Tag Archives: Grand Street Stompers

ON THE RIGHT SIDE OF THE TRACKS: GORDON AU and the GRAND STREET SUBWAY STOMPERS plus SWING DANCERS! (Dec. 17, 2011)

I don’t ordinarily get myself down to the Second Avenue stop on the “F” subway line; it is too far off my usual orbit.  But I had very good reasons to be there last Saturday, Dec. 17, 2011, to watch the beautifully attired swing dancers cavort on the platform to the music of several hot bands, my favorite being Gordon Au’s Grand Street [Subway] Stompers.  The GSSS was made up of Gordon, cornet; Michael Gomez, guitar; Matt Koza, clarinet, and Mitchell Yoshida, accordion (on the final video here only), Shael Herman, clarinet (in the plaid shirt).

Here are four videos from the platform-performance, and one from the vintage subway car itself . . .

AIN’T MISBEHAVIN’:

I SAW MOMMY KISSING SANTA CLAUS:

I FOUND A NEW BABY (one wonders about the causal relationship between this and the previous song):

WINTER WONDERLAND, always a cheerful song even when the temperature is unseasonably warm (it was 59 degrees today in New York on the first day of winter):

A groovy TROUBLE IN MIND in a genuinely rocking subway car:

This post is for Lynn Redmile, happy with her family in the UK, who would have been alternating between dancing and photographing everyone.

“A WONDERFUL BAND”: GORDON AU’S GRAND STREET STOMPERS at RADEGAST, Dec. 13, 2011

The title for this post isn’t my enthusiastic invention.  The very creative Peter Ecklund came over to me to say hello during a set break while the GSS were playing at Radegast (Williamsburg, Brooklyn, New York) and his first words were “Isn’t this a wonderful band?”  I agreed — and the fact that he phrased it as a rhetorical question takes nothing away from its truth.

Peter was speaking of Gordon Au’s Grand Street Stompers — who, for their Dec. 13, 2011, holiday visitation, were made up of composer / arranger / trumpeter Gordon; reedman Matt Koza; trombonist Emily Asher; guitarist Davy Mooney; bassist Debbie Kennedy; singer Molly Ryan.  (Also in the house were friends Marianne Mangan and Robert Levin.  And the Official GSS Person, Veronica Lynn Day.)

You’ll find so much to admire here: the swing, the arrangements and compositions; the hot / sweet soloing and singing.  I especially admire Gordon’s originals: they lilt and trot like the best jazz tunes or pop songs of the past (I find myself humming them — a sure sign of permanence!) but they take unusual twists: they don’t follow formulaic paths — melodically or harmonically.  We begin with three — ranging from a hot march to two rhythm ballads.  Then there are pretty vocals by Molly Ryan, ukulele and whistling from Peter Ecklund, and the casually intense playing by every member of this band.  They are indeed wonderful!

PISMO BEACH PARADE:

SARATOGA SERENADE:

I want to know what Gordon’s title ONCE, DEAR means.  Is it “once” as in a numerical concept, or is it “once,” referring to the past?  If I know, then I can begin to whimsically compose the lyrics in my head, without ever expecting to hear anyone sing them:

I have had a soft spot for SHE’S A GREAT, GREAT GIRL for thirty-five years, ever since I heard it on a Jack Teagarden RCA Victor Vintage compilation — with Jack’s solo bursting out in the open (with great sympathetic assistance from Vic Berton’s tympani).  But I am also fond of the vocal version I heard in the last year or two, where the male singer, obviously besotted beyond reason by the Girl he loves, offers to “give up golfing, even give up my meals,” if he could only hear “the tap-tap of her heels.”  Not bad for late Twenties pop song lyrics, I vow:

AIN’T MISBEHAVIN’ — sweetly sung by our own Molly Ryan and strummed by Peter Ecklund:

Molly says I’LL BE  HOME FOR CHRISTMAS: 

Peter Ecklund is one of the great whistlers I know (along with John Reynolds) and it was a treat to hear him breathe new life into SWEET SUE:

And — as a joint tribute to Walt Disney, Louis Armstrong, and a man in a bear suit — Molly tells us all about the BARE NECESSITIES:

A good time can be had by all: just appear where Gordon Au’s Grand Street Stompers (or perhaps one of the smaller versions) are playing.

SOME RIGHTEOUS JIVE: THE AU BROTHERS JAZZ BAND (October 28, 2011)

This is the good stuff.  Give up the multi-tasking for about ten minutes and relax into the sweet and hot sounds of the Au Brothers Jazz Band.

They are Gordon on trumpet / vocal / composition;  Justin, trumpet; Brandon, trombone / English baritone; Howard Miyata (Uncle How), tuba; Katie Cavera, banjo / guitar; Danny Coots, drums.  These four performances were recorded at the Pismo, California, Jazz Jubilee “By the Sea,” on October 28, 2011.  And if you have any skepticism about how the balance would work — four brass, no piano — worry not.  Splendid soloists, great riffers, wonderful team players!

Here’s Gordon’s own romantic rhythm ballad, SOMEHOW THE WORLD HAS TURNED UPSIDE-DOWN, which he sings in a way both unaffected and effective.  The song is straight out of the Thirties but has much more clever lyrics.  Energized playing throughout and good feeling on the stand: see Katie and Danny smiling while Justin and Uncle How explore:

Another surprising composition of Gordon’s is PAVONIS (named for the genus of the peacock).  Gordon’s originals shift and turn as you listen, so I hear in this a moody ballad that could be scored for Bobby Hackett, late Louis Armstrong, or even Johnny Hodges.  But the ABJB — by their sweet understated playing — brings us to 2011, with no rhapsodizing about the past.  And by the end, all I could think of was the words “soaring lyricism” — from the whole band:

I don’t know how old any of the players was when Disney’s THE JUNGLE BOOK appeared on movie screens in 1967, but I would guess it predates a few of them.  Gordon has a not-so-secret fondness for odd Disney songs (many of them neglected classics) and BARE NECESSITIES is one of them.  Brandon not only utilizes his English baritone horn (in a cross-stage series of trades with his uncle) but offers a vocal chorus in the manner of Louis.

And speaking of Louis, this was one of the songs he performed on television that year — was it the HOLLYWOOD PALACE?  I have a very clear memory of watching him sing this ditty — then a man in a bear suit came out from the wings; “bear” and Louis did a few turns and a do-si-do, then the “bear” went back to his cave — perhaps the greenroom.  If you see your hero cutting a rug with a man in a bear suit, you don’t forget it:

To close the session, something familiar — a good old good one complete with hot drum solo!  LIMEHOUSE BLUES with the verse.  And, yes, that riff before Katie solos is indeed an Au-variation on DIZZY ATMOSPHERE:

Californians are so lucky!  (Although we have a firm grip on Gordon here in New York City: I saw the Grand Street Stompers at the Radgast Bierhalle last night, and they were wonderful.  Stay tuned.)

“JAZZ LIVES” GOES TO A DANCE: FOUR SEMI-FORMAL SCENES from the COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY SWING DANCE (December 9, 2011)

In my ideal re-envisioning of myself, I am both a hot cornetist — modeling myself on Little Bobby Hacksaw — and a stylish swing dancer.  Both of these goals have so far eluded me, but I was delighted to be invited to the Columbia University Swing Dance Society Semi-Formal Friday night.  And I took my camera.  More about that in sixteen bars.

What could be nicer, more promising?  The Grand Street Stompers would play hot and sweet jazz — always original — for an audience of limber swing fans who were in constant motion.  The GSS is one of my favorite bands: Gordon Au on trumpet, gentle leadership, compositions and arrangements; Dennis Lichtman on clarinet; Matt Musselman on trombone; Nick Russo on banjo and guitar; Rob Adkins on string bass; Kevin Dorn (just back from the West Coast) on drums; Tamar Korn on voice.

The Beloved came in and enjoyed the scene; I got to talk with some friends: Lucy Weinman, Veronica Lynn Day, Sam Huang, Michelle deCastro, and Lynn Redmile — and to watch the dancers, who made me think sadly of college opportunities missed.  I told Veronica that when I went to college swing dancing was not quite in fashion (probably I was too busy reading), but that had I been in the right place and the right time, I would have been entranced — both by the live music and by the lively young women.  I would have had a fine time and probably flunked all my classes.  Worth the trade?  No doubt, to quote Mr. Morton.

But back to the semi-formal scenes.  I stationed myself at the rear of the room to capture what you might have seen and heard had you been there . . . the videos are slightly more jumpy than I would have preferred, but I thought a tripod would not have gone with my semi-formal garb.

For Bix, for Hoagy, and for swing — RIVERBOAT SHUFFLE:

Miss Korn (resplendent in mauve or is it Valpoicella?) tells us EVERYBODY LOVES MY BABY:

Are skies cloudy and gray?  They’re only gray for a day, remember.  WRAP YOUR TROUBLES IN DREAMS:

And Gordon’s own rocking love song, CRAZY EYES:

Wonderful scenes!  And how fortunate we are that such things are flourishing in this century — not only for those people who live near 117th Street and Broadway.  Get rhythm in your feet!  On with the dance!

A GRAND NIGHT at RADEGAST: GORDON AU’S GRAND STREET STOMPERS with TAMAR KORN (April 20, 2011)

Last Wednesday, April 20, 2011, I made the now familiar trip to the Radegast Bierhall (131 North 3rd Street, corner of Berry in Brooklyn, New York) to enjoy one of my favorite bands — trumpeter Gordon Au’s Grand Street Stompers — with the alwys surprising Tamar Korn.

Nick Russo (guitar and banjo) and Rob Adkins (bass) swung out, keeping it all together; the front line was Gordon (trumpet, compositions, arrangements, and quiet moral leadership), Matthew Koza (clarinet), Will Anderson (tenor saxophone).

And here are the festivities, in living HD.

Gordon delights in the songs from certain Disney films, with justification — they’re good songs with good associations.  I connect BARE NECESSITIES with Louis. 

I told Gordon about seeing Louis on television around 1968, singing and playing this song, and (someone’s idea of a clever visual pun) a man in a bear suit came out, danced around Louis, and the bear and Louis may even have performed a little twirl on camera.  Radegast hasn’t yet had anyone come in dressed as a bear; perhaps it will happen.  Bears love sausage, as do men dressed in bear suits:

SHE’S CRYIN’ FOR ME is a New Orleans favorite, composed (I believe) by Santo Pecora, although it was originally called GOLDEN LEAF STRUT, a reference to muta, muggles, or shuzzit:

I never get tired of hearing WRAP YOUR TROUBLES IN DREAMS, especially when Tamar sings its message of optimism and resilience:

WHILE THEY WERE DANCING AROUND is a new old favorite, dating from 1913, a song Gordon has revived with the GSS (splendidly on their new CD . . . soon to be available where better books and records are sold):

EXACTLY LIKE YOU is from 1930 but still seems fresh, and its message, that the Beloved is precisely the person of our dreams, never gets stale:

BE OUR GUEST is another Disney creation, this time from BEAUTY AND THE BEAST.  I love Gordon’s mock-symphonic treatment, full of crescendo and decrescendo, and all those Italian words.  And the key changes.  Can I be the only person who thinks this line is close to WHEN YOU’RE SMILING?:

I’M COMIN’ VIRGINIA is one of the loveliest songs about going back home to Dixie, and it calls up memories of Bix, Tram, and Jimmy Rushing:

AVALON reminds me of Puccini (and a lawsuit), Al Jolson, the Benny Goodman Quartet, and of course of Miss Korn:

At points, WALTZ OF THE FLOWERS sounds so much like A MONDAY DATE (or MY MONDAY DATE) that Earl Hines should have sued Tschaikovsky for plagiarism:

Think of how much the previous century and this one owe to Harold Arlen and Ted Koehler while you listen to I’VE GOT THE WORLD ON A STRING:

CRAZY EYES is a silly, frisky Gordon Au love song — it would have been a huge hit in 1936, wouldn’t it?:

And while you’re up, give thanks to Irving Berlin, too, for THE SONG IS ENDED and more:

Gordon comes across splendidly — his swing, feeling, and wit — on this glowing, memorable CORNET CHOP SUEY:

LINGER AWHILE is both a sweet sentiment and a swinging song:

Although some of the lyrics of the Disney songs seem too hopeful for reality, I wouldn’t argue with the idea of A DREAM IS A WISH YOUR HEART MAKES, which begins in sweet 3 / 4 before becoming a delicately swinging rhythm ballad:

As I write this, it’s gray outside.  But in the world conjured up by Dorothy Fields and Jimmy McHugh, the SUNNY SIDE OF THE STREET (at a nice bouncy 1938 Louis tempo) is only a few steps away:

Rather than end the evening with something uptempo, Tamar suggested the wistful and romantic A KISS TO BUILD A DREAM ON, which would be a lovely song even if it didn’t make us think of Louis.  I think that she is expanding her emotional awareness and taking more chances — not that she was a timid singer to begin with:

This posting contains a large number of video performances — too many to be absorbed at a single sitting?  But I couldn’t stand to leave any of them in my camera.  Not sharing them would have seemed selfish.

GORDON AU’S GRAND STREET STOMPERS with TAMAR KORN at RADEGAST (March 30, 2011)

The Grand Street Stompers (led by trumpeter, composer, and arranger Gordon Au) made a return visit to the Radegast Bierhall on Wednesday, March 30, 2011 — and I got myself there without mishap.  Brooklyn is still mysterious to me, but the mysts are beginning to lift.

With Gordon were Emily Asher (trombone), Dennis Lichtman (clarinet), Peter Maness (bass), Nick Russo (guitar and banjo and the proud father of five-month twins!), and Tamar Korn.  A small firmament of jazz stars (who will blush at this characterization).

Please listen to the band — not only the soloists, but to the textures they and Gordon create, moving back and forth between the Creole Jazz Band of 1922 and the Birth of the Cool of 1949 and the Grand Street Stompers of 2011.  No dull spots or routines: nifty head arrangements, split choruses, a neat orchestral sensibility!

I always found W.C. Handy’s OLE MISS irresistible — named for an especially speedy railroad train — whether it was played by the Condon gang at Town Hall or by Louis and the All-Stars.  This version pleases me immensely: its leisurely, rocking tempo and the alternating keys (I asked Gordon — F and Ab) from chorus to chorus.   And I love impromptu riffs:

Here’s Gordon’s own THIRTIETH STREET THINGAMAJIG, which would sound like a Sixties “Dixieland composition” (and that’s a compliment) until you notice the unusual chord changes throughout.  Not the usual thing or thingamajig at all:

How about going UP A LAZY RIVER with Miss Tamar?  A good idea:

Is it true that Glenn Miller was working undercover for Eisenhower and the entire “small-plane-and-bad-weather” story was made up to conceal the facts?  It wouldn’t surprise me (Joe Yukl would now)  . . . but what we have here is a pretty rendition of his theme, MOONLIGHT SERENADE, with unusual twists — Bubber Miley meets the Schillinger system:

And here’s CRAZY EYES — a hilarious modern love song with music and lyrics by Gordon.  To learn the lyrics, I think you’ll have to purchase the Stompers’ new CD . . . watch this space for late-breaking news:

Thank you, gentlemen and ladies of the GSS!

GIGS TO GET TO!

I’ve written at length about the luxury of Regular Gigs in New York City: the EarRegulars (The Ear Inn) on Sunday; Terry Waldo’s regular sessions at Fat Cat; Vince Giordano and the Nighthawks at Club Cache (Hotel Edison) on Monday and Tuesday; the Grove Street Stompers (Arthur’s Tavern) on Monday; David Ostwald’s Louis Armstrong Centennial Band (Birdland) on Wednesdays.  All those bands and venues have much to offer and I hope JAZZ LIVES readers in the vicinity.

But in the middle of this coming week there is a trio of gigs that aren’t everyday (or night) events.  And they all begin reasonably early — important to someone like me whose alarm goes off before 6 AM.  I hope to go to all three!

The first is on Tuesday, March 29, 2011 from 7:30 to 9:15.  It features the engaging singer MARTY ELKINS with the reliably surprising pianist EHUD ASHERIE at Smalls, 183 West 10th Street, New York, NY  10014.  $20 gets you in and you can stay.  And perhaps Minnow will leap in, again. 

On Wednesday, the 30th, the GRAND STREET STOMPERS will be appearing at the Radegast Bierhall in Williamsburg, Brooklyn — beginning at 9 and probably going until midnight.  Wonderful food, fizzy blond(e) beer, no cover charge — a tip basket circulates — and lots of informal dancing.  It’s at 113 North 3rd Street (I believe the intersection is Berry Street).

Did I mention the music?  Trumpeter / composer / arranger GORDON AU will be there — and usually his colleagues are ROB ADKINS on bass, NICK RUSSO on banjo / guitar, EMILY ASHER on trombone, DENNIS LICHTMAN on clarinet — a lovely swinging compact inventive group.  And for the Brooklyn-timid, Radegast isn’t more than a few minutes walk from the Bedford Ave. stop on the L, although Doug Pomeroy says there are other ways to arrive at Jazz Paradise.

On Thursday, the inspiring pianist MICHAEL KANAN will be joined by the emotionally deep guitarist PETER BERNSTEIN for a series of duets at Smalls — again 7:30 to 9:15.  Come early but leave two seats in the front for the Beloved and her beau, please!

As Ralf Reynolds says, “Thank you for keeping LIVE JAZZ . . . . ALIVE!”

THE GRAND STREET STOMPERS WANT YOU!

I’ve been so impressed by the music and swinging ingenuity of Gordon Au’s Grand Street Stompers that I’ve been following them whenever I could . . . and now, hearing that they are raising funds for their first compact disc . . . . I’ll let Gordon tell you all about it. 

For more information, please visit http://www.indiegogo.com/The-Grand-St-Stompers?a=83108&i=emal

I know that in the past compact discs just tumbled out from a wide range of record companies . . . and this still happens, although to a lesser extent. 

Things have changed over the last thirty years, though: you may have noticed that the bins and browsers at your local record store are no longer filled with new records from Decca, Columbia, Impulse, Prestige, RCA Victor, Pablo, and a hundred others. 

Many of the artists we all delight in haven’t got the backing of one of the few companies still extant, or have chosen to go their own way because they value the freedom to make the music we love.  So the self-produced CD (or download) is often necessary: but ask your favorite player or singer how much that CD cost . . . and has (s)he broken even yet? 

Enthusiastic listeners ask many bands, “Why haven’t you guys made a CD yet?” 

The answer is often, “We haven’t got the four or five or ten thousand dollars we need to do it.” 

And — in small amounts — that’s where you might come in. 

The March 2011 sessions will feature (among others) Gordon, trombonist Matt Musselman, reed players Dennis Lichtman and Dan Levinson, guitarist Nick Russo, pianist Ehud Asherie, bassist Rob Adkins, drummer Kevin Dorn, and singer Tamar Korn.  And I’m sure there will be surprise guests, unusual repertoire, old songs done in new ways — what we love from the GSS.

So do lend a hand!

GIVE A HAND TO ALL THE MUSICIANS.  CLICK HERE: ALL MONEY COLLECTED GOES TO THEM! 

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A VISIT TO THE IDEAL WORLD (Jan. 27, 2011)

Who knew that one version of Paradise could be found in Williamsburg, Brooklyn? 

It’s true!

It’s the Radegast Hall and Biergarten, at 113 Third Street — at the corner of Berry Street — take the L to Bedford Street. 

In December 2010, I’d gone into new territory to hear the Grand Street Stompers, a delightfully compact jazz ensemble led by Gordon Au, and I had a fine time.  The people I’d met had been lovely, the music surprising and reassuring in equal measure, the beer — a lemon-colored, fizzy Gaffel Kolsch — delicious.   

http://www.radegasthall.com/

But it was even better last Thursday, Jan. 27, 2011. 

I had learned that the GSS would be playing that night.  But the days before had been particularly snowy.  It wasn’t the Blizzard of 2011 by any means, but it was messy and slushy.  Stubbornly, I had decided that I had to be there.  

Snow boots, knapsack with video equipment, gloves, cash, a street map . . . I patted my pockets to assure myself I had everything a bold jazz explorer needs! 

I arrived at Radegast more than an hour early, and went into the long rectangular room next to the bar to eat something.  After being gently directed by a pleasant waitress to the grill in the back of the room, I stood in rapt contemplation (like Joe Rushton) of the sausages and burgers-in-training sizzling on the grill. 

“Sizzling” is a dreadful cliche of menu-speak, I know, but in this case it was true.  I had a gracious mind-expanding discussion with the grill-Sage about choices, and I ended up with an awe-inspiring meal for less than ten dollars: smoked kielbasa, a mound of warm sauerkraut, some grill-toasted peasant bread, large self-serve helpings of Radegast’s own mustard. 

I was already in culinary Paradise with this wonderful unassuming hearty unfussy food.  I ate it slowly and savored every last molecule.  The temptation to return to the grill and say, “Do that again . . . with this sausage,” was strong but but I resisted.

Now, I hear some of you saying, “Michael, this narrative of your dinner has some appeal, but when did JAZZ LIVES become DINNERTIME?”

Have patience.

I found out later from the friendly manager, Chris, that the owner tailors the music on the sound system to the band playing there that night.  So while I contemplated my meal with true reverence, I was even more uplifted by the music. 

For me, to walk into a place and hear music I love on the sound system is a great, rare gift.  For it to be Sidney Bechet and Jonah Jones (Blue Note, circa 1954) was wonderful.  For it to be Bobby Hackett and the Andrews Sisters performing BEI MIR BIS DU SCHOEN (1937), even  better.  For the iPod shuffle to come up with I HOPE GABRIEL LIKES MY MUSIC by Mr. Strong . . . !  Bliss.

Then, I went to the bar and ordered my Gaffel Kolsch (I am a one-drink person while videorecording) and it was just as good as I’d remembered. 

Then the musicians — people I admire and like — began to come in.  I had lovely conversations with Gordon (trumpet, arranger, composer); Tamar Korn (vocals and astral travel); Dennis Lichtman (clarinet and wit); Emily Asher (trombonist in charge of blossoming); Nick Russo (banjo, guitar, and true hipness); Rob Adkins (bass, and serious joy).  And — for the cinematically-minded — when I had first been at Radegast the room had been so atmospherically dark that I could just about discern the faces of the musicians.  Better light this time, much appreciated!

The Grand Street Stompers settled themselves on their wooden chairs and Gordon kicked off the first number (he doesn’t announce them although he is happy to talk about what the band played after the set, if you ask).  I didn’t recognize it from the verse.  Then the band swung into the chorus and I nearly fell off the barstool in delight: I’ve only heard two bands perform SHE’S A GREAT GRET GIRL: Vince Giordano and the Nighthawks in 2010 and the original, Roger Wolfe Kahn in 1927 — a record featuring Joe Venuti and Eddie Lang and a very hungover but startlingly original young man from Vernon, Texas, Jack Teagarden.  It’s a great great song for easy jamming:

I have watched that clip a dozen times and it improves under scrutiny: the GSS rocks, and you might enjoy watching the body language of a group of very happy improvisers — they rock and grin, too!

What could follow that?  (I thought, “Well, if nothing else happens tonight — which I seriously doubt — I’ve had my Jazz Moment for the month!”)  But equally fine music was in store . . . a dirty, gutty, downhome version of AUNT HAGAR’S BLUES that made me think of Louis in the Columbia studios, proceeding seriously through W.C. Handy’s sermon on the healing powers of hot music, that low-down stuff, rendered as sensitive dance music to hold your Beloved close.  I wouldn’t change a sixteenth-note, from the thoughtful deep conversation among the horns to Rob’s bowing to the lovely head-arrangement passages.  Their mixture of care and ardor is something to admire:

Many musicians who are brilliant irreplaceable improvisers aren’t equally compelling composers — which is understandable, for they create their compositions every night on the second chorus of BLUE LOU.  Gordon Au is an exception: his compositions sound like songs rather than improvisations on someone else’s ideas.  And, as Dennis Lichtman pointed out, Gordon’s songs sound like his improvised playing — the same nice balance between rise-and-fall lines full of repeated notes and a cheerful reverence for the melody itself.  Here’s his ESCALLONIA RAG, which reminds me once again of an imagined piece for the Sixties Louis Armstrong All-Stars:

Gordon’s university training is in science, so I shouldn’t have been surprised that he named this original after a lovely Hawaiian flower: http://www.hear.org/starr/images/species/?q=escallonia+rubra+var+macrantha&o=plants

Then it was time for Tamar to sing, always an Event in my book.  It takes courage to open your performance (in a room full of chat) with a ballad, and then to begin that ballad with two rubato choruses.  But this is what the intrepid, searching Miss Korn did with MEMORIES OF YOU.  Her voice, as always, makes me think of great acting that isn’t acting, “country music” that isn’t the Grand Old Opry . . . you get the idea.  And the musicians follow, adding their own commentaries on this song, both sad and hopeful, coming together for hymnlike cadences while Rob is, cello-like, bowing away to great effect in the darkness, before Tamar returns to sing, so deeply, and with such feeling for the lyrics: 

MEMORIES OF YOU was (and is) so intense that I didn’t know what could follow it — certainly not something in the same wistful mood.  I don’t know who suggested SWEET SUE, but it was a fine choice — the delights of love realized rather than a song of yearning and remembering.  Not too fast, and pretty.  And the band!  Emily Asher is blossoming as a player: while we are sleeping, she’s spreading her wings!  And in case you wonder where the drum-cymbal-tambourine propulsion comes from, it is just another of the many faces of Tamar.  I love the dialogue between the two “trumpets,” as well.  This band doesn’t only share our dreams; it creates them:

Since I’ve heard so many formulaic performances of WON’T YOU COME HOME, BILL BAILEY? I tend to approach the song cautiously.  Of course Louis and Danny Kaye did it hilariously in the film THE FIVE PENNIES and, more recently, the most eminent Joe Wilder played it at a concert — having announced it, deadpan, as THE RETURN OF WILLIAM BAILEY.  This version is a delight — from the opening and closing vocal interludes (Tamar’s soprano scatting is what the angels would sound like, if 1. I believed in them, and 2. they swung) and the rocking momentum.  If Bill stayed away after hearing this imploring in jazz-time, there would be no hope for him:

As before, I said to myself, “What could follow that?” and Gordon, who is a wise leader, changed the mood with his own PAVONIS (named for the species or genus of the peacock) which reminds me of Carmichael and Strayhorn at the same time — moody, shifting, surprising, and lovely:

And the set ended with a little rough-and-ready jam session on the wonderful LOVE NEST (which will remind some of you of Burns and Allen, some of a 1944 Commodore record session that brought together Max Kaminsky, Rod Cless, and James P. Johnson).  Here the Grand Street Stompers were joined by the very engaging Lucy Weinman (of the Big Tent Jazz Band) who knows what it is to swing out.  Cool stockings and great ensemble lines, no?

A wonderful experience, as you can tell.  And it happens at least once a month!  (There’s a natural segue to be made from this post to the PayPal button below, but I’ll let my readers get there on their own.)

REMEMBER!  ALL MONEY GOES TO THE MUSICIANS!  SO PLEASE CLICK ON THE LINK BELOW AND BE GENEROUS!

https://www.paypal.com/cgi-bin/webscr?cmd=_s-xclick&hosted_button_id=VBURVAWDMWQAS

AUGUST IN NEW YORK: FOUR DAYS WITH JIM FRYER

Photograph by Lorna Sass, 2008

(This is trombonist / euphonist / vocalist Jim Fryer’s essay on life-as-a-hard-working-jazz-musician . . . as printed in the November 2010 edition of The American Rag and reprinted here with everyone’s permission)

ME & NYC

6 gigs in 4 days: a life of slice

August 15–18, 2010

This is a somewhat random “Report From NYC,” based on a few days of “feet on the sidewalk” activity. It’s certainly not an exhaustive accounting of the activity around here, although it was a bit exhausting. There is so much great music, great jazz, and great trad jazz around here. This is just a slice, my little slice, of the scene. I think it was Hemingway who said you should write about what you know, and what you know best is your own life. It is also true, in my experience, that narcissism is one of the few skills that can improve with age, and I’m definitely on that bandwagon. So here goes. I hope someone else may find this interesting. I know I do.

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Following a big chunk of time and energy expended (along with Jeff & Anne Barnhart) in helping our 5 “International All Stars” from the UK have a swell time in Connecticut, New York, and California (including doing double duty at the Orange County Classic Jazz Festival with the Titan Hot 7, the band that most readers of this journal will know me from), I enjoyed a respite visiting my parents at their house in the Maine woods. A short time after my return to New York, I found myself back on the busy streets & subway trains: the Asphalt Jungle. A small flurry of local gigs helped reorient me to this place where I am trying to live the good – or at least, the interesting – life.

Sunday August 15: From our domicile in West Harlem, I drove south on the Henry Hudson Parkway and West Side Highway, down to the Fat Cat Café, just off Sheridan Square in the West Village. This is one of my favorite joints ever: down the stairs to a very large room that contains games such as ping pong, pool, scrabble, chess, and beer and wine drinking. And oh yes, a small music area off to the side, easy chairs and sofas, a grand piano and a sound system (with a sound engineer!). When I die, if I’m lucky enough to choose my personal heaven, it will look a lot like the Fat Cat. (Our younger daughter once came along to a gig there, and decided that was where she wanted to get married.)

The band at the Fat Cat was a classic: Terry Waldo leading his Gotham City Jazz Band from the piano, singing & striding along; Peter Ecklund (tpt), Chuck Wilson (clr/as), Brian Nelepka (sb), John Gill (dms),and me (with my euphonium along for the ride). Nice, relaxed, easy. Good IPA on tap. 2 sets, no muss, no fuss, just plain fun. Girls boogie to our music while playing foozball. I’m very thankful that there are bandleaders who hire me for such good times. John Gill sang a lovely rendition of Irving Berlin’s When The Midnight Choo-Choo Leaves For Alabam’. John continues vocalizing (accompanying himself on guitar) later on Sunday nights over at the National Underground, where he, Brian, & drummer Kevin Dorn play good old rock and roll & country/western.

Normally, after the Fat Cat, I have the option to sit in with the Dixie Creole Cooking Jazz Band (led by cornetist Lee Lorenz) at Arthur’s Tavern, right around the corner from the Fat Cat, on their weekly Sunday gig; and then travel a few blocks down to The Ear, New York’s oldest saloon, for another fantastic session with the Ear-Regulars (led by Jon-Erik Kellso and Matt Munisteri). But today, it’s back into the car and a scramble against heavy crosstown traffic and over the Williamsburg Bridge, to the Rose Café in Brooklyn. The gig thankfully started late anyhow! I played a duo set with Bliss Blood, the talented singer/songwriter/ukelele-ist from Texas via Brooklyn. We followed a young violinist/singer/synthesizer player who managed to sound like a rock band and symphony orchestra, all by herself. Playing old blues and Bliss’s original songs, our music sounded simple in comparison (one of my goals, actually), but the ‘elite’ (small) audience seemed to enjoy it.

Monday August 16: Every Monday brings me a steady musical diet. I play with a rehearsal big band in the afternoon. Working jazz musos the world over know what that means: get together for a few hours every week and ‘read’ (play) big band ‘charts’ (arrangements) for no commercial purpose whatsoever. The opportunity to sight read new material (often written by someone in the band) and schmooze with friends is sufficient compensation. If you hang out at the American Federation of Musicians Local 802 building on West 48th Street for a week, you’ll hear dozens of these bands, taking advantage of the very low room rental rates.

Next comes one of the musical highlights of my life for the last several years: Vince Giordano and The Nighthawks making their weekly Monday appearance at Club Cache, downstairs from Sofia’s Restaurant in the famed Edison Hotel on West 46th Street, just a few feet west of Times Square. I’m not enough of a wordsmith to adequately bring to life the excitement and dynamism that Vince Giordano brings to each & every gig he plays. He is a one man tornado, playing hot string bass, tuba, and bass sax, singing, performing mc duties, meeting & greeting each customer who comes down the stairs into our subterranean cabaret, and setting up & breaking down equipment for hours each week. A characteristic touch is added by our technician & ‘introducer,’ John Landry (aka Sir Scratchy), and we couldn’t do without our various ‘Mikes’ (Mike being the generic term to describe anyone who helps out on the gig, from moving equipment to playing music). Our steadiest Mike is Carol, Vince’s partner, who [wo]mans the door and seats patrons; we also are lucky to have Earl, who in addition to schlepping equipment, spends his ‘down’ time translating Vince’s antique arrangements into modern notation via Sibelius software – at an incredible clip (he will complete a full 13 piece arrangement during the course of the 3 hour gig, something that would take me weeks).

Vince’s Monday night gig has become enormously popular since its debut in May of 2008. A great dance floor brings in the rugcutters (including many athletic young lindy hoppers), and the room is typically full of customers from the world over. The legendary 88 year old clarinetist Sol Yaged is featured on a tune each set. Vince is the Toscanini of the evening, conducting our journey through the sublime world of Fletcher Henderson, Paul Whiteman, Louis Armstrong, Bix Beiderbecke, Jelly Roll Morton, and a plethora of songwriters & arrangers: Bill Challis, Raymond Scott, Fats Waller, Irving Berlin. From the downbeat at precisely 8pm to the closing at 11pm, it is truly a world of amazing music & delight. We often have quite well known folks ‘sitting in:’ singers like Michael Feinstein, Nellie McKay, and Daryl Sherman; instrumentalists from around the world; the comedian Micky Freeman; and famous audience members such as cartoonist R. Crumb, a big classic jazz fan.

This particular Monday included all members of what I call the “A Team;” that is, all the first call musicians. (The band hardly suffers when subs come in: John Allred in the trombone chair could not be described as bringing the level down!). Many of these players are quite well known in a variety of genres. Here they are:

Reeds: Dan Block, Dan Levinson, Mark Lopeman

Trumpets: Mike Ponella, Jon-Erik Kellso

Trombone: your humble (ahem!) reporter

Violin/Sax: Andy Stein

Piano: Peter Yarin

Banjo/Guitar: Ken Salvo

Percussion: Arnie Kinsella

Basses/Everything: Vince Giordano

Tuesday August 17: Tuesday daytime may bring a few trombone students to me (in the summer, a handful; during the school year, a full day – if I’m lucky); or an occasional concert in a Connecticut school, with a band called the Cool Cats; then comes a reprise of Monday night. Vince has been working hard since this past June to get a second night established. It’s still the quieter night, and I bet Vince is counting audience members as he’s counting off tunes; but it also can work more as a rehearsal, Vince handing out charts on stage from his vast collection (60,000 in the archives).

At 11:40pm, I’m back on the train from Grand Central Station (busy place, that) to Rye, 25 miles NE of the city, where my wife (sometimes described as “long suffering”) works at a private school, which offers on-campus housing as a benefit for her very hard work. I love the view walking east on 43rd Street, with the Chrysler Building looming over the majestic train terminal. By 12:30am I’m strolling down our very quiet and pretty suburban street, where Peter Cottontail may sometimes be seen munching lettuce in the garden. This particular night a local cop car slows to a stop as I’m walking up to our place. The cop looks me over (trombone, wheelie bag for mutes etc, garment bag with tux), and says, “Ya got everything?” Funny guy. It’s good to know they’re out on the beat. Sometimes I stay “in town,” at the apartment we have in West Harlem (currently also the abode of our eldest daughter, a fervent New Yorker).

Wednesday August 18: Wednesday brings another doubleheader (paydirt for us musos; even better, the rare tripleheader; many years ago I played 4 gigs on the Fourth of July). First the late afternoon session at Birdland, the world famous club on West 44th: David Ostwald’s Louis Armstrong Centennial Band. This long running (10+ years) weekly gig features a rotating roster of the finest trad players in town. Today, in addition to tuba player & leader Osti, I had the pleasure of being on stage with Jon-Erik Kellso (tpt), Anat Cohen (clr), Ehud Asherie (pn), & Marion Felder (dms). Yours truly was the old guy on stage. (I’m trying to get used to that.) David’s bands are some of the most ‘diverse’ in the biz, in terms of not only age but also gender and race. The general lack of diversity can be a slightly touchy issue in the trad jazz arena, so it’s nice to see Osti put together bands that ‘look like America’ – and also swing like crazy! This Wednesday session was a very special one: Dave Bennett, the young clarinet virtuoso from Michigan, sat in, along with a young also sax player (from Russia, I believe; I didn’t catch his name); and in the audience, 91 year old George Avakian, one of the most esteemed figures in jazz history (George has produced hundreds of classic jazz albums).

Then to Brooklyn (by subway), to play again with Bliss Blood, this time with the Moonlighters (20s/30s swing, with a Hawaiian flavor). Bliss’s vocals & uke are joined by Cindy Ball (guitar & impeccable vocal harmonies), Raphael McGregor (lap steel), Rus Wimbish (string bass), & the horn section: me! I love being the only horn player, it’s nice & quiet, with no temptation to engage in technical battles: who can play faster, higher, or more cleverly. As I get older, I feel pleasure in knowing how to add a bit of value to the music, no pyrotechnics, please. I’m trying to play better by playing less. It’s a thrill to learn brand new songs that Bliss and Cindy write. The art form continues to evolve. I also love this venue. The Radegast Beer Hall, a big open space, with fine beer (of course) and hearty German food, is in the heart of Williamsburg, a neighborhood that feels young and vibrant. It restores my faith in humanity when the band is fed so well on the gig! All kinds of bands play here, including several youthful units, such as Gordon Au’s Grand Street Stompers, and the Baby Soda band (which includes trombonist Emily Asher of Mighty Aphrodite Jazz Band fame). Several times folks got up and danced around the bar area, in most cases to our music. Finishing after midnight means arriving back in Harlem close to 2am – fortunately, not driving, which reduces the danger and risk (seriously, everyone who’s been in the music business knows musos who have fallen asleep at the wheel late at night); as long as I don’t sleep through my subway stop and end up in Riverdale (a nice neighborhood, but miles north of my pad).

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It was a great little run of gigs. I feel quite lucky to be able to work with so many interesting people. And if sometimes being the oldest on stage is a bit of a bittersweet experience (I guess I ought to get used to it as “As Time Goes By”), it is certainly encouraging for the future of the music. From long time residents (like drummer Kevin Dorn, born in Manhattan about 30 years ago – his band, the Traditional Jazz Collective, gigs all over town) to those newly arrived, NYC is still, as ever, a magnet for young, ambitious, and hardworking people. A few of the young “immigrants:” trombonist Emily Asher, transplanted from Washington state for a couple of years to get her Masters degree; trumpeter Gordon Au, from California (I should mention Gordon’s very musical family: brothers Justin and Brandon are fine players who have blown with the Titans in Pismo Beach CA, and Uncle Howard Miyata plays a mean tailgate trombone with High Sierra Jazz Band); young trombonist Matt Musselman from Maryland, a recent graduate of Manhattan School of Music, and one of my subs in the Nighthawks (his band is called Grandpa Musselman and His Syncopators); and trumpeter/vocalist Bria Skonberg, due to arrive any second now. There is most definitely a youth movement going on! I wouldn’t know how to advise these young people about putting together an actual living in NYC: this is one tough town to pay your bills in – but somehow they are doing it. Perhaps I should ask them for advice! The total take from my 6 gigs (minus the expenses) will buy a few bags of groceries, pay back the loan for a couple of textbooks for my younger daughter’s college degree, with about $1.13 left for my pension contribution. Guess I can’t retire yet. I’ll get up tomorrow and go off in search of more students and gigs. I know one musician who was heard to say: “Retire! How can I retire? I’ve never had a job!”

I would be remiss if I didn’t also tip my cap to the folks around here who have been promoting the classic jazz scene for many years, such as: Bruce McNichols, musician, impresario, and radio OKOM producer; Jack Kleinsinger, whose “Highlghts In Jazz” series has run for 37 years; the Sidney Bechet Society, which puts on fine concerts in Manhattan; New Jersey folks like Bruce Gast & the New Jersey Jazz Society; Connecticut jazzers who put together the Hot Steamed Festival and the Great Connecticut Traditional Jazz Festival; & radio hosts such as Rich Conaty on WFUV-FM and Phil Schaap on WKCR-FM. Youth combined with Experience will carry the day for the music we love!

Jim Fryer

August 2010

For more info:  www.jfryer.com, www.terrywaldo.com, www.blissblood.com, www.myspace.com/vincegiordanothenighthawks, http://www.ostwaldjazz.com/., www.coolcatjazz.info,

HEARING IS BELIEVING: GORDON AU / TAMAR KORN (Dec. 16, 2010)

If you close your eyes, something interesting might happen.  Listen deeply. 

Last Thursday, I made a pilgrimage to Williamsburgh in Brooklyn, New York, and eventually arrived at RADEGAST, a beer garden on the corner of Berry and North Third Streets.  The Grand Street Stompers were playing: they are directed by trumpeter Gordon Au (always a good thing) and this edition was all-star: Emily Asher, trombone; Dennis Lichtman, clarinet; Nick Russo, guitar / banjo; Rob Adkins, bass.  And Tamar Korn sang.

But.

Before anyone embarks on the first video, the viewers I call the Corrections Officers should know that Radegast is the darkest club I have ever been in.  Cozy but Stygian.  My video camera was not entirely happy.  So the result is nocturnal, visually. 

Also, the dance floor in front of me was properly filled with dancers: once your eyes get accustomed to the whirling shadows you can discern the most graceful pair, in harmony with each other and the music.

Because of the season, Gordon chose to play I SAW MOMMY KISSING SANTA CLAUS.  Leaving aside the psychological associations: adultery, roleplay with costumes, the primal scene, love-for-sale . . . it’s a Thirties tune that I can hear in my head as a Teddy Wilson Brunswick . . . or what would Fats have done with this?  This version has some of the rocking motion of a Goodman Sextet circa 1941, thanks to Nick and Dennis; also echoes of a Fifties date for, say, Ruby Braff and Benny Morton, courtesy of Gordon, Emily, and Rob:

The same flavors continue into I’M CONFESSIN’ — with the addition of the remarkable Tamar Korn, singing from her heart while standing to the left of Rob’s bass.  Catch the whimsical contrast between Tamar’s air-trajectories and Gordon’s muted answers: is he our modern Hot Lips Page?  And Emily Asher’s tone gets bigger, broader, and more lovely every time I hear her:

With music like this, who couldn’t weather the storm?  Homage to Irving Berlin and more of that Thirties combination of sweet-tart vocals and hot playing, I’VE GOT MY LOVE TO KEEP ME WARM.  I’ve always admired Tamar as a singer who doesn’t cling to safe routines, and her reach continues to expand into space:

I knew the next performance was Serious Business when someone turned on the light above the music stand.  I didn’t immediately recognize the pretty melody Dennis was delicately playing, but I knew I had heard it once.  Then Gordon braved the way into . . . . THE SOUND OF MUSIC, which came back to me from 1962.  As the performance progressed and everyone relaxed (Rodgers’ melody takes a few unexpected turns), I had a different aural epiphany. 

Joe Glaser, Louis Armstrong’s manager, was obsessed with the quest for more popular hits for Louis.  Sometimes this worked: consider MACK THE KNIFE and HELLO, DOLLY!  But Joe missed this one!  I can hear an imagined All-Stars version of this song (with banjo) that would have been extraordinary.  And Gordon might have felt it too, as he launched into his solo with a passage that suggests Louis — hinting at the bluesy flourishes of the Hot Seven and the cosmic scope of the 1932 Victor sides.  Then Nick’s chimes before settling into a very non-von Trapp Family (say that three times) segment backed by Rob’s Hintonian bass.  Hear and see for yourself:

Tamar returned, for one of her classics — LOVER, COME BACK TO ME — that would have pleased Sigmund Romberg, especially if he’d had some of the delicious German beer that Radegast offers all and sundry.  And she swings out on invisible trumpet (meeting Gordon’s!) in her second outing. 

But I have to apologize to the gifted tenor saxophonist who appeared to the right and began to swing out.  Who are you, kind Sir?  Are you the ghost of Dick Wilson?

Finally, in honor of the season and of Elvis, Tamar creates a mourning rockabilly interlude in BLUE CHRISTMAS, with Nick going a-sliding along.  (I can hear Louis and Trummy Young doing this one, too.  Where was Joe Glaser?):

I hope the only thing of yours that’s blue this holiday season is the sky.  Or socks, lingerie, or a fleece sweatshirt!