Tag Archives: Fats Waller

FACING THE MUSIC: EHUD ASHERIE, DAVID WONG, AARON KIMMEL: JAZZ AT THE KITANO (March 4, 2015)

An ideal evening in New York — or anywhere else — with the brilliant pianist / composer Ehud Asherie and his expert friends, David Wong, string bass; Aaron Kimmel, drums.  This mini-concert took place at Jazz at the Kitano on March 4, 2015.

Songhounds will notice that Ehud currently draws much of his inspiration from songs written before 1945, but that his approach is wide-ranging, “modern” yet lyrical and deeply respectful of the original inspirations. He can offer a lovely classical tribute to a jazz set-piece (as in the deliriously fine Waller interlude below) but he is not only a conservator of traditions.

Ehud never reduces a song to a stark harmonic formula; rather, he opens its doors and plays around inside and outside of it. The trio swings assertively but cheerfully; this is endearing and engaging music.

A well-deserved nod to Fred and Ginger and those glorious films, LET’S FACE THE MUSIC AND DANCE:

A whimsically titled but emotionally kind original, THE WELL-EDUCATED MOTH (Ehud explains it all):

The very tender Eubie Blake – Noble Sissle love ballad in swingtime, A DOLLAR FOR A DIME:

For this, our tour  guides are Kenny Davern, Dick Wellstood, Duke Ellington, and [stowing away in the hold] James P. Johnson — the accurately titled FAST AS A BASTARD:

Ehud’s Brazilian souvenir, SAMBA DE GRINGO:

His brilliant solo excursion into the Land O’Waller, AFRICAN RIPPLES / VIPER’S DRAG:

Who remembers Vincent Youmans?  Ehud does: FLYING DOWN TO RIO:

The Ralph Rainger / Leo Robin THANKS FOR THE MEMORY is most often played at an appropriately mournful tempo, but Ehud gives it a kind of jaunty wave as he and the trio say “Bye now!”:

And we come back to Berlin and Astaire for TOP HAT, WHITE TIE AND TAILS:

Jazz at the Kitano happens regularly in a comfortable space in the Kitano Hotel (66 Park Avenue in New York City) — worth the trip!

Thanks to Ehud, David, Aaron, our friend Maggie Condon, and the durable Gino Moratti, who helps good things like this to happen — always.

May your happiness increase!

LIGHTLY AND POLITELY: THE SPEAKEASY QUARTET

If THE SPEAKEASY QUARTET is new to you, you might conclude that it was a vocal group, or a faux-Twenties ensemble, heavy on costume and affectation. Happily, you’d be misinformed:

Sounds very nice, doesn’t it?

A friend, knowing of my delighted reverence for the playing of jazz cellist Mike Karoub (with the Royal Garden Trio and most recently in James Dapogny’s hot string ensemble) said, “Karoub is an integral part of this quartet.  Have you heard them?”  Thus, the Speakeasy Quartet — originally a trio, formed in 2009 by rhythm guitarist — tenor rhythm guitarist — Hugh Leal, with Karoub, soprano saxophonist Ray Manzerolle, and pianist Mike Karloff.

They are unusual but they are also rewarding — mere novelty in music doesn’t win me over.  The odd instrumentation in itself would mean little if the players weren’t lyrical and swinging, which they are.  Ray Manzerolle is new to me, but I am glad to know him.  Often the soprano saxophone becomes at best an assertive instrument, at worst an assault weapon.  Ray has a delightfully centered tone, a sweet but not sugary tone, and a lightness of approach that reminds me happily of (still with us and playing) Robert Sage Wilber.  I know Ray, like Bob, draws inspiration from Bechet, but he does not adopt Bechet’s violent romanticism — and volume.

Pianist Mike Karloff is a quiet but essential member of the quartet, offering lilting melodic lines, subtle harmonic support and a modern Hines / Wilson commentary and comping.  Hugh Leal’s tenor guitar — the instrument of Eddie Condon and a young Marty Grosz — offers airy but strong support and a wonderful light swing.  He’s been playing since 1970, and his pulse never falters.

I think Karoub is one of the great multi-taskers: a swinging rhythm player without the ponderousness one sometimes finds in traditional string bass, then adding a wondrous light eloquence on swinging bowed cello. Think of Casals sneaking uptown to take lessons from Milt Hinton, and you have Karoub.  The Quartet’s sound is, be definition, silken and airy, but it’s not effete: they swing, and they swing effectively.

The group’s repertoire is a mixture of Bechet-associated classics — PREMIER BAL, EGYPTIAN FANTASY, INDIAN SUMMER — three very pleasing Manzerolle originals — TAKE ME UPTOWN TO DOWNTOWN, A LETTER FROM BECHET, CAFE ROYALE — and jazz classics covering a wide range — THE MOOCHE, EAST ST. LOUIS TOODLE-OO, JUBILEE, WRAP YOUR TROUBLES IN DREAMS, WILLIE THE WEEPER, WILD MAN BLUES.

Here’s the group’s Facebook page.  And their website, where you can hear more sound samples from the  CD.

The first pressing of the Speakeasy Quartet is sold out, but there is a special limited second run: the price is $18.00 including postage.  Send checks made out to Hugh Leal — to Hugh Leal, P.O. Box 681, Detroit, MI 48231.  And Hugh tells me that the second SEQ CD is coming out at the end of this June.

And here’s another taste — sweetly sad instead of frolicsome, Gordon Jenkins’ BLUE PRELUDE:

May your happiness increase!

DOT’S AUTOGRAPH BOOK (1944-47)

HAMPTON autographs 1945

These remarkable pages come from a time when big jazz bands appeared regularly at large urban ballrooms — for dancing and listening.  The assiduous jazz fan and “autograph hound” was one Dot Spokisfield, who lived in or near St. Louis, Missouri.  My source (offering the autographs for sale on eBay) writes, “Dot would encourage to the musicians to write what they pleased on the page, with most of them writing the name of the band or orchestra they were associated with most of the signatures being signed in pencil and often personalized to Dot. Dot would then write where and when the signature was obtained and adding a red asterisk next to the name.”

The perforations show that these pages were originally bound in an autograph book, the pages being 4 by 6 inches.  I have not been able to find anything out about Dot — even with her unusual name.  But the evidence of her friendly enthusiasm for the music and the musicians remains. Fortunately for us, she was a careful archivist and musicians in that era not only signed their names but indicated what instrument they played — making our twenty-first century research almost too easy.  The page at top:

4×6’ album page autographed by Teddy Sinclair, Dave Page, William Mackel, Alice Lindsey, Freddie Simon and Charlie Harris on one side, and Joe Marr, Arnette [later Arnett] Cobb and Charles Fowlkes on the back. The signatures were obtained on September 24, 1946.

LOUIS 1945

A 4×6’ album page autographed by Velma Middleton, Larry Anderson, Big Chief Moore and on the back by Norman Powe and Elmer Warner. These were signed on February 10, 1945.
DIZZY CAB 1946

A 4×6’ album page autographed by Dizzy Gillespie (signed Be-Bop, Big Diz) and two members of the Cab Calloway Orchestra in Norman Powe and Hilton Jefferson. These were signed on December 7, 1946 and August 12, 1946.

JACK T 1947

A 4×6’ album page with an affixed cut measuring 3×4’ autographed by Jack Teagarden in pencil, with a notation that it was signed at Tune Town on April 13, 1947 as part of the Cavalcade of Jazz.

COATSVILLE HARRIS 1947

A 4×6’ album page autographed by Leslie Scott and on the back by James “Coatsville” Harris, Adam Martin, Elmer Warner and Ed Swantson, all then members of Louis Armstrong’s band.

BASIE 1944
A 4×6’ album page autographed by Count Basie, Jimmy Rushing, Joe Newman, Dickie Wells, Harry ‘Sweets” Edison, Joe Newman one side, and Dickie Wells (another), Harry Edison, Al Killian, Louis Taylor and Ted Donelly on the on the back. The signatures were obtained on June 25, 1944.

KRUPA CAB 1946

A 4×6’ album page autographed by James Buxton and Keg Johnson and on the back, an affixed cut signature of Gene Krupa. These were signed on December 17, 1946 and December 9, 1946.

HINES KIRK 1944

A 4×6’ album page autographed by La Verne Barker and Bob DeVall (Andy Kirk’s valet or band manager?) on one side and Earl ”Fatha” Hines (glues to the page) on the back. The signatures were obtained on May 7, 1944, and one side had McGhee, while on the reverse are the others.

LIPS DINAH WASHINGTON 1947

A 4×6’ album page with an affixed paper autographed by 8 Jazz greats, including Dinah Washington, George Jenkins, Freddie Washington and on the back by Hot Lips Page, Carl Wilson. Ronnie Lane and J.C. Higginbotham. It is noted that this was signed at Tune Town on April 13, 1947 as part of the Cavalcade of Jazz.

CAB 1946 Milt Kansas

4×6’ album page autographed by Dave Rivera, Kansas Fields, Milt Hinton, Hilton Jefferson and on the back by Lammar Wright, Charles Frazier and Paul Webster. These were signed on December 7, 1946.

LIONEL and RED CAPS

A 4×6’ album page autographed by Lionel Hampton and on the back by The Red Caps (signature affixed within the book), and signed in 1945.

Lionel SNOOKY LEO SHEPPARD

A 4×6’ album page autographed by Snooky Young and on the back by Leo Sheppard (signature affixed within the book), and most likely signed in 1946.

KENTON 1944 in audience

Stan Kenton, in the audience, 1946.

FRED BECKETT NANCE LAWRENCE BROWN

Hamp, Duke, Ray Nance!

ANDY KIRK 1944

A 4×6’ album page autographed by Edward Loving, Jimmy Forrest, Ben Smith and Ben Thigpen on one side, and Wayman Richardson, (Art?) and J.D. King on the back.The signatures were obtained on May 7, 1944, and one side had Howard McGhee.

HAMP 1945

A lot of two 4×6’ album page autographed by Dinah Washington and three others, and on the back is signed by Milt Buckner.

SLICK JONES

A 4×6’ album page autographed by Slick Jones, dated August 19, 1944.

MILLS BROS

A 4×6’ album page autographed by The Mills Brothers, Herbert (April 2, 1912 – April 12, 1989), Donald (April 29, 1915 – November 13, 1999) and John Mills Sr.(February 11, 1882 – December 8, 1967). This was signed on September 22, 1944.

ED ROANE AL MORGAN

A 4×6’ album page autographed by Al Morgan and Ed Roane.

JUAN TIZOL

A 4×6’ album page autographed by Juan Tizol and Buddy Devito from the Harry James Orchestra and on he back by Ted (Barnett?) from the Louis Armstrong Orchestra. These were signed on February 9, 1946.

Cozy Cole Ace Harris E Hawkins

A 4×6’ album page autographed by Ace Harris, Leroy Kirkland, Joe Murphy, Ray Hogan, Laura Washington, Matthew Gee, Lee Stanfield, Bobby Smith, C.H. Jones and on the back, affixed to the page is the signature of Cozy Cole. These were signed on January 7, 1947 and March 1, 1947.
LOUIS JORDAN

A 4×6’ album page autographed by Louis Jordan on one side (dated August 18, 1944) and on the back by his piano player Tommy Thomas.

“Keep groovin”!  indeed.  There was a time when giants swung the earth. Blessings on them, and also on people like Dot, who kept them alive for us, seventy years later.

May your happiness increase!

CROSSING OVER: WILLIE FARMER MEETS FATS, RAZAF, LOUIS, and MOSE

I had never heard of Willie Farmer and his Orchestra when I happened upon this Bluebird 78 in the Food for Thought shop in Sebastopol, California, last year, but the two songs sold the disc for me.  Another version of OLD MAN MOSE by an unknown band?  (Although they cannot have been that unknown if they were recording for Bluebird.)  And FAIR AND SQUARE — connected to Fats Waller by way of Andy Razaf — was a song I knew well because banjoist / singer Lueder Ohlwein of the fabled Sunset Music Company — had performed it often.

Online research turned up nothing on Farmer or his band, and George T. Simon’s THE BIG BANDS sniffed contemptuously at Farmer, identifying him as a drummer leading a Mickey Mouse / society band.

Still, the records are more than competent, even though no one would confuse the Farmer band with Basie at the Famous Door.

Here’s FAIR AND SQUARE, with a pleasing muted trumpet paraphrase of the melody:

and OLD MAN MOSE, with Scat Powell — who turned up on some jazz records in the decade — perhaps borrowing some odd vocal effects from the (in)famous Duchin recording:

Tom Lord’s discography lists this personnel for some 1937 sides: Willie Newman, Don “Skippy” Lipsey  or Hymie Farberman (tp) Billy Pritchard (tb) Charles Reauseau, Nat Brown (as) Wes Fogel (ts) Gabby Buttafoo (p) Frank Darnada (g) Chuck Jordan (b) Leo Farberman (d) Willie Farmer (dir)

The Farmer band must have recorded more than Lord lists, but they did cross over several times more into the lands of Ellington and Waller, with SCATTIN’ AT THE KIT KAT, ALLIGATOR CRAWL, and MIDNITE AT THE MADHOUSE, which might be related to Chick Webb’s similar-sounding record. Hymie Farberman had been part of the early Twenties New York “hot”scene; Billy Pritchard turned up on a Bud Freeman V-Disc, and I suspect other members of the band had swing credentials that they kept up to date.

I offer these as pleasant curiosities, and relics of a time when music and “styles” weren’t so rigidly divided into categories that didn’t touch.

May your happiness increase! 

TAKE ME TO THAT LAND OF GROSZ

I expect that Marty Grosz, who celebrates his eighty-fifth birthday on February 28, would say something acerbic about any fuss.  But those who know  him have worked hard to get around his sharp-edged humor, his nostalgia for the old days when jazz was played in “joints,” “saloons,” and “toilets,” to savor the swing alchemy he so generously offers.  And he has offered it to us on record since 1951, when the label read MART GROSS and then listed him in the credits as “Beef” Gross.

Marty in the studio, May 2008

Marty in the studio, May 2008

But returning to the fuss.  All I will say here is that I am delighted to live in his world, where getting hot is the highest aim of humankind — swinging, that is, not simply making a racket on the bandstand.  I admire his rhythmic pulse, the sound of his acoustic guitar in the ensemble.  And his singing — somewhere between Fats and Red McKenzie (he is a peerless balladeer, although his favorite tunes tend to be medium and medium-up) — as well as his arranging, something he’s less credited for.

I’d heard and seen Marty as far back as 1974, when he was an invaluable member of Soprano Summit, and then began to buy his records — the duets with Wayne Wright and the many small-band sides on Aviva, Stomp Off, Jazzology, Nagel-Heyer and others.  In 2004, I had an opportunity to renew my admiration, and heard at length from Marty about Trollope, Frank Chace, the old days, and the Decline of the West.  Most often I saw — and eventually video-recorded him — at Jazz at Chautauqua, now the Allegheny Jazz Party, with detours to Philadelphia and the occasional New York club.

Here are a few excursions into the Land of Grosz from Chautauqua.  (I’ve not enumerated the noble Men of Grosz but they are credited in the descriptions.)

CHERRY (2011):

TIN ROOF BLUES (2012):

IT’S A SIN TO TELL A LIE (2012):

You can find more — here — and other admirers worldwide have captured their very own Adventures in Swing under Marty’s leadership.

If you think about what a birthday celebration means, it may vary with age.  A six-year old’s birthday might mean, “Goodness, what a big person you are becoming!”  For someone older, I think the sentiment is, “We are so happy to have you with us.  We are grateful to you.”  As we are.

May your happiness increase!

ELEGANTLY IMAGINATIVE: ECHOES OF SWING, “BLUE PEPPER”

I begin somberly . . . but there are more cheerful rewards to follow.

As the jazz audience changes, I sense that many people who “love jazz” love it most when it is neatly packed in a stylistically restrictive box of their choosing. I hear statements of position, usually in annoyed tones, about banjos, ride cymbals, Charlie Parker, purity, authenticity, and “what jazz is.”

I find this phenomenon oppressive, yet I try to understand it as an expression of taste.  One stimulus makes us vibrate; another makes us look for the exit.  Many people fall in love with an art form at a particular stage of it and their development and remain faithful to it, resisting change as an enemy.

And the most tenaciously restrictive “jazz fans” I know seem frightened of music that seems to transgress boundaries they have created .  They shrink back, appalled, as if you’d served them a pizza with olives, wood screws, mushrooms, and pencils.  They say that one group is “too swingy” or “too modern” or they say, “I can’t listen to that old stuff,” as if it were a statement of religious belief.  “Our people don’t [insert profanation here] ever.”

But some of this categorization, unfortunately, is dictated by the marketplace: if a group can tell a fairly uninformed concert promoter, “We sound like X [insert name of known and welcomed musical expression],” they might get a booking. “We incorporate everyone from Scott Joplin to Ornette Coleman and beyond,” might scare off people who like little boxes.

Certain musical expressions are sacred to me: Louis.  The Basie rhythm section. And their living evocations.  But I deeply admire musicians and groups, living in the present, that display the imaginative spirit.  These artists understand that creative improvised music playfully tends to peek around corners to see what possibilities exist in the merging of NOW and THEN and WHAT MIGHT BE.

One of the most satisfying of these playful groups is ECHOES OF SWING. Their clever title says that they are animated by wit, and this cheerful playfulness comes out in their music — not in “comedy” but in an amused ingenuity, a lightness of heart.  They have been in action since 1997, and when I saw them in person (the only time, alas) in 2007, they were wonderfully enlivening.

This action photograph by Sascha Kletzsch suggests the same thing:

EchoesOfSwingInAction1 (Foto Sascha Kletzsch, v.l. Lhotzky, Hopkins, Dawson, Mewes)

They are Colin T. Dawson, trumpet / vocal;  Chris Hopkins, alto sax; Bernd Lhotzky, piano; Oliver Mewes, drums.  And they are that rarity in modern times, a working group — which means that they know their routines, and their ensemble work is beautiful, offering the best springboards into exhilarating improvisatory flights. They are also “a working group,” which means that they have gigs.  Yes, gigs!  Check out their schedule here.

Here  is a 2013 post featuring their hot rendition of DIGA DIGA DOO, and an earlier one about their previous CD, MESSAGE FROM MARS, with other videos — as well as my favorite childhood joke about a Martian in New York City here.  And while we’re in the video archives, here is a delicious eleven-minute offering from in November 2014:

and here they are on German television with a late-period Ellington blues, BLUE PEPPER:

All this is lengthy prelude to their new CD, aptly titled BLUE PEPPER:

EchoesOfSwing  - BluePepperCover

The fifteen songs on the disc are thematically connected by BLUE, but they are happily varied, with associations from Ellington to Brubeck and Nat Cole, composers including Gordon Jenkins, Rodgers, Bechet, Waller, Strayhorn — and a traditional Mexican song and several originals by members of the band: BLUE PEPPER / AZZURRO / BLUE PRELUDE / LA PALOMA AZUL / BLUE & NAUGHTY / BLUE MOON / BLACK STICK BLUES / BLUE RIVER / OUT OF THE BLUE / AOI SAMMYAKU [BLUE MOUNTAIN RANGE] / THE SMURF / BLUE GARDENIA / THE BLUE MEDICINE [RADOVAN’S REMEDY] / WILD CAT BLUES / AZURE.

What one hears immediately from this group is energy — not loud or fast unless the song needs either — a joyous leaping into the music.  Although this band is clearly well-rehearsed, there is no feeling of going through the motions. Everything is lively, precise, but it’s clear that as soloists and as an ensemble, they are happily ready to take risks. “Risks” doesn’t mean anarchy in swingtime, but it means a willingness to extend the boundaries: this group is dedicated to something more expansive than recreating already established music.

When I first heard the group (and was instantly smitten) they sounded, often, like a supercharged John Kirby group with Dizzy and Bird sitting in while at intervals the Lion shoved Al Haig off the piano stool.  I heard and liked their swinging intricacies, but now they seem even more adventurous.  And where some of the most endearing CDs can’t be listened to in one sitting because they offer seventy-five minutes of the same thing, this CD is alive, never boring.

A word about the four musicians.  Oliver Mewes loves the light-footed swing of Tough and Catlett, and he is a sly man with a rimshot in just the right place, but he isn’t tied hand and foot by the past.  Bernd Lhotzky is a divine solo pianist (he never rushes or drags) with a beautiful lucent orchestral conception, but he is also someone who is invaluable in an ensemble, providing with Oliver an oceanic swing that fifteen pieces could rest on.  I never listen to this group and say, “Oh, they would be so much better with a rhythm guitar or a string bassist.”

And the front line is just as eloquent.  Colin T. Dawson is a hot trumpet player with a searing edge to his phrases, but he knows where each note should land for the collective elegance of the group — and he’s a sweetly wooing singer in addition.  Chris Hopkins (quiet in person) is a blazing marvel on the alto saxophone — inventive and lyrical and unstoppable — in much the same way he plays the piano.

And here is what my wise friend Dave Gelly wrote: It’s hard to believe at first that there are only four instruments here. The arrangements are so ingenious, and the playing so nimble, that it could be at least twice that number. But listen closely and you will discover just a quartet of trumpet, alto saxophone, piano and drums – with absolutely no electronic tricks. The style is sophisticated small-band swing, the material a judicious mixture of originals and swing-era numbers and there is not a hint of whiskery nostalgia in any of it. It’s about time this idiom received some fresh attention and here’s the perfect curtain-raiser.

Here is their Facebook page, and their website.

We are fortunate that they exist and that they keep bringing us joyous surprises.

May your happiness increase!

LIKE BEACONS OF ROMANCE: VARIATIONS ON “LIVE AND LOVE TONIGHT”

LIVE AND LOVE TONIGHT

Let’s begin with a gently ravishing performance of this song by Peter Mintun:

Peter, who is a fine scholar as well as a wooing performer, notes that the song comes from the Paramount film MURDER AT THE VANITIES, where it is sung during a huge production number with ostrich feathers forming the waves of the ocean.  The 1934 film stars Carl Brisson, Victor McLaglen, Kitty Carlisle, Jack Oakie, Gertrude Michael, Dorothy Stickney, Gail Patrick, Duke Ellington & His Orchestra, and Jessie Ralph.

I find the melody irresistible, and the lyrics are especially charming, deftly avoiding certain hackneyed phrases and rhymes that a lesser writer would have seized on.  And to me, carpe diem for lovers is always an attractive idea.

Here’s a contemporaneous version of LIVE AND LOVE TONIGHT, leisurely and convincing.  Don’t let the surface noise get in the way of romance:

Now, the more famous 1934 version (at least to the jazz cognoscenti), which was my introduction to the song:

How beautiful that is!  I feel wrapped up in that orchestral sound, the soaring invitation of Johnny Hodges’ soprano, the timbres of the different soloists who write their own personal variations on the melody.  (It’s a recording I could listen to a number of times in a row and each time hear something rewarding.)

Five years later, in a small cramped Chicago studio:

That recording is also a series of delights — Walter Page’s energetic bass lines behind Basie’s homage to his mentor Fats, the sound of the rhythm section, the creations of Buck Clayton and the ever-surprising Lester Young.

I have always wondered how LIVE AND LOVE TONIGHT came in to that session.  One ready hypothesis is the hand of John Hammond, who had favorite songs from the Twenties and early Thirties that he urged musicians to record (something that angered Billie Holiday greatly), so I can see him bringing the sheet music to the session.  And I believe, based on the recorded evidence, that Basie and his musicians didn’t feel a great need to expand their repertoire — that Basie would have gone on playing the blues, I GOT RHYTHM, and perhaps I AIN’T GOT NOBODY happily for decades.

But I also wonder how powerfully LIVE AND LOVE TONIGHT made an impression on jazz musicians, because who of them would not have seen a movie with Duke in it?  It’s a mystery, but the results are gorgeous.

Ten or twenty years ago, I would have heard these recordings (leaving Peter aside for a moment) and seen a clear line of “improvement,” of musical progress. To my younger ears, Harman’s version would have been sticky-sweet, and I would have endured the record hoping for a hot eight-bar solo on the final bridge, in the fashion of 1931 hot dance records.  I would have been in love with the Ellington recording — which in its own delicious way, is also “dance music,” but to me the apex of all things gratifying in music would have been the Basie recording.  I still find the final recording thrilling, but I no longer want to construct stairways of progress, where everything ascends to a Hero or Heroine, and all that has come before is somehow inferior.

Good music is satisfying on its own terms, or at least it should be.

And love — not just for tonight or today — will keep us alive for sure.

May your happiness increase!