Tag Archives: guitar

MELLOWLY: THE ANDY BROWN QUARTET at STUDIO5 (February 23, 2018): ANDY BROWN, JEREMY KAHN, JOE POLICASTRO, PHIL GRATTEAU

Guitarist Andy Brown makes lovely music on his own, and he has great taste in musicians.  Here he is with stellar friends, live at Studio5 in Evanston, Illinois, on February 23, 2018. The video — just posted on YouTube — contains six extended performances from that night.

The players are Andy; Jeremy Kahn, piano; Joe Policastro, string bass; Phil Gratteau, drums.  And the songs are CHEESECAKE; GROOVEYARD; ESTAMOS AI, IDLE MOMENTS; ZING! WENT THE STRINGS OF MY HEART; RECEIPT PLEASE.

I don’t think that this performance needs any explication from me: it’s beautifully balanced, sophisticated swinging jazz, melodic and playful.

And, to give credit where it is due, this concert was part of the Live at Studio5 Jazz Series: http://www.steverashidpresents.com.  Visit Andy’s website here.  And if you missed the November 2017 delicately profound duo-recital of Jeremy and Andy, I urge you to see it here.

May your happiness increase!

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“PUCKER UP AND BLOW!”: DANCING MICE, A DUCK WITH A BOWTIE, AND ENDEARING SONG (1955)

The pianist and composer Kris Tokarski, someone I both respect and like, started a discussion on Facebook on March 31, asking the question,

Facebook Survey: In your opinion, what makes a jazz singer, a jazz singer? Musically speaking what qualities/skills must they have? Is there a difference between singers who just sing tunes from the Great American Songbook (not that there’s anything wrong with that) and a “jazz” singer? Go!

The responses were intriguing — and although I find such questions ultimately not terribly “useful” as more than an excuse to air our deeply-held personal tastes, I couldn’t resist entering in. It gave me an excuse to utter the sacred name of Lee Wiley, for one thing.  But I soon retired and left the field to more eager debaters.

But Facebook — which can be terribly irritating and an unsubtle call to our worst instincts — is also a wondrous playground. The jazz scholar Steve Zalusky found and posted this kinescope of Cliff Edwards singing and playing GIVE A LITTLE WHISTLE on the Mickey Mouse Club television show — in the Cliff Edwards Ukulele Ike Facebook group, and I love it.  A few cautionary remarks.  If you hate all things Disney, try to calm down for a few minutes, since a half-dozen of the songs from the early films are true classics. Aside from SOMEDAY MY PRINCE WILL COME (ideologically charged, I know, but such a beautiful melody) there’s WITH A SMILE AND A SONG (which Rebecca Kilgore has recorded memorably, for all time) and this one.

The description of this performance is:

“Cliff Edwards appearing on the Mickey Mouse Club Nov 15, 1955. Edwards is 60 here. He sings and plays tenor ukulele. With Clarence ‘Donald Duck’ Nash doing baby noises and Jose Oliveira (next to Cliff) playing guitar and keeping it jazzy. And the Mouseketeers!! See more of Jose Oliveria here:
http://youtu.be/7cIZdPkvyHs.”

And the performance itself:

This makes me perilously happy.  And I think it is both superb jazz singing, hilarious theatre, and ineradicable art.  If you think it is none of the above, I will still love you, but I don’t want to hear about it.

I wish all the parents and grandparents and uncles and aunts that I know would start playing this video for the Young Talent — think of a generation that 1) knows how to sing GIVE A LITTLE WHISTLE, 2) subliminally absorbs the message that to think of others is a good thing, 3) perhaps begins to play the ukulele, 4) begins to speak like Donald Duck or do what Edwards called “eefin'” — his own brand of weird scat-singing.  We could transform the cosmos.

May your happiness increase!

HAPPY BUCKY, BIRTHDAY! (with ED METZ, ALLAN VACHE, JOHN COCUZZI, PAUL KELLER at the ATLANTA JAZZ PARTY, April 26, 2014)

Bucky Pizzarelli was born on January 9, 1926.  Ordinarily I don’t devote JAZZ LIVES to birthday celebrations — but it seems right to celebrate Bucky at 89.

I have experienced the several sides of Mr. Pizzarelli: the man who likes to play tender unaccompanied ballads; the great duet player who summons up a whole guitar tradition from its Italian roots to Dick McDonough, Charlie Christian, and his once-partner George Barnes; the swinging rhythm wizard . . . and the showman who is not happy until the audience is standing and hollering.  It is this last Bucky (a beloved and infallible rabble-rouser) that I celebrate here, with a version of SING SING SING recorded at the 2014 Atlanta Jazz Party, with the help of Ed Metz, drums; Paul Keller, string bass; Allan Vache, clarinet; John Cocuzzi, vibraphone:

Bucky played often with Benny Goodman, so he knows the routine.  I might also mention Gene Krupa (celebrated by Mr. Metz) and the much-missed Jess Stacy and Harry James.  But Bucky directs traffic — and we are all glad. Thank you for being so entertaining and so durable.  Bucky won’t see this blog . . . but he knows he’s well and truly loved.

May your happiness increase! 

MASTERS OF MELODY: MUNDELL LOWE, BUCKY PIZZARELLI, DAVE STONE, ED METZ at the SAN DIEGO JAZZ PARTY (February 23, 2014)

My visit to the San Diego Jazz Party (February 21-23 of this year) was a real pleasure: good music proliferated in comfortable surroundings among very nice people.

But a special delight was seeing guitarist Mundell Lowe in action: melodic, gentle, compelling without raising his volume or playing one superfluous note.

And his graceful playing belies his birthdate: April 21, 1922, which means he was two months shy of 92 when these videos were done.  Ponder that.  Music keeps him young. And listening to Mundell will surely have the same salutary effect on us.

After these performances, Party founder Dave Cooper presented Mundell with the SDJP Jazz Legend award; it seemed to all of us that Mundell had generously awarded all of us the gift of unforgettable yet unpretentious music.

In this he had some masterful assistance and comradeship: Bucky Pizzarelli, Dave Stone, and Ed Metz — superb embodiments of swinging melodic improvisation.

WHAT AM I HERE FOR?:

A NIGHTINGALE SANG IN BERKELEY SQUARE:

PUT YOUR DREAMS AWAY:

I’LL NEVER BE THE SAME:

LESTER LEAPS IN:

Please notice: the love of melody, of sweet sound, of floating medium tempo, of taking-your-time ballad playing.  These players know how to tell unforgettable stories in one solo chorus.  Masterful and memorable.

The 2015 Party will take place at the Hilton San Diego / Del Mar in Del Mar, California, on the weekend of February 20-22, 2015.  Details here.

May your happiness increase!

AN ALTERNATE UNIVERSE OF BEAUTY: CRAIG VENTRESCO at CAFE DIVINE (JULY 30, 2014)

If creativity received appropriate recognition, guitarist and musical scholar Craig Ventresco would have received a MacArthur genius grant for his work in American vernacular musics by now.

He isn’t as well known as he should be, but the people who know him value him for his singular devotion to art that would otherwise be lost, forgotten, discarded.

Craig doesn’t simply dream of vanished worlds, nor does he simply amass evidence of them. He brings them to life, playing rags, blues, stomps, hymns, marches, tangos, a slow drag or two — the melodic and rhythmic life force of an America gone by. You might find Craig in some small San Francisco eatery or more ambitious restaurant, making his way through the lovely popular music of a hundred years ago — often to people who wouldn’t know Will Marion Cook from William H. Tyers — but when the listeners pay attention, they are moved by the “old music” that sounds so good. (Sometimes he is joined by singer / guitarist Meredith Axelrod, who operates on the same principles.)

Here, Craig plays his own variations on James P. Johnson’s OLD-FASHIONED LOVE:

And a ragtime slow drag (circa 1901-3) called PEACEFUL HENRY:

These selections were recorded at Cafe Divine (1600 Stockton Street, North Beach, San Framcisco) on July 30, 2014, and they only hint at what Craig offers us so consistently with so little fanfare.

Thank you, Craig.

PEACEFUL HENRY

 May your happiness increase!

FROM SPIRITUAL TO SWING: THE IVORY CLUB BOYS at ARMANDO’S (May 31, 2014): “NOBODY KNOWS THE TROUBLE I’VE SEEN,” Take One: PAUL MEHLING, EVAN PRICE, MARC CAPARONE, SAM ROCHA, ISABELLE FONTAINE

Hot music straight from their hearts: NOBODY KNOWS THE TROUBLE I’VE SEEN, as performed by the IVORY CLUB BOYS, Paul Mehling’s evocation of Stuff Smith’s delicious swing on Fifty-Second Street circa 1946-45. They are, for this hot concert, Paul, guitar; Evan Price, violin; Marc Caparone, cornet (subbing for Clint Baker); Sam Rocha, string bass; Isabelle Fontaine, guitar. This was recorded on May 31, 2014, at Armando’s in Martinez, California.  I was behind the camera, so you can’t see how much I was and am grinning. emotionally deep but very light-hearted improvisations, the work of swing masters:

Oh, and for those in the know . . . that was the soundcheck.  Draw your own conclusions about how wonderful this band is.

Here is the first posting — a riotous BUGLE CALL RAG from that same session. More to come, thank goodness. And the IVORY CLUB BOYS (with Clint on trumpet) will be appearing at Yoshi’s in Oakland on August 19.  Make a note of that, please.

May your happiness increase!

MAKING MELODIES RING: MUNDELL LOWE / BUCKY PIZZARELLI: GUITAR DUETS at the SAN DIEGO JAZZ PARTY (February 22, 2014)

The title says it all.  I am honored to have been there and to have captured these performances.  Mundell Lowe and Bucky Pizzarelli are masters, having a heartfelt conversation about all the important matters in the universe: love, light and dark, cosmic rhythms, melodies that sound like birdsong, all in front of us. We celebrate their endurance, but more than that we celebrate their art.

If you need official information about Mundell, here is his website; Bucky is moving too quickly to care about such things, so we must make do with Wikipedia.

Recorded at the 26th annual San Diego Jazz Party, on February 22, 2014.  On that day, Mundell was 91, Bucky 88.

JITTERBUG WALTZ (the crowd quiets down after a bit):

EMILY:

BODY AND SOUL:

STUFFY:

DARN THAT DREAM:

How often will any of us be in the presence of such Sages?

May your happiness increase!