Tag Archives: Grant Stewart

WE LOVE LUCY YEGHIAZARYAN

I know my title must seem excessive, but what if it’s true? The young singer Lucy Yeghiazaryan has got it, and I’ve experienced it both on recording and in live performance. And if you think I am oddly subjective, you could also ask Greg Ruggiero or Michael Kanan, people whose opinion about singers is certainly trustworthy.  Here’s a sample, from recent performances with Greg, guitar; Neal Miner, string bass; Fukushi Tainaka, drums:

and another standard:

Admire how much music she and her three esteemed colleagues pack into such short spaces (each of these performances could fit on one side of a 78 rpm recording, for the readers who understand that yardstick).  She does everything well and with panache: she’s on pitch, her diction is splendid, she swings (!), her scat is not a series of formulaic ba-ba-ba‘s, her second choruses are not identical to her first, she lands on pitch, and . . . perhaps most important, she sends a message of ebullient joy.  Not only is she having a good time, but she wants us to have one as well, and I don’t mean attempting to reach us by eccentric vocalizing or tricks, but by singing.  Louis would say she has “more ingredients,” but they are subtly part of her recipe.

Here’s a soulful I WISH I KNEW (with Greg; Grant Stewart, tenor saxophone; Daniel Duke, string bass; Steve Williams, drums) where her voice has the quiet intensity of a great jazz soloist while she honors melody and lyrics:

Dramatic without dramatizing, as you hear.  Here’s something from Fats:

The first fourteen seconds of that performance are delicious and what follows is no letdown.  Lucy performs “old songs” with affection, not condescension; her phrasing is witty but gentle.  She knows what the lyrics mean — the emotional script beneath the words — and although she’s absorbed the Great Singers, she’s not selling us musical knock-offs from a folding table on the street.  (“Hey, gitcha Ella here!  I gotta new Sarah, and some Anita just came in.  No, all out of Billie.  Come back Thursday.”)

You don’t need many more words from me.  Her virtues are charming and consistently audible.  And the good thing — for New Yorkers and other fortunate denizens — is that she’s performing often in a variety of contexts. Follow her on Facebook here; on the Smalls website, read a brief biography — she comes from someplace more distant even than Red Hook — and see her in performance. 

But the best thing is to see her live (and buy the CD after).  At the end of 2019, my dear friend Matt Rivera got me in to meet and hear Lucy at a fund-raiser in New Jersey.  Her two brief sets were models of professional performance that wasn’t so rehearsed as to be stale.  She chose fitting tempos, interacted beautifully with the band, spoke to the audience with deft politeness, knew her material perfectly but improvised freely within it . . . in short, she was a delight.

So, even though I have retired from teaching, I can still assign homework, and yours is to go see Lucy, before the ticket prices become too high, and you can tell your provincial friends that you discovered her.  It can be our secret.

May your happiness increase!

HIP LYRICISM: AI MURAKAMI Quartet live at Smalls (August 26, 2018): AI MURAKAMI, GRANT STEWART, MICHAEL KANAN, PAUL GILL

I first encountered the splendid drummer Ai Murakami when a copy of her debut CD came into my hands.  Her playing impressed me deeply — not only the sounds she created at the drum set, but the ways in which her melodic impulses shaped the quartet’s performance.  And I wrote about the CD here.

When Ai and friends they take the stage at Smalls on Sundays, they are characterized as “bebop” players.  But for me, bebop is a music of sharp turns and occasional hard edges.  Ai’s imagination makes bebop a little softer, more cushiony.  I don’t mean limp, but she created an encouraging space for lyrical, arching melodic lines from any or all of the players.  And she adores melodic material, whether it’s by Jerome Kern or it’s a racing late-Forties line.

Here are some delightful performances from the Sunday afternoon at Smalls, August 26, 2018 — where Ai is joined by Paul Gill, string bass; Grant Stewart, tenor saxophone; Michael Kanan, piano.  Four melodic, exploring heroes.

Richard Rodgers’ FALLING IN LOVE WITH LOVE (who can hear this without hearing Larry Hart’s vingary lyrics?):

Irving Berlin’s wonderful THE BEST THING FOR YOU:

I’LL NEVER BE THE SAME (once known as LITTLE BUTTERCUP) so tenderly introduced by Michael:

Tadd Dameron’s THE SCENE IS CLEAN:

Jerome Kern’s I’M OLD-FASHIONED, beginning with a lovely piano solo:

Finally, Bud Powell’s WAIL:

I think that the people who watch, savor, and learn from these videos understand the principles on which I operate, but I would like to make one explicit.  My gratitude to these and other musicians for allowing me to video their performances and share the results — for free — with a larger audience.  A great gracious kindness on their part.

May your happiness increase!

“OUR DELIGHT”: DAMERONIA CELEBRATES PHILLY JOE JONES’ 90th BIRTHDAY (July 16, 2013)

The composer / arranger / pianist Tadd Dameron wrote lovely, twisting melodies and arrangements, and his small groups have their own subtleties and depths.  He has been gone for some decades, sadly, but a very gratifying six-horn tribute group, DAMERONIA, will be creating a special reunion evening at New York’s Jazz Standard to celebrate the ninetieth birthday of drummer Philly Joe Jones.  Trumpeter Don Sickler will be leading an all-star band in a two-set event on July 16th.  Sets will be at 7:30 and 9:30.  Tickets are $20.

In the early 1980s legendary drummer Philly Joe Jones came up with the idea of forming a band, which he called “Dameronia,” to pay tribute to his good friend, composer/arranger Tadd Dameron. The distinctive sounds of Dameron’s melodies, harmonies and arrangements can be heard on recordings of Billy Eckstine, Count Basie, Miles Davis, Fats Navarro and Dizzy Gillespie (among countless others).  Jones wanted to contine the legacy of Dameron’s works, which included jazz standards like “If You Could See Me Now,” “Good Bait” and “Our Delight.” Philly Joe also wanted to promote other compositions and arrangements Tadd conceived for the bands Jones played in.

Jones got Don Sickler working on putting together a book of arrangements modeled after Tadd’s 1953 nonet that Philly Joe had played in, alongside Clifford Brown, Gigi Gryce, Benny Golson and Cecil Payne, and “Dameronia” took shape. Dedicated to creating a historically accurate representation of Dameron’s music, the band recorded two albums (1982, 1983), including the well received “To Tadd With Love,” and played in numerous clubs, concert halls and festivals. “Dameronia” continued to perform even after Jones’ death in 1985, with the Kenny Washington on drums: in 1989 the band performed a special Paris Concert, documented on CD.

When trumpeter/music director Don Sickler asked drummer Kenny Washington how he wanted to celebrate Philly Joe’s 90th birthday, without any hesitation Kenny said “Dameronia!” Kenny then immediately told Don who he thought should be in the new group, and most of them will be playing that evening:

Jerry Dodgion – alto saxophone, flute (recorded with Tadd Dameron and Philly Joe on Tadd’s “Magic Touch” album); Grant Stewart – tenor saxophone; Gary Smulyan – baritone saxophone; Don Sickler – trumpet; Jeremy Pelt – trumpet; Robin Eubanks – trombone; Mike LeDonne – piano; Peter Washington – bass; Kenny Washington – drums.  Tickets and more information here.

May your happiness increase!

HARRY ALLEN’S JOYOUS FIRST MONDAYS at FEINSTEIN’S

The good music that the Beloved and I heard and saw on the first Monday in December, 2011, still rings in our ears.  And there’s more to come.

The first Monday night of every month has taken on new significance since Harry Allen and his world-class musical friends (courtesy of Arbors Records) have been appearing at Feinstein’s at Loews Regency in New York City (540 Park Avenue (at 61st Street, 212-339-4095).

The December show was Harry’s Christmas extravaganza — with notable musicians to keep hackneyed tunes at a safe distance.  For those who dread “New York night clubs” because of imagined high prices, the cover charge for Harry’s Monday nights is twenty dollars a person, and it’s a very warm, unstuffy place — comfortable and friendly.  An excellent value: three hours of totally acoustic jazz.

The first set was devoted to Harry’s quartet, with Rossano Sportiello, piano; Joel Forbes, string bass; Chuck Riggs, drums.  Everyone was in superb form, and the program floated from a trotting PEOPLE WILL SAY WE’RE IN LOVE to a deeply yearning OVER THE RAINBOW with Harry’s astonishingly yearning Judy Garland coda.  Then came a faster-than-light WHIRLY BIRD, distinguished by Rossano’s playing,mixing Bud Powell and super-stride.  THE TOUCH OF YOUR LIPS went from romantic to raunchy in only a few minutes, with honors going to Joel Forbes, exploring the mysterious depths of the harmonies, and the set ended with an exuberant tribute to Johnny Burke and Jimmy Van Heusen in IT COULD HAPPEN TO YOU, capped with a Riggs snare-drum solo.  This is a working band, and they were having a fine time.

After a brief break, Harry called some friendly luminaries to the stand for a delightful concert in miniature, adding James Chirillo on acoustic guitar to the original rhythm trio.  Chirillo’s sound (to borrow Whitney Balliett’s words for Freddie Green, “bells and flowers”) was a sweet highlight.  Bob Wilber, in New York for a visit, led off with a medium-tempo OLD-FASHIONED LOVE, beginning with an a cappella reading of the verse, then offered LOVE FOR SALE.  Wilber showed that his incredible tone — on his curved soprano — is still glossy: he didn’t miss a step.

Two brothers-in-swing, Jon-Erik Kellso and Randy Sandke, took Wilber’s place to roam through WINTER WONDERLAND, exchanging epigrams and commentaries in the most affectionate, swinging ways.  A tenor trio of Harry, Dan Block, and Scott Robinson had a delightful romp through BLUES UP AND DOWN, each player displaying his singular approach to the blues, with John Sheridan taking Rossano’s place at the piano.  Trombonists John Allred and Tom Artin thought about holiday travel on LET’S GET AWAY FROM IT ALL, with Allred quoting AIN’T CHA GLAD early in his solo.  Harry gathered the troops for an eight-horn PERDIDO that brought back the Buck Clayton Jam Sessions right in front of us.

The closing set, led by John Sheridan, drew on his most recent Dream Band project — also available on an Arbors Records CD, HOORAY FOR CHRISTMAS — that depicted the many moods of the holiday — adding Becky Kilgore to the top of the tree.  She began with three less-heard celebrations: Don Sebesky’s HOORAY FOR CHRISTMAS, Carroll Coates’ A SONG FOR CHRISTMAS (done as a bossa nova), and a swinging version of Kay Thompson’s THE HOLIDAY SEASON.  Sheridan’s own CHRISTMAS WILL BE A LITTLE LONELY THIS YEAR was a melancholy triumph — the room was hushed and silent, a great tribute.

Becky then called on the masters of holiday music, Irving Berlin and Bing Crosby, for a song originally meant for Thanksgiving but apt all year round, I’VE GOT PLENTY TO BE THANKFUL FOR (her singing so graceful that Scott Robinson stood there, his arms akimbo, admiring every nuance); Scott brought his bass clarinet for a pretty Harry Warren ballad, I KNOW WHY (AND SO DO YOU), which led into an exuberant dismissal, LITTLE JACK FROST GET LOST, and a moody THE DIFFICULT SEASON (an instrumental with touches of the Alec Wilder Octet), and a closing jaunt through SANTA CLAUS IS COMING TO TOWN.

If you weren’t there, there are a few tangible ways to capture part of the delicious music.  One is John Sheridan’s Arbors compact disc HOORAY FOR CHRISTMAS.  Another is a new du0 of Harry Allen and Rossano Sportiello devoted to the music of Johnny Burke, a friend of Harry’s father.  Burke was the lyricist — but he collaborated on some of the finest songs of the twentieth century, including PENNIES FROM HEAVEN, MOONLIGHT BECOMES YOU, and OH, YOU CRAZY MOON (the last two given heartbreaking depth on this disc).  The disc is called CONVERSATIONS, and so far it’s available only at live performances, which is a good thing — an inducement to search out Harry and Rossano in person.

You’ll have twelve more chances at Feinstein’s in 2012, because the series will run throughout the year.  The January program will showcase Harry’s “Four Others,” a saxophone quartet inspired by Woody Herman’s “Four Brothers.”  Harry’s original band features three other swinging modernists, Eric Alexander, Grant Stewart, Gary Smulyan, plus his original rhythm trio of Rossano, Joel, and Chuck.  The February gala will bring Scott Hamilton to Harry’s side.  Great value and great jazz!

JOEL PRESS, MICHAEL KANAN, TAL RONEN, STEVE LITTLE at FAT CAT (July 5, 2011)

FAT CAT (located at 75 Christopher Street in New York City, just off Seventh Avenue South) is, at first glance, an odd place to hear rewarding jazz.

You climb down a steep staircase, meet up with someone who asks for proof of age and three dollars, stamps your hand with a blue-ink drawing of a grinning feline, and you turn a corner . . . into what resembles a Fifties rec room at a huge scale.  Past a bar (with an intriguing selection of beers on tap — I had Old Speckled Hen, a UK favorite — and wines) into a large basement filled with chess tables, billiard tables, ping pong tables, foosball tables, shuffleboard, and more.  In fact, one of Fat Cat’s two sites asserts proudly that it is “NYC’s best-equipped gaming center” and  “best pool hall.”

It’s far from dreary and ominous — perhaps a youthful Minnesota Fats and Eddie Felson might be doing battle here — on my most recent trip to Fat Cat, two young couples were playing pool with more enthusiasm than skill.  There is a good deal of late-adolescent shouting when someone makes a great shot or a disastrous move, but it’s all cheerful.  (One night, behind me was a chili-cookoff, or so it seemed, with aluminum tins of chili for a birthday party, a cake, and a long version of HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO YOU.)  And I understand that it is jammed at 1:30 AM.

Here’s the “gaming site” for the skeptical:

http://www.fatcatmusic.org/gaming.html

What the youngbloods at their Scrabble boards might not know is that Fat Cat is a secret jazz hangout as well.  How do the names Frank Wess, Ned Goold, Terry Waldo, Grant Stewart, Ehud Asherie, Corin Stiggall, Alex Hoffman — and more —  sound to you?

The other Fat Cat website has all the musical information you need:

http://www.fatcatmusic.org/

On Tuesday, July 5, a quartet gathered (there are soft couches — the sort of furniture it is difficult to leap up from) in a smaller quadrant not far from the bar.  The corner was dark in portions, gleefully lit in primary colors near the back.  A large sign announcing FEATRING _______________ and HIS ORCHESTRA (approximately, with the leader’s name never filled in) hangs over the proceedings.

But even given the shouts of joy or disdain from the players (not at all critical comments on the music), the quartet accomplished great things and brought wonderful lilting sounds to Fat Cat.

The players?

On tenor and soprano saxophone, the whimsical monument, the Swing Explorer, Joel Press . . . . making his own way, often sideways, in the great singing saxophone tradition bounded on one end by Eddie Miller and on the other by Steve Lacy.  Although Joel says it’s impossible for him, given his origins, I hear a deep Southwestern moan and lope in his playing.  He bounces when he plays, and you would hear the bounce with your eyes closed.  His sound is tender yet burry: I thought of a favorite rough blanket, cozy but assertive, as he glides from one idea to the next.  Lester Young peeks in approvingly over Joel’s shoulder, although Joel is much more than a purveyor of Prez-isms.

Pianist Michael Kanan never does the expected, yet when his notes and pauses have settled in, they seem exactly right — with the epigrammatic power and amusement of a Nat Cole, a Jimmy Rowles — although he, too, covers the entire spectrum from Willie the Lion Smith to Ray Bryant and Red Garland.  Michael makes wonderful sound-clusters come out of the piano: rippling trills and tremolos, single-note stabs, chords that seem lopsided but fit just right.  He and Joel float on a wave of loving respect, and several songs feature a sweetly chatty interlude, where ideas are tossed back and forth in polite yet eager conversation.

I hadn’t met Tal Ronen before, although I’d admired his work on a variety of CDs.  And I was delighted by the big warm sound he got — even when tuning his bass.  His pulse was absolutely right, although never obtrusive, and his solo lines were worthy of being transcribed.  Although some players bridle at being compared with the Great Dead, Tal made me think — many times during the evening — of both George Duvivier and Paul Chambers.

Steve Little and Joel go back a long way — and this session was a reunion of sorts after a thirty-year hiatus.  Steve’s gently prodding drums make a band sound better, and his movement around his set (from brushes on the snare to a variety of cymbal strokes) leave us enlivened rather than somnolent.  Hear how deeply he pays attention to what’s going on within the band — but never letting his commentaries obscure the other players.

Some highlights:

Charlie Parker’s DEWEY SQUARE, a New York landmark as well as a musical statement:

YOU’RE DRIVING ME CRAZY — in the best Kansas City tradition — turned the corner into MOTEN SWING before it finshed.  Here’s the first Kanan – Press chat, too:

Joel named his variation on the chords of OUT OF NOWHERE “LAST EXIT” in honor of Warne Marsh, who died onstage while playing his own improvisation on the same changes:

LOVER MAN, for Billie Holiday and Ram Ramirez:

LIKE SOMEONE IN LOVE, taken at an easy romantic trot, was a real pleasure:

INDIANA was the occasion for another Press – Kanan conversation:

Joel turned to his soprano sax for Thelonious Monk’s improvisation on LADY BE GOOD chord changes, which Monk called HACKENSACK:

And Joel closed the two sets with an easy Bb blues — the line, written by Sonny Rollins (but reaching back many generations before him) was called RELAXIN’, and it was an apt title:

Beauty and fervor and whimsy in the darkness.

MONDAYS WITH HARRY: RIGHT NOW!

Arbors Records has created a new series featuring jazz performances and dancing at Feinstein’s at Loews Regency Hotel, 540 Park Avenue at 61st Street, NYC.  And it begins tomorrow!

Harry Allen’s Monday Night Jazz

It begins May 2, 2011, and will happen the first Monday of each month through the end of the year (except the second Monday in July and September).   Most performances will feature The Harry Allen Quartet (Harry, Rossano Sportiello, Joel Forbes, Chuck Riggs) with guest artists as listed below.

Dining and dancing from 7:00-8:00 PM — — Concert from 8:00-10:00 PM

Music Charge: $20.00, One drink minimum

May 2:  Frank Wess, Joe Wilder, Harry Allen, Norman Simmons, Joel Forbes, Ed Metz

June 6:  Harry Allen’s Four Others (Harry’s original arrangements based on Woody Herman’s Four Brothers) featuring Grant Stewart, Gary Smulyan and Eric Alexander with The Harry Allen Quartet

July 11:  Warren Vaché and John Allred with The Harry Allen Quartet

August 1:  Bucky Pizzarelli, Terell Stafford and Freddy Cole with The Harry Allen Quartet

September 12:  Ken Peplowski and Houston Person with Larry Fuller, Harry Allen, Joel Forbes and Chuck Riggs

October 3:  An evening of song with Lynn Roberts, Rebecca Kilgore, Nicki Parrott, Dan Barrett with Mike Renzi, Harry Allen, Joel Forbes and Chuck Riggs

November 7:  An evening of Brazilian music with Maucha Adnet (vocalist with Jobim for 10 years), Duduka DaFonseca (drummer with Jobim for many years), Nilson Matta (bass), Klaus Mueller (piano) and The Harry Allen Quartet

December 5:  Hooray for Christmas show with John Sheridan, Rebecca Kilgore, Jon-Erik Kellso, Randy Sandke, John Allred, Tom Artin, Dan Block, Scott Robinson,James Chirillo with The Harry Allen Quartet

Reservations: Loews Regency Hotel, 540 Park Avenue, NY, NY 10065.   Telephone: 212-339-4095

P.S.  When I was a child, I had a Danny Kaye record on which he impersonated a little boy, “Maurice.”  And the line that sticks in my head is Maurice’s insistent, “Not LATER!  NOW!”  Consider it your mantra for this series, no?

 

“LIVE” AT SMALLS JAZZ CLUB

Although occasionally jazz clubs are uncomfortable — hard seats, noisy patrons, people jammed in — they provide an immediacy of experience that is unmatched by even the finest compact disc or video clip.  But you would need to live in or near an urban center (in my case New York City), have an independent income, be able to be in two or three places at once, and have a strong immune system to experience even one-fourth of what is happening any evening (and some afternoons).  And you’d have to be nocturnal — with the opportunity to sleep during the day, as many musicians do.

In the belief, perhaps, that if you offer something for free, people who love it will then follow it to its source, the people who run Smalls Jazz Club (on West Tenth Street) have been offering live video and “archived” audio of jazz performances at http://www.smallsjazzclub.com/index.cfm?itemCategory=32321&siteid=272&priorId=0&banner=a.

What does that mean?  As far as I can tell, you could sit in front of your computer, click on the address above, and get to see and hear — in real time — what the musicians are playing at Smalls.  True, the video is somewhat limited in its visual range; the image is small.  And it can’t be recorded for playing at a later date.  

But it’s vividly there, and for free.

And the other half of the birthday-present-you-didn’t-know-about is that the site is also offering audio of past performances (by those musicians who don’t object to having their work distributed in this fashion).  I didn’t check everyone’s name, but I saw dates were available featuring Dan Block, Ehud Asherie, Jon-Erik Kellso, Randy Sandke, Terry Waldo, Orange Kellin, Joel Frahm, Ari Roland, Stepko Gut, Matt Musselman, Will Anderson, Dmitry Baevsky, Lee Konitz, Teddy Charles, Jesse Gelber, Charlie Caranicas, Kate Manning, Kevin Dorn, Danton Boller, Joel Forbes, Lee Hudson, Rob Garcia, Howard Alden, Neal Miner, James Chirillo, Chris Flory, Eddy Davis, Conal Fowkes, Scott Robinson, Steve Ash, John Bunch, Jay Leonhart, Dick Hyman, Ethan Iverson, Olivier Lancelot, Sacha Perry, Rossano Sportiello, Mark Lopeman, Michael Blake, Harry Allen, Andy Farber, Tad Shull, Grant Stewart . . . and these are only some of the names on the list I know.  So many pleasant hours of listening await you!  And everyone hopes that you will someday go to West Tenth Street and climb down the narrow stairway to Smalls.

JON-ERIK, GRANT, CHRIS, et al: Sunday, August 23, 2009

ear-inn-5

Jon-Erik Kellso, Hot Man Supreme, will be leading a remarkable quartet at The Ear Inn this coming Sunday, August 23, 2009.  I have been north of The Ear for the past two months and am pained and envious that long-standing plans will prevent me from journeying down there.  But that’s no reason that you should stay at home.

Jon-Erik’s partner in the front line will be tenorist Grant Stewart — passionate and surprising (like Jon-Erik).  Grant’s recent CDs, YOUNG AT HEART and PLAYS ELLINGTON AND STRAYHORN, have been splendid.  They will be joined by guitarist Chris Flory, who has deep rocking time and is a born jazz internal combustion engine.  And a stellar bassist, not yet determined at press time.  And a cast of musicians and singers — only the best — who come to the Sunday sessions at The Ear to admire, to applaud, to learn.     

It’s not too late to make sure you get home from the beach with plenty of time.  I think that jazz magic will be in The Ear.

BRILLIANT EMPATHY! (November 20, 2008)

The jazz musicians I know say that improvisatory duet playing is intensely difficult, sometimes highly rewarding.  For a duet to work, it needs a great deal of intuitive cooperation, players anticipating each other’s thought patterns.  But the duo that is too congenial runs the risk of being tamely polite.  Alphonse and Gaston are ideal pals, but some friendly jousting is at the heart of jazz.  However, if players go their own heedless, self-absorbed ways, collisions are a sure thing.  Each of the two players must be attuned not only to what is being played, but what might be played, what might be just around the corner.

The video clips of pianist Ehud Asherie and reedman Dan Block (here on tenor sax and clarinet) here will show that the title I’ve chosen for this posting is enthusiastic but wholly justified.  They listen; they take chances; their technical brilliance is matched only by their emotional depth, their timeless swing.

Flip and I went to Smalls on West Tenth Street about ten days ago for one of Ehud’s Thursday night duo gigs.  These gigs last only an hour, but they offer more resonant jazz than many other sessions that go on much longer.  Ehud’s partner was the wonderfully soulful Dan Block.  Here they work their eager way through Vincet Youmans’ HALLELUJAH!  (My sentiments exactly, with the shades of Tatum and Hawkins standing in the wings, smiling sagely.)

Here they are on a haunting melody, one of those that you might begin to hum without knowing its name or the lyrics.  AUTUMN NOCTURNE, music by Josef Myrow, was a favorite of Sonny Rollins, Claude Thornhill, Art Farmer, and many others, although it never became a popular or jazz standard.  (Myrow, incidentally, wrote many more forgettable songs — “Keep Cool, Fool” suggests the kind of evanescent pop ditty he leaned towards — although we know him better for YOU MAKE ME FEEL SO YOUNG.)

A more familiar jazz standard, Fats Waller’s I’M CRAZY ‘BOUT MY BABY, is next — with the memorable verse.

And this mini-program concludes with two more contemporary jazz standards from another stride pianist, Thelonious Monk.  (Monk scholars will remember that when he was corralled into a Down Beat “Blindfold Test” and one of his own records was played for him, he said, “That sounds like James P. Johnson.”)  Dan and Ehud, comfortable playing all sorts of music, treat us to Monk’s lyrical RUBY, MY DEAR.

Finally, here’s the duo’s propulsive OFF MINOR.

This coming Thursday, December 4, Ehud will be improvising alongside his great friend, tenor saxophonist Grant Stewart, someone I’ve celebrated in this blog.   I’ll be there!

DIAL B FOR BEAUTY, T FOR TARDO

One of the pleasures of writing for the journal Cadence is in working with its editor, Bob Rusch, who has great faith in his reviewers’ intellectual elasticity, their ability to consider art that falls slightly outside their accustomed orbit.  Although I could be happy listening to James P. Johnson until the day of doom, Bob has asked me to listen closely and think about recordings I wouldn’t have ordinarily purchased, artists I wouldn’t have otherwise known.  One such CD was a trio recording on the Sharp Nine label (its title an emblem of witty hipness) featuring the pianist Tardo Hammer, bassist Dennis Irwin, and drummer Jimmy Wormworth, Tardo’s Tempo.  I thought it a remarkable recording because of Hammer’s beautiful touch, his unhurried melodic sense, the way the trio worked together, and (no small matter) the beauty of the recorded sound.  Although Hammer might have been classified superficially as a boppish pianist of the Bud Powell persuasion, he has and had a thoughtful restraint, his lines distilled musings rather than violent displays of pianistic ferocity.

Then Tardo surfaced on a particularly moving quartet effort by saxophonist Grant Stewart, Young At Heart, and a live session featuring Stewart and the trumpeter John Marshall, Live at Le Pirate.  I confess that all of his fine playing on these discs did not add up to a conversion experience.  That took place when I heard his latest recording, Look   Stop   Listen: The Music of Tadd Dameron, also on Sharp Nine.  It features Tardo, John Webber, and Joe Fransworth, a truly empathetic trio.  All of their virtues are even more beautifully on display here.  Because Dameron created ringing, mournful melodies, Tardo has wonderful material to explore, and he is someone who (in Eubie Blake’s phrase) knows how to make the piano sing.  He takes his time, he considers the implications of each note without ever getting bogged down in his own cogitations; his tone is like nothing so much as a fine cognac.  Listen to his thoughtful exploration of something as well-worn as “Hot House,” made into a headlong rush by generations of eager emulators of Bird and Diz; hear the pearls he creates out of “Dial B for Beauty” and “If You Could See Me Now.”  Webber is every pianist’s dream: solid but supportive, his focused sonority relaxed yet pulsing.  And Farnsworth (especially on brushes) urges and comments without changing the tempo a hair.  It is one of those sessions that without being in the slightest bit backwards-looking, summons up all the glories of the past without imitating anyone’s familiar gestures.

Because I organize my compact discs alphabetically, Hammer will now have his own section among Ed Hall, Scott Hamilton, Lionel Hampton, Annette Hanshaw, Michael Hashim, and Coleman Hawkins — a set of great melodists.  Those players will welcome him; he’ll be right at home.

Visit Tardo’s website and Sharp Nine’s:http://home.earthlink.net/~tardo/ and http://www.sharpnine.com.

tardo-2-jpeg

MODERN MASTERS: SACHA PERRY, GRANT STEWART

Since many of the jazz musicians I revere are now dead, my musical immersions have a touch of necrology: this, I say, to someone, is the last recording ever made by Kid Lemon’s Happy Pals before the fatal club fire. Art blends with mourning and mortality — we can never hear Charlie Christian alive again! — to intensify the beauty of the music and our feeling of loss.

So it is both a pleasure and our responsibility to praise the living while they are still with us. The living, in this case, are pianist Sacha Perry and tenor saxophonist Grant Stewart, both often found playing at the darkly congenial Greenwich Village jazz club Smalls.

But my subject is two performances, found on separate CDs, less than fifteen minutes of music of a rare intensity: Perry’s trio exploration of the Depression lament, “Brother, Can You Spare A Dime”?” and Stewart’s “You’re My Thrill.”

Perry’s trio session (where he is joined by bassist Ari Roland and drummer Phil Stewart) came out on Not Brand X (Smalls Records srcd-0022). Perry has composed and recorded many originals, but this CD is devoted to standards by Porter, Rodgers, Gershwin. But these aren’t the same old jazz tunes-to-blow-on, nor are they treated in formulaic ways. “Brother, Can You Spare A Dime?” was a song rooted in a deep social awareness — Yip Harburg’s lyrics spring from the pageant of World War One veterans who were destitute in the early Thirties — and Jay Gorney’s strong melody verges on the operatic, as in Bing Crosby’s contemporaneous version, powerful and sad.

Perry takes this song at a properly elegiac tempo, reharmonizing its simple chords into granitic blocks, dense, weighty, and mournful. It becomes both dirge and angry protest: how could you have abandoned us? There are hints of Herbie Nichols, but Perry is blazing new trails, creating an intensely moving performance, serious, nearly grief-stricken.

Dark beauty of another kind comes through from the first notes of Grant Stewart’s “You’re My Thrill,” from his new CD, Young At Heart (Sharp Nine 1041), where he is joined by Tardo Hammer, Peter Washington, and Joe Farnsworth. Most listeners associate this song with Billie Holiday’s late-Forties Decca recording (I was astonished to learn that the song was written in 1933, also by Jay Gorney — are we on the verge of a Gorney renaissance? It wouldn’t be a bad idea: Count Basie, Jimmy Rushing, and Ruby Braff did great things with another Gorney song with a political edge, “It’s The Same Old South.”)

I heard this performance — without knowing the players — coming through my car radio while I was on my way to work — courtesy of WKCR’s longtime Tuesday “Daybreak Express” man, Sid Gribetz, the latter-day Symphony Sid. It held me spellbound, or as spellbound as I could be without driving off the road. Stewart takes the song at a steady slow pace, from his rubato duet with pianist Hammer, creating something that is half paean, half prayer. His tone is mahogany and port wine; his timbre is deep-hued fabric, passionate and rich. And he refuses to rush: he lingers over his notes — in a way that suggests a combination of Ben Webster and Pablo Casals.

Both of these performances are music to marvel at, music to savor. Bless Perry and Stewart: may they continue to create masterpieces that can stop listeners in their tracks in astonished surprise and joy.

As an aside: Grant’s CD has the additional boon of fine straightforward notes by writer Marc Myers. If you haven’t visited his blog, JazzWax, where he writes about a jazz record –78 to CD — every blessed day, you have missed out on a real pleasure. He’s also interviewed many of the great masters (Sonny Rollins, Ron Carter!) in addition.