Tag Archives: J. Fred Coots

“LIKE THE RIPPLES ON A STREAM,” or IMPERMANENCE, by HARVEY SHAPIRO and by BRIAN HOLLAND, DANNY COOTS, MARC CAPARONE, JOHN OTTO, STEVE PIKAL (Evergreen Jazz Festival, July 26, 2019)

For those of us who keep music in our hearts, this 1934 song is special.

Yes, it is a carpe diem love song, but it is also about how nothing lasts forever.  It inevitably leads me back to Harvey Shapiro’s poem about Charlie Shavers, reprinted here with apologies for copyright infringement:

That melancholy sharply-realized poem leads me back to these moments in time:

I don’t know the remedy for impermanence — but, as Doctors Holland, Coots, Caparone, Otto, and Pikal enact here: “Take your saddest song and make sure it swings.  You don’t have unlimited chances to swing your song.”

May your happiness increase!

HOW THE MASTERS DO IT: BOB HAVENS // MARTY GROSZ (Jazz at Chautauqua, September 16, 2011)

I am moderately accident-prone: I can trip over an uneven sidewalk; have the last bit of salad dressing adhere to my shirt; while driving, I may unsuccessfully avoid a pothole with an $800 repair bill as the result.  I laugh about it.

So I admire those who see the looming catastrophe, however its size and shape, and step around it without spilling their tea.  They aren’t Bojangles, Fred, or Gene — just people who sense the landmine and gracefully avoid it.  Jazz musicians are especially good at fixing errors before they turn into train wrecks.

Two of these Masters — you could call them spiritual acrobats or merely veterans of the trade — are trombonist Bob Havens and guitarist / singer / arranger Marty Grosz.  Both of these heroes are born in 1930, so when this brief interlude took place on September 16, 2011, they were 81.  Decades of experience!  The occasion was the yearly Jazz at Chautauqua, the beloved child of Joe Boughton, that was held at the Athenaeum Hotel in Chautauqua, New York (ninety minutes from Buffalo).  It was a memorable jazz weekend, with about thirty musicians playing and singing from Thursday evening to Sunday afternoon.

One of the particular delights of Chautauqua grew out of Joe’s love for beautiful semi-forgotten songs.  Thus the weekend began and ended with a ballad medley.  Four musicians were chosen as a skilled rhythm section, and from one side of the stage, everyone else walked on, indicated briefly to the rhythm section what song they had chosen and in what key, played or sang a chorus at a slow tempo, and walked offstage from the other side.  Emotionally powerful, visually charming, full of surprises and sweet sensations.

For the 2011 Jazz at Chautauqua’s closing medley, the rhythm section was Keith Ingham, piano; Frank Tate, string bass; Marty Grosz, guitar; Arnie Kinsella, drums.  The complete medley ran perhaps twenty minutes: I’ve excerpted a segment I find particularly touching.

You’ll see at the start of this excerpt Bob Havens step onstage and explain by words and gestures that he plans to play — in seconds — LOVE LETTERS IN THE SAND, the nostalgic creation of Charles and Nick Kenny and Danny Coots’ great-uncle, J. Fred.  It’s a favorite song of mine, first recorded in 1931 by (among others) Ruth Etting, then made into a huge success by Pat Boone.  I won’t comment on what the trajectory from Ruth to Pat suggests to me, especially because it was one of Vic Dickenson’s favorites also (his medium-bounce version can be found on YouTube).  In its homespun way, it’s a seventeenth-century poem: human love always loses the battle with nature and time, and tears are inevitable.

The opening phrase is familiar, the harmony simple, but unless my ears deceive me, there is a slight uncertainty in the rhythm section about the harmonies that follow, so Havens, used to this sort of thing for decades, “spells out” the harmony by emphasizing arpeggiated chords as he goes along — and the performance not only reaches its goal but our hearts as well.

Then Marty, who always goes his own way, thank goodness, asks everyone to be silent while he essays EMALINE.  That in itself would be brave — the lyrics to the chorus are pure Waltons-Americana, but they might be fairly well known.  No, our hero Martin Oliver Grosz begins with the verse and gets about one-third of the way before realizing his memory of the lyrics is incomplete: hear his inimitable rescue!  And the chorus is just lovely.  Incidentally, Frank Tate is someone I deeply admire: watch and listen to this clip again, and look at his facial expressions as Marty walks the thorny path he has chosen for himself.

For those who need to know (I had to look them up) the pretty although seriously hackneyed lyrics to the verse are: Ev’ning breezes hum a lullaby / There’s a million candles in the sky / I’ve put on my Sunday suit of blue / Emaline, just for  you / Here I’m standing at your garden gate / While the village clock is striking eight / Hurry up! Hurry down! / Honey, don’t be late!  (I especially like the “up” and “down,” but I’m a sentimentalist.)

The musicians on this stage (and their friends) are my role models.  What does a brief error matter if you either head it off or make a joke out of it: in both cases, they not only avoid trouble but cover it up so stylishly that the result is even better than plain old competence.  All hail!

There will be more previously unknown treasures from the Jazz at Chautauqua weekends — and then its successor, the Cleveland Classic Jazz Party — in months to come.  “Too good to ignore,” said Eddie Condon, who spoke truth.

May your happiness increase!

GUILLERMO, FERNANDO, and A BEAUTIFUL LADY IN BLUE (June 14, 2019)

Lady in Blue, Henri Matisse

I’m waiting, with some sly amusement, to read a comment on JAZZ LIVES that runs, “Michael, what’s wrong with you that you post so many pretty things on your blogsite?  ‘Pretty’ is so ancient.”

Well, brace yourself.  Here comes more Pretty, with side Dishes of Delicate, Tender, and . . . it’s a waltz.  Can you take it?  I know you can.

Here’s the splendid song — by Sam M. Lewis and J. Fred Coots — as performed in 1936 by Ray Noble and his Orchestra, with Al Bowlly’s heartfelt exposition of the story, elating and melancholy all at once:

And the sweet brand-new version created by Guillermo Perata, cornet; Fernando Montardit, guitar (June 14, 2019), where they steadfastly stay in 3/4 and don’t double the tempo:

For all of you who celebrate Beauty.

May your happiness increase!

AT THE INTERSECTION OF ART AND COMMERCE: TAFT JORDAN AND THE MOB (February 21-22, 1935)

TAFT

A nice bio of trumpeter / vocalist Taft Jordan is available here, which is also the source for the photograph.

TAFT Night Wind Banner

In February 1935, “Taft Jordan And The Mob” — Taft, trumpet; Ward Silloway, trombone; Johnny Mince, clarinet; Elmer “Tone” Williams [not “Skippy” Williams as listed in Tom Lord — thanks to Mark Cantor], tenor saxophone; Teddy Wilson, piano; Bobby Johnson, guitar; John Kirby, string bass; Eddie Dougherty, drums — recorded four memorable sides that have never gotten the attention they deserve.  (Incidentally, the beautiful record labels are illustrations only: the music can be found in the videos below.)  

TAFT MOB label

The idea was John Hammond’s, and one that we are grateful for.  The usual story is that Hammond worked hard to get the music he loved on record, to make opportunities for racially mixed bands.  He succeeded beautifully: most readers know this part of the story as preface to the 1933-42 Billie Holiday sides.

But other parts of the story deserve attention.  There is, for one thing, the success of the coin-operated phonograph (later, the “jukebox”) that could offer people recorded music in restaurants, bars, and elsewhere for what seems to us like a bargain: a nickel would get you three minutes of new music.  But a 1935 nickel was much more than the ninety-nine cents per song that iTunes charges.  (A contemporary advertisement shows Easter dresses for $1.95, and a skilled worker for the W.P.A. might earn $79 a month.)

And, at the time, commercially produced records were — as it says on the label — “not licensed for radio broadcast.”  I think that coin-operated phonographs served the audience’s desire for novelty (“Let’s hear that new record of ______ by Erin Morris and her Ponies!”) — songs from new movies, new songs popularized by much loved bands and singers . . . and for five cents, one could have a side played for a gathering of listeners and/or dancers.  The record labels pictured above are now called “dime-store,” because one could  buy these records inexpensively at, say, Woolworth’s.

Radio and recordings created a need for new material, so many songs, not all memorable, were published, with a clear financial relationship between composers / lyricists, publishing companies, artists, recording supervisors, and record companies.  (A small example: IF THE MOON TURNS GREEN was written by Bernard Hanighen, Billie Holiday’s friend, also a recording director at Brunswick Records.  He would have been happy — aesthetically and financially — to have his song recorded.)

Taft’s four sides run parallel to other small groups led by Fats Waller, Henry Red Allen, Bob Howard, Putney Dandridge, Stuff Smith, Adrian Rollini, Tempo King, Cleo Brown, Lil Hardin Armstrong, Frank Froeba, Bernard Addison, Louis “King”Garcia, Stew Pletcher, and others.  I’ve heard writers say these sessions were “cranked out for the jukebox trade,” but these records are lovely, imperishable.  That there were only four sides says more about an audience’s awareness of Taft as a star than about their quality.  Some listeners might have known him from the Savoy Ballroom and radio, but not many.  When the records were later reissued in the UK (the red-and-gold Vocalion issues) Teddy Wilson had become famous enough so that his name would sell discs.

The artists made little or nothing for these sessions: they were paid “scale,” although they were pleased to make the extra money.   The math is fascinating, a quiet recital of economic disparity, even at the remove of eight decades.  Let us say a band of eight musicians made four sides for $50 a musician.  The records were pressed, distributed, and ended up in the phonographs.  One could hear a side once — no limit on the number of hearers, theoretically — for a nickel. The machine could take in twenty nickels in an hour.  In 1935, the profit went to the record companies and the owners of the phonographs. Later (too late, perhaps) musicians and composers received royalties, but that is another story.

Yes, mechanical reproduction of art guarantees “exposure,” but one cannot eat exposure.  I am aware of this from both sides as an interloper with a video camera who can only recompense musicians in insubstantial ways.

I offer these notions, some of them quite sad or infuriating, as preface to wonderful music, and also to point out that an unstable, often exploitative relationship between the artists, “the marketplace,” technology, and lasting art is not a twenty-first century issue.

TAFT Vocalion Devil

What good songs these “disposable” pop tunes are — thanks to Rothberg, Coots, Alex Hill (yes!), and Hanighen.  And the players, professionals all, were used to sight-reading and creating instant arrangements — with split choruses, riffs, backgrounds.  To take one example, LOUISIANA FAIRY TALE, still recognizable, is a series of thirty-two and sixteen bar solos with rhythm (and what a rhythm section!) with a jammed ensemble ending.  How fine it sounds now.  One could spend an afternoon listening to the glowing epigrams Wilson dispenses, the variety of timbres the horns offer, solo and in ensemble.

In my collecting history, these four sides were part of a Columbia Chick Webb lp compilation — glorious gap-fillers, but also logical because of Taft’s role in the band.  Mince and Silloway were with Tommy Dorsey; Skippy Williams, Bobby Johnson, and John Kirby with Webb also; Eddie Dougherty a busy free-lancer. Wilson had not yet joined the Goodman orchestra as a member of the Trio and Quartet, but had recorded with BG in ad-hoc studio groups.

What we have here — each side is less than three minutes long — is both superior dance music and small-band swing of the highest order, pleasing to all audiences.

In my time-travel fantasy, I would like to be a silent onlooker at one of these sessions, but I doubt the musicians romanticized such work.  It was another way to pay the rent, perhaps (for the lucky sideman) to get some recognition for future leader’s gigs . . . or perhaps, after creating four quiet masterpieces, the guys went out for a drink or some ribs, a nap before the night’s work.  If I’d asked Taft about these sides in 1972 /3 and later — I didn’t see him at close range — I wonder what would he have said.

LOUISIANA FAIRY TALE:

NIGHT WIND:

DEVIL IN THE MOON:

IF THE MOON TURNS GREEN:

All four of these songs were also recorded “with vocal chorus” by Taft, a charming Louis-influenced singer (consider his work with the Washboard Rhythm Kings and Webb) but none of the vocals was issued.  Mysterious.  I know there is an alternate take of NIGHT WIND issued on a Jerry Valburn collectors’ compilation, but it’s instrumental.

TAFT Vocalion Green

Does anyone know more about Eddie Dougherty than is published in John Chilton’s WHO’S WHO IN JAZZ?  I have learned that he recorded between 1933 and 1952 or a little later, that he lived in Brooklyn, and, according to Johnny Williams via Mike Burgevin, that he pronounced his last name as if spelled Dockerty.  But no more.

The music remains.  And I, for one, am truly grateful for that.

Taft as a member of the Ellington orchestra. Photograph by Charlie Mihn, courtesy of Chuck Slate.

Taft as a member of the Ellington orchestra. Photograph by Charlie Mihn, courtesy of Chuck Slate.

As a postscript, here are four contemporaneous versions of DEVIL IN THE MOON — in honor of the Blessed Alex Hill.  I think they are all beautiful, so this is not to make insidious comparisons.

Leo Reisman:

Mills Blue Rhythm Band (with an incendiary Buster Bailey interlude that the expert dancers must have loved):

Benny Goodman:

Art Tatum:

May your happiness increase!

“TO IGNITE THE SPARK”: MR. WALLER’S ROMANTIC SONG (1937)

Recently there was a long, energetic discussion on Facebook, sparked by our friend, the superb young pianist Kris Tokarski (you can find it if you scroll down to March 31) on what attributes constitute a “jazz singer.” Bless him, Kris didn’t come to it with a narrow ideology; he wanted to open up a discussion, which he did.

I made mention of instrumentalists with “untrained” voices, and mentioned Hot Lips Page — then also Jimmy Rushing and Ivie Anderson.  But I forgot one of the finest singers of all, Thomas “Fats” Waller.

Most often, we think of Fats, at high volume,  shouting and carrying on — THE JOINT IS JUMPIN’, satirizing, parodying, mocking, clowning. But there was another side of him, heard all too infrequently: the dear romantic balladeer, treating a deserving song with great tenderness.

He does it here — with the 1937 I’M ALWAYS IN THE MOOD FOR YOU:

The lyrics aren’t memorable — in fact, they seem a winking collection of love-song-conceits — but the performance lingers because it is so close to the heart. Hear the long, leisurely piano chorus, Fats’ careful, endearing reading of the lyrics with only Herman Autrey whispering sweet nothings in back of him, and the return.  I think it’s fascinating that this take was issued, for clearly Fats got distracted or the lyric sheet slid off the piano, for there is a distinct near-crisis around three minutes in.  Whether Eli Oberstein said, “Look, we have six more sides to get done today,” or “Well, you made a mistake, Fats, but it’s so late in the record and the side is so beautiful, let’s leave it be,” I don’t know.  (It was the fifth side of nine recorded that day, so I suspect Fats was pressed to move on, even though there was this momentary lapse of attention.  I find the “mistake” completely endearing.)

I also wonder if Fats’ very tender delivery of the song was because it was written by Benny Davis (lyrics), a true veteran of the Brill Building, and Fats’ dear friend and eating buddy J. Fred Coots . . . whatever the motive, it is a very sweet performance and one that has stayed in my mind for years.

I hope you have someone you adore who can hear this recording — preferably seated right nearby — and know that the lyrics and melody are Cupid’s arrow, aimed tenderly but accurately.

May your happiness increase!

WINGY and IVIE ASK THE SAME DEEP QUESTION, 1936

What a lovely song this is — by Benny Davis and J. Fred Coots in 1936.  I heard it first on record (the second version below) and then I was charmed by it in person when Marty Grosz sang and played it with Soprano Summit in 1976. Characteristically, Marty introduced it by saying it was written by a house detective in a famous St. Louis hotel.  (That version of the Summit had Bob Wilber, Kenny Davern, Marty, Mickey Golizio, and Cliff Leeman.  Yes indeed.)

Here’s Wingy Manone in an uncharacteristically serious, tender performance (even though the lyrics elude him about two-thirds through) both on trumpet and vocal.  The other philosophers are Joe Marsala, clarinet; Tom Mace, alto saxophone; Eddie Miller, tenor saxophone; Conrad Lanoue, piano; Carmen Mastren, guitar; Artie Shapiro, string bass; Sam Weiss, drums:

Then, the masterpiece: Ivie Anderson with the Duke, featuring Rex Stewart, Lawrence Brown, and Barney Bigard:

Wishing you love that is anything but puzzling.  You can have it as strange as you want it, but I hope it’s always rewarding.

Postscript: later versions of this song were recorded by two other fellows named Frank Sinatra and Ray Charles.  Quality!  I know more than a few fine singers — at least — who would have a fine time with this song. Any takers?

May your happiness increase!

MILDRED, TWICE

MILDRED autograph 2It seems an authentic signature because of the ornate little flourishes.  But the next one, from a book signed by various luminaries (Harry Richman, J. Fred Coots, and Huey Long among them) in 1933 — celebrating the start of Ozzie Nelson’s band — has its own sly message about the Rockin’ Chair:

MILDRED autograph

Words to live by.

May your happiness increase!

DAY INTO NIGHT, WITH SWEET SWING: TAMAR KORN, GORDON AU, DENNIS LICHTMAN, JARED ENGEL, JIMMY SPERO (Part Two): SACRAMENTO, CALIFORNIA / June 6, 2013

Magical music follows!

George Esposito (georgeespo@sbcglobal.net) — who’s been well-known on KXJZ Sacramento public radio as a jazz host — has been staging his own lovely outdoor concerts for a long time: this is the ninth year of his Midweek Sunset Jazz Series.  I print his email above so that you can get on his list if you are driving distance from Sacramento, California in the summer.

On June 6, 2013, I was able to observe, applaud, and capture a singular concert in George’s spacious backyard.

The combination of music and scenery was nearly intoxicating.  Jazz is so often presented in dark rooms to the accompaniment of talk, eating, and drinking. Here, we had delicious music presented against the changing canvas of the sky, as afternoon shaded into night.  And the music — as always, it mixed sweetness, inventiveness, and surprise beautifully.

The proponents: Tamar Korn, song; Gordon Au, trumpet / composition / arrangement; Dennis Lichtman, clarinet; Jared Engel, string bass; Jimmy Spero, guitar.  All of this took place in George’s backyard on June 6, 2013. These creative musicians offered fifteen performances: here are the second five of the evening, a mixture of classics and originals, all voiced splendidly.

Fats and Andy’s BLUE TURNING GRAY OVER YOU:

Gordon’s SARATOGA SERENADE:

An Au Romance: SOMEHOW THE WORLD HAS TURNED UPSIDE-DOWN:

Fats, Coots, or This Old House?  The source doesn’t matter.  It might be Paradise at last with LOUISIANA FAIRY TALE:

An enthusiastic affirmation: SHE’S A GREAT, GREAT GIRL:

More to come — the final quintet of the evening, with surprise guests!

May your happiness increase!

THE MANY (BEAMING) FACES OF JEFF BARNHART

The more I hear Jeff Barnhart — pianist, singer, improviser — the more I admire him.  He has an ebullient spirit, whether he is striding or playing a rag, but there’s a soulful vein of sweet melancholy that underlies his work — a tenderness that never disappears in the humor and hot music.  See and hear for yourself.

HONEY, THAT REMINDS ME (from the 2010 Whitley Bay Classic Jazz Party — with Michel Bastide, Paul Munnery, Jean-Francois Bonnel, Jacob Ullberger, Josh Duffee, with leader Bent Persson standing off to the side, admiring) comes from a Red Allen tribute, and it is notable for those of us who revere Vic Dickenson as his first real appearance on record — as a singer — with a song that is a little unpredictable.  Thus, Jeff’s looking at the lyrics is the act of a wise man, not an unprepared one.  And you’ll hear, fore and aft, his glistening piano coming through the ensemble in a wonderful Hines manner:

Let’s move things up a little bit — a video created by Tom Warner — something I adore, for its dancing comedy and incredible swing.  Ladies and gentlemen, the duo of Messrs. Barnhart and Danny Coots, performing Uncle Fred Coots’ A BEAUTIFUL LADY IN BLUE — a small theatrical romp, whatever the tempo.

But first!  You need to hear the song as originally performed — with absolute mastery — by Jan Peerce in a 1935 radio airshot (wait for the final cymbal crash!) . . . to get the full flavor of the Barnhart-Coots spectacular.

Jan Peerce:

Jeff and Danny:

(I can’t comment on Jan Peerce’s showmanship — it’s all there in his passionate voice — but Jeff wins the prize for me for one gesture, the way he lifts his right hand while playing at a violent tempo to point to his heart.  That’s the best old-school stride piano Method acting you’ll ever see.)

And one more.  Why not?  It’s a favorite of mine, one of the half-dozen videos I would self-prescribe if I got up feeling gloomy.  A proven spiritual panacea — variations on the 1933 Crosby hit YOUNG AND HEALTHY, with a true Cast of Characters:  John Reynolds (guitar);  Ralf Reynolds (washboard);  Katie Cavera (bass);  Marc Caparone (cornet);  Dan Barrett (trombone); Bryan Shaw (trumpet).  I recorded this at Dixieland Monterey — the Jazz Bash by the Bay, nearly two years ago — March 5, 2011 — and it still delights me.  Jeff does honor to Fats and to Putney Dandridge while remaining himself.

Convinced?  I should think so.

But experiencing Jeff and his music in person is even better.  He travels the country with wife Anne, a classically trained flautist, in their own duo or trio IVORY AND GOLD (with Danny Coots), and he shows up everywhere, spreading joy and mirth and swing.

I am happily going to see him at least three times this year — at the March 1-2-3 Jazz Bash, at the April 20-21 Jeff and Joel’s House Party, and at the 2013 Whitley Bay Classic Jazz Party, turning the corner from October into November).

You can find out more about his peregrinations and recordings here.  And you can hear samples of his music as well — I’ve picked out a particular favorite, an excerpt from  a CD I love, called THUMP! FIRST WHACK Down in Honky Tonk Town.

The title of that recording should say something about its delightful individuality.  The performers are Jeff (piano, vocal, co-leader); SherriLynn Colby (vocal, co-leader); Clint Baker (trumpet, trombone, vocal); Matty Bottel (banjo, tenor guitar); Otis Mourning (clarinet, soprano, alto sax); Marty Eggers (string bass); Lauri Lyster (drums); Simon Stribling (cornet, trombone).  JAZZ LIVES readers will know how much I admire Clint, Marty, Simon, and now Jeff — but the other musicians are quite wonderful as well.

The scope of this recording comes through in its repertoire: GOT NO TIME / TANK TOWN BUMP / AM I BLUE? / LINA BLUES / KITCHEN MAN / I WOULD DO MOST ANYTHING FOR YOU / A KISS TO BUILD A DREAM ON / DOWN WHERE THE SUN GOES DOWN / EGYPTIAN FANTASY / DOWN IN HONKY TONK TOWN / DADDY DO / CHATTANOOGA STOMP / DELTA BOUND / EXACTLY LIKE YOU.

Its character can best explained metaphorically.  THUMP sounds the way the food of our childhood tasted: succulent, multi-layered, perhaps a little drippy (the tomato eaten in the garden) or a bit greasy (real chicken on the barbecue), rather than the sanitized modern version — neat but flavorless.  After you listen to THUMP, you might have to wipe your hands on a napkin, but your ears will be full of savory large musical flavors.  Hot horn solos, beautiful interplay in the ensembles, a rocking rhythm section, and delightful vocals — this is my first introduction to SherriLynn Colby, whose sweet-tart approach to her material suggests that she is really a Thirties film star who Warner Brothers never had the sense to hire — and that is a very large compliment.

And Jeff has recorded many other CDs — while keeping a busy traveling schedule.  We are very lucky to have him, whichever of his many joyous visages he turns to the audience.

May your happiness increase.

ATLANTA 2012: ED POLCER, DUKE HEITGER, RUSS PHILLIPS, ALLAN VACHE, MATT MUNISTERI, JOHN COCUZZI, FRANK TATE, CHUCK REDD (April 21, 2012)

A set of hot music by Ed Polcer, cornet; Duke Heitger, trumpet; Russ Phillips, trombone; Allan Vache, clarinet; Matt Munisteri, guitar; John Cocuzzi, piano, Frank Tate, string bass; Chuck Redd, drums. Recorded April 21, 2012 at the Atlanta Jazz Party.

Ageless music — even if the repertoire comes from 1917-1935, the energy, wit, and passion are unabated.

ROYAL GARDEN BLUES (for Louis and Papa Joe, Bix and his Gang, Condon and his boys, whether at the Park Lane, the Newport Jazz Festival, 47 West Third Street, or the New School):

LOUISIANA FAIRY TALE (in honor of Fats Waller, Danny Coots’ “Uncle Fred,” and the crew of THIS OLD HOUSE):

FIDGETY FEET (recalling the Original Dixieland Jazz Band and the Big 72 and all the bands worldwide in between):

May your happiness increase.

SWINGING FOR JOHN PENDLETON: HAL SMITH’S INTERNATIONAL SEXTET at SACRAMENTO (May 27, 2011)

What better way to honor a beloved jazz friend, now gone, than with the music he loved so much?  And played so eloquently by the people he admired so deeply. 

The man: John Pendleton, whom you’ll hear spoken of in the videos that follow.

The musicians: Hal Smith’s International Sextet, recorded on May 27 at the 2011 Sacramento Jazz Jubilee.  That’s Hal (drums), Katie Cavera (guitar / vocals), Clint Baker (string bass / vocals), Anita Thomas (clarinet, alto, vocals), Kim Cusack (clarinet, tenor, vocals), Carl Sonny Leyland (piano, vocals).

“Music speaks louder than words,” Charlie Parker told condescending Earl Wilson in that famous film clip, and Bird was right, so I won’t elaborate the virtues of this rocking group at length: viewers can find their own pleasures for themselves. 

But I would point out that Hal, Katie, Sonny, and Clint make a peerless rhythm section, with their four sonorities weaving together, their pulses aligned without their individualities being flattened for some specious idea of the common good.  Hear the ripe-fruit sound of Katie’s guitar; the swish and flow of Hal’s cymbals, the deep commentaries of Clint’s bass, the down-home rock of Carl’s piano.  And the horns intertwine with each other and float over this sweet propulsion: Kim, bringing his own perspective to Bud Freeman, Eddie Miller, Joe Marsala, Pee Wee Russell, and Frank Chace; Anita, completely in control but entirely fearless, following her impulses in the best self-reliant way.  And the vocalizing is wonderful (jazz instrumentalists make the best singers!) neither slick nor amateurish.

Watch everyone on the stand smiling — always a guarantee of heartfelt music and deep gratifications being spread all around. 

Katie and Anita tell us all about the new dance craze that everyone’s doing — or should be doing — that’s TRUCKIN’:

RIDIN’ ON THE L&N celebrates a train that ran between Louisville and Nashville, according to Brother Hal, who knows these things:

John loved baseball and swing.  Hence this funny, surprising TAKE ME OUT TO THE BALL GAME:

A hot one!  RUNNIN’ WILD (hear Clint’s bass behind Kim):

SENTIMENTAL JOURNEY is such a simple song, but it works so well on our deepest impulses to go home, or some imagined version of it.  Katie and Anita remind us that Doris Day had a great hit with this song; the rest of the band says (implicitly), “Hey, remember the great Buck Clayton Jam Session?”  Works perfectly:

Here’s Carl’s version of the 1949 hit by Sticks McGhee (younger brother of Brownie), DRINKIN’ WINE (SPO-DEE-O-DEE).  Original lyrics — according to Nick Tosches and Wikipedia — reprinted below, definitely unvarnished and unsanitized.*

Katie is not salacious in person, but she loves songs about Twenties flirtation — perhaps she was a naughty flapper in a past life?  Here’s MA! (HE’S MAKING EYES AT ME):

I couldn’t abide THIS OLD HOUSE even when I owned one (no real-life workmen were ever such models of decorum and skill) but I love LOUISIANA FAIRY TALE, and it’s clear that Anita does too.  Music by J. Fred Coots, Danny’s uncle:

And a little Basie is always good for the soul, as Hal reminds us with JUMPIN’ AT THE WOODSIDE:

I never met John Pendleton, but he must have been what the Irish call a grand fellow to have these candid people so deeply devoted to him.  And to have such wonderful music played in his memory!

======================================================

*”Drinkin’ that mess is our delight, And when we get drunk, start fightin’ all night. Knockin’ out windows and learnin’ down doors, Drinkin’ half-gallons and callin’ for more. Drinkin’ wine motherfucker, drinkin’wine! Goddam! Drinkin’ wine motherfucker, drinkin’wine! Goddam! Drinkin’ wine motherfucker, drinkin’wine! Goddam! Pass that bottle to me!”

THIS FATS IS GOOD FOR YOU: JEFF BARNHART’S “WALLER’ING AROUND”

Everybody knows about fats:  margarine (toxic), avocado (much better), Thomas Waller (salvation on the darkest days).

But since Fats Waller has been gone since December 1943, and all his recordings have been collected and issued on some six CD boxes (JSP Records), it falls to living pianists and singers to carry on and extend his joyous tradition.

One of the finest examples is a WALLER’ING AROUND, new compact disc by the hilariously gifted stride master / singer / entertainer Jeff Barnhart, recorded in February 2010.

The cover picture should give you an inkling that the mood of the CD is not somber, apropos for Fats and his world.

Jeff would have been a wonderfully funny entertainer even if Fats have never existed — any man who can write and sing a new couplet (approximately), “I want you to put your feets between my satin sheets,” is my hero.

These days, much of what is passed off as “stride piano” these days is either crisp but formal transcriptions of the records (you know who you are!) or uneven and bumpy, loud and fast — not the way the masters did it.

Jeff’s time is steady, his touch and dynamics are splendid, and he can improvise with great ingenuity and delicacy at top speed.  And he improvises throughout.  This isn’t a devoutly repressed repertory project, FATS IN HI-FI.

There’s a good deal of sly humor and rent party fun on this disc, but Jeff also recognizes Fats as another romantic, so the disc is full of tenderness.  And Jeff understands Fats’ serious side as well.  One of the high points of the delightfully varied disc is a seven-minute instrumental rendition of BLACK AND BLUE that begins with Jeff explaining this lovely mournful protest song.

Jeff is also a truly agile singer — his tenor captures much of Fats’ voice — not the shouting of asides over the band, but the yearning romanticism mixed with satire.  It’s a particularly insinuating sound, and it never feels forced or mannered — perhaps because it is so close to Jeff’s speaking voice: expressive, amused.

All the Waller favorites are here — sometimes with the surprise of a verse I’d never heard (as in BLUE TURNING GRAY OVER YOU) — but the less-played numbers lift this disc up to the first rank.

There’s VALENTINE STOMP, dedicated to a Harlem house of pleasure, which Jeff both plays respectfully and improvises on; there’s the early composition (recorded by another newcomer named Bechet), WILD CAT BLUES, Jeff’s orchestral version of the 1927 ST. LOUIS SHUFFLE (first recorded by the Fletcher Henderson band), the joyous MIDNIGHT STOMP (with the lyrics!) and HOLD MY HAND (which Fats performed on the radio as a duet with his teacher James P. Johnson).

But best of all — a striding bit of wondrous Hot archaeology — is the premiere performance of a swinging Waller tune (again with hilarious lyrics) whose premise is that every time I get a new girlfriend, someone steals her away: EV’RY SWEETIE THAT I GET.  I had to play it over several times before allowing myself to proceed to the next track.

Here are the songs:  THE JOINT IS JUMPIN’ / HONEYSUCKLE ROSE / BLUE TURNING GRAY OVER YOU / VALENTINE STOMP / KEEPIN’ OUT OF MISCHIEF NOW / WILD CAT BLUES / EV’RY SWEETIE THAT I GET / SQUEEZE ME / ST. LOUIS SHUFFLE / LONESOME ME / CLOTHESLINE BALLET / AIN’T MISBEHAVIN’ / BLACK AND BLUE / MIDNIGHT STOMP / HOLD MY HAND. 

This one’s a keeper.  Lovely sound; you won’t miss horns or a rhythm section; there are articulate, funny notes by Jeff, and it will make you laugh and feel even better than usual.  It’s that fine Arabian stuff that your dreams are made of!

You can order this CD (it’s $20) directly from Jeff at his website: http://www.jeffbarnhart.com/cdsandorderform.html.

Pretend it’s your birthday.

AND, WHILE YOU’RE UP, GIVE A THOUGHT TO THE MUSICIANS WHO BRING US SO MUCH PLEASURE.  CLICK HERE: ALL MONEY COLLECTED GOES TO THEM:

https://www.paypal.com/cgi-bin/webscr?cmd=_s-xclick&hosted_button_id=VBURVAWDMWQAS

P.S.  Let’s assume you’re out there saying, “Well, Michael, usually I trust your opinion, but I have never heard this Barnhart fellow.  Why should I spring for yet another compact disc?”  It’s a valid question — here’s Jeff playing VALENTINE STOMP in 2009, captured for us by the tireless Tom Warner:

Proof positive.  And (slightly afield) search out “A BEAUTIFUL LADY IN BLUE” with drummer Danny Coots — nephew of J. Fred, who wrote the song, where Jeff swings out like nobody’s business.  You’ll be hooked.  I am.

NOTES FROM UNDERGROUND (Dec. 19, 2010)

This isn’t about Dostoevsky or his grim-pre-existential narrator.

No, the subject is much happier and equally profound. 

I had learned from trumpeter Gordon Au that there would be a below-ground wingding on Sunday, Dec. 19, 2010: he and the Grand Street Stompers would play an hour’s gig down on the subway platform, the F train at Second Avenue for those taking notes.  Even better, they would be joined by New York City swing dancers in vintage attire.  Then, everyone would board an antique subway train (circa 1960 with yellow / blue rattan seats), do a round-trip out to Queens and make way for a second train trip. 

I could only take the vintage subway a few stops uptown, but I did capture the vivid action on the platform.  The Grand Street Stompers began as a trio — Gordon, Pete Anderson on clarinet, Rob Adkins on bass — but soon became a quartet when guitarist Mikey Freedom Hart arrived.

Their first number was a nicely rocking / sentimental BACK HOME AGAIN IN INDIANA, perhaps a homage to Louis, who began his concerts with this sweet old song for nearly twenty-five years:

Then, in the first acknowledgment of the season, IT’S BEGINNING TO LOOK A LOT LIKE CHRISTMAS in two tempos, the dancers dipping and whirling even in the confined space (everyone was fully aware that overdramatic dancing would take them and us too close to the edges of the platform):

An unusual (and brave) choice for the context, Hoagy Carmichael’s NEW ORLEANS, with Gordon growling passionately, Rob bowing in the best old-New-Orleans manner:

SANTA CLAUS IS COMING TO TOWN (the song that made J. Fred Coots financially secure forever) here sounds as if BLUE MONK was not far in the background — it’s really a good, simplistic Thirties song:

I don’t know if Fats Waller ever took the subway, but he would have been pleased by this pretty — although brief — version of his 1929 hit AIN’T MISBEHAVIN’:

Finally, the pop lexicon’s version of the primal scene — Freudian or out of PEYTON PLACE? — I SAW MOMMY KISSING SANTA CLAUS.  Let’s hope it was Daddy in the red suit, shall we?

I delighted in the lovely playing of the quartet, the delicious incongruity of the music and the setting — but the real pleasure was in watching the dancers reflect the music in their bodies, singly and in pairs, switching off, having a fine time.  Lynn Redmile, who appears in the beginning of the last video (to the right), promised she would tell me the names of the spirited and agile dancers we so admire here.  

The Home of Happy Feet for the price of a Metrocard swipe — !