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!