Tag Archives: hot music

“OH, FAT THAT THING!” THE FAT BABIES, featuring PAUL ASARO and JOHN OTTO, PLAY FATS WALLER (Evergreen Jazz Festival, July 29, 2016)

The most difficult part of this blogpost has been trying to find a polite title for the congenial combination of THE FAT BABIES and THOMAS “FATS” WALLER, but I think I’ve managed to be as little offensive as possible.  I hope.  No suggestions solicited, please.

Here are three performances by that wonderful octet — Andy Schumm, cornet; Dave Bock, trombone; John Otto and Jonathan Doyle, reeds; Paul Asaro, piano and vocals; Jake Sanders, banjo / guitar; Beau Sample, leader / string bass; Alex Hall, drums — at the Evergreen Jazz Festival in Evergreen, Colorado, on July 29, 2016.

THE FAT BABIES, before Jonathan Doyle had joined the band.

THE FAT BABIES, before Jonathan Doyle had joined the band.

From Fats’ first published song (based on THE BOY IN THE BOAT, as we know), onwards to a sadder one:

Finally, the delightful Jimmy McHugh tune that Fats made his own — performing it in the 1935 film KING OF BURLESQUE.  (Then, it got taken up by Louis and others, happily):

On all these performances, the ebullient Paul Asaro — striding, singing, and smiling — stands out, as he always does.  Paul has made two CDs — tributes to Waller and Morton — with the Fat Babies, issued on Rivermont Records.

More to come from Colorado — and if you’re near Chicago, you can hear The Fat Babies live.  http://www.thefatbabies.com/ is their website and performing schedule.  And — even more! — I’m waiting for a copy of their latest release, correctly titled SOLID GASSUH (!) on Delmark Records.

Hotter than a fat baby, for sure.

May your happiness increase!

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MUSIC FOR THE TUESDAY AFTER LABOR DAY (September 8, 2015)

alarm clock

For all those people lamenting the end of the long weekend, who will be complaining when the alarm goes off and they have to resume their lives as adults, here is a more cheerful ditty — circa 1933, words and music by Herman Hupfeld, performed here by Marty Grosz and the Hot Winds in 2009 (Dan Block, Scott Robinson, Vince Giordano, Rob Garcia) for Arbors Records:

I confess that my favorite recording of this optimistic ditty is the one featuring Red McKenzie with Adrian Rollini’s Orchestra . . . and that I pestered Marty to record his own version, since he and I share an obsession with Mr. McKenzie. But the Rollini version is not on YouTube, although it is on a beautiful Jazz Oracle double-CD set devoted to Adrian.

Here is the source — an excerpt from a 1933 film, MOONLIGHT AND PRETZELS (two of my favorite things) with a good deal of Busby-Berkley-esque waving of attractive bodies and body parts [choreography by William Miller], then a positively stimulating rendition of “Are You Makin’ Any Money?” by Lillian Miles.  That second question is directly relevant to the going-to-work scenario I’ve chosen to describe:

For more about MOONLIGHT AND PRETZELS, visit this entrancing site devoted to pre-Code films, also the source for the film poster:

MoonlightandPretzelsPoster

I hope that all of you who want jobs have them, that you are treated nicely, that the work suits you — that even after you shut off that obscene noise in the darkness, you are OK with going to a place where they give you some money for doing some thing.

May your happiness increase!

“A VINTAGE SOUND THAT’S ALWAYS FRESH”: THE MINT JULEP JAZZ BAND’S NEW CD

MINT JULEP in action

Jake Hanna would often say, “Start swinging from the beginning!”  He would have loved the Mint Julep Jazz Band and their new CD, BATTLE AXE.  Jake isn’t around to embrace them, but I will and do.

Web

Hear and see for yourself: OLD KING DOOJI, live, from June 2015:

ROCK IT FOR ME, from the previous year:

The musicians on this CD are Paul Rogers, trumpet;  Keenan McKenzie, tenor saxophone/clarinet/soprano saxophone;  Aaron Hill, alto saxophone/clarinet; Aaron Tucker, drums;  Jason Foureman, string bass; Ben Lassiter,  guitar; Lucian Cobb, trombone; Laura Windley, vocal.

Why I love the Mint Julep Jazz Band (unlike a Letterman list, there are not ten items, and they are presented here without hierarchical value):

One.  Expert, accurate, relaxed swinging playing in solo and ensemble.  No matter how authentic their vintage costumes; no matter how gorgeous they are personally, for me a band must sound good.  I can’t hear cute.

The MJJB has a wonderful ensemble sound: often fuller than their four-horn, three rhythm congregation would lead you to expect.  Their intonation is on target, their unison passages are elegantly done but never stiff.

And they swing.  They sound like a working band that would have had a good time making the dancers sweat and glow at the Savoy or the Renny.

They are well-rehearsed but not bored by it all. They have individualistic soloists — the front line is happily improvising in their own swinging style always.  And a word about “style.”  I’ve heard “swing bands” where the soloists sound constricted: Taft Jordan wouldn’t have played that substitute chord, so I won’t / can’t either — OR — let me do my favorite 1974 Miles licks on this Chick Webb-inspired chart.  And let me do them for four choruses.  Neither approach works for me, although I am admittedly a tough audience.  Beautiful playing, folks.  And a rhythm section that catches every nuance and propels the band forward without pushing or straining.  I never feel the absence of a piano.

Two.  Nifty arrangements.  See One.  Intriguing voicings, original but always idiomatic approaches to music that is so strongly identified with its original arrangements.  I played some of this disc for very erudite friends, who said, “Wow, a soprano lead on that chorus!” and other such appreciative exclamations.  Sweet, inevitable surprises throughout — but always in the service of the song, the mood, the idiom.

Three.  Variety in tempos, approaches, effect.  When I listen to BATTLE AXE, I’m always startled when it’s over.  Other CDs . . . I sometimes get up, see how many tracks are left, sigh, and go back to my listening.

Four.  They honor the old records but they do not copy them.  They do not offer transcriptions of solos, although a listener can hear the wonderful results of their loving close listening.

Five.  Unhackneyed repertoire: YOU CAN’T LIVE IN HARLEM / DUCKY WUCKY / SIX JERKS IN A JEEP / SWINGTIME IN HONOLULU / OLD KING DOOJI / EXACTLY LIKE YOU / THAT’S THE BLUES, OLD MAN / NIGHT ON BALD MOUNTAIN / TWO SLEEPY PEOPLE / WHEN I GET LOW I GET HIGH / EVERYTHING’S JUMPIN’ / SAY IT ISN’T SO / BETCHA NICKEL / BATTLE AXE — affectionate nods to Sammy Cahn and Saul Chaplin, Noble Sissle, the Andrews Sisters, small-band Ellington (yes!), Artie Shaw, Lunceford, young Ella, and more. But obviously chosen with discernment.  And the originals by Keenan McKenzie are splendid — idiomatic without being pastiche, real compositions by someone who knows how to write singable melodies and graceful evocative lyrics: TREBUCHET and THE DWINDLING LIGHT BY THE SEA.

Six.  Laura Windley.  There are so many beautiful (male and female) earnest almost-singers in the world.  Audiences admire them while they are visually accessible.  I listen with my eyes closed at first.  Laura is THE REAL THING — she swings, she has a splendid but conversational approach to the lyrics; her second choruses don’t mimic her first.  And her voice is in itself a pleasure — a tart affectionate mixture of early Ella, Ivie, Jerry Kruger, Sally Gooding.  I think of her as the Joan Blondell of swing singing: sweet, tender, and lemony all at once.  And once you’ve heard her, you won’t mistake her for anyone else.

Here is the band’s website — where you can purchase BATTLE AXE, digitally or tangibly.  And their Facebook page.

And I proudly wear their dark-green MINT JULEP JAZZ BAND t-shirt (purchased with my allowance) but you’d have to see me in person to absorb the splendor.  Of the shirt.

Here‘s what I wrote about the MJJB in 2013.  I still believe it, and even more so. BATTLE AXE — never mind the forbidding title — is a great consistent pleasure.

May your happiness increase!

HOT MUSIC FROM CHICAGO: MARTY and the BABIES

The paragraph that follows is not for the timid.  Years ago, when I first started trading cassette tapes with jazz fanciers who lived far away, I encountered the delightful Bill Coverdale of Naples, Florida — another Joe Thomas enthusiast. A dear man, now passed into spirit.  But when Bill wanted to know if I’d liked a particular tape or performance, he would write, “Did that wiggle your stylus?” You’d have to know something about pre-Eighties means of sound reproduction to get the joke . . . but this CD certainly does make for a good deal of wiggling joy.

DIGA DIGA DOO Grosz

That says it all, doesn’t it — and with the bonus of a Martin Oliver Grosz cutout collage.  But here are the details, so read on.

The selections chosen by the Gentlemen of the Ensemble: Why Couldn’t It Be Poor Little Me? / A Jazz Holiday / Intro to Blue (and Broken-Hearted) / Blue (and Broken-Hearted) / In A Little Spanish Town / Sweet Sue / My Daddy Rocks Me / Prince of Wails / Hold Me / Diga Diga Doo / Forevermore / Rose of Washington Square / How Deep Is The Ocean / A Good Man is Hard to Find / Church Street Sobbin’ Blues / Strut Miss Lizzie / Intro to The Lady in Red / The Lady in Red / Marty talks.

“Tell us a story, Mister Grosz!” Photo by Lynn Redmile

The Gentlemen of the Aforementioned Ensemble: Grosz, g, bj, voc, speech; Andy Schumm, cnt, blue-blowing; John Otto, cl, ts, bari-s; Jonathan Doyle, cl, ts; Dave Bock or “Panic Slim,” tb; James Dapogny or Paul Asaro, p; Beau Sample, bs; Alex Hall, d. 2013 and 2014, Chicago, Illinois.
Marty Grosz is the last of a breed that, were we to be honest, never existed anywhere except in our imaginations.  A chordal acoustic rhythm guitarist in the style of Dick McDonough, Carl Kress, Bernard Addison, Al Casey; a ringing banjoist who plays the instrument only under duress; a singer who combines the satire of Fats Waller with the tender croon of Red McKenzie and early Crosby; a sharp-edged raconteur and jazz / pop culture historian; a composer of swing ditties; a first-rate arranger; an adept on-the-spot bandleader, skilled at head arrangements while you wait. He once told a liner note writer (ruefully), “I would have been dynamite in 1933.” The regretful tone of that statement was no doubt because Marty was then 3; he is now 85, which makes us all the more glad to have him with us.

Marty’s most recent CD was, if I recall correctly, done in 2010.  With the slow attrition of “record companies,” I am thrilled that this one came out.

A little History, which fans of Marty will already know.

After many years as a respected but under-employed Chicago sideman playing what he likes to call Hot Jazz, alongside Frank Chace, Art Hodes, Don Ewell, Albert Nicholas, and others (even a mysteriously reappearing Jabbo Smith) he became much better-known during his brief tenure with the Bob Wilber-Kenny Davern Soprano Summit (1974-78); he made a few sessions under his own name, both bands and guitar duets; he was then part of the Dick Sudhalter / Dick Wellstood / Joe Muranyi Classic Jazz Quartet. To me, the Great Grosz Period began in 1987, when Bob Erdos of Stomp Off Records began to feature Marty as a leader – songs, personnel, arrangements, encouraging him to record obscure material.  From 1987 to 2010, he recorded prolifically for Stomp Off, Jazzology, Sackville, Jump, Arbors, and other labels. Then, as several of those labels closed their doors, there was a long hiatus. I followed Marty, often with camera, and can attest that he had neither staled nor withered.

His most recent recording, DIGA DIGA DOO, is both a celebration of Marty and of Hot. Recorded in 2013 and 2014, it relies on the hot sensation of the Midwest (and many festivals in the US and Europe) THE FAT BABIES, led by string bassist Beau Sample and featuring cornetist Andy Schumm, trombonist Dave Bock, reedman John Otto, drummer Alex Hall, pianist Paul Asaro. For a second session, Marty brought in the eminent pianist / arranger James Dapogny, Marty’s friend “Panic Slim,” trombone, and Austin, Texas, hot reedman Jonathan Doyle.

It is joyous Hot Music of the kind they would have played in Chicago in the Twenties through the Forties, but it is more than a museum piece, a recreation of old records in better sound. The band shines; their rollicking expert energy comes through every track. Schumm, freed of the necessity of Bix-impersonation, growls and saunters; Dapogny offers startlingly original orchestral backgrounds and solos; Otto veers between sweet melodism and Don Murray / Fud Livingston abstractions. And the other members are just as fine. Some of the selections place us firmly in 1928, but others offer intriguing new views of what is considered an old music, for Marty’s imagination also takes in “rhythm ballads” and music that I imagine he might have heard while playing for strippers.

One of the beautiful talents Marty rarely gets credit for is his effective, even when skeletal arrangements. It would have been easy to take this band into the studio and let them jam on familiar tunes, but Marty finds this approach boring and limiting. So – although the spirit of Hot isn’t ever lost – a Grosz session, in the studio or at a jazz party – has a good deal of paper, which works out well. One could profitably listen to any selection on this disc and admire the assignment of solos, the idiomatic backgrounds and riffs, which give a five-minute performance vitality and variety.

Another characteristic of Marty is an almost inexhaustible flow of verbal commentary; on this disc we have a few precious fragments that will let audiences a hundred years from today – should they exist – get a deeper sense of the man singing, playing, and leading.

A pause for candor. Is this the most polished disc that Marty has ever done? No, and at times it must be measured by the standards we apply to live performance rather than the clinical perfection we expect from studio sessions. But these selections are lively and authentic and thus precious. I could list many delights from this disc but will share only one. Listening to DIGA DIGA DOO for the first time, I came to IN A LITTLE SPANISH TOWN – which begins with a syncopated Spanish rhythm and then – after a wonderful string bass break – shifts into completely groovy swing. I think I’ve played that ninety-second passage a hundred times, and I force my friends to hear it, too.

Here it is, courtesy of “Orchard Enterprises,” a company that has now picked and gleaned the best music for free propagation on YouTube.  I disapprove of the endeavor but could not resist sharing this performance with my readers in hopes that it encourages actual disc purchases:

More about Marty in an April 2015 article hereAnd you can see him in full flower at the Allegheny Jazz Party, coming up in less than a month.

I keep returning to a quote from Stephen Sondheim because I find it particularly irksome: he told an interviewer that the late work of great artists (excepting I think Picasso and Stravinsky) was always second-rate. I’d like to lock our Stephen in a room with DIGA DIGA DOO at a medium volume until he recanted.

May your happiness increase!

JOIN THEIR FUN: RAY SKJELBRED, KIM CUSACK, JEFF HAMILTON, KATIE CAVERA, CLINT BAKER (Rossmoor Jazz Club, July 9, 2015)

One of the deep pleasures of being a temporary / intermittent California resident for large chunks of the past few years was being able to savor the beautiful music created by Ray Skjelbred and his Cubs: Ray, piano, vocal; Kim Cusack, clarinet, vocal; Katie Cavera, guitar, vocal; Clint Baker, string bass, vocal; Jeff Hamilton, drums.

It’s nice to know that through the miracle of technology, I don’t have to miss out on much: Rae Ann Berry took her camera and tripod to Walnut Creek, California, just the other day (July 9, 2015) and captured an evening of Ray and the Cubs at Rossmoor, thanks to the “Rossmoor Jazz Club,” the generous invention of Bob and Vonne Anne Burch.

Here is my absolute favorite from that evening:

SWEETHEARTS ON PARADE:

Everything this band does cheers me — I want a CD devoted to Kim’s vocals! — but this performance has out-in-the-open spectacular drumming, ensemble and solo, from one of the finest on the planet, Jeff Hamilton.  The whole band rocks and soars, but Hamilton elevates it all several stories in the air.  And bring the children into the room to let them hear what a rhythm section sounds like.  It’s not too early to teach them right.

And I have a special fondness for this song because of this fellow.  I think I first heard this recording before I had a driver’s license: I can summon up the picture of the cover of the German Odeon lp which contained it:

I love everything about this 1930 recording, including Lionel Hampton’s drum accents behind Louis’ muted melody statement, the guitar obbligato by Bill Perkins behind the vocal (that vocal!) . . . . and that trumpet solo, which I would stand up against Joyce, Stravinsky, or Kandinsky.  Yeah, man.

Now, I urge you, enjoy the Cubs once again.  Yes, they can follow Louis!

Send this post to your Sweetheart.  And if (s)he says, “What is this?” you can have a good time explaining the mystery of it all, can’t you?

May your happiness increase!

“PUCKER UP AND BLOW!”: DANCING MICE, A DUCK WITH A BOWTIE, AND ENDEARING SONG (1955)

The pianist and composer Kris Tokarski, someone I both respect and like, started a discussion on Facebook on March 31, asking the question,

Facebook Survey: In your opinion, what makes a jazz singer, a jazz singer? Musically speaking what qualities/skills must they have? Is there a difference between singers who just sing tunes from the Great American Songbook (not that there’s anything wrong with that) and a “jazz” singer? Go!

The responses were intriguing — and although I find such questions ultimately not terribly “useful” as more than an excuse to air our deeply-held personal tastes, I couldn’t resist entering in. It gave me an excuse to utter the sacred name of Lee Wiley, for one thing.  But I soon retired and left the field to more eager debaters.

But Facebook — which can be terribly irritating and an unsubtle call to our worst instincts — is also a wondrous playground. The jazz scholar Steve Zalusky found and posted this kinescope of Cliff Edwards singing and playing GIVE A LITTLE WHISTLE on the Mickey Mouse Club television show — in the Cliff Edwards Ukulele Ike Facebook group, and I love it.  A few cautionary remarks.  If you hate all things Disney, try to calm down for a few minutes, since a half-dozen of the songs from the early films are true classics. Aside from SOMEDAY MY PRINCE WILL COME (ideologically charged, I know, but such a beautiful melody) there’s WITH A SMILE AND A SONG (which Rebecca Kilgore has recorded memorably, for all time) and this one.

The description of this performance is:

“Cliff Edwards appearing on the Mickey Mouse Club Nov 15, 1955. Edwards is 60 here. He sings and plays tenor ukulele. With Clarence ‘Donald Duck’ Nash doing baby noises and Jose Oliveira (next to Cliff) playing guitar and keeping it jazzy. And the Mouseketeers!! See more of Jose Oliveria here:
http://youtu.be/7cIZdPkvyHs.”

And the performance itself:

This makes me perilously happy.  And I think it is both superb jazz singing, hilarious theatre, and ineradicable art.  If you think it is none of the above, I will still love you, but I don’t want to hear about it.

I wish all the parents and grandparents and uncles and aunts that I know would start playing this video for the Young Talent — think of a generation that 1) knows how to sing GIVE A LITTLE WHISTLE, 2) subliminally absorbs the message that to think of others is a good thing, 3) perhaps begins to play the ukulele, 4) begins to speak like Donald Duck or do what Edwards called “eefin'” — his own brand of weird scat-singing.  We could transform the cosmos.

May your happiness increase!

LINGER AWHILE: RAY SKJELBRED and HIS CUBS at SAN DIEGO (November 30, 2013)

Living in New York, twenty and more years ago, I had heard Ray Skjelbred in a variety of contexts: with Berkeley Rhythm, with Hal Smith’s Rhythmakers featuring Bobby Gordon and Rebecca Kilgore, and on his own. One of the great pleasures of being on this coast is the chance to see him and his band at various festivals (at the Sacramento Music Festival, May 23-26; and at various California locations July 10, 11, 12, 13, 14 — see here for details).

I am glad that Ray and his Cubs have steady gigs on the West Coast, but I wish they were better known worldwide.

It would be ironic but somehow fitting if what I see as their essential virtues had kept them slightly out of prominence in the world of “traditional” jazz.  The group isn’t loud and it doesn’t have an identifying trademark unless you consider a deeply-rooted blues-based hot lyricism a trademark.  No parasol parades; no singing along. Just intense yet relaxed Chicago jazz for this century.

They call it music.

I shy away from “best” or “favorite,” but I am drawn to this band as if magnetically.  I know that a set from Ray or from Ray and his pals will make me feel better — and the side effects of deep elation and gratitude won’t wear off soon if at all.

The band in its most recent incarnation was Ray, piano, vocals, intuition; Kim Cusack, clarinet, vocal; Clint Baker, string bass and tuba, vocal; Katie Cavera, rhythm guitar, vocal; Mike Daugherty, drums, vocal.

Here is a full set (why skimp on pleasure?) from the Thanksgiving 2013 San Diego Jazz Fest (November 30, 2013, to be exact).

LINGER AWHILE:

BULL FROG BLUES:

WHO’S SORRY NOW?:

SUGAR:

OUR MONDAY DATE:

OH, BABY (DON’T SAY NO, SAY MAYBE):

OUT OF NOWHERE (with a lovely streamlined homage to Bing by Mister Daugherty, man of many talents):

AT THE JAZZ BAND BALL:

GET OUT AND GET UNDER THE MOON (Katie always gives such good advice);

SPECIAL DELIVERY BLUES:

THE WORLD IS WAITING FOR THE SUNRISE:

As I said, we are so lucky to have them!

May your happiness increase!