Tag Archives: James Evans

FRIENDS AT PLAY: STEVE PISTORIUS, “LIVING ROOM SESSIONS, VOLUME ONE: NEW ORLEANS TREASURES”

If you detect the aroma of a pie baking in your neighbor’s house, it’s not necessary to analyze its appeal at length.

My enthusiasm for the disc below and the music it contains is strong: I received the disc in the mail yesterday; I am playing it now while writing this post.  And if you like subtle hot jazz that lives at the heart of the music — direct and unaffected — you will want a copy or a download.

That in itself is a cheering sight, and the details are even better.

The musicians: Steve Pistorius, piano / Joe Goldberg, clarinet, soprano saxophone, vocal / James Evans, clarinet, bass clarinet, C-melody saxophone, vocal / Benny Amon, drums, washboard, bock-a-de-bock cymbals / Tyler Thomson, string bass / Maxwell Poulos, tenor banjo, mandolin.

The songs: Sittin’ on the Curb-stone Blues / Candy Lips (I’m Stuck on You)
Where Did You Stay Last Night? / Maori (A Samoan Song) / Tears / I’m Alone Without You / Piggly Wiggly / Love is the Sweetest Thing / Okey Doke / If You Knew (How I Love You) / Every Evening / Too Tight / Quem me Comprende / Cushion Foot Stomp.

The time, the place, the technology: December 5 and 6, 2019; Steve’s living room; recorded by Ryan Baer on vintage equipment: his reel-to-reel recorder and RCA ribbon microphone.

How to hear it / how to purchase it:

Steve Pistorius – Living Room Sessions, Vol. 1

you can hear thirty-second sound samples of five performances and then purchase the disc.  (Notice I do not write, “If you are so moved,” because I am sure most listeners will be.)  Here — in the name of instant gratification — you can purchase a digital download of the music.

A few words from me, if needed.  I’ve been a convert to Steve’s music — solo piano and the brilliantly heartfelt musical ensembles he creates and leads — for some years now.  I warm to their warm, unbuttoned music — loose without being messy, expert without being over-analyzed.  The New Orleans repertoire on this disc isn’t overplayed tourist slosh; these are caressingly melodic pieces that could woo a listener if played straight, and the twining improvisations are memorable from the first hearing on.  Whether the mood is yearning and dreamy or plunging forward, each track is a delightful aural experience on its own terms.

And the band is made up of people who know the joy of ensemble playing, so the result is a vibrant tapestry of musicians playing “for the comfort of the band” as well as creating brilliant solos.  They know the routines and the conventions yet aren’t chained by them.  The songs are “old” but the music feels bright and new, never dusty — no scholarly recreations of old records.

The recording studio, even in the best circumstances, is an unnatural place, even if there is joking, there are sandwiches and good coffee.  Musicians know that what they do here will be scrutinized for — perhaps not “forever,” but for a long time, and that tends to make the room temperature drop.  That so much of our memorable music has been captured in such artificial circumstances speaks to the wisdom and intensity of the musicians.  But this disc benefits immensely from the collective relaxation of Steve’s living room — a friendly gathering rather than a doctoral examination.  You can hear it.  And the “vintage” technology, while never blurring the sound, is also comfortable.  The result is rather like being invited to hear music next door — a rent party where everyone is sweetly attentive and the music soars. The disc goes by far too quickly, which is why I am cheered by the hope of more volumes to come.

I could write more, but why?  This is a lovely, rewarding disc, and I thank everyone involved with it.  You will, too.  But now I want pie for breakfast, damn it.  Oh, well: I’ll just play the LIVING ROOM SESSIONS again.

May your happiness increase!

SPICY DELICIOUS MUSIC: THE DORO WAT JAZZ BAND

Doro Wat is the national Ethiopian dish, a spicy chicken stew.  I recall eating it in Oakland, California.  Exhibit A:

but there’s also Exhibit B, 49 minutes and 52 seconds of spicy music:

and the back cover:

You need read no more.  Listen!

The band is slightly more than a year old, and it’s a wonder: T Werk Thomson, string bass; John Rodli, guitar; David Boeddinghaus, piano; Tom Fischer, alto saxophone; Charlie Halloran, trombone; James Evans, C-melody saxophone, clarinet, vocal; Ben Polcer, trumpet, vocal.  The beautiful recording was done by John Dixon at the Spotted Cat; the singular typography is by SEEK1 and TOPMOB!.

And the repertoire — which tells an educated listener how wise and deep this hot band is: JUBILESTA / OH, PETER / AUNT HAGAR’S BLUES / JAMAICA SHOUT / POTATO HEAD BLUES / TIGHT LIKE THIS /  BUGLE CALL RAG / RUMBA NEGRO (Latin) / RUMBA NEGRO (Swing) / IF I WERE YOU / SAN / OLD FASHIONED LOVE / BLUE BLOOD BLUES.  Just to point out the forbears, how about Ellington, Red Allen, the Rhythmakers, Bennie Moten, Teddy Wilson, James P., Mister Jelly Lord, Louis.  And there’s a delightful freedom in their homages: this music comes from the heart, not from someone’s imposed notion of what “trad” or “New Orleans jazz” is.  It’s free-flowing and glorious.

Here’s T Werk’s own narrative about the birth of a band, verbatim from Facebook:

February 23 at 10:51am ·
About one year ago I got a call from John Rodli asking me if I wanted to play a gig with him at Three Muses on Friday night. I said something along the lines of “Duh, Idiot. Totally down.” Being Rodli, he didn’t book anybody for the gig and asked me to just throw something together last minute. That first gig had Ben Polcer, James Evans, Rodli, and myself on it. After that gig we immediately realized that we had something totally killer going on here. Once we locked down a weekly gig at Three Muses is when this band really took shape. We were able to add two of the most bad ass musicians I know to fill out the band’s lineup. Charlie Halloran and David Boeddinghaus (🛥🏠). With that killer lineup already rolling we had to add Tom Fischer on reeds as well because we’re all totally insane. After playing for a few months we realized that it was time to make a CD. In November we booked off two days to make a record not realizing that we would only need the first 3 hours and 8 minutes of the first day to record the whole thing. As a musician, going into a studio and coming out three hours later with a killer product is one of the best feelings you can have. That being said, we now have our first record available for purchase! A huge shout out goes to John A Dixon for absolutely CRUSHING the art work. Seek 1 & Top MOB for slaying the lettering and Sophie Lee Lowry and the staff at Three Muses for letting us have Three Muses as our homebase week after week. Keep an eye out for a CD release party coming up really soon. Until then you can purchase digital downloads of the album from band camp or through the Louisiana Music Factory later on today. Of course we will also have this CD for sale tonight at Three Muses from 9-12.
I’ve never been so proud to have my name on a record as I am with this one. Polcer, James, Charlie, 🛥🏠, Fischer and Rodli are the best musicians to work with and we get to do it every week. LET’S DO SHOTS!!

I’d say it a little differently: this recording makes me bounce with happiness.  The rhythm section is a thing of joy, and the soloists know how to speak in their own voices and to join as a choir — the goal of having a deeply melodic satisfying good time.  I keep getting stuck on the first track, that growly piece of Thirties Ellingtonia, JUBILESTA.  But I keep on playing this disc.  And you’ll notice I’m not explicating the music: if I had to do that, I’d despair of my audience.  You’ll hear just how fine DORO WAT is very quickly.  It’s restorative music that I’d like everyone to hear.

And from another angle: I was on a wobbly barstool at The Ear Inn last week, talking with my dear friend Doug Pomeroy, and I said, “You know, THIS is a Golden Age right now.”  DORO WAT is very convincing proof.  Thank you, kind wild creators.

May your happiness increase!

DANCING IN SOUND: KRIS TOKARSKI, JAMES EVANS, HAL SMITH (Bombay Club, Sept. 22, 2016)

Hal Smith, James Evans, Kris Tokarski, at the Bombay Club, New Orleans.

Here are three more beautiful interludes from slightly more than a year ago, in “that quaint old Southern city,” actually at the Bombay Club on Conti Street in New Orleans — an evening with Kris Tokarski, piano; James Evans, clarinet, vocal; Hal Smith, drums.

Earl Hines’ MONDAY DATE (which I am presenting in its streamlined title, having given up on the question of whether it is A, OUR, or MY):

Another visit to 1928 Chicago (just savor Hal’s beautiful rocking drumming!) with THERE’LL BE SOME CHANGES MADE at a leisurely grooving tempo:

I almost never make requests, but I did ask James if he would play LOUISE — because I love the song (I think of Bing and Lester and Pee Wee) and I know it is the first name of the beautiful Missus Evans:

Even if you read this post on Saturday evening, November 11, and you are in New Orleans, you are not too late to hear some good sounds from Hal and Kris.  The facts: Hal will be leading his Kid Ory tribute band — the On The Levee Band — at the very same Bombay Club (830 Conti Street) from 8:30-11:30.  The band has Hal, drums / leader; Ben Polcer, trumpet; Clint Baker, trombone; Joe Goldberg, clarinet; Kris Tokarski, piano; Joshua Gouzy, string bass; Alex Belhaj, guitar.  If you can, you should.

May your happiness increase!  

BEAUTIFUL RIGHTEOUS ENERGIES: THE SHOTGUN JAZZ BAND, “STEPPIN ON THE GAS”

I’m late to the party but happy to have been invited.  Even without the proper apostrophe, STEPPIN ON THE GAS, the new CD by the Shotgun Jazz Band, is a total delight, a disc I play all the way through and want to rehear immediately.

The Shotgun Jazz Band has been recording for six years now, and their new disc offers the pleasure of richly-textured, solidly-grounded New Orleans jazz.  Here they are at The Spotted Cat in April 2016, with Marla Dixon, trumpet; John Dixon, banjo; Charlie Halloran, trombone; Tyler “Twerk” Thomson, string bass / vocal; Craig Flory, alto saxophone; Ben Polcer, piano:

This is a 2015 performance that shows their virtues: https://player.vimeo.com/video/147186666“>

 with Marla, John, Charlie, Twerk, and reedman James Evans.

This is a very revealing profile of the band from the “Enjoying Traditional Jazz” blog, written by “a very old guy [from Nottingham, England] who got into traditional jazz late in life, with much to discover, learn and pass on.”  The author calls himself “Pops Coffee” and his blog can be found here.

Back to the reason for this post, STEPPIN ON THE GAS, a consistently lively homage to the great songs — fully vitalized in this century — by Marla Dixon, trumpet and vocal; John Dixon, banjo; Charlie Halloran, “trampagne”; James Evans, C-melody saxophone, clarinet, vocal; David Boeddinghaus, piano; Twerk Thomson, string bass / vocal; and guests Ben Polcer, trumpet; Tom Fischer, alto saxophone / clarinet.  The Shotgun ensemble is its own pleasure (beautifully recorded at Luthjen’s Dance Hall, utilizing the acoustics of that space, without an audience, so that we hear subtle shadings and bold statements).  Special plaudits go to Earl Scioneaux III for engineering and mixing and to Bruce Barielle for mastering the disc.

The songs are GULF COAST BLUES*; WHITE GHOST SHIVERS; HOW AM I TO KNOW? (James, vocal); SHE’S CRYING FOR ME; MOONLIGHT BAY*; SMILES; I HATE A MAN LIKE YOU*; DOWN BY THE RIVERSIDE* and band vocal; WHENEVER YOU’RE LONESOME*; ROSE OF BOMBAY; BREEZE*; CURSE OF AN ACHING HEART*; OLE MISS RAG; PRETEND*; MY OLD KENTUCKY HOME (Twerk / band vocal); GUILTY* (not the Al Bowlly ballad); STEPPIN ON THE GAS; DEEP RIVER.  The asterisks are for the tracks Marla sings on, and she is such a varied singer — tender or raucous — that I never got weary of her voice.

The pleasures start immediately with GULF COAST BLUES –David Boeddinghaus, sounding like a modern James P. Johnson alongside Marla Dixon’s powerful but understated blues singing; then James Evans adds his emotive, conversational alto saxophone and Twerk his beautifully centered string bass (a gutty yet swinging accompaniment that — heretically perhaps — is the ideal world that Bessie Smith rarely got to experience on records) . . . to James’ exquisite vocal on HOW AM I TO KNOW (which Louis performed on his first European tour!); a performance of ON MOONLIGHT BAY (one of those songs that hits me in some deep nostalgic part of my being, as does SHINE ON, HARVEST MOON) that lingers over the verse and then turns the second chorus into a shouting near-blues; a very fast, rollicking SMILES (with a stomping Boeddinghaus solo). . . I could go on, but I will leave the rest of the delights for the listeners.

The disc shows off beautiful vocalized instrumental solos, neither timid nor rough, shifting ensembles (this is neither a “recorded jam session” nor a banquet of recreations, but a comfortable middle ground) — where the lead moves around within the band, and instruments pair off in ways we might not expect: subtle harmonic depths, and an unfailing swing. Nothing more to ask for!

The six selections with an expanded front line: WHITE GHOST SHIVERS, SHE’S CRYING FOR ME,  DOWN BY THE RIVERSIDE, OLE MISS RAG, GUILTY, STEPPIN ON THE GAS — adding Ben Polcer, trumpet; Tom Fischer, clarinet and alto saxophone — are extraordinary examples of ensemble playing that borders on the ecstatic while being expertly under control — a paradox when seen on the page, but completely understandable when heard.

If someone asks you what hot jazz sounds like in this century, or tells you that New Orleans jazz no longer exists, or that swing is a dying phenomenon — play that misguided soul STEPPIN ON THE GAS.  I would.

Here is the band’s website, with sound samples, and their Facebook page.

May your happiness increase!

THE OPPOSITE OF DESTRUCTIVENESS IS KINDNESS, OR, TAKE A LOOK AT T WERK’S WORKS

I’m reposting this February 2017 post for a reason.  I’ve never met the string bassist and energetic recordist T Werk Thomson in person, but I’ve admired his work (or werk) from when I first heard it.  Simply, about a year ago, he created in his New Orleans home a recording studio.  Not with ProTools and his MacBook, but with a Presto disc cutter, a supply of “new” 78 recording blanks, and he set out to capture good music in the best old-time ways.  And that music — detailed below — was just splendid.  As well, I applauded the splendid eccentricity of his capturing it as hot jazz, cage-free, organic, and locally sourced.  (Another product of T Werk’s studio is Charlie Halloran’s superb CE BIGUINE.)

At the end of 2017, I and others learned that someone had maliciously vandalized T Werk’s studio and destroyed his disc cutter and all that it needed to make more records.  I won’t go into the dark details — this is a jazz blog, not an episode of a television cop show — but that act seemed spectacularly mean-spirited.  Jo Anna Mae Amlin set up a GoFundMe page here and some people have been contributing.  I encourage you to do so.  As Louis sings in SHOE SHINE BOY, “every nickel helps a lot,” and one can match altruism with desire. If T Werk gets his studio running again, there will be more records for us to enjoy. So even if kindness in the abstract seems more than you can do, kindness with a reward is worth the effort.  If everyone who’s heard T Werk swing out paid in the price of a large Starbucks drink, or a beer, or (for the antiquarians among us) a CD, he would be able to reconstruct his studio quickly.  (And I should point out that Presto disc cutters and acetate blanks are not items one can pick up at the corner store.)

So: help out someone who’s already done a great deal for the music and for us.

Now, back to our regularly scheduled effusions.

The CD below is delightfully weird but the results are entirely gratifying. Perhaps that sentence should properly read “and the results”: you decide.

Exhibit A.  The process:

Twerk Thomson with Kris Tokarski and Ben Polcer, and two turntables. Photograph by John A. Dixon.

Twerk Thomson with Kris Tokarski and Ben Polcer, and two turntables. Photograph by John A. Dixon.

Exhibit A.1.a: A Presto disc cutter from eBay:

presto-cutter

Exhibit A.1.b: Blank discs, also from eBay:

presto-discs

Exhibit B. The result:

twerk-cd-cover

Exhibit B.1.a.:

bunk-popular

Exhibit C. The results, continued here.

Exhibiit D.  The explanation.  The story has different parts, which combine. Twerk Thomson is a young yet respected New Orleans string bassist, with a real understanding of the art form, often heard with the Shotgun Jazz Band.  And he, like other musicians and scholars, is fascinated by the intersection of “archaic” sound and the technology of its time. It’s one thing to get musicians into a modern studio — which, at its most “modern,” is a very restrictive environment, where musicians can barely see each other and hear each other through headphones . . . and then try to improvise music that will seem natural to the disc’s purchaser.  But what happens when you record twenty-first century improvisers with the technology of the previous century, the century that gave birth to the innovators they (and we) so admire?  The music I am celebrating in this post, created last year, is a tribute to Bill Russell’s American Music creations. And the new CD sounds wonderful.

But something needs to be said about the Presto home record cutter and discs. Before the computer and the iPhone . . . music used to be packaged tangibly on a variety of discs, and enterprising people could record their own music at home — whether it was Aunt Ella singing and playing hymns or the Paso Robles Wanderers working out the trio of MABEL’S DREAM.  I have found these discs at yard sales, and they’ve never offered something life-changing, such as a broadcast from the Reno Club, but they are tantalizing.  The whole idea is roughly parallel to another piece of archaic technology, the Polaroid camera, but I assure you the discs hold up better.

Twerk told me, “I got my first cutter about a year and a half ago, which ended up being completely useless.  So I ended up buying two more.  They come up on eBay every so often. Finding ones that were affordable was the big challenge.
Blanks come up on eBay as well but they are very hit and miss when It comes to quality. I actually ended up finding a bunch of original presto blanks on there once that were actually still usable. They came in the original packaging which was really cool.  But for higher quality blanks we use a company called Apollo, from California.”

The official version is “The performances herein were recorded live with one microphone into a Presto K8 lathe, cut directly to acetate discs at 78 rpm, and edited only for volume. All Sessions Produced by Twerk Thomson and Recorded by John Dixon, Live at Twerk-O-Phonic Studios, New Orleans, LA.”

The songs: OH, YOU BEAUTIFUL DOLL / OLD FASHIONED LOVE / MY GAL SAL / PRETTY BABY / SOMEDAY, SWEETHEART / SWEET BYE AND BYE (Twerk Thomson, string bass; Ben Polcer, trumpet; Kris Tokarski, piano) / JADA / SHINE  / ONE SWEET LETTER FROM YOU / NOON BLUES / MARIE / YOU ARE MY SUNSHINE / MELANCHOLY BLUES  (Twerk, John Rodli, guitar, vocal on JADA; Kris; Ben; James Evans, C-melody saxophone, clarinet; Charlie Halloran, trombone) / IN THE SHADE OF THE OLD APPLE TREE / MAMA’S GONE, GOODBYE / POOR BUTTERFLY (Twerk, Russell Welch, guitar; Alex Owen, trumpet; Bruce Brackmon, clarinet; Marty Peters, tenor saxophone) / HOW COME YOU DO ME LIKE YOU DO? / HOME (Twerk, tenor guitar; Marla Dixon, trumpet and vocal).

Exhibit E: Twerk Thomson on Facebook.

If you’re familiar with any of the heroes recorded on this disc (and you can hear / download / purchase the music on the Soundcloud link above) you will know what to expect: music that is both romping and elegantly controlled, harking back to the Bunk Johnson – Don Ewell – Alphonso Steele trios and slightly larger ensembles.  The “vintage sound” — powerfully focused if somewhat narrower (at first) than we are used to — is so atmospheric.  The discs have occasional surface noise, whooshes and clicks, but the noise is part of the overall effect rather than something added on synthetically.  Everyone plays beautifully and with heart, so the result is not merely the documentation of a gimmick, but a melding of technology and reverent impulse.

I first heard a few of the individual sessions on Twerk’s Facebook page, and thought, “Wow, I hope he puts these into a form that people who want to get away from their computers can purchase and have.”  And he did.  So I can now time-travel to some indeterminate place whenever I want, even while driving to work.  And Twerk has also established Twerk-O-Phonic Studios as a place (a sanctuary for music!) where you can visit and record your own music onto an actual disc — a single artifact, not a mass-produced product — to have, to hear, to admire.  I don’t want this to become such a phenomenon that he no longer has time to play the propulsive string bass he does so well, but a little prosperity would be nice.

I commend this disc to you.  The music on it both embraces and transcends the technology.  And, to me, the complete idea — the musicians, the home environment, the discs — is heartwarming.

May your happiness increase!

A NIGHT AT THE BOMBAY CLUB (Part Two): KRIS TOKARSKI, JAMES EVANS, HAL SMITH (September 22, 2016)

bombay-clubYes, The Bombay Clubthat luxurious New Orleans hangout in the Prince Conti Hotel, home to good music, food, drink, and friendships.  I visited it for the first time on the date above, to hear Kris Tokarski, James Evans, and Hal Smith — my premiere offering from that session can be found here.

And here is Part Two: listen to the way this trio blends the three voices into a larger, delightful organism, with each member keeping his individuality.

An absolutely gorgeous SOPHISTICATED LADY:

GET HAPPY, thanks to Harold Arlen at the rehearsal piano:

JUST YOU, JUST ME:

TOP HAT, WHITE TIE AND TAILS:

Yes, there are several more joyous instant-classics from this session, and they will appear.

May your happiness increase!

“SERENADE FOR CLARINETS AND STRINGS,” by JAMES EVANS

If you’re hoping for Hot Nirvana — say, a ten-minute version of ROYAL GARDEN BLUES (which I do not sneer at) — please come back in a day or so, when I shall attempt to gratify your wish.  (Or visit one of the other three thousand plus posts I’ve done since 2008.  Something to your liking will emerge.)

winter-solstice

For the moment, I present unclassifiable beauty: an original composition by the singular creator James Evans (most recently viewed and heard here with Kris Tokarski and Hal Smith).  But James’ imagination is as spacious, his worldview unconstrained by labels and classifications.  So I present with great happiness his composition, SERENADE FOR CLARINETS AND STRINGS — performed by James on clarinet and bass clarinet, Matt Rhody on violin.

Music like this gives me hope for intelligent life on earth.  And since today, December 21, is the winter solstice, may this music gently and kindly help guide us out of darkness.

Thank you, James and Matt.

May your happiness increase!

A NIGHT AT THE BOMBAY CLUB (Part One): KRIS TOKARSKI, JAMES EVANS, HAL SMITH (September 22, 2016)

bombay-club

It was my first time at The Bombay Club in New Orleans, and I know it won’t be my last.  The music was splendid — as you will see and hear — created by Kris Tokarski, piano; James Evans, reeds and vocal; Hal Smith, drums.

LOUISIANA:

I’M PUTTING ALL MY EGGS IN ONE BASKET:

DON’T BLAME ME:

BUT NOT FOR ME:

I would point out that Kris, James, and Hal aren’t involved in some densely researched multi-layered repertory project.  They are stylistic rovers, happily wandering around in the glorious present of swing, creating beautiful sounds and deeply listening to each other.  Individualists who have given their hearts to the collective endeavor.

There’s more from this glorious session.  I guarantee it.

May your happiness increase!

“FEETS, DO YOUR STUFF!”: JAMES EVANS, ANDY SCHUMM, DAVID BOEDDINGHAUS, TOM SAUNDERS, HAL SMITH at the PALM COURT JAZZ CAFE (New Orleans, September 23, 2016)

You don’t have to be a specialist in Morton’s neuroma to appreciate this excursion into happiness: a delicious romp on the 1930 Yellen and Ager paean to dancing, written for THE KING OF JAZZ.

happy-feet-potato-head-label

That is an image — the famous Paul Whiteman recording.  Here’s something that is even more multi-dimensional.  The performance took place on September 23, 2016, at the Palm Court Jazz Cafe, as part of the Steamboat Stomp (thanks again and again to Duke Heitger for making his and our dreams come true).  The noble participants here are James Evans, clarinet; Andy Schumm, cornet; David Boeddinghaus, piano; Tom Saunders, bass saxophone; Hal Smith, drums.  And do they rock!

I find it hilariously fitting that because of the intermittent lighting in the room (everyone knows that jazz clubs, to be atmospheric, must be dark) that the most brightly lit area of this video — leaving aside James’ brilliantly white shirt — is one or both of Andy’s shoes.  HAPPY FEET, no doubt.

footprints-in-sand-at-beach

There’s more to come from the Stomp and other joyous events . . . so keep following JAZZ LIVES.  Good value for your money, if I may be so bold.

May your happiness increase!

CAPTAIN PISTORIUS SETS A COURSE FOR JAZZ: “STEAMBOAT DAYS”

Long before I’d ever met Steve Pistorius in person, I knew his music: consistently alive, full of good feelings even when he was playing or singing the saddest blues.  I’d heard him solo, playing full, orchestral piano, and heard that piano bubbling through ensembles in exuberant down-home ways.  I had the honor of meeting him and hearing him in person at the first Steamboat Stomp in New Orleans (that would be 2013) and I have had the pleasure twice more.

pistorius-four

From the left, that’s Benny Amon, drums; Orange Kellin, clarinet, Steve himself, and James Evans, clarinet, saxophone, and vocal. These four gentlemen have just come out with a CD, called STEAMBOAT DAYS, and it’s wonderful.  And — should you want to go immediately to gratification, you can buy copies at www.stevepistorius.com.

pistorius-cd

As usual with Steve, the repertoire is a mix of sweet reassuring surprises — New Orleans and New Orleans-inspired jazz without the hackneyed Bourbon Street bounce.  And this quartet is both original — they inhabit 2016 — and comfortably mellow.  I had the privilege of writing a few lines for the disc . . .

Technically speaking, this is a compact disc, as you see when you slide the plastic article into the player. But I prefer the archaic term “record,” in the broader sense: an accurate depiction of something memorable, a way of capturing something evanescent for posterity. This record enshrines for us something rare and cheering: actual improvised music being made on the spot by musicians, without artifice. Although much of the repertoire is sweetly venerable, we know immediately that this creativity, singular and collective, exists now. STEAMBOAT DAYS doesn’t strive to imitate historical recordings or legendary bands — no conscious homages to Noone, Mezzrow-Bechet, Wilber-Davern. Let those who wish to “play old records in high fidelity” do just that. This is a record of what Steve, James, Orange, and Benny felt like playing in the moment. Thus it is genuine and irreplaceable. And varied, with stomps, blues, pop songs both tender and mournful, genuine make-out music (SWAY), a handful of Creole seasoning, and a properly dark roux.

The music is occasionally raw — as in so intense in its emotion that polish becomes an afterthought — yet at the same time highly expert. At once delicate and ferocious, it is a lace tablecloth with a tiger underneath. Although New Orleans jazz, according to the Sages, is an ensemble art, the four soloists amaze and delight throughout. James and Orange complement each other — tonally and stylistically — I think of different varieties of ivy growing exuberantly up a wall. Steve and Benny are all the rhythm section anyone would ever need, a truly orchestral pianist and a percussionist who makes beautiful rollicking noise. This is an expandable quartet, with the singing of Steve (whose seriousness is porous to let deep feeling come out) and James (who so tenderly offers his heart to us) — also a rousing pleasure on C-melody saxophone, with his own sound.

Many hour-long recordings start out glossy and appealing but by the time I am twenty minutes through, I am looking for some other way to amuse myself. Don’t my socks need to be paired? These selections tumble one upon another, and my only problem is that, having heard KATHLEEN for the first time, I didn’t want to go on to the second track without walking dear Kate home a few more times.

This is A BAND, so delicious. They do not archaeologize; they are warm rather than scholarly-chilly. They do not play at the music. They ARE the music. May they have ten thousand opportunities to keep pleasing themselves and us.

For the record, the songs are I’LL TAKE YOU HOME AGAIN, KATHLEEN / SINCE MY BEST GAL TURNED ME DOWN / GULF COAST BLUES / I WANT YOU JUST MYSELF / THE YAMA YAMA MAN / WILD CAT BLUES / CRYIN’ FOR THE CAROLINES / LE MARCHAND DE POISSONS / QUIEN SERA [SWAY] / SATANIC BLUES / A MILLION DREAMS / POOR KATIE REDD / FORTY AND TIGHT / RIVERSIDE BLUES / STEAMBOAT DAYS.

But wait!  There’s more!  You don’t have to take my word for it.  How about the set that the Quartet performed at the Steamboat Stomp last month (September 24, 2016) on the Natchez?  That’s Tom Saunders on bass sax, in for Benny Amon on drums.

Can do.

SATANIC BLUES:

RIVERSIDE BLUES:

STEAMBOAT DAYS:

CRYIN’ FOR THE CAROLINES:

FORTY AND TIGHT:

I’LL TAKE YOU HOME AGAIN, KATHLEEN:

SHREVEPORT STOMP:

THE FISH VENDOR (LE MARCHAND DE POISSONS):

You’ll want a copy of the CD to complement the videos, I assure you.  And this band is a life-enhancer.

May your happiness increase!

THINKING OF BIX, TRAM, PRES, and PEE WEE: HAL SMITH’S SWING CENTRAL at CENTRAL MARKET (August 28, 2016)

swing-central

The response to my first posting with videos of Hal Smith’s Swing Central from August 28 of  this year has been so enthusiastic that I offer four more — with thematic connections to three of the greatest lyrical players of jazz: Bis Beiderbecke, Frank Trumbauer, Lester Young, and Pee Wee Russell.  We know that Lester deeply admired the other three players, and it’s not hard to hear an emotional connection between Pee Wee and Pres when their clarinet explorations are the subject.  Four great poets who also swung deliciously.

Swing Central is made up of Hal on drums, Jon Doyle on clarinet, Joshua Hoag on string bass, Dan Walton on piano, Jamey Cummins on guitar. This performance is from a swing dance gig at Central Market in Austin, Texas.

Before you plunge in, might I suggest that you be prepared to listen closely. This is a band that understands the pleasure of playing softly, of placing note after note and harmony upon harmony with great delicacy: yes, they can swing exuberantly (as in the final SUNDAY) but some of what follows is soft, tender, introspective — I think of Japanese paintings, where one brushstroke both is and has depths of implication.  Allow this music to reverberate — placidly yet definitely — as you listen.

And the fine videos are the work of Gary Feist of Yellow Dog Films.

FOR NO REASON AT ALL IN C (an improvisation on I’D CLIMB THE HIGHEST MOUNTAIN):

PEE WEE’S BLUES (with some real-life end-of-the-night tidying at the start, very atmospheric):

BLUE LESTER:

SUNDAY (that Jule Styne opus recorded by all four of these players):

I look forward to a happy future for this gratifying small orchestra, its music so pleasing.

May your happiness increase!

JUST DELICIOUS: HAL SMITH’S SWING CENTRAL!

swing-central

Please put everything else aside.  Stop multi-tasking for a few minutes.  I invite you to celebrate the birth of a great band: Hal Smith’s Swing Central:

That’s Hal on drums, Jon Doyle on clarinet, Joshua Hoag on string bass, Dan Walton on piano, Jamey Cummins on guitar.  This performance is from a swing dance gig at Central Market in Austin, Texas.  I’ll have more to say about the music — which really “needs no introduction” and “speaks for itself,” later, but I have asked Hal to tell us everything about the creation and gestation of this fine new ensemble.  (Interspersed with his narrative you’ll find other videos from the Central Market gig, like hand-drawn illustrations in a picture book.)

A word about Hal, though.  I’ve been listening to him on records and CDs for a long time (putting the needle back over and over to listen to the way he swings the band and takes solos that seem too short rather than “fountains of noise,” as Whitney Balliett called most drum solos) and I have heard him in person for the last five years.  He’s a splendid drummer — old-fashioned in the best ways — always dreaming of the bands who can really understand and embody the glories of the past.  And he’s always on a quest to put congenial talented people together to form bands: the Roadrunners, his own trios with Bobby Gordon, Albert Alva, James Evans, Ray Skjelbred, Chris Dawson, Kris Tokarski; his California Swing Cats and Rhythmakers, Hal’s Angels, the New El Dorado Jazz Band, the Jazz Chihuauas, the Down Home Jazz Band, and the Creole Sunshine Jazz Band.

Here’s Hal, himself:

In 2015, Dave Bennett and I wanted to put together a jazz quintet. I suggested Dan Walton and Jamey Cummins from Austin and Steve Pikal from the Twin Cities. Even though we had not all played together as a group, I was sure that everything would click.

Interlude: HELLO, FISHIES, by Jon Doyle:

The quintet did click, at the Redwood Coast Music Festival in March, 2016. I secured another engagement for the group at the Capital City Jazz Festival in Madison, Wisconsin but Dave inadvertently double-booked himself that same weekend. Fortunately, the festival organizers were willing to keep the quintet in the lineup with JON DOYLE on clarinet.

Since everyone in the band plays SWING music and lives in the CENTRAL time zone, that was how the group wound up with the name.

Jon and I exchanged many e-mails regarding the repertoire and sound of the band. Since so many swing combos attempt to play in the style of Benny Goodman’s Trio, Quartet, etc. we agreed that a different song list and sound would be the way we would go.

Interlude:  SUNDAY

I have always admired Jon’s sound on clarinet, but he really caught my ear one time before a gig with Floyd Domino’s All-Stars. Jon was warming up by playing Lester Young’s introduction to the Kansas City Six’s “I Want A Little Girl.” Remembering that, I proposed that Swing Central play songs associated with Lester, then further suggested material recorded by Pee Wee Russell and Frank Chace. Jon agreed enthusiastically and began writing charts.

Interlude: JELLY ROLL

Jon was running late to our first set on Friday evening, and did not have time to go back for his tenor sax — so he played the entire set on clarinet. We kicked off with “Love Is Just Around The Corner,” and the audience responded with enthusiasm, which continued with every number. Jon’s totally unstaged animation and Steve Pikal’s contagious good spirit permeated the crowd. Jamey Cummins scored big with a swinging version of “Shivers.” Jon cued ensembles and solos and kept most performances to 78 rpm length, so with about 20 minutes left on the clock, I got Dan’s attention during a song, and mouthed, “Can you do a boogie woogie feature?” The rollicking version of “Roll ‘Em, Pete” he came up with had the crowd whistling and stomping. Our last song of the first set garnered a standing ovation, and each succeeding set ended the same way.

Fast-forward to August, 2016…I was going to be working with a Western Swing band in South Texas, and coincidentally Jon Doyle was planning to be in Austin also. Jamey and Dan would be in town, so I was able to book an appearance for the band at Central Market-Westgate. (Both Central Market locations in Austin offer a fantastic selection of groceries, an in-store café, and live music by local artists on Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday. In addition to paying the musicians, the market provides a professional soundman and even feeds the band). However, the performance budget would not cover the cost of an airfare from the Twin Cities, so the great Austin bassist Josh Hoag filled in for Steve Pikal.

Gary Feist, of Yellow Dog Films, was available to videotape several performances.  He captured the band, the audience, and quite a few local dancers in high spirits.

For me, playing in a band like this makes the aches and pains of the music business worthwhile. Dan, Jamey and Josh are great friends as well as great musicians. All of us look to Jon Doyle for inspiration and he always delivers! Best of all, Jon has immersed himself in the recordings of Young, Russell and particularly Chace. He inhabits the styles without copying note for note, but there is no question regarding his influences. A mutual friend, upon hearing Jon’s clarinet work on an audio clip from this session (“I Must Have That Man”) remarked, “I think the torch has been passed!” It has, and is burning brightly!

I know that Hal is speaking with several jazz festival directors about appearances for SWING CENTRAL, and that they are getting together to record their debut CD in Chicago — all excellent news.  There are many other wonderful small jazz groups on the landscape, thank heavens, but this is a real band with its own conceptions.  You wouldn’t mistake them for anyone else; they are not locked in one tiny stylistic box, and my goodness, how they swing!

May your happiness increase!

GUILTY, WITH AN EXPLANATION (September 2016)

judges-gavel

I confess that I’ve let some days go by without blogging.  Unthinkable, I know, but I (gently) throw myself on the mercy of the JAZZ LIVES court of readers.

Permit me to explain.  From Thursday, September 15, to Sunday, the 18th, I was entranced by and at the Cleveland Classic Jazz Party.  Consider these — randomly chosen — delights.  Jim Dapogny playing IF I WERE YOU (twice) and some of his winsome original compositions.  Rossano Sportiello, Frank Tate, and Hal Smith swinging like no one’s business.  Rebecca Kilgore singing KEEP A SONG IN YOUR SOUL in the Andy Schumm-Hal Smith tribute to Alex Hill. Andy, on piano, with Paul Patterson and Marty Grosz — once on banjo! — in a hot chamber trio (a highlight being LOUISE).  Wesla Whitfield in wonderfully strong voice.  Dan Block and Scott Robinson romping through HOTTER THAN ‘ELL.  A Basie-styled small band led by Jon Burr, offering (among other pleasures) IN THE WEE SMALL HOURS OF THE MORNING.  A string bass trio — Burr, Tate, and Kerry Lewis — showing that no other instruments need apply.  Harry Allen and Jon-Erik Kellso playing ballads, and Dan Barrett, too.  Tributes to Nat Cole, Harry Warren, Isham Jones, and Bill Evans.  Many videos, too — although they take some time to emerge in public.

I came home late Sunday night and on Monday and Tuesday returned to normal (employed) life as Professor Steinman: John Updike, Tillie Olsen, William Faulkner.

Tomorrow, which is Wednesday, September 21, I get on a plane to New Orleans for Duke Heitger’s Steamboat Stomp.  Obviously I can’t report on delights experienced, but I can say I am looking forward to hearing, talking with, and cheering for the Yerba Buena Stompers, Miss Ida Blue, Banu Gibson, Tim Laughlin, Hal Smith, Kris Tokarski, Andy Schumm, Alex Belhaj, David Boeddinghaus, Ed Wise, Charlie Halloran, James Evans, Steve Pistorius, Orange Kellin, Tom Saunders, Debbie Fagnano, and many others.

So there you have it.  I could sit at home blogging, or I could be on the road, collecting gems, some of which I will be able to share.

My counsel in all this has been the most eminent solicitor, Thomas Langham, who will now offer his closing argument to the jury:

May your happiness increase!

IT’S TIME TO STOMP (Steamboat Stomp, September 23-25, 2016)

Today is the first day of class, so I handed out papers for my students to read and a questionnaire to fill out.  But turnabout is fair play: my friend, Professor Hal Smith, sent me some pages worthy of deep study: the schedule for the 2016 Steamboat Stomp.

steamboatnatchez-paddle

I’ve written with great admiration of my experiences at the 2013 and 2015 Stomps here and here and here (and more, for the curious) — but I want to share with you the Coming Attractions that are less than a month away.  For full details, of course, you should visit here.  And, without being too pushy, may I suggest that space on the Steamboat Natchez is not infinite, and that lodgings in New Orleans are equally finite, that time is of the essence.

640_steamboat-natchez-new-orleans-reviews

There are four sessions: Friday evening, Saturday afternoon and evening, and Sunday afternoon, each of them introduced by a steam calliope recital by the dextrous Debbie Fagnano.  I should also mention that the Natchez has three areas for music: the main cabin, the top deck, and the Captain’s Salon.  So there are always simultaneous sessions going on.

On Friday night, there will be two delights: on the boat itself, sessions by Tuba Skinny and the Yerba Buena Stompers; at the Palm Court Jazz Cafe, the Steamboat Stomp All-Stars (David Boeddinghaus, James Evans, Andy Schumm, Tom Saunders, Hal Smith) will hold forth.

On Saturday morning and afternoon, sessions by the Steve Pistorius Quartet (Steve, James Evans, Orange Kellin, Tom Saunders), the YBS, and Tim Laughlin (with Neil Unterseher, Alex Belhaj, and Ed Wise); later, at dockside, the Cakewalkin’ Jass Band (Ray Heitger, Tom Saunders, Alex Belhaj, Jamie Wight), Tim Laughlin, Andy Schumm, Neil Unterseher, Ed Wise, and a jam session with the YBS.

Saturday night, Banu Gibson (with David Boeddinghaus, Tom Saunders, Andy Schumm, James Evans, Kevin Dorn, Charlie Halloran), the Dukes of Dixieland, Tuba Skinny, the YBS, the Kris Tokarski Trio with Andy Schumm and  Hal Smith, the Steamboat Stompers (Duke Heitger, Tom Saunders, Steve Pistorius). Banu Gibson (with David Boeddinghaus, Andy Schumm, Hal Smith), and another Kris Tokarski Trio with Hal Smith and Tim Laughlin.

On Sunday morning, Solid Harmony (Topsy Chapman and her two songful daughters) will be backed for one set by the Kris Tokarski Trio (Clint Baker and Hal Smith), and then by the YBS.

The Stomp will conclude with a VIP / Patron Party at the Bourbon New Orleans Hotel, and I have heard that Kris Tokarski, Andy Schumm, and Hal Smith will be playing a gig at Snug Harbor that night.  No doubt.

That’s a whole lot of Stomp.  Hope to see you there!

May your happiness increase!

TOKARSKI’S NIGHTINGALE (AND OTHER RARE SPECIES)

Although I’ve only met the young pianist / composer Kris Tokarski a few brief times in person, I admire him as a remarkable musician with great wit, warmth, flexibility, and swing.

Kris Tokarski. Photograph by Scott Myers.

Kris Tokarski. Photograph by Scott Myers.

About sixteen months ago, Kris made his first CD as a leader, DROP ME OFF IN HARLEM — a delightful musical collation with Kris among his friends and peers James Evans, Evan Christopher, and Benji Bohannon.  Here’s what I wrote about Kris (with music samples) in April 2014.

Although Kris’ musical and emotional range is substantial, he is a great subtle player of older music with the right feeling — without being hemmed in by written manuscript, older recordings, or restrictive stylistic conventions.  Here is a recent video-recording Kris did especially for JAZZ LIVES — at home and informally — of Joseph Lamb’s RAGTIME NIGHTINGALE:

Notice his lovely touch, his gentle approach.  Would you like to hear more? That is easily accomplished.

Kris, photographed by Don Keller, in front of Jelly's house, Frenchmen and Robertson Streets, New Orleans

Kris, photographed by Don Keller, in front of Jelly’s house, Frenchmen and Robertson Streets, New Orleans

In March of this year, Kris, Hal Smith, drums, and Cassidy Holden, string bass, went into the GHB Studios in New Orleans to create a CD that would consider classic rags from a Mortonian perspective, with performances modeled on Jelly’s own evocations as well as songs known to be familiar during his career but not recorded.  The compositions are Pastime Rag #3 / Heliotrope Bouquet / Kinklets / Peacherine Rag / Elite Syncopations / Ragtime Nightingale / Grace And Beauty / Please Say You Will / Sunflower Slow Drag / Swipesy / Magnetic Rag / The Easy Winners / Cataract Rag / St. Louis Rag.  If you understand the concept, the CD is a magnificent invention; if you’ve never heard the Morton Library of Congress recordings, the CD will please just as deeply.

I was delighted to be asked to write the liner notes.  Here’s what I said:

SOFT, SWEET, PLENTY RHYTHM

In 1972, I had several opportunities to marvel at Eubie Blake, then nearing ninety.  He would play MEMORIES OF YOU, TROUBLESOME IVORIES, STARS AND STRIPES FOREVER, or CHARLESTON RAG, but he always concluded with a virtuosic display and a triumphant shout, “That’s RAGTIME!” It certainly was, but the music was more than notes on the page; it was shaped by the personality and experiences of its creator. Jazz improvisation is never pure (thank goodness): it’s all subliminal osmosis and hybridization.  Eubie’s ragtime was broad-minded: it cuddled up with stride, eight-to-the-bar, orchestral flourishes owing as much to Rachmaninoff as Joplin. 

I’ve heard many musicians approach the ragtime repertoire according to their spirit animal.  Some storm through a rag as if preparing for a martial arts tournament.  Others play it with reverent rigidity, the way a child in an antique shop sits tensely on the chair to which he’s been affixed.  This CD presents one, two, and three musicians embodying a radical idea: “Let’s play the music with joy and attention to detail, and whatever happens, it will be good.”     

On this CD, Jelly Roll Morton’s proud, playful New Orleans spirit is strong, although Kris Tokarski wisely avoids the Morton caricature: lesser pianists turn Morton into a large papier-mache figure at the keyboard. 

Kris’s playing is, as always, warm and delicate but you know there is stomping power beneath the surface. I admire his beautiful touch, the logic of his phrases, but he’s never so precise as to be chilly.  Kris animates the rags, reminding us that ragtime is swinging syncopated dance music: pastoral but not effete.

Masterful playing by Cassidy Holden and Hal Smith makes this a genuine trio, democratic and empathic.  Hear the low woody propulsive sound Cassidy gets (the right notes, the right changes, a wonderful pulse) as well as his cellolike clarity.  Hal’s playing appears uncomplicated, but it takes decades of devoted playing to know what to leave out, what sounds to make, how and when to make them.  I thought occasionally of Minor Hall and Tommy Benford, but most often of Hal.

These performances aren’t “recreations” of some imagined past, but neither are they free-form improvisations on the harmonies.  I hear echoes of the jungle (ANIMULE BALL) in CATARACT RAG, the Spanish tinge in MAGNETIC RAG.  But each song sounds like a movement in a dance suite – with echoes of marches, quadrilles, and street parades. PLEASE SAY YOU WILL moves so deliciously from waltz to a gently swinging rhythm ballad with a few closing moments of stomp (as Morton did on MY GAL SAL).  ST. LOUIS RAG – in the words of Jake Hanna – starts swinging from the beginning.  GRACE AND BEAUTY shows off this trio’s many virtues: they don’t get louder or faster, but you know the train is moving on the right track and it will arrive on time. 

SUNFLOWER SLOW DRAG is a history of the first decades of jazz, as it progresses from a tender, almost shy start to a romp.

We owe this session to Hal Smith, not only a master percussionist but a jazz scholar and detective.  He had long been fascinated by Morton’s transformations of famous ragtime pieces, and wondered how other rags would sound if played in Jelly’s style.  He knew that Kris would be perfect for the project, making the performances vibrant, not dusty.  Hal put together a list of rags that might have been played in New Orleans between 1900 and 1917 – and after swapping music and recordings, this wonderful group was ready – not for the river, but for the studio.  Thank you, Kris, Hal, Cassidy, for opening the magic toybox and offering us so much joy.

I couldn’t have said it better myself.  Or perhaps I have.

To purchase the CD, visit here. Or if you encounter Kris at a gig, I am sure he will be happy to arrange a mutually satisfying transaction.

And I am looking for several chances to enjoy Kris and friends in the coming months.  His trio — with Hal Smith and Tim Laughlin (yes, you did read that correctly!) — is a highlight of the Evergreen Jazz Festival in Colorado at the end of July; the “Hot Classicism” trio of Kris, Hal, and Andy Schumm will also appear at the 2016 Steamboat Stomp in New Orleans.

May your happiness increase!

ALEX OWEN’S SAVORY HOT CUISINE

I know that many of my metaphors and analogies are about food (the result of blogging-while-hungry) but in this case I have good reason: listening to and celebrating the second CD, THAT’S MY HOME, by The Messy Cookers Jazz Band, led by trumpeter Alex Owen:

MESSY COOKERS JB cover

and a photograph of the band caught in its natural habitat:

messycookers

Here you can listen to samples from the CD — ideally, while you read about it below.  (The CD stands up wonderfully without my text, I assure you.)

There is a certain kind of “modern performance practice” that I like and admire very much.  It’s based on a deep reverence for and knowledge of a beloved tradition, where the musicians treat the music tenderly but with light hearts, knowing that the way to show love for an innovative art form is to gently innovate within its idioms.  (As an early unpublished draft of Emerson’s “The American Scholar” points out, “Krupa was never made by the study of Krupa.”)

So while this amiable twenty-first century approach to jazz classics isn’t imitative, it isn’t self-consciously “innovative,” either.  RIVERBOAT SHUFFLE is light and energized, not recast as a samba or a dirge.  Jazz scholars can very well appreciate the sounds of the Messy Cookers — they are expert, passionate, and precise — but so could an audience that doesn’t have a wall of E+ Halfway House Orchestra 78s, an audience in the mood for lyrical syncopated dance music.

It isn’t atmospheric but amateurish busking.  And it isn’t repressed archaeology.

One of the nicest aspects of this CD (and of the Cookers as an organization) is their subtle flexibility.  The collective ensemble has Alex, trumpet / vocals; James Evans, clarinet, saxophone, vocals; Benjamin “Benny” Amón, drums; Andy Reid, bass, vocals; John Eubanks, guitar; Albanie Falletta, guitar / vocals; Steve Pistorius, piano.  Notice, no trombone, tuba, or banjo.  And as Alex explains in his notes, the instrumentation shifts from song to song — with smaller units within the band for variety and liveliness, also to reflect the different ways in which the Cookers reconfigure themselves for actual gigs.  The overall effect is streamlined but fulfilling: I never missed the instruments I was supposed to miss by the laws of jazz orthodoxy.

And although the songs on this disc might qualify for Social Security and Medicare, coming to us before the Second World War, everything is happily energized here.  “Play it like you mean it!” seems to be the underlying principle, vocally and instrumentally, and the results are charming and convincing — not a group of people who have tried to become “authentic” in an intensive weekend. I love the group vocal congregational responses on HESITATION BLUES and MILENBERG JOYS, and even though I’ve heard BLUES MY NAUGHTY SWEETIE often enough, Albanie’s tangy singing makes it come alive for me. Alex gets plus points for including THAT’S MY HOME on his disc, making it the title cut, singing it naturally and soulfully, refusing to imitate Louis.  James Evans’ ferocious alto and intensely satisfying singing make WHO’S SORRY NOW? a modern evocation of the Rhythmakers, which is a great thing indeed.

Some of the names on this disc — Reid, Amón, Eubanks, Falletta, and even the leader — might be less familiar than Evans and Pistorius — but the band is delightfully unified at the highest level.  Alex is a splendidly casual player and singer, and by that I mean he makes the difficult seem matter-of-fact; his lines ring and sing.  Everything he does has a rhythmic bounce, no matter what the tempo, and he is a superb leader, letting everyone have a turn, creating witty, varied ensembles that rock in the best modern way.

When I was finished with my first playing of this disc, the only natural thing was to play it again.  It’s delightful music.  And not only would I suggest that you indulge yourself in purchasing a copy, but perhaps one for a younger person who likes jazz — so that (s)he can be reminded that this lovely raucous delicate art is still being practiced in the most exultant ways in this century.  And for us, it’s a wonderful hopeful sign of vibrant life in the art form we cherish (and worry about).

Oh, and in case “Messy Cookers” makes you wonder whether the rangetop is a war scene of burnt-on food, take heart: I am sure that Alex and company mean it as the best sly compliment to music and musicians who create something loose, exuberant, spicy, and tasty.

Visit here to purchase the disc, or, better still, find the Messy Cookers at one of their gigs.

May your happiness increase!

ROLLIN’ DOWN THE RIVER, STOMPING JOYOUSLY: STEVE PISTORIUS, ORANGE KELLIN, JAMES EVANS, TOM SAUNDERS (September 19, 2015)

pistorius

Steve Pistorius is an irreplaceable pianist, singer, bandleader, and visionary, and I love his Quartet — with a front line of Orange Kellin, clarinet; James Evans, vocal, reeds, and someone adept keeping time and swinging out the root notes — on this most recent occasion, Tom Saunders on bass sax.  The Quartet doesn’t strive to imitate anyone in particular, but what comes out is deep and swinging.

You could call it New Orleans jazz and not be wrong, but I think of it as four kindred souls having a sweetly intense conversation about the song at hand, where their intelligence and feeling raise up every note from what could be formulaic or prosaic. Here is what I wrote about their first disc, NEW ORLEANS SHUFFLE.  To read what I wrote about their second, UNDER A CREOLE MOON, you’ll have to buy the disc — which I’ll predict you would want to anyway.

UNDER THE CREOLE MOON

Now, this isn’t an advertisement for those two compact discs (although the subliminal energy is in my words, I hope) but a gift of music — a session on the Steamboat NATCHEZ recorded [by me, for you] during the 2015 Steamboat Stomp.

A cinematographic caveat follows.  I was shooting into bright sunlight through large glass windows, so there was a good deal of unsolicited glare.  Changing the videos to black and white helped cut down on the lurid aspect, but the four players are individually and collectively sheathed in what looks like swing ectoplasm.  Fitting, of course.  The sound, however, is fine and finer.

King Oliver’s I AIN’T GONNA TELL NOBODY:

James rhapsodizes so wonderfully on YOU BELONG TO MY HEART:

Doc Cooke’s BLAME IT ON THE BLUES:

An Oliver rarity, I CAN’T STOP LOVING YOU:

Mister Morton’s FROG-I-MORE RAG:

Bechet’s WASTE NO TEARS:

A. J. Piron’s THE BRIGHT STAR BLUES:

And a later Bechet, DANS LA RUE D’ANTIBES:

Hot, intent, relaxed, soothing, compelling.  The best in their line.  And somewhere in these videos Steve says ruefully that this band has lost its regular gig.  I find that astonishing — in New Orleans, so proud of its music? — that I hope it has been remedied by now.  Club-owners and party-givers, take note.

And I will keep you informed about the 2016 Steamboat Stomp — something I hope to attend.

May your happiness increase!

MR. SMITH GOES TO NEW ORLEANS (HAL SMITH, JAMES EVANS, KRIS TOKARSKI at the BOMBAY CLUB, APRIL 11, 2015)

I feel surrounded by friends.  There is the superb drummer Hal Smith (whose mastery of sounds is quite delicious), whom I’ve known for years, pianist Kris Tokarski, whom I hold dear although we’ve not met, reedman / singer James Evans, who is even more un-met but much admired . . . and the nimble new videographer Kelley Rand — who captured this wonderful trio at New Orleans’ Bombay Club on April 11, 2015.

Here are three samples:

MEAN TO ME

LOVE IS JUST AROUND THE CORNER

LESTER LEAPS IN

Kelley’s also captured SUGAR, OLD FASHIONED LOVE, MY SILENT LOVE, JUST YOU, JUST ME, ROSETTA, BODY AND SOUL, and ‘DEED I DO by this trio, as well as wonderful solo performances by Kris. Here’s a tenderly swinging DROP ME OFF IN HARLEM, the title of his CD:

What wonderful music.  Thanks to everyone for spreading the gospel of swinging love.

May your happiness increase!

THE REAL THING: WELCOME, KRIS TOKARSKI!

If you’ve been paying attention on the New Orleans jazz scene, you will already know the brilliant pianist Kris Tokarski, and the news of his debut CD, DROP ME OFF IN HARLEM, will be a pleasure but not a surprise.

If Kris is new to you, listen to these two selections here before moving on.

The first is the Hoagy Carmichael treasure (eternally associated with Billie) APRIL IN MY HEART; the second is Berlin’s ALL BY MYSELF.  You can also hear him play CAROLINA SHOUT and QUASIMODO if you are even the slightest bit diligent.  On the first three tracks, his cohorts are the splendid Evan Christopher or James Evans, and fine drummer Benji Bohannon.

cover

But today our focus is properly on Kris.  Yes, there are echoes of Teddy Wilson in his work, and I celebrate that, but he is on his own paths.

Kris has a strong but never overbearing reverence for the melody; his touch is lovely; he knows how to breathe through a phrase, when to leave notes out, how to create subtle carpets of harmony and oceanic swells of rhythm.  Although he is not interested in making the beauties of the past “modern” (whatever that might mean) he has a wide harmonic range; he’s heard the music that was played after 1936 and is being played now. He is a delightfully clear yet ringing orchestral pianist, someone who doesn’t lag or rush, push or pound.

He’s there when you need him, and his delicate playing isn’t effete but full of restrained wit and emotional empathy.  He knows how to swing and stride — with both hands — and his playing is fluid, supple — never stiff.  His accompaniment is the very definition of sweet teamwork, and his solos are full of surprises: you can’t tell where he is about to land, but it’s graceful and satisfying when he does.

Did I mention that this young man is 25 years old?  Allow that fact to settle in for a bit.  What graceful mastery for someone so young — let me correct myself here — gracious mastery for anyone!

His debut disc is consistently delightful.  Kris loves melodies and brings new light and shade to ones I thought had been done to a crisp by now.  He understands that the role of a jazz pianist is also to float alongside great players.  The first eight tracks are very lively homage to the piano-clarinet-drums trio so beloved of Goodman and Morton — with the clarinet offerings shared by Evan Christopher (LOVE WILL FIND A WAY, CAROLINA SHOUT, and APRIL IN MY HEART) and James Evans (DROP ME OFF IN HARLEM, IF DREAMS COME TRUE, PLEASE BE KIND, ALL BY MYSELF).  Two tracks that follow are duets for Kris and tenor saxophonist James Partridge (PRISONER OF LOVE, SWEET LORRAINE), and the closing WHAT’S NEW? is a piano solo.

The trio and duo selections honor but do not imitate any of the great recordings; rather they say implicitly, “Here we are together.  We know the tradition, but we trust ourselves to make our own lovely music.  What shall we do together as a friendly community with this song to delight ourselves and our future hearers?”

Thus a gently swinging lyricism permeates every note on the CD.  At times, I thought of PRES AND TEDDY; once or twice, of HEAVY LOVE (if you don’t know the references, they bear investigating); at other times I could find no objective correlative but simply basked in the sounds these people were so generously offering.

And where some young musicians feel the need to show off their skills — “Look how fast I can play this!  Look how many new chord changes I can put into this song!  Look how I can transform this standard into a ________!” Kris is serene and secure in his trust in melodic improvisation over swinging backgrounds.

He is also — and I admire this greatly — a deep romantic.  The disc is full of affection for the music and what it can give to us.  It’s not about egotistic display; it’s about affection.  Why else would someone begin a CD with the rhapsodic and optimistic and eternally hopeful LOVE WILL FIND A WAY?  And the closing WHAT’S NEW? is — while rueful — not bleak in its melancholy. I suspect that Kris has in his heart a deep knowledge of “love’s sweet amen.”  It comes through in his music.

I encourage you to follow this young man, to buy his CD, to cheer him on.  To buy the disc, follow the trail of breadcrumbs here.  Or if you are within range of the Louisiana Music Factory, lucky you! — click here.  The nicest thing to do, of course, would be to find Kris at a gig — his itinerary is posted on his site — and say, “Mr. Tokarski, could I buy a box of your CDs?  I heard about you and about it on JAZZ LIVES.” And then everyone would be beaming.

To know that Kris Tokarski exists, that he creates such lovely music, is very heartening news.

May your happiness increase!

STEVE PISTORIUS: “NEW ORLEANS SHUFFLE”

I feel as if I’ve been listening to recorded music all my life, and the discs and tapes I’ve managed to acquire certainly testify to this.  

Long-time listeners like myself are also involuntary editors, revisers, and critics. Put on a new CD and we want to enjoy it wholly, but often the small whirring section of the brain that points out details comes in to play.  “I’m so glad they are playing that song, but why at that tempo?”  “Great band, but adding a trombone would have been even nicer.”  “Did that soloist have to stop after one chorus?”  You get the idea.  

We can’t help ourselves, and the Ideal Sound we hold in our heads — imagined, rarely heard — can be an awful burden.

Thus, it’s a real pleasure to alert you to a new CD, so special that I could instantly tell the critical cortex to take a nap.  It’s that good.

PISTORIUS

I had heard and admired Steve for some years through recordings, but when I heard him in person for the first time last October at Duke Heitger’s Steamboat Stomp, I was even more impressed with his depth of feeling and immersion in the music.

He doesn’t offer anything formulaic; he creates wonderful melodies and generous, leafy counterpoint; his pulse is always irresistible, even on a slow blues. Many capable players build little stylistic boxes and settle in for the duration: it could be their planned approach to the material, their choice of songs, the way they envision their bands.

Steve is more a free-floating spirit, with his goal being to inhabit every song fully as its own musical performance.  No artifice, nothing but a kind of light-hearted yet inense candor, which makes his work sing . . . even when he isn’t.  What he creates isn’t “traditional” or “New Orleans” or “Dixieland” jazz — but swinging dance music with a new rhythm for every track.

All of that would sound as if this were another Pistorius solo recital: rocking piano that bridges old traditions and new energies, and witty yet heartfelt singing of ballads, blues, naughty songs, and stomps.

But there’s much more on NEW ORLEANS SHUFFLE, because it’s a quartet with Orange Kellin, clarinet; James Evans, clarinet and alto saxophone; Tyler Thomson, string bass.  To the purists, that might seem like an incomplete band, but this quartet is richly fulfilling. They don’t strive to offer contemporary copies of anyone from the Apex Club Orchestra to Soprano Summit: they sound like four generous fellows having a wonderful time in an informal setting. Not the clamor of angry stellar jays fighting for primacy in a nearby tree; nothing shrill or loud, just communal fun in sweet exploration.

The quartet neatly and surprisingly balances the rough, even raw possibilities of the clarinet with the elegance of the alto, and it’s all supported by Steve’s left hand and the buoyant playing of Thomson, a gifted player in the school of Pops Foster and Milt Hinton.  I’ve always admired the fierce honesty of Orange Kellin’s playing: he plays like a man speaking his inmost thoughts — but those thoughts swing as they tumble out of him.  James Evans is new to me, and he is also a fine clarinetist, but I was even more impressed by his honeyed alto playing — the way people who weren’t wooed away by Bird stuck to their original impulses about saxophone playing.

The quartet is a model small community, where something engaging is always going on, players trading melody and improvisation, lead and counterpoint.  And the beat goes on from the first note to the last.  The repertoire is immensely delightful — songs by Bechet, Dodds, Tony Jackson, Jelly, Natty Dominique, Bill Whitmore, Joe Oliver, but also by Berlin, Carmichael, Lorenzo Barcelata, Albert Howard, and Paul Dresser — a far cry from the done-to-death songs that characterize “traditional” playing: NEW ORLEANS SHUFFLE / BABY, I’D LOVE TO STEAL YOU / DANS LES RUE D’ANTIBES / BECHET’S FANTASY / BULL FIDDLE BLUES ? WAITING AT THE END OF THE ROAD / WORKING MAN BLUES / MARIA ELENA / LADY LOVE / BLUE BLOOD BLUES / JUBILEE / AS TU LE CAFARD / TUCK ME TO SLEEP IN MY OLD ‘TUCKY HOME / GEORGIA CABIN / MY GAL SAL.  Nicely recorded in several 2013 sessions.  Honest, lively, feeling music.

I wish this were a working and touring band, and that I had a whole sheaf of videos of it to share with you.  But I don’t.  You’ll have to trust me about just how good this disc is.

To purchase a copy, please send $20 to the Man Himself (no rolls of quarters, please — check or IMO): Steve Pistorius, 306 Florida Boulevard, New Orleans, Louisiana 70124.  And something better than the usual bills will soon be in your mailbox.  “I guarantee it,” as Justin Wilson used to say.

May your happiness increase!

DOCTOR PISTORIUS ELABORATES ON THE VARIETIES OF AMOROUS EXPERIENCE, OR TWO FACES OF LOVE (October 11, 2013)

Steve Pistorius has much to teach us — not only from the keyboard, but about the many stops on the larger journey.  Here, at Duke Heitger’s Steamboat Stomp, he gave two small but telling evocations of the moods of Love.  Fellow faculty were Duke, trumpet; Tom Fischer, tenor saxophone; Orange Kellin, clarinet; John Gill, banjo; Tom Saunders, tuba; Jeff Hamilton, drums.

The first: The Lover, in Solitude, Longs for the Music that Reminds him (or her) of Pleasing Hours Spent in the Company of the Amorous Ideal, now Presumed Far Away.  A Mood of Yearning, of Deep Nostalgia, is Conveyed:

The second: The Lover, Learning of a Betrayal, an Assault on Fidelity, Tells the Miscreant in No Uncertain Terms that his / her Presence is No Longer Welcome in the Domicile:

It’s all true.  We’ve lived through these stages, no?

But happier news awaits.  Steve, Orange, reedman James Evans, and string bass wizard Tyler Thomson have created a new CD — NEW ORLEANS SHUFFLE — which has been spinning perpetually in the JAZZ LIVES player.  I will have more news of this shortly.

May your happiness increase!

RHYTHM SAVED THE WORLD

This kind of rhythm, especially. 

Sir Robert Cox (known as “Cousin Bob,” more informally) pointed out these YouTube romps to me — posted by “TOTOCHIO” in September 2008.  They feature the wonderful clarinetist Aurelie Tropez, James Evans on clarinet and sax, Keith Stephen and Martin Wheatley on banjo and guitar, and Bruce Rollo on bass.  The venue looks much like one of the rooms in the Village Newcastle — site of the Whitley Bay International Jazz Festival — but this is just a guess. 

Here’s DINAH:

CRAZY RHYTHM:

and an extended session on I GOT RHYTHM, undisguised:

Thanks for the rhythms, the echoes of Benny and of the QHCF as well!