Here’s a beautiful sustained lesson in how to Groove, taught by four past Masters: Matt Munisteri, guitar; John Allred, trombone; Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Tal Ronen, string bass. Their classroom was Cafe Bohemia, 15 Barrow Street, Greenwich Village, New York, on January 16, 2020. The text for this class was Vincent Youmans’ SOMETIMES I’M HAPPY.
With these four in control, it’s ALWAYS, not SOMETIMES.
My parents, generous in all things, also gave lavishly of their own anxieties — “Be careful!” “That’s a very bad idea,” and more. So on the evening of March 12, when I went into the half-deserted city that I’ve been visiting for decades, I heard the dull thrum of fear all around me. The half-empty streets, commuter train, and subway all testified to prudence, caution, fear of the unknown.
But the music I and others (including Matt Rivera, one of the Disciples of Swing) heard that night — and that you will hear now — was a powerful countertruth. “Yes, there is a new toxicity out there — an acronym with a number — that is ready to catch you unaware. But while the music is playing, you are protected. The creativity of these musicians is life-affirming, and vibrating to their sounds means that you are powerfully alive.” I felt that from the first notes of I CAN’T BELIEVE THAT YOU’RE IN LOVE WITH ME to the end of the second set.
Of course there is room for scientifically-based dissent, but those who need to write in, “You’re going to DIE!” might give voice to such feelings elsewhere.
The creators — the Doctors of Swing in whom I put my faith that night — were, at the start, Sean Cronin, string bass; Josh Dunn, guitar; Evan Arntzen, clarinet, tenor saxophone; Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet. Their music says “We will go on.”
Here are three beauties, defying the darkness. The first is I CAN’T BELIEVE THAT YOU’RE IN LOVE WITH ME, played at a lovely tempo thanks to Jon-Erik, who remembered my wish to have it sound like a love song, not a sprint:
Then, WILLIE THE WEEPER, a story about joyous self-medication as needed:
And a mellow MEMPHIS BLUES (where the people smile on you all the while):
There will be more, and I don’t simply mean that I will post music from this night. I envision a future, not too long from now, when live music will be experienced face-to-face. And — lest I forget — this post is in honor of the very-much-alive Jim Wellen, whom I met this morning.
I’ve created this post for free. The musicians didn’t receive extra money for entertaining you. How can you help them and express gratitude? Simple. Buy their CDs from their websites. Help publicize their virtual house concerts — spread the news, share the joy — and toss something larger than a virtual zero into the virtual tip jar. Musicians live in a gig economy, and we need their generous art more than we can say. Let’s not miss the water because we ourselves have let the well run dry.
When I first met Mara Kaye, on the other side of the continent, about six years ago, she was a fervent advocate of “other people’s blues,” often the chansons of Victoria Spivey, Ida Cox, and Memphis Minnie. Happily she continues to perform these songs, but she’s also added wonderful swing classics to her repertoire, many harking back to the Billie Holiday recordings of the Thirties and early Forties.
Here’s one, quite famous, that she renders with swing, joy, and conviction — accompanied by a splendid group of improvising stars: Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Evan Arntzen, clarinet and tenor saxophone; Arnt Arntzen, guitar; Jared Engel, string bass.
All of this happened at the end of a Cafe Bohemia Jazz Quartet gig — at the downtown home of happy sounds, 15 Barrow Street, Greenwich Village, New York City. And I felt Irving, Fred, Ginger, Ella, and Louis looking on approvingly.
That music is good news to me. But the good news continues: tomorrow, Thursday, February 6, Mara will be returning to Cafe Bohemia, starting at 8 PM, joined by Jon-Erik Kellso, Brian Nalepka, string bass, and Tim McNalley, guitar, although so far it seems that the stairs are too narrow to allow Mara to bring that lovely bathtub.
Those who understand pleasure and enlightenment can buy tickets here.
Evan Arntzen, once the new fellow from out of town, continues to delight and amaze. He and his gifted friends did it again last Thursday, January 23, at Cafe Bohemia, 15 Barrow Street, Greenwich Village, New York. Those friends are Darrian Douglas, drums; Tal Ronen, string bass; Ben Paterson, Fender Rhodes; Albanie Falletta, guest vocal.
Here are four lovely highlights from that evening.
Harold Arlen’s BETWEEN THE DEVIL AND THE DEEP BLUE SEA:
Spencer Williams’ I FOUND A NEW BABY, with a nod to Lester:
Wingy Manone’s STRANGE BLUES (but come closer and don’t be afraid):
Arlen’s I GOTTA RIGHT TO SING THE BLUES, which Albanie does so well:
Suggestions for pleasure? Come to Cafe Bohemia for more good sounds; follow these musicians for more of the same.
If I learned that a few dear friends were going to drop by in fifteen minutes, I would rush around tidying, straightening out the bed, looking to see what you could serve them . . . a flurry of immediate anxiety (“Does the bathtub need to be cleaned and can I do it in the next two minutes?” “Where will people sit?”) mixed with the pleasurable anticipation of their appearance. As an aside, JAZZ LIVES readers who wish to see the apartment — equal parts record store, video studio, yard sale, and library — will have to make an appointment.
Since I “live” at Cafe Bohemia (15 Barrow Street, Greenwich Village, New York) only intermittently, and it’s already tidy, thus, not my problem, I could simply relax into a different kind of pleasurable anticipation. It happened again when Jon-Erik Kellso began to invite people up on to the bandstand near the end of the evening of January 2, 2020 — another of the Thursday sessions that cheer me immensely. The result reminded me of some nights at the 54th Street Eddie Condon’s when guests would come by and perform.
Let me give you the Dramatis Personae for that night and then we can proceed to two of the marvels that took place. The House Band: Jon-Erik, trumpet; Ricky Alexander, clarinet; Albanie Falletta, resonator guitar / vocal; Sean Cronin, string bass / vocal. The Guests: Bria Skonberg, Geoff Power, trumpet; Arnt Arntzen, banjo; Jen Hodge, string bass. Arrangements were quickly and graciously made: Sean handed the bass to Jen for these two numbers; Bria stayed on, Geoff went off for one and came back for the second.
JAZZ ME BLUES, with Jon-Erik, Bria, Ricky, Albanie, Arnt, and Jen:
SOMEBODY STOLE MY GAL, with Albanie singing and Geoff back on the stand:
Much better than apartment-tidying, I’d say. And I’d wager that even the Lone YouTube Disliker, who hides in the bathroom with his laptop, might give his death-ray finger a rest. More beautiful sounds will come from Cafe Bohemia, so come down the stairs.
Many jazz fans are seriously prone to excessive nostalgicizing (see E.A. Robinson’s “Minniver Cheevy”) and I wonder why this music that we love is such a stimulus. How many classical-music devotees dream, “I wish I were having dinner with the Esterhazys tonight so I could hear Joe Haydn’s new piece”? I am sure sports aficionados imagine themselves at the Polo Grounds or another fabled place for the moment when ____ hit his home run.
But in my experience, those who love jazz are always saying, wistfully, “I wish I could go back to hear the Goldkette band / Fifty-Second Street / Louis at the Vendome Theatre / the Fargo dance date / Bird and Diz at Billy Berg’s,” or a thousand other part-forlorn wishes. To be fair, I too would like to have been in the studio when COMES JAZZ was recorded, or the 1932 Bennie Moten session in Camden.
But sometimes such yearning for the past obscures the very much accessible glories of the present. (I see this in those fans so busy making love to their recordings that they never go to a club to hear live jazz, which is their loss.) Yes, many of our heroes will play or sing no more. But THE GOLDEN ERA IS NOW and it always has been NOW. And NOW turns into THEN right before our eyes, so get with it!
Here’s proof: more music from a life-enhancing evening at Cafe Bohemia, 15 Barrow Street, Greenwich Village, New York — November 21, 2019 — with Danny Tobias, trumpet; Dan Block, clarinet and tenor saxophone; Josh Dunn, guitar; Tal Ronen, string bass.
I’ve already posted several beauties from this gig here and here.
And now . . . .
BLUE ROOM (at a wonderful tempo, cool but lively):
MY HONEY’S LOVING ARMS (with the obligatory Irish-American reference):
MY MELANCHOLY BABY:
LULLABY OF THE LEAVES:
I WANT TO BE HAPPY:
I’VE GROWN ACCUSTOMED TO HER FACE, so very tender:
and finally, SOMEBODY STOLE MY GAL:
I want to hear this band again — such peerless soloists and ensemble players — could that happen? I hope so.
November 21, 2019 might have been an unremarkable day and night for some of us — leaving aside that it is Coleman Hawkins’ birthday — but at Cafe Bohemia, 15 Barrow Street, Greenwich Village, New York City, the stars were wonderfully in alignment when Danny Tobias, trumpet / Eb alto horn, Dan Block, clarinet / tenor, Josh Dunn, guitar, and Tal Ronen took the stage.
As James Chirillo says, “Music was made,” and we dare not underestimate the importance of that.
Not just formulaic “music,” but eloquent, swinging, lyrical playing in solo and ensemble, as you can hear in their BLUE AND SENTIMENTAL I’ve already posted here.
Those who take improvised music casually don’t realize the combination of skill, emotion, restraint, and individuality that is at its heart, where musicians create a model community for a few hours.
I hear an intelligent graciousness, where no one musician wants to be powerful at the expense of the others, where collective generosity is the goal, playing “for the comfort of the band,” as Baby Dodds described it — but when a solo opportunity comes along, each musician must be ready to speak their piece, share their distinct voice. Too much ego and the band squabbles; too little ego and you have watery oatmeal for the ears.
That such music as you hear here and elsewhere on JAZZ LIVES exists is, to me, frankly miraculous. Five glowing memorable examples of this holy art follow. And if these sounds remind anyone of a small Count Basie group (you can add the sounds of Jo Jones in your head, if you care to) that would be fine also.
Beauty doesn’t send out event-postings to let us know where it’s going to be next, but it’s been showing up with great regularity here, Cafe Bohemia, 15 Barrow Street, in Greenwich Village, New York City.
Ricky Alexander and friends brought some Beauty only recently.
Ricky Alexander with Adam Moezinia at Cafe Bohemia, by Michael Steinman
Ricky, tenor saxophone and vocals; Adam Moezinia, guitar; Daniel Duke, string bass; Chris Gelb, drums, had a gig there on Friday, November 22, 2019, to celebrate the release of Ricky’s CD, STRIKE UP THE BAND.
Here are two performances from that evening; first, a bouncy TEA FOR TWO:
At the close, the quartet was joined by one of my great heroes, Dan Block (and Ricky’s hero also) joined the group for a tender searching STARDUST that continues to resonate in my heart:
Any attempt to explicate or categorize that STARDUST would be an impiety.
I’m going to keep following Ricky Alexander — he’s on a CD release tour, with a gig in Washington, D.C., Wednesday night, at Twins Jazz, 8 PM, details here, and I certainly will be at Cafe Bohemia regularly. (First table on the left, nearest the stage, and if the music isn’t playing — whether live or courtesy of HotClub NY — that’s Matt Rivera and his magic discs — you’ll see me checking my camera or chatting with the very friendly staff.) Thanks to Mike Zieleniewski and to Christine Santelli for the wonderful endeavors and the welcoming atmosphere. Another NYC jazz club advertises itself as “New York’s friendliest,” but for me Cafe Bohemia takes the prize.
Until our paths cross, if they were meant to, let the Beauty sink in. It might be all we have.
Before there was this — the official opening of Cafe Bohemia, 15 Barrow Street, New York City, one flight down — on October 17, 2019:
there was this, a warm-up for the club, a “soft opening” on September 26:
Glorious music from Mara Kaye, singing with the Cafe Bohemia Jazz Band — totally acoustic — Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Evan Arntzen, clarinet and tenor saxophone; Matt Munisteri, guitar; Brian Nalepka, string bass. I posted other performances from that evening, here — but here are seven more beauties for your consideration, mixing blues by Memphis Minnie, the Smith ladies, and of course Lady Day.
Mara, of course, is herself, which is a damned good thing.
I GOT TO MAKE A CHANGE:
WANTS CAKE WHEN I’M HUNGRY:
YOUR MOTHER’S SON-IN-LAW:
A SAILBOAT IN THE MOONLIGHT:
Now, even more good news. Cafe Bohemia is perking along beautifully — on November 21, I was there for a wonderful quartet session by Danny Tobias, Dan Block, Josh Dunn (new to me and a wonder), and Tal Ronen. “Beyond the beyonds!” as a character in a Sean O’Faolain story says. And on the 22nd, I heard and admired Ricky Alexander, Adam Moezinia, Daniel Duke, and Chris Gelb, with a glorious appearance by Dan Block for two numbers. All night, every Monday, my dear young hero Matt “Fat Cat” Rivera, who knows things but is not compelled to flatten people with facts, spins wondrous 78 rpm discs of the real stuff, and he reappears before and after sets on Thursdays. The HOT CLUB, you know.
And on December 5, our Mara will be celebrating her birthday at Cafe Bohemia, so if you weren’t there for the prequel, you can make up for it in the near future.
It will be a birthday party where Mara and friends give us presents, you know.
Here is the Cafe’s Facebook page, and here is their website.
Wonderful music has been happening and continues to happen downstairs at the Barrow Street Alehouse on 15 Barrow Street, the hallowed ground of Cafe Bohemia. Here’s the first part of the splendid music created on October 24 by Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Evan Arntzen, clarinet, tenor saxophone, vocal; Jared Engel, string bass; Arnt Arntzen, guitar, banjo, vocal.
You’ll find so much to admire here: brilliant wise polyphony, hot and sweet soloing, respect for melodies and the courage to improvise. Beauty is there for those who can listen without preconceptions. And they swung from the first note of I DOUBLE DARE YOU:
Then, SOMEDAY SWEETHEART, with or without comma:
Something memorable from the pen of William H. Tyers:
Evan offers the verse all by himself, gorgeously:
When I grow too old to take the subway, I’ll have these sounds to remember:
Cafe Bohemia is also offering a variety of musical pleasures, including sets by trumpeter Joe Magnarelli and a rare session by the two sons of legendary jazz bassist Jymie Merritt — keep up to date with their schedule here on Facebook. Their website is still in gestation but will be thoroughly informative soon.
I will have much more from this band, and Jon-Erik will be back at Cafe Bohemia on November 14 and several more Thursdays in December. And — if that wasn’t enough — Matt Rivera will be creating his own clouds of joy by spinning 78s before and after: see here for the full story. The Hot Club is fully in operation Monday nights (by itself, which is wonderful) and alternating with the live music on Thursdays.
Thanks evermore to Mike Zielenewski and to Christine Santelli, aesthetic benefactors who are making all this joy possible. M.C. Escher would be happy to know that glorious sounds scrape the clouds even from the basement of 15 Barrow Street. S0 find your gloves and that nice scarf Auntie made for you — the one you never wear — and come join us.
New York City is full of vanished landmarks: one checks the address of what was once a place both sacred and thriving only to find that it is now a nail salon or, even more common, that its facade no longer exists: it’s now luxury apartments or university offices. But resurrection, however rare, is possible and delightful. The “new” CAFE BOHEMIA, thanks to the labors and vision of Mike Zieleniewski and Christine Santelli, is one of those urban(e) miracles.
There will be divine music there on Thursday, October 24, featuring Jon-Erik Kellso, Evan Arntzen, Arnt Arntzen, and Jared Engel as well as the Hot Club. Tickets here for the 7:00 show; here for the 9:30 show. And for those who “don’t do Facebook,” tickets can be purchased through Eventbrite.
Now . . . .
and another view:
LIVE MUSIC for sure. And there’s also Fat Cat Matt Rivera’s HOT CLUB, which I’ve written about here.
But let’s go back to some of that LIVE MUSIC, performed on September 26, before the Club’s official opening — a delightful all-acoustic jazz and blues evening featuring Mara Kaye, vocal; Matt Munisteri, guitar; Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Evan Arntzen, clarinet and tenor saxophone; Brian Nalepka, string bass. Incidentally, only people who regularly attend live-music events know how rare “all-acoustic” is, and how pleasing.
BLACK SHEEP BLUES:
For Billie, I WISHED ON THE MOON:
Also for Lady Day, NO REGRETS:
“How sad I am,” with a grin, for MY MAN:
I’ll have more music from this night, also from October 17 (Evan, Andrew Millar, Felix Lemerle, Alex Claffy) but I urge you to tear yourselves away from those electronic devices and visit the Cafe on the 24th. It’s tactless to remind people but necessary that clubs, concerts, and festivals need actual human attendees (what a thought!) to survive. So . . . see you there!
When I am in conversation with someone new and the talk turns to my pursuit of live jazz in New York City, the question will be, “I suppose you go uptown to hear music? Do you go to . . . ” And then my questioner will mention some club, usually now-vanished, in what he or she thinks of as “Harlem.” My answer nearly always causes surprised perplexity, “No, almost every place I frequent is below Fourteenth Street — you know, Greenwich Village.”
Nearly seventy-five years ago (before my time) the Village was a thriving place for hot jazz to flourish, with clubs and venues now legendary but long gone.
One of the quiet heroes of hot piano was Cliff Jackson, who began his career as accompanist to female blues singers but always as a striding player on his own or as the leader of a big band, an in-demand sideman, intermission pianist, and valued soloist. (And he was married to Maxine Sullivan until his death in 1969.)
Cliff Jackson, 1947, photograph by William P. Gottlieb
In the last years of the Second World War, several independent record companies (notably Black and White and Disc) took the opportunity to record Jackson, either solo or in bands. He was a remarkable player, full of charging percussive energy, with singularly strong left-hand patterns (just this week I found out, thanks to the great player / informal historian Herb Gardner, that Jackson was left-handed, which explains a good deal).
Here are three sides from a remarkable and remarkably little-known session for Black and White by the Cliff Jackson Quartet, featuring Pee Wee Russell, Bob Casey, and Jack Parker. Pee Wee and Casey were long associated with Eddie Condon bands (Eddie featured Cliff in concert and on the television “Floor Show” often). I am assuming that Jack and Jack “the Bear” Parker, both drummers, are one and the same, recording with Eddie Heywood, Don Byas, Eddie South, Hot Lips Page, Mary Lou Williams, Pete Johnson, Leo Parker, Babs Gonzales — and he’s on Louis’ BECAUSE OF YOU and Nat Cole’s 1946 THE CHRISTMAS SONG as well).
The quartet speaks the common language with grace and eloquence. We get to hear Cliff at length, and Bob Casey has a fine solo. Pee Wee seems particularly unfettered: he was the sole horn on sessions that happened once every few years (with Joe Sullivan and Jess Stacy for Commodore) and I think not being placed between trumpet, trombone, and baritone saxophone made for greater freedom. That freedom means great sensitivity on ONE HOUR, and wonderfully abstract phrases on WEARY BLUES.
from Fats to James P. Johnson:
and back in time to Artie Matthews:
Readers who are well-versed or have discographies (some might be both) will note that the YouTube poster has not offered us Cliff’s minor original, QUIET PLEASE. Yes, there are a number of offerings of this song by Cliff, but they are of a 12″ Black and White session including Bechet, the DeParis brothers, Gene Sedric, Everett Barksdale, Wellman Braud, Eddie Dougherty — a true gathering of individualists. But — before there is wailing and gnashing of teeth from the cognoscenti — a nearly new copy of the quartet’s QUIET PLEASE arrived yesterday from my most recent eBay debauch, and if the stars are in proper alignment, it could emerge on this very site.
It was an immense pleasure to be part of this experience with Felix Lemerle, Murray Wall, and Doron Tirosh, if only from behind the camera, and the first part has been met with a great deal of enthusiasm, I think properly.
Here’s the second: four more performances by Felix Lemerle, guitar; Murray Wall, string bass; Doron Tirosh, with guests Yarden Paz, alto saxophone, and Yoav Trifman, on the closing MARMADUKE.
Four more beauties:
Murray Wall’s brilliant, gentle exploration of I GOT IT BAD (with a dropped piece of cutlery early in the first chorus — for once, not my fault):
One of my favorite rhythm ballads — I hear Joe Thomas singing and playing it — IT’S THE TALK OF THE TOWN:
An extraordinary song, which Felix thanks Tal Ronen for, DEEP NIGHT:
And a closing Charlie Parker line, with Youngbloods Yarden Paz, alto saxophone, and Yoav Trifman, trombone, joining in, MARMADUKE:
I look forward to the surprises Felix Lemerle and friends will bring next time.
Young Felix Lemerle — guitarist, teacher, composer — swings easily and with a natural grace, has a deep repertoire of memorable songs, has a real respect for melody and interesting harmonies that don’t distort the original, and gets a lovely sound from his guitar. He’s not a reactionary who’s devoted his life to copying old records, so he sounds happily like himself, and in his hands the guitar is an electrified wooden sculpture that beams love to us. And his playing breathes, as he creates a graceful balance between sound and silence. You can find out more about Felix here.
I had my first-ever opportunity to hear him on the closing performance at The Ear Inn on Sunday, August 20, but he was playing on a guitar not his own (an obstacle to most musicians, although I would not have known this through what I heard). I asked Felix — who is as gracious a being as he is a player — to let me know when he had a gig of his own. And a week later, he played an afternoon session at Romagna Ready 2 Goon Bleecker Street in New York’s Greenwich Village — the food and ambiance were lovely — with sensitive, intuitive musicians: drummer Doron Tirosh and the wonderful bassist Murray Wall. And two guests, in the second part.
A few words about Murray and about Doron. Murray is soft-spoken and light-hearted, but his music resonates long after he has packed his bass. His playing reminds me of Jonathan Swift’s definition of the ideal writing style: “the natural words in the natural order.” In Murray’s soft, wise playing, there is a floating cushion of exquisite notes, fascinating harmonies, and fine time. He never plays an ugly note or phrase.
I had known nothing of Doron except for the few words of praise from Felix. And I confess that youthful drummers new to me arouse anxiety. I become Worried Elder: “Young man, are you planning to strike that ride cymbal with those wooden sticks? Why, and how, and how often?” But Doron and I bonded over dehydration and exhaustion, and I knew he came in peace. When he began to play, my spirits rose even higher, because he is a melodic drummer in the great tradition of the Masters, of Dodds, Singleton, and Catlett. Before each number, Felix would tell Doron the name of the song, and I could see from their expressions that they knew the melody and the lyrics as well.
One anecdote says worlds about Felix. After I heard him play one song at the Ear Inn and was greatly impressed, I went on Facebook (it is 2016, after all) and said so . . . and the musicians who responded with enthusiasm nearly shut Facebook down.
Here are four very rewarding performances from the first half of the afternoon. Four more will follow.
HOW ABOUT YOU?:
I’M PUTTING ALL MY EGGS IN ONE BASKET:
LULLABY IN RHYTHM:
WILL YOU STILL BE MINE?:
(Felix thanks the very fine Tal Ronen for introducing him to BASKET and to DEEP NIGHT, which will appear in the sequel. We thank Tal, too, here at JAZZ LIVES.)
Now that you’ve seen the videos, you understand that I do not overpraise Felix, Doron, or Murray. And the horticultural reference of my title might become clearer, since the back room of the restaurant, their “garden,” has a glass roof — charming, even when I would look up and see the rain. I know the plants were happier and bushier when the trio had finished than they’d been at the start. Music does that, especially music of this caliber.
When I heard that Joel Press, tenor saxophone; Michael Kanan, piano; Neal Miner, string bass, were going to be playing a late-evening session at one of the two jazz shrines of West Tenth Street, Mezzrow, I got down there early to soak it all in — poems in music from three great lyrical poets. Hereare some highlights of the first part of the evening.
Joel, Michael, and Neal tell us, without words, that melody matters, that the old songs are memorable, and that one can sing beautifully through one’s instrument in a community of friends.
YOU’RE DRIVING ME CRAZY:
GONE WITH THE WIND:
HOW’S THE HORN TREATING YOU:
GHOST OF A CHANCE:
IT’S YOU OR NO ONE:
Joel has absorbed the whole tradition of jazz but stays current, exploring worlds while swinging, always sounding like himself. Michael and Neal are the best guides to the opened universe of sounds that I know.
Here‘s the first part of this posting — four delicious songs from a quartet gig held in the basement funhouse that we know as Fat Cat (75 Christopher Street, Greenwich Village, New York) on September 30, 2015: the music-makers are Tal Ronen, string bass; Rossano Sportiello, piano; Jay Rattman, saxophone and clarinet; Kevin Dorn, drums — and guest magician Tamar Korn offering two Irving Berlin classics at the end of this post.
The rarely played (but haunting) DEEP NIGHT:
And Miss Korn paid us a visit, in 3/4 time, with ALWAYS:
Fat Cat (75 Christopher Street, New York City) is a cavernous basement space notable for a bar, pool tables, chess sets, ping pong, other kinds of games, and an enthusiastic — often cheerfully vocal — young crowd. Since it costs three dollars to enter and have your hand stamped with a feline silhouette (I always respectfully decline), it is happily frolicsome down there. That is a gentle way of saying — for the members of the JAZZ LIVES audience who insist that music be played in reverent silence — that there is an audible background of human conversation and occasionally shouts and yelps of what I hope is pleasure. Once the music begins, it is easy to concentrate on the jazz, so don’t quail and panic. Unless, of course, you’d rather. Imagine yourself invited to a large party full of happy people where you can listen to a wonderful New York City jazz quartet for free.
Generously, the kind and wise management also offers jazz of all kinds, from Terry Waldo’s happily loose Gotham City Jazz Band to much more modern experiments.
One of the happiest times I’ve had at Fat Cat was very recent — September 30, 2015 — and a delightful long set by the Tal Ronen Quartet. Tal is a great string bassist but he’s also a fine catalyst: he puts together excellent groups of people who like and listen to one another. This Quartet (with a special surprise guest at the end) was special: Jay Rattman, saxophone and clarinet; Rossano Sportiello, piano; Kevin Dorn, drums. And here’s the first half of what they played. And sung:
Frank Foster’s SHINY STOCKINGS:
A seasonal AUTUMN IN NEW YORK:
YOU’RE DRIVING ME CRAZY:
JUST IN TIME:
More to come. And the Fat Cat music schedule is available here, with appearances by a wide variety of fine jazz players, from George Braith to Ehud Asherie to Billy Kaye and Harold Mabern . . .
When on October 1 I saw on Facebook — my current energetically subjective news source — that the wonderful string bassist Tal Ronen was leading a small group at Fat Cat on Christopher Street in Greenwich Village, I shook off my lassitude and headed there.
I had never heard this combination of heroes before, although I’ve been following three of them for a decade. Along with Tal, there was Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Rossano Sportiello, piano; Kevin Dorn, drums, and for the closing two tunes, Attila Korb, trombone, sitting in on his first New York trip. (I knew Attila well from his work with the Bohem Ragtime Jazz Band, although we’d never met in person.)
This is really Tal’s International Group, its members hailing from Israel, Italy, Hungary, Allen Park (Michigan), and New York City — not that anyone really needs proof that the fine musicians exist all over the world.
The lighting at Fat Cat is properly subdued, as befits a Greenwich Village basement / recreation center, and the youthful crowd behind me was on its own path, but the band was a dream come true.
WHEN YOU’RE SMILING:
SEPTEMBER IN THE RAIN:
OUR / MY / A MONDAY DATE:
BETWEEN THE DEVIL AND THE DEEP BLUE SEA:
ROYAL GARDEN BLUES:
THERE’LL BE SOME CHANGES MADE:
After a brief break, the Quartet became a Quintet, thanks to the esteemed Mister Korb:
STRUTTIN’ WITH SOME BARBECUE:
You already know this, but music is one of the surest pathways to joy.
Neal Miner always makes memorable music and travels in fine company, whether he’s alongside Michael Kanan, jamming with the EarRegulars at The Ear Inn, or leading a group at Smalls (183 West Tenth Street, Greenwich Village, New York) as he did last Friday, September 7, 2012.
The music Neal, saxophonist Alex Hoffman, and drummer Phil Stewart made that night had a warm lyricism and an easy swing at its heart — subtle but powerfully affecting melodic improvisations. I call it eloquent, casually unaffected chamber jazz, inspired musical conversations — an art not learned in schools but through deep study and experience.
Variations on WHAT IS THIS THING CALLED LOVE?
I CAN DREAM, CAN’T I?
Variations on IDAHO:
DREAMS OF YOU:
DEAR OLD STOCKHOLM:
BLUES FOR C SHARPE (with the great pianist Ehud Asherie joining in, to my left — felt and heard although not seen):
Wonderful music from a duet session (with noble guest in the second set!) on May 10, 2012 — pianist Ehud Asherie and trumpeter Jon-Erik Kellso at play, brilliantly, at the happy space that is Smalls, 183 West Tenth Street, Greenwich Village, New York City. They made, as they always do, timeless music: you hear echoes of Louis, Art Tatum, Bud Powell, Dizzy, and Ruby Braff — but ultimately what they create is heartfelt and so personal.
In honor of the charming bartender (guess her name?), Ehud and Jon-Erik swung into a rendition of MARGIE:
Ehud is a friendly fellow — why else would his fingers turn to a few measures of SOCIAL CALL? — but both players were thinking about the Eternal Feminine, and a deeply felt SWEET LORRAINE was the result. How wonderfully Jon-Erik expresses himself and that familiar melody at once in the opening chorus and then moves deeper. Lovely!
I thought the set might turn thematic — Songs Named for Women (i.e. DIANE, ROSETTA, and so on) but my idle silent guess was wrong; Jon-Erik suggested they talk about the larger metaphysical subject of Knowing and Not-Knowing, with Jimmie Noone as spiritual guide . . . thus, I KNOW THAT YOU KNOW:
Something new for this inspired duo — a 1940 Swing Era favorite recorded by Basie and Duke, THE FIVE O’CLOCK WHISTLE — its theme being the lame explanation of a factory worker who stays out until 2 AM and then tells his wife that he is late because that whistle never blew. Don’t try this one at home! And I keep returning to Ehud’s “Yeah!” at 1:05. Notice that Jon-Erik has a new mute? It’s Spring, you know — a new season for trumpet fashion. But he is the Onlie Begetter of this invention: its main assembly is the top of a metal cocktail shaker with other secret ingredients to create a growly buzz. Call the Patent Office! And while you’re on hold, enjoy this:
And these two Heroes of Swing closed their first set with a tribute to the smiling man in back of them — Mister Strong — with a 1928 composition called HEAR ME TALKIN’ TO YOU. I especially enjoy the trading of phrases near the end:
I hear them talkin’ to us, I say. And there’s another set to come!
“Spike and Mike” isn’t a new buddy film, a cable sitcom about two pets on the run, or a box of candy. It’s the colloquial title that pianist Spike Wilner and saxophonist Michael Hashim accept as their own . . . also the title of a song Mike wrote to play in duet with Spike. I learned all of this from the front row of Smalls, that congenial jazz club at 183 West Tenth Street, on April 19, 2012.
I’ve heard and admired both players for seven or eight years now: Spike in solo, duo, and with his own PLANET JAZZ; Mike in bands as superficially different as Kevin Dorn’s The Big 72 (once known as the Traditional Jazz Collective) and the Microscopic Septet. To my ears, they are splendidly united in their playful idiosyncracies; each is a master of his instrument who closes his eyes and steps off into the unknown, trusting himself and listening to his colleague. And they are friends, which comes through. When I was at Smalls the week before this duet and asked Spike if I could come and record his duets with Mike, his instant response was, “Oh, I love that guy!” And if you watch the videos closely, you’ll see Hashim grinning back at Wilner every time the saxophone is out of his mouth. As a duo, they listen intently — making for the most gratifying play, where Earl Bostic and Nat Cole go off to interstellar space.
The program (mostly chosen by Mike) steered away from twice-baked chestnuts, leaning seriously — and beautifully — on Billy Strayhorn. You’ll hear and see his explanatory introductions, so eloquent as to make my explanations superfluous. But I have to point out that this program began with not one, but two romance-influenced questions.
WHAT IS THIS THING CALLED LOVE?
DON’T YOU KNOW I CARE (OR DON’T YOU CARE TO KNOW?):
SPIKE AND MIKE (an improvisation on the changes of TOPSY):
Kurt Weill’s THIS IS NEW (which I had known only from the Lee Wiley recording on RCA Victor):
A Strayhorn duo — first, the very rare LAMENT FOR AN ORCHID (Absinthe) :
and the slightly more familiar JOHNNY COME LATELY:
BROTHER, CAN YOU SPARE A DIME? (sadly, almost as relevant in 2012 as 1932):
LONG AGO AND FAR AWAY:
THE LATE, LATE SHOW (courtesy of Dakota Staton):
Jobim’s very soulful DINDI:
As Mike says, “It’s a waltz. It’s our biggest hit!” What else but LOTUS BLOSSOM:
These postcards (being sold on eBay) have a certain poignancy for me — not only because I can’t get to these occasions by any means short of the paranormal — but because when I go down to Greenwich Village in New York to hear jazz at Smalls, for instance, I could walk to these fabled sites.
Read the postcard, close your eyes, and imagine the band!
I can hear Benny Morton and that rhythm section . . . and I’ll bet there were some serious blues played that night. Worth $1.25.
Three of the finest cornetists / trumpeters one could imagine — with Gowans and Marsala, James P., and that Bechet fellow. Have mercy.
Well, it is reassuring to know — even at this distance — that such things happened — not once but often.