Every Tuesday night in June, the wonderful trio of Gabrielle Stravelli, voice; Michael Kanan, piano; Pat O’Leary, string bass, has an early-evening gig (5:30 to 7 PM, more or less) at the comfortable Birdland Theater, one flight down, at 315 West 44th Street, between Eighth and Ninth Avenues in midtown Manhattan.
The OAO and I were there for the first Tuesday and it was delightful and delightfully varied. I couldn’t bring back any video-evidence for you, but here are two previously unseen delights from the Dan Block Quartet’s gig at Swing 46, with Dan on tenor saxophone.
I can’t account for the meteorological theme, but since everyone talks about the weather, I hope that will hold true for these beautiful musicians and their art.
Here’s a rarity, WITH THE WIND AND THE RAIN IN YOUR HAIR, by Clara Edwards and Jack Lawrence — its first recordings from 1940. (Both Edwards and Lawrence are fascinating figures: she was a singer, pianist, composer of art songs as well as popular ones, and he is perhaps best known for the Ink Spots’ IF I DIDN’T CARE — but their biographies are intriguing.)
From the rare to the perhaps over-familiar . . . ON THE SUNNY SIDE OF THE STREET, like ALL OF ME, has been performed so many times that I often sigh when a band or singer calls it, but not with this band and this singer. It’s credited to Jimmy McHugh and Dorothy Fields, although the gossip says that the melody was first composed by one Thomas Waller. Whether that’s true or not, I am reminded of Jonathan Schwartz’s anecdote about his father, Arthur Schwartz, saying to his son when they were walking in the shade, “Let’s cross over to Dorothy’s side of the street.”
Here, we can do the same thing (looking all four ways) and find ourselves in creative happiness. Catch Gabrielle’s exultant second chorus and the wondrous playing by Dan, Pat, and Michael (the last slyly reminding us of the pitter-pat, as he should):
Don’t miss Gabrielle and her friends, no matter what your phone tells you about the weather. They improve the darkest day.
I’m here to share pleasures: on March 16th, otherwise an ordinary Wednesday night, the OAO and I witnessed a memorable musical constellation. It took place in the darkness, but darkness is not the enemy of swing. Billed as the Tamar Korn Quartet (at Cellar Dog, 75 Christopher Street, Greenwich Village, New York City) it was Tamar, magnificently herself; Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Mark Shane, piano; Kevin Dorn, drums. It’s been my good fortune to know and hear all of them, separately and together, for years. Inspiration was evident, and good feeling.
Three times during the night, Tamar suggested that they trio have an instrumental interlude, opportunities that were memorable from the first bar.
For their first performance, Mark chose the Dietz-Schwartz affirmation (think Fred Astaire, think Henry “Red” Allen): SHINE ON YOUR SHOES:
Then, the very friendly-reliable EXACTLY LIKE YOU (I missed the first seconds, and apologize for it):
and the (musical) question I hope my readers don’t have to ask, WHAT’S THE REASON (I’M NOT PLEASIN’ YOU)?:
And because Tamar sang, acted, danced, so wonderfully, I call your attention to the wonderful song she sang at the start:
They were wonderful. They are wonderful. And there will be more music from this glorious below-stairs event to share with you.
The source: a friendly approachable silly-memorable 1937 tune, based in the appeal of adults pretending to be children (deconstruct the lyrics at your peril):
A little later on, the Basie way — slightly increased tempo, a hilarious Fats-based piano chorus, with wonderful soloing from Jack Washington and Buck Clayton, and a deliciously adult vocal (so good-humored!) by Jimmy Rushing that leads to a hot trumpet solo from Bobby Moore. And the band is rocking irresistibly in the final chorus: the finest dance music ever:
Next, Professor Wingston and his Mighty Men, George Brunis, trombone; Matty Matlock, clarinet; Joe Marsala, tenor saxophone; Conrad Lanoue, piano; Artie Shapiro, string bass; Danny Alvin, drums. Note Joe bubbling behind the vocal, where Wingy disconnects the lyrics line by line:
And a surprising instrumental version by Fats Waller and his Rhythm, jamming all the way through. Did Fats say, “I won’t sing that _____?” Anyway, the hot results are rewarding:
Is there a moral here? An aesthetic lecture on the intrinsic superiority of improvisation? No, because you could hear all four of these versions on the radio and live in 1937 (also Russ Morgan and Harry Roy) — people danced to them and enjoyed them. And there’s much to enjoy in each one. I like all four versions!
If you must muse on deeper meanings, I encourage you to begin here:
Knock, knock! Who’s there? Boo. Boo who? Oh, I’m sorry….I didn’t mean to make you cry!
Marty Grosz, or Martin Oliver Grosz, is 92 today. Although he would probably have some derisive comment to make about his birthday or the people who celebrate it — his candor can be a little startling — we are glad he is here to be derisive. And even if he doesn’t want to celebrate the day, we always celebrate him.
Ah, Marty: the surprisingly tender balladeer, the sophisticated orchestral guitarist summoning up Kress and McDonough, the hot vaudevillian rocking (and mocking) the ballad in the best Fats manner. We are blessed by his multiple musical personalities. This tape comes from the collection of the late John L. Fell, and traces its provenance back to John Steiner (who recorded it) and Joe Boughton (who saved it). I treasure it.
When this tape was played for Marty in 2021, thanks to his friend and musical colleague Jim Gicking, he remembered going to a room above Steiner’s garage for what he called “clowning around” that was preserved on tape.
There’s comedy here but also swing and romance: the gifts of Grosz.
In 1956, POLKA DOTS AND MOONBEAMS, by Johnny Burke and Jimmy Van Heusen, had been a popular standard — first recorded in 1940 by Frank Sinatra with Tommy Dorsey — and was also part of the jazz repertoire. Did Marty hear it on the radio or was it a request at a gig, and did he want to both address its sweetness (think Red McKenzie) and loosen its structure (think Fats Waller) in his own way?
Whatever he was thinking, he and Bob Saltmarsh made an impromptu performance that to me summons up his essence: a Venn diagram of so many overlapping spheres, too intricate to analyze . . . but so rich in pleasure.
All in less than five minutes. And Marty was 26.
In researching this post, I looked into the song itself — even when its lyrics take chances, I’ve always found it charming, and the cyberworld yielded up this gem that would have pleased both Ed Beach and S.J. Perelman. It’s from Wikipedia, so help me: The song has a notable lyric: the man discovers love at a country dance by accidentally bumping into a woman who has a pug nose. The others at the dance are looking strange at this, since her nose makes her someone they wouldn’t think romantically about. But he has the last laugh: she becomes the love of his life, and he settles down with her.
And here’s the brief verse, which I’ve never heard sung or played.
Happy birthday, Marty! We love you, even if you don’t want to hear about it.
This airshot on a cassette tape came to me with no more identification than “Honeysuckle Rose, Muggsy,” and those two elements are beyond debate. So is the presence of Darnell Howard, clarinet. And the arranging touches suggest a working band. One source says Ralph Hutchinson, trombone; Floyd Bean, piano; Truck Parham, string bass; Barrett Deems, drums, performed at George Wein’s Storyville, Boston, September 23, 1951. That’s only a listing in a discography, so I don’t know if that is this HONEYSUCKLE or another, and drumming friends who have heard this suggest Teddy Roy on piano and a different drummer.
Whatever: it’s lovely to hear Muggsy and Co. in this groove. Original source material possibly from Joe Boughton, my tape from John L. Fell.
Some artists, as they age, become more timid versions of their earlier selves. Earl Hines seemed to throw off any polite restraint and have a wonderful time splashing across the keyboard. Here is another brightly-colored solo recital from the Grande Parade du Jazz. Yellow suit and all: he was 71, afraid of nothing.
Part One: MY MONDAY DATE / YOU CAN DEPEND ON ME (captioned as CAN’T) / CAUTION BLUES / ROSETTA / Fats Waller Medley: BLACK AND BLUE – TWO SLEEPY PEOPLE – AIN’T MISBEHAVIN’ – SQUEEZE ME – HONEYSUCKLE ROSE (partial):
Part Two: HONEYSUCKLE ROSE (concluded) / ST. LOUIS BLUES:
I first met the piano master / historian / record producer / raconteur Mike Lipskin in California in 2012, but he had been a hero of mine since I bought this record in 1971. Mike has studied the stride Ancestors but knows how to go his own ways within the tradition: he’s the very antithesis of the static copyist, and he follows his own — often surprising — impulses.
A few days ago I was nosing around my cassette archives (yes, savor the antiquity of that phrase) and to my delight, this appeared — a gift from my friend, the late John L. Fell, who recorded the first forty-five minutes of a 1987 conversation-recital by Mike, speaking to the amiably well-informed Phil Elwood. It’s a rewarding interlude in many ways. And here’s the bill of fare: NUMB FUMBLIN’ / I WISH I WERE IN LOVE AGAIN / SHE’S FUNNY THAT WAY / MULE WALK / SWEET SAVANNAH SUE / NOTHING MISSING NOW (ML original, vocal) / AM I BLUE (ML) //
And since Mike is happy and well and striding and making jokes, he will be playing Mezzrow in New York City (163 West Tenth Street) on Tuesday, December 28th, from 10:30 to 11:30, with Ricky Alexander. . . a delightful hour in store for us.
This neat little band has been attracting fans and friends on early Tuesday evenings at Swing 46 (349 West 46th Street, New York City) for more than a few months . . . and it deserves to have its names up in lights. Leader Dan Block (tenor and alto saxophones, clarinet and bass clarinet) gives equal time to the wonderful Gabrielle Stravelli (vocals), Michael Kanan (piano), and Pat O’Leary (string bass). Here they are — about two months ago — tenderly moseying through the Waller-Razaf AIN’T MISBEHAVIN’ — which is truly a love song about fidelity and joyous discovery — at a tempo that makes it emotionally meaningful, rather than a race to the outchorus:
What lovely playful sounds! And in their three sets on a Tuesday night, this splendid quartet creates marvel after marvel. You mean to say you could have visited them at West 46th Street and haven’t . . . ?
In his sixty-year performing career, Earl Hines was never characterized as a timid improviser. No, he was daring — that he had a piano in front of him rather than a machete was only the way the Fates had arranged it. Dick Wellstood called him, “Your Musical Host, serving up the hot sauce,” and that’s apt. Whether the listener perceives it as the freedom to play whatever occurred to him or a larger musical surrealism, it was never staid.
Later in life, Hines had (like his colleague Teddy Wilson) various medleys and tributes that could form a set program for an evening, but he improvised, even within set routines. The listener was in the grip of joyous turbulence, and Hines’ showmanship was always part of the show. Here, first solo and then accompanied by Harley White, string bass, and Eddie Graham, drums, he plays music composed by and associated with his friend Fats Waller. Make sure your seat belt is low and tight across your hips before we start.
The songs are BLACK AND BLUE / TWO SLEEPY PEOPLE / AIN’T MISBEHAVIN’ / JITTERBUG WALTZ / SQUEEZE ME / HONEYSUCKLE ROSE . . . and each of them has its possibilities examined, shaken, stirred, and offered to us in the most multi-colored way. And, yes, my mixing of metaphors is an intentional bow to the Fatha:
Hines told more than one interviewer that his flashing “trumpet style” of playing — octaves and single-note lines exploding like fireworks — was born out of necessity, his desire to be heard over the band. He kept to that path even when no band was present, and it’s dazzling.
A friend whose taste I trust asked, “Have you heard the singer Elise Roth? I think you’d be impressed.” I report: I am not only impressed, but triply so.
Many people underestimate how difficult it is to sing effectively, and how arduous it is to be a “jazz singer.” Much more is involved than glamour, hair styling, lovely clothes, and a repertoire of ten songs ranging from WHAT A LITTLE MOONLIGHT CAN DO to MY FUNNY VALENTINE, all learned from famous (read: “over-familiar”) recordings. A genuine singer needs more than the stage presence required to stand up, open one’s mouth and glide along in an approximate relationship to one’s accompaniment.
But rather than rant about the depths of what is offered to us as the real thing, I present to you someone impressive and delightfully versatile. Elise Roth has at least three artistic selves, each one a wow. She’s also known as Elise M. Roth — two names, appropriate for someone so vividly diversified without a hint of multiple-personality disorder.
The first thing you’ll hear — no matter which of the selves you encounter — is the beauty of Elise’s voice, whether she’s deep in romance, sprightly in a swing tune, or enjoying herself more than the laws allow in mockery. Her classical training is evident, but it isn’t a hindrance: she never sounds like Lily Pons trying to swing. She has elegant diction, a fine sense of melody and the melodic line, and a serious rhythmic awareness. Her musicianship comes through no matter what the context.
Ladies and gentlemen, I present not one but three Ms. Roths: ROMANTIC, SWINGER, and COMEDIAN.
(However, she has but one YouTube channel. I don’t make the rules.)
The ROMANTIC (with superb accompaniment by Eric Baldwin):
She’s impassioned but in complete control, and the looseness of her second vocal interlude is charming and convincing. It’s a polished performance, but it has the relaxation of an assured musician, secure enough in the song to be able to move around within it. And her sound!
How about an even more difficult test — EASY LIVING, so associated with Billie and Lester that it’s a trap for most singers, one Elise avoids by singing the song in her own way, on its own terms:
Superb accompaniment here by Eric Baldwin, Alex Olsen, George Darrah, and Sahil Warsi as well.
But Elise is also a well-established big band singer, performing with Dan Gabel and the Abeltones, Vince Giordano and the Nighthawks, and her own Harvard Squares. And, as any experienced singer will tell you, working with a large ensemble requires even more intuition and art than being your own boss in front of the microphone. These live videos don’t always present her voice with the same resonant closeness, but they give an idea of how well she sings in real life.
and here she is in New York City in front of Vince Giordano and the Nighthawks, for HUMMIN’ TO MYSELF, displaying a fine rhythmic ease and her own wit (“rehearsin’ all afternoon”):
and most recently, with her own Harvard Squares for I’M CHECKIN’ OUT, GOOM-BYE:
Then, the COMEDIAN. Or should I say the CLEVER SATIRIST? Elise’s ever-expanding magnum opus in her own splendidly quirky field is what she calls THE GARBLED AMERICAN SONGBOOK, VOLUME ONE. And I quote, “In 2018, I started running the lyrics to jazz standards from the Great American Songbook through Google Translate, via several different languages and then back into English. I don’t know what possessed me to do this. This is the result.”
as well as This (Jacob Hiser, piano):
and, finally, This:
Enjoy her equilibrium as she rode the ungainly lyrics over the familiar melodies — the result somewhere between Leo Watson and Ulysses . . . in swing, of course.
I hope you are as impressed as I am, and want to hear more / see more of Elise Roth, with or without the M. How to accomplish this? She is currently in London, and here you can find her gig calendar. But for those of us not near Covent Garden, the news is still reassuring: on her Bandcamp page, you can find links to her first effort, CHECKING OUT! (where GOOM-BYE comes from), THE GARBLED AMERICAN SONGBOOK, VOLUME ONE, and her latest, ELISE ROTH’S 2nd SWING EP: A SOCIALLY DISTANCED COLLABORATION.
I’ve enjoyed all three, and I look forward to what the talented Ms. Roth will surprise us with next.
Oh, my title. When I wrote to Elise to introduce myself and express my pleasure, I launched my then-working title to see if she would approve. Her reaction? “Three hats, sounds great! Funnily enough I have worked at a hat shop, though wearing three at a time was frowned upon 🙂”
So her wit is real. And, as you can see and hear, her art is also.
Because I followed Ruby Braff around circa 1971-82, I had many opportunities to see him in a variety of contexts. But I saw him in duet with Dick Hyman only twice, I think, and neither time was Dick playing the gorgeous pipe organ he has at his command here. Thank goodness for the BBC, which took the opportunity of recording Ruby and Dick in concert at a spot which had an actual Wurlitzer pipe organ.
I’d heard this forty-minute session on a cassette from a British collector, but only this year — through the kindness of a scholar-friend did I get to see the performance and have an opportunity to share it with you. The details:
Dick Hyman, Wurlitzer pipe organ; Ruby Braff, cornet, introduced by Russell Davies. SLEEPY TIME DOWN SOUTH / THEM THERE EYES / LOUISIANA / HIGH SOCIETY / WHEN I FALL IN LOVE / JITTERBUG WALTZ (Braff out) / BASIN STREET BLUES. Recorded for broadcast on the BBC at the Thursford Fairground Museum, Norfolk, UK. A few audio and video defects come with the package: the occasional pink hue, the slight static. I’m not complaining. Annotations thanks to Thomas P. Hustad’s definitive bio-discography of Ruby Braff, BORN TO PLAY (Scarecrow Press, 2012).
Music that impresses the angels and moves the heavens. And speaking of blessedness, let us honor the durably lovely Dick Hyman, still making celestial sounds.
Do consider. What could be better than an unpublished Fats Waller composition arranged twice for all-star hot jazz band — the arrangers being Marty Grosz and James Dapogny — with the arrangements (different moods, tempi, and keys) played in sequence? I know my question is rhetorical, but you will have the evidence to delight in: a jewel of an extended performance from 2007.
CAUGHT is an almost-unknown Fats Waller composition (first recorded by James Dapogny) presented in two versions, one after the other, at the 2007 Jazz at Chautauqua, first Marty Grosz’s ominous music-for-strippers, then Dapogny’s romp. One can imagine the many possible circumstances that might have led to this title . . . perhaps unpaid alimony, or other mischief?
The alchemists here are James Dapogny, piano; Marty Grosz, banjo and explanations; Duke Heitger, trumpet; Bob Havens, trombone; Dan Block, alto saxophone, clarinet; Scott Robinson, soprano saxophone, tenor saxophone; Vince Giordano, tuba, string bass, bass saxophone; Arnie Kinsella, drums.
Note to meticulous consumers of sounds: this track begins with immense extraneous noise, and Arnie’s accents explode in the listeners’ ears. The perils of criminality: I had a digital recorder in my jacket pocket, so if and when I moved, the sound of clothing is intrusive. I apologize for imperfections, but I am proud of my wickedness; otherwise you wouldn’t have this to complain about:
I have been captivated by this performance for years — the simple line, so developed and lifted to the skies by the performers, the arrangements: the generous music given unstintingly to us. You might say I’ve been CAUGHT.
I confess that a few days ago the Scottish pianist Brian Kellock was not known to me. Yet in under an hour of listening, I’ve become a fan, an advocate, an enthusiast. Some evidence for this burst of feeling: here’s Brian playing Richard Rodgers’ WAIT ‘TIL YOU SEE HER on his 2019 solo CD, BIDIN’ MY TIME:
What I hear first is a kind of clarity: Brian is a sensitive player but someone who’s definite, deeply into The Song and committed to letting its glories be heard. But he is not simply a curator of melody, someone handing the linen-wrapped relic to us to adore. He has imagination and scope; he takes chances. He has a beautiful touch, with technique and power in reserve. And did I say that he swings? Consider this:
Obviously someone to admire, who’s listened but doesn’t copy, who goes his own delightful ways. He’s deep into the only worthwhile activity: absorbing all the influences and stirring them together to come up with himself.
But wait! There’s more . . . let me tell you some things you haven’t heard yet.
Scottish jazz star Brian Kellock has put together a brand-new line-up to celebrate the music and spirit of one of the living legends of the Edinburgh Jazz Festival: the American rhythm guitarist, vocalist, and raconteur Marty Grosz, who recently turned 91.
Brian Kellock (piano), Ross Milligan (guitar) & Roy Percy (bass) are all fans who relished every opportunity to catch Marty when he visited the Edinburgh Jazz Festival in the 1990s and 2000s.
Indeed, 2021 marks the 30th anniversary ofMarty’s very first visit to Edinburgh. And who did he play with duringthat first visit? A young Brian Kellock.
The joy of a Marty Grosz gig is that it is fun. Jazz shouldn’t – in his view – be po-faced or serious. It should be entertaining – just as it was when he was growing up and his favourite musicians included Fats Waller, Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington, all of whom knew how to put on a show.
His selection of tunes has always been highly distinctive and original: whereas other musicians pull the same old numbers out of the bag wherever they play, Marty – also known as a member of 1970s supergroup Soprano Summit – built an international solo career on the tunes that jazz had forgotten. And then he put his own imaginative twist on them. If he had a small group, he would dream up a memorable arrangement, often on the spot, and if he was playing solo, there would be so much colour in his playing that you’d forget you were only listening to one guy.
At the Marty Party, Brian will – as Marty often has – play 20 minutes as a soloist before Ross and Roy join him onstage. This will be an affectionate and fun homage to a longstanding Edinburgh Jazz Festival favourite; a musician who, although he no longer travels to Scotland, continues to delight aficionados (and the rest of their households) with his generous back catalogue of recordings, by a range of bands with such witty names as the Orphan Newsboys, the Paswonky Serenaders, Marty Grosz and His Swinging Fools, and Marty Grosz and His Hot Puppies.
Brian Kellock says: “I’m absolutely thrilled to be playing music associated with Marty Grosz at my first ‘live’ gig since before the pandemic. Marty’s records have boosted my spirits many times over the last 18 months, and I can’t think of a better way to celebrate the joy of playing jazz in front of an audience again. I’m delighted to be introducing a new line-up, with Roy and Ross, and hoping that this core combo will be joined by a horn player or two for future Marty-inspired gigs.”
Brian Kellock’s Marty Party, Assembly Roxy, Wednesday July 21 at 2pm – live and online. Tickets from edinburghjazzfestival.com
As a former college professor of mine used to say, most endearingly, “I commend this to you.”
Here’s the music I’ve already posted from this fine funny festive evening:
Perhaps after ST. LOUIS BLUES, I GOT RHYTHM, and STARDUST, HONEYSUCKLE ROSE is the most famous song (or famous set of chord changes) in jazz. Tom Lord’s online jazz discography lists 1561 recorded versions beginning in 1929. This one won’t be listed there, but we can enjoy it anyway.
There’s more to come from this summery evening where friends gathered to celebrate Marty, singing and playing, of course with Dispatch and Vigor at his side.
Father’s Day, where I live, is a matter of taking Pater to the Diner in the morning, after the giving of gifts. That’s perfectly nice, even though the Old Man has to pick up the bill for the pancakes and orange juice.
But we all are indebted to parents who didn’t share their DNA with us in some direct fashion. I mean no disrespect to my biological father when I write that I’ve envisioned Louis Armstrong as one of my fathers for a long time now. That brings us to the latest Mosaic Records box set, which is at once a great gift and terribly intimidating for anyone, even someone like myself, to write about. Here are the details, complete with sound clips, of this seven-CD set.
Before I presume to write about the importance of this set and of this period in Louis’ art, I will let the music speak.
and Dave and Iola Brubeck’s SUMMER SONG:
I know there are people deaf to Louis’ majesty, the grandeur of his trumpet, the intimacy of his voice, his direct appeal to our emotions. I won’t dignify their deafness by battling it: this post is for those who can, in fact, hear and be moved.
The Mosaic set delineates, in its typically loving, careful way, perhaps the last great period of Louis’ career, where the paradox of his life was most evident: an artist much loved, playing and singing to audiences world-wide, but also being criticized by those who wanted him to be someone else. Thank goodness Louis was wise enough to follow his inner light — enacting the truth that music that pleased people was inherently good and worthy.
Louis made friends by shining that honest heartfelt light, and the Mosaic set, very clearly, documents two of those friendships. (I’m not even referring to the musicians he worked with who loved him.)
The first was with the jazz fan-writer-archivist-record producer George Avakian, who began his devoted work in the service of Louis as a college student in 1939-40 helping to produce jazz records and digging out unissued masterpieces for reissue. When Avakian began to produce long-playing records for Columbia, he eventually made possible Louis’ albums focused on the music of W.C. Handy and Fats Waller, thematic creations that were both jolly effusions and masterful architecture — not just a series of lovely bricks but soaring cathedrals. George also loved to use his editing tools — in his case, scissors and splicing tape — to produce what he felt would be the Platonic ideal, the performance that should have happened — so the Mosaic set presents a mountain of previously unheard material. He was incredibly long-lived, making it to 98 in 2017, and his imprint is on this music, for which we are grateful.
The second friend is the much younger Ricky Riccardi, happily still with us (because he was born in 1980) — Louis’ most loving documentarian, author of two books on his hero with a third on the way. Born nine years too late to be Louis’ actual Boswell, he has made up for it by annotating Louis’ life in prose and by being the energetic force behind a small tower of CD reissues. His notes are funny, warm, loose, and always solidly based on evidence. Mosaic, as always, has generously packaged this music with Ricky’s — what would I call it except a small book? — their glorious sound restoration, photographs, and exact data.
For me, it is both an affirmation of Louis’ glory — not that, for me, he needs any reinforcement — and a winding trip back through my childhood. I had the W.C. Handy, Waller, and Brubeck sets; I had the Columbia 45 of CABARET and the Victor reissues. So to put any disc in the player is to hear once again the music that shaped my taste . . . but since Mosaic has also provided music that otherwise would be unheard, it is two kinds of time-travel in one.
This is a shorter-than-usual review and exhortation to purchase than you might expect. But that someone would not want to hear and rehear SUGAR, I WANT A LITTLE GIRL, LONG LONG JOURNEY from the Victor sessions, new takes from the Columbia discs, Louis singing and playing NOMAD once again: it seems unthinkable. It’s as if someone said to me, “I never look at the sky. That bores me.”
The pianist Ralph Sutton, who recorded so expansively for more than fifty years, should be better known. But I suspect that since he was typecast as a particular kind of pianist — a “stride pianist,” which he was, splendidly, he was expected to provide a predictable menu of standard tunes, Fats Waller compositions, and up-tempo dazzlers, and listeners forgot just how superb he was as an improvising musician, a magnificent pianist, and an ensemble player. Although Ralph played with great dramatic range, he led a calm life and his artistry was so consistent that there was little for journalists to fasten on: no personal disasters. Too, there are the deplorable labels affixed to pre-KIND OF BLUE jazz, even by the fans of such music. Unlike his contemporaries, the erudite Dick Hyman and the whimsical Dick Wellstood, Ralph did not expend much energy on “show” or wooing an audience. The performance that follows shows him a craftsman, concerned with little else than the extraordinary sounds and rhythms he could create at the keyboard. But it is a rare document of his art, and since he made no commercially issued recordings in 1980, it is especially valuable: a master at work. Of course, I say wryly, it was recorded for European, not American television.
In the first segment, Ralph plays ECHO OF SPRING (Willie “the Lion” Smith) / ALLIGATOR CRAWL (Fats Waller) / LOVE LIES (Terry Shand) / VIPER’S DRAG — interpolating LULLABY IN RHYTHM (Fats // Clarence Profit) / HONEYSUCKLE ROSE / GIN MILL BLUES (continued in the next segment):
and GIN MILL BLUES (concluded) / EYE OPENER (Bob Zurke):
In a more equitable jazz world, bereft of labels and hierarchies, Sutton would get his due. But then again, so would a thousand other remarkable artists. Do your bit: share this video with your daughter’s piano teacher, your friend who admires Horowitz, and so on. Let’s launch a peaceful Sutton Revolution.
The pandemic brought us many things that we had not requested, and I will forbear listing them here. But it also brought marvelous musical surprises — our jazz heroes are resilient, and many adapted to the challenge of sewing individual creations into a swinging tapestry. You’ve seen the delightful results: musicians in different “rooms,” which might be thousands of miles away, everyone with headphones or earbuds, making delightful swing harmonies although not able to shake hands or hug. Miraculous and there’s nothing else to call it. Many of my friends have made the technological hurdles seem no more than cracks in the sidewalk, but a new and rewarding group effort has been the merging of the superb singer Alice Spencer with Hal Smith’s Overland Swing Express.
A few words about Ms. Spencer of Austin, Texas. Just as the world is full of restaurants, some producing full stomachs and happy satiety, others producing uneasiness, there are many who call themselves “singers.” Alas, only a small percentage know what it means — that it is more than being personable, chipper, good to look at, well-dressed. Singing is the most personal of the arts, with no keyboard or valves to get in the way, the singer has a message to send us, a story to tell, with only her voice, her dramatic sense, her facial expressions: no tenor saxophone to use as a big shiny prop.
Alice Spencer brings to her songs a remarkable emotional maturity that is beyond her years: put plainly, she sings like a Grownup rather than a Cute Teen.
Her voice has shadings, dark and light; she bends phrases stylishly; she lets us know that she knows what the words mean: she’s not copying famous recordings nor is she singing by rote. And her performances are both emotionally dense and light-hearted: hear her little exhalation of breath at the end of T’AIN’T GOOD — as close to a wordless “Gee, that was fun!” as anyone could create, or the way she wends her way through WHAT SHALL I DO IN THE MORNING? — which, in other hands, could have been maudlin, but when you hear her final sixteen bars and note the sign-off of a gently raised eyebrow, you know that Alice has been having a good time “being sad” and then holding it, gently, at arm’s length. Don’t miss out on the cluster of rapid-fire notes in the middle of T’AIN’T GOOD, either, navigated with accuracy and hilarious style: she might well be the Peggy Fleming of Swing Singing.
I first heard Alice on Brooks Prumo’s THIS YEAR’S KISSES, and wrote this:
And a few lines, once again, for the miracle of nature known as Alice Spencer, who takes familiar music and makes it fresh, who makes songs associated for decades with Billie Holiday into her own without warping their intent, who can be perky or melancholy with utter conviction. She is full of surprises — many singers telegraph what they are going to do in the next four bars, but she doesn’t — although her surprises always seem like the right thing once they have landed. I won’t compare her to other singers: rather, she has an aura like a great film actress, comfortable in many roles. Think Joan Blondell or Jean Arthur, and you have some idea of her great personal appeal.
It would be unkind and unfair, though, to ignore the Gents of the Ensemble: Clint Baker, trumpet; Loren Schoenberg, tenor saxophone; Kris Torkarski, piano; Bill Reinhart, guitar on MORNING and tech-alchemies; Nick Rossi, guitar on GOOD; Sam Rocha, string bass; Hal Smith, drums, leader, arranger.
Because the two tunes are associated with Fats Waller (whose birthday was yesterday) there is a jaunty bounce, a reassuring rocking motion. Clint gets hot, as is his delightful habit; Kris summons up not only Fats but that Wilson fellow c. 1938; Loren evokes 1941 Pres in the Victor studios; Bill knows his way around lovely chords; Nick provides just the right mix of enthusiasm and accuracy; Sam keeps everyone honest; Hal rocks the church.
Here’s T’AIN’T GOOD:
and the larger question, WHAT WILL I DO IN THE MORNING?:
If you have any acquaintance with the great swing traditions of the Thirties and Forties — those sessions made for the jukebox by Billie, Mildred, Midge, Teddy Grace, Fats, Lee, Maxine, Connee, Red, Wingy, Louis Prima, Bob Howard, Putney, Slim Green, and a dozen others — you will understand why I say a) I could no more watch these videos a single time and move on to something else than I could leave my sandwich half-eaten, and b) that I have received ethereal texts from John Hammond, Jack Kapp, Eli Oberstein, and Bernie Hanighen, fighting for the right to sign this band and Ms. Alice up to a long-term contract (of course for very little money, but that’s show business, as the elephants will tell you). On the more earthly level, I ask, “Where is the bright festival promoter who wants to sign the Overland Swing Express up for a weekend of gigs?” But since I know that some of them read JAZZ LIVES, I have hope.
I heard (to quote Don Redman) that Alice Spencer will be making a new digital album sometime soon. Stay tuned.
Not that I need a reason! But I am posting this today for two: the HCJF version of LULU’S BACK IN TOWN made many people happy, if the statistics are valid proof — here — and today is Brian Holland’s birthday. So we celebrate him and the band!
It intrigues me that so many of the songs that are classics of hot jazz sing the praises of the American South, although many of the African-American musicians went at least partway North as soon as they could, and for good reason. Louis Armstrong really loved his home town, so there was no irony in his singing and playing WHEN IT’S SLEEPY TIME DOWN SOUTH for forty years; other musicians, however, felt the disconnect keenly — that Fats Waller could record MY WINDOW FACES THE SOUTH but while he was touring that region the hotels and restaurants frequented by the dominant race were closed to him. Alas.
All this is prelude to the Bennie Moten – Thamon Hayes instrumental hit, simply called SOUTH — recorded in 1924 and 1928, and kept in the Victor catalogue into the Fifties. I found out that lyrics — quite pedestrian ones — were added by “Ray Charles,” but if my source is correct and they were written in 1936, that RC is not the famous one. And the lyrics aren’t worth the space here.
My window faces north-west, but I can always make it face the Holland-Coots Jazz Quintet. And no, I don’t need more catsup. But thank you. The only thing that troubles me is that I cannot remember the name of this eatery: was it THE FIRE PIT? Oh, well, the music lasts longer than beer does.
The news is that I’ve fallen in love with a six-minute collection of vibrations, and my neighbors have not called in the authorities.
Yes, there’s surface noise. And two or three speed fluctuations at the start. Be calm. There’s also some of the finest swing imaginable. If you think, “But I don’t like jazz violin,” or “UMBRELLA MAN is such a dumb tune,” just listen.
In 1942 violin wizard Stuff Smith led a band of Fats Waller alumni — not after Waller’s death, as has been suggested. The band was Herman Autrey, trumpet; Ted McCord, tenor saxophone; Sammy Benskin, piano; Al Casey, guitar; Al Hall, string bass; Slick Jones, drums. This performance is part of a late-August broadcast from the Old Vienna Restaurant in Cincinnati, Ohio, taken off the air by William E. Loeffler. The source of all this joy is an available CD — fancy that! — on violin scholar Anthony Barnett’s AB FABLE label (ABCD 015).
Barnett has released incredibly rare recordings: Ella Fitzgerald in 1937 with a Smith-led big band combining players from his own band, from Chick Webb’s band and Cab Calloway’s.
AND a private jam session with Ray Nance, Ben Webster, Jimmie Blanton, Fred Guy, and Sonny Greer, on which Ben plays clarinet (!).
AND wonderful recordings by Eddie South, Ray Perry, Ginger Smock, and more.
Visit http://abar.net/index.htm to see the CD releases and books. Barnett’s research is deep and impeccable, and the recordings he unearths are incredibly rewarding: this is just an uplifting sample.
I can hear some of you grumbling, “I listen on _______ for free. CDs are for dinosaurs.” In the forests, T-Rex is swinging like mad, and those berries are like vintage wine.
This public service announcement is brought to you by an enthralled purchaser. Now I’m going to play UMBRELLA MAN for perhaps the thirtieth time. It scrapes the clouds.
Yes, it’s that time again! — although our secret is that any time is good to hear The EarRegulars. A wintry Sunday night is what we have, though, and a metaphysical visit to The Ear Inn, 326 Spring Street, is a warming experience. Let’s drop in for the second part of a session from November 14, 2010, featuring Dan Block, clarinet and alto saxophone; Pete Martinez, clarinet; Matt Munisteri, guitar; Jon Burr, string bass — with a nice theme being (mostly) the music of Irving Berlin. Tommy Dorsey and Bunny Berigan didn’t make it, but MARIE stands on its own without them:
Always welcome, some 1936 romantic optimism:
A different kind of romantic ardor, courtesy of Fats:
And a delightful visit from Tamar Korn, who sings LAZY RIVER:
Finally, a return to Berlin with Tamar’s THE SONG IS ENDED:
See you next week. Keep the music playing: when it’s most dark, it sustains us.
It’s been a long time since I wore shoes that needed to be shined, but changes in fashion are less important than music sweetly offering hope. This song’s optimistic bounce has always pleased me, so I am pleased to share with you the most current version, by the group calling itself THE BIG FIVE. And I can now hear the verse, words and music . . . saying that shiny shoes are the key to success. Were it that easy:
I will also list the credits, because they make me laugh:
The BIG FIVE Robert Young – cornet Robert Young – 1st alto saxophone Robert Young – 2nd alto saxophone Robert Young – tenor saxophone Robert Young – special arrangement Robert Young – just kidding Jeff Hamilton – piano Bill Reinhart – guitar Hal Smith – drums Clint Baker – string bass.
The source of all this pleasure is the Epiphonaticchannel on YouTube, full of quiet swinging marvels. This morning, it had 99 subscribers. Surely JAZZ LIVES readers can add to that number.
Now, a little history. Three versions! — by the Rhythmakers, here under Jack Bland’s name, the recording band whose output Philip Larkin and others thought a high point in the art of the last century. Henry “Red” Allen, trumpet; Tommy Dorsey, trombone; Pee Wee Russell, clarinet; Happy Caldwell, tenor saxophone; Frank Froeba, piano; Eddie Condon, banjo; Jack Bland, guitar; Pops Foster, string bass; Zutty Singleton, drums; Chick Bullock, vocal. Oct. 8, 1932. Incidentally, admire Froeba’s playing (he’s gotten slandered because of later pop dross) and do not mock Chick Bullock, the perfect session singer — in tune, delivering melody and lyrics in a clear, friendly voice, which gave listeners the welcoming illusion that they, too, could sing on records:
a different take, where Chick sings “find”:
and a third take, a few seconds shorter since they do not perform the whole closing chorus, but at a less incendiary tempo:
and a duet of Monette Moore and Fats Waller, September 28, 1932 — a test recording that was not issued at the time:
A pity that the record company (I think it was Columbia’s predecessor, the American Record Company, then near bankruptcy) didn’t make a dozen records with Monette Moore, sweetly growling, and Fats Waller, at his relaxed best.
It also occurred to me while tracing this song that it documents a vanished time: when hot jazz and new Broadway songs were in the most effusive gratifying embrace. That current pop hits could be swung by Pee Wee Russell for records that ordinary people bought . . . now seems a dream. But I have the BIG FIVE to console me.
I am an optimistic person, even through the last ten months and contemplation of the indefinite future, but occasionally darkness creeps in. For no particular reason, yesterday was one of those days: I knew I had things I should do, but I didn’t quite know what they were, and I was quite sure I didn’t want to do them.
My mood was improved in the evening by a cyber-conversation with the many-talented Laura Windley about the 1936 song — most memorably recorded by Fats Waller, US ON A BUS. It’s not a monument of pop music: the opening cadence and the title mimic a four-note bus horn, there are many passages of repeated notes, and occasionally the lyrics trap themselves in a fairly unimaginative corner. But I love it.
And today I listened once again to that recording — what joy! — and did a little research: the song was one of perhaps two dozen composed by Tot Seymour and Vee Lawnhurst (a rarity for that time, two women turning out hit songs) — most of them in the 1935-37 period: ACCENT ON YOUTH, ALIBI BABY, CROSS PATCH, PLEASE KEEP ME IN YOUR DREAMS, THE DAY I LET YOU GET AWAY. It also gave me an excuse to remember Smith and Dale, with fondness.
Searching YouTube for other recordings of this song, I found three contemporaneous effusions — Tommy Dorsey (vocal by Edythe Wright), Shep Fields (Mary Jane Walsh), and Teddy Stauffer (the inimitable Billy Toffel). These recordings drew a straight line back to the film IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT — where the “night bus” scene is delightfully part of my cultural memory, and reminded me, once again, that “the Swing Era” wasn’t all Goodman, Basie, and Ellington, and they straightened out something that was always vague in the lyrics: “the passengers make room / whisper ‘Bride and Groom’ . . . but Fats’ recording still wins the prize.
I was ready to post the YouTube version of Fats’ 1936 Victor record with “his Rhythm” (Herman Autrey, Gene Sedric, Al Casey, Charlie Turner, and Yank Porter) but an improvisation on it caught my eye — a 2016 video using the Fats recording as soundtrack:
Optimism returned. No, it nearly blew out the windows, so sweetly.
Here’s what Pell Osborn, who posted the video (and helped create it) wrote:
At the Creative Arts at Park (CAAP) summer program in Brookline, Massachusetts, students in the LineStorm animation classes created this project using the most basic equipment: pens and paper, lightboxes, colored pencils and rubber bands. As with all LineStorm projects, we built our animation the old-fashioned way — drawing by drawing. Ten drawings result in one second of screen time. Every step in hand animation is a deliberate one. What a person animates, what it will look like, how one animates it — these are huge questions that all animators deal with, from the professionals at Pixar to the LineStormers at CAAP, who confronted these issues and worked under tight time constraints. Many thanks to the students for their patience and perseverance. They came up with this rollicking, high-energy vision of “Us on A Bus,” a little-known stride-piano number performed by Thomas “Fats” Waller and his Rhythm. Pell Osborn, supervisor, assembled the more than 1200 individual images which make up the video.
What a great gift. Thanks to Fats and his men, of course, to Tot and Vee (stage names, if you were wondering), Pell, and the young people with their colored pencils. To me, you are certified Chasers of Gloom. “All out, Swing City!” indeed.