I could write at length about the time when jazz and popular music embraced worldwide, but rather than lament that era’s diminution, I will say only that it was a privilege to witness these four performances: masterful artists at play.
The first two songs were performed by Freddy Cole, piano and vocal; Randy Napoleon, guitar; Frank Tate, string bass, and the latter two Had Freddy and Randy joined by Bucky Pizzarelli, guitar; Paul Keller, string bass; Eddie Metz, drums.
Melody plus swinging improvisation plus sentiment plus joy.
“Mainstream,” not “trad,” “nor “Dixieland.” From the 2014 Allegheny Jazz Party (September 19, 2014): two songs by Randy Reinhart, cornet; Bob Havens, trombone; Dan Levinson, clarinet and tenor saxophone; Keith Ingham, piano; Frank Tate, string bass; Ricky Malichi, drums. It’s visually dark but the music blazes through. Lyrical, not hackneyed; Loesser and Carmichael, not Oliver or the ODJB. Abandon those categories and enjoy:
That’s right. DARK EYES, published in 1843, has lyrics by the Ukrainian poet Yevhen Hrebinka, music by the German composer Florian Hermann. And here it is, served hot.
All of this splendid improvisation on the theme took place before 10 AM on a Saturday morning at Jazz at Chautauqua (September 15, 2007), a fact worth noting, since many jazz musicians are nocturnal beings. We have Bob Barnard, cornet (open) / leader; Duke Heitger, trumpet (muted); Bob Havens, trombone; Bobby Gordon, clarinet; Keith Ingham, piano; Frank Tate, string bass; Arnie Kinsella, drums. Everyone sounds splendid but I award the Palm to Bob . . . who just soars, as was his habit:
Jazz at Chautauqua (then the Allegheny Jazz Party and the Cleveland Classic Jazz Party) came only once a year, but I attended faithfully for fourteen years and am still living in the afterglow. My decade plus-one (2006-17) of performance audios and videos is a precious archive to me, and it is (as always) a joy to share it with you. There are more treasures unseen and unheard, so watch this space.
Thinking of mid-period blue-label Decca Louis for I’M SHOOTING HIGH, with John Sheridan, piano; Frank Tate, string bass; Arnie Kinsella, drums (Jazz at Chautauqua, September 21, 2007, surreptitious audio only):
On a visit to New York in 2010, Bob sat in with Vince Giordano’s Nighthawks (personnel given in the description) for a few songs:
SOMEBODY LOVES ME:
More Louis, appropriately, with SOMEDAY YOU’LL BE SORRY:
and that hymn to staying at home, BACK IN YOUR OWN BACKYARD:
In yesterday’s post celebrating the extraordinary person and musician Bob Barnard, I referred to his delightful penchant for songs no one else was playing or improvising on. I suggested it was a love of melodies, but I think also it was a way of avoiding routine, sweetly challenging himself and the others on the stand, so the musical special for this evening wouldn’t be ROYAL GARDEN BLUES or SATIN DOLL, although he played them with ingenuity and fervor.
I wish I had had my recording equipment at Jazz at Chautauqua when Bob played A BROWN SLOUCH HAT, the patriotic Australian song from 1942 that I suspect few, if any in the audience had heard or heard of. But I was properly equipped in 2007 (although secretly) when he called this tune, from PINOCCHIO, by Leigh Harline and Ned Washington, sung by Cliff Edwards as “Jiminy Cricket”:
So to celebrate Bob properly, as a bright beacon of joy, I offer this audio-only performance from the 2007 Jazz at Chautauqua weekend. The other soloists are Bob Havens, trombone; Dan Block, clarinet; Keith Ingham, piano; Frank Tate, string bass; Arnie Kinsella, drums. Performed on Friday, September 14, 2007 and recorded surreptitiously, of course:
I don’t know the Latin name for this delightful malady, but the lay population calls it this:
You might also know recorded versions by the Wolverine Orchestra, Fletcher Henderson, Eddie Condon, Joe Sullivan, Sidney Bechet, Humphrey Lyttelton, Doc Evans, Panama Francis, Mutt Carey, Johnny Wiggs, Kid Ory, Lu Watters, Turk Murphy, Miff Mole, Willie “the Lion” Smith, Graeme Bell, Jack Teagarden, Red Nichols, Jimmy McPartland, Ken Colyer, Chris Barber, Albert Nicholas, Buck Clayton, Earl Hines, Red Allen, Art Hodes, Dave McKenna, Kevin Dorn, Dick Wellstood, Alex Welsh, Wild Bill Davison, Kenny Davern, or other luminaries. And those recordings are in the last hundred years or so.
As I write this, some band or solo pianist is getting FIDGETY.
And I can now present to you a previously unseen performance from 2017, by the EarRegulars at The Ear Inn on a Sunday night. These luminaries are Danny Tobias, cornet; Scott Robinson, baritone saxophone, taragoto; James Chirillo, guitar; Frank Tate, string bass. Watch them go!
Thank goodness for these players; thank goodness for The Ear Inn.
Maybe that’s hyperbole, but The Ear Inn (326 Spring Street, Soho, New York City) on Sunday nights — since summer 2007 — has given me and others much joy. Here’s a previously unseen document of that feeling, provided by Danny Tobias, cornet; Scott Robinson, taragoto; James Chirillo, guitar; Frank Tate, string bass. W.C. Handy’s BEALE STREET BLUES taken at a groovy lope.
I think of these five players as Idiosyncratic Swing Lyricists, singers on their instrument who play beautifully with others but are full of surprises. Possibly Joe and Chuck had done other club dates with Frank, being heroes of the New York scene, but Larry and Pete lived elsewhere, so it was only the genius or whimsical taste (you pick) of Joe Boughton that brought them together for this brief interlude. For those unfamiliar with these artists and craftsmen, Joe played trumpet and flugelhorn; Chuck, alto saxophone (although doubling other reeds); Larry, piano; Frank, string bass; Pete, drums. Happily, Frank and Pete are still with us, doing what they do so splendidly.
I recorded this with my illegal digital recorder, so there will be audio artifacts (the fancy name for extraneous noises) but I think it is a treasure. Alas, you can’t see the five of them grinning at each other and listening intently: take it from me, their pleasure spread throughout the huge ballroom.
I’M BEGINNG TO SEE THE LIGHT / AUTUMN LEAVES / THERE IS NO GREATER LOVE / LOTUS BLOSSOM (Eanet-Wilson) / SAMBA DE ORFEU // Jazz at Chautauqua, the last weekend in September, 2006.
I will now indulge myself in a few ruminations about the five heroes. I cannot picture Frank Tate without a grin on his face, either ready to break into laughter or just coming out of it, perhaps at something absurd or coincidental or weird. Pete Siers is the master of the unexpected gesture that comes out perfectly, on the drums and off: a red George Wettling candle is only one of the great gifts he has bestowed. I miss them both — and hope for reunions somewhere, sometime soon.
I never spoke with Larry Eanet in person, but remember explicitly one of his beautiful sentences (his touch on the piano and in prose were similarly beautiful): recalling his early jazz epiphany — someone had given him the Columbia 78 album of Louis and Earl. “It hit me,” he wrote, “like Cupid’s arrow.” Of late, I have been listening to his solo recordings for JUMP: lovely and beyond.
I saw Chuck Wilson up close a number of times — occasionally with an assorted group of musicians playing in the afternoon in a particularly rowdy basement, once or twice at The Ear Inn — and often my camera and its propensity to record his work for posterity made him ill at ease, and he would frown at me as if he was mildly in pain or something smelled “putrid-like,” and say, “Awwww, Michael, I’d really rather you didn’t,” and I’d say, “But you played so beautifully!” and once in a while he allowed himself to be convinced. He wasn’t annoyed, just — in his own way — shy.
Joe Wilder, although the most courtly of gentlemen (I have a few of his handwritten notes) was in his own way boyish — in that he said what he felt, respectfully and wittily, but people like me (“civilians” to some) he treated as equals, as friends. His absolute refusal to construct barriers, whether he was at an airport when we were waiting to fly to Buffalo and telling me of his morning’s stomach distress, or whether I saw him be completely delighted to meet someone he hadn’t expected to meet. That joy, that openness, bubbles through his playing, and I think at gatherings like Jazz at Chautauqua, he could be among friends and admirers, play the music that made him happy. It certainly made us feel sky-high.
Marvels from rare individualists, music and memories I cherish.
I’ve written elsewhere about the intense pleasures of the informal Thursday-night sessions at Jazz at Chautauqua. “Informal,” however, took on new meaning when the Emperor of Chautauqua, Joe Boughton, was involved and well: even in relaxed settings, he deplored the aimlessness sometimes prevalent at “jam sessions,” which would lead to his strongest aversion — musicians playing over-familiar repertoire. In my mind’s ear, I can hear Joe’s voice, although not on this, my sub rosa audio tape of one of several sets, and can envision him, a glass of Dewar’s in his hand, listening and observing with deep appreciation. As well he might . . .
Joe’s sterling idea was to have a quartet: trumpet, cornet, piano, drums — the sort of thing one might have heard at an after-hours session, but of course the intent was friendly rather than competitive, since Duke Heitger (trumpet) and Randy Reinhart (cornet) are allied in mutual admiration. Pete Siers rocked the room, as he always does, on the drums. And later Frank Tate set up his string bass and joined in. Yes, there are the usual extraneous noises (a few seconds of surrealistic “clapping along,” chatter, and some tubercular coughing) but if you were in the room you might have heard some of them.
I’m posting this now not only because it is both a wonderful memory and a wonderful experience, but in honor of the one musician who’s not around to enjoy the applause, the splendid pianist John Sheridan, who left us this year. He shines; he sparkles; he gets in no one’s way; he holds up the building by being his own multi-colored swing orchestra.
The songs are JAZZ ME BLUES / I’VE GOT THE WORLD ON A STRING / I FOUND A NEW BABY / A BRIEF ETUDE / JUST YOU, JUST ME:
Remembering that I was there is a great pleasure; being able to share this music with you is even greater.
I learned about this video of the Friday-night concert of the 2021 West Texas Jazz Party from my friend, the great drummer Ricky Malichi — and I settled back into fifty-eight minutes of pleasure . . . not the least of it being that the video was professionally shot and edited (beautifully) and I could be a delighted spectator for once. To explicate the twenty names above, although few of them need identification . . . Warren Vache, cornet; Randy Sandke, trumpet; Dan Barrett, John Allred, Russ Phillips, trombone; Harry Allen, Peter Anderson, Will Anderson, reeds; Nate Najar, guitar; Daniele Soledad, vocal; Rebecca Kilgore, vocal; Nicki Parrott, vocal and string bass; Frank Tate, Richard Simon, string bass; Rossano Sportiello, Johnny Varro, Brian Piper, piano; Chuck Redd, drums and vibes; Ricky Malichi, Eddie Metz, drums.
These selections from Friday night at the Ector Theatre are so beautifully polished, testifying to the immense professionalism of the musicians at the Party: without any commercial interruptions, it’s a wonderful advertisement for the 2022 and future WTJP!
You’ll see it’s not just a casual blowing session — there are some clever charts (who did them?) but the swinging cohesion is both typical and admirable.
Here’s the menu:
LIMEHOUSE BLUES: Sandke, Allen, Will Anderson, Varro, Tate, Redd
IN A MELLOTONE: Barrett, Allred, Phillips, Piper, Simon, Malichi
A LITTLE GIRL FROM LITTLE ROCK and LIKE THE BRIGHTEST STAR: Kilgore, Parrott, Allen, Sportiello, Metz, Redd
THEY CAN’T TAKE THAT AWAY FROM ME and IT’S YOU OR NO ONE: Vache, Allred, Peter Anderson, Piper, Simon, Malichi
DOUBLE RAINBOW: Najar, Soledade
JUST FRIENDS and AFTERGLOW: Sandke, Barrett, Allen, Will Anderson, Varro, Tate, Metz
A delightful offering, and so well-produced. And thanks again to Ricky Malichi, who swings even when away from his kit.
Bobby, listening to Vic Dickenson at Childs Paramount, October 1952
Bobby Hackett remains one of my musical heroes, and I cherish his recordings, the few times I saw him in person, and the sound of his horn in my memory, a sound I can call up at will. In case you need a reminder of Bobby’s delicate mastery, here is his 1975 performance of SWEET LORRAINE at the Grande Parade du Jazz in July 1975.
Bobby’s son Ernie — swinging drummer and vivid individualist — has fascinated me since I encountered him on Facebook years ago. Outspoken, tender, kind, hilarious, a man of deep perceptions and deep emotions, he’s been a remarkable presence to me. Recently, thanks to our mutual friend Clyde Groves — who appearshereand here(Clyde is Billy Butterfield’s son-in-law) — Ernie and I had a delightful long phone conversation about the people we both love, a few noted in my title, which it is my honor to share with you here.
Now . . . here’s what Ernie told me, just before Christmas 2020 — a big present for all of us.
Simplicity was Dad’s art. He loved the melody, and he knew how to play around with the melody, but he never got out of control. He didn’t like the spotlight, the glamour, and he rarely took the first chorus. What always hit me in the family, blessed as I was, was his wonderful sense of humor, his dry, witty sense of humor. He was going through Customs once, and the agent looked at the cornet case and said, “Is that a musical instrument?” Dad’s one-word reply was, “Occasionally.” Little things like that: all my life I was familiar with those little things.
He was one of nine children, in Providence, and he dropped out of school at a very early age, because he started playing gigs, I believe on violin, then ukulele in the beginning. He didn’t play horn until he was in his teens. I didn’t know many of my aunts and uncles, except Aunt Dottie was very very close with Dad, and she had the same type of humor. She and her husband used to visit us, after the family relocated to Cape Cod, because they were coming in from Providence. There’s something about a dry sense of humor with musicians to begin with. I can’t say why, but I’m sure you’ve spotted it. Dad’s favorite phrase, if anybody asked him about politics, was “When the President tells me how to play the horn, then I’ll tell him how to run the country.” Plain and simple, to the point.
When he was home, he constantly practiced in the living room. In his boxer shorts. He never played a tune in his practicing, nothing but scales. Modulating scales, up and down, that’s all he ever practiced. And if people were coming over, he might put his robe on, or a t-shirt. That’s how Billy Butterfield was also. I knew Billy to some degree, because when Dad and Billy happened to be in New York at the same time, and Billy was passing through, he would always stay with us at our house in Jackson Heights. And I’ll always remember, Billy, first thing in the morning, coming down in his shorts – at least he had a t-shirt on – hair all messed up, saying good morning to everybody. He was like a shorter, stubbier Dad.
[I’d asked Ernie about Bobby’s generous nature, which sometimes led him to be taken advantage of, and his reaction.] I’d say he shrugged his shoulders, and always moved forward. The one thing that comes to mind would be the Jackie Gleason records. He never berated Jackie Gleason for that. My mother blamed Jack Philbin, his manager at the time, who I just recently learned was Regis Philbin’s father. It was Dad’s decision. He took the ten thousand dollars, because he wanted to buy a house for the family, for us, not knowing what was going to happen in the future. He wasn’t bitter about it. Nobody in the family ever begrudged him for making that decision. He did it for us.
He got along with just about everybody.
Mom was from Fall River, Mass., and Dad was from Providence. I don’t know exactly how they met, but I do know they married on Nantucket, and I think he was with the Casa Loma band at the time. Of course, this is way before my time, so it’s all hearsay and articles that I’m remembering. [Ernie asked his niece, Michelle, and she added this wonderful story: “Grandpa had a two week gig at a posh resort on Nantucket, with full accommodations. He asked Grandma to go with him, but she said she couldn’t travel with him as a single lady. So he suggested that they get married the first day they were there, then they had a two week (all paid) honeymoon on Nantucket.”]
They were wonderful friends. It was a rocky marriage at times: we’ve all been through that. I’m sure you know that Dad was an alcoholic. We’ve always been realistic about that. It was out in the open. Dad’s loving term to refer to Mom was “The Warden.” I’m not going to say he never drank at home: he slipped a couple of times. It became ugly when that happened. My sister and I used to spend nights crying at the top of the stairs with Mom and Dad going at it, arguing. A day or two, they’d get over it and Dad would straighten up again.
Incidentally, contrary to popular belief of “Ernie Caceres” – I was named after my Mom’s older brother named Ernest – who died at an early age in a freak bus accident.
Eddie Condon was my Godfather! I always figured that my parents thought if anything should ever happen to them that Eddie would be sure to teach me how to handle alcohol!
When I was about seventeen, I dropped out of high school. I was still playing drums. From what I understand, George Wettling showed me how to hold a pair of drumsticks when I was about five years old, though I don’t remember that. I’d spent a couple of years playing electric guitar in a high school rock and roll band, but I still had a set of drums.
If I hadn’t become a jazz drummer, I probably would have become a rock drummer. Actually my first choice of music was always rock! What sort of pushed me towards jazz was my association with all the guys that worked with Dad!
Dad had a detached garage that he converted into a sound studio, outside the house. I was in there one night and Dad knocked on the door, came in, and said, “How’d you like to come out on the road with me and learn how to play drums?” I was flabbergasted – I was seventeen — and the first thing that came to my mind was “You don’t dare say no to that.” What an experience. And that’s what proceeded to happen over the next couple of years.
The first thing I realized was that when Dad was on the road, he was off the wagon. My first professional gig with Dad was in Allentown, Pennsylvania. It was about a two or three-week stint, and Dave McKenna was with us. And I learned how to drive because it was very rare that Dad and Dave were on the road and could drink together, because Dad had to drive back to the hotel every night. However, they learned quickly that if the kid drove them back home at night, they could have fun during the gig. And that’s how I got my license. It could be sad at times: Dad’s playing suffered quite a bit when he drank, and it was obvious. He was always apologetic to me the next day. He was embarrassed that I saw him like that. But we muddled through it.
I really learned on the job. It was a good education. One of my fortes as a drummer was keeping very good time, not dragging or rushing. And the reason I got that way was because in the beginning, if I started to drag the slightest shade, Dad would stomp his foot, on stage, to the right beat. And, boy, I probably turned beet red. That’s embarrassing! If I started rushing, he would slow me right down. He would correct me immediately. But it paid off. I talk a lot about going into parochial schooling and then into the army, and all the discipline I went through, but when you look back at it as an adult, you’re thankful for it. It taught you. Things were done the right way.
[I asked Ernie about Bobby’s dear friend and colleague (and my hero) Vic Dickenson.] Oh, boy. My uncle. He and Dad had a brotherly relationship. The thing that hit me the most is that after Dad passed, Mom and I relocated to New York City from Cape Cod. That’s when I started hanging around Eddie Condon’s and Jimmy Ryan’s, and getting ready to make my move in that direction, and Vic just took me under his wing like you wouldn’t believe. I’ll talk about the risqué parts – the many, many breaks we spent in his Oldsmobile 98, “The Office,” for our smoke breaks.
His sense of humor was astonishing also. Subtle, so subtle. One night at Condon’s, we came out from being in his car on one of the breaks. I remember standing there – he always had the best stuff in the world – I remember getting up on the stage and saying, “How the heck am I going to get through this? My God.” Usually getting high didn’t affect my playing, at least I didn’t think so, anyway, because I was high. So, we started playing, and it was during the first chorus. Now Vic, at Eddie Condon’s, always sat right in front of the mounted tom-tom. And Connie Kay, God bless him, always left his drums for me. So we were playing, and Vic turned around to me with a big smile, and he tapped the tom-tom, and said, “Whaddaya think?” And I said, “Whoa!” and his reply was, “Wait another minute or two. Just wait.”
What a wonderful soul he was, a loving person. You could easily see the love affair between him and Dad. In fact, I was just watching the JUST JAZZ program, where they were doing JITTERBUG WALTZ. You could just see the love between the two of them. It was just amazing. It was a wonderful show. They had such mutual respect for one another – not only as musicians, but as people. It was really quite a friendship. Vic was family. There was no other way around it. We all loved Uncle Vic, and he was just a sweetheart to all of us. And he never acted drunk. He’d drink Cutty Sark all night long, a straight shot in a glass, and a back of water, but he never lost his cool, ever, no matter how much of it he drank. God bless him. He knew himself – very much so.
I have to tell you about Vic and his joints. When Vic rolled a joint, it was the most perfect joint, and the trick was you’d have to roll it quite loose, and leave some room at the end to tuck that end in with the blunt end of a wooden match. So that way the grass wouldn’t fall out of it. And it was perfectly shaped, like an English Oval cigarette. So I taught myself how to do it, so I could roll a joint just like Uncle Vic. So one night we were in his car, hanging out, and I said, “Here, Vic. Do my stick here,” and he said, “All right, OK,” and I lit it up and handed it to him, and he looked at me and said, “Did I give you this?” And I just had the biggest smile, and I said, “Nope. I made that.” He said, “Get outta here!” I said, “No, I taught myself how to roll like you!” and he just got the biggest kick out of that. What an honor!
Dad had a clique of musician friends who came to the house. I’m told that Louis would occasionally visit our house in Jackson Heights! But I was too young to even remember. There was Ruby Braff, and I think Sam Margolis a couple of times. He was another sweetheart. Sam subbed from time to time at Condon’s, but we also worked together with Max Kaminsky, after Max’s regular drummer, Freddie Moore, a funny gentleman, really nice guy, wanted to retire, and Max asked me if I wanted to be in the band.
I could go on about Max: we had a love-hate relationship. Max could be pretty nasty when he wanted to be. There was one gig he got for us in North Carolina, a wedding at a golf resort. It turned out to be a pain in the neck: Sam was on it with us. We had to fly down, and the gig happened, and then the next day we were supposed to play in the garden for the reception, and it became obvious that we weren’t going to get paid at the end of the gig, but at the month, like a club date, he would have our money. Well, I was living completely hand to mouth at that time, struggling to keep my studio apartment on Central Park West, and I got so mad at him, really mad. We were returning, and we were at the airport in North Carolina, at a long gateway, and I saw Max walking down from the opposite direction. I was just staring at him, because he knew I wanted my money. But sometimes you’d have to love Max, too. He took me off to the side, and he looked really nervous. He gave me a hundred-dollar bill, maybe half of what I was supposed to get, and he said, “I can’t give you the whole thing now, Ernie, but take this, I hope it helps you. Please don’t tell any of the other guys.” So I shook his hand and I kept his secret. We used to get mad at each other a lot, but we forgot about it the next day and hugged each other.
Tony Bennett wasn’t a frequent visitor to the house, but from time to time he’d pop in. Whenever Dad had these visits, everybody disappeared into the garage – are you familiar with the air freshener / deodorizer Ozium? They used to use that to cover up the marijuana.
On that subject: a few years later, before I was going in to the service, I was doing a four-week gig with Dad in New Orleans, my first opportunity to be in New Orleans, and we were at Al Hirt’s nightclub. At the time Dad had a pseudo-manager named Leo Kappos, a Greek gentleman, short little guy, likeable. Mom hated him, because she knew that he was Dad’s enabler. The funny thing was, that at that time, I’ll be honest with you, I was already a pothead. Dad used to try to smoke grass to stay away from alcohol, but it never really worked for him. So one night, I was going downstairs to the gig, in a tux, and I got in the elevator, and Leo was in there too, just Leo and me. And Leo started laughing, and he said, “Listen, I gotta get you and your Dad together, because the two of you are smoking pot all the time and not letting each other know about it. You gotta get to know each other!” I never forgot that.
Dad would try it from time to time, but his high of choice was beer. He had a very low tolerance, because he had a very slight frame, he always suffered with diabetes, which didn’t make drinking any easier. Half a Heineken and he’d almost be on the floor. It was difficult. He had quite a battle to stay away from that.
I’ll slide that around to another story that involves me introducing myself to Frank Sinatra. [Here you can enjoy Frank and Bobby.]
Dad and I were playing at the Riverboat in New York, in the basement of the Empire State Building, 1966 or 1967. It had to be around July 4. Dad was featured, and I guess a six or seven-piece band. And one night, I noticed Tony [Bennett] came in, and he was only there for ten or fifteen minutes. He and Dad kind of disappeared. And at the next break, Dad came over to me, and said, “Listen. Tony told me that Frank’s going to be at Jilly’s tonight. He’s having a party. We’re all welcome to stop in there and join him.” My sister idolized Frank Sinatra all her life, so Dad said to me, “Call Barbara, and have her and her boyfriend meet us at Jilly’s, around 12:30 or 1 AM,” which I did. Dad and I got in a cab – I wasn’t quite driving at that time – up to Jilly’s, on 55th Street, I think it was, and we went in.
The party was in a private room at the back, and people were throwing firecrackers around the bar. It was Frank’s crew, because it was the Fourth of July and he felt like throwing firecrackers around. We went in the back room, Dad and I, and Dad started to drink, had a Heineken. My sister and her boyfriend showed up, and that was it for the family, the four of us, we’re at a table. Off to my left was a long Last Supper-type of table with Mr. Sinatra in the middle of it, with his back against the wall, and he was entertaining the people at the table. So all of a sudden, Dad said, “Ernie, I want you to go over and introduce yourself to Mr. Sinatra.” My legs almost crumpled out from under me, I almost fainted. When Dad was drinking, you didn’t dare say no. So I had to toughen up for this.
I walked behind the back of the table, and I came up right behind – I don’t like calling him Frank, he was Mr. Sinatra to me. He was in the middle of a story, a joke, whatever, and the two goons on either side of him, with their hands in their laps, were staring at me, like, “What are you doing here?” Nothing was said, but they would not take their eyes off me. I was waiting for Mr. Sinatra to end the story so I could quickly tap him on the shoulder and say, “Hi, I’m Ernie Hackett. My Dad said I had to say hi to you,” which is what happened. When I went to tap him on the shoulder, the two goons went to stand up, so right away, I blurted out, “Mr. Sinatra, I’m Ernie Hackett, Bobby Hackett’s son. He told me to come over, I should say hi.” And he was very gracious, stood up, shook my hand, gave me a big smile, said, “Thank you so much, Ernie. Very nice to meet you,” and that was that.
Now we fast-forward ten to fifteen years. Now I was playing at Eddie Condon’s. Dad had passed. Wild Bill Davison was in town, which is going to lead me into another story. I don’t know if you remember at Condon’s, the big table was the round one right in front of the bandstand, and that’s where the celebrities would sit. Sinatra came in with his wife Barbara, and a priest who always traveled with him – I think that was in case he needed the last rites – and three or four other people at the table, to enjoy Wild Bill. After the set ended, and remember, at Eddie Condon’s, the stage was about two or three feet off the ground, I got down from the drums onto the floor, and there was a table right there, and someone started chatting with me, I don’t know, about Dad or something, two or three minutes. All of a sudden I feel a tap on my shoulder, I turn around, and it’s Frank Sinatra. I couldn’t believe it. He shook my hand, and all he said was, “I just wanted to tell you how much I enjoyed your playing, Ernie. It was just fantastic.” I didn’t know what to say! I just thanked him. I often wonder, with my sense of humor, if I had pulled a Don Rickles on him and said, “Hey, Frank. I’m just talking to people here. Can you wait a minute? I’ll be right with you!” but thank God I didn’t do that. He might have shot me: I don’t know.
But I always liked Frank Sinatra as a person. He was a wonderful, wonderful man, very gracious. He donated – I don’t remember the amount of money – the New Jersey Jazz Society had a benefit for Mom, and I think he donated two or three thousand dollars, which at that time was like ten thousand dollars. And he was at Condon’s one night, waiting for the rest of his entourage to come up from the rest room, and he was under the portrait at the end of the bar, just standing there, staring off into the distance. He wasn’t a very tall gentleman, if you recall. I went up to him and said, “Frank, I’m Ernie Hackett. I don’t know if you remember me,” and he just nodded his head. “I just want to thank you so much for the donation you made for Dad’s benefit,” and all he did was nod his head in acceptance. He wouldn’t talk about anything nice that he did. That was very private to him.
But the punchline is this. And I always wondered, and I would almost guarantee that he came up and tapped me on the shoulder because he remembered that’s how I introduced myself to him. I’ll bet you anything, he said to himself, “I remember that kid. He’s Bobby Hackett’s son. He tapped me on the shoulder once.”
Here’s the side story about Wild Bill. You must know about him and his background. He wasn’t the quietest of souls. Cliff Leeman, of course, was his favorite drummer. And Wild Bill would come in to Condon’s, maybe two or three times a year, for a two-week stint. He always insisted on Cliff being there. This time around, Cliff was starting to fail, and he wasn’t feeling well any longer. So he told Ed Polcer and [Red] Balaban, who ran the place, that he couldn’t make it this time around. Well, Ed and Red decided to give me a shot at it, which I was very thankful for. I get to replace Cliff? Good enough that I’m replacing Connie Kay every night!
So, Monday came, and I’m coming in again with my snare and my stick bag, because Connie always left his drums there for me. I walked in to the club, and I saw that Wild Bill and his wife Anne were sitting all the way in the back, having coffee or something. We had never met. I walked in to the club, deposited my snare drum and bag on the stage, and came up, introduced myself. I said, “Hey, Wild Bill, a pleasure to meet you. I’m Ernie Hackett and I’ll be playing drums with you for the next couple of weeks.” He stood up and shouted, “WHERE THE FUCK IS CLIFF?” Well, that’s a fine how-d’you-do! How do you get over that one? Well, the ending of it was a sweet story. After the first set, Wild Bill came up to me and said, “I like the way you play.” And then he insisted, going forward, that if Cliff couldn’t make it, I had to be his replacement. So I had another medal on my chest. My head got a little bit bigger at that time. But I’ll never forget WHERE THE FUCK IS CLIFF? That was typical Bill.
Another one was Papa Jo Jones. You know how cantankerous he could be. He took me under his wing, and I used to love hanging with him at the bar after the gig, with the two of us getting drunk, or high, whatever, and he would go on a real rant, a tirade about anything! And then he’d turn around with a sly little smile, and wink at me, like “What kind of reaction did I get from that one?” He was letting me in on his game. He was very much an actor. God, what a talent. He used to sit in at the drums sometimes, after the gig, and just go up there with the brushes and play the drums. And my jaw would be on the floor. Then, the honor of letting me sit next to him at the bar, in his court.
One time, Ruby Braff and I had a falling-out. I joined the club! I interrupted him, one night when he was telling a joke. Oh my God. He stopped talking to me. I tried calling him, and he wouldn’t pick up the phone. Well, he’d pick up the phone (we didn’t have Caller ID back then) and hang up on me. We parted ways. We stayed away from each other a good amount of time, maybe six-seven-eight months. And then, all of a sudden, one night the Magic White Powder parade was marching downstairs and Ruby looked at me and said, “Come on. Come with us.” We both did that. And we came downstairs, we looked at each other, and started laughing, and he gave me a hug and said, “OK. The hatchet’s buried.” I said, “Thank you. It took you long enough,” and we were fine after that.
I loved Jimmy Andrews. Jimmy and I were the closest of friends. He was very quiet, but what a sense of humor, and a gentleman. I loved Mike Burgevin. Jimmy and Mike, they were like brothers. And Mike, a quiet guy but a real gentleman of a person.
My splash on the scene was after Dad passed, and I’m kind of happy it worked like that. It allowed me to be more of myself.
So when Dad passed, we were living up on Cape Cod there, and I was doing a lot of odd gigs there – Mom had the house. Mom wanted to sell the house and move back to New York, which is what we ended up doing, and I got married to my second wife at the time. We went back from Cape Cod to New York and got an apartment there. I thought, I have my drums here, I have a car, I’ve got to start getting into the scene. I’d drive into Manhattan and start hanging out at Condon’s and Ryan’s, three-four times a week, just to hang out, and eventually to sit in, which kind of broke the ice for me, because these guys got to hear what the Hackett kid could do.
And all the Black people had such respect for Dad and everyone took me under their wing. Do you know Jackie Williams? I understand he’s still going — another wonderful friend of the family, a funny, funny guy. I played with Roy Eldridge quite a bit, a wonderful guy, but I don’t think he enjoyed my style of playing as much as Condon’s did. But that didn’t get me. I don’t expect everyone in the world to love my style of drumming. But Roy was a wonderful guy. I loved him, and he always treated me with the utmost respect. I loved Jimmy McPartland too, a great character. And his wife! We weren’t that close as friends because he wasn’t as much a hanger-outer. I think he was curbing his drinking. Marian was very polite and demure, such a lady, and a fantastic musician. The two of them took me up to Salem, Massachusetts for a one-week gig with Frank Tate – he and I were great buddies, through Dad – and we had a great time.
The hangouts after the gig were the cream of the crop at Condon’s. The gigs were great, but I had to stay sober until the end of it, so I used to ration one Heineken at a break. But then, after the last set, I started mixing shots of Johnnie Black with it, and that’s when the party would begin. It was such an honor to be exposed to all that, to get to know all these guys.
There’s a thirty-minute video on YouTube of a night at Eddie Condon’s. That’s me on drums. I’ll never forget that night. It was, I believe, a Monday night, and I was subbing for Connie. I came in and was setting up my snare drum, and a couple of college-looking kids were setting up very professional video equipment, right in front of the bandstand. And I was always a rabble-rouser. I’m not proud of it all the time, but if there was trouble to be started it was started by me. I got done setting up the drums and rearranging the stands, and then I came down the stairs and the one guy who seemed to be more in charge – as it turned out, it was Red Balaban’s cousin – I politely asked him, “What are you going to be filming this for?” “Oh, it’s just a college project. It’s nothing more than that.” But there were two very professional-looking cameras. I said, “Oh, really. Is the club planning to pay the band scale for this, for the videotaping?” And he said, “No, we’re just a couple of college students.” I said, “Oh. I have to talk to Eddie Polcer about this,” and that’s how I left it. I think I told one of the college kids, “If the red light goes on, and we’re not getting paid scale, I’m not playing,” and evidently the kid went back to Eddie and told him.
So Eddie came in, and it was getting closer to hit time, maybe 8:30, and we were supposed to be going on in ten or fifteen minutes. I went outside to have a cigarette, and Polcer always bummed cigarettes off of me – that’s another story. Eddie came outside, and said, “So, you’re not going to play if the red light goes on?” I said, “Yeah, exactly. Eddie, you know how this works. You’re going to make a video, you’ve got to pay the musicians.” We were going back and forth. He didn’t want to give in. Finally, he said to me, “Do you know how much scale is?” “No,” I said, “but we can both find out in the morning with a call to Local 802.” This is what really got under his skin. He said, “If I pay you scale, will you play?” My reply was, “If you pay the whole band scale, yes,” and he just looked at me like he wanted to kill me, and he gave in at that point, “All right. You got it. They’ll all get scale.”
Years later, he was at the Atlanta Jazz Party, and my wife and I, when she was still here, God bless her, we used to go every year and visit with the guys from New York, and Eddie and I remained close friends. We’d hug each other and reminisce. And he told me, years later, “Red Balaban went to his death never knowing that you did that, that night. If I’d ever told him, he would have banned you from the club completely.” I said, “Thank you.” I was always on the ins and the outs with Eddie Condon’s. They finally stopped using me. If you go back and look at that video, Jimmy Andrews and I were the only two they didn’t interview – because we were the rough guys!
The good old days. Just an honor! And as Vic would say, “Ding ding!”
“Just an honor!” sums it up for me. Bless Ernie, and all our heroes above.
Is the world going a little too fast for you? Is this your internal soundtrack?
Do you feel like a character in a Fleischer cartoon where everything’s too speedy to be brought under control? (I mean no disrespect to the 1936 Henderson band — with spectacular playing on this fast blues, appropriately called JANGLED NERVES — from Chu Berry, Roy Eldridge, Sidney Catlett, Fernando Arbello, and Buster Bailey.)
I believe the following interlude will calm and enliven your nerves at the same time. It happened here, in a vanished but remembered past — the third weekend in September 2009 at Jazz at Chautauqua, Joe Boughton’s creation, at the Athenaeum Hotel in Chautauqua, New York.
Joe loved to begin and end his weekend programs with ballad medleys, and here is a segment of one of them, featuring Duke Heitger, trumpet; Andy Schumm, cornet; Dan Barrett, trombone; Scott Robinson, tenor saxophone; Bob Reitmeier, clarinet; Ehud Asherie, piano; Marty Grosz, guitar; Frank Tate, string bass;, Pete Siers, drums. The bill of fare is MEMORIES OF YOU (Duke), STARDUST (Bob), PRELUDE TO A KISS (Scott), OLD FOLKS (Andy), IF I HAD YOU (Dan, with the ensemble joining in):
Let’s see how you’re feeling tomorrow. Leave a message with Mary Ann.
This fellow is little known except to connoisseurs of late-Twenties jazz. He was a wonderful reedman, imaginative arranger, composer of modernistic melodies, but perhaps more people know Fud Livingston because of one mournful song:
Here’s our Becky — Rebecca Kilgore to those who haven’t yet taken her to their hearts — with Dan Block, tenor saxophone; Rossano Sportiello, piano; Frank Tate, string bass; Pete Siers, drums, performing this lament at the 2011 Jazz at Chautauqua weekend:
Performances like this — consistently for several decades — are why, when someone says, “Have you heard the new singer _____? She’s great!” I often say, “Before you launch someone at me, do you know Rebecca Kilgore’s work?” Becky’s individual mix of delicacy and intensity here is so touching — her quiet emotional fervor, her beautiful natural-sounding phrasing and diction. She’s it. Dan Block matches her in feeling: his vocalized sound is close to tears. And that rhythm section: the very soul of soulful understated support. Watching this, I feel so fortunate that I was there to witness this music and how glad I am to be able to share it with you.
A relevant postscript from our Jazz Eminence, Dan Morgenstern, who, in the late Fifties, was “in between,” and working at Colony Records in midtown New York City, the hours 7 pm to 4 AM:
A sad note: Fud Livingston, not quite sober, with a guy he wanted to show how many recordings there were of his “I’m through with Love” which I looked up for him in that big Phonolog. He was gassed that I knew who he was, or had been. Wanted to do an interview but didn’t connect…he was in twilight zone. (This would have been before March 25, 1957, when Livingston, fifty, died. I hope he made a good deal of money from the song’s appearance in SOME LIKE IT HOT, sung with breathless ardor by Marilyn Monroe.)
I can promise you more treasures created at Jazz at Chautauqua, although this one is singular in its art and feeling.
Yesterday I published a post where four wonderful musicians — Eddy Davis, Conal Fowkes, Jon-Erik Kellso, and Evan Arntzen — improvised on OUR MONDAY DATE in December 2019 at Cafe Bohemia in Greenwich Village, New York City. You can enjoy it here. And I hope you do.
A MONDAY DATE has a personal resonance. It’s not unique to me, but I haven’t had the pleasure of “being on a date” with a tangible person since the end of February (dinner and a festival of short animated films). For me, songs about dating are poignant and hopeful: such encounters can come again, although the February evening was more short than animated. Mirror-gazing over. Onwards.
This MONDAY DATE was performed at Jazz at Chautauqua in September 2009, although not on a Monday. These brilliant players are Tom Pletcher, cornet; Dan Barrett, trombone; Bob Reitmeier, clarinet; Jim Dapogny, piano; Frank Tate, string bass; Pete Siers, drums. I was, as I have explained elsewhere, shooting video sub rosa without Joe Boughton’s permission, which lends a subversive air to the recording, but I was thrilled it came off, then and now. It is a special pleasure to hear Jim’s piano ringing through, adding magic.
Jim Dapogny and Tom Pletcher are no longer with us: I’ve written about them here and (with a beautiful long essay by David Jellema) here. Both posts also have video-recordings of performances you won’t see or hear elsewhere.
A note about “recordings” at Jazz at Chautauqua. Joe Boughton was enthusiastically kind to me long before we met in person: he recognized that we adored the same music. When I visited Chautauqua in 2004, he greeted me warmly, and I spent the whole weekend writing about the joys I experienced there, and wrote the program biographies for more than ten years.
Joe had certain aversions, in large type. The most dramatic was his loathing for over-familiar songs: SATIN DOLL, SWEET GEORGIA BROWN, slow blues, and more. Musicians who broke this rule were asked not to return — in one case, in the middle of the weekend. Secondly, although Joe apparently recorded every note of the weekends I came to — someone operated a videocamera high above our heads — he would not tolerate anyone else recording anything, although he let an amateur jazz photographer make low-quality cassettes. I gave Joe valuable publicity in The Mississippi Rag, which he appreciated: I don’t know whether he saw me with my camera and tacitly accepted it as part of the Michael-bargain or whether he was too busy with the music to notice, but I send him deep gratitude now. I hope you do also.
I’ve been digging into my archives of performances I video-recorded but hadn’t yet shared, and I have a small jewel for you, from the informal Thursday-night jam sessions at Jazz at Chautauqua, almost eleven years ago. I had a slightly less sophisticated camera; I’m sitting behind friends . . . but I think those are minor flaws compared to the lovely music. The song is CHINATOWN; the musicians are Pete Siers, drums; Frank Tate, string bass; Ehud Asherie, piano; Bob Havens, trombone; Dan Block, clarinet; Duke Heitger, trumpet. And they play.
Won’t you join me? It’s better than a virtual visit to any non-musical healer.
Another of the wondrous ballad medleys that used to begin and end the splendid jazz weekend, Jazz at Chautauqua: here, from 2013. And, because it’s daylight, it was the medley that sent us all home, exhausted by pleasure, on a Sunday afternoon.
The roadmap: After a few of the usual hi-jinks, the rescue squad finds a second microphone for Marty Grosz, Harry Allen plays EASY LIVING; Dan Block, DAY DREAM; Bob Havens essays CAN’T HELP LOVIN’ THAT MAN; Duke Heitger finishes off this segment with I KNOW WHY (And So Do You):
I had to put a new battery in at this point, so I missed a few choruses (you’ll see Dan Levinson leaving the stage — my apologies to Dan and the other musicians I couldn’t capture).
Then, Randy Reiinhart plays MY FUNNY VALENTINE; Andy Schumm follows, politely, with PLEASE; Andy Stein calls for LAURA; Marty takes the stage by himself for the Horace Gerlach classic IF WE NEVER MEET AGAIN; Rossano Sportiello plays SOPHISTICATED LADY, so beautifully:
Those would have been the closing notes of the 2013 Jazz at Chautauqua: another unforgettable interlude of music and friendship. Bless the musicians, bless the shade of Joe Boughton and bless his living family, bless Nancy Hancock Griffith and Kathy Hancock. Those experiences are unforgettable evidence that once, such things were beautifully possible, and we witnessed them — me, with a video camera. How fortunate we were!
I hope I will be forgiven repeating this moody strain: early in 2020, I would be getting ready to get ready (I arrive too early) to be at this Shrine. If you don’t know it, please read and listen; if you do, the same suggestions apply.
Here you can find parts one and two of this Sunday-night series celebrating good times at The Ear Inn, 326 Spring Street, New York, thanks to the EarRegulars.
And more from the night of September 6, 2009 — the video is appallingly dark and fuzzy [I did buy a more light-sensitive camera, so have patience], but the sounds made by Danny Tobias, cornet; Michael Hashim, alto saxophone; James Chirillo, guitar; Frank Tate, string bass, are bright.
A serious criminal offense — SOMEBODY STOLE MY GAL:
She came back and will only answer to MY GAL SAL:
But now she’s NAUGHTY:
We add the splendid violinist Valerie Levy to the band for EMBRACEABLE YOU. Remember when that title didn’t bring up stifled tears and muffled snarls of frustration?
That 1930 celebration of new romance, I CAN’T BELIEVE THAT YOU’RE IN LOVE WITH ME:
I WANT TO BE HAPPY:
And finally, for this post, POOR BUTTERFLY:
We live in hope that this joyous coming-together can and will happen again.
I have little to complain about in tangible things, but today’s mood is such that this meme (courtesy of dear friend Amy King) provoked rueful laughter and recognition:
Those of you who don’t know what a “meme” is can dial one of the grandkids. “Kinky,” you’re on your own.
Today I thought that cheerful hot music would be out of place, so here is a beautifully rueful creation.
The superficial portrait of Irving Berlin is that he wrote cheerful music, with exceptions like WHAT’LL I DO? and REMEMBER. But he is also powerfully poignant about romance that has deflated or perished, as in SAY IT ISN’T SO — its title characteristically taken from a popular conversational phrase. But when Becky Kilgore and her lightly swinging friends approach it, the sadness is balanced against the gentle motion of the beat, everyone’s personal phrasing. Her friends are Harry Allen, tenor saxophone; Bob Havens, trombone; John Sheridan, piano; Frank Tate, string bass.
This performance magically unfolded in front of us (and my camera) on Thursday night, September 20, 2012, at the informal session that began Jazz at Chautauqua at the Hotel Athenaeum. Fabled times, lovely music.
For the moment, it’s not possible to go down to the The Ear Inn and indulge in our Sunday-night joys — musical and otherwise — so I will do my part in bringing the experience to you. My first offering of performance videos and loving personal history can be found here:
Here is another video from the earliest documentation of communal joy at 326 Spring Street (June 7, 2009) that I did, featuring Duke Heitger, trumpet; Harvey Tibbs, trombone; Dan Block, clarinet; Matt Munisteri, guitar; Neal Miner, string bass — Jon-Erik Kellso may have been collecting tips for the band — summoning Louis on SOME OF THESE DAYS, most evocatively in Duke’s final chorus:
and from two weeks later (the 21st), SUNDAY, featuring Jon-Erik, Harvey, Dan, Matt, and Jon Burr, string bass:
and from September 6, IF DREAMS COME TRUE, created by Danny Tobias, cornet; Michael Hashim, alto; James Chirillo, guitar; Frank Tate, string bass:
and a lovely Ellington medley by the same heroes:
and as this week’s sign-off, Irving Berlin’s isolation aria (although in a cheery Keynote Records mode) ALL BY MYSELF:
I have many more video performances to share with you, so I invite you to make JAZZ LIVES your regular Sunday-night companion (any other time will do, also).
I am a relentless optimist — otherwise I wouldn’t be typing now — but there’s not much even I can muster up about the recent past and the continuing present. My arms get tired. But “we need to have something to look forward to,” wise words said by a friend. So even though my hope for the future might be built on something more delicate than empirical evidence, I offer it to you.
This journey into the future starts in the summer of 2007. It is not a lamentation, an elegy for what was lost. Rather it is a celebration of joys experienced and joys to come. With music, of course.
The Ear Inn, 2012 Photograph by Alexandra Marks
My involvement with this place — which looks like a bar but is really a shrine — goes back to the summer of 2007, before JAZZ LIVES existed. Jon-Erik Kellso (friend-hero) whom I’d first met at Chautauqua in September 2004, and later at The Cajun in 2005-6, told me about a new Sunday-night gig at The Ear Inn, a legendary place I’d never been to. I think I made the second Sunday, where he, Howard Alden, and Frank Tate played two very satisfying sets.
Incidentally, 326 Spring Street is a minute’s walk from the corner of Spring and Hudson, where the Half Note once stood. There, in 1972, I saw Ruby Braff, Jimmy Rushing, and Jake Hanna one night. Finest karma, I would say.
The band at The Ear Inn (not yet named The EarRegulars) — a collection of friends, eventually Jon and another horn, two rhythm, most often Matt Munisteri, guitar, and someone equally noble on string bass, held forth from around 8 to 11 PM. Because I knew the musicians (or could introduce myself to them as Friend, not Exploiter) I could bring my Sony digital recorder, smaller than a sandwich, place it on a shelf to the rear of the band, record the sets and transfer the music to CDs which I would then give to the musicians when I saw them next. The food was inexpensive, the waitstaff friendly, and I could find a table near the band. It was also no small thing that the Ear was a short walk from the C or the 1; if I drove, I could park for free. These things matter.
I thought it then and still do the closest thing to a modern Fifty-Second Street I had ever encountered. Musical friends would come in with their instruments and the trio or quartet would grow larger and more wonderful. Although I was still teaching and went to my Monday-morning classes in exhausted grumpiness (“This job is interfering with The Ear Inn!”) these Sunday-night sessions were more gratifying than any other jazz-club experience. The emphasis was on lyrical swing, Old Time Modern — a world bounded by Louis, Duke, Basie, Django, and others — where the Fellas (as Nan Irwin calls them) came to trade ideas, where musicians hinted at Bix, the ODJB, Bird, and Motown.
When this blog came to be, I started writing about nights at The Ear — rhapsodical chronicles. I’m proud that only the second post I wrote, DOWNTOWN UPROAR, was devoted to the seven months of happy Sundays at 326 Spring Street. Again, I wrote about it EVERY SUNDAY AFTERNOON, WE FORGET ABOUT OUR CARES— a musical reference you’ll figure out. In late April 2008, I could depict in words the session where a lovely graceful couple danced balboa in between the tables (the Ear, as you will see, got many people into a small space) and was my first chance to hear Tamar Korn, that wonder — FEELING THE SPIRIT. And in all this, I had the consistent help and encouragement of Lorna Sass, who has not been forgotten.
Those who know me will find it puzzling, perhaps, that there has been no mention of my ubiquitous video camera, which I had been using to capture live jazz as far back as 2006. For one thing, the Ear’s tables were close together, so there was little or no room to set up a tripod (videographers must know how to blend in with the scenery and not become nuisances: hear me, children!) Darkness was an even more serious problem. I had shot video in places that were well-lit, and YouTube allowed people to adjust the color and lighting of videos shot in low light. The results might be grainy and orange, but they were more visible. Early on, YouTube would permit nothing longer than ten minutes to be posted, so the lengthy jams at the Ear — some running for thirteen minutes or more — had to be presented in two segments, divided by me, on the spot. But I am getting ahead of myself.
Rereading my descriptions I am amazed: “I was there? That happened?” as in the presence of miracle, but something that I didn’t do and can’t take credit for changed my life — a video of the closing ten minutes of an October 2008 YOU’RE DRIVING ME CRAZY posted by Howard Alden, who was playing rather than holding a camera, alongside Jon-Erik Kellso, Danny Tobias, Harvey Tibbs, Evan Christopher, Dan Block, Sebastien Giradot, Chuck Redd:
Obviously The Ear Inn would never double as a Hollywood soundstage, but I posted this video on JAZZ LIVES. I thought, “Let me see if I can do this also.” But it took until June 7, 2009, for me to put my Great Plan into action, finding a camera (with the help of Jerome Raim) that would penetrate the darkness. Here are the first two results, the first, featuring Jon-Erik and Duke Heitger, trumpets; Matt Munisteri, guitar; Neal Miner, string bass:
That is my definition of stirring music, and so is this — MOONGLOW, with Tamar Korn, voice; Dan Block, clarinet, Harvey Tibbs, trombone, sitting in, all creating a galaxy of sounds:
That’s slightly more than a decade ago. There are currently no Sunday-night sessions at The Ear Inn. But this post is not to mourn their absence.
I write these words and post these videos in hope for a future that will come again. I have no date to mark on my kitchen calendar, but, as I wrote at the start, I am an optimist. And I think regular Sunday-postings of music from the Ear will remind those of us who were there and enlighten those who were not. Between June 2009 and late 2019, I compiled around 400 videos, and I plan to create regular Sunday experiential parties to which you are all invited. It is not precisely the same thing as being there, saying hello to Victor or Barry or Eric, hugging and being hugged, ordering dinner and ale, waiting, nearly trembling with anticipation for irreplaceable joyous music . . . but I offer it to you in love, in hope that we will all be ready when the great day comes:
It is nearly three o’clock on a sunny Sunday afternoon. In the ideal world, which can return, I would be putting my camera, batteries, and notebook into my knapsack, ready — too early, as is my habit — for a night at The Ear Inn. I’m ready.
When a relative or friend returns from a trip, children sometimes burst out, free from polite inhibition, “What did you bring me?” Adults may think this, yet the more well-brought up ones say, “Did you have a good time?”
The 2015 photograph is of Laura Wyman of Ann Arbor, CEO of that enterprise, devoted to videography of jazz, dance, recitals, and more. I first met Laura at Jazz at Chautauqua in September 2013, when we were introduced by our mutual friend Jim Dapogny: she was part of the Michigan contingent there: Jim and Gail Dapogny, Pete Siers, Sally and Mick Fee. Laura was then an expert still photographer then, but became an avid videographer less than a year later.
She’s been going through the archives of Wyman Video and has shared two early efforts with us — capturing music from the September 2014 Allegheny Jazz Party that we would never have experienced without her.
First, THE MOOCHE (originally a dance), with commentary, by Dan Levinson, clarinet / leader; Dan Block, clarinet and tenor saxophone; Scott Robinson, taragoto; Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Dan Barrett, trombone; Howard Alden, banjo; James Dapogny, piano; Jon Burr, string bass; Ricky Malichi, drums.
Dan Levinson: “First, I don’t know that this tune has ever been attempted on 2 clarinets and tarogato, but there’s one thing I do know, for sure, is that the note that Scott is about to start on does not exist on that instrument! Never been played before!
The version of “The Mooche” that we played was my own transcription from the original Ellington recording, which featured three clarinets. Scott Robinson, in typical – and admirable – Scott Robinson fashion, showed up at the event with a tárogató instead of a clarinet. The tárogató is an instrument used in Hungarian and Romanian folk music that looks kind of like a clarinet but uses a different fingering system and has a smaller range. So I gave Scott the clarinet part that would be best suited to his instrument’s range. He looked at the music, worked out some fingerings, and then he was ready. Although I announced that the first note he was going to play was out of his instrument’s range, I didn’t realize that I had inadvertently given him the wrong clarinet part, and that it was TOTALLY out of his instrument’s range. There was no moment where he seemed concerned or hesitant. In a few seconds, he merely reinvented his instrument by working out fingerings for the notes that didn’t exist on it prior to that performance. There’s only one Scott Robinson on the planet!” – Dan Levinson, May 2020
THAT is completely memorable, no argument. And a gift.
And since we need to live in a major key as well, here is Professor Dapogny’s romping chart on CALIFORNIA, HERE I COME, performed by Dan Block, clarinet; Scott Robinson, tenor saxophone; Andy Schumm, cornet; Dan Barrett, trombone; James Dapogny, piano / leader; Marty Grosz, guitar; Frank Tate, string bass; John von Ohlen, drums:
For context, you need to hear the lyrics to this song before we proceed — sung by one of the most influential and perhaps least-credited singers ever. Incidentally, the personnel is not identified in my discography. If Brian Nalepka reads this, I wonder if he hears that strong bass as Joe Tarto’s:
If you want to play that again, I don’t mind. Go ahead: we’ll wait.
But here’s something only the people at Jazz at Chautauqua in September 19, 2009, got to hear and see. This amiably trotting performance, led by trombonist Dan Barrett, also features Tom Pletcher, cornet; Keith Ingham, piano; Howard Alden, guitar; Dan Block, tenor saxophone; Bob Reitmeier, clarinet, Frank Tate, string bass; Pete Siers, drums. Video by Michael sub rosa Steinman, lighting by Henry “Red” Allen:
I hope you go away humming this song, and that the affectionate hopeful music is good protection against all those nasty things we are reading about now. The music and the musicians are — seriously — lucky to us. (So, next time some players and singers offer their hearts and language “for free” online, toss something larger than an aging Oreo in the tip jar, please.)