That title isn’t to be taken lightly, for several times last night when The Ear Regulars (with guests) got together to play, they hit a real groove. Not too slow, not too fast. But I thought of the Ruby Braff-George Barnes Quartet, or the Buck Clayton Jam Sessions: musicians who know deep down what it means to choose the right tempo for the right song, to patiently, humorously let things build, to listen to each other. The result was that often the room was both hushed and exuberant. It was annoyingly cold outside in New York City last night, but The Ear Inn was spiritually warm — the kind of place I hated to leave even when the music was over.
Here are four performances from the evening’s jazz festivities. The Ear Regulars (regular fellows all) were particularly lyrical: Jon-Erik Kellso, Matt Munisteri, Dan Block, and Pat O’Leary. Eloquent, concise storytellers all — people who know what it is to sing on their instruments.
You might notice an occasional blurry passage (visually, not audibly): either my camcorder was overwhelmed by emotion or it needs an appointment with the autofocus doctor. But the music comes through vibrantly, which pleases me greatly.
This post starts with a song that people know (through Louis, Jack, Billie, and others) — a Harold Arlen cri de coeur — but few people play: I GOTTA RIGHT TO SING THE BLUES:
Then, a song that’s even more obscure in this century — perhaps because its period “ethnic” lyrics produce justifiable discomfort (although I miss Louis and Lips’ versions): CHINATOWN, MY CHINATOWN:
The Ear Regulars expanded nicely: Conal Fowkes took over the string bass while Pat O’Leary treated us to his exceptional jazz cello playing. An extraordinary string section! Watch their hands, please.
Anat Cohen came in and played her part while seated on a barstool. Andy Farber (sounding sweetly like Hilton Jefferson) added his alto sax. And they embarked on a sweetly hot I FOUND A NEW BABY (in two parts):
They were romping, although not accelerating:
Clarinetist Frank Perowsky joined them for the final ensemble — a lengthy, swaying version of the blues line RED TOP (in Db, or “dog flat”) that wasn’t a moment too long, although it ran sixteen minutes. I was in the middle of a four-piece reed section: a clarinet to my right (Anat), one to my left (Frank), two saxes in front of me — rather like living in a Fifties demonstration-of-stereo record. And, there was more from that world-class downtown unbuttoned string section!
The second part:
I haven’t written much about the music. As Charlie Parker told Earl Wilson, it speaks louder than words. The music I heard last night at The Ear Inn transcended words: it wasn’t a matter of volume.
It was an honor to be there, and that’s no stage joke. Thanks to everyone — and to Phillup de Bucket, who has a cameo in CHINATOWN, to Vlatka Fowkes, Beverly, Karen, Randi, and Katy; to Victor, the epitome of musical Hip; to the friends of hot jazz who made the place so convivial.