Tag Archives: Frank Sinatra

HILARY GARDNER SINGS: “THE GREAT CITY”

The-Great-City

In a city full of stirring, individualistic jazz singers, I invite you to welcome Hilary Gardner to the great stage.

This isn’t to presume her a new discovery — hardly!  But her debut CD is powerful, vivid, and emotionally varied.

She can sing, in short.

If you go immediately here (her homepage), two things will catch your attention.  One is the praise of Hilary written by Twyla Tharp — someone who knows music deeply.  The other is the sound of Hilary singing AUTUMN IN NEW YORK.

Delve a little deeper into her homepage (click on “music”) and you can hear more.

What I hear in THE GREAT CITY is a singer in full command of her lovely vocal instrument.  Hilary has a mature awareness of the bonding and bending that goes on between singer, melody, and words.  She offers us no melodrama, no vocal acrobatics; she honors the notes and the syllables, but she is not constrained by them.

She has chosen to retell the stories that the songs embody, each song a different story.  I hear an elegant restraint lit from within by feeling and understanding.  Hilary is wise enough to let the song carry her, wise enough to have absorbed great singers and instrumentalists, but especially wise enough to be herself.  No Billie, no Betty, no Sarah, no . . . .

The CD is a ripe pleasure — each track its own vignette, so the listener never feels bored by sameness or startled by rough jumps of subject and mood.  Hilary’s range is broad: there are the beautiful AUTUMN IN NEW YORK (verse and two choruses), WHEN THE WORLD WAS YOUNG, a jaunty BROOKLYN BRIDGE, and a swaying YOU CAME A LONG WAY FROM ST. LOUIS.

But her imagination doesn’t limit itself to “the Classics of the Great American Songbook,” and she reaches for Leonard Cohen, Nellie McKay, Tom Waits, and Joni Mitchell, making this CD an appealing anthology of short tales.

Hilary also has a deep awareness of the music’s foundations — without turning the disc into a repertory project.  So her accompanists (and I mean that in the best sense of the word) include Tatum Greenblatt, trumpet; Jason Marshall, tenor saxophone, Jon Cowherd, organ; Randy Napoleon, guitar; Elias Bailey, string bass; Jerome Jennings, drums, and the invaluable Ehud Asherie, piano.  Often the prevailing mood is neo-Basie.  Could that be wrong?

It’s a wonderful debut from an artist who offers us a great deal.  And I predict she will continue to delight us.

If you live in the tri-state area, the news is even more exciting.  Hilary and Ehud will be performing in duet at Smalls (183 West 10th Street, Greenwich Village, New York) on Sunday, April 7, beginning at 7:30.  Details here.  I am looking forward to it . . . please leave a few seats for me in the front row!

May your happiness increase.

EXACTLY LIKE HIM: LOUIS AND FRIENDS on the SMALL SCREEN

In my childhood, I saw Louis Armstrong on television for more than a decade — with Danny Kaye, with Herb Alpert, with Johnny Carson, Merv Griffin, Ed Sullivan.  My memories of sitting too close to the screen, transfixed, are very powerful.  And my feelings were simultaneous and contradictory.  I would be trying to absorb every nuance, every glint off the bell of his shiny trumpet — exultant but mourning because I would never see this again!  But these performances — and ones new to me — have been appearing on YouTube, “the kindness of strangers” who must love Louis and his friends as much as I do.  [If you’re under the age of ____, here’s a new word: KINESCOPE — which refers to filmed versions of television shows, blessedly.]

The three videos that follow are irreplaceable although flawed, perhaps understandably.  In the first, everyone seems to handle the complex “witty” parody (a series of in-jokes) of a song from GIGI more comfortably than Mr. Strong, who might have come in at the last minute from an All-Stars gig in Sandusky, Ohio. Although he could handle lyrics much better than people assume, the words fly by him too quickly.  However, Sinatra seems joyous, not barely masking anger; Crosby sounds so urbanely happy; Peggy Lee glows.

Louis, then appearing in Pittsburgh with the All-Stars, has a lunchtime interview date with the sweetly earnest Florence Sando Manson.  My favorite moment, “I like to hear it too!” but to have him moved on to make way for “a model” is fairly sad at this distance.  Didn’t they know that Louis was a model even though he had never done the appropriate catwalk-strut?:

And — particularly endearing — a duet on OLD MAN TIME with Jimmy Durante on “Hollywood Palace”:

Thank you, Archivists and Collectors wherever you are.  Blessings on those of you who open-heartedly share your treasures!

And I would be reluctant to call one second of this “nostalgia.”  These people and their music are so alive.

May your happiness increase.

SERENE EARTHLY MUSIC: REBECCA KILGORE and KEITH INGHAM at JAZZ at CHAUTAUQUA (Sept. 22, 2012)

For me, this was one of the high points of the long jubilant weekend that was the 2012 Jazz at Chautauqua — the duet of Rebecca Kilgore and Keith Ingham on the Jimmy Van Heusen – Johnny Burke song, IT’S ALWAYS YOU.

Keith’s sweet harmonies, his rhythmic steadiness, his intuitive sense of the right notes — he is a brilliant accompanist — go so well alongside Rebecca’s convincing underacting, her gentle sincerity, her creamy tone and delicate rubatos.

And, like all great art, it looks easier than it really is.

Thank you, Keith and Rebecca.  This gracious fervent music touches the heart.

May your happiness increase.

SWINGMATISM AT THE EAR INN: HARRY ALLEN, JON-ERIK KELLSO, CHRIS FLORY, NEAL MINER (Sept. 16, 2012)

More wonders from the Downtown Hot Spot of Rhythm, The Ear Inn (326 Spring Street, Soho, New York) where memorable jazz gets created without fanfare or fuss on Sunday nights from 8-11 PM by a roving band of alchemists calling themselves The EarRegulars.

On September 16, the Regulars were Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Harry Allen, tenor saxophone; Neal Miner, string bass; Chris Flory, guitar.  Here are two examples of sweetly pungent mastery:

JUST IN TIME, a romp with echoes of Sinatra and Dean Martin:

I CAN’T BELIEVE THAT YOU’RE IN LOVE WITH ME, originally recorded as a rhythm ballad — one of those songs that is taken faster and faster, but here returned to Charlie Christian / Ruby Braff tempo, so sweetly and persuasively:

May your happiness increase.

“THEY SAY IT’S WONDERFUL”: DAN BARRETT, JON-ERIK KELLSO, JOE COHN, JOEL FORBES at THE EAR INN (Sunday, September 30, 2012)

Wonderful!

This beautiful Irving Berlin love-ballad was first sung by Ethel Merman (and her male partner, Ray Middleton) in ANNIE GET YOUR GUN (1946) — and it has been treated lovingly by all manner of singers and instrumentalists — Sinatra and Ruby Braff, Johnny Hartman and John Coltrane, Doris Day, Sonny Stitt, Jimmy Scott . . .


But this song got a lovely, sweetly swinging performance last Sunday, September 30, at The Ear Inn (326 Spring Street, Soho, New York) because of those Masters of Wonder, Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Dan Barrett, trombone; Joe Cohn, guitar; Joel Forbes, string bass.

I think that “wonderful” used to mean worthy of our amazed admiration, full of wondrous things.  It seems an appropriate description for the music at The Ear Inn every Sunday night from 8 – 11 PM.

May your happiness increase.

SWING SIBLINGS TAKE MANHATTAN: THE ANDERSON TWINS PLAY THE FABULOUS DORSEYS

Let’s assume you had an urge to put on a show celebrating the music and lives of Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey.  You’d need at least fourteen musicians, and they’d have to be versatile — a reed wizard able to duplicate the curlicues of JD on BEEBE and OODLES OF NOODLES, to sing soulfully on his more romantic theme song.  You’d need a trombonist who could get inside TD’s steel-gray sound, perhaps someone to evoke Bunny Berigan, a drummer who understood Dave Tough and Ray McKinley, vocal groups, singers . . . a huge undertaking.

Those energetic young fellows, Pete and Will Anderson, twins who play a whole assortment of reeds from bass clarinet and flute to alto, tenor, and clarinet, have neatly gotten around all these imagined difficulties to create a very entertaining musical / theatrical evening doing the Fabulous Dorseys full justice.  It’s taking place at 59E59 (that’s the theatres at 59 East 59th Street in New York City) and you can see the schedule there.

The Anderson Twins have two kinds of surprising ingenuity that lift their tribute out of the familiar.  (You know — the PBS evening where a big band with singers walks its way through twenty hits of X and his Orchestra, punctuated by fund-raising.)  They’ve assembled a sextet of New York’s finest musicians — great jazz soloists who can also harmonize beautifully: Pete and Will on reeds; Ehud Asherie on piano; Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Clovis Nicolas, string bass; Kevin Dorn, drums.  No, there’s no trombonist — but our man Kellso does a wonderful job of becoming TD on I’M GETTING SENTIMENTAL OVER YOU — a tribute to both of them.  And rather than being a parade of the expected greatest hits, this is a musical evening full of surprises: a few rocking charts by Sy Oliver that remind us just how hard the Forties TD band swung; a beautiful piano solo by Ehud in honor of Art Tatum; several of the arrangements that Dizzy Gillespie wrote for JD’s band, and a few improvisations that show just how this sextet, alive and well in 2012, can rock the house: DUSK IN UPPER SANDUSKY, HOLLYWOOD PASTIME, and more.

But the evening is more than a concert — the Andersons have a fine theatrical sense of how to keep an audience involved.  In 1947, Tommy and Jimmy starred in a motion picture that purported to tell the story of their lives — THE FABULOUS DORSEYS.  On the plus side, the movie has the two brothers playing themselves as adults, and some extremely dramatic performances by the stars of the Abbey Theatre, Sara Allgood and Arthur Shields, as Mother and Father Dorsey.  It also has on-screen footage of Art Tatum, Ray Bauduc, Ziggy Elman, Charlie Barnet, Mike Pingitore, Paul Whiteman, Henry Busse . . . a feast for jazz film scholars.  As cinema, it verges on the hilarious — although I must say that its essential drama, the rise to fame of the Brothers, is helped immensely by their true-to-life inability to get along.  In the film, they are finally reconciled at their father’s deathbed . . . which makes a better story than having them join forces because of the economics of the moribund Big Band Era.

The Anderson boys use clips from the film as a dramatic structure to keep the tale of the Dorseys vivid — and it also becomes a delightful multi-media presentation, with the Andersons themselves pretending to feud (with less success: sorry, boys, but you lack real rancor), pretending to break the band in two and then . . . but I won’t give away all the secrets.  My vote for Best Speaking Part in a Musical Production goes to Kevin Dorn, but, again, you’ll have to see for yourself.  It’s musically delightful and — on its own terms — cleverly entertaining.

I will have more to say about this production in the future, but right now I wanted to make sure that my New York readers knew what good music and theatrical ingenuity waits for them at 59E59.  This show will conclude its run on October 7 — don’t miss it!

May your happiness increase.   

ETSY MEETS TD, FRANK, BUNNY, BUDDY (1940)

That’s Tommy Dorsey, Frank Sinatra, Bunny Berigan, Buddy Rich, and John Huddleston, caught by a fan at Frank Dailey’s Meadowbrook in 1940.  All of them — or their signatures — can be yours here!

Thanks to hot man Chris Tyle for pointing me to this rare piece of paper, and to Berigan scholar / biographer Michael P. Zirpolo, who says  it’s authentic, based on calligraphy.

May your happiness increase.

CONVERSATIONS: HARRY ALLEN and ROSSANO SPORTIELLO, PART ONE (Smalls, April 12, 2012)

Great conversationalists have something memorable to tell us; they know how to be still; they listen deeply; they encourage everyone around them.

Musically, Harry Allen (tenor sax) and Rossano Sportiello (piano) are exemplary models of this art, and they proved it beautifully on April 12, 2012, in two sets at Smalls Jazz Club (183 West Tenth Street, Greenwich Village, New York City).

The occasion was a CD release party in honor of the Allen-Sportiello duo — a tribute to lyricist Johnny Burke, a great friend of Harry’s father, and the man who contributed so much to American popular song.  Think of PENNIES FROM HEAVEN, IT COULD HAPPEN TO YOU, SWINGIN’ ON A STAR, MOONLIGHT BECOMES YOU, OH YOU CRAZY MOON, LIKE SOMEONE IN LOVE, WHAT’S NEW, and IMAGINATION among others . . . ask anyone about those songs, and the person will not only hum the melody but start to sing Burke’s words.  (And if you need more evidence, two fellows named Crosby and Sinatra made Burke’s words their own.)

More about the CD — which is called CONVERSATIONS — at the end of this posting.  For now, here is the first set — music so sweetly intimate, so wonderfully realized, that we could only watch and marvel at these two artists with so much to say and such grace in expressing it.

PENNIES FROM HEAVEN:

DID YOU CALL HER TODAY? — a Ben Webster line on the chord changes of IN A MELLOTONE, which was based on ROSE ROOM . . . but it’s all Harry and Rossano here:

And the yearning question, WHAT’S NEW?:

LIKE SOMEONE IN LOVE:

A romping DIAMONDS ARE A GIRL’S BEST FRIEND (with hilarious lyrics by Leo Robin):

A poetic IMAGINATION:

IT COULD HAPPEN TO YOU:

That was the first set.  More to come!

The duo CD is called CONVERSATIONS.  It’s beautifully recorded and the program is varied — with two “new” songs, both memorable: I WISH YOU NEEDED ME and IF LOVE AIN’T THERE — as well as very touching liner notes by Mister Allen himself.

The best way (as I write this) to purchase a copy of the CD is to encounter Harry or Rossano on a gig — pleasure redoubled.  But it’s now also available at iTunes and CD Baby — click here — or, contact Harry here or Rossano there and either gentleman will find a way to get a copy to you.  It is worth it, I assure you.

P.S.  Starting on Friday, April 20, 2012, I will be watching and hearing Harry and Rossano and two dozen other jazz masters play and sing at the Atlanta Jazz Party . . . hope to meet some of my readers there!

May your happiness increase.

MARIANNE SOLIVAN: IN BLOOM

I did not know the singer Marianne Solivan before hearing her at Smalls last year (in duet with Michael Kanan).  I was a believer — convinced of her artistry — a few minutes into the first song.

Her debut CD, PRISONER OF LOVE, is just out — perhaps timed to coincide with the end of winter.

It is a wonderfully accurate representation of what she creates in performance, and I do not say that casually about many recorded works.

If you find the disc’s title is off-putting, I will reassure you: Marianne Solivan is a brave, free artist — a prisoner of nothing, as far as I can see.  In fact, she has written her own powerful verse to the title song, evidence of talents beyond her singing voice.  On this disc, Marianne embraces a wide variety of emotions and textures in her work without being bound to any one of them.

Through intuition, taste, and experience, Marianne has avoided the traps that catch eager “jazz singers.”  She surrenders herself to the song, both lyrics and melody, rather than insisting that the song bend itself to her will.  This is not to say that she is excessively respectful, bound by the written manuscript, quarter note by quarter note.  No.  In fact, she takes her own liberties — subtly reshaping the original melody and words as she goes — but her little bends and pauses, elevations and turns, leave me with the feeling that I have heard, for example, a reading of I GUESS I’LL HANG MY TEARS OUT TO DRY that is what composer and lyricist aspired to create.  She is just that successful in her sweet inventions.

Although Marianne never “sings like a horn player,” shorthand for someone pretending that written melody, cadence, and lyrics are to be tossed around vigorously, she does remind me of horn players — of late Lester and mid-period Ben, of Jimmy Rowles and early Miles.  The singers who stand behind her are (among others) Sinatra and Betty Carter, but she has managed to make her own path around the intense pathos of one and the sharp dismissive edginess of the other.

And what Marianne does with the lyrics is uniquely rewarding.  If you consider a sheet of music and lyrics, the words and syllables are often tied so tightly to individual notes that to sing them as written would be like reading a Keats sonnet, accenting every other syllable up and down to a metronome — thus obliterating meaning rather than enhancing it.  Marianne doesn’t “speak” her lines — her voice, cello-rich and powerful, will not be ignored — but she gives the lyrics a speech-like naturalness, as if she were discovering the words and the sentiments for the first time.  Great acting without an actor’s artifice: no self-pity, no drowning in pathos.

PRISONER OF LOVE is illuminated from within by intelligence, restraint, and headlong emotion.  Marianne’s producer is the fine jazz trumpeter Jeremy Pelt, who appears on one track; she and he have the best taste in musical colleagues, including Michael Kanan, Christian McBride (showing himself a fine writer in addition), Peter Bernstein, Xavier Davis, Ben Wolfe, Johnathan Blake.  The musicians are enthusiastic but never get in Marianne’s way: indeed, the eleven selections seem like a series of small playlets, of perfectly poised improvisatory conversations.

Here is a video memento of that evening at Smalls when I first heard Marianne — listen closely to her witty, amused, romantic recasting of THERE’S A SMALL HOTEL, where she is sometimes intimate, sometimes annunciatory:

As much as I admire that performance from July 2011, I can hear that Marianne has matured in the half-year since then . . . so imagine her at even higher levels of grace and casual splendor.

To hear her — only a few days ago — both singing and talking to John Schaefer of WNYC, click here.

Marianne’s CD is available at Amazon (for antiquarians like me who prefer the tangible disc and sleeve) and at iTunes for those who believe that music can be sped invisibly through the air: click here for the Amazon link.

And the best news is that the remarkable Miss Solivan will be performing in the next few months not only in New York City, but in Boston and Washington, D.C.  To learn all, visit her website here.

I am most excited about another duet performance that she and Michael Kanan will be creating — delicate magic in our ears — at Michael’s studio, “The Drawing Room,” a large, quiet, white-curtained room with a fine piano.  It’s at 70 Willoughby Street (# 2A, one flight up and follow signs on your left) in downtown Brooklyn — between Lawrence Street and Bridge Street, this coming Saturday, March 24, 2012.  There will be two sets, beginning at 7:30 PM.  And, since space is limited (seating for 50!) I recommend that you let Michael (at mpkanan@gmail.com) or Marianne (at her website) know that you will be there.   Admission is only $10, and there will be a cash wine bar.  Even for people like myself who are moderately challenged by Brooklyn, The Drawing Room is not difficult to get to: a variety of subway lines graciously come there:   N,R,Q,B,F,A,C,E, 2,3,4,& 5 trains.

Marianne says, “Working in duo with Michael has been one of the most inspiring and challenging experiences in my life.  I love the feeling of flight that I have with him in a song.  I get so many musical ideas from him and I am challenged to be creative and honest.  The feeling is amazing, I enjoy every minute of making music with him.  We will be playing some songs from my new CD, Prisoner of Love, as well as some of our other favorites.  Breathing new life into melodies that will never get old.   I hope you can come out and share this with us.”

May your happiness increase.

WHAT COLOR IS THE MUSIC? WHAT ETHNICITY IS JAZZ?

This open letter from the young singer Julia Keefe is, I think, a very gracious way to discuss an uncomfortable subject.  Since Miss Keefe is not in any way polemical, I might take the opportunity for a few lines.  In the history of giving honors and recognition to jazz musicians and singers, there has been a fairly clear hierarchy.  African-American men got first preference (and under that rubric were included all players whose ethnicity looked in the least similar), then followed by Caucasian men.  A long pause ensued, then African-American woman, followed by a few women of other ethnicities.  This isn’t an attack on Jazz at Lincoln Center, Mr. Marsalis, or any of the other august players and critics connected with JALC . . . but a quick perusal of the evidence will, I think, prove my general contention here correct.

When I was on the hiring committee at my college, we were instructed and encouraged — in the name of fairness, diversity, and equity — to ask ourselves “Who’s missing?” when we considered our prospective candidates.  In this context, I believe that the answer to that question can properly begin with the name MILDRED BAILEY at the head of the list.  I know that the late Richard M. Sudhalter and Hoagy Carmichael would agree with me.

Here’s Miss Keefe’s letter:

AN OPEN LETTER TO THE NESHUI ERTEGUN JAZZ HALL OF FAME

March 19, 2012

Mr. Wynton Marsalis

c/o Selection Committee

Jazz Hall of Fame at Lincoln Center

33 West 60th Street, 11th Floor

New York, N.Y. 10023

Dear Mr. Marsalis and fellow Selection Committee Members:

My name is Julia Keefe, and I am a student at the Frost School of Music at the University of Miami in Coral Gables, FL, studying vocal jazz performance. I am also a member of the Nez Perce Indian Tribe. Shortly after I first became interested in jazz over ten years ago, I began researching the life of Bing Crosby, who also attended my high school, Gonzaga Prep, in Spokane, WA. I was surprised and happy to learn that Bing Crosby gave credit for his early success to a Native American woman from the Coeur d’Alene Tribe named Mildred Rinker Bailey who had, like me, lived her formative childhood years on her Idaho tribal reservation before moving to Spokane and discovering jazz. I am writing to urge that Mildred Bailey be considered for induction into the Neshui Ertegun Jazz Hall of Fame in recognition of her groundbreaking role in jazz history.

To say that Mildred Bailey inspired me in my chosen vocation as a jazz singer would be a great understatement. But I am not alone. Bing Crosby once said, “I was lucky in knowing the great jazz and blues singer Mildred Bailey so early in life. I learned a lot from her. She made records which are still vocal classics, and she taught me much about singing and interpreting popular songs.” And a sideman from her husband Red Norvo’s band, trumpeter Lyle “Rusty” Dedrick once wrote, “She had a magic. So many people down the line, so many singers, benefited from her, owe debts to her – and they don’t even know it. Mildred Bailey probably never made a bad record; she made many that were excellent, and quite a few considerably better, even, than that.”

As the very first female big band singer in America, Mildred was a role model and inspiration for contemporaries including Billie Holiday, Helen Ward and Ella Fitzgerald. She opened the door of opportunity for every female lead singer who followed the trail she blazed. Her singing style and phrasing caught the ear of aspiring young singers of that era including Tony Bennett and Rosemary Clooney, and still, much later, Linda Ronstadt. She was respected and admired by performers including Frank Sinatra, the Dorsey brothers, Coleman Hawkins and Artie Shaw. A 1944 Time Magazine review of her show at the Café Society in New York called Mildred, “just about the greatest songbird in the U.S.”

Recognition of Mildred Bailey in the Jazz Hall of Fame would, I believe, open a door to a largely neglected and ignored chapter in the history of this All-American art form known as jazz: the involvement of First Americans. When I was living on my own reservation in Kamiah, ID, I came across old photographs of tribal members in small ensembles and quartets, playing jazz. One group, the Lollipop Six, was made up of young Nez Perce men who had learned to play their instruments while attending Indian boarding schools in the early 20th century. I can still recall how proud Lionel Hampton was when he visited our reservation to be honored while attending the international jazz festival at the University of Idaho that still bears his name.

On too many reservations in modern America there are not enough inspirational stories of successful native women who rose above the challenges they faced and helped to change history. But Mildred Rinker Bailey, did just that. Though widely thought to have been a white singer, Mildred was, in fact, a member of the Coeur d’Alene Tribe. Mildred once called traditional Indian singing, “a remarkable training and background” for a singer. “It takes a squeaky soprano and straightens out the clinkers that make it squeak; it removes the bass boom from the contralto’s voice,” she said. “This Indian singing does this because you have to sing a lot of notes to get by, and you’ve got to cover a lot of range.” Every Native American who has ever attended a tribal ceremony, whether a feast, a memorial, or a modern pow-wow, knows exactly what Mildred Bailey was talking about here. I believe that Mildred Bailey’s success as a jazz vocalist is grounded in her early vocal training and development from singing traditional tribal songs as a young girl on the Coeur d’Alene Indian Reservation.

I would deeply appreciate the chance to provide you and the other selection committee members, and your entire international voting panel, with a complete packet of information that I have collected while researching the remarkable career of the first female vocalist in America to sing with a big band. Recognizing Mildred Bailey’s pioneering, ground breaking accomplishment, would do honor to the Neshui Ertegun Hall of Fame, and provide Indian tribes from across this country a symbol of their own contribution to the rich cultural heritage of a uniquely American art form that I have come to love, thanks in large part to Mildred Bailey.

Respectfully,

Julia Keefe

Nez Perce Tribal member #4152

Frost School of Music, Class of 2012

www.whereismildred.com

www.juliakeefe.com

May your happiness increase.

“WHERE’S MILDRED?”

A very good question, and thanks to Julia Keefe for asking it, for making sure others hear it, and for keeping Mildred alive in her own singing!  Read all about it:

Idaho tribe touts ‘Mrs. Swing’s’ Indian heritage in bid for Lincoln Center recognition

By Associated Press, Updated: Thursday, March 15, 3:32 AM

 BOISE, Idaho — Mildred Rinker Bailey was known to fans as “Mrs. Swing,” whose slight, throaty voice won her acclaim as one of the great white jazz singers of the 1930s and 1940s.  

But the Coeur d’Alene Indian Tribe is now hoping to set the record straight once and for all: Bailey, who died impoverished in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., in 1951, was an American Indian who spent her childhood on the reservation near DeSmet, Idaho.

This week, the tribe introduced a resolution honoring Bailey in the Idaho Legislature, in part to convince the Jazz at Lincoln Center Hall of Fame in New York City to add her to its inductees — on grounds she helped blaze a trail for better-known singers like Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday.

“Mildred was a pioneer,” said Coeur d’Alene Tribal Chairman Chief J. Allan. “She paved the way for many other female singers to follow.”

Though Bailey’s Coeur d’Alene ties may not have been common knowledge among her fans, it clearly wasn’t a secret.

“Part Indian, she was born Mildred Rinker on a farm near Spokane,” reads her Associated Press obituary, dated Dec. 13, 1951.

Still, in jazz history books, Bailey has gone down largely as a white female jazz stylist.

The New Grove Dictionary of Jazz hails her as “the first white singer to absorb and master the jazz-flavored phrasing…of her black contemporaries.”

Howard Koslow, the illustrator who created Bailey’s likeness on a 29-cent U.S. Postal Service stamp based on an image by iconic jazz photographer William Gottlieb, said he had only that brief New Grove entry as a reference.

But his depiction of Bailey’s dark complexion and black hair, for the stamp issued in a series honoring jazz and blues musicians, appears to capture her complex heritage.

“She has that look about her,” Koslow recalled Tuesday in an interview from his Toms River, N.J., home.

Bailey was born Feb. 16, 1900, in the Washington farming town of Tekoa, near the Idaho border.

Her mother was a Coeur d’Alene tribal member, her father of Swiss-Irish stock.

At 13, she moved from the reservation to Spokane, where a neighbor destined to become world famous as “Bing” Crosby joined Bailey and her brother, Al Rinker, at the family’s piano. Al Rinker and Crosby formed the group “The Rhythm Boys.”

By the mid-1920s, all three were singing in California; in 1929, Crosby recommended to famous orchestra leader Paul Whiteman he add Bailey as a regular.

“I was lucky in knowing the great jazz and blues singer Mildred Bailey so early in life,” Crosby wrote in his 1953 autobiography. “I learned a lot from her.”

So has Julia Keefe, a 22-year-old jazz singer from Spokane.

Keefe, a member of Idaho’s Nez Perce Indian Tribe, discovered Bailey as a student at Spokane’s Gonzaga Prep, while researching Crosby’s own time at the Catholic high school.

“It took off like a flash flood,” remembers Keefe, now a performance major at the University of Miami with Bailey’s photograph hanging on her Florida apartment wall.

In 2009, Keefe performed a musical tribute featuring Bailey’s songs, including “Old Rockin’ Chair” and “He’s Not Worth Your Tears,” at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C.

A year later, Keefe was touring the Jazz at Lincoln Center Hall of Fame, pondering the greats on its 18-foot video wall when she asked herself, “Where’s Mildred?”

Thus began her quiet effort to elevate Bailey’s profile in the modern jazz world, a push the Idaho Legislature hopes to assist.

“It’s sad to think she died penniless, or nearly penniless, after all the things that she accomplished,” said Rep. Bob Nonini, a sponsor of resolution. “But it’s never too late to recognize somebody.”

Lincoln Center officials didn’t immediately respond to an AP request for comment.

An important question remains: How important were Bailey’s Indian roots to her art?

An undated quotation, attributed to her by the U.S. Postal Service in 1994, hints at an answer.

“I don’t know whether this (Indian) music compares with jazz or the classics, but I do know that it offers a young singer a remarkable training and background,” Bailey reportedly said.

Bailey’s niece, Julia Rinker-Miller, a Los Angeles-based singer whose credits include the “Three’s Company” theme, was seven in 1951 when her aunt died in a Hudson Valley hospital, from complications of diabetes and obesity; Frank Sinatra reportedly helped pay her medical bills.

“Even though she was large, she was delicate, very exotic, sensual,” Rinker-Miller recalled during an interview Tuesday.

From her father, Rinker-Miller heard stories of how they were called “breeds” after moving from the Coeur d’Alene reservation to Spokane.

Consequently, he downplayed his own American Indian background, she said.

She figures Bailey was forced to do likewise during her career — possibly why she became known as a white artist.

“Mildred’s returning to her roots,” Rinker-Miller said, of the tribe’s effort to reclaim Bailey. “She’s going home.”

QUIETLY SPECTACULAR: “NICE WORK IF YOU CAN GET IT”: MARK LOPEMAN’S DEBUT CD

If you’ve been following the New York City jazz scene, you’ll know Mark Lopeman — a master saxophonist who’s been an invaluable addition to many bands for the past few decades.  Mark has just released his first CD under his own name, and it’s wonderful.

You can skip the prose and go right to the heart of things here

But if you’ve never heard or heard of Mark Lopeman (which I could understand) a few words might be in order.  Mark is another one of those people who proved F. Scott Fitzgerald wrong — not only are there second acts in American lives, but the plays we write and act in go seamlessly on without intermissions or other arbitrary divisions.  Mark is now in his early fifties, but this is no middle-aged man’s self-indulgent effort.  Rather it is beautiful music throughout — no pretenses, nothing antiquarian or postmodernist.  It is lively and fresh (locally sourced and organic, too), yet not a familiar running-through-an-hour-of-tried-and-true.  Readers of a certain age will know what I mean when I say it reminds me very happily of an imagined session for the Prestige-Swingville label, in better sound.  Mark and his colleagues know how to hit a variety of grooves, but the music never pokes a listener in the ribs and says, “Gee, look at how funky we are!”

Rather than retell Mark’s biography, I would direct you to his site — where the tale, involving the circus, a traffic ticket, Gerry Mulligan, and other notables, can be found here

I would offer my own narrow version of the Mark Lopeman saga.  When I first began to haunt New York jazz clubs, I heard Mark as a member of Vince Giordano’s Nighthawks, someone who could work his way through the reeds without fear.  He swung hard, never missed a turn, and when it came to his feature number — a transcription of the 1939 Hawkins BODY AND SOUL — he played it with accuracy and fervor, but I could hear his personality peeking out through the transcribed notes.  Then I had the good fortune to hear him as a guest EarRegular at The Ear Inn with Jon-Erik Kellso and Matt Munisteri.  To use the ancient locution, I flipped.  He swung, he soared; he was lyrical, witty, and to the point.  Ruby Braff had originally wanted to play the tenor saxophone; had he gotten his wish, he would have sounded like Mark Lopeman: wearing his heart on his sleeve but never getting in anyone’s way.

Mark is also one of those players who has thoroughly absorbed the tradition but has managed to bob along on the waves, remaining true to himself.  So a tenor aficionado will hear affectionate side-glances of Charlie Rouse and Al Cohn, Lucky Thompson and Stan Getz, but Mark is not one of those Real Book / play-along creations who coast from one learned phrase to another.  He is himself, and what a good thing that is!

Back to our story.  When I meet an artist I admire, I am not subtle or restrained in saying so.  After the first EarRegulars experience, I think I buttonholed Mark and said, “Wow, you play beautifully!  Have you got a CD of your own?”  And he looked a bit shy and said he hadn’t.  Later on, either at Sofia’s or The Ear Inn, I met his wife, the artist Susan Manley, and said (once again subtly), “Damnit, he plays so well.  When the hell is he going to make a CD of his own?”  And she agreed with me.  I can’t take any credit for helping NICE WORK IF YOU CAN GET IT see the light of day, but I would like to think that my nagging had a point: if there were enough annoying people hanging around the Lopemans making this pesky request, perhaps the CD emerged in some small part to get us to be quiet.  Maybe?

Would you like to hear some of the music?  I thought so.  Here are a whole raft of thirty-second snippets, enough to give you a sense of the CD’s candor and variety.  Click here

You can read all about the genesis of the music in Bill Kirschner’s perceptive, concise liner notes, but I would add a few things.  Mark is joined in his lyrical efforts by a splendid rhythm section of Ted Rosenthal, piano; Nicki Parrott, string bass; Tim Horner, drums.  He plays not only tenor saxophone but soprano and clarinet, and about half of the CD is illuminated by the presence of Brandon Lee on trumpet and fluegelhorn and Noah Bless on trombone — both players who know their stuff without cliche.  The repertoire is deliciously varied — from a trotting I’M ALWAYS CHASING RAINBOWS that begins and ends with a hilariously swinging Rosenthal-plays-Chopin, to the title tune, with hints of Charlie Rouse and Monk, a hip-swinging MY KIND OF GIRL (several selections have their roots in Mr. Sinatra’s repertoire), and two very intriguing Lopeman originals, WORLD ECONOMY BLUES (a collaboration with saxophonist Chris Byars) and INTENTIONS — which also feature fascinating scoring by their composer.  My absolute favorites on this disc are two Lopeman – Rosenthal duets, EVERYTHING HAPPENS TO ME (which keeps its yearning quality without any of the self-conscious pathos this song often encourages) and the heartbreaking I’M A FOOL TO WANT YOU.  (Jonathan Schwartz would love them: I hope he gets his own copy.)

I worry that JAZZ LIVES readers will think I am always tugging at their collective sleeves (and credit cards) saying “Buy this!  Buy this!”  But this CD is quietly spectacular.  Nice work indeed, Mark — and how lucky we are that we can indeed get it.

P.S.  The cover portrait is a family affair — a watercolor done with wit and affection by Rosie Lopeman . . . another artist in the house!

JAZZ WORTH READING: “NORMAN GRANZ: THE MAN WHO USED JAZZ FOR JUSTICE,” by TAD HERSHORN

Three singular personalities have been responsible for much of what we now take for granted in jazz in the last hundred years in recordings and public performance: John Hammond, George Wein, and Norman Granz.

Hammond wrote his own somewhat mythic autobiography and was the subject of a tepid posthumous biography.  Wein, the only member of the trio still with us, has an expansive autobiography.  Granz, who died in 2001, discouraged efforts to write his story until journalist and jazz scholar Tad Hershorn entered his life.  And Hershorn’s biography of Granz is a substantial accomplishment.

A book on Granz as record producer (for fifty years) would have been intriguing in itself, for even though Granz alternated between being controlling and negligent, he recorded Armstrong, Fitzgerald, Holiday, Young, Webster, Tatum, Parker, Gillespie, O’Day, Getz, Hampton, Wilson, Konitz, Hawkins, Eldridge, Rich, Peterson, Ellington, Basie . . . The sessions are uneven, but the energy animating them is undeniable, and the successes are memorable.  Imagine a jazz cosmos without JATP, Norgran, Clef, Verve, Pablo.

Another book might have chronicled Granz the concert promoter — the inventor of Jazz at the Philharmonic, the model for many concerts to come after its inception in the early Forties.  (Who else would have Louis, Ella, and Tatum on the same bill?)

And there might have been another book concerning Granz as friend-of and sometimes enemy-of: his relations with Picasso, with Sinatra, Ellington, Peterson, Fitzgerald, among others, are intriguing windows into his character and theirs, providing both inspiring and acrimonious anecdotes.

But the narrative Hershorn chose to tie these stories together is Granz’s vehement, unwavering vision of jazz as a racially integrated music played in public for integrated audiences.  Younger (or more idealistic) readers may be startled by the historical information that emerges in the first fifteen years of Granz’s years as a concert promoter: yes, there were drinking fountains for “colored” and “white,” as well as restaurants that did not serve anyone appropriately light-skinned.  Granz, who often appears to be someone indifferent to social grace, an abrasive, self-righteous and self-absorbed figure, comes through as a heroic figure who made it possible for “mixed” audiences to sit together and to hear American music (a struggle, I must point out, that he didn’t originate — although he continued it valiantly).

Hershorn’s book is the result of fifteen years of work on the subject, including a number of in-person interviews of an ailing (although still acerbic) Granz.  The book is thoroughly researched — some forty pages of footnotes, a chronology, an extensive bibliography, rare photographs.  The book has no competition, and he has spoken with people who knew Granz — from publicist Virginia Wicks to Peterson to Quincy Jones and Nat Hentoff — so this book has a freshness many other jazz biographies lack because the important sources are long dead.

But Granz — energetic, willful, moving quickly — is a difficult subject because he is always in motion.  Occasionally Hershorn’s chronological organization (with extended considerations of important musicians and friends) seems like an airport walkway, efficient but constraining.  At times the mere data seems overwhelming: during the JATP period, we learn about every concert tour — the players, itinerary, gross receipts.  A biographer should fall in love with the material, and is writing both for the contemporary audience and for future generations who may use the book as an invaluable research tool.  But some of this material might have profitably been placed in an appendix, unless it was needed for the dramatic arc of the story.

Granz’a extended career and long active life — I would not have wished it otherwise — also pose problems for a biographer properly intent on showing him an unacknowledged civil rights pioneer.  Once Granz can be sure that the local police won’t attempt to plant drugs on his musicians; once they can stay at the best hotels; once there is no restriction on who can sit where in the audience, much of the air goes out of the book.  Once the battle has been won, Granz can go on being a wealthy businessman, an art collector, friends with Picasso, playing tennis.  To be fair, this diminuendo is often the inevitable pattern of biographies: when the book is focused on its subject’s struggle towards a goal, what happens to the biography once that goal is achieved?

But overall the book is a fine one.  Hershorn has managed his relationship to his subject with great grace.  Some biographers loathe their subject and crow over errors of judgment,  meanness of spirit.  Others adore their subjects and make excuses for bad behavior.  Hershorn is careful, accurate, and fair, permitting us to applaud what Granz made possible even if we find the man unpleasant.  Hershorn is also a clear writer, although too fond of casual cliche — “the red carpet treatment,” “made no bones about it,” “wined and dined” — for me, but this will not bother others.  And in an era where large, detailed books are becoming more and more rare, to have published this one is a remarkable accomplishment.

If occasionally the reader tires of Granz, the book can be put aside for a day.  Or one might listen to a half-hour of Pres and Teddy, Ben Webster with strings, Billie Holiday with Jimmy Rowles, or one of the Ella Fitzgerald Songbooks.  For those masterpieces, one would forgive Granz anything.

THE HEART OF THE SONG: ABIGAIL RICCARDS and MICHAEL KANAN (June 12, 2011)

Abigail Riccards and Michael Kanan inspire awe and wonder.

I experienced this first-hand in a small Brooklyn studio last Sunday, June 12, 2011, and share the music with you here. 

These two artists created music full of feeling but never “dramatic.”  Each song had its own pliant shape, with unaffected casual intensity and splendor. 

Abigail has a speaking directness.  Her mobile voice arches into long tones and soaring phrases; she lives within the lyric and the melody she is singing.  She makes each song full of small peaks of intelligence and emotion. 

Hear, for instance, how she handles the words “drop a line” in Wilder’s I’LL BE AROUND.  Her TOO LATE NOW is almost unbearably poignant yet it doesn’t whimper or carry on.  Her approach is at once serious and joyous.  BLUE SKIES cavorts. 

And although these songs are not new — each one has powerful ghosts standing behind the curtain to upstage the living artists — Abigail takes her own small liberties and makes them work, turning IN LOVE IN VAIN (one of the saddest songs I know) into something a little more resilient, in the same fashion that Billie Holiday recreated TRAV’LIN’ ALL ALONE as her own nearly defiant statement. 

Abigail’s singing touched everyone in the room: even in the videos here, you can feel their powerful quiet empathy and delight.  I hear a great artistry.

Michael is a poet at the keyboard with none of the pretense some have brought to that role.  I think often of Jimmy Rowles when he plays, and at times of the witty, pointed spareness of John Lewis.  Like Abigail, he never overacts, never calls attention to himself in some look-at-me way, but you can’t help but pay attention — both to what he is creating and what trodden ways he is wisely avoiding. 

His sound is lucent; his pauses are knowing and subtle; he is a master of light and shade and shadow.  At its most serene and quiet, his playing is resonant. 

The art of accompaniment might be the most arduous of endeavors, and Michael is the most generous of partners, sweetly creating just the right sound-shape to make the singer or players around him seem even better. 

And these two artists create a delicate yet powerful musical world in duet — their playful energies complementing each other.  They are gracious; they are polite; they don’t interrupt each other’s sentences, but together they make something wise and subtle and rich that wasn’t there a minute before. 

They offer and enact deep calm and brave experiment.

LUCKY TO BE ME:

TOO LATE NOW:

YOU’D BE SO NICE TO COME HOME TO:

IN LOVE IN VAIN:

THE MORE I SEE YOU:

I’LL BE AROUND:

I’M OLD-FASHIONED:

ALL THE WAY:

BLUE SKIES:

EV’RY TIME WE SAY GOOD-BYE:

Throughout this performance, I kept feeling it was an honor to be in the same room, a privilege to witness and record such art.  I still do.

SUE, EDDIE, and CHRIS: “HOW THEY HYPNOTIZE!” (Hidden Valley Music Seminars: March 4, 2011)

I had an extraordinarily good time at Dixieland Monterey 2011 (March 4-6) which took place at the Convention Center and other venues.  For those who might quail at the word “Dixieland,” there wasn’t a sleeve garter in sight — at least not among the musicians.  And there was plenty of soaring hot jazz, as my videos will show.

But the weekend started off in a more lovely pensive fashion: Sue Kroninger (vocals, commentary, washboard); Eddie Erickson (vocals, banjo); Chris Calabrese (hot piano) gave a lighter-than-air presentation on five great American songwriters — Irving Berlin, Walter Donaldson, George Gershwin, Johnny Mercer, and Hoagy Carmichael.

All this took place at the Hidden Valley Music Seminars in Carmel Valley, California — in a beautiful room with wood walls, a lovely piano, a delighted audience.  Click here for more details: http://www.hiddenvalleymusic.org/.

Here is the whole precious program (I couldn’t bear to keep a note of it to myself).  Catch the wonderful interplay, wit, and feeling.  Unlike other programs of the sort I’ve seen, this one is beautifully balanced among the three players, who obviously like each other a great deal.  And Sue knows her stuff without being stuffy!

(A note to the suspicious, something perhaps superfluous.  Some of my readers will see a woman with a washboard and two whisks to keep time, a banjo player, a pianist . . . and they will think, “Oh, no . . . ” and skip these videos.  I understand their terror — their primeval fears.  But this trio makes such beautiful swinging deeply-felt music that nothing they do could scare off anyone.  I promise.  Or your money back.)

Sue began the program with a 1913 Irving Berlin tune, AT THE DEVIL’S BALL — which features both hilarious vaudeville lyrics and a tune that, once heard, is impossible to extract from your cortex.  And Sue is having the time of her life.  And ours:

Then, Eddie took on a wonderful song (I associate it with Louis and the Mills Brothers — can you blame me?) from 1927, THE SONG IS ENDED.  It might seem an odd choice for the second song of a program, but it’s such a good song!  And Eddie, dear Fast Eddie, sings it so beautifully:

Finally (for Berlin), Chris took a wonderful turn at ALWAYS — with hints of the Master, Dave McKenna:

Less well-known than Mr. Berlin was Walter Donaldson (but think of AT SUNDOWN, MY BUDDY, and fifty others).  Sue called for Eddie to perform a hit from the early Twenties — nothing could be sweeter than Eddie singing CAROLINA IN THE MORNING.  Hear the variations he brings to his timbre and delivery — and how Chris rocks:

Then a rollicking rarity (a bit of social commentary) that Sue explains, with the irreplaceable title YOU HAVE TO PUT A NIGHTIE ON APHRODITE TO KEEP THE MARRIED MEN HOME (or words to that effect).  I think hearing that song was worth the airfare from New York.  Hope you agree.  Sue is a born entertainer who grabs any audience as soon as she opens her mouth to sing:

And what might be the best-loved song in America (easier to sing than STARDUST), MY BLUE HEAVEN — with the lovely verse, delightfully played by the quiet man Sue calls “Mr. Excitement”:

Onward to the deservedly famous — and short-lived — George Gershwin, with an old favorite, SOMEBODY LOVES ME, winningly sung by Sue.  She isn’t Lily Pons or Sarah Vaughan when it comes to a four-octave range, but this is all to the good: her casual, understated delivery comes from the heart:

STRIKE UP THE BAND shows off Chris (and friends) without ever being militaristic:

Then, a high point for me — Eddie’s rendition of EMBRACEABLE YOU.  Eddie gets terribly embarrassed when I praise him, so I’ll go easy in print here (but I might just say very quietly that I’ve called him “our Sinatra” and I mean it).  Chris’s subtle traceries make me think of Tommy Flanagan:

Changing the mood, here’s Johnny Mercer’s cheerful life-affirmation, AC-CEN-CHU-ATE THE POSITIVE, always good advice:

From a title that’s nearly impossible to spell to one of the simplest — Chris leads the trio through a jaunty version of DREAM:

And as a special favor to me (I had said that I would like to hear Sue “unplugged”) she indulged me with an acoustic JEEPERS CREEPERS, happy as the day is long:

The trio’s version of RIVERBOAT SHUFFLE calls to mind the young man from Davenport, Hoagy Carmichael’s pal Bix — note the funny little personalizing Sue does with the bouncy lyrics (after Chris makes sure that the joint is entirely jumping):

LAZY RIVER (not UP A) shows off the easy grace of Mr. Erickson, Louis-inspired without a bit of gravel in his hopper:

And — instead of the more hackneyed Fourth of July closing — Sue chose one of the most tender songs in the last century, the Carmichael-Loesser TWO SLEEPY PEOPLE, where the melody, the lyrics, and the loving wit come together exquisitely for Sue, Eddie, and Chris:

My weekend at Dixieland Monterey was off to the most gratifying start: these three dear artists already had me floating with pleasure, and it wasn’t even lunchtime.

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THREE ARIAS, THREE MOODS at THE EAR INN (Jan. 16, 2011)

Despairing.

Optimistic.

Sly.

If you thought that arias were sung only in opera houses and on PBS; if you thought that Puccini and Mozart had cornered the market on passionate vocal expression . . . then I would ask you to consider the three performances below.

Recorded at my favorite Sunday-night hangout of all time, The Ear Inn (326 Spring Street, Soho, New York City), these three vocal – dramatic expressions are emotionally powerful.  They capture two singers: Tamar Korn and Jerron Paxton, alongside Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Matt Munisteri, guitar; Neal Miner, bass; Mark Lopeman, tenor sax and clarinet, and Pete Martinez, clarinet (far left) — on the final number, clarinetist Bob Curtis can be seen and heard even more to the left. 

The three songs couldn’t be more familiar landmarks of twentieth-century American popular song, but listen to what these singers and players make of them! 

I had heard Tamar perform BODY AND SOUL once before (with the Cangelosi Cards at the Shambhala Meditation Center, on Feb. 27, 2010 — you can see that performance on this blog) but I do not think I have ever heard her or anyone else sing this song with such despairing power and intensity.  And, yes, I know it has been sung beautifully and strongly by Louis, Billie, Frank, and many others.  But listen — listen! — to Tamar and the band here, the musicians giving her their full love and support, as she stretches notes in some phrases, stating some plainly.  And her second chorus, where she suggests by her singing that some things are too deep for mere words: 

I am not alone in having some awkward feelings about this song: its somewhat syntactically-tortured lyrics; its inescapably masochistic air (much more self-immolating than UNTIL THE REAL THING COMES ALONG); it is more a song of voluntary indeiture than of simple fidelity.  And Tamar enters so wholly into the spirit of it that I hear her moving closer and closer to the flame, to the brink, in the manner of Piaf.  But a strange thing happens here.  You realize that as much as Tamar is apparently performing open-heart surgery in front of the crowd, saying, sobbing, “You want my heart?  Here!  Here it is!  Take it!” she is simultaneously the artist in full control, creating a dramatic (but not melodramatic) statement about love and art and passion.  In appearing to throw herself into the song, she is also the artist knowing how to create that spectacle which is so unsettling, so seismic.  And the gentlemen of the ensemble evoke Roy Eldridge, Lester Young, Ed Hall, Charlie Christian, and Oscar Pettiford in the most singular ways!  Perhaps they’ve all been prisoners of love, too?

After that performance, I felt utterly satisfied and drained: in some way, I thought, “That’s it for me!  I don’t have to hear anything else tonight, tomorrow, next week . . . ”  But it was early — perhaps twenty minutes before the EarRegulars would call it a night — and they conferred on another song that Tamar might sing with them.  It took some time — choices were suggested and rejected — and since I am a born meddler and enjoy the friendly tolerance of everyone in that band, I leaned forward and said, “Sorry to intrude!  But what about WRAP YOUR TROUBLES IN DREAMS”?  And — my goodness! — Tamar and the Regulars thought it a good idea, and they took it up at a brisk tempo, everyone playing around with the written harmony to spark it up a bit (what I’ve heard called “the Crosby changes”) which you’ll notice.  Here, the mood was properly restorative, hopeful.  Yes, you sold my heart to the junkman, but I can always barter something and get it back in decent shape.  The clouds will soon roll by.  Your troubles can, in fact, be wrapped up in dreams and made to disappear.  Hokey Depression-era thoughts, not supported by evidence?  Perhaps.  But if I woke up in a gloomy mood every morning, which I fortunately do not, I would want to play this video — more than once — until I felt better.  See if it works for you, too:

The heroic Jerron Paxton had come in to The Ear Inn between the first and second sets, and I had hopes that he would sing.  When he shows up at a club, music happens!  And for the final performance of the night, he and the EarRegulars settled on a rocking SOME OF THESE DAYS, that anthem of “You left me and won’t you be sorry!” but sung with a grin rather than finger-waggling or real rancor.  Jerron is a sly poet, singing some phrases, elongating others, speaking some . . . and he gets his message across when he seems to be most casually leaning against the wall, just floating along: a true improvising dramatist:

Thank you, gentlemen and lady, for your passionate candor, your eloquence.

THE ARTS OF THE PIANO TRIO (Sofia’s, Dec. 4, 2010)

Michael Kanan is not only a superb pianist.  He knows how to organize a jazz performance.  And he has the finest friends I could imagine. 

I first came to hear Michael when he played two nights at the end of June with the brilliant saxophonist Joel Press: musical events one can find on JAZZ LIVES.  Michael was and is a melodic player with a fine rhythmic surge, creating lines that move into spaces and places I didn’t expect: not esoteric or counterintuitive, but original. 

So when Michael mentioned that he was bringing three pianist friends — Tardo Hammer, Pete Malinverni, and Larry Ham — along with bassist Neal Miner and drummer Eliot Zigmund to the street-level Sofia’s (in the Hotel Edison, 221 West 46th Street) for a Saturday session of piano trios, I was extremely excited.  With video camera, new Rode microphone, and tripod, I made myself as small as possible in the only available space, next to a mirror, which accounts for some interesting doubling-phenomena. 

Michael also did something simple and imaginative: rather than have lengthy sets for each of the players, each pianist played two songs in turn, then made way for the next person.  It was wonderful to watch Tardo, Pete, and Michael intently absorb what Larry was playing — and if you switch the names around, you get a sense of the evening. 

I won’t comment at length on the players, except to say that I had heard Larry Ham as a member of Dan Block’s “Almost Modern” band, both live and on CD, as well as on a fascinating recital for the Arbors label.  Tardo Hammer didn’t know me (which is understandable) but I had admired his LOOK STOP LISTEN (Sharp Nine) as well as his work with the Warren Vache-John Allred quintet.  Pete Malinverni was someone new to me, which I regret, but his playing made a deep impression.  Pete, incidentally, summed the evening up for me when we spoke at the end: “It’s melody, man!”  Appropriately, many of the songs played that night harked back to the singers Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, and Billie Holiday. 

Aside from being a splendid videographer, Neal Miner is a resoundingly rewarding bassist — in many contexts — as well as a composer.  And Eliot Zigmund showed himself a master of sounds: not simply sticks on the cymbals, but the many varieties of padding and urging that the wire brushes can afford. 

Here are an inspiring dozen from that night, studies in jazz empathy:

Tardo’s A NIGHTINGALE SANG IN BERKELEY SQUARE:

Pete’sYOU DON’T KNOW WHAT LOVE IS:

Michael’s DOGHOUSE BLUES (composed by nimble Neal Miner):

Michael’s WHILE WE’RE YOUNG:

Larry’s FALLING IN LOVE WITH LOVE:

Larry’s THE RING:

Tardo’s SOCIAL CALL:

Tardo’s GUESS I’LL HANG MY TEARS OUT TO DRY:

Pete’s GOOD QUESTION (his exploration and response to WHAT IS THIS THING CALLED LOVE):

Michael’s I’M THROUGH WITH LOVE:

Tardo’s MY OLD FLAME:

Mathematically-minded readers will notice that the division of four players and a dozen selections is not quite even: no disrespect meant, just a matter of room acoustics and the like.  There were almost as many stellar performances that night that do not appear here.  Those who find the occasional surges of conversation difficult to tolerate are asked to read my prior posting, A LITTLE SOFTER, PLEASE? 

I have refrained from commenting on individual performances, but a few words might be in order.  Notice that all of these players have mastered the subtle arts of deep harmonic exploration while keeping that rhythm going.  No Monk cliches, no tired Basie-isms, no cocktail piano rhapsodies.  Yes, pianistically-allied readers can (if they like) Trace Influences and Chronicle Echoes, but I’d rather listen to the musical cathedrals these players build — in midtown, yet. 

Most of the songs deal — at least in their lyrics — with love.  Found, lost, rejected, endured, celebrated.  But the love celebrated here is not just romantic: these players not only love but embody the great spirit of creative improvisation.  I can’t wait until Michael’s next piano effusion!

STEPHANE SEVA PAYS US A VISIT! (Nov. 26-30, 2010)

I first encountered the swinging percussionist Stephane Seva on pianist Olivier Lancelot’s CD (“Lancelot and his Chevaliers”).  Although some washboardists can be heavy and overly assertive, Stephane had a light, tapping sound, and an irresistible beat.  He’s on two new, rewarding CDs.

But first — here’s Stephane in the setting most would have encountered him, as an integral part of the quartet PARIS WASHBOARD (captured by Jeff Guyot for YouTube), with trombonist Daniel Barda, clarinetist Alain Marquet, and pianist Christian Azzi, performing ROSE OF THE RIO GRANDE:

Stephane is in fine form on the quartet’s latest CD, LIVE IN MONSEGUR (which features Barda, Marquet, and pianist Louis Mazetier), recorded live on July 4, 2009 — at a festival titled “Les 24 heures de Swing.” 

It’s on the Black and Blue label (BB 708.2) and begins in high gear with a romping MINOR DRAG — followed by SQUEEZE ME, DINAH, KEEP YOUR TEMPER, ROCKIN’ CHAIR, THERE’LL BE SOME CHANGES MADE, UP JUMPED YOU WITH LOVE, CARAVAN, SWEET LORRAINE (with witty lyrics in French about the song itself, crooned by Stephane), and MAPLE LEAF RAG. 

Although Fats Waller avoided trombone in his Rhythm, Paris Washboard has the cheerful stomp and swagger of the Waller group. 

There’s more! 

Stephane hasn’t wanted the washboard to be identified exclusively with Twenties jazz and with revivalist bands, so he has performed with a variety of jazz players.  And the results, surprising and delightful, can be heard on another CD (on his own label — STEF 001 — with an unusual quartet, SWING ONDULE. 

It follows Paris Washboard’s format: piano (Ludovic de Preissac), trombone (Eric Fauconnier), clarinet (Stephane Chausse), Stephane on washboard and vocals, and guest saxophonist Eric Seva.  The CD is teasingly brief — fourtracks only — MINOR’S MOOD, CHEVAUCHEE A BOP-CITY, SWEET LORRAINE (vocal by Stephane), WASHBOARD WIGGLES.  The first two are originals by the pianist; the last track a famous composition of Tiny Parham’s. 

What distinguishes the group and the CD from its more traditional cousins is their gleeful breadth of influences.  In the first few minutes (at a rocking tempo) I thought of the Raymond Scott Quintette, Lee Konitz and Lennie Tristano, late swing and early bop . . . all flying by most joyously.  This CD cries out for Blindfold Testing across the civilized world.  The appropriate reaction would be, “I don’t know who they are, but they’re superb!” 

BUT WAIT!  THERE’S MORE!

Stephane is coming to New York for the last week of November, and will be doing four gigs.  Here are the details:

DOC SCANLON’S PAN-ATLANTIC SWINGSTERS with Stephane Seva:

Friday, Nov. 26, 2010:  Poughkeepsie Tennis Club
135 South Hamilton St., Poughkeepsie, New York
Tickets/Info: (845) 454-2571 benasilber@verizon.net
www.hudsonvalleydance.org

Saturday, Nov. 27:  “DAISY BAKER’S” (10 PM – 1 AM):  33 Second Street, Troy, New York  (518) 266-9200  http://www.daisybakers.com

Sunday, Nov. 28, 2010: Swing 46, New York City
349 W. 46th Street between 8th & 9th Avenues                              

Tuesday, Nov. 30:  The Bickford Theatre, Morristown, New Jersey 8 PM:       New York Washboard Band: Stéphane Séva, wasnboard and vocals; Dan Levinson, clarinet; Gordon Webster, piano; Matt Musselman, trombone.  

To keep up with Stephane’s comings and goings, and his debut on CD as a singer (paying heartfelt tribute to Sinatra and Ray Charles) visit www.stephaneseva.com. and http://www.myspace.com/stephaneseva.

MR. ARMSTRONG by MR. RICCARDI (or “DON’T TOUCH THAT DIAL!”)

The person pictured at top should be immediately recognizable, although some of you might wonder when Louis joined the armed forces.  (The answer is, “1952, along with Abbott and Costello.”) 

Here’s a candid shot of Ricky Riccardi, my nomination for pre-eminent Louis Armstrong scholar, present and future.

The Beloved and I went uptown to the National Jazz Museum in Harlem (104 East 126th Street) on last Tuesday night for Ricky’s presentation of rare Louis films.  It turned out to be ninety minutes of Louis on television — a medium that embraced him and one he was made for. 

In the audience were a number of jazz luminaries — Phoebe Jacobs, who’s been a friend to the music and musicians for a long time, and George Avakian, who’s been responsible for many of the finest jazz recordings on the planet . . . since 1940.  And — dispensing medical assistance and goodwill — the Jazz Acupuncturist Marcia Salter.   

Loren Schoenberg, director of the Museum, introduced Ricky — but reminded everyone that on the next four Tuesdays in September he will be sharing excerpted performances from the very exciting Bill Savory collection — not to be missed!  For the complete schedule, visit http://www.jmih.org/.

Ricky’s cornucopia of films covered the last two decades of Louis’s life.   Those who stereotype Louis might think that these performances would be the offerings of an exhausted man, coasting along on his pop hits.  (Some people still believe that Louis played and sang his final significant notes around 1927.  A pox on such delusions!) 

No, what we saw was lively, moving, creative, and witty.  Ricky went back to 1950 to CAVALCADE OF BANDS for a duet between Louis and Velma Middleton — both exquisite comedic talents — on THAT’S MY DESIRE — also showing brief vies of Jack Teagarden, Barney Bigard, and Cozy Cole.  On a 1952 Frank Sinatra show, Louis sang and played I’M CONFESSIN’, accompanied by Bill Miller, Sinatra’s long-time pianist.  In that same year, Louis appeared on the COLGATE COMEDY HOUR alongside Abbott and Costello — in a skit that had him blowing BUGLE CALL RAG instead of REVEILLE.  

Ricky jumped forward to a 1958 Times Jazz special — one of those weirdly delightful extravaganzas that offered everyone from George Shearing to Lionel Hampton to Jaye P. Morgan and Garry Moore, Jack Teagarden and Gerry Mulligan.  Louis played SUNNY SIDE OF THE STREET and then various characters took over a blues that segued into — what else? — the ST. LOUIS BLUES. 

Because all of these clips were “live,” there were odd, pleasing surprises.  While Mulligan was playing his eloquent solo on a slow blues, you could see Jack Teagarden quickly checking his watch (“How much time do we have left?”)  Considering that the sponsor was Timex, and that there had been commercials featuring John Cameron Swayzee, was this a subliminal plug on Jack’s part?

An extraordinary (and rare) sequence from a 1960 BELL TELEPHONE HOUR had Louis singing SUNNY SIDE (and substituting the word “treaders” for “feet” in the lyrics), blowing splendidly on LAZY RIVER, seguiing into a heartbreaking SOMETIMES I FEEL LIKE A MOTHERLESS CHILD, and ending up with a bouncy MUSKRAT RAMBLE — accompanied by a gospel quartet of sorts! 

Later, after clips from talk shows where we got to see Louis interacting with everyone including Dr. Joyce Brothers, there were more tender moments — a version of MOON RIVER (accompanied, rubato, by Billy Taylor) and a sweetly loving I’M CONFESSIN’ that Louis sang to Lucille — her choice!  Another precious moment was being able to watch Bing Crosby appreciate every nuance of Louis, singing and playing SLEEPY TIME DOWN SOUTH in early 1971 — and, of course, a deeply felt version of WHAT A WONDERFUL WORLD. 

Of course Louis played and sang magnificently — butalso showed himself a moving actor, a natural comedian.  In conversation on the talk shows, he displayed a gift for instant repartee.  (“Why did he have to die?” I kept thinking.)

If you weren’t there, you missed a wonderful evening.  All this is prelude, of course, to Ricky’s splendid book, WHAT A WONDERFUL WORLD: THE MAGIC OF LOUIS ARMSTRONG’S LATER YEARS.  I am waiting eagerly for its 2011 publication.  I know it will be full of insights, new evidence, and love.

“SEARCH ENGINE TERMS,” February 2010

When you have a blog — this one or any other kind — you find out the words and phrases that people have used on Google or other search engines to come to your blog.  Sometimes the journey is a straight line (the most frequent searches are for “Louis Armstrong,” “Billie Holiday,” “Frank Sinatra,” “Joel Helleny” and so on).  But occasionally imagining the original impulse in the searcher’s mind and trying to reconstruct the journey from idea to JAZZ LIVES is both difficult and hilarious.  Witness these recent examples of inexplicability:

First, we have the MIS-SPELLERS:

“man city blue blowers”

Phonetic-ese for MOUND CITY (St. Louis) which makes for a particularly testosterone-heavy group of comb-and-tissue players; men whose kazoos are formidable instruments.

lester young, lady be god

Perhaps the deification of Billie Holiday by Lester Young?

meaning atterly deplorable

Here, I don’t know if the writer was looking for a defintion of the phrase or saying that my blog was atterly, atterly to be deplored. 

was is billie holiday’s nationality

Was American, korrekt?

talk less – miss holiday

1)  I can’t say; my lips are sealed.    2)   If you don’t say anything, they take away your sick days at work?

jazz pianist and singer black overweight

I assume that someone here was thinking of Fats Waller but couldn’t recall the name, or was shy about typing in his name for fear of causing offense: the computer would shut down because of such offensive language.  One never knows, do one?

jazz vocal shout face

My first thought was that someone was looking for a Google Images piece of clip art — a singer whose face was showing the joyous possibilities of shouting in rhythm.  But then I said, “No!  Someone’s looking for information on the almost-unknown hot singer SHOUT FACE, who made three records with Billy Fowler and his Howlers in Atlanta in 1927.” 

It’s all a mystery!

BILLIE, IN BETTER LIGHT

I’m glad that a number of my readers found the nearly-prurient Carl Van Vechten photographs of Billie Holiday equally disturbing.  I needed to put something in their place. 

Earl Hines told Whitney Balliett in a New Yorker Profile, “Sunshine always opens out,” his way of saying that good fortune eventually finds you, and today it found me in the shape of a pleasant email from Erik Svinding Olsen, alerting me to his Billie Holiday site — he’s been a devoted listener for more than fifty years now.  Erik’s site has a wonderful discography, among other pleasures, and although he doesn’t attempt to list every CD issue of every song (something that often results in pages of label / number listings for something like the Decca LOVER MAN) his discography contains recordings I had never heard of.  It’s clear and well-organized: you can search by date, by song, by musicians, etc.  I’ve listed his site on my blogroll: http://www.holiday.eriksol.dk/

Erik also told me about another site devoted to Miss Holiday, a site that I find frankly astonishing — for its photographs.  Most of the books devoted to Billie reproduce the same studies — often they are moody portraits with the inevitable gardenia.  But Mike Lubbers of the Netherlands, the Holiday-collector behind this enterprise has found more pictures of Billie than I had imagined . . . a few of them copies of newspaper clippings, and many of them still pictures from her appearances in SYMPHONY IN BLACK, NEW ORLEANS, film shorts and television shows. 

But there are more than twelve hundred photographs of Billie, beginning with a snapshot of her as a cheeful teenager on the beach at Coney Island and ending with photographs of the crowd at her funeral.  This trove can be found here: http://www.billieholiday.be/

I have contented myself with only a few photographs from this site — to not seem too greedy among Mike’s treasures — but they nearly offset the Van Vechtens for me.  If I have chosen a number of portraits (mostly candid) that show Billie alongside other famous musicians and singers, can you blame me? 

Here’s Billie the writer, presumably working on her “autobiography,” LADY SINGS THE BLUES, in June 1956. 

And a frankly posed shot, to make it seem as if she was earnestly blue-penciling her own galleys (or proofs?).  I couldn’t ignore it because of the Fifties prop: she’s wearing horn-rimmed glasses, the sure sign of the writer, the intellectual.  Editing your autobiography can’t be done without the proper plumage: in this case, sparkly dangling earrings.   

This somewhat grainy newspaper photograph is a relief . . . because it is in some way far more real.  Is it that Billie has asked Frank — who said he owed so much to her singing — for his autograph?  Whatever the story, this photograph was taken, or published, on May 26, 1944.

I have no fondness for any of Billie’s men, who seem to have treated her poorly, but at least she looks happy here with Louis McKay, in May 1954. 

A candid photograph taken at the home of Billie and Louis McKay, December 1951.  If it’s caution, wariness, or skepticism in her sideways glance and slightly raised eyebrow, she looks far more relaxed, even girlish, than she ever did under Van Vechten’s gaze.

Billie with a happy Count Basie in July 1948, during their appearances at the Strand Theatre in New York City. 

A very hip trio in Billie’s dressing room, September 1949.  Does Billie’s dog know who’s there?  Of course!  (Louis loved dogs.)  Billie looks as if she is just about to burst into laughter — always a happy sight. 

In December  1945, at the Onyx Club — from left, Sarah Vaughan (travelling in fast company), Louis, Billie, and someone whose face is vaguely familiar but elusive.  At ease, even when assembled for a “candid” photograph and facing a flashbulb.

Billie at Orly Airport in Paris, November 1958.  Again, it’s a posed photograph, with a good deal of failed “spontaneity” in the artificial tilt of her head and the rather forced smile — but she looks more at ease than we would have expected.

I wouldn’t call them old friends — late in life, Teddy Wilson insisted that he would have preferred another girl singer, Beverly “Baby” White, for those awe-inspiring Brunswicks and Vocalions — but they certainly had a long association.  By this time, Teddy no longer wanted to be anyone’s sideman, and Billie may have found his precision a bit restrictive, but here they are at the first Newport Jazz Festival on July 18, 1954.  (Many more pictures exist of this pair at this concert.)

Another pianist worthy of our attention: Billie and Art Tatum, taken at the Downbeat Club in December 1946.  (Photographs of Tatum are rare, and I thought he and Billie were captured only at the Metropolitan Opera House jam session in 1944.)  Tatum seems unfazed by the ornamentation atop Billie’s hat, and that the photographer has posed them outside of the Ladies’ — but we have to catch our legends where we may.

Something else I didn’t know: that Billie and Lester had appeared at a series of outdoor New York City concerts in July 1957.  Lester looks dubious, Billie guarded, but I hope it’s nothing more than that they were trading bad stories about the promoter or one of the sidemen.  It would break my heart if they were glaring at each other.

Since Billie has often been presented as an iconic figure of sadness, of self-destruction, I thought I would conclude with two photographs where she looks unaffectedly happy, not posing at being happy for someone’s camera.  If you didn’t know she was the famous “doomed” artist, would you see it in her strong, amused face?  This shot was taken at a session for Verve (or Clef?) in June 1956. 

Late in her life — December 1958 — but taking her ease at Tony Scott’s house. 

Heartfelt thanks to Erik Svindling Olsen, to Mike Lubbers, to Billie Holiday and all the people who love her and treat her properly, even fifty years after her death.

PETRA VAN NUIS / ANDY BROWN, Chautauqua 2009

Petra and Andy are long-time sweethearts (now married) who make lovely intimate swinging sounds together.  I caught them at their two morning sets at Jazz at Chautauqua, and they kept a roomful of people (otherwise busily dropping their heavy silverware) rapt. 

Petra is a find: she has a delicate focused voice, doesn’t overact or emote, has beautiful lilting time and musical wit.  She honors the songs and their emotions.  And she’s no Imitation: when I first heard her, I didn’t instantly think, “Oh, she’s been listening to the Complete Recordings of _ _ _ _ _ ,” which is a relief. 

Andy impressed me immediately with his lovely chording, subtle melodies, and generous accompaniment.  Many guitar players spatter the room with notes, gangster-style: Andy makes music.  (In another posting, you’ll see him providing incredible drive and subtlety to a band.)  He has a lovely tone and a quiet pulse. 

And — even better — this duet shows just how well this pair of expert musicians listen to one another.  They are worth listening to!

Here’s a wistful SERENATA, a song I associate with big names (Sinatra and Nat Cole), but Petra makes its yearning her own as Andy chimes behind and around her:

A surprisingly jaunty BLUE TURNING GRAY OVER YOU shows how well Mr. Waller’s melodies work at any tempo.  And Andy summons up George Van Eps, which is a real accomplishment:

The leaves were beginning to fall on the grounds of the Athenaeum Hotel, so Petra and Andy performed EARLY AUTUMN in honor of the impending equinox:

And, just to show that this couple has mischief in its collective soul, here’s RUNNIN’ WILD, a performance with a sweetly wicked glint in its eye, as Andy and Petra have enough rhythm in their souls to fill the room:

Petra and Andy give us hope.