Tag Archives: Hal Smith

HAL SMITH SWINGS BY: ROSSANO SPORTIELLO, FRANK TATE, DAN BLOCK, DUKE HEITGER, JOEL FORBES (Cleveland Classic Jazz Party, September 14, 2017)

Usually when I set up my video camera to record a band, I try to stay a safe distance from the percussionist — no matter how much I respect him or her — for simple matters of volume.  But at the informal Thursday night sessions at the 2017 Cleveland Classic Jazz Party, I found myself right near the drums, which was a good thing . . .

Hal Smith I can always trust to swing beautifully.  Here, in a piano trio, a clarinet quartet, and a two-horn quintet, he stayed on his brushes — mostly on the snare and hi-hat cymbal, with bass drum commentary — and the swing that resulted was subtle, reassuring, and immense.

It didn’t hurt at all (“it didn’t bother me”) that he was joined by Rossano Sportiello, piano, and Frank Tate, string bass — for the first number, WHO’S SORRY NOW?  Not Connie Francis, but James P. Johnson:

(I knew there was much exhilarating music to come, but after that performance I thought, “Well, I’m full.  Whatever else happens is a bonus.”)

Then, Rossano slowed the tempo down, and they began JADA.  A man walked in front of the camera at around twenty seconds, and ordinarily I find such walk-throughs irritating, but not when the man is my hero Dan Block, moving in to play with the irresistible trio:

To quote Alex Hill, AIN’T IT NICE?

And as a final bit of pleasure in this add-a-part informal set, Joel Forbes took over for Frank at the bass and Duke Heitger joined in for JUST YOU, JUST ME:

Did you ask me why I travel to the Cleveland Classic Jazz Party, or why I seek out gigs where these musicians play?  I think these videos will answer the [musical] question.  I plan to offer more videos from this weekend, as will Laura Wyman of Wyman Video, who has some delights for us as well.

May your happiness increase!

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“HAVIN’ MYSELF A TIME”: PETRA VAN NUIS, ANDY SCHUMM, DAN BARRETT, ANDY BROWN, SCOTT ROBINSON, FRANK TATE, RICKY MALICHI (Cleveland Classic Jazz Party, Sept. 16, 2017)

Photograph by Bill Klewitz

My title comes from a wonderful, lesser-known song by Ralph Rainger and Leo Robin, from a minor Paramount Pictures comedy, TROPICAL HOLIDAY — with Ray Milland, Dorothy Lamour, Martha Raye (possibly playing a matador) and Bob Burns.

We know the song because it was recorded by Billie Holiday in 1938.

And it was performed anew by Petra van Nuis and Friends at the 2017 Cleveland Classic Jazz Party.

Petra had herself a time with some of the best players I know: Ricky Malichi, drums; Frank Tate, string bass; Andy Brown, guitar; Andy Schumm, cornet; Dan Barrett, trombone; Scott Robinson, reeds; Noah Won, piano.

Petra, if you are new to her or her work, can also be seen having a wonderful swinging time at Cleveland here on Sunday morning with an entirely different cast of luminaries: John Di Martino, Nicki Parrott, and Hal Smith.

Rather like our swing ideal Rebecca Kilgore, Petra doesn’t choose to drown herself in melancholy on the bandstand: even when she sings EVENIN’, the brisk tempo reminds us that the grim lyrics are only half the story.  Her outlook is optimistic, as you will see and hear in these four wonderful performances.

She began with an upbeat song, almost a century old, SAVE YOUR SORROW:

After that encouraging beginning, Petra moved to “an old Billie Holiday song,” but you’ll notice she doesn’t attempt to be the Lady — no meow, no rasp:

Another song identified with Billie and Basie (built on DIGA DIGA DOO, I now know by hearsay), SWING, BROTHER, SWING — also a policy statement from the van Nuis camp:

And finally, a real pleasure.  Petra is tall and svelte, but here she extends an affectionate embrace to those who, like me, ruefully are neither.  It’s Fats’ SQUEEZE ME, with the shade of Mildred Bailey in the wings, grinning:

It is so dreadfully unpopular these days to suggest that jazz of any kind is “happy music”; to some it conjures up nightmarish visions of striped jackets and straw boaters.  But Petra and a first-class band create joy.

And here is her website, where you can see other videos, learn all about her and the Recession Seven, and find out where she’ll be appearing next.

May your happiness increase!

BOTH “FINE” AND “DANDY”: PETRA VAN NUIS, JOHN DI MARTINO, NICKI PARROTT, HAL SMITH at the Cleveland Classic Jazz Party (September 17, 2017)

Photograph by Bill Klewitz

One of the many pleasures of the recent Cleveland Classic Jazz Party was the opportunity to hear the wonderful singer Petra van Nuis, someone who has been pleasing Chicago audiences for the past decade and more.  She can sing is the simplest way to put it.  Although she has a fine sense of humor — catch her introductions to songs in this set — it bubbles out of her rather than being a rehearsed routine.  She has her own sound and phrasing — conversational, occasionally surprising, but it always honors the lyrics and comes out of her deep respect for words as well as melodies.  She improvises but does not obliterate the composers’ intent, and I came away from this quietly glowing set feeling that I had heard the songs in emotionally satisfying ways.  This delicious interlude is the result of Petra’s sensibility: her nice mix of delicate yet intense feeling and buoyant swing.  I could delineate the pleasures of each chorus she sings, but I’d rather leave those sweet surprises to you as you watch and listen.

Petra’s instrumental colleagues have the same spirit: a sweet focused attentiveness that delights in small details without losing sight of the songs themselves.  Nicki and Hal are long-time friends, people I admire for many reasons: their generous spirits, their melodic inventiveness.  John Di Martino was new to me, and he’s a wonder: his beautiful touch, his wise harmonies, and his willingness to put himself in the service of the music: he is secure enough in his self to do just those things that make his colleagues shine so brightly.  It’s only after you get accustomed to his selfless creativity that you realize just how wonderful his playing is.

If it seems as if I admire this group and the music they make, that impression would be correct.  Here, “without further ado,” is a glorious Sunday-afternoon interlude.  And, as Hal said to me afterwards, “You could see a lot of smiles and laughs, and none of them were forced!”  I’m still grinning.

DAY IN, DAY OUT:

On MY OLD FLAME, hear how Petra delicately yet meaningfully offers the first two phrases — the mark of very great exposition of lyrics and melody:

MY HEART BELONGS TO DADDY has lent itself (in lesser hands) to caricature, but not here:

Let us honor Irving Berlin once again.  How beautiful I GOT LOST IN HIS ARMS is — its apparently plain melody allied to simple words, the whole being so moving when Petra explores it:

Both FINE AND DANDY here!  And blessings on the rhythm team for a fine 1944 Johnny Guarnieri groove to start:

I’M JUST A LUCKY SO-AND-SO:

After this set, we all felt just as fortunate.  And grateful.

May your happiness increase!

APPLY HEAT: “HOT CLASSICISM” (KRIS TOKARSKI, ANDY SCHUMM, HAL SMITH) IN NEW ORLEANS, SEPTEMBER 25, 2016

I’ve posted a good deal by this very satisfying band: Kris Tokarski, piano; Andy Schumm, cornet and clarinet; Hal Smith, drums, hereherehere — and a few other posts.  You could search them out without too much fuss.

Their first CD!

Because to me this music is very lively, spicy, and energizing, here are a few more gratifying performances from their evening gig in New Orleans’ Snug Harbor (during the last Steamboat Stomp) on September 25, 2016.

Very mellow, very groovy, SHE’S FUNNY THAT WAY:

Is there a causal link — that she was once FUNNY THAT WAY and now she’s NOBODY’S SWEETHEART?  Calling all psychotherapists and cultural critics:

Even though it’s a warm August, chiles are good for you, so HERE COMES THE HOT TAMALE MAN:

The title of this Irving Berlin classic causes great merriment in the balcony, A PRETTY GIRL IS LIKE A MELODY:

Albert Wynn’s 1928 ecstasy, PARKWAY STOMP:

FORTY AND TIGHT (“Use your imagination,” says Kris.):

And the rallying call for this magnificent trio, STOMP OFF, LET’S GO:

Restorative, curative, no prescription needed: “Apply Hot Classicism to the inflamed area and the afflicted soul. Repeat as desired.”

May your happiness increase!

COMPLETE! (AND COMPLETELY DELIGHTFUL): HAL SMITH’S SWING CENTRAL (August 2017, Bixfest, Davenport, Iowa)

I take a great deal of pleasure in being associated with this fine rewarding new band, one that mixes Chicago jazz, Kansas City small groups, heat and lyricism. It’s the beloved creation of drummer Hal Smith, and he’s assembled a fine crew to make memorable sounds: Steve PIkal, string bass; Dan Walton, piano / vocals; Jamey Cummins, guitar; Jonathan Doyle, clarinet.  I’ve written about them here — including comments on their debut CD, WINDY CITY SWING, whose cover is pictured above.

I could not make it to the 2017 BixFest held in Davenport, Iowa, just a week ago, but I am delighted to report to you that all the music made by Swing Central was captured by jazzmanjoe100, who is known to his banker as Edward.  But we’ll call him Joe in this post.  I’m grateful to him, and you will be too, for his diligence.  Joe and I use different cameras and have different ways of presenting music to the eager audience on YouTube, compiling one-hour DVDs which might encompass the first set of one band and then a portion of another band’s performance.  I have tried to elaborate on what’s on his videos, and the hidden pleasure is that they will lead you to other videos of his featuring the Fat Babies and Dan Levinson’s Roof Garden Jass Band.  But here is ALL of Swing Central, which is a great gift to us.

From Thursday, August 3, 2017, after the Bix Youth Orchestra (at 32:00) CHANGES MADE:

Continuing that set: ‘WAY DOWN YONDER IN NEW ORLEANS / DON’T LEAVE ME, DADDY / CHINA BOY / SWEET IS THE NIGHT / WHOLLY CATS / I WANT A LITTLE GIRL / BEAT ME, DADDY, EIGHT TO THE BAR (vocal Dan Walton) / LESTER LEAPS IN:

Friday, August 4, starting at 15:30, after the end of a Fat Babies set and some welcomes, HELLO, LOLA!, HI, FISHIES, BATS ON A BRIDGE, BLUE LESTER, ROLL ‘EM PETE, REPEATER PENCIL, PEE WEE’S BLUES, IT’S BEEN SO LONG, FROM MONDAY ON:

Later on Friday:  JELLY ROLL / FOR NO REASON AT ALL IN C / YOU TOOK ADVANTAGE OF ME / LONG DISTANCE MAN / LOVE IS JUST AROUND THE CORNER / PIG FOOT PETE (voc Dan Walton) / SHIVERS / I SURRENDER, DEAR / HAL, YEAH!:

From Saturday, August 5, at 49:50 (following a set by Dan Levinson’s Roof Garden Jass Band), Hal and Swing Central play MY HONEY’S LOVIN’ ARMS (with conversation) / BIG AL:

Continuing that set: Jon Doyle’s WINDY CITY SWING / Frank Melrose’s BLUESIANA / Jamey Cummins’ THE SHEIK OF AIR B N B / LOUISE / THREE LITTLE WORDS / I MUST HAVE THAT MAN / ROSE OF THE RIO GRANDE :

And from that evening, after nine minutes of Josh Duffee’s Greystone Monarchs, Swing Central comes on [and do they ever!] with THE LADY’S IN LOVE WITH YOU / SUNDAY / I’M COMIN’ VIRGINIA / NOBODY’S SWEETHEART NOW / PIPE LINER’S BLUES (vocal Dan Walton) / LOVE ME OR LEAVE ME / I NEVER KNEW / POOR BUTTERFLY / LITTLE GIRL:

and from a different point of view, thanks to TunefulTravel, POOR BUTTERFLY:

NOBODY’S SWEETHEART:

and I’M COMIN’ VIRGINIA:

What a band!  I look forward to finding SWING CENTRAL at other festivals, and I know that many of you will agree with me.

May your happiness increase!

THE WARM SOUNDS OF BILL NAPIER (1926-2003)

Clarinetist Bill Napier might be one of the finest musicians that few people outside of California have ever heard, or heard of.  Marc Caparone says, “I only played music with him twice, but he was a god, a very quiet man who didn’t get much publicity but was always superb.”  Leon Oakley remembers him as a “warm, creative player.”  Hal Smith told me that Bill cared about the music more than “traditional” ways of playing a chorus.

Almost all of the recordings Bill made, and the live performances captured outside of the studio have him in the middle of six or seven-piece units.  What I now can share with you here is intimate, touching music, with Bill the solo horn in a congenial trio.

The personnel of these live recordings is Napier, clarinet; Larry Scala, banjo; Robbie Schlosser, string bass.  They were recorded on August 8, 1994, outdoors at Stanford University, by Dr. Arthur Schawlow, who won the Nobel Prize (with others) for his work on the laser beam.  Dr. Schawlow not only liked jazz, but was an early adopter of high-tech: Larry says that he recorded these performances on a digital recorder, the first one he had ever seen.

Here are five delicious chamber performances, beginning with ALL MY LIFE.

ST. LOUIS BLUES:

I’M CONFESSIN’:

RIVERBOAT SHUFFLE:

IF I HAD YOU:

and a masterpiece:

Napier’s sound comes in the ear like honey.  He never plays a superfluous note; he honors the melody but in the most gentle supple way.  It is rather as if he were leaning forward, softly saying something heartfelt that was important to him and that he knew would uplift you.  Beauty and swing without affectation.

Before we move on to precious oral history, a few words about one of the other members of this trio.  After you have bathed in the liquid gold of Napier’s sound, listen once again to the very relaxed and gracious banjo playing of Larry Scala. Like Napier, he understands melodic lines (while keeping a flexible rhythm going and using harmonies that add but never distract).  Banjos in the wrong hands can scare some of us, but Larry is a real artist, and his sound is a pleasure to listen to.  (You can find examples of his superb guitar work elsewhere on this blog.) And this post exists because of his generosity, for he has provided the source material, and Larry’s gift to us is a great one.  Music to dance to; music to dream by.

I asked California jazz eminences for memories of Napier, and this is some of what people remembered.  Bill was obviously A Character, but everyone I asked was eager to praise him, and you’ve heard why.

From Hal Smith: I was going through tapes in the archive of the San Francisco Traditional Jazz Foundation. One tape had several of the bands which performed at the Clancy Hayes benefit at Earthquake McGoon’s in May of 1970. Napier led a band for the occasion. I heard him get onstage, walk to the mic and say “Here we are!” Then, a couple of seconds later, “Where ARE we?”

By the way, Bill’s real name was James William Asbury.  I’m not sure how it got changed to “Bill Napier.”  When he would tell stories about his youth, or time in the Army, he always referred to himself as “little Jimmy Asbury.”

Bill told me about the clarinetists he admired, including Jimmie Noone and Jimmy Dorsey. He also liked Albert Nicholas and went to hear him at Club Hangover in San Francisco. He asked to sit in, but was turned down. As he described it, “I asked Albert Nicholas if he needed any help and he said he didn’t think so.”

Bill was the original clarinetist with Bob Schulz’s Frisco Jazz Band. He left the group following Jack Sohmer’s mean-spirited review of Schulz’s CD which was published in The Mississippi Rag. After that, whenever Schulz would ask if Bill was available to play a gig, Bill would say, “No. Jack Sohmer may be in the audience.”  Before he left the Schulz band, we played a concert at Filoli Mansion outside San Francisco. M.C. Bud Spangler asked each musician to explain why they play music for a living. There was a wide range of responses, but Bill’s was the best: “Well, I have to pay my taxes!”

From Clint Baker:  Bill Napier was a bit of a prodigy, as a teenager he was playing at the Dawn Club as part of a young band that was one of the substitute bands for the wartime Yerba Buena Jazz Band.  By the late 40’s he was working with Wingy Manone in San Francisco. He went on to have a couple of stints with the Turk Murphy band and also with Bob Scobey, a band for which he was better suited for sure. He later worked with all the better bands around here; he was not all that interested in playing music on the road and kept close to home for the most part after the Fifties.

I encountered him many times when I was coming up.  He was always the consummate sideman, and always played with great imagination; he had the most amazing tone, liquid would best describe his.  But he NEVER ran out of ideas, he was a wellspring of original musical thought. If he did fall back on a device such as quote, it was always the most obtuse thing one could come up with.

Bill was one of the only players I ever played with who perfectly combined the elements of swing clarinet and New Orleans style clarinet; he all at once sounded like Goodman or Shaw or Simeon or Bigard.  He was hip to all of it and could combine all of the musical DNA of those styles in to his own rich sound. I remember speaking with him about to old masters and he told Simeon was one of his main favorites.  BUT he was truly his own man with the richest of musical imaginations.  I was always honored to work with him, and wish I had had more chances, but the times I did, I cherish. You knew when you were on the bandstand with him you were in the presence of greatness.  Bill was a master.

From Paul Mehling: I worked with him for nearly thirty years in a trio of bass, guitar, and clarinet, and he is on two of our CDs.  He was very shy, quiet, and private. He loved his two (or more?) cats. He and his wife would take the two cats camping and one year when it was time to leave they couldn’t find one of their cats. They called and called but feared he’d been abducted or eaten so they drove home very sad. Next year, they went camping again, same spot/campground. Guess who showed up!  They were overjoyed.  He never really believed how much I loved his playing and all I aspired to at that time was to be GOOD ENOUGH TO SHINE HIS SHOES (musically). I used to try to get into his head during each song and try to give him the kind of rhythm that he’d be most comfortable with.

I was 18 when I first played a full gig with him, but I first met him at the Alameda County Fair when I was 16, long-haired, and didn’t know anything about music but had enough gumption to drag my acoustic guitar into the fairgrounds and find those guys- Lueder Ohlwein, banjo; maybe Ev Farey, trumpet; for sure Bob Mielke, trombone, was there and probably Bill Carrol on bass.  They said Do you know any songs?” I said “Sure, whaddabout Avalon and I Got Rhythm,” and probably one other song.  I played, they liked it, and a few years later Napier remembered me!

He and I bonded early on over comedy. He liked how often I quoted Groucho. We had a shared love for bad puns:
Napier: “Let’s play the suspenders song.”
Me: “ What song is that?”
Napier: “It all depends on you.”
Me: “What?”
Napier : “It hold de pants on you.”

Napier: “You like to golf?”
Me: “Uh, no. You?”
Napier: “No, I never wanted to make my balls soar.”

We’d come up with all manner of re-titling songs to keep us from feeling bad about playing background music and getting almost zero love from “audiences.”

When the Bob Scobey band did a two-year stint in Chicago, Benny Goodman used to show up just to dig on Napier’s playing (which sounded like Goodman/Bigard/Noone!

One thing for sure: the guy never did NOT swing. Never. Even a song he didn’t know. In fact, and more curious was that I could throw all kinds of (gypsy) chord substitutions at him (I didn’t know any better, I thought that’s what jazz musicians did: reharmonize everything) and he never, EVER said “No” or so much as cast an evil eye in my direction. I think the years he played with Bill Erickson at Pier 23 were his favorite years.  He didn’t speak much of Erickson, but I could just tell.

Oh, here’s the BEST story. I just remembered: we were at a swanky Sunday brunch on the Stanford Campus, near that big Stanford Mall with Bloomingdales and other stores.  We would often try to engage diners by chatting and asking if they had a request. Most people wanted to hear something from CATS (ugh). Or they wanted to hear In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida.  So we went up to this table, and there’s a guy there, of a certain age. With an attractive woman half his age.  One of us said, “What would you like to hear?”
Man: “ I want to you to play “It Had To Be You” but not fast, about here- ….”(snaps his fingers indicating a medium slow tempo)
Me, aside to Napier: “Why don’t you ask MR. CONDUCTOR what KEY he’d like to SING it in?”
Napier, whispering to me: “I think MR. CONDUCTOR is MR. Getz.”
Boy, did I feel stupid: Stan Getz, doing a residency at Stanford, one of Napier’s heroes.

Obviously, a man well-loved and well-remembered.

I have foregone the usual biography of Bill, preferring to concentrate on the music for its own sake.  But here is a lovely detailed sketch of his life — unfortunately, it’s his obituary, and here is another week’s worth of rare music — Napier with bands — provided thanks to Dave Radlauer.  There are more trio performances, also.

Now, go back and listen to Napier play.

May your happiness increase!

IT’S CLASSIC! THE CLEVELAND CLASSIC JAZZ PARTY (Sept. 14-17, 2017)

Scott Robinson at the Cleveland Classic Jazz Party

Over the last dozen years, I have been to a variety of jazz parties and festivals, all of them deeply rewarding in singular ways.  But I have the longest ties to the Cleveland Classic Jazz Party.  Once it was Jazz at Chautauqua, then the Allegheny Jazz Party . . . but even when the name changes and the CCJP finds a new hotel to nest in, its spirited heart remains the same — very reassuring.  I also have a long history of writing about it: the very first post I did (2008) on this blog was called GOIN’ TO CHAUTAUQUA, and I’ve been posting videos from it for perhaps seven years now also.  Here is the post I wrote about the Party in June of this year: it has glorious music from Hal Smith, Frank Tate, and Rossano Sportiello at its center, too.

For those who shrink from Facebook as from Hades, the CCJP’s site is here.

Details?  On cornet / trumpet, Duke Heitger, Randy Reinhart, Andy Schumm; on trombone, Dan Barrett; on reeds, Dan Block, Ken Peplowski, Scott Robinson; on guitar / banjo, Howard Alden, Andy Brown; on piano, Ehud Asherie, James Dapogny, John Di Martino, Rossano Sportiello; on string bass, Joel Forbes, Nicki Parrott, Frank Tate; on drums, Ricky Malichi, Pete Siers, Hal Smith; on vocal, Petra van Nuis; gypsy swing quartet, the Faux Frenchmen; historian (giving a presentation on Ella’s centennial) Phil Atteberry.

On Thursday night, there’s an informal session (for donors and weekend patrons only) that begins at 7:30.  Friday begins with Phil Atteberry’s presentation on Ella (10:30-11:30) and then there are piano solos from 2-4 and an evening set from 5:30-11 and an hour’s set — anything goes — in the “Jazz Club.”  Saturday, music from 10-2 and again from 5:30-11 and 11-12.  Sunday, 9-1:30.  That is a banquet of music and good feeling, and because all the events are in the same hotel, there is no scuttling between one site and another.  Nancy Hancock Griffith and Kathy Hancock are kind and attentive to detail, so things work.  I booked the hotel some months back, and a plane trip more recently.

There’s nothing like being on the scene, digging the sounds, among like-minded and likeable people.  Now, some video evidence.

and

and

As musicians used to say, “Don’t sleep on this one.”  As I say, “It’s only six weeks away, and the CCJP has been known to sell out — not in an aesthetic way, mind you.  See you there!

And — to get darker, but only for two bars.  Money and health and plans get in the way of people attending parties and festivals and gigs, and no one could take those facts lightly.  But I meet so many people who say, nicely, “Oh, I’d love to go there.  Maybe in a couple of years!” and when the couple of years have passed, the “there” is no longer there.  If you can, bestir yourself.  Events — as large as the CCHP or as compact as the guitar trio at the local restaurant on Friday — vanish without your support.  And doing is always better than wishing you had done.  What’s gone is gone.

May your happiness increase!