Tag Archives: Grand Street Stompers

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

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

Here’s Part One.

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

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

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

The lovely Harry Ruby – Rube Bloom paean to simplicity:

A nocturnal horror in Swing:

Let’s!

and an encore, from GUYS AND DOLLS:

May your happiness increase!

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

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

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

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

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

BLUE ROOM, with verse and clever arrangement:

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

And a Grand Street Stompers’ classic, SWANG THANG:

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

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

and the attractive original NADINE:

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

May your happiness increase!

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

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

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

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

They deserve an attentive (although gleeful) listen.

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

May your happiness increase!

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

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

PULLING FOR HIM

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

INDIANA:

SOMEDAY YOU’LL BE SORRY:

COME BACK, SWEET PAPA:

ONCE IN A WHILE:

CANAL STREET BLUES:

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

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

May your happiness increase!

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

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

PULLING FOR HIM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

May your happiness increase!

The Second Part: OH, HOW GRAND! (GORDON AU, MATT MUSSELMAN, MATT KOZA, NICK RUSSO, ROB ADKINS: May 5, 2016)

Photograph by Jessica Keener

Photograph by Jessica Keener

Here’s the first part of a wonderful concert / dance created by Gordon Au’s Grand Street Stompers at Grand Central Station on May 5, 2016.  The Stompers are Gordon (of course), trumpet, compositions / arrangements, vocal; Matt Koza, clarinet / soprano; Matt Musselman, trombone; Nick Russo, banjo / guitar; Rob Adkins, string bass.

And the second part!

Grand Central diningI CRIED FOR YOU:

CRAZY:

YOU’RE NEVER FULLY DRESSED WITHOUT A SMILE:

RIVERBOAT SHUFFLE:

THE SOUND OF MUSIC:

LOUISIAN-I-A:

THE BALLAD OF BUS 38:

NAGASAKI:

And for the deep explication that Gordon only hints at, here’s his wonderfully elliptical blog, THAT OF LOWLY PWUTH.  Yes, you did read that correctly.

And to think — before this, I’d thought of Grand Central Station simply as the eastern terminus of the Forty-Second subway shuttle, the “S” — not as a secret mecca for lyrical hot jazz.  That’s New York City for you: one surprise tumbling in on another.

May your happiness increase!

OH, HOW GRAND! (GORDON AU, MATT MUSSELMAN, MATT KOZA, NICK RUSSO, ROB ADKINS: May 5, 2016)

Photograph by Jessica Keener

Photograph by Jessica Keener

On May 5, 2016, Gordon Au and the Grand Street Stompers played a free concert / swing dance session at the dining concourse of Grand Central Station in New York City. The Stompers are Gordon, trumpet, vocal, arrangements / compositions; Matt Musselman, trombone; Matt Koza, clarinet / soprano; Nick Russo, banjo / guitar; Rob Adkins, string bass.

But first, a relevant tale (impatient readers have already skipped to the videos, which is their privilege).  One of my literary heroes is the multi-faceted Irish writer “Frank O’Connor” — born Michael O’Donovan in Cork — who made a pilgrimage to James Joyce in Paris in the early Twenties.  In Joyce’s apartment, O’Connor noticed a beautiful antique print of Cork City in a frame whose material he could not recognize.  “What’s that?” he said to Joyce, pointing at the picture.  “Cork,” said Joyce.  “I know that,” said O’Connor.  “What’s the frame?” “Cork,” said Joyce.  “I had the greatest difficulty finding a French frame maker who would construct this.”

That story always amused me — although O’Connor also cited it as an example of Joyce’s peculiar associative mania — but it reverberated loudly in me when I had this rarest of opportunities to see and hear the Grand Street Stompers at Grand Central Station.  “Where are we?” “Grand.”  “Who’s playing?” “Grand,” and off into the darkness, although swinging mightily.

Grand Central dining

The Grand Street Stompers are a witty, light-hearted, versatile band.  The solos illuminate the room; the ensemble passages are charmed and charming; Gordon’s originals have the lilting energy of songs that you’re sure you’ve heard already.  At times, the GSS sounds like an ideal Louis Armstrong band — straddling 1925 and 1965 — in its sweet ebullience.  Gordon’s imagination is large and occasionally whimsical, so the band plays Fifties pop, Twenties hot tunes, Disney classics, Broadway melodies, and originals — all of them fresh yet instantly classic.

Here’s the first half of the doubly Grand Event:

Not just a twelve-bar blues, Louis’ MAHOGANY HALL STOMP has its own routines, which the GSS negotiates stylishly:

Gordon’s own hummable SUNSET SERENADE:

BELLA NOTTE, from LADY AND  THE TRAMP, music by Sonny Burke, lyrics by Peggy Lee — the image that comes to mind is two romantic canines delicately sharing a plate of spaghetti and meatballs:

Another Au hot tune, RIDGEWOOD STOMP:

WHAT A DIFFERENCE A DAY MADE, a song that everyone associates with Dinah Washington in the Fifties, but it is from 1934, originally in Spanish, by Maria Grever:

With Bechet in mind, Gordon’s SARATOGA SERENADE:

Frankie Valli’s CAN’T TAKE MY EYES OFF OF YOU:

BE OUR GUEST, from BEAUTY AND  THE BEAST:

The Stompers are a busy band — you can see and hear why — and they appear everywhere, but in New York, in May 2016, this appearance at a swing dance session in Bryant Park might truly be special.  Don’t miss a chance to hear them; as I write this, they will be lighting up the room at Radegast this very night.

And there’s a second eight performances from the Grand night of May 5, 2016, to come.

May your happiness increase!

“NEW YORK CITY HAS A RHYTHM ALL ITS OWN”: GORDON AU’S GRAND STREET STOMPERS’ DEBUT AT DIZZY’S CLUB COCA COLA / JAZZ AT LINCOLN CENTER (October 22, 2014)

I was there, and I saw it for myself — five floors up, against a glorious dark Manhattan skyline, closer to the stars than any jazz club I know.

On Wednesday night, October 22, 2014, courtesy of the New York Hot Jazz Festival (thank you, Misha Katsobashvili!) and Jazz at Lincoln Center, Gordon Au and the Grand Street Stompers made their debut appearance — two sets, two sold-out crowds — and thrilled everyone.

Those who have been following the GSS weren’t surprised, but I think some of the international visitors in the room went away with a new appreciation for New York hot.

Here are two highlights: Gordon’s own RIDGEWOOD STOMP, and Tamar Korn’s ecstatic performance of DO THE NEW YORK.* The band was Gordon, trumpet, arrangements, compositions; Josh Holcomb, trombone; Matt Koza, clarinet / soprano saxophone (subbing for the temporarily under-the-weather Dennis Lichtman); Nick Russo, banjo / guitar; Andrew Hall, string bass; Rob Garcia, drums, with vocals by Tamar and by Molly Ryan.

Thanks also to Danielle Bias of JALC and Desmond Prass (a jazz scholar who recognized Big Sid Catlett!) of Dizzy’s for making it possible for me to video and share these with you. (Among friends, too — Neal, Kevin and Barbara, Kelsey, and a number of new converts.)

What next, O Stompers?

*There is a singularly unsubtle edit in this video, linking one song to another. You’ll know it when you stumble over it.

May your happiness increase!

DOIN’ THE MIDTOWN LOWDOWN: GORDON AU’S GRAND STREET STOMPERS ASCEND (October 22, 2014)

I don’t believe that the venue in itself makes the music — the 1938 Goodman band was spectacular before it had its date at Carnegie Hall — but certain meetings of music and place seem more than significant. Here’s one: Gordon Au’s Grand Street Stompers will be making their debut appearance at Dizzy’s Club Coca Cola this coming Wednesday, October 22, 2014, for two sets — at 7:30 and 9:30 PM.

One edition of the Stompers, uncharacteristically outdoors in sunlight: Kevin Dorn, Nick Russo, Rob Adkins,Matt Musselman, Dennis Lichtman, Gordon Au, Molly Ryan, Tamar Korn

One edition of the Stompers, uncharacteristically outdoors in sunlight: Kevin Dorn, Nick Russo, Rob Adkins,Matt Musselman, Dennis Lichtman, Gordon Au, Molly Ryan, Tamar Korn

For this occasion, the Stompers are Gordon, trumpet, compositions, arrangements; Tamar Korn and Molly Ryan, vocals; Dennis Lichtman, clarinet; Josh Holcomb, trombone; Nick Russo, guitar/banjo; Andrew Hall, bass; and Rob Garcia, drums.

I’ve been following the Stompers as often as I could for the last three years, and have enjoyed (and sometimes video-recorded) them in a variety of settings, from Cafe Carlyle to a Columbia University swing dance, downtown at the Cupping Room and at the Brooklyn mecca Radegast, even a vintage subway car.

But thanks to our friend and friend of hot music Misha Katsobashvili (who runs the New York  Hot Jazz Festival), the Stompers are now in even higher society — in terms of the jazz hierarchy.

The Stompers’ music is wide-ranging and quirky (both adjectives are meant as compliments) — from deepest “traditional jazz” repertoire to obscure pre-1945 pop tunes going all the way back to Gordon’s quizzical and gratifying originals, and unusual arrangements of familiar material, including forays into classical and light classical.  Because of this band, a number of singers have now taken WHILE THEY WERE DANCING AROUND into their repertoires, and who else offers SHE’S A GREAT, GREAT GIRL?  Gordon is also deeply involved in revered Disney songs, which emerge out fresh and lively. Always surprising, never routine.

Here is the site to buy tickets for the October 22 shows.

Why not let yourself go . . . up to Dizzy’s Club Coca Cola this Wednesday?

May your happiness increase!

EAST SIDE STOMP: GORDON AU’S GRAND STREET STOMPERS at the CAFE CARLYLE (Part Two), DECEMBER 19, 2013: GORDON AU, TAMAR KORN, DENNIS LICHTMAN, MATT MUSSELMAN, NICK RUSSO, ROB ADKINS, KEVIN DORN

I’ll say it again.

It was an event in contemporary New York swing history, a memorable group making its debut at a famous nightspot. On Thursday, December 19, 2013, the Grand Street Stompers made the Cafe Carlyle their own, and an enthusiastic audience responded. Here’s the second part of what they saw and heard (the first part is here):

GRAND STREET STOMPERS CARLYLE

Thanks to the Stompers and to event host Michael Katsobashvili, it was a true event, featuring the extraordinary vocal improviser Tamar Korn, trumpeter / composer Gordon Au, clarinetist Dennis Lichtman, trombonist Matt Musselman, guitarist/banjoist Nick Russo, bassist Rob Adkins, percussionist Kevin Dorn.  (The JAZZ LIVES cinematographer apologizes to the rhythm section for leaving them out of the picture, but we know they are there and we are grateful for it.)

WALTZ OF THE FLOWERS:

WILD MAN BLUES:

ALL THE OTHER CHRISTMAS SONGS:

SOMEHOW THE WORLD HAS TURNED UPSIDE-DOWN:

and as an encore, LET YOURSELF GO:

 

May your happiness increase!

EAST SIDE STOMP: GORDON AU’S GRAND STREET STOMPERS at the CAFE CARLYLE (Part One), DECEMBER 19, 2013: GORDON AU, TAMAR KORN, DENNIS LICHTMAN, MATT MUSSELMAN, NICK RUSSO, ROB ADKINS, KEVIN DORN

It was an event in contemporary New York swing history, a memorable group making its debut at a famous nightspot. On Thursday, December 19, 2013, the Grand Street Stompers made the Cafe Carlyle their own, and an enthusiastic audience responded. Here’s the first part of what they saw and heard:

GRAND STREET STOMPERS CARLYLE

Thanks to the Stompers and to event host Michael Katsobashvili, it was a true event, featuring the extraordinary vocal improviser Tamar Korn, trumpeter / composer Gordon Au, clarinetist Dennis Lichtman, trombonist Matt Musselman, guitarist/banjoist Nick Russo, bassist Rob Adkins, percussionist Kevin Dorn.  (The JAZZ LIVES cinematographer apologizes to the rhythm section for leaving them out of the picture, but we know they are there and we are grateful for it.)

WHILE THEY WERE DANCING AROUND:

CRAZY EYES:

MUSKRAT RAMBLE:

SARATOGA SERENADE:

I’VE GOT MY LOVE TO KEEP ME WARM:

‘ZAT YOU, SANTA CLAUS?:

More to come.

May your happiness increase!

IN HIGH SOCIETY: GORDON AU’S GRAND STREET STOMPERS at THE CAFE CARLYLE (Thursday, December 19, 2013)

GRAND STREET STOMPERS CARLYLE

I’m delighted by this swinging manifestation of upward social mobility!  Usually, the Grand Street Stompers — the tidy yet exuberant small band led by Gordon Au — has been glimpsed downtown, at small clubs and beerhalls, at dance extravaganzas.

Here you can see many videos that I and other enthusiasts have created.

Yes, there have been marvelous occasions north of Forty-Second Street (two delightful holiday stomps at Columbia University) but the GSS are breaking new ground, migrating north for an evening.

On Thursday, December 19, 2014, The Grand St. Stompers will be playing at the Cafe Carlyle (35 East 76th Street), beginning at 10:45 PM.  $25 + minimum. Reserve your seat online or at 212-744-1600.  Here is the Facebook event page. Thanks to event host Michael Katsobashvili, it’s the beginning of another chapter in GSS history, so biographers and cultural theorists take note.

The evening will feature the extraordinary vocal improviser Tamar Korn, trumpeter / composer Gordon Au, clarinetist Dennis Lichtman, trombonist Matt Musselman, guitarist/banjoist Nick Russo, bassist Rob Adkins, percussionist Kevin Dorn.  A gathering of superheroes worthy of Marvel Comics.

I’ll be there, and I hope you are too.

May your happiness increase!

SWEET AMBIANCE: TAMAR KORN, GORDON AU, DENNIS LICHTMAN, DAVE RICKETTS, JARED ENGEL, ROB REICH, ARI MUNKRES: A SESSION AT BRENDA’S (June 9, 2013)

When she asked what I would like, “I’ll take a dozen of your best,” I politely told the waitperson at Brenda’s French Soul Food (on Polk Street in San Francisco) in the late afternoon of June 9, 2013.

Here’s what happened — along with delicious New Orleans food: swing visitations by my friends and heroes: Tamar Korn, voice; Gordon Au, trumpet; Dennis Lichtman, clarinet; Dave Ricketts, guitar; Jared Engel, Ari Munkres, string bass; Rob Reich, accordion.  A gathering of musically like-minded friends to be sure, but also a melding of three ensembles: San Francisco’s GAUCHO (Ricketts, Reich, and Munkres); Gordon’s GRAND STREET STOMPERS and Tamar Korn and Friends (everyone else).  Collect them, buy the set!

BACK HOME AGAIN IN INDIANA:

BLUES EN MINEUR:

DJANGOLOGY:

I’LL SEE YOU IN MY DREAMS:

THERE’LL BE SOME CHANGES MADE:

LAZY RIVER:

DOUCE AMBIANCE:

WRAP YOUR TROUBLES IN DREAMS:

COMES LOVE:

IT’S LIKE REACHING FOR THE MOON:

DINAH:

IT’S A SIN TO TELL A LIE:

Echoes of Louis, Django, Bing, Fats, Billie — all presented in entirely individual ways.

May your happiness increase!

CALIFORNIA, HERE THEY COME! DENNIS LICHTMAN, TAMAR KORN, GORDON AU, JARED ENGEL (June 4 – 9, 2013)

Occasionally the mountain does come to Mohammad.  I am now situated in California — but my bicoastal friends are doing a West Coast mini-tour!  That’s Dennis Lichtman (clarinet, mandolin, fiddle); Tamar Korn (vocal explorations); Gordon Au (trumpet); Jared Engel (string bass) — some version of the Brain Cloud crossbred with the Grand Street Stompers.  Whatever you call these inventive inspired musicians, their joy is palpable, their creations heartfelt.

Here’s the tour schedule, gleaned from Dennis’ website:

June 4: Tamar Korn and Friends / Gaucho: Cafe Royale, San Francisco.

June 5: Tamar Korn and Friends / Gaucho: Amnesia, San Francisco.

June 6: Grand Street Stompers: Midweek Concert Series, Carmichael.

June 7: Grand Street Stompers: Midtown Stomp, Sacramento.

June 8: Tamar Korn and Friends / Erma Kyriakos: The Lost Church, San Francisco.

June 9: Tamar Korn and Friends / Gaucho: Brenda’s, San Francisco.

I don’t yet know all the details — show times, ticket prices, and the like — but I plan to visit a few of these happenings, and even with my tripod, there is room for you, too — no matter which coast you come from.

Here’s a song from the 2012 Lichtman – Korn – Au tour, with Craig Ventresco on guitar / banjo; Rob Adkins, string bass:

They are magical beings!

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.

STOMPING FOR CHRISTMAS: AN EARLY HOLIDAY BASH WITH GORDON AU / THE GRAND STREET STOMPERS (Columbia University, December 1, 2012)

It’s a cornucupia of hot holiday pleasures: a CD release party that’s also a swing dance extravaganza.  And more.  A dance lesson (at 7 PM) by Nathan Bugh.  The phenomenal dancer Andrew J. Nemr will be performing as only he can.  And (I quote):

Featuring dance performances, holiday photo station, surprise special guests, groovin’ DJs, and 3 hours of live swing-your-socks-off holiday and jazz tunes, including songs from the Grand St. Stompers‘ eagerly awaited second album!Christmas Stomp presents the holiday classics you know and love (plus a few rare gems), stomped on and reshaped into swinging, jazzy hits, courtesy of the delicious musical talents of Gordon Au, trumpet / cornet / arrangements; Tamar Korn and Molly Ryan, vocals; Dennis Lichtman, clarinet; Matt Musselman, trombone; Nick Russo, banjo / guitar; Rob Adkins, string bass; Kevin Dorn, drums.

Saturday, December 1st, 8-11PM // $12, $8 Columbia University students.  Diana Center, Barnard College: 3009 Broadway, New York, New York.

I attended the 2011 version of this annual splash, and even though I was restricted to Peabodying with my tripod at the rear of the room, it was a wonderful night.  Graceful, energized young men and women, fascinating to watch, dancing to the best live jazz . . .

And speaking of that jazz, I’ve been listening to my very own advance copy of CHRISTMAS STOMP — the new Grand Street Stompers’ holiday CD.  At the risk of being unsubtle, it is a great outpouring of sweetly quirky swing.  Gordon has a sublimely odd sense of things (underneath that superbly polite exoskeleton) and it comes through in the music.  I have very little tolerance of Christmas music — but in Gordon’s hands, it becomes a thing of slightly lopsided beauty.  After all, some of the most popular Christmas tunes lend themselves nicely to the GSS’ approach — I SAW MOMMY KISSING SANTA CLAUS has never been a classic in my book, worthy of Robin and Rainger — but the GSS make it very lively and memorable.  On this CD, there’s also WINTER WONDERLAND, I’VE GOT MY LOVE TO KEEP ME WARM, ‘ZAT YOU, SANTA CLAUS?, IT’S BEGINNING TO LOOK A LOT LIKE CHRISTMAS, SANTA CLAUS IS COMING TO TOWN, MARCH OF THE TOYS, the aforementioned holiday near-adultery of Mommy and Mister C, THE ONLY THING I WANT FOR CHRISTMAS, O HOLY NIGHT, and Gordon’s witty pastiche, ALL THE OTHER CHRISTMAS SONGS.  Sweet vocals from Tamar and Molly, and hot / tender playing from everyone else.

If you bring a crisp (or even a crumpled) twenty-dollar bill (“a double sawbuck” in ancient parlance) not only will you be admitted to the festivities on December 1, but you will go home with your own CD.  Amaze your friends; delight your family; be the envy of everyone.  For more details, click stompers.  On the site you will find a variety of VIP packages with delicious benefits.  My favorites are the ones that aren’t listed: a cornet lesson from Gordon; a half-hour discussion of cosmology and philosophy with Tamar; a visit to Nick’s house to play with his adorable children, a seminar in Universal horror films with Professor Dorn, a dance lesson from Lucy Weinman . . . any or all of these things can be negotiated.

And here’s some video evidence from last year — what a swell party it was!  (Purists will say that RIVERBOAT SHUFFLE isn’t Christmas music, but it’s good music.  So there.)

May your happiness increase.

NEWS FLASH! LOUIS ARMSTRONG and THE FINITE NATURE OF THINGS . . .

The new, complete two-disc edition of SATCHMO AT SYMPHONY HALL: 65th ANNIVERSARY — THE COMPLETE PERFORMANCE is a limited edition of 3000 copies.  

I didn’t know about the “limited edition” part of that sentence until a day ago, so I am encouraging JAZZ LIVES readers to act promptly rather than to lament that the edition is all sold out.  You can purchase it here — if you live in the New York area, you can visit the Louis Armstrong House Museum in Corona, Queens, which has its very own stash.

What does “the complete performance” mean?  THIRTY MINUTES OF NEW MATERIAL . . . .

I’ll let Ricky Riccardi, Louis scholar and the Archivist for the LAHM, explain:

The original 1951 2-LP Decca set had the majority of the music, but there were some edits, including four complete performances, all the themes, Louis’s announcements and some solos (Dick Cary’s on “Royal Garden Blues” and some extra noodling by Barney Bigard at the end of “Tea for Two”). When Orrin Keepnews finally put it on on CD in the 90s, he made the choice to strike three tunes (“I Cried for You,” “That’s My Desire” and “How High the Moon”) AND he completely shuffled the original order of performances.   I’m the Archivist for the Louis Armstrong House Museum and last year, we learned that the Swedish Armstrong collector Gosta Hagglof donated every scrap of his Armstrong collection to the Museum. It arrived last summer.  

The first thing I looked for was “Symphony Hall” because Gosta told me in 2007 he was working on a complete edition. And sure enough, I found a disc…and another…and another…and another.  All in all, I found about 30 individual CDs with Gosta’s Symphony Hall work.  He somehow had access to the original acetates and made multiple CD copies of those and then he made extra copies with pitch correction, skips edited out, noise reduction, etc.  

Last October I contacted Harry Weinger at Universal and he came out to our Archives to listen to it. He flipped and we’ve been off and running since.  It’s a 2-CD set on the Hip-O Select label, with the original liner notes by Ernie Anderson and new liner notes by yours truly.  The concert will be sequenced in the original order, starting with the band tuning up. All of the announcements will be heard for the first time, in addition to the themes.  And there will be complete versions of “Back O’Town Blues,” “St. James Infirmary,” “Velma’s Blues” and “Jack Armstrong Blues.”  

They’re all fantastic.  I can only assume “Back O’Town,” “St. James” and “Jack Armstrong” were not on the original LP because Victor had just released versions.  And even “Velma’s Blues” is a knockout, as it’s almost 7 minutes long with a long interlude where Velma danced and the All Stars just played the blues (Sid Catlett catches her every move).  

I’m a biased Armstrong nut who has always loved this concert, of course, but trust me, hearing it complete, in the original order, with the announcements, the new tunes, everything, is a really, really special experience.

For some listeners, this won’t in itself be enough.  I understand that in the linguistic battle between “fixed income” and “limited edition,” the first phrase wins.

But I urge you to consider purchasing this set if you can for a few reasons.  One is the precious experience of going back in time . . . settling into a chair in your living room and being able to sink into a plush velvet seat at Symphony Hall in 1947 while Louis Armstrong and what I think of as the best small band he ever had play for you.  That, in its own way, is far more important than simply being able to hear a new Dick Cary solo.

I first heard this concert (in its edited form) more than forty years ago and I can attest that it is life-changing music.

Secondly, there is the matter of the responsive audience as a motivating force. In blunt words, why do companies like Universal issue Louis Armstrong discs and packages?  Some of it is the spiritual love that people like Harry Weinger have for the music: something I do not doubt.  But if record companies see that their products sell, they create more . . . so that buying SASH is your way — the only effective way — of saying, “Please, sir, we want some more!”

Don’t wait until they’re gone and you’re reduced to desperate means . . .

But make sure you leave enough in the Jazz Piggy Bank for a copy of the Grand Street Stompers’ CHRISTMAS STOMP.  I’ve heard that and it is wonderful.  More to say about that one soon . . .

May your happiness increase.

UNDERCOVER SWING SESSION: THE GRAND STREET STOMPERS (TRIO) at THE CUPPING ROOM CAFE (Oct. 3, 2012): GORDON AU, MOLLY RYAN, NICK RUSSO, ROB ADKINS, DAN LEVINSON

I don’t mean that my title should be taken entirely seriously, but the music that Gordon Au’s Grand Street Stompers made at the Cupping Room Cafe (359 West Boardway) on the first Wednesday in September and October gives me pause.  I really feel like a restaurant critic who has discovered a new place where the food is tasty, fresh, inexpensive, surprising — and then has a moral dilemma.  Does (s)he share this knowledge with the world, knowing that it will then be impossible to get a table?  Or should I keep this information quiet?  The CRC is a lovely place to hear music, reasonably quiet, with a very attentive staff and a good menu . . . so perhaps you can tell a few people, but only those who are truly worthy.  You’ll have to decide.

This was the Grand Street Stompers Trio — Gordon, cornet, compositions, arrangements; Nick Russo, guitar, banjo; Rob Adkins, string bass (hear his intonation! so splendid!); Molly Ryan, vocals; Dan Levinson, guest star / reedman.

For now, here are some wondrous highlights of the October 3 evening

MY LITTLE BIMBO is a song I’ve only heard a few bands do — John Gill sings it memorably.  Gordon’s lovely, loping reinvention is MY LITTLE BIMBO GOES CALYPSO:

PAVONIS is connected to the beautiful bird, the peacock — one of Gordon’s haunting compositions:

Molly joined in for a typically lilting GOODNIGHT, MY LOVE:

She then backtracked through the musical romance with LOVE IS JUST AROUND THE CORNER:

And she then offered Berlin’s very wistful series of love-questions, HOW DEEP IS THE OCEAN?:

Gordon’s BROOKLYNBERG RAG is one of his new / old tunes — consistently surprising, twisting and free from cliche:

And here’s his ONCE, DEAR (which I assume is a swinging love ballad rather than a warning to a potentially erring Dear?):

For Fats!  BLUE TURNING GRAY OVER YOU:

Years ago, a test pressing of a Dick McDonough group playing BROADWAY ROSE surfaced, with some hopeful listeners opining that the trumpet soloist was Bix Beiderbecke.  That theory deflated quickly (in favor of Mickey Bloom or Bob Mayhew) , but the song is a real treat — a side-glance at NOBODY’S SWEETHEART and GLAD RAG DOLL, perhaps:

For Fred and Ginger: LET YOURSELF GO, with help from husband Dan:

And a rocking instrumental version of YOU DO SOMETHING TO ME:

And by the way, a new GSS CD is on the way . . . called CHRISTMAS STOMP.  Even I’m awaiting it anxiously!

May your happiness increase.

The GRAND STREET STOMPERS and FRIENDS at The Cupping Room Cafe (Sept. 5, 2012)

I had a delightful evening last Wednesday, September 5, 2012 at the Cupping Room Cafe (359 West Broadway, New York City).  I’d never been to the CRC before, but it’s a very amiable place with great food — and great music, in this case provided by the Grand Street Stompers, Gordon Au’s splendidly flexible little band.

That night, the Stompers were a quartet: Gordon, trumpet, compositions / arrangements, vocals; Oran Etkin, clarinet, tenor; Davy Mooney, guitar; Rob Adkins, string bass — and Friends, two engaging singers, Molly Ryan and Jessie Rogowsky.  The large-screen television to my left provided an amusing surrealistic backdrop for the singers, but the music was triumphant.

Gordon began with a pop tune from 1927 — notable for the recordings that showcase a young Jack Teagarden — but it remains an irresistible melody:

SHE’S A GREAT, GREAT GIRL:

Gordon’s compositions mix comfortable phrases with surprising turns of harmony in delightful ways.  Here’s SOIGNEE (which means “sophisticated, elegant” — appropriately:

Wisdom, it’s said, is embracing one’s Not Knowing.  In that spirit, here’s I NEVER KNEW:

Molly joined the Stompers for a pretty WHAT A DIFFERENCE A DAY MADE:

And she found new ways to imbue I CAN’T BELIEVE THAT YOU’RE IN LOVE WITH ME with sweet delight:

The Stompers took their time, gratifyingly, with AUNT HAGAR’S BLUES:

Not only did Gordon write music and lyric for a sweetly off-center love song, SOMEHOW THE WORLD HAS TURNED UPSIDE DOWN, he delivers it most winningly:

Back to 1917 for FIDGETY FEET:

And another, more obscure song of that time — with patented Stompers choreography, CLEOPATRA HAD A JAZZ BAND:

Doctor Ryan prescribes a new level of curative relaxation, LET YOURSELF GO:

Something for Louis (and Mildred), SLEEPY TIME DOWN SOUTH — Molly stretches out luxuriantly on the final bridge:

Jessie Rogowski, posed against a background of Giant football, pays it no mind, and offers a sweet DREAM A LITTLE DREAM OF ME:

And we close off with Gordon’s own SUN TIME:

You can tell how fine the music was, but what you’ll have to take on faith for the moment is that the CRC is such a pleasing place — great attentive service and huge platefuls of food, and an overall quiet ambiance, so different from other places we know where music is played.  This night was also my first introduction to reedman Oran Etkin — with his delightfully bright clarinet and floating tenor sax lines.  And the Grand Street Stompers brought a wonderful floating intensity to their performances — a modern version of an imagined Kansas City Four.

May your happiness increase.

DELICATELY INTENSE: TAMAR KORN and FRIENDS in CONCERT: PART ONE (August 4, 2012)

I’ve been listening, entranced, to Tamar Korn four almost four years now, and I first recorded her in November 2008, at the East Village bar, Banjo Jim’s.  She was then a charter member of the Cangelosi Cards, a group that mixed Twenties hot jazz, Quintette of the Hot Club of France, Fats Waller, Jimmie Rodgers, and what I think of as barn-dance music.  It is possible that the first time I heard her was at the end of a Sunday night at The Ear Inn, where everyone was entranced by her singing.  Later, she has appeared with Dennis Lichtman’s Brain Cloud, Gordon Au’s Grand Street Stompers, and with small groups of her own.

Tamar was not merely a singer who had chosen to mimic an assortment of unusual vocal breaks and yodels, adding to this a muted trumpet simulation that would have won the hearts of the Mills Brothers, and an air-violin that was both another way to get to the heart of the melody and a loving evocation of her father, an expert violinist.  Her background was originally in theatre, so she delighted in experimenting with the possibilities of her voice, a remarkable instrument in itself.  Her approach is deceptively delicate but intense, and she makes each song into a small drama, arching from quiet expositions to near-operatic climaxes, her improvisations becoming more and more brave.  But she always swings.

I usually saw and recorded Tamar in places where people were chatting, drinking, laughing . . . understandable but distracting.  So when I had the chance to capture her and the Cards at the Shambhala Meditation Center in New York City (February 27, 2010), it was a cherished experience.  (Thanks to Paul Wegener!)  Here is one segment of that evening.

I thought that the concert at the Shambhala would be the only time I would be able to see and hear Tamar and friends in such a peaceful place.

But I am happy to report that through the good offices of all the musicians and the Varshavsky family, I was able to bring my video camera to the Porto Franco Art Center at 953 Valencia Street in San Francisco . . . and share the divine music with you.

Tamar was joined by her New York friends Gordon Au, trumpet; Dennis Lichtman, clarinet and violin; Rob Adkins, string bass, and SF’s remarkable Craig Ventresco, guitar and banjo.

LAZY RIVER:

A fast SOMEDAY SWEETHEART:

I’VE GOT A FEELIN’ I’M FALLIN’:

IF YOU WANT THE RAINBOW (You Must Have The Rain):

ANNIVERSARY WALTZ:

WHEN YOU WORE A TULIP:

Miss Korn is amazing.  But so are Messrs. Au, Lichtman, Adkins, and Ventresco, each of them a sweet explorer, searching deep into the music.

Another set awaits.

May your happiness increase.

AT HOME WITH DAVY MOONEY: SEARCHING LYRICISM (April 4, 2012)

Guitarist / singer / songwriter Davy Mooney lights up the music wherever he is — playing obbligati to another vocalist, swinging the rhythm in the Grand Street Stompers, spinning out long lines in the fashion of early Joe Pass.  Before I knew anything about him, he had caught my ear.  And he is clearly more than simply a superb band guitarist, as his new CD, PERRIER STREET, proves.  On this Sunnyside CD, Davy is joined by Gordon Au, trumpet; John Cowherd, piano; Brian Blade, drums; Johnaye Kendrick, vocals; Matt Clohessy, bass; John Ellis, tenor sax and bass clarinet.  Here’s a link to find out more and to download the CD.

I missed Davy’s CD release party at the Cornelia Street Cafe, so I proposed a potentially radical idea: I could visit him at home, away from the crash of ice cubes and artificially-dramatic laughter, and record him at home.  He was more than amenable.  Here’s the result: tranquil readings of songs that often have dark messages.

The chiming melody and lines of CRIMSON:

PHELIA (with hints of a barcarolle, Thornhill’s SNOWFALL, and Debussy):

FIRST WORLD DEATH MARCH, a winning combination of jaunty melody and dark lyrics (when “righteous men choose the bloody way”):

The moody ONCE WAS TRUE: “all the voices in the sky are pleading,” a song about God losing faith in human beings:

A nearly hypnotic SWINGSET:

I’d asked Davy to play a “standard,” and he offered a nearly translucent LIKE SOMEONE IN LOVE — but wait for the cadenza:

The spinning orchestral velocity of CENTRAL SUPPLY:

ALL OF HER, a “sad song,” secretly based on a familiar nursery rhyme:

Davy told me that his guitar is a semi-hollow seven-string archtop tuned to a low A, created by the Louisianan Jimmy Foster, who died in 2011.  What sounds he gets from it!

If any other improvising soloists want to arrange an at-home session, let’s talk!

May your happiness increase.

TAMAR KORN, GORDON AU, THE GRAND STREET STOMPERS VISIT THE LOUIS ARMSTRONG HOUSE MUSEUM (July 30, 2011)

Some of my favorite people playing hot jazz in a sacred place.  The video comes to JAZZ LIVES through the gracious permission of FORTNIGHT JOURNAL, where you’ll find other audio and video creations by Tamar in Edition 2 here

The video finds Tamar with Gordon Au, trumpet; Matt Musselman, trombone; Dennis Lichtman, clarinet; Nick Russo, guitar; Rob Adkins, bass.  A House concert, I’d call it.  Feast your eyes!

The video was shot by Ian Campbell, and edited by Johan Hesselgren.

And FORTNIGHT JOURNAL is a new pleasure: visit them here.