Tag Archives: Isham Jones

THE GERANIUMS UPON THE WINDOW SILLS (April 6, 1933)

In these uncertain times, I feel the need to make room for silliness — goofy archaic cultural history that also sounds pleasing, and if anyone takes issue with the implications of the lyric, the offense lasts at most a few seconds more than three minutes. The song itself is not necessarily a great work of art, but it stayed with me, because of the creamy sound of the orchestra and the winsome vocal.

The song itself — I DO! — is a collaboration between John Jacob Loeb, Paul Francis Webster, and Lester Banker.  The first two names are familiar: Loeb was in part or wholly responsible for SEEMS LIKE OLD TIMES, GOT THE JITTERS, ME MINUS YOU, BOO HOO, and A SAILBOAT IN THE MOONLIGHT; Paul Francis Webster wrote lyrics for — memorably — THE SHADOW OF YOUR SMILE, I GOT IT BAD, SECRET LOVE, BLACK COFFEE, and LOVE IS A MANY-SPLENDORED THING; about Lester Banker, I can find almost nothing except composer credit for WALTZ IN BLUE.  Perhaps he was the person who said, “Why don’t we write a song called _____ about ______ ?” and then either went to the men’s room or got coffee for everyone.

I heard the song for the first time this year, thanks to a Rivermont Records collection, SHADOWS ON THE SWANEE, 1932-1934: ISHAM JONES AND HIS ORCHESTRA.  (You can also learn more about this reissue — which contains two incredibly rare home-recordings of the Jones group — here.)

What you choose to make of the culture that produced this song, with its sweet-goofy-earnest promises, I leave to you.  I suspect that in 2020 it will be a kind of litmus test, but I’d rather listen to this record than analyze its unspoken biases:

Just remember.  One, no putting in the living room.  Two, make sure there are plenty of Rivermont Records to listen to (since Jones Victor 78s fetch appalling prices on eBay).  Three, get a prenup.

And if all of this is too dusty for you, perhaps this modern icon will help?

May your happiness increase!

SWEETLY UPLIFTING: The MICHAEL McQUAID SAXOPHONE QUARTET

I’ve been thinking about the saxophonist Chuck Wilson, who left us on October 16 (my post about him is here).  Chuck came from a tradition where the saxophone made beautiful melodic sounds and blended with other reeds — he was a consummate section leader.  It’s a tradition sometimes overlooked today, where it occasionally feels that everyone wants to be a soloist, at length.

But the tradition has been splendidly recalled and embodied by our friend, the brilliantly imaginative multi-instrumentalist, Michael McQuaid in his recent musical gift to us: four musical cameos inspired by the Merle Johnston Saxophone Quartet of 1929-30.  The arrangements by Michael — lovely translucencies, swinging and tender — were recorded “with minimal rehearsal” (I emphasize this to hail the professionalism of the players) in the UK on July 27, 2018.

I think of these performances as modern reworkings of classical string quartets, but with a particular harmonic delicacy applied to popular songs of the day, with hot solos implied, delightful counterpoint, and a compositional sense: each arrangement and performance has a wonderful logical shape, a light-hearted emotional resonance.  Each performance rewards repeated listening.  (I cannot play MY SIN just once.)

The remarkable players are Michael McQuaid (first alto); David Horniblow (second alto); Simon Marsh (tenor); Tom Law (baritone).

IT WAS ONLY A SUN SHOWER, which I associate with Annette Hanshaw, Barbara Rosene, and Tamar Korn:

OUT OF THE DAWN, by Walter Donaldson, from 1928, recorded by the Dorsey Brothers Orchestra:

WASHBOARD BLUES, whose arrangement is inspired by the 1926 recording by Hitch’s Happy Harmonists, with composer Hoagy Carmichael at the piano:

MY SIN, by DeSylva, Brown, and Henderson, also associated with Annette Hanshaw:

I wasn’t the only one astonished by the arrangements and the playing, and I wrote to Michael to ask, “When’s the CD coming out?  When’s the concert tour?”  No one else is making music like this anywhere.

Michael responded on Facebook:

Once again, this video features great playing from some of London’s best saxophone players. Their musicality is all the more remarkable when one considers this is closer to sight-reading than a fully-rehearsed ensemble.

A few of you have asked whether I’m going to release these recordings. Well, yes – they’re on YouTube anytime you want! But properly producing a full album of this material would require significant rehearsal followed by hours in the studio, and hence probably a wealthy philanthropic benefactor (please message me if that might be you!).

In the meantime, I’ll keep writing saxophone quartet arrangements until I have a whole concert’s/album’s worth. It’s been great reading your positive words on these videos, and I’m glad if I’ve been able to draw attention to the Merle Johnston Saxophone Quartet and their beautiful 1929 records. Our musical heritage is filled with many such neglected treasures, ready to leap into the present (and the future) with only a little of our time and attention.

Since some readers might not have heard the originals, here (courtesy of generous Enrico Borsetti) is the Merle Johnston Saxophone Quartet playing BABY, OH WHERE CAN YOU BE?:

I haven’t found out much about Merle, except that he played clarinet, alto, and tenor, was born in upstate New York, and lived from 1897 to 1978, and was a renowned saxophone teacher.  Michael told me that Merle’s students included Larry Teal and Joe Allard (each became a highly influential saxophone teacher in his own right), as well as famous players such as Buddy Collette and Frank Morgan. His legacy is probably more lasting as a teacher than as a player or bandleader!

Merle’s recording career — according to Tom Lord — ran from 1923 to 1930, with Sam Lanin (alongside Red Nichols), Isham Jones, Seger Ellis, the Ipana  Troubadours, Jack Miller, a young fellow named Crosby.  He was friends with Leo McConville, and he led his own band called the Ceco Couriers, which alludes to a radio program supported by a product: in this case, CeCo radio tubes, advertised in the October 1928 POPULAR SCIENCE (the tubes “cost no  more but last longer”).

Did Merle leave the New York City studio scene after the stock market crash for the security of a teaching career?  Can it be that no one interviewed him or one of his pupils?  Incidentally, when I do online research on someone obscure and find that one of the resources is this — a JAZZ LIVES post I wrote in 2011 — I am both amused and dismayed.

“Research!” to quote Lennie Kunstadt.  Calling David Fletcher!

And here’s another gorgeous quartet record, this one of DO SOMETHING:

I post the two Merle Johnston “originals” not to show their superiority to the modern evocations, but to celebrate Michael’s arranging and the playing of the Quartet: to my ears, fully the equal of the antecedents.

Listen once again, and be delighted.  I am sure that Chuck is pleased by these sounds also.

May your happiness increase!

PLEASING TO THE EAR: KIM CUSACK and PAUL ASARO IN DUET (August 31, 2015)

It’s no doubt very archaic of me, but I like music to sound good: to paraphrase Eddie Condon, to come in the ear like honey rather than broken glass.  And this duet recital by Kim Cusack, clarinet, and Paul Asaro, piano and vocal, is just the thing.  I hadn’t known of it when it was new, so I hope it will be a pleasant surprise to others: recorded at the PianoForte studios in Chicago, introduced by Neil Tesser of the Chicago Jazz Institute.

Kim and Paul gently explore a dozen songs, with roots in Waller, Morton, James P. Johnson, Isham Jones, and Walter Donaldson, Maceo Pinkard.  It’s a set list that would have been perfectly apropos in 1940, but there’s nothing antiquarian about this hour-long session . . . just two colleagues and friends in tune with one another making music.

For those keeping score, that’s A MONDAY DATE; SUGAR; I’VE GOT A FEELING I’M FALLING; I’M CRAZY ‘BOUT MY BABY (vocal, Paul); OLD FASHIONED LOVE; RIFFS (Paul, solo); ON THE ALAMO; MISTER JELLY LORD (vocal, Paul); WOLVERINE BLUES; YOU’RE DRIVING ME CRAZY; BLUE, TURNING GREY OVER YOU; BLUES MY NAUGHTY SWEETIE GIVES TO ME.  All standards of “the repertoire,” but played and sung with subtlety, charm, and life.

Postscript: PianoForte Studios was also home to another wonderful duet recital, guitarist Andy Brown and pianist Jeremy Kahn in 2017, which you can enjoy here.

May your happiness increase!

JUST AN HOUR OF LOVE: DAWN LAMBETH, MARC CAPARONE, RAY SKJELBRED (June 23, 2017)

Heroes and friends: Ray Skjelbred, Dawn Lambeth, Marc Caparone, at the San Diego Jazz Fest, Nov. 2015.

To some JAZZ LIVES’ viewers, what follows will simply be another set recorded at a recent jazz festival — America’s Classic Jazz Festival at Lacey, Washington (through the great generosity of videographer RaeAnn Berry).

And if those viewers, possibly glutted with stimuli, perceive only that, who am I to deny that perspective?  But to me, performances that allow us to revel in the joy created by singer Dawn Lambeth, trumpeter Marc Caparone, and pianist Ray Skjelbred, are more than special.  In their swing, lyricism, courageous improvising while respecting the songs, they are remarkable offerings.

We begin with Ray and Marc having a good time — a la Louis 1928 — with BASIN STREET BLUES, a song so often reduced to formula that this version is thrilling:

The leader joins in for a touching IT’S THE TALK OF THE TOWN:

I fell in love with this from the introduction on!  I’ll go back to stevia some day:

Who remembers Paul Denniker?  But this beauty of a tentative love song, ‘S’POSIN’ — is always a pleasure:

Ah, Marc and Ray think of Henry “Red” Allen: always a good idea:

Another evocation of Red circa 1936, THE RIVER’S TAKIN’ CARE OF ME.  I love the lyrics and the idea that the River gives me breakfast — not poached eggs on English muffin, but recalling the days when one went fishing and cooked one’s catch of the day immediately.  Huckleberry Finn, anyone?

Isham Jones!

And Walter Donaldson:

One of those wonderful songs that brings together Louis and Fats:

Walter Donaldson’s YOU — also recorded by Red Allen and others:

I know I am going to see Marc, and Dawn, and Ray — separately and perhaps together — at this year’s San Diego Jazz Fest . . . so this is indeed something to look forward to.  For the moment, we have this hour of love, thanks to the musicians and to RaeAnn.

May your happiness increase!

FANTASY, IMPROMPTU: ERIN MORRIS, JAMES DAPOGNY, JON-ERIK KELLSO, LAURA WYMAN (January 21, 2017)

jon-erik-kellso-photo-by-aidan-grant

Jon-Erik by Aidan Grant

Sometimes your dreams do come true.

James Dapogny

James Dapogny

Here’s one of mine that did and does, in the Zal Gaz Grotto in Ann Arbor, Michigan, on the night of January 21, 2017, during the after-party for the River Raisin Ragtime Review: Erin Morris dances while Jon-Erik Kellso and James Dapogny play.  And Laura Wyman recorded it on her hand-held camera.

Erin by Jerry Almonte

Erin by Jerry Almonte

I bless the four of them.

Three souls in harmony, reflecting motion and sound,  each telling Don Redman’s tale: James, seated; Jon-Erik, standing; Erin, mobile.  Individuals in community, coming together to create something that enthralls and cheers.

Watch and listen a few more times and go deep in to the splendors.  There’s a famous anecdote of Earl Hines at the Chicago Musicians’ Union in 1924, fooling around at the piano with a new pop tune by Isham Jones, THE ONE I LOVE (BELONGS TO SOMEBODY ELSE) — and a chubby young man formerly of New Orleans comes up, unpacks his cornet, and joins in.  No one who wasn’t in that room ever heard that music — although a few intrepid heartfelt souls have made their own variations on that duet.  And as far as I know, no one danced.

I wasn’t there, either, but I think this impromptu trio is at the same level: it gives me chills and then a rush of gratitude.  Thank you, Erin, James, Jon-Erik, Laura.

Laura and her magic camera

Laura and her magic camera

(An alternate take:  here you can see the video produced by William Pemberton, director of the RRRR, same time, same place.)

The skies are dark this afternoon, but we live amidst marvels.

May your happiness increase!

CLARINETITIS: TIM LAUGHLIN, JIM BUCHMANN, DAVE BENNETT (November 29, 2014)

AVALON, “composed” in 1920 by Al Jolson and Vincent Rose, owed so much to a Puccini melody that Puccini’s publishers sued and won.  Thanks to Chris Tyle for the facts here.

AVALON sheet

Between 1920 and 1937, AVALON was a popular composition recorded by Red Nichols, Isham Jones, Coleman Hawkins, the Quintette of the Hot Club of France, Jimmie Lunceford, and others.  In 1937, Benny Goodman featured it as a quartet number (with Teddy Wilson, Lionel Hampton, and Gene Krupa) in the film HOLLYWOOD HOTEL — also recording it for Victor, performing it in 1938 at his Carnegie Hall Concert.  Benny performed it hundreds of times in the next half-century, and a performance of that song has been a way for contemporary clarinetists both to salute him and to dramatize their aesthetic kinship with him.

AVALON label

As a delightful point of reference, here is the 1937 Victor, a lovely performance by four men clearly enjoying themselves expertly:

That recording is, in its own way, a joyous summit of swing improvisation.

On November 29, 2014, at the San Diego Jazz Fest, Tim Laughlin (leading his own New Orleans All-Stars with Connie Jones) had already invited clarinetist Jim Buchmann to join him for a few songs.  Then, Tim spotted clarinetist Dave Bennett and urged him to join in.  I thought that AVALON might be on the menu for three clarinets. Not that Tim is in any way predictable, but AVALON is familiar music — with known conventions — in the same way that a group of saxophonists might call WOODSIDE or FOUR BROTHERS — music that would please the crowd and the route signs are all well-marked.

Connie Jones and Doug Finke sat this one out, but Connie’s delighted reactions mirror every nuance of the music.

The other members of this band: Chris Dawson, piano; Marty Eggers, string bass; Katie Cavera, guitar; Hal Smith, drums, are deeply immersed in both the tradition of Goodman AVALON’s and how to make it alive at the moment — Chris and Hal create their own variations on Wilson and Krupa most beautifully.

This one’s for my friend Janie McCue Lynch, and for students of the Swing School everywhere.

(For those correspondents who say “This is TOO Swingy!” in the tone of voice one would discuss a contagious disease, you are exempt from watching this.  But you’ll miss deep joy.)

See you all at this year’s San Diego Jazz Fest: we’ll all gather.

May your happiness increase!

BEAUTY IS ALWAYS HERE FOR US: REBECCA KILGORE, DUKE HEITGER, BRIA SKONBERG, DAN BLOCK, ALLAN VACHE, BOB HAVENS, ROSSANO SPORTIELLO, PAUL KELLER, BUCKY PIZZARELLI, ED METZ (Atlanta Jazz Party: April 25, 2014)

May I offer a six-minute escape from the world that at times weighs so heavily upon us?  You know that world, defined by medical lab tests and inescapable bills, news of ungentle acts.  I could wear out your eyes and sink us all into gloom describing that world.

But there is another world, always alive if we can remind ourselves of it: the world of beauty and creativity, of joy and generosity.

This offering of Beauty was created on April 25, 2014, at the Atlanta Jazz Party, a musical cornucopia.  The exalted participants are Rebecca Kilgore, vocal; Duke Heitger, Bria Skonberg, trumpet; Bob Havens, trombone; Dan Block, tenor / clarinet; Allan Vache, clarinet; Rossano Sportiello, piano; Paul Keller, string bass; Bucky Pizzarelli, guitar; Ed Metz, drums.

THE ONE I LOVE

The song, ninety years old, is the Isham Jones / Gus Kahn THE ONE I LOVE (BELONGS TO SOMEBODY ELSE) — a simple melodic line built on a two-note pattern but one of those songs that takes up residence in your brain until it is chased away by external forces.  THE ONE I LOVE is also a sacred favorite of mine because it plays a part in one of the great meetings of the cosmos.  Earl Hines said that he was at the Chicago musicians’ union playing a new tune (yes, that one) and a cornet player introduced himself and started to play in duet with him.  Yes, that cornet player. How would the course of Western Civilization have been different if Hines had been practicing scales or was standing outdoors with his cigar?

Instead of a dim memory of 1924, the real thing in 2014:

I find everything about this performance endearing, from the cinema verite with which it begins (Becky offering everyone a lead sheet, facing an overexcited microphone, setting the tempo by singing the title). Maestro Sportiello enters and the rhythm section joins in: I find myself relaxing, all tension replaced by happiness, in forty-five seconds. “Safe in the arms of Joy,” I think.

Listen closely, please, whether you play an instrument, sing for your supper, or are simply a devoted fan — to the beautiful singularity of the individual voices here: Becky, Bob, Bucky, Duke / Dan, and Becky returning.  Each one is completely different but allied by a love for the melody and a respect for the rhythm.

And PHRASING — the way Ms. Kilgore fluidly offers lines of prose and individual syllables so that the meaning of the simple lyric is enhanced, not lost, but that the words aren’t rigidly tied to the beat.  Imagine the sheet music, which delineates a metronomic relationship between notes and words, and hear Becky’s intuitive elasticity, seconded by the horn soloists, elongatinf a phrase here, compressing another, emphasizing a few words and offering others with sweet conversational casualness.

And even though no one is “doing repertory,” the whole performance feels as if Basie and a few of the fellows just stopped by to play one.  That simple propulsive riff at the end — Basie, but reaching back to Louis.  Believable, natural, uplifting music.

This is high art — it takes lifetimes to know how to sing and play like this — offered without pretense.  I feel better already.

Visit here to find out more.

May your happiness increase!

“WEE WEE,” “LOVE ME,” and MORE: COVERS AND LABELS

I’ve been eBaying once again — cyberspace’s version of going to antique stores in person — and I found four intriguing objects, all musical.

A song Mildred never recorded:

MILDRED 1932

but the intriguing part of this cover (it might have been a very good song, given the credits of Isham Jones and Charles Newman) is the store listing, bottom right — a jewelry store that sold victrolas, records, and music in a town in Wisconsin.  Evidence of a wondrous and now vanished past.

One year later, a song Lee Wiley should have recorded (music by her paramour Victor Young):

LEE WILEY 1933

The jazz versions I know are Jack Teagarden and Art Tatum — both contemporaneous.

Now, two discs.  Autographed ones, from the collection of Bill Thompson.

Mister Mercer and Mister Teagarden, if you please:

MERCER and JACKThey were a wonderful team (I think not only of these duets but THE BATHTUB RAN OVER AGAIN, and LORD, I GIVE YOU MY CHILDREN).

And the prize.  Was George French or was Louis being Louis?

WEE WEE LOUISI think that is positively begging to be made into a t-shirt, but I picture people coming too close, squinting at it, and asking for explanations, so this idea may have to go in the basket where the almost-good ideas are kept.

May your happiness increase!

SWINGING “POP SONGS” in SEATTLE (Sept. 6, 2012)

The subject today is The Illusion of Musical Purity in Jazz.

I think it began in the Twenties, when jazzmen themselves made divisions between “commercial” and “hot” music.  The former was what you were paid to play — often trivial, unswinging, unimaginative — reading stock arrangements while someone in a tuxedo waved a baton.  The latter — the ideal — was what you played at 4 AM with enough gin or muggles or spaghetti (or all three) to make sure that everyone was mellow.  Later on, when the fans started to anatomize the music in ways the musicians had never cared to, the fans and journalists built walls stronger than the Berlin version.  “Commercial” music was “Swing,” where good guys played insipid pop tunes and took eight-bar solos once a night; “the real thing” was an ideal, rarely achieved.

Think of the posthumous scorn heaped on Paul Whiteman because his Orchestra wasn’t Bix and his Gang; think of those serious jazz fans who traced The Decline of Louis Armstrong to I CAN’T GIVE YOU ANYTHING BUT LOVE taking the place of MAHOGANY HALL STOMP.

But the musicians themselves — while preferring looseness, open-mindedness, swing, and an escape from the paper — never much cared what songs they were playing.  Was PISTOL PACKIN’ MAMA unworthy of Bunk Johnson?  He didn’t think so.  Did John Coltrane disdain MY FAVORITE THINGS, or Charlie Parker A SLOW BOAT TO CHINA?

I have remembered, more than once, Wild Bill Davison’s comment to an interviewer that he never learned or knew THAT’S A PLENTY until he came to New York: in Chicago, he and his friends played swinging improvisations on current and classic pop tunes.  As did Eddie Condon, Ellington, Teddy Wilson, Mildred Bailey.

These thoughts were especially prominent in my mind when I found the latest videos from the estimable First Thursday Band — led by pianist Ray Skjelbred — at the New Orleans Creole Restaurant in Seattle, Washington . . . on September 6, 2012.  The other members of the FTB are drummer Mike Daughterty, skilled at roll play; bassist Dave Brown, whose beat can’t be beat; multi-instrumentalist Steve Wright.  Some of the tunes you will see and hear below — by virtue of jazz instrumentalists playing them memorably — have become “jazz classics.”  But they were all popular tunes, premiered in vaudeville, Broadway musicals, the movies, around the parlor piano.

The ambiance here is so reminiscent of an otherwise unknown Chicago club, circa 1934, with the good guys having the time of their life playing requests and songs they like.  Close your eyes and you’ll hear not only Wright, Brown, Daugherty, and Skjelbred, but Frank Melrose, Earl Hines, Alex Hill, Zinky Cohn; Guy Kelly, Jimmie Noone, Frank Teschmacher, Wellman Braud, Milt Hinton, Zutty Singleton, Sidney Catlett — the list of happily approving ghosts is very long.

I begin this history / music theory lesson with Wayne King’s theme song — in the wrong hands, as soggy as uncooked French toast, but here snappy and sweet:

THE WALTZ YOU SAVED FOR ME :

Richard Whiting’s SHE’S FUNNY THAT WAY, which had a life long before John Hammond handed it to Billie Holiday:

A zippy Harry Barris song from the film extravaganza THE KING OF JAZZ — in our century, adopted as music for penguins — HAPPY FEET (with the verse — and then Skjelbred leaps in like a man possessed):

Isham Jones’ pretty, mournful WHAT’S THE USE? (with a rhythm section that won’t quit):

And from 1919, one of those songs suggesting that happiness could be conveyed by facial expressions, in fact, by loving SMILES:

Purists, begone!  Visit here to see more.

May your happiness increase.

ATLANTA 2012: RUSS PHILLIPS, JOHN ALLRED, MARK SHANE, FRANK TATE, CHUCK REDD (April 22, 2012)

Not FLYIN’ HOME but its brass cousin — SLIDIN’ HOME as two of the best jazz trombonists show off their wonderful musical teamwork at the 2012 Atlanta Jazz Party.  Closer to my lens was John Allred, next to him (and at the microphone) was Russ Phillips; they were aided and abetted by Mark Shane, piano; Frank Tate, string bass; Chuck Redd, drums — a stellar rhythm trio.

We were more than satisfied!

The Rodgers and Hart classic THIS CAN’T BE LOVE:

Even more venerable, Isham Jones’ ON THE ALAMO:

An invitation to nocturnal spooning and the like, GET OUT AND GET UNDER THE MOON:

And, appropriately, Gordon Jenkins’ GOOD-BYE:

All this group needs is a nifty title or acronym.  JARP doesn’t convey their excellence sufficiently, nor does FSFT (Famous Sons of Famous Trombonists) but I am sure someone will suggest something better.

May your happiness increase.

POST-GRADUATE SWING SCHOOL at THE EAR INN (Dec. 11, 2011)

The students were arranged in a neat row at the bar (and a few sat at tables); the Visiting Professors began the seminar.

We weren’t taking notes, but we were learning a great deal last Sunday night, Dec. 11, 2011, at The Ear Inn, 326 Spring Street, Soho, New York City.

The EarRegulars that night were Matt Munisteri, guitar; Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Jon Burr, string bass; Harry Allen, tenor sax; and sitting in for the Official Christmas Song, Michael Blake; tenor sax.

What did we learn?  A great deal about love for melody and respectful although playful melodic embellishments.  We filled our mental notebooks with observations on the state of twenty-first century Swingmatism, and Einstein’s Law of Time as it applies to the elasticticity of the beat.  We observed the sweet variations of Medium Tempo, and once again had an opportunity to revisit the philosophy of Oran Thaddeus Page, who uttered the timeless words, “The material is immaterial,” as well as his observations on the necessity of having his livelihood remain serene.

I wish all the Jazz History students in the known world could attend these seminars at The Ear Inn, and the people currently squabbling in the blogosphere about what to call this music (How about “Music”?) and who owns it . . . could study what we studied.

Of course, I have provided an online study guide below.

Very few bands play WHAT’S THE USE?; very few players know it, and it got a divine performance from the EarRegulars.  I think it was originally a rather sad love ballad written by Isham Jones; I first heard it on a red-label Commodore 78 that featured Bobby Hackett, Pee Wee Russell, and Eddie Condon.  Here is it, reimagined for us:

That Irving Berlin fellow wrote mighty good tunes — no postmodern irony, no hip posturing.  He celebrates love and faithfulness — as do the EarRegulars, as a nice rocking tempo, with ALWAYS:

More Berlin!  Shades of Louis and the Mills Brothers, of Ruby Braff, early and late, inhabit MY WALKING STICK:

Michael Blake (tenor sax on the right) joined in for another Berlin classic — a song ennobled by Bing, Louis, and Connee: WHITE CHRISTMAS:

Someday we will speak nostalgically of the great Sunday evenings at The Ear Inn!  I hope they go on and on: there is no need to graduate from the University holding classes at 326 Spring Street.

This post is affectionately dedicated to Ace Irwin, formerly an aerospace engineer, a theatrical set designer, and artist who is enjoying the sounds with all his heart in Mendocino, California.  He loves to listen to the EarRegulars and is someone who understands the various scenes at The Ear Inn, although he’s never been there.  It’s an honor to send this music across the continent to him!  I’ve never met Ace, but knowing that he is on the other end of the cyber-pipeline warms my heart.  (How do I know about him?  His daughter is one of my warm-hearted Ear Inn pals, and she speaks of her father with affection and gratitude.  Good deal!)

I keep JAZZ LIVES going for all the people I might never meet, the lovely men and women who might or might not ever get to New York City or the California festivals that have been so festive.  This blog is for the Beloved (of course), for Aunt Ida and Boris, Eric and Noya, Bill and Melissa, Ricky and Clint, Hal and James Arden . . . the list could be very long.  You, you, and especially you!

OH, WHAT A BEAUTIFUL MORNIN’: TIM LAUGHLIN, CONNIE JONES, CLINT BAKER, CHRIS DAWSON, KATIE CAVERA, MARTY EGGERS, HAL SMITH (Sept. 5, 2011)

When someone tried to get Thelonious Monk up early for the GREAT DAY IN HARLEM photo shoot in 1958, Monk is supposed to have replied — and I don’t think he was joking — that he didn’t know there were two ten o’clocks in the day.  Perhaps an extreme statement, but many jazz musicians — by habit, temperament, and experience — are nocturnal creatures.  They aren’t terrified of daylight, just unaccustomed to it.

Thus the session that follows is special for reasons above and beyond the fine music that these players produced.  It took place on Sunday, September 5, 2011, at the Sweet and Hot Music Festival — and it began at 9:45 AM.  But no one complained, because they were taking such delight in each other’s company.

And, even better (perhaps a nod to the irritable shade of the late Kenny Davern) it was a totally acoustic session.  No microphones in sight!  That’s the way it’s supposed to be but so rarely is — electrified instruments or a forest of microphones.  Some sound men and women are expert, sensitive listeners, but it’s such a treat to hear acoustic music in a quiet room — it happens infrequently.

All of this wouldn’t matter if the musicians were ordinary . . . but this band is made up of great players, individualists willing to create something synergistic, a musical entity larger than themselves.  Tim Laughlin is a model clarinetist — his sweet, full tone is a pleasure to hear whatever he plays; his swinging playing never lets us down.  Connie Jones is a quiet master, offering one subtle, peaceably emotive solo after another.  He never reaches for a cliche of the idiom or of his instrument, and his knowledge of harmony is so deep that he never plays an expected or an overemphatic phrase.  I think of Bobby Hackett and Doc Cheatham, but also the translucent quality of early Lester Young.  Chris Dawson makes his hard work look easy, spinning airy phrases out as he goes — glistening arpeggios bolster and urge on the soloist, the band — without playing one superfluous note.

Next to these three polished stylists, we have the untrammeled man of jazz, the master of grease and fuzz, Clint Baker, reminding us that if it ain’t gutbucket, it ain’t worth playing.  Clint dosen’t demand the spotlight and is soft-spoken, but is a serious purveyor of darker impulses on his horn.

That rhythm section?  Sweetly propulsive!  Katie Cavera knows her harmony and pushes everyone forward in the most affecting way — a Freddie Green with a West Coast bite (as if Mr. Green had eaten many more ripe avocados in his day).  Marty Eggers plays his bass the old-fashioned way, the Wellman Braud way, without being overpowering or raucous.  And Hal Smith just shines back there at his drum kit: offering the exactly right sound, push, or rhythmic seasoning for this or any other band.

As an extra bonus: no terribly hackneyed “Dixieland” tunes — no muskrats rambling . . . just melodic favorites, some less-played, most at nice rocking tempos.

They started with a song whose title well represents this band’s feeling — a Twenties pop song not often recorded by jazz players, although Louis and the All-Stars did it more than once in 1948 — TOGETHER (an apt description of this band’s overall conception):

SPAIN (by Isham Jones) was ornamented with the Irving Fazola introduction — a lovely touch — and was taken at a sweet tempo (rather than a near-run):

WANG WANG BLUES might have called forth memories of the earliest Paul Whiteman Orchestra . . . . but the easy tempo here evoked the Benny Goodman Sextet of 1945 where the front line was BG and the much-missed Atlanta stalwart, trombonist Lou McGarity (ain’t nobody played like him yet!):

(WHAT CAN I SAY, DEAR?) AFTER I SAY I’M SORRY is not only a song with two identities; it also lends itself to varied approaches and tempi.  Here Tim counts it off as if we really should know the emotional intent — a deep apology — and the band catches the sweet rueful mood immediately — after Chris, a soulful fellow, points the way:

Chris Dawson deserves more attention — he is such a fine (although understated) player that I think many people haven’t given his quiet swinging playing the applause it deserves.  Listen to what he and the rhythm section do to and for Berlin’s PUTTIN’ ON THE RITZ:

They called her frivolous Sal.  Enough said — but MY GAL SAL commemorates this lively young woman:

There are two songs called ONCE IN A WHILE associated with Louis Armstrong.  One, a Hot Five display piece; the other, a lovely pop ballad that Louis played and sang with a small group for Decca in 1938 — that’s the one Tim and friends chose here:

Finally, the Louis-Hoagy Carmichael connection (such a fertile partnership over the years) gets its moment with JUBILEE:

Mister Gloom won’t be about / Music always knocks him out — even before 10 AM!  And lyricism at this level makes Mister Gloom pack up and go somewhere else forever.

DEEP SONGS AT THE EAR (Sept. 26, 2010)

It was another elevating night at The Ear Inn (326 Spring Street). 

Nothing could spoil the collective merriment — not the fact that the subways were perversely unpredictable, not the untrained owner with the overeager dog who knocked over a beer and nearly ruined one of Jon-Erik Kellso’s antique mutes, never meant for a lager-bath. 

No, when Jon-Erik, Scott Robinson (tenor and soprano this time), Matt Munisteri, and Pat O’Leary join forces, it’s a delightful and always surprising musical encounter.  And (later on) they were joined by Bob Barnard (trumpet), who’s always inventive.

But the highlights for me were the imaginative musical conversations that the quartet and quintet embarked on — each player having his say but deeply listening to what his peers were doing and being inspired by it. 

Bear in mind that these are highlights — for those of you seated at home, savoring this experience, it’s only a shadow of what really goes on at The Ear Inn. 

After an energetic I DOUBLE DARE YOU, the EarRegulars chose something that has now become mildly unusual — the pretty Ray Noble ballad THE TOUCH OF YOUR LIPS played at a slightly faster tempo, reminiscent of what Ruby Braff might have done with this lyrical melody:

LIPS like those need a good long time:

Jon-Erik handed off the trumpet chair to Bob, who dove right in to a Louis-inspired CHINATOWN MY CHINATOWN, with Scott, Matt, and Pat in truly hot pursuit:

Music for two trumpets!  Jon-Erik called for “a rocking blues,” and Bob stayed on for a lengthy BEALE STREET BLUES:

Making BEALE STREET talk:

Irving Berlin’s sweet A PRETTY GIRL IS LIKE A MELODY got a swinging exploration:

SLEEPY TIME GAL began with a lavish reading of the melody and became even more lovely:

Isham Jones’s ON THE ALAMO gave the quartet a chance to stretch out and explore:

Too good to draw to a close too quickly:

What lovely songs!

MARTY GROSZ IN THE GROOVE! (Chautauqua 2009)

It was Friday night at Jazz at Chautauqua — September 2009.  The crowd was still working on their late dinners and drinks, chatting with the people they hadn’t seen since last year, when Marty Grosz and his Esteemed Esthetes of Swing (my name, not his) took the stand in the Athenaeum ballroom.  Before he began one of the performances, he took a long time scat-singing the tempo he wanted, and when someone must have looked quizzically at him, he said, earnestly, “It’s the groove.  Gotta find that groove!” which the band did, as the four performances that follow will show.  The distinguished participants: Duke Heitger, Bob Havens, Dan Block, Keith Ingham, Vince Giordano, and Arnie Kinsella.

They began (Marty’s vocal nearly obscured by the crowd chatter) with Bill Robinson’s DOIN’ THE NEW LOW DOWN, resulting in many dancing feet in the audience, although everyone as far as I know remained seated:

Next, an Isham Jones composition, which begins in the best Castillian manner, recalling the Bob Crosby Bobcats, SPAIN:

In memory of Louis Armstrong, J. C. Higginbotham, and Sidney Catlett, Marty suggested I DOUBLE DARE YOU:

Finally, a medium-tempo exploration of one of the oldest of the Old Favorites, BABY WON’T YOU PLEASE COME HOME?

Everything that enlightened jazz listeners could want: hot solos, keen tunes, singing that harks back to Fats and Red McKenzie, a Basie rhythm-section passage, an eloquent bass sax solo, head arrangements and more.  Stirring stuff, no?

ON TREASURE ISLAND

No, my title isn’t a reference to Robert Louis Stevenson, or the 1935 pop song recorded by Louis and Wingy Manone.  It’s how I think of the back quadrant of the antiques-and-collectables shop called CAROUSEL on Warren Street in Hudson, New York.  In a previous post, I happily showed off the Jelly Roll Morton HMV 78 I had uncovered . . . but I hadn’t bothered to look down.  What I found was two boxes of 10″ and 12″ 78s and a few 10″ lps — many of them suggesting that their previous owner had far-ranging and excellent jazz taste.  Here are my latest acquisitions, arranged in rough chronological order for the purists out there . . .

Let’s begin with some classic acoustic blues: two Columbias by a famous pair:

78s from Carousel 001

78s from Carousel 002

78s from Carousel 003

78s from Carousel 004

78s from Carousel 005

This one was fairly dull, but I didn’t expect roaring improvisation.

78s from Carousel 006

Well, we live in hope. SUSAN has some faux-hot playing in its final chorus, where potential buyers might not be scared away, but nothing memorable.

78s from Carousel 007

I recall this tune from Mildred Bailey’s little-girl version, but don’t know the vocalist.

78s from Carousel 008

This 78 is cracked, but this side’s a real prize.  With the song taken at a slower tempo than usual, there’s a good deal of growling from Bubber Miley in the last minute of the record, out in the open and as part of the ensemble.  A find!

78s from Carousel 009

What first caught my eye was the lovely UK label . . . then when I saw this and the next ones were mint Bings from 1933, I couldn’t resist.  And Eddie Lang is added to the Royal Canadians.  Legend has it that the British pressings are quiet and well-behaved.  Is this true?

78s from Carousel 010

Not a memorable song, but I can hear Bing becoming pastoral as I type these words.

78s from Carousel 011

78s from Carousel 012

And my favorite of the four sides — a jaunty naughty song about love-addiction, and perhaps other things, too.  I always knew that “I must have you every day / As regularly as coffee or tea,” didn’t entirely refer to Twining’s Earl Grey.

78s from Carousel 013

Now you’re talking my language!  We jump forward into the Forties (I left aside a number of familiar Commodores and Keynotes, because of the economy) — with a record I’d only heard on an Onyx lp compilation.  Here’s the original 12″ vinyl pressing, with “Theodocius,” as Mildred called him on a 1935 record, who was under contract to Musicraft at the time.  A wonderful quintet!

78s from Carousel 014

And a tune that only one other jazz group (Benny Morton-Red Allen, 1933) ever recorded.

78s from Carousel 015

For whatever reason, 10″ jazz lps are even more scarce than 78s, so this one was a real surprise — even without its cover.

78s from Carousel 016

Just as good!

78s from Carousel 017

The other side of the ideological divide, but equally thrilling.

78s from Carousel 018

Did Mingus overdub his bass lines on this issue, I wonder?

78s from Carousel 019

Take it on faith that side 2 is exactly the same except for the altered digit.  Now, to conclude — a pair of oddities!

78s from Carousel 021

I can see myself listening to this two-sided piece of history once, if that — but the near-mint record and the original sleeve made it an essential purchase.  I’ll also send this photo to my friend, poet Amy King, who isn’t abdicating her throne any time soon.

78s from Carousel 022

Finally, a real gamble and entirely irresistible for that reason.  The logical half of the brain says that what looks like “Hawk” will turn out to be “Hank,” singing about his girl Nona, accompanying himself on the musical saw.  The hopeful side of the brain says “Coleman Hawkins, of course . . . ”  Stay tuned!  My next purchase, obviously, has to be a three-speed turntable.

And two antique-store stories, both cheering.  In Carousel, the gentleman behind the counter saw me come puffing up with my armload of precious 78s.  I could be wrong, but I don’t think the store does a brisk business in 78s, so he was happy to see me.  “I have twelve,” I said, with that hopeful expectant canine look on my face that says, silently, “Can you give me a break on the price, especially if I don’t haggle with you?”  His intuition was splendid.  He grinned at me and said, “Looks like ten to me.”  I was pleasantly flustered and said, conspiratorially, “You knew I was hoping for some sort of discount, didn’t you?” and his smile got bigger.  “No,” he said, “I just count better than you do.”  Very sweet indeed!

And a few days before this, the Beloved and I had spent some time in a store in an odd location — where, I don’t exactly remember.  Its owner was even more amiable, even when we couldn’t find a thing to buy in his place, including gardening books and a small stash of vinyl records.  But we had an exceedingly amusing and thoughtful conversation with him about the changing nature of the area, and how it affected local businesses.  We exchanged friendly good wishes at the end, and went outside to get in the car.  A few beats later, we saw him emerge from the store.  “Did I tell you my clown joke?” he said, and we said no, he hadn’t — hoping for the best but expecting something positively weird or terrifying.  (One never knows, do one?)  “Two cannibals are eating a clown, and one of them looks at the other and says, suspiciously, ‘Does this taste  funny to you?”  It caught me by surprise and, after a moment for cogitation, we were laughing loudly.  Now you can tell it to someone else.

BARBARA ROSENE at IRIDIUM, February 17, 2009: SWEET, HOT, and SOULFUL!

barbara-rosene-2003-cd1I first heard Barbara Rosene sing on a compact disc — the 2003 Stomp Off “Ev’rything’s Made For Love,” which I’d obtained serendipitously.  Bob Rusch of Cadence thought I would take pleasure in this music, and (as is often the case) he was splendidly correct. I loved the sounds — plural, not singular — of Barbara’s pure, clear voice, tenderly exploring the layers of feeling in a ballad, being naughty on a double-entendre Twenties song, or simply swinging her way exultantly through one of those unashamedly happy songs that used to be the fashion.  Although Barbara often sang obscure songs, she was more than an archivist delighting in artistic esoterica.

Some singers sing at the song, or, worse, they present it at a distance with ironic quotation marks around it.  Barbara immerses herself in the emotions of the lyrics and the melody, uniting herself with the song.  Although some of her material was peripherally connected to girl singers who chose to present themselves as Twenties Lolitas (little girls lispiing through the lyrics), Barbara is serious when her material is, riotous when the song calls for it.

In October 2004, I was in the audience for a late-night jam session at the Cajun, where Barbara, at someone’s request, got up and sang a touching FOOLS RUSH IN.  Later, I introduced myself to her as the Phantom Reviewer, and was delighted by her genuineness.  She and Kevin Dorn are close friends, so I began to see Barbara sing more often in a variety of places — from an Episcopal church in Hicksville, New York to an uptown club whose name I forget to the now-eradicated Jacques-Imo’s.

All of this is prelude to what the Beloved and I enjoyed last night: Barbara and her New Yorkers appearing at Iridium for two sets — an engagement I hope will be repeated soon and often.  She always surrounds herself with the best musicians, and the band last night was choice: Kevin on drums, Conal Fowkes on piano, Doug Largent on bass, Michael Hashim on alto and tenor, Matt Szemela on violin, and Jon-Erik Kellso on trumpet.

The lovely thing about Barbara’s Iridium gig was that the room was packed with quietly appreciative people, many of whom knew each other, so it was like a reunion — or a party in someone’s large living room.  The Beloved and I sat at a table with the cheerful Joe and Carla Samolduski, the people responsible for Barbara’s appearances at “Cabaret Night” at the Hicksville church.  All that was missing was the basket of potato chips in front of us.

The music began with a positively rambunctious THERE’LL BE SOME CHANGES MADE.  When the gleeful dust had settled, Barbara chatted with the audience about her song choices.  She believes in what she sings: GET OUT AND GET UNDER THE MOON is not just a series of words for her.  Matt Szemela added his sweet countrified violin to the ensemble, a wonderful bonus.  Acknowledging her debt to Annette Hanshaw, Barbara began a deeply serious (although rhythmically mobile) version of AM I BLUE.  Jon-Erik growled ominously behind her, and Michael Hashim explored the low register of his horn, reminding me of Ben Webster at his Fifties best.  The mood brightened dramatically when Barbara offered a chipper rendition of LOVABLE AND SWEET, composed by Oscar Levant, rhyming “nice man” and “iceman” for naughty reasons.  DEEP NIGHT, which Barbara dedicated to her late father, who loved the song, was a sultry tango.  Barbara is a gracious and generous leader, so she gave the band a chance to romp on I WONDER WHERE MY BABY IS TONIGHT, which featured a patented Hashim stop-time chorus and two jammed ensemble choruses, the first quiet, the second shouting.  A delicate IT WAS ONLY A SUN SHOWER followed; during Michael’s solo, Barbara sat on the piano bench next to Conal, her eyes closed, rocking happily to the beat.  A brisk IT HAD TO BE YOU came next: Barbara sang the familiar lyrics as if the song was new, and Conal provided a rocking minimalist solo (Basie without the cliches), supported in high style by Doug and Kevin.

Readers familiar with this blog might be asking themselves, “Where was Flip all this time?”  “Struggling to get out of my pocket,” would be the answer.  Flip was thrilled to be at Iridium (it was his first time) and he wanted to get close to the stage, but I kept on trying to quiet him down.  People had the audacity to be sitting in front of us and their heads were in the way; Flip wriggled and jumped so vigorously that I thought the waitstaff were going to ask us to leave.

When it was clear that Barbara’s set was more than half over, I took Flip out of my pocket and aimed him at the stage — thinking that the Iridium staff would hardly eject us so close to the end.  (I was right.)  The result is that you are now able to see and hear some of what Barbara and her New Yorkers did so beautifully last night.

Here’s Irving Berlin’s melancholy SAY IT ISN’T SO, a fully realized dramatic performance without a hint of “acting”:

Barbara featured the band on AIN’T MISBEHAVIN’, which offers wonderful hot solos and ensemble joys.  I especially love the trades between Doug and Kevin at the end, reminiscent of the playful jazz conversations Milt Hinton and Jo Jones had so memorably:

And something even more special: Barbara’s ukulele feature.  Faithful readers will know of my recent (and continuing) ukulele obsession — I’m still finding my way around the fingerboard.  But I was thrilled when Barbara unsheathed a soprano ukulele and put on her own one-woman show.  It’s not that she’s the East Coast version of Lyle Ritz (or at least not yet) but she encapsulates another world in her performance of KEEPIN’ OUT OF MISCHIEF NOW — as if we were sitting on the porch with her and she decided it was time for a little music.  It’s charming!  And her whistling is both casual and accomplished:

Finally, a rocking version of MY BLACKBIRDS ARE BLUEBIRDS NOW — one of several songs that exploited this avian metaphor.  I feel sorry for the poor blackbirds, who got a bad reputation as emblems of bad luck.  All because of that one flying terrorist who pecked off the housemaid’s nose, if I remember correctly?  Bluebirds are fine, of course — but the blackbirds swung.  Here’s Barbara and her New Yorkers:

Barbara says that she is trying to keep this music alive without turning into the guardian of a time capsule.  That’s a tall order, but she is doing it heroically every time she sings, and she did it splendidly last night.  I hope these homegrown video clips convey something of her special gifts.  She is The Real Thing.