Tag Archives: Gully Low Jazz Band

THE LOUIS ARMSTRONG ETERNITY BAND at BIRDLAND (Dec. 11, 2013) PART ONE

David Ostwald takes Louis Armstrong very seriously — not only as a philosophical model, but as a musical beacon.  That’s why he’s created and led a small hot jazz group devoted to Louis and the music he loved — now called the Louis Armstrong Eternity Band — that has had a regular Wednesday gig at Birdland for fourteen years.

But sometimes honoring Louis takes David off the bandstand.  On December 11, he stopped in at Birdland to say hello to everyone before heading to the Louis Armstrong House Museum gala which was honoring Quincy Jones and Dan Morgenstern.  But David wanted to make sure that the music at Birdland would be right on target, so he asked his friend and ours, Brian Nalepka, to lead the band.

Brian brought his string bass and sang on a few songs, and had the best assistance from Danny Tobias, cornet; Tom Artin, trombone; Pete Martinez, clarinet; Vinny Raniolo, banjo; Kevin Dorn, drums. Here’s the first half of that delightful concert for Louis.

SLEEPY TIME DOWN SOUTH / INDIANA:

OH, DIDN’T HE RAMBLE:

STAR DUST:

HONEYSUCKLE ROSE:

BODY AND SOUL (featuring Pete Martinez, King of Tones):

I CAN’T BELIEVE THAT YOU’RE IN LOVE WITH ME:

Many first-class songs associated with that Armstrong fellow, and what a band!

May your happiness increase!

GOOD OLD NEW YORK: BOB WILBER AT BIRDLAND (September 1, 2010)

One of the more reassuring aspects of the New York jazz scene is that a few steady gigs remain — the Sunday and Monday night hoedowns at Arthur’s Tavern on Grove Street; the EarRegulars at The Ear Inn on Sundays; Vince Giordano and the Nighthawks (now on Monday and Tuesday) downstairs in the Hotel Edison.  And this year David Ostwald’s Louis Armstrong Centennial Band (or Gully Low Jazz Band) began its second decade of early-evening sessions at Birdland — Wednesday from 5:30 to 7:15.

Last Wednesday the Beloved and I took our accustomed table and I prepared to record the festivities.  And festive they were for sure, with David on tuba and patter; Marion Felder on drums; Ehud Asherie on piano; Harvey Tibbs on trombone; Jon-Erik Kellso on trumpet, and special guest Bob Wilber on two sopranos, straight and curved, and clarinet (in sequence, not at once).  And David even arranged for the two singers in the audience — Daryl Sherman and Pug Horton (Mrs. Wilber) to come up and do a Louis-themed duet.

In his own way, Wilber is the last of a great breed — whether you think of him as Bechet’s curly-haired boyish protege, half of Soprano Summit / Summit Reunion, or in his many other roles — someone who’s been playing his heart out for over six decades.  And the LACB was delighted to have him on the stand and inspired by his presence: Jon-Erik and Harvey played majestically and with slippery grace; Ehud was as nimble as ever; David provided his own special propulsion, and Marion once again taught us all how to swing on the often-ignored snare drum (no monotonous ride cymbal for Maestro Felder).  Here’s what the festivities sounded like:

The opening, seguing from WHEN IT’S SLEEPY TIME DOWN SOUTH into INDIANA, was the start of Louis’s concert appearances with the All-Stars for a long time:

Then, a moody classic Louis recorded in 1931 (playing the Reverend in front of his Chicago band full of New Orleans homeboys), THE LONESOME ROAD:

And an experiment — a Hot Five song that the LACB hadn’t tried before, one of the lesser-known recordings, WHO’S IT (or I’ve also seen it typed as WHO’SIT) which the band not only handled beautifully but made swing out in a long, leisurely rock:

A lovely feature for Wilber, Hoagy Carmichael’s ROCKIN’ CHAIR (which summons up not only Louis but also Jack Teagarden, Bix Beiderbecke, and Mildred Bailey):

I don’t think I’M A DING DONG DADDY (by Phil Baxter) would have had its fame — spreading to the Benny Goodman small groups by way of Lionel Hampton, who appeared on Louis’s original recording — had it not been for Louis, even with the wonderful tongue-twisting lyrics:

And another romper — CHINATOWN, MY CHINATOWN (all hail Lips Page, too!):

Because the Birdland audience held not one but two singers — Daryl Sherman and Pug Horton (Mrs. Wilber) — David decided to call them both up (a first!) and they essayed a loose, friendly version of JEEPERS CREEPERS, which (as you know) Louis originally sang to a horse of the same name in the film GOIN’ PLACES:

And the session closed, as it always does, with a rousing SWING THAT MUSIC:

Thanks to all the musicians (and singers) in the house for the good sounds!

JIM FRYER AND FRIENDS, SWEETLY (June 2, 2010)

I was at Birdland last Wednesday, listening to David Ostwald’s Louis Armstrong Centennial Band.  The LACB always attracts first-rank players, but this edition was remarkable because it was an All-Star All-Leader Band (with none of the expected tensions): David on tuba and vaudeville commentaries; Vince Giordano on banjo, vocal, and guitar; Jon-Erik Kellso on trumpet; Dan Block on clarinet and alto sax; Jim Fryer on trombone and vocals. 

Although it has nothing to do with his musical virtues, Jim might be the least-celebrated of this group, although I’ve admired his playing since I first heard him a few years ago — perhaps as a member of the Nighthawks and certainly as someone sharing the stage with Bria Skonberg at one of Bill Taggart’s informal jazz gatherings.  He is a modest player but an exuberant player, taking risks when appropriate, never coasting.  I’ve also known him as a fine understated singer — but I’ve never heard him sing as wonderfully as he did last Wednesday.

As much as he enjoys playing the music and talking about Louis Armstrong, David Ostwald loves to connect with the people in the audience.  Occasionally it takes the form of comedy, as when he earnestly implores those of us who are driving to be sure we have a car, but sometimes it’s much more personal and endearing.  At the end of the first set, David noticed that there were a number of well-dressed women of varying ages in the front row; he chatted with them and found that they were at Birdland to celebrate someone’s birthday — which turned out to be the nicely coiffed Lorraine . . . someone obviously surrounded by love from the other women in her party. 

Because the LACB draws much of its repertoire from music that Louis played and recorded, SWEET LORRAINE was a natural choice — something the great man recorded in the Fifties on Verve with Oscar Peterson.  So the band launched into a sweet, slow version, but no one had yet chosen to take the vocal.  Vince had sung a few numbers before this with great style, but no vocal was announced . . . until Jim took the microphone to deliver the refrain in the most tenderly endearing manner:

Lorraine, sitting right in front of me, was delighted. 

And I, watching this performance again, find it full of human moments: the pleasure of Dan Block’s chalumeau register; Jon-Erik’s steady, winding phrases (and how unflappable he is while a good deal of microphone-hunting is going on behind him); Vince, making jokes as he plays; the pulse of the rhythm section, and Jon-Erik’s quiet Muggsy Spanier ending.  Masterful all around!

Sometimes bad things pile on: this was a rare night when one outpouring of affection succeeded another.  Vince Giordano came over to Lorraine at the end of the night (he is ever hopeful of garnering some fascinating piece of first-hand experience from someone who saw and heard his heroes) but Lorraine didn’t recall the names of bands; she didn’t have Victor Home Recording discs in her attic; she did, however, tell Vince that she was an avid fox-trotter, which pleased him.

Then David Ostwald brought himself and his tuba over and tenderly chatted with Lorraine . . . and said, “I’m going to play something for you.”  He proceeded to play a tender, legato, singing version of HAPPY BIRTHDAY — sweet and slow — on the tuba, ending with a Louis-flourish.  He sang through that brass tubing as if it were a cello — a very moving experience!  I was sitting there, possibly with my mouth open, too struck by what was going on (it seemed private) to record it for YouTube, so you will have to imagine it.

When I caught up with Jim later, to tell him how much this particular performance moved me, he reminded me that one of his and his wife Rosita’s daughters is named Lorraine — a choice the prospective parents made after hearing Doc Cheatham sing the song with unaffected grace on Sunday brunches at Sweet Basil.  It pleases me immensely to be able to offer this lyrical moment for the Lorraine in the audience, Lorraine Fryer, and all the people out there who answer to other names. 

What is all this?  Love in the shape of music.

FOR LOUIS: BIRDLAND, April 14, 2010

It’s very simple.  For just about ten years, David Ostwald (tubaist-raconteur) has organized regular Wednesday jazz sessions at Birdland in midtown Manhattan, getting congenial friends together to honor Louis Armstrong.  Depending on the phase of the moon, the band is called either the GULLY LOW JAZZ BAND or the LOUIS ARMSTRONG CENTENNIAL BAND.  Names don’t matter much — GULLY LOW BLUES was one of Louis’s most stirring recordings of 1927, and the CENTENNIAL BAND plays music associated with The Master.

David could not be there this night — April 14, 2010 — and it took two players to replace him.  One was Vince Giordano, singing, announcing tunes, and playing banjo, keeping the rhythm riding.  Bass chores were handled nimbly by Brian Nalepka, who slapped away in fine style and also sang on SUNNY SIDE OF THE STREET.  That hero of the snare drum, Marion Felder, kept a swinging pulse without raising his volume.  In the front line, a newcomer to Birdland (but not to us), clarinetist Dennis Lichtman wove beautiful curlicues around the melody, making every note count.  Dion Tucker, sometimes gruff, sometimes tender, shone in solo and in ensemble.  And Gordon Au constructed lovely solos whether the band was lamenting or shouting. 

(I only found out something about Gordon’s heroic ancestry — and that’s because the Beloved asked the right question: did you know that his “Uncle Howie” is the extraordinary trumpet / tuba / trombone / vocalist Howard Miyata, with the High Sierra Jazz Band and the New El Dorado Jazz Band?  Gordon didn’t take lessons from his uncle, but Howard did give his young nephew a cornet . . . from which marvels have come.)

The band began, as it usually does, with WHEN IT’S SLEEPY TIME DOWN SOUTH that segues into INDIANA, the way Louis used to begin his concerts with the All-Stars:

Then Vince called the joyous Fats Waller tune, I’M CRAZY ‘BOUT MY BABY (something Louis sang and played so beautifully in the Fifties).  And Vince sang, exuberantly:

ON THE SUNNY SIDE OF THE STREET, a classic at a number of tempos, was Brian Nalepka’s choice for a vocal feature:

(For his feature, Dion Tucker did a sorrowing I SURRENDER, DEAR, but I had technical problems with the video — the sweet-natured waitperson came over in the middle of it to ask us culinary questions.  Sorry, Dion!)

Returning to the Land of Waller, Vince called for a brisk AIN’T MISBEHAVIN’ — at a tempo that reminded him of the 1929 version that Bill Robinson recorded with a small Ellington contingent:

Dennis Lichtman showed his fluid swing on BLUE SKIES (fitting because Louis loved Irving Berlin’s melodies and, I think, recorded this one circa 1943 with his big band):

An audience member (was it Steve?) called out HELLO, DOLLY! when Vince asked for requests:

The second set began with a rocking CHINATOWN, MY CHINATOWN:

Vince reminded us that Louis’s recordings of WHEN YOU’RE SMILING are slow and spacious, frankly operatic:

And — for a closing rouser — the band launched into AFTER YOU’VE GONE:

All for you, Louis!

“OH, PLAY THOSE THINGS!” (April 7, 2010)

The Beloved and I haven’t been to Birdland for the early-evening Wednesday gig of David Ostwald’s GULLY LOW JAZZ BAND (a/k/a LOUIS ARMSTRONG CENTENNIAL BAND) for some time.  The music we heard there tonight convinced me that we — and everyone else — should show up far more often. 

For those of you who don’t know the place or the circumstances, Birdland is on 44th Street in New York City between Eighth and Ninth Avenue, and David’s band will be celebrating its tenth anniversay there this May — a remarkable achievement in these times or in any times.  Speaking of times, the band plays two sets — from 5:30 to 7:15 — convenient for an early dinner or a pre-theatre visit.  The cover is $10 / person — less than a movie!

This edition of the GLJB was made up almost entirely of leaders, but it was delightful, rather than a disharmonious ego-scuffle.  Here are four highlights in an evening devoted to the music of Louis, early and late.  In addition to David, the band featured Marion Felder on drums (swinging his snare drum in a manner that suggested New Orleans street parades as well as Baby Dodds and Zutty Singleton), Vince Giordano on banjo, vocals, and two spots on piano; Gordon Au on trumpet, characteristically eloquent; Jim Fryer on trombone and vocals, playing masterfully; Dan Block, fervent as always on clarinet and tenor sax. 

First, a tender, earnest, and swinging version of I CAN’T GIVE YOU ANYTHING BUT LOVE, sweetly sung by Vince.  After the first set, he spoke disparagingly of his singing, which I flatly refused to countenance: it’s the heartfelt, casual style so prevalent in the Thirties, and so appropriate:

Then, a chugging BEALE STREET BLUES which owed just as much to a 1953 Eddie Condon session as to Louis’s performance, slightly later.  A highlight for me (and the other people at Birdland) was the entirely unexpected scat battle between Vince and Jim — priceless fun:

Then it was time for beauty — IN MY SOLITUDE.  How many people recall Louis’s lovely 1935 Decca recording, with vocal?  This performance, although instrumental, is entirely in the right spirit — both hushed and emotionally forthright:

Finally, a romp through DIPPER MOUTH BLUES . . . from which I take my title:

There were distinguished guests in the audience, too: broadcaster and writer Lloyd Moss, trumpeter Charlie Caranicas, acupuncturist Marcia Salter.  See you there some Wednesday!  Worth every penny!

TWO SHADES OF “BLUE”

Jazz is full of songs that have BLUE in the title that aren’t actually blues, whether 8, 12, or 16 bars.  And the EarRegulars played two of the nicest ones last Sunday night, December 6, 2009, at The Ear Inn (that’s 326 Spring Street, New York City).

For that night, the EarRegulars were anchored by their co-founders, Jon-Erik Kellso and Matt Munisteri.  The other members of the quartet were trombonist Harvey Tibbs and bassist (often vocalist) Nicki Parrott.

Harvey Tibbs is a quiet, jovial person — not someone looking for his moment in the spotlight, so he hasn’t received as much recognition as his talent deserves.  It’s a real pity: although I’ve heard him play with the Gully Low Jazz Band and with Vince Giordano’s Nighthawks in person, and with Buck Clayton’s Swing Legacy Band on CD, I’ve never heard him lead an ensemble for a gig.  He knows a wide variety of music and would fit in anywhere.  His style is low-key but effective: his technique never outruns his feeling, and he fits his playing into the song, rather than the reverse.  Officially, he was Sergeant First Class with the West Point Jazz Knights for 22 years, and he continues to pop up in a variety of settings (from “swing dance” bands to “Dixieland” and “Latin” bands and the pit orchestras of Broadway shows.  Listen closely to what he plays on these two selections: his fellow musicians know just how fine a player he is. 

Nicki Parrott is such an ebullient personality on the stand — singing or not — that audiences have been seriously distracted from her fine bass playing, which has continued to develop as she plays alongside different musicians in a variety of settings.  At the Ear (as well as at Chautauqua), I admired Nicki’s steady time, her thoughtful, melodic phrasing (she knows how to take a breath!) and her innate swing. 

Jon-Erik and Matt were themselves . . . nothing more needs to be said!

My videos include the back of a pretty grey-haired woman’s head.  I didn’t ask her to move, because she is Jon-Erik’s sweetly amiable Aunt Debby, whose presence added to the video rather than detracted from it.

The first “blues” was the Twenties novelty tune, BLUES (MY NAUGHTY SWEETIE GIVES TO ME), made famous in a jazz context by Jimmy Noone and his Apex Club Orchestra, although I am sure it was a hit in vaudeville as well.  Here it’s taken at a vigorous Condon-in-the Fifties tempo:

The quartet also ventured into Benny Carter’s pretty, moody BLUES IN MY HEART, which dates from 1931 but still sounds so fresh:

These compositions are not official “blues,” but are unmistakably rewarding jazz. 

“HAPPY BIRDLAND TO YOU!” (MAY 6, 2009)

The Beloved and I went to Birdland last night, video camera and tripod at the ready, to celebrate.  Not an occasion of our own, but to raise our glasses and cheer a long run that shows no sign of abating.  It’s the Wednesday night gig of David Ostwald’s Louis Armstrong Centennial Band (a/k/a/ the Gully Low Jazz Band) — which celebrated its ninth anniversary.  As David correctly pointed out, a two-week gig in jazz is a rare thing.  So for the LACB to be on the stand for approximately four hundred and fifty Wednesdays in a row is testimony to their endurance, the love they generate in their audiences, and the lasting appeal of the music they play and the exuberant way they play it.  It also says something about the enduring appeal of the man whose music they celebrate, but that should be obvious to everyone by now.

This Wednesday’s gig wasn’t a riotous affair.  True, a tidy little cake with one candle appeared during the second set, but the general atmosphere was superficially quiet.  But that’s a good thing in a jazz club when it is the attentiveness of a great band (musicians who listen to each other!) focused on their material and the quiet of a happy, perceptive audience, listening closely — people sitting straight in their chairs, grinning, tapping their feet, applauding in the right places.  A hip band, a hip crowd.  Just how hip was the crowd?  How about George Avakian, Daryl Sherman, Dan Morgenstern, Lloyd Moss, the Beloved, and myself.

The band was a first-class version of David’s floating ensembles: Jon-Erik Kellso on trumpet; Vincent Gardner on trombone and vocal; Anat Cohen on clarinet; Mark Shane on piano; David Ostwald on tuba and commentary; Kevin Dorn, “young Kevin,” on drums.  Here’s some of what they played — for those of you beyond midtown.

About the music: they began this Wednesday as they always have, in tribute to the Louis Armstrong All-Stars of blessed memory, with a nostalgic WHEN IT’S SLEEPY TIME DOWN that segued, after Kevin kicked it off, into a rousing BACK HOME AGAIN IN INDIANA.  (For wise commentary on Louis and the All-Stars, be sure to visit Ricky Riccardi’s site, “The Wonderful World of Louis Armstrong,” and save your dimes (get some cash for your trash!) for his book on Louis’s later years, to be published in 2010 by Pantheon.

ROYAL GARDEN BLUES is a song that has been flattened down somewhat by formulaic playing by many jazz bands of varying quality, but it was first a tribute to the place where Louis and King Oliver amazed everyone, so it has to be taken seriously.  And Bix Beiderbecke and his Gang did a pretty good version of it as well.  (So did Count Basie and the Benny Goodman Sextet, so the song — and its routines — are durable for sure.)

Don Redman’s pretty rhythm ballad, SAVE IT PRETTY MAMA, was recorded twice by Louis — in 1928 with his Hot Five, and in 1947 at Town Hall.  In these days of economic uncertainty, saving whatever “it” might be seems like a good idea, and Vincent Gardner sings the simple lyrics with conviction and a bit of amusement.

W.C. Handy’s compositions drew on traditional folk and blues forms, and ATLANTA BLUES is one of his most lively, also memorably recorded by Louis in his 1954 Columbia tribute, a recording produced by the venerable and venerated Mr. Avakian.

I don’t think Louis ever recorded SOMEDAY, SWEETHEART but it’s certainly a lasting tune.  Here, the spotlight falls on a quartet: Anat, Mark, David, and Kevin, at points summoning up the happiness that was the Benny Goodman Trio.  Or Mildred Bailey’s recording with Teddy Wilson.  (Mark knew the verse and played it splendidly.)

Finally, a delightful surprise: the Wednesday manager of Birdland, Brian Villegas, is also a fine singer: he joined the band on IT’S ALL RIGHT WITH ME — and it was more than all right with us.  Wishing you fame and happiness, Brian!

If you couldn’t make it to Birdland last night to join in the festivities, you missed something dee-licious, as Louis would say.  But some of the same hot jazz and good energy will be there next Wednesday from 5:30 – 7:15, and the Wednesdays into the future.  I’m sure David will accept belated felicitations with his usual graciousness.

MORE BIRDLAND BLISS (March 4, 2009)

The heroes return: David Ostwald (tuba), Jon-Erik Kellso (trumpet), Dion Tucker (trombone), Anat Cohen (clarinet), Mark Shane (piano), Kevin Dorn (drums) for “one up, one down.”

The “one up” is I CAN’T BELIEVE THAT YOU’RE IN LOVE WITH ME, one of those Thirties songs that can find its own identity at a variety of tempos, from ballad slow to this cheerful rock.  I like the Kellso-inspired riffs behind Anat’s solo, Mark’s playing behind the soloists, Dion’s modern guttiness, another Braffish riff, Kevin’s brushwork, and Mark’s energetic delicacy — catch what he does in the bridge of his first chorus.  Something for everyone!

A highlight of the evening was David’s calling MAYBE YOU’LL BE THERE (written, I think, by Charles LaVere) — a wistful, lonely ballad immortalized first by Jack Teagarden with the Armstrong All-Stars, later by Frank Sinatra.  It it not only a lovely song, but a wonderful performance — a true example of jazz heroism for Dion, who was not terribly familiar with its contours, but played it beautifully with one eye on the lead sheet.  In fact, Jon-Erik, Dion, and Mark do that most rewarding thing — summoning up the great forefathers Louis, Jack, and Teddy — without copying a note or a gesture.  Three cheers!

And more to come!  We expect to be at Birdland on March 18th to celebrate George Avakian’s ninetieth birthday.  You come, too . . . !

LOUIS ARMSTRONG CENTENNIAL BAND, MARCH 4, 2009

What do you get when you put David Ostwald, Jon-Erik Kellso, Dion Tucker, Anat Cohen, Mark Shane, and Kevin Dorn — with their respective instruments — in front of an appreciative audience?  You get hot, heartfelt jazz.  And it happened in front of my very eyes and ears at Birdland last Wednesday night — the Louis Armstrong Centennial Band’s regular gig.

David, who plays tuba, leads the band, and offers vaudeville commentary, is deeply devoted to Louis.  But he understands that repertory recreation is not the way.  So he will call songs that Louis played without insisting that his star musicians copy the recorded performances, and this freedom is ennobling.

The band characteristically begins its early evening gigs with Louis’s theme, SLEEPY TIME DOWN SOUTH — which (after a drum break) becomes BACK HOME AGAIN IN INDIANA.  What wistful domestic thoughts were going through David’s head last Wednesday night I can’t know, but they had a wonderful result, as he called one of my favorite songs, HOME, subtitled “When Shadows Fall.”  And the band seemed just as inspired.  Catch Jon-Erik’s passion-barely-under-control upward emoting at the end of the ensemble chorus, before Mark explores the lovely possibilities of this song in his best thoughtful, ambling way — out of Teddy and Fats (singing quietly to himself) with Kevin’s padding brushwork behind it all.  Brief solos by Dion (gruff and feeling) and Anat (exploring the clarinet’s chalumeau register) give way to Jon-Erik’s solo, embodying everything Louis did without ever moving from his own creative sense.  Discographical digression: Louis recorded it for the first time in 1931, with his introduction a quote from “Home Sweet Home,” and then revisited the song with Russ Garcia in the middle Fifties for one of his most moving sessions, LOUIS UNDER THE STARS.  The other version that is firmly implanted in loving memory is on the Keynote label, 1944, featuring George Wettling and his New Yorkers — with devastating playing and singing from Jack Teagarden, Coleman Hawkins, and the Blessed Joe Thomas.  But here it is in 2009:

Mark Shane’s solo feature, a happy romp through that old nonsense ditty, JADA, showed off what he does so well.  Not only has the the technical capacity to seamlessly recreate the ambiance of Fats and Teddy, but he has so intuited their playing that he sounds like himself rather than someone offering gestures learned from the records.  A good deal of this comes from Mark’s deep listening — we were talking about early Miles Davis before the set began–that goes far and wide.  He’s heard and thought about all the great jazz players, and they smile on his playing.

Finally, for this post, we have MELANCHOLY (or MELANCHOLY BLUES), a song Louis recorded twice in 1927.  It has the same chords as I AIN’T GOT NOBODY, and here the mood vacillates between sorrow, resignation, and some impassioned frustration — especially in the playing of Jon-Erik and Dion.  But you should also listen to and admire the band’s rocking cohesiveness. 

More to come in a future post . . . . so there will be no reason for anyone to be melancholy or Melancholy.  Trust me. 

Sharp-eyed viewers may note that the video quality is different from those occasions when Flip was in charge.  Flip didn’t accompany me on this gig, his place having been taken by a more elaborate Sony camcorder, whose intricacies I am still mastering (exposure and the like).  But Flip will be back when the occasion suits him, I assure my tender-hearted readers who might be anxious about his fate and well-being.

WARMED BY JAZZ

fireside20chatAlthough live jazz gives me more spiritual and emotional pleasure than I can say here, I admit to being hard to please.  Maybe it’s because I have heard so much transcendent music on records (from James P. in 1921 to the newest releases) and in person.  My memory is inconsistent, but I have lasting,sharp recollections of club dates.  The night at Condon’s where Ruby Braff kicked off “I Would Do Most Anything For You” at a wickedly fast tempo and drove the band across the finish line by simple stubborness.  When Benny Morton played the melody of “When You’re Smiling” two feet from my ear.   

So the bar (to use one of a dozen cliches) is set quite high, perhaps impossibly so.  And I am often discontented by my surroundings.  When I’m at a club, I wish the people around me would sit down and be still; when I’m at a concert, I long for the freedom musicians have to take chances and make mistakes they don’t always find while playing in a large hall. 

But something interesting happens — neurological or psychlogical or just idiosyncratic.  When I’m listening to jazz in performance, if I’m not transfixed, critical thoughts pop unbidden into my head.  I don’t invite them and wish they would go away and lie down.  All of these thoughts might seem unfair, of course, coming from someone who still aims for sub-amateur status on any of half-a-dozen instruments.  But I think, “That player has so much technique: when is he going to sing us a song?  Too many notes!”  “You — why don’t you lay out so we can hear what X is playing?”  Or “That tempo is too slow.” 

I don’t say these things aloud — I hope for a long lifespan — but the Beloved has had to put up with a good deal of sotto voce grumbling.  However, here’s the redeeming part I myself don’t understand: give me twelve hours, and the flaws, if they’re not mountainous, fade away.  Emotion recollected in tranquility, perhaps?  But the music takes on a golden sheen, and I think how fortunate I was to have been there. 

Last night was a special occasion: another of Jack Kleinsinger’s “Highlights in Jazz” concerts — celebrating his thirty-sixth anniversary! — held at the congenial Tribeca Arts Center (a pleasant hall in the Borough of Manhattan Community College). 

This, for faithful blog-readers, is the concert that Phil the groundhog was so insistent about.  I’m going to take him a jar of Trader Joe’s almond butter next time I visit him in Pennsylvania, to say thanks.

Jack was energetic, enthusiastic, and loquacious as ever — but all these are good things.  It’s a delight to see someone so genuinely animated by the music he is presenting, and jazz is sadly lacking in such commitment these days.  He told us that next year might be his final season — mournful news — unless more funding comes through.  Are there any wealthy jazz angels out there?  I’ll give you Jack’s phone number.

The first half of the concert was given over to David Ostwald’s Birdland band, augmented by pianist Mark Shane — Jon-Erik Kellso on cornet, Wycliffe Gordon on trombone and vocals, Anat Cohen on clarinet, Howard Alden on banjo, Kevin Dorn on drums, and David on tuba.  LIMEHOUSE BLUES started the good works with some Krupa-flavored tom tom work from Kevin that got us sitting forward expectantly before anyone else had sounded a note.  And this hot version was subtly shaped by a one-chorus duet between Jon-Erik and Mark, perhaps recalling Louis and Earl or Ruby and Dick Hyman.  LONESOME ROAD had a lovely Shane solo and some extraordinary broad-toned playing from Wycliffe, who (for sheer abandon) must be the most accomplished trombonist on the planet.  A rocking YOU’RE DRIVING ME CRAZY (which David dedicated, with a grin, to the concert’s producer) began with the verse — a boon! — and Kellso pulled off a floating Louis bridge, a great suspended arch in the sky, during his second chorus.  (In the middle, there was a fascinating duet for clarinet and piano, one set of lines weaving around the other.)  Since young players don’t get tired, Anat stayed onstage with the rhythm section for a gallop through Morton’s SHREVEPORT STOMP which showed how she and Howard could improvise, conversationally and contrapuntally, at top speed.  For his feature, Wycliffe chose something so familiar that it’s rarely played as itself — I GOT RHYTHM, which gave him an opportunity to sing, something he does with great charm.  During his three vocal choruses, he made his way by great leaps from a respectful reading of the lyrics to great Leo Watson figures.  He stayed at the vocal microphone (with a sheet of lyrics helpfully provided by David) for a brooding WHEN YOUR LOVER HAS GONE, which began and ended with touching four-bar miniatures by Shane and had an interval of moody growling obbligato by Jon-Erik.  They closed the first half with a romp through ATLANTA BLUES (also known as “Make Me A Pallet On Your Floor”) — with a hilariously intent solo by Kevin.

That would have been enough for almost anyone — but the second half provided other delights.  One of them was the presence of Dick Hyman, now 82 or thereabouts, up from Florida, his virtuosity undiminished.  He performed two standards — BODY AND SOUL and IF I COULD BE WITH YOU ONE HOUR TONIGHT (the latter with its pretty verse), showing how fertile his imagination is, how unbounded his energy.  Tatum, Bach, and McKenna, fugues and waltzes all put in appearances, but the result — sprawling and ingenious — was recognizable at every turn as pure Hyman.  In between, he paid tribute to the young man from Davenport with his original THINKING ABOUT BIX.  During his solo set, I became aware that the hall and the listeners were so quiet that the loud sound of Hyman’s tapping foot reverberated throughout the room.  Fats Waller got his nod with AFRICAN RIPPLES — a choice that made the gentleman next to me say happily to his Beloved, “I have the original 78,” beaming.  Hyman’s version was illuminated from within by his own ideas — it wasn’t a copy of the record — with a wonderful bounce.  A pensive, twining duet with Alden (now on guitar) on SOFTLY, IN A MORNING SUNRISE brought us from mid-Thirties Harlem to more harmonically exploratory lands.  It reminded me of one of my favorite recordings, the Pablo “Checkmate” — duets between Joe Pass and Jimmy Rowles. 

Then came the moments I had been waiting for.  I knew Joe Wilder (who will be 87 this month) was scheduled to play duets with Dick, and we could see him in the wings, his horns gleaming, waiting.  He came out and joined the fun for a fast SECRET LOVE, an inquiring, calling-in-the-highlands HOW ARE THINGS IN GLOCCA MORRA?, and SAMBA DE ORFEO.  Joe is a relentless critic of his own playing, and his brow was furrowed at some points, but a Wilder solo with a note or two that cracks is still a work of art — Joe, swimming upstream against the demands of metal tubing, lung power, and embouchure, is my hero. 

And the evening closed (as is Jack’s habit) with everyone on stage for a strutting performance of Waller’s THAT RHYTHM MAN, David Ostwald’s happily unhackneyed choice.  The band was flying, but the best part of this cheerful performance was that Mark and Dick did piano-acrobatics: you take the treble and I’ll take the bass; now, let’s switch; let’s each play sixteen bars.  Splendid, accomplished, and swinging.   

 It was frigid out last night — winds that would have done Coleman Hawkins proud made us all feel vulnerable and under-dressed.  But this concert let us warm ourselves through the music.   They don’t call it HOT JAZZ for nothing.  Highlights all ’round!

A JAZZ HOLIDAY! (February 2009)

No, this post isn’t about Benny Goodman’s 1928 recording — although that record does deserve to be celebrated.  Rather, it’s about a jazz immersion because of what my college calls “Presidents’ Week” — the Monday holiday stretching into a full week to follow the public school calendar.

What that means for me (and the Beloved) is a wonderful chance to hear four live jazz sessions.

Sunday night I went to the Ear Inn, newly lit and full of people celebrating that they, too, didn’t have to get up early the next morning.  The EarRegulars were there in stellar form: Jon-Erik Kellso and Matt Munisteri, with their inspiring friends Scott Robinson and Greg Cohen.  I was sitting three feet from Greg’s bass, and it was a transforming experience: the rhythm shot through me all night long.  And Scott — the mysterious shape-changer of jazz, who finds a new self whenever he picks up a different horn — was in a happy groove from the opening notes of WEARY BLUES.  (Scott had brought his tenor, a cornet — I couldn’t see if it was his fabled echo cornet) and his sopranino sax.  In the second set, Rachelle Garniez sat in with her Hohner claviola, Ted G (we couldn’t figure out his last name) brought his Maccaferri guitar, and Lucy, sixteen years old, sat in on trumpet.  As they used to say in the society pages of small-town newspapers, “a good time was had by all.”

Last night I went to Banjo Jim’s to catch a return appearance of the Cangelosi Cards with their guest star Sam Parkins, who had brought “his Klarinette.”  If you want to get the flavor of that evening, I’ve posted clips from their last jam session on “LIGHTNING IN THE DARKNESS.”  It was a smaller hand of Cards — Tamar Korn, Jake Sanders, Karl Meyer, Marcus Millius, Gordon Webster, and Cassidy Holden (who uses gut strings on his bass — as the great players of the Swing Era did).  The joint rocked: Tamar sang the blues and ALL OF ME; the Cards turned into a gypsy /tango band with NUAGES, MINOR SWING, and their own line on LOVE ME OR LEAVE ME.  Heady stuff!

Tonight, the Beloved and I are going to the 8 PM show at Iridium to hear Barbara Rosene and her New Yorkers.  Enough said!  Barbara will sparkle and move us, and the New Yorkers include Jon-Erik, Michael Hashim, Conal Fowkes, Matt Szemela, Doug Largent, and Kevin Dorn — fine players and fine friends.

And (if that weren’t enough) we’re going downtown on Thursday for the 36th Anniversary HIGHLIGHTS IN JAZZ concert, featuring David Ostwald’s Louis Armstrong Centennial Band (or the Gully Low Jazz Band, what you will) — Jon-Erik, Wycliffe Gordon, Anat Cohen, Mark Shane, David himself, and Kevin Dorn.  Jack Kleinsinger’s concerts are always models of jazz generosity, and this one includes a pair of raw recruits named Joe Wilder and Dick Hyman.

Yes, I still have to grade two more sets of student essays, but I would call this A JAZZ HOLIDAY.  Wouldn’t you?  And I haven’t even mentioned the Gully Low Jazz Band’s regular Birdland gig on Wednesday and a midday solo piano outing for Hyman at St. Peter’s Lutheran Church in midtown.

New Yorkers are lucky to live in this time and place, the economy notwithstanding.  Go and hear some live jazz, even if you don’t have the week off.

WHAT THE GROUNDHOG WHISPERED: A VIGNETTE

groundhog-dayIn case you weren’t paying close attention, last Monday was Groundhog Day.

Punxsutawney Phil came out of his burrow, saw his shadow, the news cameras, the reporters . . . and went back in, an omen of six more weeks of winter — to say nothing of acid indigestion, sinking investments, tinnitus, poor cellphone reception, and more.

But I am patient and Phil and I go back a long time.  I waited until all the media went home, amused myself by draining my thermos of Trader Joe’s coffee, and waited.  Then Phil gingerly came out again, after I’d assured him that it was safe: even PBS and NPR had gone home.

He looked weary; he always does after these appearances.  But he gestured to me to come closer.  After we’d exchanged hellos and I’d asked about the family (they’re all fine), he whispered, “Look.  Of course the news is bad.  There’s going to be bankruptcies and not enough hot water in the kitchen sink.  But don’t despair.  Hope is in sight.”

“What do you mean, Phil?” I asked.

“I’m getting out of here — hitching a ride with two jazz-loving woodchucks I know — in time to be in Manhattan on Thursday, February 19, at 8 PM.  We’re going to sneak in to Jack Kleinsinger’s Highlights in Jazz concert downtown.  It’s his 36th anniversary!  And Jack is so caught up in the music he never notices us.  It’s where these concerts always take place: the Borough of Manhattan Community College at 199 Chambers Street, www.tribecapac.org.  David Ostwald and his Louis Armstrong Centennial Band will be there — David on tuba, Jon-Erik Kellso on trumpet, Wycliffe Gordon on trombone, Anat Cohen on clarinet, Kevin Dorn on drums.  And two of the music’s most memorable players will be there — Dick Hyman and Joe Wilder!  Maybe they’ll even do ‘Seventy-Six Trombones,’ my favorite!”

“Dick Hyman, Joe Wilder, Kevin Dorn, Jon-Erik Kellso, Wycliffe Gordon, Anat Cohen, and David Ostwald?” I repeated incredulously.

“You humans have difficulty with good news, don’t you?” Phil hissed.  “And, knowing Jack, there might be a surprise guest or two.”

The moral of the story: don’t crawl into your own personal burrow just because the news is rotten and the winds are cold.  Be sure to join us on February 19: I think the Beloved and I are in row H.

“Hasta luego!” as Phil always says — even though his Spanish accent is execrable.

Tickets for individual concerts may be ordered for $35.00, students $32.50.  Make checks payable to: Highlights in Jazz – Mail to: Highlights in Jazz, 7 Peter Cooper Rd., New York, NY 10010
(Enclose a self-addressed stamped envelope, which I usually ALMOST forget to do.)

TRIBECA Performing Arts Center
Borough of Manhattan Community College, 199 Chambers Street
TRIBECA Box Office at (212) 220-1460
http://www.tribecapac.org/music.htm

For Interviews, photos and general Highlights In Jazz information, contact:
Jim Eigo Jazz Promo Services
269 S Route 94 Warwick, NY 10990
T: 845-986-1677 / F: 845-986-1699
E-Mail: jazzpromo@earthlink.net
Web Site: http://www.jazzpromoservices.com/

MORE CAPTAIN VIDEO! KEVIN DORN AND THE TJC, NOVEMBER 10, 2008

One of the highlights of my recent life has been getting to know and to admire Kevin Dorn — a creative musician blessed with singular perceptions.  He’s been leading his own Traditional Jazz Collective, a stirring group of improvisers.  Here’s a recent incarnation of the TJC at Banjo Jim’s, doing a fast one and a slow one.  From the left, there’s Michael Hashim on alto sax, Kevin on drums, Charlie Caranicas on cornet, J. Walter Hawkes on trombone and vocal, and Jesse Gelber on piano.  Nadia’s in the audience, although she’s hard to see here.

First, the TJC has an energetic workout on “Everybody Loves My Baby,” which goes back to the middle Twenties but has lost none of its liveliness:

When the TJC had a regular Monday-night gig at the Cajun, one of the songs I loved most was J. Walter Hawkes’s slow, soulful rendition of “Rose Room.”  Most of us Art Hickman’s ballad simply as an instrumental, as a set of chord changes to improvise on at a medium tempo, but JWH, sweetly perverse, sings it as it was originally written: a yearning plaint.

“Oh! to be sweetly reclining.”

I didn’t request that Walter sing this one, but I’m thrilled to have caught it on video — and to be able to share it here.  (Did you know that he’s an Emmy-award winning composer as well as one of the great unheralded jazz trombonists?  You do now.)

Kevin and the TJC appear intermittently at a variety of New York jazz haunts, including the Garage; Kevin himself plays with the Gully Low Jazz Band at Birdland and with John Gill at The Ear Inn.  Check his website, on my blogroll, for vital information on when and where you can hear him play.

MIDTOWN HEAT: THE GULLY LOW JAZZ BAND

As I’ve written, I have a real need to capture the jazz performances I attend — they are precious to me.  My most recent techno-acquisition was enabled by my close friend Amy King (a brilliant poet and philosopher): it’s a Flip video camera, which I took to Birdland, that jazz club in midtown Manhattan — 44th Street between Eighth and Ninth Avenues — on Wednesday, October 8.

There, for many Wednesdays, tubaist David Ostwald has led the Gully Low Jazz Band (a/k/a Louis Armstrong Centennial Band) — a sextet devoted to the music of Louis Armstrong, always a good thing.  This version of the band boasted (from the back) the explosive percussion of Kevin Dorn, the only man I know who keeps Herman Hesse, both Lon Chaneys, and Cliff Leeman in exquisite balance; pianist Ehud Asherie, who knows all there is to know about Bud Powell but has become a spiritual devotee of Francois Rilhac, Teddy Wilson, and Donald Lambert; clarinetist Anat Cohen, enthusiastically swinging; Jim Fryer, gutty and sweet on trombone and a wonderfully heartfelt singer; Jon-Erik Kellso, driving and profound, with mute in or naked to the world.

Dan Morgenstern, George Avakian, and photographer Lorna Sass were in the audience — if you needed any more evidence that this was a first-class gig!  Here’s the GLJB doing “Lover, Come Back To Me”:

and a steadily persuasive “Everybody Loves My Baby”:

and here Jim Fryer sings “Dream A Little Dream Of Me,” a song that goes back to 1931 — from the heart:

Jim comes back for one of Fats Waller’s most tender creations, “I’ve Got A Feelin’ I’m Falling:

Finally, a closing blowout on “Swing That Music”!

Charlie Parker told Earl Wilson that music speaks louder than words: how true that was last Wednesday, when these musicians showed off their rare eloquence.

CELEBRATING LOUIS

Louis

Many jazz bands pay tribute to the man Eddie Condon called, in whimsical admiration, “Mr. Strong,” but few have done it with such tenacity and success as David Ostwald’s Gully Low Jazz Band — also known as the Louis Armstrong Centennial Jazz Band. Every Wednesday night for the past eight years, they have turned Birdland into a friendly New York shrine to his beloved memory.

Last night, the Beloved and I came on the scene a few minutes late, so we missed the opening “Sleepy Time Down South” which turns into a rousing “Indiana,” in the manner of the All-Stars, but once we settled down, the band was romping through the Hot Five classic “Once In A While,” with gusto and deep feeling for the idiom.

The band consisted of David Ostwald, tuba and bon mots; Howard Alden, banjo; Rob Garcia, drums; Joe Muranyi (who played alongside Louis in the last edition of the All-Stars), clarinet, vocals, and anecdotes; Vincent Gardner, trombone; Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet. And we had the good fortune to join British friends old and new: John Whiteborn, the renowned jazz essayist and historian Peter Vacher, and Clive Smith — in town on the way to New Orleans.

Because George Avakian was seated at the bar (having just celebrated his eighty-ninth birthday at Birdland) David opted for “Melancholy Blues,” which had been first issued on microgroove in the Fifties on an Avakian project, The Louis Armstrong Story, as well as “No One Else But You.” A cheerful “Them There Eyes” featured a Kellso solo full of downward cascades and some exuberant Gardner trombone. Left to his own devices, Joe Muranyi told a story about Louis and Red Allen, New Orleans friends, and then sauntered through an easy “Rosetta” that echoed PeeWee Russell to great effect. The second set offered a nearly-riotous “Everybody Loves My Baby,” harking back to the glory days of 1925. Kellso (now a happily married man) was in fine form, and Gardner was especially vibrant, yet never abandoning the ensemble for virtuosic displays. And the rhythm section swung as it does every Wednesday.

But everything changed when David asked Vince Giordano, enjoying the sounds, to sit in. Vince usually brings at least one hefty instrument, but he was unencumbered by tuba, aluminum string bass, bass sax, banjo, or tenor guitar. However, he sat down at the piano, stage left, and prepared to join in. Perhaps stimulated by this happy oddity, David called “Maybe You’ll Be There,” a song only devotees connect with Louis, as it appears just on a few 1949 radio broadcasts as a Jack Teagarden feature. Written by the pianist Charles LaVere, it combines mournfulness and hopefulness: I search for you, and you don’t appear, but maybe . . . . Vince played his ensemble parts very simply, reading the chords off the music in front of them, but offering ringing Hines octaves and Jess Stacy tremolos, affecting everyone on and off the stand. Gardner showed just how original his interpretation of Teagarden could be, and the Kellso cadenza that ended it all was a gracious piece of sorrowing Baroque. David offered Gardner the spotlight for “Mississippi Basin,” one of those songs requiring the singer to extol the virtues of manual labor on the docks. Gardner played it plunger-muted, but without irony, and sang the banal lyrics as if they were emotionally valid, two great accomplishments.

And, in a handful of minutes, all of Louis’s great virtues — the irresistible swing balanced with his passionate seriousness — had come to life, without a note of “What A Wonderful World” to be heard. It was alchemy indeed.