Tag Archives: James Chirillo

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!

THE EARREGULARS ASK THE DEEP QUESTION: JON-ERIK KELLSO, ENGELBERT WROBEL, NICKI PARROTT, JAMES CHIRILLO (April 26, 2015)

“Please don’t do that.  That’s mean.”

As adults, we don’t always hear that particular reproach for unkind behavior, but I wish more people said it when needed, and more people heard it, because meanness — whether it comes at us without a disguise, or it is cloaked in “acerbic humor” — is painful.  And it sticks.

MEAN TO ME one

The great songs that also seem so casual sometimes address the deepest issues. Thus, MEAN TO ME (music by Fred Ahlert, lyrics by Roy Turk) asks this huge question, “Why must you be mean to me?”  Even though it is put forth in the context of romantic love, it is a deep inquiry.

Even when I hear a medium-tempo instrumental version — which will follow — I also hear Annette Hanshaw’s plaintive voice, or perhaps Billie Holiday’s, asking that question.  Why must you be mean to me?

When I most recently heard the song, at The Ear Inn (326 Spring Street, Soho, New York City) on a Sunday night function — one of those gloriously fulfilling get-togethers that make New York so rewarding — I didn’t hear the words, I confess, because the instrumental joy was so deep that it commanded, in the nicest way, my attention.  The wondrous players were Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Engelbert Wrobel, clarinet; Nicki Parrott, string bass; James Chirillo, guitar:

The music they made has no trace of meanness.  Such beauty could, for those who understand it, make us better, kinder, more loving people.  Thank you, James, Nicki, Angel, and Jon-Erik.  Making the cosmos lighter, one note at a time.

May your happiness increase!

THE EARREGULARS SPECULATE ON AMOROUS VENGEANCE IN SWINGTIME: JON-ERIK KELLSO, ENGELBERT WROBEL, NICKI PARROTT, JAMES CHIRILLO (April 26, 2015)

For all the songs that celebrate new love, ecstatic love, surprising love, there are a number where the singer stands, feet planted solidly on the ground, arms crossed, with an accusing expression.  The tears have dried up; what’s left is somewhere between annoyance and rancor.  I think of SOMEDAY SWEETHEART, GOODY GOODY, SOMEDAY YOU’LL BE SORRY, I WANNA BE AROUND, and there must be two dozen others.  (YOU RASCAL YOU is related but not in the same thematic skein.)

Our text today is WHO’S SORRY NOW? — often taken at a fast tempo a la James P. Johnson’s Blue Note Jazzmen.

But on April 26, 2015, another glorious Sunday night at The Ear Inn, the EarRegulars were feeling groovy — perhaps groovy as a ten-cent movie — and they knocked everyone in the house out with this version of WHO’S SORRY NOW?  They were, for the record books, Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Engelbert Wrobel, clarinet; James Chirillo, guitar; Nicki Parrott, string bass:

No one expressed a whisper of regret or acrimony, I assure you.

And here is another instant classic from that night at The Ear Inn.

May your happiness increase!

A NEST IN SOHO: THE EARREGULARS PLAY SIR CHARLES THOMPSON: JON-ERIK KELLSO, ENGELBERT WROBEL, DAN BLOCK, JAMES CHIRILLO, NICKI PARROTT (April 26, 2015)

This wonderful leisurely performance of ROBBINS’ NEST (written in honor of disc jockey and Forties jazz personage Fred Robbins) is in honor of nonagenarian Sir Charles Thompson, still with us.

Exif_JPEG_PICTURE

But it’s also in honor of a kind of playing that is often neglected: suave, elegant but funky, taking its time, honoring the individual but building community.  I wasn’t born in the heyday of Fifty-Second Street, and I suspect that the clubs there were noisy, crowded, and that miraculous music didn’t happen at every set

Miracles happen at The Ear Inn (326 Spring Street, Soho, New York) regularly, beginning around 8:15 Sunday evenings, when The EarRegulars assemble in their favorite corner.

On April 26, 2015, the band was Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; James Chirillo, guitar; Nicki Parrott, string bass; Engelbert Wrobel (an Angel from Germany), clarinet, and guest Dan Block, tenor saxophone.  And they made a cozy nest of sounds for us:

Make yourself comfortable in this wondrous Nest.

May your happiness increase!

“IT WAS THE SWEETEST MELODY”: TAL RONEN, MARK LOPEMAN, JAMES CHIRILLO at CASA MEZCAL (March 29, 2015)

Here are six lovely performances from a Sunday afternoon session at Casa Mezcal, March 29, 2015.  The three glorious understated melodists are Tal Ronen, string bass; Mark Lopeman, tenor saxophone; James Chirillo, guitar.  To describe or anatomize this music, either by tracing the historical paths that got everyone to this point, or to analyze it as a musicologist would (someone’s surprising use of pedal ninths in bars 11-14) would be both silly and blasphemous. What we have here is beauty, and beauty needs no explanation for those ready to receive it.

One caveat: the room was rather crowded with happy people, so at the start of a few of the videos there is an apparent roar of conversation.  It quiets down as this exalted trio begins to work its magic.

IT MIGHT AS WELL BE SPRING (appropriately):

WHO CARES?:

THESE FOOLISH THINGS:

WARM VALLEY:

I LET A SONG GO OUT OF MY HEART:

SOME OF THESE DAYS:


May your happiness increase!

WHERE GEORGE WASHINGTON ATE (December 4, 1783), EMILY ASHER AND FRIENDS SWING (March 28, 2015)

Fraunces Tavern

Fraunces Tavern is justly famous (it’s at 54 Pearl St, New York, and the phone is 212 968-1776) but I had never visited.  Even though I view Wikipedia with suspicion, this seems both detailed and accurate.  But I wasn’t visiting there this past Saturday afternoon to see where George and company bid each other farewell over dinner.  I confess that my idea of history is being in Louis and Lucille Armstrong’s turquoise kitchen in their house in Corona.

I was there because the trombonist / singer / composer Emily Asher has had a regular jazz brunch on Saturdays (1-4) and I had heard very good things about it, so I made my way down there to enjoy Emily, guitarist James Chirillo, string bassist / singer Sean Cronin, and a special guest.

I approached the first two sets as a civilian, drinking coffee (brought to me by a very sweet young waitperson), watching the ebb and flow of families, and digging the music.  Before I talk about the music, though, a digression.  I have a notebook when I go to any music, to write down information — song titles and the like — because I can’t always rely on my memory when I get home.  And I am a born eavesdropper and collector of things sweet and strange.

Here are a few samples.

While Emily’s Garden Party trio was playing, a large group of children was dancing in the adjacent room.  They were too young to know the Balboa, but they were having a fine time.

A man in his twenties looked at the band and said happily to his companion, “Oh, a little trombone action!” which was a good critical soundbite.

To my left sat a grandfatherly-looking man with what might have been a captain’s hat, surrounded by four or five pre-teenagers who might have not been his blood relations.  They were having a fine time, and he was talking with them about different subjects and eliciting their responses (as opposed to a monologue).  One subject was flags of the world, which I confess did not catch my attention.  But the subject that did was his grass-roots explanation of economics, which caught me because it had the enticing word CUPCAKES prominently featured.  Compressed, his explanation went something like this. “Everyone here likes cupcakes, and you can bake some and sell them for money and you hope to make a profit, and if they’re good cupcakes, then people are happy.  If you have a library, you don’t make any money, but the people who read the books get smarter and the whole society improves.”  I’m not sure that any of his acolytes were willing to give up the idea of cupcakes, but he was a sly and I hope effective economist.

Back to the music. It was tender, then it swung like mad.  STARS FELL ON ALABAMA, I’M COMIN’ VIRGINIA, and LOOK FOR THE SILVER LINING were dear and sweet.  Emily sang most fetchingly on VIRGINIA and SILVER; there was also heat on SOMEBODY STOLE MY GAL, SOME OF THESE DAYS, and a half-dozen others.  James Chirillo, the prince of swing, created a surrealistic masterpiece of a solo on THERE’LL BE SOME CHANGES MADE that would have pleased Stuart Davis or Magritte; Sean Cronin swung both with and without the bow, slapped the bass in the best Al Morgan manner, and harmonized with Emily on WHEN YOU WORE A TULIP. And — something new – – Emily picked up an empty coffee cup and used it in the best Vic Dickenson manner to make new sounds.  I was very pleased to see this manifestation of Vickensonian ardor.

By the final set, I had had enough of being a civilian and unpacked tripod and camera.  (Could I disappoint JAZZ LIVES?  Certainly not.)  So here are four treats from that set — and you’ll notice a young fellow with a trumpet.  He’s known here and abroad as Bjorn Ingelstam; he played wonderfully when I first met him, and he’s even better now.  (And April 1 is his birthday.  Happiness to the Youngblood!)

BLUE TURNING GRAY OVER YOU:

NOBODY’S SWEETHEART NOW:

I WANT A LITTLE GIRL:

I know where I’ll be on some Saturdays to come.  You may notice that there is a hum of conversation, and I’ve often complained about this.  But the conversations I heard and overheard at Fraunces Tavern were sweetly reassuring, and I’d prefer them to the contemporary zombie glaze at the smartphone that I see too often.  (I am not alone in wincing at couples who go out for a meal and sit in silence, engrossed in their phones.)

George Washington never slept here: he would have been too busy putting ancient money in the tip jar. Or he would have been looking to see if there were any cupcakes on the menu or if they were simply theoretical ones.

May your happiness increase!

AMONG FRIENDS: MUSIC and WORDS for JOE WILDER (Sept. 8, 2014)

Joe Among Friends

Last night I spent a very touching and uplifting three hours in the company of people — many of whom I didn’t know and vice versa — united in one thing: we all loved the magnificent trumpeter and dear man Joe Wilder.

I don’t know the source of the saying, “The only thing wrong with funerals is that the one person you want to see is not present,” and that was certainly true in the filled-to-capacity St. Peter’s Church, but you could feel Joe’s gracious, easy spirit in every word and every note played.  The service was organized by Joe’s daughter Elin, Joe’s great friend and biographer Ed Berger, and the music was directed by Warren Vache.  Praise to all of them.

I couldn’t bring my video camera, so my notes will have to suffice.

I came to St. Peter’s early (I have been trained to this behavior by anxious parents, but often it pays off) and could see Russell Malone playing ballads for his own pleasure, including a soulful, precise DEEP IN A DREAM, then greeting Gene Bertoncini, who took up his own guitar.

Then the music changed to purest Wilder — MAD ABOUT THE BOY, CHEROKEE, and more.

It was clear that this was a roomful of dear friends.  Much hugging, much laughter, everyone being made welcome.  Although many people wore black or dark clothing, the mood was anything but maudlin.

Warren Vache quietly and sweetly introduced the first band: Harry Allen, Bill Allred, John Allred, Bill Crow, Steve Johns, Michael Weiss — and they launched into IT’S YOU OR NO ONE and then a medium-tempo CHEROKEE, full of energy and smiles passed around from player to player and to us.

We then saw a series of clips of an interview done with Joe (the source I copied down was http://www.robertwagnerfilms.com) — where he spoke of his experiences, both hilarious (sitting next to Dizzy in Les Hite’s band) and more meaningful (his perceptions of race).  What struck me was the simple conviction with which he said — and clearly believed — “I couldn’t have had a better life.”

Joe’s trumpet colleague from the Symphony of the New World, Wilmer Wise, told a few tales of the man he called “my big brother.”

Jimmy Owens stood in front of us and spoke lovingly of Joe, then took his fluegelhorn and played a very touching THERE WILL NEVER BE ANOTHER YOU (has Harry Warren’s song ever sounded so true?) ending with subterranean low notes, and an excerpt from NOBODY KNOWS THE TROUBLE I’VE SEEN.

Hank Nowak, another trumpet colleague (who met Joe at the Manhattan School of Music in the Fifties) spoke endearingly and then played a beautiful selection from Bach’s second cello suite — as if he were sending messages of love to us, with exquisite tone and phrasing.

Ed Berger told stories of Joe — whom he knew as well as anyone — and ended with some of Joe’s beloved and dangerously elaborate puns.

More music, all sharply etched and full of feeling: Bucky Pizzarelli and Ed Laub duetted all-too briefly on TANGERINE; Dick Hyman and Loren Schoenberg played STARDUST, and were then joined by Steve LaSpina and Kenny Washington for PERDIDO.

Jim Czak told his own story, then read a letter from Artie Baker (swooping down gracefully at the end to give the letter to Joe’s daughter Elin);.

Jimmy Heath (who spoke of Joe as “Joe Milder”), Barry Harris, Rufus Reid, Gene Bertoncini, and Leroy Williams took wonderful lyrical paths through I REMEMBER YOU and BODY AND SOUL.

Jim Merod, who knew Joe for decades, was eloquent and dramatic in his — let us be candid and call it a lovely sermon — about his dear friend.

Wynton Marsalis spoke softly but with feeling about Joe, and then played a solo trumpet feature on JUST A CLOSER WALK WITH THEE that (no cliche here) had the church in a joyous rhythmic uproar.

Russell Malone and Houston Person played ANNIE LAURIE with great sensitivity, just honoring the melody, and Russell created a delicate IT MIGHT AS WELL BE SPRING; Rufus Reid and Kenny Washington joined them for IN A MELLOTONE. Ken Kimery of the Smithsonian Jazz Orchestra spoke of Joe’s mastery and generosities. Warren Vache brought his horn in a wonderful duet with Bill Charlap on what he called “Joe’s song,” COME ON HOME, and then with Steve LaSpina and Leroy Williams, offered a quick MY ROMANCE.

Bill Kirchner took the stage with Bill Charlap to present a searching SHE WAS TOO GOOD TO ME.

It was nearing nine-thirty, and I knew my demanding clock radio (it shakes me awake at five-forty-five most mornings) had to be obeyed, so I stood up to go, as Warren was encouraging any musician in the house who hadn’t yet played to “jam for Joe” on SUNNY SIDE OF THE STREET.  Among the musicians he announced were Bria Skonberg and Claudio Roditi, and cheerful music enwrapped me as I walked out into the night air.

I am sorry I couldn’t have stayed until everyone went home, but I felt Joe’s presence all around me — in Warren’s words, a man so large that each of us could take a little of Joe with us always.

A pause for music. Something cheerful and playful — from 2010:

Now a pause for thought, whether or not you were able to attend the memorial service.

How can we honor Joe Wilder now that his earthly form is no longer with us?

We could purchase and read and be inspired by Ed Berger’s wonderful book about Joe, which I’ve chronicled here — SOFTLY, WITH FEELING: JOE WILDER AND THE BREAKING OF BARRIERS IN AMERICAN MUSIC (Temple University Press).

We could buy one of Joe’s lovely Evening Star CDs and fill our ears and houses with his uplifting music.

Or, we could act in Wilderian fashion — as a kind of subtle, unassuming spiritual practice.

Here are a few suggestions, drawn from my own observations of Joe in action.

Give more than you get.  Make strangers into friends. Never pretend to majesties that aren’t yours.  Fill the world with beauty — whether it’s your own personal sound or a (properly room-temperature) cheesecake.  Act lovingly in all things.  Never be too rushed to speak to people.  Make sure you’ve made people laugh whenever you can. Express gratitude in abundance.

You should create your own list.

But “Be like Joe Wilder in your own way” isn’t a bad place to start.

 May your happiness increase!