Tag Archives: Hilary Gardner

HILARY HITS THE TRAIL (Part Two): HILARY GARDNER, JUSTIN POINDEXTER, NOAH GARABEDIAN, ALEX HARGREAVES (MEZZROW, February 20, 2022)

This is the second part of a wonderful musical evening that took place at Mezzrow, on West Tenth Street, New York City, last Sunday night. The quietly eloquent Hilary Gardner brought her new program of “trail songs,” which combine film-cowboy-music with a real understanding of the “vast open spaces” that sometimes seem lost to us when we are commuting to work or contemplating the view from our largest window. But imagine, if you will, prairies and plains without nail salons or cellphone towers.

The songs have deep jazz / American songbook connections in Bing Crosby, Johnny Mercer, Jack Teagarden, Benny Carter, Frank Sinatra, and more. And Hilary’s little band — Justin Poindexter, guitar, vocal; Alex Hargreaves, violin; Noah Garabedian, string bass — creates lyrical swinging conversation, full of feeling. They have a good time, and they invite us to join in.

I’ve been admiring Hilary’s singing for a decade now: she’s sending those emotional messages us so sweetly and deeply – never losing her grip on the metaphysical saddle for an instant. Her pleasure in what she’s doing, the lines she sings, comes across in every phrase.

I should also say this isn’t fake-nostalgia: these songs come out of a yearning for an America that’s sometimes hard to see, and the joy of discovering and re-discovering it, in music.

Hilary, Noah, Justin at their first gig at Bar 55, 2021

You don’t need to lasso a pinto pony or drink cowboy coffee from a tin cup (both hazardous in their own ways) — just listen, watch, and admire. Make yourself to home. And if you haven’t enjoyed the first part of the evening, it’s right beyond the campfire.

SMOKIN’ MY LAST CIGARETTE, also known as COWBOY SERENADE:

A goofy paean to singlehood, JINGLE JANGLE JINGLE:

The very pretty CALL OF THE CANYON:

Cole Porter dons his leather chaps for DON’T FENCE ME IN:

For Bob Wills, NEW SAN ANTONIO ROSE:

And the program ended with the proper sign-off, thinking of Trigger, Dale, and Roy, with HAPPY TRAILS TO YOU:

The applause will tell you that I wasn’t the only one enjoying myself: there will be many such evenings to come for Hilary and her little band of heartfelt players, lighting the way home down the winding trail, wherever it may lead.

May your happiness increase!

HILARY HITS THE TRAIL (Part One): HILARY GARDNER, JUSTIN POINDEXTER, NOAH GARABEDIAN, ALEX HARGREAVES (MEZZROW, February 20, 2022)

This is the first part of a wonderful musical evening that took place at Mezzrow, on West Tenth Street, New York City, last Sunday night. The quietly eloquent Hilary Gardner brought her new program of “trail songs,” which combine film-cowboy-music with a real understanding of the “vast open spaces” that sometimes seem lost to us when we are commuting to work or contemplating the view from our largest window. The songs have deep jazz / American songbook connections in Bing Crosby, Johnny Mercer, Jack Teagarden, Benny Carter, Frank Sinatra, and more. Hilary’s little band — Justin Poindexter, guitar, vocal; Alex Hargreaves, violin; Noah Garabedian, string bass — creates lyrical swinging conversation, full of feeling. And I’ve been admiring Hilary’s singing for a decade now: she’s sending those emotional messages us so sweetly and deeply –never losing her grip on the metaphysical saddle for an instant.

I should also say this isn’t fake-nostalgia: these songs come out of a yearning for an America that’s sometimes hard to see, and the joy of discovering and re-discovering it, in music.

Hilary, Noah, Justin at their first gig at Bar 55, 2021

You don’t need to saddle a wild mustang or eat cowboy beans off a tin plate (both hazardous in their own ways) — just listen, watch, and admire. Make yourself to home.

ALONG THE NAVAJO TRAIL:

SONG OF THE SIERRAS:

MOON OVER MONTANA:

COW COW BOOGIE:

I’M AN OLD COWHAND:

PRAIRIELAND LULLABY:

The applause will tell you that I wasn’t the only one enjoying myself: there will be many such evenings to come for Hilary and her little band of heartfelt players, lighting the way home down the winding trail, wherever it may lead.

May your happiness increase!

“YIPPIE-YI-O-KI-YAY!”: HILARY GARDNER HITS THE TRAIL AGAIN at MEZZROW (Sunday, February 20, 2022)

“Pay attention!” as Jake Hanna always said.

Hilary Gardner, Noah Garabedian, Justin Poindexter in November

Hilary Gardner is one of the finest singers I know. This isn’t hyperbole, but the result of my listening and observing her for the past decade.

A few years ago, I admired (in print), “her multi-colored voice, her unerring time, her fine but subtle dramatic sense, her wit, her swinging ability to let the song pour through her rather than insisting that the song sit behind her.”

Hilary has an intriguing musical plan, which we can participate in on Sunday, February 20, at Mezzrow (163 West Tenth Street), shows at 7:30 and 9. Here‘s the link to purchase tickets or to join in the livestream.

She’s inviting us to join her “on the trail.” Music first, then words:

Hilary writes:

Throughout lockdown, I felt completely disconnected from music-making. Shut up in my apartment in the silenced city, I – like many others, I’m sure – dreamed of wide open spaces and the freedom to roam. I started researching “trail songs,” like “Twilight on the Trail,” “Along the Santa Fe Trail,” and others, drawn to their lyrics about purple hills, silver stars, pale dawns, lonesome moons, and other evocative imagery. What heaven, to saddle up a reliable horse and wander, unworried and unhurried, under a vast, open sky…and how absurdly out of reach such an fantasy was (is, really)!

As I learned more and more of these songs, I was struck by how many of them were composed by European immigrants, versed in classical music, who went on to score films in Hollywood. Jazz and Great American Songbook composers got in on the act, too, with the likes of Benny Carter, Frank Loesser, Victor Young, and others writing songs right alongside Gene Autry and Roy Rogers.

Because I grew up singing classical, jazz, and country music concurrently (my first paid gigs were in country music, singing Patsy Cline tunes in dive bars in my teens), I felt deeply and immediately at home in this new repertoire, which contains elements of all three genres. And I have a longstanding fascination with the mythology of the American West, particularly the musical tradition of the “hip cowboy,” i.e. Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra and countless others recording swinging versions of western music.

In hindsight, I think that these songs also call to me because they ease the pain of the contentious, relentlessly politicized, complicated times we are living in right now. On the trail–at least, as far as this music is concerned–the answers to life’s big questions are simple and immediate, found in the beauty of the natural world, contemplative solitude, and the arms of a loved one.



This musical program isn’t spangles and boots, not nostalgia for the saloon’s swinging doors, nor is it ironic retro-pop. Rather, I think it comes from Hilary’s understanding that there used to be a landscape where the most prominent feature wasn’t Denny’s or the Home Depot, where one could see the horizon and the starry sky. Where there was room to breathe and no iPhone to monopolize one’s attentions. And her love of the songs that celebrate this spaciousness — both on the map and of the heart. Hilary will be joined on the trail by Justin Poindexter, guitar; Noah Garabedian, string bass; Alex Hargreaves, violin. And Mezzrow — that lovely long narrow room — will have miles of vista and horizon, miraculously.

I will say only, “Don’t miss this show,” because Hilary’s first “trail songs” show at Bar 55, in November, sold out.

May your happiness increase!

“YIPPIE-YI-O-KI-YAY!”

Let’s set the mood first. I’ll explain in three minutes.

A beautiful song, no? But this post isn’t about a 1940 recording: better, it’s about music that will be made in this month, this year.

Photograph by Shervin Laniez

Hilary Gardner is one of the finest singers I know. This isn’t hyperbole, but the result of my listening and observing her for the past decade.

A few years ago, I admired (in print), “her multi-colored voice, her unerring time, her fine but subtle dramatic sense, her wit, her swinging ability to let the song pour through her rather than insisting that the song sit behind her.”

Hilary has a plan, which we can witness and participate in on Tuesday, November 23, at the 55 Bar at 55 Christopher Street, 6:30 to 8:30. She’s inviting us to join her, “on the trail”:

Throughout lockdown, I felt completely disconnected from music-making. Shut up in my apartment in the silenced city, I–like many others, I’m sure–dreamed of wide open spaces and the freedom to roam. I started researching “trail songs,” like “Twilight on the Trail,” “Along the Santa Fe Trail,” and others, drawn to their lyrics about purple hills, silver stars, pale dawns, lonesome moons, and other evocative imagery. What heaven, to saddle up a reliable horse and wander, unworried and unhurried, under a vast, open sky…and how absurdly out of reach such an fantasy was (is, really)!

As I learned more and more of these songs, I was struck by how many of them were composed by European immigrants, versed in classical music, who went on to score films in Hollywood. Jazz and Great American Songbook composers got in on the act, too, with the likes of Benny Carter, Frank Loesser, Victor Young, and others writing songs right alongside Gene Autry and Roy Rogers.

Because I grew up singing classical, jazz, and country music concurrently (my first paid gigs were in country music, singing Patsy Cline tunes in dive bars in my teens), I felt deeply and immediately at home in this new repertoire, which contains elements of all three genres. And I have a longstanding fascination with the mythology of the American West, particularly the musical tradition of the “hip cowboy,” i.e. Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra and countless others recording swinging versions of western music.

In hindsight, I think that these songs also call to me because they ease the pain of the contentious, relentlessly politicized, complicated times we are living in right now. On the trail–at least, as far as this music is concerned–the answers to life’s big questions are simple and immediate, found in the beauty of the natural world, contemplative solitude, and the arms of a loved one.

This musical program isn’t spangles and boots, not nostalgia for the saloon’s swinging doors, nor is it ironic retro-pop. Rather, I think it comes from Hilary’s understanding that there used to be a landscape where the most prominent feature wasn’t Denny’s or the Home Depot, where one could see the horizon and the starry sky. Where there was room to breathe and no iPhone to monopolize one’s attentions. And her love of the songs that celebrate this spaciousness — both on the map and of the heart.

Hilary will be joined on the trail by Justin Poindexter, guitar; Noah Garabedian, string bass; Rob Garcia, drums. The cover charge is a mere $10 and you’ll have to show proof of vaccination, pardner. But those things are easy.

I could joke about boots and saddles, but I will say only, “Don’t miss this show.”

May your happiness increase!

YOU WON’T NEED SUNSCREEN: DUCHESS GOES HAWAIIAN

This video floated across my screen late last night, and it charmed me instantly.  Under the best of circumstances, one can’t hug a video, nor its artists, but I wish it were possible.

They are the vocal trio DUCHESS — from the left, Amy Cervini, Hilary Gardner, and Melissa Stylianou — performing (with appropriately graduated ukuleles and leis) at the Jazz Standard in November 2017.

Did this video delight me so because the closest I will get to Hawaii these days is by putting on a floral shirt and drinking the last of the Dole pineapple juice (no, not organic, and yes, from concentrate) while watching this video?  Or is it just classic DUCHESS: swinging music that’s great fun?

Escape — as in boarding a plane — seems so far away.  But this trio offers psychic escape and delightful solace.  You can find out more about this sweetly evocative group here and sample or purchase their latest CD (depicted above) here.

Just think!  No masks, no TSA, no carry-on, no sunscreen needed.  Who’s ready?

May your happiness increase!

GUILTY, AS CHARGED

This morning, Connor Cole, a young Facebook friend, someone with good taste, casually asked me to list the recordings that had impressed me in the past year.  I’ve stopped composing “ten best” lists because I know that I will hurt the feelings of someone I’ve left off.  (I once applied for a job where there were openings for five people, and was told afterwards that I was number six, a memory which still, perhaps absurdly, stings.)  But Connor’s request pleased me, so I began thinking of the recordings of 2019.

Perhaps it was that I wasn’t fully awake, but I came up with almost nothing, which troubled me.  So I began searching through blogposts and came up with these reassuring entities (new issues only) in approximate chronological order, with apologies to those I’ve omitted, those discs which I will write about in 2020:

IN THIS MOMENT, Michael Kanan, Greg Ruggiero, Neal Miner

NEW ORLEANS PEARLS  Benny Amon

UNSTUCK IN TIME  Candy Jacket Jazz Band

NO ONE ELSE BUT YOU  Danny Tobias, Mark Shane

RAGTIME — NEW ORLEANS STYLE, Volume 2  Kris Tokarski, Hal Smith

PICK IT AND PLAY IT  Jonathan Stout

BUSY TIL’ ELEVEN  Chicago Cellar Boys

TENORMORE  Scott Robinson

UPTOWN  The Fat Babies

COMPLETE MORTON PROJECT  Andrew Oliver, David Horniblow

A SUNDAY KIND OF LOVE, Alex Levin

DREAM CITY  David Lukacs

THE MUSIC OF THE BIRD AND THE BEE  Charles Ruggiero, Hilary Gardner

LESTER’S BLUES  Tom Callens

WINTER DAYS  Rebecca Kilgore, Echoes of Swing

The majority of those discs are musician-produced, funded, and released — which is yet another blogpost about “record companies” and their understandable attrition.  Economics, technology, and a changing audience.

But that list made me go back in time, decades of trading money for musical joy.

In late childhood, I would have walked or bicycled the mile to Times Square Stores and bought Louis’ Decca JAZZ CLASSICS for $2.79 plus tax.  A few years later, Monk cutouts on Riverside at Pergament or Mays. E.J. Korvette. Lester Young and Art Tatum Verves at Sam Goody’s.  A British enterprise, Tony’s, for exotic foreign discs.  In New York City, new Chiaroscuro issues at Dayton’s, Queen-Discs at Happy Tunes.

In the CD era, I would have stopped off after work at Borders or the nearby Tower Records for new releases on Arbors, Concord, Pablo, and import labels.  Again in the city, J&R near City Hall for Kenneth, French CBS, and more.  But record stores gave way to purchasing by mail, and eventually online.  Mosaic Records was born, as was Amazon, eventually eBay.

So today the times I actually visit “a record store,” it is to browse, to feel nostalgic, to walk away with a disc that I had once coveted — often with a deceased collector’s address sticker on the back — but I am much more likely to click on BUY IT NOW in front of this computer, or, even better, to give the artist twenty dollars for a copy of her new CD.

What happened?  I offer one simple explanation.  A musician I respect, who’s been recordings since 1991, can be relied upon to write me, politely but urgently and at length, how I and people like me have ruined (or “cut into”) his CD sales by using video cameras and broadcasting the product for free to large audiences.

So it’s my fault.  I killed Decca, Columbia, and Victor — Verve, Prestige, and Riverside, too.  Glad to have that question answered, that matter settled.  Now I’m off to do more damage elsewhere.

May your happiness increase!

MODERN ROMANCES IN JAZZ, WITH A LEMON SLICE: “CHARLES RUGGIERO AND HILARY GARDNER PLAY THE MUSIC OF THE BIRD AND THE BEE”

I will begin at an oblique angle.  One of my heroes is trumpeter Spike Mackintosh, fiercely devoted to the music he embodied.  Spike believed that the only jazz to be listened to was recorded between 1928-34.  I admire that devotion, but confining oneself to a narrow — even though pearly — segment of art would be stifling.  So I commend a new CD (Smalls Live SLoo61) of songs I’d never heard before by a duo entirely new to me.

Hilary Gardner by Shervin Lainez

Singer Hilary Gardner adores Rodgers and Hart but also knows theirs is not the only love music we might vibrate to.  When she asked if I’d like to hear this CD, she cautioned that I might not like it.  True, I don’t “like” it: I embrace it.

And before I ask you to read one more word, here is a song from the CD:

Although I still grow weepy when I hear Charles La Vere’s 1935 I’D RATHER BE WITH YOU, this I find entrancing.  The song is a collection of half-sentences that coalesce into an emotional mosaic, a synergy larger than the apparent fragments.  And the other seven songs on this disc are small novellas in jazz.

When I first heard the CD, the image that kept recurring was “Warm heart and sharp elbows,” and I think it’s true.  Or a cake recipe where the expected sweetness is cut by a cup of lemon juice.  I may be older than the perceived audience for The Bird & The Bee, and I am usually very suspicious of new additions to the words-and-music I treasure, but I feel that this music not only sounds pleasantly surprising, but the lyrics express the modern world with snap, tenderness, and glee.  It could be the successor to all the songs I have taken to my heart from the Twenties onwards — intelligent additions and modifications to the world of love as seen by Porter and Hart and Gershwin, Wilder, Robison, and many others.

What strikes me now and did when I first listened to the CD is not the apparent “audacity” of the project — “My goodness, Mabel, jazz people recording non-jazz material!  Heavens!”  It’s neither incongruous nor is it a gambit to make money from bridging two disparate audiences (think: BASIE’S BEATLE BAG) but the delight is how seamless the result is, as if I and others had really been waiting for four wonderful creative improvisers to record this music.  And, by the way, the back of the sleeve has a gracious appreciative note from Inara George, one half of the musical duo, about this CD.

It is not only the original songs I admire, their mixtures of affection and wryness, their romance and realism, but the performances.  They are great songs not only to improvise on but to hear unadorned, even without lyrics.  I have admired Neal Miner for a long time, but the trio he forms with Charles Ruggiero, drums, and Jeremy Manasia, piano, is just superb: they mesh but remain distinctly individuals.  And Hilary comes through with great subtlety, gentleness, and wit: as if here she’d found the real nourishment to express herself afresh.  I should also add that the recording is lovely: the way we usually hear artists in a club, through amplifiers, microphones, and the club’s sound system is coarse by comparison.

The CD gleams in every way and will continue to do so.   And it’s available in all the usual places and ways.  (Hilariously, Amazon notes it is “Explicit” because the second song uses the F-word.  Oh, save me from such filth!  How very naughty.  But I digress.)  Buy it, I suggest.

May your happiness increase!

FOR NANCY HARROW, THE SONGS ARE ALL

Looking back on my 2017, one of the memorable pleasures is the privilege of meeting and hearing Nancy Harrow (in the company of fellow-singers Daryl Sherman and Hilary Gardner, too).  You could call Nancy “a singer,” and then add “composer,” but she is more, an inspiring artist of great scope.  I imagine her as someone who realized, early on, what her paths were, what her purposes might be, and set off to fulfill them — as she continues to do, with warmth, perception, humor, lightness, and strength.

I’ve written about Nancy here, but I couldn’t let this year conclude without shining a light on her latest work, her 2016 CD, THE SONG IS ALL.  It’s not just that she’s recorded infrequently in this century — her preceding CD, recorded with Don Friedman in Japan, was in 2009, and even Tom Lord hasn’t noted it.  But THE SONG IS ALL shows off Nancy in all her facets and reflections.

Nat Hentoff wrote this about Nancy’s 1981 sessions with John Lewis (THE JOHN LEWIS ALBUM FOR NANCY HARROW, Finesse Records): Nancy’s style is Nancy.  There are no masks, no trickery–of sound or personality.  What impressed Buck [Clayton] and a good many others . . . was the absence of artificiality, the directness of her sound and emotion.  The presence, in sum, of someone real. . . . Nancy moves inside the lyrics, and as she tells each story there is that touch of autobiography that all lasting singers suggest.  Again, it’s real.  And that, I think, is why people who have heard her keep on wanting more.  Hearing that kind of probing of memory and imagination is infectious.  You start probing your own.

In the opening track of  THE SONG IS ALL, Nancy sings the lines, “When I was small, no friend called, I played all the parts by myself,” which beautifully characterizes what she’s been doing for years — creating literary / musical imaginings based on Willa Cather, Hawthorne, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and several “children’s books” with deep meanings for adults as well.  Nancy has written music and lyrics — songs that stand on their own as well as interludes in the plot — then performed them, an actress without artifice.  THE SONG IS ALL is thus the multi-colored, emotionally intense Nancy Harrow Repertory Company.

Here is IF I WANT TO, drawing on Nancy’s improvisations on Cather’s A LOST LADY, combining pride, tenderness, vulnerability, and self-knowledge:

Ordinarily, if you offered me a CD solely of one artist’s originals, I might look at it with skepticism, for not every musician is a successful composer, but I embrace THE SONG IS ALL because of its depth and variety of feeling — the toughtness of SELF-ESTEEM, the wry wit of PUTTING ON AIRS, the mournful recollections of MY LOST CITY, the quiet intensity of I AM TOO SHY, and more.  Many CDs pall after a half hour because of sameness, but this one moves from scene to scene with grace and power.

Although I take great pleasure in hearing Nancy with spare accompaniment, here she has assembled a thoroughly entrancing stock company of (mostly young) musicians: Chris Ziemba, George Delancey, Robert Edwards, Owen Broder, Alphonso Horne, Carrie Dowell, Monica Davis, Sarah Whitney, Eleanor Norton, Alex Claffy, Britton Smith, Carl Clemons Hopkins, David Linard, Nathan Bell, and veterans Dennis Mackrel and Rufus Reid.  (If I’ve made anyone improperly “young” out of my ignorance, I trust I can be forgiven.)

Another piece of music that has become part of my daily pleasure — I cannot share it with you here (it never became a CD in this country)– is Nancy’s 1981 performance of MY SHIP and her version of AS LONG AS IT’S ABOUT LOVE from the record with John Lewis, and I have had the strongest urge to get out of my chair and put my ear close to the speaker, to best hear her songful message.  I think of Whitman, “This hour I tell things in confidence, I might not tell everybody, but I will tell you.”

Her voice, so endearingly personal — vibrato-ed or vibrato-less, tender or fierce — conveys emotions and ideas that it seems only she can convey, even if the song is familiar, with many singers trying to make it their own.  And when she sings her own words and melodies, she quietly fills the room.

Here is an extraordinarily deep article on Nancy (with many of her own words and insights) by Wayne Zade, and here is Nancy’s website, a good place to read, listen, dream, and purchase CDs.

I close with the words by Chekhov — chosen by Nancy to be what someone sees having opened the cardboard sleeve of THE SONG IS ALL:

“Why are your songs so short?  Is it because you are short of breath?” the songbird was asked.  The bird replied: “I have a great many songs and I should like to sing them all.”

“When it’s true, I can move you,” Nancy sings, and she does:

Nancy Harrow and her songs are rare blessings.

May your happiness increase!

HILARY GARDNER and EHUD ASHERIE: “THE LATE SET”

This new CD doesn’t have a false note in it, just tremendously satisfying music.

I don’t recall the first time I heard Hilary Gardner sing, with or without Ehud Asherie’s accompaniment, but I was smitten — in a nice legal Platonic way — by the blending of her tender, expressive voice and his elegant, sometimes raucous piano.  Singular individualists, they combine in wonderful synergy, and this CD expertly reproduces what it’s like to hear marvelous improvisations in a small club full of attentive, sympathetic listeners, leaning forward to catch every nuance.  The sound is spectacularly fine — by which I mean natural, and you don’t have to leave your house to “be there.”  (Although seeing them at Mezzrow on West Tenth Street has been one of my great pleasures for a few years.)

Both Hilary and Ehud are splendid connoisseurs of the best songs, and this recital shows off their sensitivity to fine melodies and telling lyrics: SHADOW WALTZ by Al Dubin and Harry Warren; SWEET AND SLOW by the same two masters in a completely different mood; the very sad Rodgers and Hart A SHIP WITHOUT A SAIL; the ancient but still lively AFTER YOU’VE GONE with the never-heard second chorus; I NEVER HAS SEEN SNOW, by Harold Arlen and Truman Capote; Irving Berlin’s immensely touching I USED TO BE COLOR BLIND; the wicked EVERYTHING I’VE GOT, again by Hart and Rodgers; the sweet command to MAKE SOMEONE HAPPY, by Adolph Green, Betty Comden, and Jule Styne; the wistful SEEMS LIKE OLD TIMES, by John Jacob Loeb and Carmen Lombardo.

Song-scholars will find connections to Fred Astaire, Diane Keaton, Arthur Godfrey, Sophie Tucker, Lee Wiley, Fats Waller, Busby Berkeley, and two dozen others, but this is not a CD of homages to the Ancestors nor to their recordings.  Although the majority of the songs are enshrined in “the Great American Songbook,” this CD isn’t an exercise in reverential mummification.  No, the magic that Hilary and Ehud bring to these possibly venerable pages is to sing and play the songs for real — asking the questions, “What meaning might be found here?  What feelings can we share with you?”  And, ultimately, “Why are these songs so affecting in themselves?”

I’ve celebrated Ehud a great deal on this blog: his ability to create a Frolick all by himself, evoking both Bud Powell and Francois Rilhac, his touch precise but warm, his marvelous ability to think of anything and then to play it, his eye for the perfect swinging epigram a master archer’s.

Hilary was a wonderfully complete singer when I first heard her.  She has outdone herself here.  I find myself reaching for adjectives: is her voice “warm,” “creamy,” “light,” “rich”?  Then I give up, because it sounds as if I am a blindfolded contestant on a cooking show assessing a pound cake.

In plain English: she swings, she understands the lyrics, she improvises splendidly but without theatricality, and when she descends into a song, even if it’s one she’s sung a hundred times before, she comes to the surface, immensely naturally, showing us something we’ve never thought of before.  She’s witty but not clever; emotive but not melodramatic, tender but not maudlin.  Her approach is warm, delicate, unhurried.

When Hilary and Ehud did a brief tour of the Pacific Northwest not long ago, they visited KNKX, did an interview about the CD, and performed three songs in the studio — SWEET AND SLOW, I NEVER HAS SEEN SNOW, and AFTER YOU’VE GONE.  Here‘s the link to watch the videos and hear the interview.

You can find THE LATE SET at iTunes, Amazon, Spotify, and the Anzic Records site.  I urge you to find and purchase a physical disc, because one of the great pleasures — hidden inside — is Hilary’s own pitch-perfect evocation of “the late set” in what I presume is a New York City jazz club.

This is extraordinary music.  How delightful that it exists in this century.

May your happiness increase!

HARMONY AND HIJINKS: DUCHESS, “LAUGHING AT LIFE”

duchess-portrait

DUCHESS: Amy Cervini, Hilary Gardner, Melissa Stylianou

The superb vocal harmony group DUCHESS has released their second CD, LAUGHING AT LIFE, and it’s a wonder.

duchess-laughing-at-life

Here’s a sample of their originality, energy, and fun: EVERYBODY LOVES MY BABY, at the Jazz Standard, accompanied by Michael Cabe, piano; Matt Aronoff, string bass; Jared Schonig, drums.

 

For those of you who, like me, didn’t catch every rapid-fire turn of the new “original” lyrics, here they are in slow-motion print:

How did the Bozzie’s do their rapid-fire scatting
When they yes-siggle-dirred when they double dogged their Latin
There were so many words just a flyin’ and a rat-n-tatting how?

Vet, Martha, Connie gave us all the Heebie Jeebies
Said Duchess ought to try it but you know it isn’t easy
So we gotta tip our hat to the Bozzie’s oh, they really dazzle, wow!

Harmony and hijinks are the currency we deal in
Though we love the Bozzie’s honey, no we ain’t a-stealin’
Got a style that’s all our own and we know it’s so appealing here and now!

There’s only one problem with that gloriously expert and exuberant video.  A casual viewer might assume, “Oh, that’s a Boswell Sisters cover band,” in the odd parlance of this century, drop this versatile trio into a convenient classification, and be completely wrong. Someone else might misread the group because of their “vintage” twentieth-century repertoire.

But DUCHESS is not a tour of the local museum of past greatness, and no one pretends to be anyone else.

The glory of this group is their quirky sweet transforming energy, which enables them to do so many things so beautifully and with such deep emotions. LAUGHING AT LIFE is a wonderful showcase for their swinging versatilities.

The CD’s delights begin early, with a modern-Basie version of SWING, BROTHER, SWING — where one can delight in the three piquant voices and their distinctive blend (as well as a solo by postmodern intergalactic rhythm ‘n’ blues tenorist Jeff Lederer).

Then they move into familiar (and possibly dangerous) territory . . . the 1930 SUNNY SIDE OF THE STREET, a song that I would guess no one has ever called “dangerous.”  But as a song, it has become over-familiar and thus open to formulaic run-throughs in the same way as PENNIES FROM HEAVEN.  But halfway through this track, after a pleasing rhythm-section interlude, something magical happens.  Whitney Balliett called a similar instrumental passage “slow-motion leapfrog,” and on this track, the three voices slide over one another, each singer starting a phrase in a different place, creating a kind of three-dimensional cathedral of sounds.

There’s the rubato voices-plus-Michael Cabe’s sensitive piano reading of the verse of LAUGHING AT LIFE.  Then, Amy Cervini’s quite definite reading of GIVE HIM THE OO LA LA, with a fine solo from guitarist Jesse Lewis, a wooing WHERE WOULD YOU BE WITHOUT ME? featuring Melissa Stylianou, and a down-home frolic by Hilary Gardner on HALLELUJAH, I LOVE HIM SO!

The tender ache of EV’RY TIME WE SAY GOOD-BYE is followed by the hilarity of STRIP POLKA (thank you, Mister Mercer!).  And the bonus track, DAWN, a song known to only a few, is immensely touching — its author is someone we honor for other reasons.

Buy the CD and find out all.  I didn’t linger over every track for its delights: you can find the little bowers of bliss for yourself.

DUCHESS fans already know this, but it bears repeating: each of the three singers is a very distinctive soloist, but their blending is impeccable: their intonation and diction are splendid.  The clever and witty arrangements are complex, but only truly attentive listeners will understand just how beautifully layered they are — a key change here, an almost unnoticed shift from a lead voice with support to a unison ensemble, and more.  Incidentally, there are guest appearances by clarinetist Anat Cohen and trombonist / vocalist Wycliffe Gordon to add to the mix.

Learn all the secrets here, and follow Duchess on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook if you while away the hours in such revelries.  But most important, here you can purchase / download the CD through Bandcamp. Amazon, or iTunes.  You’ll find it extremely rewarding.

May your happiness increase!

 

BUT WHO KNOWS WHERE OR WHEN?

Although technology — whatever that means — keeps telling us we are “all connected,” and it is easier than ever to click a “like,” to instant-message someone, I think many of us feel, in the midst of the crowd, more isolated than ever before.

where-or-when

But community is always possible.  I offer this tender example from — oh, only eighty years ago.

The song is WHERE OR WHEN, by Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart, from the musical BABES IN ARMS, which premiered in New York April 14, 1937.  I don’t know when Benny Goodman, Teddy Wilson, and Gene Krupa first heard the song or had the sheet music (possibly well in advance of the show’s premiere, because who wouldn’t want to know, sing, play a new score by Rodgers and Hart?) — but they performed it at the Madhattan Room of the Hotel Pennsylvania, on October 23, 1937.  (An aside: the first jazz group to record the song was Frank Newton’s small band.)

Here is that Goodman Trio performance:

Now, this is not a generic time-travel post.  As delightful as it would be to hear the music of 1937, I’d also be reading about Herr Hitler in the newspapers; people would die from tuberculosis and polio . . . so I don’t want to leap backwards in time.

But the sound of the “college audience,” to quote my friend David J. Weiner, who wrote the notes to the CD issue of this track, singing along in unified pleasure and knowledge . . . it’s a sweet yet heartbreaking reminder of a time when such things were possible.  Perhaps the fragmentation of the collective audience is an inevitable result of astonishing strides forward in communication, but I’d trade Facebook for a world where people acted in unison, so sweetly.

Here are the lyrics to the chorus, for those motivated to sing along.  I know I was.

It seems we stood and talked like this before.
We looked at each other in the same way then.
But I can’t remember where or when…
The clothes you’re wearing are the clothes you wore
The smile you are smiling you were smiling then,
But I can’t remember where or when…
Some things that happen for the first time
Seem to be happening again.
And though it seems like we have met before,
And laughed before, and loved before,
But who knows where or when…”

What could we do to make such sweet unity the norm in the Here and Now? And I mean more than people knowing the lyrics and being willing to share their sweet impulse.

This post is for Hilary Gardner, who knows and sings.  Both.

May your happiness increase!

“HOTTER THAN THAT”! (on January 15 – 16, 2016)

It’s getting colder, which is both appropriate and reassuring because it is January.  But if the descending temperatures oppress you, here’s a wonderful chance to become HOTTER THAN THAT in the New York winter.  I don’t refer to new down parkas or thermoses full of the preferred hot dram . . . but to the New York Hot Jazz Festival. . . . the continuing creation of the indefatigable Michael Katsobashvili:

Art by Cecile MLorin Salvant

Art by Cecile MLorin Salvant

Here’s the Facebook event page.  And the Festival’s website.

Details?  How about a schedule of artists and times.  (And there are seats — first come, first served, as well as room to dance.)

FRIDAY (doors at 5:45 pm)

6:20 – Tom McDermott (New Orleans piano explorer)

7:20 – Bumper Jacksons

8:40 – Evan Christopher’s Clarinet Road with Hilary Gardner

10:00 – Jon-Erik Kellso and the EarRegulars with Kat Edmonson

11:20 – Mike Davis’ New Wonders

SATURDAY (doors at 5:45 pm)

6:20 – Christian Sands (solo stride)

7:20 – Michael Mwenso & Brianna Thomas: Ella and Louis Duets – 60 Years

8:40 – Rhythm Future Quartet

10:00 – Tatiana Eva-Marie & The Avalon Jazz Band

with special guest Oran Etkin

11:20 – Gordon Au’s Grand Street Stompers

with Molly Ryan & Tamar Korn

That’s a wonderful mix of music — solo piano, small band, gypsy jazz, singers — all of the highest caliber.  And although some New Yorkers might note local favorites, consider what it would cost to see them all in one evening, even if you could work out the transportation and timing.  New Orleanians McDermott and Evan Christopher will bring their own special rhythmic tang to the New York winter.

If you need more evidence, here are videos of the artists above.

Here‘s the way to buy tickets.  It’s an absolute bargain, and New Yorkers love nothing better.

The place?  The Ballroom at Greenwich House Music School, 46 Barrow Street (West of 7th Ave South), New York, New York.

And for inspiration, here’s a 1949 version of HOTTER THAN THAT, performed live on the Eddie Condon Floor Show — Eddie was the first jazz musician to have his own television show — featuring Wild Bill Davison, Cutty Cutshall, Peanuts Hucko, Ernie Caceres, Gene Schroeder, Eddie, Jack Lesberg, and Sidney Catlett.

May your happiness increase!

HOLIDAY GREETINGS FROM DUCHESS, “A CHRISTMAS COMPROMISE,” (December 17, 2015)

DUCHESS 12 29

The wonderful vocal trio DUCHESS mixes sharp wit, sweet sentiment, and uplifting swing.  Thanks to Amy Cervini, Hilary Gardner, and Melissa Stylianou for this restorative holiday song, A CHRISTMAS COMPROMISE, originally performed by “the bird and the bee.”  You can’t see him, but the invaluable Michael Cabe is at the piano.

It’s the one song I know of that addresses the potentially stressful situation where one partner wants all the Christmas accoutrements and the other one comes from another tradition — Doin’ the Uptown Inter-faith, as the Mills Blue Rhythm Band called it in 1933 on a disc never released.

This nifty performance comes from their set at a benefit for WBAI’s David Kenney and his long-running radio show, EVERYTHING OLD IS NEW AGAIN, an evening at the Metropolitan Room, December 17, 2015.

If you weren’t there on the 17th — and the room was full of the trio’s fans — you can follow these members of the nobility here or here to find out their schedule here and abroad.

Wishing you holidays where all the necessary compromises are joyous, enacted to the sound of lovely music.

May your happiness increase!

THE DEARNESS OF TWO: HILARY GARDNER, EHUD ASHERIE (and NOAH GARABEDIAN) at MEZZROW (September 29, 2015)

HILARY EHUD

When Hilary Gardner and Ehud Asherie get together, magic happens.  Here they are (with a guest appearance by string bassist Noah Garabedian) at Mezzrow, their home turf on West Tenth Street, on September 29, 2015:

A HUNDRED YEARS FROM TODAY:

SWEET PUMPKIN:

THE NEARNESS OF YOU:

WHEN THE WORLD WAS YOUNG:

I have intentionally left in some of the banter between Hilary and Ehud to let you in on what is not a secret, that they are having great fun.  I hear tell that they will be returning to Mezzrow for another delectable evening of music in February 2016.  Unless the locusts descend and the creeks rise, I’ll be there.  You might want to join in as well.

May your happiness increase!

DUCHESS IS TWO (AND WE ARE GLAD)

Happy Birthday, Duchess! That's Amy, Hilary, and Melissa.

Happy Birthday, Duchess! That’s Amy, Hilary, and Melissa.

DUCHESS is two.  If you know them, that is cause for celebration: they are a witty, swinging, tender, hilarious vocal trio: Amy Cervini, Hilary Gardner, Melissa Stylianou.  Their repertoire is inspired by the Sisters Boswell and Andrews, but they are far from a repertory company of old-records-brought-to-life, and they have singular energy and snap.  If DUCHESS is new to you, prepare to be cheered and elated.

At their October 16 concert at the Rubin Museum of Art in New York City (a most congenial place to wander in as well as a comfortable venue for music) they were supported by Jeff Lederer, reeds; Michael Cabe, piano; Elias Bailey, string bass;  Jesse Lewis, guitar.  The show was billed as DUCHESS UNPLUGGED, so (with regrets) they left their percussionist at home and performed with very little electrical or electronic assistance.  I was thrilled to be invited to the Rubin concert and brought back for the JAZZ LIVES audience four new videos of DUCHESS doing what they do best — enthusiastic, expert harmony and solo singing, beautifully and warmly accomplished.

Remembering the Rhythm Boys, Bix and  Bing, THERE AIN’T NO SWEET MAN (THAT’S WORTH THE SALT OF MY TEARS):

For those three Greek women who went before, THREE LITTLE SISTERS:

And those harmony masters from New Orleans, EVERYBODY LOVES MY BABY:

Finally, by special request (mine) the very tender P.S., I LOVE YOU:

And since you’ll now want to learn more about DUCHESS, follow them to other gigs, and buy their wonderful CD, some cyber-data.

Here is their YouTube channel; here is their website; here is their Facebook page; here is my enthusiastic review of their debut CD.

Two other thoughts.  I am always moderately proud of my videos as one kind of representation of an experience, but DUCHESS is a more vivid experience than even the best cameras could capture.  They do that rare thing — sometimes lost in this century — of providing inventive music while entertaining us.  And I don’t think “entertainment” is a negative word.  So you could take someone to hear DUCHESS even if that person steadfastly says, “I don’t like jazz.  I don’t understand it,” and there would be a sweet (subversive) conversion experience before the night was through.  If this sounds like a not-terribly subtle encouragement to see DUCHESS live, it is.  We wish them many more birthdays.

May your happiness increase!

HILARY GARDNER and EHUD ASHERIE at MEZZROW: BEAUTY IN THE NOW (September 29, 2015)

 

MEZZROW door

Singer Hilary Gardner and pianist Ehud Asherie have created consistently gratifying music on their appearances — most recently at Mezzrow (163 West Tenth Street, New York City, just east of Seventh Avenue South).  I offer evidence below.

That’s cheering news to say the least.  But the best news is that they are returning for two performances on Tuesday, September 29, 2015:  shows at 7:30 and 9 PM, $20 music charge for each show. You can buy tickets here, and I urge you to do so promptly, because Mezzrow is a small space.  (That’s a wonderful thing, by the way: it is the ideal of New York City jazz clubs, with apologies to the others.)

Now, here’s the evidence.  Most recently, Ehud and Hilary appeared at Mezzrow in May 2015, gloriously:  here.  And in March of the same year: here.

I first heard Hilary and Ehud in duet at Smalls in April 2013 — which seems so long ago that the videos are in black and white: here.

As you can see and hear, their repertoire stretches back to the early collaborations of Lorenz Hart and Richard Rodgers, and forward to the present. But the beauty they create is always NOW.  And you might consider immersing yourself in it, if you can, before it becomes the THEN.  See you there.

May your happiness increase!

IN THE NAME OF BEAUTY: MORE FROM HILARY GARDNER / EHUD ASHERIE at MEZZROW (May 18, 2015)

It was great good fortune and the generous impulse of Spike Wilner, the owner-patron saint of Mezzrow (163 West 10th Street, New York City) that brought singer Hilary Gardner and pianist Ehud Asherie together for an offering of beauty on May 18, 2015.  Here are some remarkable performances from that evening of song:

For Fred and Ginger and lovers everywhere, Mister Berlin’s divine CHEEK TO CHEEK:

EVERYTHING I’VE GOT speaks to a more dangerous romantic entanglement, with physical force, courtesy of Rodgers and Hart, and rollicking piano by Ehud:

Think globally, sing locally — as in A BROOKLYN LOVE SONG.  Hey!:

AFTER YOU’VE GONE, a fitting farewell, loose-jointed and completely playful (including explosively joyous piano from Ehud):

and, if you missed the earlier postings, here are two sublime performances of songs not heard enough in this century:

AZALEA:

I USED TO BE COLOR-BLIND:

which wins the JAZZ LIVES award for Gorgeousness.

May your happiness increase!

LOVE, NOT DEATH. SONG, NOT HATE.

I feel immersed in the grief created by the 21-year old white supremacist Dylann Roof who killed nine African-Americans in the Mother Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, after sitting with them for an hour at a prayer meeting.  I will not show his picture or a picture of his gun.

In this immense sadness, I wonder, “Why does it seem so difficult for people to act lovingly to one another?  So many people have every advantage, every materialistic reward, the most sophisticated technology, but they still are ruled by hatred and fear of those they should recognize as brothers and sisters.”

As an antidote to hatred, I offer beauty in the shape of song.  Music is love floating through the air, an aural embrace aimed right at us. I do not mean the lyrics of these songs to be particularly relevant to our grief, but I remember the sensation of everyone — musicians and audience — connected by love and hope, optimism and joy.  It is the way we should be.

AZALEA, by Duke Ellington, performed by Hilary Gardner and Ehud Asherie at Mezzrow on May 18, 2015:

WRAP YOUR TROUBLES IN DREAMS, performed by Terry Blaine and Mark Shane at the Croton Free Library on May 8, 2015:

I know the four musicians in these videos would not object to my offering their performances in the name of healing.

May music — embodied love — help cleanse our hearts of anger, insecurity, and rage.  Please notice I do not say “Dylann Roof’s heart,” but our hearts.

And if any of my readers find my politics deplorable, I encourage them to unsubscribe from JAZZ LIVES: there’s a place at the bottom of the post to do this.  I won’t post inappropriate comments.

If the music and the sentiments move you, please share them.

Let the air be filled with something not stifled tears.

May our griefs grow lighter.  May we remember how to love.

“SUCH LOVELY COLORS”: HILARY GARDNER and EHUD ASHERIE at MEZZROW (May 18, 2015)

I would say that what follows is a once-in-a-lifetime performance, but every time I’ve heard Hilary Gardner sing or Ehud Asherie play, such things have happened with wondrous regularity. This epiphany took place on May 18, 2015, at that shrine for music, Mezzrow.

As readers of JAZZ LIVES know, I am not one to hyperbolize, but I remember clearly the delighted anticipation I felt when this performance began: “Oh, my! They’re going to do that song?  And at that gorgeous tempo?”  For I USED TO BE COLOR-BLIND, certainly not a well-known song, had been “swung” by Fred Astaire and Mildred Bailey in its original incarnation in 1938.  We don’t acknowledge Irving Berlin sufficiently as a writer of the most gorgeous love songs, but this is one.  I couldn’t hold my breath for three minutes, but it felt as if I was doing just that, so delicious the immersion in rare feeling.

Hilary and Ehud understand the song’s emotional center: the lover’s astonished delight at finding experiences and perceptions changed utterly.  One’s familiar world now made brilliant.  And that transformation is something to savor, second by second, note by note:

I marvel at this.  Such healing tenderness, such rare art.  It’s a rainbow.

May your happiness increase! 

“PENSIVE AND SWEET AND WISE”: HILARY GARDNER and EHUD ASHERIE HONOR RODGERS and HART at MEZZROW (March 17, 2015)

Here are two more beautiful songs from the Rodgers and Hart evening that Hilary Gardner and Ehud Asherie created for us on March 17, 2015, at Mezzrow on West Tenth Street, my new basement shrine to lyricism. The tender duets Hilary and Ehud create for us are tremendously moving celebrations of love.  Love is in the lyrics, in the melody, and of course in the performances.

WAIT TILL YOU SEE HIM, a paean in three-quarter time to the lover who is announced but not yet tangible, frankly beyond the singer’s powers to describe adequately.  (If you haven’t felt this way, have you truly been in love?) Hilary’s second chorus is both vulnerable and triumphant, a marvel:

I DIDN’T KNOW WHAT TIME IT WAS is a song of revelation: I was wandering the universe, my internal chronograph not working . . . until I met you.  And now all feels right. It’s a song of delight in that moment when emotion and evidence come together, through love, to create a new aware being:

What a lovely time it was.  And sublime it was, too.  I’ve posted other performances from that night here — and I hope for more.  Singly or in tandem, Hilary and Ehud never fail to move me.

Hilary and Ehud wouldn’t mind my closing with a recording from January 12, 1956: Lester Young, Vic Dickenson, Roy Eldridge, Teddy Wilson, Freddie Green, Gene Ramey, Jo Jones — doing TIME, a little faster.  Even the slightly untuned piano can’t make this any less of a masterpiece:

THIS JUST IN: Hilary and Ehud will be returning to Mezzrow on May 18, 2015.  Whether you’re in love or out, you owe it to yourself to hear and see this divine pair.

May your happiness increase!

“YOU MIGHT AS WELL SURRENDER”: HILARY GARDNER and EHUD ASHERIE HONOR RODGERS AND HART at MEZZROW (March 17, 2015)

Two investigations of sweet deep sorrow, so beautifully offered by Hilary Gardner and Ehud Asherie at that belowstairs shrine, Mezzrow, on West Tenth Street, on March 17, 2015.

LITTLE GIRL BLUE is often performed as a slow lament, in keeping with the dark indigo hue  that the lyrics would suggest, but here Hilary and Ehud give it the slightest edge of urban wryness — not merely in the slightly increased tempo, but in their delivery. Ehud mixes Ellis Larkins and Fats; Hilary has just a touch of amused world-weariness in her delivery: “What can you do?”:

A SHIP WITHOUT A SAIL is, however, gloriously sad.  Another singer might have dropped anchor into self-pity, as the lyrics urge: “All alone / and all at sea / why does no one care for me?” but Hilary floats rather than sinks.  I am so busy listening to the secret delicate walk of her phrasing and the dark caverns Ehud is opening for us, that I don’t mind the almost-sob of the lyric line:

My title has its own wryness.  I don’t mean that listeners should give up.  Rather, we all should surrender to the beauty created here by Hilary, Ehud, Larry, and Dick.  Sadness expressed as beauty both intensifies and transforms grief. Otherwise how could we go on living?

Here are two other Rodgers and Hart gems by this pair, songs dark — TEN CENTS A DANCE — and light — MANHATTAN.  I most earnestly hope that I will get more chances (note the plural) to marvel at Hilary and Ehud again, soon and later.

It may seem odd to close this post — two gorgeous sad songs — with my familiar wish, but I continue to wish that for everyone in the house.

May your happiness increase!

A SONG FOR THE SEASON: HILARY GARDNER and EHUD ASHERIE at MEZZROW (March 17, 2015)

At the end  of their gorgeous Rodgers and Hart mini-concert at Mezzrow on March 17, 2015, Hilary Gardner and Ehud Asherie, those rebels, decided to “go rogue,” and do a song outside the R&H canon.  Luckily for us, their choice was the lovely THEY SAY IT’S SPRING, by Bob Haymes and Marty Clarke, made famous by the ethereal Blossom Dearie.

The snow in New York seems at last to have melted. Warmer weather makes everyone a little more amorous.  Being able to put one’s snow shovel and heavy boots away is positively erotic.  One thinks of lighter clothing with eagerness, and the possibility of being warm in the breeze . . . I’ll stop before I levitate.

The song is just right for the times, and it’s such a lovely performance too:

It’s a performance I want to hear over and over, which for me is the only real endorsement: art that doesn’t grow stale or give up all its secrets at once.

If you’ve missed the two songs I’ve posted from their Rodgers and Hart portion, here and here they are.  I will have more from Hilary and Ehud and Larry and Dick for you in future.

May your happiness increase!