Tag Archives: James Chirillo

REMEMBERING KENNY (Part Two): Words BY MIKE KAROUB, HOWARD KADISON, JAMES CHIRILLO, KEVIN DORN, DAN BLOCK. Music by KENNY DAVERN, JOHNNY WINDHURST, CUTTY CUTSHALL, DAVE FRISHBERG, JACK SIX, CLIFF LEEMAN (1961)

 

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HOWARD KADISON:  Sunday nights, I’d sometimes go with Davern to Ratner’s Dairy Restaurant on Second
Avenue. The waiters were noted for their abrasiveness and truculence. Kenny would
bait them: “How are the blintzes?” “They’re always good.” “I didn’t ask about always, I
asked about NOW!” And so it would go, ending in a generous tip.

DAN BLOCK:  Kenny had a mind like an encyclopedia. His knowledge not only of jazz, but archival classical recordings was amazing. My last memory was hanging out with him in New Orleans after he played in a bookstore with Bob Wilber. He held court with three or four of us for about an hour and a half. It was unforgettable.

KEVIN DORN: Something he said to me, sitting at the bar of the Cornerstone: “It’s one thing to come up with your own sound in a style that’s brand new. But to come up with your own sound in a style that’s older, that was there already, is a different and difficult challenge.” I always thought that was a deep observation and something he certainly achieved.

JAMES CHIRILLO: Every note he played had a sound as big as a house, no matter the register, and every note had an intensity that said: “This is how it’s supposed to go.” I still miss him.

MIKE KAROUB: I was playing bass in Jim Dapogny’s Chicago Jazz Band and we played opposite Davern at a show at the University of Chicago, some time between 1990-92. He might have been there with Butch Thompson or his own group. (Butch had Franz Jackson also.)

I checked into the Blackstone Hotel. Never having met Davern, I saw him outside. I walked up to him in my trench coat – Kenny looking tough in a leather coat — and said, “Uncle Ken, I need a Lucky Strike.” (Or I may have said, “Kenny, give me a Lucky Strike,” but you get the idea.) He said, “OK, man,” and handed me one. He instinctively knew I wasn’t a real hood. We chatted for a second, then later, probably at the intermission. Strangely, I don’t recall if there was a closing number with massed bands, “all hands on deck,” so I have no recollection of playing with him!

I know that when we were teenagers, I told my dear friend Jon-Erik Kellso, “If I ever meet Davern, I’m going to wear a trench coat like the Detroit mafia and demand a Lucky Strike.” I think he was bemused by our. 25 year old impetuous behavior.

Ten years later, at the Atlanta Jazz Party, after my set with Banu Gibson, I went to catch Kenny’s set and sat in front. He waved, and after the show he came down to me. I said, “Uncle Ken, I brought us some Luckies.” He had exhausted his supply (he was very dedicated) so I was in like Flynn.

“Michael, my nephew, I am so glad you could make it.” He sat down, ordered us coffee, and told stories about being on the road with Jack Teagarden.

I have no idea how he knew who I was unless Jon-Erik tipped him off (although I barely saw Jon, who was a floating “all star”) or saw the program or remembered me from Chicago. I believe he smoked unfiltered Lucky Strikes (unfiltered Camels his second choice). In any case, he acted like it was the biggest deal that I came to his show. And I was really some long lost relative. I was kept too busy for the rest of the festival to see Uncle Ken. Again or ever again, as it turned out. Ordinarily, I’m not that forward but. something told me this was a once in lifetime deal and to seize the day.

MICHAEL STEINMAN: I saw him a few times when I was still in college and shy (complicated by my attempts to record every note on some variety of tape). One Sunday, I’d seen him in the late afternoon at a Your Father’s Mustache Balaban and Cats session, and then my friend and I went down to the Half Note to hear Ruby Braff. Kenny walked in, I saw him, and exuberantly said, “Kenny!” and seeing his amused expression — part “Who the hell are you?” and part suppressed hilarity, I remembered my place in the cosmos and said, “Mister Davern . . . ” and he looked at me and said, in mock-hauteur, “Oh, pardonnez-moi,” gave me a satiric look and walked away.  When I saw him for the last time, in Denver, October 2006, I thought it prudent to leave that incident in the past.

And now for some delightful rare music.

The tape that follows (audio only) isn’t from my collection, but the dropouts vanish after three minutes.  Recorded by Dave Frishberg, It’s the only evidence I know of Kenny Davern’s Washington Squares, a band he loved, performing at Nick’s in 1961.  The repertoire is ancient; the inventiveness and energy are startling.  It’s Kenny, clarinet; Johnny Windhurst, cornet; Cutty Cutshall, trombone; Dave, piano; Jack Six, string bass; Cliff Leeman, drums.  I read in Edward N. Meyer’s biography of Kenny, JUST FOUR BARS, that Buzzy Drootin was the chosen drummer (imagine a world where your sub on the job is Cliff?), that Buzzy recommended Frishberg, and that Frishberg brought along Jack Six.  Unusual and uplifting partners for such a band, but everyone is in exceptional form.

Did I say we miss Kenny Davern?  We certainly do.

May your happiness increase!

Bunk Johnson FB

REMEMBERING KENNY (Part One): Words BY DANNY TOBIAS. Music by KENNY DAVERN’S SWINGIN’ KINGS: DICK WELLSTOOD, TOMMY SAUNDERS, BILL ALLRED, COUNTRY THOMAS, BUTCH HALL, VAN PERRY, EDDIE PHYFE (Manassas, December 2, 1979)

Over the past few months, I’ve been attempting to assemble a portrait, words and music, of Kenny Davern.  He’s been the subject of an extensive biography, JUST FOUR BARS, by Edward Meyer, but I wanted to talk to musicians who had known and played with him while everyone, including me, is still around.  This first part is a wonderful reminiscence of Kenny by his friend and ours, trumpeter Danny Tobias, who looks and sees, hears and remembers.  At the end there’s music that will be new to you.  And Part Two is on the way.

DANNY TOBIAS:

He had a reputation of being crabby, and he was all that, but he liked me, and he liked the way I played — most of the time — if he didn’t like it, he let me know . . . there was no bullshit.  If I did something dumb, he would say it right there.  If I screwed up an ending, he would say, “Why did you do that?” and I would explain, and he would say, “Don’t do that.”  So I learned a lot from him.  He didn’t pull any punches, but he genuinely liked the way I played.  Once he told me I was a natural blues player, and that meant the world to me.  I had a feel for it.  When he said something nice, it meant a lot to me.

He introduced me to the music of Pee Wee Russell.  He knew who was on every record.  He’d say, “Did you ever hear those Red Allen records or the Mound City Blue Blowers from —– ?” and I’d say no, and he’d come in the next week with a cassette.  Then, after the gig,  we’d go out to the car, and he would smoke his Camels, and we would listen to a whole side of a tape!  He was also very much into Beethoven, into classical music, in particular the conductor Furtwangler.  He’d say, “Check this out,” and I’d get in his car and he’d play a whole movement from one of the symphonies.  And then I started collecting recordings, mostly so I could talk to him about it.  And if I heard anything, I could call him and say, “Do you know this record?” and “What do you think of this?”  When he died, that was what I missed most — being able to call and ask him about this record or that record.

I’m still picking up recordings of Kenny I never heard before.  Dick Sudhalter put together a concert of Kenny and Dick Wellstood at the Vineyard Theatre.  It was terrific.  I still get thrilled by these recordings. 

I got to play with him, for about ten years, at a hotel in Princeton called Scanticon, If he wasn’t on the road, he could have that gig if he wanted it.  He was there a lot — maybe half the Saturday nights.  Here’s what I don’t regret.  Some people say, ‘I wish I’d appreciated the time I spent with _____,” but I appreciated every night I spent with Kenny.  I was in seventh heaven playing next to him.

The things I take away from him that I try to incorporate . . . He could build a solo.  If he was playing three or four choruses, there was a growth.  It was going somewhere.  Everything would build.  The tune would build.  If you were in an ensemble with him, it was going forward.  When I play now, he’s not here, but I try to keep that thought: build, build, build. 

The other thing about him, and it’s a treasure — these aren’t my words, but somebody said he could play the melody of a song with real conviction.  It would be unmistakably him.  No hesitation.  If he played a wrong note, it wouldn’t matter.  He played with total conviction.  And that’s kind of rare.  I can hear other people getting distracted — it didn’t happen to him much, because he played with that sureness. 

And he had more dynamic range than any clarinet player I’ve ever heard.  He could play in the lower register, and I’d hear Jimmie Noone — he did that so well — in the middle register I could hear Fazola in his sound, and a thing he could do that I don’t hear anyone else do, he could soar.  In an outchorus, he could play a gliss, it was the biggest sound you’d ever heard.  And not just loud, but a big wide sound.  Not a shrill high sound.  It’s a thing I haven’t heard anyone else do.  Irving Fazola had that same kind of fat sound.  Who knows where that comes from?  It’s a richness, I guess.  Not loud, but big,  Round.

He taught me how to play in ensembles.  He said, “In an ensemble, don’t  just leave space, but musically — ask a question and wait for the answer.”  Play something that will elicit a response.  And there’s nothing in the world more fun than that.  You have a real dialogue going on.  He’s the first person who explained that to me.  People are afraid to talk to each other on the bandstand, we don’t want to hurt each other’s feelings, but he’s the first person who said, “Do that,” and it made playing in ensembles so much more fun.  I can get responses from other players by setting something up.  Being the lead horn player, you have to set that up.  It doesn’t just happen.

He had such varied interests.  He would read all kinds of books.  I don’t know where he got the time.  I don’t think he slept.  Not just music.  He would read novels.  A lot of it was over my head.  He was all self-taught.  He could speak really good German.  He could communicate really well in several languages.  I always wanted to be like him, to get a touring schedule and go here and there, because it seemed very exotic to me, in my thirties, and I’m sure it wasn’t as exotic as I pictured it.  He complained about everything, but I think he loved it.

On a gig, Kenny would talk to the audience . . . he would just tell stories — how he just got back from Scotland and how everything was awful, the conditions were awful, how he had to spend a night in a hotel and couldn’t use the bar.  He would go on diatribes — funny, acerbic.  I remember one time he was playing at Trenton State, where I went to college.  I went to hear him, and he was playing in the student center, talking about the architecture and how bad it was.  The audience was laughing but the administrators were a little uncomfortable.  He would talk as if he were in a conversation rather than just announcing songs . . . as if he was letting you in on the inside dirt.

He really loved the final group he had, with Greg Cohen, and Tony Di Nicola, and James Chirillo.  He’d been to all the jazz parties and festivals, and so on, but he got to the point where that was he wanted to do.  If you hired him, he wanted to be there with his band.  He was happier being the only horn.  And he loved guitar — you know, after Wellstood . . . I mean he loved playing with Art Hodes and with John Bunch, but in that group he liked guitar.  In that group, it was freer for him.  The piano can pin you in to certain harmony rules; it can be too busy.  With the guitar, he got real freedom: he could play whatever he wanted.  If he wasn’t with a great piano player, he would cut them out when it was his turn to play. He didn’t like extraneous stuff.  I felt bad for them sometimes, but Kenny could just play with the bass and the drums.  And sound great, of course.

He had a reputation for making fun of things, but he was so good to me.  He went out of his way to introduce me to records he thought I should listen to, he put me on bands where I was in over my head a little bit, and he got me playing with great guys.  He couldn’t have been nicer to me.

The music: Davern, clarinet; Dick Wellstood, piano; Butch Hall, guitar; Van Perry, string bass; Eddie Phyfe, drums; Tommy Saunders, cornet; Bill Allred, trombone; Mason Country Thomas, tenor saxophone. I WANT TO BE HAPPY / WABASH BLUES / SWING THAT MUSIC. Thumbscrews, no extra charge.

We miss Kenny Davern.

May your happiness increase!

SUNDAY NIGHTS AT 326 SPRING STREET (Part Twenty-Four) — WE NEED SOMETHING TO LOOK FORWARD TO: SESSIONS AT THE EAR INN, featuring THE EarRegulars (2007 – the Future)

Only a fool would disagree with Billy Kyle.  But reserved for what, and where?

We’re a day late for a celebration of Coleman Hawkins’ birthday, but Hawk would be pleased to know that there were noble tenor saxophonists playing at The Ear Inn on 326 Spring Street, Soho, New York City, in these videos from June 27, 2010, featuring Harry Allen and Scott Robinson on tenors; James Chirillo, guitar; Greg Cohen, string bass.

Asking the musical question:

WILL YOU STILL BE MINE? — where the quartet is joined by violinist Valerie Levy and tenorist Evan Schwam:

BLUE SKIES, scored for sextet:

WHERE OR WHEN, with Valerie and Evan:

WHERE OR WHEN, concluded:

BROADWAY, with guests Valerie and Evan adding to the fun:

TOO LATE NOW, back to the original quartet:

ON THE ALAMO:

STOMPIN’ AT THE SAVOY:

STOMPIN’ AT THE SAVOY, concluded:

Bless these musicians, for what they give us so generously.

May your happiness increase!

SUNDAY NIGHTS AT 326 SPRING STREET (Part Twenty) — WE NEED SOMETHING TO LOOK FORWARD TO: SESSIONS AT THE EAR INN, featuring THE EarRegulars (2007 – the Future)

You know the routine by now, or I hope so.  It’s Sunday, and time to make our cyber-metaphysical-hopeful-time-and-space spanning journey to the Place of Bliss, The Ear Inn, 326 Spring Street, New York City, for the uplifting music of The EarRegulars.  If all of this is strange or unfamiliar to you, you have a good deal of Remedial Ear-ring to do.

This might help:

And this:

Today’s menu special is the sounds from the early part of the evening of May 30, 2010 (the latter portion appears here) by Danny Tobias, cornet; Chuck Wilson, alto; James Chirillo, guitar; Murray Wall, bass, first strolling their way through SOMETIMES I’M HAPPY:

LINGER AWHILE, plus guests Pat O’Leary, cello and bass; Dan Block, clarinet; Tony Steele, bass:

CREOLE LOVE CALL:

EXACTLY LIKE YOU, scored for Quartet: Messrs. Tobias, Wilson, Chirillo, Wall:

There’s more to come: I offer these video-performances as injections of hope for the present and future, manifestations of creativity and community that will return.

May your happiness increase!

SUNDAY NIGHTS AT 326 SPRING STREET (Part Nineteen) — WE NEED SOMETHING TO LOOK FORWARD TO: SESSIONS AT THE EAR INN, featuring THE EarRegulars (2007 – the Future)

This is my antidote to the gnawing signs that winter, yes, winter, is coming — even though it’s over sixty degrees outside, the radiator is swinging out Blakey-fashion in my apartment and online sites are offering me forty-pound Thanksgiving turkeys for the crowd that exists in their imagination.

I plan to enjoy some time with the EarRegulars at The Ear Inn.  You come too.

Last week, I presented a lovely long set by Jon-Erik, Scott, Matt, and Neal (these names should be familiar to you by now) with guest Julian Lage.  If you missed this excursion, feel free to join in here.

Here are the closing selections from a long late-spring (May 30, 2010) session at 326 Spring Street, featuring in various combinations Danny Tobias, cornet; Chuck Wilson, alto sax; James Chirillo, guitar; Murray Wall, bass — and guests Dan Block, clarinet; Pat O’Leary, cello and bass; Tony Steele, bass. . . .although not everyone is present on every number.  I didn’t need to be reminded how much we all miss Chuck, who moved to another neighborhood two years ago.  Goddamnit.

(The selections performed earlier that night will appear next week in Part Twenty.  Have faith.)

BEALE STREET BLUES:

AIN’T MISBEHAVIN’:

AIN’T MISBEHAVIN’ (the conclusion, very brief, good to the last drop):

LOVE ME OR LEAVE ME:

LOVE ME OR LEAVE ME (the conclusion):

And a final romp on CHINA BOY by the original Quartet:

Until we meet again, ideally in person but perhaps here only for a time, may your Ears be full of good sounds.

May your happiness increase!

SHE TAKES US ALONG ON HER JOURNEYS: EMILY ASHER’S GARDEN PARTY, “IF I WERE A WINDOW”

The inspiring and inspired Ms. Asher, in Oaxaca, Mexico.

Some new compact discs lend themselves to instant approving review; others, I love but have to take time to write about with proper appreciation.  Their impact has to sink in.

Emily Asher‘s latest, IF I WERE A WINDOW, is one of the second kind.  It’s not because I had to look under the bed to find the adjectives.  Rather, it is like a slim volume of short stories with each story so full of flavor, so different from its neighbors, so that I couldn’t read them all in one sitting.  The sensory offerings are so rich, each one its own multi-layered narrative, that I had to take my time and listen to at most two or three performances at a time.

If that has scared off prospective buyers (“Oh, no!  This sounds like work!”) let me assure you that this recording is fun and lively and full of good surprises.  You’ll be dancing in the kitchen as you carefully (with gloves) remove the seeds from the hot peppers that are going to be part of dinner.

I think I first encountered Emily a decade ago, sitting in at the Ear Inn — in itself a mark of achievement — and was delighted by this elegant young woman who got around the horn so nimbly but also understood the trombone’s less polite origins.  Later, I saw her with her own Garden Party and other assemblages, and she was a charming mixture of earnestness, playfulness, and deep feeling: playing, singing, composing.  As she is now.

You can read the names of the performers in the photograph below, but they are so admirable that I should write them again: Emily Asher, Mike Davis, Jay Rattman, James Chirillo, Dalton Ridenhour, Rob Adkins, Jay Lepley, Sam Hoyt. They are musical heroes to me, and if you’ve not made their acquaintance, be prepared to be impressed by them as soloists, as ensemble players, as thoughtful soulful artists.

Emily has described the CD as a mix of hot jazz and songs inspired by “the Southern Sun,” as she encountered it in her extended stay in Oaxaca, Mexico.  Let us start with some Davenport-infused hot jazz:

Emily’s done a good deal to celebrate the music of Hoagy Carmichael, so I couldn’t neglect her SMALL FRY:

Those performances of venerable tunes are what I would call Old Time Modern.  No dust on them but a frisky liveliness in the solos and Emily’s singing (how deftly she winks at us through the lyrics: her phrasing is a marvel) — music that says, “Come on in and make yourself comfortable.”

But Emily’s not content to sprawl on the couch and eat pistachios; she is a curious energized explorer.  Here’s CHICO MEZCALERO, explication below:

This song, and several of her intriguing compositions, were inspired by her late-2019 trip to Oaxaca to learn Spanish, and they have the psychic depth of the short stories I mentioned above.  CHICO MEZCALERO, “little boy mezcal maker,” came from her meeting just such a person at his family’s mezcal plant.  She told Brian R. Sheridan in the August 2020 The Syncopated Times, “After I got back to New York, I was thinking about every step of how the mezcal is made — where the boy picks up pieces of the agave plant and throws them into a big smoking fire.  I also thought about how his family makes their living, creating this spirit that is precious to the community there.  I just sat and listened for the melody of that little boy . . . . ”

Few CDs that I know take listeners on a journey so evocatively.

Here’s Emily’s pensive hymnlike melody I find irresistible, as is its wistful title:

That melody and that performance remind me so beautifully of the Gil Evans – Miles Davis collaborations of the Fifties, and I’ve returned to this song several times in a row.  I predict you will do the same with this CD and with the individual performances.  They offer delightful evidence of the feathery breadth of Emily’s imaginations, the musical community she has nurtured, and the varied, rewarding results.

You can purchase the music — digitally or tangibly — here.  This is a CD you won’t tire of.

And, in the name of self-indulgence, here are the Oaxaca Wanderers: I met them in 2008, and must ask Emily if she gigged with them.  I hope they haven’t bought identical brightly-colored polo shirts (the band uniform with appropriate OW logo) since then.

 May your happiness increase!

SUNDAY NIGHTS AT 326 SPRING STREET (Part Three) — WE NEED SOMETHING TO LOOK FORWARD TO: SESSIONS AT THE EAR INN, featuring THE EarRegulars (2007 – the Future)

I hope I will be forgiven repeating this moody strain: early in 2020, I would be getting ready to get ready (I arrive too early) to be at this Shrine.  If you don’t know it, please read and listen; if you do, the same suggestions apply.

Here you can find parts one and two of this Sunday-night series celebrating good times at The Ear Inn, 326 Spring Street, New York, thanks to the EarRegulars.

And more from the night of September 6, 2009 — the video is appallingly dark and fuzzy [I did buy a more light-sensitive camera, so have patience], but the sounds made by Danny Tobias, cornet; Michael Hashim, alto saxophone; James Chirillo, guitar; Frank Tate, string bass, are bright.

A serious criminal offense — SOMEBODY STOLE MY GAL:

She came back and will only answer to MY GAL SAL:

But now she’s NAUGHTY:

We add the splendid violinist Valerie Levy to the band for EMBRACEABLE YOU.  Remember when that title didn’t bring up stifled tears and muffled snarls of frustration?

That 1930 celebration of new romance, I CAN’T BELIEVE THAT YOU’RE IN LOVE WITH ME:

I WANT TO BE HAPPY:

And finally, for this post, POOR BUTTERFLY:

We live in hope that this joyous coming-together can and will happen again.

May your happiness increase!

SUNDAY NIGHTS AT 326 SPRING STREET (Part Two) — WE NEED TO HAVE SOMETHING TO LOOK FORWARD TO: SESSIONS AT THE EAR INN, featuring THE EarRegulars (2007 – the Future)

For the moment, it’s not possible to go down to the The Ear Inn and indulge in our Sunday-night joys — musical and otherwise — so I will do my part in bringing the experience to you.  My first offering of performance videos and loving personal history can be found here:

Here is another video from the earliest documentation of communal joy at 326 Spring Street (June 7, 2009) that I did, featuring Duke Heitger, trumpet; Harvey Tibbs, trombone; Dan Block, clarinet; Matt Munisteri, guitar; Neal Miner, string bass — Jon-Erik Kellso may have been collecting tips for the band — summoning Louis on SOME OF THESE DAYS, most evocatively in Duke’s final chorus:

and from two weeks later (the 21st), SUNDAY, featuring Jon-Erik, Harvey, Dan, Matt, and Jon Burr, string bass:

and from September 6, IF DREAMS COME TRUE, created by Danny Tobias, cornet; Michael Hashim, alto; James Chirillo, guitar; Frank Tate, string bass:

and a lovely Ellington medley by the same heroes:

and as this week’s sign-off, Irving Berlin’s isolation aria (although in a cheery Keynote Records mode) ALL BY MYSELF:

I have many more video performances to share with you, so I invite you to make JAZZ LIVES your regular Sunday-night companion (any other time will do, also).

May your happiness increase!

LESSONS IN LEVITATION: RAY SKJELBRED and his CUBS: RAY SKJELBRED, KIM CUSACK, JOSH ROBERTS, MATT WEINER, JEFF HAMILTON (June 30, 2019)

An inspiration for this inspiring little band.

Thanks to the ever=devoted SFRaeAnn, we have a five-minute treatise on the most inspired floating, created in front of an audience at America’s Classic Jazz Festival in Lacey, Washington, on June 30, 2019.  The players here are Ray Skjelbred, making that old keyboard sound exactly like new; Kim Cusack, clarinet; Josh Roberts, guitar; Matt Weiner, string bass; Jeff Hamilton, drums. And their particular text is LADY BE GOOD, by George and Ira Gershwin, first performed in 1924 and immediately taken up by jazz musicians, dance bands, and singers of all kinds — from Ben Bernie and the California Ramblers to the present day.

Perhaps because tempos in performance naturally increase, and because it is such a familiar set of chord changes (from the 1936 Jones-Smith, Incorporated recording on) it’s usually played at a brisk tempo.  This performance is a sly glide, a paper airplane dreamily navigating the air currents before coming to a gentle landing.  And — taking the Basie inspiration to new heights — this performance so lovingly balances appreciative silence with sound.

It doesn’t need my annotations: it reveals itself to anyone willing to pay attention.  Watch the faces of the musicians; hear their delighted affirmations.  As James Chirillo says, music was made:

Blessings on them all, past and present, visible and ectoplasmic.  The Cubs lift us up but never drop us down.

May your happiness increase!

IN PERFECT ALIGNMENT (Part Two): DANNY TOBIAS, DAN BLOCK, JOSH DUNN, TAL RONEN at CAFE BOHEMIA (11.21.19)

November 21, 2019 might have been an unremarkable day and night for some of us — leaving aside that it is Coleman Hawkins’ birthday — but at Cafe Bohemia, 15 Barrow Street, Greenwich Village, New York City, the stars were wonderfully in alignment when Danny Tobias, trumpet / Eb alto horn, Dan Block, clarinet / tenor, Josh Dunn, guitar, and Tal Ronen took the stage.

As James Chirillo says, “Music was made,” and we dare not underestimate the importance of that.

Not just formulaic “music,” but eloquent, swinging, lyrical playing in solo and ensemble, as you can hear in their BLUE AND SENTIMENTAL I’ve already posted here.

Those who take improvised music casually don’t realize the combination of skill, emotion, restraint, and individuality that is at its heart, where musicians create a model community for a few hours.

I hear an intelligent graciousness, where no one musician wants to be powerful at the expense of the others, where collective generosity is the goal, playing “for the comfort of the band,” as Baby Dodds described it — but when a solo opportunity comes along, each musician must be ready to speak their piece, share their distinct voice.  Too much ego and the band squabbles; too little ego and you have watery oatmeal for the ears.

That such music as you hear here and elsewhere on JAZZ LIVES exists is, to me, frankly miraculous.  Five glowing memorable examples of this holy art follow.  And if these sounds remind anyone of a small Count Basie group (you can add the sounds of Jo Jones in your head, if you care to) that would be fine also.

WRAP YOUR TROUBLES IN DREAMS:

DIGA DIGA DOO:

LADY BE GOOD:

THESE FOOLISH THINGS:

MY GAL SAL:

May your happiness increase!

WELCOMING SOUNDS: “STRIKE UP THE BAND”: RICKY ALEXANDER (with MARTINA DaSILVA, JAMES CHIRILLO, ROB ADKINS, ANDREW MILLAR)

Ricky Alexander, saxophonist and clarinetist, holding up his debut CD, July 2019. Photograph by Nina Galicheva.

This Youngblood can play — but he doesn’t wallop us over our heads with his talent.  To quote Billie Holiday, recommending a young Jimmie Rowles to a skeptical Lester Young, “Boy can blow!”

Ricky Alexander is an impressive and subtle musician, someone I’ve admired at a variety of gigs, fitting in beautifully whatever the band is (Jon DeLucia’s Octet, Gordon Au’s Grand Street Stompers, The New Wonders, at The Ear Inn, and more) — swing dances, big bands, jam sessions.

I particularly cherish his sweetly understated approach: he loves melody and swing, which is rarer than you might think: youthful musicians in this century are sometimes prisoners of their technique, with the need to show off the chord extensions and substitutions they’ve learned in dutiful hours in the woodshed, even if the woodshed is a room in a Brooklyn walk-up.  The analogy for me is the novice cook who loves paprika and then ruins a recipe by adding tablespoons of it.  In jazz terms, Ricky’s opposite is the young saxophonist whose debut self-produced CD is a suite of his own original compositions on the theme of Chernobyl, each a solo of more than ten minutes.  Perhaps noble but certainly a different approach to this art form.

Ricky tenderly embraces a song and its guiding emotions.  He has his own gentle sound and identity.  Hear his version of Porter’s AFTER YOU, WHO?:

If readers turn away from this music as insufficiently “innovative,” or thinks it doesn’t challenge the listener enough, I would ask them to listen again, deeply: the art of making melody sing is deeper and more difficult than playing many notes at a rapid tempo.  And youthful Mr. Alexander has a real imagination (and a sly wit: the lovers in this Porter song are on the edge of finding a small hotel — run by Dick and Larry — to increase their bliss, in case you didn’t notice).

His music is sweet but not trivial or shallow: hear his sensitive reading of I’VE GOT A RIGHT TO SING THE BLUES for one example.  And he quietly shows off a real talent at composition: on first hearing, I thought his I KNEW I LOVED YOU was perhaps an obscure Harry Warren song.

Ricky’s also commendably egalitarian: he shares the space with guitarist James Chirillo, string bassist Rob Adkins, drummer Andrew Millar, and the colorful singer Martina DaSilva, who improvises on several selections to great effect.  As well as those I’ve commented on above, the repertoire is mainly songs with deep melodic cores: WHERE OR WHEN, A KISS TO BUILD A DREAM ON, I CAN’T GET STARTED, SKYLARK (as a light-hearted bossa nova), STRIKE UP THE BAND, with several now fairly-obscure delights: THE LADY’S IN LOVE WITH YOU, AND THE ANGELS SING, and a particular favorite from the 1935 hit parade, YOU HIT THE SPOT by Gordon and Revel.

STRIKE UP THE BAND is a model of how artists might represent themselves on disc.  Like Ricky, this effort is gracious, welcoming, friendly: listeners are encouraged to make themselves at home, given the best seat on the couch.  It’s smooth without being “smooth jazz”; it has no post-modern rough edges on which listeners will lacerate themselves.  And although Ricky often gigs with groups dedicated to older styles, this is no trip to the museum: rather, it’s warm living music.

I’m told that it can be streamed and downloaded in all the usual places, and that an lp record is in the works.  For those who wish to learn more and purchase STRIKE UP THE BAND, visit here.  If you know Ricky, the gently lovely character of this CD will be no surprise; if he’s new to you, you have made a rewarding musical friend, who has songs to sing to us.

May your happiness increase!

“MUSKRAT RAMBLE”: A NOBLE + WYLIE SHOWCASE (Part Two): EMILY ASHER’S GARDEN PARTY at the RUTGERS PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH: EMILY ASHER, MIKE DAVIS, JAY RATTMAN, DALTON RIDENHOUR, JAMES CHIRILLO, ROB ADKINS, JAY LEPLEY (January 7, 2019)

Emily Asher’s Garden Party, photograph by Renée Toplansky.

Here are more wonderful highlights from my first concert of 2019 (my first post, featuring the New Wonders, can be found here), a showcase for several bands under the brightly colored banner of Noble + Wylie, a musician-run enterprise that fills a real need, representing splendid traditional jazz performers, offering the best services to the artists and their audiences.  The co-founders are musicians Emily Asher and Katie Lee, who know the business from many angles.  You can read more about this promising company at the link above, but a few sentences from Emily give a taste of their forthright approach: “I see Noble + Wylie as an agency which elevates and celebrates excellence. By focusing on honesty and quality over chaos and hype, I look forward to fostering long-term positive relationships with diverse music venues, festivals, schools, and private clients in order to provide distinctive and creative music to audiences world-wide.”

(If you search for Noble & Wylie — connected by an ampersand — you’ll find only UK shoes, no music at all.  Caveat emptor.)

At the January 7 showcase, we (that’s R1 and me) had the opportunity to hear three groups represented by Noble + Wylie: The Ladybugs, the New Wonders, and Emily Asher’s Garden Party — and I brought back some tasty video evidence.  Here is the first set by the Garden Party, a versatile band playing hot and sweet, mixing jazz classics and memorable new compositions. For this occasion, they are Emily Asher, trombone, vocal, compositions; Mike Davis, cornet; Jay Rattman, reeds; Dalton Ridenhour, piano; James Chirillo, guitar; Rob Adkins, string bass; Jay Lepley, drums, with incidental singing by members of the band.  My videos came from an odd angle, but I hope all can be forgiven.  This friendly, warm band knows tempos: hear their easy rock!

MUSKRAT RAMBLE:

WHEN YOU WORE A TULIP, with a Second Line sashay and a glee club, too:

Hoagy Carmichael’s MEMPHIS IN JUNE, arranged by Rob Adkins, with Jay Rattman bringing Johnny Hodges into church:

Emily’s own AN OPEN INVITATION TO A RAINSTORM, in honor of Beth Campbell:

Her Carmichael-inflected PACIFIC LULLABY, which deserves your close attention until James Chirillo’s closing chime:

And the wry MY LIFE WOULD BE EASY:

I recorded more music from this concert, and it will appear in the near future. Thanks to these unpretentious gifted musicians, and of course to Noble + Wylie.

May your happiness increase!

CHUCK WILSON, ADMIRED, LOVED, MISSED

I’ve come to think that one goal is to live one’s life whole-heartedly, generously, singularly, so that when one dies — moving to another neighborhood in the cosmos — one is missed.  Or, there is a hole shaped like you in the world that people notice.  “I wish Susie were here to have a piece of this pie.  I wish I could give Liz just one more hug.” and so on.

The alto saxophonist and sometime clarinetist Chuck Wilson, who died on October 16, accomplished that goal and more.

A CD worth searching for — a beauty in so many ways.

I saw and heard Chuck intermittently from 2004 to 2016, in Jazz at Chautauqua with the Alden-Barrett Quartet, and in various New York groups, including Vince Giordano and the Nighthawks, the EarRegulars, with Corin Stiggall and Carol Morgan, but I can’t say I knew him well.  So I will leave the anecdotes to others, and the outline of his biography also.  I did observe him at close range as an unusual man and player: part shy boy, part boisterous side-of-the-mouth wisecracker and social critic.  His playing was just so splendid, although I think he rarely wanted to step forward and lead — any sax section or any band that had Chuck in it immediately sounded so much better.  His sound was lovely.  And he understood both his horn and the music.

Chuck was initially very wary of my video camera (and perhaps also of the civilian who operated it) but eventually he 1) figured that I wasn’t out to embarrass him but to praise him, or 2) I wouldn’t go away so there was no use telling me to do so.  So I have a few — too few! — performance videos of him which I will share again with you — so that you who knew Chuck can have the bittersweet joy of having him in action, and that those who never heard him can regret the omission.

Here he is with Terry Waldo’s Gotham City Band — for that August 2016 afternoon, Chuck, Terry, Jim Fryer, Jay Leonhart, Jay Lepley, playing DIGA DIGA DOO in what I think of as a Fifty-Second Street manner:

And here, at The Ear Inn on May 30, 2010 with Danny Tobias, James Chirillo, Pat O’Leary, for a easy groovy EXACTLY LIKE YOU:

I wish there had been more opportunities to capture Chuck live: many things got in the way, but you can savor another large handful of performances from these gigs here and here.

I also hope that Chuck knew how much he was admired and loved.  And is.

May your happiness increase!

A FEW WORDS FOR OUR FRIEND RON HOCKETT

I only had the good fortune to meet Ron Hockett in person once — at a John Sheridan Dream Band session for Arbors Records at Nola Studios in Manhattan. Of course I’d heard him play before, so it was a pleasure to speak to him, but even more than his playing, I was impressed by his easy kindness, the quiet spirituality he brought in to the room, even when he was sitting silently, listening to a playback.

In case his sweet lucid sound isn’t familiar, here he is (with John Sheridan, James Chirillo, Phil Flanigan, Jake Hanna) on IF DREAMS COME TRUE:

Dreams coming true — and needing to come true — are the subject of this post.  Recently, Ron’s friend and mine, Sonny McGown, contacted me to say that Ron’s health was deteriorating.  Here’s the news from Alex, Ron’s stepdaughter:

In February, Ron received a diagnosis of idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, which is a chronic and progressive scarring of the lungs which eventually leads to respiratory failure. There is no cure, the only real treatment is a lung transplant. He is now a patient at Duke . . . and if all of the testing/evaluations/pulmonary rehab goes well, he will be listed for transplant. He has a five day evaluation in August. He is on supplemental oxygen with exertion but he can still play the clarinet thus far! It is our biggest hope that all of this will happen and that he will be healthy, will once again be able to travel and play larger gigs, see his friends, and of course be able to breathe! As you can imagine, the cost is enormous and he and my mom will be forced to relocate for a year or so.  I’ve just started a fundraising campaign on GoFundMe.

Here‘s the link.

And here’s some lovely music that I hope will evoke generous feelings and actions.  Let us do a friend a favor.

May your happiness increase!

FOR BIX, FOR RUBY, FOR EVERMORE (Part Two): The EarRegulars at The Ear Inn: JON-ERIK KELLSO, SCOTT ROBINSON, JAMES CHIRILLO, GREG COHEN, and FRIENDS (March 11, 2018)

Here is my first post about the glorious fun at The Ear Inn on March 11, 2018, featuring SUGAR and SOMEBODY STOLE MY GAL, as played by Messrs. Cohen, Chirillo, Robinson, and Kellso.

And I present two more performances from the same happy evening, with the affectionate spotlight on Mister Braff.

Walter Donalsdon’s IT’S BEEN SO LONG:

and my favorite anthem of hope, WRAP YOUR TROUBLES IN DREAMS — Dan Block, clarinet, and Will Reardon Anderson, alto (left and right) sitting in:

The moral of the story?  As the Sages say, “Get thee to The Ear Inn on Sunday nights.”

May your happiness increase!

FOR BIX, FOR RUBY, FOR EVERMORE (Part One): The EarRegulars at The Ear Inn: JON-ERIK KELLSO, SCOTT ROBINSON, JAMES CHIRILLO, GREG COHEN (March 11, 2018)

I haven’t made it to the Ear Inn (326 Spring Street, Soho, New York City) as often as I’d like: the Monday-morning alarm summoning me to work has become more cruel.  But the Sunday-night sessions that have been going on for over a decade — all hail the EarRegulars! — are a reason to stay in New York forever.

On March 11, the EarRegulars — Jon-Erik Kellso, Scott Robinson, James Chirillo, and visiting hero Greg Cohen — played some songs loosely connected to Bix Beiderbecke and Ruby Braff, cornetists of a certain lyrical tendency who had March birthdays.  Here are two highlights, with more to come:

Maceo Pinkard’s SUGAR:

and the musical celebration of broken romance, SOMEBODY STOLE MY GAL:

Just gorgeous, I think.

May your happiness increase!

A SHRINE FOR JOY: DANNY TOBIAS, SCOTT ROBINSON, JAMES CHIRILLO, FRANK TATE: The EarRegulars at The Ear Inn, August 6, 2017

You won’t find 326 Spring Street, Soho, New York City, on any ecclesiastical register of shrines, but that’s their omission, one I am working to correct.  On Sunday nights, from about 8-11 PM, joy reigns when the EarRegulars are in their sacred space.  I am not being impious: many nights at The Ear Inn have left me deeply reassured, even consoled, with the feeling that beauty is possible and within our reach if we can only pay attention to it.  For me, it’s about ninety minutes away; for those of you in close connection to computers and phones, it’s even easier to find.

On August 6, 2017, the EarRegulars were Danny Tobias, trumpet; Scott Robinson, taragoto, alto clarinet, baritone saxophone; James Chirillo, guitar; Frank Tate, string bass.

Here are two swinging benedictions for us all.

Irving Berlin’s ALL BY MYSELF:

And a song often turned in to vaudeville patter but with a big swinging heart, BLUES MY NAUGHTY SWEETIE GIVES TO ME:

and it was late in this evening when James Chirillo created this beautiful interlude, if you haven’t already delighted in it:

The moral of all of this, which you are free to accept or reject, is that if each of us felt free to spread joy as generously and without pretension as the EarRegulars do, we would be living in a paradise of our own making now.

May your happiness increase!

A MASTER AT PLAY: JAMES CHIRILLO at THE EAR INN (August 6, 2017)

Drawing by Dan Christoffel

I have been enjoying the art of guitarist / composer / arranger James Chirillo (and I know I have company in this) for some years now on discs, all the way back to 1985, when he appeared as a member of the Loren Schoenberg jazz orchestra then led by Benny Goodman. I browsed his discography and was amazed but not surprised to find how many of my favorite discs he is on, for musicians knew a long time ago that he had a deep yet playful intelligence.

I don’t know when I first encountered him in person (finding him serious, witty, surprising, and kind) but I can say that he allowed me to point a video camera at him a good many years ago, beginning in 2009.  He is a very serious judge of his own work but has been generous and gracious about getting captured and shown off for free, possibly because he understands the depth of my admiration (and, again, I am not alone in this.)

James has always been a peerless soloist — offering delightful surprises mixed in with a fine respect for sound and for melodies — and a wonderful team player, someone who works seriously yet with a light heart to keep the band trotting in the right direction.  I’ve written elsewhere about James’ deadpan penchant for weird notes and tones and spaces, something I cherish, but there is nothing weird about what I can present here.

Often, The Ear Inn, my intermittent Sunday-night shrine, on 326 Spring Street, home of the blessed EarRegulars, has been crowded and noisy.  Although it plays hell with my goals of a) appreciating music in a near-reverent hush and b) recording it for this audience, I understand the throng as a good thing.  People who have read about The Ear in a guidebook that calls it one of the secret New York City places that tourists don’t know about (is that a whiff of irony burning in that skillet?) keep these Sunday soirees going — as they have been for ten years.  But two Sundays ago, The Ear was wonderfully serene, and the band of Danny Tobias, Scott Robinson, Frank Tate, and James (with an early-evening guest appearance by the lyrical violinist Valerie Levy) had a good time in the peaceful admiration and pleasure.

About two-thirds of the way through the evening, after a very pleasing EarRegulars performance of a song had concluded, James turned to the band and to us, and said (low-key, wry yet plainly) that since he hadn’t taken a solo on the previous tune, he was going to take one now, and play something he had worked on, Johnny Smith’s arrangement / recomposition / improvisation on GOLDEN EARRINGS, a composition by Victor Young — the title theme of a 1947 film starring Marlene Dietrich and Ray Milland (an autographed copy of the sheet music is here just because it seems a shame not to share it):

and the movie poster:

Here is James’ tender virtuoso interlude, and it is a marvel — you don’t have to be a guitarist to understand that:

James is also that rare entity, a functioning adult: some hours after I posted the blog, he wrote to me, “Would you be surprised if I told you I consider my performance around a 7.8 compared to Johnny Smith’s 10.0? I’m not trying to be unduly self-effacing, it’s just the fact of the matter.”  I admire someone for whom realistic self-assessment is second nature, no matter that we might disagree about the numbers.

Thank you, Master Chirillo, for offering us, without fanfare, a multicolored respite from this modern world.

May your happiness increase!

DAN MORGENSTERN REMEMBERS FRIENDS AND HEROES (Part Five: March 3, 2017)

It is a great tribute to Dan Morgenstern that this series of video interviews is captivating.  (If you think I am being immodest in writing this, the light shines on Dan.)

Some of this comes from Dan’s warmth: these are not only the musicians he respects, but also people he likes and feels connected to. (I use the present tense intentionally, because no one in these segments is truly dead when remembered so clearly and fondly.)  Here you can find all the earlier segments, with affectionate and sharply-realized portraits of everyone from Lester Young to Jimmy Rowles, with interludes about race relations in Georgia and soul food in Harlem.

And these interviews offer the rare pleasure of first-hand narratives: rather than reading a book whose pages tell us about what a writer thinks a musician sounds like, we have Dan talking about drinking Ballantine’s with tenor saxophonist Brew Moore.  In the two segments that follow, we also have a Charlie Parker story — where, for once, Bird is not treated with appropriate reverence — and one of Lee Wiley behaving ungraciously.  Soon to be major motion pictures!

and . . . .

Two more interview segments from the March 3 session (we did thirteen in all) will be posted soon, and Dan and I have a date to meet again for more.  Thank you, Dan!

P.S.  In the segment above, I mis-remembered the name of the record producer who arranged for Lee Wiley’s final session: it is Bill Borden, not Dick Borden.

May your happiness increase!

HE’S A HERO OF MINE

Who’s that?  Why, the pianist, arranger, and occasional singer Mark Shane.

SHANE

I’d heard Mark on records and bootleg concert tapes going back to the late Eighties, but didn’t get to meet him until 2004.  And I was astonished.  He’s quiet; he doesn’t rely on volume or pyrotechnics, but he swings beautifully.  (He is A Stride Monster, but it’s not his only claim to our hearts.)  His playing is thoughtful, delicate, without being stiff or effete.  Right now, you are most likely to hear Mark as pianist and musical director for that force of nature, Catherine Russell.

But I thought a few minutes of Shane-beauty would help us keep perspective in these troubled times.

Here he is at the 2012 Atlanta Jazz Party, lovingly making his way through BLUE AND SENTIMENTAL, a hymn of praise and grief for Herschel Evans:

And, a year later, Mark’s stylish romp on MOONGLOW — always melodic, ticking away like a swing clock, with beautiful voicings and subtly varied embellishments:

Please notice how much the musicians onstage (Messrs. Chirillo, Weatherly, and Dorn) are appreciating it as well.  That says a great deal.

Here’s Mark with Tal Ronen and Dan Block — thinking about Fats and his Rhythm — playing YACHT CLUB SWING:

and another salute to gorgeous melody, Mark and Terry Blaine performing SHINE ON, HARVEST MOON in 2015:

“Don’t be shy,” says Terry.  And I’m not shy about my absolute admiration for Mister Shane.  Here is his website, where you can hear and learn more from this master.

May your happiness increase!

THEY MADE SOME MUSIC: DANNY TOBIAS, DAN BLOCK, JAMES CHIRILLO, KELLY FRIESEN at THE EAR INN (June 19, 2016)

EAR INN sign

Nothing fancy.  No theorizing, no dramatizing.  Just four jazz masters having a good time on Sunday, June 19, 2016, at The Ear Inn: Danny Tobias, cornet; Dan Block, clarinet and tenor saxophone; James Chirillo, guitar; Kelly Friesen, string bass. Without a moment’s thought of imitation, this group got closer to the spirit of the exalted Kansas City Six than any I’ve heard recently.  That’s a serious thing!

Here are a few highlights:

I’M CRAZY ‘BOUT MY BABY (at an easy lope, reminding me of Ruby Braff and Scott Hamilton):

I NEVER KNEW (where the two-person front line evokes the 1938 Basie band while the gentlemen in the back row do a fine job of becoming that band’s rhythm section — I find this performance completely thrilling, quiet as it is):

OUT OF NOWHERE (thinking of Bing and all the great rhythm ballad performances, or simply on the quest to make beauty):

BLUE ROOM (at a sweetly wistful tempo one never hears these days):

DIGA DIGA DOO (for those who need to visit the jungle before they can head home to their apartment):

A few comments.  First, these time-honored standards offer such luxurious room for improvisation for those who care to enjoy the freedom to roam: the old songs are far from dead when played [or sung] by vividly alive musicians. Second, the art of counterpoint or ensemble playing isn’t something that died when the last New Orleans forbear went to the cemetery: one of the great pleasures of this set is the easy playful witty conversations between instruments. And, finally, I note with great pleasure that this quartet played quiet music for listeners.  And the listeners did what they were supposed to do.  How nice is that?

As always, I entreat my readers to find live music and savor it when possible. Marvels are all around us.  We dare not take them for granted.  Thank you, Swing wizards!

May your happiness increase!

HAPPINESS, EVERY SUNDAY AT EIGHT (DANNY TOBIAS, SCOTT ROBINSON, JAMES CHIRILLO, TAL RONEN, MIKE DAVIS at The Ear Inn, Sunday, October 4, 2015)

The Ear Inn, 2012 Photograph by Alexandra Marks

The Ear Inn, 2012 Photograph by Alexandra Marks

The regular EarRegulars — Jon-Erik Kellso and Matt Munisteri and friends — were spreading joy elsewhere on Sunday, October 4, 2015.  (They’ll be back!)

But joy was certainly spread in abundance at The Ear Inn (326 Spring Street, Soho, New York) by “the irregular EarRegulars”) and was captured for your pleasure by the fine photographer / videographer Lynn Redmile.

The creators were Danny Tobias, cornet; Scott Robinson, taragato, tenor saxophone, and a diminutive Eb alto horn; James Chirillo, guitar; Tal Ronen, string bass — with a guest appearance by Mike Davis, cornet, on ONCE IN A WHILE.

I WANT TO BE HAPPY:

ONCE IN A WHILE:

Remarkable music in a remarkable place . . . try it for yourself one Sunday night. Meet Pirate Barry, eat a salad, have a wonderful time.

May your happiness increase!