Tag Archives: Greenwich Village

SOUTH OF FOURTEENTH STREET (March 4, 1944)

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.

May your happiness increase!

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IN THE GARDEN, WHERE MELODIES GROW: FELIX LEMERLE, MURRAY WALL, DORON TIROSH, with YARDEN PAZ and YOAV TRIFMAN (Part Two): Sunday, August 21, 2016

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.

FELIX photograph

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.

May your happiness increase!

IN THE GARDEN, WHERE MELODIES GROW: FELIX LEMERLE, MURRAY WALL, DORON TIROSH (Part One): Sunday, August 21, 2016

FELIX photograph

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 Go on 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.

May your happiness increase!

BRIGHTENING THE CORNER: JOEL PRESS, MICHAEL KANAN, NEAL MINER at MEZZROW: PART TWO (July 26, 2015)

Joel Press

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.  Here are 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.

May your happiness increase!

MORE SWING BELOW STAIRS: TAL RONEN, ROSSANO SPORTIELLO, JAY RATTMAN, KEVIN DORN, and TAMAR KORN at FAT CAT (Sept. 30, 2015)

FAT CAT interior

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.

Fat-Cat

The rarely played (but haunting) DEEP NIGHT:

LIZA:

And Miss Korn paid us a visit, in 3/4 time, with ALWAYS:

BLUE SKIES:

What a band.

May your happiness increase!

SWING BELOW STAIRS: TAL RONEN, ROSSANO SPORTIELLO, JAY RATTMAN, KEVIN DORN at FAT CAT (Sept. 30, 2015)

Fat-Cat

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.

FAT CAT interior

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 . . .

May your happiness increase!

TAL RONEN and FRIENDS at FAT CAT: JON-ERIK KELLSO, ROSSANO SPORTIELLO, KEVIN DORN, ATTILA KORB (October 1, 2014)

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:

COQUETTE:

STRUTTIN’ WITH SOME BARBECUE:

You already know this, but music is one of the surest pathways to joy.

May your happiness increase!