Tag Archives: George Barnes

HANDS-FREE IN JAZZLAND (Jan. 27, 2013)

Yesterday, Sunday, January 27, was my first venture back into live jazz — since I lost my video equipment (a saga chronicled elsewhere on this blog) — and I was mildly worried.  About me, I mean.

How would it be to come back to my this very familiar situation without a camera in my hands?  (Someone at the first gig who knows me well asked me how I was feeling, and I said — without thinking — “denuded,” a telling choice of words.)

But I managed to keep my composure and enjoy myself, not thinking too much that the music was vanishing into the ether without passing through me, JAZZ LIVES, and cyberspace to you.

The first session — held at the  Music Conservatory of Westchester — was very sweet and to the point, a celebration by trumpeter Bob Arthurs and guitarist Steve LaMattina of their new CD, JAZZ FOR SVETLANA (also chronicled on this blog).

Bob and Steve kept up a glorious yet understated musical conversation, switching roles — when Steve soloed, Bob gave him plenty of space for a few choruses, and then would begin to play encouraging backgrounds and riffs, his hand half over the bell of his trumpet.  At times I thought I was listening to some version of the Basie band distilled down to its essences.  They began with a medium-tempo BLUES FOR LONNIE, a trotting I THOUGHT ABOUT YOU (on which Bob sang in his husky unaffected way), I REMEMBER YOU (fast), and HOW DEEP IS THE OCEAN (introspective).  Then Svetlana Gorokhovich and Irena Portenko took the stage — at two pianos! — to perform a tribute to the late Dave Brubeck, POINTS ON JAZZ, which began in plain-spoken elegiac simplicity and escalated in intensity before settling back down again.  Bob and Steve returned for NIGHT IN TUNISIA, a “nostalgic,” slow reading of BACK HOME AGAIN IN INDIANA, with Bob’s vocal, and what was for me the highlight of the session — a beautiful one-chorus reading of Jackie Gleason’s MELANCHOLY SERENADE.  Quite a lot of music packed into a small space!

The second gig was a return to old beloved haunts — The Ear Inn — to hear Jon-Erik Kellso, John Allred, Howard Alden, and Pat O’Leary — this week’s version of The EarRegulars — swing out.  They began with a fast SUNDAY, then moved forwards in time for an even more vigorous FROM MONDAY ON, and secretly kept the theme going with a much more leisurely THE MAN I LOVE, which refers to Tuesday in the lyrics, a deep inside joke.  Two classics of the ER repertoire concluded the set — WHEN I GROW TOO OLD TO DREAM and a key-changing HINDUSTAN.  The four EarRegulars are great conversationalists — chatty fellows, you know — so the two horns kept exchanging comments (“passing notes,” if you will) on each other’s playing — with Allred providing the punchline or topper to a Kellso musical witticism.  Alden and O’Leary kept up a sweet flow of rhythm that reminded me so much of the Braff-Barnes Quartet of 1974 with noble forbears Michael Moore and Wayne Wright floating the planet.

It helped me a good deal that I was among friends — Will and Pete Anderson, Emily Asher, Dan Block, Mike Gilroy, Michael Waterhouse, the talented J.P., and others . . . and many of them sweetly tendered heartfelt camera-condolences, which mean a lot.  My pal Nan said, “You know, you’re much more fun without a video camera,” which I took as a compliment — I was at play more than at work, and it was a pleasure to be able to applaud freely — but I pointed out that I felt somewhat rudderless without the ability to make sure these good sounds were captured for posterity.

All of this once again posed the philosophical question, “If a band is swinging like mad or playing melodies sweetly and Michael is not recording it with a videocamera, does the music still enthrall and elate?”  You know the answer to that one.

May your happiness increase.

BORN TO PLAY: THE RUBY BRAFF DISCOGRAPHY and DIRECTORY OF PERFORMANCES

THIS JUST IN (Sept. 8, 2012): BORN TO PLAY is available at a special discount price.  I feel honored — this is the first official JAZZ LIVES promotional code!

JAZZ LIVES SPECIAL PRICE: Available directly from the publisher with 25% discount ($71.25 + $5.00 shipping): https://rowman.com/ISBN/9780810882645 and enter special Jazz Lives promotion code in shopping cart: 7M12BTPRB

I’ve been waiting for this book for a long time, and it’s even better than I anticipated.  It is the latest volume in the Scarecrow Press “Studies in Jazz” series, nearly 750 pages of information about the late cornetist.

Its author, Thomas P. Hustad, knew Ruby, spoke with him, and had Ruby’s full cooperation and enthusiastic advocacy.  Although the book isn’t a biography, nearly every page offers a deeper understanding of Ruby, musician and personality, and the contexts within which he operated.

Ruby would have been a challenging subject for a typical biography.  For one thing, although jazz musicians seem to lead unusual lives (nocturnal rather than diurnal hours, for one thing) they take their work with the utmost seriousness, and their daily responsibilities are not much different from ours.  A diary of what Ruby, for instance, accomplished when the horn was not up to his lips, might not be particularly revealing.  And Ruby’s strong, often volatile personality might have led a book astray into the darker realms of pathobiography: a chronological unfolding of the many times Ruby said exactly what was on his mind with devastating results would grow wearying quickly, and would leave even the most sympathetic reader with a sour impression.

No, Ruby wanted to be remembered for his music, and Tom honored that request.  So there is no psychoanalysis here, in an attempt to explore why Ruby could be so mercurial — generous and sweet-natured to some, vocal in defense of his friends, furious at injustice, fiercely angry without much apparent provocation otherwise.  True, the reader who peruses this book for tales of inexplicably bad behavior will find some, but BORN TO PLAY offers so much more.

Its purpose is to celebrate and document Ruby’s playing and recording over more than half a century.  What a body of recordings he left us!  From the earliest Boston broadcasts in 1949 to his final August 2002 appearance in Scotland with Scott Hamilton (happily available on an Arbors Records 2-CD set), Ruby played alongside the greatest names in jazz history.

Without looking at the book, I think of Pee Wee Russell, Vic Dickenson, Jo Jones, Nat Pierce, Dave McKenna, Freddie Green, Milt Hinton, Walter Page, Buck Clayton, Buddy Tate, Dick Hafer, Scott Hamilton, Jon-Erik Kellso, Scott Robinson, Dick Hyman, Teddi King, Lee Wiley, Ellis Larkins, Mel Powell, Oscar Pettiford, George Wein, George Barnes, Michael Moore, Ralph Sutton, Kenny Davern, Bobby Hackett, Jack Teagarden, Howard Alden, Frank Tate, Jack Lesberg, John Bunch, Sir Charles Thompson, Trummy Young, Bob Wilber, Woody Herman, Benny Goodman, Dan Barrett, Tony Bennett, Coleman Hawkins, Lawrence Brown, Ernie Caceres, Bob Brookmeyer, Benny Morton, Roy Eldridge, Jimmy Rushing, Urbie Green.

BORN TO PLAY is more than a straightforward discographical listing of Ruby’s issued recordings (although even there I found surprises: Ruby’s sessions with the Weavers, a final unissued Vanguard session, work with Larry Adler, Lenny Solomon, and others).  From his earliest appearances, listeners noticed that Mr. Braff was something special.  Jazz critics made much of him as an “anachronism,” someone whose style came out of Louis Armstrong rather than Miles Davis, but such assessments missed the point.

Ruby was one of the great romantics and improvising dramatists: he could take the most familiar melody and find new lyricism in it, singing it out as if he had become Fred Astaire or Judy Garland or Chaplin in CITY LIGHTS rather than “a saloon entertainer with a bit of tin in his hand.”  Ruby’s playing touches some hidden impulses in us — our need to express emotions without holding back — but his wasn’t the “barbaric yawp,” but quiet intensity with many surprises on the way.

His admirers (among whom I count myself) paid tribute to their hero by recording his performances whenever possible — the chronicle of private recordings begins in 1949 and continues to the end.  Those private recordings are  more than tantalizing: Ruby’s encounters with Louis, Lester Young, Ben Webster, Gerry Mulligan, Pepper Adams, Buddy Rich, Danny Moss, Sidney Catlett, Benny Carter . . .as well as his day-to-day gigs with musicians both famous and little-known across the globe.

One of the surprises in this book is that Ruby worked so often: before he became known for his singular approach to melodic improvisation, he was a diligently gigging musician.  (In print, Ruby sometimes complained about his inability to find congenial work: these listings suggest that aside from some early stretches where it was difficult to get gigs, he was well-employed.)

BORN TO PLAY also contains rare and unseen photographs, and the text is interspersed with entertaining stories: Nat Pierce and the sardine cans, Benny Goodman and the staircase, and more.

What this book reminds us of is the masterful work of an artist performing at the highest level in many contexts for an amazing length of time . . . all the more remarkable when you recall that Ruby suffered from emphysema as early as 1980.  Without turning his saga into a formulaic one of the heroic artist suffering through disabling illnesses, Hustad subtly suggests that we should admire Ruby much more for his devotion to his art than stand back in horrified wonder at his temper tantrums.  And Tom is right.

Ruby emerges as a man in love with his art, someone so devoted to it that the title of the book becomes more and more apt as a reader continues.  I have only read it intermittently, but find it both entrancing and distracting.  Much of this is due to Tom Hustad: a tireless researcher (still finding new information after the book’s publication), a fine clear writer, and someone Ruby trusted . . . so the book floats along on a subtle friendship between subject and chronicler.  And Tom was there at a number of sessions, providing valuable first-hand narratives that enlighten and delight — especially telling are his stories of relationships between Ruby and his champions: John Hammond, George Wein, Hank O’Neal, Tony Bennett, Mat and Rachel Domber, and others.

And the little details that make a book even better are all in place: a loving introduction by one of Ruby’s long-time friends, Dan Morgenstern; a cover picture showing Ruby and Louis (the photographer another great friend of the music, Duncan Schiedt) . . . and orange was Ruby’s favorite color — one he associated with the aural experience of hearing Louis for the first time, his sound blazing out of the radio speaker.  The layout is easy on the eye, all in nicely readable type.

In the interests of full disclosure (as the lawyers and politicians say) I should point out that I admire Ruby’s playing immensely, met him in 1971, spoke with him a number of times, saw him at close range, and contributed information about some private sessions that I recorded to this book.

BORN TO PLAY is a fascinating document, invaluable not only for those who regarded Ruby as one of the marvels of jazz — it is also a chronicle of one man’s fierce determination to create beauty in a world that sometimes seemed oblivious to it.  Many large-scale works of scholarship are thorough but cold, and the reader feels the chill.  Others have adulation intrude on the purpose of the work.  Tom Hustad’s book is an ideal mixture of scholarship, diligence, and warm affection: its qualities in an admirable balance.  I think the only way this book could have been improved would have been for Ruby to continue on past 2002 and the book to follow him.

Click here to purchase a copy.

And here’s something to beguile you as you click — the Braff-Barnes Quartet of 1974 (Ruby, George Barnes, Wayne Wright, Michael Moore) sauntering through LIZA:

May your happiness increase.

ROLLICKING! WHIT SMITH and MATT MUNISTERI: “HELL AMONG THE HEDGEHOGS”

The new CD by Whit Smith, Matt Munisteri, and Tim Luntzel,  HELL AMONG THE HEDGEHOGS is a delight, so varied and lively, that I have found myself playing it twice in a row, enjoying it more each time.

I know that you can’t listen to the cover, but even the wry drawing (the cover of an imagined hip children’s book) by Ariella Huff says something about the CD’s witty, swinging sensibility:

Some of you will be ready to order it right now — so why should I burden you with details?  You can accomplish that goal right here or (if you feel Amazonian) here — or if you like all things Baby, then here.

I always think that the absolute best way, should you want a tangible disc, is to buy it from the artist at a gig — doubling your pleasure and the artist’s — but I know that isn’t convenient for everyone.

Whit and Matt, peerless guitarists, romp on “two old Gibson electric guitars,” with their distinctive sound — and are joined by the fine string bassist Tim Luntzel.  The sessions were recorded in 2010, and they sound real, with no studio trickery or tension.  The final track comes from a live session at Barbes in Brooklyn — and has some impromptu crowd support, as is appropriate.

Guitarists will want this disc immediately: it is a casual, playful series of tumbling conversations between two players who swing intuitively, whose epigrammatic phrases and long lines ring in the mind.  The brief comments on the back of the paper sleeve distinguish Whit and Matt for those not immediately familiar with the sound of each player: “Whit’s sound is more compact and warm; Matt has more treble and gloss; Whit is tighter and dry; Matt is slithery and wet.  Whit is hedgehog, Matt is muskrat.”

Now we can move on, having cleared that up.

The sound of the three string instruments suggests — at turns — shirt-sleeved daredevils on the shady porch, creating new paths through familiar melodies, taking their time.  At times a ringing phrase suggests Bix or Louis, George Barnes or Chet Atkins — or the local train meandering through the history of intimate swing playing of the last ninety years.  You’ll hear a barn dance and a Harlem jam session of 1941.  Nothing drags or races; everyone explores the open vistas of rocking Medium Tempos in light-hearted ways.

Whit sings ALONG THE NAVAJO TRAIL; Matt offers SINGIN’ THE BLUES with the never-heard verse.  Those two selections will indicate the wide range of the nine songs: from obscure pop songs to hokum to jazz classics to one by Eldon Shamblin and Tiny Moore, YOU JUST TAKE HER.  The songs show a deep immersion in the jazz tradition — MUSKRAT RAMBLE, DEEP HENDERSON, a Coleman Hawkins line, TOO MUCH OF A GOOD THING; a Sidney Bechet tune, OKEY DOKE.  But don’t think that this CD is jazz archaeology, dusty jazz idolatries.  Certainly not.  The classic lines are used as foundations for energetic, joyous playing.  The title track — an original by Whit — is a left-handed consideration of STRUTTIN’ WITH SOME BARBECUE (to my ears) full of surprises.  And no CD that ends with YOU’RE BOUND TO LOOK LIKE A MONKEY WHEN YOU GROW OLD (one of those tough truths no one wants to hear) can be overly serious, can it?

I never cared much for muskrats and hedgehogs before this, but I’ve changed my mind.  You will, too.

THE WORD FOR THAT IS “STYLE”: JO JONES and HIS MAGIC HI-HAT, July 7, 1973

It’s not how much equipment you have, it’s what you do with it.  Ida Cox knew this, so did the great Sages, and Jo Jones exemplified it.  Thanks to George Wein, the “Gretsch Greats” performed outdoors at the Newport Jazz Festival in New York on July 7, 1973.  Jo Jones was at that time the Elder Statesman and the Famously Unpredictable Eccentric of the art form.

Legend has it that the young (Tony Williams) and the middle-aged (Max Roach) came out and did their best to show all the ways in which they could make sounds by using every part of their drum kits.  (On the recording we have here, the drummers are Elvin Jones, Mel Lewis, and Freddie Waits.)

Sly and subversive, Papa Jo came out with only his hi-hat cymbals and a pair of sticks and “washed them all away.”

It may be difficult at this remove to imagine the whole spectacle: Jo was entirely theatrical, and it is a pity we don’t have a video recording of his grimaces, his eye-poppings, his grin turning on and off like a massive searchlight, his mutterings (those meant to be heard and the rest) but JAZZ LIVES readers do not lack imagination and will be able to improvise from what they hear.

http://www.wolfgangsvault.com/gretsch-greats/concerts/central-park-july-07-1973.html

This recording comes to us through “Wolfgang’s Vault,” which has already offered such treasures as the Benny Carter Swing Masters concert (1972), the Braff-Barnes Quartet, and a number of Newport rarities only imagined before this.  Thanks also to the great friend of JAZZ LIVES and of living jazz everywhere, Ricky Riccardi, for pointing this out.

And, as he should, George Wein — who worked with Jo perhaps twenty years before — has the last word, admiringly.

FOUR BY FIVE: THE ABQ at JAZZ AT CHAUTAUQUA 2011

One of the best small groups I know is the ABQ — the Alden-Barrett Quintet — originally Howard Alden, guitar; Dan Barrett, trombone and cornet; Chuck Wilson, alto and clarinet; Frank Tate, string bass; Jackie Williams, drums.  Like the Ruby Braff – George Barnes Quartet and the various permutations of Soprano Summit, they had energy and delicacy, force, precision, and sweetness.  And they also swung like mad.

One of the pleasures of Jazz at Chautauqua through the seven years I’ve been attending is the reunions of the ABQ — usually with four of the original members onstage, romping through charts that they created or were done for the group by Buck Clayton (someone whose hundredth birthday just took place on the calendar).

At the September 2011 Chautauqua, Chuck Wilson couldn’t be there, but his place was taken — nobly — by the ever-ready Dan Block.  Here are four wonderful performances from their set:

Basie always merits first place: here’s Earle Warren’s 9:20 SPECIAL:

Buck Clayton’s BLACK SHEEP BLUES (perhaps referring to the necktie that used to be one of Dan Barrett’s sartorial trademarks, with an ebony fellow in the midst of the flock):

Something for Louis!  ORIENTAL STRUT, by Johnny St. Cyr.  Not to be pedantic, but I hear very little “Asian” in this composition: I think Johnny had been to the movies and seen some film with Rudolph Valentino in the desert:

And a mini-evocation of the 1940 Ellington band in COTTON TAIL:

The group doesn’t get many occasions to get together, which is a pity.  Come to the 2012 Chautauqua and — while you’re waiting — look for their CDs on Arbors and Concord Records.

Fifty-Second Street lives when the ABQ is playing.

MICK CARLON RECALLS RUBY BRAFF, BEAUTIFULLY

Reprinted from JAZZ TIMES, May 2011:

05/04/11 • By Mick Carlon

Ruby Braff: The Beauty in Music

It’s 1999 and I’m watching a PBS special on Mark Twain. The phone rings. It’s Ruby Braff. “Are you watching the show about Twain?” he asks. “It’s superb. The man was one of our nation’s greatest geniuses.”

I agree. “Too bad Twain didn’t live to be one hundred,” I say.

“Why?” asks Ruby.

“Because then he could’ve heard Louis Armstrong’s Hot 5 and Hot 7 recordings and we’d have Twain’s reaction to them.”

I hear an intake of breath. “Why the (bleep) would you care about that? Why would anyone want to know how Mark Twain felt about Pops? What a (bleeping) stupid thing to say.”

Not taking Ruby’s insults personally (for some reason, I never did), I reply, “Well, I think it would have been interesting.”

“That’s because you’re a (bleep),” and, once again, Ruby Braff hangs up on me.

For the past quarter century, I’ve lived on Cape Cod. Believe it or not, this sandy peninsula, about an hour south of Boston, was once a garden of jazz delights. Although his fans in Japan and Denmark stood in line to buy tickets to his gigs, Dave McKenna’s local gigs were ridiculously easy to attend. My wife and I would simply stroll into Hyannis’ Road House Café to delight in the world-class sounds of Dave on his “saloon piano”—for free.

And we could hear Ruby Braff, playing the most gorgeous cornet in the world–with a sound redolent of summer dusks and autumn wood-smoke—often with McKenna and bassist Marshall Wood.

I met Ruby through Jack Bradley, his old friend who had once actually saved Ruby’s life. In the depths of a three day coma, Ruby was responding to nothing and nobody. Deciding to visit Ruby at Cape Cod Hospital, Jack brought along a cassette player and a Louis Armstrong tape. He pressed play and the sound of Pops playing “I’m In the Mood For Love” filled the hospital room. Amazingly, Ruby’s eyelids began to flutter. The color returned to his cheeks. A few moments later, his eyes opened. “Hey,” he said in his Beantown Dead End Kid voice, “that’s not the 1935 version.”

“Nope,” replied Jack. “It’s from ’38—Pops with the Dorsey band.”

A few minutes later, now fully awake, Ruby said, “You know, that’s the second time Pops saved my life.”

“When was the first?” asked Jack.

“The first time I heard him.”

Ruby, of course, was a graduate of the Louis Armstrong School of Music. “It doesn’t matter what instrument you play—you’re supposed to be listening to Louis Armstrong. It doesn’t matter whether you write, sing, dance, or anything. If you haven’t listened to Louis Armstrong, there’s nothing, nothing going to come out of your playing that will ever please me. I can tell you that.”

And Ruby would tell you. When I once mentioned a young hot-shot trumpeter, Ruby scoffed, “He can’t play (beep). And you know why? He’s never listened to Louis. I can tell.”

However, one time the young hot-shot trumpeter I admired was Ruby himself. “I love those albums you made with Dave McKenna in 1956,” I said.

“What? Are you nuts?” Ruby thundered. “Do you have ears? I couldn’t play worth crap back then. Only an ignorant fool would like that playing. Dave’s the only reason to listen to those pieces of (beep). I thought you had more sense than that!”

I guess I didn’t. I stand by my high opinion of Ruby’s 1950s music. But his later work, recorded when he was often breathless with emphysema, is among the greatest jazz of the past thirty years: On the Arbors label: Variety is the Spice of Braff; Being With You (Ruby’s lovely Pops tribute); Live at the Regattabar; Music for the Still of the Night; Controlled Nonchalance at the Regattabar I and II (with Dave McKenna and Scott Hamilton). On the Concord label: Ruby Braff and His New England Song Hounds I and II (once again with McKenna and Hamilton, along with Howard Alden; Frank Tate; and the immortal Alan Dawson). I also have big eyes for The Ruby Braff/George Barnes Quartet Live at the New School album (Chiaroscuro) and (sorry, Ruby!) his 1956 duets with Ellis Larkins (Vanguard).

My friend rarely had a good word to say about anyone—myself included—but I never heard him say anything negative about a fellow he had known since boyhood in Roxbury: Nat Hentoff. “That man,” said Ruby one evening, “has never written one phony word in his life. God knows how many bum notes I’ve hit over the years—but as a writer, Nat has never hit a bum note.”

When illness struck again, in the autumn of 2002, I visited Ruby often at Cape Cod Hospital. Strangely, amazingly, he was now always kind, with never a negative word for anyone. It worried me. “I don’t think I’ll ever play my horn again,” he said one rainy November afternoon. I kept quiet. With Ruby, phony optimism would’ve rung false—a bum note.

He died on February 9, 2003, a month short of his 76th birthday. Cape Cod has been one quiet place since.

I’ll let Ruby himself take one last word-solo. In 1979 he told Wayne Enstice: “I believe in beauty, and there’s got to be nothing but beauty in music. And if you’re not playing beautiful music that takes people to another plane, to a delicious place that they can’t ordinarily get to in their own lives, then you’re producing nothing. I want delicious sounds…that’ll take me away on a dream.”

Thanks, Ruby. You gave the world countless such delicious sounds.

P.S.  I hope that neither JAZZ TIMES nor Mick Carlon mind my reprinting this delicious piece that catches Ruby whole.  I, too, loved his music and followed him around with a camera (once) and a cassette recorder (many times) to be closer to the source of that wonderful sound.  And who’s Mick Carlon, aside from being a good friend and a fine writer?

Mick Carlon is a 27- year veteran public school teacher.  His young adult novel, Riding on Duke’s Train, starring Duke Ellington and His Famous Orchestra, will be published in December by Leapfrog Press.  Says Nat Hentoff: “I knew Duke Ellington for over 25 years.  He was my mentor.  The Ellington in Carlon’s book is the man I knew.”  In 2014, Leapfrog will publish Carlon’s young adult novel on Louis Armstrong, Little Fred and Louis.  Carlon lives on Cape Cod with his wife Lisa and his daughters, Hannah and Sarah.

“THE MEMORY OF THINGS”

“The memory of things gone is important to a jazz musician,” Louis Armstrong said. “Things like old folks singing in the moonlight in the backyard on a hot night, or something said long ago.”

You don’t have to be Louis to draw pleasure from remembering . . . . perhaps by recalling these things, they are no longer gone from us.

But he provides the soundtrack to our thoughts — from 1956, with George Barnes, Ed Hall, Trummy Young, Lucky Thompson, Billy Kyle . . .

CLICK ON THE LINK BELOW TO REMEMBER THE MUSICIANS

 https://.paypal.com/cgi-bin/webscr?cmd=_s-xclick&hosted_button_id=VBURVAWDMWQASwww

SPREADING JOY at THE EAR INN (Jan. 16, 2011)

It’s wonderful to spread joy.  To me, the concept doesn’t mean acting silly or buying someone a greeting card to send good cheer: it means something larger, creating beauty and sharing it so that other people become deeper and more enlightened.

Readers of JAZZ LIVES won’t be surprised when I say that the EarRegulars and friends spread joy splendidly on the evening of Sunday, Jan. 16, 2011 (from 8-11 PM).  As always, they did it at The Ear Inn, 326 Spring Street, Soho, New York City. 

The regular EarRegulars (what pleasure it is to write that!) were Jon-Erik Kellso, trying out a Thirties Conn trumpet; Matt Munisteri, guitar and vocalizations, both singular.  Then we had Mark Lopeman on tenor sax and clarinet and Neal Miner on string bass — both quietly eloquent, nimble individualists.  Later, the heroic Pete Martinez brought his clarinet!  (In a prior post, I’ve offered the three vocal performances at the end of the evening — by Tamar Korn and Jerron Paxton, with the addition of yet another clarinetist, Bob Curtis.)

But here is some genuine Hot Jazz to warm you up, spiritually and any other way.

WAY DOWN YONDER IN NEW ORLEANS is one of those songs that works wonderfully at a number of tempos, from the yearning Bix-and-Tram version (and even slower when performed by Peter Ecklund) to the jogging Kansas City Six (1938) version with Buck Clayton, Lester Young, Eddie Durham or Charlie Christian, Freddie Green, Walter Page, and Jo Jones.  I didn’t bring my metronome, so I can’t tell where the EarRegulars romp fits in, but it nearly lifted me out of my seat.  Hear the four players cascade, each one in his own way:

I associate BALLIN’ THE JACK with the Blue Note Jazzmen — also, oddly, with a vocal version done in the late Forties by Danny Kaye, someone who could swing in his own fashion when he decided to put the clowning aside.  The song — an ancient let’s-learn-to-do-this-dance by Chris Smith — has one of the most seductive verses I know of, and it was a thrill to hear the EarRegulars wend their way through it.  Hear how Jon-Erik balls the jack into his first solo chorus:

Mark, Matt, and Neal took time to consider OLD FOLKS, that loving Willard Robison meditation on a much-loved elder member of the family:

Because Mark Lopeman’s band director was in the house and TIGER RAG was the school fight song (what a hip place indeed!) Jon-Erik suggested it.  This version is compact (four players rather than thirteen) but it growls and frolics just as energetically.  Listen to Lopeman (when is someone going to offer him a chance to do a CD under his own name, please?): he rocks!

James P. Johnson’s OLD-FASHIONED LOVE is, to me a combination of a secular hymn to sweet fidelity given a down-home flavor.  I first heard it on the Vic Dickenson Showcase, so many years ago, and it’s never left me.  And I like the old-fashioned kind, I do, I do — as do the monogamous fellows of the ensemble.  You can hear it in their playing!  (It occurs to me that Matt’s tangy twang evokes not only the Mississippi Delta but also George Barnes, whose single-note lines consisted of notes that snapped and crackled.  And those wonderful exchanges between Jon-Erik and Neal — a bassist whose solos have strength and resonance.)

The irreplaceable Chris Flory (just returning to action after an accident — we’re so glad he’s back, intact!) took Matt’s place for HAPPY FEET, a song that has the distinction of being connected with Bing Crosby, Paul Whiteman, THE KING OF JAZZ, Fletcher and Horace Henderson, Red Allen, Dicky Wells, Fred Astaire — quite a pedigree (as opposed to “pedicure,” although witty Jon-Erik ends his solo with a kick at TICKLE-TOE!):

And I end this posting with the universal expression of desire (the second movement of the EarRegulars Happiness Suite), I WANT TO BE HAPPY, its delight intensified by a visit from Pete Martinez, who is beyond compare.  And the “Flory touch” at the start is completely remarkable; the riffs behind Pete are pure Louis, always a good thing:

I call that joy, don’t you?

DEEP PASSION II: MENNO DAAMS and DAVID LUKACS

But wait!  There’s more!

If you were as impressed as I was with the four video performances by the Daams-Lukacs Orchestra (I’M COMIN’ VIRGINIA, SINGIN’ THE BLUES, SAVE IT PRETTY MAMA, and RING DEM BELLS) that appeared in the previous blogpost, you’ll be delighted to know that there is more music by this group and a smaller Daams group to be heard online. 

True, it’s audio-only, but now that you’ve seen the members of the orchestra for yourself, you can imagine what they look like with your eyes closed.

Visit the MySpace Music page of the Daams-Lukacs Orchestra — http://www.myspace.com/daamslukacsorchestra — and you can hear (and buy) more music from that concert: IMMIGRATION BLUES, MILENBURG JOYS, ROCKIN’ IN RHYTHM, THE STAMPEDE. 

Not enough high-intensity gratification for you? 

Menno has his own MySpace Music page —http://www.myspace.com/mennodaams/music/playlists.  There, you can hear five ethereal performances by another Daams aggregation: Menno PENNIES FROM HEAVEN, SHIM-ME-SHA-WABBLE, THESE FOOLISH THINGS,  GET HAPPY, HE AIN’T GOT RHYTHM. 

The other gentlemen of the ensemble aren’t identified in print, but the sound is remarkably evocative — trumpet, electric guitar, acoustic guitar, and string bass — subliminally suggestive of the Ruby Braff-George Barnes Quartet, with a different set of shining (and probably more amicable) set of personalities. 

Drop everything (or at least set it down gently) and indulge yourself in some beautifully creative jazz.

BREATHING THE SAME AIR

Were I a different sort of person, I could blame my parents, who were lovingly overprotective.  I could be irked at them now for not encouraging me to leave my suburban nest at 14 or 15 to go into New York City.  Had they been more adventurous souls themselves, I might have seen Red Allen, Pee Wee Russell, Rex Stewart in the flesh.  But by the time I began to make the trek, Ben Webster had left for Europe; Coleman Hawkins had died. 

Rather than lament the ones I’ve missed, I will list the names of the heroic players and singers  — now dead — I did get to see.

Trumpets / cornets: Louis Armstrong, Bobby Hackett, Buck Clayton, Ruby Braff, Sweets Edison, Dizzy Gillespie, Roy Eldridge, Ray Nance, Louis Metcalf, Herman Autrey, Doc Cheatham, Pat Jenkins, Joe Newman, Joe Thomas, Max Kaminsky, Wild Bill Davison, Pee Wee Erwin, Dick Sudhalter, Yank Lawson, Billy Butterfield, Jimmy McPartland, Johnny Windhurst, Taft Jordan, Franc Williams, Jimmy Maxwell.

Trombones: Vic Dickenson, Dicky Wells, Benny Morton, Bobby Pratt, Georg Brunis, Dick Rath, Tyree Glenn, Eli Robinson.

Reeds: Benny Goodman, Stan Getz, Al Klink, Herb Hall, Kenny Davern, Sal Pace, Russell Procope, Benny Carter, Johnny Mince, Bud Freeman, Buddy Tate, Phil Bodner, Sam Margolis, Harold Ashby, Earle Warren, Rudy Rutherford, Zoot Sims, Al Cohn, Clifford Jordan, Rudy Powell, Budd Johnson, Eddie Barefield, Lockjaw Davis, Allen Eager, Barney Bigard, Paul Quinichette, Illinois Jacquet, George Kelly.

Pianos: Teddy Wilson, Earl Hines, Count Basie, Claude Hopkins, Dill Jones, Dick Wellstood, Ralph Sutton, Jane Jarvis, Hank Jones, John Bunch, Jimmy Rowles, Eubie Blake, Mary Lou Williams, Bill Evans, Ross Tompkins, Joe Bushkin, Ellis Larkins, Sammy Price, Art Hodes.

Guitars: Eddie Condon, Freddie Green, Wayne Wright, Herb Ellis, Al Casey, Bernard Addison, Carmen Mastren, George Barnes.

Basses: Milt Hinton, George Duvivier, Charles Mingus, Al Hall, Bill Pemberton, Gene Ramey, Jack Lesberg, Bob Haggart, Franklyn Skeete.

Drums: Jo Jones, Gene Krupa, Cliff Leeman, Chauncey Morehouse, Buzzy Drootin, Tommy Benford, Oliver Jackson, Eddie Locke, Sonny Greer, Sam Woodyard, Gus Johnson, Jake Hanna, Connie Kay, Freddie Moore.

Vibraphone (or Vibraharp): Lionel Hampton, Red Norvo.

Violin: Joe Venuti.

Vocals: Jimmy Rushing, Helen Humes, Lee Wiley, Bing Crosby, Al Hibbler, Maxine Sullivan.

I miss them all, but feel so fortunate that I was there to breathe the same air, to hear their sounds.

“WE CALLED HIM SATCHMO”

Last week, on a weekday afternoon, I gave a presentation on Louis Armstrong and his influence on American popular music at a center for ailing senior citizens attached to a local hospital.  I played WEATHER BIRD and I CAN’T GIVE YOU ANYTHING BUT LOVE, and the Bing Crosby-Lennie Hayton SWEET SUE Connee Boswell’s ME MINUS YOU (with an incendiary Bunny Berigan interlude), and some Rodgers and Hart by Tony Bennett and the Braff-Barnes Quartet.  Returning to Louis, I decided to humor myself and played ON A COCOANUT ISLAND and then segued into I COVER THE WATERFRONT and DINAH from the 1933 Copenhagen film.

Not everything was cheering.  The technology I was dealing with (someone else’s laptop and DVD projector) worked well enough but was balky, so there were periods  that felt interminable while I was waiting for it to catch up.  And many audience members seemed seriously oppressed by illnesses and were silent, although I kept reminding myself that it was a great good thing to play Louis’s music for them. 

I got thrown several times by audience questions — “What is his first name?  Is it Lois?” and someone kept insisting at length that Louis was playing a cornet rather than a trumpet.

But there were substantial rewards.  At one point, after I had played ON A COCOANUT ISLAND, with the Polynesians and Lionel Hampton’s rocking drums, a few people timidly applauded.  This was the first sign of enthusiasm, so I paused and told them: “I’m a sentimentalist.  I believe that the dead know.  So it would be a really nice thing if you wanted to applaud Louis and his music right now,” and they all took it up.    

And good things happened right from the start in the front row, where there were two cheerful African-American women, dressed in bright colors, in wheelchairs.  Before I began, one of them said, “I knew Louis and Lucille because I lived in Corona,” and I said, “OK!  I’m going to want to talk to you later!” and she beamed.  Her name was Thelma.

After I’d been introduced by the pert supervior, Cathy Mercadante, I was about a minute into my talk when I said that everyone called him “Lou-ee” but that he pronounced his name “Lew-is.” 

Oh, no,” said Thelma vigorously.  “We didn’t call him that.”

“What did you call him?” I asked, not knowing where it would lead but enjoying having the presentation, for a moment, completely removed from my hands.

“We called him Satchmo,” she said triumphantly, and I acquiesced. 

As I was playing one record after another and improvising commentary, fielding questions, I kept my eyes on another woman in the front row.  Immobile in her wheelchair, she was tapping both one slippered foot and then the other.  Keeping quite good time.  Thank you, ma’am.

When I was through, another woman in the audience came up to me (with her fiftyish daughter cheerfully in attendance) and thanked me for playing Louis’s music.  “I remember when she and her sister were young, we would play his records, and they would be hopping around the house!”  Just the right response, I told her.

Then I chatted with Thelma, who told me about seeing Louis in the local bar / restaurant, Big George’s, and how Louis and Lucille would close the block off and have parties for everyone, how he loved the neighborhood kids.  “Do you know about his son?” she asked.  And I, thinking she meant his adopted son, said, “Oh, yes, Clarence?”  “Not that one,” she said,  “He wasn’t all right, so he had a lady to take care of him.  But Louis had a real son — very few people know about him.  It was kept a secret.”  Then she told me of all the photographs she had had of Louis and friends, and Louis and her husband (a drummer) but that they were all stolen when she moved.  I told her I would write her stories down, then gave her my card and my thanks.  Maybe someone will show Thelma this posting, and she will know that I kept my word.  Thank you, Thelma, for opening the door into Louis’s world!.

GROOVIN’ AT THE EAR INN (January 31, 2010)

That title isn’t to be taken lightly, for several times last night when The Ear Regulars (with guests) got together to play, they hit a real groove.  Not too slow, not too fast.  But I thought of the Ruby Braff-George Barnes Quartet, or the Buck Clayton Jam Sessions: musicians who know deep down what it means to choose the right tempo for the right song, to patiently, humorously let things build, to listen to each other.  The result was that often the room was both hushed and exuberant.  It was annoyingly cold outside in New York City last night, but The Ear Inn was spiritually warm — the kind of place I hated to leave even when the music was over.

Here are four performances from the evening’s jazz festivities.  The Ear Regulars (regular fellows all) were particularly lyrical: Jon-Erik Kellso, Matt Munisteri, Dan Block, and Pat O’Leary.  Eloquent, concise storytellers all — people who know what it is to sing on their instruments.

You might notice an occasional blurry passage (visually, not audibly): either my camcorder was overwhelmed by emotion or it needs an appointment with the autofocus doctor.  But the music comes through vibrantly, which pleases me greatly.

This post starts with a song that people know (through Louis, Jack, Billie, and others) — a Harold Arlen cri de coeur — but few people play: I GOTTA RIGHT TO SING THE BLUES:

Then, a song that’s even more obscure in this century — perhaps because its period “ethnic” lyrics produce justifiable discomfort (although I miss Louis and Lips’ versions): CHINATOWN, MY CHINATOWN:

The Ear Regulars expanded nicely: Conal Fowkes took over the string bass while Pat O’Leary treated us to his exceptional jazz cello playing.  An extraordinary string section!  Watch their hands, please. 

Anat Cohen came in and played her part while seated on a barstool.  Andy Farber (sounding sweetly like Hilton Jefferson) added his alto sax.  And they embarked on a sweetly hot I FOUND A NEW BABY (in two parts):

They were romping, although not accelerating:

Clarinetist Frank Perowsky joined them for the final ensemble — a lengthy, swaying version of the blues line RED TOP (in Db, or “dog flat”) that wasn’t a moment too long, although it ran sixteen minutes.  I was in the middle of a four-piece reed section: a clarinet to my right (Anat), one to my left (Frank), two saxes in front of me — rather like living in a Fifties demonstration-of-stereo record.  And, there was more from that world-class downtown unbuttoned string section!

The second part:

I haven’t written much about the music.  As Charlie Parker told Earl Wilson, it speaks louder than words.  The music I heard last night at The Ear Inn transcended words: it wasn’t a matter of volume.

It was an honor to be there, and that’s no stage joke.  Thanks to everyone — and to Phillup de Bucket, who has a cameo in CHINATOWN, to Vlatka Fowkes, Beverly, Karen, Randi, and Katy; to Victor, the epitome of musical Hip; to the friends of hot jazz who made the place so convivial.

THE UNACCOUNTED FOUR

The extraordinary trumpeter, composer, and arranger Menno Daams put together a new quartet — wittily called The Unaccounted Four.  I was delighted to find this performance on YouTube — where this quartet plays Sidney Bechet’s LE VIEUX BATEAU.  Along with Menno, there’s clarinetist David Lukacs; guitarist Martien Oster; bassist Jos Machtel.  The Unaccounted Four reminds me of three magnificent quartets: the 1940 meeting of Muggsy Spanier and Sidney Bechet; the record session Rex Stewart and Barney Bigard made with Django Reinhardt, and the Ruby Braff-George Barnes Quartet of the early Seventies.  

And for those who (like myself) are entranced by Menno and this little band, visit their MySpace page:

http://vids.myspace.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=vids.individual&videoid=54237940

This quartet — featuring Menno and the gently persuasive David Lukacs floating over a sweetly hot rhythm duo — is both understated and compelling.  More, please!

COPYRIGHT, MICHAEL STEINMAN AND JAZZ LIVES, 2009
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“SOLITUDE”: BRAFF-BARNES QUARTET

Thanks to Bob Erwig for posting this clip of the Ruby Braff-George Barnes Quartet, perhaps in Berlin in 1974.  The other heroes here are the Wayne Wright and Michael Moore — singing their way through Ellington’s “Solitude” as if it were a hymn and they were divinely inspired.  I remember seeing this quartet accomplish artistic miracles in Bryant Park, outside the New York Public Library on 42nd Street.  To say their performance was unforgettable is simple accuracy.

WE’LL MISS WAYNE WRIGHT

Aside from the justly celebrated Freddie Green, the rhythm guitarist is the stoker down in the ship’s hold: unseen, uncredited, yet essential. My version of the Decline of the West got even more gloomy when four-piece jazz rhythm sections became three-piece. Green, like Eddie Condon, got a perverse kind of fame for refusing to play a solo, as if he were a farmer being paid not to grow his crop.

By way of Jon-Erik Kellso, I learned that the singular guitarist Wayne Wright died on May 9. If you saw Les Paul a half-dozen years ago, you might have seen Wayne providing rocking motion that kept it all together.

My own delighted perceptions of Wayne come from small-group New York jazz sessions of the early Seventies. At the time, Wayne was a cheerful, wisecracking presence, with a modified Beatle haircut and black-framed glasses. He was left-handed, and he liked to accent phrases with a simple figure, like a drummer’s rimshot-bass drum accent, which he would emphasize with a leap of the guitar’s neck, as if it were a fish trying to wriggle out of his grip. His rhythmic pulse was urgent but never loud — an audible, pushing sonic wave.

Even before he became a member of the Ruby Braff – George Barnes quartet, he surfaced, rewardingly, in odd places. One such occasion was a free lunchtime concert in summer 1973 which brought together Bob Wilber and Kenny Davern before they had organized Soprano Summit. Backing them was a perfect ad hoc New York rhythm section: Wayne, Milt Hinton, Dill Jones, and Jackie Williams. They played outside the Seagram Building in midtown, on a great concrete plaza with huge fountains, so rushing water competed with the music. Eubie Blake was the intermission pianist (!) and WCBS-AM anchorman Brian Madden brought his tenor sax and played enthusiastic early-Hawkins choruses with the band on “Crazy Rhythm.”

Wayne also came down to Brew’s, a little eatery that turned into a jazz club at night, just east of the Empire State Building. The Dave Tough-inspired drummer Mike Burgevin booked his friends and heroes — a very brief Golden Age that few noticed. They included pianists Jimmy Andrews and Dill Jones, bassists Al Hall and others, and horn players Herb Hall, Rudy Powell, Joe Thomas, Herman Autrey, Vic Dickenson, Marshall Brown, Kenny Davern, and others I have forgotten. But I remember one night in July 1974 when Ruby Braff, Sam Margolis, and Wayne joined forces with Jimmy Andrews and Mike to pay tribute to Louis, with exquisitely swinging music, much of its rhythmic impetus courtesy of Wayne, his bell-like sound always floating the beat. Brew’s couldn’t stay afloat because the cabaret laws caught up with it — ironically so, in terms of the noise that follows us everywhere now! — and Mike tried, for a minute or so, to have jazz trios without a drummer. I caught one such evening — a trio led by Wayne, with Jimmy Andrews and Al Hall, making delightful homespun jazz, Wayne playing melody and single-string variations on “I’m Beginning To See The Light” and “Say It Isn’t So.” Wayne’s tone sang; he bent notes; he earnestly worked around the melody.

He also played for about eighteen months with the irreplaceable quartet that Ruby and George Barnes had. The two leaders soon loathed each other, and the quartet imploded, but it was a great experience to sit on the floor of the New York Jazz Museum and listen to them meander through “Sweethearts on Parade,” for one. Wayne recorded two impossible-to-find records of guitar duets with Marty Grosz on Jerry Valburn’s Aviva label, Let Your Fingers Do The Walking and Goody Goody — but much of the material on those records is a careful, loving exploration of duets by Dick McDonough and Carl Kress, among others. Wayne is there, but his personality rarely comes through.

Now he’s gone, and it feels as if he took as much of the identifying evidence with him as he could. YouTube used to offer clips of the Braff-Barnes quartet in Berlin, in 1974, but no more. Google Images came up only with two record-cover pictures of the quartet, which I’ve included here, and the closest thing we have to Wayne’s oral history or a self-portrait is a jazz guitar site where he talks about Barnes: classicjazzguitar.com/…/article.jsp?article=61

Was he content to strum in the background? I don’t know. But he could play! Goodbye, Wayne, and thank you.