Tag Archives: George Barnes

JAMES BIRKETT AND EMMA FISK PLAY VENUTI AND LANG, WITH GREAT AFFECTION AND EXPERTISE

The back covers of the long-playing records of my youth often were adorned with thumbnail photographs of other record covers, and this solicitation, “If you’ve enjoyed this LONG PLAY record, you’ll be sure to enjoy . . . .”

If you savor beautifully recorded chamber jazz, swinging yet leisurely, you’ll be sure to enjoy the new CD by guitarist James Birkett and violinist Emma Fisk, devoted to the music of Joe Venuti and Eddie Lang.

Since Eddie’s death in 1933, there have been many attempts to recreate the magic the two Italian boys from Philadelphia created: Venuti himself always looked for guitarists who could come close to Eddie’s splendors: Dick McDonough, Frank Victor, Tony Romano, Bucky Pizzarelli, Carl Kress, Perry Botkin, Bobby Sherwood, George Barnes, Tony Gottuso, Danny Perri, Barney Kessel, Lino Patruno attempted to fill that role on record dates and more.

As I write this, Nick Rossi, Kris Tokarski, and Glenn Crytzer are involved in similar small group projects, and I know I am leaving someone out.  Matt Munisteri does a peerless Lang behind John Gill’s Bing.  Martin Wheatley and Spats Langham both understand him deeply.

Venuti was a hard act to follow — I am leaving aside the sometimes cruel practical jokes — but he was often in love with speed and execution, and many violinists have tried to out-Joe Joe, playing his intricate originals faster and faster.  (Performance speeds have been inching up for decades: consider the Django-phenomenon.)  And for most instrumentalists, not just string players, tone gets sacrificed to speed.

Emma Fisk, a romantic at heart, doesn’t turn Joe into unicorns-and-rainbows on this CD, but she does remind us of Joe’s affectionate side, the part of his character that would linger over long tones and leisurely phrases.  She doesn’t slow everything down, but she does change the mood from headlong briskness to a kinder, easier embrace.  In this she is partnered splendidly by the elegant guitarist James Birkett, who is lyrical beyond everything else.  He is new to me, but he is kind to the ears at every turn, without being overly sentimental.  So even the faster numbers on this disc — RAGGIN’ and MY HONEY’S — are sweet saunters instead of being mad sprints.  The music breathes comfortably and well.

Here you can witness Emma and James making music — video and audio — through the media of Vimeo, Soundcloud, and YouTube.  And here you can celebrate the Spring, reward yourself for good behavior, or warm someone’s heart — by buying one or more of these life-enhancing discs.

A delightfully mournful sample, James’ EDDIE’S LAMENT:

May your happiness increase!

Advertisements

DAN MORGENSTERN REMEMBERS RUBY BRAFF (December 15, 2017)

 

To get us in the proper mood, here are Ruby Braff and Dick Hyman investigating Benny Carter’s ONCE UPON A TIME, a performance that has its light-hearted moments and a very touching ending:

and why stop with one performance only?  SWEET SAVANNAH SUE is one of my favorite recordings of the thousands Ruby created:

Dan’s first musing on Ruby mentions some mutual friends — Ruby’s bio-discographer Tom Hustad, Sam Margolis, Jack Bradley, Loren Schoenberg — but keeps on returning to the well-seasoned enigma that was Ruby himself:

Here is a musical interlude whose relevance will become clear to the conscientious:

More tales of Ruby, Dick Gibson, Ruby in hospice, friends and former friends:

Finally, Ruby and Dick Sudhalter, Ruby as record reviewer, and sidelights on Kenny Dorham and Miles Davis, who will be the subject of the next videos:

I find Dan’s reminiscences invaluable.  He was there.  But more than that, his sharp, friendly observations make a scene come alive.  And he’s taught me an invaluable lesson about interviewing . . . to stay out of the interviewee’s way.  I’ve learned that Dan’s zigzag paths are much more interesting than any list of questions I might have prepared.  Take it from me.

May your happiness increase!

ECUMENICAL PLEASURES: TERRY WALDO’S GOTHAM CITY BAND at FAT CAT (August 14, 2016) PART ONE: TERRY WALDO, CHUCK WILSON, JIM FRYER, JAY LEONHART, JAY LEPLEY

In my adolescence, I read every jazz book on the shelves of the very well-stocked suburban public library.  I didn’t understand everything I read (when one reads Andre Hodeir’s harsh analysis of, say, Dickie Wells’ later style without having the musical examples at hand, it is an oddly unbalanced experience) but I absorbed as much as I could, from Rudi Blesh to Barry Ulanov and beyond.

I remember clearly that some of the history-of-jazz books (each with its own ideological slant) used diagrams, in approved textbook fashion, for readers who needed an easy visual guide.  Often, the diagram was a flow chart —

Blank-flow-chart

Sometimes the charts were location-based: New Orleans branched out into Chicago, New York City, Kansas City (as if the authors were tracing the path of an epidemic).  More often, they depicted “schools” and “styles”: Ragtime, New Orleans, Dixieland, Chicago jazz, Early Big Bands, Stride Piano, The Swing Era, Fifty-Second Street, Bebop, Modern . . .

Sectarian art criticism, if you will.  You had different dishes for New Orleans and Modern; you didn’t eat Dixieland on Fridays.  And you had to wait two hours before going in the water. It also supported mythic constructs: the earliest jazz styles were the Truth and everything else was degenerate art, or the notion that every new development was an improvement on its primitive ancestor.

The critics and journalists loved these fantasies; the musicians paid little attention.  Although you wouldn’t find Wingy Manone playing ANTHROPOLOGY, such artificial boundaries didn’t bother George Barnes, Joe Wilder, or Milt Hinton (the latter eminence having recorded with Tiny Parham, Eddie South, Clifford Brown, and Branford Marsalis).

Happily, the musicians are able to assemble — in the most friendly ways — wherever there is a paying gig.  No one has to wear a t-shirt embossed with his or her allegiance and stylistic categorization.  Such a gathering took place on Sunday, August 14, 2016, in the basement of 75 Christopher Street, New York City — known in the guidebooks as FAT CAT, although there are many variants on that title.

fatcat-2__large

The leader and organizer of this ecumenical frolic was Terry Waldo, pianist, ragtime scholar, vocalist, and composer.  For this session, his Gotham City Band was Chuck Wilson, alto saxophone; Jim Fryer (the Secret Marvel), trombone and vocal; Jay Leonhart, string bass and vocal; Jay Lepley, drums.

And here are four examples of the good feeling these musicians generated so easily.

DIGA DIGA DOO:

MEMORIES OF YOU (starting with Terry’s elaborate homage to its composer, Eubie Blake):

EVERYBODY LOVES MY BABY (with a funny, theatrical vocal by Terry):

OLD FASHIONED LOVE (sung by the romantic Jim Fryer):

Once again, this post is dedicated to the inquiring scholar from Bahia, who sat to my left and brightened the room.

More to come.

May your happiness increase!

GEORGE BARNES COULD DO IT ALL, AND HE DID

"Georgie," youthful

“Georgie,” youthful.  Photograph reproduced with permission from the owner.  Copyright 2013 The George Barnes Legacy Collection.

Alec Wilder told George Barnes that the latter’s music offered “Reassurance, reaffirmation, wit, warmth, conviction and, best of all, hope!”  I agree.

I first heard the magnificent guitarist (composer, arranger) George Barnes without knowing it.  His sound cut through the Louis Armstrong Musical Autobiography sessions for Decca — in the late Sixties. Even listening to Louis — as any reasonable person does — I was aware of this wonderful speaking sound of George and his guitar: a man who had something important to tell us in a short space (say, four bars) and made the most of it.  Not loud, but not timid.

As I amassed more jazz records, George was immediately evident through his distinctive attack.  I believe that I took in more Barnes subliminally in those years, in the way I would hear Bobby Hackett floating above my head in Macy’s. (George recorded with Roy Smeck, Connie Francis, Richard M. Jones, Bill Harris, Anita O’Day, Artie Shaw, Pearl Bailey, Jeri Southern, Connee Boswell, the Lawson-Haggart Jazz Band, Dinah Washington, Coleman Hawkins, George Wettling, LaVern Baker, Earl Bostic, Joe Venuti, Sammy Davis Jr., Don Redman, Little Willie John, Della Reese, Dick Hyman, Milt Hinton, Jo Jones, Hans Conried, Solomon Burke, Sy Oliver, Buddy Rich, Bud Freeman, Tony Bennett, Bucky Pizzarelli, Carl Kress  — just to give you an idea of his range.  And those are only the sessions documented in jazz discographies.)

In the early Seventies I actually saw George and heard him play live — he was sometimes five or six feet from me — in the short-lived quartet he and Ruby Braff led.  And then he was gone, in September 1977.

But his music remains.

George Barnes Country JAzz

And here’s a new treasure — a double one, in fact.

Now, some of you will immediately visit here, bewitched and delighted, to buy copies.  You need read no more, and simply wait for the transaction to complete itself in the way you’ve chosen.  (Incidentally, on eBay I just saw a vinyl copy of this selling for $150.)

For the others. . . . I don’t know what your feelings are when seeing the words COUNTRY JAZZ.  Initially, I had qualms, because I’ grew up hearing homogenized “country and western” music that to me seems limited.  But when I turned the cardboard sleeve over and saw that Barnes and friends were improvising on classic Americana (OLD BLACK JOE, THE ARKANSAS TRAVELER, CHICKEN REEL, IN THE GLOAMING, MY OLD KENTUCKY HOME) I relaxed immediately.  No cliche-stew of wife / girlfriend / woman / dog / truck / rifle / beer / betrayal / pals here.  Call it roots music or Americana, but it’s not fake.

And the band is exciting: George on electric guitar, bass guitar, and banjo [his banjo feature is extraordinary]; Allan Hanlon, rhythm guitar; Jack Lesberg, string bass; Cliff Leeman, drums, percussion; Phil Kraus, vibes on one track; Danny Bank, mouth harp on one track.  The sixteen tracks (and one bonus) come from this 1957 session recorded for Enoch Light — in beautiful sound.  The improvisations rock; they are hilarious, gliding, funky, and usually dazzling. There’s not a corny note here.  And gorgeously expansive documentation, too.

george-barnes_thumb

That would be more than enough fun for anyone who enjoys music.  But there’s much more.  George began leading a band when he was 14 (which would be 1935) but made a name for himself nationwide on an NBC radio program, PLANTATION PARTY, where he was a featured from 1938 to 1942. The fourteen additional airshots on this generous package come from the PARTY, and they are stunning.  Each performance is a brief electrifying (and I am not punning) vignette, and sometimes we  get the added pleasure of hearing announcer Whitley Ford introduce the song or describe George’s electric Gibson as a “right modern contraption,” which it was.

I can’t say that it’s “about time” for people to acknowledge George as a brilliant guitarist and musician, a stunning pioneer of the instrument — because the jazz and popular music histories should have been shaken and rewritten decades ago. But I’d bet anything that Charlie Christian and a thousand other players heard PLANTATION PARTY, and that a many musicians heard George, were stunned, and wanted to play like that.

I’m writing this post a few days before July 4, celebrated in the United States with fireworks.  George Barnes sounds just like those fireworks: rockets, stars, cascades, and explosions.  I don’t know that fireworks can be said to swing, but with George that is never in doubt.

To buy the CD, visit here — and at the George Barnes Legacy site, you can learn much more about George, his music, his family, his career.  Worth a long visit.

May your happiness increase!

RUBY BRAFF and MARIAN McPARTLAND PLAY, TALK, and LAUGH (1991)

RUBY portrait

Thanks to National Public Radio, here is a rebroadcast of Marian McPartland’s PIANO JAZZ featuring the one, the only Ruby Braff, in a mellow mood, here.

MARIAN McPARTLAND

There’s delicious music — both players in exquisite form — THOU SWELL, THESE FOOLISH THINGS, THIS YEAR’S KISSES (with Ruby at the piano), THIS IS ALL I ASK, BLUE AND SENTIMENTAL (a piano duet), SINGIN’ THE BLUES (Marian, solo), BY MYSELF, AS TIME GOES BY, LOVE IS JUST AROUND THE CORNER, and an extra bit of holiday laginappe, WHITE CHRISTMAS, as well as commentary on Vic Dickenson and Buster Bailey, the “Laws of Comping,” Mel Powell, Count Basie, Frank Sinatra, the Boston jazz scene in the Fifties, George Barnes, Frank Tate, Dave McKenna, a CD that never emerged, the Braff-Hyman GIRL CRAZY, Tony Bennett, the value of caring and having standards, Benny Goodman, Herschel Evans, picking songs and making records, Maurice Chevalier, Bix Beiderbecke, and more.

The authority on all things Braff, Tom Hustad, thinks that the program was recorded in fall 1991 — as he notes in his invaluable book, BORN TO PLAY: THE RUBY BRAFF DISCOGRAPHY AND DIRECTORY OF PERFORMANCES.  Hear the music; buy the book; remember Ruby and Marian and the music they made always.

May your happiness increase!

FOUR BY FOUR IN 4 / 4: “The Unaccounted Four,” Scheveningen, July 2015

I’ve written about the wondrous quartet, whimsically called THE UNACCOUNTED FOUR, as often as I could: here, herehereherehere. They make music that is both cerebral and welcoming.

The unusual proliferation of hyperlinks should indicate my enthusiasm, but a few words might help for those who would rather read than click.

Amsterdam, 11 januari 2015 – Gala van de verkiezing van de Amsterdammer van het Jaar in de Stadsschouwburg. Menno Daams’ Unaccounted Four brengt een muzikale ode aan de genomineerden. Foto: Mats van Soolingen

Menno Daams’ Unaccounted Four, Amsterdam.  Photograph by Mats van Soolingen.

The Unaccounted Four is a quartet of trumpet, clarinet / tenor, guitar, bass. Historically-minded readers will think of the Django-Rex Stewart session, the Bechet-Spanier Big Four, the Ruby Braff-George Barnes Quartet, and in our century, the EarRegulars.  And all of those connections would be valid, although the U 4 leans more to the pensive than the combative, with echoes of the Alec Wilder Octet.

The U 4 is swinging, melodic, deeply thoughtful and playful all at once.  And they have understood something about time as well — and I don’t mean simply a swinging flexible 4 / 4.  If modern physics — and modern art — have helped us understand that time is more a field than a series of beads on a string, the U 4 enacts that easy flexibility in the most charming ways.  In their playing, hot jazz and The Birth of the Cool sit at the same table; Charlie Parker and Charlie Holmes go to the same reed repairman, and Miles smiles warmly at Louis.

Did I say that they have a wonderful CD, called PLAYGROUND?  They do. One could hear some of it here.  And here.

PLAYGROUND

For visual as well as auditory proof of this band’s happy approach to music and to our hearts, here are four videos from a July 2015 performance.

Nothing UNDECIDED here — sparkling chamber jazz that makes this familiar song sound exactly like new:

Then, Ravel’s SLEEPING BEAUTY:

James P. Johnson’s SNOWY MORNING BLUES:

And Bix’s IN THE DARK:

Endearing lyricism is what I call it.

Now, I can’t make it out of the country for next Wednesday, but the U 4 will be playing a gig then.  More room for you!  Details here and here.

May your happiness increase!

WARM TRANSLUCENCE: ANDY BROWN, SOLO JAZZ GUITAR

Andy Brown Soloist

Andy Brown knows and embodies the simple truth.  It’s not how many notes you can play: it’s how you convey feeling with those notes.

For some time, the guitar has been the most popular instrument on the planet. Many guitarists aspire to blazing technique that causes the fretboard to burst into flames.  If you like to blame people, you can blame Hendrix, Bird, or even Django, masters who suggested to the unwary that the way to be even better was to be faster, more densely aggressive.

I come from a different school, having heard Charlie Christian, Teddy Bunn, Herb Ellis, Barney Kessel, Mary Osborne, George Barnes, George Van Eps and others early in my development. I cherish deep simplicities, not fireworks. That is why I have delighted in the playing of Andy Brown and am especially entranced by his most recent CD, plainly named SOLOIST (Delmark Records).

Andy Brown makes music, first and always.  His music woos the ear and the brain but lodges deep in the heart.  You shouldn’t get the wrong idea about him from my somewhat reactionary description: he is no primitive, rejecting technique because he has none.  On the contrary, he can play quickly, elaborately, and dramatically when the music calls for it.  The most mature players know that the greatest displays of technique involve restraint, subtlety, and breathing space.  Andy understands this, and what you hear is a relaxed lyricism where every note counts.  He is a melodic improviser, someone in love with beautiful warm sounds, not trying to impress listeners with outlandish dramatic spectacle.

Andy sounds like himself, but if I were pressed to say what ancestral heroes his playing suggests, they wouldn’t be guitarists.  Rather, I think this CD would have made Bobby Hackett, Ruby Braff, and Count Basie grin, for its understated singing grace, its beaming pleasure in music-making.

Time for a sample? Make yourself comfortable and savor these varied performances — beginning with luminous solos, then moving to collaborations with Howard Alden, Petra van Nuis, Jeannie Lambert, the cats at the Chautauqua Jazz Party, and even Barbra Streisand.  (Don’t be disconcerted that on the Streisand video — taken from a television appearance — the words “INSIDE DEATH ROW” appear bottom right.  No hidden messages here.)

Here you can hear brief audio samples from the CD.

Andy’s idols are many — he explains all that in his delightfully understated liner notes — but this isn’t a homage to any one guitarist.  It isn’t a disc where the artist reproduces and then elaborates on an influential album or set of recordings.

SOLOIST is a love letter to beautiful songs played with affection and swing, and it is easy to listen to without being Easy Listening.  It would impress any harmonically-astute guitar whiz but it could also embrace someone who knew nothing about substitute chords.  And although most of the songs are “standards,” they are played as if they were just written. Their melodies shine through; they swing.

And — unlike many solo guitar recordings I’ve heard — the sound is plain, unaltered, but gorgeously warm.  I see that the engineer is Scott Steinman — we are no relation — and he has done a lovely job.  And all I can say is that when I began listening to this disc, I delighted in it from first to last and then it seemed the most natural thing to start it up again.  You will feel similarly.

SOLOIST is a lovely recording, and an accurate record of the music of someone I admire, having heard him in person.

Andy writes in his notes that he simply began to play in the recording studio as he would on a gig. That should give any motivated person in the Chicago area a good idea: see Mr. Brown live and buy several copies of the CD from him.

May your happiness increase!