Tag Archives: Jay and Kai

SLIDE AND SLIDE ALIKE // WHISTLE WHILE YOU . . . WORK?: MATT MUSSELMAN, RYAN SNOW, KRIS KAISER, ROB ADKINS at FRAUNCES TAVERN (August 1, 2015)

Trombone

Memorable music blossoms forth without fanfare when the right creative spirits come together.  And such music isn’t always created by Stars — people who win polls, who record CDs for major labels.  Two examples from a Saturday brunch gig in New York City follow.

Matt Musselman, welcoming us in

Matt Musselman, welcoming us in

The very perceptive Rob Adkins, string bassist extraordinaire, arranged this session on August 1, 2015 — Matt Musselman on trombone, Kris Kaiser on guitar. And they made lovely music.  But then someone came in — new to me but very talented: trombonist / jazz whistler Ryan Snow.

There’s a small tradition of two-trombone teams: Cutshall and McGarity, Johnson and Winding, Vic and Eddie Hubble are the first teams that come to mind.  And two trombones lend themselves to trading off: you play eight bars, I’ll play the next, and so on.

Matt and Ryan knew and respected each other, and everyone was eager to hear Ryan play.  So they began to trade phrases — on the one horn, passing it back and forth without missing a beat or smudging a note.  It was a lovely exercise in jazz acrobatics, but it was more — wonderful music.  I thought, at the end, “This is why I carry a knapsack full of video equipment to jazz gigs, because anything can happen and usually does.”

(If you can’t tell who’s who, Matt has a rolled-up long-sleeve white shirt; Ryan is wearing short sleeves.)

OUT OF NOWHERE:

And for the next number, I CAN’T GET STARTED, Ryan proved himself a superb jazz whistler:

Marvels take place amidst the hamburgers and Cobb salads, the gallons of beer and Diet Coke . . .

Since I’d never heard of Ryan, I asked for a brief biography.  You should know that his August 2015 visit to New York was prelude to his attending law school at the UVA School of Law in Charlottesville.  He will do great things . . . but I hope he visits New York again to play and whistle, to lift our spirits.

Here’s Ryan’s self-portrait:

Born and raised in Stanford, CA, child of two professors and avid music lovers, grew up surrounded by music in the home and going to see live music of all kinds. Started playing piano privately at 9 (hated it), trombone at 10 (loved it) playing in the school band. Parents gave me Blue Train, Kind of Blue, and a J.J. Johnson on Columbia album for my 12th birthday and I began listening to jazz obsessively, buying CDs and spinning them till I knew every note, then going to get more. That and being lucky enough to have a good jazz program in middle school and high school really developed my ears. I had fun playing in small combos with friends. I toured Japan four summers with the Monterey Jazz Festival High School All-Star Big Band, through which I connected with some amazing young players (including Ambrose Akinmusire, Jonathan Finlayson, Charles and Tom Altura, Justin Brown, Milton Fletcher, Ryan Scott, Bram Kincheloe to name a few); I learned a lot and caught a glimpse of professional music life on the road.

I went to Oberlin College and Conservatory to study jazz and political science, earning bachelor’s degrees in both. There I connected with a really strong community of improvisers (including Peter Evans, Matt Nelson, Nick Lyons, Kassa Overall, Theo Croker, Nate Brenner, and our friend Rob Adkins among others) and found myself pulled towards the avant-garde and to Brooklyn, where I moved after graduation in 2005. I knew at 22 that if I ever wanted to do serious work in music that I would need to start right away, and I’m very thankful I made that choice. I spent the next six years playing as much as possible and contributing to a vibrant improvised music community in Brooklyn, including curating and hosting a regular music series in my basement for two years. During this time I also helped found and build a soul-rock-funk band called Sister Sparrow & The Dirty Birds that quickly gained a strong following and began touring nationally in 2011. Three years, 200,00 miles and over 500 shows in 45 states later I found that my underlying passions had shifted, that I was spending my down time on the road reading about politics and public policy rather than working on my own music and setting up playing opportunities. I was making music that mattered to people, and having fun doing it, but part of me wasn’t fulfilled; however meaningful my music was to the audience and to my peers it wasn’t making a significant impact on their lives and opportunities, let alone those of the millions (billions) beyond earshot. I felt called, I felt at 30 about political action as had at 22 about music, that I needed to immediately begin working in service of my values and towards a government and a society that I believe in.

About whistling:

My dad used to whistle a lot when I was really young. I don’t remember learning it at any particular point, but when I began listening to jazz obsessively in middle through high school I got in the habit of whistling along just walking around with my Discman all day. So it just became natural to whistle bebop. I kind of had a running stream of quarter note swing going through my head in those days (still notice it at times now but it’s further in the background) and I would often start whistling lines out loud, just externalizing what I was hearing in my head. Plenty of complaints from mom and friends. Did this daily through college and while I never really whistled with other people I was whistling a lot. After moving to NYC I had some opportunities to whistle professionally, laying down a few studio tracks as a guest and busting it out every few shows with Sister Sparrow & The Dirty Birds, and have also done a few jam sessions where I’ve been just whistling. I think the best thing about it actually is being able to sit in credibly and comfortably in a jazz setting even if I don’t have my horn with me, it’s just really fun and freeing, and I’m always thankful for the opportunity to share it with people.

There are a lot of similarities with the trombone in that they’re both fretless instruments and so essentially require some kind of attack (air or tongue) to delineate individual notes, which can get tricky at fast tempos. But they’re also so different it’s fun to have both. I hope to continue to develop my whistling and ultimately make some recordings that I can share.

Thank you, Rob, Matt, Ryan, and Chris, for transforming a Saturday afternoon most memorably.

May your happiness increase!

TODD LONDAGIN’S EXTRAORDINARY RANGE: “LOOK OUT FOR LOVE”

I met and admired the trombonist and singer Todd Londagin several times in 2005 and onwards; he was one of the crew of cheerful individualists who played gleeful or dark music with the drummer Kevin Dorn.  A fine trombonist (with a seamless reach from New Orleans to this century) and an engaging singer, Todd is someone I have faith in musically.  But when I received his second CD, LOOK OUT FOR LOVE, I hardly expected it to be as remarkable as it is.

TODD LONDAGIN cover

On it, Todd sings and plays (occasionally doing both simultaneously, through an Avakian-like graceful use of multi-tracking . . . even sounding like Jay and Kai here and there), with a splendid small band: Pete Smith, guitar; Matt Ray, piano, Jennifer Vincent, string bass; David Berger, drums.  Singer Toby Williams joins in on BRAZIL.  The presentation is neither self-consciously sparse or overproduced. With all due respect to Todd, the foursome of Pete, Matt, Jennifer, and David could easily sustain their own CD or gig. I had only met Matt (unpredictable) and Jennifer (a swing heartbeat) in person, but this “rhythm section” is a wonderful — and quirky — democratic conversation of singular voices, each one of them a powerful yet gracious rhythm orchestra.

But I keep returning to Todd.  And his “extraordinary range” doesn’t refer to the notes he can hit on trombone or sing.  It’s really a matter of a deep emotional intelligence, and I can’t think of anyone who can equal him here. (That’s no stage joke.)

Consider these songs: LOOK OUT FOR LOVE / BYE BYE BABY / SOME OF THESE DAYS / BRAZIL / I CONCENTRATE ON YOU / LONG AGO AND FAR AWAY / PENNIES FROM HEAVEN / YOU GO TO MY HEAD / I CAN’T HELP IT / BUST YOUR WINDOWS.  The first two songs show off Todd’s sly, ingratiating self — witty and wily on the first (with a neo-Basie rock) and endearing on the second. Those who have to think of Echoes might hear Chet Baker, Harry Connick, Jr., a young Bob Dorough, or Dave Frishberg. I thought on the first playing and continue to think that if there were aesthetic justice in the world, the first two songs would be coming out of every car radio for miles.  (Todd would also be starring on every enlightened late-night television show, or do I dream?)

The pop classics that follow are always served with a twist — a slightly different tempo, a different rhythmic angle, a beautiful seriousness (I’ve never heard CONCENTRATE interpreted so well).

Maybe Todd is understandably afraid of being pigeonholed as Another Interpreter of The Great American Songbook — with all the attendant reverence and dismissal that comes with that assessment — so the closing songs are “more modern.”  I think he does Stevie Wonder’s I CAN’T HELP IT justice in his own light-hearted, sincere, swinging way.

I am not attuned to contemporary pop culture, except to cringe when I hear loud music coming from the car next to mine, so I had no historical awareness with which to approach BUST YOUR WINDOWS.

In fact, I thought the title would herald some exuberant love song, “My love for you is so strong, it’s going to bust your windows,” or something equally cheerful.

Thus I was horrified to hear Todd sing, “I had to bust the windows out your car,” and all my literate-snobbish-overeducated revulsion came to the surface, as I called upon the shades of Leo Robin and Yip Harburg to watch over me.

But then I calmed down and reminded myself just how much fun the preceding nine tracks had been, and that I would be very surprised if Todd — bowing to whatever notion of modernity — had gone entirely off the rails. And I listened to BUST YOUR WINDOWS again. And again. For those who don’t know the song, it was an immense hit for one Jazmine Sullivan in 2008, and there’s a YouTube video of her doing it. The premise is that the singer finds her lover has been untrue with another (not a new idea) but (s)he then takes a crowbar to her lover’s car so that her lover will know what faithlessness does to others. Tough love, indeed.  I researched Sullivan’s music video — where she is threatening to unzip herself to a tango / rhythm and blues beat — and disliked it.

But I had no patience for her rendition of her own song because I had been struck so powerfully by Todd’s — almost a stifled scream of brokenhearted passion worthy of a great opera’s finish before the grieving one, betrayed, commits suicide. Todd’s performance has no tango beat, no intrusive orchestration: he merely presents the lyrics and melody as if he is showing us his bleeding heart . . . as if he has used the crowbar on himself.  It is a performance both bone-dry and powerful, understated and unforgettable. I can’t forget it, just as I keep on wanting to replay LOOK OUT FOR LOVE.

You can find out more about Todd here, and after you’ve heard the three samples, I hope you will chase down a copy of this CD. It is wildly rewarding and beautifully-textured music, and it will stay with you when other CDs by more “famous” players and singers have grown tedious. I don’t like “best” or “favorite,” but this CD is magnificently musical in so many ways that it will astonish.

May your happiness increase!

WHEN LOVE GETS HOT, SPECIAL INSTRUMENTS ARE REQUIRED

ROSES OF PICARDY was a famous ballad of the First World War, composed by Frederic Weatherly (lyrics) and Haydn Wood (music), gracefully describing the lasting love of an Englishman and a Frenchwoman . . .

Verse: She is watching by the poplars, / Colinette with the sea-blue eyes, / She is watching and longing, and waiting / Where the long white roadway lies, / And a song stirs in the silence, / As the wind in the boughs above, / She listens and starts and trembles, / ‘Tis the first little song of love.

Chorus: Roses are shining in Picardy, / In the hush of the silver dew, / Roses are flow’ring in Picardy, / But there’s never a rose like you! / And the roses will die with the summertime, / And our roads may be far apart, / But there’s one rose that dies not in Picardy, / ‘Tis the rose that I keep in my heart.

Verse: And the years fly on forever, / Till the shadows veil their skies, / But he loves to hold her little hands, / And look into her sea-blue eyes, / And she sees the road by the poplars, / Where they met in the bygone years, / For the first little song of the roses, / Is the last little song she hears:

Chorus: Roses are shining in Picardy, / In the hush of the silver dew, / Roses are flow’ring in Picardy, / But there’s never a rose like you! / And the roses will die with the summertime, / And our roads may be far apart, / But there’s one rose that dies not in Picardy, / ‘Tis the rose that I keep in my heart.

For the full effect, here is a glorious reading of the song by Ben Heppner:

But my subject is a recording of PICARDY by Red Nichols — full of surprises.  I first encountered the Nichols records of this period when I was young; I was especially intrigued by them because of my childhood affection for the film THE FIVE PENNIES.  My local suburban librarian was hip: the library’s holdings included Vic Dickenson, Jimmy Rushing, THE SOUND OF JAZZ, Ellington, and a Brunswick reissue of Nichols circa 1927-30, where I first heard IDA, AVALON, CHINA BOY, THE SHEIK, and others.

I hadn’t heard ROSES OF PICARDY until my recent purchase of the very gratifying sets of the Nichols Brunswicks (1926-32) on the Jazz Oracle label.  It became one of those essential recordings for me — one that I could play ten times in a row on the way to work.

I haven’t found a good explanation for Nichols’ fondness for what might be called “chestnuts” or “good old good ones” — solidly established classic pop hits of ten or more years earlier: IDA, MY GAL SAL, JAPANESE SANDMAN, WHISPERING, LIMEHOUSE BLUES, MARGIE, ALICE BLUE GOWN, INDIANA, SMILES, DINAH, WHO.  In this, he wasn’t so different from other jazz players, then and now, who knew that familiar favorites would both attract an audience and be part of the common knowledge.  (if the leader suggests SWEET SUE — in 1929 or 2013 — few musicians look puzzled or uncomfortable.)

But ROSES OF PICARDY had a sentimental identification, and I wonder if Nichols’ “jazzing” it struck some older listeners as heretical: “That’s not the way to play that pretty song!”  It might serve as a reminder that improvisation, no matter how established and safe it seems to our ears now, always sounds radical to some listeners.

This version was recorded on February 16, 1929, as the fifth performance of a date where the musicians had already completed two takes apiece of ALICE BLUE GOWN and ALLAH’S HOLIDAY.  I wonder if they had some time left at the conclusion and decided to create a head arrangement — somewhat less complex than the Glenn Miller charts for the preceding songs.  The personnel for the first four songs was Nichols, Mannie Klein, Miller, Dudley Fosdick, Jimmy Dorsey, Fud Livingston, Adrian Rollini, Arthur Schutt, Carl Kress, and an unidentified drummer.  I hear a smaller group on PICARDY and we know for sure that Miller was not present, but whether there was a second trumpet is not certain.

The band charges into the song, Nichols presenting the melody in a clear, assertive way — more like a wonderfully adept cornetist at a band concert than a hot jazz player leaving the melody behind.  One hears the dry slap of the drummer’s wire brushes, the sound of the bass saxophone (could it be anyone except Rollini?).  Apparently there is a high-pitched trombone playing staccato phrases and a thin but graceful clarinet line.  I take it on faith that there is a pianist (I do not hear a guitar) but the former is simply laying down the plain harmonies in support.

I also notice that the band — in subtle opposition to Nichols’ chosen tempo or perhaps simply finding a better groove — gently slows down as it proceeds through the two minutes and thirty-one seconds.  (The piano-drum duet in the first half of the final chorus is especially leisurely.)  I would not have noticed this so much had I not played the recording over and over and heard that the opening chorus was taken at a much brighter tempo than the closing.  The first chorus is very satisfying: one could use it is a compact example of simple melodic embellishment (in terms of ornamented melody) and neat ensemble playing.

Just as a listener might be settling into complacency, Rollini leaps in with a break, a marvel in itself.  One could point to its simplicity — arpeggios and repeated notes — but the combination of grace and ferocity is delightful.  It also suggests the small devices that Nichols and his contemporaries set up for variety, so that a recording was more than four or five choruses of ensemble – solo – ensemble.

The first half of the second chorus is given over to another embellished improvisation on the theme — by a brass player over a slightly ornate piano, bass saxophone, and drums.  On first hearing, one automatically assumes “trombone in the Miff Mole style, staccato yet elegant,” but the range is somewhat higher, the tone lighter.  The player’s approach is close to Nichols’ opening exposition, yet the second solo is slightly more fluid, punctuated by the pianist’s upward arpeggios.

In the second half of this chorus, we hear Jimmy Dorsey on alto saxophone over an even lighter background.  For some reason, there is no bass saxophone, so the texture is much lighter — and, listening closely, one has the delightful sensation of expectations being reversed.  Instead of textures becoming more rich, volume and density increasing, we are hearing the instruments of the orchestra — Papa Haydn in Hot — taking a break, leaving the stand.  The Incredible Shrinking Orchestra!

And then someone takes another break — with key change — to lead us into a world of even more playful marvels.  We’ve just heard the sonorities of Dorsey’s alto (the rich yet light sound that other players delighted in) — what is this squeaky thing that follows?

It might be a clarinet — Nichols often employed Pee Wee Russell and Fud Livingston, both of whom departed from orthodox clarinet sound in favor of explorations — but it sounds stranger than strange, even a bit elementary.  Did someone’s kid brother or sister bring a student model clarinet into the session to sit in for a chorus?

The ear is first mystified, then delighted.

And for a moment it seems as if all the other musicians have fled, leaving only the unusual reed player and the pianist, chiming behind perfectly, the drummer, hitting a cymbal (this has been worked out, one senses in retrospect) in front of the microphones.  Bass saxophone, alto, possibly other reeds, cornet and other brass — everyone’s in the alley next to the Brunswick studios taking a break, trading gossip or lighting up.

But no.  The third chorus is given over to a duet for two instruments that sound almost familiar — trombone and clarinet, we assume — for sixteen bars. For forty seconds — a short interlude in anyone’s lifespan but a substantial part of this 78 RPM recording — these two instruments cavort deliciously.  The “trombone” continues an ornamented exploration of PICARDY — in case listeners might have been led so far astray by the uncontrollable impulses of Reckless Jazz to forget where land is — as the “clarinet” dances overhead.  That “clarinet” has an oddly choked sound and a small range, so the player contents himself with deeply swinging emphases, rather like a speaker who has a small vocabulary but is vigorously concerned that the audience miss the point: here it is, and here it is again — getting somewhat more adventurous as the chorus continues, even venturing a series of upward plaintive phrases, the “trombone” sounded muffled but still agile beneath.

On my first hearing, driving to work as I was, I couldn’t check the personnel listings, but I played this exuberantly odd interlude over and over, thinking, “Is that Fud on clarinet and Miff on trombone?”  But I felt as if something otherworldly was taking place: had I been transported to an alternative realm, or was this soundtrack music for a pre-FANTASIA fantasia, where an animated lemur hopped around with a giraffe?

What has happened — bewitching and mystifying the ear for forty seconds — is so weirdly distant from what we might expect to hear (rather like the first appearance of Herschel Evans on clarinet on a Basie recording) that the piano half-chorus that follows seems theatrical, even stagy by comparison — with the drummer’s flourishes matching the pianist.  Again, we might wonder, “Where did everyone go?  Did these musicians have some urgent need to leave the studio at intervals?  Was there food poisoning from the previous night’s chili at Plunkett’s?”)

Before we have sufficient time to consider all these mysteries, the opening ensemble reasserts itself for a closing sixteen bars.  No tags, no flourishes, everything is as it was.  We awake from young Robin Molyneux’s dream — did those forty seconds happen?  Are we back in a Red Nichols session at the Brunswick studios?

Happily, the mystery I have encouraged here has tangible answers, and they take the shape of the ever-inventive Adrian Rollini and his “hot fountain pen,” the forgotten Dudley Fosdick and his mellophone.  Thanks to Albert Haim for the Melody Maker pages below — now it can be told!

HotFountainPen

and here is more gossip about the hot fountain pen:

MMHfpnewsitem1

And even more here about the hot fountain pen from Sandy Brown’s website.

A fine explanation of the mellophone can be found here.  But the most engrossing reading on the subject can be found in the Nichols Jazz Oracle notes — a three-page essay by Phil Melick, witty and informed, on Dudley Fosdick (whose first recorded solo on the instrument is on the 1924 Ted Weems record of BIG BOY) and the mellophone itself.

Incidentally, the Incredible Shrinking Orchestra and the piano-drum duet make sense in retrospect as brief interludes enabling Rollini to leave his bass saxophone and approach the microphone alongside Fosdick.  And unlike the 1928 recording of BASIN STREET BLUES featuring Louis, Earl, and Zutty, no one stumbles audibly on the way.

This record of ROSES OF PICARDY is a joy.  Perhaps the musicians thought of it as an end-of-session romp: “We have a little time.  Let’s jam PICARDY, and do a whole chorus on your pen and your ‘phone.  OK?”  But that forty-second conversation between two unexpected jazz horns, played by two masters, resonates long after the performance is over.  Woe and alas that there wasn’t a Rollini-Fosdick Quintet under contract to Brunswick.  But I could live comfortably in the universe of those forty seconds.  ‘Tis the chorus that I keep in my heart.

(A digression: Fosdick recorded actively with Weems, Nichols, “the All Star Orchestra,” and Roger Wolfe Kahn for a ten-year period ending in December 1933, according to Tom Lord’s discography.  Then, he worked in Henry King’s orchestra and Guy Lombardo’s Royal Canadians, eventually migrating into studio work and teaching before his death in 1957.  It would be lovely if someone had interviewed him.)

And for my friend and mentor Reb Malcolm, a small offering — Frankie Laine with Buck Clayton, Ray Copeland, Lawrence Brown, J.J. Johnson, Kai Winding, Hilton Jefferson, Budd Johnson, “Big Nick” Nicholas, Dave McRae, Al Lerner, Skeeter Best, Milt Hinton, Bobby Donaldson.  I see the inspired hand of George Avakian in this, although Laine had been working with jazz players for years, as Jess Stacy remembered:

Thanks also to Messrs. Riccardi and Sammut, whose posts provide the inspiration for this one.

May your happiness increase!

MIND IF I TAG ALONG? (SOME BOLD WORDS ABOUT THE BREDA JAZZ FESTIVAL)

My super jazz friend Heidi (from the Netherlands) recently sent me this very flattering email about the upcoming Breda Jazz Festival:

I just found out about the line-up for this year’s Breda Jazz Festival. What can I say, the organisers from that festvial do read your blog for sure! So who’s coming? The Swingberries and Hoppin’ Mad with lovely musicians like Aurélie Tropez, Jerome Etcheberry, Katie Cavera, Evan Arntzen, Simon Stribling, Clint Baker and more.

Now, I am not writing this post to flatter myself as an influential shaper of worldwide jazz events.  I hope the Breda people have been able to learn of many gifted musicians through JAZZ LIVES, but the names above hardly needed my assistance!  What follows is unsubtle in the extreme, but extremism in the pursuit of hot jazz is not always a vice, according to someone.

Would someone invite me to Breda in future?

I’d love to be there, and my mother’s family was Dutch.  Does that count?  Anyway, the forty-two minute video of highlights from the 2012 Festival shows that they might not need another person with a video camera: they are doing a superb job without me, unthinkable as that might seem.  (The above written with metaphorical tongue firmly in theoretical cheek, a hard pose to sustain for long.)  But in addition to Heidi’s brief sketch of the artists who are going to play, I see a Dan Barrett Jay and Kai tribute . . . what an imagined delight.  And more.

See for yourself here.  And of course the Festival has a Facebook page:

May your happiness increase.

BIRTH OF A BAND! (EMILY ASHER, SHANNON BARNETT, NICK RUSSO, ROB ADKINS at RADEGAST, March 5, 2013)

Special delivery!

When Emily Asher announced a last-minute gig at Radegast, that cheerful Bierhalle in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, last Tuesday, I was eager to go.  Three-quarters of the group was familiar to me — people / players I admire: Emily herself on trombone and vocal; Rob Adkins on string bass; Nick Russo on guitar and banjo.  What added to the allure was the fourth member: trombonist Shannon Barnett, someone I didn’t think I knew.  So . . . two trombones plus rocking rhythm.  How could I be blue?

When I arrived at Radegast — and was directed to the back room, which is quiet and cozy — I met Shannon once again.  Once again because we had encountered each other at the Home of Happy Ears (326 Spring Street) one Sunday night.  After the band set up and played two numbers, I stepped forward and said to the front line, “Forgive me for getting in the way, but this isn’t just a session.  This is A BAND!”  They were obviously feeling the congenial vibrations too.  The two trombonist heroines (from the States and from Australia) had never played together before; the music they made reinforces the idea of a swinging common language.

Both Emily and Shannon not only play but sing, so you will hear some charming, assured vocalizing.  And I know they will have a wide repertoire — larger than these familiar tunes.  There was talk of Jay and Kai compositions / arrangements.  I’m looking forward to their next gig.

The only thing this band lacks is a NAME — I made some suggestions, which were met with kind amused attentiveness — but I am sure that the four inventive players will think of one that is both apt and witty.  For now, just enjoy!  Nick Russo swung things along as he always does, although his cap was more wintry than usual; Rob Adkins was playing his new string bass — with beautiful sound, fitting for such a thoughtful, swinging player.

SOME OF THESE DAYS:

SENTIMENTAL JOURNEY:

WHEN I GROW TOO OLD TO DREAM:

MOOD INDIGO:

DINAH:

SWEET SUE:

ROYAL GARDEN BLUES:

Both Emily and Shannon have websites — you can check them out on the JAZZ LIVES blogroll.  And I know you’ll want to be on hand when this band — a precocious one for sure — turns one, two . . .

May your happiness increase.