Tag Archives: Isham Jones

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!

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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!