Tag Archives: James Chirillo

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!