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.