Boy” Paxton.

As always, Fat Cat is known for “atmospheric lighting,” which means deep darkness (but you can always pretend you are listening with your eyes closed to the world’s best live radio broadcast) and occasional irrelevant shouts of triumph from the young folk playing foosball or other games . . . but even with these distractions, the music remained focused, stirring, and swinging.

The session began with a very happy — even joyous — MILENBERG JOYS:

Be it ever so humble, there’s no song like HOME — with deep associations to Louis Armstrong (early and middle-period) and an irreplaceable Keynote recording by Jack Teagarden, Joe Thomas, and Coleman Hawkins:

A groovy, slow-drag BLUES MY NAUGHTY SWEETIE GIVES TO ME was next, suggesting that the Sweetie in question was exceedingly Naughty to inspire such music:

Pete Martinez, Terry, Alexi, and John took a different tack with the RUBBER PLANT RAG:

I hadn’t seen or heard the fine singer Barbara Rosene in a long time, but she sounds wonderful, here CONFESSIN’ her inward thoughts to us in the darkness:

And to show off her cheery side, her sunny-side-up, she chose ‘S’WONDERFUL to follow:

Terry chose the venerable Berlin song ALL BY MYSELF for his feature, with Dan taking over Peter Ecklund’s lead by playing hot cornet:

The delightfully enigmatic Jerron “Blind Boy” Paxton sat in for DIGA DIGA DOO — singing and clowning and having a fine time:

Then, a highlight for me — John Gill’s performance of the most satirized song in pop music of the last hundred years, MY MELANCHOLY BABY, which he sang with casual sincerity, the mark of a genuine performer:

MARGIE, ninety-plus years old, is still entrancing us:

Barbara Rosene told me that IF I HAD YOU is one of her favorite songs: her sweet conviction comes through in every bar:

Jerron returned to sing WRAP YOUR TROUBLES IN DREAMS, and the band agreed that optimism of this sort is never out of style.  (The young gamers were shouting at the start, but I could dream those troubles away with ease):

And the session closed with a frankly riotous CHINATOWN, Jerron mugging while Dan and Pete played superb improvisations:

Music worth descending into the depths for . . . and the cover charge at Fat Cat is a very tidy three dollars, a rare pittance in New York City.

JOEL PRESS, MICHAEL KANAN, TAL RONEN, STEVE LITTLE at FAT CAT (July 5, 2011)

FAT CAT (located at 75 Christopher Street in New York City, just off Seventh Avenue South) is, at first glance, an odd place to hear rewarding jazz.

You climb down a steep staircase, meet up with someone who asks for proof of age and three dollars, stamps your hand with a blue-ink drawing of a grinning feline, and you turn a corner . . . into what resembles a Fifties rec room at a huge scale.  Past a bar (with an intriguing selection of beers on tap — I had Old Speckled Hen, a UK favorite — and wines) into a large basement filled with chess tables, billiard tables, ping pong tables, foosball tables, shuffleboard, and more.  In fact, one of Fat Cat’s two sites asserts proudly that it is “NYC’s best-equipped gaming center” and  “best pool hall.”

It’s far from dreary and ominous — perhaps a youthful Minnesota Fats and Eddie Felson might be doing battle here — on my most recent trip to Fat Cat, two young couples were playing pool with more enthusiasm than skill.  There is a good deal of late-adolescent shouting when someone makes a great shot or a disastrous move, but it’s all cheerful.  (One night, behind me was a chili-cookoff, or so it seemed, with aluminum tins of chili for a birthday party, a cake, and a long version of HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO YOU.)  And I understand that it is jammed at 1:30 AM.

Here’s the “gaming site” for the skeptical:

http://www.fatcatmusic.org/gaming.html

What the youngbloods at their Scrabble boards might not know is that Fat Cat is a secret jazz hangout as well.  How do the names Frank Wess, Ned Goold, Terry Waldo, Grant Stewart, Ehud Asherie, Corin Stiggall, Alex Hoffman — and more —  sound to you?

The other Fat Cat website has all the musical information you need:

http://www.fatcatmusic.org/

On Tuesday, July 5, a quartet gathered (there are soft couches — the sort of furniture it is difficult to leap up from) in a smaller quadrant not far from the bar.  The corner was dark in portions, gleefully lit in primary colors near the back.  A large sign announcing FEATRING _______________ and HIS ORCHESTRA (approximately, with the leader’s name never filled in) hangs over the proceedings.

But even given the shouts of joy or disdain from the players (not at all critical comments on the music), the quartet accomplished great things and brought wonderful lilting sounds to Fat Cat.

The players?

On tenor and soprano saxophone, the whimsical monument, the Swing Explorer, Joel Press . . . . making his own way, often sideways, in the great singing saxophone tradition bounded on one end by Eddie Miller and on the other by Steve Lacy.  Although Joel says it’s impossible for him, given his origins, I hear a deep Southwestern moan and lope in his playing.  He bounces when he plays, and you would hear the bounce with your eyes closed.  His sound is tender yet burry: I thought of a favorite rough blanket, cozy but assertive, as he glides from one idea to the next.  Lester Young peeks in approvingly over Joel’s shoulder, although Joel is much more than a purveyor of Prez-isms.

Pianist Michael Kanan never does the expected, yet when his notes and pauses have settled in, they seem exactly right — with the epigrammatic power and amusement of a Nat Cole, a Jimmy Rowles — although he, too, covers the entire spectrum from Willie the Lion Smith to Ray Bryant and Red Garland.  Michael makes wonderful sound-clusters come out of the piano: rippling trills and tremolos, single-note stabs, chords that seem lopsided but fit just right.  He and Joel float on a wave of loving respect, and several songs feature a sweetly chatty interlude, where ideas are tossed back and forth in polite yet eager conversation.

I hadn’t met Tal Ronen before, although I’d admired his work on a variety of CDs.  And I was delighted by the big warm sound he got — even when tuning his bass.  His pulse was absolutely right, although never obtrusive, and his solo lines were worthy of being transcribed.  Although some players bridle at being compared with the Great Dead, Tal made me think — many times during the evening — of both George Duvivier and Paul Chambers.

Steve Little and Joel go back a long way — and this session was a reunion of sorts after a thirty-year hiatus.  Steve’s gently prodding drums make a band sound better, and his movement around his set (from brushes on the snare to a variety of cymbal strokes) leave us enlivened rather than somnolent.  Hear how deeply he pays attention to what’s going on within the band — but never letting his commentaries obscure the other players.

Some highlights:

Charlie Parker’s DEWEY SQUARE, a New York landmark as well as a musical statement:

YOU’RE DRIVING ME CRAZY — in the best Kansas City tradition — turned the corner into MOTEN SWING before it finshed.  Here’s the first Kanan – Press chat, too:

Joel named his variation on the chords of OUT OF NOWHERE “LAST EXIT” in honor of Warne Marsh, who died onstage while playing his own improvisation on the same changes:

LOVER MAN, for Billie Holiday and Ram Ramirez:

LIKE SOMEONE IN LOVE, taken at an easy romantic trot, was a real pleasure:

INDIANA was the occasion for another Press – Kanan conversation:

Joel turned to his soprano sax for Thelonious Monk’s improvisation on LADY BE GOOD chord changes, which Monk called HACKENSACK:

And Joel closed the two sets with an easy Bb blues — the line, written by Sonny Rollins (but reaching back many generations before him) was called RELAXIN’, and it was an apt title:

Beauty and fervor and whimsy in the darkness.

JOEL PRESS COMES TO NEW YORK! (July 2011)

Short notice: the splendid saxophonist Joel Press is paying a brief visit to New York City.  As always, he will be creating bouncing riffs and casually eloquent, speaking melodic lines.  I think of his metaphysical street address as the corner of Swing and Lyricism.

Joel has three performances planned — with fine musical friends, as always.  Joel will be playing duets with the wonderful pianist Spike Wilner at SMALLS, 183 W 10th Street @ 7th Avenue South on Thursday, July 7th.  Their set begins at 7:30.  They will be followed by the Jeff Williams Quintet.

Sunday, July 3rd, 1:30 AM (if you’re awake) Joel, the cherished pianist Michael Kanan, bassist Tal Ronen, drummer Steve Little, will be playing at FAT CAT, 75 Chistopher Street @ 7th Avenue.

Tuesday, July 5th, at 7PM,  the same quartet will be at FAT CAT, 75 Chistopher Street @ 7th Avenue.

Carpe Press, JAZZ LIVES readers!

GIGS TO GET TO!

I’ve written at length about the luxury of Regular Gigs in New York City: the EarRegulars (The Ear Inn) on Sunday; Terry Waldo’s regular sessions at Fat Cat; Vince Giordano and the Nighthawks at Club Cache (Hotel Edison) on Monday and Tuesday; the Grove Street Stompers (Arthur’s Tavern) on Monday; David Ostwald’s Louis Armstrong Centennial Band (Birdland) on Wednesdays.  All those bands and venues have much to offer and I hope JAZZ LIVES readers in the vicinity.

But in the middle of this coming week there is a trio of gigs that aren’t everyday (or night) events.  And they all begin reasonably early — important to someone like me whose alarm goes off before 6 AM.  I hope to go to all three!

The first is on Tuesday, March 29, 2011 from 7:30 to 9:15.  It features the engaging singer MARTY ELKINS with the reliably surprising pianist EHUD ASHERIE at Smalls, 183 West 10th Street, New York, NY  10014.  $20 gets you in and you can stay.  And perhaps Minnow will leap in, again. 

On Wednesday, the 30th, the GRAND STREET STOMPERS will be appearing at the Radegast Bierhall in Williamsburg, Brooklyn — beginning at 9 and probably going until midnight.  Wonderful food, fizzy blond(e) beer, no cover charge — a tip basket circulates — and lots of informal dancing.  It’s at 113 North 3rd Street (I believe the intersection is Berry Street).

Did I mention the music?  Trumpeter / composer / arranger GORDON AU will be there — and usually his colleagues are ROB ADKINS on bass, NICK RUSSO on banjo / guitar, EMILY ASHER on trombone, DENNIS LICHTMAN on clarinet — a lovely swinging compact inventive group.  And for the Brooklyn-timid, Radegast isn’t more than a few minutes walk from the Bedford Ave. stop on the L, although Doug Pomeroy says there are other ways to arrive at Jazz Paradise.

On Thursday, the inspiring pianist MICHAEL KANAN will be joined by the emotionally deep guitarist PETER BERNSTEIN for a series of duets at Smalls — again 7:30 to 9:15.  Come early but leave two seats in the front for the Beloved and her beau, please!

As Ralf Reynolds says, “Thank you for keeping LIVE JAZZ . . . . ALIVE!”

THE GOLDEN EAR(A) (Dec. 12, 2010)

I’ve heard live jazz in many settings here and abroad.  In New York City, I can think of the last Eddie Condon’s, Jimmy Ryan’s, The Cajun, Smoke, Cleopatra’s Needle, Gregory’s, The Cookery, Arthur’s Tavern, Smoke, Iridium, Jazz Standard, The Garage, Bradley’s, The Half Note, The Onliest Place, Banjo Jim’s, Your Father’s Mustache, Bourbon Street, Sweet Rhythm, Smalls, Fat Cat, and many more. 

With all due respect to these clubs that have provided lasting memories from the early Seventies onward, I can’t over-estimate the joyous resonance of the Sunday night sessions at The Ear Inn (326 Spring Street, Soho, New York City) which have been going on for nearly three and a half years now.

The EarRegulars — co-led by Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet, and Matt Munisteri, guitar — have offered serene / hot chamber jazz by a quartet staffed by a changing cast of characters . . . with expansion possibilities up to a dozen strolling players. 

But Sunday night, December 12, 2010, was a high point: two brass, two rhythm.  That combination might have been challenging with other players, but when the two others were Joel Forbes, bass, and Randy Reinhart, cornet, I knew great jazz was in store.  Joel and Matt are a wonderful team — as soloists and a wasteless, energetic but never noisy rhythm section.  Piano?  Drums?  Not missed.

Jon-Erik and Randy are pals (as you’ll hear) and although an evening featuring two other trumpeters — even though Randy plays cornet — might turn into a competitive display of ferocity, an old-time cutting contest, nothing of the sort happened here.  The two hornmen sounded for all the world like dear friends having a polite but involved conversation.  They soloed without interruption; their contrapuntal lines tumbled and soared; they created great hot ensembles, each one handing off the lead to the other.

Deep music and rollicking fun as well.

How about two tributes to the forever-young man from Davenport,  the dear boy Bix, compositions that have become hot jazz standards, ROYAL GARDEN BLUES and JAZZ ME BLUES? 

Written by Earl Hines, performed by Louis and Basie — some solid credentials for the song YOU CAN DEPEND ON ME:

What followed was a highlight of the evening — a deep, rocking exploration of DALLAS BLUES.  They’re on the right track!

Honesty counts, and candor is a great virtue.  So IT’S A SIN TO TELL A LIE, as Fats Waller told us:

Fidelity, even for a short period, is a great thing.  IF I COULD BE WITH YOU (ONE HOUR TONIGHT) is James P. Johnson’s wistful evocation of the desire for more than sixty minutes:

But everything in this life is mutable (root word: “muta”) and so THERE’LL BE SOME CHANGES MADE:

I’m so grateful that such music is being created where I and others can see and hear it!