Tag Archives: hot jazz

THE LIFE-FORCE, SCORED FOR FIVE MUSICIANS

Some phenomena are so strong or so evident that they make commentary superfluous.  You don’t need The Weather Channel to tell you when it’s snowing, and you don’t need me to explain the next three brief video performances. However, if you plan to watch them on your phone, beware, because the energy contained here might blow your SIM card across the room.

For those who desire explication, there are credits at the end of each video.  (The videos themselves are gorgeous: usually I find most multi-camera shoots more jumpy than required, but here, all praise to the videographers.)

THAT’S NO BARGAIN:

VOODOO:

HIGH FEVER:

Not that there isn’t a place for loose and long renditions of ROYAL GARDEN BLUES in my world, but this band and these performances are very cheering alternatives to much of what is offered as pre-World War Two hot music.

For those who thrive on data, here is the relevant YouTube channel, and here is the band’s website (in all its permutations).  This is the band’s gig schedule for July and August — unfortunately for me, somewhat distant from New York, but perhaps we shall rendez-vous sometime.  And here is what I wrote about the band’s debut CD.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to bundle up my computer and take it to Byron and Henry, my very trusted repair-wizards.  It began to tremble during the final video, and that worries me.

May your happiness increase!

PIPING HOT, EXPERTLY PREPARED: TERRY WALDO, JON-ERIK KELLSO, JIM FRYER, EVAN ARNTZEN, JOHN GILL, BRIAN NALEPKA, JAY LEPLEY at FAT CAT (January 29, 2017)

WEARY BLUES was written in 1915 by Artie Matthews as a ragtime piece, and the earliest recording we have (I believe) is this quite warm and well-seasoned  1919 rendition by the Louisiana Five:

Then it was recorded by many people — it’s terribly catchy with many breaks and it has a natural momentum.  I will only offer this piece of history, because my feeling everyone should know this hot record by heart:

But this blog isn’t about archaeology; rather, it’s about gratifying music performed NOW.  Down in the basement of Fat Cat (75 Christopher Street, Greenwich Village, New York City) on Sunday, January 29, 2017, Terry Waldo and his Gotham City Band created something beautiful and blazing hot out of WEARY BLUES.  The cooks were Terry, piano; Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Jim Fryer, trombone; Evan Arntzen, reeds; John Gill, banjo; Brian Nalepka, string bass; Jay Lepley, drums.

The savory dish, herewith:

Why do I live in New York?  Many reasons, but the possibility of wandering down the stairs on a late Sunday afternoon, making my way through young people focused on beer, ping pong, billiards, conversation, and hearing THAT is one of the chief reasons to be here and stay here.

For my readers: may the most heavy WEARY BLUES you ever feel be just this light upon your heart.

May your happiness increase!

A LITTLE LATE, BUT NOT IRREVOCABLY SO: “CHRISTMAS TREATS”: JEN HODGE ALL STARS

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Luckily for me, the splendid string bassist / singer / creative catalyst Jen Hodge is of a forgiving disposition, or else I would be nervous about reviewing her splendid EP, CHRISTMAS TREATS, on December 29.  But my semester ended a week ago, and it took intensive therapy to get the student essays and grading out of my system.

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So here I am, a week and more too late.  BUT the good news is that the music — if you were to play it for someone who didn’t know it was Official Holiday Music — is simply gratifying hot melodic jazz, with surprising twists.

Here’s a sample — music that will be especially appropriate when the January credit card statement, all teeth and eyes, emerges:

CHRISTMAS TREATS features four tracks — including SANTA CLAUS BLUES, they are a Bechet-inspired IL EST NE, LE DIVIN ENFANT; JOLLY OLD SAINT NICHOLAS; GOD REST YE, MERRY GENTLEMEN.  And they rock — the overall effect is hot lyricism with beautiful melodic statements and just the right blend of rocking collective improvisation.

Jen is very proud of the lineup — each track features musicians from Western Canada’s hot jazz scene, their ages from 18 to 89, including Jen herself, Brad Shigeta, Lloyd Arntzen, Sky Lambourne, Arnt Arntzen, Nick James, Aaron Levinson, Dave Taylor, Ben Henriques, Bonnie Northgraves, Kayden Gordon, Joseph Abbott, Don Ogilvie, Josh Roberts, Kelby MacNayr. Some of these names were completely new to me, but the music is convincing throughout.

Nothing on this diminutive but affecting disc is formulaic: neat arranging touches uplift without being overly clever: duets and duels between two of the same instruments; interludes for horns without rhythm within a performance — and a consistently swinging result.  You didn’t hear anything this good at the mall, and this music will still be very tasty when all the ornaments are packed away.

Visit here to get a digital copy, or travel to Jen’s hot homeland for a physical copy at any of her shows.  And here’s Jen on Facebook.

May your happiness increase!

CLIMB EVERY MOUNTAIN: STILL MORE FROM THE FAT BABIES at the EVERGREEN JAZZ FESTIVAL (July 30, 2016)

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Yes!  Even more from one of the most gratifying jazz bands — and working bands — on the planet.  THE FAT BABIES can offer electrifying transcriptions of recordings both familiar and obscure, but they can wonderfully “go for themselves” in convincing solos and hot ensemble playing.  In the videos below, you’ll hear idiomatic and swinging evocations of Benny Carter, Joe Robichaux, Jelly Roll Morton, Andy Kirk, Jabbo Smith, and Bing Crosby (is that Nat W. Finston and the Paramount Orchestra I hear in the hills?) — beautifully done with no museum archaisms or modern “innovations.”  Just good fun — created by Beau Sample, string bass and leader; Alex Hall, drums; Jake Sanders, guitar and banjo; Paul Asaro, piano and an ANIMULE vocal; Jonathan Doyle, John Otto, saxophones; Dave Bock, trombone; Andy Schumm, cornet.

I’ve posted a goodly number of Fat Babies videos from the Evergreen Jazz Festival hereherehere, and here — so no one can go to the larder and find it bare of salutary Fat.  But my videos (I’m proud of them) are nothing compared to the experience of hearing and seeing this band live, so the message should be clear.

KRAZY KAPERS:

NOBODY’S SWEETHEART:

THE SOPHOMORE:

THE ANIMULE DANCE:

PLEASE:

WEIRD BLUES:

KING KONG STOMP:

Check their website to see their schedule, learn about their new CD, and more. I see they will be back at the Evergreen Jazz Festival at the end of July 2017.

May your happiness increase!

“VINCE GIORDANO: THERE’S A FUTURE IN THE PAST”

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About seventy-five minutes into this gratifying portrait of Vince Giordano and the Nighthawks, trombonist and keen observer Jim Fryer describes its subject as “an intense man . . . a driven man . . . consumed” by the ideals he’s devoted the last forty years to.  And his goal?  As Vince says in the film, it is “to get the great music out there for the people.”

From his early introduction to the music — the hot jazz 78s on his grandmother’s Victrola — to the present moment, where he is the inspired creator of a ten-piece Jazz Age big band possibly without equal, Vince’s ideal has been complex. Reproduce live the sound, accuracy, and vitality of the music he heard on the records, and add to that repertoire by playing, vividly and authentically, music that never got recorded. His quest has been to have a working band, the contemporary equivalent of the great working bands, sweet and hot, of the Twenties and Thirties, visiting the Forties on occasion. Add to this the constant schlepping (you could look it up) of the equipment for that band; finding a new home after Sofia’s could no longer stay open; finding gigs; keeping this organization running against the odds.  The film wholly captures how difficult Vince’s consuming obsession is to accomplish, and to keep afloat day after day.

Many readers of JAZZ LIVES are fervent Giordanians or perhaps Vinceites, and we crossed paths for years in the darkness of Sofia’s, at the Christmas teas.  I have a long history with this band, going back to a Nighthawks gig in the preceding century, in the eastern part of Long Island, New York, where the night sky darkened, the thunder rumbled louder than Arnie Kinsella’s drum set, lightning flashed, but the band kept playing until the last possible minute before the deluge.  So I’ve experienced Vince’s dedication firsthand.

Here’s the film’s trailer — a delightful encapsulation that doesn’t give away all the surprises:

The narrative follows Vince and the band over two years and more, from Sofia’s to Wolf Trap for PRAIRIE HOME COMPANION with Garrison Keillor, to Aeolian Hall with Maurice Peress for a recreation of Paul Whiteman’s presentation RHAPSODY IN BLUE — the opening clarinet solo brilliantly played by Dan Block — to the Nighthawks’ search for a new home, which they found at Iguana.  The film brings us up in to the present with the New York Hot Jazz Festival and a band led by Nighthawk Dan Levinson (his “Gotham Sophisticats”) as well as a new generation of musicians inspired by Vince, who has shown that it is possible to play hot music at the highest level with accuracy and spirit.

So much credit for this beautifully-realized film, must, of course, go to its intensely-charged subject, the Nighthawks, and their music. But filmmakers Dave Davidson and Amber Edwards are expert visionaries.

Even given this vibrant multi-sensory material, formulaic filmmakers could have created something dull.  They might have been satisfied to simply document performance: aim cameras at the Nighthawks and record what they play, as videographers like myself have done, which would have been accurate but limiting as cinema. Or, given the many people willing to talk about Vince and the Nighthawks, Edwards and Davidson could have given us a pageant of New York’s most erudite talking heads, some of whom would have been happy to lecture us.

Instead, by beautifully combining both elements and adding some surprises, they have created a wholly engaging, fast-moving portrait of Vince, the Nighthawks, and their world.  THERE’S A FUTURE IN THE PAST never seems to stand still, and the cameras take us places that even the most devoted fans have never gone.  We get to peek in at Terry Gross’s interview of Vince, to travel downtown for a Nighthawk-flavored session of the EarRegulars at The Ear Inn and a recording session for BOARDWALK EMPIRE.

One of the film’s most pleasing aspects is candid, often witty commentary from people who know — the musicians themselves. Edwards and Davidson have fine instincts for the telling anecdote, the revealing insight.  We see and hear Jon-Erik Kellso, Dan Levinson, Mike Ponella, Mark Lopeman, Peter Yarin, Andy Stein, Cynthia Sayer, Jim Fryer, and others, people who have worked with Vince for twenty-five years and more, and their stories are as essential to the film as is the music.

Edwards and Davidson quietly capture telling details, visual and otherwise: the box of doughnuts brought on the bus; the rivets on Vince’s aluminum double bass; Jon-Erik Kellso’s hand gestures — contrapuntal choreography — during SHAKE THAT THING; the voices of the Nighthawks joking about being fired as they head into a band meeting.  The film is admiring without being obsequious, so we also see a short, revealing episode of Vince losing his temper. But the details ever seem excessive.  In this era of fidgety multi-camera over-editing, the film’s charged rhythm — appropriately, a peppy dance tempo — is energetic but never overdone, never cleverly calling attention to itself.

There’s vivid photographic evidence of the spectacle at Sofia’s and the Iguana: the tuxedo-clad Nighthawks not only playing hot but enacting it; the dancers jubilantly embodying what they hear in ecstatic motion.  A documentary about Vince would be empty without the music.  I noted SUGAR FOOT STOMP, THE MOON AND YOU, PUBLIC MELODY NUMBER ONE featuring Catherine Russell, WHITE HEAT, SWEET MAN, Kellso burning up the cosmos on SINGING PRETTY SONGS, THE STAMPEDE, ONE MORE TIME, YOU’VE BEEN A GOOD OLD WAGON, even BESAME MUCHO at a rainy Midsummer Night Swing at Lincoln Center.  And the sound recording is just splendid.

One of the secret pleasures of this film, for the true believers, is in spotting friends and colleagues: Matt Musselman, Will Friedwald, Tina Micic, Jim Balantic, John Landry, Molly Ryan, Sam Huang, Chuck Wilson, and a dozen others.  (I know I’ve missed someone, so I apologize in advance.)

In every way, this film is delightful, a deep yet light-hearted portrait of a man and an evocation of a time and place, a casual yet compelling documentary that invites us in.  First Run Features is presenting its New York theatrical premiere at Cinema Village on January 13, 2017, and I believe that Vince and the filmmakers will be present at a number of showings.

May your happiness increase!

“THE DUKE STEPS OUT”: DUKE HEITGER, ALISTAIR ALLAN, LARS FRANK, DAVID BOEDDINGHAUS, HENRY LEMAIRE, MALCOLM SKED, JOSH DUFFEE at the MIKE DURHAM CLASSIC JAZZ PARTY (November 6, 2016)

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If we believed in the narratives forced on us by advertisers, we would know that NEW is best, NEW AND IMPROVED better still, and anything OLD is to be discarded.  I present joyous evidence to the contrary.  Here’s a tune all the musicians like to jam.  And even though it is nearly a hundred years old, no one worries about having to dust it.

This performance was created on November 6, 2016, at the Mike Durham Classic Jazz Party in Newcastle upon Tyne, England.  The band was originally called DUKE HEITGER’S RHYTHMAGICIANS, a name Duke politely disavowed, but I hope he doesn’t mind my retitling this group his JOYMAKERS, because that is truth in advertising.  This performance speeds my heart rate in the most healthy ways.

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The Romping Masters here are Duke Heitger, trumpet; Alistair Allan, trombone; Lars Frank, reeds; David Boeddinghaus, piano; Henry Lemaire, banjo; Malcolm Sked, string bass; Josh Duffee, drums.  Please notice Duke’s little Louis-flourish at 3:20 onwards and the immense wisdom of his putting an ensemble chorus at 4:38, in the middle of the performance, to keep it rollin’.  Also, riffs, backgrounds. a drum solo with stop-time accents. These fellows are my heroes and I hope yours too.

Once you’ve caught your breath, you may read on.

For the past eight years, I’ve attended the Mike Durham Classic Jazz Party with great pleasure, and I’ve come home with a basketful of videos, which the musicians allowed me to disperse for free.  This was generous of them, and it took a good deal of labor for me to create and distribute them.

This year, a variety of difficulties — technical and logistical — got in the way of my being an unpaid Jazz Cornucopia.  There will be videos, but perhaps two dozen rather than four times that.  I wish it were otherwise, but not everything is within my control.

I write this in sadness, but also with a point.

Several jazz fans, who I am convinced are good people who love the music as I do, came to me during the weekend and were unhappy with my news: “This is not good for us!” said one to me in the hallway.

I am sorry to have let the imagined Team down, but I am not a natural resource like the sun, and I cannot reproduce an entire event for public consumption, nor do I want to.  Let these words be a reminder that not everything is for free, nor can it be, and let these sentences act as encouragement for people to slowly and carefully — those who can! — get out of their chairs in front of their computers and GO SOMEWHERE in front of the actual musicians rather than expecting it all to be given to us.

I hope this doesn’t sound excessively rancorous, but it is the truth, at least what the man behind the camera perceives it to be.  And I plan to be very selective about posting comments, pro and con, on this point.  (To paraphrase Lesley Gore, “It’s MY blog and I’ll post if I want to.”)  Exultant praise of Duke and his band is, as always, welcome.

And to mute any bad feelings, or to attempt to, here are Duke and his Joymakers again.  I could watch and listen to this a dozen times and not stop marveling:

Thanks to CineDevine for rescuing me so graciously from some of the technical problems: without him, this video would not be shared with JAZZ LIVES.

May your happiness increase!

DELEGATES OF PLEASURE: THE FAT BABIES (Part One) AT THE EVERGREEN JAZZ FESTIVAL, JULY 29, 2016

Rainbow One

I first heard The Fat Babies at the San Diego Jazz Fest, and of course enjoyed their CDs and the videos of their performances from Chicago.  But the 2016 Evergreen Jazz Festival offered a special treat: several sets of this very accomplished and joyous hot band at close range, where I could see and hear them in all dimensions.  I had a wonderful time, and I wasn’t alone.

If The Fat Babies are new to you, I won’t let too many words get in the way of instant access to pleasure.  They are Andy Schumm, cornet, clarinet, arrangements, compositions; Dave Bock, trombone; Jonathan Doyle, John Otto, reeds; Paul Asaro, piano and vocal; Jake Sanders, guitar and banjo; Beau Sample, string bass and leader; Alex Hall, drums.

Their repertoire is primarily from the very early Twenties to a decade later, with a goodly sampling of hot material — from the obscure to the familiar — delivered with energy and precision, but there are also wonderful detours into early Bing (instrumentally) and esoteric pop of the period.  And at a time when many bands devoted to this repertoire are Either / Or — offering exact transcriptions of venerable recordings or loose jam session romps on hallowed material, The Fat Babies move easily and without pretension between the two worlds.  And their whimsical title notwithstanding, they are an impressively lean band: their eight pieces are as effective, even more so, than some larger units.

I  nominate them as Delegates of Pleasure for this century.

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Here’s proof, if proof is needed.

ORIENTAL MAN (a video I keep on playing over and over, and it’s not for the cinematography, I assure you):

LIVIN’ IN THE SUNLIGHT, LOVIN’ IN THE MOONLIGHT (a Bing tune c. 1933, which sounds like a remarkably good life-plan, and the performance is the very definition of Hot Dance):

GET OUT AND  GET UNDER THE MOON (another excellent life-plan — preach it, Brother Asaro!):

UP TOWN (composed and arranged by Andy, a most convincing evocation of 1930-1 hot):

SALLY OF MY DREAMS (I know of only a few recordings of this — by the Dorsey Brothers, Ben Pollack, and Gregor and his Gregorians; Paul takes the vocal here):

The Fat Babies have made two CDs on their own, issued on the Delmark label, and another backing Marty Grosz.  I’ve heard tell that their third, SOLID GASSUH (truth in advertising) is ready to be released any second now.  I can’t wait.  And there will be more videos from Evergreen, I promise.

May your happiness increase!