Tag Archives: High Society

COZY VIRTUOSI: RUSS PHILLIPS, DAN BARRETT, ROSSANO SPORTIELLO, NICKI PARROTT, ED METZ at the 2015 ATLANTA JAZZ PARTY (April 19, 2015)

How do we define virtuosity?  Is it blinding technical skill, amazing displays of bravado, playing higher, faster, in ways that dizzy and delight?  Sometimes, perhaps.  I think Louis’ 250 high C’s in performances in the early Thirties must have delighted audiences.  But the true virtuosity (to me) is subtler, quieter, more subversive: Louis’ melody statement and solo on THAT’S FOR ME comes to mind.  Dear and deep melodic improvisations that stick in the mind as much as the original song; tone and touch that come to us with the sweet clarity and intensity of beloved voices; unerring yet relaxed swing.

Russ and Dan at Atlanta

The three performances offered here are perfectly virtuosic, although the general approach is spiritual rather than calisthenic, people playing for the happiness of the band rather than for the loudest applause.

Five people joined forces on the spot — not an organized band — at the 2015 Atlanta Jazz Party: Russ Phillips, Dan Barrett, trombone; Rossano Sportiello, piano; Nicki Parrott, string bass; Ed Metz, drums.

I’ve already posted this quintet’s made-fresh-while-you-wait masterpiece, improvisations on Artie Shaw’s blues line for his Gramercy Five, SUMMIT RIDGE DRIVE, but it bears repeated watching and listening:

Lovely in a blue haze, but with a swing: MOOD INDIGO:

And EAST OF THE SUN, which Professor Barrett explicates for us as preface to the glorious cosmological explorations:

These cozy virtuosi (thanks to Cole Porter) indeed.

May your happiness increase!

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“THE OLD TIME BAND ORCHESTRA” and “MILITARY BAND”

I begin 2015 with an ancient record that cost me a dollar.

This record came from Down Home Music in El Cerrito, California, the home of surprises.  I had never heard of either ensemble, but had faith in the repertoire chosen.  One side was MAPLE LEAF RAG (by the Old Time Band Orchestra, whose title delights me for its vague wordiness) and the other HIGH SOCIETY (by Military Band).

I’ve not been able to find out anything trustworthy or substantive about these recordings, except for a dubious online posting that notes that MAPLE LEAF was issued on a Bluebird 78 in 1938.  I was also pleased to acquire an actual Montgomery Ward label . . . in my childhood, Montgomery Ward existed only as a catalog entity — no actual stores, I think — from which one ordered items that looked enticing in the pages and waited eagerly for them to come.  By that time, no one was ordering 78s from “Monkey Ward,” but I am guessing that this label offered material recorded by Victor for a distinct audience, perhaps people who lived too far from cities with record stores.

But no matter.  I do not presume that the disc is so rare or even so esoteric.  I find the music very pleasing in a genre-crossing way — stylistically bridging ragtime-orchestra and brass-band instrumentation, voicings, and conventions to create versions of two jazz classics that are recognizable, situated between concert-in-the-park orchestral performances and more liberated jazz band ones.

I hear looser syncopations on MAPLE LEAF; HIGH SOCIETY is harder to find in that orchestration . . . but both records have their own swagger and pleasure.  It wouldn’t be fair to put them against the 1932 New Orleans Feetwarmers (MAPLE LEAF) or the Blue Note Jazzmen (HIGH SOCIETY): I appreciate them on their own terms.  And I hope you will also.

Wishing you happiness and perceptions and joy in 2015.

May your happiness increase!

ATLANTA 2012: CHUCK REDD, HARRY ALLEN, MARK SHANE, RICHARD SIMON, ED METZ (April 21, 2012)

Vibraphonist and percussionist Chuck Redd has fine taste, whether he’s leading a small group at the 2012 Atlanta Jazz Party or — more informally — keeping time on the paper tablecloth with his wire brushes at The Ear Inn.  Here’s a sample of the former — with saxophonist Harry Allen, pianist Mark Shane, bassist Richard Simon, and fellow percussionist Ed Metz.  On the menu, a Rodgers and Hammerstein ballad from ANNIE GET YOUR GUN, a swing perennial that I associate with Lester Young, a Cole Porter love-in-swingtime song from HIGH SOCIETY (Bing sang it to Grace Kelly while Louis played a memorable obbligato . . . Ruby loved it, too), and a hard-bop version of the everlasting blues.  Hear for yourself.

THEY SAY IT’S WONDERFUL:

JUST YOU, JUST ME:

I LOVE YOU, SAMANTHA:

Billy Strayhorn’s THE INTIMACY OF THE BLUES:

May your happiness increase.

HAIL, KING LOUIS: BOB BARNARD, JOHN SHERIDAN, ARNIE KINSELLA at CHAUTAUQUA 2010

Both of Louis Armstrong’s birthdays — July and August — had passed by the time that Jazz at Chautauqua started its informal Thursday night sessions this September 2010.  But celebrating Louis Armstrong’s music needs no occasion besides itself, and always refreshes the most tired soul. 

A beautifully empathic trio gathered for four Louis-associated numbers, and did the great man honor. 

Trumpeter Bob Barnard saw Louis on his four Australian tours, played for him, followed him around, saw every show, even tried to get a handkerchief (but was thwarted in this by the rather sour Doc Pugh) . . . but his love of Louis goes deeper than simple hero-worship.  Rather, Bob has gotten to the warm heart of Louis’s music — understanding it rather than copying it.  You’ll hear a good deal of another Master, Bobby Hackett, here, which is appropriate — for Louis and Bobby loved one another.  Bob’s deep golden tone, his skipping phrases, the way he wears his heart on his sleeve without proclaiming it’s there — all add up to an emotional resonance that belies the apparent casualness of his approach to the horn. And although Bob can amaze with his mountain-climbing phrases, this quiet session found him tempering his approach to the band, the size of the room — without losing an iota of feeling. 

John Sheridan is a fertile, swinging embodiment of all that’s eloquent in jazz piano: in him, the elements of the great tradition come together for an instantly recognizable style that’s both light-hearted and serious, taking flight while keeping a fine beat and resonant harmonies going. 

Arnie Kinsella is in love with sound — the tapping a stick makes on a closed hi-hat, the wallop of another stick on a tom-tom head, rattlings and speakings all around his set.  Vince Giordano has called him LITTLE THUNDER: this trio finds Arnie in a mellow mood, not calling down the cosmic forces but being an engaging part of this high-level jazz conversation.

Bob began by calling Louis’ 1936 novelty hit, THE SKELETON IN THE CLOSET (which strikes me now as an interesting song to improvise on as an instrumental if enough musicians would learn its ins and outs) — with a rocking result, frightening no one:

Then, he thought of one of Cole Porter’s ballads from the film HIGH SOCIETY — indirectly honoring Bing Crosby and Grace Kelly as well as Louis.  Listen closely to John’s thoughtful exploration here, too:

Louis and Hoagy Carmichael were meant for each other — think of Louis’s STARDUST, GEORGIA ON MY MIND, and JUBILEE for three stellar examples — and LYIN’ TO MYSELF is one of those Carmichael songs so stamped with Louis’s personality that it takes strong players to attempt it, as this trio does nobly:

Finally, the set ended with a more mellow-than-usual version of I DOUBLE DARE YOU, which is often played fast, high, and exultantly.  (It initially begins as a cousin of SWING THAT MUSIC, but people who spend their creative lives on the high wire can be forgiven a brief detour into another Louis classic.)  Bob and John seem to make themselves comfortable within the song, making it more a wooing theme than a true dare: 

In these performances, there’s love, mastery, humor, teamwork — lessons for everyone!

JAM WITH DAN! (October 16, 2009)

DAN BARRETT’S EAST COAST TOUR (Part Three)

This installment in the Barrett Chronicles 2009 takes us to what was once called Roth’s Westside Steakhouse (Columbus Avenue at 93rd Street in Manhattan) on October 16, 2009. 

The fun and frolic began with a series of duets between Dan and Ehud Asherie.  Roth’s gets high marks for encouraging jazz, but it is a typical restaurant: dishes and silverware crash, the bar patrons were especially excited by some sports event on television, and there is a good deal of loud oblivious chatter.  On the other hand, Roth’s is the only jazz event I’ve ever attended where the governor of my home state — in this case David Patterson — came in late in the evening.  Whether he was in the groove or merely addressing his dinner I was too preoccupied to notice, but if he missed out on the music he missed something special.

Not incidentally, I’ve been admiring Dan’s recorded work since 1987, and have seen him live a number of times (with Becky Kilgore and Rossano Sportiello, at Jazz at Chautauqua, and at a series of concerts put on by Joe Boughton, where his colleagues included Vince Giordano, Duke Heitger, and Kevin Dorn) . . . as well as an early-Eighties Newport in New York tribute to Billie Holiday directed by Ruby Braff.  But this gig and his appearance at Smalls have given me an even greater admiration of Dan’s creativity, because no one else was in the way.  I was reminded often of hearing Vic Dickenson play — with Mike Burgevin and Jimmy Andrews — in 1974.  The same swing, the same full understanding of what this music is all about.  But on to the videos!

Here are Dan and Ehud caressing THAT OLD FEELING, a ballad everyone knows but few jazzmen actually play.  Who could be insensitive to the beauty of Dan’s pure sound?  And Ehud accompanies him perfectly — then launches into his own ruminations, which embody the whole history of swinging jazz piano, delicate and pointed at once:

And a Barrett original (his lines have the same bounce as his solos), WITH’EM, which will reveal its roots in a flash.  At first, when I didn’t recognize the line, I thought it was something written by Don Byas or Johnny Hodges, evidence of its authentic pedigree:

Another fine neglected Forties tune (courtesy of the Ink Spots) at a jaunty tempo, without recitative, IF I DIDN’T CARE.  The crowd was getting a bit more noisy, but I didn’t care:

And a slow-motion DON’T GET AROUND MUCH ANYMORE, its mournful tempo getting at the loss that is at the heart of the lyrics,  Savor Dan’s lovely opening cadenza, a composition on its own (while the dishes clatter):

Who else would have the musical wisdom to offer up IF YOU WERE THE ONLY GIRL IN THE WORLD, a fine song to improvise on:

And (for me) the piece de resistance — a genuine Hollywood-style jam session.  Lovers of jazz on film will know what I mean.  The model comes from the 1947 film THE FABULOUS DORSEYS, where the scene begins with the briefest clip of Art Tatum playing in a club . . . we know this because there’s a sign outside saying so.  Then, as if by magic, a whole host of jazzmen appear — their horns at the ready — as if from nowhere.  No one has to warm up, adjust a reed, or use the facilities: they just spring into action.  Well, it happened at Roth’s.  Attillo Troiano was there with his clarinet, to the left; Jon-Erik Kellso rose from his dinner, ready for action, and Luigi Grasso, seated to the right, just happened to have his alto saxophone with him.  And someone called HIGH SOCIETY — which resulted in what Dan, at the end, said was “really jazzy,” and then started to laugh.  It has the wonderful swagger of the Blue Note Jazzmen, transported to the Upper West Side, with all the strains in place, everyone knowing the right melodies and countermelodies. 

It was a privilege to be there, and I don’t write these words casually.  I won’t forget this evening!

HIGH SOCIETY

Even bathed in unearthly purple stage lights, Ruby Braff and Dick Hyman — recorded for British television circa 1990 — still amaze and delight.  “High Society” indeed!