Tag Archives: Gordon Au

SUNDAY NIGHTS AT 326 SPRING STREET (Part Six) — WE NEED SOMETHING TO LOOK FORWARD TO: SESSIONS AT THE EAR INN, featuring THE EarRegulars (2007 – the Future)

Here you can find five posts devoted to the truth that beauty never gets dusty.  And just below you can find the newest-historical-unaging samples from my (and perhaps your) Sunday-night worship services at 326 Spring Street, Soho, New York City.

From December 6, 2009, naughtiness from Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Harvey Tibbs, trombone; Matt Munisteri, guitar; Nicki Parrott, string bass:

Also from that night, a deep-blue version of Benny Carter’s BLUES IN MY HEART:

And, from November 29, 2009, with Danny Tobias, sitting in for Jon-Erik Kellso, along with Dan Block, reeds; Chris Flory, guitar; Jon Burr, string bass, saying hello to Dick and Larry:

And some spiritually-enhanced jam from that session of November 29, 2009: Jon-Erik Kellso, Gordon Au, trumpet; Dan Block, Attilio Troiano, reeds; Chris Flory, guitar; Jon Burr, string bass:

Appropriately, something for Lil and Louis: Jon-Erik Kellso, Danny Tobias, Gordon Au, Dan Block, Attilio Troiano, Chris Flory, Jon Burr:

Imagine the experience we will all have when — to quote Jabbo Smith — “times get better.”  Balance between unrealistic optimism and depthless gloom; wear your mask; keep the mental-spiritual jukebox going.  We’ll get there.

And keep listening!

May your happiness increase!

GORDON AU PAYS TRIBUTE TO LOUIS ARMSTRONG and his ALL-STARS at LINDY FOCUS

It’s distressingly easy to make a paper-thin tribute to Louis Armstrong and his All-Stars: start with the “Greatest Hits,” add a Louis-caricature, stir in high notes, fast tempos and a dash of audience-clapping, and stand back.  Or one could decide to be “innovative” and “harmonically adventurous,” but I will not even consider those possibilities, because the room is starting to spin.

But Gordon Au is a studious and deep musician and individual, so that when I heard he was planning a tribute to the music that Louis and his world-famous band created over nearly twenty-five years, I was eager to hear it.  And the results are subtle and gratifying.  You can find out more here while you listen.  I’ve picked two songs from this recording that are — sadly or wryly — currently appropriate:

and a song I wish were not so relevant, the somber BLACK AND BLUE:

That should send listeners who get it right to the link to download and purchase.  But perhaps some of you need more information.

Gordon writes, “I grew up listening to Louis Armstrong. Last year I had the chance to do something I’ve wanted to do for a long time: bring the music of Louis & the All-Stars to swing dancers. I heard a few hip DJs play Louis for lindy hoppers over the years, but I always wished there were more, and I knew that I myself would love dancing to the All-Stars. I wanted to give dancers the chance to hear the music of the All-Stars with a live band, and to dance to it and fall in love with it.

Last December, that wish came true. At Lindy Focus XVIII, I presented a tribute to Louis Armstrong & His All-Stars with a dream team of 10 musicians, and finally got to share that music I love with hundreds of people dancing their hearts out, late at night in a packed ballroom, surrounded by smiling faces, at the largest lindy hop event in the nation. And now I’m happy to share it with all of you.”
1. Squeeze Me (79 BPM)
2. All That Meat and No Potatoes (110 BPM)
3. Twelfth St. Rag (128 BPM)
4. I’ll Walk Alone (88 BPM)
5. Back o’Town Blues (74 BPM)
6. Blueberry Hill (96 BPM)
7. Faithful Hussar (133 BPM)
8. Someday You’ll be Sorry (105 BPM)
9. Unless (87 BPM)
10. My Bucket’s Got a Hole in It (141 BPM)
11. Beale St. Blues (105 BPM)
12. Lovely Weather We’re Having (88 BPM)
13. C’est Si Bon (143 BPM)
14. Yellow Dog Blues (88 BPM)
15. Black and Blue (99 BPM)
16. Don’t Fence Me In (106 BPM)
17. Saint Louis Blues (118 BPM)
18. Keepin’ Out of Mischief Now (130 BPM)

All tracks adapted/arranged by Gordon Au (Gordonburi Music – ASCAP)

Laura Windley—vocals (1,2,4,6,9,10,16-8)
Jim Ziegler—vocals (1,2,5,8,10,12,14), trumpet (8,14)
Gordon Au—trumpet/leader
Keenan McKenzie—soprano sax (2,3,6,8,10,12-15,17), clarinet (4,5,8,9,16,18)
Jacob Zimmerman—clarinet (1-4,6-15,17)
Lucian Cobb—trombone
Jonathan Stout—guitar
Chris Dawson—piano
Jen Hodge—bass
Josh Collazo—drums

And if the combination of music and words were not enough, I would add my own of the latter.  I don’t remember if I asked Gordon if he needed some prose or I insisted on writing something (I did see Louis live on April 23, 1967 — that would be my opening credential) and he graciously agreed.  So here’s mine:

I tried to walk like him, talk like him, eat like him, sleep like him. I even bought a pair of big policeman’s shoes like he used to wear and stood outside his apartment waiting for him to come out so I could look at him.

The magnificent cornetist Rex Stewart remembered the monumental effect Louis Armstrong had when Louis came to New York in 1924. More to the point, he recalled without embarrassment his awestruck attempts to gain some of Louis’ splendor by magic. (How lucky for him and for us that Rex had his own splendor for four decades.)

I write this to remind readers of Louis’ life-changing power, and to point out that musicians began trying to emulate him nearly one hundred years ago – when Louis himself was not yet 25. Somewhere I read of a group of players, stripped-down to their underwear, shivering in an unheated basement, hoping to catch cold so that their singing voices would be closer to his. Everyone wanted some of his celestial power: Earl Hines and Teddy Wilson, Billie Holiday, Connee Boswell, Bing Crosby, Bobby Darin, and many others. As I write, musicians are posting their versions of Louis’ WEST END BLUES’ cadenza on Facebook.

Trying to capture his essence, his admirers have taken many diverse paths. The most shallow efforts have been grotesque: a distended grin, waving a handkerchief as if drowning, and growling a few chosen phrases, ending inevitably with an extended “Oh yeah!” (If you knew nothing of Louis, you might think, “Someone get that man to a hospital now!”) Such approaches resemble a jazz version of demonic possession, and we have it on good authority (clarinetist Joe Muranyi) that Louis hated such imitations.  Some trumpet players misunderstood Louis’ mastery simply as his ability to play an octave higher than anyone else had, but they mistook range for music.  Only those who understood Louis’ art perceived that it was essentially a singer’s craft, melodic to its core, offering songs that any listener, skilled in jazz or not, could appreciate immediately. It was emotive more than exhibitionistic.

This is especially true in the period of Louis’ greatest popular appeal – his triumphant quarter-century of worldwide fame, recognition, and affection. Those who don’t understand his final sustained triumph suggest that his All-Stars period was marked by a desire for larger audiences, “popularity” at the expense of innovative art, and the limitations of an aging man’s playing and singing. To this I and others would say “Nonsense,” a polite euphemism selected for these notes, and point out that the splendidly virtuosic playing of Louis’ earlier years was – although dazzling – not as astonishing as, say, his 1956 WHEN YOU’RE SMILING or THAT’S FOR ME. Ask any trumpeter whether it is easier to copy Louis’ solo on NEW ORLEANS STOMP – the most brilliant amusement-park ride – or to play LA VIE EN ROSE as Louis did. (Those who are struck by this CD might investigate the original recordings and be amazed, and they might follow their amazement to the best book on the subject, Ricky Riccardi’s WHAT A WONDERFUL WORLD: THE MAGIC OF LOUIS ARMSTRONG’S LATER YEARS.)

Gordon Au understands the sweet ardor at the heart of Louis’ last quarter-century, and he also understands that sincere admiration of an innovator’s art requires loving innovation as well as expert imitation. I’ve been admiring Gordon’s playing for over a decade now, and it has always had subtle Armstrongian qualities while remaining perfectly personal: a clarion sound, hitting those notes squarely, a love of melody, but also an essential whimsy: Gordon’s phrasing is not predictable, nor are his particular choices. His solos have their own arching structure and they always deliver pleasant shocks. He moves with quiet daring and great wit between declarations and subversions.

Elsewhere in these notes, Gordon has eloquently written of his own journey to the music of Louis’ All-Stars, so I will leave that to him, and I will not debate those who felt Louis had abandoned his “pure jazz” for “showmanship” by choosing CABARET over POTATO HEAD BLUES. The All-Stars repertoire, in performance and on record, was delightfully varied, from funky New Orleans blues to pop songs new and venerable, as well as Louis’ own compositions and attempts at pop hits — perhaps a broader palette than at any other time in his career (even though we have heard tales of the Creole Jazz Band and Fletcher Henderson playing waltzes and tangos). I have always loved Gordon’s spacious imagination, and it is evident here not only in his playing and arranging, the musicians he has working with him – wonders every one! – but the songs chosen. A dull tribute could have been Greatest Hits (I might not be writing for this project had it included WHAT A WONDERFUL . . . . and DOLLY!) or it might reproduce an All-Stars concert, inexplicable to those who aren’t Louis-scholars. But Gordon understands that UNLESS and BLACK AND BLUE are both music and must be cherished – and performed – with amiable reverence.

The result of Gordon and the band’s deep understanding makes for truly gratifying music, even for those who had never heard the originals. I know the originals, and my experience of listening has been a constant happiness, the warm thought, “Listen to what they are doing there!” And since this band was conceived for swing dancers, the music is always groovy, rocking, and stimulating, no matter what the tempo. The slightly enlarged instrumentation and Gordon’s imaginative arrangements make for a more varied experience than the All-Stars I heard in person in 1967 (I know that is a heretical statement). At their finest, Louis’ group was a collection of inspired soloists, but they could also sound skeletal: three horns, three rhythm, and a “girl singer” – but we were so dazzled by Louis that we did not care how much open space there was in the performances. Gordon’s vision is far more orchestral, and the band pleases on its own terms from first to last, with delightfully jaunty singing by Laura Windley and Jim Ziegler, who do us the compliment of sounding just like themselves, sailing along.

I also know that Louis would be delighted not only with the music here but would have been thrilled to be invited to perform with this band. He left for another gig far too early, and I regret that this collaboration never happened, but I can hear it in my mind’s ear.

“I’m so excited, y’all!” Laura bursts out at the end of DON’T FENCE ME IN. I am also. You can hear the effect the band had on the dancers. And it will offer the same magic to you as well.

Ultimately, here’s my verdict on this lovely musical effort:

So good!  Find it here.

May your happiness increase!

WHERE WE WERE IN MAY 2019 AND HOPE TO BE AGAIN IN MAY 2021: BOUNCING WITH THE JONATHAN DOYLE SWINGTET (Part Two) at the REDWOOD COAST MUSIC FESTIVAL: JONATHAN DOYLE, JOSH COLLAZO, SAM ROCHA, JAMEY CUMMINS, ALEX BELHAJ, GORDON AU, CHARLIE HALLORAN (May 12, 2019)

I know it’s the most unwieldy title in the history of JAZZ LIVES’ unwieldy titles, but so be it.  At least readers know what they’re getting, or getting into.  Here I can offer you gorgeous music from the Jonathan Doyle Swingtet: Jonathan, tenor, composer; Gordon Au, trumpet; Charlie Halloran, trombone; Sam Rocha, string bass; Josh Collazo, drums; Jamey Cummins, Alex Belhaj, guitars. Recorded on May 12, 2019, at the Redwood Coast Music Festival, the second part of a very rewarding set, and here is the first.

Let us begin with Cole Porter’s whimsical-salacious depiction of a very practical amorous relationship, MY HEART BELONGS TO DADDY, which has a good deal of moral ambiguity to it, but who thinks about such things when sunk deeply into this groovy evocation?

More groove, more funk — Al Sears’ CASTLE ROCK:

The venerable CRAZY RHYTHM, at a surprisingly tender tempo, featuring the eloquent Charlie Halloran:

Jonathan’s own JUMP IN, JUMP OUT — which, like his other originals, shows a fully-developed compositional sense.  Even when his originals are built on familiar harmonic patterns, his introductions, riffs, textures, and voicings show his expansive imagination:

Fine riffin’ this afternoon — with Illinois Jacquet’s BOTTOMS UP:

and finally, the dark-hued YOU NEVER KNEW ME AT ALL, based on a noble Thirties ballad:

Jonathan and friends were just one highlight of the immensely stirring Redwood Coast Music Festival that made my May 2019 completely memorable.  Eleven months from now, there will be the 2021 version . . . and I’ll be there.  It’s not too soon to start anticipating these joys and more.  May 6-9, 2021.  “Mark it down.”

May your happiness increase!

FINE [REMOTE] RIFFING THIS AFTERNOON (April 2020)

One of the nicest things about my jazz-immersion through this blog is the possibility of having dear friends and admired artists — rarely or never met face-to-face.  I think of these two: the saxophonist / composer Keenan McKenzie (still only a cyber-pal) and the singer Laura Windley, whom I’ve had the good fortune to encounter on both coasts.

Let me begin with the most recent expression of good-humored swing and expert rockin’ in rhythm, Keenan’s PARTS AND LABOR, beautifully Basie-fied by Josh Collazo, drums; Noah Hocker, trumpet; William Ledbetter, string bass; Keenan McKenzie, saxophone; James Posedel, piano; Jonathan Stout, guitar:

Keenan’s also a composer of nifty love songs — here’s a favorite, with Laura singing and charming us, along with Lucian Cobb, trombone; Daniel Faust, drums; William Ledbetter, Keenan McKenzie, James Posedel, and Jonathan Stout:

Yes, socially distant but emotionally close.

Now, some history and then some commerce.

I first encountered Laura and the Mint Julep Jazz Band in 2013 (can it be that long ago?) when a friend sent me a copy of their CD, DURHAM ON SATURDAY NIGHT, and I wrote happily about it here.  And the same thing happened again two years later, with their BATTLE AXE, and my pleasure here.  Keenan offered his own wonderful CD, FORGED IN RHYTHM, in 2017 — my post here  — and so I trust these people to make the best music, subtle and groovy.  They are also part of what I would respectfully call the Great Swing Dance Collective, so they pop up with their own groups and as side-people: I video-ed Laura at San Diego (2018) with Michael Gamble’s Rhythm Serenaders, and she sings gorgeously as part of Gordon Au’s evocation of the Louis Armstrong All-Stars.

Now, since Sam Goody’s is just a memory (insert name of your favorite record store chain) those in the know go to bandcamp.com — where we can purchase the music of independent artists on CDs and downloads.  TODAY, MAY 1, Bandcamp has waived all fees, so that whatever you pay goes directly to the artist.  “Good deal!” to quote my hero Sidney.

So, please, instead of wallowing in the torrents of free music offered open-heartedly, go visit https://keenanmckenzie.bandcamp.com/  and  https://mintjulepjazzband.bandcamp.com/ and https://gordonau.bandcamp.com/ — drop some bills in the tip jar, and enhance the gray days of isolation / quarantine / lockdown with music that rewards not only the hearer but the artists.  You’ll find the irritations of daily life diminished because of the sounds.

May your happiness increase!

BOUNCING WITH THE JONATHAN DOYLE SWINGTET (Part One) at the REDWOOD COAST MUSIC FESTIVAL: JONATHAN DOYLE, JOSH COLLAZO, SAM ROCHA, JAMEY CUMMINS, ALEX BELHAJ, GORDON AU, CHARLIE HALLORAN (May 12, 2019)

Bouncing has been shown to have salutary therapeutic effects, so join us!

The source of all this joy is the Jonathan Doyle Swingtet, recorded in performance at the magical Redwood Coast Music Festival on May 12, 2019.  That’s Jonathan Doyle, tenor saxophone / compositions / arrangements; Gordon Au, trumpet; Charlie Halloran, trombone; Jamey Cummins [right], Alex Belhaj [left], guitars; Sam Rocha, string bass; Josh Collazo, drums. . . .  captured in a still photograph by the JAZZ LIVES staff:

Now to the music played for the first half of this gratifying set — what Mildred Bailey might have called “a hot half-dozen.”

Take us back to 1943, while Coleman Hawkins stands off to the side, smiling:

and something sweet that Jonathan calls DON’T WALK OUT (the harmonic hint is this — imagine Louis’ opening number as a rhythm ballad and you have it):

Winnie the Pooh couldn’t make it, but in his honor, HONEY JAR, his love:

SLIPPERY SLOPE, perhaps named because of  ascending and descending lines:

I’VE NEVER BEEN TO NEW YORK.  If this is true, I have to invite Jonathan and Corinne to sit in Washington Square Park in the late spring:

Thinking of Austin, Texas, zoology, where THE BATS ARE SINGING:

The best news is that Jonathan and friends will be appearing — in whatever permutations they choose — at the Redwood Coast Music Festival, May 7-10, 2020.  Here you can see a list of the other artists, a cornucopia of musical joys that increases my heart rate dangerously.

See you there!

Even better! — here is the schedule for the Festival.  I can’t wait.

May your happiness increase!

WELCOMING SOUNDS: “STRIKE UP THE BAND”: RICKY ALEXANDER (with MARTINA DaSILVA, JAMES CHIRILLO, ROB ADKINS, ANDREW MILLAR)

Ricky Alexander, saxophonist and clarinetist, holding up his debut CD, July 2019. Photograph by Nina Galicheva.

This Youngblood can play — but he doesn’t wallop us over our heads with his talent.  To quote Billie Holiday, recommending a young Jimmie Rowles to a skeptical Lester Young, “Boy can blow!”

Ricky Alexander is an impressive and subtle musician, someone I’ve admired at a variety of gigs, fitting in beautifully whatever the band is (Jon DeLucia’s Octet, Gordon Au’s Grand Street Stompers, The New Wonders, at The Ear Inn, and more) — swing dances, big bands, jam sessions.

I particularly cherish his sweetly understated approach: he loves melody and swing, which is rarer than you might think: youthful musicians in this century are sometimes prisoners of their technique, with the need to show off the chord extensions and substitutions they’ve learned in dutiful hours in the woodshed, even if the woodshed is a room in a Brooklyn walk-up.  The analogy for me is the novice cook who loves paprika and then ruins a recipe by adding tablespoons of it.  In jazz terms, Ricky’s opposite is the young saxophonist whose debut self-produced CD is a suite of his own original compositions on the theme of Chernobyl, each a solo of more than ten minutes.  Perhaps noble but certainly a different approach to this art form.

Ricky tenderly embraces a song and its guiding emotions.  He has his own gentle sound and identity.  Hear his version of Porter’s AFTER YOU, WHO?:

If readers turn away from this music as insufficiently “innovative,” or thinks it doesn’t challenge the listener enough, I would ask them to listen again, deeply: the art of making melody sing is deeper and more difficult than playing many notes at a rapid tempo.  And youthful Mr. Alexander has a real imagination (and a sly wit: the lovers in this Porter song are on the edge of finding a small hotel — run by Dick and Larry — to increase their bliss, in case you didn’t notice).

His music is sweet but not trivial or shallow: hear his sensitive reading of I’VE GOT A RIGHT TO SING THE BLUES for one example.  And he quietly shows off a real talent at composition: on first hearing, I thought his I KNEW I LOVED YOU was perhaps an obscure Harry Warren song.

Ricky’s also commendably egalitarian: he shares the space with guitarist James Chirillo, string bassist Rob Adkins, drummer Andrew Millar, and the colorful singer Martina DaSilva, who improvises on several selections to great effect.  As well as those I’ve commented on above, the repertoire is mainly songs with deep melodic cores: WHERE OR WHEN, A KISS TO BUILD A DREAM ON, I CAN’T GET STARTED, SKYLARK (as a light-hearted bossa nova), STRIKE UP THE BAND, with several now fairly-obscure delights: THE LADY’S IN LOVE WITH YOU, AND THE ANGELS SING, and a particular favorite from the 1935 hit parade, YOU HIT THE SPOT by Gordon and Revel.

STRIKE UP THE BAND is a model of how artists might represent themselves on disc.  Like Ricky, this effort is gracious, welcoming, friendly: listeners are encouraged to make themselves at home, given the best seat on the couch.  It’s smooth without being “smooth jazz”; it has no post-modern rough edges on which listeners will lacerate themselves.  And although Ricky often gigs with groups dedicated to older styles, this is no trip to the museum: rather, it’s warm living music.

I’m told that it can be streamed and downloaded in all the usual places, and that an lp record is in the works.  For those who wish to learn more and purchase STRIKE UP THE BAND, visit here.  If you know Ricky, the gently lovely character of this CD will be no surprise; if he’s new to you, you have made a rewarding musical friend, who has songs to sing to us.

May your happiness increase!

REMIX WELL! (Part Two): GORDON AU’S GRAND STREET STOMPERS at SWING REMIX (April 13, 2019)

Here’s the second part of a glorious evening of music and dance at Swing Remix, music provided and created by Gordon Au’s Grand Street Stompers — who were, for this gig, expanded: Gordon, trumpet, arrangements, compositions; Joe McDonough, trombone; Ricky Alexander, Matt Koza, reeds; Nick Russo, guitar and banjo; Rob Adkins, string bass; Rob Garcia, drums.  (R1 was there, stepping, twirling, and dipping, although my camera did not catch her in flight.)  It added up to great dance music, delightful small-band jazz, splendidly played, with inventive arrangements that make familiar songs seem new.

Here’s Part One.

Bechet’s SI TU VOIS MA MERE, featuring Matt Koza, in honor of Earl McKee:

From an elegy to an original by Gordon, dedicated to a wayward feline:

A classic from the time when people still carried nickels for the pay phone:

The lovely Harry Ruby – Rube Bloom paean to simplicity:

A nocturnal horror in Swing:

Let’s!

and an encore, from GUYS AND DOLLS:

May your happiness increase!

A YOUNGBLOOD SERENADE: GUILLERMO PERATA and FERNANDO MONTARDIT (June 14, 2019)

These Youngbloods give me hope — people who make lovely music and have a long way to go before asking for the senior discount at the movies.  They are Guillermo Perata, cornet, and Fernando Montardit, guitar: here making merry and making art on the Goldkette-associated pop tune, HOOSIER SWEETHEART at an informal duo session of June 14, 2019.

You’ll also notice (when you listen) that they don’t treat this 1927 song as a holy relic of the Roaring Twenties, but, rather, as a piece of music to improvise on, with lyricism, swing, and a deep love for the melody:

This approach (think Louis, Hackett, Braff, Vache, Tobias, Kellso, Gordon and Justin Au, Caparone in the brass line; think Reuss and Grosz on guitar) never gets old.

I understand that Guillermo and Fernando will be visiting New York City and then New Orleans in the first half of August.  I haven’t seen Fernando in a few years, and I look forward to meeting Guillermo.  They are real, and the music they make is both tangible and memorable.

May your happiness increase!

AT THE BALL, THAT’S ALL (Part One): GORDON AU’S GRAND STREET STOMPERS at SWING REMIX (April 13, 2019)

Dance off both your shoes!  Who could do otherwise when Gordon Au’s Grand Street Stompers play for dancers?  This took place at Swing Remix on April 13, 2019. That’s Gordon, trumpet, compositions and arrangements; Joe McDonough, trombone; Ricky Alexander and Matt Koza, reeds; Nick Russo, guitar; Rob Adkins, string bass; Rob Garcia, drums; Molly Ryan, vocals.  R1 was there, too, which meant that the universe was properly aligned.

The usual caveats apply (not at all to the music!): I can’t shoot videos from the dance floor because of the eager traffic, people who have a right to be there and swing out.  So these videos were recorded from an upstairs balcony, and as a result the sound is somewhat distant . . . but it is what you would have heard if you weren’t fortunate enough to be dancing close to the wonderful band.  I also confess to some technical difficulties (a recalcitrant camera) so the sound is stronger in one channel than the other: no need for you to get a hearing test.  But it’s there. . . .

Here are seven bursts of instrumental pleasure from early in the evening:

Gordon’s own JUMP OUT AND GETCHA (perhaps because he is a connoisseur of things that go bump in the night?):

BLUE ROOM, with verse and clever arrangement:

Half of a new pair, PST (PACIFIC SWING TIME):

And a Grand Street Stompers’ classic, SWANG THANG:

The second half, EST (for EASTERN SWING TIME), a composition John Kirby would admire:

Gordon’s swinging and surprising  take on early bebop, GROOVIN’ HIGH:

and the attractive original NADINE:

There are more videos to come from this delightful evening.  But even better . . . see, hear, and dance to the Grand Street Stompers in person: follow them here.  See you on the dance floor (vertically, not horizontally).

May your happiness increase!

UP IN THE CLOUDS (Part Two): THE JONATHAN DOYLE SWINGTET at the REDWOOD COAST MUSIC FESTIVAL: JONATHAN DOYLE, GORDON AU, CHARLIE HALLORAN, JAMEY CUMMINS, ALEX BELHAJ, SAM ROCHA, JOSH COLLAZO (May 12, 2019)

Jonathan Doyle, 2015

I think I first took notice of Jonathan Doyle — clarinetist, tenor saxophonist, later bass saxophonist, composer, arranger — when he was a member of the Thrift Set Orchestra some six years ago, then working with Hal Smith, leading his own groups, in combos with Ray Skjelbred, part of the Fat Babies, with Hal’s Swing Central, and more than I am no doubt leaving out.  By the time I met him in person, possibly at the 2014 San Diego Jazz Fest, I was already dazzled.

What Jonathan has and shares with us is a special emotional-spiritual energy, as if he’s connected to electric current, no matter how lazy the tempo might be.  I’ve never seen him coast or fall back on formula: he is fully present and fully engaged.  I offered these two splendid performances by his Swingtet at the Redwood Coast Music Festival (with Jacob Zimmerman, Charlie Halloran, Kris Tokarski, Jamey Cummins, Steve Pikal, Hal Smith) here and they deserved all the enthusiastic prose I could write and all the accolades from audience members.  A day later at the RCMF, Jonathan assembled a slightly different Swingtet: Gordon Au, trumpet; Charlie Halloran, trombone; Sam Rocha, string bass; Josh Collazo, drums; Jamey Cummins, Alex Belhaj, guitars.

I love this music dearly.

First, Jonathan’s original A SYBARITE’S DREAM, featuring Gordon, musing and soaring, in the fashion of an Ellington mood-piece but purely Doyle:

Then, an utterly captivating romp on Benny Carter’s KRAZY KAPERS, inspired by the 1933 Chocolate Dandies recording — a line on DIGA DIGA DOO.  Watch Gordon’s face as Jonathan solos: it tells you all you need to know.  And if you’d been sitting near me, you would have seen my even more dramatic look of astonished delight as Jonathan announced the song . . . as if I’d been given a lovely present.  I haven’t changed my mind at all since then:

Such remarkable passion, allied to an irresistible swing.  Bless Jonathan and his musicians, and Mark and Valerie Jansen for creating such a splendid space for beauties.  (The 2020 Redwood Coast Music Festival will be next May 7-10, and it will be a doozy, a honey, or a blast: you pick.  I think it will be all three.)

May your happiness increase!

UP IN THE CLOUDS (Part One): The JONATHAN DOYLE SWINGTET at THE REDWOOD COAST MUSIC FESTIVAL: JONATHAN DOYLE, JACOB ZIMMERMAN, CHARLIE HALLORAN, KRIS TOKARSKI, JAMEY CUMMINS, STEVE PIKAL, HAL SMITH (May 11, 2019)

Jonathan Doyle, 2015

 

It’s lovely to have heroes, and the man in the photograph is one of mine.  The only problem with the photograph is that it’s a still picture, and he is rarely still, but the videos below will remedy that.

When I was fortunate enough to chat with clarinetist Frank Chace on the telephone (now more than twenty years ago), he remembered that he and Marty Grosz had listened, rapt, over and over, to Pee Wee Russell’s solo on SWEET SUE with the Muggsy Spanier Ragtimers on Commodore. Marty’s comment was, “Well, if that doesn’t scrape the clouds . . . !” which is as good a summation of what artistic bliss feels like.

Those words kept coming back to me all through my weekend immersion in joy at the Redwood Coast Music Festival: I listened, quite amazed, at the wonderful music I was privileged to hear.  I’m still in a state of blissful amazement: feelings shared by those around me.

One of the reasons for this unearthly happiness has to do with reedman / composer / arranger / imaginative-phenomenon Jonathan Doyle, a rare source of  renewable energy in our time. Here ‘s where you can find him on Facebook as well.  Spiritual electricities course through him without harming him or us, and they come out as the most beautiful surprising patterns of notes, tones, and rests.  He never coasts; he never parodies anyone or himself.

Jonathan was a stimulating presence all through the weekend: with Charlie Halloran’s Calypsonians, leading several sets of his own and with Jacob Zimmerman (one a Walter Donaldson tribute with Doyle on bass sax), as lead horn in Hal Smith’s Swing Central, with the extravagant Western Swing Party co-led by Hal and Dave Stuckey.  (He was also one-third of the double tribute to composer-players Gordon Au and Josh Collazo, but by that time I had collapsed as if I’d been made of damp cardboard.  I’ll do better next year, I hope.)

Here are four uplifting performances from the first set of Jonathan’s Swingtet, a glorious affair consisting of Doyle, Jacob Zimmerman, alto; Charlie Halloran, trombone; Kris Tokarski, piano; Steve Pikal, string bass; Jamey Cummins, guitar; Hal Smith, drums.

BLUE DRAG (a nod to 1934 Django):

CHICAGO (he’ll show you around!):

THE FED HOP (Jonathan’s irresistible original):

DICKIE’S DREAM (Basie 1939, anyone?  Because of sudden battery demise, I lost the first ensemble chorus and Charlie Halloran’s delicious solo, but what remains is very satisfying):

When you’re through admiring the solo work and the overall joyous bounce of these four performances, I urge you to listen again to Jonathan’s arrangements, their sweet surprises, their dynamics and voicings.  He’s not just a great player and composer: he’s a wonderful orchestral visionary who makes his dreams and ours come true in swing.

More to come from my hero JD and his friends.

May your happiness increase! 

PISMO JOYS (Part Two): “SHAKE ‘EM UP JAZZ BAND and THE AU BROTHERS”: CHLOE FEORANZO, MARLA DIXON, MOLLY REEVES, DEFNE “DIZZY” INCIRIOGLU, JULIE SCHEXNAYDER, GORDON AU, BRANDON AU, JUSTIN AU (October 26, 2018, Jazz Jubilee by the Sea)

The temperature suddenly rose in Pismo, California, during the late October weekend that the Jazz Jubilee by the Sea transformed that salt-water-taffy town into a swing sauna, a hot haven.

You don’t have to take my word for it.  Conveniently, here is compelling evidence from Larry Scala, Dawn Lambeth, Marc Caparone, Bill Bosch, and Danny Coots.

Then, I was fortunate enough to capture three performances by what I’d call a Constellation of Youngbloods (no “Cats vs. Chicks” in this century), where the Shake ‘Em Up Jazz Band and the actual Au Brothers‘ front line (the band minus Howard Miyata, Danny Coots, and Katie Cavera) shared the stage.  For those keeping score, that’s Gordon Au, trumpet; Justin Au, trumpet; Brandon Au, trombone; Marla Dixon, trumpet and vocal; Chloe Feoranzo, clarinet and vocal; Molly Reeves, guitar; Defne “Dizzy” Incirlioglu, washboard and percussion; Julie Schexnayder, string bass.  (Trombone star Haruka Kikuchi, is — if my sources are correct — currently occupied with matters maternal.  I’m sure she’ll be back in the bass clef before long.)

Oh, how this Constellation wailed.

SHAKE IT AND BREAK IT was first recorded in 1921 — I am sure that it was being played before then — although my favorite versions are by Sidney Bechet and the Varsity Seven.  This twenty-first century explosion rocks along irresistibly, after Molly introduces everyone:

EMPTY BED BLUES is a Bessie Smith lament that Chloe Feoranzo has taken for her very own:

SAY “SI SI” (originally “Para Vigo me voy” by Ernesto Lecuona, who also wrote “Maria La O”) was a Thirties pop tune popularized here by Xavier Cugat, the Andrews Sisters, Glenn Miller, and many others — a song the New Orleans musicians who loved heating up melodic pop melodies took to happily, including Billie and DeDe Pierce, Kid Thomas Valentine, Paul Barnes, George Lewis, Emmanuel Paul, Louis Nelson, Alvin Alcorn — so it has a long and vibrant NOLA tradition.  Marla shows us her multi-lingual flair and grace:

Thanks to Linda and John Shorb and the rest of the Jubilee angels for making such good noises possible and accessible.

May your happiness increase!

DENNIS LICHTMAN and THE QUEENSBORO SIX: “JUST CROSS THE RIVER”

Slightly less than three years ago, the superbly gifted multi-instrumentalist / composer Dennis Lichtman assembled his Queensboro Six and gave a concert at the Louis Armstrong House Museum in Corona, Queens.  Here is the first half, and here is the second.  The music was multi-colored and seriously rewarding: Dennis’ tribute to the true jazz borough, Queens County, New York, home of so many jazz figures — from Clarence Williams and Basie to Louis and Dizzy, Milt Hinton and James P. Johnson — and currently home to so many more of the musicians we love.  Dennis assembled his Queensboro Six for a truly delightful new CD, its title above, its theme song below:

This disc is a model of how to do it — musicians and composers take note.  For one thing, the band has an immense rhythmic and melodic energy, but the pieces are compact — sometimes explosions of twenty-first century Hot, sometimes evocative mood pieces, but none of them sounding just like the preceding track.  Dennis is a real composer, so that even an exploration of Rhythm changes sounds lively and fresh.  His arrangements also make for refreshing variety, so that one doesn’t hear him as the featured soloist to the exclusion of the other luminaries, and the performances are multi-textured, harking back to the later Buck Clayton, to Charlie Shavers’ work for the John Kirby Sextet, Raymond Scott, to sensitive elegies and musings that hint at the work of Sidney Bechet and Django Reinhardt.  You’ll also notice compositions by and associated with those Queens denizens Louis, Fats, Clarence Williams.  As that borough boasts some of the finest ethnic restaurants, this disc offers one savory musical dish after another.   As they used to say, “For listening and dancing”!  Peter Karl is responsible for the lovely recorded sound and Ricky Riccardi for the fine liner notes.

Here are some details.  The musicians are Dennis, clarinet; Dalton Ridenhour, piano; Gordon Au, trumpet; J. Walter Hawkes, trombone; Rob Garcia, drums; Nathan Peck, string bass — with guest appearances by Jerron “Blind Boy” Paxton, vocal , guitar; Mazz Swift, violin, vocal; Terry Wilson, vocal; Nick Russo, guitar.  If you know even a few of those performers, you will want this disc, because they seem especially inspired by Dennis’ compositions, arrangements, and playing.  And no one imitates any of the Ancestors.

The songs are 7 EXPRESS / FOR BIX / MIDNIGHT AT THE PIERS / ROAD STREET COURT PLACE AVENUE DRIVE / SOMEDAY YOU’LL BE SORRY / WALTZ FOR CAMILA / L.I.C. STRUT / JUST CROSS THE RIVER FROM QUEENS / BLUE TURNING GREY OVER YOU / 23rd BETWEEN 23rd AND 23rd / SQUEEZE ME / THE POWER OF NOT THEN / I’D REMEMBER HAVING MET YOU / CAKE WALKING BABIES FROM HOME.

You may order a download or a disc here at very reasonable prices.

But perhaps more important than the disc itself, on August 1, the Queensboro Six will play two sets at Dizzy’s Club Coca Cola.  Tickets and details here.  Get yours today:

May your happiness increase!

“FORGED IN RHYTHM”: KEENAN McKENZIE with LAURA WINDLEY, GORDON AU, LUCIAN COBB, CHRIS DAWSON, JONATHAN STOUT, SETH FORD-YOUNG, JOSH COLLAZO (AUGUST 2017)

To paraphrase St. Thomas Aquinas, “To one who feels the groove, no explanation is necessary. To one who doesn’t feel it, no explanation is possible.”

This new CD is just wonderful.  Listen to a sample here while you read.  And  that link is the easiest way to purchase a download or a disc.

The irresistibly catchy songs are TRANSCONTINENTAL* / MY WELL-READ BABY* / PARTS AND LABOR / LIGHTS OUT / IF I WROTE A SONG FOR YOU / CINCINNATI / DOWN THE HATCH / CALLOUS AND KIND* / BUFFALO CONVENTION / FORGED IN RHYTHM* / WHEN I’M HERE ALONE* / POCKET ACES / CITY IN THE DEEP / EASTBOUND / THE DWINDLING LIGHT BY THE SEA*.

I don’t write “irresistibly catchy” often, but I mean it here.  The lyrics are clever without being forced, sometimes deeply tender.  “Don’t send me names / Of potential flames,” is one tiny example of the Mercer-Hart world he visits. I emphasize that Mister McKenzie not only wrote music and lyrics, but arranged these originals AND performs beautifully on a variety of reeds.  He is indeed someone to watch, and admire.  He’s also a generous wise leader who gives his colleagues ample space, thus the CD is truly varied, each performance its own pleasing world.

The “tunes” themselves stick in the mind.  Some are contrafacts — new melodies built over sturdy lovable harmonic sequences (SUGAR BLUES, ST. JAMES INFIRMARY, INDIAN SUMMER, and BETWEEN THE DEVIL AND THE DEEP BLUE SEA if my ears do not deceive me).  These hybrids work delightfully: it’s as if you’ve met beloved friends who have decided to cross-dress for the evening or for life: you recognize the dear person and the garb simultaneously, admiring both the substance and the wrappings.

The delicious band, sounding so much larger than a septet, is Keenan McKenzie, reeds; Gordon Au, trumpet; Lucian Cobb, trombone; Jonathan Stout, guitar; Chris Dawson, piano; Seth Ford-Young, string bass; Josh Collazo, drums; Laura Windley, vocals*.  You might not recognize all the names here, but you are in for compact explosions of joy when the music starts.

The soloists are playing superbly — and that includes players Gordon and Chris, whom I’ve been stalking for what seems like a decade now (my math is wrong but my emotions are correct) as well as the newer members of the Blessed Swing Flock.  Although they don’t work together regularly as a unit, they speak the same language effortlessly and listen contentedly to each other: Soloist Three starts his solo with a variation on the phrase that Soloist Two has just played.  That’s the way the Elders did it, a tradition beautifully carried forward here.

The rhythm section has perfected the Forties magic of seeming to lean forward into the beat while keeping the time steady.  Harry Lim and Milt Gabler smile at these sounds.  This band knows all that anyone needs to know about ensemble playing — they offer so much more than one brilliant solo after another.  Yes, Virginia, there are riffs, send-offs, and all those touches of delightful architecture that made the recordings we hold dear so memorable.  Without a vibraphone, this group takes some spiritual inspiration from the Lionel Hampton Victors, and you know (or should) just how fine they are.  “Are,” not “were.”

And there is the invaluable Laura Windley, who’s never sounded more like herself: if Joan Blondell took up singing, she’d sound like Laura.  And Joan would be thrilled at the transformation.

The lovely sound is thanks to Miles Senzaki (engineer at Grandma’s Dojo in Los Angeles, California; Jason Richmond, who mixed the music; Steve Turnidge, who mastered the disc).  The nifty artwork and typography — evoking both David Stone Martin and Al Hirschfeld — is by artist-clarinetist Ryan Calloway.

The disc is also available through CDBaby and shortly on Amazon and iTunes: check here for updates on such matters.  And here you can find out more about Keenan’s many selves, all of them musical.

I end on a personal note.  I first began to enjoy this disc at the end of the semester for me (I teach English at a community college) — days that are difficult for me.  I had graded enough student essays to feel despondent; I had sat at the computer for so long so that my neck hurt and my eyes ached.  But this disc had come in the mail, and I’d heard TRANSCONTINENTAL and MY WELL-READ BABY already, so, feeling depleted and sulky, I slipped it into the player.  Optimism replaced gloom, and I played the whole disc several times in a row, because it made me tremendously happy.  It can do the same spiritual alchemy for you, if you only allow it in.

May your happiness increase!

“GET RHYTHM IN YOUR FEET”: MICHAEL GAMBLE’S RHYTHM SERENADERS

Photograph of some of Michael Gamble and the Rhythm Serenaders by Sandlin Gaither. Musicians on the record but (very sadly) not pictured: Laura Windley, Lucian Cobb, Dave Wilken, Jason DeCristofaro.

Even for those who are as fortunate and entitled as I am, this world can seem like a tough place.  In the past two weeks, I’ve had conversations with men and women about various remedies: prescriptions for anti-depressants, brisk walks in the sunshine and yoga, finding the truth in Jesus, living a Buddhist or a Judaic life, Louis Armstrong, hugging, coffee, and more.

All of this is true, and not invented for the purposes of a nifty opening paragraph. If something works for you, I would be a mean-spirited fool to mock it.  I find the most evident manifestations of beauty, of joy, of love, in music.

I write to call your attention to a wondrous new CD by Michael Gamble and the Rhythm Serenaders, titled GET RHYTHM IN YOUR FEET.  I know that title may seem to some a plain encouragement to dancers — feel the groove, get up on the floor (but watch your floorcraft!) and Swing.  But for me it means so much more.

First of all, any band that uses a song by the Blessed Alexander Hill to announce themselves is already deep in righteousness.  Hill gave himself to the music wholly and is thus a minor deity in my world, and the song says (better than I will do it here) that your ills can be cured by embracing rhythmic music.

The new CD not only says this truth; it embodies it.  Had you been able to peek in my window a few hours ago while I was playing it again to write this blogpost, you would have seen me grinning and clapping my hands to the music.  It’s that joyous and that right.  For those who want to skip to the punchline, you can purchase the disc — in a number of ways — here.  Of course, the ideal way would be to be present at a Rhythm Serenaders’ gig (even, if like me, you flunked ballroom dancing) and buy copies from the band / the leader.  Here is the band’s schedule, so you can see if they are coming to a nicely polished wooden floor near you.

As a relevant digression, here is what I wrote about the Serenaders’ first CD.

“Why is Michael so excited about yet another ____________ CD?” some of you might be muttering to yourselves.  This one sounds deeply genuine, a very honest evocation of, say, 1935-45. The band knows the original 78s but isn’t copying them in every aspect.  The (flexible) tempos seem right, never stiff or too far forward into the beat.  The band isn’t in a hurry to get to the end of the number. The arrangements cheer and inspire; they aren’t little prisons.  The music breathes, is alive, is human — created by real musicians who live in the twenty-first century but who venerate the music of the great Ancestors with every cell of their bodies.  The band can play as hot as you’d want, but they have a tender side (MEMORIES OF YOU) which I cherish as well.  The band has a wonderful rhythm section, delicious ensemble playing, fine soloists, and one of my favorite singers, Laura Windley, whose voice is like the pleasure I take from my first bite into a splendid local apple: just the right mix of crisp, tart, sweet.

And ths CD passes the JAZZ LIVES test: when I come to the last song, I start it up again.

Now for some details: the musicians are Michael Gamble, string bass, arrangements, leader; Jonathan Stout, guitar; Keenan McKenzie, reeds; James Posedel, piano; Jonathan Doyle, reeds; Russ Wilson, drums; Noah Hocker, trumpet; Josh Collazo, drums; Gordon Au, trumpet; Jason DeCristofaro, vibraphone; Laura Windley, vocal; Lucian Cobb, trombone; David Wilken, trombone.  (Not everyone plays on every track, but you’ll have to buy the CD to figure out who’s on the stand at any given time.)

The songs: GET RHYTHM IN YOUR FEET / ROYAL GARDEN BLUES / ON THE ALAMO / IT’S TOO HOT FOR WORDS / NAPPIN’ JOHN / GOT A PEBBLE IN MY SHOE / WHOA, BABE! / OH, LADY BE GOOD! / RIGAMAROLE / HOW COULD YOU? / DOWN HOME JUMP / DON’T MEDDLE IN MY MOOD / BREAKFAST FEUD / MISS BROWN TO YOU / DON’T BE THAT WAY / MEMORIES OF YOU.  (Scholars will note the homage to Teddy, Billie, Benny, Ella, Chick, and Charlie . . . but also to Willie Bryant, Lionel, Cootie, Basie.  Gamble knows his Swing.)

And here’s what Michael Gamble has to say about the CD — modest and perceptive:

For the second record, I wanted to showcase a hotter, older repertoire than the first, and to particularly hone in on songs that would’ve been known to dancers of the mid-to-late thirties: An imaginary “must-have” collection of greatest hits for lovers of the Lindy Hop, Charleston, Balboa, Slow Drag, Shag; all the Peabody and One Step dancers, Savoy Ballroom regulars as well as followers of the Tin Pan Alley hit factories. Stomp tunes such as “Rigamarole” (by bandleader, early jazz disc jockey, and so-called “Mayor of Harlem” Willie Bryant) – a blazing tempo hop-across-the-coals for Jitterbugs of all stripes. Riff-fests like “Down Home Jump” and “Whoa, Babe!” (recorded by pioneering jazz vibraphonist Lionel Hampton) that served no higher purpose than to pull people onto the dance floor as if hypnotized by that infectious sound.

The other thing I tried to do was to serve up a sweet sample of some of the most beautiful songwriting from that time period, using as a jumping-off point the repertoire Benny Goodman seemed to hold onto over the years as his “cool down” pieces and small group features for himself. Tunes like “On the Alamo” and “Memories of You” are elegant demonstrations of the nostalgic sound that become popular as the Great Depression was winding down. The sentimental-but-smart elocution Laura Windley brings to the band pays respect to vocal performances by Kay Starr, Helen Ward, and of course Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday, each of whose work is lovingly represented here.

Nothing more needs to be said, except this exhortation: Buy this CD.  Whatever your mood, it will improve it.

May your happiness increase!

VALUABLE REAL ESTATE: MILK CRATE BANDITS, “THE NEIGHBOURHOOD”

I’m happy to announce that another small swinging group of hot-jazz-plus individualists exists, and there’s recorded evidence to prove their ability to spread good sounds.  This new band’s motto is CRIMINALLY GOOD MUSIC, and their cover picture is of leader Jack Ray, furtively walking off with a plastic milk crate that wasn’t his a minute before but is his now.  But since you can’t listen to a plastic box, the band has released a debut EP:

And you needn’t fear Jack and friends: all they want would be your ears. The MCB is an international band: Jack (who plays tenor banjo, sings, and composes) has rounded up some Vancouver friends — string bassist Jen Hodge and reedman Connor Stewart among them — and the New Orleans trumpet star Kevin Louis — to make a disc that has wonderful echoes of songs and swing but ultimately has its own distinctive personality.

There is a good deal that initially sounds familiar on this disc: New Orleans street rhythms, the prominence of the banjo — which in this case, is an excellent thing, since Jack truly knows how to play it.  But the MCB offer pleasing surprises to even the most jaded listener.  Many of the originals here seem for a moment to borrow a cadence or two from jazz classics, but if you blink, the echo is gone and the song has gone its own way, refreshingly.  The instrumental voicings, as well, move in and out of the familiar, and for those wanting to know Who or What this band “sounds like,” I kept thinking of Gordon Au and the Grand Street Stompers, and those who know me will know that is high praise. But there’s also a distinct folk flavor here (it doesn’t get in the way of the swing, lest you worry) and by the time I’d played the disc twice, I had come to think of Jack and friends as writers of musical vignettes: each one brief, memorable, quirky, unpredictable.

They deserve an attentive (although gleeful) listen.

Here‘s their Facebook page and website.  You can see videos of the band in action here and buy / download their CD here.  Every human need (at least as far as it relates to the lively music of the Milk Crate Bandits) gratified.

May your happiness increase!

“SHINE ON, HARVEST MOON”: TAMAR KORN, GORDON AU, DENNIS LICHTMAN, JARED ENGEL, CRAIG VENTRESCO at the LOST CHURCH (June 8, 2013)

In the dozen years I’ve lived here, my apartment has slowly morphed into a combination library / computer workshop / recording studio / and who knows what, based in the living room, with various effusions of CDs, books, external hard drives, cassettes, photographs — generally confined to the living room.  To my left, cassettes from the late Seventies on; to my right, a four-speed phonograph with (as I write) a Jess Stacy Commodore 78 of RAMBLIN’ and COMPLAININ’ on the turntable, adjacent to a newer stereo system.  Also on my left, long-playing records and hard drives; to my right, a wall of CDs.

There are rules: a new CD will migrate to the kitchen counter, but it knows it shouldn’t be there and it tends to hide and look abashed when discovered.  The bathroom and bedroom are off limits to music-infestation.  No, don’t ask for photographs.

But having JAZZ LIVES since February 2008 is like living inside a giant multi-sensory photograph album.  Insubstantial in some ways, seriously substantial in others.  I’ve posted nearly six thousand videos on YouTube, which means I’ve been a busy tech-primate.  And some more videos haven’t been posted, so the bits of information are thick in this one-bedroom palace of sound and sight.

Photograph by Michael Steinman

Every so often I want to hear and see something that gave me pleasure several times: at the moment of experience and, later, in writing about it, posting it, and enjoying it.  One that came to mind today was a performance I witnessed and savored in California at San Francisco’s The Lost Church, almost four years ago: Tamar Korn, Craig Ventresco, Jared Engel, Gordon Au, and Dennis Lichtman — mellowly celebrating the lunar power of love with SHINE ON, HARVEST MOON:

Awfully sweet, this speaks of a world where young people could ask the cosmos for help in romance and receive it.  Life before phones.

I will indulge myself in this again, and I encourage you to do so also.  When I take a day off from blogging, the search bar on front page will lead you to treats.

May your happiness increase! 

“SYNCOPATED CLASSIC”: GREG RUBY AND THE RHYTHM RUNNERS PLAY FRANK D. WALDRON

Frank D. Waldron wasn’t well-known outside the Seattle area, but the music he composed nearly a century ago is memorable.  Greg Ruby and the Rhythm Runners have brought Waldron’s quirky, lively music to life on a new CD.

As Greg tells us in the video above, Waldron’s music is an unearthed treasure. And the band he assembled to play it is superb: Gordon Au, Dennis Lichtman, Charlie Halloran, Cassidy Holden, Julian MacDonough, and himself — with Mike Marshall as a guest on two tracks.

As you’ve gathered from Greg’s video, the project needs funding to reach completion: see here or visit Kickstarter here — where you can contribute the smallest amount and get a tangible reward.  “Every dollar helps a lot.”

I am writing this post for reasons both selfish and altruistic.  First and perhaps most plain: the music is rewarding as a series of surprises: truly idiomatic previously-unheard compositions.  Of course there are Twenties and Thirties songs we haven’t heard before, but people deeply involved in this music know a wide range of compositions.  Waldron’s music has what they would have called “pep,” and it’s not a matter of being a series of rapid one-steps.  Rather, his compositions have memorable melodies, unpredictable turns, and multiple strains.  This CD is the equivalent of finding a folio of new Morton or Parham songs.

And, as I’ve written here, since there are few working bands with fixed personnel these days, the repertoire has understandably narrowed to “something everybody knows,” and that can make for monochromatic performances.  I dream that Greg’s work will stimulate a Waldron revival.

Second, music is more than its notation.  Greg’s Rhythm Runners are a superb group — musicians who respect the compositions but let their individual personalities come out sweetly and convincingly.  I was delighted by Greg’s first CD, WASHINGTON HALL STOMP, which I wrote about about here (and the personnel on that CD is the same as on SYNCOPATED CLASSIC).  I’d like to see this band prosper.

New music, estimable young musicians, a delightful — and well-recorded / well-produced new CD.  I encourage you to support this project.  And Frank D. Waldron thanks you as well.

May your happiness increase!

THE GRAND ST. STOMPERS: “DO THE NEW YORK”

do-the-new-york

Late last year, Gordon Au, — trumpeter, arranger, composer, bandleader, writer, thinker, scientist, satirist, linguist — sent me the digital files for the second CD by the Grand Street Stompers, DO THE NEW YORK, and I wrote back to him, “I am listening to DTNY (three tracks in, so far) and I love the mad exuberance and deep precision of the first track — a Silly Symphony, urban and hilarious and wonderfully executed. It’s a pity that the mobs no longer have transistor radios anymore, because each track could be an AM hit.”

Having listened to the disc several times by now, I stand by my initial enthusiasms.  But I wouldn’t want anyone to think that zaniness overrides music.  The compositions and performances are a lavish banquet of sounds and emotions: you won’t look at the CD player and think, “How many tracks are left?” at any point.

If you know Gordon Au, Tamar Korn, Molly Ryan, Kevin Dorn, Dennis Lichtman, Matt Koza, Matt Musselman, Nick Russo, Rob Adkins (and not incidentally Peter Karl, Kelsey Ballance, Kevin McEvoy, Barbara Epstein) you won’t need to spend a moment more on what I say.  Scroll down to the bottom of this long post and read Gordon’s notes, purchase, download: let joy be unconfined.

But I shall tell a story here.  Jon-Erik Kellso has been a very good guide to new talent: through him, for instance, I heard about Ehud Asherie.  In 2009, I arrived at The Ear Inn for a night of musical pleasure, and Jon-Erik told me he’d just finished “giving a lesson” to a young, seriously gifted trumpeter named Gordon who had wanted to study some fine points of traditional jazz performance practice from an acknowledged Master.  This young man would be at The Ear later.  And the prophesy came to pass.

Gordon’s trumpet playing was deliciously singular: he wasn’t a clone of one player or seven.  Climbing phrases started unpredictably and went unusual places; a solid historical awareness was wedded beautifully to a sophisticated harmonic sense, and everything made sense, melodically and emotionally.  He showed himself a fine ensemble player, not timid, oblivious, or narcissistic. When the set was over, we spoke, and he was genuinely gracious (later, in California, when I met his extended family, I understood why) yet with a quite delightfully sharp-edged wit, although he wasn’t flashing blades at me.

I began to follow Gordon — as best I could — to gigs: he appeared with Tamar Korn and vice versa; he took Jon-Erik’s place with the Nighthawks; he played with David Ostwald at Birdland . . . and soon formed his own group, the Grand Street Stompers.

(Gordon abbreviates “St.”; I spell it out.  My perversity, not his.)

Often I saw, and sometimes I videoed them at Radegast, then elsewhere — as recently as last year, when they did a remarkable session at Grand Central Station, surely their place on the planet.  Thus, as “swingyoucats” on YouTube, I’ve captured the band (releasing them, of course) on video for six years.

They are uniquely rewarding — a pianoless group that expresses its leader’s expansive, often whimsical personality beautifully.  Even when approaching traditional “traditional” repertoire, Gordon will take his own way, neatly avoiding piles of cliche in his path.  Yes, MUSKRAT RAMBLE — but with a Carbbean / Latin rhythm; yes, a Twenties tune, but one reasonably obscure, SHE’S A GREAT GREAT GIRL. Gordon’s compositions and arrangements always sound fresh — and they aren’t pastiches or thin lines over familiar chords — even if I’ve heard the GSS perform them for years.  And there are other wonderful quirky tangents: his love of Disney songs, the deeply refreshing ones, and his devotion to good yet neglected songs — the title track of this CD as well as WHILE THEY WERE DANCING AROUND on the group’s first CD.  And, I think this a remarkable achievement, with Gordon’s soaring lead and a beautifully-played banjo in the rhythm section, the GSS often summons up an early Sixties Armstrong All-Stars, all joyous energy.

A few more words about this CD.  Although one can’t underestimate the added frisson of hearing this band live — perhaps surrounded by dancers or dancing oneself, in a club, perhaps stimulated by ambiance, food, or drink . . . I think the experience of this disc is equal to or superior to anything that might happen on the spot.

Owing to circumstances, the GSS might be a quintet on the job; here it is a septet: trumpet / cornet; clarinet; soprano saxophone; trombone; banjo / guitar; string bass; drums; two singers.  This expansive array of individualists allows Gordon to get a more delightfully orchestral sound.  Even as a quintet, on the job, the GSS is a band and a working band at that: their performances are more than a series of horn solos, for Gordon has created twists and turns within his arrangements: riffs, backgrounds, trades, suets between instruments, different instruments taking the melodic lead — all making for a great deal of variety. Each chorus of a GSS performance feels satisfyingly full (not overstuffed) and delightfully varied.

And now I come to the possibly tactless part of the comparison between studio recording and live performance. With some bands, the studio has a chilling effect: everything is splendid, but the patient has lost a good deal of blood.  And the impolite truth is the a group like the GSS performs in places where alcohol is consumed, so the collective volume rises after the first twenty minutes.  Buy this disc to actually hear the beautiful layering and subtleties of the group that you might not hear on the job.  Or just check it out for the sheer pleasure of it all.

Sound samples, ways to purchase a physical disc or download one (complete or individual performances) here — and Gordon’s very eloquent and sometimes hilarious liner notes here.

Listen, read, enjoy, savor, download, purchase.  As Aime Gauvin, “Doctor Jazz,” used to say on the radio, “Good for what ails you!”

May your happiness increase!

“IT’S GRAND, MAN!” (Part One): GORDON AU’S GRAND STREET STOMPERS (Sept. 10, 2016)

Even though the event was called DEATH IN THE AFTERNOON — both a tribute to Ernest Hemingway and his habit of “daydrinking,”  nobody died.  In fact, we were all given new tangible reasons to want to live, and live well at the afternoon event put on by Ward 8 Events at Raoul’s in Greenwich Village on September 10, 2016.  It was a divine Prohibition-themed afternoon of delicious things to eat — far better than the best hors d’oeuvres I could imagine — and beautifully-executed cocktails.

PULLING FOR HIM

And of course there was superb hot music by Gordon Au and his Grand Street Stompers, concentrated into a quartet of Gordon, trumpet, vocal, arrangements, compositions; Matt Koza, reeds; Glenn Crytzer, guitar; Scott Colberg. string bass.  This compact hot band began the afternoon with several songs associated with Louis — aesthetic choices I can approve of.

INDIANA:

SOMEDAY YOU’LL BE SORRY:

COME BACK, SWEET PAPA:

ONCE IN A WHILE:

CANAL STREET BLUES:

As is usual with Gordon, the repertoire broadened as the afternoon went on: his imagination is spacious.  For future: I understand that there is a new GSS CD in the works, featuring — as well as instrumental brilliance, wit, and lyricism — solos and duets from Tamar Korn and Molly Ryan.  I’ll let you know more as the curtains slowly are parted.  Until then, savor these wonderful performances from a rainy afternoon in September 2016.

And thanks to Fay Leshner of Ward 8 events for making this afternoon dream a reality.

May your happiness increase!

WHAT A BAND! MICHAEL GAMBLE and THE RHYTHM SERENADERS

Yes, Virginia, there are many “swing” “bands” that “play” Thirties and Forties repertoire for dancers and listeners.  I could tell many a tale.  But Michael Gamble and The Rhythm Serenaders really swing, without a quotation mark in sight.  Maybe it’s because their leader is a swinging string bassist who’s thus situated in the heart of the rhythm section that the disc sounds so good.  Maybe it’s because Michael has surrounded himself with musicians who understand ensemble playing as well as their solo excursions.  Musicians, I point out, who understand Buck Clayton, Ben Webster, Lester Young, Allan Reuss, Pete Brown, Dicky Wells, Charlie Christian, Jo Jones, Billie Holiday without copying them.

Whatever magic it took to create this band and this CD is in the hearts and bodies of the creators, I can only imagine.  I can only comment on the gratifying results.

michael-gamble

Their debut CD is an authentic-sounding tasting menu of good things.  If you’re like me, a close listener who has many Swing Heroes and Heroines, the list of people on the disc will immediately act as confirmation that a purchase would be a good idea (you have a birthday behind you or coming soon, correct?):

Michael Gamble, Bass / Keenan McKenzie, Clarinet and Saxes / Jonathan Stout, Lead Guitar / Paul Cosentino, Clarinet and Saxes / Russ Wilson, Vocals and Drums / Brooks Prumo, Rhythm Guitar / Gordon Au, Trumpet / Craig Gildner, Piano / Noah Hocker, Trumpet / James Posedel, Piano / Josh Collazo, Drums / Lucian Cobb, Trombone / Laura Windley, Vocal / David Wilken, Trombone.

And the repertoire: BACK IN YOUR OWN BACKYARD / I NEVER KNEW / SLIDIN’ AND GLIDIN’ / SEVEN COME ELEVEN / PICK-A-RIB / A MELLOW BIT OF RHYTHM / BUG IN A RUG / HE AIN’T GOT RHYTHM / WHO’S SORRY NOW? / WOKE UP CLIPPED / ROSE ROOM / WHAT A NIGHT, WHAT A MOON, WHAT A GIRL / CRAZY ABOUT LESTER /SCOTTIE / SMOKE GETS IN YORU EYES.

You’ll notice that this band has dug deeply and wisely into the music rather than offering the standard two dozen overplayed standards of the swing era.  Rocking tempos with lovely fervent playing and singing throughout.  I guarantee it.

And here’s an audio-visual sampler, quite authentic and lively:

 

Here is the spot that’s hot: where you can purchase this disc. Even if you’re like me, whose swing dancing is the happy motion of my head and my right foot — an imagined choreography much more than a full-body actualized one — you will love the music that Michael and the band create.  It feels real — rhythmically, melodically, and spiritually.  (If you are a swing dancer, you surely have encountered this band somewhere and already have purchased their music, which amounts to a compact party.  Just add bottled water and snacks.)

And here is the band’s schedule: coming soon to a waxed floor near you!

May your happiness increase!

LIFE-ENHANCING: “DEATH IN THE AFTERNOON” (September 10, 2016)

No, not Hemingway’s DEATH IN THE AFTERNOON in its most literal sense. Lively hedonism, with no animals harmed.

PULLING FOR HIM

I’d not heard of Ward 8 Events before, but their video, cleverly mixing Fleischer-surrealism, hot dance, food and drink in nicely measured portions, convinced me that my life had been arid and bland before this discovery.

They create “multi-disciplinary events unified around a single theme” — but that description isn’t enough.  “What they do” is artistic without being pretentious, well-researched without being staid, and it includes things we love: fine food and drink, tap-dancing, hot jazz, and more. 

This event is on Saturday, September 10, from 2-6 PM, and here is their description.

“Entitled ‘Death in the Afternoon’ and inspired by the Prohibition Era, the event will take place in a secret backroom of the acclaimed restaurant Raoul’s in Soho, and will include a collection of restaged bootlegger portraits by New York-based photographer David White, performances by The Grand St. Stompers plus a tap dancer from the Downtown Dance Factory, and a special menu of craft cocktails and passed food from Raoul’s chef David Honeysett.”

Raoul’s is a highly-rated French restaurant in Soho, at 180 Prince Street, New York City.

If you’ve never heard or heard of Gordon Au or of his Grand Street Stompers, please click here.  (Talk about “life-enhancing”!)

I’d asked the organizer, Fay Leshner, two idle questions to satisfy my curiosities, and her answers are so pointed and witty that I reprint them here:

With “passed food,” we mean “passed” in the sense of distributed by someone else, not in the sense of kidney stones…that said, these are more than your standard cucumber-slice-on-a-saltine – we’ll be offering appetizers and other selections from Raoul’s acclaimed chef, and while it won’t be a sit-down meal I can promise that it will nevertheless stand on its own merits.

As for “Death in the Afternoon” – while we aren’t fans of bullfighting, we are deep admirers of Hemingway’s tireless commitment to the lost art of daydrinking, and we feel that this event will evoke that freewheeling daytime appreciation of the creative spirit (and creatively-mixed spirits) that Ernest and his contemporaries so poetically portrayed in both their art and their lives.

For me, the high point of this event will be another opportunity to hear Gordon Au’s superb band, the Grand Street Stompers, a group I’ve chronicled on JAZZ LIVES since its inception . . . everything else will be gloriously atmospheric additions.

For more information, visit here.  To purchase tickers, direct your nicely manicured fingers here.

May your happiness increase!