Tag Archives: Irving Berlin

TWO HOT DANCES and AN IMPROVISED MEDITATION: the HOLLAND-COOTS JAZZ QUINTET at the EVERGREEN JAZZ FESTIVAL: BRIAN HOLLAND, DANNY COOTS, STEVE PIKAL, JOHN OTTO, MARC CAPARONE (July 28-29, 2019)

Double rainbow, Evergreen, Colorado, 2014. Photograph by Michael Steinman

Here is some wonderful music from one of my favorite bands, the Holland-Coots Jazz Quintet, appearing at the Evergreen Jazz Festival (that’s Evergreen, Colorado) in July 2019.  For this weekend, the quintet was Brian Holland, piano; Danny Coots, drums; Marc Caparone, cornet; John Otto, clarinet and alto saxophone; Steve Pikal, string bass.

I might be paraphrasing Yogi Berra, but this piece of music is so famous that no one every plays it anymore.  I’m referring to the 1923 CHARLESTON, words and music by Cecil Mack and Jimmy Johnson, as noted below:

In my childhood, when several television shows purported to reproduce the ambiance and music of “The Roaring Twenties,” one by that title starring Dorothy Provine, CHARLESTON was played and sung often.  But now, I can’t remember the last time I heard a jazz band play or sing it.  (Note: I know there are wonderful recordings, and as I write this, the Original Boulevardiers of Bucharest are driving audiences wild with their rendition, but you don’t need to write in.)  Here’s the HCJQ’s frisky version:

and a cool tender IMPROVISATION on a theme recorded but not composed by Fats Waller — the performers are John Otto and Steve Pikal:

Another HOT DANCE (as it would say on the record label), KRAZY KAPERS, perhaps harking back to the comic strip? — variations on the theme of DIGA DIGA DOO:

This band knocks me out, song after song.  I saw them most recently at the Jazz Bash by the Bay . . . and you will get to see and hear them also, more . . . .

May your happiness increase!

“SAY THAT EVERYTHING IS STILL OKAY”: REBECCA KILGORE, HARRY ALLEN, BOB HAVENS, FRANK TATE, JOHN SHERIDAN (Jazz at Chautauqua, September 20, 2012)

I have little to complain about in tangible things, but today’s mood is such that this meme (courtesy of dear friend Amy King) provoked rueful laughter and recognition:

Those of you who don’t know what a “meme” is can dial one of the grandkids.  “Kinky,” you’re on your own.

Today I thought that cheerful hot music would be out of place, so here is a beautifully rueful creation.

The superficial portrait of Irving Berlin is that he wrote cheerful music, with exceptions like WHAT’LL I DO? and REMEMBER.  But he is also powerfully poignant about romance that has deflated or perished, as in SAY IT ISN’T SO — its title characteristically taken from a popular conversational phrase.  But when Becky Kilgore and her lightly swinging friends approach it, the sadness is balanced against the gentle motion of the beat, everyone’s personal phrasing.  Her friends are Harry Allen, tenor saxophone; Bob Havens, trombone; John Sheridan, piano; Frank Tate, string bass.

This performance magically unfolded in front of us (and my camera) on Thursday night, September 20, 2012, at the informal session that began Jazz at Chautauqua at the Hotel Athenaeum.  Fabled times, lovely music.

May your happiness increase!

AT THE END OF THE ROAD, A WARM EMBRACE: DAWN LAMBETH, MARC CAPARONE, DAN WALTON, JAMEY CUMMINS, STEVE PIKAL (Redwood Coast Music Festival, May 11, 2019)

This post is full of emotion for me, and I hope for some of you: not just the music but the reality under the music, the world in which we now read and hear and attempt to proceed.

I offer you two lovely performances of songs by Irving Berlin and by George and Ira Gershwin, by Dawn Lambeth, vocal; Marc Caparone, cornet; Dan Walton, piano; Jamey Cummins, guitar; Steve Pikal, string bass — created for us at the Redwood Coast Music Festival in Eureka, California, on May 11, 2019.

The beginning of this story is the last live jazz I saw — at Cafe Bohemia in New York City, celebrated elsewhere on this blog — on March 12, 2020.  And even then people were [wisely, politely, perhaps tactfully] recoiling from one another, because who knew that your dear friend didn’t carry a double helping of death?

A few nights earlier, people were giving each other elbow bumps in lieu of closer contact, and when I, without thinking, shook the hand of a new acquaintance, we both looked at each other in embarrassment and shock, and we both muttered apologies, as if we’d taken an unseemly liberty.  I know all this is prudent and exceedingly necessary — more so than choosing to wash the apple one buys at the farmers’ market before devouring it.  But it adds to the despair.

It’s now almost June, and we greet each other as if we were grenades — and with reason.  I know I am not alone in feeling the deadly deprivation of human contact (I have been hugging people — those I know and who would not back away — for perhaps a decade now, because it seems a natural loving expression) and the emotional aridity that distance imposes.  Grinning and waving is an incomplete substitute.  Hugging oneself just ain’t the same thing.  You know this.

Because there is no live music for me to drink in and to video-record, I have been delving into my YouTube archives, which go back to 2006, in search of satisfying performances that the artists will allow to be shared.  It is easier, of course, for me to pretend I am at the Ear Inn by watching a video than to pretend that I am hugging and being hugged, but it, too, is only a small palliative.

My searching, thankfully, has borne fruit, and I have found a goodly number from the Redwood Coast Music Festival, which — on my 2019 visit — seemed the perfection of the art form.  It did not happen in 2020, but those of us who feel such things deeply pray that it will in May 2021.

In the set called featuring Dawn Lambeth and her Quartet, Dawn and the wonderful people I’ve mentioned above performed two songs that are poignant in themselves, but in connection almost unbearably so for what they hold out to us as possibilities unreachable at the moment.

The first is Berlin’s WAITING AT THE END OF THE ROAD, which tells that that there will be “Peace and contentment at the end of the road”; given this tender reading, it’s hard to interpret this song as anything but hopeful, even though the road is longer and darker than perhaps even Berlin imagined:

Three songs later in the set, Marc chose as his feature EMBRACEABLE YOU — thinking, as one would, of Bobby Hackett:

The combination of the two songs is somber and lovely all at once.

I dare not waste energy on discussing what “the new normal” will look like: rather, my wish is that all of us live to see and experience it.  But I do dream that  the end of the road we are now on will have a plenitude of embraces given and received.  We will never again, I hope, take such things for granted.

Thanks to the musicians here and to the people who make the Redwood Coast Music Festival possible and glorious, and of course heartfelt thanks to Mark and Valerie Jansen.  Let this post stand as an IOU for future grateful embraces.

May your happiness increase!

AN HOUR OF JOY WITH EDDIE ERICKSON and FRIENDS at the JAZZ BASH BY THE BAY: DANNY TOBIAS, KATIE CAVERA, GARY RYAN, JERRY KRAHN (March 6, 2020)

In one of those curious episodes of dislocation we all take for granted (read Philip K. Dick’s “The Eyes Have It”) my ears met Eddie Erickson long before the rest of me caught up.  Perhaps I first heard him on recordings with Dan Barrett, Rebecca Kilgore, Melissa Collard?  I know we met in Germany in 2007 for one of Manfred Selchow’s concert weekends, and a few years later, in California.  More to the point: I saw him, to my great delight, at the Jazz Bash by the Bay in March of this year.

Those who know Eddie only superficially categorize him as a dazzling vaudevillian — someone who, had he been born earlier, would have starred in Vitaphone short films and on Broadway — a natural comedian, a banjo virtuoso, a walking compendium of lovable entertainment.  I think of his performances of MY CANARY HAS CIRCLES UNDER HIE EYES and the dreadful honeymoon night of SIDE BY SIDE.  But he goes much deeper.  I celebrate the other Eddie: the swinging guitarist whose solos make sense, and, perhaps most of all, the very touching ballad singer.  And were you to visit my YouTube channel,  “swingyoucats”, you would find that I’ve been documenting Eddie’s multi-faceted self for nearly a decade now.

But that’s history of a very delightful kind, which I plan to add to right now.  What follows is a set of music performed on March 6, 2020, at the Jazz Bash by the Bay in Monterey, California, under the title “Eddie Erickson and Friends.”  Strictly speaking, that was inaccurate, because if all of Eddie’s friends had assembled at 7:39 in the Colton Room, all the other rooms would have been empty and the fire marshals would have been called.  So it was “and Friends who are Expert Musicians,” which meant Jerry Krahn, guitar; Katie Cavera, string bass and vocal; Danny Tobias, trumpet and Eb alto horn; Gary Ryan, banjo and vocal; Kathy Becker, attendant to the Emperor.

Two details to point out before you dive in.  Ordinarily, I would edit the pre-song conversation and getting-ready more seriously, but in Eddie’s case, his asides are precious, so what you have here is as close to the full hour as my camera would allow.  (I lost a few notes of ALWAYS, but you can imagine what was left out.)  And ordinarily I would not post ten performances at one time, but I envision people — needing more joy and uplift right now — setting aside an hour to visit with Eddie, to savor the joy they might not have been able to have when it was happening.  So . . . stop multi-tasking and enjoy, please.

After an introduction that hints at ZONKY, Eddie heads into BLUE SKIES:

What would a jazz festival be without a belated coronation?

Gary Ryan keeps working at it, in honor of the National Pastime:

When skies are cloudy and gray . . . we can always think of Eddie:

Katie Cavera’s saucy feature, I BET YOU TELL THAT TO ALL THE GIRLS:

Louis, 1947 — SOMEDAY YOU’LL BE SORRY:

Jerry Krahn’s pretty IF I HAD YOU:

A banjo Ecstasy for Messrs. Erickson and Ryan, THE WORLD IS WAITING FOR THE SUNRISE, with a little Prokofiev at the start and some NOLA:

Something to change the mood, Danny Tobias’ ST. JAMES INFIRMARY:

Eddie’s heartfelt version of Berlin’s ALWAYS:

And a closing romp on Hoagy’s JUBILEE:

What a treasure Eddie is!

May your happiness increase!

FIVE BY FIVE (Part Two): JOE PLOWMAN and his PHILADELPHIANS at the 1867 SANCTUARY: JOE PLOWMAN, DANNY TOBIAS, JOE McDONOUGH, SILAS IRVINE, DAVE SANDERS (February 8, 2020)

This is the second half of a wonderful afternoon concert that took place at the 1867 Sanctuary in Ewing, New Jersey — Joe Plowman and his Philadelphians, featuring Joe on string bass; Danny Tobias on trumpet, flugelhorn, and Eb alto horn; Joe McDonough on trombone; Silas Irvine on piano; Dave Sanders on guitar.

You can enjoy the first half here — the songs performed are COTTON TAIL, WHO CARES?, JUST ONE OF THOSE THINGS, SUNNY SIDE OF THE STREET, and THE SONG IS ENDED.

And below you can hear and see performances of MY FUNNY VALENTINE, WHY DO I LOVE YOU?, THE FRUIT, WHAT’LL I DO?, and I NEVER KNEW.

When everything is once again calm, you might make a trip to the Sanctuary (101 Scotch Road in Ewing) for their multi-musical concert series: it is a lovely place.  But the vibrations in that room were particularly lovely on February 8, 2020.

Since it was less than a week before Valentine’s Day, Richard Rodgers’ MY FUNNY VALENTINE was not only appropriate but imperative: Danny offered it (with the seldom-played verse) on flugelhorn:

Jerome Kern’s WHY DO I LOVE YOU? — following the amorous thread — was another feature for the melodic Joe McDonough  — with beautiful support from Messrs. Sanders and Irvine in addition to the leader:

Joe (Plowman, that is) explored Bud Powell’s twisting THE FRUIT with Silas right alongside him at every turn:

Irving Berlin’s mournful elegy, WHAT’LL I DO? reassembled the quintet:

And a final jam on I NEVER KNEW — a song musicians have loved to play since the early Thirties — closed the program:

Beautiful, inspiring music: thanks to this quintet and Bob and Helen Kull of the     1867 Sanctuary.

May your happiness increase!

THE MELODIES LINGER ON (Part One): JOE WILDER, HARRY ALLEN, ROSSANO SPORTIELLO, JON BURR (Jazz at Chautauqua, September 17, 2009)

I could introduce this post in several ways: a reference to Irving Berlin’s THE SONG  IS ENDED in my title, a memory of Faulkner’s character Gavin Stevens, “The past isn’t dead; it’s not even past,” or perhaps Shelley:

Music, when soft voices die,
Vibrates in the memory—

All true.  But I’d prefer to start with the mundane before presenting magical vibrating sounds.  I have spent more than a month in the emotion-charged task of tidying my apartment.  No sandwiches under the bed — in my world, food gets eaten — or inches of dust, since I do know how to use standard cleaning tools (even when I neglect to).  It is more a matter of sifting through things that had been put into piles “for when I have time,” which I now do.  And I was rewarded by objects I once thought lost coming back to me of their own accord.

One such delight is an assortment of videos, created but now often forgotten, that I had shot at Jazz at Chautauqua: I’ve shared some of them already: fourteen such postings since February 2018: search for “Chautauqua” and they will jump into your lap.

But here are three “new” previously unseen masterpieces from the informal Thursday-night session at Chautauqua — by a quartet of subtle wizards of melody, Harry Allen, tenor saxophone; Rossano Sportiello, piano; Jon Burr, string bass.  And Joe Wilder, not the young hero of the Fifties but — if possible — more subtle, more deep, more able to touch our hearts.

The videos aren’t perfect.  The piano could have been tuned more recently.  Heads are in the way, some famous, and the image I achieved with that camera is not perfectly sharp.  DON’T BLAME ME ends abruptly and incompletely — my fault.  But I marvel at the music and hope you will also.

‘DEED I DO, where Joe leaps in exuberantly:

JUST SQUEEZE ME:

I am saving the closing two performances from this session for another post: it would not be right to choke you with an excess of beauty all at once.  And when I think about the blessings of the second half of my life, I include the friendly respect of the musicians here — the gracious living trio and Joe.  When I think that Joe spoke to me, wrote to me, and laughed with me, my joy and awe are immense . . . but he extended the gift of his warm self to so many, I know I am not unique.

This post is sent as a gift to Solveig Wilder.  And it is dedicated to the memory of Ed Berger and Joe Boughton, each of whom made beauty possible.

May your happiness increase!

FIVE BY FIVE (Part One): JOE PLOWMAN and his PHILADELPHIANS at the 1867 SANCTUARY: JOE PLOWMAN, DANNY TOBIAS, JOE McDONOUGH, SILAS IRVINE, DAVE SANDERS (February 8, 2020)

Pay no attention to ENGER D OP OFF — they were last week’s band.

Here’s another in the series of intimate, swinging jazz concerts that take place at the 1867 Sanctuary on Scotch Road in Ewing, New Jersey: others have featured Phil Orr, Joe Holt, Danny Tobias, Warren Vache, Larry McKenna.

The most recent one was a showcase for string bass virtuoso Joe Plowman (friend of Larry McKenna and Marty Grosz, so that should tell you something about his authentic credentials — with Danny Tobias on various brass instruments, Joe McDonough, trombone; Silas Irvine, piano; Dave Sanders, guitar.  As you’ll hear immediately, these five friends specialize in lyrical melodic swing — going back to Irving Berlin classics — without a hint of the museum or the archives.  Their pleasure in making song was apparent all afternoon, and we shared it.  And just as a comment on the leader: notice how quiet the crowd is when he solos, maybe because he creates long arching melodic lines with a beautiful sound and wonderful intonation.

At times, I was reminded of a group I saw for half an hour at the old Michael’s Pub — the front line was Bobby Hackett and Urbie Green, and what delightful sounds they made. (The digressive story of that evening I offer below as a postscript.*)

Here are five highlights from the brilliant afternoon’s play.

Everyone’s “got rhythm” so why not Ellington’s COTTON TAIL?:

The Gershwins’ WHO CARES? — with a touch of Tobias-humor to start:

Porter’s JUST ONE OF THOSE THINGS:

ON THE SUNNY SIDE OF THE STREET, featuring expressive Mr. McDonough:

Berlin’s THE SONG IS ENDED, which announcement was premature, since there was another half-concert to follow:

You see why the trip to Ewing, New Jersey, to 100 Scotch Road, is essential to my well-being and that of the larger audience.

*Now for my self-indulgent story, which took place before either Joe was born.  I’ve never told it before and it is true.

Bobby Hackett was and is one of my greatest heroes, and when he appeared in New York City between 1971 and 1976, I tried to go see him.  However, I was a shy college student, working a part-time job that paid $1.85 / hour, so some gigs were beyond me.

Michael’s Pub was a restaurant-bar-with music on the East Side of Manhattan, in the Fifties, that offered excellent jazz in hostile surroundings.  (To be fair, I did not appear as a well-heeled customer to even the most inexperienced waiter.)  They had a bar where one could sit and have a single drink without being chased for perhaps thirty minutes, but the view of the music room was very limited.  When I learned of a Hackett-Urbie Green quintet gig, I gathered up the shreds of my courage, put on my sportsjacket and my Rooster tie, and went.

I think I made a reservation for two: that was my cunning at work.  I was guided to a table, a menu was thrust in my face, and I said, “I’m waiting for my date.  A vodka-tonic, please,” and the waiter went away, returning in seconds with my drink.  The music began and it was of course celestial.  I nursed my drink, ate the rolls in the bread basket one by one, and fended off the waiter, who was more insistent than any date I’d had up to that point.  Finally, somewhere in the first set, when the waiter had become nearly rude, I looked at my watch, and said grimly so that he could hear, “Damn.  She’s not coming.  I’ll take the check, please,” paid and left.

I can now say that I heard Bobby and Urbie, but the sad part is that I can’t remember a note because it was completely blotted out by the sense of being unwanted.  But, in a pinch, vodka-tonic, buttered rolls, and a divine soundtrack are nutritious enough.  And memory is soul food.

May your happiness increase!  

MORE BEAUTY, PLEASE: DANNY TOBIAS, PAT MERCURI, CHRIS BUZZELLI at the 1867 Sanctuary (Ewing, New Jersey: January 4, 2020)

When we left our heroes — Danny Tobias, trumpet and various brass instruments, Pat Mercuri and Chris Buzzelli, guitars — they were lifting our spirits by creating beautiful sounds at the 1867 Sanctuary in Ewing, New Jersey.  The evidence, easily accessed, is here in six lovely performances.

Now, I want JAZZ LIVES participants (you are more than simply “readers,” I hope) to chew slowly, to digest, to savor — even if I am not the waitperson who comes to your table, places the entree in front of you, and barks, “ENJOY!” — so I waited a short time before offering you the second half of this delightful concert. But here it is.

Berlin’s memorably sad WHAT’LL I DO?

  The most cheerful admonition, LADY BE GOOD (or OH, LADY BE GOOD):

Rodgers and Hart’s vision of sweet togetherness, BLUE ROOM:

And another from Dick and Larry, DANCING ON THE CEILING:

Finally, a threatening Rodgers and Hart opus (for t hose who know the lyrics) EV’RYTHING I’VE GOT:

Danny will be back at the 1867 Sanctuary on April 19 (at 2 PM) with the brilliant pianist Conal Fowkes and string bassist Doug Drewes: details here.  Thanks to these musicians and to Bob and Helen Kull — guardians of this wonderful space — for making this event possible.

May your happiness increase!

NEXT STOP, HEAVEN: MARA KAYE, JON-ERIK KELLSO, EVAN ARNTZEN, JARED ENGEL (Cafe Bohemia, October 24, 2019)

Mara Kaye, having herself a time.

When I first met Mara Kaye, on the other side of the continent, about six years ago, she was a fervent advocate of “other people’s blues,” often the chansons of Victoria Spivey, Ida Cox, and Memphis Minnie.  Happily she continues to perform these songs, but she’s also added wonderful swing classics to her repertoire, many harking back to the Billie Holiday recordings of the Thirties and early Forties.

Here’s one, quite famous, that she renders with swing, joy, and conviction — accompanied by a splendid group of improvising stars: Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Evan Arntzen, clarinet and tenor saxophone; Arnt Arntzen, guitar; Jared Engel, string bass.

All of this happened at the end of a Cafe Bohemia Jazz Quartet gig — at the downtown home of happy sounds, 15 Barrow Street, Greenwich Village, New York City.  And I felt Irving, Fred, Ginger, Ella, and Louis looking on approvingly.

That music is good news to me.  But the good news continues: tomorrow, Thursday, February 6, Mara will be returning to Cafe Bohemia, starting at 8 PM, joined by Jon-Erik Kellso, Brian Nalepka, string bass, and Tim McNalley, guitar, although so far it seems that the stairs are too narrow to allow Mara to bring that lovely bathtub.

Those who understand pleasure and enlightenment can buy tickets here.

May your happiness increase!

MELLOW TONES: DANNY TOBIAS, PAT MERCURI, CHRIS BUZZELLI (1867 Sanctuary, January 4, 2020)

On January 4, 2020, Danny Tobias (trumpet, flugelhorn, Eb alto horn), Pat Mercuri, and Chris Buzzelli (guitars) assembled at the 1867 Sanctuary, 1o1 Scotch Road, Ewing, New Jersey, for a wonderfully mellow session of music.  What they created, reminiscent of the Braff-Barnes Quartet, requires no complicated explication: it’s melodic and swinging, a splendidly egalitarian conversation among three masterful improvisers.  Pat’s on the viewer’s right in gray blazer; Chris has a maroon shirt.

Here’s the first half.

Arlen’s AS LONG AS I LIVE, a declaration of devotion:

CHEEK TO CHEEK, Berlin’s description of bliss in motion:

Van Heusen’s POLKA DOTS AND MOONBEAMS (and I still like Johnny Burke’s lyrics, unheard here, although some poke fun at the “pug-nosed dream”):

Ray Noble’s steadfast assertion, THERE IS NO GREATER LOVE:

Sonatina for Two Guitars, Ellington’s IN A MELLOTONE:

Gershwin’s yearning SOMEONE TO WATCH OVER ME, featuring Danny on his third or fourth brass instrument, the Eb alto horn:

If you missed this concert, you have a chance to restore and redeem yourself: on February 8, 2020, Joe Plowman and his Philadelphians will be playing: that’s Joe on string bass and perhaps arrangements / compositions; Danny Tobias; Joe McDonough, trombone; Silas Irvine, piano; Dave Sanders, guitar.  Details here. Why miss out?

May your happiness increase!

MUSIC FOR FEBRUARY FOURTEENTH! –YAALA BALLIN and MICHAEL KANAN PERFORM LOVE SONGS FOR US

This post, Janus-like, looks forward and backward.

Forward?  I want to alert you to a Valentine’s Day love-offering that’s special, a way to be bathed in the sounds of love.  Yaala Ballin, voice, and Michael Kanan, piano, will present songs of love on February 14, 7-9 PM, at St. John’s in the Village (Eleventh Street) with tickets a very loving $10.

It’s a gently interactive event as well.  No, not a sing-along.  But when ticket-buyers enter, they will be handed a list of perhaps fifty songs, classic ones, given a slip of paper and asked to mark down the titles or numbers of two songs they would like to hear.  And these little papers, selected at random, will be the music performed that evening.  I’ve seen this in action (more about that below) and it’s fun.  Details — if you need more — are here, and you can buy tickets through Eventbrite or take your chances that this won’t be sold out (which would be unromantic for you and your Ideal, wouldn’t it?).

Backward?  Yaala and Michael have already performed “the Great American Songbook, Requested,” at St. John’s in the Village last October, and I captured their performances here.  In December, they took their little show — sweet and impish — to Mezzrow, and here  are some delights from that evening.  I have left in Yaala’s inspired introductions because they are so very charming.

Yaala Ballin and Michael Kanan at Mezzrow, Dec.11, 2019, by Naama Gheber.

IT’S ALL RIGHT WITH ME:

MANHATTAN:

BUT NOT FOR ME:

SO IN LOVE:

CAN’T HELP LOVIN’ THAT MAN:

ALL THE THINGS YOU ARE:

IN A SENTIMENTAL MOOD:

LOOK FOR THE SILVER LINING (one of my requests that night):

BLUE SKIES:

I should point out that although both Yaala and Michael treat their material tenderly, they are improvisers, so I could not get tired of their explorations of these deep songs.  I will follow them “while breath lasts,” as a friend used to say.

Here are more auditory blossoms from Mezzrow.  Listen and be glad, and make plans for Valentine’s Day . . . in the name of love.  And if you don’t have a partner for that evening, buy a ticket as an act of self-love, an activity that many people scant themselves in.  And when I was at St. John’s for the October concert, I noticed some elegantly-dressed people by themselves . . . so who knows what could happen?  Be brave and join us.

May your happiness increase!

REBECCA KILGORE and ECHOES OF SWING: “WINTER DAYS at SCHLOSS ELMAU”

Before writing this post, I was thinking about Rebecca (or Becky or Roo — she has many names, as appropriate to a multi-faceted personality) someone I have been listening to with awe and pleasure since 1994, perhaps beginning with I SAW STARS (Arbors).  As for Echoes of Swing, I got to hear them in person in Germany (in 2007, thanks to Manfred Selchow) and could tell them how I admired them.  It’s one of my dreams to have musicians and groups of musicians I revere play together, and the new CD is just such a dream. . . . one that you and I can hear and re-hear.

The disc also affords us a chance to adjust our perspectives, to shake off some preconceptions.  Some listeners have perched Rebecca on a sunny windowsill in the country of Light, Bright, and Sparkling. Yes, she may prefer PICK YOURSELF UP to GLOOMY SUNDAY, but for me a little darkness will suffice.  Hear her on this disc as she sails through I’VE GOT MY LOVE TO KEEP ME WARM and her reputation as an antidote to darkness is intact.  But only shallow listeners will mistake optimism for shallowness: she has depths of feeling.

Echoes of Swing plus Two: Chris Hopkins, Bernd Lhotzky, Rolf Marx, Oliver Mewes, Henning Gailing, Colin T. Dawson. Photo by Katrin Horn.

Echoes of Swing has also been slightly mis-characterized, praised for their large orchestral sound (the core unit is four players, count them, four — even though on this CD they add a string bass and guitar as well as Rebecca) — as if they were somehow marvelous simply for this magic trick, and critics have heard them as successors to the John Kirby Sextet, which is both plausible and confining.  But on this CD, the players — whom I should name now: Bernd Lhotzky, piano and musical director; Colin T. Dawson, trumpet and flugelhorn; Chris Hopkins, alto saxophone; Oliver Mewes, drums, with Henning Gailing, string bass, and (on four tracks) Rolf Marx, guitar — create such rich varied sounds inside and outside of the arrangements by Bernd and Chris that I felt as if I’d wandered into a universe scored by, let us say, Gil Evans, spacious and resonant.

Other artists have created records and CDs devoted to Winter.  And many of those jolly efforts are avalanches of fake snow from the arts-and-crafts store.  Christmas music looms, no matter how many chairs might be wedged against the studio door, or there’s LET IT SNOW, the now-troublesome BABY, IT’S COLD OUTSIDE, or WINTER WEATHER.  Sweet, certainly, but not always true to the reality of the season, for Winter is a time for introspection as the world becomes colder and darker.  This disc, I assure you, is not a descent into Seasonal Affective Disorder, and there are a few familiar cheery songs on it, but it is not the usual forgettable fluff.

Here’s a wonderful example, the text being the 1931 WINTER WONDERLAND, where the focused purity of Rebecca’s voice balances against a complex, shifting orchestral background:

Bernd’s quirkily cheerful setting of the most famous Robert Frost poem:

Rebecca’s own witty and sweet song:

You’ll have to explore the other surprises for yourself — songs I’d never heard by Frishberg, Berlin, and Jobim, and a few poems set to music by Bernd — performances that are remarkable on the first hearing and grow more so.

The disc is dense — which is not to say difficult or off-putting — but it has levels and levels of musical and emotional pleasure.  Some discs make wonderful background music — the soundtrack for rearranging one’s spice rack — but this one has the delicious resonance of one short story after another.  It’s available in all the old familiar places.  Details here. WINTER DAYS is ambitious, heartfelt, completely rewarding.  You won’t regret it, no matter what the temperature.

May your happiness increase!

“LOVE SAID ‘HELLO!'”: YAALA BALLIN and MICHAEL KANAN at MEZZROW (December 11, 2019)

Yaala Ballin and Michael Kanan at Mezzrow, by Naama Gheber.

My friends and musical heroes, Yaala Ballin and Michael Kanan, returned to Mezzrow on December 11, 2019, for another evening of glorious songs, selected by the audience, as Yaala explains in the second video.  They call this “show of surprises” “The Great American Songbook, Requested,” and it is a consistent offering of joys.

But first, the Gershwins’ LOVE WALKED IN:

and for those new to Yaala and Michael’s playful plan-and-not-plan for their evening, Yaala explains it all while Michael quietly explores I’VE GOT THE WORLD ON A STRING:

THE MAN I LOVE has been performed so often that when someone launches into it I feel a little world-weary, “Oh, not that again.”  But I find this version completely compelling and emotionally plausible.  It is their teamwork, Michael’s palette of colors and textures, Yaala’s playful but deep speech-cadences.  Their performance has emotional ardor but is never “dramatic” for the sake of drama:

On with the dance, the dance of affection shared– Berlin’s CHEEK TO CHEEK, so beautifully begun and continued.  But first, Yaala tells a tale:

STAIRWAY TO THE STARS, Matty Malneck and Frank Signorelli, full of hope.  Please savor Michael’s solo chorus, his light and shadows:

The Gershwins’ OUR LOVE IS HERE TO STAY:

and Ellington’s I LET A SONG GO OUT OF MY HEART:

This is only the first part of a completely satisfying evening — with fourteen more songs delicately and ardently reinvented for us.  If you missed this December tasting menu, don’t despair: Yaala and Michael will be performing again for Valentine’s Day at St. John’s in the Village on Eleventh Street: details to come.

May your happiness increase!

“SPIRITUAL REFRESHMENT = LIVE MUSIC” (Part Two): YAALA BALLIN and MICHAEL KANAN, “The Great American Songbook, Requested” (St. John’s in the Village, New York City, October 19, 2019)

Yes, these two magicians: Yaala Ballin, singing; Michael Kanan, playing.

About four weeks ago, they did their subtle transformations here:

They made music blossom.  The sign is perfectly apt.

Never let it be said that JAZZ LIVES omits any relevant detail:

And here‘s the first part, the songs being I COULD WRITE A BOOK; SO IN LOVE; EASY TO LOVE; THE WAY YOU LOOK TONIGHT; BEWITCHED, BOTHERED, AND BEWILDERED; HOW DEEP IS THE OCEAN?

And if that weren’t enough, here is the second part.

S’WONDERFUL:

IN A SENTIMENTAL MOOD:

I LOVE PARIS:

IT’S ALL RIGHT WITH ME:

MANHATTAN:

I’LL BE AROUND:

CHEEK TO CHEEK:

It was delightful to be there, which my videos may not convey wholly.  But if you missed it, and I am sure some New York readers did, be glad: Michael and Yaala will be doing another box-of-surprises program at Mezzrow on December 11 of this year.  Details here.

Yaala told us, during the concert, that she, Michael, Ari Roland, and Chris Flory are recording a CD devoted to her near-namesake, Israel Baline, whom we know as Irving Berlin.  That will be a treat — but do come out for the music as it is performed in real time, in front of people who appreciate it.

May your happiness increase!

START WITH OPTIMISM, AND IF THAT DOESN’T WORK, AIM FOR RESILIENCE: REBECCA KILGORE, ROSSANO SPORTIELLO, DAN BARRETT, JON BURR, RICKY MALACHI at JAZZ AT CHAUTAUQUA (Sept. 21, 2012)

There are maladies everywhere, but there are also cures.  You could see your doctor and get a prescription designed to take care of angst, malaise, and ennui; it would be a little plastic vial with a long name that would surely upset your stomach.  Or you could simply click on the two videos below, never before seen, and wait for the results . . . with no side-effects.  Music hath charms, indeed.

Rebecca Kilgore, Rossano Sportiello, Dan Barrett, Jon Burr, Ricky Malachi at Jazz at Chautauqua 2012.

These two performances took place at the Jazz at Chautauqua weekend in September 2012, and they bring joy.  Specifically, Rebecca Kilgore, Rossano Sportiello, Dan Barrett, Jon Burr, and Ricky Malachi — vocals and guitar, piano, trombone, string bass, and drums — do that rare and wonderful thing.

Here’s a burst of optimism in swing, the 1939 pop hit above, which has been so completely overshadowed by WHAT A WONDERFUL WORLD and IT’S A BIG WIDE WONDERFUL WORLD that I am immediately grateful to Becky and friends for singing and playing it:

And resilience added to optimism, in a song associated with the unlikely spectacle of Fred Astaire having trouble mastering a dance step.

This Kern-Fields beauty occasionally gets mixed up with the Berlin LET YOURSELF GO, perhaps the same principle, but one is about recovery (even a triumph over gravity) — the other, release:

These performances are from seven years ago, but Becky and friends are currently performing their magic in various ways and places.  You can find out her schedule here, and there is her seriously beautiful new CD with Echoes of Swing (Bernd Lhotzky, Colin T. Dawson, Chris Hopkins, and Oliver Mewes) called WINTER DAYS AT SCHLOSS ELMAU, about which I’ll have more to say soon.  Rossano’s globe-crossings are documented here; Jon Burr’s many adventures here and Dan Barrett’s here.

Not a pill in sight, and I feel better now.

May your happiness increase!

“SPIRITUAL REFRESHMENT = LIVE MUSIC”: YAALA BALLIN and MICHAEL KANAN, “The Great American Songbook, Requested” (St. John’s in the Village, New York City, October 19, 2019)

Last Saturday, I was on my way along West 11th Street in Greenwich Village to the church above for a musical event that turned out to be more memorable than I could have imagined.  Ambling along, I had my video equipment; the musicians are friends of mine as well as heroes, and I was imagining the blogpost that might come of it.  Then I saw this banner from another church and the top two phrases struck me as completely apropos to the event to come — and they are, in the ideal world, the same thing:

Back to St. John’s for the event poster, which depicts Yaala Ballin:

“The Great American Songbook, Requested” presented Yaala Ballin, vocal, and Michael Kanan, piano, in a duo-recital drawing on Rodgers and Hart, Irving Berlin, Cole Porter, Jerome Kern and Dorothy Fields, George and Ira Gershwin, Duke Ellington, and Alec Wilder.

The songs were treated lovingly, but as old friends — which is to say that both Yaala and Michael have a reverence for their melodies and harmonies as printed on the contemporaneous sheet music, and a depth of knowledge about the best performances, but that they felt free to improvise, to express their own personalities without obscuring the music.

“Requested” was a sly and endearingly playful idea.  When we entered the church, we were given a list of songs, more than forty, organized by composer, and asked to write down two on a small slip of paper — a favorite first, another second — that we wanted to hear.  It gave the afternoon the slight flavor of a children’s party (or the office grab bag, without the terrors that can inspire).  The thirteen selections Yaala and Michael performed were drawn at random from a basket that Yaala — for that brief time, the Red Riding Hood of the West Village — had brought with her.  Of course, they knew the songs on the list, but it was a small adventure, the very opposite of a tightly-planned program.  And it worked sweetly, as you will see and hear.

I COULD WRITE A BOOK (Richard Rodgers, Lorenz Hart, Pal Joey):

SO IN LOVE (Cole Porter, Kiss Me Kate):

EASY TO LOVE (Porter, Born to Dance):

THE WAY YOU LOOK TONIGHT (Jerome Kern, Dorothy Fields, Swing Time):

BEWITCHED, BOTHERED, AND BEWILDERED (Rodgers and Hart, Pal Joey):

HOW DEEP IS THE OCEAN? (Irving Berlin):

I don’t think this playful, light-hearted but emotional musical partnership displayed this afternoon, could have been better.  I could go on about Michael’s deeply musical approach to the piano, and the chances Yaala takes and how they pay off, but the evidence is all here.  And seven more performances will be shared soon.

Yaala and Michael will be performing another version of this concert at Mezzrow on December 11.  And (as if that would not be enough), Yaala, Michael, Ari Roland, and Chris Flory are going in to the studio to record a CD of Israel Baline’s music (he wrote the preceding song and a few others).

May your happiness increase!

LIGHT-HEARTED MELODIC DANCES: ALEX LEVIN TRIO, “A SUNDAY KIND OF LOVE” (ALEX LEVIN, PHIL ROWAN, BEN CLINESS)

I gravitate towards music that welcomes me in.  I approve of melodies.  I even love them, and I love those that I remember.  There!  I’ve said it.

And the pianist Alex Levin has the same affectionate relations with song: he’s not a prisoner of the written notes, but he respects what the composer has created, and his own original compositions have the gamboling pleasure of the great songs that some of us still hum in the car or in the grocery-store line.

I first heard (and heard of) Alex almost a decade ago, when he released his first CD, which I liked a great deal: you can read my review here.

And I like Alex’s new CD even more.

Here’s what I wrote, offhandedly, after hearing only two or three tracks through my computer’s speakers.

Some ninety years ago, jazz began to position itself as the delinquent of music.  In opposition to all those sweet bands with violins, playing the melody in harmony, tied to the notes in front of them, jazz took a puff on its Marlboro, abruptly stood up from its seat (frightening the kittens) and made unpredictable sounds.  That was HOT, a spiritual barrage against the apparent dullness of SWEET.  And jazz listeners followed the narrow often unmarked ideological path: think of all those 78s whose grooves remain black, shiny, unplayed except for the eight bars of Bix or Purvis or Jack.  Sweet was for Aunt Martha; hot was for rebellious enlightened  outsiders.  It created a pervasive false dichotomy: if you could hear the melody, was it true improvisation? 

And — to oversimplify (because Bird and Trane could play melodically with great art) jazz aimed at abstraction, sharp edges and magical paths into the labyrinth.  Thus, so many listeners tell themselves and others that they don’t understand jazz, as if  it became a subject one had to study for to pass the final.

But the great players and singers knew and still know that melody is at the heart of any musical expression, and that “sweetness” was, in itself, a goal rather than a trap.  Think of Lester Young, “I don’t like a whole lot of noise — trumpets and trombones…I’m looking for something soft. It’s got to be sweetness, man, you dig?”

It is in this spirit of an apparent conservatism that becomes radical that I commend to you Alex Levin’s new trio CD, A SUNDAY KIND OF LOVE, where the trio does more than glue themselves to the written notes, but they treat melodies with love and respect . . . the result being quietly affecting swing playing of the highest order.  Some might not be able to hear the lights and shadows, preferring instead the sounds of the piano dropped to the street below, but that would be their loss.

Because readers are sometimes hurried, you can hear samples, download the music, or purchase a CD here.  And I caution the unwary listener to not jump to conclusions: “It sounds too easy,” for as that great master of contemporary jazz, Ovid, was fond of saying, ars est celare artem [he recorded it for Clef], which Monk transposed into “Simple ain’t easy.”

Now back to our regularly scheduled basket of prose.

I left off there, because Life (the hussy) interfered, with her racket of parking tickets, laundry, dinner, recycling, and more — make your own list.  But I came back and listened to the CD in a sitting, my enthusiasm just as strong.

Some facts.  Alex, who has a light touch on a well-recorded piano, is accompanied — in the truest sense of the word — by the fine string bassist Phil Rowan and drummer Ben Cliness.  And they have the ease, intuitive comfort, and wit one would expect from a working band: they catch each other’s signals without having to be told to turn the page.  incidentally, I’ve seen a review of this CD calling it “modern” and “clever.”  I can’t argue with those terms, but to me it seems “heartfelt” and “playful,” which qualities are audible.

Alex has divided the repertoire on this disc between standards that, for the most part, got their greatest exposure in the Fifties: the title track (which, for those of us over fifty, has a yearning nostalgia — rather like THE THINGS WE DID LAST SUMMER — even though my adolescence came later), SURREY WITH THE FRINGE ON TOP, THE BEST THING FOR YOU (Would Be Me), WHAT IS THIS THING CALLED LOVE? and I’VE TOLD EV’RY LITTLE STAR — which, for the purists in the audience, is a much older composition, but I would guess most memorably allied with jazz because of Sonny Rollins (although Annie Ross, Marian McPartland, and others returned to it).

And of course one could say, “There are a million piano trio recordings that draw on Rodgers, Berlin, Porter, and Kern,” but the other five tracks — all Levin originals — SWEETS, THE JETSETTERS, BLUES FOR WYNTON K., AT LEAST WE’RE TOGETHER, STROLLING THROUGH YONKERS — are strong jazz compositions on their own, with one foot delicately poised in the past, Alex not trying to hide that his heart belongs to 1956 Prestige, but moving around happily in this century.  His songs ARE songs rather than lines over slightly modified chord progressions; they have the breath of life rather than the aroma of the Xerox machine.

Convinced?  It’s music that befriends the listener, which is sometimes rare.  Hear for yourself here, and then download or purchase, as the spirit moves you.

May your happiness increase!

FLYING, GLIDING: THE JACOB ZIMMERMAN 3: JACOB ZIMMERMAN, COLE SCHUSTER, MATT WEINER (July 2019)

Some ensembles need many people to make a statement: Jacob Zimmerman, Cole Schuster, and Matt Weiner (reeds, guitar, string bass) create memorable vignettes in a small space: it’s a band that could travel comfortably in a subcompact car.  They have a new CD coming out, and Jacob has posted two selections recorded last month — what ease and grace, what quiet impact.

Jacob wrote of the first selection, LANTERN OF LOVE (a 1925 tune),
A few weeks back my trio that plays Tuesdays at IL Bistro got together to rehearse some of the fancier arrangements I’ve written. I first heard this song on a Roger Wolfe Kahn record. I love the elegance of this melody. I tried to channel the spirit of the Jean Goldkette orchestra and feature Matt Weiner playing his version of Steve Brown style slap and arco bass playing.

and here’s the more familiar THE SONG IS ENDED — a remarkable treatment of a lovely Berlin melody which makes me think of Ruby Braff at the start and then segues into what I think of as 1945 Jamboree Records swing, up on the aesthetic mountaintop in less than four minutes (I kept waiting for Joe Thomas to appear and take the bridge):

I don’t see a trip to Seattle soon (although anything is possible) but I believe I will see Jacob again as part of the Holland-Coots Jazz Quintet at the San Diego Jazz Fest and Swing Extravaganza in November, and I certainly look forward to that new CD!

May your happiness increase!

SOUP AND EARS FROM COLORADO (July 26, 2019)

A family-member-by-marriage, now removed, in childhood, used to refer to the trinkets from a trip as SOUP AND EARS.

It’s stuck in my mind as a charming locution, and the answer to the question, “Hey, what’d you bring us from the Evergreen Jazz Festival?”  Never fear, dear readers.  No photographs of double rainbows, and I saw no elk, but there was glorious music.

Here are the first three performances from the first set I saw, which should give you a good idea of the intense pleasures to be found there.  The group, a favorite, is the Holland-Coots Jazz Quintet, with Brian Holland, piano; Danny Coots, drums; Marc Caparone, cornet / vocal; Steve Pikal, string bass; John Otto (for this weekend) clarinet.

EVERYBODY LOVES MY BABY:

SHINE:

Incidentally, if you think that SHINE is a “racist” song, its authors were African-American and the song is an assertion of race pride in the face of prejudices.  Read this, please.

and ALL BY MYSELF:

Those of you who know that Danny’s father was a minister won’t be surprised that Danny takes the microphone between songs to share a moral moment, a little homily: worth your attention:

There’s much more good music to come.

May your happiness increase!

TELLING TIME, SEVERAL WAYS: DAWN LAMBETH and her RASCALS at the JAZZ BASH BY THE BAY (March 2, 2019)

Sixty memorable minutes. Never mind the odd composer credits.

 

It’s all relative, as Einstein tells his grandmother.  When a man sits on a hot stove, a minute seems forever; when he’s kissing his sweetheart, forever seems like a minute.  She says, “For this you won a prize?”

Dawn Lambeth

At the Jazz Bash by the Bay this last March, Dawn Lambeth and her Rascals (the name I’ve given to this delightful little group of swinging friends) demonstrated Einstein’s discovery in the nicest ways: with performances whose text is the nature of time and how it is perceived, and declarations of love in its many forms.

The Rascals are Riley Baker, drums (catch his wonderful accents behind his father’s trumpet solo on ALWAYS: “Good deal!”); Jacob Zimmerman, alto saxophone; Clint Baker, trumpet; Jerry Krahn, guitar; Ike Harris, string bass; Jeff Hamilton, piano.

First, James P. Johnson’s IF I COULD BE WITH YOU ONE HOUR TONIGHT (or, as it appeared on the 1929 Mound City Blue Blowers record label, ONE HOUR) — with the yearning verse:

From sixty minutes to eternity, Irving Berlin’s ALWAYS:

And as an instrumental meditation on the future — even when the future is seen as the fulfillment of a promise or a threat — Shelton Brooks’ SOME OF THESE DAYS, which rocks: watch out for Jeff and Riley, respectively but not respectfully:

More to come from this nice unbuttoned after-hours set.  (California festivals start early and end early, so I think this evocation of Fifty-Second Street ended at 11 PM, but it felt like the real thing, no matter what our watches said.)

May your happiness increase!

GUESS WHO’S IN TOWN? THE CHICAGO CELLAR BOYS at the SAN DIEGO JAZZ FEST: ANDY SCHUMM, JOHN OTTO, PAUL ASARO, JOHNNY DONATOWICZ, DAVE BOCK (Nov. 24, 2018)

The Chicago Cellar Boys are a lovely band — not only the easy swing, the ringing solos, the choice of material, the consistent lyricism, the faith that melody, played with feeling, is essential — but they have an ensemble conception, so that something pleasing is always going on.  Five pieces make a wonderful portable orchestra, where sweet and hot balance and show each other off by contrast.  People unfamiliar with this group might think it landlocked — a quintet devoting itself to Twenties and very early-Thirties music — but they would be wrong, because this is one of the most versatile groups I know: tempo, approach, arrangements, instrument-switching, and more.  They give great value!

I suggest that any listener who is deeply involved in creative improvisation, not only solos but ensemble timbres, the possibilities of a small group that transcend soloist-plus-rhythm, and the beauty of imaginative arrangements could study any one of these performances with the attention normally given to a hallowed OKeh or Oriole disc and be both enthralled and enlightened.

I’ve posted other videos of them herehere, and (with Colin Hancock sitting in) here.

The individual heroes are Andy Schumm, cornet, tenor, clarinet, arrangements; John Otto, clarinet, alto; Paul Asaro, piano, vocal; Johnny Donatowicz, banjo, guitar; Dave Bock, tuba.  Here they are at the 29th San Diego Jazz Fest, in a set performed on November 24, 2018.  They began with one of the classic late-Twenties songs about the glory to be found below the Mason-Dixon line:

and from the Clarence Williams book, by Maceo Pinkard, PILE OF LOGS AND STONE, another song glorifying the joys of rustic home life:

Thanks to Irving Berlin, Bing, and Ethel Waters:

Bless Don Redman is what I say:

LET’S DO THINGS is one of those songs I’d never known before (typically, I go away from a CCB set with new discoveries).  I was unable to find the composers, but I did stumble into a 1931 Hal Roach comedy of the same name starring ZaSu Pitts and Thelma Todd, in which the then new song THEM THERE EYES figures happily and prominently.  Here is the link to the film.  Now, the ingenious song (is it a Schumm concoction? Youth wants to know):

Another song I associate with Clarence Williams, NOBODY BUT MY BABY (IS GETTING MY LOVE):

Finally, James P. Johnson’s GUESS WHO’S IN TOWN — beloved of Ethel Waters and Max Kaminsky on Commodore:

There are many CCB videos (about thirty — yes!) still for me to share with you: I think I missed at most one and one-half of their sets at this jazz weekend.  So watch this space for more good news.

May your happiness increase!

PISMO JOYS (Part Five): “LARRY, DAWN, and FRIENDS”: LARRY SCALA, DAWN LAMBETH, DANNY TOBIAS, CARL SONNY LEYLAND, BILL BOSCH // CHLOE FEORANZO, DANNY COOTS (October 26 and 27, 2018, Jazz Jubilee by the Sea)

One of the great highlights of the 2018 Pismo Jazz Jubilee by the Sea was the small flexible swing groups led by guitarist Larry Scala, featuring the wonderful singing of Dawn Lambeth. Without being consciously imitative, they harked back to the great Thirties and Forties recordings and performances of Billie Holiday, Teddy Wilson, Charlie Christian, Count Basie, Mildred Bailey, Benny Goodman, and more.  But they weren’t ancient artifacts behind glass: they swung and were full of joyous expertise.  Here are three more performances, the first two featuring Larry, Dawn, bassist Bill Bosch, trumpeter Danny Tobias, pianist Carl Sonny Leyland; the third, from the next day, featuring clarinetist Chloe Feoranzo instead of Danny, and adding drummer Danny Coots.

Dee-lightful.

Irving Berlin’s ALL BY MYSELF:

Walter Donaldson’s LOVE ME OR LEAVE ME:

And from the next day, Dawn, Larry, and Bill, with Danny Coots, drums; Chloe Feoranzo, clarinet, for Cole Porter’s YOU’D BE SO NICE TO COME HOME TO:

Thanks to all these creative people for bringing their own brand of sweet swing to Pismo.  I hope they’ll be brightening the corners in 2019.

May your happiness increase!