Tag Archives: Houston Person

WE INTERRUPT OUR REGULARLY SCHEDULED BLOGGING

No, JAZZ LIVES is not going away.  Nor is there some crisis.  Nor am I asking for money.  However, I would like my viewers to devote themselves to what follows, which will take perhaps ten minutes.

That man is pianist Junior Mance, born in Evanston, Illinois, in 1928.  Before he was twenty, he had begun recording with the stars we revere: Gene Ammons, Howard McGhee, Lester Young, Sonny Stitt, Dinah Washington, Clark Terry, Paul Gonsalves, Clifford Brown, Maynard Ferguson, Israel Crosby, Chubby Jackson, Art Blakey, Johnny Griffin, Cannonball Adderley, Sam Jones, Nat Adderley, Jimmy Cobb, Carmen McRae, Wilbur Ware, Bob Cranshaw, James Moody, Jimmy Cleveland, Bill Crow, Art Taylor, Dizzy Gillespie (he’s on the duet with Louis of UMBRELLA MAN), Leo Wright, Harry Lookofsky, Lockjaw Davis, Johnny Coles, Ray Crawford, Paul Chambers, Bennie Green, George Coleman, Eddie Jefferson, Louis Jordan, Irene Kral, Joe Williams, Coleman Hawkins, Zoot Sims, Ben Webster, Kenny Burrell, Mannie Klein, Shelley Manne, Etta Jones, Benny Carter, Jim Hall, Joe Newman, Milt Hinton, Richard Davis, Frank Wess, Wilbur Little, Jimmy Scott, Marion Williams, Les McCann, Dexter Gordon, George Duvivier, Carrie Smith, Ken Peplowski, Howard Alden, Milt Jackson, Harry “Sweets” Edison, Al Grey, Houston Person, Joe Temperley, Benny Golson, Jay Leonhart, Jackie Williams, Andrew Hadro . . . and I know I’ve left two dozen people out.

Next, in the world of jazz, one would expect a tribute.  Or an obituary. Or both.

But not a love story, which is what follows.

A few days ago, I was contacted by Sarit Work, co-producer of SUNSET AND THE MOCKINGBIRD, a not-yet-finished documentary about Junior and his wife, Gloria Clayborne Mance.  They have created a Kickstarter to help them finish the documentary.  The headline is “The love story of jazz legend Junior Mance and Gloria Clayborne Mance. As he loses his identity to dementia she reckons with her own.”

Being a man (although this may not be typical of my gender) I have less ability to cope with illness than women I know.  It’s terribly irrational, but I cringe at visiting people in hospitals, visiting the ailing, the dying . . . and so on.  There must be a name for this — call it “testosterone terror”? — which makes people like me hide under the couch, if possible.  Or in the car.  And dementia is especially frightening, because I am closer to being a senior citizen than ever before.  But Sarit was very politely persuasive, so I watched the trailer.

And it hit me right in the heart.

Junior has a hard time remembering, and he knows this. But he knows he loves Gloria.  And Gloria, for her part, is a lighthouse beacon of steady strong love.  It is not a film about forgetting who you are so much as it is a film about the power of devotion.

So I urge you — and “urge” is not a word I use often — to watch the trailer, and if you are moved, to help the project along.  It will be a powerful film, and I think that helping this project is very serious good karma.  Maybe it will protect us a few percent?

Here is the link.  Yes, the filmmakers need a substantial amount of money.  But anything is possible.  And, yes, I’ve already contributed.  And from this day (or night) the filmmakers have only EIGHT days to raise the sum they need.  So please help — in the name of jazz, in the name of love, or both.  In my dictionary, the two are synonyms.

May your happiness increase!

THE ELECTRIC MAN RINGS TWICE

glowingsocket

So let him in!

ELECTRIC MAN, Irene Sanders and Buddy Burton, in 1936.

Try this at home, if you are insulated properly.

But good ideas never get old, hence this modern version of the same direct, current conceit: Marty Elkins’ FUSE BLUES:

Marty’s friends here are Herb Pomeroy, Houston Person, Tardo Hammer, Greg Staff, Dennis Irwin, Mark Taylor.  And Marty has a wonderful new CD that gives all sorts of delicious shocks.

May your happiness increase!

SHE’S BACK, ALTHOUGH SHE’S NEVER BEEN AWAY

Marty Elkins hat

Marty Elkins is one of my favorite singers.  If you know her work, you’ll understand why.  If she’s new to you, prepare to be entranced:

For one thing, she swings without calling attention to it.  Nothing in her style is written in capital letters; she doesn’t dramatize.  But the feeling she brings to each song comes through immediately.  Her voice is pleasing in itself and she glides along next to the song, not trying to obliterate it so that we can admire her and her alone.  And that voice is not an artifice — a mask she assumes to sing — it comes from her deepest self, whether she is being cheerful or permitting that little cry to come out.  I think her approach to the songs on this CD is a beautifully mature one: not the shallow cheer of someone who’s not lived . . . nor the bleakness of the world-weary.  I hear in Marty’s voice a kind of realistic optimism, a faith in the universe that also knows melancholy is possible.  Gaze at the sky in blissful wonder but look out for that cab while crossing the street.

I know that such art is not easily mastered . . . ask any singer whether it’s simply a matter of memorizing the notes and the words and standing up in front of the microphone — but Marty quietly has something to tell us, and we feel what she feels.  Direct subtle transmission!

And she improvises.  Her third chorus on any performance is not simply a repetition of the second.  She doesn’t obliterate the composer or the lyricist; rather she makes friends with the song and — as if she were a great designer — considers the approach that would show it off most truly.

I shelve my CDs alphabetically — so to the left of ELKINS there is ELDRIDGE, to the right ELLINGTON.  Fast company, but neither Roy nor Duke has protested; in fact, were they booking gigs at the moment, Marty would be getting calls.  But my ELKINS holdings have been — although choice — small in scope.  Two CDs, to be precise: FUSE BLUES (Nagel-Heyer 062) finds her with Herb Pomeroy, Houston Person, Tardo Hammer, Greg Staff, Dennis Irwin, Mark Taylor.  (The provocative title is Marty’s own blues which has a great deal to do with the ministrations offered by her electrician.)  IN ANOTHER LIFE (Nagel-Heyer 114), a duo-recital for Marty and Dave McKenna, is just gorgeous. Here‘s what I wrote about IN ANOTHER LIFE when it was released — not just about the CD, but about Marty’s beautiful singing.

So it’s delightful news that Marty has released her third CD, WALKIN’ BY THE RIVER (Nagel-Heyer 119), and it is a treat.

marty-elkins-walkin-by-the-river-2015

Marty isn’t a Diva or someone who demands to be a Star.  When I’ve seen her in performance — sitting in or on her own gig — she is on equal, friendly terms with the instrumentalists, never demanding the spotlight.  But quietly, subversively, her voice finds a place in our hearts: it is the closest thing to having someone you’re fond of whisper something pleasing in your ear.  And it’s not just me, or my ear.  Marty has things to tell us about love, about pleasure, about sadness.  Many of the songs on this CD are familiar — but they take on new depth and feeling when she sings them.  And Marty has a real feeling for the blues, so her offerings seem authentic rather than learned . . . with bluesy turns of phrase that are warm surprises in standard 32-bar songs.

Marty has consistently good musical taste.  Her band: Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Howard Alden, guitar; Steve Ash, piano; Joel Diamond, Hammond C3, Lee Hudson, string bass; Taro Okamoto, drums.  This small group is priceless in itself — intense yet relaxed, with a light-hearted Basie feel on some numbers, a gritty soulful drive on others.  But — with all respect to these musicians — I am always happy on a track when the band plays and Ms. Elkins returns for another chorus.  She’s their equal in keeping our attention.

Her songs: IF I COULD BE WITH YOU /  RUNNIN’ WILD / IS YOU IS OR IS YOU AIN’T MY BABY? / GARBAGE CAN  BLUES / WHEN MY SUGAR WALKS DOWN THE STREET / DON’T LET THE SUN CATCH YOU CRYIN’ / THERE’LL BE SOME CHANGES MADE / DOWN TO STEAMBOAT TENNESSEE / COMES LOVE / ILL WIND / I’LL NEVER BE THE SAME / BETWEEN THE DEVIL AND THE DEEP BLUE SEA / WALKIN’ BY THE RIVER.  Song historians will note some nods to Lee Wiley, Una Mae Carlisle, and of course Billie.  But this is living music, not a repertory project, thank goodness.

Marty, thank you!  Now — let’s have a regular gig for this remarkable singer?

I just found out that the CD  will officially be out in September, which is nearly here.  You can check out Marty’s website, or find Marty at her regular Thursday-night gig Cenzino Restaurant in Oakland, New Jersey, where she performs with Bob Wylde, guitar, and Mike Richmond, string bass.

May your happiness increase!

 

AMONG FRIENDS: MUSIC and WORDS for JOE WILDER (Sept. 8, 2014)

Joe Among Friends

Last night I spent a very touching and uplifting three hours in the company of people — many of whom I didn’t know and vice versa — united in one thing: we all loved the magnificent trumpeter and dear man Joe Wilder.

I don’t know the source of the saying, “The only thing wrong with funerals is that the one person you want to see is not present,” and that was certainly true in the filled-to-capacity St. Peter’s Church, but you could feel Joe’s gracious, easy spirit in every word and every note played.  The service was organized by Joe’s daughter Elin, Joe’s great friend and biographer Ed Berger, and the music was directed by Warren Vache.  Praise to all of them.

I couldn’t bring my video camera, so my notes will have to suffice.

I came to St. Peter’s early (I have been trained to this behavior by anxious parents, but often it pays off) and could see Russell Malone playing ballads for his own pleasure, including a soulful, precise DEEP IN A DREAM, then greeting Gene Bertoncini, who took up his own guitar.

Then the music changed to purest Wilder — MAD ABOUT THE BOY, CHEROKEE, and more.

It was clear that this was a roomful of dear friends.  Much hugging, much laughter, everyone being made welcome.  Although many people wore black or dark clothing, the mood was anything but maudlin.

Warren Vache quietly and sweetly introduced the first band: Harry Allen, Bill Allred, John Allred, Bill Crow, Steve Johns, Michael Weiss — and they launched into IT’S YOU OR NO ONE and then a medium-tempo CHEROKEE, full of energy and smiles passed around from player to player and to us.

We then saw a series of clips of an interview done with Joe (the source I copied down was http://www.robertwagnerfilms.com) — where he spoke of his experiences, both hilarious (sitting next to Dizzy in Les Hite’s band) and more meaningful (his perceptions of race).  What struck me was the simple conviction with which he said — and clearly believed — “I couldn’t have had a better life.”

Joe’s trumpet colleague from the Symphony of the New World, Wilmer Wise, told a few tales of the man he called “my big brother.”

Jimmy Owens stood in front of us and spoke lovingly of Joe, then took his fluegelhorn and played a very touching THERE WILL NEVER BE ANOTHER YOU (has Harry Warren’s song ever sounded so true?) ending with subterranean low notes, and an excerpt from NOBODY KNOWS THE TROUBLE I’VE SEEN.

Hank Nowak, another trumpet colleague (who met Joe at the Manhattan School of Music in the Fifties) spoke endearingly and then played a beautiful selection from Bach’s second cello suite — as if he were sending messages of love to us, with exquisite tone and phrasing.

Ed Berger told stories of Joe — whom he knew as well as anyone — and ended with some of Joe’s beloved and dangerously elaborate puns.

More music, all sharply etched and full of feeling: Bucky Pizzarelli and Ed Laub duetted all-too briefly on TANGERINE; Dick Hyman and Loren Schoenberg played STARDUST, and were then joined by Steve LaSpina and Kenny Washington for PERDIDO.

Jim Czak told his own story, then read a letter from Artie Baker (swooping down gracefully at the end to give the letter to Joe’s daughter Elin);.

Jimmy Heath (who spoke of Joe as “Joe Milder”), Barry Harris, Rufus Reid, Gene Bertoncini, and Leroy Williams took wonderful lyrical paths through I REMEMBER YOU and BODY AND SOUL.

Jim Merod, who knew Joe for decades, was eloquent and dramatic in his — let us be candid and call it a lovely sermon — about his dear friend.

Wynton Marsalis spoke softly but with feeling about Joe, and then played a solo trumpet feature on JUST A CLOSER WALK WITH THEE that (no cliche here) had the church in a joyous rhythmic uproar.

Russell Malone and Houston Person played ANNIE LAURIE with great sensitivity, just honoring the melody, and Russell created a delicate IT MIGHT AS WELL BE SPRING; Rufus Reid and Kenny Washington joined them for IN A MELLOTONE. Ken Kimery of the Smithsonian Jazz Orchestra spoke of Joe’s mastery and generosities. Warren Vache brought his horn in a wonderful duet with Bill Charlap on what he called “Joe’s song,” COME ON HOME, and then with Steve LaSpina and Leroy Williams, offered a quick MY ROMANCE.

Bill Kirchner took the stage with Bill Charlap to present a searching SHE WAS TOO GOOD TO ME.

It was nearing nine-thirty, and I knew my demanding clock radio (it shakes me awake at five-forty-five most mornings) had to be obeyed, so I stood up to go, as Warren was encouraging any musician in the house who hadn’t yet played to “jam for Joe” on SUNNY SIDE OF THE STREET.  Among the musicians he announced were Bria Skonberg and Claudio Roditi, and cheerful music enwrapped me as I walked out into the night air.

I am sorry I couldn’t have stayed until everyone went home, but I felt Joe’s presence all around me — in Warren’s words, a man so large that each of us could take a little of Joe with us always.

A pause for music. Something cheerful and playful — from 2010:

Now a pause for thought, whether or not you were able to attend the memorial service.

How can we honor Joe Wilder now that his earthly form is no longer with us?

We could purchase and read and be inspired by Ed Berger’s wonderful book about Joe, which I’ve chronicled here — SOFTLY, WITH FEELING: JOE WILDER AND THE BREAKING OF BARRIERS IN AMERICAN MUSIC (Temple University Press).

We could buy one of Joe’s lovely Evening Star CDs and fill our ears and houses with his uplifting music.

Or, we could act in Wilderian fashion — as a kind of subtle, unassuming spiritual practice.

Here are a few suggestions, drawn from my own observations of Joe in action.

Give more than you get.  Make strangers into friends. Never pretend to majesties that aren’t yours.  Fill the world with beauty — whether it’s your own personal sound or a (properly room-temperature) cheesecake.  Act lovingly in all things.  Never be too rushed to speak to people.  Make sure you’ve made people laugh whenever you can. Express gratitude in abundance.

You should create your own list.

But “Be like Joe Wilder in your own way” isn’t a bad place to start.

 May your happiness increase!

THE WORLD ON A STRING: CHUCK REDD, HOUSTON PERSON, ROSSANO SPORTIELLO, NICKI PARROTT, ED METZ at the SAN DIEGO JAZZ PARTY (February 22, 2014)

Chuck Redd is a natural, no matter how much hard work it took for him to get to that place.  Creating ringing sweet melodies on the vibes, or swinging subtly on his drum kit, he adds so much to any band.  He did it many times during the 26th San Diego Jazz Party, and the three performances that follow are evidence of his understated mastery.  Chuck (on vibes) was joined by Houston Person, tenor saxophone; Rossano Sportiello, piano; Nicki Parrott, string bass; Ed Metz, drums, for an all-too-brief set of music dedicated to Barney Kessel:

I’VE GOT THE WORLD ON A STRING:

SO DANCO SAMBA:

BLUES:

Thank you, Chuck, for shining your light on us.

May your happiness increase!

FABULOUS FRIDAY at the SAN DIEGO JAZZ PARTY (Part One): FEBRUARY 21, 2014

A week ago (that would be February 21) I was ready to have fun at my first-ever San Diego Jazz Party.  And I certainly did.  The music below will speak — and play and sing — for itself, but the SDJP was a real pleasure . . . comfort all around, the details managed gently and wisely, the musicians smiling.  As were we.

Here are a few shining examples of how fine the music was, how comfortable the musicians were . . . couldn’t ask for more!

If you need more words — data, information, facts —   here is what I wrote about the party as it was in progress.  But I think you’ll want to hear and see some of the joyousness first.

WABASH BLUES (Ed Polcer, cornet; Dan Barrett, trombone; Antti Sarpila, soprano saxophone; Bucky Pizzarelli, guitar; John Cocuzzi, piano; Richard Simon, string bass; Ed Metz, drums):

ROBBINS’ NEST (John Allred, trombone; Harry Allen, tenor saxophone; Chuck Redd, vibes; Jason Wanner, piano; Dave Stone, string bass; Butch Miles, drums):

THE FIVE O’CLOCK WHISTLE (Rebecca Kilgore, vocal; Eddie Erickson, guitar; Dan Barrett, trombone; Rossano Sportiello, piano; Nicki Parrott, string bass; Ed Metz, percussion and miscellaneous instruments):

That, dear friends, is just a sample of how delicious the whole weekend was.  And my videos — which I am proud of — can’t convey the whole experience.  You’ll just have to be there in 2014.

May your happiness increase!

GOOD, BETTER, BEST: SWEET NOTES FROM THE 26th SAN DIEGO JAZZ PARTY

The musicians are taking a break; it’s too early for another meal; what should I do?  I can share my joy at being at the San Diego Jazz Party, that’s what.

It’s only about twenty percent through (there’s still a full day-and-a-half of music to come) but it has been splendid.  Nicely organized, humanely planned — all the things that make a jazz weekend comfortable as well as gratifying — and the music last night was often spectacular.  You can find out the complete list of players here but I just want to speak of a few delicious moments that happened last night so you, too, can get a taste . . .

Even before the official festivities began, there was wonderful music during the cocktail hour: Harry Allen, Dan Barrett, Eddie Erickson, Jason Wanner, and Dave Stone started slow and easy and then romped through a closing IDAHO; Antti Sarpila, Chuck Redd, Bria Skonberg, Rossano Sportiello, and Nicki Parrott followed with a passionate NEW ORLEANS and an old-school SOMEBODY STOLE MY GAL.

(During the soundcheck that followed, Sarpilla sat down at the piano and quietly — as if no one had been listening — played a sweet, streamlined DROP ME OFF IN HARLEM, which was a private treat.)

A ten-minute swaggering WABASH BLUES was offered to us by Ed Polcer, Bria, Antti, Bucky Pizzarelli, John Cocuzzi, Richard Simon, Ed Metz.  A smaller group — John Allred, Harry Allen, Chuck Redd, Jason Wanner, Dave Stone, and Butch Miles — showed us what Groovy and Sweet meant in less than half an hour, with a coasting ROBBINS’ NEST, a from-the-heart SOLITUDE, and an exuberant CHEROKEE.  Becky Kilgore, looking mighty glamorous, took the stage with old pals Barrett and Erickson, Rossano Sportiello, Nicki Parrott, and Ed Metz for a set that culminated in the best FIVE O’CLOCK WHISTLE since Ivie Anderson, and a Romany duo: Becky’s own THE GYPSY (which began with a tender Sportiello-Barrett duet) followed by Eddie’s narrative of finding love and caffeine, IN A LITLE GYPSY TEAROOM.

And four more sets followed!  How about a duo of Venerables Bucky Pizzarelli and Mundell Lowe (the latter now 91) for — among other beauties — I REMEMBER YOU and an Oscar Pettiford blues?  Bria Skonberg told us all about Ruth Etting and then sang and played — with real ardor — LOVE ME OR LEAVE ME.  Houston Person wooed the crowd with medium-tempo ballads and Ellington; Anti Sarpilla took out his curved soprano for SUMMERTIME and his clarinet for RUNNIN’ WILD, and a band of Harry Allen, Bria, and Dan Barrett, Rossano, Richard Simon, and Butch Miles created a hot THEM THERE EYES, which made many pairs shine and gleam.

If you were in the audience, you know I am understating what we all saw and heard.  More to come.  Save your quarters, make your plans for 2105.

May your happiness increase! 

UNDER WESTERN SKIES, JAZZ HORIZONS

Long-Beach-California-Sunrise

With great pleasure, I have transplanted myself from one coast to the other, from suburban New York to Marin County in California, where I will be for the next eight months.  So what follows is a brief and selective listing of musical events the Beloved and I might show up at . . . feel free to join us!

Clint Baker and his New Orleans Jazz Band will be playing for the Wednesday Night Hop in San Mateo on January 8: details and directions here.

Emily Asher’s Garden Party will be touring this side of the continent in mid-January, with Emily’s Hoagy Carmichael program.  On January 16, she, friends, and sitters-in will make merry at a San Francisco house concert: details here.  On the 17th, the Garden Party will reappear, bright and perky, at the Red Poppy Art House, to offer another helping of subtle, lyrical, hot music: details to come here.

Clint and Friends (I don’t know the official band title, so am inventing the simplest) will be playing for the Central Coast Hot Jazz Society in Pismo Beach on January 26.  Details are not yet available on the website, but I have it on good authority that the band will include Marc Caparone, Dawn Lambeth, Mike Baird, Carl Sonny Leyland, and Katie Cavera.

A moment of self-advertisement: I will be giving a Sunday afternoon workshop at Berkeley’s The Jazz School  — on February 9, called LOUIS ARMSTRONG SPEAKS TO US.  Details here.’

And, from February 21-23, the Beloved and I will be happily in attendance at the San Diego Jazz Party — details here — to be held at the Del Mar Hilton, honoring guitar legend Mundell Lowe and featuring Harry Allen, John Allred, Dan Barrett, John Cocuzzi, John Eaton, Eddie Erickson, Rebecca Kilgore, Ed Metz, Butch Miles, Nicki Parrott, Houston Person, Bucky Pizzarelli, Ed Polcer, Chuck Redd, Antti Sarpila, Richard Simon, Bria Skonberg, Rossano Sportiello, Dave Stone, Johnny Varro, Jason Wanner.  The sessions will offer solo piano all the way up to nonets, with amiable cross-generational jazz at every turn.  In a triumph of organization, you can even see here who’s playing with whom and when, from Friday afternoon to Sunday farewell.

In March, the Jazz Bash by the Bay in Monterey . . . make your plans here!

And — a little closer to the here and now — if you don’t have plans for a New Year’s Eve gala, check out ZUT! in Berkeley.  Good food — and Mal Sharpe and the Big Money in Jazz (with singer Kallye Gray) will be giving 2013 a gentle push at the stroke of midnight.  Details here.

We hope to see our friends at these events!

May your happiness increase!

PETER VACHER’S SUBTLE MAGIC: “MIXED MESSAGES:

The best interviewers perform feats of invisibility.  Yes, they introduce the subject, give some needed context or description, and then fade away – – – so that we believe that X or Y is speaking directly to us.  This takes a great deal of subtlety and energy . . . but the result is compelling.  Whitney Balliett did it all the time; other well-regarded interviewers couldn’t.  Peter Vacher, who has written for JAZZ JOURNAL and CODA, among other publications, has come out with a new book, and it’s sly, delightful, and hugely informative.

Vacher

MIXED MESSAGES: AMERICAN JAZZ STORIES is a lively collection of first-hand recollections from those essential players whose names we don’t always know but who make the stars look and sound so good.  The title is slightly deceptive: we are accustomed to interpreting “mixed messages” as a combination of good and bad, difficult to interpret plainly.  But I think this is Vacher’s own quizzical way of evaluating the material he so lovingly presents: here are heroic creators whose work gets covered over — fraternal subversives, much like Vacher himself.  One might think, given the cover (Davern, Houston Person, and Warren Vache) that this is a book in which race features prominently (it does, when appropriate) and the mixing of jazz “schools” is a subject (less so, since the players are maturely past such divisive distinctions).

Because Vacher has opted to speak with the sidemen/women — in most cases — who are waiting in the lobby for the band bus, or having breakfast by themselves — his subjects have responded with enthusiasm and gratitude.  They aren’t retelling the same dozen stories that they’ve refined into an automatic formula; they seem delighted to have an attentive, knowledgeable listener who is paying them the compliment of avidly acknowledging their existence and talent.  The twenty-one musicians profiled by Vacher show his broad-ranging feeling for the music: Louis Nelson, Norman ‘Dewey’ Keenan, Gerald Wilson, Fip Ricard, Ruby Braff, George ‘Buster’ Cooper, Bill Berry, Benny Powell, Plas Johnson Jr, Carl ‘Ace’ Carter, Herman Riley, Lanny Morgan, Ellis Marsalis, Houston Person Jr, Tom Artin, John Eckert, Rufus Reid, John Stubblefield, Judy Carmichael, Tardo Hammer, Byron Stripling.  New Orleanians, beboppers, late-Swing players, modern Mainstreamers, lead trumpeters and a stride pianist, and people even the most devoted jazz fancier probably has not heard of except as a name in a liner note or a discography.  Basie, Ellington, and Charlie Barnet make appearances here; so do Johnny Hodges, Jimmie Lunceford, Al Grey, Charlie Shavers, Bobby Hackett, Jimmy Smith, Sonny Red, Maynard Ferguson, Lionel Hampton, Jimmy Knepper, Lee Konitz, Ornette Coleman, Papa Celestin, Don Byas, Dexter Gordon, J. J. Johnson, Sonny Rollins, Charles Mingus, the AACM, Freddie Green, John Hammond, Roy Eldridge, Dick Wellstood, Duke Jordan, Sal Mosca, Junior Cook, Bill Hardman, Art Farmer, Mary Lou Williams.

But the strength and validity of this book is not to be measured by the number of names it includes, but in the stories.  (Vacher’s subjects are unusually candid without being rancorous, and a number of them — Braff, Berry, Stripling — take time to point out how the elders of the tribe were unusually kind and generous mentors.)  Here are a few excerpts — vibrant and salty.

Benny Powell on working with Lionel Hampton:

He was a pretty self-centered guy.  Kinda selfish.  When something wasn’t right or he wanted to admonish somebody in the band, he would have a meeting just before the show.  He’d get us all on stage and tell us how unworthy we were.  He’d say, “People come to see me.  I can get out on stage and urinate on stage and people will applaud that.”  He would go on and on like this, and when he was finished, he’d say, “All right, gentlemen, let’s have a good show.”  I’d say to myself, “Good show!  I feel like crying.”

Pianist Carl “Ace” Carter:

. . . the drummer . . . . was Ernie Stephenson, they used to call him Mix.  He said, “Why don’t you turn to music?  You can get more girls.”  He’s passed on now but I said if I ever see him in heaven I’m gonna kill him because to this day I haven’t got a girl.” 

Trumpeter John Eckert:

I didn’t appreciate Louis Armstrong until I played a concert with Maynard Ferguson’s band, when I was. maybe, 26 years old [circa 1965].  A lot of big acts were there, including Maynard, Dave Brubeck with Paul Desmond, and three or four other modern groups.  Louis ended the concert.  I’d always seen him as this old guy, with the big smile, saying negative things about bebop, but I was just thunderstruck at how he sounded.  I couldn’t believe how powerful he was, his timing, just the authority he played with — his group wasn’t really that impressive — but he was the king.

To purchase this very satisfying book, click here.

May your happiness increase.

MONDAYS WITH HARRY: RIGHT NOW!

Arbors Records has created a new series featuring jazz performances and dancing at Feinstein’s at Loews Regency Hotel, 540 Park Avenue at 61st Street, NYC.  And it begins tomorrow!

Harry Allen’s Monday Night Jazz

It begins May 2, 2011, and will happen the first Monday of each month through the end of the year (except the second Monday in July and September).   Most performances will feature The Harry Allen Quartet (Harry, Rossano Sportiello, Joel Forbes, Chuck Riggs) with guest artists as listed below.

Dining and dancing from 7:00-8:00 PM — — Concert from 8:00-10:00 PM

Music Charge: $20.00, One drink minimum

May 2:  Frank Wess, Joe Wilder, Harry Allen, Norman Simmons, Joel Forbes, Ed Metz

June 6:  Harry Allen’s Four Others (Harry’s original arrangements based on Woody Herman’s Four Brothers) featuring Grant Stewart, Gary Smulyan and Eric Alexander with The Harry Allen Quartet

July 11:  Warren Vaché and John Allred with The Harry Allen Quartet

August 1:  Bucky Pizzarelli, Terell Stafford and Freddy Cole with The Harry Allen Quartet

September 12:  Ken Peplowski and Houston Person with Larry Fuller, Harry Allen, Joel Forbes and Chuck Riggs

October 3:  An evening of song with Lynn Roberts, Rebecca Kilgore, Nicki Parrott, Dan Barrett with Mike Renzi, Harry Allen, Joel Forbes and Chuck Riggs

November 7:  An evening of Brazilian music with Maucha Adnet (vocalist with Jobim for 10 years), Duduka DaFonseca (drummer with Jobim for many years), Nilson Matta (bass), Klaus Mueller (piano) and The Harry Allen Quartet

December 5:  Hooray for Christmas show with John Sheridan, Rebecca Kilgore, Jon-Erik Kellso, Randy Sandke, John Allred, Tom Artin, Dan Block, Scott Robinson,James Chirillo with The Harry Allen Quartet

Reservations: Loews Regency Hotel, 540 Park Avenue, NY, NY 10065.   Telephone: 212-339-4095

P.S.  When I was a child, I had a Danny Kaye record on which he impersonated a little boy, “Maurice.”  And the line that sticks in my head is Maurice’s insistent, “Not LATER!  NOW!”  Consider it your mantra for this series, no?

 

JOIN THE PARTY!

In this holiday season, it’s always reassuring to be able to hear some jazz that is Rudolph-and-Frosty free.  Singer Lynn Stein reminds me that Warren Vache, Houston Person, Ted Rosenthal, Jon Burr, and Alvin Atkinson will be swinging out mightily on Sunday, December 19, from 2 PM on.

Where? 

Rockland Center For the Arts,  27 South Greenbush Road, West Nyack, New York.

Telephone 845 358 0877 for reservations, and the website is http://www.rocklandartcenter.org/.

MARTY ELKINS: “IN ANOTHER LIFE”

When I get new jazz compact discs to review, a good percentage feature women jazz singers.  I am sure that they are wonderful people who love the music, but many of them have odd ideas of forming a style.  Some have ingested every syllable Billie Holiday ever recorded; some rely on huge voices with gospel trimmings to get them through; some meow and growl their way through a lyric, suggesting an undiagnosed hairball problem.  Almost all of the new singers emote in capital letters, their voices rich with imagined melodrama.  None of these tricks works, but the singers press on.

For me, there are perhaps a dozen women singing jazz today — if you’ve been reading my posts, you can count them off.  Now it’s time to increase that number.  May I introduce  (or re-introduce) Marty Elkins? 

I first met Marty perhaps a year ago when she and I ended up sharing a table at the crowded Ear Inn.  We chatted pleasantly, and I really had no idea of her talents until Jon-Erik Kellso asked her to sit in and she sang a few choruses of YOU TOOK ADVANTAGE OF ME with the band.  The Ear Inn is more conducive to trumpets and trombones than to unamplified singers, but I could hear that Marty swung, knew the harmonic ins and outs of the song, could improvise neatly, and was expressive without being melodramatic.  She used her quiet talents to make the material sound good rather than asking Rodgers and Hart to step aside so that she could shine.  When she was through, I asked her if she had recorded CDs that I could hear her better and at greater length.  She casually mentioned that she had done a duet session with Dave McKenna years back, and that it would be issued some day. 

Now we can all stop holding our breath: it’s here.  And it’s splendid. 

in_another_life_5The disc is called IN ANOTHER LIFE, and it’s issued on the splendidly reliable Nagel-Heyer label (CD 114).  It captures Marty and Dave in an informal session with good sound, in 1988 — when Dave was still in full command.  The songs suggest a shared affection for solid melodies and a deep knowledge of the great jazz repertoire: WILLOW WEEP FOR ME / DO YOU KNOW WHAT IT MEANS TO MISS NEW ORLEANS? / JIM / GIMME A PIGFOOT AND A BOTTLE OF BEER / UNTIL THE REAL THING COMES ALONG / I LET A SONG GO OUT OF MY HEART / WHEN YOUR LOVER HAS GONE / I WISHED ON THE MOON / WILLOW WEEP FOR ME (alternate ) / DO YOU KNOW WHAT IT MEANS TO MISS NEW ORLEANS? (alternate) / FUSE BLUES (alternate). 

The first thing that must be said will seem tactless, but this CD is not the combination of a young, untried singer with a master pianist.  Not at all.  The Elkins – McKenna pairing is a meeting of convivial equals.  From the very first notes of this session, she shows off her relaxed, expert naturalness.  Her naturalness comes from loving the lyrics — that is, knowing what the words mean! — and admiring the composer’s original lines.  She has a sweet, earnest phrase-ending vibrato, reminiscent of a great trumpet player, and she holds her notes beautifully.  Marty’s delivery is full of feeling and warmth, but she doesn’t shout, grind, or act self-consciously hip.  Her voice is also attractive wholly on its own terms — it has a yearning, plaintive quality that fits the material, but that never overwhelms the song or the listener. 

On JIM, for instance, a rather masochistic song, Marty embraces and entrances the lyrics without ever suggesting that things are so dire that she needs therapy or an intervention.  It’s a performance I found myself going back to several times.  And she’s equally home with the somewhat archaic enthusiams of GIMME A PIGFOOT — she sings the song rather than singing at it from an ironic distance.  (And, as a sidelight, her diction is razor-sharp, enabling me to hear a phrase in the lyrics that has always mystified me in Bessie Smith’s version.)  On a number of the other selections, she avoids the perils of over-dramatization (I’m thinking especially of SUMMERTIME, which has attained the status of National Monument, making it almost impossible to sing it plainly without histrionics) by lifting the tempo just a touch — what Billie and Mildred did in the Thirties.  It works.  I was able to hear the most famous and well-worn songs on this disc without thinking of their more famous progenitors.  On her second choruses, she improvises, subtly and effectively; her voice takes delicate little turns up or down, which seem both new and natural.  And she knows the verse to WHEN YOUR LOVER IS GONE!  What more could we ask for?

For his part, McKenna is in especially empathetic form: he doesn’t put on his locomotive-roaring-down-the-tracks self, but you always know he’s there.  And at times his accompaniment sounds so delicately shaped that I would have sworn Ellis Larkins had slid onto the piano bench. 

The alternate takes are revealing — for both Marty’s subtle reshapings of her first inspirations, and for Dave’s inventiveness and drive.  The CD’s last track, FUSE BLUES, comes from a 1999 Nagel-Heyer session Marty did with Houston Person, Tardo Hammer, Herb Pomeroy, Greg Skaff, Dennis Irwin, Mark Taylor, and it’s a thoroughly naughty composition of Marty’s that will make you look at your electrician in a whole new way.  I think it should be Consolidated Edison’s theme song, but doubt that they’ll take me up on it.

As an afterthought, because the liner notes are very spare, I asked Marty to comment on the session, which she did:

The original recording was just for a demo for me, and Dave really did it as a favor for very little bread as he was an old friend from my days in Boston. I went to Boston U and just kind of stayed up there, hanging around with musicians for about ten years after college. I met Dave at the Copley Plaza hotel, where he was a regular performer, and he let me sing with him and was pretty much my first accompanist. The funny story I always tell is that he said, “When you go out there and sing with other musicians, don’t expect them to play in the key of B…” because he would say “Just start singing, baby, I’ll follow you.”  I guess that really was starting at the top! Everyone loved Dave – he was the most accessible guy and not even aware of his own genius. He leaves a lot of broken hearted pals. We did the recording at Jimmy Madison’s (the great drummer) studio on the Upper West Side. I think Dave was in town for a gig at the old Hanratty’s, because by then I was living in New York. The Nagel-Heyers did the remastering, and it really sounds good now.  I hear new things in Dave’s playing every time I listen to it.  I had hoped it would come out before Dave left us, but it was not to be.   

Marty is planning a late-summer CD release party at Smalls — with, among others, Jon-Erik Kellso — and she has promised to let me know the details so that I can alert all of you.  Until then, this CD is winning music.

FRANKIE MANNING FEST (May 21-25)

This four-day New York celebration was planned to celebrate the 95th birthday of dancer, choreographer, generous spirit, and inspiration Frankie Manning — who, as they say, departed this earthly life a bit too soon.  But the festivities go on — featuring, among others,

Dancer Norma Miller, musicians Wycliffe Gordon, Houston Person, Evan Christopher, Matt Munisteri, David Ostwald’s Gully Low Jazz Band, the Cangelosi Cards, a number of documentaries, and an abundance of swing dancing.  Here’s the schedule.  Even if you’re going to be miles away from Manhattan, or if you move sluggishly on the dance floor, visit www.frankie95.com.

Thursday, May 21

3:00 PM Open registration & Contest Sign In Manhattan Center Lobby

6:30 PM Ballroom Opens Manhattan Center-Grand Ballroom

6:45 PM Special screening of the documentary Frankie Manning:

Never Stop Swinging Manhattan Center-Grand Ballroom

7:30 PM Talk with Norma Miller Manhattan Center-Grand Ballroom

8:00 PM Hellzapoppin’ contest registration ends Manhattan Center Lobby

9:00 PM Dancing begins with The New Orleans Jazz Vipers and Gordon Webster;

Performances;

Manhattan Center-Grand Ballroom

9:00 PM Competitors’ Meeting Grand Ballroom-Balcony Level

11:30 PM Hellzapoppin Wildcard round Manhattan Center-Grand Ballroom

1:00 AM Registration Closes Manhattan Center Lobby

3:00 AM Dance Ends

Friday, May 22

9:00 AM Memorial Service Jam begins, featuring Benny Powell, Frank Wess, Yvette Glover, and others. Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church

(5th Ave & 55th st)

10:00 AM Memorial Service Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church

12:00 PM Second Line From Church to Park led by David Ostwald’s Gully Low Jazz Band Fifth Avenue

12:30 PM Central Park Dance with George Gee & His Make Believe Ballroom Orchestra & David Ostwald’s Gully Low Jazz Band Central Park Naumberg Bandshell

1:30 PM Break World Records Central Park Naumberg Bandshell

3:45 PM World’s Biggest Jack and Jill Central Park Naumberg Bandshell

4:00 PM Registration Check In Opens Manhattan Center Lobby

5:00 PM Central Park Dance Ends Central Park Naumberg Bandshell

6:30 PM Competitors’ Meeting Hammerstein Ballroom-3rd floor Balcony Level

6:30 PM Ballroom Opens Manhattan Center-Hammerstein Ballroom

7:00 PM Presentation: Remembering Frankie Manhattan Center-Hammerstein Ballroom

9:00 PM Dancing begins with The Blue Vipers of Brooklyn and Ron Sunshine & Full Swing;

Performances

Manhattan Center-Hammerstein Ballroom

12:30 AM Hellzapoppin Semi-Finals Manhattan Center-Hammerstein Ballroom

1:00 AM Late Night Entry (As space permits) Manhattan Center Lobby

12:40 AM Late Night beings with The Cangelosi Cards and The Paul Tillotson’s Trio;

Performances Manhattan Center-Hammerstein Ballroom

2:00 AM Registration Closes Manhattan Center Lobby

4:00 AM Dance Ends

Saturday, May 23

9:00 AM Masters Auditions Alvin Ailey School

9:00 AM Registration Check In Opens Manhattan Center Lobby

10:00 AM 1st Workshop begins Alvin Ailey School/LaGuardia High School/424 West 34th St.

11:30 AM 2nd Workshop begins Alvin Ailey School/LaGuardia High School/424 West 34th St.

1:00 PM 3rd Workshop begins Alvin Ailey School/LaGuardia High School/424 West 34th St.

2:30 PM 4th Workshop begins Alvin Ailey School/LaGuardia High School/424 West 34th St.

4:30 PM World’s Biggest Jack and Jill Rain back up. 424 West 34th St.

4:30 PM Lindy Hop & Big Apple: A History Program for Kids by Cynthia Millman Professional Children’s School

6:00 PM Competitors’ Meeting Hammerstein Ballroom-3rd floor Balcony Level

6:00 PM Ballroom Opens Manhattan Center-Hammerstein Ballroom

6:30 PM Savoy Era Panel Discussion Manhattan Center-Hammerstein Ballroom

8:30 PM Dancing with George Gee & His Make Believe Ballroom Orchestra, The Harlem Renaissance Orchestra, and Frank Foster & The Loud Minority;

Hellzapoppin Finals (approx. 9:25PM);

Frankie95 Worldwide Routine;

All Band Super Finale Manhattan Center-Hammerstein Ballroom

1:00 AM Late Night Entry (As space permits) Manhattan Center Lobby

2:00 AM Registration Closes Manhattan Center Lobby

4:00 AM Dance Ends

Sunday, May 24

10:00 AM Registration Check In Opens Manhattan Center Lobby

11:00 AM 1st Workshop begins Alvin Ailey School/LaGuardia High School/424 West 34th St.

12:30 PM 2nd Workshop begins Alvin Ailey School/LaGuardia High School/424 West 34th St.

2:00 PM 3rd Workshop begins Alvin Ailey School/LaGuardia High School/424 West 34th St.

4:00 PM Presentation:

The Story of the Big Apple

The Gymnasium at 424 W.34th street (between 9th and 10th avenue)

5:30 PM J & J Competitors’ Meeting Manhattan Center-Grand Ballroom

6:00 PM House doors open for seating to the show (first-come first-serve basis) Grand Ballroom/ Hammerstein Ballroom

7:00 PM Ambassador of Swing: The Frankie Manning Story

Starts Manhattan Center-Grand Ballroom

9:15 PM World’s Biggest Jack and Jill Semi-Final Manhattan Center-Hammerstein Ballroom

10:00 PM Dancing with The Boilermaker Jazz Band and Jonathan Stout & His Campus Five featuring Hilary Alexander;

Competition Awards Manhattan Center-Hammerstein Ballroom

12:00AM World’s Biggest Jack and Jill Final; Manhattan Center-Hammerstein Ballroom

1:00 AM Late Night Entry (As space permits) Manhattan Center Lobby

1:30 AM All Star Band Jam with Evan Christopher;

Performances Manhattan Center-Hammerstein Ballroom

2:00 AM Registration Closes Manhattan Center Lobby

4:00 AM Dance Ends

Monday, May 25

10:00 AM Open registration Sign In Manhattan Center Lobby

11:00 AM 1st Workshop begins Alvin Ailey School/LaGuardia High School

12:30 PM Presentation:

Dawn Hampton: Bhangra The Gymnasium at 424 W.34th street (between 9th and 10th avenue)

12:30 PM Informal Picnic in the Park;

Unguided Harlem Tour (explore on your own)

Central Park-Sheep Meadow

12:30 PM 2nd Workshop begins Alvin Ailey School/LaGuardia High School

1:30 PM Presentation (Tentative) 424 West 34th St.

2:00 PM 3rd Workshop begins Alvin Ailey School/LaGuardia High School

2:00 PM Presentation:

Everything Remains Raw:

Connecting Jazz Dance and Hip Hop The Gymnasium at 424 W.34th street (between 9th and 10th avenue)

3:00 PM Presentation 424 West 34th St.

3:30 PM Presentation:

The History of Swing Dance

led by Peter Loggins The Gymnasium at 424 W.34th street (between 9th and 10th avenue)

6:30 PM Ballroom Opens Manhattan Center-Hammerstein Ballroom

7:00 PM Discussion Panel: The 80’s Revival: Re-Discovering Frankie and Lindy Hop Manhattan Center-Hammerstein Ballroom

9:00 PM Dancing with the Houston Person Quartet and the Wycliffe Gordon Quartet & the Battle of the ‘Bones;

Performances Manhattan Center-Hammerstein Ballroom

11:59 PM Birthday Countdown Manhattan Center-Hammerstein Ballroom

1:00 AM Registration Closes Manhattan Center Lobby

2:00 AM Event Ends

2:00 AM Afterhours Party: Frankie Forever with Kim Nallie Dance Sport Studios (22 W. 34th st, 4th floor)

6:00 AM Afterhours End

LIVE JAZZ AT THE OLD RED SCHOOLHOUSE

The Beloved, who has a well-developed Sniffer for Things Interesting, pored over the Halifax, Nova Scotia newspapers and tourist handouts and found that there was jazz scheduled for this afternoon at Peggy’s Cove.  Yes, live jazz.  Everyone we had spoken to about their favorite spots had emphatically praised this one, so we set out this morning on a jaunt there — complete with provisions, maps, and the necessities of travel (in this case, money and a cassette of Ruby Braff and Dick Hyman exploring the score of My Fair Lady). 

It turned out to be a pleasant forty-five minute drive along the Atlantic Ocean, west of Halifax.  Aside from being somewhat overrun by tourists (and, lest you snicker, the Beloved and I are Travelers, a step up from Tourists) Peggy’s Cove was astonishingly beautiful, complete with an observant gull.

And we dined on that most relevant native delicacy — Nova Scotia smoked salmon — tender, moist, not oversalted.  Take that, Zabar’s!  (I confess that the photo is out-of-focus: my hands were trembling with anticipatory passion.) 

Then we heard the strains of live music coming from the old red schoolhouse, set on a rise. 

As we got closer, it sounded even better, and when we entered, it was jazz at its simplest and most unadorned: two gentlemen in an improvised duet.  One was seated at the piano — his name, we learned later, was Murray Brown, and he provided solid, sturdy harmonic backing and plain-spoken melodic embellishments that stood well on their own and were gracious accompaniment to the other player. 

He was Tobias Beale, who soloed on tenor sax, flute, sang, and even kept time on a cymbal near him, accenting it with occasional visits to a cowbell.  This was no novelty One-Man Band: he just wanted to do as much as he could to keep the rhythm going.  As a soloist, he reminded me of Al Cohn, moving lightly from phrase to phrase, with a good dose of Houston Person’s Southwestern passion in his attack, his bluesy swooping phrases. 

Brown and Beale knew the changes; their performances were both compact and fervent.   

There was a small audience, which kept shifting in and out, but the duo didn’t coast or take the easy way.  I would have expected less challenging materials, but their set (which we caught midway) began with Brubeck’s “In Your Own Sweet Way,” then shifted to “The Nearness of You,” took chances with “I Only Have Eyes For You.”  Beale proved himself a fine singer with a yearning “Gee, Baby, Ain’t I Good To You?” that honored Don Redman, then a solid reading of “Devil May Care,” finishing up with a Baker-inspired look at “I Fall In Love Too Easily.”  On that last song, a husband and wife got up and danced — proof of music’s power to spread happiness, to share emotions. 

The children in the audience were quiet, almost transfixed by the spectacle of two people playing unamplified musical instruments right in front of them.  We learned later that Beale taught all the reeds at the junior high and high schools, and some of the younger people who stopped in to chat after his set were his students.  I only hope that some of the rapt children then in attendance will go home and ask their parents for lessons on something that isn’t a guitar or a synthesizer. 

This duo will be appearing every Sunday at the same place.  We’ll be far away by then, but I hope some readers will take the opportunity to visit these two quiet jazz heroes, who are steadily working their way through the best repertoire, making some listeners smile and others dance.  Jazz is indeed where you find it, and it turns up in unexpected places, spreading spiritual largesse for the simple joy of playing.