Tag Archives: Hal Smith

WHAT WOULD JELLY DO? “RAGTIME – NEW ORLEANS STYLE, VOLUME TWO”: KRIS TOKARSKI, JOSHUA GOUZY, HAL SMITH

Kris Tokarski has been one of my favorite solo and ensemble pianists for some years now.  It can’t be “many” years, because Kris is perhaps half my age, but my admiration is not limited by the length of our acquaintance.  He listens, he creates melodies, he swings, he sounds like himself, and he has a deep appreciation for the past without being chained by narrow historical definitions.

He’s recorded in a variety of settings, but here I draw your attention to two CDs of ragtime pieces done with delicacy and individuality: the first, issued in 2016 on Solo Art, paired him with drummer-scholar Hal Smith and string bassist Cassidy Holden, pleased me and others immensely: read more about it here.  KINKLETS from that disc:

The second disc by Kris and  Hal, now joined by bassist Joshua Gouzy, issued on Big Al Records, is called RAGTIME – NEW ORLEANS STYLE, VOLUME TWO, and it’s a real pleasure. Hear a sample for yourself here (scroll down the page through the evidence of how well Kris plays with others and on his own).

The premise is a collection of rags that Jelly Roll Morton planned to record — or would have known and played.  And it’s not a fanciful vision, as Hal Smith’s  solid annotations show — in 1939, Morton discussed with Roy Carew his plans to play Joplin and others in his own style, because, as he told Carew, “he didn’t know of anyone more qualified to do it than himself,” and he envisioned recording thirty or forty rags.  (Oh, had he lived for another decade!)

He didn’t live to accomplish this, but we have Tokarski, Gouzy, and Smith to make the fantasy real.

I am especially fond of projects that take a gently imaginative look at the past. Let those who feel drawn to such labors reproduce recordings: the results can be dazzling.  It takes decades of skill to play BIG FAT MA AND SKINNY PA and sound even remotely like the Hot Five.  But even more entrancing to me is the notion of “What might have happened . . . .?” going back to my early immersion in Golden Era science fiction.  An example that stays in my mind is a series of Stomp Off recordings devoted to the Johnny Dodds repertoire, with the brilliant Matthias Seuffert taking on the mantle.  But the most memorable track on those discs was Porter’s YOU DO SOMETHING TO ME, a pop tune from 1929 that Dodds might well have heard or even played — rendered convincingly and joyously in his idiom.  (It really does something to me.)

That same playful vision applies to this disc.  It merges, ever so gently, Jelly Roll Morton and an unhackneyed ragtime repertoire, mixing piano solos and piano trio.  That in itself is a delightful combination, and I replayed this disc several times in a row when I first acquired a copy.

Kris plays beautifully, with a precise yet flexible approach to the instrument and the materials.  He doesn’t undercut, satirize, or “modernize”; his approach is simultaneously loving and easy. It’s evident that he has heard and absorbed the lessons of James P. Johnson and Teddy Wilson — their particular balance of propulsion and relaxation — as well as being able to read the notes on the page. He doesn’t pretend to be Morton in the way that lesser musicians have done (with Bix, Louis, Monk, and others) — cramming in every possible Mortonism over and over.  What he does is imagine a Mortonian approach, but he allows himself freedom to move idiomatically, with grace and beauty, within it.  And he doesn’t, in the name of “authenticity,” make rags sound stiff because they were written before Joe Oliver and Little Louis took Chicago.  He’s steady, but he’s steadily gliding.  His approach to the rags is neither stuffy reverence nor near-hysterical display.

He’s in good company with Josh and Hal.  Many string bassists working in this idiom confuse percussiveness with strength, and they hit the fretboard violently: making the bass a victim of misplaced enthusiasm.  Not Joshua, who has power and melodic wisdom nicely combined: you can listen to his lines in the trio with the delight you’d take in a great horn soloist.  Every note sings, and he’s clearly there with the pulse.

As for the drummer?  To slightly alter a famous Teagarden line, “If Hal don’t get it, well, forget it right now,” which is to say that Hal’s playing on this disc is a beautifully subtle, completely “living” model of how to play ensemble drums: gracious yet encouraging, supportive.  He doesn’t just play the beat: he creates a responsive tapestry of luxuriant sounds.

The CD is beautifully recorded by Tim Stambaugh of Word of Mouth Studios, and the repertoire is a treat — rags I’d never heard (THE WATERMELON TRUST by Harry C. Thompson, and ROLLER SKATERS RAG by Samuel Gompers) as well as compositions by Joplin, Lamb, Scott, Turpin, Matthews, and May Aufderheide.  Nothing overfamiliar but all melodic and mobile.

Here’s another sample.  Kris, Joshua, and Hal are the rhythm section of Hal’s Kid Ory “On the Levee” band, and here they play May Aufderheide’s DUSTY RAG at the San Diego Jazz Fest in November 2018:

Hear what I mean?  They play with conviction but their seriousness is light-hearted.  Volume Two is a disc that won’t grow tired or stale.  Thank you, Kris, Josh, and Hal!  And Jelly, of course.

May your happiness increase!

Advertisements

GOIN’ TO TISHOMINGO: A FEW WORDS FOR CONNIE JONES

This morning, I learned through Ed Wise and Tim Laughlin that Connie Jones died in his sleep at home next to his beloved wife Elaine.  Although I hold to cherished ideas about death and transitions — that those who leave their earthly form behind never leave us utterly, that they have merely moved to another neighborhood — I find it hard to write that Connie has left us. He was a great poet without a manuscript, a great singer of immediate heartfelt songs even when he wasn’t singing.

I had the immense good fortune to see and video-record Connie in performance from 2011 to 2015: mostly at the San Diego Jazz Fest, but once at Sweet and Hot and once during the Steamboat Stomp, and I’ve posted as many of those performances as I could.

We didn’t converse much: I suspect he had some native reticence about people he didn’t know, and perhaps he had a perfectly natural desire to catch his breath between sets, ideally with a dish of ice cream.

His playing moved me tremendously.  I tried not to gush, although my restraint failed me once, memorably.  After a particularly affecting set, I came up to him and said, more or less, “Do you think of yourself as a religious man?” and he gave me the polite stare one gives people who have revealed themselves as completely unpredictable, and said, after a pause, “Yes, I do,” and I proceeded to say, quietly, “Well, I think your music is holy.”  Another long pause, and he thanked me.  And I thanked him.  Which is what I am doing in this post.

With all respects to the people who recorded him and played alongside him in various recording studios, I think the real Connie Jones only came through complete when he was caught live — one reason I am proud that I had the opportunity to catch him, as it were, on the wing.  He was the bravest of improvisers, reminding me at turns of Doc Cheatham, of Bob Barnard, of Bobby Hackett — someone so sure of his melodies that he would close his eyes and walk steadily towards a possible precipice of music . . . but creating the solid ground of loving music as he went.

I expect to have more reason to celebrate and mourn Connie in the future, but I think this is one of the most quietly affecting vocal and instrumental performances I will ever hear or witness. See if you don’t agree: Connie, cornet and vocal; Tim Laughlin, clarinet; Doug Finke, trombone; Chris Dawson, piano; Katie Cavera, guitar; Marty Eggers, string bass; Hal Smith, drums, at the San Diego Jazz Fest on Nov. 29, 2014:

He was so unaffected, so generous in what he gave us.  No one can take his place.

May your happiness increase!

SEVEN MEN AND THE KID: THE “ON THE LEVEE JAZZ BAND” at the SAN DIEGO JAZZ FEST: HAL SMITH, JOSH GOUZY, ALEX BELHAJ, KRIS TOKARSKI, JOE GOLDBERG, BEN POLCER, CHARLIE HALLORAN (November 25, 2018)

Some children get upset if the green beans and mashed potato on their plate are touching.  Some listeners separate “their” music into schools and styles, existing in the same space but kept at a safe distance.  I just read a review of a festival where the writer delineated “trad” and “not trad at all,” which to me is a shame.  Musicians know that they can play any repertoire in inventive ways, move in and out of rigidly defined “traditions” and create lasting satisfying art.

Here’s a shining example, the ON THE LEVEE JAZZ BAND (that’s the cover of their debut CD above).  I’ve posted music from another performance here.  To me, their joyous essence is a mixing of “genres”: soloists who know Blakeney, Darnell Howard, Don Ewell, but who are also aware of Buck Clayton, Ed Hall, Vic Dickenson, Steve Jordan, Walter Page, and Jo Jones.  The secret is a flowing 4/4 — music for dancing as well as listening.

This most excellent small band is devoted to the music of Kid Ory in his later decades, led by drummer / scholar Hal Smith, and including Charlie Halloran, trombone, Ben Polcer, trumpet / vocal; Joe Goldberg, clarinet; Kris Tokarski, piano, Alex Belhaj, guitar, Josh Gouzy, string bass. The set presented here was recorded on November 25, 2018, at the San Diego Jazz Fest.

. . . .and study war no more:

A problem with transporting a precious substance:

Hey, Dad — you coming back?

Some early Ellington with a debt to Joe Oliver:

“Honey, are you free on Monday?”:

Gus Mueller, if I recall, said decades after the fact that the title had no hidden meaning — they just liked the sound:

This one always comes in handy:

A song for parents of newborns or anyone embracing transformations:

For further announcements and more good news, visit here.  I’m pleased to say I will see them three times in 2019: the Redwood Coast Music Festival, the Evergreen Jazz Festival, and the San Diego Jazz Fest.  You come, too.

May your happiness increase!

GRAB YOUR HIGHLIGHTERS: THE BAND SCHEDULE FOR FRESNO “SOUNDS OF MARDI GRAS” 2019 IS HERE (with some delightful MUSICAL EVIDENCE)

I’ve already posted this cheering bouquet of balloons, and I’m making my first trip to Fresno for “the sounds of Mardi Gras” early next month.  And not simply in hope of finding balloons.

Now, we can all get down to the delightful business of planning what to see and hear.  I’m sure there are people who simply amble through a festival, guided by the sounds they hear coming from one room or another.  But I’m a man with a mission: I know the bands I particularly want to hear and video . . . so I have to plan.  If I go to see X and her Jelly Whippers at 6, then I can’t (as Sir Isaac Newton reminds me) hear Y and her Joy Boys at the same time.  So either in the solace of my apartment or perhaps on the airplane, I bring out the highlighters so that I can plot and plan . . .
NEWS FLASH: as of January 25, some last-minute changes – – – –
On Friday, in Salon C/D, the morning – afternoon sequence is now Young Bucs / Yosemite / Climax / Tom Hook / High Sierra.  The evening sequence in C/D is now Bob Schulz, Dave Stuckey, and the rest unchanged.    As far as  my nearsighted eyes can tell, those are the only changes.  But the sole way to be sure you have the right schedule is to go to the Sounds of Mardi Gras and pick up the current paperwork.
I believe that an even larger version — spread it out on the floor so the whole family can play — can be found  here.  Since this is my maiden voyage to this festival, I haven’t any videos of my own to share.  But my colleagues have filled that need for years — one of them being the faithful Bill Schneider, who captured Bob Schulz’s band playing a lyrical YOU’RE DRIVING ME CRAZY at the 2018 festival — with lovely work from Bob, Kim Cusack, Ray Skjelbred, Doug Finke, Scott Anthony, Jim Maihack, and Ray Templin:

and a very hot MONA LISA from a 2010 performance by the New El Dorado Jazz Band co-led by Hal Smith and Clint Baker, with Marc Caparone, Howard Miyata, Mike Baird, Carl Sonny Leyland, Katie Cavera, and Georgia Korba.  Not everyone in this band will be at the 2019 festival, but their music is preserved for us thanks to RaeAnn Berry:

I look forward to the 2019 banquet of good sounds.  For details, visit the festival’s website and their Facebook page.  But don’t take so long looking for the right color highlighter that this hot weekend passes you by.

May your happiness increase!

AN ALL-YOU-CAN-HEAR BUFFET: THE REDWOOD COAST MUSIC FESTIVAL (May 9-12, 2019)

When I used to teach college, I would sometimes harangue my students about the money they spent, and ask them to consider before their next purchase, how many hours of work this item cost them, but more importantly, how much lasting happiness it would bring.  I made a conscious decision to invest in jazz.  Good music, improvised on the spot, pays immense emotional dividends that (let us say) new kitchen counters or other indulgences would not.

There’s also the Carpe Diem factor.  I hear so many fellow enthusiasts saying, “Wow.  I’ll certainly have to go there next year,” and then the “there” evaporates like a drop of water in a hot iron skillet because the jazz party costs too much to run year after year.  So a listener’s willingness to invest in jazz, to tear themselves away from the computer means that the festival goes on or the club stays open.

Carpe Diem is also personal — if you’re twenty-seven, please skip this passage.  This music has been one of the centers of my life for more than fifty years now, and since I know I don’t have another fifty, I am determined to experience as much of it as possible, while it’s here, while I have some income, and while my body cooperates.

Thus it delights me to invite you along to what is obviously a Humdinger and a Lollapalooza of a music festival:

and a listing of bands that, for me, induces a sweet vertigo:

JAZZ LIVES readers will see that a whole host of my West Coast secular deities are here, and this listing doesn’t include all the sidemen and women.  I encourage you all to do several things.  The first, and it’s not idle, is to create a mental space that includes a visit to this festival on May 9-12.  You have to envision something before it becomes a possibility, then a reality.  How you deal with the tangible obligations is your choice and it would be impudent for me to suggest borrowing from Hendrik and Melisandre’s college funds, but you can think of something.

Enough urging.  Please visit the RCMF website — with videos and biographies of musicians.  And here is the RCMF Facebook page.

It’s too soon for a complete schedule of performances to be posted, but I know that it will be.  I have heard — among other delights — words about a Charlie Christian tribute, a Walter Donaldson performance, an evocation of the Louis Armstrong All-Stars . . . . Those aren’t the usual festival fare, and I cherish them.  Dance competitions, also.  Let that sink in.

And for those who realize there is life away from the stage, the RCMF takes place in one of the most beautiful landscapes in the world — the Humboldt County redwood forest: details here.

But you’d like to hear some music, correct?  For once, I won’t easily gratify that desire for free through the computer.  Heaven knows there’s enough to be had.  For a change, consider leaving your chair, shutting your phone off in favor of a jaunt into the redwoods.  And an amazing cornucopia of musical experiences.

May your happiness increase!

The ON THE LEVEE BAND at the SAN DIEGO JAZZ FEST (Part One: Nov. 24, 2018)

Official Jazz history, which tends to compress and simplify, has often portrayed Edward “Kid” Ory as both a limited trombonist and a man lodged in the earliest decades of the music.  Both of these suppositions are wrong; as far as the first, ask any trombonist how easy it is to play what Ory played, and for the second, Ory’s later groups played for dancers in the Forties and Fifties and thus he was very much aware of the subtleties of the Swing Era-and-beyond four-four rhythmic pulse, as his later recordings show.  Drummer / scholar Hal Smith’s ON THE LEVEE JAZZ BAND takes its name from a club Ory ran in California, and its musical inspiration from those later performances.

Unlike some quite respected traditional jazz bands, the OTL floats rather than pounds, and its horn soloists clearly enjoy the freedom of playing with and among such gliding pulsations.  It’s their secret, one that perceptive listeners enjoy, even if they are not aware of the swinging feel of the group.  At times, they remind me happily of the ad hoc groups of Swing Era veterans recruited to perform “Dixieland” tunes c. 1959-60: think of Buck Clayton, Vic Dickenson, and Buster Bailey over a grooving rhythm section — playing the opening ensembles correctly and respectfully but going for themselves in solos.

In addition to Hal, the band as it performed at the 39th San Diego jazz Fest featured Charlie Halloran, trombone, Ben Polcer, trumpet, Joe Goldberg, clarinet; Kris Tokarski, piano, Alex Belhaj, guitar, Josh Gouzy, string bass. These selections come from a set the band did on November 24, 2018.

AT A GEORGIA CAMP MEETING:

TISHOMINGO BLUES, with a vocal by Ben:

Joe Oliver’s SNAG IT:

SAN, named for a King:

DUSTY RAG, a feature for Kris, Josh, and Hal — reimagining classic ragtime in New Orleans — that means Morton — style:

SOMEBODY STOLE MY GAL:

HOW COME YOU DO ME LIKE YOU DO?:

HIGH SOCIETY / WITHOUT YOU FOR AN INSPIRATION:

What a pleasure this band is.  And here is their website, as well as news of their debut CD here . And here is my review.  I approve!  And the band also has the Gretchen Haugen Seal of Approval, which is not an accolade easily won.

Catch them at a gig; buy the CD.  Have a good time.

May your happiness increase!

THEY CAN REALLY DO THAT THING, AND MORE: FLOYD DOMINO’S ALL-STARS

That’s no idle claim.  Here’s the cover of the band’s new CD, which features Floyd, piano and arrangements; Emily Gamble, vocal; Lauryn Gould, saxophone, arrangements; Ryan Gould, string bass; David Jellema, clarinet, cornet; Brooks Prumo, guitar; Hal Smith, drums.

And here’s a lively audio sample:

and another, with organic Lester-and-Buck flavoring:

I know that there are many excellent small and mid-sized “swing dance” units in operation these days, and if you’ve been reading JAZZ LIVES, you’ve heard my praise of them from New York to Vancouver and Texas.  We live in an age of good music (so those who lament the death of jazz are just wrong) but Floyd’s group has that most wonderful quality, a completely recognizable sound: individuals in solo and in ensemble.  I don’t have to clamber up on my soapbox and say that “When I was a boy you could tell who someone was in four quarter notes: Frank Newton didn’t sound like Charlie Shavers,” and so on.  But you know it’s true.

Again, if you’ve been paying attention, you know these musicians — or the two videos have offered convincing evidence of why you should.  But rather than write a handful of enthusiastic character sketches, for once I want to say something about the band, which has all the glide and grit of a working unit.  Smooth, but hardly decaffeinated.  What I hear in these performances is a kind of easy rhythmic intensity — think of a Forties small unit that has understood that shuffle rhythm, never heavy or obvious, gets the dancers on the floor.  (Although RIFF BLUES and the powerful MESS AROUND are solid exceptions: house-rocking music.)

The arrangements, as well, often feature Floyd’s groovy piano, but he isn’t always all alone. Rather, in the fashion of Basie and McShann, the piano often works against horn backgrounds (although the first choruses of HONEYSUCKLE give a nice simulation of Basie-time without any of the patented cliches, and DO YOU KNOW WHAT IT MEANS starts off with a honeyed sixteen bars of piano-and-rhythm before some pretty horn solos.  For the rest, you’re on your own, with notepad and pen if you please).

This CD is a homage to the music of another age, but it’s not imitative, although I now know the new lyrics to BLUE SKIES come from Slim Gaillard and the Royal Rhythm Boys; ‘WAY DOWN YONDER bows low to the Kansas City Six.

I will break with what I wrote earlier to say that Ms. Gamble is a wow: begin with her EXACTLY LIKE YOU and AFTER YOU’VE GONE.  “Tonation and phrasing” in abundance!

The preponderance of “standard repertoire” on the disc, incidentally, should not drive any listener away.  Yes, you’ve heard TEA FOR TWO countless times, but this band makes even the most ancient song seem fresh and vivid, and, yes, that is a little cap-tip to Tatum.  I know also that the phrase “little arranging touches” is so overused that I should banish it, but in this case it’s true: the balance of ensemble and solos is so very pleasing, novel without being ostentatiously “innovative.”

How can you bring this joy into your own life?  Ideally, if you’re at one of Floyd’s gigs, bring money and buy a cluster of CDs.  The holidays are coming, and so much holiday merchandise is designed to be obsolete the next morning.  This CD won’t be.  Or visit here and spread some joy.  But don’t give all the copies away: you’ll be sorry.

All I can say — for those who get the joke — is that if this band had existed in 1947, Jack Kapp or Herman Lubinsky would have signed them to disastrously corrupt contracts and they would be absolutely legendary.  How lovely it is that they are alive and well in our own century.

May your happiness increase!