Tag Archives: Ink Spots

THE REAL STUFF, ONE FLIGHT UP: CARL SONNY LEYLAND,KIM CUSACK, BEAU SAMPLE, ALEX HALL: “STOMPIN’ UPSTAIRS”

When it comes to food, we might not know how to create something authentic in the kitchen, but we certainly know what the real thing tastes like, whether it’s a tomato from the garden, genuine ethnic cuisine, or good home cooking.  It doesn’t have to be fancy: a slice of good bread is true nourishment.

Deciding what’s “authentic,” “the real stuff,” “the truth,” in jazz or any other art form can be exhausting, sure to create debate among the faithful.

But most of us would agree that we admire musicians who not only know their instruments superbly, but can make music that is both deep and intuitive — playing from the heart, evoking joy, sorrow, creating melodies while keeping the rhythm moving.  We want to remember the music once the applause has died down, once the disc has faded into silence.

Pianist / singer / composer Carl Sonny Leyland and reed master Kim Cusack are authentic through and through.  Their music comes from deep experience and deep feeling: it conveys the wonderful balance of exuberance or grief and the craft to express it fully and convey it whole to us.  Thanks to Bryan Wright’s Rivermont Records, we can experience their casual assurance first-hand in a new quartet recording, STOMPIN’ UPSTAIRS, where they are given the best support from bassist Beau Sample and drummer Alex Hall — names familiar to anyone who’s delighted in the Fat Babies.

Carl-Kim CD FinalSome compact discs charm us initially but pall after a few songs.  Not this one. It’s a series of delights — the songs take us to different places without administering violent shocks, and the sound is reassuringly natural.  The songs are AT A GEORGIA CAMP MEETING / BLUE PRELUDE* / CHEROKEE / CORRINE CORRINA* / IF I HAD YOU / THE BLUE ROOM / UPSTAIRS BOOGIE / WE THREE* / THE LOVE NEST / TANGERINE / RAMBLIN’ MIND BLUES / WHISPERING / TELL IT TO THE JUDGE.

Starting from the back, the rhythm playing couldn’t be better: the right notes, the best harmonies, a light yet powerful beat.  Beau and Alex don’t use or need attention-getting tricks: they play for the band in the most reassuring, uplifting ways.  

I have heard Kim on clarinet (in person) for the past few years, and admire his playing greatly: a sweet-tart evocation of people like Darnell Howard — with no affectations, no showing-off, just heart, intelligence, wit, and power. But I hadn’t ever heard Kim play alto saxophone before, and on this often-abused instrument he is a little-celebrated master: you’ll have to hear him to know what I mean.

And Mister Leyland.  I’ve had the privilege of learning from him at every performance, taking lessons in creativity, intensity, relaxation, and joy.  But I fear that some casual listeners have already decided the little boxes he fits in to: “boogie-woogie pianist” and “blues singer.”  Yes, but no.  Carl Sonny Leyland is a great improvising jazz artist and a wonderfully moving singer: hear his WE THREE and BLUE PRELUDE to understand that he is delivering the best messages straight to our hearts.

The band — as a quartet — knows how to do the cakewalk, how to rock that thing, how to swing their upstairs room so that the house is swaying, how to feel a ballad, how to have a good time.  STOMPIN’ UPSTAIRS is a small flat package of infinitely expandable pleasure — with two extra added attractions. One, perhaps only record collectors will appreciate — but the format of the back cover is a hilariously exact homage to a Columbia Records design circa 1954. You’ll know it when you see it.  And the liner notes, written by Mister Leyland, are just like him: wry, perceptive, funny, never pretentious.

I have a wall of compact discs and more music than I can possibly ever listen to again, but I’ve been playing STOMPIN’ UPSTAIRS regularly and frequently.     

Here is the Rivermont Records’ page where you can hear samples of seven of the songs . . . and where you can buy the CD.  I predict you will want to do just that.  (And no one at Rivermont would be upset if you browsed around their other offerings, featuring a wide variety of good sounds — archival and modern.)

May your happiness increase!

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CONNIE, VET, AND MARTHA: SOUL SISTERS!

I’ve been thinking about Connie (or Connee) Boswell for the last few days.   This was one wonderful provocation, found on eBay.

I wasn’t around in the era when a pretty girl would come up to my / our table in a night club, take a flash picture of us, and return with copies — a great momento of an evening out.  But here’s a piece of paper that evokes that experience:

LOOK PLEASANT PLEASE! is always good advice, but this charming souvenir of days gone by has an even more important flip side:

Yes, Connie Bowell in 1942.  It would be impossible to look anything but pleasant if she were on the scene.

But my thoughts wandered to the larger question.  The Boswell Sisters were the most hip singing group on the planet — with deference to the Mills Brothers, the Ink Spots, the Andrews Sisters, and a long line of male and female singers, as inventive as they are.  But they aren’t as well-known as they should be.  In their time, they were admired and respected by the most innovative musicians in the business, including Bing Crosby and the Dorsey Brothers.  But the Sisters didn’t stay in the limelight for decades (they would have been astonishing on television every Sunday night).  Musically, they also present a paradox.  The casual listener, only mildly attentive, can say, “Oh, that’s another vocal group with a nice beat.”  But I think that the recordings and performances the Sisters left for us are so rich with information, with textures, that listeners find themselves overwhelmed: the music is too dense to be properly ingested as a pleasant background.

Consider this:

That performance swings as hard as anything recorded up to 1932: I would put it head-to-head with the Bennie Moten band or anything else you’d like to name.  Of course, the Sisters had several other things that made them less well-regarded than they might be.  They weren’t tragic; they were Caucasian; they were popular; they were women.

Connie Boswell went on to great success in the decades after the Sisters (Helvetia, “Vet,” and Martha) decided to retire from performing in 1936.  But she, too, suffered from the curse of being apparently stable and popular.  There was a more famous singer — her name was Ella Fitzgerald — who said she owed everything to Connee.  And Ella said it over and over to anyone who would listen.

Connie was one of the most soulful singers ever.  Her opening choruses are masterpieces of deep feeling and respect for the memory; her voice a thrill.  Her second choruses show what a superb improviser she was . . . straight from New Orleans but with her own deep swinging identity.

Consider this:

I don’t want to suggest that Connie, Vet, and Martha “suffered” — but I think in a society that didn’t insist its women singers be beddable, a world that didn’t see race or gender but just heard the music, they would be heroic figures today.  They had SOUL.

May your happiness increase.

CAJUN SEASONING: REUNION at THE EAR INN (June 3, 2012) with EDDY DAVIS, CONAL FOWKES, ORANGE KELLIN, SCOTT ROBINSON, JON-ERIK KELLSO, DAN BLOCK

Eight years ago, I first visited the Cajun Restaurant in the West Village (that’s Greenwich Village, New York) on Eighth Avenue.  It had been around for a long time, but it was known as the only place that still featured “traditional jazz,” however one defined the term, seven nights and two afternoons a week.*

A regular attraction was the Wednesday night band — a compact unit led by banjoist / singer / composer Eddy Davis, and dubbed by him late in its run WILD REEDS AND WICKED RHYTHM.  Most often, the instrumentation was Conal Fowkes, string bass; Scott Robinson, C-melody saxophone; Orange Kellin, clarinet, and Eddy — four players with a strong lyrical streak who could also make a bandstand seem wildly hot in the tradition of the Bechet-Spanier Big Four or Soprano Summit on an uptempo outchorus.

Since the regular Wednesday night gig ended, this band has gotten together for musical reunions — although not as often as its fans and partisans would like.  Thus, I was thrilled to learn that Eddy, Conal, Orange, and Scott would be “the EarRegulars” on Sunday, June 3, 2012, at The Ear Inn.  And I present some of the frankly magical results herein.

Eddy would not be insulted, I think, if I called his approach “quirky,” and his whimsical view of the musical spectrum colors and uplifts the band.  Another leader might have stuck to the predictable dozen “New Orleans” or “trad” standards, but not Eddy.  His musical range, affections, and knowledge are broad — he approaches old songs in new ways and digs up “new” ones that get in the groove deeply.  He knows how to set rocking tempos and his colleagues look both happy and inspired.  In addition, Eddy writes lyrics — homespun rather than sleek — for some classic jazz tunes, and he sings them from the heart.  All of these virtues were on display at The Ear Inn — friendly, jostling, witty solos and ensembles, and performances that took their time to scrape the clouds.

The melody for BABY, YOU’RE THE BEST might be elusive for some, but it has deep roots — Lil Hardin Armstrong’s TWO DEUCES, which Eddy has turned into a love song and the band has turned into a down-home West Village classic:

TWO-A-DAY is one of Eddy’s favorite obscure songs — a Jerry Herman number praising a kind of vaudeville bill (and time and place) from the ill-starred musical MACK AND MABEL, charting the lives and times of Mack Sennett and Mabel Normand.  When Eddy sings lyrics about the “atomic age,” Scott emphasizes the point through his distinctive space-age attire:

POTATO HEAD BLUES, with jaunty lyrics and wondrous playing.  All for you, Louis:

I DON’T WANT TO SET THE WORLD ON FIRE needs no introduction — recalling the Ink Spots and their sweet lovemaking on Decca Records:

Jon-Erik Kellso, Hot Man Supreme, came into The Ear Inn after another gig — hence the formal wear — sat down, and joined the band for a calypso-infused THE BUCKET’S GOT A HOLE IN IT.  Maybe this bucket was full of Red Stripe beer?:

At the start of THANKS A MILLION, you’ll notice an empty chair next to Orange — soon to be filled by the illustrious Dan Block on bass clarinet, with Scott switching over to one of his taragotas, or taragoti — which he’d first taken out for POTATO HEAD BLUES:

STRUTTIN’ WIH SOME BARBECUE, complete with verse:

And the session closed with Eubie Blake’s lovely affirmation, LOVE WILL FIND A WAY, taken at a strolling medium tempo:

P.S.  This session happened in the beginning of June and has only emerged three months later — no reflection on the splendid heartfelt music, but because of some small technical difficulties . . . now happily repaired.

*At the end of July 2006, The Cajun closed after a twenty-eight year run — to make way for a faceless high-rise apartment building.  When I find myself on Eighth Avenue and Sixteenth Street, I try not to search the spot where it once was.  It was a flawed paradise, but we miss it.

May your happiness increase.

“WELL, THIS’LL BE FUN”: MEMORIES OF JAZZ AT CHAUTAUQUA, 2004

I have a special place in my heart for Jazz at Chautauqua: it was the first jazz party I’d ever attended, an uplifting experience in every way.

The 2011 Jazz at Chautauqua is taking place this year — September 15-18.  Details to follow.

This is the piece I wrote after my first experience of Jazz at Chautauqua.  Joe Boughton is no longer with us, but the elation remains the same.

Well, This’ll Be Fun

On a Thursday evening in September 2004, two jazz musicians decided on Eubie Blake’s “You’re Lucky To Me” to begin their performance, set an affable, conversational tempo, and started – moving from embellished melody to more adventurous improvisations before coming back down to earth.  They stood at one end of a small rectangular mint-green hotel dining room elaborately decorated with nineteenth-century chandeliers and moldings.  The tall young trumpet player, apparently a college fullback, wore jeans and an untucked striped dress shirt; the pianist resembled a senior account executive for a firm that knew nothing of casual Fridays.  As the applause slowly diminished, Duke Heitger, trumpet held loosely at his side, looked slyly at John Sheridan, the other half of his orchestra, grinned, and said, “Well, this’ll be fun.”  They had just played the opening notes of the seventh annual Jazz at Chautauqua, a four-day jazz party held at the Athenaeum, the upstate New York site of the Chautauqua Institution – now a hotel unused for nine months of the year (no heating system).  Appropriately, the site reflected something of the Chautauqua ideal of entertaining self-enrichment, now given over to a weekend’s immersion in the music once our common colloquial language.

The imaginary map of American culture might seem a homogenous cultural landscape of Outkast, Diet Coke, press-on nails, and Paris Hilton.  But there are millions of smaller, secret cultural nations pulsing all at once: people subversively playing Brahms at home, wearing hemp clothing, and making sure that what commercialism has consigned to the past is kept alive.  One of those underground institutions is the jazz party – an idea quietly subsisting for forty years, now one of the only venues for this music.

If a newcomer assumed that a “jazz party” is nothing more than two or three semi-professional musicians playing background music for a roomful of people, perhaps a singer seated atop a piano, Jazz at Chautauqua would be staggering.  It featured nearly thirty-three hours of nonstop music played to two hundred and fifty people between Thursday evening and Sunday afternoon by twenty-six musicians: Bob Barnard, Heitger, Jon-Erik Kellso, Randy Reinhart, and Joe Wilder (trumpet, cornet, and flugelhorn); Dan Barrett and Bob Havens (trombone); Harry Allen, Dan Block, Bobby Gordon, Bob Reitmeier, Scott Robinson (reeds); Johnny Frigo (violin); Jim Dapogny, Larry Eanet, Keith Ingham, and John Sheridan (piano); Howard Alden and Marty Grosz (guitar); Vince Giordano, Nicki Parott, and Phil Flanigan (bass); Arnie Kinsella, Eddie Metz, Jr., and John Von Ohlen (drums); Grosz, Rebecca Kilgore, and Parrott (vocals).  These players are unknown to a general audience but are both remarkable and sought after.  Except for Wilder, the musicians were white, (which didn’t bother him: he was delighted to be playing among friends) and many hailed from the tri-state area, with a few startling exceptions:  Barrett and Reitmeier flew from California, Kilgore from Oregon, and the winner for distance, Barnard, from New South Wales.  Most of them were middle-aged (although Parrott and Heitger are not yet forty), looking oddly youthful (I think that joy transforms), but jazz musicians, if fortunate, live long: Frigo is 87, Wilder, 82.

A listener, fortified by food at regular intervals and consistently available drinks (for me, an excess of caffeine for medicinal purposes – a jam session started while I was asleep on Thursday night, and I was anxious that I miss nothing else) may sit in a comfortable chair and listen to eight hours of jazz in short sets, from fifteen minutes for duets to an hour for a larger band.  It was overwhelming, as though someone who had only read about model trains or Morris dancing had wandered into a convention of enthusiasts where everything in the ballroom focused on the chosen subject, non-stop.  But Chautauqua was more than a museum: it offered the art itself in action, unfettered and created on the spot.

All this is due to its creator and director, Joe Boughton, who feels a moral compulsion to preserve the music he first heard in the Boston area in the late 1940s.  Boughton is a solidly packed man who in profile resembles a Roman general, but his more characteristic expression is pleasure when his musicians are playing well and his audience is reverent.  He is the enemy of needless chatter unless it comes from the bandstand, and printed cards decorated each table, reading, “Afford our artists the respect they deserve and be considerate to those at your table and surrounding tables who have come from long distances and paid a lot of money to hear the music and not be annoyed by talking.”  That contains Boughton’s voice – low-key but impatient with nonsense.  He is also a one-man campaign to rescue jazz from the deadening effects of a limited repertoire.  Jazz musicians who are thrown together on the stand choose familiar songs: variations on the blues, on “I Got Rhythm,” “Sweet Georgia Brown,” as well as crowd-pleasers “Take the ‘A’ Train” and “Satin Doll,” which Boughton calls “Satin Dull.”  At Chautauqua, now-rare melodies filled the air — jazz standards ranging from King Oliver’s “Canal Street Blues,” circa 1923, to the Parker-Gillespie “Groovin’ High” of 1945 and John Lewis’s “Skating In Central Park,” but rare once-popular surprises, including “I’m Sittin’ On Top of the World,” “Smiles,” “Ida,” “Aren’t You Glad You’re You” and “Moon Song.”  Although the songs might seem antique, the approach is not self-consciously historical: the young tenor saxophonist Harry Allen (to cite only one example) who delivers eloquent solos while standing motionless, once leaning against the bar, would fit in well with the bebop legend Clifford Brown or the Harlem stride master James P. Johnson.

Each of the four days was full of highlights, rarely loud or at a high pitch, but emotionally exhilarating all the same, from the first set on Thursday, as the Heitger-Sheridan duet became a trio with the addition of drummer John Von Ohlen (who resembles Ben Franklin in coiffure but Franklin, from eighteenth-century reports, tended to drag at fast tempos – something that Von Ohlen, sharp and attentive, never does) on a Benny Goodman Trio –tempoed “Liza” that blossomed into a quintet in mid-performance with tenor saxophonist Dan Block and bassist Phil Flanigan joining in because they couldn’t wait until it concluded.  Block looks as though he had slipped off from his professorship at an esteemed university, but has (unlike Allen) all the archetypical tenor saxophonist’s violent physical gestures, moving his horn ecstatically as his phrases tumble out, adopting a hymnlike tone on a ballad or floating at a fast tempo in the best Lester Young manner.  Flanigan hoisted this band (and others) on his shoulders with his elastic, supple time and when it came to his solo, no one succumbed to bass ennui, for his choruses had the logic and emotion of Jack Teagarden’s architectural statements.  (Flanigan is married to the eloquent singer Hanna Richardson, who had been at Chautauqua in 2003 and was much missed this year.)

Thus, Thursday night, an hour along, had become 52nd Street or Minton’s again, with no cigarette smoke or watered drinks in sight.  No one got up and danced, a pity, but no one clapped to an imagined beat while the musicians played – an immense relief.  What made the music memorable might have escaped a casual listener who expected jazz performances to be lengthy, virtuosic solos.  The players were concise, saying what they had to say in two or three choruses, and the technical brilliance was usually in making the difficult seem easy, whether on a racing hot performance or a tender ballad (although perfectly placed high notes did ornament solos).  What distinguished the performances was a joyous, irresistible forward motion – listeners’ heads steadily marked the beat, and everyone had their own sound: I could tell who was taking a solo with my eyes closed.  And there was an affectionate empathy on the stand: although musicians in a club chatter during others’ solos, these players listened intently, created uplifting background figures, and smiled at the good parts.  Off-duty players stayed to admire.  And when the last set of the night ended, the players gathered around the bar to talk about music – but not predictably.  Rather, they swapped stories about symphonic conductors: Joe Wilder sharing Pierre Boulez anecdotes, Dan Block giving us Fritz Reiner gossip.  The general bonhomie also turned into friendly banter with their colleagues and the audience: most musicians like to talk, and most are naturally witty.  The unstoppable Marty Grosz, beginning to explicate the singing group the Ink Spots for a late-evening tribute, said, “I’ll make this short, because I already hear the sounds of chins hitting breastbones.”  (He was wrong: the crowd followed every note.)

Some stereotypes are truer than not, however: I overheard this conversation between a musician I’ll call “M” and a solicitous member of the Chautauqua staff:

“M, would you like a drink?”

“Yes, thank you!  Gin.”

“A martini?  With ice?  Olives?  An onion?  Some tonic?”

“No.  [Emphatically.]  Gin.

Gin in its naked state was then provided.

On Thursday evening, I had talked with Phil Flanigan about the paying guests.  I had brought with me gloomy doubts about the aging, shrinking, and exclusively white audience, and the question of what happens to a popular art when its supporters die off, envisioning nothing but empty chairs in ten years.   I had expected to find a kindred pessimism in Flanigan, earnestly facing his buffet dinner, but it didn’t bother him that the audience that had once danced to Benny Goodman had thinned out.  Flanigan told me, emphatically, how he treasured these people.  “They’re dedicated fans.  They come to listen.”  “What about their age?” I asked.  “Lots of age,” he said.  “This is a good thing.  Think of the accumulated wisdom, the combined experience.  These are the folks who supported the music when it was young.  When they were young!  What do you know? They just happened to be loyal and long-lived.”  (Flanigan’s optimism, however, would have been tested to the limit by the affluent, fiftyish couple who shared our table and seemed to ignore the music in favor of the New York Times, barely looking up.)

Flanigan’s commentary was not the only surprise – especially for those who consider jazz musicians as inarticulate, concerned more about reeds than realities.  The next day, I had attached myself to Joe Wilder for lunch.  The conversation, steered by Wilder, weaved around memories of his friends, famous and not – but he really wanted to talk about Iraq and eco-devastation, and his perspective was anything but accepting.

Friday began with rain, and the hotel corridors were ornamented by white plastic buckets; from one room I heard an alto player practicing; behind another door trumpeter Jon-Erik Kellso was turning a phrase this way and that in the fashion of a poet accenting one word and then another while reciting the line half-aloud.  I spent some costly time entranced by the displays of compact discs, buying and considering.

Later, the party began officially in the main ballroom with fourteen musicians (six brass, four reeds, four rhythm), stretched from left to right, jostling for position on the stage of the main ballroom, played “Way Down Yonder in New Orleans,” at its original, yearning tempo, with the trumpeter Randy Reinhart directing traffic, the musicians creating simple chordal backgrounds of organ tones played in whole notes (called “footballs” for the way they look on music paper) and the brilliant anachronism Vince Giordano switching from his bass saxophone (an instrument out of fashion by 1935) to the only aluminum double bass I have ever seen, as the spirit took him, the convocation suggesting Eddie Condon meeting Count Basie in 1939.

The set that followed was a masterpiece of small-band friendship, featuring Allen, Wilder, Block (on alto), the underrated Washington, D.C., pianist Larry Eanet, Howard Alden, Flanigan, and Von Ohlen.  In forty minutes, they offered a strolling “If Dreams Come True,” with Flanigan beginning his solo with a quote from the verse to “Love in Bloom,” a speedy “Time After Time,” usually taken lugubriously, with the melody handed off among all the horns and Alden in eight-bar segments, an even brisker “This Can’t Be Love,” notable for Eanet, who offered his own version of Hank Jones’s pearls at top speed and for Wilder – who now plays in a posture that would horrify brass teachers, his horn nearly parallel to his body, pointing down at the floor.  His radiant tone, heard on so many recordings of the Fifties, is burnished now into a speaking, conversational one – Wilder will take a simple, rhythmic phrase and repeat it a number of times, toying with it as the chords beneath him go flying by, a Louis Armstrong experiment, something fledgling players shouldn’t try at home, and he enjoys witty musical jokes: quoting “Ciribiribin” and, later, “Mona Lisa,” in a solo on “Flyin’ Home.”  Often he brought out a bright green plastic cup and waggled it close to and away from the bell of his horn, creating growly, subterranean sounds Cootie Williams would have liked.  (“From the five and ten,” he said, when I asked him about the cup.)  Wilder’s ballad feature, “I Cover the Waterfront,” was a cathedral of quiet climbing phrases.  And the set closed with a trotting version of “The Jeep is Jumpin’,” a Johnny Hodges riff on “I Got Rhythm” changes, played the way it was in 1941, before musicians believed that audiences needed to hear everything faster and louder.

A series of beautifully shaped impromptu performances followed, including a Bobby Gordon – John Sheridan duet full of Gordon’s breathy chalumeau register, and a Rebecca Kilgore set.  Kilgore has a serious, no-nonsense prettiness and doesn’t drape herself over the microphone to woo an audience, but she is an affecting, sly actress, who uses her face, her posture, and her hands to support or play off of what her beautiful voice is offering.  She is especially convincing when she is acting herself and her twin at once: on “Close Your Eyes,” a song full of serious assurance that the hearer will be safe forever in the arms of the true love, Kilgore managed to suggest that the lyrics were absolutely true while she audibly winked at the audience, as if to say, “Do you believe this sweet, silly stuff I’m singing?”

Friday closed with Vince Giordano’s Nighthawks, an explosive ten-piece band, replicating late Twenties and early Thirties jazz and dance orchestras.  Giordano, who resembles a movie idol who could have partnered Joan Blondell, is remarkable – an eloquent melodist and improviser on his unwieldy bass saxophone, where he gets a room-filling tone both sinewy and caressing; his aluminum string bass, ferociously propulsive tuba, and boyishly energetic vocals.  The Nighthawks reunion band featured whizzing tempos, bright solos, and on-target ensemble passages on a for-dancers-only repertoire, circa 1931, Savoy Ballroom.  Most listeners have never heard a band like the Nighthawks live – they shout to the heavens without being extraordinarily loud, and their ensemble momentum is thrilling.  Hoarse and dizzy, we climbed the stairs to our rooms at 1:30 AM.

Saturday morning began sedately, with solo piano, some pastoral duos and trios, and then caught fire with a Kilgore-James Dapogny duet.  Dapogny is a rolling, rumbling pianist in the style that used to be called “Chicagoan”: right-hand single note melody lines, flashing Earl Hines octaves, stride-piano ornamentations supported by a full, mobile left hand, and he and Kilgore had never played together before.  Kilgore let herself go on the nineteenth-century parlor favorite “Martha,” subtitled “Ah! So Pure!” which Connee Boswell took for a more raucous ride with the Bob Crosby band sixty-five years ago.  Kilgore’s approach was gliding and swinging, with hand gestures that would not have disgraced a Victorian songstress or a melodramatic 1936 band singer (a raised index finger for emphasis, a gentle clasp of her own throat), but the sly glint in her eye and the sweetly ironic quotation marks in her delivery suggested that Martha’s purity was open to question.  Then came a trio of Dan Barrett and Bob Havens on trombones, backed only Marty Grosz, someone his Chicago comrade Frank Chace has called “a one-man rhythm gang,” in a short set notable for fraternal improvising and Barrett’s interpolating one vocal stanza of a lewd blues, “The Duck’s Yas Yas” into “Basin Street Blues.”  More brass ecstasy followed in a trumpet extravaganza, ending with a six-trumpet plus Barrett version of Bunny Berigan’s famous “I Can’t get Started” solo, by now a piece of Americana, with the ballroom’s walls undulating with the collective passion.  The Nighthawks played an afternoon session, full of exuberance and wit: Giordano, calling a difficult tune for the band, smiled at his players and said, “Good luck, boys,” in the manner of Knute Rockne encouraging Notre Dame, before they leapt in to the forests of notes.  And it wasn’t all simply hot music: where else in America, I wondered, could you hear someone sing “Okay, Baby,” with its deathless, funny lyrics about the romantic couple: “The wedding ring I’ve bought for you / Fifty-two more payments and it’s yours, dear”?  Grosz followed with a set devoted to those musicians who would have turned 100 this year – Coleman Hawkins, James P. Johnson, Jimmy Dorsey, and Fats Waller, where Grosz (who knows these things, having come here from Berlin as a child in 1930) commented, “America is the land of easy come, easy go,” before singing a Waller ballad, “If It Ain’t Love,” as tenderly as if he were stroking the Beloved’s cheek.

Sunday morning began with a solo recital by guitarist Howard Alden, which itself began with a rueful “Blame It On My Youth” – Alden also had elevated all the rhythm sections of the bands he had been in, as well as being a careful, lyrical banjo soloist with the Nighthawks – but the temperature of the room soon rose appreciably.  A nearly violent “It’s All Right With Me” featured three storming choruses of four-bar trades among Harry Allen, Wilder, Barrett, and Dan Block; Duke Heitger closed his set with an extravagant “You’re Driving Me Crazy,” with its seldom-played stomping verse, here played twice before the ensemble strode into the chorus; the band supported by Grosz, constructing chordal filigrees at a very fast tempo; Giordano, slapping his aluminum bass for dear life, and Ed Metz, Jr., recalling Zutty Singleton, Armstrong’s drumming pal of the late Twenties, if Singleton had gone to the gym regularly.

Then it was time to go, to close with another Boughton extravaganza – a ballad medley lifted up greatly by Scott Robinson’s “Moonlight Becomes You” on bass flute, Jon-Erik Kellso’s “Willow Weep For Me,” growled as if he had become one of Ellington’s brass in 1929, and the clarinetist Bob Reitmeier’s soft “Deep Purple.”  These heartfelt moments gave way to the true closing “After You’ve Gone,” which featured impromptu piano duets among the many pianists, and an uproarious enthusiasm – greeted with the cheers it deserved.

I wasn’t surprised that on Sunday afternoon, driving back through Erie, Pennsylvania (where Lloyd’s Fireworks advertised “pepper spray, stun guns, sale on Lord of the Rings tape”) that my thoughts drifted back to Heitger’s Thursday-evening prediction.  Yes, there had been too much white and blue hair to make me feel confident about the future of the audience, Flanigan notwithstanding; there had even seemed to be too much music, pushing me to the brink of satiety, and it had all been evanescent – but Heitger had been right: it had been fun.

And just so my readers don’t forget the present and future while celebrating past glories: this year’s Jazz at Chautauqua will include (in egalitarian alphabetical order) Alden, Allen, Barrett, Block, Jon Burr, Dapogny, the Fauz Frenchmen, Grosz, Havens, Heitger, Glenn Holmes, Ingham, Kellso, Kinsella, Kilgore, Dan Levinson, Bill Ransom, Reinhart, Robinson, Sandke, Andy Schumm, Sheridan, Pete Siers, Rossano Sportiello, Andy Stein, Lynn Stein, Frank Tate, Von Ohlen, and Chuck Wilson.  That should provide sufficient music for a weekend!

JAM WITH DAN! (October 16, 2009)

DAN BARRETT’S EAST COAST TOUR (Part Three)

This installment in the Barrett Chronicles 2009 takes us to what was once called Roth’s Westside Steakhouse (Columbus Avenue at 93rd Street in Manhattan) on October 16, 2009. 

The fun and frolic began with a series of duets between Dan and Ehud Asherie.  Roth’s gets high marks for encouraging jazz, but it is a typical restaurant: dishes and silverware crash, the bar patrons were especially excited by some sports event on television, and there is a good deal of loud oblivious chatter.  On the other hand, Roth’s is the only jazz event I’ve ever attended where the governor of my home state — in this case David Patterson — came in late in the evening.  Whether he was in the groove or merely addressing his dinner I was too preoccupied to notice, but if he missed out on the music he missed something special.

Not incidentally, I’ve been admiring Dan’s recorded work since 1987, and have seen him live a number of times (with Becky Kilgore and Rossano Sportiello, at Jazz at Chautauqua, and at a series of concerts put on by Joe Boughton, where his colleagues included Vince Giordano, Duke Heitger, and Kevin Dorn) . . . as well as an early-Eighties Newport in New York tribute to Billie Holiday directed by Ruby Braff.  But this gig and his appearance at Smalls have given me an even greater admiration of Dan’s creativity, because no one else was in the way.  I was reminded often of hearing Vic Dickenson play — with Mike Burgevin and Jimmy Andrews — in 1974.  The same swing, the same full understanding of what this music is all about.  But on to the videos!

Here are Dan and Ehud caressing THAT OLD FEELING, a ballad everyone knows but few jazzmen actually play.  Who could be insensitive to the beauty of Dan’s pure sound?  And Ehud accompanies him perfectly — then launches into his own ruminations, which embody the whole history of swinging jazz piano, delicate and pointed at once:

And a Barrett original (his lines have the same bounce as his solos), WITH’EM, which will reveal its roots in a flash.  At first, when I didn’t recognize the line, I thought it was something written by Don Byas or Johnny Hodges, evidence of its authentic pedigree:

Another fine neglected Forties tune (courtesy of the Ink Spots) at a jaunty tempo, without recitative, IF I DIDN’T CARE.  The crowd was getting a bit more noisy, but I didn’t care:

And a slow-motion DON’T GET AROUND MUCH ANYMORE, its mournful tempo getting at the loss that is at the heart of the lyrics,  Savor Dan’s lovely opening cadenza, a composition on its own (while the dishes clatter):

Who else would have the musical wisdom to offer up IF YOU WERE THE ONLY GIRL IN THE WORLD, a fine song to improvise on:

And (for me) the piece de resistance — a genuine Hollywood-style jam session.  Lovers of jazz on film will know what I mean.  The model comes from the 1947 film THE FABULOUS DORSEYS, where the scene begins with the briefest clip of Art Tatum playing in a club . . . we know this because there’s a sign outside saying so.  Then, as if by magic, a whole host of jazzmen appear — their horns at the ready — as if from nowhere.  No one has to warm up, adjust a reed, or use the facilities: they just spring into action.  Well, it happened at Roth’s.  Attillo Troiano was there with his clarinet, to the left; Jon-Erik Kellso rose from his dinner, ready for action, and Luigi Grasso, seated to the right, just happened to have his alto saxophone with him.  And someone called HIGH SOCIETY — which resulted in what Dan, at the end, said was “really jazzy,” and then started to laugh.  It has the wonderful swagger of the Blue Note Jazzmen, transported to the Upper West Side, with all the strains in place, everyone knowing the right melodies and countermelodies. 

It was a privilege to be there, and I don’t write these words casually.  I won’t forget this evening!

JAZZ SUSTAINS US

I don’t think I ever heard an actual solo by the acoustic guitarist Huey Long on the recordings he made with Fletcher Henderson and Lil Armstrong, but no matter.  Guitarists then were expected to keep good time, move subtly from chord to chord, and blend with the band — which he did ably.  He comes to our notice today because of a long and detailed obituary in the New York Times.  What a wonderful long creative life he had!  Some of it, no doubt, is the result of character and genetics, but a good part must also be traced to the healing, energizing powers of the music we love.  Hail, Huey Long!

Here’s a link to his obituary: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/06/13/arts/music/13long.html