Tag Archives: Frank Tate

HOW THE MASTERS DO IT: BOB HAVENS // MARTY GROSZ (Jazz at Chautauqua, September 16, 2011)

I am moderately accident-prone: I can trip over an uneven sidewalk; have the last bit of salad dressing adhere to my shirt; while driving, I may unsuccessfully avoid a pothole with an $800 repair bill as the result.  I laugh about it.

So I admire those who see the looming catastrophe, however its size and shape, and step around it without spilling their tea.  They aren’t Bojangles, Fred, or Gene — just people who sense the landmine and gracefully avoid it.  Jazz musicians are especially good at fixing errors before they turn into train wrecks.

Two of these Masters — you could call them spiritual acrobats or merely veterans of the trade — are trombonist Bob Havens and guitarist / singer / arranger Marty Grosz.  Both of these heroes are born in 1930, so when this brief interlude took place on September 16, 2011, they were 81.  Decades of experience!  The occasion was the yearly Jazz at Chautauqua, the beloved child of Joe Boughton, that was held at the Athenaeum Hotel in Chautauqua, New York (ninety minutes from Buffalo).  It was a memorable jazz weekend, with about thirty musicians playing and singing from Thursday evening to Sunday afternoon.

One of the particular delights of Chautauqua grew out of Joe’s love for beautiful semi-forgotten songs.  Thus the weekend began and ended with a ballad medley.  Four musicians were chosen as a skilled rhythm section, and from one side of the stage, everyone else walked on, indicated briefly to the rhythm section what song they had chosen and in what key, played or sang a chorus at a slow tempo, and walked offstage from the other side.  Emotionally powerful, visually charming, full of surprises and sweet sensations.

For the 2011 Jazz at Chautauqua’s closing medley, the rhythm section was Keith Ingham, piano; Frank Tate, string bass; Marty Grosz, guitar; Arnie Kinsella, drums.  The complete medley ran perhaps twenty minutes: I’ve excerpted a segment I find particularly touching.

You’ll see at the start of this excerpt Bob Havens step onstage and explain by words and gestures that he plans to play — in seconds — LOVE LETTERS IN THE SAND, the nostalgic creation of Charles and Nick Kenny and Danny Coots’ great-uncle, J. Fred.  It’s a favorite song of mine, first recorded in 1931 by (among others) Ruth Etting, then made into a huge success by Pat Boone.  I won’t comment on what the trajectory from Ruth to Pat suggests to me, especially because it was one of Vic Dickenson’s favorites also (his medium-bounce version can be found on YouTube).  In its homespun way, it’s a seventeenth-century poem: human love always loses the battle with nature and time, and tears are inevitable.

The opening phrase is familiar, the harmony simple, but unless my ears deceive me, there is a slight uncertainty in the rhythm section about the harmonies that follow, so Havens, used to this sort of thing for decades, “spells out” the harmony by emphasizing arpeggiated chords as he goes along — and the performance not only reaches its goal but our hearts as well.

Then Marty, who always goes his own way, thank goodness, asks everyone to be silent while he essays EMALINE.  That in itself would be brave — the lyrics to the chorus are pure Waltons-Americana, but they might be fairly well known.  No, our hero Martin Oliver Grosz begins with the verse and gets about one-third of the way before realizing his memory of the lyrics is incomplete: hear his inimitable rescue!  And the chorus is just lovely.  Incidentally, Frank Tate is someone I deeply admire: watch and listen to this clip again, and look at his facial expressions as Marty walks the thorny path he has chosen for himself.

For those who need to know (I had to look them up) the pretty although seriously hackneyed lyrics to the verse are: Ev’ning breezes hum a lullaby / There’s a million candles in the sky / I’ve put on my Sunday suit of blue / Emaline, just for  you / Here I’m standing at your garden gate / While the village clock is striking eight / Hurry up! Hurry down! / Honey, don’t be late!  (I especially like the “up” and “down,” but I’m a sentimentalist.)

The musicians on this stage (and their friends) are my role models.  What does a brief error matter if you either head it off or make a joke out of it: in both cases, they not only avoid trouble but cover it up so stylishly that the result is even better than plain old competence.  All hail!

There will be more previously unknown treasures from the Jazz at Chautauqua weekends — and then its successor, the Cleveland Classic Jazz Party — in months to come.  “Too good to ignore,” said Eddie Condon, who spoke truth.

May your happiness increase!

“LET MIRTH BE KING”: MARTY GROSZ, FRANK TATE, SCOTT ROBINSON, DUKE HEITGER at JAZZ AT CHAUTAUQUA (September 20, 2013)

Unless you were at the Hotel Athenaeum on September 20, 2013, this music will be new to you, and if you were in the audience that day, it might simply be a wistful memory.  But here — thanks to the magic of the video camera, the forbearance of the musicians, and the grace of Nancy Hancock Griffith and Kathy Hancock — I can present to you a short set by a Marty Grosz band featuring the leader on guitar, vocal, banter, Frank Tate on string bass, Scott Robinson on reeds, and Duke Heitger, trumpet.  I think this was the last year the weekend festival was held in upstate New York before moving to Cleveland, where it resided happily for another few years.  I miss it terribly and know that others share my feelings.

But now, some vibrant music from a quartet of revelers — all four still happily with us.  Intricate jammed counterpoint; irresistible rhythmic bounce; repertoire worth rediscovering . . . it could only be a Grosz small group, with echoes of Condon, Red McKenzie, Fats and others.

A small technological note: the first half of IT’S A SIN TO TELL A LIE wasn’t recorded: it’s possible I had to change the camera’s battery.  But the second half is too good to ignore.

Marty and the Spots, thanks to Eddie Durham and others:

and a song I learned from a 1937 Dick Robertson record featuring Bobby Hackett:

and Sidney Bechet’s composition:

and, the second half:

Sharing these performances with you, I think this is why, since 1970, I brought audio recording equipment (cassette recorder, reel-to-reel tape deck, digital recorder) and now pounds of video equipment (Flip, Sony, Panasonic, Rode) wherever I could, to concerts and clubs and gigs.  My goal?  To make the evanescent become permanent, the players and the sounds immortal.

May your happiness increase!

HOT, SWEET, HOTTER: ROSSANO SPORTIELLO and FRIENDS at CLEVELAND (Sept. 15, 2017), PART TWO: DUKE HEITGER, DAN BARRETT, DAN BLOCK, SCOTT ROBINSON, FRANK TATE, HAL SMITH

I posted the first part of a frankly incendiary set from the now-lamented Cleveland Classic Jazz Party here, and it seems just the right time to offer the three performances from the second half.

ROSSANO.

Rossano and his majestice friends — Duke Heitger, trumpet; Dan Barrett, trombone; Dan Block, clarinet; Scott Robinson, tenor saxophone; Frank Tate, string bass; Hal Smith, drums — really know how to do it, to play the venerable repertoire with loving care so that it doesn’t seem stale or by-the-numbers, with heartfelt solos, intelligent ensemble work, and lovely tempos.

Here’s Kid Ory’s SAVOY BLUES:

Eddie Condon always mixed in beautiful ballads with the hot numbers, so Rossano features Dan Barrett in GHOST OF A CHANCE:

Since time was running out, the final number was compact — AFTER YOU’VE GONE.  But Rossano brilliantly said, “Four choruses, ensemble,” and offered us this memorable evocation of easy teamwork in the land of Hot:

Unforgettable.  And another reason to be grateful — to the musicians, to the traditions they embody, and to Nancy Hancock Griffith and Kathy Hancock.  We who were there know why.

May your happiness increase!

“THE JOYS OF D*******D” (PART ONE): ROSSANO SPORTIELLO, DUKE HEITGER, DAN BARRETT, SCOTT ROBINSON, DAN BLOCK, FRANK TATE, HAL SMITH (Cleveland Classic Jazz Party, September 15, 2017)

Let the truth come out: the glorious pianist Rossano Sportiello loves Dixieland. Yes, that naughty word so scorned by many jazz listeners.

[An update: since I published this blog, with the word spelled out in full, I have been rebuked by several esteemed jazz journalists, a few of them friends, for my daring to print the obscenity, as if I were wrapping myself in the flag of the Confederacy.  “‘D*******d’ is the name given to the kind of music Rossano heard, loved, and played in his Milan youth.  And — should sensibilities still be raw — it’s the name Louis gave to what he played.  Do I need to cite a higher authority?]

Not, as he will point out, the homogenized variety, but the music he grew up listening to: Eddie Condon, Pee Wee Russell, Bobby Hackett, and their noble colleagues.

In 2017, for one of his sets at the much-missed Cleveland Classic Jazz Party, he chose to play the familiar repertoire . . . but with energy and love.  He called on Hal Smith, drums; Frank Tate, string bass; Dan Block, clarinet; Scott Robinson, tenor saxophone; Dan Barrett, trombone; Duke Heitger, trumpet, to accomplish this.  And even though these songs (or almost all of them) have been played to shreds by less-splendid musicians, they shine here.  Admire the relaxed tempos and fine dynamics: the hallmarks of players who remember what the songs are supposed to sound like, that MUSKRAT and BARBECUE have fine melodies that must be treated with care and admiration.

They began with the song Louis loved so well, STRUTTIN’ WITH SOME BARBECUE:

Again, thinking of Louis, a sweet-and-slow AIN’T MISBEHAVIN’:

Hot Five territory once more, but not too fast, for MUSKRAT RAMBLE:

There’s a second half, to come soon — classic performances, created on the spot.

Thanks not only to these delightful creators, but to Nancy Hancock Griffith and Kathy Hancock for making all this possible.  The Cleveland Classic Jazz Party is now only a sweet memory, but it was a glorious outpouring while it lasted.

May your happiness increase!

PARTY FAVORS (from Jeff and Joel’s 2017 House Party)

I had a fine time at Jeff (Barnhart) and Joel (Schiavone)’s House Party, which I described here.  Modern technology has made it so that we never have to say “The song is ended.”  Here are a few delicious souvenirs.

First, I decided to bring my still camera: thus . . . .

Vince Giordano, Dan Levinson, Mike Davis

and the new two-trumpet team:

Fred Vigorito, Jim Fryer, ablaze.

But those pictures are still and silent.  Comes Eric Devine, videographer par excellence and the CEO of CineDevine, to fill in the gaps.

Here Comes The Band:

and some more piano for two, or four:

Did you miss this Party?  Well, make plans to be available in Guilford, Connecticut, October 12-14, 2018.  Details to come here — not just yet, but I’ll let you know.

May your happiness increase!

HALF A LOAF IS STILL DELICIOUS: NOTES FROM JEFF AND JOEL’S HOUSE PARTY (October 13-15, 2017)

One of the lines attributed to Mae West is “Too much of a good thing . . . can be wonderful.”  I agree with this, but I wonder what Miss West would say about the following report I am turning in, incomplete but enthusiastic, from “Jeff and Joel’s House Party,” with Jeff being pianist / singer / raconteur Barnhart and Joel being banjoist / singer / master of ceremonies Schiavone.  The party took place this preceding weekend at the Elks in Branford, Connecticut.  (I can check my GPS for the exact address on South Montowese Street if you need to know.)

Aside from Jeff and Joel, the participants were Banu Gibson, vocal and stories; Vince Giordano, tuba, bass sax, string bass, vocal; Dan Levinson, clarinet and tenor; Noel Kaletsky, clarinet and soprano; Kevin Dorn, drums; Frank Tate, string bass; Fred Vigorito, trumpet; Mike Davis, cornet and vocal; Jim Fryer, trombone, vocal, and trumpet; Dalton Ridenhour, piano; Tom Boates, trombone and vocal; Tom Palinko, drums.  (There were also many lovely people who didn’t sing or play instruments who made the Party even better than simply having musicians perform in a room.)

If you missed this one, the next JJHP is October 12-14, 2018.  Mark it down.

Some details about the Party, for those unfamiliar.  This one was the eighth, spread over seven years.  (It was the third I’ve attended.)  And there are four sessions: Friday night, Saturday afternoon and evening, and Sunday afternoon. Food and drink are also available — ample varied food and a well-stocked bar, included.  (I thought it a lovely sign on Saturday afternoon that the bartender had nothing to do: people were preferring to listen rather than drink.)

Incidentally, if you are wondering, “Was any of this recorded?” the answer is YES — by my very amiable and technologically-wise friend Eric Devine (getting moral support from the splendid hiker Sherral Devine) — so that there will be some videos of performances the musicians approve.  This, of course, left me free to roam around, purple notebook in hand, like a free person, so I enjoyed the out-of-doors now and again and for once was not in a monogamous relationship with my tripod.

Traditionally, Friday night at the Party has been a concert of sorts — two sets by one band or group.   Last year it was Paris Washboard, and I hear they will be back in 2018.  At this Party, Friday night was given over to Banu Gibson, the one, the only, and a nice small band of Jeff on piano, Vince on everything he’d brought plus vocals, Dan Levinson on reeds, and Tom Palinko on drums.

Banu is not only a wonderful singer and story-teller (more about that later) but an engaging informal scholar, whose introductions are conversational but always erudite.  She’s done her homework and more, and whatever she says comes out of her deep love of the songs, their creators, and their singers.

She’s also devilishly quick-witted, so that even if her ad-libs are familiar bits of material, they never seem defrosted and microwaved.  I arrived on Friday in the middle of a brisk run-through, and in between songs Banu turned to us, half-affectionate, half-naughty schoolmarm, to say, “Now don’t you make any mistakes, you folks who are here early.”  In her third tune, DOIN’ THE UPTOWN LOWDOWN, after Jeff Barnhart had rippled through something delightful, she turned to him and said fervently, “God! How I’ve missed you!”

But her program was far more than comedy.  She gave us dear vibrant performances of songs with verses: Berlin’s PUTTIN’ ON THE RITZ, Fats’ I’M CRAZY ‘BOUT MY BABY, Hoagy’s MOON COUNTRY and a quicker-than-plausible THE MONKEY SONG, AIN’T GOT A DIME TO MY NAME from one of the Road pictures, the melancholy YOU LET ME DOWN from her most recent CD (which is a wonder), and a rollicking JUST IN TIME.  For variety’s sake, Vince sang and played IDA and IF I HAD YOU — reminding us of his many talents.  Dan summoned up middle-period BG on clarinet and perhaps Eddie Miller on tenor; Tom Palinko kept to brushes and swung quietly.  In the second set, Banu showed off even more of her versatility, moving easily from LULU’S BACK IN TOWN to the Gershwins’ I WAS DOING ALL RIGHT to the ancient WHERE DID ROBINSON CRUSOE GO (WITH FRIDAY ON SATURDAY NIGHT) which had several choruses of vaudeville joy.  For DO SOMETHING, Banu became Helen Kane, for SHINE ON, HARVEST MOON, she led quite a successful sing-along.  Vince charmed us again with I WOULD DO ANYTHING FOR YOU and DINAH — so nice to see him in this setting — and then Banu told at length the sad story of Johnny Mercer, Judy Garland, and Ginger Mercer, leading into a touching rendition of I REMEMBER YOU.  She ended her concert with three more tart offerings: the revenge ballad I WANNA BE AROUND, Porter’s MAKE IT ANOTHER OLD-FASHIONED, PLEASE, and THIS CAN’T BE LOVE.  Everyone looked elated and fulfilled, and we promised to regroup Saturday morning.

Saturday began with what Jeff called THE NEW YORK INVASION — a band made up of musicians based in Manhattan, approximately — Mike Davis, Jim Fryer, Dan Levinson, Dalton Ridenhour, Vince Giordano, and Kevin Dorn — who summoned up Condon’s 1956 with THAT’S A PLENTY and a Teagardenish A HUNDRED YEARS FROM TODAY with a sweet Fryer vocal.

Because the Party is not run on “jazz party” principles — no forty-minute showcases for one group at a time — the next group, dubbed THE SUBURBAN RESPONSE by Jeff, was completely different: Fred Vigorito, Noel Kaletsky, Tom Boates, Jeff himself, Frank Tate, Tom Palinko, Joel Schiavone — and it had a distinctly “New Orleans” cast with a very fast BOGALUSA STRUT and the nice homage to Bix in I’LL BE A FRIEND WITH PLEASURE (although it was more “Condon” out of BIXIELAND than the 1930 Victor notion).

Banu returned with Mike, Dan, Kevin, Vince, and Jeff for her ebullient I’VE GOT A HEART FULL OF RHYTHM (which should be her official theme song), YOUR MOTHER’S SON-IN-LAW with the rarely-heard verse, and FEELIN’ HIGH AND HAPPY.  In the interests of full disclosure, she told us that it was too early to make jokes about that title.

My notes are slightly congested from this point, since I began to actually have conversations with people while standing outside and hearing the music.  I recall Dalton’s beautiful solo verse to I’VE GOT A FEELIN’ I’M FALLING, and later Saturday he performed a gorgeous LOVE WILL FIND A WAY — with Jeff watching him intently — and a shake-the-building reading of James P.’s JINGLES.

Dan Levinson assembled his Original Dixieland Jazz Band centennial edition, Mike, Jim, Kevin, Jeff, and himself, and they made the Victors come alive — LIVERY STABLE BLUES and PALESTEENA.

Joel had a feature on a slow-drag LAST NIGHT ON THE BACK PORCH, which moved some of the audience to get misty over shared Your Father’s Mustache experiences.

Banu and Dalton did some touching duets, but their sweet quality is mostly obliterated in my recollection by Banu’s story of being a young performer working with a Your Father’s Mustache bill — and on that bill was a man whose act was called HAM AND EGGS because it featured a piglet and a chicken.  The piece de resistance, Banu told us, was his feature on TIGER RAG, where he made the piglet squeal in place of the tiger roaring.  If you need more details, you should ask Banu herself: her version was politely graphic, but I wasn’t the only man wincing.

A band devoted to “West Coast style,” which means to this crowd Lu Watters rather than Gerry Mulligan, assembled: Fred, Jeff, Jim Fryer on second trumpet, superbly, Vince, Noel, Tom Boates, Kevin, Joel, for Maceo Pinkard’s STORYVILLE BLUES and a lengthy romp on CANAL STREET BLUES, featuring two-trumpet fisticuffs, as requested by Jeff.  Later, a two-trombone conversation on ROSETTA, Noel and Dan on I’M SORRY I MADE YOU CRY, and a very sweet I CAN’T GIVE YOU ANYTHING BUT LOVE for two trumpets, with young Mike getting in some lyrical Butterfieldiana.

Banu offered both story and song of BLUE SKIES, Hoagy’s MEMPHIS IN JUNE, and the Gershwins’ NICE WORK IF YOU CAN GET IT; Joel followed with an extended BLUES MY NAUGHTY SWEETIE GIVES TO ME.

Levinson’s ODJB reassembled for Berlin’s I LOST MY HEART IN DIXIELAND and a truly splendid ALICE BLUE GOWN that began as a sedate 3/4 and ended up with a Chicagoan fervor that reminded me so much of the jam sessions at Squirrel Ashcraft’s house in the Thirties.  In between, something even more wonderful.  Dan told the audience about “rag-a-jazz,” and then said that this group was so well versed in the style that he sometimes asked for requests from the audience for jazz material out and away from that era.  Someone called out LIMEHOUSE BLUES, and Dan vetoed that as too familiar, since it was written in 1922, but a more daring listener suggested TAKE THE “A” TRAIN, and they played it splendidly: one could hear its lines and contours powerfully, but its heart was in 1920.  It was a remarkable performance, and in its way, it captured the flexible, imaginative heart of this party.  A few other songs followed, but I was still hearing that TRAIN in my mind.

Various circumstances, all unexpected, made me miss the second half of the Party, which I regret.  But if this doesn’t seem like hugely pleasing musical plenitude, I don’t know what more I can say.  I will share videos when Eric creates and shares them . . . . but they aren’t the real thing.

As I wrote above, the next JJHP is October 12-14, 2018.  Why miss out on the fun?

May your happiness increase!

HAL SMITH SWINGS BY: ROSSANO SPORTIELLO, FRANK TATE, DAN BLOCK, DUKE HEITGER, JOEL FORBES (Cleveland Classic Jazz Party, September 14, 2017)

Usually when I set up my video camera to record a band, I try to stay a safe distance from the percussionist — no matter how much I respect him or her — for simple matters of volume.  But at the informal Thursday night sessions at the 2017 Cleveland Classic Jazz Party, I found myself right near the drums, which was a good thing . . .

Hal Smith I can always trust to swing beautifully.  Here, in a piano trio, a clarinet quartet, and a two-horn quintet, he stayed on his brushes — mostly on the snare and hi-hat cymbal, with bass drum commentary — and the swing that resulted was subtle, reassuring, and immense.

It didn’t hurt at all (“it didn’t bother me”) that he was joined by Rossano Sportiello, piano, and Frank Tate, string bass — for the first number, WHO’S SORRY NOW?  Not Connie Francis, but James P. Johnson:

(I knew there was much exhilarating music to come, but after that performance I thought, “Well, I’m full.  Whatever else happens is a bonus.”)

Then, Rossano slowed the tempo down, and they began JADA.  A man walked in front of the camera at around twenty seconds, and ordinarily I find such walk-throughs irritating, but not when the man is my hero Dan Block, moving in to play with the irresistible trio:

To quote Alex Hill, AIN’T IT NICE?

And as a final bit of pleasure in this add-a-part informal set, Joel Forbes took over for Frank at the bass and Duke Heitger joined in for JUST YOU, JUST ME:

Did you ask me why I travel to the Cleveland Classic Jazz Party, or why I seek out gigs where these musicians play?  I think these videos will answer the [musical] question.  I plan to offer more videos from this weekend, as will Laura Wyman of Wyman Video, who has some delights for us as well.

May your happiness increase!