Tag Archives: Giampaolo Biagi

THE NALEPKA FAMILY MUSICALE: BRIAN NALEPKA, NORA NALEPKA, TERRY WALDO, JOHN GILL, JAY LEPLEY, JON-ERIK KELLSO, JIM FRYER, EVAN ARNTZEN (FAT CAT, December 18, 2016)

Talent runs in the family, they say.  And in this case, they’re right.  Brian Nalepka, string bassist, tubaist, accordionist, singer, and sage jester, is someone I admire: when he’s on the scene, I know the beat will be there too, and it will be swinging.  His wife, Mary Shaughnessy, doesn’t sing; nor, as far as I know, does daughter Ella.  But Nora Nalepka does, and she’s very good at it.  This isn’t a post about swing nepotism, but one about music.

On the most recent appearance of Terry Waldo’s Gotham City Band at Fat Cat (75 Christopher Street, Greenwich Village, New York City) — Sunday, December 18, 2016 — I was there to document and enjoy not one, but two Nalepka musical offerings.

how_keep_em_on_farm1

Here’s Brian — “asking the musical question” HOW YA GONNA KEEP ‘EM DOWN ON THE FARM?, a Walter Donaldson melody and one of the witty and relevant hits of 1919, after the Great War had ended. His colleagues are Terry Waldo, piano; John Gill, banjo; Jay Lepley, drums; Jon-Erik Kellso, cornet (for the occasion); Jim Fryer, trombone; Evan Arntzen, reeds.  If you haven’t noticed it this far, Brian is not only a great rhythm player and soloist, but he is that most rare thing, a swinging entertainer.

Nora — more modern, a child of the late twentieth century — picked a more “contemporary” song . . . from 1934: the Nacio Herb Brown – Arthur Freed ALL I DO IS DREAM OF  YOU, which many of us know from its delightful part in the 1952 film SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN.

all-i-do-is-dream-of-you

and, for a reason, here is the first page of that folio:

all-i-do-page-two

Although this sweet song is a love ballad, most bands and singers take it at a brisk tempo, which flattens its yearning appeal.  Note “Slowly (with expression),” which is the way Nora sings it.

She knows how to convey feeling; she improvises gently; she swings.  Not surprising, perhaps, but immensely pleasing.

This is my second Nora-sighting (I wish it would happen bi-annually at the very least); here is my first, eleven months ago, her sweet rendition of I CAN’T BELIEVE THAT YOU’RE IN LOVE WITH ME.

And — a secret pleasure — the phrase that Terry improvises on in his solo is Jess Stacy’s introduction to the issued take of DIANE (Commodore, 1938) featuring Jack Teagarden.  Years of obsessive listening pay off.

Dear Ms. Nalepka, if you plan to make a CD — call it, perhaps, NORA NALEPKA SINGS ANCIENT SONGS OF LOVE — let me know and I’ll contribute to the crowdfunding.  And Father Brian, keep on doin’ what you’re doin’!

May your happiness increase!

REMEMBERING BILL DUNHAM (1928-2016)

Often the latest jazz news is an obituary notice. It’s not surprising given the age of some of my friends and heroes, but I don’t always linger on such news: if I immersed myself in it, I might become too sad to continue stating confidently that JAZZ LIVES.

BILL D one

But I will make an exception for William B. Dunham — known to me as Bill, known earlier in his life as Hoagy.  For more than half a century he was the regular pianist with the Grove Street Stompers, who play on Monday nights at Arthur’s Tavern in Greenwich Village, New York.

Bill died on January 11: details here.

Like most of us, Bill had many facets he showed to the world.  Officially he was a New York City real estate eminence who signed his emails thusly:

William B. Dunham
Licensed Real Estate Broker
Barrow Grove Associates Inc.
P.O. Box 183, Cooper Station P.O.
New York, NY 10276-0183

But this serious signature was only one side of a man who was at heart puckish. I’d met him perhaps a decade ago and we had become friendly, so when I hadn’t seen or heard from him last year, I emailed him in August to ask if all was well, and got this response:

Hey Michael……………….Thanks for asking. For a couple of doddering old geriatrics we are doing OK – not quite at the strained food stage. I have had a little problem which has kept me out of Arthur’s. Getting better.

Blog recommendation. Every Sunday from 12:30 – 2:30 a great trio at Cafe Loup on 13th Street. Piano, bass and guitar. Not to be missed! Could you video there?

Our cat population has dwindled by 50%. We had to download Manning because he tended to bite. Love bites mind you. I used to enjoy the occasional love bite – but not by a cat!

Let me know if you ever want to visit Cafe Loup on a Sunday…………

Best……Bill

PS……….LOVE your blogs!!

That was the Bill Dunham I will always remember: the enthusiastic jazz-lover who turned up at gigs, always beautifully dressed, the man who marveled at the music and the musicians, who would email me to share his delight in a video I’d just posted.  He and his wife Sonya were a reliable couple at New York City jazz gigs, cheerful and ardent.

I don’t remember whether I first met Bill at Arthur’s Tavern and then at gigs or the reverse, but our early correspondence was often his urging me to come down to hear the Grove Street Stompers on a Monday night, or telling me what wonderful things had happened the previous Monday.  I am afraid I put him off fairly consistently, because I have taught early-morning Tuesday classes for thirty years and even when the GSS gig ended at ten, I yawned my way through my work.  But I did make my way down there — with camera — one night in 2010, and recorded this performance, the regular band with guest stars Dan Barrett, cornet; J. Walter Hawkes, trombone (later in the evening Rossano Sportiello took to the piano):

Others in that band are Peter Ballance, trombone (seen here in front of the narrow bandstand, keeping track of the songs played that night); Joe Licari, clarinet; Giampaolo Biagi, drums; Skip Muller, string bass.

Here is a more recent still photograph of that band, with Scott Ricketts, cornet; Steve Little, drums:

BILL D at Arthurs Ballance Ricketts Licari Little perhaps MullerAs a pianist, Bill was an ensemble player who offered the plain harmonies as the music moved along.  He knew this, and did not seek to inflate his talents: when I saw him at a gig where Rossano Sportiello or Mark Shane was at the keyboard, he spoke of them and their playing as versions of the unreachable ideal.  He was proud of the Grove Street Stompers as a durable organism upholding the collective love of jazz, but modest about himself.

A digression.  Bill became one of my most enthusiastic blog-followers but he often found technology baffling, which is the right of people who came to computers late in life.  WordPress would inexplicably unsubscribe him from JAZZ LIVES, and I would get a plaintive telephone call and then attempt — becoming Customer Service — to walk him through the steps that would re-establish a connection.  Once the complication was beyond my powers to fix on the telephone, and since I knew I was coming in to Manhattan, I offered to come to his apartment and fix things there, which he happily accepted.  There I found out about the four cats — I don’t remember their names, and since I was a stranger, they went into hiding (perhaps they didn’t like something I’d posted on the blog?) and I never saw them.

Once I fixed the connection, because it was noon, Bill offered me a glass of iced gin, which I declined, and spoke of his other jazz obsession — Wild Bill Davison. Wild Bill, when he was in New York City in between gigs, would come down to Arthur’s and play, and Bill (Dunham) spoke happily of those encounters: he’d also become a WBD collector, but not in the usual way: Bill’s goal was to acquire a copy of every recording WBD had ever made, perhaps on every label and every speed. I was awe-struck, but perhaps tactlessly asked if this was like collecting stamps, because WBD’s solos had become more worked-out than not. To his credit, Bill agreed.

He also had a substantial collection of paper ephemera and memorabilia. However, by the time I’d met him and had this blog, any ideas of an interview were brushed aside, “Michael!” he’d say, laughing, “I can barely remember my wife’s name!”

Before I’d ever met Bill, though, I knew of him as a youthful eminence in ways more important to me.  He had graduated from Harvard in 1952.  To my mind, this made him a truly sentient being — even if gentlemen at Harvard those days aimed no higher than a C, I believe those C grades meant something.  He was seriously involved with jazz before I was able to crawl.

Thanks to my dear friend John L. Fell, I heard a tape of Bill in 1951 as part of the Harvard jazz band, the Crimson Stompers — including drummer Walt Gifford — on a session where clarinetist Frank Chace, visiting Boston, had been the star. In Manfred Selchow’s book on Edmond Hall, I learned that Hall had been recorded at an informal session in 1948, and “Hoagy Dunham” had played piano on ROYAL GARDEN BLUES. I had a cassette copy of what remained of those sessions.  At some point I copied these tapes onto another cassette and sent them to Bill, who was ecstatic.  Through Jeanie Wilson, Barbara Lea’s dearest friend, I learned that Bill — for a very short time — had dated Barbara, and I got Bill to write his memories when Barbara died, which you can read here.  Here is a post in which Bill figures — both in a black-and-white photograph of himself, Barbara, and the Stompers, and a Harvard news story where he is “Hoagie” Dunham.

Another photograph of the Crimson Stompers, from drummer Walt Gifford’s scrapbook, tenderly maintained by Duncan Schiedt:

CRIMSON STOMPERS 11 48

And here is Bill, as a JAZZ LIVES stringer or jazz town crier, with some New York news (hilariously).

A few memories from cornetist Scott Ricketts, seen above with Bill on the bandstand —

“At the end of a set, Bill would refer to Arthur’s as ‘The West Side’s Finest Supper Club’. But the only food I ever saw there was in the 25 cent glass peanut machine in the front.”  

“Bill would always close the set (over Mood Indigo) by telling the audience, “Have a couple of Wild Turkeys, we’ll be right back.” At the band’s 50th anniversary party, I asked Bill if he was having a Wild Turkey? He said ‘No, I don’t drink that stuff!'”

And a neat summation from a cousin of  Bill’s:

“Bill was a terrific guy, who served in the military in Korea and then came back to attend Harvard on the GI bill. He was a bit of a renaissance man; having gone to Harvard, worked on Wall Street, been a noted jazz musician (his real passion), and then into real estate. I was fortunate enough to get to see him just a few weeks ago, and we coaxed him to play some music on the piano in the front lobby of the assisted living home they were visiting with their daughter. He still had it then.”

How might people count their lives well-lived?  To me (and the person who has made the transition can only know this in some spiritual way) if you’ve lived your life properly, people miss you when you are no longer there.  I know I will from now on think, “I wonder if  Bill will show up tonight?” when I am seated at a particular gig — and then have to remind myself that he won’t.  I send my condolences to Sonya, and Bill’s daughter Amy.

My jazz universe and my personal universe are smaller and less vibrant because of Bill’s death.

Thanks so much to Alison Birch for her generous help in this blogpost.

And “this just in,” thanks to Joseph Veltre and ancestry.com — Bill’s picture from the 1952 Harvard yearbook:

BILL DUNHAM 1952

May your happiness increase!

DAN BARRETT HAS PLANS FOR THE EVENING OF MONDAY, SEPT. 24, 2012

Dan Barrett thinks ahead . . . and he is coming to New York City for an all-too-brief sojourn, with stops at The Ear Inn, Birdland, Little Branch, and other places.  But after his work on the First Traditional Jazz Workshop at Chautauqua, New York and the party — Jazz at Chautauqua — that follows, he will be putting his horn together the following Monday night to join the Grove Street Stompers at Arthur’s Tavern at 57 Grove Street (that’s Greenwich Village, New York) for a 7-10 PM musicale.  Dan will be joined by pianist Bill Dunham for the first set, Ehud Asherie for the two following sets; Giampaolo Biagi, drums; Jack Stuckey, clarinet; Barry Bryson, trumpet; Kelly Friesen, string bass.

I am sure that others will drop by . . . get there early, as Arthur’s has been known to fill up with the faithful!

May your happiness increase.

MODERN SWINGMATISM: MICHAEL BANK’S BIG 7 at SOMETHIN’ JAZZ (May 5, 2012)

I first met pianist / composer Michael Bank about eight years ago and was impressed by his swing playing and his uncliched way of getting from A to B on the most familiar song.  He always swings and he always surprises — but in a sweetly nonabrasive way.  Often I heard him with Kevin Dorn’s bands, and he was not only a fine soloist but a perceptive, supportive ensemble player.  Most recently, I caught him, guitarist Matt Smith, bassist Murray Wall, and drummer Giampaolo Biagi at the Brooklyn jazz club Puppets, where he offered some standards but a number of intriguing originals.

I was delighted to learn that Michael would be bringing his “Big 7” (an octet, if you’re keeping track) to the very pleasant East Side jazz club SOMETHIN’ JAZZ — 212 East 52nd Street, between Second and Third — last Saturday, May 5, 2012.  I knew some of the members already: Simon Wettenhall, trumpet; Murray Wall, string bass; Matt Smith, guitar; Steve Little, drums — and others were very pleasant surprises or affirmations of what I already knew: Sam Burtis, trombone; Mike Mullens, alto saxophone; Paul Nedzela, baritone saxophone.

Michael’s compositions often have elusive names but their melodies don’t run away from the listener.  And to my ears they inhabit a spacious universe that looks back to Willie “the Lion” Smith and off to the left to the Birth of the Cool, visiting the Keynote and the Vanguard studios, saying Hi to the 1938 Basie band and the 1940 Ellington orchestra — but without a hint of archaeology or “repertory.”  Modern swing is what I call it — and I am entirely aware of how those two words are weighted in jazz talk.  All I know is that I was smiling behind my video camera, with a multitude of delightful surprises entering my consciousness, and wanting to tap my foot.  You will hear why!

And — just to state what should be obvious — SOMETHIN’ JAZZ is a wonderful place to hear music.  I encourage listeners in the New York area to find this out for themselves.

The first of Michael’s wittily titled originals is MINOR CHANGES.  What a lovely sound he gets from his players!

Here’s SYNAESTHESIA, with a nice bounce.  If memory serves, that title refers to the magical cross-currents of sensory perception.  Marian McPartland said that to her the key of D was a color — daffodil yellow.  Lucky people who can taste their words as well as simply reading them (something jazz musicians do all the time):

LL 3 — featuring tombonist Sam Burtis, who peeks out from behind his music stand to make rich sounds:

How about something in honor of rabbits, Rabbits, and Rhythm changes?  COTTON TAIL:

One of Michael’s mentors — most rewardingly — was the pianist / composer / thinker Jaki Byard, and this is FOR JAKI:

And the next logical leap was to Byard’s swinging ONE NOTE:

After a break, the band reassembled for Michael’s own take on that March 17 anthem — here called simply IRISH EYES:

TAKING A CHANCE ON LOVE is always a good thing!  Savor the lovely dark introduction:

Ellington’s GOIN’ UP — connected solidly to the previous song by a musical thread:

Michael’s next original is called DIASCHESIS (which — when I looked it up — means “loss of function and electrical activity in an area of the brain due to a lesion in a remote area that is neuronally connected with it).  I have to believe that the title is completely satiric: everything is functioning splendidly in this band!  And I told Michael that I knew big words too — like “delicatessen”:

And here’s a feature for the rhythm section, I HEAR A RHAPSODY:

I had to leave before the final selection was concluded — but it was a rocking blues, both reassuringly familiar and full of surprising curves and angles.

I love and admire this band.  In my ideal world — which isn’t that far from realization — they have a steady weekly gig and I can bring my friends to hear them . . . soon, I hope!

May your happiness increase.

I HEARD A BRASS BAND COMING DOWN THE STREET (March 7, 2012)

Perhaps my title is slightly inaccurate.  I didn’t see this brass band coming down the street; rather, they slowly and cheerfully assembled themselves on the imagined bandstand of Radegast Bierhalle in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, around nine o’clock on Wednesday, March 7, 2012. 

But they were a stirring group.  No surprise, because Gordon Au was in charge (he wields his power very lightly and politely) of this different-yet-exhilarating version of the Grand Street Stompers.  Different in that the front line was entirely brass — not brassy, but three players of brass instruments: Gordon on cornet; Jim Fryer on trombone and euphonium; Matt Musselman on trombone, with a rhythmic rhythm section of Nick Russo, banjo; Peter Maness, string bass; Giampaolo Biagi, drums.  They rocked, they strode, they created a joyous atmosphere.  And the two trombones gave this band a solid center that delighted me — especially since Jim and Matt are wonderful ensemble players, skilled at dancing around the other horns with great grace.  For me, it summoned up sweet memories of one of the first jazz groups I ever saw in concert — the World’s Greatest Jazz Band at a 1969 New York City concert steered by Dick Gibson (Zoot, Al, and Joe Newman were in one group) featuring the trombone duo of Vic Dickenson and Eddie Hubble, memorably. 

At the end of this set, I left to get some sleep before my appointed rounds began on Thursday morning, but I asked Gordon if he would consider other unusual balances and instrumentations for the GSS, since this one was a honey.  We shall see!  Gordon called an easy one to start, but a meaningful choice.  Even though he is a young man, he understands something about jazz’s responsibility to remind people that life is finite and you had better have a good time — so CABARET, a Broadway-via-Christopher Isherwood carpe diem, made sense to set the mood of the evening.  It also harks back to everyone’s patron Saint, Mister Armstrong . . . it’s impossible for me to hear this song without thinking of Louis, which is always a good thing:

To quote Cootie Williams, “Ain’t the gravy good?”

I wouldn’t be surprised if Gordon is telepathic, for he certainly seemed to be reading my mind.  LIMEHOUSE BLUES, with the verse, was the feature number when I saw Vic and Eddie Hubble with the WGJB, so I was more than pleased to hear it here:

On the theme of psychic abilities . . . there’s a lady they call THE GYPSY.  Thank you, Louis!  And thank you, GSS — Jim Fryer’s euphonium sound is good enough to eat:

The GRAND STREET Stompers then launched into CANAL STREET BLUES — a geographical paradox that upset no one::

And here’s Gordon’s winning original, ONCE, DEAR:

I was thrilled to hear I MAY BE WRONG — memories of the John Kirby Sextet and (more memorably for me) a 1960 recording of the song by Joe Thomas, Pee Wee Russell, Vic Dickenson . . . on Prestige-Swingville:

Without a hint of uncertainty, the GSS proceeded to light up Charlie Shavers’ UNDECIDED:

And going back to Louis — BLUEBERRY HILL:

It was a wonderful set by a wonderful band . . . .

May your happiness increase.

‘WAY DOWN YONDER IN WILLIAMSBURG: GORDON AU’S GRAND STREET STOMPERS (May 12, 2011)

I made my monthly pilgrimage to the Radegast Bierhall in Williamsburg, Brooklyn last Thursday (May 12, 2011) and had a delightful evening with trumpeter / composer Gordon Au’s Grand Street Stompers. 

The May edition of the GSS had Gordon, Matt Musselman on trombone, Matt Koza on clarinet, Davy Mooney on guitar, Rob Adkins on bass, and Giampaolo Biagi on drums.

The GSS did what they do so well: they swung, they had a wonderful ensemble sound and rocking motion; they created beautiful solos.  And in the manner of the late Ruby Braff, Gordon showed himself once again to be not only a soaring trumpeter but a peerless on-the-spot arranger, setting up little duets and exchanges on the bandstand.  Here are ten examples of this band’s easy grace.

The first tune comes with its own story.  I had fallen in love with the 1922 or 3 bit of manufactured sentimentality for the Old South and Mammy’s nest, TUCK ME TO SLEEP IN MY OLD ‘TUCKY HOME, ever since I heard John Reynolds sing it at this year’s Monterey Jazz Bash by the Bay.  (Pianist Chuck Folds had once written that Vic Dickenson loved to play it, so I hear Vic in my mind’s ear as I write this.)

When the GSS began their first song, I knew I had heard it but didn’t recognize it.  It sounded good — and then, as they say in the UK, the penny dropped: it was ‘TUCKY HOME.  What a treat!  Dig it for yourselves:

Then, a famous “Dixieland” standard — bringing Eddie Condon’s club to Brooklyn, FIDGETY FEET:

Gordon’s musical imagination is anything but narrow (as previous posts have shown): here’s an “Afro-Cuban” composition by Arturo O’Farrill, CAMPINA:

I associate SOUTH with the Bennie Moten band, with California revivalist groups, and a wonderful session pairing Louis and the Dukes of Dixieland:

I don’t know why my mind retains such things, but after the band launched into ABA DABA HONEYMOON with a fine lope, I recalled that Debbie Reynolds and Carleton Carpenter had performed it in some MGM musical — and that its cheerfully silly lyrics delineate (politely) the romance of the chimpanzee and the monk.  You figure it out while I listen to the GSS:

Cross-species love having its happy ending, the GSS could move to less biologically-fraught terrain wittheir tribute to the 1927 Hot Seven masterpiece, POTATO HEAD BLUES (whose title caused such scholarly commotion on this blog some months back).  Not only is it an engaging composition on its own, but the ensemble version of Louis’s solo is a real delight:

Here’s one of Gordon’s characteristically winding originals — it doesn’t always land where you think it might, which is a lovely thing.  The title is SO MUCH FOR LOVE, and I hope Gordon will set lyrics to this melody (he’s a fine lyricist, too):

A night with the Grand Street Stompers wouldn’t be complete without one of their excursions into Disney territory — here, ZIP-A-DEE-DOO-DAH, which swings from the start.  Catch the impromptu brass riff behind Matt Koza’s second chorus:

For Louis or Fats Domino?  I couldn’t tell, but BLUEBERRY HILL still works, more than sixty years later, especially with plunger mute:

And an old-time jam session favorite to end this posting, I NEVER KNEW:

Its title is slightly off, because the Grand Street Stompers surely know . . . .

I believe that they will be at Radegast on June 15, for a CD release party — not to be missed!

PAY ATTENTION! JAKE SANDERS IS MAKING MUSIC

Guitarist and banjoist Jake Sanders must have gotten tired of being told that his first name — in Twenties slang — is a synonym for “great,” as in “Everything’s Jake!” meaning things couldn’t be better . . . but the name fits.

Youthful Mr. Sanders creates lovely melodies; he knows how to swing; his musical vocabulary is broad and rich without ever being artificially enhanced.

JAZZ LIVES viewers have seen him here as one of the guiding lights of the Cangelosi Cards.  Now, Jake is doing some New York City gigs on his own, and will be dividing his time between Wisconsin and New York — so I encourage you to get out and hear him!

Jake’s gig calendar can be found here:

http://www.losmusicosviajeros.net/home/cangelosi-cards/calendar.html

But here’s something to pay attention to — an upcoming gig at the cozy Jalopy Theatre in Red Hook, Brooklyn, on May 27, 2011.  From 9 to 10, Jake will play an opening set in a duo with guitarist Marko Gazic, presenting acoustic traditional guitar music from Mexico and Europe.  Then, Jake’s Quintet will play two sets — he’ll be joined by my heroes Gordon Au (trumpet), Will Anderson (reeds), Rob Adkins (bass), and Giampaolo Biagi (drums).  Andrew Nemr will also tap dance for a few songs in each set.

P. S.  I won’t be there — because I’ll be in Sacramento at the Jubilee.  Does anyone want to audition for the position of JAZZ LIVES videographic understudy?

TERRY WALDO’S GOTHAM CITY BAND at FAT CAT (Nov. 14, 2010)

Although sometimes I imagine my favorite musicians luxuriating in the absolute quiet of a concert hall, the truth is that hot jazz flourishes in places that would seem inimical to it. 

One of those places is Fat Cat, 75 Christopher Street (off Seventh Avenue South) in New York City — whose main room is primarily given over to billard tables, always in use.  The jazz ensemble is often standing on one side of the room, the lighting sufficiently indistinct to make identifying the musicians a challenge. 

Still, pianist Terry Waldo has an irregularly-regular Sunday gig there with his Gotham City Band, and the edition I saw this last Sunday was full of New York’s finest jazz musicians: Peter Ecklund on cornet and fluegelhorn; Jim Fryer on trombone, euphonium (or “euphemism” as he suggested), and the occasional vocal; Dan Levinson on clarinet and tenor sax; Jay Leonhart on bass and vocals; Giampaolo Biagi on drums.

Here are some performances I captured, and, yes, one’s eyes do get used to the visual murk.  First (appropriately?) is CHINATOWN, MY CHINATOWN — “where the lights are low”:

Then, something extraordinary.  Trombonist Jim Fryer, man of many talents, came forward for a feature — an energized, acrobatic duet with Terry on Morton’s GRANDPA’S SPELLS.  After the set had concluded, I told Jim that he was now “Jim Flyer”:

Then, one of Terry’s melancholic / romantic original tunes, seated somewhere between 1928 dance-band music and Sixties AM pop, THE FOOL:

THERE’LL BE SOME CHANGES MADE (or is it PLAYED?) with a vocal by the talented Mr. Flyer:

And another band-within-a-band, the Greenwich Village Red Hot Peppers of Levinson, Waldo, and Biagi, performing Morton’s SHREVEPORT STOMP:

Finally, a new twist on an endearing old tune — adding a habanera rhythm (or is it just the Spanish tinge?) to IDA, SWEET AS APPLE CIDER, which features a lovely conversation between Dan’s tenor sax and Jim’s euphonium:

Terry’s sechedule of gigs — including solo piano at Banjo Jim’s — can be found at his website, http://www.terrywaldo.com.

DAN BARRETT, THE GROVE STREET STOMPERS, and FRIENDS (Oct. 18, 2010)

Bill Dunham, the pianist-leader of the Grove Street Stompers, will proudly tell you that the band’s unbroken run of Monday nights at Arthur’s Tavern, the “West Side’s smartest supper club,” began in 1959 — a record indeed! 

Monday, October 18, 2010, was a special night because Dan Barrett brought his own jubilant energy and a borrowed cornet.  Dan’s cornet playing is a great joy, both clipped and lyrical.  On this horn, he comes from the great tradition, echoing Louis, Bobby, Ruby, Sweets, Buck, and more, but the result always sounds like Barrett, which is the way it’s supposed to be.

Dan inspired the GSS: Bill on piano, Peter Ballance on trombone and announcements, Joe Licari on clarinet, Skip Muller on bass, and Giampaolo Biagi on drums.

Here are three selections from that evening.  JUST A CLOSER WAlK WITH THEE is one of those “Dixieland chestnuts” that usually descends into cliche, but not with the preaching trombone of guest J. Walter Hawkes, welcome at any gig:

A rousing THERE’LL BE SOME CHANGES MADE called to mind the ecstatic Condon recording for Columbia in the early Fifties:

And at the end of the evening, Bill gracefully gave up his seat at the piano to the Maestro, Rossano Sportiello, and they swung out on OH, BABY!: 

At the Tavern, the Creole Cooking Jazz Band (featuring Lee Lorenz, Dick Dreiwitz, Barbara Dreiwitz, and others) plays on Sundays, Eve Silber (often with Michael Hashim) holds down Wednesdays, and the Monday-night ensemble includes Peter Ecklund or Barry Bryson on trumpet / cornet.  Other guests have included Bria Skonberg, Emily Asher, and Bob Curtis.  Arthur’s Tavern (some spell it Arthurs) is located at 57 Grove Street in Greenwich Village, New York City, and the Sunday sessions run from 7-10 PM.

MICHAEL BANK QUARTET at PUPPETS JAZZ BAR (Oct. 28, 2010)

Puppets Jazz Bar, in Park Slope (that’s 481 5th Avenue in Brooklyn) was new to me, but owner Jaime Affoumado — a jazz drummer himself — told me that it’s been thriving for six years.  Puppets is a delightful spot, with vegan / vegetarian dishes, intriguing drinks, a first-rate piano, and a clear view of the band.  

Pianist Michael Bank isn’t new to me, and that’s a pleasure in itself.  His playing combines the best elements of timeless mainstream / modern / swing: it’s only logical that he should have studied with Jaki Byard, played alongside Fats Waller’s guitarist Al Casey.  Michael always swings and adds his own idiosyncratic touches to even the most well-behaved melody statement. 

Michael can offer authentic Wallerisms and Ellingtonian touches, but he isn’t a clone of anyone, and his sly, subtle playing melds the lightness I associate with Wilson and Basie with more exploratory harmonies — a perfect fit. 

For this evening, Michael was joined by two veterans of the New York jazz scene: bassist Murray Wall and drummer Giampaolo Biagi — and a new face, the young guitarist Matt Smith.  Here’s the first set plus a swinging feature for Murray.  

To begin with, Michael called the most “ordinary” opening song anyone could think of — an easy ON THE SUNNY SIDE OF THE STREET, in C.  But notice his intriguing twists and turns, his delicacy and humor.  There’s nothing formulaic here:

Kern’s YESTERDAYS often labors under the morose seriousness the lyrics suggest: this performance (thanks to Giampaolo’s and Murray’s strong pulse) makes me think that the halcyon days were spent uptown at the Savoy Ballroom, even though Matt’s chiming lines come from a few decades later:

I associate YOU STEPPED OUT OF A DREAM with Bobby Hackett — but the energetic rocking of this quartet shows that this dream is a swing fantasy:

GONE WITH THE WIND is one of those twining songs I can’t hear often enough: its melody alone is a pleasure.  Matt’s backwards-looking lines are intriguing exercises in balancing the notes in his own good time.  And Michael’s solo chorus is worth the wait — both thoughtful and hilariously exuberant:

Murray Wall proposed (in response to Giampaolo’s suggestion that they play some Ellington music) his own I GOT IT BAD, which again took the typically sad song and shook it up happily and plausibly.  Ellington had the finest bass players; he would have loved this version:

Michael Bank doesn’t come down to New York City often enough for my taste.  As a soloist and leader, he’s worth looking out for!

THE GROVE STREET STOMPERS

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As fond as I am of the West Village, I can’t say that Grove Street is architecturally distinguished.  But it is memorable for the landmark shown above — Arthur’s Tavern — where pianist Bill Dunham has led the Grove Street Stompers for forty-seven years of Monday nights.  By even the most stringent calculations, that’s over seven thousand sets of loose improvised jazz, over seven thousand brief renditions of “Mood Indigo,” the song that the Stompers use as their closing theme.  I’ll leave it to Bill, who is charmingly gregarious, to list the great jazz players who have been regulars or guests in that astonishing long run.

Last night was a particularly unusual Monday for me: my college had closed itself down because of the snow, and I was unexpectedly free to hear some live jazz.  I hadn’t been at Arthur’s for some time, so I decided to visit an old haunt.  Bill had told me that his front line was going to feature cornetist Randy Reinhart and clarinetist Joe Muranyi, which was an inducement to brave the cold winds.  Bill would be on piano, and regulars Peter Ballance (trombone and general keeper-of-decorum) and drummer Giampaolo Biagi would be there.  Bassist Tim Ferguson and pianist-visitor Ron Ferry completed the dramatis personae.

The Stompers are a home-grown jazz band in the finest old style: drawing on a wide variety of material, they take medium-tempo jogs through spirituals, pop tunes, Tin Pan Alley classics, Condon and Armstrong favorites, and jazz evergreens.  Last night, “Dixieland” was represented by CHINA BOY, CHANGES MADE, DO YOU KNOW WHAT IT MEANS TO MISS NEW ORLEANS?, I FOUND A NEW BABY, JUST A CLOSER WALK WITH THEE, SWEET GEORGIA BROWN and a few more.  But the band’s range is happily broader: THE BEST THINGS IN LIFE ARE FREE, WININ’ BOY BLUES, OUT OF NOWHERE, and MY BUDDY lit up the place.

A word about “lighting up the place.”  The Tavern should be seen not only for the music, but for its general decor.  On the wall above my head, signs wishing me a Happy Halloween were much in evidence; over the bar’s cash register was a sign reading CLOSED, and strings of brightly colored lights — Christmas, probably — are always on.  The wine list is, shall we say, limited, but the amiable waitress was busy supplying everyone’s alcohol-related needs.  I was fortunate to be among friendly Spouses: Sonya Dunham and Nina Favara (Mrs. Reinhart) who were listening intently and cheering the band on.

And the music?  Well, the Stompers are the very antithesis of slick.  Yes, there is an occasional lead sheet passed around in case someone in uncertain about the chords on the bridge, but any arranging is done in the heat of the moment.  Last night, Randy decided, as he always does, to act as a prime mover, and he drove the band, choosing to play brass eight-bar trades with trombonist Peter, to leap into solos as if his life depended on it, to show off his beautiful command of the horn from bottom to top, mixing Berigan and Fifties Mainstream with delicacy and fervor.  Joe Muranyi, who’s seen many ensembles come and go, including Louis’s, was in fine quiet form, showing off his lovely chalumeau register.  The regulars — Bill, Peter, and Giampaolo — aren’t fancy, and their solos are concise, but they’ve got the feeling.  And Tim Ferguson, someone I’d not heard before, kept everything in good order and took nice resonant solos.

This musical convocation takes place from 7-10 on Monday nights, and worth the trip — just south of the Christopher Street / Sheridan Square subway stop.  The Stompers won’t necessarily be there for another forty-seven years, so you might well want to visit.

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