Tag Archives: Harry Barris

“A MOMENT’S BLISS WE TOOK”: EPHIE RESNICK and MARTY GROSZ HONOR THE MELODY

In this century, we seem to prize art that is complex, multi-layered, innovative, art that a lay person would not immediately be able to enter into.  Simplicity is presumably for those too unsophisticated to create labyrinths.

But it takes a whole lifetime to learn how to be simple, to know that simplicity can be touching beyond words.  I offer an example: a melody played by Ephie Resnick, trombone, and Marty Grosz, piano — created in the early Eighties for a record they called THE END OF INNOCENCE.  Here is one of Marty’s sketches for the cover, and notice who’s on the wall, giving his blessing.  The music that follows is just over a minute and some may think it unadorned . . . but no.  Listen until it sinks into your heart.

Here’s the luxuriant directness of two masters in duet, who know what it is to be concise, to be supportive, to honor the melody, to sing through brass and strings:

Emotion of the highest order, that is, feeling so deep that it doesn’t need to go on and on about itself — aimed right at us.  There will be more to come from this magnificent recording, and more from Ephie (as well as more about Ephie!).

May your happiness increase!

DESIRE (SUPPRESSED) and PASSION (SECRET), THEN and NOW

Does popular art follow high art, or the reverse, or are the coincidences simply coincidental?  In 1915, Susan Glaspell and George Cram Cook premiered a play, SUPPRESSED DESIRES; 1924, Eugene O’Neill’s DESIRE UNDER THE ELMS; 1929, Dali’s THE ACCOMODATIONS OF DESIRE.  PASSION had always been part of the cultural vocabulary, so no need to search out appearances in the Twenties.  A graduate student in early modernist popular culture would probably trace some of this to Havelock Ellis, Theodoor Hendrik Van de Velde, and others writing for a curious public.  I don’t doubt that Dr. Freud is behind all this in some way, also.

I know that the stereotypical idea of pop songwriters is cigar-smoking fellows looking to make money off the latest craze, but it is possible that some of those brilliant tunesmiths read something in the paper besides the sports pages.  Make what you will of the synchronicity or the coincidence, these two songs, HE’S MY SECRET PASSION and MY SUPPRESSED DESIRE enjoyed some fame in that year, the second creation even featured in a film where I would think little was suppressed.

I’ve known MY SUPPRESSED DESIRE for years through the Bing Crosby – Harry Barris – Al Rinker recording, a series of small hot comedic playlets unfolding one after another:

Bing’s “Tell it!” at 1:35 is a favorite moment, and I like the way the recording morphs through moods and tempos — a whole stage show in miniature, with the introduction coming around as the conclusion, and the rocking intensity of Bing’s last bridge.

Here’s a very pleasing Goldkette-styled version by Abe Lyman’s California Orchestra:

There are several excellent contemporary dance band versions of this song — by Coon-Sanders Nighthawks, Verne Buck, and Lud Gluskin — which I leave to you to find on YouTube, because for me the Rhythm Boys’ version blots all the others out.

Now (thanks to Jonathan David Holmes) I have a new recording of HE’S MY SECRET PASSION by The Four Bright Sparks, my favorite new band name, to share with you.  I find the instrumental combination of clarinet, xylophone, guitar, drums, and piano entrancing, and Queenie Leonard’s slightly emphatic singing is also charming.  Discographer Tom Lord sniffs, “The above was a studio group but they played straight dance music and nearly never featured hot solo work,” a classic example of jazz-snobbery:

And here is Marion Harris’ impossibly tender reading of PASSION:

Showing that passion has living validity in this century also, Barbara Rosene and friends (among others, Conal Fowkes, Michael Hashim, Pete Martinez, Brian Nalepka, and Craig Ventresco) in 2007:

Barbara, Conal Fowkes, and Danny Tobias will be performing at Mezzrow on West Tenth Street in New York City on June 13.  Her shows are always delightful, and, yes, attendance will be taken.

Attentive textual explicators will note that these are not the same song at all: the singer of PASSION is wistful and hopeful that an introduction can be arranged and great things will result, where the singer of SUPPRESSED notes accurately that the Object of Desire belongs to someone else, which is an entirely different situation.  But these recordings and the songs are atypically cheerful — no one is lamenting that the opportunity has passed forever.  For listeners, we hope for the best: gratified passion, reciprocated desire.

May your happiness increase!

FEBRUARY 14: A LOVE SONG BY JIMMY ROWLES and RED MITCHELL

it-must-be-true-chords

A few minutes of love in jazz or vice versa: a sweet ancient Harry Barris / Gordon Clifford / Gus Arnheim song, IT MUST BE TRUE, here performed by Jimmy Rowles and Red Mitchell, piano / voice, and string bass, respectively: July 1978 in Paris.

Rowles was the most subtly surprising pianist and devilishly intuitive accompanist, but he is not celebrated enough as a singer: what he and Red Mitchell get up to here would warm the most chilly heart.  (The song was first popularized by a young fellow named Crosby, but this version makes its own tender impression.)

May your happiness increase!

“I GIVE UP!” TIMES TEN

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Is surrender capitulating to an enemy, saying “I give up.  You are stronger.” or is it an enlightened act, a realization that there are powers we can’t conquer and that the idea of conquering anything is futile?

I SURRENDER DEAR

I’ve always found I SURRENDER, DEAR — so powerfully connected to Bing Crosby — both touching and mysterious.  As Gordon Clifford’s lyrics tell us, the singer is saying, in effect, “Take me back. Here is my heart.  I give up all pretense of being distant.  I need you,” which is deeply moving, a surrender of all ego-barriers and pretense.  But I’ve never been able to figure out whether “Here, take my heart,” is  greeted with “I’d love to welcome you back,” or “No thanks, I’m full.”  Other songs hold out the possibility of reconciliation (consider IN A LITTLE SECOND-HAND STORE or WE JUST COULDN’T SAY GOODBYE) but this one ends unresolved.  It’s also one of those songs that lends itself to a variety of interpretations: both Bing and Louis in the same year, then a proliferation of tenor saxophonists, and pianists from Monk to Garner to Teddy. And (before the music starts) probably thanks to Roy Eldridge, there’s also an honored tradition of slipping into double-time.

I_Surrender_Dear_(1931_film)_advert

Here, however, are ten versions that move me.

January 1931: Bing Crosby with the Gus Arnheim Orchestra.  Note the orchestral flourishes:

Later that same year: Victor Young and the Brunswick Concert Orchestra, featuring Frank Munn, not enough of the Boswell Sisters (acting as their own concert orchestra) and a few seconds of Tommy Dorsey.  I think this was an effort to show that Paul Whiteman didn’t have a monopoly on musical extravagance, and I’ve never seen a label credit “Paraphrased by . . . “.  I also note the vocal bridge turns to 3/4, and Munn sings “are doing” rather than “were doing,” but we wait patiently for the Sisters to appear, and they do:

Imagine anyone better than Ben Webster?  Here, in 1944, with our hero Hot Lips Page:

Forward several decades: Joe Venuti, Zoot Sims, John Bunch, Milt Hinton, Bobby Rosengarden 1975:

1978 — a duet of Earl Hines and Harry Edison:

Raymond Burke, Butch Thompson, Cie Frazier in New Orleans, 1979:

and something I was privileged to witness and record, flapping fan blades and all, from February 2010 (Tamar Korn, Gordon Au, Dennis Lichtman, Marcus Milius, Debbie Kennedy):

Ray Skjelbred, Marc Caparone, Jim Buchmann, Katie Cavera, Beau Sample, Hal Smith, at the San Diego Jazz Fest in November 2014:

Nobody follows Louis.  1931:

and the majestic version from 1956:

A little tale of the powers of Surrender.  In years past, I would drive into Manhattan, my car full of perishables, and search for a parking spot.  Of course there were none.  I could feel the gelato melting; I could feel my blood pressure rising contrapuntally.  Frustrated beyond belief, I would roll down my window and ask the Parking Goddess for her help.  “I do not ask for your assistance that often, and I admit that I cannot do this on my own.  I am powerless without your help.  Will you be merciful to me?”  And I would then circle the block again and a spot would have opened up.  My theory is that such supplication works only if one is willing to surrender the ego, the facade of one’s own power.  Of course it has also been known to work for other goals, but that is an essay beyond the scope of JAZZ LIVES.

For now, surrender whole-heartedly and see what happens.

May your happiness increase!

WHEN SURRENDER IS TRIUMPH (BENT PERSSON and DUKE HEITGER, 2015)

I SURRENDER, DEAR, is truly a forlorn love song.  Not “You left me: where did you go?” but “Without you I can’t make my way,” which is a more abject surrender to love unfulfilled.

surrender1

And here’s Bing, both in 1931 and 1939 — so you can hear the intense yearning in the words and music:

A very mature version (with John Scott Trotter):

(There are several more Bing-versions of this song, for those willing to immerse themselves in YouTube, including a 1971 performance on the Flip Wilson Show where one line of the lyrics is . . . altered.)

But now to Mister Strong.

On November 6, 2015, this glorious group of musicians — Bent Persson, Rico Tomasso, Menno Daams, Kristoffer Kompen, Lars Frank, Robert Fowler, Michael McQuaid, Morten Gunnar Larsen, Malcolm Sked, Nick Ball, Spats Langham did the holy work of evoking Louis Armstrong at the 2015 Mike Durham Classic Jazz Party.  Here’s my video of this wonderful song — sung and played by the heroic Bent Persson:

Here, for the cinematographers in the viewing audience, is Flemming Thorbye’s video of the same performance — which is much better than mine!

And about two months earlier, Duke Heitger, trumpet; Rossano Sportiello, piano; Nicki Parrott, string bass; Ricky Malichi, drums, gave this beautiful song a treatment that reminds me a little of Benny Carter and Teddy Wilson, not bad antecedents at all:

We associate surrender with defeat, with failure.  If love requires the surrender of the armored ego, that’s a triumph.  And the creation of beauty out of painful yearning, another triumph.  Incidentally, the Cleveland Classic Jazz Party takes place in September; the Mike Durham Classic Jazz Party in November.  So no reason for conflict.

May your happiness increase!

“FUZZY KNIGHT AND HIS LITTLE PIANO” (1928)

I’d never heard of John Forrest “Fuzzy” Knight (1901-1976), perhaps because I’d rarely watched Westerns, in theatres or on television. (He had a long career playing the hero’s friend.)

But when Jeff Hamilton nudged me towards this short film on YouTube, from 1928, I was immediately captivated by Fuzzy (so nicknamed because of his soft voice). He is s delightfully absurdist comedian, someone who swings from first to last, whose scat singing is hilariously unfettered (I think of both Harry Barris and Leo Watson) . . . and whose habit of singing into the piano is making me laugh as I write these words.

I can’t suggest even a hint of FUZZY KNIGHT AND HIS LITTLE PIANO by writing about it. You’d better try it for yourselves:

If you are wondering, “Ordinarily I comprehend Michael’s taste, or some of it.  Why is FUZZY KNIGHT AND HIS LITTLE PIANO appearing on JAZZ LIVES?  Are we going to be told that the Dorsey Brothers are hidden in the backing orchestra?”

Maybe they are, but that’s not the point.

This short subject is evidence to me of the cross-fertilization of hot music with more sedate forms of art by 1928. Whether Fuzzy was influenced by scat choruses on hot recordings — the Rhythm Boys or Louis Armstrong — I can’t say.  (But in your mind, put Fuzzy near to Eddie Condon in the 1929 Red Nichols short, and you’ll see the resemblance — not influence, but something more tenuous.)

He seems to be operating on his own energetic impulses, while pretending to be a full band when the mood strikes, and his unaccompanied interludes swing as well as any hot soloist.

To me, the film also says that the people who divide music into “art” (serious) and “showmanship” (low and banal) might be in error. Fuzzy Knight didn’t make Fats Waller possible, but some of the same riotous feeling is there, however transmuted.

Ultimately, the film delights me. May it please you, too.

I find it sad that John Forrest Knight is buried in an unmarked grave. But no one this lively and memorably himself as Fuzzy Knight, with or without his Little Piano, is ever dead.

May your happiness increase!

ESCAPING THE BOX

William Carlos Williams: “Forcing twentieth-century America into a sonnet—gosh, how I hate sonnets—is like putting a crab into a square box. You’ve got to cut his legs off to make him fit. When you get through, you don’t have a crab any more.”

Robert Frost: “Writing free verse is like playing tennis with the net down.”

Younger, I would have sided with Frost: too much freedom leads to chaos. But I celebrate Williams’ position (even though his metaphor makes me wince) more as I age, feel, and listen.  Tidiness is a wonderful thing in the kitchen cabinets, but it might lead to the slow death of creative improvising.

In that spirit, I present the latest works of saxophonist / composer / historian / scholar / seeker Allen Lowe, a four-CD set of original compositions with one exception, a spoken-word piece by the novelist Rick Moody.

field recordings cover bc

JAZZ LIVES readers will be familiar with many of the names on that cover; others will provide engaging and sometimes quizzical surprises in listening and emotion.

Lowe’s works don’t seek to present snapshots of particular eras; they don’t offer “styles or schools.” Rather, his imaginations are intense, deep, yet unfettered. FIELD RECORDINGS, Lowe says in his liner notes, grew out of an argument he had with Wnton Marsalis — during Lowe’s attempt to interview Marsalis.  Disagreeing about “minstrelsy,” Marsalis characterized Lowe — in Lowe’s words — as “merely another in a long line of deluded white academics.”

Lowe spent the next six years immersing himself in “early entertainments of every racial persuasion,” which led him to compositions — song forms — that reflected what he had heard and experienced.  He also plays and improvises on many of these performances heard in this CD set.  More details here.

Lowe writes, “There is a tradition in certain kinds of writing in which the writer takes past works and puts them to his own use for very specific philosophical and artistic reasons. Brecht called this copien, as in the use of older texts as a means to something new and different, as a method from which to challenge prior ideas and forms. This project was done in exactly this spirit, as a way of altering certain received ideas of popular and jazz song. It is also a challenge to certain formal and intellectual assumptions.”

I haven’t heard more than one quarter of the set, but found the music so inspiring that I wanted to spread the word about it.   The performances weren’t always easy to listen to — Lowe, as composer and player, doesn’t shy away from improvisation’s rough edges, but he doesn’t run into harshness for its own sake.

What I appreciate most about the music — I was listening both with and without the benefit of Lowe’s commentaries — was its depth of feeling and innate ability to surprise.  The surprises weren’t ones I could predict (I know that sounds like an illogical paradox, but listening to many of the great musicians, I feel I know “where (s)he might be going” in the next chorus).

Rather, I felt the ground shifting under me in the best sense of the metaphor. Over and over, I felt beautifully startled, gently lifted out of my expectations and planted somewhere else, experiencing the sounds from a different perspective.  Each voyage was a fascinating series of what Emerson calls “zig-zag tacks.”  I heard echoes of New Orleans polyphony and street parade, dark unrequited blues, ensemble questing that echoed Mingus and freer improvsations, with searching, winding melodic lines, unpredictable harmonies that felt good as soon as they found my ears.

Language has a hard time describing music in the best of circumstances, and words are particularly inadequate here. One must be a creative listener to feel Lowe’s many musics, but they are well worth the investigation.  He is honest, inquiring, and sly — as is his work on these four CDs.  But beware!  This set is not ear-cushioning, to be listened to in conjunction with household chores, nor is it meant to be heard as one hears some discs: seventy-five minutes of supple protection from the world.  I predict that the listener wise and brave enough to purchase the FIELD RECORDINGS will approach the music as one does a new book of poems: a poem or two at a time, rather than as an artistic devouring of it all.

As a measure of the breadth and often witty depths of Lowe’s imagination, I would list some of the names he calls in his notes and compositions: Bunk Johnson, Tony Jackson, Roswell Rudd, Ernest Hogan, Mantan Moreland, Willie “the Lion” Smith, Lennie Tristano, James Reese Europe, Wilbur Sweatman, Thelonious Monk, Zora Neale Hurston, Jelly Roll Morton, Blind Lemon Jefferson, Varese, Dave Schildkraut, Bud Powell, W.E.B. DuBois, Frank Melrose, Paul Whiteman, Bill Challis, Harry Barris, George Bacquet, Harriet Beecher Stowe, James P. Johnson, Albert Ayler, Ran Blake, Henry Mancini, Sun Ra, Mezz Mezzrow, Pete Daily, Allen Tate, Robert Lowell, Bill Triglia, George Gershwin, Frank Teschemacher, Jess Stacy, Bix Beiderbecke, Arizona Dranes, Bert Williams, George Wheeler, Barbara Payne, Clyde Bernhardt, Ma Rainey, Anthony Braxton, Joe Jordan, Jaki Byard, Fess Manetta, Lester Young, Duke Ellington . . . and more.

The curious — and I hope there are many — will listen to samples here and then plunge in — this set costs less than two CDs and is wonderfully lively. You can also learn more at Allen’s website and blog (called EVERYTHING ELSE IS POST MODERNISM) — where Frankie “Half-Pint” Jaxon and Norman Mailer, compelled to share a subway seat, eye each other with suspicion.

I admire Allen Lowe’s courage, range, and audacities. The music is often, on first hearing, “weird,” but that’s a compliment. A little weirdness is like good seasoning: so much missed in the music we are sold, so richly enhancing in the right proportions.

And to return to the austere Robert Frost.  My letter to him, unsent and unread, is as follows:Dear Mr. Frost. If you removed the net, you might not have tennis, but you certainly would have an engaging dance.”

May your happiness increase!

“IN A SLEEPY LITTLE VILLAGE”: NORVO, MOLL, BAILEY 1932

I thought I knew a good deal about Mildred Bailey and Red Norvo — the records and sheet music (copies of IT’S SO PEACEFUL IN THE COUNTRY, ‘LEVEN POUNDS OF HEAVEN, WHEN IT’S SLEEPY TIME DOWN SOUTH, and — less frequently — ROCKIN’ CHAIR).  But this one, from 1932, is new to me.  And that the sheet music heralds it as MILDRED BAILEY’S THEME SONG is even more of a surprise, especially since I thought that Mildred had adopted Hoagy Carmichael’s ROCKIN’ CHAIR as hers before 1932.  Was there a brief Bailey – Carmichael rift?

MILDRED == IN A SLEEPY LITTLE VILLAGE 1932

Billy Moll is almost forgotten today, but he was part of three remarkable compositions: ICE CREAM, WRAP YOUR TROUBLES IN DREAMS, and I WANT A LITTLE GIRL.  Mildred was Al Rinker’s sister; Rinker, Barris, and a fellow named Crosby were friends and musical partners in the Rhythm Boys — thus the trail might lead back to a Rinker – Bailey – Crosby connection by way of WRAP YOUR TROUBLES.

And here’s what I could find online — from the index to the sheet music collection of the Indiana State University Library.  The first line of the verse is: “Shadows creep to end a lonely day, and soon the stars appear above. . . .and the chorus begins, “In a sleepy little village, let me lay me down to sleep again.”

But somehow I think this song wasn’t a huge hit.  Did anyone else record it?  Or did Mildred say, “Hey, hands off!  This is my [possibly soporific] theme song!  Get your own sleepy little village!”?

May your happiness increase.

“COULD WE HEAR IT AGAIN?”: TEN YEARS WITH BING (1932-42)

Early in his career, Bing Crosby was a very erotic figure.  And the film industry recognized his power.  It wasn’t his naked torso.  It was his voice — warm, entreating, rich, sensitive, full of yearning.

Before he became more “fatherly” in his films; before he became grandfatherly on television (the man with a narrow tie and a hairpiece, singing Christmas songs alongside David Bowie and Michael Buble), he was a genuine all-purpose wooer.

A chick magnet, to put it plainly.

In many of his early films, the setup is simple: a lovely blonde, splendidly dressed (often in white) is reserved, cool, or even sullen.  Bing aims that voice at her, in a yearning love ballad, and she melts in a series of reaction shots.  Once the song is over, she has fallen for him.    One can imagine tuxedo and gown being shed . . .

In some of the later films, Bing is moved from the more formal environment to more working-class environments: once a pianist / singer or a college professor teaching crooning, he is a sailor dangling from a rope, a man building a shelter for the castaways, a cowboy.  Yes, he’s in blackface for ABRAHAM and pretends to play the clarinet for THE BIRTH OF THE BLUES.

I don’t think I have to make a case for Bing’s easy rhythmic suppleness, that his “boo-boo-boo” runs parallel to scat singing, that he is one of the influences on a segregated America that made Caucasians receptive to African-American jazz, even when Louis was not in the picture.  He swings, even at ballad tempo.

And for those theoretically-minded, Bing is deep in meta-consciousness of a post-modern sort, singing songs about his own singing.  But enough of that.

These thoughts were provoked by an accidental YouTube discovery —  thanks to 1926VictorCredenza  — his generous offering of a nearly two-hour videocassette of Bing’s musical moments from his 1932-42 films.  The Sennett shorts aren’t here, nor is PENNIES FROM HEAVEN, but I saw performances new to me.  You’ll also see Martha Raye, Carole Lombard, Louis Prima, Jack Teagarden, Harry Barris, Mary Martin, Eddie Lang.  And for Ralf Reynolds: Bing plays a washboard in that last film.  Watch for it!

And those songs!  

I offer this as a prelude to Valentine’s Day.  Learn to croon — if you want to win your heart’s desire!  (And she’ll take off her shoes.)

BIG BROADCAST 1932:  Dinah / Here Lies Love / Please (Eddie Lang) /

COLLEGE HUMOR 1933:  Just An Echo In The Valley / Learn To Croon / Please / I Surrender Dear / Just One More Chance / Moonstruck / Learn To Croon (reprise)

TOO MUCH HARMONY 1933:  Boo Boo Boo / The Day You Came Along / Thanks

WE’RE NOT DRESSING 1934:  May I? / Love Thy Neighbor / May I (reprise)

SHE LOVES ME NOT 1934:  Straight From The Shoulder / I’m Hummin’, I’m Whistlin’, I’m Singin’

TWO FOR TONIGHT 1935:  From The Top Of Your Head / Without A Word Of Warning / I Wish I Were Aladdin

ANYTHING GOES 1936:  Sailor Beware / Moonburn /

RHYTHM ON THE RANGE 1936: I Can’t Escape From You / Mr. Paganini / I’m An Old Cowhand

WAIKIKI WEDDING 1937:  Blue Hawaii / Sweet Leilani / Sweet Is The Word For You

DOUBLE OR NOTHING 1937:  Smarty / All You Want To Do Is Dance / It’s The Natural Thing To Do / The Moon Got In My Eyes

EAST SIDE OF HEAVEN 1939:  Hang Your Heart On A Hickory Limb / East Side Of Heaven

HOLIDAY INN 1942:  Abraham / Song Of Freedom

BIRTH OF THE BLUES 1941: Goin’ to the Jailhouse / The Waiter, The Porter, and The Upstairs Maid / Wait ‘Til The Sun Shines Nellie / St. Louis Blues / Birth Of The Blues.

May your happiness increase.

SWINGING “POP SONGS” in SEATTLE (Sept. 6, 2012)

The subject today is The Illusion of Musical Purity in Jazz.

I think it began in the Twenties, when jazzmen themselves made divisions between “commercial” and “hot” music.  The former was what you were paid to play — often trivial, unswinging, unimaginative — reading stock arrangements while someone in a tuxedo waved a baton.  The latter — the ideal — was what you played at 4 AM with enough gin or muggles or spaghetti (or all three) to make sure that everyone was mellow.  Later on, when the fans started to anatomize the music in ways the musicians had never cared to, the fans and journalists built walls stronger than the Berlin version.  “Commercial” music was “Swing,” where good guys played insipid pop tunes and took eight-bar solos once a night; “the real thing” was an ideal, rarely achieved.

Think of the posthumous scorn heaped on Paul Whiteman because his Orchestra wasn’t Bix and his Gang; think of those serious jazz fans who traced The Decline of Louis Armstrong to I CAN’T GIVE YOU ANYTHING BUT LOVE taking the place of MAHOGANY HALL STOMP.

But the musicians themselves — while preferring looseness, open-mindedness, swing, and an escape from the paper — never much cared what songs they were playing.  Was PISTOL PACKIN’ MAMA unworthy of Bunk Johnson?  He didn’t think so.  Did John Coltrane disdain MY FAVORITE THINGS, or Charlie Parker A SLOW BOAT TO CHINA?

I have remembered, more than once, Wild Bill Davison’s comment to an interviewer that he never learned or knew THAT’S A PLENTY until he came to New York: in Chicago, he and his friends played swinging improvisations on current and classic pop tunes.  As did Eddie Condon, Ellington, Teddy Wilson, Mildred Bailey.

These thoughts were especially prominent in my mind when I found the latest videos from the estimable First Thursday Band — led by pianist Ray Skjelbred — at the New Orleans Creole Restaurant in Seattle, Washington . . . on September 6, 2012.  The other members of the FTB are drummer Mike Daughterty, skilled at roll play; bassist Dave Brown, whose beat can’t be beat; multi-instrumentalist Steve Wright.  Some of the tunes you will see and hear below — by virtue of jazz instrumentalists playing them memorably — have become “jazz classics.”  But they were all popular tunes, premiered in vaudeville, Broadway musicals, the movies, around the parlor piano.

The ambiance here is so reminiscent of an otherwise unknown Chicago club, circa 1934, with the good guys having the time of their life playing requests and songs they like.  Close your eyes and you’ll hear not only Wright, Brown, Daugherty, and Skjelbred, but Frank Melrose, Earl Hines, Alex Hill, Zinky Cohn; Guy Kelly, Jimmie Noone, Frank Teschmacher, Wellman Braud, Milt Hinton, Zutty Singleton, Sidney Catlett — the list of happily approving ghosts is very long.

I begin this history / music theory lesson with Wayne King’s theme song — in the wrong hands, as soggy as uncooked French toast, but here snappy and sweet:

THE WALTZ YOU SAVED FOR ME :

Richard Whiting’s SHE’S FUNNY THAT WAY, which had a life long before John Hammond handed it to Billie Holiday:

A zippy Harry Barris song from the film extravaganza THE KING OF JAZZ — in our century, adopted as music for penguins — HAPPY FEET (with the verse — and then Skjelbred leaps in like a man possessed):

Isham Jones’ pretty, mournful WHAT’S THE USE? (with a rhythm section that won’t quit):

And from 1919, one of those songs suggesting that happiness could be conveyed by facial expressions, in fact, by loving SMILES:

Purists, begone!  Visit here to see more.

May your happiness increase.

DREAMS, BLUEBIRDS, GOODWILL

I don’t usually write blogposts about blogging, but I ask my readers to follow this one to the end.  It has its own surprises.  The Beloved and I sometimes talk about worry and its ubiquity and how to shake it off.  About a week ago, I posted GET HAPPY?  And a day later, the Beloved posted her own variations on the theme, MY WORRY CUP.  Both of these blogposts have this piece of music in common:

I am always moved by the wistful optimism of the song and the beauty of Bing’s voice — and the way that this performance has its own satisfying dramatic shape, moving from song to recitative to whistling.  It’s a very compelling performance, and it always reminds me that one’s troubles can be made to vanish if you gently wrap them in dreams.  The lyrics also suggest that there is a limitless supply of dreams in the universe — always a good thing to hear.

You will notice that the YouTube video begins with a close-up of a lovely record label — what collectors call a “buff Bluebird,”very attractive in itself.  Bing recorded the song in 1931 and the record seen here is from mid-1937.

A few days after we had published our blogposts, the Beloved spotted a Goodwill store we had both delved into in 2011, always finding treasures.  We went inside, elated and curious, and threw ourselves into the treasure hunt.  I found a spectacularly bold Hawaiian shirt; the Beloved found her own prize.  I remembered that in 2011 I had bought a half-dozen late-Twenties records there, so I knelt on the floor among scattered 78s.  I opened one of the ten-record brown cardboard albums and saw a buff Bluebird label.  Expecting nothing remarkable, I drew out a well-preserved copy of Bing’s WRAP YOUR TROUBLES IN DREAMS, a record I had never owned.

It is a cliche to write, “My mouth fell open.  I was speechless,” but it was true.  Carefully I put the record into a paper sleeve and, holding it behind my back, went over to the Beloved and said, quietly — in the presence of Mystery — “You won’t believe this.”  And we marveled at the artifact that had appeared to us.

The object and its suggestive powers are both powerfully in our thoughts.  If you like the mathematical: what are the chances that a piece of fragile, breakable shellac would emerge intact after seventy-five years?  What are the chances that it should appear to us, who had been humming and singing and thinking about that song for the days immediately before?

I could hypothesize that Someone or Something put it there for us to find, as a little gleaming light on the path, or The Path.  Since I believe that the dead know what is going on on this planet, I could — with some quiet amusement — think momentarily that Bing had arranged for it to be there.  I could even entertain the possibility that it was there as a reward in a universe where such synchronicities are all around us if are hearts are open to them.  I could turn the whole idea on its head and think that this disc was the starting point for my journey and the Beloved’s, that we had thought of the song and written our posts because the record was waiting to be found.  I think it meaningful that the disc appeared in a place called GOODWILL, where many less fortunate people come to shop — their troubles larger than their abilities to dream them away.  All the omens, including the hopeful Bluebird, augur well.  The other side of the 78, and I think not by accident, is an Irving Berlin song called THE LITTLE THINGS IN LIFE.  Ponder that.

I have no real answers.  But I am awestruck, delighted beyond the quick formulaic responses with which we brush away the beautiful Mysteries: “accident,” “randomness,” “luck,” or “coincidence.”

What do my readers think?

And while you muse and dream, please listen to Mister Crosby.

I send thanks to Bing, to Harry Barris, Ted Koehler, Billy Moll, David J. Weiner.  I hope to spread Goodwill through JAZZ LIVES.

May your troubles be small.  May your dreams be powerful.

May your happiness increase.

THERE’S MAGIC IN THE EAR (Part One): The EarRegulars at The Ear Inn, May 13, 2012

I write this on Wednesday, May May 16 — several days after the magical improvisations of last Sunday night, when The EarRegulars created life-enhancing beauty at The Ear Inn (326 Spring Street, Soho, New York) once again.  But the music from The Ear is still vibrating in my ear and lifting my spirits.  I know that I will be savoring it for a long time to come.

The EarRegulars that night were Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet (a special one, a 1970s Conn horn that had belonged to Bobby Hackett); Ken Peplowski, tenor saxophone and clarinet; James Chirillo, guitar; Jon Burr, string bass.  They were joined by some exalted friends you will encounter in the second chapter.

Each of the four EarRegulars here is a profoundly gifted musician, as my readers will know and have witnessed in person.  But this Sunday session was one of those special occasions where everything jelled from the first notes.  I won’t say “It kept on improving,” because it was already superb.  Everything was in place, yet nothing was planned or formulaic; you could see from the grins on the faces of the players just how pleased and surprised they were, how well and deeply they felt their most subtle impulses heard — for this was a listening band, a true community of joyous magicians.

Enough words.  The depth and playfulness of this music makes them trivial, perhaps an impudence.  Listen, savor, marvel, be enlightened!

Tommy Dorsey’s pretty theme, taken at a sweet loping pace, I’M GETTING SENTIMENTAL OVER YOU:

The good advice created by Harry Barris and friends, WRAP YOUR TROUBLES IN DREAMS:

Harking back to Duke Ellington and Lionel Hampton but never Charles Laughton, RING DEM BELLS:

The pretty ballad that Louis recorded in 1938, ONCE IN A WHILE:

The hot tune that Louis recorded in 1926, ONCE IN A WHILE.  Only at 326 Spring Street!:

Oh, so sweet!  SUGAR, set up beautifully by Jon and James:

The Twenties ode to the madness syncopation brings, CRAZY RHYTHM:

It was just magical — watching and hearing these musicians transform metal, wood, electricity, breath, and moisture into a joy that had tangible heft and substance.  But there were no tricks, no stuffed rabbits or items concealed from view: it was simply the magical combination of tension and repose, expertise and abandon.

I felt that the money I put in the tip jar was paltry in comparison to the experience I had participated in.  And these musicians go off to do this night after night.  Aren’t they something?

Hail, O EarRegulars!  We are lucky to live in your world.

May your happiness increase.

NEW OLD JOYS in BROOKLYN (April 21, 2011)

In the short time I’ve known them, I’ve come to trust trumpeter / composer / arranger Gordon Au and singer / Mills Sister  / air-fiddler / Tamar Korn as artists whose path leads to valuable, inquisitive music that embraces the old (whether that’s embodied by Connee Boswell or Bob Wills) and the new (original approaches to their material, original compositions, or reinventing a wide variety of songs).

So when I found out that they would be one-half of a group led by five-string fiddler Rob Hecht, with bassist Ian Riggs, I made another journey to Williamsburg, Brooklyn — to Teddy’s, a restaurant / bar / music room [fine food, delightful Pilsner, delightful staff] situated at 96 Berry Street — with video camera and tripod.  The results appear below!

Stuff Smith and his Onyx Club Boys have been gone for about seventy-five years, but the combination of violin and trumpet, swinging out, is still intoxicating.

But first: the quartet was mostly unamplified, and listeners easily unnerved might at first find the balance between music and conversation not to their liking.  See my postscript below for further ruminations on this subject.

Here’s the Rob Hecht Quartet, featuring Gordon Au, Tamar Korn, and Ian Riggs.

They began with what might seem an odd choice for an opening song, WHEN DAY IS DONE — but the sun had set a few hours ago, and the song is one of those that blossoms at a variety of different tempos:

Then, everything locked into place with that 1929 assertion of Love on Good Behavior, AIN’T MISBEHAVIN’:

How about another love-affirmation: you’re the Beloved my mother told me to wait for?  Or, to put it another way, EXACTLY LIKE YOU:

I think the river closest to Teddy’s would be the East River — not exactly what Hoagy Carmichael may have in mind as a pastoral spot, but it would do as an inspiration for this rendition of LAZY RIVER:

The hopeful optimism of Dorothy Fields and Jimmy McHugh in ON THE SUNNY SIDE OF THE STREET is always welcome:

Tamar sat out for an enthusiastic trio reading of LIMEHOUSE BLUES:

If you listen closely to the lyrics, SOME OF THESE DAYS is one of the most finger-waggling of songs: YOU BE GOOD OR ELSE YOU’RE GOING TO WAKE UP ALONE!  I hope no one in the JAZZ LIVES audience has to hear it sung to him or her for real — but we can be safe with this rocking version:

GIVE ME A KISS TO BUILD A DREAM on comes from a rather patchy movie, THE STRIP — but when your pretty song is introduced by the Great Romantic, Louis Armstrong, how could anything possibly go wrong?  And Tamar offers it in her most tenderly hopeful way:

Another superbly uplifting song about the possibilities of imagining a way out of your troubles is Harry Barris’ classic WRAP YOUR TROUBLES IN DREAMS — I believe in this song, especially when Miss Korn so earnestly tells us it’s all possible:

Although we cherish everything that is NEW and IMPROVED, what is better than OLD-FASHIONED LOVE, however you might define it?:

And something else sweetly and enduringly old-fashioned: a bounding rendition of WHEN YOU WORE A TULIP (And I Wore A Big Red Rose), which will keep me elated for a long time.  You too, I hope:

P.S.  Although the crowd at Teddy’s applauded in the right places and no one shouted at the television sets over the bar in response to someone scoring a goal, the sound of their conversation is noticeable.  But someone who wishes to do so can, as I did, concentrate on the music, which was varied and lovely.  And my new line of response to people who complain about inattentive audiences will be, “Yes, I know.  If you and your friends had been there, listening, there would have been that much more delighted attentive silence in the room.  Come on down!  Join us next time!  Or, as Eleanor Roosevelt never said, ‘Better to go to a jazz club and swell the ranks of the inspired than sit at home and complain about the unenlightened.”

DOIN’ THE MIDTOWN LOWDOWN at Birdland (Dec. 1, 2010)

Wise New Yorkers know that the place to be on Wednesdays from 5:30 to 7:15 is Birdland, where tubaist David Ostwald leads the Louis Armstrong Centennial Band through music associated with the man Eddie Condon affectionately called “Mr. Strong.” 

Last Wednesday, even though the rain was occasionally torrential, we were warm, even hot, indoors, listening to a wonderful edition of the LACB, with Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Dan Block, clarinet, alto, and vocal; Jim Fryer, trombone, euphonium, and vocal; Rossano Sportiello, piano; Kevin Dorn, drums.  And here are some highlights:

The LACB always begins its set with a living homage to Louis and the All-Stars: a powerful reading of WHEN IT’S SLEEPY TIME DOWN SOUTH that picks up the tempo for a rousing BACK HOME IN INDIANA:

In keeping with Louis’s avowed romantic nature, they played I CAN’T BELIEVE THAT YOU’RE IN LOVE WITH ME at a bouncing tempo — exultant rather than pensive — imagine Louis hearing that Lucille would marry him!  Beautiful creamy alto playing from Dan Block, and some apt cantorial comments from Jon-Erik Kellso:

In the same mood (although a little slower), Eubie Blake’s YOU’RE LUCKY TO ME, where Jon-Erik’s solo, full of death-defying leaps, has a good deal of Eldridge bravura:

SHINE has appalling lyrics, but Louis, Bing Crosby, the Mills Brothers, and Benny Goodman had a wonderful time playing and singing it:

THE MEMPHIS BLUES is another classic by “Debussy” Handy – – -and Jim Fryer sings it most convincingly without strain (don’t miss Jon-Erik on air trombone in the chorus!):

Bless Harry Barris — not only WRAP YOUR TROUBLES IN DREAMS, IT MUST BE TRUE, and IT WAS SO BEAUTIFUL, but I SURRENDER, DEAR.  Mellow and ruminative indeed, suggesting Eldridge, Hilton Jefferson, and Bing (with Jim picking up his euphonium, which sounds like a lower-pitched French horn rather than a baby tuba, owing to his graceful playing).  Rossano’s little interlude is another gem:

The LACB usually ends its Birdland gigs with a romping statement of purpose: they’re as happy as they can be when they SWING THAT MUSIC for us.  And please watch the hilarious yet meaningful pantomime before the song begins (Jon-Erik is directing the band, not making shadow puppets on the rear wall).  The result is a wonderful vocal interlude from Dan, someone who doesn’t sing enough on gigs, and a seriously swinging performance, thanks to everyone, especially Rossano and Kevin. 

When we had said our good-byes and left Birdland, the rain had stopped; the skies were clear.  The Weather Channel must have had its own explanation, but I think the hot music inside chased the clouds and torrents away.

Part Three: THE CARDS OUTDO THEMSELVES (February 27, 2010)

I’ve been parcelling out these delicious performances by the Cangelosi Cards, being reluctant to come to the end of the music I recorded.  And my reluctance is especially strong because I’ve learned that the Cards now have an extended gig (two months?) in Shanghai.  If they can’t fix US-Sino relations, who could? 

So here are two more from the video cookie jar —  I don’t want my viewers to spoil their appetites!

The first is a song I find so touching — and always have, even when the lyrics were more optimistic than I could afford to be at the time: WRAP YOUR TROUBLES IN DREAMS.  Thanks to Harry Barris and his one-time colleague, Mister Crosby:

The other side of hope might not be love-jealousy, but here’s an old Carter Family blues — JEALOUS HEARTED ME — which has an extra bar at the end of each chorus, ready to trip up any musicians on auto-pilot.  Which the Cards never are:

Thank you, Tamar, Jake, Dennis, Gordon, Marcus, and Debbie!

And if all of this is new to some viewers, they need only go back a few blogposts to read and experience the whole story — the best homework assignment any academic could impose.  More to come!

Part One: THE CARDS OUTDO THEMSELVES (Feb. 27, 2010)

It was an immense thrill to hear and see the Cangelosi Cards on Saturday, February 27, 2010, at the Shambhala Meditation Center in New York City on 22nd Street.  That’s not an idle statement.

Before this, I had seen the Cards primarily at Banjo Jim’s, where the atmosphere was exuberant and loud.  And for all their own exuberance, they are truly a subtle band, so I had to strain to hear them.  But the Shambhala provided a large, quiet wood-floored space.  True, an overhead fan clicks at the beginning of this performance, but that sound is swallowed up by the rhythm section.  And (perhaps a small point?) the dancers were in back of me and the room was well-lit, so I was able to capture the Cards as they should be captured.  Those dancers, by the way, included Eve Polich of “Avalon” and Heidi Rosenau and Joe McGlynn.  The whole delightful event was the idea of Paul Wegener, a fan of the Cards from way back, who had the inspired idea of bringing them to this wonderfully open, serene, receptive space.

This edition of the Cards included the regular brilliant musicians: Jake Sanders on banjo, Marcus Milius on harmonica, Dennis Lichtman on clarinet and mandolin, Tamar Korn on vocals.  And there were Debbie Kennedy on bass and Gordon Au on trumpet. 

Here is the third performance of the night (after two jaunty warm-up songs): I SURRENDER, DEAR.

It’s a masterpiece of sorrowing intensity, supported throughout by the bring bring bring of Jake’s banjo and the melodic pulse of Debbie’s bass.  Marcus and Dennis seem transported; Gordon takes his time, creating one sad, thoughtful phrase after another. 

And Tamar.  I told her during the set break that I thought she was growing as a dramatic actress, and her delicate face registers every nuance of the song.  Not only in the first chorus, where she outlines the text, but in her return — becoming a muted trumpet for sixteen bars and then returning to the lyrics.  She told me that she sings this song as an expression of penitence, which is undeniable, but I also hear barely controlled rage in the way she bites off the words “a spice to the wooing.”

I dedicate this lovely, deep exploration of music and lyrics to Bing Crosby, to Harry Barris, to Louis Armstrong, to the Mills Brothers, and to Sam Parkins, who told Tamar that her singing “got him right in the gizzard.”  Truer words were never spoken, and they apply equally to the Cards as a whole.

Did I say it was a thrill to hear the Cards?  No, an honor.  A privilege.

TEARING IT UP! (Vic Berton and Friends, 1928)

Walt Roesner and his Capitolians — the large all-star all-purpose orchestra that appeared at the Capitol Theatre in New York City — made a Vitaphone short film in 1928.  Two-thirds of the film is given over to 1) an impassioned tenor singing O SOLE MIO, and 2) an impassioned tenor singing ANGELA MIA.  Although these specialties are beautifully performed, they lack a certain savor or liveliness. 

But the last number by the orchestra is Hot, truly so.  And members of the band get to show off their considerable (sometimes quirky) solo talents in brief outings — with some of the most famous names in jazz doing their bit: how about Jimmy Dorsey, Arthur Schutt, Rube Bloom, Miff Mole, Leo McConville, Bruce Yantis, Vic Berton, Nat Brusiloff, Jimmy Lytell . . . ?!

I would not have posted this for the famous names alone — but I saw the entire short film recently for the first time and found myself watching the last number several times in a row, delighting in the music and the smiles on the faces of the musicians while their fellow players went at it.  And I found myself insisting that the Beloved watch Rube Bloom and vic Berton in tandem — and that pleased her, too.  I found this segment posted on Dailymotion with very accurate identifications, thanks to  somename who goes by the alias “lordlister.” 

So here it is, with commentary:

 

The eye is at first struck by the sheer number of beautifully-dressed men on the bandstand: twenty-five, perhaps, all with white flowers in their buttonholes.  Two pianos, a plethora of violins, bowed string bass, bowed cello.  Drummer Vic Berton standing in the rear amongst a good deal of percussion, including tympani.  Roesner opens this number with the cheerful explanation that his musicians have had an appropriately “heated argument” about which one of them is the hottest man in the band.  Not a bad idea.  The bouncy tune that opens the proceedings is I’M MORE THAN SATISFIED by Fats Waller and Jo Trent (a song, which, like many famous hummable Waller tunes, repeats one catchy phrase often as a melody line) — recorded most memorably in this period by two fellows named Beiderbecke and Trumbauer, as “The Chicago Loopers.”  Berton is particularly marvelous to watch, keeping time on the tympani with one hand while accenting a choked cymbal, sometimes visiting the head of his huge wooden bass drum — his legs spread to allow him to reach both places, raher like a wooden soldier in those white trousers.  I would have been very happy for the band to explore this tune at this tempo for the rest of the film, but the premise moves into a solo features, which allow us to see these musicians on camera in their prime rather than as faces in the ensemble.  (Many of them look particularly dark around the eyes: whether this was cinematic makeup or lighting of the time or a lack of sleep, I am sure one of my readers knows.)  And the cameraman seems reasonably content with having one-half of an additional musician in the frame, and neatly lopping off the head or hairline of a soloist — but he seems to know what’s going on and to go in for a close-up before everything has concluded. 

Up first after a piano modulation, Jimmy Dorsey on alto saxophone offers one of his particularly virtuosic solo choruses (in a manner beloved of Frank Trumbauer and Rudy Wiedoeft) showing off his incredible technique instead of hot improvisation.  This kind of playing — here superimposed over TIGER RAG — was a JD specialty (hear OODLES OF NOODLES, for one example).  Violinist Nat Brusiloff, next to Dorsey, is enjoying the chorus immensely.  And JD must have been famous by this time; he is announced by name.

Then, showing that you don’t have to go fast to play Hot, we have a memorable twenty or so seconds of one of jazz’s most forgotten men, trombonist Miff Mole, offering a chorus of HOW COME YOU DO ME LIKE YOU DO? complete with breaks (Berton has switched to wire brushes, as we see).  From this distance, Miff no longer seems as radical, as dashing as, say, Jack Teagarden or Dicky Wells, but his solo is masterful: the variations in tone and the way he gets gracefully but precisely from note to note, vocalizing the melody beautifully — and adding that lovely coda.  It sounds very simple but it’s an example of how much he must have amazed all the musicians, Hot and legit, for a long time.   I call your attention to Miff’s easy command of the horn and especially his glistening upper register, not the usual realm for most Twenties trombonists.

Violinist Nat Brusiloff (famous in radio as a conductor and for his early work with Kate Smith — his grandson is trombonist David Sager) offers more variations on the same theme . . . on what sounds like an intensely scratchy violin, with no apparent bow.  I’m told he is playing a “single-hair” solo, which I assume is one hair taken from his bow, but the physics of the whole thing are beyond me, in a good way.  Tell me where the other end of the single-hair is, please?  And at the very end of the solo, Brusiloff permits himself the slightest glimmer of an impish grin, “Geez, I pulled that one off, didn’t I, now?”  More violin acrobatics will follow. 

Banjoist Lou (Luigi) Calabrese, who might have been noticeable from the start for the way he has stretched his legs out in front of him, then plays an incredibly fast and stunning chorus of IDA, romping in what seems like double double time over ensemble chords, his fingers flashing over the frets more quickly than anyone would expect them to — and not a note smudged or smeared.  Something pretty follows (it would have to):  clarinetist Jimmy Lytell, looking shlyly sideways, gently swaying his body, pensively ambling through the melody of his own A BLUES SERENADE (composed with pianist Frank Signorelli), the reed player to his right curiously impassive through it all.  (Lytell gets lovely backing from the bowed bass seen to his right and from Berton’s tympani.)

What happens next is a highlight.  Pianist-singer-composer (DON’T WORRY ‘BOUT ME) Rube Bloom gets up from the piano for his limber almost-comic turn on DINAH.  He isn’t a splendid singer, but he’s got a rocking rhythmic engine reminiscent of Harry Barris, and he’s clearly having a fine time.  The long shot allows us to notice Berton, shifting around his set with tympani mallets, but then, halfway through, our attention shifts to Berton, who is “tearing it up” in a way that goes beyond the hip cliche — he’s actually tearing strips off of something (a square piece of fabric?) with each tear a rhythmic accent like a tap dancer or a sand dancer.  And the cameraman is sufficiently entranced eventually to move in for a close-up of this hilarious and marvelous rhythmic feat, remembering at the end that Bloom is supposed to be the headliner, even though he has had the spotlight stolen away from him.  (Incidentally, the much more sedate second pianist to the right is Arthur Schutt.) 

But violinist Bruce Yantis (someone I know only from a few late-Twenties sides with Eddie Condon, Red McKenzie, and Gene Krupa) is ready to follow Berton and Bloom with his violin solo a la  Joe Venuti, his bow disassembled and strapped around his violin so that the hairs play all four strings at once — it looks like fun but it isn’t easy to do well.  Luigi Calabrese has clearly heard Eddie Lang, as he should have. 

Before the ensemble gets itself together (we never find out who the hottest man in the band is or was, although my vote is split between Miff and Vic Berton) trumpeter Leo McConville, usually hidden next to Red Nichols, gets off with a very brief Hot solo (a half-valve flourish at the end?)  on the closing I’M MORE THAN SATISFIED.

This short seems an ideal window into the best of the Hot late Twenties: that decade’s version of the 1938 Randall’s Island footage, but with sound and close-ups.  A ripping yarn!

BENT PERSSON PLAYS LOUIS, Part Two

Still more from Bent’s recreation and reimagining of Louis’s classic early Thirties recordings — a Whitley Bay highlight from July 12, 2009.  I posted videos from the first part of this concert on August 2.  To refresh your memory, as they say in courtroom dramas, the band was international and truly “all-star,” including Nick Ward (drums), John Carstairs Hallam (bass), Martin Litton (piano), Jacob Ullberger (banjo / guitar), Jean-Francois Bonnel, Matthias Seuffert (reeds), Paul Munnery (trombone), Beat Clerc (trumpet), Michael McQuaid (trumpet / reeds), Ludvig Carlson, Spats Langham, Elena P. Paynes, and Bent himself (vocal), and one of two musicians whose names I didn’t catch or write down — being busy clutching my video camera like a man possessed!  (By the way, astute Louis-fanciers will note that Bent is often evoking Louis without playing the solos note for note, which raises these performances far above the limits of jazz repertory, or “playing old records live.”

Here’s a jaunty WALKIN’ MY BABY BACK HOME, no longer the property of Maurice Chevalier — now taken over by Bent and Spats Langham:

If that song celebrates the happiness of the end of a loving evening — infinitely expandable, with kisses and stops for barbecue — I SURRENDER, DEAR (which remains the property of Bing and Hawkins as well as Louis) depicts the lover’s swooning subjection, again offered with proper emotion by Spats:

WHEN YOUR LOVER HAS GONE is, as its title tells us, something very different — grieving and despondent, given a touching performance by Elena P. Paynes, temporarily on loan from the Chicago Stompers:

The destinies of Louis and Hoagy Carmichael were entwined early on, with the 1929 ROCKIN’ CHAIR (which Louis performed until the end of his life, with different bandsmen playing the other part) — but it didn’t stop there.  Carmichael must have been ecstatic to hear his songs immortalized by Louis, and Louis never got such good material.  This medley leaves out LAZY RIVER and GEORGIA ON MY MIND, but includes the rarely-heard MY SWEET and the pretty MOON COUNTRY, which Louis performed during his European tours but never recorded, as well as LYIN’ TO MYSELF and the exultant JUBILEE, sung here by Ludvig Carlson and Elena:

Many jazz wfriters have termed THAT’S MY HOME a brazen attempt to cash in on WHEN IT’S SLEEPY TIME DOWN SOUTH, and it does come from the same root — but what a pretty song it is, both here and in Louis’s 1932 Victor performance.  A pity he didn’t go back to it more often, although there is a 1961 version from the Ed Sullivan Show, full of feeling as always.  As is Spats:

WILL YOU, WON’T YOU BE MY BABY comes from the rare 1934 French Polydor session, and the song from the book of McKinney’s Cotton Pickers.  No vocal here, just romping solos by Bonnel and Seuffert:

Bent concluded the first half of the concert with a luxuriant evocation of the French Polydor ON THE SUNNY SIDE OF THE STREET, originally a six-minute two-sided 78 disc.  Here Ludvig takes care of the vocal refrain:

The second half (from Louis’s Decca days) will appear soon. . . . till then, keep muggin’ lightly!

SUNDAY’S JAZZ DELIGHTS: NOV. 16, 2008

A congenial quartet of the Beloved, myself, Erin Elliott, and Flip went to Sweet Rhythm this afternoon for what is becoming a delightful weekly ritual: to spend two hours in the happily inspired company of Jon-Erik Kellso and Friends.  This week, the Friends included some familiar faces: pianist Ehud Asherie, bassist Kelly Friesen, and drummer Andrew Swann.  Jon-Erik’s front-line colleague this week was his friend and (often) EarRegular, trombonist John Allred.

At times, I was reminded of the interplay between Bobby Hackett and Vic Dickenson, not that Jon and John imitated those masterful players, but in the easy, dancing way their lines intertwined and complemented, feinted and echoed.  And the rhythm section was a joy, as always.

The band started off at a high level, with their comfortable, trotting version of the old standard MY GAL SAL:

They then offered a musing, sweet WRAP YOUR TROUBLES IN DREAMS, that optimistic piece of good advice courtesy of Harry Barris and Bing Crosby:

And I close this post with the first feature of the afternoon: Ehud, Kelly, and Andrew playing LOUISE at a deliciously slow tempo.  I was so fascinated by the gliding pace Ehud had chosen that I missed the first half-chorus: I hope that I redeemed myself to watchers and readers by capturing the rest.  This performance reminds me, not of Maurice Chevalier, but of Lester Young and Teddy Wilson in 1956, although the tempo they chose was brighter:

Magical music!

Later on, Lisa Hearns sang DON’T GET AROUND MUCH ANYMORE and AFTER YOU’VE GONE, and sitters-in proliferated: Chris Lacamac and Gerald Kavanagh on drums, and Adrian Cunningham, an Australian clarinetist who has already distinguished himself at The Ear Inn.

We’ll be out of the country next Sunday, but that’s the only reason we would miss one of these sessions at 88 Seventh Avenue South.

CAPTAIN VIDEO! KELLSO AND FRIENDS, NOV. 9, 2008

Here’s a sampling of the remarkable jazz that Jon-Erik Kellso and Friends (Peter Reardon-Anderson, tenor and clarinet; Rossano Sportiello, piano; Kelly Friesen, bass; Andrew Swann, drums) played last Sunday at Sweet Rhythm, 88 Seventh Avenue South (5-7 PM).  I’m still a novice cinematographer — someone who accidentally cuts off the top of heads — but the sound is good, so perhaps that counts for more?

First, the lovely Harry Barris song, immortalized by Bing and Louis, “I Surrender, Dear”:

Then, the Twenties pop hit, “Linger Awhile,” a jam tune much beloved of Forties players (Dicky Wells, Lester Young, and Bill Coleman did it magnificently on Signature).  This version has a wonderfully twisty line, courtesy of Master Kellso, who calls his creation “Stick Around.”  Somehow, that line summons up the 1945 band Coleman Hawkins led, with Howard McGhee, Sir Charles Thompson, Oscar Pettiford, Denzil Best, and (memorably) Vic Dickenson.  Do you agree?  (Wily man that he is, Jon-Erik quotes Mingus’s “Fables of Faubus” on his first bridge, but I had to have it pointed out to me by another listener.)

and

And here’s that lively Sophie Tucker warning, “Some of These Days.”  This performance isn’t fast or loud, but it is the very definition of propulsive fun.  Everyone in this quintet has his own sound, but the ghosts of Louis, the entire Basie band, Ed Hall, Milt Hinton, and Jo Jones were grinning, too:

The next two performances take us back to the glory days of 1938 — the hot summer when the Basie band appeared at the Famous Door, jammed in next to one another.  Here’s Eddie Durham’s “Topsy,” a minor blues with a bridge:

From the same blue-label Decca period, here’s Herschel Evans’s “Doggin’ Around,” taken at just the right tempo:

Finally, in quite a different mood but just as impassioned, here is bassist Kelly Friesen’s eloquent version of the Ellington classic “All Too Sooon”:

If you’re looking for more of the same on YouTube, Jim Balantic (jazz fan and DVD videographer) captured this group doing a swinging “Limehouse Blues.”  His account is called “recquilt,” and it should come up when these videos are selected.

And on November 16 (that’s this coming Sunday) we should all extricate ourselves from our computers to meet up at Sweet Rhythm and see Jon-Erik, pianist Ehud Asherie, trombonist John Allred, Kelly Friesen, and Andrew Swann.

As rewarding as these video clips are, isn’t it better when the musicians are life-size?  I think so.

P.S.  That being said, look for my postings of video clips from Kevin Dorn and the Traditional Jazz Collective and two from the Cangelosi Cards with members of the TJC sitting in — captured at Banjo Jim’s on Monday, November 10, 2008.