Tag Archives: Frank Melrose

“MUSICALLY, IT WAS AN ECCENTRIC TIME IN AMERICA”: THE CHICAGO CELLAR BOYS at STUDIO 5 (Chicago, June 16, 2018)

Sometimes it feels lonely up here on the mountaintop — as if I’m the only one doing what I do, proselytizing and broadcasting heartfelt improvised music (modern-traditional-lyrical-Hot-call-it-whatever-you-like).  But I know that’s not true, and I am always getting reassuring surprises from the cyber-world.

It’s a long, beautifully video-ed and recorded live session by the Chicago Cellar Boys (the link is to their new website) — the more recent band-within-a-band of The Fat Babies, at Studio 5.  (They appear every Sunday night at the Honly Tonk BBQ in Chicago’s Pilsen neighborhood.)

The Chicago Cellar Boys take their name from a 1930 group that had Frank Melrose, Wingy Manone, Frank Teschemacher, Bud Freeman, George Wettling.  (Now Tom Lord says that the accordionist is Charles Magnante, which makes so much more sense than “Charles Melrose” — but I digress.)

The CCB are Andy Schumm, cornet, clarinet, tenor sax; John Otto, clarinet, alto sax; John Donatowicz, banjo, guitar; Paul Asaro, piano, vocals; Dave Bock, tuba.  And they are a wonderful mix of hot music, dance tunes, pop hilarity, arranged passages and “charts,” and delicious improvisations.

I won’t list the songs played — you can find the blisses and surprises for yourself — because I want to be sure to get this boon out to as many people as I can right now.  Thanks to the band, to Steve Rashid, and to Studio 5 for making such a wonderful explosion of art accessible to all of us:

The CCB will also be at this November’s San Diego Jazz Fest, so if I can fight my way to a seat in the front, there might be other videos.  And I understand they have made their first recording. “Wow wow wow!” as my friend and role model Anna Katsavos still says.

May your happiness increase!

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“ALL ABOARD!”: THE ROCK ISLAND ROUSTABOUTS VISIT the EVERGREEN JAZZ FESTIVAL (July 27-29, 2018)

A hot band is good to find, and the Rock Island Roustabouts answer to that description.  I’ll leave it to Hal Smith to explain how this band, which debuted at a Davenport, Iowa tribute to Bix Beiderbecke, came to be named after a Chicago train line . . . because he knows about these things.  Me, I come for the music.

And music there was.  I’ve done the unusual thing of sending out a full plateful — nine videos at once, recorded in three sets at the Evergreen Jazz Festival (July 27, 28, 29) so that you can experience this band’s power and versatility.  The Roustabouts are co-led by Jeff Barnhart, piano, and Hal Smith, drums, with — in this incarnation — Dave Kosmyna, cornet; Doug Finke, trombone; Jonathan Doyle, reeds; Bob Leary, banjo / guitar; Ryan Gould, string bass, and on the last three performances here, a guest appearance by Lauryn Gould, soprano sax.

The music goes deep and although there are some favorites, the Roustabouts like songs that don’t ordinarily get played.  So there’s Louis Armstrong and Kid Ory, but also Frank Melrose, Jimmy Blythe, Johnny St. Cyr, and Tiny Parham.

Settle down in your seats.  Make sure you know where the fire extinguisher is, and check that it’s charged.

Kid Ory’s SAVOY BLUES:

THE GIRLS GO CRAZY when this band plays, but the enthusiasm isn’t gender-specific:

Frank Melrose’s MARKET STREET STOMP, scored for Messrs. Smith and Barnhart:

One composition titled MESSIN’ AROUND, this one by pianist Jimmy Blythe:

And Johnny St. Cyr’s song of the same name — to mess around was serious yet delightful business, as you can tell:

Louis’ MAHOGANY HALL STOMP, at the nice 1929 tempo:

An incomplete but wonderful version of Tiny Parham’s WASHBOARD WIGGLES (blame the sun-blinded and exhausted man behind the camera) which adds Lauryn Gould, who plays that irascible saxophone beautifully:

A song that I’d never heard performed live, I LOVE YOU SO MUCH IT HURTS, which coalesces into a lovely rocking performance.  I did some small research, expecting that its source was an obscure Wingy Manone record, but no — the later New Orleans bands, who picked up good tunes no matter their source, found this one, from 1948, by Floyd Tillman.  I am not digressing when I offer the Patsy Cline version first (Ray Charles recorded it also):

Now, hear how the Roustabouts make it their own:

and William H. Tyers’ proven mood-enhancer, PANAMA:

May your happiness increase!

TAKE IT FROM THEM: NEVILLE DICKIE and DANNY COOTS PLAY FATS WALLER (Scott Joplin International Ragtime Festival; Sedalia, Missouri; May 31, 2018)

One of the great pleasures of the 2018 Scott Joplin International Ragtime Festival was their Fats Waller tribute concert — guess who was second row center with camera and tripod as his date?  I will share videos of the Holland-Coots Quintet playing and singing superbly, but first, something rich and rare, the opportunity to hear Neville Dickie in person.  I’ve heard him on recordings for years, but how he plays!  Steady, swinging, inventive, and without cliche.

Some pianists who want to be Wallerizing go from one learned four-bar motif to the next, but not Neville, who has so wonderfully internalized all kinds of piano playing that they long ago became him, as natural as speech.  Eloquent, witty speech, I might add.

Some might think, “What’s a drummer doing up there with that pianist?” but when the drummer is Danny Coots, it’s impudent to ask that question, because Danny adds so much and listens so deeply.  And there is a long tradition of Piano and Traps.  I thought immediately of James P. Johnson and Eddie Dougherty, of Frank Melrose and Tommy Taylor, of Donald Lambert and Howard Kadison, of Willie “the Lion” Smith and Jo Jones, of Sammy Price and Sidney Catlett, of Pete Johnson, Albert Ammons, and Jimmy Hoskins . . . and I am sure that there are other teams I have left out here.

Danny’s tap-dancer’s breaks may catch your ear (how expert!) but his steady color-filled but subtle support is what I admire even more.  He’s always paying attention, which is no small thing no matter what instrument you play.  In life.

Here are the four selections this inspired duo performed at the concert: only one of them a familiar Waller composition, which is also very refreshing.  Need I point out how rewarding these compact performances are — they are all almost the length of a 12″ 78 but they never feel squeezed or rushed.  Medium tempos, too.

A NEW KIND OF A MAN WITH A NEW KIND OF LOVE comes, as Neville says, from a piano roll — but this rendition has none of the familiar rhythmic stiffness that some reverent pianists now think necessary:

TAKE IT FROM ME (I’M TAKIN’ TO YOU) has slightly formulaic lyrics by Stanley Adams, but it’s a very cheerful melody.  I knew it first from the 1931 Leo Reisman version with Lee Wiley and Bubber Miley, which is a wondrous combination.  But Neville and Danny have the same jovial spirit.  And they play the verse!  Catch how they move the rhythms around from a very subtle rolling bass to a light-hearted 4/4 with Danny accenting in 2 now and again:

Then, the one recognized classic, thanks to Louis and a thousand others, I’VE GOT A FEELING I’M FALLING.  Neville, who certainly knows how to talk to audiences, is a very amusing raconteur in addition to everything else.  And the feeling I get when he and Danny go from the rather oratorical reading of the verse into tempo!

Finally (alas!) there’s CONCENTRATIN’ (ON YOU) which I know from recordings by the peerless Mildred Bailey and Connie (not yet Connee) Boswell: I can hear their versions in my mind’s ear.  But Neville and Danny have joined those aural memories for me:

What a pair!  Mr. Waller approves.  As do I.  As did the audience.

May your happiness increase!

DAVID BOEDDINGHAUS IS MY TRAVEL AGENT (November 6, 2016)


There are many magnificent jazz pianists.  But there’s only one David Boeddinghaus.  I’ve enjoyed his rollicking swing, his lyrical groove, his tender ballads (he is a master of Porter and Rodgers and Carmichael) and deep blues, his evocations of Jelly Roll Morton, Fats Waller, and Frank Melrose — in California, in New Orleans, in Newcastle (thus my title as well as a reference to the 1920 pop tune below, because David gets us where we’d like to go and more).

You can read his biography online; you can ponder his discography thanks to Tom Lord.  But his glorious playing needs no more explication than this: it is beautiful without commentary.  David is especially exultant as an ensemble player, no matter what the tempo: a one-man rhythm section full of subtlety and strength.  Meaning no disrespect to Duke Heitger, Alistair Allan, Lars Frank, Henry Lemaire, Malcolm Sked, and Josh Duffee, I think David is the great engine of this romping CALIFORNIA, HERE I COME, captured at the 2016 Mike Durham Classic Jazz Party:

and here’s another performance from that set that has justly garnered a good deal of praise — with David swinging like a wonderful amalgam of Joe Sullivan and everyone wonderful uptown as well:

Musicians I know speak of his accuracy, his scholarship: he knows the verses, the right tempos, the best changes.  Ask Banu Gibson, ask Larry Scala and three dozen others.  But for me, it’s something larger: David Boeddinghaus transports us through sound.  Bless him.

May your happiness increase!

YEATS, SKJELBRED, FORRESTER

In W.B. Yeats’s poem “In Memory of Major Robert Gregory,” a memorial for Lady Gregory’s son who had died in the First World War, these lines appear: Always we’d have the new friend meet the old / And we are hurt if either friend seem cold.”

I’ve been following the quietly explosive creator Ray Skjelbred for some time now, always shaking my head in silent admiration at the dynamic worlds he manifests at the keyboard and elsewhere.

So when I began to have friendly conversations with another man of large imagination, pianist / composer Joel Forrester, I talked with him about “eccentric” pianists I thought he would enjoy.  We shared a love of Joe Sullivan, so I felt comfortable speaking with Joel of Frank Melrose, Alex Hill, Cassino Simpson, Russ Gilman, and a few others.

When this video (captured by RaeAnn Berry on June 24, 2017 at the 27th Annual America’s Classic Jazz Festival in Lacey, Washington) of Ray playing Alex Hill’s composition (most thoroughly inhabited by Louis Armstrong and Earl Hines) BEAU KOO JACK, I sent it to Joel to see what he thought.

His reaction was perfect.

Terrific! Utterly surprising!

Here it is:

Blessings on Ray and Joel, on RaeAnn too.  On Alex Hill and Louis and Earl. And on every viewer and listener who’s in the spirit.  And even those who aren’t.

May your happiness increase!

PASS THE JUG, PLEASE, or IF YOU DON’T KNOW FRANK MELROSE, YOU SHOULD

frank-melrose

One of the great tragedies in the music we love is the premature and violent death of Frank Melrose — really a brutal murder of a beloved father and husband and a great artist. . . . “Franklyn Taft Melrose (November 26, 1907 – September 1, 1941)” says it all.

But for three minutes or so, you and I can choose to celebrate as well as mourn. Thanks to “Atticus Jazz” on YouTube, the deft and generous Emrah Erken, you may hear a beautiful copy of PASS THE JUG, with Melrose on piano (billed as “Kansas City Frank”) and Tommy Taylor on drums — recorded in Chicago on March 8, 1929.

That rocks!

This one’s for my dear Aunt Ida Melrose Shoufler, who understands.  And it is in memory of Frances Melrose, Frank’s wife and Ida’s mother . . . seen below at the  piano, because she shouldn’t be left out, either.

frances-melrose-at-the-piano

May your happiness increase!

MY HONEY, THAT THING, A SWEETIE, NEVER THE SAME, A JUMP: RAY SKJELBRED, JONATHAN DOYLE, BEAU SAMPLE, HAL SMITH (SAN DIEGO JAZZ FEST, November 29, 2014)

Ray Skjelbred

Ray Skjelbred

I keep coming back to the videos I’ve shot at several yearly incarnations of the San Diego Jazz Fest — and finding treasures and marvels I’d overlooked.  (I also keep coming back to the actual Fest, but that should startle no one.)

Jonathan Doyle

Jonathan Doyle

Here are some highlights from a long quartet set performed by Ray Skjelbred, piano; Jonathan Doyle, the swing star from Austin, Texas; Beau Sample, string bass and leader of the Fat Babies; Hal Smith, who’s played with and swung everyone who deserves it.

Beau Sample

Beau Sample

My titles are an expression of whimsical shorthand, but there’s nothing left out in these performances.  First, a swing trio (Chicago pays San Diego a visit) then quartet improvisations that are delightful inducements to the dance, even if you are sitting in a chair.

Hal Smith

Hal Smith

MY HONEY’S LOVIN’ ARMS (scored for trio):

A song I associate with Bessie Smith, I’M WILD ABOUT THAT THING (decide for yourself what THAT THING is, but no need to write in, because no prizes will be awarded for the best answer).  I’m wild about this performance, I feel compelled to say:

BLUES MY NAUGHTY SWEETIE GIVES TO ME (in a medium tempo sitting nicely between Noone and Condon):

I’LL NEVER BE THE SAME (evoking Venuti and Lang, Billie and Lester, or both):

Finally, THE 313 JUMP, whose title has a new pop culture / numerological significance — just Ducky:

See you at the 2016 San Diego Jazz Fest — Thanksgiving weekend, Nov. 23-27.  Of course.

A postscript.  The jazz-scholar part of my being says that I could have written a thousand words on Influences and Echoes, with a long list of names, including Jess Stacy, Joe Sullivan, Earl Hines, Frank Melrose, Rod Cless, Frank Teschemacher, Lester Young, Eddie Miller, Wellman Braud, George Wettling, Jo Jones, Sidney Catlett, Milt Hinton . . . but I will let you do the research for yourself — in whatever way offers the most satisfying results.  I’d rather revel in the actual sounds made by Smith, Sample, Doyle, and Skjelbred on a late November day in 2014.

May your happiness increase!