Tag Archives: Greg Cohen

SUNDAY NIGHTS AT 326 SPRING STREET (Part Twenty-Four) — WE NEED SOMETHING TO LOOK FORWARD TO: SESSIONS AT THE EAR INN, featuring THE EarRegulars (2007 – the Future)

Only a fool would disagree with Billy Kyle.  But reserved for what, and where?

We’re a day late for a celebration of Coleman Hawkins’ birthday, but Hawk would be pleased to know that there were noble tenor saxophonists playing at The Ear Inn on 326 Spring Street, Soho, New York City, in these videos from June 27, 2010, featuring Harry Allen and Scott Robinson on tenors; James Chirillo, guitar; Greg Cohen, string bass.

Asking the musical question:

WILL YOU STILL BE MINE? — where the quartet is joined by violinist Valerie Levy and tenorist Evan Schwam:

BLUE SKIES, scored for sextet:

WHERE OR WHEN, with Valerie and Evan:

WHERE OR WHEN, concluded:

BROADWAY, with guests Valerie and Evan adding to the fun:

TOO LATE NOW, back to the original quartet:

ON THE ALAMO:

STOMPIN’ AT THE SAVOY:

STOMPIN’ AT THE SAVOY, concluded:

Bless these musicians, for what they give us so generously.

May your happiness increase!

SUNDAY NIGHTS AT 326 SPRING STREET (Part Seventeen) — WE NEED SOMETHING TO LOOK FORWARD TO: SESSIONS AT THE EAR INN, featuring THE EarRegulars (2007 – the Future)

Something you ought to Ear.

Wow.  It’s Sunday again.  How the days go by so quickly when it feels as if more than half of our former lives have been put in the freezer . . . a puzzlement, as the King said.  Here ‘s the record of last week’s pilgrimage to the Soho Shrine, The Ear Inn on 326 Spring Street.

And now, we spin the dial on the cyber-roulette wheel and take you back to May 16, 2010, when the EarRegulars were Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Pete Martinez, clarinet; Matt Munisteri, guitar; Greg Cohen, string bass.

Let’s start with a pretty song, one that could be our national anthem these days, I BELIEVE IN MIRACLES:

Now, the fable of a remarkable Texan, I’M A DING DONG DADDY FROM DUMAS:

DING DONG DADDY (concluded):

I looked up Dumas, Texas, and it’s just under 1750 miles from New York, a straight shot of 26 hours in the car.  All things are possible for those who believe:

WILLIE THE WEEPER had a wonderful dream.  No words, but join him:

Care to Stomp?  Here’s MAHOGANY HALL STOMP, with Dan Block, tenor, sitting in, a performance that astonishes me ten years later:

For the final song of this offering, I’M CONFESSIN’, Dan sat out, and they were joined by Alex Norris, trumpet, from Vince Giordano’s Nighthawks:

Let us all believe in Miracles.  Honestly, we should.

May your happiness increase!

SHOOT FIRST. ASK QUESTIONS LATER.

Zoot, riding the range.

The splendid people at jgautographs (on eBay) have reached into the apparently bottomless treasure chest and come up with an assortment of photographs for sale.  The auction has a time limit, so don’t (as we say) dither.

Bill, Kenny, and Bob, also riding the range, although dressed like city slickers.

Question: what do Bobby Hackett, George Barnes, Flip Phillips, Bob Wilber, Bud Freeman, Connie Jones, Max Kaminsky, Joe Venuti, Lou Stein, Joe Wilder, Zoot Sims, Ralph Sutton, Kenny Davern, Dick Wellstood, Scott Hamilton, Milt Hinton, Bucky and John Pizzarelli, Greg Cohen, Dick Hyman, Urbie Green, Trummy Young, Vic Dickenson, Hank Jones, Bob Haggart, Dick Cathcart, Jess Stacy, Joe Bushkin, Dave McKenna, John Best, Franz Jackson, Wild Bill Davison, Butch Miles, Jack Lesberg, Dick Johnson, Bob Havens, and a few others have in common . . . . aside from their musical glories?

Urbie, the one, the only.

Answer: They were all caught in performance by Al White and his roving camera (many of them at Dick Gibson’s Colorado jazz parties) — asked to sign the photos — the ones I’ve seen have all been inscribed to Al — and these 8 x 10″ black and white beauties are now being offered at the site above.

In 2000, Al and Ralph Sutton’s biographer James D. Schacter created a large-format book, JAZZ PARTY, with over a hundred of these inscribed photographs, but that book is now out of print, although copies can be found.

Al started life as an amateur drummer and jazz fan, then put on concerts and parties in Arkansas . . . . and at some point began to specialize in candid shots of the musicians he admired.

The noble Dick Cathcart.

The photographs offered on eBay have, for me, a special resonance.  For a moment in time, Bobby or Urbie had to touch this piece of paper to sign it, so they are beautiful artifacts or relics or what you will.

I’ve been running out of wall space for some time now (and it would be disrespectful as well as damp to start hanging photographs in the bathroom) so the field is clear for you to visually admire and place bids, even though I might be tempted in two days and twenty-something hours.

I thought you might like some jazz-party-jazz, so here is the priceless 1977 color film (102 minutes) of the Dick Gibson party, “The Great Rocky Mountain Jazz Party,” featuring everyone:

May your happiness increase!

TWO GENTLEMEN OF THE LYRICAL BRASS FRATERNITY: JOHN BUCHER, PETER ECKLUND

I’ve been putting off this post because it makes me sad to write about these fine musicians I won’t encounter face to face again: I didn’t know either of them well, but felt that we had connected in various ways.  But it would be worse than my sadness to let their beauty be forgotten in the relentless howl of the news.  And although I cannot assume that John and Peter were close friends, their characteristic graciousness suggests to me that they would have known and admired each other.  So I trust they won’t mind the propinquity of this blogpost.

John Bucher, some years ago, photograph courtesy of The Syncopated Times

John Bucher moved on — to “go home,” in his own words, on April 5: he was 89 and had a long-time cardiac condition.  Peter Ecklund, who had dealt with Parkinson’s disease for a long time, moved to his own destination in another neighborhood on April 8: he was 74.

Peter Ecklund, photograph by Lynn Redmile

I didn’t know either of them well enough to have extended conversations, but I believe they both — in the past two decades — recognized me as being on their side, whether I was writing for The Mississippi Rag or another periodical, or, eventually, carrying a camera and a notebook for JAZZ LIVES.  Peter was gracious to me but terse in all communications — in person or in email — but I was aware that his health was a burden to him and perhaps, although I could publicize a gig, I might also capture his playing in ways that did not show him in the best light.  (In both Peter’s and John’s case, I did get permission to make any video public, and would have honored their wish to delete a performance.)  John would give me a substantial grin when I greeted him; circumstances never allowed us to sit down and talk, but he made me very welcome.

My awareness of Peter goes back before I met him in person, to recordings he made in 1987 for the Stomp Off label — one under Marty Grosz’s name (“The Keepers of the Flame”) and one session that Peter led (“Melody Makers”) — brilliant recordings that I played and replayed.  I may have found them at the Corner Bookstore in East Setauket, run by Nancy Mullen: Nancy and Frank were serious jazz fans who had celebrated their engagement at the bar at Lou Terassi’s in 1951 or 2, with Hot Lips Page and Zutty Singleton adjacent to them.  That, I point out, is the way to do it, although you’d have to find other comrades today.

In 1990, Nancy and Frank invited me to join them for a concert given by the Long Island Traditional Jazz Society in North Babylon, if I have the name right — Marty Grosz, Peter, Dan Barrett, Joe Muranyi, perhaps Greg Cohen and Arnie Kinsella — memorable to me now, thirty years later, for Muranyi singing LOUISIANA FAIRY TALE and interpolating, “Can it be NORTH BABYLON at last?”  I bought all the Stomp Off records and, later, the Arbors Records and Jazzology CDs on which Peter appeared, often as a key player in Marty Grosz’s Orphan Newsboys.  Peter had incredible leaping facility — romping through Jabbo Smith’s JAZZ BATTLE at top speed — but he was also a lyrical swinger who could create a memorable short story in a four-bar break.  When I heard him in person, he reminded me of Doc Cheatham — the light-footed dancing in air quality, a man with many delicate ideas to offer us in a chorus.

I met John in person for the first time in 2005, I think, at the Cajun — and admired him instantly.  Like Peter, I had heard him first, but in John’s case, not known his identity: John played on the soundtrack of Woody Allen’s SLEEPER, which was a hit at the movie theatre where I worked as a doorman (“Good evening,” tearing the paper ticket, then returning it with “Thank you.”)  so his firm swinging lead on CANAL STREET BLUES impressed me over and over.  I wish I’d known that he was playing so I could have told him this story when we met, nearly a quarter-century later.  But he knew how much I enjoyed his playing — whether at the Cajun, in a trio with Marty and John Beal at Charley O’s in midtown, or sitting in with the EarRegulars at the Ear Inn.  John was a thoughtful “singing” player who never hurried or missed a step, but he was never stiff.  A favorite quote, inserted neatly, was COLUMBIA, THE GEM OF THE OCEAN, which always made me laugh with pleasure.  He stayed in the middle register, but occasionally would end phrases with a growl or find a mute he liked to vary his sound.

Roswell Rudd once told me, “You play your personality,” and both of these gentlemen did just that.  Peter’s playing could be heated and impetuous, rounding the corner of a hot chorus, but he was poised and epigrammatic in person.  John, who made his living as some variety of stockbroker (he told his colleague and my friend Dick Dreiwitz that it was a career where he could go to work at 10 and stop at 3) was beautifully dressed; he sat up straight when playing.

After all those words, here is some lovely music.  I video-recorded John at the Cajun in 2006 (a whole evening) and when he visited The Ear Inn in 2010.  All the details are in the blogposts.

John at the Cajun, June 24, 2006: one and two, and at The Ear Inn, March 21, 2010: one and two.  Peter, sitting in at Radegast, whistling and ukulele, December 13, 2011: here.

It distresses me to realize that I and my camera came along too late in Peter’s playing career to have rewarding video-footage of his beautiful hot cornet playing, so I will include these performances, knowing that John would not feel slighted in the least.

and something for Bing (with a distinct Davison flavor):

I write this at the start of May 2020, having mourned a number of completely irreplaceable musicians — and people — whom I knew as well as heard.  I feel unequal to the task of mourning John and Peter adequately.  I also hope they sensed — when we did encounter each other — how much joy it brought me to see them on the bandstand, a pleasure that sustained itself through the evening and does so, years later, in memory and in video.

Blessings on you, inventive gentlemen of brass.  You can’t be replaced.  And I invite those readers who knew and admired John and Peter to chime in.

May your happiness increase!

EDDY DAVIS, PRESENT TENSE (1940-2020), Part Five — “WILD REEDS AND WICKED RHYTHM” AT THE CAJUN with SCOTT ROBINSON, MICHAEL HASHIM, DMITRI KOLESNIKOV, BOB RINGWALD

Eddy Davis at ScienSonic Laboratories

For the moment, this is my final bowing-low in a series in honor of Eddy Davis (even though I have more music and words from December 26, 2019, to share).  I’ve devoted nearly a week of posts to him because of the intense emotional collision of grief and joy he brings forth in me and those who knew him and enjoyed his work.  His play, I should say.  I’ve been going backwards chronologically, and although I saw and enjoyed Eddy and “Wild Reeds and Wicked Rhythm” at The Cajun possibly very early in 2005, this 2006 session was the first time I brought a video camera there.

THE CAJUN, by Barbara Rosene –a Wednesday night.

Ordinarily, the band would have been Eddy; Scott Robinson, C-melody saxophone; Orange Kellin, clarinet; Conal Fowkes, piano; Greg Cohen or Debbie Kennedy, string bass, with guests.  For this night — July 5, 2006 — it was Eddy, Scott, Conal, Dmitri Kolesnikov, string bass, Michael Hashim on alto and soprano saxophones, with a guest appearance by Bob Ringwald, piano and vocal.

The camera I was then using recorded to mini-DVD discs, a particularly stubborn medium, so these videos stayed on the shelf until 2017, when I found that I could transfer and share them.  I asked Eddy if that was something he would like (he did) and then asked if he would write something about the gig:

WILD REEDS AND WICKED RHYTHM

I, Eddy Davis, have in my lifetime had the pleasure of having many wonderful Jazz Bands filled with wonderful musicians. It all started back in “The Windy City” in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s. I was a Composition student at the Chicago Conservatory and working as a band leader for the Syndicate on Chicago’s infamous Rush Street. Boy, those were the days. During this time many great, interesting musicians came through the band.

Fellows like “Kansas” Fields, who had just returned from a ten year stint in Paris and Charles “Truck” Parham who started in the music business as a truck driver for the Fletcher Henderson Band. He was hauling the band instruments from job to job. When I asked Truck how he got his nickname he told me this story. He said: “One night the bass player got drunk and couldn’t play, so Fletcher said “Hey, Truck, get up on the band stand and act like you are playing the bass.” He said he liked it so much that he bought a bass and learned to play it. When he came to my band he had just gotten off the Pearl Bailey/Louie Bellson trio. When he left my band he joined the CBS staff orchestra. I was lucky enough to have the likes of Frank Powers or Bobby Gordon on Clarinet.  I had the wonderful Norman Murphy on trumpet who had been in the Brass section of Gene Krupa’s Big Band. I also had the hilarious Jack “The Bear” Brown on trumpet. My band played opposite the original “Dukes of Dixieland” for a solid year at the club “Bourbon Street” in the middle. There were the Asuntos — Frank, on Trumpet — Freddie on Trombone and PaPa Jack on Trombone and Banjo. Gene Schroeder was on piano (where I learned so much) and the fantastic Barrett Deems on Drums.

At the Sari-S Showboat I was in the band of the great Trombonist Grorg Brunis, the Marsala Brothers, Joe and Marty, along with “Hey Hey” Humphries on drums, were also on the band. Another great band I played on was listed as Junie Cobb’s “Colonels of Corn.” The main reason this band was so great was that they were the very originals of JASS MUSIC. Junie was a multi-instrumentalist who on this band was playing Piano (he also recorded on Banjo). Al Wynn who had been the musical director for the great blues singer “Ma Rainey” was on Trombone and the wonderful Darnell Howard, who made terrific recordings with “Jelly Roll Morton,” was on Clarinet. We were playing at the Sabre Room and I was 17 (maybe 16) years old. I was a member of the last Jabbo Smith “Rhythm Aces” in New York City in the 1970’s.

Well, I could go on and on, but I’ll just say that the band “Wild Reeds and Wicked Rhythm” which I had for four or five years at the “Cajun Restaurant” on 16th Street and 8th Avenue in Manhattan was the thrill of my life. With the GREAT Scott Robinson and Orange Kellin on Reeds and Debbie Kennedy on Bass and MY BROTHER from a another mother — Conal Fowkes — was on Piano (he knows what I’m going to do before I do it and fits me like a glove). These were perhaps the most satisfying Musical Evenings I’ve ever known.

Scott Robinson is easily the best (for me) musical mind and player I’ve ever been in the presents of. I couldn’t come up with enough words to express my JOY with this band for those several years we performed every Wednesday night at the Cajun Restaurant in the great town of Manhattan.

We had two great subs on the night of this video. Dmitri Kolesnikov was on bass and on saxophone, the truly wonderful “The Hat” Michael Hashim.

Mr. Steinman, I would like to thank you so very much for supplying these videos and if you or anyone else has any other footage of any combination of this band, it would please me to no end to know of it.

The Banjoist Eddy “The Manhattan Minstrel” Davis

SWING THAT MUSIC:

WHO WALKS IN WHEN I WALK OUT? / HAPPY BIRTHDAY / I’LL SEE YOU IN MY DREAMS:

AFTER YOU’VE GONE / OLD BONES / YOU TOOK ADVANTAGE OF ME / TROUBLE IN MIND, all with vocals by Bob Ringwald:

BLACK BEAUTY / SWEET MAMA (vocal Eddy) / THE CASTLE RENOVATED:

THE CASTLE, concluded (with apologies to Dmitri):

DAPHNE / MY FRIEND (vocal / composition by Conal) / TOO MANY IRONS IN THE FIRE (Conal):

This band was — without exaggeration — a doctoral seminar in ensemble playing and collective momentum.  It was an honor to be there, and a greater honor to be able to share these videos with you.  And this was a complete evening at the Cajun, just under two hours of live performance.  It is as close as any of us will get to that deeply-remembered and now-departed experience.

Debbie Kennedy, the wonderful bassist, Eddy’s dear friend (I think she’d also call herself a student at the University of Davis) has written lovingly about Eddy, and I present her words here:

Eddy was one of the most amazing musicians I ever met in my entire life. SUCH a character with a fierce love of music. One of the best bandleaders I’ve ever played with. I just hope that his passing was painless and that his transition was smooth.

Apart from all the incredible happiness/joy that I experienced from playing with Eddy every Wednesday night at the “Cajun” restaurant from 2000 to 2006 in an extremely special band, I lucked out in 2008 and won a Greencard in the “Greencard Lottery.” Part of that process was that the immigration authorities needed a “Letter of Employment” showing that I would be earning a certain amount of money every year (even though I’d already been living in NYC for 10 years and earned enough to support myself comfortably, I guess they wanted to see that I would be self sufficient and not claim welfare).

Eddy very kindly wrote that Letter of Employment for me, stating that I was working with Woody Allen’s band (which was the truth – I had subbed frequently with the band starting October 2004, but I still wasn’t yet playing on a weekly basis when he wrote it). I strongly feel that his letter (especially with the name “Woody Allen”) clinched the decision for my Greencard to be granted.
Thank you Eddy!!

Then, eventually, he was kind enough to have me on the gig with Woody every week, starting a few years ago. It was actually Greg Cohen’s gig, but Greg moved to Berlin at a certain point around 2011 / 2012, so I did end up playing the gig on a weekly basis at that time, when Greg moved to Berlin.

This was an absolutely invaluable experience and was the gig that kept me alive when so many other freelance gigs had dwindled in recent years.

I feel incredibly indebted to Eddy and I feel blessed to have had such regular playing with him for so many years: Giving me the steady gig at the Cajun in 2000, and when that finished in August 2006, I still played with him pretty regularly, culminating in playing every week with him in the Woody band right up until last month.

March 9th was our last gig.

Like some others who knew Eddy well, I thought he was invincible and thought he was going to pull through this – he’d pulled through so many other illnesses before: terrible car accident, shingles, hellish Sciatica, High Cholesterol, high blood pressure, Diabetes…you name it, he’d had it (and he loved to tell you all about it, ha, ha! 😉).

Nothing will equal the pure joy that I felt on such a deep level when we were in the middle of playing a tune, him horsing around, having a great ol’ time.

Rest In Peace, my beautiful friend ❤️ ❤️ ❤️

Eddy loved what I will call “false endings,” where the band appeared to have concluded the song and the performance — and the audience would applaud — but, no, they weren’t through as he would (grinning hugely) launch into a bravura ending that left us cheering.

I think of those “false endings” as a metaphor for Eddy and his art. He appears to have gone, but he hasn’t.  As long as we can hear him, see him in videos (and he left us hundreds of solo performances from his apartment), and remember him, he ain’t gone.

Incidentally, I have been posting Barbara Rosene’s painting of The Cajun because it pleases me so — Debbie Kennedy is in it as well as Eddy, Scott Robinson, and Simon Wettenhall — but Barbara has done many other paintings of jazz clubs, landscapes, and abstracts — that are not yet in private collections.  And you know me: I only promote artists (visual as well as musical) whose work I love: find out more here.

May your happiness increase!


FOR BIX, FOR RUBY, FOR EVERMORE (Part Two): The EarRegulars at The Ear Inn: JON-ERIK KELLSO, SCOTT ROBINSON, JAMES CHIRILLO, GREG COHEN, and FRIENDS (March 11, 2018)

Here is my first post about the glorious fun at The Ear Inn on March 11, 2018, featuring SUGAR and SOMEBODY STOLE MY GAL, as played by Messrs. Cohen, Chirillo, Robinson, and Kellso.

And I present two more performances from the same happy evening, with the affectionate spotlight on Mister Braff.

Walter Donalsdon’s IT’S BEEN SO LONG:

and my favorite anthem of hope, WRAP YOUR TROUBLES IN DREAMS — Dan Block, clarinet, and Will Reardon Anderson, alto (left and right) sitting in:

The moral of the story?  As the Sages say, “Get thee to The Ear Inn on Sunday nights.”

May your happiness increase!

FOR BIX, FOR RUBY, FOR EVERMORE (Part One): The EarRegulars at The Ear Inn: JON-ERIK KELLSO, SCOTT ROBINSON, JAMES CHIRILLO, GREG COHEN (March 11, 2018)

I haven’t made it to the Ear Inn (326 Spring Street, Soho, New York City) as often as I’d like: the Monday-morning alarm summoning me to work has become more cruel.  But the Sunday-night sessions that have been going on for over a decade — all hail the EarRegulars! — are a reason to stay in New York forever.

On March 11, the EarRegulars — Jon-Erik Kellso, Scott Robinson, James Chirillo, and visiting hero Greg Cohen — played some songs loosely connected to Bix Beiderbecke and Ruby Braff, cornetists of a certain lyrical tendency who had March birthdays.  Here are two highlights, with more to come:

Maceo Pinkard’s SUGAR:

and the musical celebration of broken romance, SOMEBODY STOLE MY GAL:

Just gorgeous, I think.

May your happiness increase!

THE GOLDEN AGE IS HERE AND NOW (PART TWO): JON-ERIK KELLSO, SCOTT ROBINSON, MATT MUNISTERI, GREG COHEN at THE EAR INN (May 15, 2016)

EAR INN sign

I was at The Ear Inn last Sunday night, delighting in the sounds so generously offered by The EarRegulars.  So it seems the most natural thing to share with you the second half of my post on the beauty laid before us on May 15, 2016, and its implications for people devoted to that beautiful phenomenon, jazz as created by living musicians in front of an appreciative audience.

In that post, you’ll hear two glorious performances by Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Scott Robinson, tenor saxophone, octavin, bass taragoto; Matt Munisteri, guitar; Greg Cohen, string bass.

Here are two more extended musical journeys — with a small travelogue by Scott Robinson about his unusual instruments in the middle.

Mister Morton’s WOLVERINE BLUES, beautifully presented. Pay close attention to the closing minutes, where the gentlemen of the ensemble add some wonderfully surrealistic ornamentation to the familiar themes.  At the close, you’ll hear an excited voice adding an unexpurgated affirmation: that’s the young reed wizard Evan Arntzen, seated to my right at the bar:

That deserves more than one viewing / hearing.  And I agree with Evan.

Scott Robinson is always asked about his magical musical implements, and this time I captured his words and gestures on video:

And, finally, the wistful question, DO YOU EVER THINK OF ME? — served hot:

I think that what the EarRegulars (and many other noble strivers) create is life-enhancing.  But without getting too didactic, such beauty deserves and needs our tender care, which takes the shape of active participation and personal support. You know how to do that.

May your happiness increase!

THE GOLDEN AGE IS HERE AND NOW (PART ONE): JON-ERIK KELLSO, SCOTT ROBINSON, MATT MUNISTERI, GREG COHEN at THE EAR INN (May 15, 2016)

EAR INN signMany people devoted to certain art forms are afflicted with incurable nostalgia. “What wouldn’t I give to hear Henrietta McGillicuddy play the blues on her Eb alto horn?  They say she could play a whole year without repeating herself!” And it doesn’t limit itself to jazz.  “Oh, yeah?  Pergolesi could kick your guy’s ass! And on a bad day Stuart Davis was better than anything now hanging in MOMA.”

I could go on, and possibly I already have.

But I remember a refrigerator magnet I saw in the very early Eighties, that had these words on it:

TIME TO BE HAPPY

Sage advice.  I understand the deep longing to hear one more note of Bix, of Bird, of Billie — to time-travel back to hear Louis in 1929 or Blanton with Jeter-Pillars.  But while some are busily dreaming of such things (I think of Miniver Cheevy with his collection of Black Swan acetates), the present is both glowing and going.  As in going away.

So I am always urging the people who love this art form to enjoy what is happening in the present moment rather than licking the dust off the statues. A hundred years from today, should we survive as a species, I suspect that cultural historians will be writing about the Golden Age of the early twenty-first century. And if they aren’t, they will be ignoring some irreplaceably precious evidence.

Here are two glorious examples (with two more to come) of the superb art that is happening now.  The artists are Matt Munisteri, guitar; Scott Robinson, tenor saxophone and unusual reeds; Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Greg Cohen, string bass — recorded just this month at the Soho Savoy, The Ear Inn (326 Spring Street, New York City) at one of the regular Sunday-night epiphanies from about eight to about eleven PM.

WHEN I  GROW TOO OLD TO DREAM:

 

A “peppy” LOUISIANA:

Yes, we could all sit at home and play our records.  But beauty, completely satisfying, is happening all around us.

May your happiness increase!

A SECOND EAR-RING: JON-ERIK KELLSO and The EarRegulars: MATT MUNISTERI, EVAN CHRISTOPHER, KERRY LEWIS (on JAZZOLOGY)

The EarRegulars have come out with a second CD, and it’s delicious, even before one unwraps the package: the ingenious cover art is by Cecile McLorin Salvant:

EARREGULARS CD Jazzology

The first EarRegular CD featured Kellso, Munisteri, Scott Robinson, and Greg Cohen:

EarReg 1 CD

The splendid new disc features a New York / New Orleans hybrid: Kellso, trumpet; Munisteri,guitar / vocal; Evan Christopher, clarinet, and Kerry Lewis, string bass.  And they groove spectacularly.

And here are the notes that someone enthusiastic wrote:

I am proud to have followed The EarRegulars with delight, rapt attentiveness, and recording devices, since they first began to transform the cosmos on Sunday, June 17, 2007, at The Ear Inn (326 Spring Street, Soho, New York City). They’ve been consistently inspiring, a twenty-first century version of Fifty-Second Street many blocks to the south. (My only problem with The EarRegulars is that I can’t decide if they IS or ARE, for reasons beyond the grammatical.)

They are a Marvel of Nature, an expansive sonic orchestra that masquerades as a tidy improvising quartet. They model democracy in swingtime, where each of the four players is audible, recognizable, playfully sharing musical heart-truths. In their native habitat, they are small enough to fit in a New York corner (The Ear Inn is a compact place), where they reverberate not loudly but mightily. Their mailing address is the intersection of Translucence and Stomp, just off Lyrical.

And although the Official Jazz Historians try to force music into restrictive boxes, The EarRegulars create timeless and limitless music, joyous lyrical improvising. One hears the Ancestors (who are grinning) but this band is a triumph of the Here and Now. They cavort in the present moment rather than offering shelf-stable, freeze-dried jazz repertory. Their musical conversation is collaborative joy: one hears four creative individuals, easily amused, sweetly competitive, extending each others’ thoughts, capping each others’ jokes.

The pleasure, not only mine, of witnessing The EarRegulars live, Sunday after glorious Sunday, has been the feeling, “This is the way I imagine musicians play when all distractions and tensions are removed, when the ideal audience fully understands them, when they are surrounded by love, free to express themselves fully. What a blessing this is.” This bicoastal version of the band offers its leader, Jon-Erik Kellso, and his inspiring colleague, Matt Munisteri, alongside New Orleans heroes Evan Christopher and Kerry Lewis. Their sounds need no explication, merely your most fervent close listening. Each track has beauties it reveals on the third hearing, the twentieth, their approach a beautiful oxymoron, a delicate ferocity. And their flexible, playful approach reminds me of what Ruby Braff would do with any gathering of musicians: scatter them on the floor like puzzle pieces and reassemble them in surprising, fluid ways. So this quartet becomes a series of trios, duos, and solos, never predictable, never the Same Old Thing of ensemble-solos-ensemble. And the sounds!

The repertoire is gorgeously uplifting. Even though I have heard The EarRegulars take the most familiar song and make it new, this CD is full of delights. Jon-Erik’s OUT OF THE GATE has to be the soundtrack for an animated film, LITTLE JAZZ! — where superhero Roy Eldridge vanquishes the enemies of Swing. His EARREGULARITY (something to be sought out, not feared) is a 2015 ragtime dance. Evan’s SURRENDER BLUE is so touching! I hear it as lullaby superimposed on love song, the most tender music imaginable. The other songs have wondrous associations: the Casa Loma Orchestra, Benny Carter, the Hot Five, Ivie and Duke, Louis and Papa Joe, Fate Marable . . . all memorable but rare.

I think of these sounds as healing defense against the wounding clamor of the world, reminders that the cosmos will welcome us. Start with IN THE LAND OF BEGINNING AGAIN – sung so soulfully by Matt – and you will agree. I am honored to live in a time and place where such joy is not only possible but freely offered. Bless The EarRegulars and may they prosper. Forever.

Although I find it inconceivable that anyone encountering JAZZ LIVES would be unfamiliar with the EarRegulars, here they are — at least three-fourths of the latest combination — onstage at the Louisiana Music Factory.

BLUES IN MY HEART:

IN THE LAND OF BEGINNING AGAIN (vocal Matt):

Of course, you can purchase the disc from Jon-Erik at The Ear Inn or at other gigs, or visit here.  It is on Amazon as a download, and probably iTunes.  And available direct from Jazzology and Louisiana Music Factory.

Here’s a song direct from the CD — a poignant version of SMOKE RINGS — but do the right thing and help support the art and the artists by buying it:

One way to get a double dose of this joy is to visit Symphony Space at Broadway at 95th Street in New York City on November 2, 2015, at 7:15 PM  for the Sidney Bechet Society’s season finale, “Ear Inn, Uptown!” which will feature Jon-Erik Kellso, Evan Christopher, Matt Munisteri, singer Brianna Thomas, and others in a jam session saluting the jazz scene at The Ear Inn, the city’s oldest bar.  Tickets $30 in advance via mailorder from the Society, and $35 at the box office: Peter Norton Symphony Space, 2537 Broadway at 95th Street, New York, NY 10025.  (212) 864-5400.

May your happiness increase!

SOLITUDE, AND THEN SOME: JON-ERIK KELLSO, SCOTT ROBINSON, HOWARD ALDEN, FRANK TATE (ALLEGHENY JAZZ PARTY, September 19, 2014)

SOLITUDE Columbia

Four of my New York heroes — Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Scott Robinson, clarinet, tenor saxophone, taragoto, cornet; Howard Alden, guitar; Frank Tate, string bass — onstage at the 2014 Allegheny Jazz Party, playing a most famous Ellington composition that, oddly enough, doesn’t get played that much, SOLITUDE, with great eloquence and  simplicity, in front of that rarest of things, a hushed, attentive audience:

No fancy arrangements, just beautiful solos and ensemble playing.

SOLITUDE Victor

Then, time for a Frolic on SOME OF THESE DAYS, which starts as a brass extravaganza and then builds:

SOME OF THESE DAYS

Quite amazing, I think, and I’ve been following these four musicians for more than a decade now.  This is just a small sample of what characteristically takes place at the Allegheny Jazz Party, a quiet spectacular of a weekend in Cleveland, Ohio. To have this experience for yourself, you might want to visit here to find out about the Party, taking place this September 10-13, 2015.

And . . . . Jon and Matt Munisteri and a cast of wonderful characters have just released their second CD as “The EarRegulars”: the first also features Scott Robinson and Greg Cohen; the latest one (on Jazzology Records) features Evan Christopher and Kerry Lewis.  Delightful music.

May your happiness increase!

WORTH THE WAIT, WITH JOYOUS SURPRISES: THE EarRegulars’ FIRST CD!

The exclamation point in my title — something I use rarely — should tell you how I feel about a major Current Event.  The EarRegulars have finally released a CD, and it’s a beauty.

EarRegulars logo

For this disc, the ER are Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Scott Robinson, tenor saxophone, tárogató, cornet; Matt Munisteri, guitar (vocal on BABY); Greg Cohen, string bass. The session was recorded (beautifully) by Marco Birkner in Berlin, Germany, on March 23, 2014.  The disc — produced by Jon-Erik for his own gen-ERIK Records — is a delightfully minimalist production: artwork by Stephen Gardner on the cover, and a photograph of the EarRegulars in concert at the Bohém Ragtime and Jazz Festival in  Kecskemét, Hungary, taken by József Hervai.

No rhapsodic / analytical liner notes (which I would love to have written), no credits for hair stylist and divine inspiration.  Just the music, about an hour’s worth: DO YOU EVER THINK OF ME? / AUNT HAGAR’S BLUES / GOOD OLD NEW YORK / THANKS A MILLION / I GOTTA RIGHT TO SING THE BLUES / I’M SORRY I MADE YOU CRY / BABY, WON’T YOU PLEASE COME HOME? / SOME OF THESE DAYS.

Fifty-five minutes and seventeen seconds of superb collective improvisation and lovely melodic playing by one of the most satisfying bands we’ll ever hear. Head arrangements rather than transcriptions, joy rather than routines.

One of the great pleasures of living in New York, for me, has been the ability to get regular infusions of the EarRegulars at the Ear Inn (326 Spring Street, Soho) on Sunday nights.  I’ve been there as often as possible since the group came together in the summer of 2007 — which makes it a very durable group by this century’s standards — enjoying myself tremendously.

Although I couldn’t swear to the ideological bent of the group, it is a truly democratic enterprise, not two horns out front with supportive rhythm players. No, the lead is always passed around from horns to guitar to string bass, and a lovely momentum is always sustained by riffs, backgrounds, trading choruses, swapping melody and improvised counterpoint.  An EarRegular performance — live or on disc — is like a small hip concerto, lyrical and hot, with many surprises, and the results are always both surprising and satisfying.  If you require famous antecedents, think of the Bechet-Spanier Big Four, the Braff-Barnes Quartet, Soprano Summit, the grouping of Buck Clayton, Lester Young, Eddie Durham, Walter Page . . . but the EarRegulars have been around to be their own standard of excellence, their video presence spread around the world.

On this disc, they are singularly inspired.  Often, a group that plays spectacularly in an informal setting finds the air of the recording studio a little chilly, and one can hear it in the performances: what was intense and natural in person becomes slightly less comfortable in a room full of microphones, someplace unnaturally still.  It didn’t happen for this recording.  I think that the wonderful exploratory spirit (“Let’s take some chances; let’s have fun; let’s not plan too much!”) that sustains Jon-Erik, Matt, Scott, and Greg was in the air.

The four players are involved in uniquely satisfying playground antics — improvisations that always land in surprising places without a hint of the formulaic.  And the songs are a lovely bunch, varied in tempo and approach. (Matt, one of the best singers I know, lends his own touch to a wistful BABY, WON’T YOU PLEASE COME HOME.)

I’ve been hesitant to write about this disc for fear of descending into apparent hyperbole, so I will say only this.  I’ve played it more than a dozen times, and each time I find myself smiling and even a little startled — “Wow, what are they doing now!”  I don’t think I will ever grow tired of it, and it far surpasses my expectations.  And I’ve been waiting for this disc almost since the group’s inception — most pleasures that have seven years of anticipation behind them are bound to be slightly disappointing, but not this session.

Let’s assume for a moment (unthinkable to me, but I must imagine it) that you’ve never heard the EarRegulars.  Here’s a sample:

How can you get one or more of these discs?

Don’t push; don’t crowd, please.

Ideally, one could come to The Ear Inn on a Sunday night and greet Mr. Kellso before or after the music starts with a handful of the appropriate currency. He and Mr. Munisteri might even autograph one for you. The price for a copy in person would be $15 USD. But if that’s inconvenient, there’s an online rescue: a reliable eBay seller (I can vouch for him myself) has them here — with postage, the total is $15.97 per disc.  A small price to pay for such pleasure.

Of course, you might like to visit The EarRegulars’ Facebook page. But   nothing will equal the pleasures of this particular disc, I assure you. Speaking of pleasure, though, and The EarRegulars have a new YouTube Channel to go with the new video and new album: find it here.

May your happiness increase!

“RIGHT ON IT”: The EarRegulars SHOW US HOW (Berlin, March 26, 2014)

The EarRegulars — that flexible, wise, hilarious, and swinging group led by Jon-Erik Kellso and most often featuring Matt Munisteri — has been one of the pleasures of living in or visiting New York since 2007. (Almost every Sunday night of the year, they hold court at The Ear Inn, 326 Spring Street, New York., from 8-11 PM, more or less.)

This year, thanks to the Bohem Ragtime and Jazz Festival, they had the opportunity to share the good sounds in Hungary and in Germany to properly appreciative audiences.

The EarRegulars recorded their first CD — with Jon-Erik, Matt, Scott Robinson, and Greg Cohen — in beautiful sound.  Want a copy?  (It’s $15.)  Click TheEarRegulars and tell them you saw it on JAZZ LIVES.  If you don’t “do Facebook,” send me an email at swingyoucats@gmail.com., and I will pass it along.

But there’s more: a new video recorded in a Berlin jazz club on March 26, 2014:

And if you didn’t see the beautiful video of SINGIN’ THE BLUES from the Bohem festivities, here it is.

Sal sends her love.

May your happiness increase!

BLUE AND POIGNANT. FOR BIX. FOR US: THE EARREGULARS IN EUROPE (MATT MUNISTERI, JON-ERIK KELLSO, SCOTT ROBINSON, GREG COHEN in HUNGARY: MARCH 28, 2014)

This video celebrates one of many interlocked triumphs.  For one, the wonderful elastic small group known as the EarRegulars (most often spotted on Sunday nights at The Ear Inn, 326 Spring Street, New York, from 8-11 PM) made their maiden voyage to Europe.  They recorded a CD — something the faithful, like myself, have been waiting for . . . for a number of years) and they performed, as a justly featured ensemble, at the 23rd International Bohém Ragtime & Jazz Festival.

Here’s one of their performances — captured with many cameras in rapt silence (as opposed to the homespun videos I’ve shot at The Ear Inn) of a song always associated with Bix Beiderbecke, Frank Trumbauer, and Eddie Lang — SINGIN’ THE BLUES (by J. Russell Robinson, Con Conrad, Sam M. Lewis, and Joe Young.  Matt Munisteri, vocal and guitar; Scott Robinson, tenor saxophone; Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Greg Cohen, string bass:

Recorded at the Bohém Festival in Kecskemét, Hungary, March 28, 2014.  More info about the Bohém Festival here.

Now, the beauties of that performance will be evident to anyone willing to sit still and listen. But a few things need to be said. One is the sustained sweet delicate understatement shown by all four players, singly and as an ensemble. No one weeps or carries on; no one has to step to the microphone and sing or play LOOK AT ME, I AM SO UNHAPPY. They trust themselves, and they trust the power of the notes and words to convey the complex messages of this song.

And — rather like the Willard Robison songs of which Matt is the master — the sadness has a slight tinge of wry self-awareness. I’m singin’ the blues, my baby is somewhere else, life is so sad . . . but I am going to make something beautiful out of my sorrows.

And since 1927, when Bix, Tram, and Lang (among others) recorded SINGIN’ THE BLUES, it’s been one of the most imitated recorded performances in classic jazz. Notice, please, that the EarRegulars are not in the business of xerography, of necrography, of exact reproduction. They know the recording; they could play the solos, but they have faith in the music . . . to carry them to beautiful new places that echo old glories.

Poignant and worth several visits.

May your happiness increase!

FREE-WHEELING ON SPRING STREET: THE EarRegulars (JON-ERIK KELLSO, MATT MUNISTERI, GREG COHEN, TAD SHULL) PLAY HOAGY CARMICHAEL (March 31, 2013)

Those “old chestnuts” can be very tasty.

RIVERBOAT SHUFFLE (originally called FREE WHEELING) by one Hoagland Carmichael, is ninety years old as I write this.  But the tune — with its twists and turns — is flavorful and lively, especially when played by a group as energized and intuitive as The EarRegulars, the regularly brilliant quartet-plus co-led by guitarist Matt Munisteri and trumpeter Jon-Erik Kellso on Sunday nights (8-11 PM) at The Ear Inn, 326 Spring Street, Soho, New York City.  The other members of this quartet — on March 31, 2013 — were string bassist Greg Cohen and tenor saxophonist Tad Shull.

Creativity — from 1923 or 2013 or a blending of the two — will never grow old.

May your happiness increase.

BOBBY GORDON, JAZZ POET

Clarinetist / singer Bobby Gordon is one of the great poets of jazz.  I won’t say he’s “unsung” because the people who know love his delicate traceries.  And Bobby certainly knows how to sing!

I could write a paragraph on his sweet quirky lyricism, his way of finding the delicious surprising notes that go right to our hearts — but eight bars of Bobby will do it better than any description.

Here he is at the 1997 Mid-America Jazz Festival — thanks to Don Wolff for the video! — with Marty Grosz and Greg Cohen, on a tender IT’S THE TALK OF THE TOWN:

Something sweet from the same session (with Peter Ecklund, cornet; Greg, string bass) prefaced by one of Philosopher / Social Anthropologist / Professor Grosz’s analyses, so true:

Thank you, Bobby, Marty, Peter, Greg, and Don.  This music brings the sun in the room.

May your happiness increase.

ROSES IN DECEMBER: TED BROWN, THE EARREGULARS GO NORTH, LENA BLOCH (December 2 / December 9 / December 13, 2012)

“Mark it down.”

Rather than spending your energies on Black Friday hysteria, how about some inspired music?

The memorable tenor saxophonist / composer Ted Brown will be celebrating his eighty-fifth birtthday in December . . . in the best possible way, avoiding the sheet cake and M&Ms but choosing instead to give us all thoughtful, sweet-natured lessons on what improvisation is all about.  Two gatherings deserve your attention.

One — on Sunday, December 2, will take place at Michael Kanan’s serene studio in Brooklyn, The Drawing Room, on Willoughby Street.  The musical gathering will also celebrate the release of two new Ted Brown CDs — POUND CAKE, with cornetist Kirk Knuffke, and TWO OF A KIND with reedman Brad Linde.  The gala starts at 7:30 PM; admission is a mere $10, and the location is 70 Willoughby Street, # 2A.  Also appearing will be Matt Wilson, Murray Wall, Taro Okamoto, Sarah Hughes, Michael Kramer, Michael Kanan, and special guests.  Here’s the Facebook event page.

Cornetist Kirk Knuffke is someone new to me — but as you’ll hear, he has a deep lyricism reminiscent of Tony Fruscella.  With pianist Jesse Stacken, he explores Ellington’s SUNSET AND THE MOCKINGBIRD:

Two — On Thursday, December 13, the eloquent trumpeter Bob Arthurs will be hosting a continuation of the party for Ted — with Ted himself — at Somethin’ Jazz Club 212 East 52nd Street, third floor, from 7 to 9 PM.  The Facebook event page is here.  Joining Ted and Bob will be Jon Easton, piano; Joe Solomon, bass; Barbara Merjan, drums.

Here are Ted and Michael Kanan in duet at the Kitano (January 12, 2011) creating a tender, searching PRISONER OF LOVE:

Moving right along, in swing time . . .

For those who find it difficult to be at The Ear Inn on a Sunday night (a problem I have never been troubled by), the EarRegulars are playing a rare off-site gig on Sunday, December 9 — at 2 PM at the Rockland Center for the Arts.  This edition of the EarRegulars will have Matt Munisteri, guitar; Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet (the co-founders); Pete Martinez, clarinet; Neal Miner, string bass.  Not to be missed!  Details / reservations as noted above.

Here’s a near-match: the EarRegulars in 2011, playing RIVERBOAT SHUFFLE  joyously — Kellso, Munisteri, Martinez, and bassist Greg Cohen:

On that same Sunday, the coolly intent, always swinging tenorist Lena Bloch will be playing at the Firehouse Space in Brooklyn, with Dan Tepfer, piano; Dave Miller, guitar; Billy Mintz, drums.  The gig starts at 8 PM, and the Space is at 246 Frost Street in Brooklyn, New York: more details here.

Here’s Lena with Dave Miller, Putter Smith, and Billy Mintz from 2012 — appropriately playing Ted Brown’s FEATHER BED:
I would like to be at all four of these gigs and will do my best — but my presence and my video camera (when permitted) can’t fill the room or the tip jar — is that sufficiently subtle? — so I hope friends of the music will join me to celebrate these happy occasions.
May your happiness increase.

PRINCES OF WAILS: The EarRegulars and Friends at The Ear Inn (March 25, 2012)

I considered two other titles for this posting.  One, from pop culture, was, “I’ll have what they’re having!”  The other, from Byron, was “Let joy be unconfined.”  You’ll soon see why.

For nearly five years, the collective ensemble — an expandable quartet — known as The EarRegulars has been holding forth at The Ear Inn (326 Spring Street, Soho, New York City) on Sunday nights from 8-11 PM, with astounding results.  If you’ve never been there or seen these videos, you might raise an eyebrow at “astounding.”  Watch!  Then, if you think the adjective hyperbolic, you can write to Customer Service for a refund.

On March 25, 2012, The EarRegulars began as Matt Munisteri, guitar; Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Scott Robinson, taragota and tenor saxophone; Greg Cohen, string bass.  Four of the finest; friends and intuitive colleagues.

Here’s their direct tribute to Louis Armstrong and the rocking New Orleans tradition (also perhaps a warning against the dangers of opium smoking, if you know the lyrics), WILLIE THE WEEPER:

Then, a direct tribute to Irving Berlin and Ruby Braff in RUSSIAN LULLABY (also an indirect memory of Louis, who — as a youth — warmed to the “Russian lullabies” that Mrs. Karnofsky sang to her baby):

The quartet slowly started to expand — in the most joyous fashion — with the addition of trombonist Art Baron and drummer Chuck Redd, the latter keeping time with wire brushes on the paper tablecloth, for PLEASE DON’T TALK ABOUT ME WHEN I’M GONE:

And the climax, reminiscent of the Fifty-Second Street jam sessions that most of us have experienced only in photographs — a nearly seventeen-minute exploration of the Ellington blues, THINGS AIN’T WHAT THEY USED TO BE*.  Jon-Erik, Matt, Scott, Art, and Chuck were joined by Gordon Au, trumpet; Alex Hoffmann and Dan Block, saxes; Vinny Raniolo, acoustic guitar — for a wondrously sustained workout:

Oh, play those things!

The EarRegulars and Friends cast their bread upon the waters, and it comes back as buttered toast (to quote Sonny Greer).

 May your happiness increase.

*Note.  This blues was originally known under another name.  Oddly enough, the members of the Ellington band were all devoted to healthy diet long before it became fashionable.  Thus, when this blues emerged as a collective idea, they put a title to it: “All The Boys in the Band Eat Healthy,” and I am sure they did.

“NOW THE PALE MOON’S SHINING ON THE FIELDS BELOW . . .” (The EarRegulars at The Ear Inn, Feb. 26, 2012)

In the forty years that WHEN IT’S SLEEPY TIME DOWN SOUTH was his theme song, Louis Armstrong must have sung it more than 365 times a year.  I will leave the mathematics to you.  But he never tired of it, and it was his way of saying, “Here I am, ready to bring you love!” to an audience — in Hinsdale, Illinois; Hempstead, New York; Yokohama, Japan . . . around the world.  So the song has the deep feeling for me that hymns do for other people, or perhaps the National Anthem.  I don’t stand up and put my hand over my heart, but that is the way I feel when a band plays this song.

The EarRegulars did a beautiful job of evoking Louis in a place he probably never visited — The Ear Inn, 326 Spring Street, Soho, New York City — last Sunday night, February 26, 2012.  They were Matt Munisteri, guitar; Alex Hoffman, tenor saxophone; Greg Cohen, string bass; Danny Tobias, cornet.

Incidentally, while The EarRegulars were playing, millions of people were watching “the winners” be announced at the Academy Awards; others were watching an all-star basketball game.  I think the real winners were playing and listening at The Ear Inn, with no need for any ripping open of envelopes or running up and down a basketball court.

Good evening, everybody!

HIGH SOCIETY at THE EAR INN (Sept. 11, 2011)

It was immensely reassuring to arrive at The Ear Inn last Sunday and to find that little had changed.  Yes, the immense plaster-of-Paris pink ear had been taken away, but I hope that it had spent the summer in a spa and will be back soon.

The music was just as sweetly inspiring as it has been for the last four years, with the EarRegulars led by Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet, with his trusted accomplice John Allred, trombone, the two of them (this century’s Bobby and Vic) supported by James Chirillo, guitar, and Greg Cohen, bass.  Exalted second-set visitors were Dan Block, alto, and Matt Musselman, trombone.

Here are swinging examples to remind us all what can happen when the right musicians get together to enjoy themselves.

An easy WAY DOWN YONDER IN NEW ORLEANS:

MY GAL SAL, not frivolous in the least:

BLUES MY NAUGHTY SWEETIE GIVES TO ME:

SOMEDAY SWEETHEART (with frequent and apt references to SLEEPY TIME DOWN SOUTH by Mr. Cohen):

HIGH SOCIETY:

What was it that Buddy Bolden said?  “Open up that window and let that foul air out.”  Or, barring that, how about a romping BREEZIN’ ALONG WITH THE BREEZE:

STARS FELL ON ALABAMA, featuring the remarkable Mr. Allred:

SOMEBODY STOLE MY GAL, with Dan Block joining in:

A feature for two eminent trombonists, John and Matt Musselman, IF I HAD YOU:

LINGER AWHILE (which any reasonable person would want to do)

Incidentally, the dancers who spun so nimbly in such a small space are David Crawford, Carolyne Elyse Findley, and Danielle Hammer — jazz in motion!

I felt welcomed back to New York in a seriously joyful way.  If there’s a society more exalted than this, I’ve never encountered it.

P.S.  I am posting this from the lobby of the Athenaeum Hotel — the site for the 2011 Jazz at Chautauqua — where last night Mister Kellso played as beautifully as I’ve ever heard him . . . among other generous improvisers.

THE EARREGULARS AT “THE FAMOUS EAR” (June 12, 2011)

I had a minor jazz-history epiphany last Sunday at The Ear Inn (326 Spring Street, Soho, New York City) early in the second set, when past and present coincided.

The Ear Inn, for those who have never been there, isn’t a huge space (it is New York real estate) but everyone gets comfortable. 

The second set at the Ear began with that Sunday’s edition of the EarRegulars: charter members and co-founders Jon-Erik Kellso and Matt Munisteri on trumpet and guitar, respectively; Greg Cohen on string bass; Michael Blake (a risk-embracer who loves Lester Young) on tenor saxophone. 

Here, they embark on RIFFTIDE, a variation on LADY BE GOOD chord changes that began with Coleman Hawkins and ended up in the hands of Thelonious Monk as HACKENSACK:

For good reasons, musicians often come to the Ear — not only to sit in, but to enjoy the sounds.  Last Sunday the musicians were bassist Jon Burr and singer Lynn Stein, reed master Dan Block, then (slightly later) tenorist Nick Hempton and drummer Dan Aran (toting a snare drum).  The observant Nan Irwin was there, also, keeping everyone reasonably honest. 

Michael Blake thought aloud about a great tune whose title he couldn’t quite remember — one of those riffy Basie things connected (like so many jazz classics) to trains — and Jon-Erik or Matt remembered it, 9:20 SPECIAL.  They invited Dan Block to join them, and the two tenors had much pleasing interplay:

Then, Jon-Erik invited Nick and Dan to join in, and what marvels ensued!

The first was a long, swaying WABASH BLUES — with Jon-Erik using both his metal mute and an empty beer glass to make growling, hallooing, far-away Cootie Williams musings.  That interlude (Beery or Hoppy?) lasted only a minute, but it was remarkable and remains so now.  And the ensemble swelled and reinvented itself throughout:

And that nifty swing tune of Edgar Sampson’s, beloved by stride pianists and bands, by James P. and Billie, Lester and Dick Wellstood, a masterpiece of quiet optimism, IF DREAMS COME TRUE:

For a finale — JUMPIN’ AT THE WOODSIDE — where Jon-Erik, for a moment, becomes a hilarious three-man Basie trombone section:

At some point during those final three performances, I looked at the bandstand, saw the musicians and their instruments — trumpet, guitar, bass, drum, and three tenor saxophones jammed in (my choice of words is no accident) shoulder to shoulder, having a good time.  

I thought, “Where have I seen this before?”  And — as my UK friends might say — the penny dropped. 

Basie.  1938.  The Famous Door.

Some will know the story of that Fifty-Second Street paradise.  A small club with a low ceiling, it had been host to a variety of bands in the middle Thirties but — with no air-conditioning — had always closed in the summer.  John Hammond, always full of ideas, paid for the installation of an air-conditioning system so that his favorite band, led by one Bill Basie from New Jersey, could play there in the summer.  The Basieties had to play softly at first, but it’s clear from the radio airshots that exist — not enough for my taste! — that they had a wonderful time and made irreplaceable music.

Here’s a photo essay from the Institute of Jazz Studies at Rutgers University(photographs from the Frank Driggs Collection) of that musical splendor.  Look for Herschel Evans, short-lived and insufficiently-photographed:

http://newarkwww.rutgers.edu/ijs/cb/famousDoor.htm

Yes, the physical resemblance between The Famous Door and The Ear Inn is not exact, but the two places share the same ebullient spirit, with brilliant musicians improvising at the peak of their powers in a small space. 

Henceforth, I dub 326 Spring Street THE FAMOUS EAR.  It well deserves the new name!

And to finish the thought: the EarRegulars continue to swing as beautifully and as joyously as the 1938 Basie band.  No doubt about it!

P.S.  If you’re reading this in real time (however you wish to define it) you might want to know that The EarRegulars will be celebrating their fourth anniversary of steady Sunday-night gigs at The Famous Ear this Sunday, June 19, 2011.  Gifts, please!  (I meant their gifts — not that people have to show up with trinkets, although trinkets might be pleasant, too.)

P.P.S.  On June 12, I was able to savor Abigail Riccards and Michael Kanan, creating music with delicacy and strength — then I drove from Brooklyn to Soho to capture these five performances, hilariously creative.  This, to me, says only one thing:  JAZZ (emphatic pause) LIVES (exultant exclamation point)!

FOR BIX BEIDERBECKE (The Ear Inn, March 13, 2011)

I do not know what memories Bix Beiderbecke had of New York.  Aside from that terrible apartment in Sunnyside, Queens, where he died, I think that many of them were good: recording for OKeh, jamming in Harlem, playing against the Henderson band, drinking at Plunkett’s.  Bixians can, I am sure, supply more.

Although Bix has been gone a long time, New Yorkers still celebrate him in many ways: a vigil on the anniversary of his death; WKCR-FM plays his music on his birthday, and (this year) the EarRegulars devoted an evening to honoring him.

The EarRegulars were Jon-Erik Kellso (trumpet) and Matt Munisteri (guitar), founding members, with Pete Martinez (Albert system clarinet) and Greg Cohen (string bass).  And they played as if Bix was seated at the bar, grinning appreciatively — which, in a way, he always is.

Here’s Hoagy’s FREE WHEELING — later named RIVERBOAT SHUFFLE, a wondrous way to start things off.  Catch Jon-Erik’s clarion, flexible lines, Greg’s fervent support.  Pete’s quotation early in his first chorus is a delicious in-joke.  As ALONE, it is the romantic number in the Marx Brothers’ A NIGHT AT THE OPERA.  And his second chorus — only Matt could follow something like that, and how nimbly he does!  Jon-Erik soars; Greg stomps, and the closing ensemble is a triumphant paradox: searing hot and cool to the touch at the same time:

It took me several choruses to recall the name of the next selection — it’s THERE’LL COME A TIME and it’s a tribute to the deep affection and deeper recall that all the editions of the EarRegulars show — not in an academic or pretentious way, but with love.  This version, deliciously, has an easy stroll to it — it could be a 1938 Basie-inspired small group recording for Commodore, couldn’t it?  (Think of Buck, Lester, Durham, Page.)  And wait until the very end — the equine commentary is here and intact:

Pianist and wit Jeff Barnhart says that SAN has the distinction of being the Dixieland tune with the shortest title.  I wouldn’t deny that, but it’s also a rocking composition — especially the way the EarRegulars launch into it, with quartet telepathy all around:

Finally, a song I take as a tribute to my serene and well-establish standing in academia — the JAZZ ME BLUES — which has the immortal line, worthy of Keats, “Professor, come on and jazz me!”  I would have responded but it would have required that I put my camera down, so I couldn’t:

Bix thanks you.  We all thank you, gentlemen of the ensemble!

DON’T BE IN A MIST!  CLICK HERE TO GIVE SOMETHING BACK TO THE MUSICIANS IN THE VIDEOS (ALL MONEY COLLECTED GOES TO THEM):

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