Tag Archives: Ira Gershwin

IN THIS MOMENT: MICHAEL KANAN, GREG RUGGIERO, NEAL MINER (live at Mezzrow, New York City)

Cover art by Anne Watkins

“The more I read the papers, the less I comprehend,” wrote Ira Gershwin, lines so poignant to me. But heartfelt creative music is an antidote to darkness. Some tell us that a postmodern world demands abstract sound, sharp-edged art. I prefer song, music that can dance as a response to sorrow, melodies rueful in the face of hard realities. Song never grows old, and the artists on this disc understand and enact this truth. Michael Kanan, piano; Greg Ruggiero, guitar;  Neal Miner, string bass, trust the melodies they create, and they respect the composers’ craft while making the most familiar material glisten.  Their music balances feeling and technique, and their collective energies embrace the listener.

I first met Michael Kanan in 2010 through the good offices of the Swing Lion of Boston, Joel Press, and I was immediately tickled and moved by Michael’s sly sweet approach to the piano and to song. Like a master Japanese brush-painter, he implies, he hints, he whispers thoughts we need to hear, his phrases nudging us into surprises that gratify, his pauses and silences eloquent breaths. A little later, I heard Neal and Greg, each a great swinging lyricist, each creating singular melodic epigraphs no matter the context. The trio is the embodiment of fraternal love and understanding; the laughter the three friends share before they begin to play bubbles through the night’s performances. Michael, Neal, and Greg are quietly compelling soloists but they play for the comfort of the band. They know that music doesn’t have to abrade to catch our attention, that a two-chorus solo might be all that’s needed. Their music is never immodest or coarse; it never says LOOK AT US. And they offer us an airy grace; rueful melodies never become maudlin or heavy. When I hear this trio play, I go home feeling as if I’d been dipped in some sweet elixir, not available online.

I began by noting — through Ira Gershwin’s praise of lasting love — that there are experiences, like candid graceful music, that go beyond comprehension, that move into our hearts and stay there.  This disc captures three masters of the art, offering all they feel and all they have learned to us.  It is in the moment and of a particular moment, but it becomes timeless.

Here is a sample of what this trio does so well:

And here one can buy or download or sample, then purchase the music.  Ideally, one could go where Michael is playing and press money into his hand, completing a circle of artist and grateful audience.  But however you find your way to these sounds, they will uplift.

May your happiness increase!

“KEEP YOUR PHILHARMONIC”: EVAN ARNTZEN and STEVE PIKAL (July 27, 2017)

With the right musicians, a whole crowd isn’t necessary.  No four brass, four reeds, four rhythm; no oboes and tympani.  As Ira Gershwin wrote, “Keep your Philharmonic,” in his lyrics to SLAP THAT BASS.

Appropriately, I present a rewarding improvised vignette for clarinet and string bass, recorded on July 27, 2017, in Derek Garten’s Prime Recording Studio in Nashville, Tennessee, at the end of the Holland-Coots Jazz Quintet’s debut recording, which became THIS IS SO NICE IT MUST BE ILLEGAL, chronicled here.  The Quintet, by the way, is Brian Holland, piano; Danny Coots, drums; Evan Arntzen, reeds; Steve Pikal, string bass; Marc Caparone, cornet.

At the end of the session, the Quintet — showing superhuman energy and patience — played two songs for my video camera so I could show them off on the blog.  One, RUSSIAN RAG, I have cleverly hidden within this blogpost as a reward to close readers.

The other, an improvised duet by Messrs. Pikal and Arntzen, later titled PHAT SWOLLER, has never been seen.  I was saving it for my retirement and then thought it would be ungenerous to wait all that time — so here ‘t’is.  Joyous, shapely, rambunctious, expert.  I’m sure my readers can find their own encomia, but I will say only that Steve Pikal has a beautiful harmonic sense and a true swing engine (a new CD of his with Brian and Danny is, I am told, on the way); a New York musician said to me, listening to Evan Arntzen, “That boy can play anything . . . beautifully!” and I of course agreed:

Relevance beyond a piece of wonderful creative improvisation?  Of course.  The Holland-Coots ensemble will be appearing at the Scott Joplin International Ragtime Festival, which I’ve described here.

My interest in the Festival involves leaving my accustomed position in front of the computer: I’ll be there, starting Wednesday night.  But I have to gently admonish the faithful that I no longer video everything, so if you want to hear your favorite virtuoso capering through an obscure Joseph Lamb piece, I suggest you call the airlines now.  (That’s a good idea even if you’ve never heard of Lamb.)

May your happiness increase!

“WE CALL IT MUSIC” (PART ONE): DAN BLOCK, SCOTT ROBINSON, EHUD ASHERIE, JOEL FORBES, PETE SIERS (Cleveland Classic Jazz Party, September 14, 2017)

Possibly the first recording of the Gershwin classic, October 20, 1930.

What we have here is the essence of classic jazz — spirited improvisations on the chord changes of I GOT RHYTHM, followed by a Thirties song from a Broadway show.  I write this to calm any skittish listener, deeply enamored of jazz pre-1931 or 1944, who might run off when hearing the opening line, called either CRAZEOLOGY (if the composers are Little Benny Harris and Charlie Parker) or BUD’S BUBBLE (if Bud Powell takes credit); SEPTEMBER SONG, that follows, should scare no one.

Beautifully played by Dan Block, tenor saxophone; Scott Robinson (partially concealed behind the piano) tenor saxophone and trumpet; Ehud Asherie, piano; Joel Forbes, string bass; Pete Siers, drums.

Should any of my readers / listeners take flight at “that modern jazz,” I urge them to listen calmly, even hum I GOT RHYTHM along with the band — to see that the divide between “styles and schools” was never created by musicians, but by journalists, to whom pugilism was good copy.  (See “Blesh, Rudi,” “Ulanov, Barry,” “Feather, Leonard,” among others.)  Listen, listen.  It’s all music.

And, once again, I post this video as a sad but admiring tribute to the Cleveland Classic Jazz Party, which will not continue into 2018, even with the superhuman efforts of its heroic team, Nancy Hancock Griffith and Kathy Hancock — read about it here.  Both I and Laura Wyman (of Wyman Video) will be sharing videos from the 2017 Party in time.

May your happiness increase!

A GERSHWIN CLASSIC, SWUNG: JON-ERIK KELLSO, EVAN ARNTZEN, EHUD ASHERIE, MARION FELDER at LUCA’S JAZZ CORNER (March 23, 2017)

Here’s the closing performance from the evening of March 23, 2017, at Luca’s Jazz Corner — created for us on the spot by Jon-Erik Kellso, Evan Arntzen, Ehud Asherie, and Marion Felder.  The rest of the evening can be savored here. Obviously everyone in the band and in the audience was joyous: listen for all the witty and inventive quotes in the delightful solo and ensemble work:

Ida Lupino sent her regrets, but that was the only flaw in this gorgeous evening. Thanks to the band and to everyone at Luca’s on the Upper East Side for making magic happen in such a congenial space.

May your happiness increase!

FULLY IN POSSESSION

In some states, possession of even a small amount of forbidden substance is a crime.  But — thankfully — few regimes have currently criminalized RHYTHM, so the James Dapogny Quartet is safe to swing out.  It’s delightful to hear a group of improvisers take on I GOT RHYTHM in its natural plumage, since the chord changes have become “adapted” and “adopted” for so many swing originals.  The only problem here is that the Gershwin title is singular.  For this group, it has to be WE’VE GOT RHYTHM, and they are decisive about the ownership of same.

James Dapogny, piano; Mike Karoub, cello; Rod McDonald, guitar; Kurt Krahnke, string bass. Recorded by Laura Beth Wyman  at the Glacier Hills Senior Living Community, Ann Arbor, Michigan, on June 26, 2015.  Two other marvels from this session can be marvelled at here.  

Laura has set up a Facebook page for her video efforts celled simply Wyman Video.  If you admire her generous efforts, why not “like” the page?

It could be the best slightly-under-three-minutes you will spend this year.  And Hank Duncan sends his love.

May your happiness increase!

HE HAS RHYTHM. AND OTHERS DO AS WELL.

When Louis Armstrong states I GOT RHYTHM, who among us would doubt it?  Here, he uses the Gershwin song to introduce the members of his very energized (and brotherly) Chicago band:

complete with comic ending.

And for those looking for the perfect t-shirt design, may I propose this?  You won’t start many conversations on the street, but those motivated to speak to you because of this shirt will certainly be people with whom you have deep matters in common:

LOUIS I Got Rhythm

Thanks, once again, to eBay and YouTube for making multi-media presentations possible — honoring Louis is always rhythmically satisfying.

May your happiness increase!

BILLIE, GEORGE, IRA, THELONIOUS, BEAUTY and a SURPRISE: HOWARD ALDEN at JAZZ at CHAUTAUQUA (Sept. 21, 2012)

Howard Alden brings subtlety, swing, and an astonishing orchestral majesty wherever and whenever he plays.  The evidence, anew: a recital in the parlor of the Athenaeum Hotel during the 2012 Jazz at Chautauqua extravaganza.  In less than half an hour, Howard created magnificent mini-concertos — each with a theme, and the last one ending with a Surprise.

IF YOU WERE MINE and MISS BROWN TO YOU:

A very tender ISN’T IT A PITY?:

CREPUSCLE WITH NELLIE and a SURPRISE:

P.S.  Before Howard began his jazz sorcery, I overheard an illuminating piece of innocently surrealistic dialogue from two patrons seated near the piano; they had heard several solo recitals on that very instrument.

Lady (motioning to Howard): “Who is that?”

Gentleman Companion: “That’s Howard Alden.  He’s a guitarist.”

Lady: “Oh, that means he’s not playing piano.”

May your happiness increase.