Tag Archives: Greg Ruggiero

“I’M WISE TO ALL THOSE TRICKS YOU PLAYED ON ME”: LUCY YEGHIAZARYAN SINGS AT MEZZROW (Stefan Vasnier, Vincent Dupont, Greg Ruggiero: January 28, 2020)

I admire the art of Lucy Yeghiazaryan — learn more here — and I am not alone.

Here are two more wonderful performances by Lucy, with pianist Stefan Vasnier, string bassist Vincent Dupont, and guitarist Greg Ruggiero — created at Mezzrow on her late-Tuesday set, January 28, 2020.  (If you missed her passionate PRISONER OF LOVE, here is that remarkable experience.)

“Happiness writes in white ink on a white page,” says Henry de Montherlant, and the ache of failed love has been a fertile subject for songwriters — much more than the Twenties’ optimism of “My baby and me are getting married in June.”

In PRISONER OF LOVE, the singer speaks of being “too weak to break the chains that bind me,” where the jail term sounds like a life sentence.  THE GENTLEMAN IS A DOPE, lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II, music by Richard Rodgers, from the 1947 show ALLEGRO, has a much more arch premise, mixing yearning and derision: the one I adore is too stupid to notice my love:

That lover is still stuck in mid-passion, but the protagonist of I’M GONNA LOCK MY HEART (AND THROW AWAY THE KEY) aims a declaration of independence right at the faithless, treacherous partner, in this 1938 Jimmy Eaton-Terry Shand song associated with Billie Holiday:

Thankfully, Lucy and friends are gigging here and there (“follow her on Facebook,” as they say) but the next Mezzrow appearance will be Tuesday, February 25.  I plan to be there, perhaps at that same second table on the left.

May your happiness increase!

“I HAVE A ROMANTIC SIDE”: LUCY YEGHIAZARYAN SINGS OF PASSION (STEFAN VASNIER, VINCE DUPONT, GREG RUGGIERO, Mezzrow, January 28, 2020)

Lucy Yeghiazaryan was celebrating her birthday at Mezzrow on West Tenth Street at the very end of January.  She turned 29 on the 29th, a gentle embrace of the spheres.  But don’t let her youth fool you into thinking she is merely skating along on the surface of her songs: she feels the music. . . . when she sings of passions, it doesn’t sound as if she’s texting us a message.  And she doesn’t stand at an ironic distance from the song and view it skeptically as an ancient artifact.

Lucy at Mezzrow 1.28.20. Photograph by Jon De Lucia.

At her performance, she created many little worlds, inhabited by cats and rabbits, with plates of mashed potatoes, among other bits of set design, but her intense yet controlled reading of PRISONER OF LOVE left me open-mouthed (and, no, that wasn’t my sneeze you’ll hear).  I associate this highly-charged song with Russ Columbo, Perry Como, and Lester Young — his 1956 recording remains a touchstone for me — but Lucy gently moved into the song and made it completely hers, with lovely accompaniment from Stefan Vasnier, piano; Greg Ruggiero, guitar; Vince Dupont, string bass.  Join me in the experience:

I’ve written about Lucy here recently, but you can expect to see more of her work on this blog.  And you should bask in the emotional experiences she creates — some salty, some tender, some playful — first-hand. Or if you live far from her gigging orbit, her first CD is available here and all the usual places. (Thanks to Matt Rivera for making this encounter not only possible but inevitable.)

She’s the real thing.

May your happiness increase!

WE LOVE LUCY YEGHIAZARYAN

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

and another standard:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

May your happiness increase!

A WELCOMING ART: The MICHAEL KANAN TRIO (GREG RUGGIERO, NEAL MINER)

Perhaps because I began my immersion in music in the last century with musicians who sent warmth through the speaker and in person, some “contemporary jazz” or “innovative music” seems forbidding, austere.  It looks at me suspiciously and asks, “Are you musically erudite enough to be allowed to listen to what is being created?” suggesting that I am metaphysically too short to ride the esoteric roller coaster.  But not the music Michael Kanan creates.

Pianist and composer Michael Kanan does not aim for the esoteric, although his art is consistently subtle.  He delights in song, in melodic improvisation, in swing.  His music says, “Let’s have a nice time.  Please come in!” and the most severe postmodernists gently thaw out after a chorus or two.  His playfulness is balanced by deep feeling, each note and chord carefully chosen but floating on emotion.  Jimmie Rowles stands in back of him, and Lester Young in back of both.  If you’ve been following this blog, Michael’s appeared often since 2010, when I first met him through his friend, the masterful reedman Joel Press.

Michael appears worldwide in many settings, but in New York City he is often happily onstage with Greg Ruggiero, guitar, and Neal Miner, string bass, his “brothers in rhythm.”  That splendid trio will be appearing at Mezzrow on West Tenth Street on December 27 and 28, sets at 7:30 and 9:00 PM.

But this post isn’t simply a gig advertisement.  In summer 2019, Michael, Greg, and Neal performed for an attentive audience at the now-vanished 75 Club, and those performances can now be savored here at Michael’s YouTube channel.  And here!

Ellington’s PIE EYE’S BLUES:

Michael’s own FOR JIMMY SCOTT:

His lovely THE PEARL DREAMS OF THE OCEAN:

The frisky POPCORN:

and a sweet MY IDEAL, where the trio sends Richard Whiting their love:

If you’re not close enough to Mezzrow to make this gig, you can have the trio at home with not much effort: they recorded their debut CD, IN THIS MOMENT, not long ago — also recorded live at that club.  The CD’s lovely art is by Anne Watkins, and you can read my review of the music here.

However you encounter Michael, Greg, and Neal, don’t deny yourself the pleasure.

May your happiness increase!

IN THIS MOMENT: MICHAEL KANAN, GREG RUGGIERO, NEAL MINER (live at Mezzrow, New York City)

Cover art by Anne Watkins

“The more I read the papers, the less I comprehend,” wrote Ira Gershwin, lines so poignant to me. But heartfelt creative music is an antidote to darkness. Some tell us that a postmodern world demands abstract sound, sharp-edged art. I prefer song, music that can dance as a response to sorrow, melodies rueful in the face of hard realities. Song never grows old, and the artists on this disc understand and enact this truth. Michael Kanan, piano; Greg Ruggiero, guitar;  Neal Miner, string bass, trust the melodies they create, and they respect the composers’ craft while making the most familiar material glisten.  Their music balances feeling and technique, and their collective energies embrace the listener.

I first met Michael Kanan in 2010 through the good offices of the Swing Lion of Boston, Joel Press, and I was immediately tickled and moved by Michael’s sly sweet approach to the piano and to song. Like a master Japanese brush-painter, he implies, he hints, he whispers thoughts we need to hear, his phrases nudging us into surprises that gratify, his pauses and silences eloquent breaths. A little later, I heard Neal and Greg, each a great swinging lyricist, each creating singular melodic epigraphs no matter the context. The trio is the embodiment of fraternal love and understanding; the laughter the three friends share before they begin to play bubbles through the night’s performances. Michael, Neal, and Greg are quietly compelling soloists but they play for the comfort of the band. They know that music doesn’t have to abrade to catch our attention, that a two-chorus solo might be all that’s needed. Their music is never immodest or coarse; it never says LOOK AT US. And they offer us an airy grace; rueful melodies never become maudlin or heavy. When I hear this trio play, I go home feeling as if I’d been dipped in some sweet elixir, not available online.

I began by noting — through Ira Gershwin’s praise of lasting love — that there are experiences, like candid graceful music, that go beyond comprehension, that move into our hearts and stay there.  This disc captures three masters of the art, offering all they feel and all they have learned to us.  It is in the moment and of a particular moment, but it becomes timeless.

Here is a sample of what this trio does so well:

And here one can buy or download or sample, then purchase the music.  Ideally, one could go where Michael is playing and press money into his hand, completing a circle of artist and grateful audience.  But however you find your way to these sounds, they will uplift.

May your happiness increase!

THE RIGHT TIME: The GREG RUGGIERO TRIO (MURRAY WALL, STEVE LITTLE) at MEZZROW, October 1, 2018

The three serious-looking fellows below (from left, Murray Wall, string bass; Steve Little, drums; Greg Ruggiero, guitar) make wonderful music.  Greg’s new trio CD, IT’S ABOUT TIME, gentle explorations of great standards, is proof enough (read more here).

From left. Murray Wall, string bass; Steve Little, drums; Greg Ruggiero, guitar. Photograph by Gabriele Donati.

To celebrate the new CD, Greg, Steve, and Murray had a lovely session at Mezzrow (163 West Tenth Street, New York City) on October 1 of this year.  As befits a trio’s numerology, here are three selections showing the compact unhurried lyricism this group creates.  They know how to swing, how to leave space, how to play pretty, to create phrases to ring in the air: masters of their sonorous craft.

GONE WITH THE WIND:

I’LL SEE YOU IN MY DREAMS:

I’VE GROWN ACCUSTOMED TO HER FACE:

We could easily grow accustomed to this trio.

May your happiness increase!

“IT’S ABOUT TIME”: GREG RUGGIERO, MURRAY WALL, STEVE LITTLE

From left. Murray Wall, string bass; Steve Little, drums; Greg Ruggiero, guitar. Photograph by Gabriele Donati.

Maybe you wouldn’t connect those mostly-somber faces with a new CD of gorgeous music, but trust me. Perhaps this will help:

The roots of this delightful effusion of thoughtful, swinging adult music go back a few years.  When I heard IT’S ABOUT TIME (Fresh Sounds / Swing Alley) for the first time, recently, I wrote this to Greg (who has a substantial sense of humor) as the possible opening lines of my planned blogpost: I’ve never met them, but I am seriously grateful to Camille and Lenny Ruggiero. For one thing, they are the parents of the wonderful guitarist Greg Ruggiero, so you may draw your own inferences. But there’s another reason: Greg says that “for the past twenty years they have asked me to record a Standards album.”

That CD is here, and it’s called IT’S ABOUT TIME, and it’s a honey.

I checked with Greg to be sure his parents wouldn’t mind seeing that in print and he wrote back, The CD release party is October 1st at Mezzrow. The folks are coming, maybe you can meet them then!

The Mezzrow schedule (they’re on West Tenth Street in New York City) has tickets for sale here for the two October 1 shows; I know this because I bought some.

But perhaps I’m getting ahead of myself, or of ourselves here.  As a title, IT’S ABOUT TIME might refer to Greg’s parents’ two-decade long wait, but the title speaks to something fundamental about this CD, and about the music that Greg, Murray, and Steve make as a trio and on their own.  “Time,” to them, is more than what someone’s Apple watch might say: it is their visceral connection with rhythm, with the deep heartbeat that we feel from the Earth and also from the Basie rhythm section.  Fluid but unerring; sinuous but reliably trustworthy.  They live to swing, and we can rely on how well they do it, and how well it makes us feel.  Greg, Murray, and Steve are also reassuring in their love of melodies, and of melodic inprovisations.  This isn’t — to go back some decades — “Easy Listening,” but it certainly is easy to listen to.

The repertoire is classic; the approach melodic and emergized.  GONE WITH THE WIND is light and quick, a zephyr rather than a lament.  APRIL IN PARIS doesn’t lean on the Basie version, but is a series of sweet chimes: I never got the sense of “Oh, this is APRIL IN PARIS again, for the zillionth time.”  Sincerity rules, without drama.  Steve starts off I’LL SEE YOU IN MY DREAMS with a small explosion, heralding a romp rather than a nap, and the trades between him and the other two members later in the performance have the snap of Jo Jones.  Greg’s POLKA DOTS AND MOONBEAMS is respectfully tender but it never bogs down under the weight of the hoped-for pug-nosed dream, and Murray’s solo seems so easy but is the work of a quiet master.  WHERE OR WHEN asks the musical question lightly and politely, without undue seriousness but with playful trades with Steve.  IF DREAMS COME TRUE is easy in its optimism, and it avoids the cliches attached to this venerable swing tune.

It’s lovely to have a CD (or a gig) include a blues — some musicians shy away from them for reasons not clear to me — and this one has a strolling THINGS AIN’T WHAT THEY USED TO BE, fun in itself but also a nod to the most famous association on Steve’s vita, his time with Ellington.  (Yes, he taught Bert and Ernie how to swing, but that’s another matter.)  Gershwin’s LIZA, which is often played at a burning tempo, is a saunter here; DON’T BLAME ME is more cheerful than usual — perhaps this trio hasn’t been blamed for anything wicked recently?  I’d believe that — and the disc closes with a just-right TANGERINE.  Juicy, fruitful.

Greg’s playing is a delight, mixing single-string explorations with chordal accents for variety.  He doesn’t overpower the listener with Olympian slaloms on the fretboard, but plays the song as if he were speaking affectionately to us.  Murray Wall is one of the great warm exponents of logical improvisation, and Steve Little’s brushwork is a swing school in itself.  (You won’t miss a piano.)  The result is kind to the ears, with breathing room and ease — at times I thought these tracks a series of witty dances (there is plenty of good humor in this trio, although no joke-quotes).  Delightful dance music even for people like me, who spend more time in a chair than they should.  In the best way, this is an old-fashioned session, with musicians who know that there is life in the Great American Songbook, and that it is spacious enough to allow them to express their personalities.  But there’s a refreshing homage to the melodies, first and last, that’s often not the case with jazz recordings.

You can hear substantial excerpts from the CD here, and download the music as well.  You can purchase the CD here, and visit Greg’s website and Facebook page as well, all of which should provide entertainment and edification for these shortened days and longer nights.

Of course, the best thing for people in the tri-state area to do would be to show up at a Greg Ruggiero gig, such as the CD release one at Mezzrow, and buy discs there.  But I don’t want to tell you what to do . . . or do I?

May your happiness increase!

MUSIC WITH FRIENDS (Part Two): MICHAEL KANAN, GREG RUGGIERO, NEAL MINER (The Drawing Room, January 8, 2018)

Michael Kanan

This is the first part of a sextet of delicious performances by Michael Kanan, piano; Greg Ruggiero, guitar; Neal Miner, string bass, recorded on January 8, 2018, at the Drawing Room in Brooklyn.

Neal Miner

In that first segment of this impromptu session, these three lyrical friends performed  YOU DO SOMETHING TO ME, TAKE THE “A” TRAIN (which is how one gets to Jay Street-MetroTech, among other possibilities), and I’M JUST A LUCKY SO-AND-SO.  Now, for the patient faithful, this intuitive, subtle trio plays Neal Miner’s BLUES OKURA, IT’S ONLY A PAPER MOON, and LULLABY OF THE LEAVES.

Greg Ruggiero

Neal’s BLUES OKURA.  Make sure your seat belt is low and tight across your hips:

And an exceedingly tender IT’S ONLY A PAPER MOON, honoring Arlen’s intent — and I hear Harburg’s lyrics all the way through:

then the classic LULLABY OF THE LEAVES:

Wonderful reassuring music to be sure.  Thank you so much, gentlemen, for this casual affecting interlude.

May your happiness increase!

MUSIC WITH FRIENDS (Part One): MICHAEL KANAN, GREG RUGGIERO, NEAL MINER (The Drawing Room, January 8, 2018)

Michael Kanan prizes friendship very highly, and not in some abstract way.  He is a true Embracer, and his deep love of community lasts longer than a simple hug.  He showed us this once again a few Mondays ago at a little gathering at his Brooklyn studio, The Drawing Room.

Michael Kanan

Michael’s colleagues in melodic exploration were his friends and ours, Greg Ruggiero, guitar; Neal Miner, string bass: each of them a thoughtful swinging intuitive orchestra in himself.

Greg Ruggiero

It was a jam session evening, so even though this trio played six songs (you’ll have the first three here) it wasn’t a mini-recital, more a gathering of friends who don’t get to play together often. They hadn’t played together in months, and after Michael had seen the videos, he called them “music in its raw natural state,” but it was an acknowledgment rather than a criticism.  I think of them as cherries picked from the tree, their stems still attached, as opposed to cherry pie filling from a can.

Neal Miner

Porter’s YOU DO SOMETHING TO ME:

Strayhorn’s TAKE THE A TRAIN:

Ellington’s I’M JUST A LUCKY SO-AND-SO:

When you’re invited to a party at Michael’s, you go home laden with gifts.

May your happiness increase!

THEY’RE SWELL: MARIEL BILDSTEN and GREG RUGGIERO at TURNSTYLE, October 17, 2017

Wonderful synergy.  One . . .

Mariel Bildsten. Photograph by Jeff Drolette.

plus one . . . .

Greg Ruggiero

makes up a musical organization much more expansive than a duo.

But who knew that such glorious music flourished underground? Most Tuesdays, trombonist Mariel Bildsten leads a small group — quite compact, because it’s a duo: here she is with guitarist Greg Ruggiero, both playing splendidly in “Turnstyle,” a subway-mall attached to the “A” at Columbus Circle in New York City, on October 17, 2017.

Greg I’ve known and admired for some time because of his beautiful playing with, among others, Michael Kanan, Neal Miner, and Sam Taylor.  But I first encountered Mariel at Turnstyle this autumn, and was delighted.

A small digression: here you can learn about all the eateries at Turnstyle, and get some basic orientation about how to get there.  It’s easier the second time.

These are easy to listen to, right now.

THOU SWELL:

I SURRENDER, DEAR:

Here is Greg’s website, and here is Mariel’s.  And — for more up-to-date news — find them on Facebook here (Greg) and here (Mariel).

When Dostoevsky wrote NOTES FROM UNDERGROUND, he didn’t have anything quite so uplifting in mind.

May your happiness increase!

I DON’T QUITE KNOW WHAT IT IS, BUT IT SOUNDS LOVELY: JON DE LUCIA, “AS THE RIVER SINGS”

As someone used to listening to jazz — first a narrow slice, then broadening and deepening — like most listeners, I am familiar with what I am familiar with.  I appreciate known melodies, improvised on in a variety of ways, as well as beautiful sounds, and I am not too embarrassed by my occasional inability or unwillingness to appreciate what others call jazz.  Sometimes, though, I hear something different, created by musicians I respect, and I am emotionally drawn to it.  I take it seriously and try to figure out “what it is,” and sometimes fail.  But in this case, my ears and my emotions tell me that the music is beautiful and worthy, even though I don’t quite know what to call it.  (Categorization can get ugly, as if I was trying to wear the jeans I wore ten years ago.)

I met the saxophonist / clarinetist Jon De Lucia in 2016, and have followed him to several gigs — in an intimate restaurant in Park Slope, Brooklyn; a few sessions at Michael Kanan and Stephanie Greig’s beautiful Drawing Room; most recently to Sir D’s Lounge, also in Brooklyn.  Jon asked me if I’d like to hear the music on his new CD release, AS THE RIVER SINGS, recorded in 2014.  I listened to some of it online and said yes.  On this disc of twelve compositions by Jon, he plays alto saxophone, clarinet, Sruti Box, alto clarinet, flute; he’s joined by Greg Ruggiero, electric guitar; Chris Tordini, string bass; Tommy Crane, drums.

as-the-river-sings-cover

Before you read on, you can listen to a few selections here.  Wisely, I think, Jon has not provided a programmatic narrative of what the music is “about,” so we are free to hear.  Each track seems part of a larger suite of dance melodies, or dancing ones.  I hear Irish keening and island rhythms; the dancing underpinnings also reminded me of Anglo-American pop/dance music of the second half of the last century.  Without being a self-conscious rhythmic travelogue, the suite moves gracefully from rhythmic idiom to rhythmic idiom, encouraging the listener to feel, to muse, to sway.  Floating melodies, chiming sounds, music that one can listen to in many ways and be moved by it.

The quartet is delightfully egalitarian, so melodies and patterns are passed around and the variety is always entertaining.  Jon is a virtuoso who knows the wonders of restraint.  His tone is rewarding in itself — I think of the coinage that Darl Bundren, in a William Faulkner novel, uses to describe the ideal temperature for the water he is about to drink, “warmish-cool,” to describe Jon’s playing and his approach to his instruments and our ears.  His melodies and improvisations gently have something to tell us, but they are subtle, never banging loudly on our door.  And they sink in to our consciousness in quietly memorable ways.

I write this not only to point JAZZ LIVES’ readers towards some rewarding music on disc, but to announce the CD release show at Cornelia St. Cafe on Wednesday, March 8, 2017.  Jon and Greg Ruggiero, Sean Smith, and Billy Mintz — all heroes! will play two sets, at 8 and 9:30.  The Facebook event page is here.  And the salient details are that there is a $10 cover; reservations are recommended; Cornelia St. Underground, 29 Cornelia St., near West 4th St in Manhattan.

May your happiness increase!

WARM CONVERSATIONS IN MUSIC: JON DE LUCIA / PUTTER SMITH / TATSUYA SAKURAI at OLIVIER BISTRO (May 9, 2016)

Photograph by Richard Daniel Bergeron

Photograph by Richard Daniel Bergeron

I’ve only met the altoist / clarinetist / flautist / composer Jon De Lucia this year, but I have been delighted and astonished by his subtle warm talent.  The first opportunity I had to experience his floating improvisations was his April 15 graduate recital at City College, which you too can experience here (where Jon is joined by Greg Ruggiero, Aidan O’Donnell, Steve Little, and Ray Gallon).

I wanted to hear more, so I asked Jon if I could come video him at a regular Brooklyn gig at Olivier Bistro (469 4th Avenue in Brooklyn, very close to the F train for people who know and respect such things) and he said I could — thus, this quartet of videos from his performances on May 9. On three of them, Jon’s partner in soulful dialogue is the most revered Putter Smith, string bass; on MOHAWK, that blues we know from the late Dizzy and Bird session, they are joined by the youthful guitarist Tatsuya Sakurai, to great effect.  (Ordinarily Jon’s duet partner is the wonderfully lyrical Greg Ruggiero — a duo I hope to capture soon.)

Thinking of Billie, YOU’VE CHANGED:

The question no one asked that night, WHO CARES?:

The aforementioned Bird / Dizzy blues, with Tatsuya along for the fun of the explorations:

And a statement of fidelity, “forsaking all others” in 4 / 4, IT’S YOU OR NO ONE:

What lovely intimate music.

And a non-musical postscript: the food at Olivier Bistro was wonderful, the service likewise (look for kind Annette!): I look forward to returning to enjoy more.

May your happiness increase!

MASTERY: JON DE LUCIA, GREG RUGGIERO, AIDAN O’DONNELL, STEVE LITTLE, RAY GALLON (CITY COLLEGE, APRIL 15, 2016)

I first met Jon De Lucia at a concert celebrating tenor legend Ted Brown’s birthday.  The concert was held at Michael Kanan and Stephanie Greig’s The Drawing Room, so I knew the very gracious young man traveled in the best company.

Photograph by Richard Daniel Bergeron

Photograph by Richard Daniel Bergeron

But I hadn’t heard him play.  It turns out that my ignorance of Jon — altoist, clarinetist, and imaginative composer / improviser — was a serious loss, which I remedied on April 15, 2016.  Slightly after noon on that day, Jon gave a graduate recital at City College of New York — a degree requirement so that he could receive his Master’s in Jazz Studies.  With him (and alongside him) were Greg Ruggiero, guitar; Aidan O’Donnell, string bass; Steve Little, drums.  Pianist Ray Gallon joined in for two performances.

Aidan, Jon, Steve, and Greg at City College

Aidan, Jon, Steve, and Greg at City College

A Master in Jazz Studies is what Jon De Lucia is, and as I write this he hasn’t even worn the robes or gotten his diploma.

Jon’s recital lasted about an hour, and he and his ensemble performed seven improvisations — most of them his own arrangements and reinventions over moderately familiar chord sequences (with one glorious ballad).  But this wasn’t an afternoon of thin contrefacts, so that the members of the audience could say in two bars, “Oh, that’s LADY BE GOOD.”  “Again.”  No, Jon showed off his craft, his subtle gift for creating luxurious melodies, actual songs.

As  you’ll hear, some of the music had a dreamlike serenity — elusive and lovely; at other points I thought of the dear seriousness of Fifties West Coast jazz, or dance movements from early modern classical yet with a strong pulse.  It was delicate yet pointed, light-hearted but never effete.

Jon’s music didn’t fit easily into stylistic boxes (which is delightful): his lines soared, his solos had their own internal logic; the music breathed and rang and glistened. Not only is he a wonderfully seductive altoist, his tone sweet and tart, avoiding avian flurries of notes or post-Parker harshness, he is a master of that unforgiving horn, the clarinet.

I was thrilled to be in the audience.  And once you’ve heard only a few minutes of this music, you will understand why.

PRELUDE TO PART FIRST:

CONFLAGRATION:

I’M GLAD THERE IS YOU (a breathtakingly gorgeous performance):

VALSE VIVIENNE:

RONDO A LA RUSSO, featuring Aidan O’Donnell:

THE Q 25 BLUES, inspired by a bus and its route:

LOST AND FOUND, by Hod O’Brien, its title a sly wink at its origin, as is the riff that sets up Steve’s solo passages:

Now I see that Jon and friends have gigs in Manhattan and Brooklyn — information you can find out here and there is more information at his website.

I salute him and his colleagues, and look forward to hearing more.

May your happiness increase!

“SOME TUNEFUL CATS”: STREET OF DREAMS (SAM TAYLOR, GREG RUGGIERO, AIDAN O’DONNELL, BEN CLINESS)

STREET OF DREAMS one

A musician friend I respect told me about this new quartet — called, sweetly, STREET OF DREAMS, and I was instantly pleased by the videos below.  When I shared them with another jazz fancier — like me, a devotee of melodic improvisation — I got back a near-instant response, “Those are some tuneful cats!”  I completely agree, and think you will too.

STREET OF DREAMS two

That’s Sam Taylor, tenor saxophone; Greg Ruggiero, guitar; Aidan O’Donnell, string bass; Ben Cliness, drums.  (I’ve met and video-ed three of the four [so far Ben has been safe from me] and I am proud to know them.)

YOUNG AT HEART:

CLOSE YOUR EYES:

CORCOVADO:

DON’T GET AROUND MUCH ANYMORE:

AFTER YOU’VE GONE:

Melodists, making danceable music that is both deep and gossamer.  Those among us who play or sing know that making melody come alive is not easy. Ask Louis, ask Lester, ask Monk.  And I know that some devout jazz listeners might say that this band is less “innovative” or “adventurous” than they prefer, and I leave them to their search for what they like.

But beauty never has to innovate.  It just is.

To book this group — very new but by no means immature (!) — click here.

May your happiness increase!

PEARLS OF SOUND: MICHAEL KANAN at CARNEGIE HALL (March 30, 2016)

MICHAEL KANAN concert

When I first heard the pianist Michael Kanan play, I was astonished by his quiet lyricism, his gentle wit, his ability to construct something orchestral and memorable out of the simplest materials.  Like his heroes Jimmy Rowles and Hank Jones, he is a poetic player.  That doesn’t mean, in Michael’s case, that prettiness outweighs substance.  His playing has a stealthy power, an impressive integrity. But it does mean that he is one of the questers in search of beauty, believing that beauty can transform the world, making its sharp edges smooth, its harsh contours welcoming.

Michael and very eminent friends will be appearing at Carnegie Hall on Wednesday, March 30 (8-10 PM).  The friends are singer Jane Monheit, guitarist Greg Ruggiero, string bassist Neal Miner.  For those who like to have the route mapped out before they get in the car,  the format of the concert will be solo piano for several songs, then a duo set with Jane, intermission, a trio set with Neal and Greg, and at the end Jane will join the trio.

And the concert is another in a noble tradition, as Michael explained to me, “My teacher of 16 years, Sophia Rosoff, began the Abby Whiteside Foundation as a means of keeping alive the work of her teacher Abby Whiteside. Every year the foundation presents four concerts of pianists who have worked with Ms. Rosoff. This year’s series features two classical pianists and two jazz pianists (myself and Jacob Sacks). All four of us have studied extensively with Sophia and have taken her work in completely different directions. Past performers in the Whiteside Piano Series include Barry Harris, Fred Hersch, Ethan Iverson, and Pete Malinverni.”

Here’s some captivating musical evidence: Michael, Greg, and Neal, performing Michael’s THE PEARL (recorded at Mezzrow on March 23, 2015):

and Ellington’s THE MOOCHE:

Again, the necessary details.  Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall, 57th Street at 7th Avenue.  Wednesday, March 30, 8-10 PM.  Tickets: $35 ($15 for  students / seniors) — on sale now at Carnegie Hall box office, (212) 247-7800.  More information at www.abbywhiteside.org and www.carnegiehall.org.

I will be there, but obviously without a camera: so I’d encourage those who love subtle music to make a pilgrimage to Weill Recital Hall for that evening.

May your happiness increase!

“THROUGH THE EYES OF A DRUMMER: THE LIFE AND PHOTOGRAPHS OF JIMMY WORMWORTH”: A FILM BY NEAL MINER

Worm

The Neal Miner we admire is a superb jazz string bassist and composer:

The composition is Neal’s TIME LINE: his colleagues are Michael Kanan, piano; Greg Ruggiero, guitar.

Fewer people know Neal as a fine record producer, a splendid videographer (the evidence is here, now a gifted documentary-maker.

I was privileged to be in the audience last Thursday night when he showed his film about the engaged and engaging drummer / photographer Jimmy Wormworth to a very receptive audience.  Neal has put the film on YouTube for all of us to enjoy at our leisure, for free.

Although I tend to glance at my watch during documentaries, I sat rapt, and it wasn’t only because the stories were delightful.  Neal has not resorted to fancy film tricks (although you HAVE to wait for the coda); he has gently stayed out of the way of his subject.

And the stories!  Tales of Paul Chambers, Charlie Rouse, George Braith, Lou Donaldson, Dizzy Gillespie . . . all the way up to the present, with Tardo Hammer, Jon Hendricks, Annie Ross, Dwayne Clemons, and other friends. In the Fifties Jimmy bought a Brownie camera and began to take candid photographs of his heroes and colleagues, and they are priceless, as is the cheerful commentary.  The film is as close as we will get to sitting down with an amiable jazz legend who graciously unrolls fascinating anecdotes of his first-hand experience.  At the end of the documentary, the audience stood and cheered.

I said to someone on the way out, “Much better than a memorial service.”  Neal has done something beautiful and lasting by celebrating and chronicling a great artist while that person is alive.  I would like to see him get grant money to do more of these films, although I would hate to see him put the string bass in the closet.

Here’s Neal’s commentary:

For the past five years I have been experimenting with video and audio recording. After getting my feet wet with a few projects, I decided to undertake the challenge of documenting a person’s life, career and, in this case, some very unique photographs.

Since 2005 I have had the good fortune of playing regularly with master drummer, Jimmy Wormworth on a weekly show with the iconic Annie Ross. On one of our first gigs together Jimmy pulled an old snapshot out of his pocket, handed it to me with a playful grin and said, “Who’s that?” After examining the slightly tattered photograph I realized that it was none other than my bass hero, Paul Chambers, sipping from a bottle of Gordon’s gin backstage while standing next to the legendary pianist, Wynton Kelly. Every week thereafter, Jimmy showed me more shots that truly amazed me.

I then learned that when Jimmy was in his early twenties he was the drummer for the hot, new vocal group, Lambert, Hendricks and Ross. He was on tour with them from 1959 to 1961, sharing concert bills with all the top jazz groups of the day. Backstage Jimmy was not only rubbing elbows with the giants of jazz, he was also snapping photographs with his Brownie camera, documenting these legends in a very candid light.

I was immediately intrigued and inspired to do something to help Jimmy share these photos and his stories with the world. This documentary is strictly a labor of love and not for profit in any way. My only goal is to share Jimmy Wormworth’s fascinating life story and his beautiful photographs.

I hope you enjoy this film, the making of which was an amazing experience and opportunity for me to learn and grow. I am truly grateful for all of the many people who contributed to and helped out with this project.

Thank you for watching!
Neal Miner

P.S. Please spread the word and long live Jimmy Wormworth!

May your happiness increase!

BEAUTY UNFADING: MICHAEL KANAN, NEAL MINER, GREG RUGGIERO at MEZZROW (March 23, 2015)

I’ve been able to see and hear and capture much more music in the last decade than ever before, and I’ve filled notebooks and hard drives all over my apartment with the delicious evidence.  But the evening of March 23, 2015, at Mezzrow at 163 West Tenth Street will stand in my memory as almost beyond compare.  The generous artist-benefactors are Michael Kanan, piano; Neal Miner, string bass; Greg Ruggiero, guitar.  I’ve already written about the music and offered the rest of the evening here and here .  Now I think it proper for the music to be allowed to speak for itself, as it did and does so eloquently.

And one more word about my presentation.  I suffer from a backlog (it’s not really a problem) where I have recorded more than I could possibly post if I did six blogposts a day.  So there are always sessions that I tell myself I must return to.  But I realized I was hesitating about posting the final videos from this very special gig . . . and I — as is my habit — asked myself “Why?” and my self answered, “Because when you post these videos, that evening will in some way be over, and that is painful to imagine.”  True, but I then realized that keeping this music from you, the JAZZ LIVES audience, was not right.  So here we are.

Happily, Michael, Greg, and  Neal are making beauty as I write this.  And they will continue to do so.

C JAM BLUES:

Neal’s TIME LINE:

I REMEMBER YOU:

DARN THAT DREAM:

Michael’s THE PEARL:

PICK YOURSELF UP:

As I was writing this post, I was watching a gorgeous sunset out of the window above my computer — pink, orange, blue, grey in irregular horizontal stripes that changed shape and hue as I watched.  In a matter of minutes, it was gone, and now the sky is blue-black, with only my watercolor recollections remaining. But through the marvels of technology, however you define it, the music Michael, Greg, and Neal made ten weeks ago will remain, fresh, for us.  A wonderful thing!

May your happiness increase!

“IT’S GOT TO BE SWEETNESS, MAN, YOU DIG?”: MICHAEL KANAN, NEAL MINER, GREG RUGGIERO at MEZZROW, MARCH 23, 2015 (Part Two)

Lester Young told François Postif in 1959, “It’s got to be sweetness, man, you dig? Sweetness can be funky, filthy, or anything, but which part do you want?”*

As someone who has sought sweetness all his life, I delight in that statement. I don’t mean stickiness or sentimentality, but a gentle approach to the subject being considered, loving rather than aggressive or passive-aggressive.

I have met many people who are acquainted with jazz in an intellectual way, who value Miles and Trane as modernists influential as Kandinsky or Joyce, but who have missed or disdained the sweetness that can be so integral to the music.

For some of them, jazz is a mystery to be wary of.  It is intricate, cerebral, complex, a closed system with no way in for the lay person. This might spring from a sensibility that equates anger with authenticity.  Thus, they experience sweet warm music as banal, the faded dance music of oblivious grandparents shuffling around the floor, clinging to each other as the ship tilts dangerously.

“Ben Webster with strings? Oh, that’s beautiful saxophone playing, but does it challenge the listener? It’s too pretty for me!”

I warm to art that embraces me rather than one that says, “Sorry.  You are not educated enough or radical enough to appreciate this.”  Complexity is always intriguing but not as an aggressive rebuke to the listener.  Sweetness can elevate a music that creates a direct line from the creators’ hearts to the hearers’.

And sometimes the dearest and deepest art is a masquerade, where the artists act as if nothing particularly difficult is being created.  But consider Edmond Hall, Harry Carney, Tony Fruscella, Bobby Hackett, Frank Chace, or Benny Morton playing a melody, or the 1938 Basie rhythm section, or four quarter notes by Louis on YOU ARE MY LUCKY STAR.  To fully understand such gorgeous phenomena would take a lifetime, but at the same time the sounds are immediately accessible as beautiful.  This music woos the listener’s ears, brain, heart, and spirit.

Such sweetness, delicate intricacy, conviction, expertise, and deep feeling were all evident when Michael Kanan, piano; Neal Miner, string bass; Greg Ruggiero, guitar, took the stage at Mezzrow on March 23, 2015. Here are three more deep examples:

Michael’s ADORÉE, which he wrote for the late singer Jimmy Scott:

A brisk THE NEARNESS OF YOU:

Ellington’s wonderful THE MOOCHE:

(I thought this performance was especially delicious: in the ideal world, there would be the two-CD set of this trio performing Ellington and Strayhorn.)

Here is the first part of the beautiful music created that evening.

Lester would have loved to play with this trio. I felt his admiring spirit in the room.

*This quotation comes from THE LESTER YOUNG READER, ed. Lewis Porter (Smithsonian, 1991): 189.

May your happiness increase!

WITH ELEGANT TENDERNESS: MICHAEL KANAN, GREG RUGGIERO, NEAL MINER at MEZZROW, MARCH 23, 2015 (Part One)

Pianist Michael Kanan is one of my heroes, someone whose musical and aesthetic instincts I trust without question.  I met him through the most respected saxophonist Joel Press, and once I’d heard Michael play a chorus I knew I was in the presence of a deep yet light-hearted sensibility.  He can be eloquent and touching but he never sells emotion to an audience in capital letters; he is witty but never comedic, and he has perfect taste without being fussy.  Michael also is a splendid compass needle pointing to the finest players and singers.  So when I read some time back that Michael was leading a session at Mezzrow, I sent in my money and was there about ninety minutes before it began (listening to the splendid guitarist John Merrill) to be sure I’d get to sit in the proper place.

Michael brought with him Neal Miner, that peerless string bassist and composer, and someone new to me, the lyrical and sure-footed guitarist Greg Ruggiero. Here’s the first part of the music they made that evening: graceful yet deep, intensely melodic but never heavy-handed.  Some viewers might think, “What can you do in 2015 with two venerable standards and a blues?”  I will say only, “Observe and marvel.”

ON THE SUNNY SIDE OF THE STREET (which starts in another direction — and I could be content with the first chorus alone):

Neal Miner’s BLUES OKURA:

BODY AND SOUL:

It was an astonishing evening at Mezzrow, but so far I’ve had no other kind there.  I’ll be back there for sure on April 14th to hear Barbara Rosene and Ehud Asherie — another special night to come.

And I promise you more performances from the exalted Kanan – Miner – Ruggiero ensemble.

May your happiness increase!