Tag Archives: Gully Low Jazz Band

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 . . . !

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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.