Tag Archives: Grace Kelly

“SEMPLICEMENTE PERFETTO!”: MATTEO RAGGI, PAOLO ALDERIGHI, DAVIDE BRILLANTE

We live in a clangorous world.  You don’t have to live across the street from a dance studio specializing in zumba (as I do) to know this.

The collective tempo we have created for ourselves is very quick, the volume level is high, the intensity is fierce.  Often all I want to hear is the sound of people singing through their instruments, leaving those rapid-fire flurries of notes for another time.  I don’t mean “smooth jazz”; rather, Ben Webster or Teddy Wilson playing a ballad; the Basie rhythm section; a Herb Ellis blues.

This is not a grumpy complaint about these dratted Modern Times, for many living musicians understand and exemplify this principle in their art, in the face of the tyrannical sixty-fourth note.

Matteo

A new CD — two sets of duets by three masterful musicians, recorded in 2013 — is one answer to this hectic world, evidence that swinging beauty is still within reach. It is simply perfect — hence my title.

Here’s a sample, Cole Porter’s I LOVE YOU, SAMANTHA (think of Bing, Grace Kelly, and Louis):

and the leisurely swinging EV’RYTHING I’VE GOT BELONGS TO YOU:

Sounds beautiful.

The tenor saxophonist is MATTEO RAGGI; the pianist is PAOLO ALDERIGHI; the guitarist DAVIDE BRILLANTE.  (I’ve had the immense good fortune to meet and record Paolo and Davide — Mario and I remain separated by several thousand miles, but this CD is as good as having him come to visit.)  You can hear more of Matteo on YouTube — he’s on there alongside Scott Hamilton, which is a high peak to be standing on — as well as Davide and Paolo, but this disc is special.

Each of the three is a lyrical player, a melodist at heart.  As you’ve heard, each one is skilled in constructing logical solos on his own, and masterful in the delicate art of duet playing — more subtle than verbal conversational dances but built on the same principles of individuality giving way to harmonically sensitive teamwork.  The music is the very opposite of soporific, because something is always happening rhythmically, even on the slowest ballad, but it will not make you feel as if you have stepped into the supercharged urban world.

Lester Young would have loved these sessions, and no one here is copying him, but the spirit is much the same.  (On that note: those readers who listen and want to play what Barbara Lea called “the game of Sounding Like” can get ready with their names.  Matteo sounds just like A, or perhaps B; Paolo like C or D; Davide like E or F — definitely!  But why not listen to these players on their own, rather than painting them as small living figures in the shadows of dead giants?)

Half of the ten selections are duets with Paolo (CHINATOWN; GHOST OF A CHANCE; I LOVE YOU, SAMANTHA; I’M PUTTING ALL MY EGGS IN ONE  BASKET; ON THE ALAMO); half with Davide (THE RED DOOR; COME RAIN OR COME SHINE; JITTERBUG WALTZ; POW-WOW; EV’RYTHING I’VE GOT BELONGS TO YOU).

Beautiful recorded sound (much better than on the YouTube videos) and casually erudite notes.  Now all that’s left to do is for you to find out more about Matteo and to buy the CD.  Try here!

Fratelli, grazie — for the fine sweet floating music.

May your happiness increase!

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MIKE, SPIKE, and MURRAY GO EXPLORING (Smalls, September 10, 2013)

No, it’s not a buddy movie or a children’s book.  It’s Michael Hashim (saxophones); Spike Wilner (piano); Murray Wall (string bass) in recital at Smalls on West Tenth Street in New York City on September 10, 2013.  And the explorations are in the mail gentle, melodic searches — although Michael has such a broad expressive range (from Fifties rhythm and blues to sweet Hodges laments) that any group he is part of is bound to have many identities.  Spike is such a splendid shape-shifter himself at the keys: entirely unafraid but totally in love with melodic improvisation; with Murray at the bass, we can all breathe easy — in lovely flexible four-four time, heartbeat-based.

Here are a dozen beauties from that evening.

Perhaps thinking of Ben and Tatum? GONE WITH THE WIND:

Definitely thinking of Ben: it’s his minor blues, POUTIN’:

In honor of Cole Porter, Bing Crosby, Grace Kelly, and Louis — not always in that order, I LOVE YOU, SAMANTHA:

Definitely in honor of Louis!  SOMEDAY YOU’LL BE SORRY:

An unusual and unusually rich Ellington trilogy, beginning with I DIDN’T KNOW ABOUT YOU:

Going back to 1927 for BLACK AND TAN FANTASY:

And the rarely played COP-OUT:

Back to Bing and Hawkins for the lovely 1934 WITH EVERY BREATH I TAKE:

Jobim’s USELESS LANDSCAPE:

Fats’ (and Maurice Waller’s) JITTERBUG WALTZ:

“Bond.  James Bond.”  The soundtrack to a late-Sixties childhood, GOLDFINGER:

Running diagonally in Manhattan and always swinging, BROADWAY:

What spaciousness!  Three melodists on the loose, roaming the galaxy and bringing back treasures of their own making.

May your happiness increase!

BOB WILLOUGHBY’S REMARKABLE PORTRAITS

Because they give themselves to what they are creating, jazz musicians make splendid photographic subjects.

Bob Willoughby, who died in 2009, wasn’t the first to capture their intensity, lack of self-consciousness, and energy on camera.  But his beautiful volume of photographs and recollections, JAZZ: BODY AND SOUL, shows on every page that his work is superbly moving.  (Evans Mitchell, 2012, 192 pages, hardbound.)

Since musicians — in the act of creation — aren’t standing still, some photographs begin to look like versions of poses we have already seen a thousand times before: the horn player, face distended, sweating, looking like a runner just before crossing the finish line; the intimate relationship between the singer and the vertical microphone; the drummer, moving so quickly that the sticks blur.  Other photographs entrance us because they are the only visual evidence we have that an otherwise obscure musician was ever seen.

Willoughby’s work goes well beyond these formulas, although some of his images have been reproduced so widely that they are now the way that we mentally identify the subject.  But even his most famous pictures have something to offer us, a half-century after they were created.

The book is divided into two sections: one of Wlloughby’s West Coast photographs from 1950 to — Billie Holiday, Wardell Gray, Miles Davis, George Shearing, Ella Fitzgerald, Gene Krupa, Roy Eldridge, Coleman Hawkins, Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Ventura, Billy Eckstine, Louis Armstrong, the Stan Kenton Orchestra, Duke Ellington, Ray Nance, Paul Gonsalves, Johnny Hodges, Bing Crosby, Grace Kelly, Chet Baker, Gerry Mulligan, Paul Desmond, Dave Brubeck, Peggy Lee.  Particularly absorbing is a series of dramatic photographs catching the emotional interplay between saxophonist Big Jay McNeely and a crowd in hysterical rapture.  Willoughby photographed Benny Goodman, Teddy Wilson, Stan Getz, Buck Clayton, Martha Tilton and friends during the recording sessions for the soundtrack of THE BENNY GOODMAN STORY.  An extended photo-essay on Frank Sinatra tells us more than any biography.

The second section of the book offers photographs Willoughby created in Germany in 1992 and 1994 — fascinating portraits of Lee Konitz, Marcus Roberts, Jon Faddis, Art Farmer, Wynton Marsalis, Pat Metheny, John Lewis, Mulligan much transformed by the years, and many others.

Having purchased many volumes of photographs of jazz musicians, I tend to look at the book with fascination immediately after their purchase . . . but not often after.  Willoughby’s book has proven itself an exception.  In tne month that I have had a copy, I have come back to it over and over, drawn by what his eye captured — tantalizing wordless dramas that open deeper each time I stare into the pages.

And the appeal of the book is wider than the allure of the musicians portrayed there.  Without being precious or coy, Willoughby created small paintings full of feeling, emotion coming through the lovely blacks, greys, and whites.  He was a master of seeing, of shaping line and angle, shape and focus.  I look at these portraits and I can feel Louis’ happiness, imagine the words passing between Bing and Frank on the set of CAN-CAN, hear Billie’s voice.  In addition, Willoughby’s photos are idiosyncratic master classes for photographers: what to emphasize, what to leave out. . . all the more remarkable because he captured his subjects in the moment.

Marc Myers, of JAZZ WAX, knew and spoke with Willoughby, and the essays Marc has created about the man and his work are rewarding (with photographs that will astonish): read more here and here.   The book’s website — with even more beautiful pictures — can be found here.  Willoughby’s photographs reward the eye.

May your happiness increase.

ATLANTA 2012: CHUCK REDD, HARRY ALLEN, MARK SHANE, RICHARD SIMON, ED METZ (April 21, 2012)

Vibraphonist and percussionist Chuck Redd has fine taste, whether he’s leading a small group at the 2012 Atlanta Jazz Party or — more informally — keeping time on the paper tablecloth with his wire brushes at The Ear Inn.  Here’s a sample of the former — with saxophonist Harry Allen, pianist Mark Shane, bassist Richard Simon, and fellow percussionist Ed Metz.  On the menu, a Rodgers and Hammerstein ballad from ANNIE GET YOUR GUN, a swing perennial that I associate with Lester Young, a Cole Porter love-in-swingtime song from HIGH SOCIETY (Bing sang it to Grace Kelly while Louis played a memorable obbligato . . . Ruby loved it, too), and a hard-bop version of the everlasting blues.  Hear for yourself.

THEY SAY IT’S WONDERFUL:

JUST YOU, JUST ME:

I LOVE YOU, SAMANTHA:

Billy Strayhorn’s THE INTIMACY OF THE BLUES:

May your happiness increase.

GLIDING AT CHAUTAUQUA 2011 with HOWARD ALDEN, HARRY ALLEN, DAN BARRETT, ROSSANO SPORTIELLO, JON BURR, PETE SIERS, and LYNN STEIN

The Thursday-night informal sessions at the 2011 Jazz at Chautauqua turned from homegrown Gypsy jazz (the Faux Frenchmen) to modern Chicago-style (Marty Grosz and his Peerless Players) to deep Mainstream with Howard Alden, guitar; Harry Allen, tenor sax; Dan Barrett, trombone; Rossano Sportiello, piano; Jon Burr, string bass; Pete Siers, drums; Lynn Stein, vocal.

They began with an improvisation on the Forties jump tune IDAHO which then offered Coleman Hawkins’ line on the theme (was it BEAN STALKING or SPORTMAN’S HOP?):

Then, a Cole Porter song introduced by Bing Crosby in the film HIGH SOCIETY (sung to the lovely Grace Kelly) — Ruby Braff loved it too, I LOVE YOU, SAMANTHA:

Jon Burr invited the singer Lynn Stein to join in, and she gave us a sweet jazz affirmation in I WAS DOING ALL RIGHT:

And the session ended (to make way for another community of great minds who think alike in 4 /4) with a romp on I GOT RHYTHM changes, APPLE HONEY (associated with Woody Herman’s First Herd):

Gliding with intensity and grace . . . .

RIFFTIDE: FRAGMENTS FROM A DRAMATIC MONOLOGUE BY JO JONES

I’ve never before seen a YouTube video promoting a book, but if any book deserved one, it would be RIFFTIDE: THE LIFE AND OPINIONS OF PAPA JO JONES (University of Minnesota Press, 2011), edited and compiled by Paul Devlin from taped conversations that drummer and raconteur Jo Jones had with writer Albert Murray:

Like its subject, RIFFTIDE is simultaneously enthralling, elusive, irritating, and unsettling.  Jones (1910-85) was a great innovator and an equally great synthesizer of percussion technique, someone who understood that the drummer could liberate both himself and the band by rethinking jazz rhythm, by creating a flow rather than a series of demarcations.  Although Henderson drummer Walter Johnson was working towards similar goals, Jones’ great sound was that of the floating, whispering hi-hat cymbal, carrying any band forward and upwards — but most especially the Count Basie band in its most glorious years.  Behind the drums, at his best, he was both Loki and Dionysus — unpredictable, boyish, shape-changing, his sound always right.  Away from the drums he was someone else, a monologist who rarely let his listeners know the plot of his play.

Jo Jones would have been furious if described as “normal.”  That condescending description was for the “nine-to-fivers.”  A self-described “nut,” he was a cosmos unto himself: elliptical, often enraged in conversation, given to diatribes that served to push most listeners away, the result seeming at best irritating, at worst irrational.  (On that score, many have theorized that Jones’ behavior was the result of syphilis contracted early and not entirely cured.)

In the Seventies and early Eighties, Jones was eager to get his stories on paper, and he spoke to (rarely “with”) the African-American scholar Albert Murray, while Murray was working on another “as told to” book, the unsuccessful autobiography of Count Basie, GOOD MORNING BLUES.  (Either Basie was too modest or he didn’t entirely trust Murray; the real stories went with Basie to the grave.)  The tapes of Jones’s “autobiography” came to Devlin when Murray was too ill to edit and transcribe them, although the two men discussed what Devlin had come up with.

RIFFTIDE is made up of several short parts: an informal essay by Devlin, part reminiscence, part explanation of his editorial method, part graduate-school essay on Jones.  What closes the book is a more effective (although cliché-ridden) twenty-two page essay by Phil Schaap, who knew Jones for the last thirty years of Jones’ life.  Those two sections contain some fascinating information: Devlin’s comments on editing the tapes reveal much about Jones, although I wished Devlin had been willing to incorporate the stories Jones categorized as “private stock” to Murray.  Schaap’s section is characteristically windy, he was a first-hand observer and participant: for example, musicians as mild-mannered as Buddy Tate and Doc Cheatham refused to ride in cars with Jones; Cheatham going so far as to purchase a small car because it would make it impossible to have Jo as a passenger.  The book closes with useful footnotes and rare photographs.

The center of this paperback is, of course, Jones’ recollections, rants, enthusiasms, stories, anecdotes, score-settling . . . fervent yet digressive.  I’m not sure if Jo was at this stage unable or unwilling to narrate a conventional autobiography in chronological sequence.  I think his mind went in violently associative ways, so that everything reminded him of something or someone else he couldn’t bear to leave out.  Early on in RIFFTIDE I felt as if I had signed on for an often airless monologue by someone with great energies and purposes known only to himself.

That, however, is the beauty of RIFFTIDE: Jo spoke at me several times in this period, when I met him at Frank Ippolito’s drum shop or asked for an autograph or the like, and the book captures those experiences.  One listened while he spoke; one did not converse or attempt to direct the flow of conversation.   The book is most readable in Jones’ brief portraits of people he knew, liked, or detested as fraudulent. He praises Ralph Ellison, Duke Ellington, the Harlem Globetrotters, Louis Bellson, his colleagues in the Basie band, the jockey Isaac Murphy, Bill Robinson, violinist Claude Williams, Basie’s manager Maceo Birch; scorns James Baldwin and John Hammond (the latter is a “R.P.P.,” a “Racist Prejudiced Prick”), is ambivalent about Count Basie in the present.

Here is a brief sample of his voice, digressive, oratorical: “Take me forty-something years to earn my keep.  I’m fifty-six years in show business.  I have earned my keep.  There won’t be but two people in the United States can tell you.  Now ask the president of France.  I got my picture with the president of France.  You know what I’m saying?  But I’m into something heavy.  Like when I go down with Grace Kelly; she’s got Josephine Baker’s thirteen children!  I’m with the policeman that held the umbrella overhead when they’re dispossessing her.  See, I’m kinda odd out here.  I sleep with my door unlocked: me and my Bible.  My friend comes in, she locks the door.  I’ve never locked my door in fifty-six years.  Everybody understands how I play: I play free.  I’m not afraid of a living person. I fear God: I got four hundred religions and five hundred cults. There are two people that give me strength: Billie Holiday and Lester Young.”

These excerpts and portraits are both elusive and invaluable: as close to hearing Jo Jones as most will ever come.  If at times I thought I had wandered into a Beckett play or reborn into a Browning dramatic monologue, that was the feeling that an encounter with Jo in the flesh created.

We are lucky to have RIFFTIDE, although its fragmentary nature makes me wish that a more comprehensive oral history had been taken and made accessible while Jones was eager and able to tell his stories.

For those who wish to read about my own encounters with the great man, here is SMILING JO JONES: https://jazzlives.wordpress.com/2009/06/17/smiling-jo-jones/ — complete with the photograph I took of Papa Jo in action at the West End Cafe in New York City, circa 1981.

HAIL, KING LOUIS: BOB BARNARD, JOHN SHERIDAN, ARNIE KINSELLA at CHAUTAUQUA 2010

Both of Louis Armstrong’s birthdays — July and August — had passed by the time that Jazz at Chautauqua started its informal Thursday night sessions this September 2010.  But celebrating Louis Armstrong’s music needs no occasion besides itself, and always refreshes the most tired soul. 

A beautifully empathic trio gathered for four Louis-associated numbers, and did the great man honor. 

Trumpeter Bob Barnard saw Louis on his four Australian tours, played for him, followed him around, saw every show, even tried to get a handkerchief (but was thwarted in this by the rather sour Doc Pugh) . . . but his love of Louis goes deeper than simple hero-worship.  Rather, Bob has gotten to the warm heart of Louis’s music — understanding it rather than copying it.  You’ll hear a good deal of another Master, Bobby Hackett, here, which is appropriate — for Louis and Bobby loved one another.  Bob’s deep golden tone, his skipping phrases, the way he wears his heart on his sleeve without proclaiming it’s there — all add up to an emotional resonance that belies the apparent casualness of his approach to the horn. And although Bob can amaze with his mountain-climbing phrases, this quiet session found him tempering his approach to the band, the size of the room — without losing an iota of feeling. 

John Sheridan is a fertile, swinging embodiment of all that’s eloquent in jazz piano: in him, the elements of the great tradition come together for an instantly recognizable style that’s both light-hearted and serious, taking flight while keeping a fine beat and resonant harmonies going. 

Arnie Kinsella is in love with sound — the tapping a stick makes on a closed hi-hat, the wallop of another stick on a tom-tom head, rattlings and speakings all around his set.  Vince Giordano has called him LITTLE THUNDER: this trio finds Arnie in a mellow mood, not calling down the cosmic forces but being an engaging part of this high-level jazz conversation.

Bob began by calling Louis’ 1936 novelty hit, THE SKELETON IN THE CLOSET (which strikes me now as an interesting song to improvise on as an instrumental if enough musicians would learn its ins and outs) — with a rocking result, frightening no one:

Then, he thought of one of Cole Porter’s ballads from the film HIGH SOCIETY — indirectly honoring Bing Crosby and Grace Kelly as well as Louis.  Listen closely to John’s thoughtful exploration here, too:

Louis and Hoagy Carmichael were meant for each other — think of Louis’s STARDUST, GEORGIA ON MY MIND, and JUBILEE for three stellar examples — and LYIN’ TO MYSELF is one of those Carmichael songs so stamped with Louis’s personality that it takes strong players to attempt it, as this trio does nobly:

Finally, the set ended with a more mellow-than-usual version of I DOUBLE DARE YOU, which is often played fast, high, and exultantly.  (It initially begins as a cousin of SWING THAT MUSIC, but people who spend their creative lives on the high wire can be forgiven a brief detour into another Louis classic.)  Bob and John seem to make themselves comfortable within the song, making it more a wooing theme than a true dare: 

In these performances, there’s love, mastery, humor, teamwork — lessons for everyone!