Tag Archives: Gershwin

“IT’S ABOUT TIME”: GREG RUGGIERO, MURRAY WALL, STEVE LITTLE

From left. Murray Wall, string bass; Steve Little, drums; Greg Ruggiero, guitar. Photograph by Gabriele Donati.

Maybe you wouldn’t connect those mostly-somber faces with a new CD of gorgeous music, but trust me. Perhaps this will help:

The roots of this delightful effusion of thoughtful, swinging adult music go back a few years.  When I heard IT’S ABOUT TIME (Fresh Sounds / Swing Alley) for the first time, recently, I wrote this to Greg (who has a substantial sense of humor) as the possible opening lines of my planned blogpost: I’ve never met them, but I am seriously grateful to Camille and Lenny Ruggiero. For one thing, they are the parents of the wonderful guitarist Greg Ruggiero, so you may draw your own inferences. But there’s another reason: Greg says that “for the past twenty years they have asked me to record a Standards album.”

That CD is here, and it’s called IT’S ABOUT TIME, and it’s a honey.

I checked with Greg to be sure his parents wouldn’t mind seeing that in print and he wrote back, The CD release party is October 1st at Mezzrow. The folks are coming, maybe you can meet them then!

The Mezzrow schedule (they’re on West Tenth Street in New York City) has tickets for sale here for the two October 1 shows; I know this because I bought some.

But perhaps I’m getting ahead of myself, or of ourselves here.  As a title, IT’S ABOUT TIME might refer to Greg’s parents’ two-decade long wait, but the title speaks to something fundamental about this CD, and about the music that Greg, Murray, and Steve make as a trio and on their own.  “Time,” to them, is more than what someone’s Apple watch might say: it is their visceral connection with rhythm, with the deep heartbeat that we feel from the Earth and also from the Basie rhythm section.  Fluid but unerring; sinuous but reliably trustworthy.  They live to swing, and we can rely on how well they do it, and how well it makes us feel.  Greg, Murray, and Steve are also reassuring in their love of melodies, and of melodic inprovisations.  This isn’t — to go back some decades — “Easy Listening,” but it certainly is easy to listen to.

The repertoire is classic; the approach melodic and emergized.  GONE WITH THE WIND is light and quick, a zephyr rather than a lament.  APRIL IN PARIS doesn’t lean on the Basie version, but is a series of sweet chimes: I never got the sense of “Oh, this is APRIL IN PARIS again, for the zillionth time.”  Sincerity rules, without drama.  Steve starts off I’LL SEE YOU IN MY DREAMS with a small explosion, heralding a romp rather than a nap, and the trades between him and the other two members later in the performance have the snap of Jo Jones.  Greg’s POLKA DOTS AND MOONBEAMS is respectfully tender but it never bogs down under the weight of the hoped-for pug-nosed dream, and Murray’s solo seems so easy but is the work of a quiet master.  WHERE OR WHEN asks the musical question lightly and politely, without undue seriousness but with playful trades with Steve.  IF DREAMS COME TRUE is easy in its optimism, and it avoids the cliches attached to this venerable swing tune.

It’s lovely to have a CD (or a gig) include a blues — some musicians shy away from them for reasons not clear to me — and this one has a strolling THINGS AIN’T WHAT THEY USED TO BE, fun in itself but also a nod to the most famous association on Steve’s vita, his time with Ellington.  (Yes, he taught Bert and Ernie how to swing, but that’s another matter.)  Gershwin’s LIZA, which is often played at a burning tempo, is a saunter here; DON’T BLAME ME is more cheerful than usual — perhaps this trio hasn’t been blamed for anything wicked recently?  I’d believe that — and the disc closes with a just-right TANGERINE.  Juicy, fruitful.

Greg’s playing is a delight, mixing single-string explorations with chordal accents for variety.  He doesn’t overpower the listener with Olympian slaloms on the fretboard, but plays the song as if he were speaking affectionately to us.  Murray Wall is one of the great warm exponents of logical improvisation, and Steve Little’s brushwork is a swing school in itself.  (You won’t miss a piano.)  The result is kind to the ears, with breathing room and ease — at times I thought these tracks a series of witty dances (there is plenty of good humor in this trio, although no joke-quotes).  Delightful dance music even for people like me, who spend more time in a chair than they should.  In the best way, this is an old-fashioned session, with musicians who know that there is life in the Great American Songbook, and that it is spacious enough to allow them to express their personalities.  But there’s a refreshing homage to the melodies, first and last, that’s often not the case with jazz recordings.

You can hear substantial excerpts from the CD here, and download the music as well.  You can purchase the CD here, and visit Greg’s website and Facebook page as well, all of which should provide entertainment and edification for these shortened days and longer nights.

Of course, the best thing for people in the tri-state area to do would be to show up at a Greg Ruggiero gig, such as the CD release one at Mezzrow, and buy discs there.  But I don’t want to tell you what to do . . . or do I?

May your happiness increase!

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THE BOYS IN THE BAND: FROM THE McCONVILLE ARCHIVES (Part Five)

Identify all the gentlemen of the ensemble and win a prize  — either a can of Chase and Sanborn coffee or ten gallons of Texaco gasoline. 

A radio show sponsored by Chase and Sanborn began in 1929; violinist David Rubinoff led the orchestra on the Chase and Sanborn Hour from 1931. 

See Jerry Haendiges Vintage Radio Logs ( http://www.otrsite.com/logs/loge1005.htm#chase) for dates of some of the early shows. 

And an aside: Rubinoff was so famous as a “long-haired” violinist, but metaphorically and literally, that when I worked a part-time job as an undergraduate, my boss — who wanted all his employees clean-shaven and short-haired, would upbraid me when he thought I should get a haircut, “Who do you think you are, Rubinoff?”  I must have asked him — or my father — to explain the reference, but this was forty years after the photograph shown above.

 Here’s another famous radio orchestra with an immediately recognizable star:

Ed Wynn, of course, for Texaco, sometime between 1931 and 1935.  I love the gas pumps on stage and the fact that the people in the front row, men and women, are for the most part wearing Fire Chief helmets.  Take me back to that time and place!  Don Voorhees led the orchestra, and Graham MacNamee was the announcer who bantered with Ed. 

Here’s a site where you can hear and download fifteen episodes of this program for free: http://www.archive.org/details/TheFireChieftheEdWynnShow.  And — even more exciting — here’s a radio program with musical interludes including I GOT RHYTHM and LADY BE GOOD: http://oldradioshows.org/02/19/ed-wynn-signed-on-radio-as-first-vaudeville-talent/

I know my readers will leap to the challenge, even if they aren’t fighting over the coffee or the gasoline.  And heartfelt thanks to Leo McConville Jr. for providing these evocative glimpses into our past.  And thanks to Leo McConville Sr. — of course!

P.S.  My friend Enrico Borsetti, who is both gracious and generous, wrote me to say that he identified Joe Tarto on tuba in the Rubinoff shot and in the Texaco one he sees Scrappy Lambert, Tarto, Tony Parenti,  and Miff Mole, among others.  Grazie, Enrico!

SWINGING FOR ARTIE AND BENNY, 2010

I was delighted with the May 2010 concert series that Peter and William Reardon Anderson did in celebration of the music of Benny Goodman and Artie Shaw — a series that featured, among others, Jon-Erik Kellso, Ehud Asherie, and Kevin Dorn.  For those who couldn’t make it to East 59th Street in New York City, the boys have released a wonderful CD that contains the music they played on May 23, 2010, which would have been Shaw’s hundredth birthday.  What better way to celebrate?

Here are the details:

Anderson Twins Sextet celebrate Artie Shaw’s Centennial – CD- $15

Celebrating Artie Shaw and Benny Goodman
Recorded Live at 59E59 Theaters, NYC
May 23, 2010 (Artie Shaw’s 100th Birthday!)
All arrangements by Peter and Will Anderson

1. Avalon (A. Jolson)
2. What is This Thing Called Love (C. Porter)
3. Stardust (H. Carmichael)
4. Carioca (V. Youmans)
5. Moonglow (E. De Lange)
6. Stealin Apples (F. Waller)
7. Concerto for Clarinet (A. Shaw)
8. Frenesi (A. Dominguez)
9. China Boy (P. Boutelje)
10. Begine the Beguine (C. Porter)
11. Goodbye (G. Jenkins)
12. Shine (L. Brown)
13. Nightmare (A. Shaw)
14. Oh, Lady Be Good (Gerswhin)

Peter & Will Anderson (clarinets, saxes, flute)
Jon-Erik Kellso (trumpet)
Ehud Asherie (piano)
Clovis Nicolas (bass)
Kevin Dorn (drums)

To buy this product please e-mail:

andersontwinsjazz@gmail.com

I’ve been ejoying this disc and can enthusiastically recommend is as a neat mixture of hot improvisation and big-band charts reimagined for a tidy, energetic sextet.  The jam session numbers bring together some of my favorite New York musicians — people I have been celebrating here as long as I’ve had this blog — and the arranged songs both summon up the big bands and (in subversive ways) actually improve on the original charts by presenting them as slim, streamlined versions of the recordings we cherish.

BENT PERSSON PLAYS LOUIS: Conclusion

I hated to see this wonderfully expansive concert — Bent Persson’s marvelous evocations of big-band Louis Armstrong — come to an end.  These final seven selections explore Louis’s Decca period, here defined as 1935-41. 

A word about the Deccas — appropriate not only because of this concert, but because of the recent Mosaic box set.  As a body of work, they have provoked both defensive overpraise and criticism built on misunderstanding.  At this distance, readers who wish to see the Swing Era as a high point in creative improvised music have found it necessary to forget that the material the bands and musicians were given to record was of variable quality — popular music from films and Broadway shows, music meant for dancers.  Yes, a Porter, Berlin, Coslow, or Gershwin song could find its way in to the record session, but Ellington was playing CALL OF THE CANYON at Fargo. 

But this constant influx of new songs was not a bad thing.  Left to their own devices, many of the jazz artists we revere operate within a narrow repertoire, whether it is bounded by the blues and I GOT RHYTHM or a half-dozen other favorite songs.  We all admire what the 1936-40 Basie band did within such constraints, but this makes TAXI WAR DANCE and TICKLE-TOE all the more delightful.  So I don’t perceive Louis as shackled and victimized by Jack Kapp and Joe Glaser.  His band was ragged at times, and I can hear the terrifying sound of Bingie Madison’s clarinet even now, but Kapp made the right choices more often than not: repeating a take so that the clarinet passage would be in tune would have required Louis to play more and more, not a wise or generous use of his energies.  

Bent and the band do these majestic recordings justice and more: watching this concert is as close as I or anyone else will come to seeing Louis circa 1938, a magical experience.  And both he and the band are using the recordings as frameworks for improvisation: the band plays Bent’s versions of the arrangements, and his solos are certainly shaped by what Louis played, but they are variations on variations — alternate takes, if you will — rather than exact attempts at reproducing what Louis played in the studios.   

They began with that truly pretty tune (Louis didn’t play the verse, which is a pity — ask Jon-Erik Kellso to do it if the band knows the changes) from the film of the same name, THANKS A MILLION.  And the sweetly ethereal Elena P. Paynes of the Chicago Stompers shows us that expressing our gratitudes is always a good thing, as is Martin Litton’s pretty, ruminative solo chorus:

Bent took over the dramatic leadership of the next song — really a playlet, as acted by Louis in his first leap into film stardom, in PENNIES FROM HEAVEN — a clip I’ve posted elsewhere on this blog.  “The fun was loud and hearty, when a notorious wallflower became the life of the party!”  Here’s THE SKELETON IN THE CLOSET:

I assume that Louis was asked to perform ALEXANDER’S RAGTIME BAND, already a hoary standard, because of the musical film of the same name.  It’s a difficult arrangement, with Technicolor trappings (the march-band opening) and on the original Decca, even Louis has a moment’s trouble finding where he is . . . but Elena is in fine form, even given the wordy lyrics and the fast tempo:

I DOUBLE DARE YOU is a pretty swing tune, one that should have gotten more attention in its time — now, it seems the only people who play and sing it are trumpeters.  Would that there were other singers inviting us all to “get friendly” in Ludvig Carlson’s amiable way!  And there are some fine instrumental solos — Clerc, McQuaid, Munnery, and Bonnel — all backed by Nick Ward’s rocking drums:

SO LITTLE TIME isn’t musically complex, but Louis made something splendid out of it (as he did with TRUE CONFESSION and RED CAP); Elena makes this Swing version of tempus fugit truly winsome, and Bent adds his own majesty:

In the idealized Chicago period (the years some listeners think of as Louis’s only peak), Tommy Rockwell of OKeh Records wouldn’t let him record WHEN THE SAINTS GO MARCHING IN on the grounds of impiety.  Lucky for us that Jack Kapp’s musical world-view was broader, thus making it possible for Louis to explore this hymn as well as IN THE GLOAMING and ON A COCOANUT ISLAND.  Reverends Persson and Paynes offer a “mellow sermon” for us all:

Finally, Bent pays homage to Louis’s moving instrumental examination of the song he played in fragments every night for forty years — WHEN IT’S SLEEPY TIME DOWN SOUTH.  Luxuriant, I say:

Video recordings may give you a sense of what it was like to be there — not only the sound, but the musicians smiling at something perfectly apt that someone else has played or sung.  But videos are still not designed to be played in the car (unless you’re a lucky bored passenger) so I happily recommend an earlier compact disc recording of some of this material — a different band, solos, and vocals, but our Bent and Claes Brodda are there . . . so you know the heights will be scaled!  The project was issued on the late Gosta Hagglof’s Kenneth label as FOR THE LOVE OF SATCHMO, and the backing band is the very empathic and hot Royal Blue Melodians.  Ordering details can be found on the blogroll: click on “Classic Jazz Productions.”  (You’ll also find the CDs of Bent and friends playing Louis’s Hot Choruses and breaks, astonishing music.) 

K3416F

K3416B

 A million thanks to everyone involved in this concert.

NICE WORK IF YOU CAN GET IT

Benny Goodman, Teddy Wilson, and Gene Krupa back together again on television (although not the 1940s, as it is captioned).  Idyllically.

Not only is the song a wonderful Gershwin compostion, its title is so apt here.