Tag Archives: George Gershwin

FIVE BY FIVE (Part One): JOE PLOWMAN and his PHILADELPHIANS at the 1867 SANCTUARY: JOE PLOWMAN, DANNY TOBIAS, JOE McDONOUGH, SILAS IRVINE, DAVE SANDERS (February 8, 2020)

Pay no attention to ENGER D OP OFF — they were last week’s band.

Here’s another in the series of intimate, swinging jazz concerts that take place at the 1867 Sanctuary on Scotch Road in Ewing, New Jersey: others have featured Phil Orr, Joe Holt, Danny Tobias, Warren Vache, Larry McKenna.

The most recent one was a showcase for string bass virtuoso Joe Plowman (friend of Larry McKenna and Marty Grosz, so that should tell you something about his authentic credentials — with Danny Tobias on various brass instruments, Joe McDonough, trombone; Silas Irvine, piano; Dave Sanders, guitar.  As you’ll hear immediately, these five friends specialize in lyrical melodic swing — going back to Irving Berlin classics — without a hint of the museum or the archives.  Their pleasure in making song was apparent all afternoon, and we shared it.  And just as a comment on the leader: notice how quiet the crowd is when he solos, maybe because he creates long arching melodic lines with a beautiful sound and wonderful intonation.

At times, I was reminded of a group I saw for half an hour at the old Michael’s Pub — the front line was Bobby Hackett and Urbie Green, and what delightful sounds they made. (The digressive story of that evening I offer below as a postscript.*)

Here are five highlights from the brilliant afternoon’s play.

Everyone’s “got rhythm” so why not Ellington’s COTTON TAIL?:

The Gershwins’ WHO CARES? — with a touch of Tobias-humor to start:

Porter’s JUST ONE OF THOSE THINGS:

ON THE SUNNY SIDE OF THE STREET, featuring expressive Mr. McDonough:

Berlin’s THE SONG IS ENDED, which announcement was premature, since there was another half-concert to follow:

You see why the trip to Ewing, New Jersey, to 100 Scotch Road, is essential to my well-being and that of the larger audience.

*Now for my self-indulgent story, which took place before either Joe was born.  I’ve never told it before and it is true.

Bobby Hackett was and is one of my greatest heroes, and when he appeared in New York City between 1971 and 1976, I tried to go see him.  However, I was a shy college student, working a part-time job that paid $1.85 / hour, so some gigs were beyond me.

Michael’s Pub was a restaurant-bar-with music on the East Side of Manhattan, in the Fifties, that offered excellent jazz in hostile surroundings.  (To be fair, I did not appear as a well-heeled customer to even the most inexperienced waiter.)  They had a bar where one could sit and have a single drink without being chased for perhaps thirty minutes, but the view of the music room was very limited.  When I learned of a Hackett-Urbie Green quintet gig, I gathered up the shreds of my courage, put on my sportsjacket and my Rooster tie, and went.

I think I made a reservation for two: that was my cunning at work.  I was guided to a table, a menu was thrust in my face, and I said, “I’m waiting for my date.  A vodka-tonic, please,” and the waiter went away, returning in seconds with my drink.  The music began and it was of course celestial.  I nursed my drink, ate the rolls in the bread basket one by one, and fended off the waiter, who was more insistent than any date I’d had up to that point.  Finally, somewhere in the first set, when the waiter had become nearly rude, I looked at my watch, and said grimly so that he could hear, “Damn.  She’s not coming.  I’ll take the check, please,” paid and left.

I can now say that I heard Bobby and Urbie, but the sad part is that I can’t remember a note because it was completely blotted out by the sense of being unwanted.  But, in a pinch, vodka-tonic, buttered rolls, and a divine soundtrack are nutritious enough.  And memory is soul food.

May your happiness increase!  

MELLOW TONES: DANNY TOBIAS, PAT MERCURI, CHRIS BUZZELLI (1867 Sanctuary, January 4, 2020)

On January 4, 2020, Danny Tobias (trumpet, flugelhorn, Eb alto horn), Pat Mercuri, and Chris Buzzelli (guitars) assembled at the 1867 Sanctuary, 1o1 Scotch Road, Ewing, New Jersey, for a wonderfully mellow session of music.  What they created, reminiscent of the Braff-Barnes Quartet, requires no complicated explication: it’s melodic and swinging, a splendidly egalitarian conversation among three masterful improvisers.  Pat’s on the viewer’s right in gray blazer; Chris has a maroon shirt.

Here’s the first half.

Arlen’s AS LONG AS I LIVE, a declaration of devotion:

CHEEK TO CHEEK, Berlin’s description of bliss in motion:

Van Heusen’s POLKA DOTS AND MOONBEAMS (and I still like Johnny Burke’s lyrics, unheard here, although some poke fun at the “pug-nosed dream”):

Ray Noble’s steadfast assertion, THERE IS NO GREATER LOVE:

Sonatina for Two Guitars, Ellington’s IN A MELLOTONE:

Gershwin’s yearning SOMEONE TO WATCH OVER ME, featuring Danny on his third or fourth brass instrument, the Eb alto horn:

If you missed this concert, you have a chance to restore and redeem yourself: on February 8, 2020, Joe Plowman and his Philadelphians will be playing: that’s Joe on string bass and perhaps arrangements / compositions; Danny Tobias; Joe McDonough, trombone; Silas Irvine, piano; Dave Sanders, guitar.  Details here. Why miss out?

May your happiness increase!

“LOVE SAID ‘HELLO!'”: YAALA BALLIN and MICHAEL KANAN at MEZZROW (December 11, 2019)

Yaala Ballin and Michael Kanan at Mezzrow, by Naama Gheber.

My friends and musical heroes, Yaala Ballin and Michael Kanan, returned to Mezzrow on December 11, 2019, for another evening of glorious songs, selected by the audience, as Yaala explains in the second video.  They call this “show of surprises” “The Great American Songbook, Requested,” and it is a consistent offering of joys.

But first, the Gershwins’ LOVE WALKED IN:

and for those new to Yaala and Michael’s playful plan-and-not-plan for their evening, Yaala explains it all while Michael quietly explores I’VE GOT THE WORLD ON A STRING:

THE MAN I LOVE has been performed so often that when someone launches into it I feel a little world-weary, “Oh, not that again.”  But I find this version completely compelling and emotionally plausible.  It is their teamwork, Michael’s palette of colors and textures, Yaala’s playful but deep speech-cadences.  Their performance has emotional ardor but is never “dramatic” for the sake of drama:

On with the dance, the dance of affection shared– Berlin’s CHEEK TO CHEEK, so beautifully begun and continued.  But first, Yaala tells a tale:

STAIRWAY TO THE STARS, Matty Malneck and Frank Signorelli, full of hope.  Please savor Michael’s solo chorus, his light and shadows:

The Gershwins’ OUR LOVE IS HERE TO STAY:

and Ellington’s I LET A SONG GO OUT OF MY HEART:

This is only the first part of a completely satisfying evening — with fourteen more songs delicately and ardently reinvented for us.  If you missed this December tasting menu, don’t despair: Yaala and Michael will be performing again for Valentine’s Day at St. John’s in the Village on Eleventh Street: details to come.

May your happiness increase!

THE ART OF THE DUET: MARC CAPARONE / CONAL FOWKES at the SAN DIEGO JAZZ FEST (Nov. 24, 2018)

Conal Fowkes, piano; Marc Caparone, cornet, at the 2017 San Diego Jazz Fest.

Back by popular demand!  The video I posted two days ago of Marc Caparone, cornet, and Conal Fowkes, piano, playing PRISONER OF LOVE, garnered a good deal of enthusiastic response.  You can see it here.  And here are two more from that same day at the San Diego Jazz Fest — most heroically, musicians improvising at (I think) 11 AM.  Very hot, very noble.

The Gershwin classic, now rarely played by improvisers, STRIKE UP THE BAND:

and the 1936 pop tune irrevocably associated with Billie and Bunny, NO REGRETS:

What playful heroes these two are, and how they create surprising joys.

May your happiness increase!

WARM SOUNDS IN MOTION: JON DE LUCIA OCTET in RECITAL: JON DE LUCIA, ANDREW HADRO, DAN BLOCK, RICKY ALEXANDER, JAY RATTMAN, STEFAN VASNIER, AIDAN O’DONNELL, STEVE LITTLE (City College, May 3, 2018)

I abandoned my adult responsibilities last Thursday to hear the Jon De Lucia Octet at City College, and I am so glad: this performance was an oasis.

Jon’s group, in existence for slightly more than two years, is a flexible, swinging chamber group devoted to the music-for-saxophones of Gerry Mulligan, Lee Konitz, Jimmy Giuffre, Ted Brown, Bill Smith, Alec Wilder, the Dave Brubeck Octet, and Jon’s own arrangements and compositions.  I’ve been following Jon and the Octet around New York since their inception, and have always felt rewarded.  Here is a sample from March 2017.

Perhaps it no longer applies, but it used to be fashionable to characterize such music as “cerebral,” to some, a euphemism for chilly aural architecture, jazz drained of untidy emotions, art from the neck up.  Not true for the Octet, which is a warm, mobile band, always with a generous offering of improvised solos.  You’ll hear and see for yourself.

If you have an established prejudice against what is perceived by some as “cool,” please take a visit to PRESERVATION, DREAMILEE, DISC JOCKEY JUMP . . . . and then re-assess.

At this too-brief concert, the players were Jon, alto saxophone and clarinet; Stefan Vasnier, piano; Aidan O’Donnell, string bass; Steve Little, drums; Jay Rattman, tenor saxophone; Dan Block, alto saxophone and clarinet; Ricky Alexander, tenor saxophone; Andrew Hadro, baritone saxophone.

Gerry Mulligan’s DISC JOCKEY JUMP, originally composed by young Mr. Mulligan for the Gene Krupa ensemble, then arranged for saxophones a decade later by Bill Holman:

Jerome Kern’s PICK YOURSELF UP (I think of Fred Astaire pretending to be clumsy) arranged by Jon:

The Gershwins’ TREAT ME ROUGH, from GIRL CRAZY, arranged by Dick Hyman for a Trigger Alpert record date:

PRESERVATION, by Ted Brown, a sinuous improvisation on Lester Young’s TICKLE-TOE, arranged by Jon:

The gorgeous PRELUDE, by Dave Van Kriedt, originally for the Dave Brubeck Octet:

DREAMILEE, Lee Konitz’s solo / variations on I’LL SEE YOU IN MY DREAMS, arranged by Jon:

PRELUDE TO PART FIRST, a Baroque jazz fantasy by Jon, which I associate with his new  Bach Shapes book:

Cole Porter’s very pretty LOOKING AT YOU (I think of Lee Wiley’s 1940 recording with Bushkin and Berigan) arranged by Jon.  Dance music for very hip couples:

and a memory of a vanished New York City subway-system entrance machinery, TURNSTILE, again composed by Mulligan and arranged by Holman:

Jon’s Octet — with the splendid Ted Brown — will be releasing their debut recording, a live performance from their first recital — on Neal Miner’s noble Gut String Records — this summer.  Expect to hear more about it here.

May your happiness increase!

“WE CALL IT MUSIC” (PART ONE): DAN BLOCK, SCOTT ROBINSON, EHUD ASHERIE, JOEL FORBES, PETE SIERS (Cleveland Classic Jazz Party, September 14, 2017)

Possibly the first recording of the Gershwin classic, October 20, 1930.

What we have here is the essence of classic jazz — spirited improvisations on the chord changes of I GOT RHYTHM, followed by a Thirties song from a Broadway show.  I write this to calm any skittish listener, deeply enamored of jazz pre-1931 or 1944, who might run off when hearing the opening line, called either CRAZEOLOGY (if the composers are Little Benny Harris and Charlie Parker) or BUD’S BUBBLE (if Bud Powell takes credit); SEPTEMBER SONG, that follows, should scare no one.

Beautifully played by Dan Block, tenor saxophone; Scott Robinson (partially concealed behind the piano) tenor saxophone and trumpet; Ehud Asherie, piano; Joel Forbes, string bass; Pete Siers, drums.

Should any of my readers / listeners take flight at “that modern jazz,” I urge them to listen calmly, even hum I GOT RHYTHM along with the band — to see that the divide between “styles and schools” was never created by musicians, but by journalists, to whom pugilism was good copy.  (See “Blesh, Rudi,” “Ulanov, Barry,” “Feather, Leonard,” among others.)  Listen, listen.  It’s all music.

And, once again, I post this video as a sad but admiring tribute to the Cleveland Classic Jazz Party, which will not continue into 2018, even with the superhuman efforts of its heroic team, Nancy Hancock Griffith and Kathy Hancock — read about it here.  Both I and Laura Wyman (of Wyman Video) will be sharing videos from the 2017 Party in time.

May your happiness increase!

“SWINGIN’ FOR THE FENCES”: BRIAN HOLLAND AND DANNY COOTS (AND MORE)

Oh, no.  Another wonderful CD?  Will those musicians ever let us alone?  When the musicians are pianist Brian Holland and drummer Danny Coots, the answer is a joyous NO.

But first.  Let’s assume you’ve never heard Brian and Danny.  Nothing simpler than remedying this deficiency. From the 2017 Santa Cruz Ragtime Festival, here is their rendition of two Fats Waller compositions, JITTERBUG WALTZ and BACH UP TO ME:

and here are the two gentlemen, caught by a still camera:

Holland (left), Coots (right), for those who have never had the good fortune to see and hear them in person or in action or both.

Their new CD is a delightfully varied offering:

The songs:  Charleston Rag / Jimmy McHugh Medley (Spreadin’ Rhythm Around – I’ve Got My Fingers Crossed) / Memphis Blues / Doll Dance / Wolverine Blues / Black and Blue / Tico Tico – Besame Mucho / Root Beer Rag / Hymn to Freedom / Violet Wedding (A Song for Marcia) / Rubber Plant Rag / Ragtime Nightingale / Troublesome Ivories / Planxty.

Students of the music will notice some well-deserved homages to great composers and players: Eubie Blake, Fats Waller, W.C. Handy, Nacio Herb Brown, Jimmy McHugh, Joseph Lamb, and a few slightly less expected sources: Oscar Peterson, Glenn Jenks, Billy Joel, and an original by Brian.  Ragtime, stride, novelty piano, deep blues, venerable pop tunes, and more.

The title of the CD — even for those who shy away from professional sports, like me — would explicitly suggest that virtuosic larger-than-life musical athleticism is in store.  And in a few instances that impression is correct.  Brian and Danny romp with great grace and power, and they can show off in the most impressive musical ways.  You won’t find players who are more deft at fast tempos than these two, and their quickest skirmishes still make great artistic sense: the listener never feels pummeled with notes.  They work together splendidly as a telepathic team, hearing each other’s impulses and subtexts as well.

But leave aside the gorgeous rapid beauties of the up-tempo performances –CHARLESTON RAG, DOLL DANCE, RUBBER PLANT RAG, TROUBLESOME IVORIES, to consider BLACK AND BLUE, which Brian says he began, musingly, in an effort to get into the mind of Thomas Waller — whose affecting song about racial prejudice this is. It is the most quiet and searching show-stopper I can imagine, beginning with pensive suspended chords, an improvisation that hints at Beiderbecke and Gershwin, before gaining emotional power as it climbs to a moving end.  I call it a show-stopper because once it had concluded, I was overpowered and needed to pause before moving on to the next track.

In an entirely different way, HYMN TO FREEDOM begins as a solo human being’s prayer — for what and to whom I leave to you — and ends up as a jubilant prayer meeting.  PLANXTY starts as a small utterance of grief and ends up a funeral procession, without its volume increasing that much.

But lamenting is not always what Danny and Brian have in mind.  Some of these duets are seriously cinematic: listening more than once to TICO-TICO / BESAME MUCHO, I found myself imagining the brightly colored musical film for which they had invented a provocative soundtrack.  I see elegant, formally dressed dancers all through RAGTIME NIGHTINGALE as well.  I have to say a word about TROUBLESOME IVORIES — perhaps too much autobiography — but had I the ability to dance, and a willing partner, I would not be typing these words now, being otherwise occupied.

The disc is beautifully recorded and, even better, splendidly sequenced, so one never has the sense of listening to ten or twelve minutes of the same thing. Piano and drums — no gimmicks, no novelty vocals or sound effects.  Just lovely music.

You can purchase the CD here.  Or you can find it on Facebook.

And . . . speaking of pleasures that won’t grow old quickly, the Holland-Coots Quintet has just released a new disc, a tribute to Fats Waller, THIS IS SO NICE IT MUST BE ILLEGAL, with Marc Caparone, Evan Arntzen, Steve Pikal as the additional merry-makers.  I was at the sessions in Nashville in July 2017, and this band made thrilling music, which I wrote about here.  (Caution: HOT VIDEO ALERT.)

I will have more to say when the actual disc flutters into my mailbox.  And don’t let the title fool you: quantity purchases are not only legal, but medically-recommended.

May your happiness increase!