Tag Archives: Hal Smith

MAKE PLANS! The 30th ANNUAL REDWOOD COAST MUSIC FESTIVAL IS COMING (September 29 – October 2, 2022: Eureka, California)

Before you read a word, please groove on these performances from the 2019 Redwood Coast Music Festival:

BOTTOMS UP, by the Jonathan Doyle Swingtet:

TEN YEARS, by the Dave Stuckey – Hal Smith Western Swing All-Stars:

JULIANNE, by Charlie [Halloran] and the Tropicales:

I am very excited by this news that the Redwood Coast Music Festival is returning. It gives my native optimism fertile soil to grow in. This festival is a friendly sustained explosion of some of the best musical talent I know.

Here are some of the glorious people who will be there, singing and playing. Dave Stuckey, Marc Caparone, Carl Sonny Leyland, Clint Baker, Hal Smith, Twerk Thomson, Kris Tokarski, Charlie Halloran, Jonathan Doyle, Joel Paterson, Dawn Lambeth, Brian Casserly, Dave Bennett, T.J. Muller, Katie Cavera, Jacob Zimmerman, Duke Robillard, Jessica King, Ryan Calloway, Riley Baker, Chris Wilkinson, James Mason, Jamey Cummins, Josh Collazo, Tom Rigney, Sam Rocha, Nate Ketner, Dave Kosymna, Alex Hall, Beau Sample, Dan Walton, John Gill, Jontavious Willis, Brian Holland, Danny Coots, and more. And more.

The festival runs from Thursday evening to Sunday evening (September 29 to October 2) and there are either five or six simultaneous sets. Simultaneous. I emphasize this because I got the most charming vertigo trying to plot a course through the tentative schedule, an exercise in Buddhist non-attachment or chess (which I never learned): “I want to see X at 5:30 but that means I can’t see Y then, but I can see Y the next day.”

I’ve only been to Redwood Coast once, in 2019, a transcendent experience and I don’t overstate: the only festival that made me think longingly of hiring a camera crew of at least two friends so that we could capture some portion of the good(ly) sounds. one of the nicest things about this festival is its broad love of energized passionate music: jazz, blues, swing, country, zydeco, soul, rhythm and blues, “Americana,” “roots” — you name it.

Did I mention that there’s room for dancing?

Are some of the names listed above unfamiliar to you? Go here to learn more about the artists and see videos of their work

You can buy tickets here. And maybe you’ll think this is the voice of entitlement, but an all-events pass — four days! — is $135, at least until August 1.

Here’s one more musical convincer from 2019:

Remember, every time it rains it rains PENNIES FROM HEAVEN — in this case, rare musical experiences. But you can’t catch them in your ears or outstretched hands by staying at home.

May your happiness increase!

GOT MY BAG, GOT MY RESERVATION: LOOKING FORWARD TO THE 2022 REDWOOD COAST MUSIC FESTIVAL (September 29 – October 2, 2022)

Jazz festivals are like people you meet on a first date: some make you look for the exit within five minutes; some you warm to in spite of their odd ways; some you fall for wholeheartedly. The Redwoood Coast Music Festival is my best example of the festival-as-heartthrob.

I’ve only been there once — the green hills and endless vistas that 2019 now seems to be — but I can’t wait to go back. And I spent 2004-20 chasing festival delights in New York, Cleveland, California, England, and Germany, so I have some experience from which to speak.

But why should my enthusiasm matter to you? For all you know, I am being paid wheelbarrows of currency to write this. (I promise you it ain’t so.) Let’s look at some evidence. Caveat: not everyone seen and heard in my 2019 videos is coming to the 2022 festival, but they will serve as a slice of heavenly experience.

Hal Smith’s ON THE LEVEE JAZZ BAND plays IDA:

The Carl Sonny Leyland – Little Charlie Baty Houserockers turn our faces a bright CHERRY RED:

The Jonathan Doyle Swingtet ensures everyone has a CASTLE ROCK:

An interlude for prose.

The poster shows that this is no ordinary jazz festival, relying on a small group of bands and singers within a particular idiom. No, the RCMF offers an aural tasting menu astonishing in its breadth and authenticity.

And hilariously that causes problems — ever since Sir Isaac Newton pointed out that no one can be two places at once, the RCMF makes me want to smack Sir Isaac and say in a loud whine, “Why CAN’T I see / record three groups at three separate venues at once? It’s not fair.” Even I, someone who doesn’t feel the same way about zydeco as I do about swinging jazz, had moral crises at every turn because the variety of delicious choices set out for me eight times a day was overwhelming. (At some festivals, I had time to sit outside and leisurely eat gelato with friends: no such respites at the RCMF. A knapsack full of KIND bars and water bottles just won’t be enough: I need a whole medical staff in attendance.)

What else needs to be said? The prices are more than reasonable, even in these perilous times, for the value-calculation of music per dollar. If you don’t go home sated, you haven’t been trying hard enough. And the couple who seem to be everywhere, helping people out, Mark and Val Jansen, are from another planet where gently amused kindness is the universal language.

Some more music, perhaps?

Walter Donaldson’s LITTLE WHITE LIES by the Jonathan Doyle – Jacob Zimmerman Sextet:

A Charlie Christian tribute featuring Little Charlie Baty and Jamey Cummins on guitar for SEVEN COME ELEVEN:

Asking the musical question, WHAT’S THE MATTER WITH THE MILL? — Elana James, Dave Stuckey, Hal Smith, and assorted gifted rascals:

Charlie Halloran and the Tropicales play TABU. Hand me that glass:

KRAZY KAPERS, irresistibly, by the Jonathan Doyle Swingtet:

BLUE LESTER, from Hal Smith’s SWING CENTRAL:

So . . . even though the world, as delineated in the headlines, is so uncertain, consider ungluing yourself from your chair at the end of September. Carpe the damn diem, as we say.

http://www.rcmfest.org/ is the festival’s website; here they are on Facebook. Make it so that something wonderful is, as Irving Berlin wrote, WAITING AT THE END OF THE ROAD for you, for all of us:

May your happiness increase!

A MODERNISTIC CHAMBER RECITAL by MESSRS. GROSZ, CHACE, and BENGE (10.25.56)

Marty Grosz and Bob Haggart, date and location not known

I could have called what follows HOT MUSIC FROM DEEP CHICAGO and it would have been equally true: intense improvised readings of two popular songs of the late Twenties by Marty Grosz, guitar; Frank Chace, clarinet; Joe Benge, drums . . . privately recorded, probably by John Steiner, on October 25, 1956. (Source material from Joe Boughton or Wayne Jones, preserved and edited by Hal Smith.)

Marty, of course, is internationally renowned; Frank deserves to be equally celebrated. (Frank called Marty, reverently, “a one-man rhythm gang,” and that’s still true, but I think neither man gets full credit for a lovely yearning lyricism.)

Drummer Joe Benge is almost unknown in jazz circles; he was an Amherst College alumnus at the time of this session, and a member of the college’s Delta Five, which also included the late and much-missed cornetist John Bucher. But he led a fascinating life: he went to Evanston High School, which probably led to his connection with this group; he studied German at Amherst and Northwestern, and worked in advertising: he’s responsible for the “Maytag repairman” ads. In 1972, he became a manager for a canoe outfitter in Ontario; he was an ecological activist and naturalist, also teaching native children. He lived until 2016. Clearly a remarkable person.

Back to my hero (and once-upon-a-time phone conversationalist) Frank Chace. The reflex reaction of the first-time listener is to say, “He sounds just like Pee Wee Russell!” to which I would say, “He revered Pee Wee, but he also revered Omer Simeon, Frank Teschemacher, Jimmie Noone . . . and he folded all these influences into a shape uniquely his.” Close listening will reveal his own sweet-strange inventiveness, which continues to reward, elate, and surprise.

Music, then. CHERRY, from the McKinney’s Cotton Pickers’ book:

and Rodgers and Hart’s BLUE MOON:

As memorable as Casals -Thibaud – Cortot, and hotter. Bless these cats. Forevermore.

May your happiness increase!

JUST FOUR BARS: MUSIC TO FEEL GOOD ABOUT BY, OR WITH (YOU CHOOSE): HAL SMITH’S JAZZOLOGISTS, JONATHAN DOYLE AND FRIENDS AT EASTSIDE STOMP.

I will be brief. Two new releases from heroes of mine, just out on Bandcamp — music to dance to even if, like me, you can’t dance.

The first is the second volume by Hal Smith’s Jazzologists: elegantly rough New Orleans Revival jazz featuring Clint Baker, John Gill, Ryan Calloway, Katie Cavera, Bill Reinhart, Kris Tokarski. Dee-lightful, as Louis would say.

For the historians in the room, think of an alternative universe where Bunk, Mutt, Steele, Jelly, and the Fatha get together, ever so sociably. Here is the link.

Eight rocking performances, good even for the lactose-intolerant.

Jonathan Doyle and his bands are like eternally bubbling fountains, and his new digital album, THE SPIRIT OF KANSAS CITY MEETS CHICAGO, recorded at a swing dance in Seoul, is just grand — think of the Reno Club in modern times.

The stellar band here is Jonathan Doyle, Saul Cline, Josh Roberts, Ray Skjelbred, Jen Hodge, Mike Daugherty. And here is the link.

Eddie Durham said of Edmond Hall (I am paraphrasing) that Hall could do anything except not swing. Hal and Jonathan and their bands can be described the same way. This music will act as the best tonic for all your days and nights.

TREASURES FROM THE FRENCH QUARTER FEST, NEW ORLEANS: CHRIS TYLE, STEVE PISTORIUS, HAL SMITH, JACQUES GAUTHE, SCOTT BLACK, JOHN ROYEN, TOM EBERT, TOM SAUNDERS, AMY SHARP, JAMES SINGLETON, CLAUDE LUTER (April 7 and 9, 1989)

Thanks to Chris Tyle, master of so many instruments and generous archivist, we have some new treasures — old music played with style, grace, and energy — thanks to an unknown videographer. They are “live unedited,” but the videographer (perhaps shooting from a balcony?) did a wonderful job. There are so many individual definitions of “the real thing,” but these videos capture what I think of as irreplaceable genuine stomping music. Chris’ YouTube channel, “Godfrey Daniels”, has more marvels and more are promised.

Steve Pistorius and his Mahogany Hall Stompers: Steve Pistorius, leader, piano, vocals; Scott Black, Chris Tyle, cornets, vocal; Jacques Gauthe, clarinet/soprano sax; Hal Smith, drums. (In the mystery that is WordPress, I can’t give Monsieur Gauthe his name’s proper accent: I apologize.) CAKE WALKIN’ BABIES FROM HOME / HEEBIE JEEBIES / MOULIN A CAFE:

Jacques Gauthe and his Creole Rice Jazz Band: Jacques Gauthe, leader, clarinet, soprano sax; Chris Tyle, Scott Black, cornets; Tom Ebert, trombone; John Royen, piano; Amy Sharp, banjo; Tom Saunders, sousaphone; Hal Smith, drums. Special guest on some numbers: Claude Luter, soprano sax. YERBA BUENA STRUT / DOIN’ THE HAMBONE / JAZZIN’ BABIES BLUES / EVERYBODY LOVES MY BABY / KANSAS CITY MAN BLUES / ROYAL GARDEN BLUES (incomplete):

Hal Smith’s Frisco Syncopators: Hal Smith, leader, drums; Chris Tyle, cornet; Jacques Gauthe, clarinet, soprano sax; David Sager, trombone; Amy Sharp, banjo; Steve Pistorius, piano, vocal; James Singleton, string bass. DALLAS BLUES / CLARINET MARMALADE / HOW COME YOU DO ME LIKE YOU DO? (incomplete):

continued, with HOW COME YOU DO ME LIKE YOU DO (concluded) / WEARY BLUES / introducing the band / PRETTY BABY / SOUTH / SAN (incomplete) //

What treasures! And let no one ever say that “the old songs” don’t have life in them. They just need expert jazz physicians — see above — to do loving resuscitations.

May your happiness increase!

“ECHOES OF SWING”: APRIL DeSHIELDS IS DOING WHAT WE’D LIKE TO DO, ONLY BETTER

The invisible wall between musicians and non-musicians (“civilians” or, worse, “fans”) is often difficult to hurdle. Oh, there are the polite conversations between sets, and sometimes even a chat over a plate of food or a beverage, but the things we want to know of our heroes — “How do you DO what you do? What is the source of your magic?” — usually must be intuited and are rarely spoken of. April DeShields, a long-time devotee and close observer of the music we love, has made it possible for us to eavesdrop on relaxed, revealing conversations . . . beginning with two of my particular heroes, Hal Smith and Dan Barrett. And — delightfully — April is neither Mister Rogers nor Gunther Schuller: she’s admiring but never fawning, erudite but never austere.

I found April’s YouTube channel “ECHOES OF SWING” and watched her casually expert interviews. Before we move on, here’s a sample — the first part of her conversation with Hal, with musical examples of the very best kind as well as informal, informative chat about Hal’s ROADRUNNERS, and about what can be done with a small group where the only horn is the clarinet, and his own beginnings:

and the second part, where Hal speaks about influential drummers Ben Pollack, Wayne Jones, Nick Fatool, Fred Higuera, and two lessons with Jake Hanna; teaching aspiring jazz players at Banu Gibson’s NOLA trad jazz camp; the superb MY LITTLE GIRL by Hal’s Jazzologists; Hal’s own musical development and forming a personal identity . . . with portraits of Sidney Catlett, Lionel Hampton, and Dizzy Gillespie:

and the third part — with Hal’s affectionate memories of his supportive parents . . . up to current gigs in the time of Covid-19; the rigors and pleasures of remote recording, and of course, a few cat tales:

After I’d seen and enjoyed the first part of the Hal Smith interviews, I contacted April to ask her about herself, and after some reluctance, she opened the curtain:

When I was 6 my folks took me to the Sacramento Jazz Festival, and, during Abe Most’s set, he called up Tom Saunders (cornet player from Detroit, not the bass player – his nephew – who lives in NOLA now), of whom played Black Coffee and made the musical lightbulb go off on in my brain. He caught that from the stage, and being that my folks immediately decided it was late and we should get to bed, we walked out and Saunders followed us. He chatted up my folks, found out they wanted to go to bed, looked at me and said, “You don’t want to go, do you?” – to which I promptly replied “Nope.” He grabbed my hand, told my Dad that when I was tired he would take me back to our room, asked my Dad for a spare key so we wouldn’t wake them up, and off he took me- to the bar where I met Wild Bill Davison.

My father never did something like that, but I am so grateful he did, because every year at Sac and at subsequent festivals in other areas, Saunders was protector, teacher, and best friend. He and Chuck Hedges would load me up with lists of records to listen to as “homework” for the next year, and by the time I was 8 years old, I was correcting a guy who had a Saturday morning jazz show on a local public radio station. He invited me to the station, and from then on Saturday mornings would be very early drives with Dad to the radio station and I kept that up until I was nearly 30 and health kept me from doing it anymore.

My old boss at KRML moved to Palm Desert and is on the Board of the American Jazz Institute – he finally convinced me instead of asking me every month to record shows for him if I started to do my own series with no deadlines, he would re-broadcast material he wanted, and here we are. So it turned out to be a long story…. so many people came to me after Saunders died, thinking he was my father or grandfather, I just couldn’t bring myself to go to festivals for a long time without being in a puddle of tears. Many years later I’m finally ready to do what he would have wanted me to do – he would’ve been very mad at me for quitting in the first place!

So much of what I learned from those guys, and eventually the weekly calls with Saunders about everything, is so much a part of who I am in every way I just can’t imagine who I would be without them!

April has also posted some rare historical material: Tom Saunders’ Wild Bill documentary; a Saunders-Wild Bill set done in celebration of Bill’s eightieth birthday; an interview with Chuck Hedges . . . and just now, a two-part interview with Dan Barrett, beginning with his early jazz-conversion experiences and the history of early New Orleans jazz musicians migrating to California; Dan’s interactions with Andrew Blakeney and Joe Darensbourg — a side-portrait of Tom Saunders by April and her “heaven-opening epiphany”; memories of trombonist George Masso, and wonderful music from Dan and George’s CD:

Part Two begins with Mary Lou Williams’ LONELY MOMENTS from BED (Dan, Becky Kilgore, Eddie Erickson, and Joel Forbes); Dan and other trombone-playing arrangers; his long friendship with Howard Alden and how it led to a move to New York — through Jake Hanna, Red Norvo, and Dick Sudhalter — to gigs with Woody Allen and film work, the children’s project BEING A BEAR:

The third and final part of that interview is on the way . . . but I can’t wait to see April’s next gift to us.

May your happiness increase!

“I LIKE IT, I LIKE IT”: A NEW CD BY JOHN ROYEN’S NEW ORLEANS RHYTHM: KIM CUSACK, STEVE PIKAL, JOSHUA GOUZY, HAL SMITH (2020)

If the names above are familiar to you — John Royen, piano; Kim Cusack, clarinet; Joshua Gouzy or Steve PIkal, string bass; Hal Smith, drums — then my copying Louis’ delighted exhortation will make perfect sense. To go a little deeper, here is a new CD, titled GREEN SWAMP, a Darnell Howard original. It contains seventeen performances and was beautifully recorded by New Orleans’ own Tim Stambaugh.

But perhaps four minutes of music would be a joy-spreading interlude at this point — a Don Ewell original, SOUTH SIDE STRUT, with Steve on string bass. (Don, as you might know, was John’s mentor: no one better.)

I have a familiar pride in this issue, because I wrote the notes:

In a society in love with newness, to call something “old-fashioned” may seem an insult.  Doesn’t everyone want the latest thing?  But to me that expression is another name for timeless beauty and virtue, creations that will last.  This CD is terribly “old-fashioned” and I am damned glad of it.

This music is melodic, swinging, affectionate.  It romps.  It grins.  The sounds embrace the listener; what comes out of the speaker sounds good, and that is no small thing (in Condon-terms, it is honey rather than broken glass to the ear).  Without gimmicks or jokes, the band says, “Come along with us.  We promise you a good time.”  Most of the tunes (“tunes” is another old-fashioned word, one I’d hate to lose) are medium-tempo, a little faster or slower: good for spur-of-the-moment-shoeless dancing in the kitchen.      

Captain John Royen doesn’t have that honorific only because he pilots a boat; his playing is wonderfully decisive: you know where you are at all times, and the trip is both elegant and exciting, as he steers by the lights of Ewell and Morton.  The Captain is also that reassuring evolutionary accomplishment: a two-handed orchestral pianist.  He doesn’t pound or race: you can set your clock by him.  His colleagues Pikal and Gouzy are just as reliable: they offer a limber rhythmic platform, flexible and stimulating.  Hal Smith is a master of swing and sonic variety: every note both propels and rings as he plays “for the comfort of the band.”  Finally, there’s the unequalled Kim Cusack, whose tone is lemonade in July, who creates memorable variations with lightness and fervor.  The repertoire is honorable melodies that are both venerable and fresh.  By the way, this is a band, not simply four soloists in the same room: listeners with even mildly functioning imaginations will sense these musicians smiling approval through every track.

I used to write long liner notes, supplying biography (Google made that redundant) and song origins (ditto), explaining musical nuances.  My new goal is to write notes that can be read in less than three minutes and twenty seconds, the time it took to play a 78 rpm record.  If more explanation is necessary, one of us has failed.  Not the band, I assure you.  Now, get to listening!  Joy awaits.

The other performances on the disc are I CAN’T BELIEVE THAT YOU’RE IN LOVE WITH ME / SQUEEZE ME / BLUES MY NAUGHTY SWEETIE GIVES TO ME / HONEY HUSH / I WOULD DO ANYTHING FOR YOU / SWEET SUBSTITUTE / HERE COMES THE BAND / OLD FASHIONED LOVE / PRETTY BABY / LOVE ME OR LEAVE ME / MONDAY DATE / BLUE, TURNING GREY OVER YOU / SAVE IT, PRETTY MAMA / BUSH STREET SCRAMBLE / DELMAR DRAG / GREEN SWAMP.

You can purchase the CD from either Hal or John at their websites — www.neworleansjazzpiano.com or www.halsmithmusic.com — for $20 postpaid. It’s quite wonderful. You heard it here first.

May your happiness increase!

THAT “ONE-MAN RHYTHM GANG”: MARTY GROSZ THEN AND NOW (FRANK CHACE, DAN SHAPERA, 1984, and an upcoming Philadelphia performance, May 26, 2021, with DANNY TOBIAS, VINCE GIORDANO, JACK SAINT CLAIR)

Nattily attired Marty Grosz: photograph by Lynn Redmile.

I find it amazing and wonderful when my jazz heroes actually inhabit the same planet that I am on, that they are not only sounds coming out of a speaker but people I can see and hear in 2021. One such remarkably durable fellow, born in 1930, is Martin Oliver Grosz, MOG to some, Marty Grosz, guitarist, singer, banjoist, monologist, vaudeville star, writer (have you read his autobiography, IT’S A SIN TO TELL A LIE?).

Marty will be appearing (yes!) in concert at the Awbury Arboretum in Philadelphia, on Wednesday, May 26, from 6:30 – 8:30, with Vince Giordano, Danny Tobias, and Jack Saint Clair, all of this presented by the Barry Wahrhaftig and the Hot Club of Philadelphia: details here. Tickets here. But it’s a small venue, so I wouldn’t wait until Wednesday to attempt to get a seat.

Writing about Marty without providing evidence of his musical life-force would be mingy. So here’s a half-hour of multicolored joys from the past. It was recorded on 1/29/84, at the Blackstone Hotel in Chicago: Frank Chace, clarinet; Marty Grosz, guitar and vocal; Dan Shapera, string bass. The songs are OH, SISTER, AIN’T THAT HOT? / THE VERY THOUGHT OF YOU / LOVE IS JUST AROUND THE CORNER / WRAP YOUR TROUBLES IN DREAMS / I’M CRAZY ‘BOUT MY BABY (MG vocal) / SOMEONE TO WATCH OVER ME. Possibly recorded by Joe Boughton; details thanks to Hal Smith:

This photograph, circa 1965, has nothing to do with the particular recording. But it has Frank (nearest to the camera) and Jim Dapogny, on second cornet, and is thus priceless.

Two other things, very briefly. The wonderful string bassist heard here, Dan Shapera, is still with us. Blessings and thanks to you, Sir! And my Homeric epithet for Marty, “a one-man rhythm gang,” was the coinage of Frank Chace, who valued Marty more than words could and can say. For all the hot hi-jinks on this tape, it’s Frank’s two ballads that go right to my heart.

Enjoy the past — but get you to the Arboretum to savor the present. And the presents.

May your happiness increase!

IT’S SO GOOD: ALICE SPENCER with HAL SMITH’S OVERLAND SWING EXPRESS (CLINT BAKER, LOREN SCHOENBERG, KRIS TOKARSKI, NICK ROSSI, BILL REINHART, SAM ROCHA, HAL SMITH)

The pandemic brought us many things that we had not requested, and I will forbear listing them here. But it also brought marvelous musical surprises — our jazz heroes are resilient, and many adapted to the challenge of sewing individual creations into a swinging tapestry. You’ve seen the delightful results: musicians in different “rooms,” which might be thousands of miles away, everyone with headphones or earbuds, making delightful swing harmonies although not able to shake hands or hug. Miraculous and there’s nothing else to call it. Many of my friends have made the technological hurdles seem no more than cracks in the sidewalk, but a new and rewarding group effort has been the merging of the superb singer Alice Spencer with Hal Smith’s Overland Swing Express.

A few words about Ms. Spencer of Austin, Texas. Just as the world is full of restaurants, some producing full stomachs and happy satiety, others producing uneasiness, there are many who call themselves “singers.” Alas, only a small percentage know what it means — that it is more than being personable, chipper, good to look at, well-dressed. Singing is the most personal of the arts, with no keyboard or valves to get in the way, the singer has a message to send us, a story to tell, with only her voice, her dramatic sense, her facial expressions: no tenor saxophone to use as a big shiny prop.

Alice Spencer brings to her songs a remarkable emotional maturity that is beyond her years: put plainly, she sings like a Grownup rather than a Cute Teen.

Her voice has shadings, dark and light; she bends phrases stylishly; she lets us know that she knows what the words mean: she’s not copying famous recordings nor is she singing by rote. And her performances are both emotionally dense and light-hearted: hear her little exhalation of breath at the end of T’AIN’T GOOD — as close to a wordless “Gee, that was fun!” as anyone could create, or the way she wends her way through WHAT SHALL I DO IN THE MORNING? — which, in other hands, could have been maudlin, but when you hear her final sixteen bars and note the sign-off of a gently raised eyebrow, you know that Alice has been having a good time “being sad” and then holding it, gently, at arm’s length. Don’t miss out on the cluster of rapid-fire notes in the middle of T’AIN’T GOOD, either, navigated with accuracy and hilarious style: she might well be the Peggy Fleming of Swing Singing.

I first heard Alice on Brooks Prumo’s THIS YEAR’S KISSES, and wrote this:

And a few lines, once again, for the miracle of nature known as Alice Spencer, who takes familiar music and makes it fresh, who makes songs associated for decades with Billie Holiday into her own without warping their intent, who can be perky or melancholy with utter conviction.  She is full of surprises — many singers telegraph what they are going to do in the next four bars, but she doesn’t — although her surprises always seem like the right thing once they have landed.  I won’t compare her to other singers: rather, she has an aura like a great film actress, comfortable in many roles.  Think Joan Blondell or Jean Arthur, and you have some idea of her great personal appeal.

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It would be unkind and unfair, though, to ignore the Gents of the Ensemble: Clint Baker, trumpet; Loren Schoenberg, tenor saxophone; Kris Torkarski, piano; Bill Reinhart, guitar on MORNING and tech-alchemies; Nick Rossi, guitar on GOOD; Sam Rocha, string bass; Hal Smith, drums, leader, arranger.

Because the two tunes are associated with Fats Waller (whose birthday was yesterday) there is a jaunty bounce, a reassuring rocking motion. Clint gets hot, as is his delightful habit; Kris summons up not only Fats but that Wilson fellow c. 1938; Loren evokes 1941 Pres in the Victor studios; Bill knows his way around lovely chords; Nick provides just the right mix of enthusiasm and accuracy; Sam keeps everyone honest; Hal rocks the church.

Here’s T’AIN’T GOOD:

and the larger question, WHAT WILL I DO IN THE MORNING?:

If you have any acquaintance with the great swing traditions of the Thirties and Forties — those sessions made for the jukebox by Billie, Mildred, Midge, Teddy Grace, Fats, Lee, Maxine, Connee, Red, Wingy, Louis Prima, Bob Howard, Putney, Slim Green, and a dozen others — you will understand why I say a) I could no more watch these videos a single time and move on to something else than I could leave my sandwich half-eaten, and b) that I have received ethereal texts from John Hammond, Jack Kapp, Eli Oberstein, and Bernie Hanighen, fighting for the right to sign this band and Ms. Alice up to a long-term contract (of course for very little money, but that’s show business, as the elephants will tell you). On the more earthly level, I ask, “Where is the bright festival promoter who wants to sign the Overland Swing Express up for a weekend of gigs?” But since I know that some of them read JAZZ LIVES, I have hope.

I heard (to quote Don Redman) that Alice Spencer will be making a new digital album sometime soon. Stay tuned.

May your happiness increase!

SOME SPLENDID NEWS: THE RETURN OF THE REDWOOD COAST MUSIC FESTIVAL (Sept. 30 – Oct. 3, 2021)

Given the landscape we have been traveling through, when good news shows up, it’s almost a shock. So brace yourself: I have some, as spelled out in the title of this post.

The Redwood Coast Music Festival is going ahead, energetically and intelligently, for 2021.

I did not take the pandemic lightly, and I spent a good deal of last year scared to bits . . . but I’m going. And I hope you will also, if you can.

Details here — but I know you want more than just details.

Although for those who like it very plain, some elementary-school math: four days, more than a hundred sets performed at eight stages, from intimate to huge. Dance floors. And the festival is wonderfully varied, presenting every kind of “roots music” you can imagine: “jazz, swing, blues, zydeco, rockabilly, Americana, Western Swing, country.”

Off the top of my head — when I was there in 2019, I heard the music of Charlie Christian, Moon Mullican, Pee Wee Russell, Kid Ory, Louis Armstrong, Johnny Hodges, Pete Johnson, Billie Holiday, and much more. Bob Wills said howdy to Walter Donaldson, which was very sweet.

And here are some of the jazz and blues artists who will be there: Carl Sonny Leyland, Duke Robillard, Dave Stuckey, Hal Smith, Andy Schumm, Dan Barrett, Jonathan Doyle, Jacob Zimmerman, Dan Walton, Marc Caparone, Joe Goldberg, Bill Reinhart, Joshua Gouzy, Joel Patterson, Katie Cavera, Dawn Lambeth, Clint Baker, Kris Tokarski, Nate Ketner, Brian Casserly, Josh Collazo, Ryan Calloway, and two dozen other worthies whose names don’t yet appear on the site. And of course, bands — ad hoc units and working ones.

For the justifiably anxious among us, here is the RCMF’s Covid update: several things stand out. First, California has mandated that ticket sales must be in advance. And understandably, there will be fewer people allowed in any space . . . so this translates for you, dear reader, as a double incentive to buy tickets early. I know that festivals always urge attendees to do this, but you can see these are atypical reasons.

How about some musical evidence?

CASTLE ROCK, by the Jonathan Doyle Swingtet:

WAITING AT THE END OF THE ROAD, by Dawn Lambeth and her Quartet:

REACHING FOR SOMEONE, by the Doyle-Zimmerman Sextet:

HELLO, LOLA! by Hal Smith’s SWING CENTRAL:

SAN ANTONIO ROSE, by Dave Stuckey – Hal Smith’s Western Swing All-Stars:

PENNIES FROM HEAVEN, by Marc Caparone and his “Louis Armstrong All-Stars”:

If the videos don’t act as proof, my words may be superfluous. But to paraphrase Lesley Gore, “It’s my blog and I’ll write if I want to.”

I come to this festival-jazz party circuit late — both late for me and for the phenomenon — September 2004. Chautauqua, California, Connecticut, Newcastle, Westoverledingen, and others. I’ve attended a hundred of them. Meaning no offense to any festival organizer, I think Redwood Coast delivers such quality and such range that it is astonishing. I told Mark Jansen that it was the SUPERMARKET SWEEP of festivals: so much to pick up on in so short a time. And readers will understand that my range is narrow: there is much music on the list of genres above that doesn’t stir me, although it might be excellent.

However: in 2019 I came home with over 150 videos in four days of enthusiastic observation-participation. I slept as if drugged on the plane ride home. I’d been perforated by music of the finest kind.

I also need to write a few darker sentences.

There is a blessed influx of younger people — dancers, often — to music festivals like this one. But festivals are large enterprises, costly to stage and exhausting to supervise. Those of us who want to be able to see and hear live music must know that this phenomenon needs what realistic promoters call Asses in Seats.

So if you say, “Well, I’ll come in a few years when I’m retired,” that’s understandable. But Asses at Home mean that this festival, and others, might not wait for you. Grim, but true.

So I hope to see you there. There are a million reasons to stay at home. But who will come in and dust you?

May your happiness increase!

DANCE WHILE PURRING, AND THE REVERSE: HAL SMITH’S JAZZOLOGISTS (2021)

A long prelude, but with a point.

Julian Barnes has an extraordinary story in his 2005 collection THE LEMON TABLE, “A Short History of Hairdressing,” in which the narrator recounts his life as a series of haircuts.

It amuses me to offer my life in a few lines as a purchaser of recorded music:

Fifty-five years ago, when my mother went shopping in a department store, I ran off and bought a Louis Armstrong long-playing record for $2.79 plus tax.  Thirty years ago, I stopped off at Tower Records on my way home from work and bought an Arbors or a Concord CD for $16 and hid it in my briefcase so it wouldn’t be seen and cause an argument.  In the past twelve months, although I still buy music from Amazon and eBay and the musicians themselves, the music cornucopia has become Bandcamp.com, where one can hear and purchase all sorts of divinely inspired improvised music — from Bob Matthews to Brad Linde and Freddie Redd, to Gordon Au, Keenan McKenzie, Jonathan Doyle, The Vitality Five, The Dime Notes, Andrew Oliver, Michael McQuaid and two dozen more . . . and now, a wonderful addition to Hal Smith’s catalogue of inspiring music.

This isn’t a collection of howling, meowing, and hissing: no need to open the window and shout “STOP THAT!” at the feline orgy below.  Rather, it’s hot New Orleans dance music.  Hal [one of the greatest swinging drummers on the planet, and that’s no stage joke] says, of this brand-new session, “a sound somewhere between Bunk’s band (if Don Ewell had been the pianist) and the 1964 ‘Jazzology Poll Winners.'”

Filet of soul — not canned or freeze-dried.  I confess to always entering into an emotional relationship with music — those rare and delicious effusions that make me feel warmly embraced.  Hal’s new disc does that.

Here, listen.  And I believe that Bandcamp waives its fees on Friday, so the musicians get more of the hot savory pie.

The facts, ma’am (thinking of Jack Webb, if you remember):

Hal Smith (drums, leader); Clint Baker (trumpet, vocal on MY LITTLE GIRL); John Gill (trombone); Ryan Calloway (clarinet); Kris Tokarski (piano); Bill Reinhart (banjo); Katie Cavera (string bass).  YOU ALWAYS HURT THE ONE YOU LOVE / ARKANSAS BLUES / BLUE MASK STOMP / HONEY BABE / SAN SUE STRUT / BLACK CAT ON THE FENCE / BLUE FOR YOU, BUNK / MY LITTLE GIRL //

Jake Hanna said — often — “What are you waiting for the last chorus of a tune to swing?  Start swinging from the beginning!” and this band does, no matter what the tempo.  Twenty years ago, a work-colleague would say, “You ROCK!” as

Before I heard a note, I was happy with the tune list.  Occasionally I think, “If I hear one more JUST A CLOSER WALK WITH ME or PLEASE DON’T TALK ABOUT ME WHEN I’M GONE or SI TU VOIS MA MERE I will bang my head into the wall — don’t try this, it ruins the paint — but the avoidance of tediously overplayed songs was immediately refreshing.  Aside from the homage to Bunk Johnson’s repertoire, there are affectionate glances at Messrs. Morton, Manone, Bechet, and others.

It’s a band with New Orleans in their hearts — strong melodic improvisations, a pulsating supportive rhythm section, and a delightfully idiosyncratic front line making SOUNDS.  There is a refreshing reliance on ensemble playing, and a return to one of my favorite things: one player offering a straight but swinging melody while the other improvises around it.

I said it was warm — and warming — music.  I hear other bands full of players I admire hewing so closely to the recordings that the collective effect is technically dazzling but a little cool to the touch.  The Jazzologists know the score (pun intended) but they romp all on their own.  And they don’t fall into the reverent trap of imitating the limitations of venerable senior players.  They play.

And it’s a triumph of passion as well as technology.  Yes, it was created remotely, with players in six cities — but the groove is such that you wouldn’t know it.

Not for the first time in my adult life have I lamented the disconnect between my ears and heart (those parts that receive the music and revel in it) and my rather stiff stubborn legs.  But hearing this disc, I would happily dance around the kitchen, not caring how goofy I might look.  It’s that inspiring.

To be a good critic, one must find flaws, or so it seems.  That was hard with this session — now on its fifth playing as I write this — but I did find one thing to complain about.  I wish this had been a digital two-CD set.  Maybe in a few months (what is the feline gestation period?) there can be Kittens?

Swing, you cats! — here.

May your happiness increase!

SATURDAY NIGHT AT THE GIRLS’ SCHOOL (December 1, 1951)

Concord Academy, Concord, Mass., established 1922 for grades 9-12, enrollment less than 500 students.  Surely I don’t understand upper-class girls’ boarding schools, but it seems the last place one would find a hot jazz concert — or was it a dance? — in late 1951.  Then again, jazz was still the popular music.  Doing research on the Boston hot jazz scene of this period, I came upon this passage from a 1950 story in the Harvard Crimson about the genesis of the school’s hot band, the Crimson Stompers.  Savor this as a relic of a vanished time, please:

They went twice to Smith College (Gifford is carried away by the memory where 200 girls in sweat shirts and dungarees sat in a semicircle and shrieked for the real oldtimers like “Coal Cart Blues” (an Armstrong standby).

That, I think, is the emotional connection between Concord Academy and jazz.

One of the musicians, cornetist Johnny Windhurst, then 25, had substantial fame.  Windhurst had been the second horn in Sidney Bechet’s quintet that broadcast from the Savoy Cafe in 1945; he had returned to the Savoy in 1949 with Edmond Hall’s band that had Vic Dickenson in the front line.  In New York, he had performed with Eddie Condon, Jack Teagarden, James P. Johnson, and other notables, at Town Hall and the Stuyvesant Casino; in 1952, he would be playing regularly at Eddie Condon’s on West Third Street.  Windhurst turned down opportunities to travel, would not learn to read music, and stayed close to home until his death in 1981.  He is a glorious player, his solos arching towards the skies.

Trombonist Eddie Hubble was an early associate of Bob Wilber, a superb extension of Jack Teagarden, and by this time he had performed with Red McKenzie, Wild Bill Davison, Frank Chace, George Wein, Doc Evans, Joe Sullivan.  He, too, was heard on Boston radio broadcasts.

“Ollie” Taylor [Oliver S. Taylor, Harvard, ’53] may not have continued on with music, and his recorded career is limited to two performances linked to drummer Walt Gifford.  But he was playing alongside professionals as early as 1948.  His father was a Harvard history professor, and the Harvard hot band, the Crimson Stompers, formed and rehearsed at the Taylor house.

I know even less about the fine supportive pianist Pete Hewitt: he recorded three sides with a band led by Gifford that also had Hubble.  Where did he go after Harvard?  Walt Gifford, Harvard ’52, managed the Crimson Stompers, and he had a professional career which I can follow into the Sixties, he did not get the notice his work deserved.  (Then again, I say to myself, “Who does?”)

That Boston-and-beyond scene was flourishing: Ed Hall, Frank Chace, and Frank Newton played and recorded with iterations of the Crimson Stompers; the young woman who would become Barbara Lea — born Leacock — was both their star singer and Windhurst’s girlfriend.

I also am reasonably sure that the music was recorded by Joe Boughton, who was an early and pious Windhurst devotee [archivist? stalker?], a wonderful thing, seventy years later — although I have a half-memory of some musician writing something like, “Wherever we’d be playing, he’d show up with the damned tape recorder and it would be running.”  To my right, as I write this, I have a photograph of Windhurst on my wall, inscribed to Boughton, with surprise at a “sober Saturday”! Thank goodness we have slightly more than a half hour of the music: all “Dixieland” classics, and beautifully played: strong soaring solos, wonderful rhythm (you don’t miss a string bass), nice riffs and backgrounds.  As young as they were, they were splendidly professional.  And not to slight Ollie Taylor, it is Windhurst and Hubble who continue to astonish (they were both continuing to do so when I saw them, separately, in 1971 and 1972.)

I also don’t know anything about a school like Concord Academy and its cultural anthropology.  Was this a dance?  Did the girls get to invite their beaux?  Or was it a social event where the band played for listening?  I don’t sense a large room crowded with eager teens; in fact, it’s hard to sense an audience at all.  I wish I knew, but here’s the music.  And what music!

In Windhurst I often hear Hackett, but Bobby with almost insolent ease, fluidity and power — although it’s clear that he’s absorbed Louis and the Condon trumpet crew.  When he moves around on the cornet, there’s never any strain, as he accomplishes versions of super-Bix.  And that sound! — full and shining.  Next to him, Hubble echoes Teagarden but also the slippery power and audacity of Lou McGarity and Brad Gowans.  Taylor’s approach is slightly less assured — more Parenti than Hucko — but his earnest lyricism is sweetly appealing, and occasionally (hear the end of his chorus on ONE HOUR, where he asks himself, “What would Pee Wee do?”) he comes up with memorable phrases, although occasionally he’s not completely familiar with the song.  Hewitt is wonderfully orchestral and spare at once, summoning Stacy and streamlined stride (SAINTS is the best example); he isn’t fancy in the ensembles, but you feel him providing solidly moving chordal support.  And Gifford plays splendidly for the band, sometimes pushing the hi-hat in the best Jo Jones fashion, otherwise relying on snare and bass drum, always thinking of what the band needs at the moment in the nicest Wettling manner.  It’s a very cooperative band — players who had worked together and readily created supporting figures.  And although the repertoire is familiar as “Dixieland,” the rhythmic emphasis here is on swing: they’re playing the tunes rather than copying the hallowed recordings.  Hear how Hubble and Windhurst leap into their solos on SAINTS.

Can you tell I admire this band?

The songs are WAY DOWN YONDER IN NEW ORLEANS / IF I COULD BE WITH YOU / JADA / JAZZ ME BLUES / SOMEDAY SWEETHEART / SAINTS / SUGAR (faded out):

The recording — I feel certain it’s tape or a 33 rpm acetate — has been edited to eliminate both applause and pauses between songs, and the microphone is inside the band so that we hear the musicians’ comments to each other.  Was it broadcast on the local radio station?  And the recordist turns up the right knob while Hewitt solos so that his sound isn’t lost: this isn’t an accidental “capture.”

On Facebook, I hear many young bands showing their skills — sometimes simply their enthusiasm.  I wish many of them would study this tape: it’s a model of how to play this repertoire with great expertise and passion while making it look easy, aiming for polished small-band swing rather than trying to replicate some more ancient evidence.

Enjoy the glowing sounds as well as the little mysteries that accompany them: the people who could have explained it all are gone. Think of a time when such a band could exist and play a date at a local school.  Days gone by for sure.  (I wonder whether Concord Academy has its own archives: one can dream.  I will send this post to them.)

P.S.  I invite the word-averse to skip what follows.  Between 2006 and 2020, I carried video recording equipment to gigs; with large interruptions, I had brought audio equipment from 1971 to 2006 and sometimes beyond.  Through the immense kindness of jazz benefactors John L. Fell, Bill Coverdale, Bill Gallagher, Bob Hilbert, Roy Bower, Bert Whyatt, Tom Hustad, Hal Smith, Ricky Riccardi, Sonny McGown, and others, I’ve amassed hours — years, it seems — of rare recordings, primarily on audiocassette.  Thanks to a grant from the Charles Sammut Foundation and Laura Wyman’s encouragement, I figured out how to convert those cassettes into moderately-competent YouTube videos, and I’ve been doing this for the last month.  Why?  Some of this activity is an antidote to pandemic boredom-and-loneliness, but there is also my thought that when my executors come to clean out my apartment, and they are a very hip bunch, no one has room for three or four hundred cassettes.  It pained me that if I didn’t do something about it, my tapes (for example) of Bobby Hackett, Vic Dickenson, Joe Thomas, Teddy Wilson, Jo Jones, Bennie Morton . . . would never be heard.  That was intolerable to me.  So I hope you greet these audio rarities with the pleasure that I take in sharing them.

May your happiness increase!

“A WONDERFUL WAY TO START THE DAY”

It’s been a long time since I wore shoes that needed to be shined, but changes in fashion are less important than music sweetly offering hope.  This song’s optimistic bounce has always pleased me, so I am pleased to share with you the most current version, by the group calling itself THE BIG FIVE.  And I can now hear the verse, words and music . . . saying that shiny shoes are the key to success.  Were it that easy:

I will also list the credits, because they make me laugh:

The BIG FIVE Robert Young – cornet Robert Young – 1st alto saxophone Robert Young – 2nd alto saxophone Robert Young – tenor saxophone Robert Young – special arrangement Robert Young – just kidding Jeff Hamilton – piano Bill Reinhart – guitar Hal Smith – drums Clint Baker – string bass.

The source of all this pleasure is the Epiphonatic channel on YouTube, full of quiet swinging marvels.  This morning, it had 99 subscribers.  Surely JAZZ LIVES readers can add to that number.

Now, a little history.  Three versions! — by the Rhythmakers, here under Jack Bland’s name, the recording band whose output Philip Larkin and others thought a high point in the art of the last century.  Henry “Red” Allen, trumpet; Tommy Dorsey, trombone; Pee Wee Russell, clarinet; Happy Caldwell, tenor saxophone; Frank Froeba, piano; Eddie Condon, banjo; Jack Bland, guitar; Pops Foster, string bass; Zutty Singleton, drums; Chick Bullock, vocal.  Oct. 8, 1932.  Incidentally, admire Froeba’s playing (he’s gotten slandered because of later pop dross) and do not mock Chick Bullock, the perfect session singer — in tune, delivering melody and lyrics in a clear, friendly voice, which gave listeners the welcoming illusion that they, too, could sing on records:

a different take, where Chick sings “find”:

and a third take, a few seconds shorter since they do not perform the whole closing chorus, but at a less incendiary tempo:

and a duet of Monette Moore and Fats Waller, September 28, 1932 — a test recording that was not issued at the time:

A pity that the record company (I think it was Columbia’s predecessor, the American Record Company, then near bankruptcy) didn’t make a dozen records with Monette Moore, sweetly growling, and Fats Waller, at his relaxed best.

It also occurred to me while tracing this song that it documents a vanished time: when hot jazz and new Broadway songs were in the most effusive gratifying embrace.  That current pop hits could be swung by Pee Wee Russell for records that ordinary people bought . . . now seems a dream.  But I have the BIG FIVE to console me.

May your happiness increase!

LAGNIAPPE: HAL SMITH’S “ON THE LEVEE” JAZZ BAND (Part Three) at the REDWOOD COAST MUSIC FESTIVAL: BEN POLCER, JOE GOLDBERG, CHARLIE HALLORAN, KRIS TOKARSKI, ALEX BELHAJ, JOSHUA GOUZY, HAL SMITH (May 12, 2019)

Whatever musical project Hal Smith dreams up will be melodic and swinging, and his ON THE LEVEE JAZZ BAND is a fine example.  I’ve posted videos from many sets this band has played — at various festivals — and here are a few more, performed on May 12, 2019, at the very gratifying Redwood Coast Music Festival.  The first part of that set is here and — as if by magic! — the second is here.  (In the amateurish candid photo below, something good is happening in the rhythm section — the usual procedure!)

Three more splendid interludes from the band — Hal, drums; Joshua Gouzy, string bass; Alex Belhaj, guitar; Kris Tokarski, piano; Joe Goldberg, clarinet; Charlie Halloran, trombone; Ben Polcer, trumpet.

GRACE AND BEAUTY, by Kris Tokarski, Joshua Gouzy, Hal Smith:

SOMEDAY SWEETHEART:

PANAMA:

There will be more videos to come from this band at the Redwood Coast Music Festival, and I dream of a 2021 reunion there . . . .

May your happiness increase!

 

TAKE IT EASY, BUT TAKE IT: HAL SMITH’S “ON THE LEVEE” JAZZ BAND (Part Two) at the REDWOOD COAST MUSIC FESTIVAL: BEN POLCER, JOE GOLDBERG, CHARLIE HALLORAN, KRIS TOKARSKI, ALEX BELHAJ, JOSHUA GOUZY, HAL SMITH (May 12, 2019)

I especially admire musicians who know that there’s no race to get There, wherever There is.  Sarah Spencer told me long ago that in New Orleans, proper tempo was a comfortable walking pace.  Of course, some jazz tunes seem to require a sprint, but an easy saunter allows melodies to float in the air.

Hal Smith knows this, and his “On the Levee” band plays danceable New Orleans jazz, inspired equally by the later Kid Ory bands and the splendid individualists who make hot and lyrical sounds right now. Along with Hal on drums, there’s Joshua Gouzy, string bass; Alex Belhaj, guitar; Kris Tokarski, piano; Ben Polcer, trumpet; Joe Goldberg, clarinet; Charlie Halloran, trombone. Here’s a second helping of performances from a set that OTL played at the Redwood Coast Music Festival on May 12, 2019.  And if you weren’t around for the first bowl of hot gumbo, here it is.

Now, for more.  This one’s always in honor of Hal’s and my Auntie, Ida Melrose Shoufler:

“CREOLE SONG,” with “the guest mystery vocalist”:

“SISTER KATE,” or “GET OFF KATIE’S HEAD,” your preference — or  Katie’s:

and an ODJB classic that might require more vigorous leg motion:

More to come.  I look forward to the days when I (and all of us) can see ON THE LEVEE with — as I am told they say in Maryland — “our own two lookin’ eyes” and when we can gather at the Redwood Coast Music Festival — that’s September 30 to October 3, 2021.

May your happiness increase!

“LATCH ON TO THAT RHYTHM” AND OTHER SWING TREATS: MICHAEL GAMBLE AND HIS VERY SWINGING FRIENDS

Michael Gamble amid friends. How many swing stars do you recognize?

In person, bandleader-string bassist Michael Gamble is quiet and unassuming, but he really knows how to swing.  It’s a pleasure to tell you about four new digital-EP releases by his virtual groups, now available at Bandcamp. Those who like can skip the rest of this post and go directly there to listen.

They sound great, which is particularly remarkable, considering how hard the musicians have to work to make music in “isolation sessions.”

Michael explains, “All recordings from this series were made remotely, each of the 18 musicians (from 9 states) playing either in their homes, home-studios, or whatever they could make work! Despite the logistical challenges, we were determined to make an artistically cohesive and exciting project. Sections were pieced together painstakingly to make sure that no part was recorded prior to something that it needed to react creatively to, which often required multiple takes by the same musician on the same tune, spread over weeks. We believe the result — while certainly different in feel than prior Rhythm Serenaders albums which were recorded live in a single room — is a special set of recordings with their own completely unique flavor. We hope they’ll be enjoyed for years to come!”

I can swear to that last sentence.  Without a hint of museum dustiness, it is as if Michael and friends lifted me out of my chair and teleported me to splendid sessions truly happening, let us say, between 1934 and 1947.  Or, if you prefer, he came to my house and gave me a waist-high stack of perfectly recorded 16″ transcription discs of all my heroes and heroines.  Both of those science-fiction scenarios require a suspension of disbelief: all you have to do to drink at the extraordinary Fountain of Swing is to go here and buy yourself and friends holiday and early-holiday and post-holiday presents.  (Friday, December 4, by the way, is one of Bandcamp’s special days where all the proceeds go to the musicians, with no fees deducted, so it’s a wonderful time to do this.)

The musical worlds (note plural) Michael and friends live in are so spacious that each of these has its own distinctive flavor, which I will try to describe.

Volume One, LATCH ON TO THAT RHYTHM, goes like this:
Somebody Loves Me / Softly, as in a Morning Sunrise / Lester Smooths It Out / Bounce Me Brother, with a Solid Four / Did I Remember? / Joe Louis Stomp / One Never Knows, Does One? and the musicians are Laura Windley, vocals (1, 4, 5, 7); Dan Levinson, clarinet / tenor; Noah Hocker, trumpet; Jonathan Stout, acoustic and electric guitars / Chris Dawson, piano; Michael Gamble, string bass; Hal Smith, drums.  The overall flavor is multi-layered, with tastes of mid-Thirties Wilson and Billie, the Gramercy Five, and a splendid infusion of 1946 Aladdin and Keynote.  Even if the references mean little to you, hear how good the band sounds on JOE LOUIS STOMP.  And listen to Laura Windley work her magic on ONE NEVER KNOWS, DOES ONE? — that rarest of compositions, a song about the magic of love balancing frail hope and deep melancholy.  (By the way, it’s a Mack Gordon-Harry Revel creation from 1936, and although everyone knows it from Billie, it’s first sung by Alice Faye in a Shirley Temple film.  Consider that.)

Volume Two, EFFERVESCENT SWING, features
A Sunbonnet Blue (and a Yellow Straw Hat) / Coquette  / Me, Myself, and I / South / Am I Blue? / Sweet Sue / Effervescent Blues / Tickle-Toe, and some of the same rascals are present: Laura Windley (1, 3, 5); Dan Levinson (tenor 1,2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8; clarinet 5; alto 8); Chloe Feoranzo  (clarinet 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 7, 8; tenor 6); David Jellema, cornet; Charlie Halloran, trombone; Jonathan Stout; James Posedel, piano; Michael Gamble, Hal Smith.  The flavors — still delicious — are a little different.  Think the small-group Basie riffing of the Kansas City Six; toss with Reuss and Catlett seasonings; add some Commodore Condon rideouts; mix gently with the Charlie Christian – Benny Goodman Sextet (yes, I have those names in the right order); several tablespoons of 1938 Bobby Hackett, top with modern tailgate from Charlie Halloran, and you get the idea.  And the three songs associated with Billie — and sung gloriously by Laura — have sly arrangements that honor the period but don’t copy the records.  For one instance only, hear how the rideout of ME, MYSELF, AND I nods to LAUGHING AT LIFE, and Michael’s cross-dressing riffs that start off AM I BLUE remarkably.  So rewarding.  For musical samples, hie thyself to the Bandcamp page!

Volume Three, DIGGIN’ IN THE DEN, offers these daily specials: Good Morning Blues / Scuttlebutt / I’m Painting the Town Red / Tumble Bug / It’s Like Reaching for the Moon / Diggin’ in the Den / Honeysuckle Rose  — performed by these swing alchemists, Laura Windley (3, 5); Keenan McKenzie (clarinet / tenor); Gordon Au (trumpet); Jonathan Stout; Craig Gildner (piano); Michael Gamble; Riley Baker (drums).  Here, the recipe calls for a dark Kansas City groove (think Eddie Durham, Lips Page, Dick Wilson), with equal parts Gramercy 5 pre-bop gloss, Lady Day Vocalions (the gorgeous trumpet-tenor interplay at the start of IT’S LIKE REACHING FOR THE MOON) — all mixed together with modern ingenuity harking back to Basie and Ellington small groups but sounding fresh — even on HONEYSUCKLE ROSE, which (admit it!) has been played to shreds in its various incarnations.

Volume Four THE GAMBLER, unwraps its digital box to reveal these gifts: Something to Pat Your Foot To / The Gambler / Smokey Shoulders / Sunday / Cotton Tail / Night Bloom / What’s the Fuss? / Bottoms Up.  The musicians radiating expert joy here are Laura Windley (4); Keenan McKenzie (clarinet and tenor); Jacob Zimmerman (clarinet and alto); Gordon Au; Lucian Cobb (trombone); Jonathan Stout; Chris Dawson; Michael Gamble; Josh Collazo (drums).  Here the aura is pleasantly situated between just-after-the-war sessions led by Sir Charles Thompson and Illinois Jacquet and the late-Forties Basie band.  I hear a good deal of mute work from the brass (all those not-terribly frightening snarls and growls) and glistening late-Forties electrified Reuss, with reed playing that soars and slides.  COTTON TAIL leaps over the fence likea caffeinated bunny, the originals stick in my head — always a good sign — and the last few tracks nudge so wondrously into what I’d call 1951 Clef Records territory.

If you’ve lost your way in the forest of words, the musical oasis can be found here.  I encourage you to visit there now, or December 4, or any old time.

Three things.  One is that I listened to all four discs in one sitting (a tea break between Two and Three doesn’t count) with delight, never looking at my watch.

Second, if you ever meet one of the Official Jazz Codgers who grumps, “Oh, these kids today try, but they don’t know how to swing,” I encourage you to box his ears with digital copies of this music — a wild metaphor, but you’ll figure it out — until he stops speaking nonsense.

Three, a paradox.  These are “isolation sessions,” with everyone miles apart, earbuds or headsets, praying for swing synchronicity — and that is a miracle itself.  (Ask any musician who’s participated in such rigors.)  But as I listen to this music, I feel much less alone — less isolated, to be exact.  Try it and see if you don’t feel the same way.

May your happiness increase!

AND NOW, A WORD FROM OUR SPONSOR (thanks to HAL SMITH and THE SYNCOPATED TIMES, November 2020)

Your only-intermittently-Humble-Correspondent, 2012. Photograph by Marcia Salter.

I am honored by being the subject of a piece in November 2020 The Syncopated Times, whose link you can find below.  All credit goes to my friend Hal Smith — most of you know him as a percussive sparkplug, but he’s a fine intuitive journalist as well as being a great writer-archivist.  I’ve been interviewed twice before, by Andrew Sammut and Mike Zirpolo, but I was thrilled to have the email conversation with Hal that resulted in this piece.  I didn’t tell him what questions to ask: he just knew and I felt comfortable.  And the piece doesn’t start with my musical training at my mother’s knee, because it didn’t go that way.

I characterize myself as a Shy Extrovert: someone who thrives on attention in very short bursts — if the light is too bright, I run for cover.  Those who know me well might say, “Yes, Michael.  He shows up and hugs everyone and then he hides behind that camera.”  But I am very proud of this and hope you won’t mind a blogpost’s worth of muted preening.  Thanks in advance for reading.  (And if someone chose to subscribe to TST, that wouldn’t bother me at all.)  None of this would have happened without the kind enthusiasm of TST’s editor, Andy Senior, who lives the music also.

The link is here.  And there are color photographs toooooooooo! (Alas, I didn’t credit the fine photgrapher / videographer Laura Wyman for them.)

May your happiness increase!

“THINK LOVELY WONDERFUL THOUGHTS” (of NEW ORLEANS): HAL SMITH’S “ON THE LEVEE” JAZZ BAND at the REDWOOD COAST MUSIC FESTIVAL: BEN POLCER, JOE GOLDBERG, CHARLIE HALLORAN, KRIS TOKARSKI, ALEX BELHAJ, JOSHUA GOUZY, HAL SMITH (Part One: May 12, 2019)

Hal Smith’s “On the Levee” band plays danceable New Orleans jazz, inspired equally by the later Kid Ory bands and the splendid individualists who make hot / lyrical sounds right now.  Along with Hal on drums, there’s Joshua Gouzy, string bass; Alex Belhaj, guitar; Kris Tokarski, piano; Ben Polcer, trumpet; Joe Goldberg, clarinet; Charlie Halloran, trombone.  Here are the first three performances from a set that OTL played at the Redwood Coast Music Festival on May 12, 2019.  Keep absolutely still as you listen: I dare you.

COME BACK, SWEET PAPA:

BEALE STREET BLUES:

TAILGATE RAMBLE:

There will be more from this band that you haven’t seen, and I’ve presented a good deal on JAZZ LIVES: search for LEVEE and you’ll find the right spot.

In J.M. Barrie’s play of the same name, Peter Pan explains to the children how they can fly: “You just think lovely wonderful thoughts,” Peter explained, “and they lift you up in the air.”  If we all do just that, perhaps we will get to hear On the Levee again soon, and we will meet again at the Redwood-Coast-Music-Festival at the last weekend of September 2021.

I’m thinking now.  Join me in those thoughts?

May your happiness increase!

IRRESISTIBLY SWINGING: THE BROOKS PRUMO ORCHESTRA: “THIS YEAR’S KISSES”

The new CD by the Brooks Prumo Orchestra, THIS YEAR’S KISSES, is wonderfully groovy, rather like the thing you can’t stay away from, Bert Lahr’s single Lay’s potato chip.  (You can look that up on YouTube.  I’ll wait.)  By the way, I loved the BPO’s first CD, PASS THE BOUNCE (2017): read about it here.

Here‘s the Bandcamp link for KISSES, where you can see the personnel, the song titles, hear a sample, download, or purchase this CD.

The description reads: The Brooks Prumo Orchestra was made for dancing. Featuring brand new arrangements of long-lost big band tunes, original compositions, and crowd favorites, the Brooks Prumo Orchestra aims to embody a big band dance orchestra of the Swing era. Filled with world-class musicians, the band will evoke thoughts of Count Basie, Earl Hines, Andy Kirk, and Billie Holiday.

The noble members of the BPO are Alice Spencer, vocals*; Mark Gonzales, trombone; Jonathan Doyle, tenor saxophone, clarinet; Lauryn Gould, alto saxophone; David Jellema, cornet; Oliver Steck, cornet; Hal Smith, drums; Ryan Gould, string bass; Kris Tokarski,  piano; Brooks Prumo, guitar.

And the delicious repertoire is  CASTLE ROCK / SOMEBODY LOVES ME* / ‘T’AIN’T LIKE THAT / PEEK-A-BOO / THIS YEAR’S KISSES* / JO-JO / DON’T BE THAT WAY / ARMFUL O’ SWEETNESS* / OUT OF NOWHERE / THE THEME / WHAT’S YOUR NAME?* / BLUE LESTER / BROADWAY / I’M THRU WITH LOVE* / JEEP’S BLUES.

Those who know will see splendid associations: Al Sears, Johnny Hodges, Rex Stewart, Count Basie, Karl George, Billie Holiday, Joe Bushkin, Jo Jones, Lester Young, Buck Clayton, Alex Hill, Fats Waller, Henry “Red” Allen, Dexter Gordon, Nat Cole.

Happily, the CD is very forgiving of the dance-challenged: it allows me to sit in my chair, listen, and beam.  And to give you an idea of the intense attraction I had for this CD on my first hearing I thought, “I want this CD!” and then calmed down enough to think, “You already have it.”

Listening to it again and again, I envisioned the eleven members of this orchestra as a kind of M.C. Escher drawing, people swimming blissfully in two divergent streams at once.  One could be labeled NOW, which means that the musicians here sound like themselves — and their voices are so individualistic — but they are also having a high old time splashing around in THEN, so that many of the performances have a tender connection to past recorded performances.  But there is no conscious attempt (use your Steve Martin voice) to say, “Hey! Let’s Get OLD!” — no archival stiffness.  And the familiar material, say SOMEBODY, BROADWAY, NOWHERE, is delightfully enlivened by the band’s passionate immersion in not only the notes but the emotions.

The rhythm section is fine-tuned, flexible and resourceful, four individuals playing as one; the solos are memorable; the ensemble work is both loose and graciously cohesive.  This is a band, and even if there isn’t the official BPO band bus for the one-nighters, you can hear their pleasure in working together, easy and intense.

And a few lines, once again, for the miracle of nature known as Alice Spencer, who takes familiar music and makes it fresh, who makes songs associated with Billie Holiday for decades into her own without warping their intent, who can be perky or melancholy with utter conviction.  She is full of surprises — many singers telegraph what they are going to do in the next four bars, but she doesn’t — although her surprises always seem like the right thing once they have landed.  I won’t compare her to other singers: rather, she has an aura like a great film actress, comfortable in many roles.  Think Joan Blondell or Jean Arthur, and you have some idea of her great personal appeal.

This CD is a great gift.  It’s music for dancers, music for those of us who know the originals, music for people who need joy in their lives.  THIS YEAR’S KISSES is like sunshine breaking through: a consistent delight, much appreciated.  Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to listen to it again.

May your happiness increase!

HAVE YOU HAD YOUR SWING TODAY?

So you took your pills this morning with your coffee and you don’t feel any different?  You walked past the bed and it said, “Come back to me until March 2021,” and you heard its call?  A good friend texted you I HAVE GREAT NEWS! and you didn’t read the message?  Do you feel like an elderly carrot at the back of the crisper?  If you were a quart of milk, would you be lumpy and sour?

Before you call your doctor to see if she can see you today, ask yourself: “Could my Swing levels be low?  Have I been neglecting a flowing 4 / 4?  Have I been reading the news far too much too early in the day?”

If so, I have the cure for you.  No co-pay, no long list of side effects, no waiting room with tape across the chairs.  Just sit still and prepare to receive the healing infusions through ears and eyes.  Several repeated immersions will be helpful.  When you find yourself moving rhythmically in your chair, the treatment will be working.

I saw this video last night on YouTube (my faithful companion) and watched it four times in a row before posting it on Facebook.  But I think it’s my moral duty as an upstanding American to share it as widely as possible.  Here’s what I wrote:

When it’s good, you know it. And what I am going to share with you is light-years better than good. It’s what Marty Grosz would call “the real breadstick”: BLUE LOU, created by HAL SMITH’S OVERLAND SWING EXPRESS. That’s Hal, drums / leader; Clint Baker, trumpet; Loren Schoenberg, tenor saxophone; Kris Tokarski, piano; Nick Rossi, guitar; Bill Reinhart, string bass. I watched it four times in succession before writing this. Now I have to stop: Jack Kapp and John Hammond are squabbling in the next room over whether the band will sign with Decca or ARC. But judge for yourself:

Are you beginning to feel better?  I know I am.

May your happiness increase!

HOW DO THEY AGE SO WELL? (WILD BILL DAVISON, TOMMY SAUNDERS, GEORGE MASSO, CHUCK HEDGES, DAVE McKENNA, MARTY GROSZ, MILT HINTON, JOHN BANY, RUSTY JONES, WAYNE JONES: “Eddie Condon Memorial Band,” Elkhart Jazz Festival, July 1988)

Sometimes a JAZZ LIVES post is the result of a record I’ve heard, a musician I’ve been thinking about, or a particular idea.  Other times, it takes a village, which I define as members of my emotional jazz-family to make something coalesce into print.  In this case, I am grateful to adopted-brothers Bernard Flegar and Mark Cantor, who may never have met in person — that’s the way my extended family works.  (I also have Brothers Hal Smith and Mike Karoub: someday we can all have Thanksgiving together!)  Others, less beloved, who acted as stimuli, are the late Andre Hodeir and a sour YouTube armchair critic who will not be named.

About a week ago, to celebrate George Wein’s 95th birthday, I posted an eighteen-minute video featuring Barney Bigard and friends playing at Nice, and you can see the video here.  Barney was 71.  He sounded beautiful.

But the first YouTube comment was a dismaying “Not Barneys finest hour ?” I gently replied that Barney couldn’t be expected to play as he had in 1940, and did take a swipe at the commenter — without correcting his punctuation, “Your comment says more about you than about him.”  His vinegary response came right back:  “I’m 83 and an avid jazz fan ; there’s a time to leave your instrument in its case if you can’t keep up ! Just like boxers who hang on too long ; singers who hung on to long ( Frank was a classic example) Barney would have agreed . Unrepentant !” Someone else chimed in to echo the unrepentant avid fellow.

I sighed and didn’t write any of the things I could have about the irony of people of 83 being ageist.  “Don’t insult my musicians!” is my credo, and I would rather hear Lester Young in Paris in 1959 than not at all.

Then, the splendid film scholar Mark Cantor and I conversed online about the French jazz critic Andre Hodeir.  I was delighted to find that I had written about Hodeir in 2011 here.  In his first book, Hodeir had rhapsodized over the “romantic imagination” of Dicky Wells as displayed in his memorable 1937 recordings.  Dicky then came to France in 1952, but he was no longer the player he had been.  Hodeir attacked him in an essay, “Why Do They Age So Badly?” stating that Wells had no reason to keep on playing, that his work no longer met Hodeir’s standards.  I saw Dicky playing splendidly in the early Seventies, but Hodeir’s criticism stung not only him but readers like myself.

Yesterday morning, the wise drummer-scholar Bernard Flegar (whose eyes are open to the good stuff) led me to something that, in the fashion of Edgar Allan Poe, had been hiding in plain sight: a video shot by Bob Byler at the 1988 Elkhart Jazz Festival, a tribute to our mutual deity Eddie Condon, two sets featuring Wild Bill Davison, Tommy Saunders, Chuck Hedges, George Masso, Marty Grosz, Dave McKenna, and (set one) Milt Hinton, Rusty Jones; (set two) John Bany, Wayne Jones — nearly two hours of extraordinary music.

Wild Bill could sometimes coast, but not here.  And he was 82 and a half.  Please consider that number for a moment.  By the standards of Hodeir and YouTube critics, he should have stopped long before.  But he’s so charged; the rest of the band, including younguns Hedges and Grosz, is also.  A viewer who looks for double chins and thinning hair will find them.  But the music — inventive, surprising, and fun — is anything but geriatric.

Bob Byler (with his devoted wife Ruth) shot many videos — some of them are cinematically flawed, but this one is fine.

Here’s the roadmap.

The first set [afternoon turning into evening, outdoors] offers leisurely swinging improvisations on LADY BE GOOD, SOMEDAY YOU’LL BE SORRY (Saunders, vocal), ‘S’WONDERFUL (Bill tells a joke) I’M CRAZY ‘BOUT MY BABY (Marty Grosz), IF I HAD YOU (Masso and Hedges out), INDIANA (Milt, at a beautiful tempo), NOBODY ELSE BUT ME (Masso) SKYLARK (Hedges), AM I BLUE, I NEVER KNEW.

The second set [evening, indoors}: I CAN’T BELIEVE THAT YOU’RE IN LOVE WITH ME, SEPTEMBER IN THE RAIN (at a sweet tempo), AS LONG AS I LIVE, KEEPIN’ OUT OF MISCHIEF (Masso and Hedges out), TEA FOR TWO (Masso), RUNNIN’ WILD (ending with a spectacular solo from Wayne Jones).

We listen with our ears and our hearts, not our actuarial tables, I hope.

And if anyone wants to tell me I am too old to be blogging (I started in February 2008) tell me to my face and I’ll throw my pill bottles at them.  That’ll do it.

Many thanks to the true heroes, here and elsewhere: Bill, Tommy, George, Chuck, Dave, Marty, Milt, John, Rusty, Wayne, Bernard and Mark, Hal and Mike.  Their life-force cheers me and gives me strength.

May your happiness increase!