Tag Archives: Gotham City Band

CHUCK WILSON, ADMIRED, LOVED, MISSED

I’ve come to think that one goal is to live one’s life whole-heartedly, generously, singularly, so that when one dies — moving to another neighborhood in the cosmos — one is missed.  Or, there is a hole shaped like you in the world that people notice.  “I wish Susie were here to have a piece of this pie.  I wish I could give Liz just one more hug.” and so on.

The alto saxophonist and sometime clarinetist Chuck Wilson, who died on October 16, accomplished that goal and more.

A CD worth searching for — a beauty in so many ways.

I saw and heard Chuck intermittently from 2004 to 2016, in Jazz at Chautauqua with the Alden-Barrett Quartet, and in various New York groups, including Vince Giordano and the Nighthawks, the EarRegulars, with Corin Stiggall and Carol Morgan, but I can’t say I knew him well.  So I will leave the anecdotes to others, and the outline of his biography also.  I did observe him at close range as an unusual man and player: part shy boy, part boisterous side-of-the-mouth wisecracker and social critic.  His playing was just so splendid, although I think he rarely wanted to step forward and lead — any sax section or any band that had Chuck in it immediately sounded so much better.  His sound was lovely.  And he understood both his horn and the music.

Chuck was initially very wary of my video camera (and perhaps also of the civilian who operated it) but eventually he 1) figured that I wasn’t out to embarrass him but to praise him, or 2) I wouldn’t go away so there was no use telling me to do so.  So I have a few — too few! — performance videos of him which I will share again with you — so that you who knew Chuck can have the bittersweet joy of having him in action, and that those who never heard him can regret the omission.

Here he is with Terry Waldo’s Gotham City Band — for that August 2016 afternoon, Chuck, Terry, Jim Fryer, Jay Leonhart, Jay Lepley, playing DIGA DIGA DOO in what I think of as a Fifty-Second Street manner:

And here, at The Ear Inn on May 30, 2010 with Danny Tobias, James Chirillo, Pat O’Leary, for a easy groovy EXACTLY LIKE YOU:

I wish there had been more opportunities to capture Chuck live: many things got in the way, but you can savor another large handful of performances from these gigs here and here.

I also hope that Chuck knew how much he was admired and loved.  And is.

May your happiness increase!

REBUKING THE DEACON: TERRY WALDO’S GOTHAM CITY BAND: TERRY WALDO, JON-ERIK KELLSO, JIM FRYER, EVAN ARNTZEN, JOHN GILL, BRIAN NALEPKA, JAY LEPLEY at FAT CAT (January 29, 2017)

Some might know W.C. Handy’s AUNT HAGAR’S BLUES as one of the ancient classics — a multi-strain composition, hallowed through decades of performance. But the lyrics tell a deep story: here is an approximate transcription of what Louis sang on the 1954 Columbia session honoring Handy (that recording the precious gift of the far-seeing George Avakian):

Old Deacon Splivin his flock was givin’ the way of livin’ right, yes
Said he, “No wingin’, no ragtime singin’, tonight,” yes
Up jumped Aunt Hagar and shouted out with all her might
All her might.

She said, “Oh, ain’t no use to preachin’
Oh, ain’t no use to teachin’.

Each modulation of syncopation
Just tells my feet to dance and I can’t refuse
When I hear the melody they call the blues, those ever lovin’ blues.”

Just hear Aunt Hagar’s children harmonizin’ to that old mournful tune.
It’s like a choir from on high broke loose, amen
If the Devil brought it, the good Lord sent it right down to me
Let the congregation join while I sing those lovin’ Aunt Hagar’s blues.

Even in 2017, the Deacon is still waggling his bony finger at us, and even when the lyrics to AUNT HAGAR’S BLUES aren’t sung, you can hear Aunt’s triumph.  A convincing example took place downstairs at Fat Cat (75 Christopher Street, Greenwich Village, New York) on Sunday, January 29, 2017, when Terry Waldo’s Gotham City Band played the song.  The hot philosophers sending the message are Terry, Jon-Erik Kellso, John Gill, Brian Nalepka, Jay Lepley, Jim Fryer, Evan Arntzen:

The message is clear.  When faced with those who would preach denial of life, always choose joy, no matter who tries to direct your course.  I’m with Aunt Hagar.

May your happiness increase!

“FOX TROT, VOCAL CHORUS”: JIM FRYER, EVAN ARNTZEN, BRIAN NALEPKA with TERRY WALDO, JAY LEPLEY, JOHN GILL, JON-ERIK KELLSO at FAT CAT (Jan. 29, 2017)

Even if they don’t have trained voices, the instrumental soloists I know tend to be really convincing singers, often with a loose, sleeves-rolled up approach to the song, which, by its casualness, conceals a real understanding of melody, rhythm, and how to “sell a song.”  (And sometimes the most under-documented singers are the most affecting: Basie, muttering his way through HARVARD BLUES, Hawkins emoting on LOVE CRIES, Carter wooing us with SYNTHETIC LOVE.)

Musicians know that bursting into song delights an audience (if it’s not offered on every performance) and it rests tired lips and hands. Here are three wonderful examples from a Sunday afternoon session by Terry Waldo, Jon-Erik Kellso, Jim Fryer, Evan Arntzen, Brian Nalepka, John Gill, and Jay Lepley — January 29, 2017).  I will point out that everyone in this band has been known to warble a chorus, but today I am concentrating on Messrs. Fryer, Arntzen, and Nalepka — all of whom have sung in performance and the recording studio.

And since so much of American pop music of the last century and more takes romance as its subject, here are three very different love songs: the first a chronicle of deprivation (“I’d love to join the fun but they bar me.”) the second a narrative of how serendipity made for great love (“I kept buying china / Until the crowd got wise.”) and the last a happy description of mutual adoration (“My baby don’t care who knows it.”)

Jim Fryer chronicles romantic woes, Lombardo / Louis style on SWEETHEARTS ON PARADE:

Evan Arntzen reminds us of Bing, 1931, incidentally, with I FOUND A MILLION DOLLAR BABY (IN A FIVE-AND-TEN CENT STORE):

and Brian Nalepka tells the truth (ask Mary Shaughnessy), MY BABY JUST CARES FOR ME:

These frolics happen most Sunday afternoons at Fat Cat, 75 Christopher Street, Greenwich Village, New York City (take the #1 train to Christopher Street / Sheridan Square).

May your happiness increase!

JOHN GILL SINGS A SAD SONG FOR THE HOLIDAYS

Our hero John Gill says, “Everyone has a little Elvis in them somewhere,” and he proved this once again at Terry Waldo’s Sunday gig (December 18) down in the darkness of Fat Cat, 75 Christopher Street, New York City.  There’s a direct line from Presley to Gill to us, and this song is my idea of a healthy corrective to all the manufactured holiday cheer.

John Gill by Marce Enright / New England Traditional Jazz Plus

John Gill by Marce Enright / New England Traditional Jazz Plus

John’s colleagues, helping him find his way on his dark indigo quest, are Terry Waldo, piano; Brian Nalepka, string bass; Jay Lepley, drums; Jim Fryer, trombone; Evan Arntzen, reeds; Jon-Erik Kellso, cornet.

May your happiness increase!

DANIEL GLASS, MASTERFUL CHAMELEON: “THE CENTURY PROJECT,” “TRAPS,” AND MORE

I know that the magnificent drummer Daniel Glass is capable of fully engaged conversation; he eats and drinks (pistachios and more), and has a full life away from his drum kits.  But he continues to be so generous in his wise offerings that I don’t quite see how he carries on a life in addition to what he gives us.  I’ll have to ask him whether he actually sleeps . . . when I see him next.  Daniel is so often in motion that a still picture hardly does him justice, but it is a start.

Daniel Glass at 2105 Chicago Drum Show

The wisecrack (so beloved by those who have never been in front of a classroom) is “Those who can’t do, teach.”  Daniel Glass is that rare creature who both does and teaches, and he accomplishes both of those ends with a light yet memorable touch.  When I call him a chameleon, I don’t of course mean it in the zoological way, but I mean it as highest praise: someone who easily and without fuss shows us generously his deep and varied talents, all of which come from a center of knowledge, the desire to inform us with gentleness and accuracy, and a splendid basis of experience — living experience, never dusty.

I should explain that I am not a drummer; my drum career was if not nasty and brutish, certainly short — because I am mentally but not physically coordinated. The high points of my percussion career have been as an observer (watching Krupa, Jo Jones, Gus Johnson, Leeman, and their modern forbears), an autograph-seeker (Jo again) and purchaser (one set of 5B parade sticks bought from Jo at Ippolito’s drum shop.

But I am someone who finds information — beautifully and clearly presented — thrilling.  And if Daniel Glass never put a stick to a drumhead, I would salute him as a splendid guide through matters percussive.  But more about that below.

I first met Daniel in the darkness of Fat Cat one Sunday when Terry Waldo’s Gotham City Band was the most admired attraction.  I’d never heard him and was properly suspicious — after all, how good could he be if I didn’t know him? — but within two choruses I realized I was in the presence of a Master, someone who played for the comfort of the band, was in the idiom but not imprisoned by it, a musician with history and innovation balanced neatly within him.

Here’s WOLVERINE BLUES (with Jon-Erik Kellso, Evan Arntzen, Jim Fryer, John Gill, Brian Nalepka in addition to Terry and Daniel):

And here are all the videos from that frolicsome late-December 2015 session.

When I had my Daniel Glass Experience (the first of several) I had no knowledge of this gloriously head-spinning performance from 2009 created by Daniel — with the smallest amount of percussive equipment one can imagine) — the blessed John Reynolds, and the superb Rusty Frank:

Sidney and Jo are grinning, I am sure.

Here is a wonderful interview where Daniel explains where he came from and where he is taking us.  It’s from 2012, so some of the references to “now” are perhaps slightly out of date, but it gives a wonderful sense of who he is as a musician and scholar:

Part One:

Part Two:

I couldn’t keep up with the articles, books, and videos that Daniel has created, but I can say a few words about his two 2-CD sets, THE CENTURY PROJECT and TRAPS.  The first would have pleased Isiah Berlin because Daniel is both hedgehog and fox: his knowledge and love and enthusiasm is both intensely focused and broad.  THE CENTURY PROJECT, on the face of it, is a history of jazz drumming from 1865 to 1965 — and it accomplishes that purpose beautifully — but it is also a quietly subversive, never didactic, history both of American music and of the contributions from other cultures.  We think of the trap set as an American creation, but Daniel opens up that perhaps narrow idea to ask where the Turkish tom-toms came from, the Chinese cymbals, temple blocks, and so on.  Never dull but splendidly researched.

Here’s Daniel explaining and beautifully demonstrating “double drumming,” which was a revelation to me — both the history and the performance:

Here’s the splendidly musical solo with which Daniel concludes THE CENTURY PROJECT — on a cousin of SING SING SING:

Oh, and did I mention there is music?  Daniel and friends (including our own Dan Barrett and Dan Levinson) move from New Orleans parade music to ragtime to early jazz onwards to swing, bebop, and beyond.  Even if you’ve never come closer to drumming than tapping impatiently on the arm of the couch in the doctor’s waiting room, these musical interludes are priceless as jazz and as history.

And here is a very brief introduction to TRAPS, the companion 2-DVD set which beautifully displays and anatomizes a century of the most gorgeous vintage drum sets:

Even I, who know little about vintage drums aside from the sound of Zutty Singleton’s cymbals in 1928 or Sidney Catlett’s hi-hat in 1944, or the way those drum sets looked in still photographs and films, found this riveting up-close history.

Daniel’s website — found here — offers a fascinating blog, podcasts (philosophical and percussive) opportunities for lessons in person and via Skype, the aforementioned books, DVDs, and more.  Clinics and gigs of all kinds — from Terry Waldo to Eydie Gorme and Marilyn Maye, from private parties to Christmas celebrations and swinging big bands.  He has much to share with us, and he offers it generously.

May your happiness increase!

BLOSSOMING UNDERGROUND: TERRY WALDO’S GOTHAM CITY BAND at FAT CAT (Dec. 27, 2015): JON-ERIK KELLSO, JIM FRYER, EVAN ARNTZEN, TERRY WALDO, JOHN GILL, BRIAN NALEPKA, DANIEL GLASS

violets

A good deal of inspiring music blossoms underground — I think of Mezzrow, and Smalls, and Fat Cat, that paradise of unusual pleasures: hot jazz, creative swing, a variety of games, soft couches from which one might never rise, and youngbloods having fun, playing games, coming in, out, and around.

Pianist / singer / composer / scholar Terry Waldo leads his Gotham City Band there most Sundays from about 5:45 to 7-something, two sets.  On Sunday, December 27, 2015, he had a particularly illustrious crew: aside from Terry on piano, there was John Gill, banjo / vocal; Brian Nalepka, bass / vocal; Daniel Glass, drums; Evan Arntzen, clarinet / soprano saxophone / vocal; Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Jim Fryer, trombone . . . thus the music was loose, expert, and  gratifying.  Here are several highlights of that late-afternoon session:

RHYTHM KING:

APRIL SHOWERS (where Brian reminds us that Spring is always on the way):

HAPPY FEET (vocal Evan):

WOLVERINE BLUES:

ACE IN THE HOLE (vocal John):

WILLIE  THE WEEPER:

All of the musicians in this edition of the Gotham City Band were well-known to me, many of them for over a decade, but the new fellow, Daniel Glass, is a stunning ensemble and solo drummer: he listens, he swings, and he has a whole peaceful arsenal of appropriate sounds.  JAZZ LIVES readers may know him better than I did, but he is someone special, and I will write more about his various enterprises in future.

Right now, I am going to think of violets descending from the sky, a lovely image.

May your happiness increase!

HOT NOTES FROM UNDERGROUND: TERRY WALDO’S GOTHAM CITY BAND (featuring DAN BARRETT) at FAT CAT (Sept. 25, 2011)

Fat Cat is a large underground room located at 75 Christopher Street (off of Seventh Avenue South) in Greenwich Village, New York City.  Without much fanfare, it has been featuring jazz at night — sometimes three different bands performing each evening — as well as Sunday afternoon sets by pianist / singer Terry Waldo and his Gotham City Band.

Last Sunday, September 25, 2011, was a special afternoon, because Dan Barrett, the Pride of Costa Mesa, California, brought his trombone and cornet to the session.  Early on, the band included Peter Ecklund on trumpet; Pete Martinez, clarinet; Terry himself; John Gill, drums and banjo; Alexi David, string bass — with guest appearances from singers Barbara Rosene and Jerron “Blind Boy” Paxton.

As always, Fat Cat is known for “atmospheric lighting,” which means deep darkness (but you can always pretend you are listening with your eyes closed to the world’s best live radio broadcast) and occasional irrelevant shouts of triumph from the young folk playing foosball or other games . . . but even with these distractions, the music remained focused, stirring, and swinging.

The session began with a very happy — even joyous — MILENBERG JOYS:

Be it ever so humble, there’s no song like HOME — with deep associations to Louis Armstrong (early and middle-period) and an irreplaceable Keynote recording by Jack Teagarden, Joe Thomas, and Coleman Hawkins:

A groovy, slow-drag BLUES MY NAUGHTY SWEETIE GIVES TO ME was next, suggesting that the Sweetie in question was exceedingly Naughty to inspire such music:

Pete Martinez, Terry, Alexi, and John took a different tack with the RUBBER PLANT RAG:

I hadn’t seen or heard the fine singer Barbara Rosene in a long time, but she sounds wonderful, here CONFESSIN’ her inward thoughts to us in the darkness:

And to show off her cheery side, her sunny-side-up, she chose ‘S’WONDERFUL to follow:

Terry chose the venerable Berlin song ALL BY MYSELF for his feature, with Dan taking over Peter Ecklund’s lead by playing hot cornet:

The delightfully enigmatic Jerron “Blind Boy” Paxton sat in for DIGA DIGA DOO — singing and clowning and having a fine time:

Then, a highlight for me — John Gill’s performance of the most satirized song in pop music of the last hundred years, MY MELANCHOLY BABY, which he sang with casual sincerity, the mark of a genuine performer:

MARGIE, ninety-plus years old, is still entrancing us:

Barbara Rosene told me that IF I HAD YOU is one of her favorite songs: her sweet conviction comes through in every bar:

Jerron returned to sing WRAP YOUR TROUBLES IN DREAMS, and the band agreed that optimism of this sort is never out of style.  (The young gamers were shouting at the start, but I could dream those troubles away with ease):

And the session closed with a frankly riotous CHINATOWN, Jerron mugging while Dan and Pete played superb improvisations:

Music worth descending into the depths for . . . and the cover charge at Fat Cat is a very tidy three dollars, a rare pittance in New York City.