Tag Archives: Gordon Jenkins

ISN’T HE ROMANTIC?

This is not a posting about August 4, 1901 as “Louis Armstrong’s real birthday”: let those who want to chew that crust have at it.  However, I began my lifelong adoration of Louis not with WEST END BLUES or WEATHER BIRD, but with three long-playing records: LOUIS ARMSTRONG AND GORDON JENKINS (1949-52 Decca sides on a 10″ lp), TOWN HALL CONCERT PLUS (RCA Victor 12″) and, perhaps oddly, the soundtrack to THE FIVE PENNIES (Dot 12″).  It took a long time for me to be excited by the Hot Five, but I was wooed completely by Louis’ romanticism: a few examples will open the door to a lifetime’s devout listening.

These are not the songs you associate with Louis: no 250 high C’s, just sweetness, an openness to passionate feeling.  On the Jenkins sides below, I can’t be sure, but I would give Milt Gabler credit for placing unfamiliar beautiful songs in front of Jenkins and Louis — what wonders!

JEANNINE (I DREAM OF LILAC TIME):

IT’S ALL IN THE GAME:

CHLO-E:

LISTEN TO THE MOCKING BIRD:

and, in 1941:

and in 1936:

a 1935 film song (listen to the “Louis” accompaniment to his vocal, and catch his four emphatic perfectly timed quarter notes after his vocal, too):

and a song I only knew through Connee Boswell’s tender reading:

and a 1957 record (with backing by Russ Garcia) that my father brought home as a gift, and I treasure today.  There should be ten or so songs on this playlist, and this recording is truly the work of a mature artist at his peak of feeling.  I have read that this album was made after Louis and Garcia performed this repertoire live at the Hollywood Bowl, thus “under the stars.”  Where were the television cameras then?

I can’t imagine what my life would have been like without the mystical appearance of Louis Armstrong in it, decades ago.  And I don’t even want to try.

May your happiness increase!

SONGS FOR LEE / SONGS FROM LEE (October 21 / 22, 2017)

It’s never too late to celebrate Beauty.

And with that thought — and the passing-away of Lee Konitz this month at 92 — I present this poignant performance from a CD (which just arrived in the mail) called OLD SONGS NEW by Lee’s 2017 Nonet — arranged by Ohad Talmor.  You can hear more music from this CD, purchase a download or an actual disc here. I encourage you to do the latter two. 

The members of the Nonet are Lee Konitz, alto saxophone; Ohad Talmor, tenor saxophone (5), arranger, conductor; Caroline Davis, flute and alto flute; Christof Knoche, clarinet; Denis Lee, bass clarinet; Judith Insell, viola; Mariel Roberts, cello; Dimos Goudaroulis, cello; Christopher Tordini, bass; George Schuller, drums.  And Talmor’s music is such a wildly delicious repast that I found myself listening — for the third time today — to it, alone, as best I could.

Here is Gordon Jenkins’ heartbreaking GOOD-BYE:

It is right to say Farewell to the Lee Konitz who carried a saxophone case, spoke, sang, and played.  That temporal envelope is gone.  But much remains: the songs, the passions, the intelligence, the sound.  So this is, to me, the fitting countermelody and countertruth, by Harry Warren:

I could write this post in honor of so many people, both dear to me and others, nameless but dear to others, who have moved to another neighborhood where they seem inaccessible.  But I will leave such griefs to you, and, instead, offer this music to console, to solace, to uplift — to attempt to keep us buoyant in darkness. 

May your happiness increase!

DELIGHT IN DECEIT, or A FEW MINUTES MORE WITH REBECCA KILGORE, ROSSANO SPORTIELLO, DAN BARRETT, JON BURR, RICKY MALACHI (Jazz at Chautauqua, Sept. 21, 2012)

Did someone tell a fib?

Who knew such a sad subject could be so pleasingly swung?

Rebecca Kilgore, Rossano Sportiello, Dan Barrett, Jon Burr, Ricky Malachi at Jazz at Chautauqua 2012.

Walter Donaldson’s LITTLE WHITE LIES has a brief verse detailing a romance-dream smashed because of untruths . . . which would lead us to expect a soggy morose song to follow (check out the Dick Haymes / Gordon Jenkins version on YouTube, for confirmation) but Ms. Kilgore doesn’t go in for masochism in song, so her version (with Rossano Sportiello, piano; Dan Barrett, trombone; Jon Burr, string bass; Ricky Malachi, drums) makes light of heartbreak:

Particular pleasures are Becky’s first sixteen bars — a cappella — and the joyous looseness of her second chorus.  And the swinging support from this group!

Here are two more delights from this session.  More to come from Chautauqua.

And a reminder: No matter how encouraging the moonlight, aim for candor.

May your happiness increase!

EIGHT FOR THE FOURTH (July 4, 2018)

His limitless world.

Photograph courtesy of the Louis Armstrong House Museum

I thought I would — to celebrate Louis’ birthday (no arguing, now) — post my own very idiosyncratic survey of recordings I have loved for decades.

TOO BUSY, June 26, 1928 (Lille Delk Christian, Jimmie Noone, Earl Hines, Mancy Carr):

RED CAP, July 2, 1937 (Shelton Hemphill, Louis Bacon, Henry “Red” Allen, George Matthews, George Washington, J.C. Higginbotham, Pete Clarke, Charlie Holmes, Albert Nicholas, Bingie Madison, Luis Russell, Lee Blair, Pops Foster,  Paul Barbarin, Chappie Willett):

TRUE CONFESSION, January 13, 1938 (J.C. Higginbotham, Charlie Holmes, Bingie Madison, Luis Russell, Lee Blair, Pops Foster, Paul Barbarin):

IN THE GLOAMING, March 10, 1941 (George Washington, Prince Robinson, Luis Russell, Lawrence Lucie, Johnny Williams, Sidney Catlett):

I WANT A LITTLE GIRL, September 6, 1946 (Vic Dickenson, Barney Bigard, Charlie Beal, Allan Reuss, Red Callendar, Zutty Singleton):

JEANNINE, I DREAM OF LILAC TIME, November 28, 1951 (Gordon Jenkins, Charles Gifford, George Thow, Bruce Hudson, Eddie Miller, Dent Eckels, Charles LaVere, Allan Reuss, Phil Stephens, Nick Fatool):

HOME, August 14, 1957 (Russell Garcia):

CABARET, August 25, 1966 (Robert Mersey, Buster Bailey, Tyree Glenn, Marty Napoleon, Bobby Domenick, Buddy Catlett, Danny Barcelona):

When I try to imagine a universe without Louis, I cannot.  And I don’t want to.

May your happiness increase!

“SINCERELY”: LOUIS ARMSTRONG: THE DECCA SINGLES 1949-1958

its-all-in-the-game-louis

Slowly, slowly, our awareness of Louis Armstrong spreads and deepens.  Of course, someone out there is still saying that everything after POTATO HEAD BLUES was a colossal misstep.  And somewhere, another gently misguided soul is suggesting that “Louis Armstrong was the worst thing that ever happened to traditional jazz,” which is a direct quotation and one that tried my peaceful nature to the breaking point.

But many people understand or have come to understand — to feel — that whatever Louis touched, he made beautiful.  So I write what I believe: that the recordings newly issued by Universal, annotated by our own local hero, Ricky Riccardi, are some of Louis’ greatest.  They are masterpieces of technique, drama, and above all, emotion.  And if I hear whimpers, “But they’re commercial!  The songs are so beneath him,” I will call Security to clear the room.

Here is the official link to the Universal Records issue — 95 songs, available through Apple here for download.  No, they aren’t going to be issued on CD. Downloads, like love, are here to stay — so ask a niece or nephew to assist you. And if the idea of intangible music — sounds without a tangible disc, shellac, vinyl, or plastic, is odd and threatening, think of downloading as new-fangled radio.

However, there are characteristically wise and rewarding liner notes by Mister Riccardi, about fifty thousand words, so knock yourself out here.  I believe that the cost for the whole package is $44.95 and individual tracks are priced at $1.29, which is not prohibitive.  As we have gotten used to cheap food in the last forty or fifty years, we also expect music to be free.  Silliness and selfishness, but that’s another blogpost.  This one is to celebrate Louis.

louis-armstrong-decca-singles

I listened to all ninety-five sides recently, and I am floating.

45-record-case-better

I grew up with some of these recordings —  Louis and Gordon Jenkins, especially — so they are very tender artifacts to me.  I came to Louis slightly later than the time period of this set: I think I bought my first record in 1963, although the experience of buying individual 45 rpm discs in paper sleeves is a part of my childhood.  Department stores had record departments, as did the “five and dime” stores, Woolworth’s, Kresge’s, W.T. Grant, so hanging out there was a real part of my childhood and adolescence.  Of course, I separated myself from my peers early, but that is not something I lament.  In the Sixties and Seventies, Decca collected many of these sides on 12″ lps — SATCHMO IN STYLE, SATCHMO SERENADES, and the like.  This is to say that perhaps ten of the ninety-five sides were new to me, but the music is astonishing throughout.

Several aspects of this set are powerful to me and will be to you.  One is the trumpet playing. Louis’ unrivaled ability to make a “straight” melody come alive — “tonation and phrasing,” he called it — shines through every track.  Listeners who only see brass instruments in the hands of people who have spent the requisite ten thousand hours may not know how difficult what he does, casually, from track to track.  Ask a trumpet player how easy it would be to reproduce four bars of Louis.  I think you will be startled by the answer.  I know people rightly hold up his recordings of the Twenties and Thirties as examples of astonishing grace and power — and they are — but his trumpet playing in 1949-1958 is awe-inspiring, his huge sound captured beautifully by Decca’s engineers.

(And for those who worry about the “jazz quotient,” Louis is so strongly evident throughout that this should be enough — but one also hears from Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Jordan, Jack Teagarden, Earl Hines, Billy Kyle, Trummy Young, Barney Bigard, Billy Butterfield, Allan Reuss, Charles LaVere . . . )

Another pleasure is the alchemy Louis works on the material.  For those who are appalled by, let us say, YOUR CHEATIN’ HEART or SKOKIAAN, I ask them to take a deep breath and evaluate the lyric and melodic quality of, perhaps, THAT’S WHEN I’LL COME BACK TO YOU before criticizing the “pop” material. And if a record of WINTER WONDERLAND brought people to hear and warm to Louis, then the large reach into popular songs — nothing new — that Jack Kapp and Milt Gabler did is a very good thing.

The final thing that kept revealing itself, over and over, was Louis’ deep innate romanticism, his delight in singing and playing about love — hopeless love, disappointed love, fulfilled love — all the shadings from bleak to ecstatic.  Even those people who admire Louis as I do have not always given him credit as a great poet of love, vocally and instrumentally.  His dramatic sense is peerless on these records.

If you feel as I do, perhaps I am overstating the obvious.  But if you don’t, I ask you to listen to this:

and this, which to me has some of the emotional power of Billie’s Commodore ballads:

and this tender hymn, which I’ve loved for decades:

I know that 2016 has been a dazzling year for reissues and issues of material never heard before — consider several new Mosaic sets and the two volumes of material from the Savory collection — but this music is extraordinary: you can’t afford to miss these dreams.

May your happiness increase!

RHYTHM AND MIRACLES

LOUIS and GORDON JENKINS larger

Since 1971, July 6 is always a mournful date for me, since Louis Armstrong departed this temporal neighborhood (“made the transition,” “passed into Spirit,” or what you will) on that day.

Because of the beautiful post Ricky Riccardi wrote about the last music Louis listened to before he died (here) I was ready to write about an emotional vortex that hit me hard.

On the last tape Louis made for himself, he led off with SATCHMO IN STYLE, the life-enhancing music he and Gordon Jenkins made from 1949-52).  That’s important to me, because eight of those performances are the music that made me absolutely devoted to Louis — this is more than a half-century ago.

But then I thought of the tradition where you rejoice at the funeral, and that Louis would not have wanted us to weep, but to hear good music with a strong lead and wonderful melodies.  I think he would also have approved of seeing buoyant young swing dancers move around, for this was the way (in a backwards fashion) that he fell in love with Lucille Wilson, his fourth wife.

So here we are,  rhythm and miracles conjoined, which is also appropriate.

I GOT RHYTHM:

I BELIEVE IN MIRACLES (with the verse and at a gorgeous tempo):

These videos come to us through the generosity of the musicians and dancers, but also because of videographer Laura Beth Wyman of Wyman Video, who did a splendid job in capturing that most difficult situation: a room full of dancers with musicians playing for them.  The musicians!  James Dapogny, piano; Mike Jones, clarinet; Roderick McDonald, guitar; Joe Fee, string  bass. This performance took place during the properly named Plenty Rhythm Weekend.  Filmed at Gretchen’s House, Ann Arbor, Michigan, on December 5, 2015.  For more rhythmic miracles, visit here.

Good enough for Louis.  Good enough for us.

May your happiness increase!

DUCHESS IS TWO (AND WE ARE GLAD)

Happy Birthday, Duchess! That's Amy, Hilary, and Melissa.

Happy Birthday, Duchess! That’s Amy, Hilary, and Melissa.

DUCHESS is two.  If you know them, that is cause for celebration: they are a witty, swinging, tender, hilarious vocal trio: Amy Cervini, Hilary Gardner, Melissa Stylianou.  Their repertoire is inspired by the Sisters Boswell and Andrews, but they are far from a repertory company of old-records-brought-to-life, and they have singular energy and snap.  If DUCHESS is new to you, prepare to be cheered and elated.

At their October 16 concert at the Rubin Museum of Art in New York City (a most congenial place to wander in as well as a comfortable venue for music) they were supported by Jeff Lederer, reeds; Michael Cabe, piano; Elias Bailey, string bass;  Jesse Lewis, guitar.  The show was billed as DUCHESS UNPLUGGED, so (with regrets) they left their percussionist at home and performed with very little electrical or electronic assistance.  I was thrilled to be invited to the Rubin concert and brought back for the JAZZ LIVES audience four new videos of DUCHESS doing what they do best — enthusiastic, expert harmony and solo singing, beautifully and warmly accomplished.

Remembering the Rhythm Boys, Bix and  Bing, THERE AIN’T NO SWEET MAN (THAT’S WORTH THE SALT OF MY TEARS):

For those three Greek women who went before, THREE LITTLE SISTERS:

And those harmony masters from New Orleans, EVERYBODY LOVES MY BABY:

Finally, by special request (mine) the very tender P.S., I LOVE YOU:

And since you’ll now want to learn more about DUCHESS, follow them to other gigs, and buy their wonderful CD, some cyber-data.

Here is their YouTube channel; here is their website; here is their Facebook page; here is my enthusiastic review of their debut CD.

Two other thoughts.  I am always moderately proud of my videos as one kind of representation of an experience, but DUCHESS is a more vivid experience than even the best cameras could capture.  They do that rare thing — sometimes lost in this century — of providing inventive music while entertaining us.  And I don’t think “entertainment” is a negative word.  So you could take someone to hear DUCHESS even if that person steadfastly says, “I don’t like jazz.  I don’t understand it,” and there would be a sweet (subversive) conversion experience before the night was through.  If this sounds like a not-terribly subtle encouragement to see DUCHESS live, it is.  We wish them many more birthdays.

May your happiness increase!

“WITH A SWEET BOUQUET”: VARIATIONS ON A LOVE-THEME

A fairly well-known (now obscure?) pop song from 1951 is the text for my mellow sermon for today:

its-all-in-the-game-tommy-edwards

This ten-inch Decca recording — more than fifty years old now — which I guard tenderly — is the music of my childhood that has never disappointed me.

LOUIS and JENKINS

Another issue:

LOUIS and JENKINS one

And just because the photograph of Louis and Gordon turned up on eBay ( I know nothing about the  photograph below it) here it is once again:

LOUIS and JENKINS two

Since my dear friend Ricky Riccardi is in New Orleans for the 2015 Satchmo Summerfest, I asked his permission and checked with his legal staff and was allowed a one-time exception to create a Riccardi-style posting which, of course, is not up to his standards . . . but he’s about half my age.  More energy.

Let’s begin where it all began — Charles G. Dawes’ MELODY [or sometimes, MELODY IN A].  Dawes is the most unlikely composer I can think of, a Brigadier General who had taught himself piano and composition, a banker who became  Calvin Coolidge’s Vice President, and won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1925.  Dawes lived a long time — 1865-1951, and wrote this piece in 1911.  Here is a 1924 recording with Fritz Kreisler, violin; Carl Lamson, piano:

The opening phrase — a simple ascent and descent — is what we call a hook now, although that phrase wouldn’t have applied in 1911.  It’s in 6/8, and it seems as far as one could get from a danceable pop tune in 1924 and later.  But wait.

In 1940, Jimmy Dorsey and his Orchestra recorded LET ME DREAM, “adapted” from Dawes — I don’t think the melodic emendations are improvements, and I note that on the Decca label no lyricist is listed.  Bob Eberly sings it pleasantly enough, but the lyricist may have wanted to remain anonymous:

Two years later — perhaps as part of the famous Dorsey rivalry, perhaps in an attempt to find non-ASCAP material — brother Tommy recorded what I consider the first truly beautiful “modern” version, on a Red Seal Victor label which meant it was (loosely) a classical recording:

I don’t know who did the string arrangement, but it is dreamily beautiful even before Tommy enters.  And the trombonists in the audience (along with the rest of us) can marvel at Tommy’s tone and range.

I can’t find other recordings of this beautiful melody, but in 1951 Carl Sigman wrote lyrics for it and changed its name to IT’S ALL IN THE GAME.  Whether he modified the high notes or an arranger did — somewhere — I can’t say.  But this is the composition and performance I grew up with: Louis and Gordon Jenkins. Note: some listeners find the pairing of these two great artists unsatisfying; others make light of Jenkins’ sound, vocal and string arrangements.  I won’t have it.  If you want to write dismissively of this side, please refrain and come back tomorrow.

Incidentally, the personnel here is more than respectable in jazz players per inch, in addition to Louis and Gordon: Charles Giffard [misspelled as Gifford in all reference works: see below], George Thow, Bruce Hudson, trumpet; Eddie Miller, Dent Eckels, tenor saxophone; Charles LaVere, piano; Allan Reuss, guitar; Phil Stephens, string bass; Nick Fatool, drums . . . plus strings.

What you’ll hear is not just a 1951 pop tune orchestrated for jazz singer, small jazz band, and strings.  It has a compositional density — Jenkins thought orchestrally, his work a beautiful offering of contrasts and similarities — and the listener who is attentive will hear beautiful sounds.  I know: I’ve been listening to this record since perhaps 1959.  I’m never bored with this 3:22 concerto.

I don’t know if the “new” IT’S ALL IN THE GAME has a verse or an elaborate introduction, so I am assuming that this one is Gordon’s creation.  And what an oddly ominous one it is: the first fourteen seconds a variation on the ascending figure with accents from orchestra bells.  It sounds to me as if a funeral is approaching, or (perhaps) a variation on the verse to WHEN DAY IS DONE — both unusual ways to approach a song that is ultimately redemptive.  Sigman’s lyrics are not about death, but a beautiful escape from emotional death: the lovers have had a serious spat and all is / can be repaired — so that the end is a love-ecstasy.  And the singer — in this case Louis — is beautifully asked to play the part of a gentle wise elder, counseling the young lover who is tearfully despondent: “It’s going to be all right.  You just wait.  I know,” which is advice all of us have needed at some time.

The minor mood gets slightly brighter when the strings enter, the top end of the violin section quite high, with beautiful shifting harmonies underneath — the most glorious waltz one could imagine.

Then, about a minute and a quarter in, one hears the jazz ensemble start to underpin the whole beautiful enterprise — the shift to 4 / 4 made clear by the addition of the rhythm section — and the horns and reeds create a simple echoing descending figure to change the key.  But before we can take this in for long, Louis enters at 1:30.  (Notice, please, that the recording is nearly half over before its Star comes on — which suggests that Gordon knew that Louis deserved the most wondrous buildup.)

The vocal is just sublime.  All the people who dismissed Louis as a romantic singer, someone who made nonsense of words, “gravel in his throat,” might do well to listen to this.  The horns play simple figures behind him and the rhythm section of LaVere, Reuss, Stephens, and Fatool — the best imaginable on the West Coast at that date) rock softly and with conviction.  And Louis treats the simple words with the utmost respect.  And close listeners well-versed in the Gospel of Louis will of course notice that Gordon’s figures are evocative of Armstrong licks.  (A liner note writer for a CD issue of this material whose name I am choosing to ignore called this practice “blatant,” not understanding that it was both an in-joke and an expression of the deepest reverence: surrounding Louis with Louis, amen.)

The strings come in when the lyrics describe having “words with him” — interesting that the singer is speaking to an unhappy young woman.  Singers, please pay attention to the rubato within “And your future’s looking dim!” — the phrasing there is worth a whole Jazz Studies degree.  And, happily, after Louis sings “above,” the strings play — written — one of Louis’ most famous scat figures.  I can’t imagine that Louis wasn’t dee-lighted to hear that.

A looser, warmer vocal conclusion follows, ending in “And your heart will fly away,” ending in a scat passage that is like a caress, like someone’s dear hand making the grief go away.

When I hear this recording, I have tears in my eyes, but they are tears of joy. Recovery is possible.

I didn’t know where in this post to place the more famous (how could this be?) recording of the song — by Tommy Edwards in 1958.  It was an immense hit and sold three million copies.  I think it is a descent from the heights, singer and orchestra, but you are welcome to enjoy it.  Quietly, please.  Use your earbuds:

If you want to understand the majesty of Louis and the gracious warm world that Gordon Jenkins created, though, go back to the penultimate version.

I will close with a little anecdote.  In graduate school, one of my professors was Dr. Spencer — a tall woman who had been born in the UK and had retained a crisp manner of speaking.  We were discussing some nineteenth-century love poem, and she said, “There was a hit pop song some years back called IT’S ALL IN THE GAME, and it referred to “the wonderful game that we know as love.” Taking her glasses off and looking at one impish and weary, she said, “Of course, love is a game.  But you must be sure you know the rules of it, and always bring the right equipment.”  Then she said, “I will see you on Thursday.”  I’ve never forgotten that.

Postscript: one of the many wonderful things about having this blog is the people who write in — not to criticize, but to add information that is true and little-known.  I bless Michael Sigman, son of lyricist Carl Sigman, for sending me this beautiful information about the song:

The most interesting story-behind-a-song saga in Carl’s career began with a phone call from a publisher. For years Carl had thought about writing a lyric for a tune he remembered from his classical training. “The Dawes Melody,” or “Melody In A Major,” was a classical violin and orchestra piece composed in 1911 by none other than Charles G. Dawes, later Vice President of the United States under Calvin Coolidge.

Dawes composed the piece in a single piano sitting. “It’s just a tune that I got in my head, so I set it down,” he told an interviewer. He played it for a friend, the violinist Francis MacMillan, who liked it enough to show it to a publisher, and Dawes was officially a composer. The tune garnered some popularity when Jascha Heifetz used it for a time as a light concert encore.

Early in 1951, Carl decided to try and write a lyric to the theme, believing that it was in the public domain, as free of complications as an old Mozart melody. He knew the two-octave range would be a problem, but figured he could fool around with the melody, take out the high notes and make it more singable.

By sheer coincidence, Warner Brothers publishing exec Mac Goldman called one day to ask Carl to consider writing a lyric to “The Dawes Melody,” the copyright for which, it turned out, was owned by Warners.

Once Carl recovered from the news that the song was in fact already copyrighted, he rejiggered the tune and realized that a phrase from another song he was working on, a conversational phrase he’d plucked from the vernacular, was perfect for this tune. Once he plugged that title into its proper place, the lyrics to “It’s All In The Game,” to quote Carl, “wrote themselves.”

It’s All In The Game

Many a tear has to fall but it’s all in the game
All in the wonderful game that we know as love

You have words with him and your future’s looking dim
But these things your hearts can rise above

Once in a while he won’t call but it’s all in the game
Soon he’ll be there at your side with a sweet bouquet
And he’ll kiss your lips and caress your waiting fingertips
And your hearts will fly away

Carl also wrote this never-recorded intro, to be sung prior to “Many a tear…”

Where love’s concerned
At times you’ll think your world has overturned
But if he’s yours, and if you’re his
Remember this…

Unfortunately, the Vice President never got to hear the lyric. On the day Carl handed in the finished assignment, Dawes died of a heart attack, prompting Mac Goldman to quip, “Your lyric must have killed him.”

“It’s All In The Game” found its way to prominence in a prototypic version, in waltz time, by Tommy Edwards. That record made the top twenty in late 1951, and the song was quickly covered by the likes of Louis Armstrong, Dinah Shore and Sammy Kaye. Seven years later, Edwards, still recording for the MGM label, re-cut the song in the contemporary 4/4 tempo doo-wop mode, and it became one of the biggest hits of the fifties, staying in the top 10 for twelve weeks, six of them at #1.

During the summer of ’58, when “It’s All In The Game” was battling it out for the top spot with another classic, Domenico Modugno’s “Volare (Nel Blu Dipinto Di Blu),” I was a nine-year old attending Kings Point Country Day Camp. As I changed into my baseball uniform in the locker room every day, I’d burst with pleasure when the radio played our song, and “boo” whenever “Volare” came on.

May your happiness increase!

“GLIDE, SLIDE, PRANCE, DANCE!”: ERIN MORRIS, BRITTANY ARMSTRONG, NATHAN BUGH (and the JAMES DAPOGNY QUARTET) DO THAT THING! (May 8, 2015)

To set the mood, Bessie Smith singing NEW ORLEANS HOP SCOP BLUES, from where I take my title.  (It’s especially appropriate because of the welcome attention paid Miss Bessie, and this track counteracts the prevailing impression of her as an artist who lived in darkness and sadness.)

She sings most convincingly about the joys of gliding, sliding, prancing, dancing. But that’s only sound.  We need more.

Let’s have some thrilling audio-visual evidence here from Erin Morris and friends, performed and recorded on May 8, 2015.

AIN’T ‘CHA GOT MUSIC? (by James P. Johnson) performed by Erin Morris and Brittany Armstrong with vocal by Nathan Bugh. Instrumental support by James Dapogny, piano; Mike Karoub, cello; Rod McDonald, guitar; Joe Fee, string bass. And they offer the verse:

LOVE ME OR LEAVE ME, by Erin and Nathan, a performance that is clearly more about dancing love than making exits:

and EXACTLY LIKE YOU, by Nathan and the Quartet:

I think of these performances — aurally, visually — as happiness in its purest form embodied.  When I am sad ad I need an aural reassurance that the world is a generous place, I put on the music of Louis Armstrong and Gordon Jenkins.

When I want to look at something to remind me how joyously expansive life is, I look at the videos of Erin Morris and her Ragdolls / James Dapogny and friends. Works for me, and it can work for you too.  These three videos come from Erin Morris & Her Ragdolls’ JASSAFRASS show: recorded for us by Laura Beth Wyman.

If you feel the spirit, why not truck on down to Erin Morris and Her Ragdolls and click the button marked “Like.”  Costs nothing; no obligation; it makes these hard-working joy-spreaders happier. And you can see more life-affirming videos there as well.

May your happiness increase!

“WHY, OF ALL THERE ARE, ARMSTRONG?”

I recently found myself in a friendly cyber-conversation with someone . . . in the way one meets people online in fragments, as if they are illuminated in part, coming out of total darkness, by a camera strobe.

This person knows my fascination with jazz and my reverence for Louis . . . which provoked the question (curious rather than hostile): “Why, of all there are, Armstrong?”

I confess that it stopped me abruptly for half a minute.  It has the same effect on me that the innocent question, “Michael, why do you like breathing so much?” might.  Now, I don’t know this person’s perception of “jazz” — it could begin and end with KIND OF BLUE or Bill Evans or be far more amorphous.  And there is so much Louis-stereotype in the air to those who haven’t gotten to his emotional center that perhaps the reply should not have surprised.

BUT.  I wrote back this.  (The “departed musician” was pianist Larry Eanet):

As for Louis — his music hit me “like Cupid’s arrow,” to quote a departed musician, when I was nine or ten and it hasn’t left. If you know him only as caricature, sweating, playing high notes, making faces, I hope (say) his recording of IT’S ALL IN THE GAME or ON A COCOANUT ISLAND is on YouTube. He goes right to the tenderest part of my being in ways that Coltrane won’t. I am a dinosaur but I love melodic improvisations, a la Ben Webster With Strings.

I am happy that YouTube provides the soundtrack.  Exhibit A:

I know some listeners will be shocked by the swooping beauty (some might say excess, but I won’t) of Gordon Jenkins’ strings . . . but what follows, when Louis makes his careful way through the lyrics, is the most deep tender authenticity. Without acting, without undue emphasis, he is the wise sweet Elder.  “I’ve been in love.  Let me put an arm around your shoulder and tell you what will happen. Take heart.  Be courageous.  Great rewards await those who can open their hearts to music, truth, and love.”

Exhibit B, for pure joy (thanks again to the generous Austin Casey):

I know there are a hundred recordings I could offer as proof of why Louis touches me so much — WEATHER BIRD, STARDUST, WHEN YOU’RE SMILING — but these do the work, especially because I think someone new to Louis can take in his tender voice more easily than the trumpet.

Like Cupid’s arrow.  Indeed.

May your happiness increase!

LIGHTLY AND POLITELY: THE SPEAKEASY QUARTET

If THE SPEAKEASY QUARTET is new to you, you might conclude that it was a vocal group, or a faux-Twenties ensemble, heavy on costume and affectation. Happily, you’d be misinformed:

Sounds very nice, doesn’t it?

A friend, knowing of my delighted reverence for the playing of jazz cellist Mike Karoub (with the Royal Garden Trio and most recently in James Dapogny’s hot string ensemble) said, “Karoub is an integral part of this quartet.  Have you heard them?”  Thus, the Speakeasy Quartet — originally a trio, formed in 2009 by rhythm guitarist — tenor rhythm guitarist — Hugh Leal, with Karoub, soprano saxophonist Ray Manzerolle, and pianist Mike Karloff.

They are unusual but they are also rewarding — mere novelty in music doesn’t win me over.  The odd instrumentation in itself would mean little if the players weren’t lyrical and swinging, which they are.  Ray Manzerolle is new to me, but I am glad to know him.  Often the soprano saxophone becomes at best an assertive instrument, at worst an assault weapon.  Ray has a delightfully centered tone, a sweet but not sugary tone, and a lightness of approach that reminds me happily of (still with us and playing) Robert Sage Wilber.  I know Ray, like Bob, draws inspiration from Bechet, but he does not adopt Bechet’s violent romanticism — and volume.

Pianist Mike Karloff is a quiet but essential member of the quartet, offering lilting melodic lines, subtle harmonic support and a modern Hines / Wilson commentary and comping.  Hugh Leal’s tenor guitar — the instrument of Eddie Condon and a young Marty Grosz — offers airy but strong support and a wonderful light swing.  He’s been playing since 1970, and his pulse never falters.

I think Karoub is one of the great multi-taskers: a swinging rhythm player without the ponderousness one sometimes finds in traditional string bass, then adding a wondrous light eloquence on swinging bowed cello. Think of Casals sneaking uptown to take lessons from Milt Hinton, and you have Karoub.  The Quartet’s sound is, be definition, silken and airy, but it’s not effete: they swing, and they swing effectively.

The group’s repertoire is a mixture of Bechet-associated classics — PREMIER BAL, EGYPTIAN FANTASY, INDIAN SUMMER — three very pleasing Manzerolle originals — TAKE ME UPTOWN TO DOWNTOWN, A LETTER FROM BECHET, CAFE ROYALE — and jazz classics covering a wide range — THE MOOCHE, EAST ST. LOUIS TOODLE-OO, JUBILEE, WRAP YOUR TROUBLES IN DREAMS, WILLIE THE WEEPER, WILD MAN BLUES.

Here’s the group’s Facebook page.  And their website, where you can hear more sound samples from the  CD.

The first pressing of the Speakeasy Quartet is sold out, but there is a special limited second run: the price is $18.00 including postage.  Send checks made out to Hugh Leal — to Hugh Leal, P.O. Box 681, Detroit, MI 48231.  And Hugh tells me that the second SEQ CD is coming out at the end of this June.

And here’s another taste — sweetly sad instead of frolicsome, Gordon Jenkins’ BLUE PRELUDE:

May your happiness increase!

ELEGANTLY IMAGINATIVE: ECHOES OF SWING, “BLUE PEPPER”

I begin somberly . . . but there are more cheerful rewards to follow.

As the jazz audience changes, I sense that many people who “love jazz” love it most when it is neatly packed in a stylistically restrictive box of their choosing. I hear statements of position, usually in annoyed tones, about banjos, ride cymbals, Charlie Parker, purity, authenticity, and “what jazz is.”

I find this phenomenon oppressive, yet I try to understand it as an expression of taste.  One stimulus makes us vibrate; another makes us look for the exit.  Many people fall in love with an art form at a particular stage of it and their development and remain faithful to it, resisting change as an enemy.

And the most tenaciously restrictive “jazz fans” I know seem frightened of music that seems to transgress boundaries they have created .  They shrink back, appalled, as if you’d served them a pizza with olives, wood screws, mushrooms, and pencils.  They say that one group is “too swingy” or “too modern” or they say, “I can’t listen to that old stuff,” as if it were a statement of religious belief.  “Our people don’t [insert profanation here] ever.”

But some of this categorization, unfortunately, is dictated by the marketplace: if a group can tell a fairly uninformed concert promoter, “We sound like X [insert name of known and welcomed musical expression],” they might get a booking. “We incorporate everyone from Scott Joplin to Ornette Coleman and beyond,” might scare off people who like little boxes.

Certain musical expressions are sacred to me: Louis.  The Basie rhythm section. And their living evocations.  But I deeply admire musicians and groups, living in the present, that display the imaginative spirit.  These artists understand that creative improvised music playfully tends to peek around corners to see what possibilities exist in the merging of NOW and THEN and WHAT MIGHT BE.

One of the most satisfying of these playful groups is ECHOES OF SWING. Their clever title says that they are animated by wit, and this cheerful playfulness comes out in their music — not in “comedy” but in an amused ingenuity, a lightness of heart.  They have been in action since 1997, and when I saw them in person (the only time, alas) in 2007, they were wonderfully enlivening.

This action photograph by Sascha Kletzsch suggests the same thing:

EchoesOfSwingInAction1 (Foto Sascha Kletzsch, v.l. Lhotzky, Hopkins, Dawson, Mewes)

They are Colin T. Dawson, trumpet / vocal;  Chris Hopkins, alto sax; Bernd Lhotzky, piano; Oliver Mewes, drums.  And they are that rarity in modern times, a working group — which means that they know their routines, and their ensemble work is beautiful, offering the best springboards into exhilarating improvisatory flights. They are also “a working group,” which means that they have gigs.  Yes, gigs!  Check out their schedule here.

Here  is a 2013 post featuring their hot rendition of DIGA DIGA DOO, and an earlier one about their previous CD, MESSAGE FROM MARS, with other videos — as well as my favorite childhood joke about a Martian in New York City here.  And while we’re in the video archives, here is a delicious eleven-minute offering from in November 2014:

and here they are on German television with a late-period Ellington blues, BLUE PEPPER:

All this is lengthy prelude to their new CD, aptly titled BLUE PEPPER:

EchoesOfSwing  - BluePepperCover

The fifteen songs on the disc are thematically connected by BLUE, but they are happily varied, with associations from Ellington to Brubeck and Nat Cole, composers including Gordon Jenkins, Rodgers, Bechet, Waller, Strayhorn — and a traditional Mexican song and several originals by members of the band: BLUE PEPPER / AZZURRO / BLUE PRELUDE / LA PALOMA AZUL / BLUE & NAUGHTY / BLUE MOON / BLACK STICK BLUES / BLUE RIVER / OUT OF THE BLUE / AOI SAMMYAKU [BLUE MOUNTAIN RANGE] / THE SMURF / BLUE GARDENIA / THE BLUE MEDICINE [RADOVAN’S REMEDY] / WILD CAT BLUES / AZURE.

What one hears immediately from this group is energy — not loud or fast unless the song needs either — a joyous leaping into the music.  Although this band is clearly well-rehearsed, there is no feeling of going through the motions. Everything is lively, precise, but it’s clear that as soloists and as an ensemble, they are happily ready to take risks. “Risks” doesn’t mean anarchy in swingtime, but it means a willingness to extend the boundaries: this group is dedicated to something more expansive than recreating already established music.

When I first heard the group (and was instantly smitten) they sounded, often, like a supercharged John Kirby group with Dizzy and Bird sitting in while at intervals the Lion shoved Al Haig off the piano stool.  I heard and liked their swinging intricacies, but now they seem even more adventurous.  And where some of the most endearing CDs can’t be listened to in one sitting because they offer seventy-five minutes of the same thing, this CD is alive, never boring.

A word about the four musicians.  Oliver Mewes loves the light-footed swing of Tough and Catlett, and he is a sly man with a rimshot in just the right place, but he isn’t tied hand and foot by the past.  Bernd Lhotzky is a divine solo pianist (he never rushes or drags) with a beautiful lucent orchestral conception, but he is also someone who is invaluable in an ensemble, providing with Oliver an oceanic swing that fifteen pieces could rest on.  I never listen to this group and say, “Oh, they would be so much better with a rhythm guitar or a string bassist.”

And the front line is just as eloquent.  Colin T. Dawson is a hot trumpet player with a searing edge to his phrases, but he knows where each note should land for the collective elegance of the group — and he’s a sweetly wooing singer in addition.  Chris Hopkins (quiet in person) is a blazing marvel on the alto saxophone — inventive and lyrical and unstoppable — in much the same way he plays the piano.

And here is what my wise friend Dave Gelly wrote: It’s hard to believe at first that there are only four instruments here. The arrangements are so ingenious, and the playing so nimble, that it could be at least twice that number. But listen closely and you will discover just a quartet of trumpet, alto saxophone, piano and drums – with absolutely no electronic tricks. The style is sophisticated small-band swing, the material a judicious mixture of originals and swing-era numbers and there is not a hint of whiskery nostalgia in any of it. It’s about time this idiom received some fresh attention and here’s the perfect curtain-raiser.

Here is their Facebook page, and their website.

We are fortunate that they exist and that they keep bringing us joyous surprises.

May your happiness increase!

LOUIS and EDDIE FISHER at the HOLLYWOOD BOWL (1954)

Thanks to Alberto Lancia — of Facebook — for bringing this gem to our attention.  How remarkable to see this, nearly sixty years later — with Gordon Jenkins having the time of his life behind Louis.

Yes, you can point out all the negatives: that the BOPPENPOOF SONG was divisive (Lee Konitz said it turned him away from Louis for years.  More’s the pity.)  You can say that Eddie Fisher was a minor talent.

But the fact remains that the deep good humor in this medley is like the sun chasing the darkness.

May your happiness increase.

LET ME OFF UPTOWN FOR THE HOLIDAYS (Part One): “CHRISTMAS STOMP” with GORDON AU’S GRAND STREET STOMPERS (Columbia University, December 1, 2012)

Saturday, December 1, 2012, was a wonderful day (they all are, if you have the right approach to them) but the evening was even better . . . I was fortunate enough to be uptown for the CD release party held at Columbia University.  The party was honoring the Grand Street Stompers on the occasion of their new CD, CHRISTMAS STOMP.  And STOMP they did.  (Learn more about that very pleasing CD here.)

GSS cover

For those of you who couldn’t take the A train (thank you, Billy Strayhorn) or drive uptown, here are some highlights of this most swinging, mobile evening. The participants: Gordon Au on trumpet / arrangements / compositions; Matt Musselman, trombone; Dennis Lichtman, clarinet; Davy Mooney, guitar; Jared Engel, string bass; Rich Levinson, drums; Tamar Korn, Molly Ryan, vocals — with guest appearances from the amazing dancer Andrew J. Nemr, clarinetist Dan Levinson, saxophonist Adam Lee, singer Margaret Gianquinto, and more.

Before we start,a caveat (nicely browned for the holiday season).  The music is wonderful; my videos are somewhat below-par for reasons that anyone who has been in a large hall filled with wonderfully graceful dancers will recognize.  An event such as this (thank you, Lucy!) is organized for the comfort and pleasure of the people who not only know what the Peabody is but are able to do . . . the world is not my sound stage.  Knowing this, I took up a position at the rear of the hall — a happy observer — and recorded what I saw.  In situations such as this, I think, “This is what it was like at the edge of the Savoy Ballroom,” and any discontent vanishes.  Perhaps next year someone will lend me a crane or at least a stepladder and a longer tripod.  Or not.  Here are the marvelous swirling delights I saw and heard on December 1.

I don’t know if it was because of his essential courtly modesty that Gordon called I MAY BE WRONG to start the evening.  More probably it was because that song (in 1934) became the theme song of the Apollo Theatre, and we were uptown:

WINTER WONDERLAND always used to be formulaic December-it’s-the -holidays-music until I heard Louis sing it with accompaniment / arrangement by Gordon Jenkins . . . .  Here Molly Ryan, fetching in green, steps up to the vocal microphone and reminds us just how pretty this simple 1931 song is: 

Some might presume that IT’S A SIN TO TELL A LIE (recorded memorably by Mr. Waller) was appropriate because of Santa’s ethical police, but I think swing candor is always valuable.  And Molly sings it without any didacticism:

WHEN I TAKE MY SUGAR TO TEA may have been the first song I ever heard Tamar Korn (all keyed up here, in red) sing.  Her improvisations on the theme remain memorable, sweet, tart, and hot:

Following in the holiday footsteps of Mister Strong, Tamar pretends to be a little anxious, asking the seasonal question, ‘ZAT YOU, SANTA CLAUS?:

And Tamar and the band offer Gordon’s whimsical sweet feline love song, CRAZY EYES:

More to come!  For now, if you’ve enjoyed these experiments in Cinema Very Tea, you’re sure to enjoy the real thing: learn more about the actual CD (a winner no matter what the calendar says) here.

May your happiness increase.

ATLANTA 2012: RUSS PHILLIPS, JOHN ALLRED, MARK SHANE, FRANK TATE, CHUCK REDD (April 22, 2012)

Not FLYIN’ HOME but its brass cousin — SLIDIN’ HOME as two of the best jazz trombonists show off their wonderful musical teamwork at the 2012 Atlanta Jazz Party.  Closer to my lens was John Allred, next to him (and at the microphone) was Russ Phillips; they were aided and abetted by Mark Shane, piano; Frank Tate, string bass; Chuck Redd, drums — a stellar rhythm trio.

We were more than satisfied!

The Rodgers and Hart classic THIS CAN’T BE LOVE:

Even more venerable, Isham Jones’ ON THE ALAMO:

An invitation to nocturnal spooning and the like, GET OUT AND GET UNDER THE MOON:

And, appropriately, Gordon Jenkins’ GOOD-BYE:

All this group needs is a nifty title or acronym.  JARP doesn’t convey their excellence sufficiently, nor does FSFT (Famous Sons of Famous Trombonists) but I am sure someone will suggest something better.

May your happiness increase.

THREE PATHS, ONE RESULT: “CHLOE”

This one’s for Chloe Lang.

I have a new obsession (among many) the singing, late and early, of Eva Taylor.  I’ve always been deeply connected to the song CHLOE (or CHLO-E) ever since I heard the recording Louis and Gordon Jenkins made of it.  And Henry “Red” Allen remains a hero.

Thus:

Eva with a Clarence Williams group, 1928:

Red and his little recording / jukebox swing band in 1936:

And the Master of them All:

All three paths head — in their own ways — to Beauty.  I know someone will dismiss the first recording as “sweet” rather than hot, although the instrumental playing in the second half is quite delightful.  But the great tenderness of her voice!

And some will be put off by the chorus on the last recording, which for me works perfectly as a dramatic statement, the voices providing counterpoint to Louis’ soaring trumpet and voice that I would not think of changing.  (And the question “Is that you, honey?” is always appropriate.)

I cannot imagine a fault anyone could find with Red’s version.

Everyone’s entitled to deeply subjective “taste,” but I feel sad for the listener who cannot put aside the preconceptions and hear the Beauty.  Or, better yet, the Beauties.

May your happiness increase.

“CHLOE (Song of the Swamp)”: THEME AND VARIATIONS

Written in 1927 by Gus Kahn and “Neil Moret,” the pseudonym of Charles N. Daniels, this song is both lovely and durable.  The sheet music says it is to be played or sung “in a tragic manner,” but liberties are always allowed here.  

Duke Ellington: thanks to Tricky Sam Nanton, Barney Bigard, Jimmie Blanton, Sonny Greer, Juan Tizol, Wallce Jones, Ben Webster — that astonishing Victor Orchestra of 1940:

The Blessed Henry “Red” Allen, 1936:

The magnificient Louis Armstrong with Gordon Jenkins, circa 1952 (don’t let the swooshing strings and crooning voices put you off):

And Miss Chloe Lang (photographed by Lorna Sass).

The inevitable postscript is this recording of CHLOE, one I also knew in my childhood — cheerfully undermined by Spike Jones and his City Slickers:

Ancient vaudeville, with pokes at Ted Lewis, of all people, but still memorable fun.

Everybody sing!

Chloe! Chloe!

Someone’s calling, no reply
Nightshade’s falling, hear him sigh

Chloe! Chloe!

Empty spaces in his eyes
Empty arms outstretched, he’s crying

Through the black of night
I’ve got to go where you are
If it’s dark or bright
I’ve got to go where you are

I’ll go through the dismal swampland
Searching for you
For if you are lost there
Let me be there, too

Through the smoke and flame
I’ve got to go where you are
For no place can be too far
Where you are

Ain’ no chains can bind you
If you live, I’ll find you
Love is calling me
I’ve got to go where you are.

LOVE IS CALLING US: ALL MONEY GOES TO THE MUSICIANS!

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JUST ROLL AROUND HEAVEN ALL DAY

 

REMEMBER!  ALL MONEY COLLECTED GOES TO THE MUSICIANS (CLICK THE LINK BELOW)!

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When I get up, it’s still quite dark — and cold in New York — and even though the groundhog is (in his own way) predicting an early spring, it remains to be seen.  This morning, prompted by whatever feeling of “But I don’t want to go to work!” I found myself humming

Up in the morning,

Out on the job,

Work like a devil for my pay . . .

lyrics from a rather simple hymnlike pop song written before I was born, one of those songs that purports to come from the mouth of a laboring man who wishes he could be in Heaven rather than slaving away on Earth.

I know it’s hilariously self-indulgent of me, because it’s a very good thing to be employed and complaining about it is bad manners . . . but . . . still.

YouTube, blessed YouTube, helped me out — you, too, can sing along. 

Some of my readers will groan at the choir and the swooping strings, but since the Decca sessions of Louis and Gordon Jenkins were the first jazz I heard that hit me, hard, I love this music.  And the sweetness of the arrangements brings out Louis’s most tender side — a man who knew what it was to work hard, that he might have remained a laboring man himself forever if not for luck and fate and that pistol . . . perhaps also remembering Joe Oliver and his vegetable stand. 

I don’t want to be like that lucky old sun just yet!  May Louis shine his beloved rays down on you all through your existence, waking and sleeping. 

JAZZ THROUGH THE LENS (on eBay)

This remarkable photograph of Paul Barbarin, New Orleans drummer, when he was driving the Louis Armstrong Orchestra (1935-39) is autographed to Midge Williams, who sang with Louis at the time (as did Sonny Woods, to handle the sweet numbers and to give Louis a rest).  It’s no longer possible to call up Joe Glaser and offer to hire Paul Barbarin, but this photograph — with all those lovely cymbals on hangers, temple blocks and a gong (take that, Sonny Greer!)  — makes us recall that such a thing was once possible.

More from Mr. Strong, the top picture particularly meaningful to me: from one of the Decca sessions that paired Louis with Gordon Jenkins — and someone I never noticed before, half-hidden behind Louis, the Blessed Milton Gabler.  The lower photo depicts Louis in front of what resembles a smaller late-Forties big band, but it’s all mysterious now.

Jean Goldkette and his Orchestra: I’ll rely on one of my scholarly Bixian readers to identify this one: time of day, place, and personnel, please!

I can’t tell whether this rather odd cover collage (was it an art director or someone with a pair of scissors and no supervision?) comes from the same session as the Louis-Jenkins shot above, but this cover is especially dear to me, since it’s one I stared at often through my childhood while listening to the music contained inside.  (And I still have my copy from a half-century ago, which pleases me immensely — considering the way objects evanesce and disappear.)

LOOKING FOR LOUIS, THEN AND NOW

But which one?  The sound on the records, the iconic image on the television screen, or the actual person?

In the spring of 1967, I was fourteen — someone who had been secretly listening to Louis Armstrong records for a few years.  And I was fortunate enough to be alive when Louis was popular — HELLO, DOLLY! was still vivid in his repertoire and in people’s memories so that he appeared on the Hollywood Palace, with Danny Kaye, alongside Herb Alpert and the Tiajuana Brass, on Ed Sullivan, Mike Douglas, and Johnny Carson.

I don’t recall how I learned that Louis and the All-Stars would be playing a concert at the Island Gardens in Hempstead, New York, only a few miles from where we lived.  But the Gardens were terribly far off for me: I had been to New York City but never on my own, and Hempstead had a bad reputation at night.

I begged my father to let me go to the concert, promising that I would not inconvenience anyone but would take a bus there and back.  I think I was a particularly awkward child, myopic and naive, and I am sure that my father shuddered at the thought of me making my way in the bus station.  Both he and my mother enjoyed a wide range of music, although not jazz, and they tolerated the loud rhythmic sounds that came through the floor of my upstairs bedroom.  At least if I was upstairs playing Louis and the Dukes of Dixieland, they knew where I was.  Other children were far more rebellious.

As a result of whatever behind-the-scenes negotiations I can’t imagine now, my father told me that he would take me to the concert, attend it, and take me home.  I was delighted — and the memory of his generous impulse pleases me now.  I wonder only why my mother didn’t want to join us.  Perhaps it was frugality; perhaps there was something she wanted to watch on television that night; she might have welcomed a night to herself.

I was bad at waiting, but as the days ticked down to the concert, it ballooned in my thoughts.  Although I had a pocket Instamatic camera (capable of poor pictures under most circumstances) I never thought of bringing it along. Perhaps I feared that my father would suggest to Louis that he pose with me (or the reverse) and I didn’t take much pleasure at seeing myself in pictures then.  I hadn’t yet been introduced to the cassette recorder, so that was a number of years in the future.  But I could and did spend a good deal of time obsessing over getting Mr. Armstrong’s autograph.

The problem was — in what format?  I had a few of his records, but found reasons to undermine the idea.  The soundtrack of THE FIVE PENNIES somehow didn’t seem appropriate, nor did SATCHMO’S GOLDEN FAVORITES or HELLO, DOLLY!  I could have brought along my precious 10″ LOUIS ARMSTRONG AND GORDON JENKINS, or TOWN HALL CONCERT PLUS, or even my more recent acquisition, LOUIS ARMSTRONG AND HIS HOT FIVE, a Columbia record produced by George Avakian.  I may have had a half-dozen more, but the idea got more and more complicated.  I didn’t know how deeply Louis loved his own recordings, and I might have thought, “What if he says, ‘I don’t like this record,’ and that ruins the whole encounter?”

I had spent countless hours next to the phonograph’s speaker drinking in the 1927 STRUTTIN’ WITH SOME BARBECUE and its triumphant outchorus, the sweet ruckus of the 1947 AIN’T MISBEHAVIN’, the glorious melding of Louis and Gordon Jenkins.  But one by one I dismissed them all.  What would I do with an autographed record album?  How would I display it?  Would it evoke the proper response in Mr. Armstrong, in the one chance I had to approach him?

I’ve read of studies in how much choice people are comfortable with, the extreme end being placing a child at a breakfast table with ten or twelve boxes of cereal . . . and the result is a child in tears.  I didn’t begin to cry at any point in my autograph-considerations, but ultimately I swept all the possibilities away and thought of the simplest situation: a plain unadorned piece of paper for Mr. Armstrong to sign.  True, the 3 x 5 index card I chose lacked character, but it could cause no offense.

I don’t remember going to the concert, although I would guess now that I gave my indulgent father a journey-long informal talk on why Louis Armstrong was important.  And I don’t remember him asking me to be quiet: he understood hero-worship even if he would have chosen a different object for it.

The Island Gardens, which may no longer exist, was a large hall with a semi-circular roof — rather like an elongated Quonset hut — and many rows of pale-grey metal folding chairs.  I am sure we were there early, seated in the front row, and my father bought me the official concert program.  (I may still have it.  As a jazz irrelevancy, I remember that it listed Buster Bailey as the clarinetist, although he had died not long before.)

Then, with no fanfare, no massed bands at the airport, Louis and his musicians entered through a doorway to the right.  I don’t remember what anyone was wearing, but they came in casually, with no one seeming to notice.  They were chatting to themselves.  Probably the bus was parked right outside the door, or had Louis been driven from Corona, perhaps a half-hour away?  I am sure I said in a near-hysterical whisper to my father, “There he is!” and my father would have said, “All right, then, go up and get his autograph.”

Timidly, I got out of my seat, clutching my program and my blank index card.  I remember approaching Louis, with Tyree Glenn standing nearby.  I would not have made any particular impression on any of the musicians: I didn’t have a trumpet case; I wasn’t an attractive young woman.  But this was going to be one of the great moments of my life up to that point: I was going to stand on the same ground as my hero and speak with him, and he would see me.

And (in retrospect) I wanted him to recognize the intensity of my devotion: “Mr. Armstrong, I might say, while everyone around me has been listening to the Beatles and Gary Lewis and the Playboys, I have been in love with your music.  I know every note on this record, and this one, and this one.  I have tape-recorded all your television appearances . . . I ask for your records for birthday presents!”

But when I got close to my hero, the unspoken telepathic communication didn’t happen.  And I was not able to put my impassioned inner monologue into words.  So I simply approached — noticing that he was smaller than I would have expected, having seen him only on record covers and television — and waited.

I hope I waited until he saw me, but I may have put my blank card in front of him and said, nervously, “Mr. Armstrong, would you sign this?”  He barely registered that I was there.  He signed his name and handed the card back, then continued the conversation I probably had interrupted.  For forty years before, he had been signing his name on pieces of paper: what was an extraordinary experience for a little boy hovering in front of the great man was something the great man did every day of his life.

At fourteen I was anything but audacious, so I didn’t even think of saying, “Hey, Mr. Armstrong, what about me?  I love your music!”

All I could do was to turn to Tyree Glenn and ask him for his autograph, which he neatly signed in the space Louis had left.

Disappointed, I went back to my seat and showed my father, who asked me, “Did he say anything to you?”  “No, ” I said — not whimpering, but probably close to it.  I didn’t embellish on that, as I recall, but I might have been thinking, “Here’s the man who seems to be continually having a good time, his features animated by a wonderful grin.  He didn’t look at me.  He didn’t look happy.  Did I do the wrong thing?”

I don’t remember much about the All-Stars show that followed.  Louis, I am sure, gave his all.  He got the audience clapping along on HELLO, DOLLY!  Tyree and he clowned around; Marty Napoleon rippled up and down the keyboard; Buddy Catlett and Danny Barcelona did their features; Jewel Brown (the performer who most intrigued my patient father) sang.  I don’t remember the clarinetist at all, although Ricky Riccardi, my guide in such things, tells me it was probably Johnny Mince.  And Louis?  What I remember most is watching him sit, at the rear of the bandstand, sipping from a paper cup of water, while his All-Stars played.  He seemed drained.  I remember noticing this, but I was wrapped up in my own disappointment.  My ears and eyes may have been so full of the iconic Louis that I was unable to take in the human man in front of me.

I thanked my father when it was all over and we went home.  I had my program and my card (the latter of which I still have — an emotionally-charged piece of paper) and I never got to see Louis again.

The closest I came was being in New York City in early 1971 and seeing posters (two stapled together) around lampposts advertising his appearance at the Waldorf-Astoria, a place that was even more beyond my reach than the Island Gardens had been.  Then he died.

I went on collecting his records, making myself even more of a worshipful Louis-acolyte, and musically he has rarely let me down: in fact, as I have grown older, I have come to hear more in his playing and singing, which both can bring me to tears.

But I have also harbored a small kernel of disappointment, even resentment — both of which are of course unreasonable, but hurt feelings are often not grounded in fact.  How could I have expected Louis to see me, a nearly speechless child, and recognize, “This boy loves my music!  This kid has been listening to my records for years!  He loves me!” if I was unable to say so?

And Louis may simply have been exhausted.  Ricky tells me that Louis’s health was none too good in early 1967, so perhaps he was gathering his strength for a night of exertion.

It has taken me a long time, as much as I revere Louis’s music, to forgive the man for looking right through me.  But it is the adult’s responsibility to do so.

Certainly we expect far more than we should of artists: not only do we demand that they perform up to and beyond our expectations, night after night, but we also crowd around the stage door, asking to be seen, to be acknowledged, when all they may want is to unwind in peace.

Because of the larger-than-life persona Louis created through his music, I expected him to be more than human — to transcend his mortal self.  And when he proved to be — to my eyes — ordinary, life-sized, I was disappointed.  And I remained so, in a small corner of my self, for years.  There is that child-self that is prone to such disillusionments, whether they come from our heroes or our families.  With luck, we never quite leave it behind but it comes to govern us less.

I can imagine an alternate universe where I have stature, where I have brought my Hot Five recording, where the sight of it makes Louis beam — not only recalling the music, but beaming upon the child who has brought him such tribute, obviously a child who understands . . .  But such incidents perfected after the fact are mere indulgences, and I must acknowledge that Louis is dead, 1967 is a long way gone, and I can only have what actually happened, not what should have.

But ultimately Louis was there that night in 1967.  And he remains with us.

THE KINGS OF SWING: THE ANDERSON TWINS’ SEXTET (May 19, 2010)

As far as I can see, the Swing Era isn’t coming back any time soon.  Gone are the days when sixteen or seventeen tuxedo-clad musicians (seated neatly behind their individual music stands bearing the bandleader’s initials) played dances, toured the country in a bus for one-night stands.  1938 and 9 don’t seem to be returning.  Artie Shaw and Benny Goodman have been gone for some time.

But their music isn’t dead and isn’t gone. 

The Anderson Twins proved that last night at 59 E 59 (a New York City theatre located at 59 East 59th Street: http://www.59e59.org.) in two sets devoted to the music Artie and Benny and their bands made in their prime.

The Anderson twins are Pete (on clarinet, tenor, and bass clarinet) and Will (clarinet, alto, and flute).  Pete is on the left in the videos below.  Both are expert musicians — although they young, they are deeply immersed in this music, able to improvise nimbly in it rather than just copying the notes.  And they’re also engaging, low-key bandleaders as well as first-rate arrangers, responsible for the wonderful charts we heard. which kept the flavor of the big bands without seeming cut-down or compressed. 

At this concert (with no microphones: how rare and wonderful!), the other players were Jon-Erik Kellso (trumpet), Ehud Asherie (piano), Clovis Nicolas (string bass), and Steve Little (drums).  The premise of this week of concerts was to consider who the real King of Swing was — which one of the rather neurotic, talented Jewish clarinet players from immigrant backgrounds was the reining musical monarch. 

Of course, Will and Pete like each other too much to make it into a dysfunctional musical family onstage: the atmosphere was congenial, and the boys didn’t vie for the limelight.  And it was very sweet to know that their parents were in the audience: we chatted with Will, Pete, and their mother and father after the concert: gentle, unaffected people.   

The series of concerts runs from May 18-23 and again from May 25-30.  The second week’s performances focus on Shaw’s music and to the vocalists who sang with the band — hence the appearance of the charming Daryl Sherman in Week Two, who will sing some of the music associated with Billie Holiday’s brief stint with the band and Helen Forrest’s longer one.  Daryl is a contemporary singer who actually worked with an “Artie Shaw band” supervised by the Master himself — and I am sure she will have good stories.  Incidentally, the second week of concerts celebrates Shaw’s centennial, an occasion for celebration. 

The boys promise that there will be new repertoire throughout the run of the concerts, so that’s good reason for going more than once.  Various musicians will fill the chairs: Charlie Caranicas and Mat Jodrell (trumpet), Steve Ash (piano), and Kevin Dorn (drums). 

Last night, we arrived late and missed AVALON, WHAT IS THIS THING CALLED LOVE?, STARDUST, CARIOCA, MOONGLOW, STEALIN’ APPLES.  Marianne Mangan (there happily with husband Bob Levin) told us that STARDUST followed the iconic Shaw Victor recording, but that there had been a good deal of impromptu jamming otherwise.

Here are seven performances from last night’s concert, beginning with an excerpt from the Sextet’s extended exploration of CONCERTO FOR CLARINET, Artie’s “answer” to Benny’s SING SING SING:

FRENESI was a huge hit for Artie and his band, and this nifty arrangement (with Will on flute and Pete on bass clarinet) not only summons up the Shaw band, but also echoes the Alec Wilder Octet, always a good thing:

BEGIN THE BEGUINE, more evidence of Artie Shaw’s affinity for Cole Porter, became the ironic apex of his career.  No one expected it would be a massive popular hit, and he came to hate it and the people who demanded that he play it.  Here the Andersons offer a bouncy, entirely unironic reading of the song.  Too bad there was no room for dancing:

GOOD-BYE (a treat to hear it before the end of a concert!) was the Goodman band’s closing theme, a melancholy song by Gordon Jenkins.  Goodman fanciers are used to hearing it in fragments, as the broadcast fades away, but the Andersons are generous listeners and players, and offered this beautifully textured and complete arrangement:

When Goodman planned the program for his January 1938 Carnegie Hall concert, one of the organizing ideas was “Twenty Years of Jazz,” beginning with the ODJB and going up to “the present.”  Of course there had to be a tribute to Louis, and Harry James was asked (or asked to?) to perform Louis’s astounding solo on SHINE (or S-H-I-N-E, if you prefer).  Here Jon-Erik plays his own version of the classic explosion, with encouragement from his colleagues:

It might say a good deal about Artie’s approach to his audiences that he didn’t open his shows with something pretty, accessible.  Rather he gave his jitterbugging fans a good dose of their darkest urges and fears in NIGHTMARE:

The evening concluded with a romping LADY BE GOOD — in an arrangement that owed a good deal to the Shaw band, to Eddie Durham’s chart of EVERY TUB for the 1938 Count Basie band, and to Lester Young — although Benny had his own good time playing the Gershwin standard in every conceivable context:

The Kings of the Swing Era may be dead, but long live their successors!

[Just so no one makes our mistake of arriving late, there are no shows on Monday.  Tuesday and Wednesday, the show starts at 7.  Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, it’s moved to 8, and there’s a Sunday matinee at 3.]

REDISCOVERED PLEASURES

cassetteOf late I have been living in a temporary self-created chaos, attempting to pare down a surfeit of possessions from my apartment.  Today I opened a closet and decided to move a stack of four wooden crates containing about a thousand cassette tapes collected and traded over the past twenty-five years.  Drawn irresistibly to their labeled spines, I thought, “My God, there’s so much music here that I haven’t heard in years — and would delight in — that I really should dig out a half-dozen and enjoy them.”  The cassettes, as well, brought back memories of years of tape-trading with generous collectors, including Bill Coverdale, John L. Fell, Bob Hilbert, Manfred Selchow, Tom Hustad, David Goldin, and a dozen more. 

So this morning, I was driving into Manhattan, exulting in an hour of rare Don Byas (with John Mehegan, Vic Dickenson, Slam Stewart, and perhaps Lem Davis on alto) — including rehearsal versions of INDIANA and I GOT RHYTHM, preliminary to the famous Byas – Slam duets at Town Hall in 1945.  These acetates, by the way, were recorded by Baron Timme Rosenkrantz in his apartment.     

The music pleased me more than I had expected, so I have resolved: the cassettes are coming out into the open, where I can play them (the space in the closet will be filled, easily) and rather than be tempted to buy the first new jazz compact disc that winks at me, I will rediscover some of these treasures.  Not, mind you, as an exercise in asceticism or frugality, but as another way to pleasure.  At this stage of my life, I am not prepared to swear off new compact discs.  I am also not organized sufficiently to have an official rediscovery every day, but since my car still has a cassette deck, these old-time artifacts can enlighten and elevate me during my commute. 

What awaits me?  Lee Wiley.  Louis with Gordon Jenkins on television from 1952, on-location recordings from the Nice Festivals of 1974-5, and more. 

I urge my readers to revisit those treasures they haven’t played in years — whether the stash is under the bed, in the basement, or simply on high shelves.  And if the collection is fertile, you could almost close your eyes and pick “the fifth cassette from the left” and come up with a pleasant surprise.  If you come up with something you dislike, perhaps it means that the particular cassette isn’t worth saving.  Either way, you win. 

I’d vbe fascinated to hear from readers about what delights they find . . . .