Tag Archives: Grant Stewart

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.