Tag Archives: Gordon Au

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!