There is a school of thought, one I don’t subscribe to, that traces the course of hot music as a series of inevitable dilutions. I won’t name names, but this stance points to the great Originators (primarily African-American) and then their disciples (racially diverse) and the end result, watery and Caucasian, amateurs with straw boaters and striped vests, reading music. True, some of the purveyors of this particular genre of jazz have strayed from the intensity and expertise of their forbears (they are the amateurs, asking on Facebook for lead sheets for HOT TIME IN THE OLD TOWN TONIGHT because they can’t learn it in performance or from recordings) but it isn’t universally true that everyone born after a certain date can no longer “play that thing” with fire and individuality.
I present nearly an hour of wonderful hot jazz performed at the 1990 Bern Jazz Festival — the A+ team — in a tribute to Wild Bill Davison and his world, his approach, his repertoire, and by extension, a tribute to Eddie Condon and his world, and a whole way of approaching pop standards.
Energy and lovely singularity of sounds, in solo and ensemble, is vivid throughout. Glowing music, no tricks, no comedy, played by masters. Warren Vaché, cornet; Eddie Hubble, trombone; Bob Wilber, soprano saxophone, alto saxophone; Kenny Davern, clarinet; Ralph Sutton, piano; Dave Green, string bass; Jake Hanna, drums. NOBODY’S SWEETHEART / TIN ROOF BLUES / BLUES MY NAUGHTY SWEETIE GIVES TO ME / VIPER’S DRAG (Ralph) / BEALE STREET BLUES / BLACK AND BLUE (Bob, Kenny) / AS LONG AS I LIVE:
So hot, so swinging: although the repertoire is familiar, there’s no trace of staleness or over-familiarity. When you get through listening to the singular horn soloists, delight in that steady ferocious rhythm team, and then listen to how the great ones construct ensembles from chorus to chorus. I imagine not only Bill and Eddie, Anne and Phyllis, smiling approvingly, but also Milt Gabler and George Avakian . . . as well as legions of delighted fanciers.
I’ve been tardy — remiss even — in writing about the second release by this fine band, and listening to it again, I need to make amends. I enjoyed Alex’s first CD, SUGAR BLUES, immensely, as you can read here.
BOODLE-AM SHAKE is a group effort by Alex, guitar and vocal; Dave Kosmyna, cornet and vocal; Ray Heitger, clarinet and vocal; Jordan Schug, string bass; Pete Siers, drums (there are also a few glee-club vocals, so I think Jordan and Pete get to add their voices as well). Here’s a delightful sample:
That’s exact and loose — just good fun, which we sorely need these days and perhaps always need. Yes, echoes of Bix and the Spanier-Bechet Big Four, of the Hot Five and Teddy Bunn, elements of deep-blue NOLA instincts with an Ann Arbor spicing. Sincere but not academic. Exuberant, candid, and never fussy. Fine plain recording, characteristically flavorful notes by the remarkable arwulf arwulf, and splendid repertoire: CORINNE CORRINA / SING ON / GUITAR RAG (a solo feature for Alex) / DO WHAT ORY SAY / FIDGETY FEET / ALL THE WRONGS YOU’VE DONE TO ME in addition to the title tune, another SHAKE, and the examples here.
Here’s one by Oscar Celestin and Paul Barnes, certainly not overdone:
Any CD that begins and ends with a SHAKE (BOODLE-AM at the start, . . . THAT THING to conclude) has the right spirit. So shake your thing over to Alex’s website to learn more, to sample, download, or purchase a disc. Your life will be sweeter and more riotous, and your living room, whatever its dimensions, will be filled with good sounds.
This joyous session sneaked in so quietly that I neglected to review it: my apologies to the Gentlemen of the Ensemble. Don’t be like me and let these joys pass you by. It’s truly a WOW.
Let me explain. The Musketeers are Félix Hunot, guitar, banjo, vocal; Malo Mazurie, cornet, trumpet; David Lukacs, clarinet, tenor saxophone; Attila Korb, bass saxophone, vocals. Those of you with the barest awareness of the superb international hot jazz scene — or attentive readers of this blog — will recognize those names.
And now, A Metaphor. Those of you who wish to get an iced drink may do so. The great chefs rely on “reduction,” which in my case means cooking a good deal of chicken or vegetables to produce a smaller amount of highly-flavored liquid, a “stock,” that will flavor other dishes. I don’t know how nimble the Musketeers are in the kitchen, but this CD is a wonderful series of such reductions: great jazz repertoire and performances stripped of inessentials to arrive at powerfully savory dishes for the ear and the heart. Imagine, for instance, a rendition of the Goldkette MY PRETTY GIRL reimagined — oh so convincingly — for quartet, and you get the idea. The propulsive joy not only remains but seems even more present.
The compositions on which they work their magic are OSTRICH WALK, MY PRETTY GIRL, LAZY BONES, FROGGIE MOORE, MABEL’S DREAM, MISSISSIPPI MUD, I’M WALKIN’ (yes!), CRYIN’ ALL DAY, JAPANESE SANDMAN, THANKS FOR THE MEMORY, MAMANITA, and TIGER RAG. Felix plays MEMORIES OF YOU as a banjo solo — so very touching — and creates a ballad medley of three strains from Richard Wagner, for guitar, equally moving, and Attila Korb has written ADRIAN’S DREAM for his hero and ours, Adrian Rollini. Delicious repertoire, no?
But you don’t have to imagine. Just listen:
It’s wonderful, and consistently so — a series of happy reverent homages to the Hot Jazz tradition, electrified by the personalities of the four gifted musicians. Welcome, you Jazz Musketeers!
It was a wonderful evening, and this post is simply to say so — a review of the Broadway opening the next morning — and to share the joys. The event, to give it its official title, was SOUNDS OF THE JAZZ AGE with COLIN HANCOCK’S RED HOT EIGHT, and it was held on the back deck of the Morris Museum in Morristown, New Jersey, overseen by the very kind and efficient Brett Messenger.
The purveyors of joy were Colin, trumpet, tenor saxophone, and imagination; Vince Giordano, bass saxophone, string bass, tuba, and vocal; Dan Levinson, clarinet, alto saxophone; Troy Anderson, tenor and soprano saxophone; Mike Davis, cornet, trombone, mouthpiece, vocal; Julian Johnson, drums; Albanie Falletta, resonator guitar, vocal; Arnt Arntzen, banjo, guitar, vocal. The scope of the program was narrow in time — perhaps 1920-1928 — but transcontinentally and stylistically broad. Arranged passages sat neatly next to explosive hot improvisations; dance-band melodies, “hot dance” rhythms, and small-band ecstasies nestled comfortably against the setting sun as they did in real life Jazz Age dance halls, speakeasies, malt shoppes, and recording studios.
They started off with FIDGETY FEET, with no lesson in sight, except to demonstrate, “We are here to play lively living music,” and they succeeded. Next, Art Hickman’s pretty 1920 standard ROSE ROOM, its origin in San Francisco, which has had a long life, both in its own clothing and as IN A MELLOTONE — displaying a lovely passage scored for two saxophones, in this case Dan and Troy. Someone wandering by might have thought, “This is tea-dance music,” but it had a hot pulse with rocking solos, and the genre-sliding was more than entertaining. From Hickman, Colin moved to the great star of Twenties music — call it and him what you will — Paul Whiteman — for an idiomatic and swinging WHISPERING with a patented crooning chorus by Mike Davis. I know this sentence is unsubtle, but Colin and his Eight made no artificial distinctions between “sweet” music as played by white bands and “hot” music played by their black counterparts, acknowledging without lecturing us that there was no dividing line between the two.
Colin then nodded to the great Twenties phenomenon of recordings of the blues and bent that definition to include a jolly YOU’VE GOTTA SEE MAMA EVERY NIGHT, which is, after all, good advice, if Mama wants all that attention. Bennie Moten’s frolicsome EIGHTEENTH STREET STRUT and LOUISIANA, subtle homage to both Whiteman and Beiderbecke, followed — the band hitting on all cylinders, the audience enthusiastic, the sky darkening (as it should) and the stage lighting properly illuminating the players.
I can’t have been the only one in the audience who was hungry (it had been a long ride to Morristown) so I was happy to hear two songs about food, however indirectly: the Keppard-flavored HERE COMES THE HOT TAMALE MAN and Louis’ Hot Five I WANT A BIG BUTTER AND EGG MAN, with hilarious vocals by Albanie and Arnt. Vince sang THERE’LL BE SOME CHANGES MADE in a truly hot version (Dan evoked Frank Teschemacher) that summoned up the Austin High Gang. In honor of Red Nichols and the whole tradition of Sam Lanin, there was FIVE FOOT TWO, EYES OF BLUE.
A “Jazz Age” concert typically would end with a lengthy rousing closer — this one took a slightly different turn, with fairly brief (although searing) renditions of MILENBERG JOYS and CLARINET MARMALADE not only played but recorded on the spot on a vintage phonograph — and the records played back on the spot. It was a wonderful demonstration of the new technology, great hot music (we applauded the live rendition, we applauded the record) and wonderful theatre.
I won’t praise every musician — you will hear for yourself — but the patriarchs of Twenties jazz were cheered and inspired by the youngbloods on the stand. And Colin (whose solos were intense and incendiary) found ways to show the depth and breadth of this music, avoiding the overused repertoire (no DIPPER MOUTH BLUES, for one) and sketching in a vast panorama of joyous sounds that moved all around the country and also — without slighting him — said politely, “Louis Armstrong brought his own way to play, but not everyone went in his direction all the time.”
Here’s MILENBERG JOYS, which shows off the band and Colin’s easy scholarship — history made alive and in delighted motion. I’ve edited the video so you at home don’t have to sit through the necessary non-musical portions. What a show!
The Morris Museum had held concerts on the Back Deck through the pandemic, cheers to them, so the singles and couples last night in their lawn chairs had a good deal of space. It was easy for me to imagine the heroic shades of the past — Louis and Jimmy Joy, Art Hickman and Jack Pettis, Red Nichols and Miff Mole, Sam Lanin and Ben Selvin, Ikey Robinson and Kaiser Marshall, George Johnson and Vic Berton, Adrian Rollini and Freddie Keppard, Eva Taylor and Clarence Williams, all the cats from the ODJB and the NORK, Bix and Tram, Bennie Moten and May Alix and a hundred others, comfortable in lawn chairs, grinning their faces off at the living energized evocation of the music they made about a hundred years ago.
“The past isn’t dead. It’s not even past.”
Were you there to share the joys? I hope so. Bless Colin, Vince, Dan, Troy, Mike, Julian, Albanie, Arnt — the heroes among us — and the enthusiastic audience.
And yes, there will be more videos. But . . . if you want more concerts, you have to leave your house.
I believe that the wondrous Hot Antic Jazz Band is a working band no more. But their sounds (and sights) continue to delight us, thanks to the generous technological skills of their leader, Michael Bastide, and we can enjoy their performances of FOUR OR FIVE TIMES and THE STORY BOOK BALL from Scottish television. (I love the former especially: McKinney’s Cotton Pickers coming to life amid greenery.)
These masters of Hot are Michel Bastide, cornet, valve-trombone, vocal; Virginie Bonnel, alto saxophone, clarinet, vocal; Jean-François Bonnel, tenor alto saxopone, clarinet, trumpet, vocal; Stéphane Matthey, piano; Jean-Pierre Dubois, banjo; Christian Lefèvre, tuba, marching trombone:
Delightful: authentic but not musty, full of expert fun.
As I write this, Michel Bastide‘s YouTube channel has a very small number of subscribers. I ask JAZZ LIVES’ readers to make sure the eminent Doctor Bastide does not feel that his efforts are in vain. Subscribe, s’il vous plait. (Or, as Red Allen would shout, “Make him happy!”)
Brace yourself, dear people. I have some more lovely music to share with you: expert, swinging, full of feeling.
The wonderfully inventive Leigh Barker has created two discs — available here — joyous documents of his journey, with friends, from Melbourne to Paris. You might know Leigh from his all-too-brief visits to the US as part of the Hot Jazz Alliance and with Josh Duffee’s Goldkette-Orchestra trip to Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, but he is known and admired worldwide for his elegant, gutty string bass playing and imaginative bands.
That effervescent music says “Take me along: we’re going to go unfamiliar places full of familiar joys and comforts.”
Details, you say?
For MELBOURNE, the inspired perpetrators:
Leigh Barker – Double Bass Heather Stewart – Violin and voice Donald Stewart – Trombone Ben Harrison – Trumpet / Cornet Jason Downes – Clarinet and Alto Saxophone John Scurry – Guitar and Banjo Matt Boden – Piano Sam Young – Drums SPECIAL GUEST: Brennan Hamilton-Smith on clarinet track 4 and 9
performing: LONELY ONE IN THIS TOWN / WOLVERINE BLUES / GET OUT AND GET UNDER THE MOON / SAY IT ISN’T SO / THE PEARLS / THE STEVEDORE STOMP / PLAY THE BLUES AND GO / WHAT’S THE USE OF LIVING WITHOUT LOVE? / CHINATOWN, MY CHINATOWN.
for PARIS, les amis:
Leigh Barker – Contrebasse Heather Stewart – Chant et Violon Bastien Brison – Piano David Grebil – Batterie Romain Vuillemin – Guitare et Banjo Bastien Weeger – Clarinette et Saxophone Alto Noe Codjia – Trompette Gilles Repond-Quint – Trombone
performing YOU ARE MY LUCKY STAR / HE AIN’T GOT RHYTHM / VARIATIONS ON A NORK / SINGIN’ THE BLUES / THE SONG IS ENDED / INDIAN SUMMER.
and some words from Leigh:
IT”S HIGHLY recommended to listen to this album with the tracks in order! It segues like a real set in a club.
These two albums come at the end of a very long period of gestation, starting in May 2018 in Melbourne Australia, and finishing at the very end of 2020, which as every single person on the planet earth knows has been marked by a historic pandemic. I was already procrastinating about releasing the ‘Melbourne’ session, and had been putting very little effort in to booking shows under my own name in Europe (Thanks to Gordon Webster, Duved Dunayevsky, Tatiana Eva Marie and everyone else for keeping me on the road…) However, a 4 week tour of Australia was booked for November and December 2020 (hah!) and I knew this was the moment to release a new album and CD, to take on the road with the ‘Australian Band’. As I sit here writing these notes on Sunday December 27th 2020, it is still more or less impossible to enter Australia from Europe, even if all the events and venues were able to put on our shows as envisaged (which they’re not!…)
The Paris session was miraculously put together in November 2019 between touring dates, we got together all in one room together for 2 days, around one single microphone – the french-made Melodium 42B. This was not for any particular reasons of purity or authenticity, just because Simon Oriot convinced me to give it a shot, and ‘that way there is no mixing to do’ as he put it…
The Melbourne session on the other hand was edited and mixed all over the planet. I remember selecting takes, editing, making several attempts at mixing and gradually pulling together the shape of the album in places such as Saint Cyr-la-Rosiere and Champagne-sur-Seine in France, Hildesheim in Germany, the suburbs of Paris, on tour in Stockholm, Budapest, London and Cambridge – and during two separate visits to Australia in 2019 and 2020, in a supermarket parking lot in Moruya, NSW or in the car on the Clyde Mountain between Mossy Point (…if you know, you know…) and the capital Canberra where Hi Hat Studios is located. I also remember making several attempts with several engineers, sometimes remotely, sometimes in person, with an infected cancerous leg wound, on holiday, in airports…. and of course in the end drawn out over several months in total isolation due to a global pandemic….
This year has asked too many questions of musicians, from the very practical to the most existential. In the end we are all driven by the compulsion to CREATE, something, anything, and it’s almost always better when you can share it with other people….
Maybe after all that, more words from me will be superfluous. But you’ll notice the “traditional” repertoire — which will reassure some (perhaps alienate others?) but it is not treated with finicky reverence. Oh, Leigh and Heather and the band do the damnedest encapsulation of Louis and the 1935 Luis Russell band on LUCKY STAR — but their approach is not that of severely protective rare-book curators, insisting that anything short of monastic worship is sacrilege. There’s a good deal of stretching within the revered outlines, a good deal of affectionate disrespect that turns out to be the highest adoration, because they remember that the innovators we prize so highly were themselves in favor of innovation. And these musicians practice what they preach, so their music is honest always, raw when it feels like it, dainty otherwise, and breathing all the time.
These recordings are magnificent. And unruly. And alive.
Were you to call me a “hoarder,” I would be insulted, but I have been hoarding lovely treasures — previously unseen performance videos — since March 12, 2020, which was the last jazz gig I attended. One of the treasures I dug up recently is a set played and sung by Ray Skjelbred and his Cubs at 2015 the San Diego Jazz Fest: Ray, piano and vocal; Kim Cusack, clarinet; Jeff Hamilton, drums, Clint Baker, string bass; Katie Cavera, guitar, with a guest appearance by Marc Caparone, cornet, on the closing song.
I’d held off on these because my place in the room didn’t allow me to see Ray at the keyboard — a pleasure I always want — and the lighting person, believing that jazz is best played in semi-darkness, had made everyone purple. Whether it was allegiance to the Lake Isle of Innisfree or a secret love of Barney the dinosaur, I didn’t ask, but it was visually unnerving.
The music, however, was and is delightful.
I missed the first bars of James P. Johnson’s AIN’T ‘CHA GOT MUSIC? — but such lapses are, I hope, forgivable:
Many vintage jazz fans know YOU’RE SOME PRETTY DOLL in George Brunies’ UGLY CHILE — but this version has no mockery in it:
Ray loves the optimistic song LIVIN’ IN A GREAT BIG WAY (from the 1935 KING OF BURLESQUE, and so do we. Bring back the New Deal!
Marc Caparone, cornet, always welcome, joins in for I FOUND A NEW BABY, what George Avakian would call “the final blow-off”:
I know I’m out of my depth when I resort to sports metaphors, but these Cubs always win the game. Bless them, and I hope to see a Reunion.
The inspiring and inspired Ms. Asher, in Oaxaca, Mexico.
Some new compact discs lend themselves to instant approving review; others, I love but have to take time to write about with proper appreciation. Their impact has to sink in.
Emily Asher‘s latest, IF I WERE A WINDOW, is one of the second kind. It’s not because I had to look under the bed to find the adjectives. Rather, it is like a slim volume of short stories with each story so full of flavor, so different from its neighbors, so that I couldn’t read them all in one sitting. The sensory offerings are so rich, each one its own multi-layered narrative, that I had to take my time and listen to at most two or three performances at a time.
If that has scared off prospective buyers (“Oh, no! This sounds like work!”) let me assure you that this recording is fun and lively and full of good surprises. You’ll be dancing in the kitchen as you carefully (with gloves) remove the seeds from the hot peppers that are going to be part of dinner.
I think I first encountered Emily a decade ago, sitting in at the Ear Inn — in itself a mark of achievement — and was delighted by this elegant young woman who got around the horn so nimbly but also understood the trombone’s less polite origins. Later, I saw her with her own Garden Party and other assemblages, and she was a charming mixture of earnestness, playfulness, and deep feeling: playing, singing, composing. As she is now.
You can read the names of the performers in the photograph below, but they are so admirable that I should write them again: Emily Asher, Mike Davis, Jay Rattman, James Chirillo, Dalton Ridenhour, Rob Adkins, Jay Lepley, Sam Hoyt. They are musical heroes to me, and if you’ve not made their acquaintance, be prepared to be impressed by them as soloists, as ensemble players, as thoughtful soulful artists.
Emily has described the CD as a mix of hot jazz and songs inspired by “the Southern Sun,” as she encountered it in her extended stay in Oaxaca, Mexico. Let us start with some Davenport-infused hot jazz:
Emily’s done a good deal to celebrate the music of Hoagy Carmichael, so I couldn’t neglect her SMALL FRY:
Those performances of venerable tunes are what I would call Old Time Modern. No dust on them but a frisky liveliness in the solos and Emily’s singing (how deftly she winks at us through the lyrics: her phrasing is a marvel) — music that says, “Come on in and make yourself comfortable.”
But Emily’s not content to sprawl on the couch and eat pistachios; she is a curious energized explorer. Here’s CHICO MEZCALERO, explication below:
This song, and several of her intriguing compositions, were inspired by her late-2019 trip to Oaxaca to learn Spanish, and they have the psychic depth of the short stories I mentioned above. CHICO MEZCALERO, “little boy mezcal maker,” came from her meeting just such a person at his family’s mezcal plant. She told Brian R. Sheridan in the August 2020 The Syncopated Times, “After I got back to New York, I was thinking about every step of how the mezcal is made — where the boy picks up pieces of the agave plant and throws them into a big smoking fire. I also thought about how his family makes their living, creating this spirit that is precious to the community there. I just sat and listened for the melody of that little boy . . . . ”
Few CDs that I know take listeners on a journey so evocatively.
Here’s Emily’s pensive hymnlike melody I find irresistible, as is its wistful title:
That melody and that performance remind me so beautifully of the Gil Evans – Miles Davis collaborations of the Fifties, and I’ve returned to this song several times in a row. I predict you will do the same with this CD and with the individual performances. They offer delightful evidence of the feathery breadth of Emily’s imaginations, the musical community she has nurtured, and the varied, rewarding results.
You can purchase the music — digitally or tangibly — here. This is a CD you won’t tire of.
And, in the name of self-indulgence, here are the Oaxaca Wanderers: I met them in 2008, and must ask Emily if she gigged with them. I hope they haven’t bought identical brightly-colored polo shirts (the band uniform with appropriate OW logo) since then.
When we last left our Intrepid Creators of Joy, the EarRegulars, it was Easter Sunday 2010 — centuries ago! — and they were making music: evidence here. That link, not accidentally, will open the cyber-cat-door to the previous ten postings. Knock yourself out, as we say.
Moving forward — or backwards? through April 2010 — hard to say, but here we are, in hope and swing, beginning with Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Matt Munisteri, guitar; Harvey Tibbs, trombone; Jon Burr, string bass:
CRAZY RHYTHM (Matt Munisteri, Harry Allen, tenor saxophone; John Allred, trombone; Pat O’Leary, string bass):
With hopes that the next time we see each other, there will be no lit screens, just people, friendship, free breathing, and music. Until that day . . .
For those of us who are paying attention, this is a scary time. But when Jon-Erik Kellso suggested with polite urgency that we might want to join him and the Cafe Bohemia Jazz Quartet on Thursday, March 12 — it seems a lifetime ago — I stuffed a produce-section plastic bag in my jacket pocket (it took a few more days to find gloves) took a half-empty commuter train, got on an even more empty subway, and walked a few quiet blocks to this place, the home of restorative music and friends since last September: Cafe Bohemia at 15 Barrow Street, New York City.
We sensed that the huge dark doors were closing, although we didn’t know what would follow (we still are like people fumbling for the light switch in a strange room full of things to trip over). But music, artistic intelligence, soulful energy, and loving heat were all beautifully present that night. I hope that these video-recordings of these performances can light our way in the days ahead. And, for me, I needed to post music by people who are alive, medically as well as spiritually. So here are three inventive performances from that night. Subliminally, the songs chosen were all “good old good ones” that can be traced back to Louis, which is never a bad thing.
YOU’RE DRIVING ME CRAZY — perhaps the theme song for quarantined couples and families? — with the world’s best ending:
Honoring another savory part of Lower Manhattan, CHINATOWN:
And the oft-played ROYAL GARDEN BLUES, here all bright and shiny with love. Everyone in the band lights up the night sky, but please pay attention to Sean Cronin playing the blues in the best Pops-Foster-superhero-style. This venerable song is often played far too fast, but Jon-Erik kicked it off at a wonderfully groovy tempo, reminding me of Bix and his Gang, and the Benny Goodman Sextet of 1940-41:
If, in some unimaginable future, a brave doctor leans over me and says, “He shouldn’t have gone into the city on March 12, you know,” my lifeless form will resurrect just long enough to say, “You’ve got it wrong. It was completely worth it.”
Bless these four embodiments of healing joy, as well as Christine Santelli and Mike Zielenewski of Cafe Bohemia, too. And here are three other lovely performances from earlier in the evening: I CAN’T BELIEVE THAT YOU’RE IN LOVE WITH ME, WILLIE THE WEEPER (he was a low-down chimney sweeper, if you didn’t know that), and the MEMPHIS BLUES.
This should be obvious, but people under stress might forget to look at “the larger picture,” that others have a hard time also. I’ve created this post for free, but what follows isn’t about me or what’s in my refrigerator. The musicians didn’t receive extra money for entertaining you. How can you help them and express gratitude? Simple. Buy their CDs from their websites. Help publicize their virtual house concerts — spread the news, share the joy — and toss something larger than a virtual zero into the virtual tip jar. Musicians live in a gig economy, and we need their generous art more than we can say. Let’s not miss the water because we ourselves have let the well run dry.
Spiritual generosity means much more than a whole carton of hand sanitizer, and what you give open-handedly to others comes back to your doorstep.
If I learned that a few dear friends were going to drop by in fifteen minutes, I would rush around tidying, straightening out the bed, looking to see what you could serve them . . . a flurry of immediate anxiety (“Does the bathtub need to be cleaned and can I do it in the next two minutes?” “Where will people sit?”) mixed with the pleasurable anticipation of their appearance. As an aside, JAZZ LIVES readers who wish to see the apartment — equal parts record store, video studio, yard sale, and library — will have to make an appointment.
Since I “live” at Cafe Bohemia (15 Barrow Street, Greenwich Village, New York) only intermittently, and it’s already tidy, thus, not my problem, I could simply relax into a different kind of pleasurable anticipation. It happened again when Jon-Erik Kellso began to invite people up on to the bandstand near the end of the evening of January 2, 2020 — another of the Thursday sessions that cheer me immensely. The result reminded me of some nights at the 54th Street Eddie Condon’s when guests would come by and perform.
Let me give you the Dramatis Personae for that night and then we can proceed to two of the marvels that took place. The House Band: Jon-Erik, trumpet; Ricky Alexander, clarinet; Albanie Falletta, resonator guitar / vocal; Sean Cronin, string bass / vocal. The Guests: Bria Skonberg, Geoff Power, trumpet; Arnt Arntzen, banjo; Jen Hodge, string bass. Arrangements were quickly and graciously made: Sean handed the bass to Jen for these two numbers; Bria stayed on, Geoff went off for one and came back for the second.
JAZZ ME BLUES, with Jon-Erik, Bria, Ricky, Albanie, Arnt, and Jen:
SOMEBODY STOLE MY GAL, with Albanie singing and Geoff back on the stand:
Much better than apartment-tidying, I’d say. And I’d wager that even the Lone YouTube Disliker, who hides in the bathroom with his laptop, might give his death-ray finger a rest. More beautiful sounds will come from Cafe Bohemia, so come down the stairs.
One of the blog-categories I created is “SURPRISE!” and the video below is an especially nice one. I’ve admired the playing and fortitude and wit of Michael McQuaid and Nick Ward for a decade or so now, and although Andrew Oliver came along later (think of the Complete Morton Project) he is breathing the same exalted air. The other gentlemen of the ensemble are new to me, more or less, but I embrace them as well.
Here, from a July afternoon at the Breda Jazz Festival, is a neat package of twenty-plus minutes of hot / sweet jazz:
The musicians are Michael McQuaid, clarinet, soprano saxophone, and trumpet;
Antoine Trommelen, soprano saxophone; Andrew Oliver, piano; Nick Ward, drums; Bart Wouters, string bass; Curtis Volp, banjo.
The songs are CHINA BOY, SOMEDAY SWEETHEART, SHREVEPORT STOMP, AFTER YOUVE GONE, and the aura is somewhere between a homespun Summit Reunion and the Bechet-Spanier Big Four . . . neither of which bothers me in the least. Thanks to Paul Dunleavyfor being the efficient man on the spot with a functioning camera: as a member of his professional guild, I want to see him get credit.
Some surprises I don’t like: no popping paper bags in back of me, no jury-duty notices in the mail, my doctor saying, “I don’t like the looks of this at all,” but I’m ready for more surprises like this one, any time.
Photograph by Alex Matthews, 2014, with Marty Eggers and Katie Cavera.
John Royen is a masterful musician, and it was an honor to encounter him at the 2019 San Diego Jazz Fest. Here‘s the first part of the story, with performances including Hal Smith, Marty Eggers, Katie Cavera, and Dan Levinson, as well as a dramatic medical tale.
But wait! There’s more.
At the very end of the festival, John assembled a delightful small band with Joe Goldberg, clarinet; Riley Baker, drums [you can’t see him, but you can certainly feel his reassuring pulse]; Marty Eggers, string bass — and, on JUST TELEPHONE ME, the delightful reedman John Otto joined in. Here are the first performances from that set. Not only does John play up a storm, but he is a wonderful bandleader — directing traffic and entertaining us without jokes. If you follow JAZZ LIVES, you already admire Marty Eggers, but Riley’s drumming is better than wonderful, and it’s lovely to hear Joe out in the open like this (he’s one of the sparkplugs of Hal Smith’s On the Levee Jazz Band also). How they all swing!
I always think I am weary of INDIANA, since so many bands play it too fast in a perfunctory manner, but John’s version is a refreshing antidote to formula:
Then, a highlight of the whole weekend — John Otto brought his alto saxophone and John Royen led the band into a song you never hear north of NOLA — (WHENEVER YOU’RE LONELY) JUST TELEPHONE ME, with a particularly charming vocal — charming because it’s completely heartfelt:
Alas, John Otto “had to go to work,” so he couldn’t stay — I would subsidize a CD of this band, by the way.
I have some of the same feelings about AIN’T MISBEHAVIN’ that I do about INDIANA — many bands run through it too quickly (it is a love song, dear friends) and call it when they can’t agree on the next selection . . . but here John, Joe, Marty, and Riley restore its original character. And don’t miss John’s surprising bridge:
People who don’t know better will assert that SHINE is a “racist” song — they and you should read the real story — SHINE, RECONSIDERED — and this performance shines with happy energy:
Since it doesn’t do anyone good to unload the whole truckload of joys at once, I will only say here that five more performances from this set are just waiting for a decent interval. Watch this space. And bless these inspired players.
“The thing in itself,” as the German phrase has it, a plate of hot tamales:
Many versions of “the thing in itself,” musically, can be found one flight down, 15 Barrow Street, off Seventh Avenue South, New York City — Cafe Bohemia:
Two of the People in Charge of Transcendent Heating for the Day After Christmas in New York City: Eddy Davis, banjo, vocals; Conal Fowkes, string bass, vocals:
And the full Assemblage (or the “Cafe Bohemia Jazz Band”) for that night: Eddy, Conal, Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Evan Arntzen, reeds:
A relevant talisman of Heated Music:
Here is the Cafe Bohemia Jazz Band’s tribute to Freddie Keppard, Doc Cooke, home-delivery of good things to eat before GrubHub or Seamless, ethnic cuisine in general, Mexican home-cooking in specific, steaming hot:
Performances like this are why Cafe Bohemia, once legendary for exalted improvisations, is quickly becoming legendary again. Come and see for yourself, while you can still get a seat.
That girl, and the story of that girl, are both imperishable. Not only does Mr. Bernstein recall her, but everyone who has ever seen CITIZEN KANE recalls him recalling her. Or so I hope.
Music, so powerful and so multi-layered, is more slippery in the memory, giving us a mixture of sensations and emotions. Of course people remember Louis playing 250 high C’s, but how many people can recall with clarity a performance full of lights and shadings that happened once, on the spot, and then was over?
Fortunately we have recording equipment of all kinds, and to think of what would have happened to jazz without it is impossible. But here’s a New York story with gratifications attached, not simply narratives of what happened.
Exhibit A, “The Big Easy”:
Exhibit B, courtesy of eBay:
Exhibit C, self-explanatory:
In 2005, when I was once again free to explore, I discovered The Cajun, a traditional-jazz club in New York City’s Chelsea neighborhood. It closed in late summer 2006, and it was obliterated to become luxury housing, alas.
The owners were Herb Maslin and Arlene Lichterman (Arlene is still with us) and at our first encounter I offered to help publicize the club, even though I had not yet imagined having a jazz blog. I was writing for The Mississippi Rag and other jazz periodicals, and offered help with press releases. She was eager to have what festival promoters call Asses in Seats, so I could come anytime and make notes on performances and the general ambiance. I was free to modestly of generic food. (I worked my way through the menu, an explorer looking for edible land.)
I have said elsewhere that I’d seen people of my vintage shooting videos of their grandchildren and the ducks on the pond, and it dawned on me that I could buy one to document the music I and others loved. Exhibit B was, after Flip, my first real video camera. It recorded on 30-minute mini-DVDs, difficult to transfer, but it worked in the odd lighting and the built-in microphone was acceptable, especially when I sat close to the band. At the time, I did not know what I might do with the discs — YouTube was only allowing postings of no more than ten minutes and my editing skills were not even rudimentary — but the thought of capturing what would otherwise be evanescent was entrancing.
Thirteen years later, I uncovered a number of videos from 2006: a small stack of mini-DVDs in plastic cases still sits in a bookcase as I write this. Some videos, when I shared them with the participants (I ask permission first, the videographer’s “informed consent”) created hot-jazz-PTSD, and will remain unseen. But the four sets of the Manhattan Ragtime Orchestra pleased my hero John Gill, and the trumpeter Jon-Erik Kellso, who encouraged me to post them so that this splendid band would not be just a memory or a record. I canvassed the musicians, some of whom are friends, and those who responded agreed that these performances should be enjoyed now.
John continues to believe in the music: he told an interviewer long ago, “It’s music of the people. It’s open and honest and straightforward and comes to you with open arms,” and he continues to live that truth in New Orleans.
Here is the first hour of music (a set-and-a-half of four) from the Manhattan Ragtime Orchestra, playing their own warm, spirited “radical pop music”: John is on banjo and vocals, with Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Matthew Szemela, violin; Brad Shigeta, trombone; Pete Martinez, clarinet (subbing for leader Orange Kellin); Jesse Gelber, piano; Conal Fowkes, string bass; Rob Garcia, drums.
No tricks, no funny hats, no gimmicks: just real music. A woman fanning herself: it was July.
Part One, including PORTO RICO / NEW ORLEANS JOYS / TEE NAH NAH (Gill vocal) with Arlene Lichterman cameos / BUDDY’S HABITS / HOME IN PASADENA (Gill) / HIAWATHA (Lizard On A Rail) / DEAR HEART – I’M FOREVER BLOWING BUBBLES //
Part Two, including a Buddy Bolden Medley: DON’T GO WAY, NOBODY – MAKIN’ RUNS / CONGO LOVE CALL / BOUNCING AROUND / SONG OF THE ISLANDS (closing theme) / CREOLE BELLES (Gill) / A BUNCH OF BLUES //
To me, much more gratifying that a fleeting glimpse of a girl and her parasol. And there is another forty-five minutes of music to come.
Wonderful music has been happening and continues to happen downstairs at the Barrow Street Alehouse on 15 Barrow Street, the hallowed ground of Cafe Bohemia. Here’s the first part of the splendid music created on October 24 by Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Evan Arntzen, clarinet, tenor saxophone, vocal; Jared Engel, string bass; Arnt Arntzen, guitar, banjo, vocal.
You’ll find so much to admire here: brilliant wise polyphony, hot and sweet soloing, respect for melodies and the courage to improvise. Beauty is there for those who can listen without preconceptions. And they swung from the first note of I DOUBLE DARE YOU:
Then, SOMEDAY SWEETHEART, with or without comma:
Something memorable from the pen of William H. Tyers:
Evan offers the verse all by himself, gorgeously:
When I grow too old to take the subway, I’ll have these sounds to remember:
Cafe Bohemia is also offering a variety of musical pleasures, including sets by trumpeter Joe Magnarelli and a rare session by the two sons of legendary jazz bassist Jymie Merritt — keep up to date with their schedule here on Facebook. Their website is still in gestation but will be thoroughly informative soon.
I will have much more from this band, and Jon-Erik will be back at Cafe Bohemia on November 14 and several more Thursdays in December. And — if that wasn’t enough — Matt Rivera will be creating his own clouds of joy by spinning 78s before and after: see here for the full story. The Hot Club is fully in operation Monday nights (by itself, which is wonderful) and alternating with the live music on Thursdays.
Thanks evermore to Mike Zielenewski and to Christine Santelli, aesthetic benefactors who are making all this joy possible. M.C. Escher would be happy to know that glorious sounds scrape the clouds even from the basement of 15 Barrow Street. S0 find your gloves and that nice scarf Auntie made for you — the one you never wear — and come join us.
I spent much of the morning hooking up a new computer setup: my laptop and my neck have a tumultuous relationship, so I prefer a desktop computer, a large monitor, and all the trimmings. That means a good deal of crawling around under a table, plugging wires in to the wall and in to the back of the computer (Swift’s phrase “Leaping and Creeping” came frequently to mind). The image below is an exaggeration, but most readers know the feeling, even if they wouldn’t wear those shoes:
I succeeded,without banging my head on the underside of the table of cursing: a double victory.
As a reward to myself for all that technological-dancing, even though it was primarily on all fours, I decided that the first thing I should do on this computer, after being allowed access to my own life, would be to share some music — appropriately a song celebrating a new hot dance, the SHIM-ME-SHA-WABBLE.
Since technology, going all the way back to cylinder recordings, has blessed us with the power to make the past and present dance on into the future, here is a performance from July 11, 2010, at what was then the International Jazz Festival at Whitley Bay, featuring Norman Field, clarinet; Nick Ward, drums; Andy Woon, trumpet; Paul Munnery, trombone; Frans Sjostrom, bass sax; Jacob Ullberger, guitar / banjo:
Fewer than 400 jazz-hot fanciers have viewed this video in nearly a decade, so this post is my effort to share joy with more people. Keep dancing, everyone, wherever you can.
Unless you were at the Hotel Athenaeum on September 20, 2013, this music will be new to you, and if you were in the audience that day, it might simply be a wistful memory. But here — thanks to the magic of the video camera, the forbearance of the musicians, and the grace of Nancy Hancock Griffith and Kathy Hancock — I can present to you a short set by a Marty Grosz band featuring the leader on guitar, vocal, banter, Frank Tate on string bass, Scott Robinson on reeds, and Duke Heitger, trumpet. I think this was the last year the weekend festival was held in upstate New York before moving to Cleveland, where it resided happily for another few years. I miss it terribly and know that others share my feelings.
But now, some vibrant music from a quartet of revelers — all four still happily with us. Intricate jammed counterpoint; irresistible rhythmic bounce; repertoire worth rediscovering . . . it could only be a Grosz small group, with echoes of Condon, Red McKenzie, Fats and others.
A small technological note: the first half of IT’S A SIN TO TELL A LIE wasn’t recorded: it’s possible I had to change the camera’s battery. But the second half is too good to ignore.
Marty and the Spots, thanks to Eddie Durham and others:
and a song I learned from a 1937 Dick Robertson record featuring Bobby Hackett:
and Sidney Bechet’s composition:
and, the second half:
Sharing these performances with you, I think this is why, since 1970, I brought audio recording equipment (cassette recorder, reel-to-reel tape deck, digital recorder) and now pounds of video equipment (Flip, Sony, Panasonic, Rode) wherever I could, to concerts and clubs and gigs. My goal? To make the evanescent become permanent, the players and the sounds immortal.
I don’t think we automatically perceive hot jazz as the music of romance. After all, would you woo your Dearest One with ST. JAMES INFIRMARY, YOU RASCAL YOU, PANAMA, or GET OFF KATIE’S HEAD? But the hot jazz expressions of the late Twenties onwards were based on the music of love as expressed in pop songs with lyrics. These songs were accessible to the crowd, they could be danced to, and they could be swung. Think of the recordings of Billie Holiday, Mildred Bailey, Louis Prima, Eddie Condon, and a thousand others up to the present day. (And I like the coincidence that the first song recorded by Louis Armstrong and his Hot Five was MY HEART, by pianist Lil Hardin Armstrong.)
It seems that for every “You trampled on my soul, you heartless cad” song, there are two dozen celebrating the joys of fulfilling love: TEA FOR TWO, I’VE GOT A FEELING I’M FALLING, EXACTLY LIKE YOU, SWEET LORRAINE, AS LONG AS I LIVE, HONEY, WHEN I TAKE MY SUGAR TO TEA, I WISH I WERE TWINS, AIN’T SHE SWEET, ALWAYS, SWEET AND SLOW, I ONLY HAVE EYES FOR YOU, YOU DO SOMETHING TO ME, I WOULD DO ANYTHING FOR YOU, I’M CRAZY ‘BOUT MY BABY, I WANT TO BE HAPPY, and so on.
In that spirit, I present four swinging love songs (vocals by Bob Schulz and Scott Anthony) performed and recorded at the “Sounds of Mardi Gras,” in Fresno, California, on February 9, 2019. The creators here are Bob Schulz, cornet, vocal; Doug Finke, trombone; Kim Cusack, clarinet; Ray Skjelbred, piano; Scott Anthony, banjo, vocal; Jim Maihack, tuba, Ray Templin, drums, vocal.
Meaning no disrespect to the rest of the Frisco Jazz Band, please pay serious attention to what Mr. Skjelbred is doing, in ensemble as well as solo: I’d characterize it as his setting off small melodious fireworks in every performance. As he does!
Here’s the most ancient chanson d’amour, Tony Jackson’s PRETTY BABY:
and the song Louis used as his entry to a huge popular following (while always remaining himself), I CAN’T GIVE YOU ANYTHING BUT LOVE:
JUNE NIGHT, with a startling Skjelbred solo:
I CAN’T BELIEVE THAT YOU’RE IN LOVE WITH ME at a nice easy tempo:
This congenial, amiable ensemble will return to Fresno in February 2020.
I’ve had an alarm clock / clock radio at the side of my bed for decades now, and its message is unvarying and irritating. Time to go to school! Time to go to work! Time to move the car to avoid a ticket!
But playing the new CD by The Vitality Five, its title noted above, I thought if I could rig up a musical machine that would, at first softly, play one of their glorious lively evocations of a vanished time, I would be much more willing to get out of bed and face the world.
The Vitality 5 is inherently not the same as many other bands performing Twenties hot repertoire. For one thing, the 5’s reach is informed and deep: of the seventeen songs on this disc, perhaps four will be well-known to people who “like older jazz.” Be assured that even the most “obscure” tunes are melodic and memorable. More important to me is the 5’s perhaps unstated philosophy in action. Many bands so worship the originals that they strive to create reverent copies of the original discs, and in performance this can be stunning. But the 5 realizes something in their performances and arrangements that, to me, is immensely valuable: the people who made the original records were animated by joyous exuberance.
The players we venerate were “making it up as they went along,” as if their lives depended on it. Theirs did, and perhaps ours do as well.
So these performances are splendidly animated by vivacious personality: they leap off the disc. I don’t mean that the 5 is louder or faster, but they are energized. You can’t help but hear and feel it.
Facts. The band has been together since 2015, and it is that rare and wonderful entity — a working band. Two of its members should be intimate pals to JAZZ LIVES readers: David Horniblow, reeds, and Andrew Oliver, piano — they are the one and only Complete Morton Project. The other three members who complete the arithmetic are special heroes of mine, people I’ve admired at the Whitley Bay / Mike Durham jazz parties: Michael McQuaid, reeds and cornet; Martin Wheatley, banjo; Nicholas D. Ball, drums.
And they are superb players — not only star soloists, but wonderful in ensemble, making the 5 seem much more a flexible orchestra than the single digit would suggest. They are, as Louis would say, Top Men On Their Instruments. Each performance has its own rhythmic surge, the arrangements are varied without being “clever,” and the band is wise enough to choose material that has a deep melodic center — memorable lines that range in performance from sweetly lyrical to incendiary. The back cover proclaims that there are “17 CERTAIN DANCE HITS!” and it’s true.
A final word about repertoire — a subject whose narrowing I find upsetting, as some “Twenties” groups play and replay the same dozen songs: this disc offers songs I’d either never heard before (JI-JI BOO) or not in decades (THE SPHINX) as well as classics that aren’t simply transcriptions from the OKeh (FIREWORKS, EVERY EVENING, COPENHAGEN) — across the spectrum from Nichols-Mole to Clarence Williams to McKinney’s Cotton Pickers and more.
I know it’s heresy to some, but the Vitality 5 performs at a level that is not only equal to the great recordings, but superior to them. A substantial claim, but the disc supports it.
Visit here to hear their hot rendition of COPENHAGEN — also, here you can buy an actual disc or download their music. Convinced? I hope so.
And to the Gentlemen of the Ensemble: if you perfect the Vitality Five Rise-and-Shine machine, suitable for all electric currents, do let me know. I’ll be your first purchaser. Failing that, please prosper, have many gigs, and make many CDs!
Many jazz bands that identify themselves as steeped in Twenties Hot are devoted to the Ancestors and the irreplaceable recordings, but have reduced their repertoire to a dozen-plus familiar songs: DIPPERMOUTH BLUES, SINGIN’ THE BLUES, TIN ROOF BLUES, THAT’S A-PLENTY, ROYAL GARDEN BLUES, STRUTTIN’ WITH SOME BARBECUE, and so on. Those songs achieved classic status for good reason, but they quickly come to feel like the same Caesar salad. (“Mainstream” groups do the same thing with PENNIES FROM HEAVEN, ALL OF ME, SUNNY SIDE OF THE STREET . . . continuing forward to GROOVIN’ HIGH and the bop -OLOGIES also.)
But the noble and flourishing Andy Schumm is not only a marvelous multi-instrumentalist (on this session, cornet, clarinet, tenor saxophone, “Reserphone,” and one voice in the glee club) but a truly diligent researcher — coming up with hot tunes and lyrical songs that rarely — or never — get performed. At the end of the video presented here, you should observe the thickness of manuscript that he picks up off his music stand, and when he announces the next tune to the band by number as well as title, the numbers are notably three digits, suggesting a substantial “book.”
Andy and his Gang performed two wonderful sets of lively, “new” “old” material at the August 2018 Bix Beiderbecke Memorial Festival in Davenport, Iowa. The Gang was a streamlined version of the Fat Babies, with Andy; John Otto, reeds; Johnny Donatowicz, banjo / guitar; Dave Bock, tuba, and guest star David Boeddinghaus, piano. All of this good music was beautifully preserved for us by “Chris and Chris,” whose generosities you know or should know. My posting of the first set is here.
As far as arcana is concerned, here are the songs performed: CUSHION FOOT STOMP (Clarence Williams), EL RADO SCUFFLE (Jimmie Noone: supposedly the club was the ELDORADO but not all the letters in the sign were visible), AIN’T THAT HATEFUL? (Oliver Naylor), JUST LIKE A MELODY (a Walter Donaldson composition, one known in recent decades thanks to Scott Robinson’s recording of it), FLAG THAT TRAIN (watch out for the Reserphone), I MUST BE DREAMING (a sweet duet for John Otto and David Boeddinghaus), BEER GARDEN BLUES (Clarence Williams, with glee-club vocal; Williams also recorded this melody with different lyrics, perhaps called SWING, BROTHER, SWING, but not the Billie-Basie song), GRAVIER STREET BLUES (Clarence Williams again, his Jazz Kings — thanks to Phil Melnick for catching the title, something I didn’t recognize, which proves my point about arcana), CROSS ROADS (California Ramblers), WAILING BLUES (thanks to Cellar Boys Wingy, Tesch, Bud, and Frank Melrose), an impish Boeddinghaus chorus of WE’RE IN THE MONEY, perhaps a satiric reference to the undernourished tip jar? — and closing with a wild SAN in honor of Jimmie Noone’s Apex Club Orchestra.
Thanks to Andy, John, John, Dave, Dave, and Chris and Chris. (I see a pattern here, don’t you?)
“Chris and Chris” at the 2015 Steamboat Stomp in New Orleans. Photograph by Bess Wade.
We continue the further adventures of our Quintet of Superheroes at the 2018 Scott Joplin International Ragtime Festival: those real-life vanquishers of gloom and inertia being the Holland-Coots Jazz Quintet: Brian Holland, piano; Danny Coots, drums; Steve Pikal, string bass; Marc Caparone, cornet, vocal; Evan Arntzen, clarinet, tenor saxophone, vocal.
Here‘s Part One, and a little text of approval from Kerry Mills here.
And three more juicy and flavorful examples of this band’s versatility: a hot ballad (vocal by Marc), a Joplin classic, and a searing tribute to a dangerous animal or to Michigan (you can choose) by Jelly Roll Morton.
SOMEDAY, SWEETHEART (I prefer the comma, although you can’t hear it):
What some people think of as “the music from ‘The Sting,'” Scott Joplin’s THE ENTERTAINER, here in a version that owes something to Mutt Carey and Bunk Johnson, who loved to serve their ragtime hot:
Jelly Roll’s WOLVERINE BLUES, in a version that (once we get past Danny’s carnivorous introduction) blows the mercury out of the thermometer:
A Word to the Wise. Get used to these five multi-talented folks, singly and as a band. (“These guys can do anything,” says Brian, and he’s right.) They’re going to be around for a long time. I’m going to be posting their music as long as I can find the right keys on the keyboard.