Tag Archives: Godwin Louis

IRRESISTIBLE DANCE MUSIC: “EARLY BLUE EVENING,” ANDY FARBER and his ORCHESTRA (ArtistShare 0186)

I shy away from hperbole, but the new CD by Andy Farber and his Orchestra is a triumph.

Watch, listen, and marvel:

I was informed just a few days ago of a package — the new CD by Andy Farber and his Orchestra, EARLY BLUE EVENING — and I started to play it and was so very delighted. It feels so comfortable and so convincing. It was a working band (for the musical AFTER MIDNIGHT) and it has that lovely cohesion that ensembles with regular work acquire — a sort of assurance, that “We know the way home,” so prevalent in the Swing Era and beyond. Listeners will hear evocations of the blessed past, of Basie and Ellington, but this CD is light-years away from a ghost band or “a cover band.” They are creating, not recreating, with heart and wit and strength. The CD features nine originals — memorable ones — two standards, and the wonderful appearance of Catherine Russell. Here’s the collective personnel, with a reed section adept in flute, clarinet, bass clarinet, and other wonderful things.

Andy Farber: leader, alto, tenor, baritone saxophones; arranger, composer
REEDS: Mark Gross, Godwin Louis, Dan Block, Lance Bryant, Carl Maraghi
TRUMPETS: Brian Pareschi, Bruce Harris, Shawn Edmonds, James Zoller
TROMBONES: Art Baron, Wayne Goodman, Dion Tucker
RHYTHM: James Chirillo, guitar; Adam Birnbaum, piano; Jennifer Vincent, string bass; Alvester Garnett, drums.

You’ll notice it’s a large ensemble but it’s never ponderous. I kept thinking of how splendid it was to hear an orchestra with the power of a Broadway pit ensemble and the sleek witty grace of a small group. (My mind collects bits of data, as crows collect shiny objects, and I kept thinking of rotund Jimmy Rushing, who was a great nimble dancer.) I know some of the musicians through decades of admiring their work in person, others through their recordings, and they are superb — bridging the noble past and the delighted present with such grace.

Other factors that don’t always get mentioned are these: Andy’s compositions are vividly alive, and they don’t sound alike . . . they have scope and humor, so there’s none of the repetitive claustrophobia that some CDs have, where one wakes from a half-dream, saying, “Is it track 19 already?” And that scope extends as well to the recorded sound: you’ll notice in the video, no baffles and headphone — so the sound is what you would hear if you were seated in front of the band — only better.

I know the philosophical-practical question comes up, “Given all the music I have already and what I can access, why in the name of Emile Berliner should I buy another CD? And why this one?”

The answer comes in two parts. If you like jazz that swings without being self-conscious about it, a wonderful large group leavened with tasty soloists and neat section work, a phenomenal rhythm section, you’ll like this. To be simpler: perhaps the test of any purchase should I be, “Will this make me happier than if I hadn’t bought it?” It would be presumptuous to say YES to this singular audience, with its own likes and detestations . . . but YES.

This band rocks. Go back to FEET AND FRAMES if you need a booster shot of genuineness. I said it is irresistible dance music: my dancing days never happened, but I am gyrating in my chair as I write this.

And the second part of the answer is just as plain . . . jazz fans who truly “love the music” know that art is not free, and that we are in the delightful position — not a burden — of being able to support what gives us pleasure. And last I saw, musicians like paying their rent and having semi-regular meals also.

You can purchase a CD with all the side dishes — or a download at the ArtistShare website here.Then you won’t have to ask yourself HOW AM I TO KNOW? Because you will KNOW.

May your happiness increase!

“ONE OF THE GREAT WAYS TO LEARN IS TO DO SOMETHING WRONG”: JERRY DODGION SPEAKS

This interview of the splendid and splendidly durable reed master Jerry Dodgion (born in 1932) created by Ed Joffe, is quite wonderful — not only in his stories of Gerald Wilson, Charlie Mariano, Shorty Rogers, Red Norvo, Frank Sinatra, Erroll Garner, Bill Evans, Jerome Richardson, Thad Jones, Mel Lewis, Joe Newman, Frank Wess, Cannonball Adderley, Coleman Hawkins, Godwin Louis, the importance of the acoustic string bass, playing in a section, and more — but the insight Jerry offers us into the music.

What comes through here is a gentle portrait of a man thoroughly imbued with gratitude, humility, kindness.  That Jerry Dodgion is a saxophone master is beyond dispute: that he exudes the calm sweet intelligence of a fully-realized human being is also evident throughout.  “Life is a learning experience.”  “Get your pen out!”

Even if Jerry Dodgion is not familiar to you, you’ve heard his beautiful sound on many recordings, and the interview is wonderfully rewarding.  Don’t miss the final minutes of this video — his unaccompanied chorus of THAT’S ALL, which is memorable and more.

Here is the source — Joffe Woodwinds — to which we owe a debt of gratitude.

May your happiness increase!

DAN BLOCK AND HIS MÖBIUS TRAVELERS at SMALLS, PART THREE (February 3, 2017): DAN BLOCK, GODWIN LOUIS, ADAM BIRNBAUM, JENNIFER VINCENT, ALVESTER GARNETT

I offer here the final segment of a glorious evening that also happened to be Dan Block’s birthday.  But rather than waiting for cake and gift cards, Dan bestowed presents on us.

The Mobius Travelers (my band name, not Dan’s) are Dan Block, clarinet and tenor; Godwin Louis, alto saxophone; Adam Birnbaum, piano; Jennifer Vincent, string bass; Alvester Garnett, drums, who convened for an ecstatic musical evening at Smalls (West Tenth Street, New York City) on February 3, 2017. The imaginative premise: revitalize obscure Swing Era compositions and arrangements by (among others) Mary Lou Williams, Benny Carter, Billy Moore, Fletcher Henderson, Edgar Sampson.

Here are the selections performed earlier in the evening, and some words in addition.

Now, the three closing performances — full of juice and surprises.

CANCER, from Mary Lou’s “ZODIAC SUITE”:

PUDDIN’ HEAD SERENADE, Mary Lou’s creation for the Andy Kirk band:

And to close, Benny Carter’s BLUES IN MY HEART, that segues into a let’s-celebrate-the-leader HAPPY BIRTHDAY, a riotous ending to a memorable evening.

May your happiness increase!

DAN BLOCK AND HIS MÖBIUS TRAVELERS at SMALLS, PART TWO (February 3, 2017): DAN BLOCK, GODWIN LOUIS, ADAM BIRNBAUM, JENNIFER VINCENT, ALVESTER GARNETT

I will indulge myself in a slight repetition of the first part of this blogpost, which you can read and hear here.  It explains the beautiful image above.

Dan Block, one of the most consistently inspired creators I know, respects the music of the Swing Era and knows it deeply, but has chosen his own path through these two polarities. It’s hard to explain verbally, but it works in the same way the Möbius strip does: one reveres the original but opens it up innovatively (the artists we respect now were in some way all radical innovators) before returning home to the Palace of Swing. Dan and his comrades: Godwin Louis, alto saxophone; Adam Birnbaum, piano; Jennifer Vincent, string bass; Alvester Garnett, drums, did this ten times at an ecstatic musical evening at Smalls on February 3.

The three performances I’d already posted were HARLEM CONGO, NIGHTFALL, and BUGS PARADE.  And here are four more uplifting explorations.  I thought these performances were explosions of sensory pleasure when I heard and recorded them on the spot; they reveal more each time I listen.

Mary Lou Williams’ WALKIN’ AND SWINGIN’:

And the 1934 Henderson romp, which I think featured Red Allen, among others:

Edgar Sampson’s BLUE LOU:

and, finally, for this segment, a masterful reconsideration of DON’T BE THAT WAY that, to me, owes more to Lester’s 1938 solo than to any big-band (possibly industrial) version:

A wonderful musical intelligence and deep feeling here, for which I am immensely grateful.

May your happiness increase!

DAN BLOCK AND HIS MÖBIUS TRAVELERS at SMALLS, PART ONE (February 3, 2017): DAN BLOCK, GODWIN LOUIS, ADAM BIRNBAUM, JENNIFER VINCENT, ALVESTER GARNETT

mobius_strip

Photograph by David Benbennick, c/o Wikipedia

The image above is of a Möbius strip: it has only one side and you keep traveling around it without beginning or end.  You could look it up, as Ring Lardner wrote. It is artifact, concept, and metaphor all in one.

How does this relate to music?  First, a sample: BUGS PARADE, composition and arrangement by Billy Moore, recorded by the 1940 Jimmie Lunceford Orchestra:

It’s 2017.  How would a group of living musicians deal with this work of art?  One approach would be to attempt to reproduce it exactly: transcribe the recording, rehearse it with a select group of musicians — the same number and instrumentation — so that one could hear it live.  Hard work with often beautiful results.  Another approach — at the other end of the spectrum — would be to shatter the original through mockery, to draw an unflattering caricature of the original.

Dan Block, one of the most consistently inspired creators I know, respects the music of the Swing Era and knows it deeply, but has chosen his own path through these two polarities.  It’s hard to explain verbally, but it works in the same way the Möbius strip does: one reveres the original but opens it up innovatively (the artists we respect now were in some way all radical innovators) before returning home to the Palace of Swing.  Dan and his comrades: Godwin Louis, alto saxophone; Adam Birnbaum, piano; Jennifer Vincent, string bass; Alvester Garnett, drums, did this ten times at an ecstatic musical evening at Smalls on February 3.  Here are three glorious examples — which also stretch the boundaries of the 78 rpm disc above.

HARLEM CONGO, associated with Chick Webb:

Benny Carter’s lovely NIGHTFALL:

And, yes, the aforementioned BUGS PARADE:

You will notice I haven’t said anything about the players or the performances. This band is explosively energized and deeply lyrical, often at the same time.

A postscript: I hope no one feels compelled in the name of red-label Columbias and sunburst Deccas to write in, “I like the originals better.”  Consider that Dan’s reinventions are meant to honor the original lively and lyrical spirits of these Thirties recordings: otherwise why spend the time creating his own tributes? They are not desecrations in any way.

A more cheerful postscript, Dr. Eugenia Chang’s Möbius bagel and lox:

May your happiness increase!

MAKING IT NEW: DAN BLOCK, GODWIN LOUIS, ADAM BIRNBAUM, JENNIFER VINCENT, PETE VAN NOSTRAND (Fat Cat, May 31, 2016)

DAN BLOCK by Limoncino Oliviera

DAN BLOCK by Limoncino Oliviera

My title comes from Ezra Pound, whose serious instruction to hopeful modernists was MAKE IT NEW.  In its own way, jazz has always been about making it new; even when one generation was paying tribute to preceding ones, the act of homage was in some ways grounded in newness.  If, in 2016, one decides to play note-for-note recreations of an Alcide Nunez record, that act is bound to have 2016 sensibilities and nuances built in.  But what animates Dan Block is much deeper than that.  Dan, who embodies an extraordinarily wide range of music, is one of the most imaginative shape-changers I know.

For his most recent gig at Jazz at Lincoln Center, Dan assembled a surprising quintet: himself on clarinet and tenor saxophone; Godwin Louis on alto; Adam Birnbaum, piano; Jennifer Vincent, string bass; and for this rehearsal-session, Pete Van Nostrand, drums (Alvester Garnett played drums at Dizzy’s on June 7). The videos here are from an informal session held at Fat Cat on May 31.  I present them here with Dan’s encouragement: although the crowd was its usual boy-and-girlish self, the music was spectacular.  The band was advertised as “The Dan Block Quintet: Mary Lou Williams and Benny Carter Meet Hard Bop.” Intriguing, no?

Dan took half a dozen venerable songs from the Thirties — with connections to Chick Webb, Fletcher and Horace Henderson, Edgar Sampson, Mary Lou Williams, and Benny Carter — and reconsidered them, as if he were a very imaginative couturier. Take the song down to its sparest elements: strong melody, strong rhythm, familiar harmonies, and ask, “How would this look in lime green?  What about a very short denim jacket?” and so on.  As if he were fascinated by the essential self of the song — that which could not be harmed or obliterated — and started to play with the trappings — new rhythms, a different approach, new harmonies and voicings — to see what might result.

What resulted was and is terribly exciting — a blossoming-forth of exuberant energies from all the musicians.

HARLEM CONGO (from the Webb book):

PUDDIN’ HEAD SERENADE (Andy Kirk):

HOTTER THAN ‘ELL (Henderson):

BLUES IN MY HEART (Carter):

LONESOME NIGHTS (Carter):

BLUE LOU (Edgar Sampson for Chick Webb, then everyone else):

I think the originators, who were radical for their time, would certainly approve.

As an aside: everyone’s a critic, and cyber-communications have intensified this feeling.  If readers write, “I like the original 78 versions better!  This is not the way these songs should sound!” such comments will stay hidden. I revere the originals also, but I won’t have  creative musicians I admire be insulted by comparisons of this nature.

May your happiness increase!

DAN BLOCK AND FRIENDS at THE ALLEGHENY JAZZ PARTY (Sept. 18, 2014): DAN BLOCK, HARRY ALLEN, DAN BARRETT, ROSSANO SPORTIELLO, JON BURR, PETE SIERS

What follows is a glowing sample of what the masters of any art do, communally and individually: assembling without fanfare for a common purpose, speaking their piece in turn, collaborating to create something beautiful that never existed before.

The inspiring Dan Block (reed master, here playing tenor saxophone) got together with friends and peers at the informal Thursday night session at the 2014 Allegheny Jazz Party and showed us — without being didactic — how it is done.

The friends are Harry Allen, tenor saxophone; Dan Barrett, trombone; Rossano Sportiello, piano; Jon Burr, string bass; Pete Siers, drums. The text for their sweet explorations was FALLING IN LOVE WITH LOVE — by Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart, but presented without Hart’s rather dark lyrics, and moved into a lilting swing rhythm for us:

I think music-making at this level is an absolute gift, given freely and generously by the finest artists. Happily, they were performing for an attentive, hushed audience who were, in every sense of the phrase, “getting it.”  Gifts like these come back to the givers.  See the contented smiles on the faces of the musicians as they bask in the warmth of their own creations.  Not immodestly, but joyously, congratulating each other on creating such an uplifting community.

This beauty — in varied hues — sprang to life often during the Allegheny Jazz Party.  I am certain such beauty will flourish again in September 2015.

But that’s a long way away, so let me point you to something closer (if you live in New York or environs).  I will be away, so you have to see and hear for yourself.

The Dan Block Quintet will offer a program he calls “Mary Lou Williams and Benny Carter Meet Hard Bop” at Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola (that’s Broadway and 60th Street) on Wednesday, October 8th.  Sets are at 7:30 and 9:30 PM.  The Quintet is Dan, saxophone; Adam Birnbaum, piano; Godwin Louis, alto saxophone; Jennifer Vincent, string bass; Alvester Garnett, drums.  One may reserve by phone (212-258-9595) or in person after 6P.M. daily at the club.  It’s a $30 cover, $20 for students.

Block, Allen, Barrett, Sportiello, Burr, Siers — all masters.  Follow them and be uplifted.

May your happiness increase!