Tag Archives: Jazz At Chautauqua

PART TWO: WE STILL MISS JOHN SHERIDAN (Jazz at Chautauqua, September 21, 2012)

Every time he faced the piano, John Sheridan generously shared his affection for the melody, his consistent clarity and coherence. His creations passed what I think of as the test of great art: making it look so simple when it is anything but. And his swinging rhythmic energies never failed us. Here are two more (previously unseen) performances from the 2012 Jazz at Chautauqua weekend.

Terry Shand’s LOVE LIES (a delightful nod to Louis in the middle):

Irving Berlin, over rolling rhythms:

and — something I wanted more people to experience — because beneath the surface gruffness, John was a deep romantic, Frank Loesser’s I’VE NEVER BEEN IN LOVE BEFORE:

These three performances are only a small part of why we miss John Sheridan. Fortunately for us, he recorded prolifically on Arbors Records and was caught often on YouTube . . . but those reminders are now poignant as well as memorable.

May your happiness increase!

WE STILL MISS JOHN SHERIDAN (Jazz at Chautauqua, September 20, 2013)

Here are two savory solo piano performances by John Sheridan, almost a decade ago, having his own kind of intent fun at the piano in the parlor of the Hotel Athenaeum, the Friday afternoon before the proceedings officially began.

John had a vast repertoire, so these two performances — riotous yet exact, meditative yet focused — are simply two aspects of his multifarious self. I invite you to savor them, and also share my slight amusement at John’s crisp rapport with the listeners, never mean-spirited but always slightly brusque, at least on the surface.

COME BACK, SWEET PAPA, by Paul Barbarin and Luis Russell, made immortal by Louis Armstrong in Chicago, 1926. Verse and chorus, delightfully orchestral and vivid:

and the other end of the emotional spectrum, a ruminative impressionistic THE LEGEND OF LONESOME LAKE by Eastwood Lane, a composer and composition Bix Beiderbecke knew well:

It’s easy to say that artists are immortal as long as their art is within reach, and it’s true . . . but I wish the telephone would ring and John would be on the other end. Seeing and hearing him, however, is a delight, even if tinged with regret.

May your happiness increase!

SWING IN THE SMALL ROOM: ANDY SCHUMM, DAN LEVINSON, JOHN SHERIDAN, KERRY LEWIS, PETE SIERS (Jazz at Chautauqua, September 19, 2013)

My time machine won’t go back to 1935 and the Reno Club, nor to Fifty-Second Street, no matter how hard I twist the dials, but it does go back to 1970 — audio only — and 2009 — adding video. One of the great pleasures of this century for me was being allowed to bring my video camera to what was Jazz at Chautauqua and then took on different names and a different venue. We miss it terribly. But some wonderful evidence remains.

It was held during a long weekend late in September at the Athenaeum Hotel in Chautauqua, New York, and its founder Joe Boughton had certain rituals in scheduling. Friday afternoon, solo piano recitals in the parlor; Friday night, Saturday afternoon and evening, and Sunday afternoon were for organized sets in the large ballroom.

A session in the ballroom — opening or closing ceremonies, c. 2012.

But Thursday night was informal, because musicians and guests arrived as they could — for me, it was about a seven-hour trip there whether I drove or flew to Buffalo — but certain rituals were observed. I believe the open bar opened itself around 5 PM, and the line for the buffet dinner began also. At around 6, music began in the smaller back room, and I learned quickly to bring my plate, my knapsack of video equipment there rather than dining like a civilized person at a table among others. (“I can always eat, but I can’t miss this set,” I reminded myself.)

I’m not exaggerating when I say some of the best musical moments of this century, for me, took place on those Thursday evenings. Sometimes the piano wasn’t perfect, or I had to sit behind friends and shoot video with their heads as part of the scenery, but those sessions are joyous memories. And they exist to be shared with the faithful. The little ad hoc groupings didn’t have official leaders, but someone might suggest a tune that everyone knew, they would agree on a ley and tempo, and magic would happen.

It did on Thursday, September 19, 2013, thanks to Dan Levinson, clarinet and tenor saxophone; Andy Schumm, cornet; John Sheridan, piano; Kerry Lewis, string bass; Pete Siers, drums. They did three classic standards; they had fun; so did we.

A SAILBOAT IN THE MOONLIGHT, which suggests what might have happened if Bix had lived into 1937:

Irving Berlin’s always-gratifying RUSSIAN LULLABY:

and, after some discussion, the 1928 SWEETHEARTS ON PARADE, more a sprint, and such fun:

There will be more, in time, and all memorable.

All hail the living Gentlemen of the Ensemble: long may they be vibrant. But, damn it, how we miss John Sheridan.

May your happiness increase!

RARE INDIVIDUALISTS: CHUCK WILSON, JOE WILDER, LARRY EANET, FRANK TATE, PETE SIERS (Jazz at Chautauqua, September 30, 2006)

Chuck Wilson, photographer unknown

Joe Wilder, photographer unknown

I think of these five players as Idiosyncratic Swing Lyricists, singers on their instrument who play beautifully with others but are full of surprises. Possibly Joe and Chuck had done other club dates with Frank, being heroes of the New York scene, but Larry and Pete lived elsewhere, so it was only the genius or whimsical taste (you pick) of Joe Boughton that brought them together for this brief interlude. For those unfamiliar with these artists and craftsmen, Joe played trumpet and flugelhorn; Chuck, alto saxophone (although doubling other reeds); Larry, piano; Frank, string bass; Pete, drums. Happily, Frank and Pete are still with us, doing what they do so splendidly.

I recorded this with my illegal digital recorder, so there will be audio artifacts (the fancy name for extraneous noises) but I think it is a treasure. Alas, you can’t see the five of them grinning at each other and listening intently: take it from me, their pleasure spread throughout the huge ballroom.

I’M BEGINNG TO SEE THE LIGHT / AUTUMN LEAVES / THERE IS NO GREATER LOVE / LOTUS BLOSSOM (Eanet-Wilson) / SAMBA DE ORFEU // Jazz at Chautauqua, the last weekend in September, 2006.

I will now indulge myself in a few ruminations about the five heroes. I cannot picture Frank Tate without a grin on his face, either ready to break into laughter or just coming out of it, perhaps at something absurd or coincidental or weird. Pete Siers is the master of the unexpected gesture that comes out perfectly, on the drums and off: a red George Wettling candle is only one of the great gifts he has bestowed. I miss them both — and hope for reunions somewhere, sometime soon.

I never spoke with Larry Eanet in person, but remember explicitly one of his beautiful sentences (his touch on the piano and in prose were similarly beautiful): recalling his early jazz epiphany — someone had given him the Columbia 78 album of Louis and Earl. “It hit me,” he wrote, “like Cupid’s arrow.” Of late, I have been listening to his solo recordings for JUMP: lovely and beyond.

I saw Chuck Wilson up close a number of times — occasionally with an assorted group of musicians playing in the afternoon in a particularly rowdy basement, once or twice at The Ear Inn — and often my camera and its propensity to record his work for posterity made him ill at ease, and he would frown at me as if he was mildly in pain or something smelled “putrid-like,” and say, “Awwww, Michael, I’d really rather you didn’t,” and I’d say, “But you played so beautifully!” and once in a while he allowed himself to be convinced. He wasn’t annoyed, just — in his own way — shy.

Joe Wilder, although the most courtly of gentlemen (I have a few of his handwritten notes) was in his own way boyish — in that he said what he felt, respectfully and wittily, but people like me (“civilians” to some) he treated as equals, as friends. His absolute refusal to construct barriers, whether he was at an airport when we were waiting to fly to Buffalo and telling me of his morning’s stomach distress, or whether I saw him be completely delighted to meet someone he hadn’t expected to meet. That joy, that openness, bubbles through his playing, and I think at gatherings like Jazz at Chautauqua, he could be among friends and admirers, play the music that made him happy. It certainly made us feel sky-high.

Marvels from rare individualists, music and memories I cherish.

May your happiness increase!

IT WAS QUITE HOT THAT NIGHT: DUKE HEITGER, RANDY REINHART, JOHN SHERIDAN, FRANK TATE, PETE SIERS (Jazz at Chautauqua, September 14, 2007)

I’ve written elsewhere about the intense pleasures of the informal Thursday-night sessions at Jazz at Chautauqua. “Informal,” however, took on new meaning when the Emperor of Chautauqua, Joe Boughton, was involved and well: even in relaxed settings, he deplored the aimlessness sometimes prevalent at “jam sessions,” which would lead to his strongest aversion — musicians playing over-familiar repertoire. In my mind’s ear, I can hear Joe’s voice, although not on this, my sub rosa audio tape of one of several sets, and can envision him, a glass of Dewar’s in his hand, listening and observing with deep appreciation. As well he might . . .

Joe’s sterling idea was to have a quartet: trumpet, cornet, piano, drums — the sort of thing one might have heard at an after-hours session, but of course the intent was friendly rather than competitive, since Duke Heitger (trumpet) and Randy Reinhart (cornet) are allied in mutual admiration. Pete Siers rocked the room, as he always does, on the drums. And later Frank Tate set up his string bass and joined in. Yes, there are the usual extraneous noises (a few seconds of surrealistic “clapping along,” chatter, and some tubercular coughing) but if you were in the room you might have heard some of them.

I’m posting this now not only because it is both a wonderful memory and a wonderful experience, but in honor of the one musician who’s not around to enjoy the applause, the splendid pianist John Sheridan, who left us this year. He shines; he sparkles; he gets in no one’s way; he holds up the building by being his own multi-colored swing orchestra.

The songs are JAZZ ME BLUES / I’VE GOT THE WORLD ON A STRING / I FOUND A NEW BABY / A BRIEF ETUDE / JUST YOU, JUST ME:

Remembering that I was there is a great pleasure; being able to share this music with you is even greater.

May your happiness increase!

IN THE BLUE OF EVENING: JOHN SHERIDAN, OVERHEARD (Jazz at Chautauqua, September 2013)

My readers will know that pianist, arranger, composer John Sheridan died on August 24, 2021, due to cancer. I celebrated him the day after, here. But John’s beautiful sounds continue to ring in my mind, so it is only right I should share something only a few people heard — although many were in attendance.

Preface: here is the studio recording of IN THE BLUE OF EVENING, young Frank Sinatra with Tommy Dorsey:

and, because it’s such a pretty song, here’s Sinatra’s 1960 “I Remember Tommy” version:

Even though I had had the Sinatra-Dorsey 78 in my childhood, I hadn’t thought about the song for decades. But during the pandemic, I began returning to the surreptitious audio-recordings I had made at the 2006 and 2007 Jazz at Chautauqua weekends, some of which I have shared with you. Many featured John (Joe Boughton loved pianists, and in those early years he had Sheridan, Jim Dapogny, Rossano Sportiello, Larry Eanet, and Keith Ingham, among others).

I had a digital recorder concealed in my blazer pocket, but knew that if I put it on the table to start it, my companions would ask about it, and that might become a problem, since I had not asked Joe for permission to record. In retrospect, I could have — because I was writing about the festival — but timidity won out. So I would go out in the hall or even up a flight of stairs, start the recorder, and come down to the ballroom. I had transferred the digital segments to CDs and then to YouTube, and was able to edit out the sounds of my walking down the hall and concentrate on the music.

But one segment, unidentified, came up in my progress, and I listened to it. Nothing but fifteen minutes of between-set talk, loud audience conversations around me. But I did not leap to delete it, and it is a blessing I didn’t, because while the audience was talking (released from the burden of Being Quiet while their heroes were making music, John Sheridan was experimenting with IN THE BLUE OF EVENING. He did not play it at Chautauqua and no studio recording of it exists.

I came back to it when I learned that John was ill. And it haunted me: faraway, lovely, the “tinkling piano in the next apartment,” although John was stronger than that cliche even when he was delicately outlining a ballad; perhaps “music when soft voices die,” although the voices were not soft: no one said, “Shhhh! Do you hear that!”

So I present it to you. Those whose ears are easily affronted, will want to pass it by. There is a pause in the middle, perhaps someone asking John a question, and then he returns. But give it your full attention — it lasts slightly over two minutes — and you will hear something precious: John Sheridan, in his element, free to explore because no one in particular was paying close attention. But we can, now:

There are many better-sounding videos on YouTube, more than a few of them mine, and John left a substantial discography. But I cherish these moments in the midst of noise as John’s elegy: in the noise of this century and I hope those to follow, his beauty will ring through and not be forgotten.

BRIEF ENCOUNTERS (Part Two): MARTY GROSZ and his PEP-STEPPERS at Jazz at Chautauqua: DUKE HEITGER, DAN BARRETT, SCOTT ROBINSON, DAN BLOCK, ROSSANO SPORTIELLO, JON BURR, PETE SIERS (September 22, 2012).

Marty Grosz, by Lynn Redmile.

Some nine years after this performance, I think of my immense good fortune at being “there,” and being able to document these moments. In those nine years, I thought now and again, “I’m going to save these for my retirement,” and now I can say, “Hey, I’m retired! Let the joys commence.”

These two performances — perhaps from a SONGS OF 1928 set? — are accomplished, joyous, and hilarious — created by musicians who can Play while they are Playing and nothing gets lost, nothing is un-swung.  For instance: the bass clarinet and taragoto figures created on the spot by Scott Robinson and Dan Block behind Dan Barrett’s DIGA solo — Louis and Duke applaud, but so does Mack Sennett.  The jubilant expert Joy-Spreaders are Marty Grosz, guitar and arrangements; Jon Burr, string bass; Pete Siers, drums; Rossano Sportiello, piano; Duke Heitger, trumpet; Dan Barrett, trombone; Scott Robinson, tenor saxophone, taragoto; Dan Block, clarinet, bass clarinet.

Ask yourself, “Who’s wonderful?  Who’s marvelous?” and the answer is of course MISS ANNABELLE LEE:

and another hit (I hear Irving Mills’ vocalizing) DIGA DIGA DOO:

I feel better than I did ten minutes ago. You, too, I hope. Marty and everyone else in these performances are still with us: talk about good fortune, doubled and tripled.

May your happiness increase!

O RARE FATS WALLER! –“CAUGHT”: MARTY GROSZ, JAMES DAPOGNY, DUKE HEITGER, BOB HAVENS, DAN BLOCK, SCOTT ROBINSON, VINCE GIORDANO, ARNIE KINSELLA (Jazz at Chautauqua, September 14, 2007)

Do consider. What could be better than an unpublished Fats Waller composition arranged twice for all-star hot jazz band — the arrangers being Marty Grosz and James Dapogny — with the arrangements (different moods, tempi, and keys) played in sequence? I know my question is rhetorical, but you will have the evidence to delight in: a jewel of an extended performance from 2007.

James Dapogny at Jazz at Chautauqua, 2014, by Michael Steinman.

CAUGHT is an almost-unknown Fats Waller composition (first recorded by James Dapogny) presented in two versions, one after the other, at the 2007 Jazz at Chautauqua, first Marty Grosz’s ominous music-for-strippers, then Dapogny’s romp. One can imagine the many possible circumstances that might have led to this title . . . perhaps unpaid alimony, or other mischief?

Marty, 2009, by Michael Steinman.

The alchemists here are James Dapogny, piano; Marty Grosz, banjo and explanations; Duke Heitger, trumpet; Bob Havens, trombone; Dan Block, alto saxophone, clarinet; Scott Robinson, soprano saxophone, tenor saxophone; Vince Giordano, tuba, string bass, bass saxophone; Arnie Kinsella, drums.

Note to meticulous consumers of sounds: this track begins with immense extraneous noise, and Arnie’s accents explode in the listeners’ ears. The perils of criminality: I had a digital recorder in my jacket pocket, so if and when I moved, the sound of clothing is intrusive. I apologize for imperfections, but I am proud of my wickedness; otherwise you wouldn’t have this to complain about:

I have been captivated by this performance for years — the simple line, so developed and lifted to the skies by the performers, the arrangements: the generous music given unstintingly to us. You might say I’ve been CAUGHT.

May your happiness increase!

“OH, SISTER, AIN’T THAT HOT?” and TWO FOR LOUIS: DUKE HEITGER, BOB BARNARD, BOB HAVENS, BOBBY GORDON, JIM DAPOGNY, MARTY GROSZ, VINCE GIORDANO, KEVIN DORN (Jazz at Chautauqua, September 28, 2006)

Where it happened!

From 2004 until its end in 2017, under a new name, the Jazz at Chautauqua weekend jazz party provided some of the best happy musical moments of my life.  I didn’t always have a video camera, nor was I always allowed or encouraged to record the musical proceedings.  (Joe Boughton was always kind to me, but stories of his fierce response to disobedience had preceded him.)  But I did have a pocket, and in it I hid a Sony digital recorder, which captured some uplifting moments. If you shut your eyes and imagine being there, transcendent hot sounds will transform the next twenty minutes, recorded during the informal Thursday-night session.  You’ll hear some rustling (the penalty of sub rosa recording) and the splendid drum accents explode, but shouldn’t they?

The joys are created by Bob Barnard, cornet; Duke Heitger, trumpet; Bob Havens, trombone; Bobby Gordon, clarinet; Jim Dapogny, piano; Vince Giordano, string bass; Marty Grosz, guitar; Kevin Dorn, drums: OH, SISTER, AIN’T THAT HOT? / DIPPERMOUTH BLUES / SLEEPY TIME DOWN SOUTH:

I do hope Carl saved a piece of cake for Marty. These three performances are like a whole bakery to me, and they haven’t become stale after fifteen years.

May your happiness increase!

EHUD ASHERIE INVITES US TO COME ALONG (Jazz at Chautauqua, September 16, 2016)

One of the pleasures of (let us say) 2010-2020 in New York City was the many opportunities to hear the brilliant pianist Ehud Asherie play — someone who knew both Bud Powell and Donald Lambert but was utterly himself, always unpredictable, always melodic and swinging. Here, Ehud takes us on a trip around the world, through every kind of pianistic expression from tango to reverie to explosive stride, with FON FON (Ernesto Nazareth), LUSH LIFE (Billy Strayhorn), and SEEMS LIKE OLD TIMES (Carmen Lombardo):

I don’t know when Ehud will play his next New York gig, but I hope it’s soon: we need his quirky wise art.

May your happiness increase!

RUNNIN’ WILD . . . BUT STILL IN CONTROL: JON-ERIK KELLSO, SCOTT ROBINSON, ANDY BROWN, EHUD ASHERIE, ARNIE KINSELLA (Jazz at Chautauqua, September 17, 2009)

This is a sort of EarRegulars prequel, since the current version got rained out of their Sunday-afternoon ecstasy at the Ear Out, in front of the Ear Inn, 326 Spring Street. With luck and sunshine, they will be back next Sunday.

Watching this beautiful souvenir of hot times, I think, “Now THAT’s the way to do it!” The Thursday-night informal sessions at Jazz at Chautauqua — a weekend delight that I first attended in 2004 — were always friendly, loose, and joyous. And sometimes they “scraped the clouds.” Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Scott Robinson, tenor saxophone; Ehud Asherie, piano; Andy Brown, guitar; Arnie Kinsella, drums, all have their say and rock the room. And yes, there are heads in the way of my camera now and again, but they are the heads of friends.

I think Arnie is no longer active — is he living the life of a gentleman farmer on Staten Island? — but I bless him and the other four luminaries, who are tangible presences in my life. My goodness, do they swing!

See you any Sunday at 326 Spring Street, New York, from 1-3:30. . . . where new memories are made.

May your happiness increase!

“A HARMONY OF LIFE”: HOWARD ALDEN and TOM PLETCHER (Jazz at Chautauqua, September 20, 2009)

“Up among the stars we’ll find / A harmony of life to a lovely tune.”

Here are Howard Alden, guitar, and Tom Pletcher, cornet, sweetly making their way through Brooks Bowman’s EAST OF THE SUN (and West of the Moon) at the Jazz at Chautauqua weekend, September 20, 2009:

I just learned that the title came from a Norwegian folk tale containing drugged beverages, a golden apple, trolls, a bear, a wicked stepmother, and more . . . but who needs words when the sounds embrace us so?

May your happiness increase!

THE MUSIC OF IRVING BERLIN: REBECCA KILGORE and JAMES DAPOGNY (Jazz at Chautauqua, September 29, 2006: audio only)

Simple math: seven memorable songs, two deeply intuitive improvisers, one jazz criminal with a hidden recorder = lasting magic.

I’d like to explain how this all came to pass, but if you’d like to skip down to the music and (perhaps) read this later, I won’t blame you.  That music is slightly under a half-hour of quiet splendor, casual mastery, great mutual warmth.  And it’s just what the title says: an audio recording of two of my heroes, Rebecca Kilgore and James Dapogny, in duet, performing Irving Berlin songs at the 2006 Jazz at Chautauqua.  I emphasize audio recording, although there is a still photograph of the Professor to please the eye, but this was before I had the courage to bring a camera to as many gigs as the law allowed.

James Dapogny at Jazz at Chautauqua, Sept. 2014. Photograph by Michael Steinman.

Like Paul Muni, I confess to criminal acts.  But you are being rewarded, I hope, by my illicit behavior.

I first came to Jazz at Chautauqua in September 2004, my gift to myself for no longer being legally connected to a woman who disliked jazz (yes, I ask myself that same question now).  The party’s founder, Joe Boughton, had been friendly to me for a number of years and had been eager for me to come, to write about and publicize his weekend.

Ordinarily, I would have brought a recorder, but I knew that Joe was possessive about “his” music and very fierce about transgressions.  However, by 2006, I’d gotten bolder, and was pained by all the music vanishing into the air, so I took my new Sony digital recorder, slightly longer than a pack of cigarettes, with me.

Chautauqua is a ninety-minute car ride from the Buffalo airport, and a seven-hour drive from where I live (at least) so I did not want to make it evident that it was recording what was, in some ways, Joe’s private party to which we were invited.  I concealed the recorder in an outer pocket of my sportscoat, which will account for noise you hear as I moved slightly.  Those offended by the noise can say to themselves, “Sit still, Michael!” if it is any consolation.  There is crowd noise; someone says “Excuse me, Michael,” while stepping over me.

And then some of the most beautiful music I know begins.  I was seated closer to the piano than to Becky, so initially you might hear an imbalance of volume, but your ears adapt quickly — and Jim is playing so marvelously.

The songs are ALEXANDER’S RAGTIME BAND / SHAKING THE BLUES AWAY / REACHING FOR THE MOON / ISN’T THIS A LOVELY DAY? / CHEEK TO CHEEK / COUNT YOUR BLESSINGS / IT’S A LOVELY DAY TODAY.  They cover an astonishing range of emotions, from sorrow to elation to hymnlike serenity.  And in case anyone has forgotten, every note and word is Berlin’s.

Please, enjoy this offering — blessings from Becky, Jim, and Irving:

Incidentally, this would have remained on a homemade compact disc if my Texas collector-friend Elbie, whom I told about this, hadn’t said, “Can’t you transfer audio to video?” and I found, to my surprise, that I could.  There will be many more “audio only” delights and surprises.

I didn’t sing or play a note.  But I am proud of my part in making this music permanent and accessible.  I hope you will allow me that.

May your happiness increase!

“THE DAPOGNY EFFECT,” or, PROF. TO THE RESCUE

James Dapogny at Jazz at Chautauqua, September 2014. Photograph by Michael Steinman.

I am never sure how closely the audience at a live performance is paying attention to the details of the music being created in front of them.  Because I have spent a long time considering the subtleties of this holy art, I believe I hear and see more near-collisions than those who (happily) absorb only the outlines of the music.

I’m not boasting: my over-attentiveness is like being the person at the movies who can notice that a character went out the door in one scene with a green scarf and when we see her in the next shot — no scarf. . . not exactly like having perfect pitch, but the analogy might work.

Today, I am going to show-and-tell an experience that I happened to capture for posterity (or, perhaps, “for posterior”).  I present it not to embarrass the musicians I revere, but to praise their collective resilience, ingenuity, and perseverance.  In this case, that redemption in 4/4 is because of my hero, Professor James Dapogny, who might have cocked a skeptical eyebrow at what I am doing and said, “Michael, do you really need to do this?” and I would have explained why.

For those who already feel slightly impatient with the word-offering, I apologize.  Please come back tomorrow.  I’ll still be at it, and you will be welcome.

An uncharitable observer might consider the incident I am about to present and say, “Well, it’s all Marty Grosz’s fault.”  I would rather salute Marty: without a near-disaster, how could we have a triumphant transformation?  Or, unless Kitty escapes from her basket and climbs the tree, how can she be rescued by the firemen?  Precariousness becomes a virtue: ask any acrobat.

But this is about a performance of I WISHED ON THE MOON that Marty and Company attempted at Jazz at Chautauqua on a late morning or early afternoon session in September 2008, along with Duke Heitger, trumpet; Dan Block, clarinet and tenor saxophone; Chuck Wilson, alto saxophone; Dan Barrett, trombone; Professor Dapogny, piano; Marty, guitar and vocal; Vince Giordano, string bass; Pete Siers, drums.  The amateurish camera work in bright sunshine is evidence that it was one of my sub rosa escapades: I was using a Flip camera and trying to not get caught by the authorities.

We know Marty as a peerless work of nature: guitarist, singer, wit, artist, vaudevillian.  But many might not be aware that one of his great talents is arranging.  Yes, he can uplift an impromptu session on BACK IN YOUR OWN BACKYARD, but he loves the effects that can be created by any ensemble with directions sketched out on manuscript paper and then hastily explained on the spot: “No repeats!” “jump to letter D,” “trumpet break at the start of the last chorus,” and so on.  Marty works hard on these things, and his earliest recordings — although he dismisses them as “‘prentice work” — show him in pursuit of the ideal: swinging, varied, surprising, effective.

But he is happier with pen and pencil than with the computer, so a Marty score is handwritten, in calligraphy that is italic, precise, lovely, but not as easy to read (especially in dim stage light, seen for the first time, without rehearsal) as the printed scores many musicians are used to in this century.

Thus, the possibility of chaos.  Thus, the possibility of triumph.

In the recording studio, when things start to go awry, musicians used to look at each other and break into a sort of Twenties near-hokey jamming, away from the score, and the “take” would end in laughter.  A “breakdown,” the recording engineer would call it.  Or the engineer would give a piercing whistle, to say, “Let’s start over.”  You can hear this on “rejected takes” by Benny Goodman, Charlie Parker, and many other jazz heroes, that have been saved over the decades.  They are reassuring proof that our jazz-deities are human, that people get off on the wrong foot, that someone missed a cue or made a mistake.

In performance, though, in front of an audience, musicians do not want to stop and say, “We loused this up.  Let’s start over,” although I have seen it happen: it is the equivalent of Groucho speaking directly to the audience in a film, “breaking through the fourth wall,” and it is always surprising.

But back to our musical and heroic interlude.  I WISHED ON THE MOON is made famous by Billie Holiday, but it is not by any means a classic, a standard, part of “the repertoire” so often played that musicians perform it with full confidence (take AS LONG AS I LIVE as an example of the second kind).  MOON has its own twists and traps for the unwary.  The very expert musicians in this band, however, had at most been given a minute or two before the set to know the tune list and to glance at the manuscripts Marty had given them — roadmaps through the treacherous landscape.  But since everyone on this bandstand is a complete professional, with years of sight-reading and experience, it would not have been expected that they needed rehearsal to play a song like MOON.

That Marty gives directions to this crew before they start suggests to me that they hadn’t seen his score before, nor would they stand in front of the audience studying it and discussing it.  Professionals don’t want to give the impression that they are puzzled by any aspect of their craft while the people who have paid to see and hear them are waiting for the next aural delicacy to be served.

Thus, Professor Dapogny, who “knew the score,” plays his four-bar introduction with verve and assurance.  He knows where he is.  But the front line is faced with a score that calls for Dan Barrett, master melodist, to play the theme while the reeds back him up, and Dan Block, another sure-footed spellbinder, plays the bridge neatly.  Marty has his eyeglasses on — to read his own chart — and he essays a vocal, trusting to memory to guide him through the mostly-remembered lyrics, turning his lapses into comedy, more Fats than Billie.  While this is unrolling, the Professor’s rollicking supportive accompaniment is enthralling, although one has to make an effort to not be distracted by Marty’s vocalizing.

I feel his relief at “having gotten through that,” and lovely choruses by Duke Heitger and Dan Block, now on tenor saxophone, follow.  However, the performance has a somewhat homemade flavor to it — that is, unless we have been paying attention to the Professor’s marking the chords and transitions in a splendidly rhythmic way: on this rock, he shows us, we can build our jazz church.  He has, in the nicest and most necessary way, taken charge of the band.

At this point, my next-seat neighbor (there by chance, not connection) decides she needs more lemon or a napkin; her entrance and sudden arising are visually distracting, even now.

But, at around 3:55, the Professor says — with notes, not words — that he himself is going to climb the ladder and rescue Kitty; he is going to turn a possibly competent-but-flawed performance into SOMETHING.

And does he ever! — with a ringing phrase that causes both Marty and Dan Block to turn their heads, as if to say, “Wow, that’s the genuine article,” and the performance stands up, straightens its tie, brushes the crumbs off its lap, and rocks.  Please go back and observe a thrilling instant: a great artist completely in the moment, using everything he knows to focus a group of adult creators towards a desired result that is miles above what would have resulted if he had blandly played an ordinary accompaniment.

And you thought only Monk danced during his performances?  Watch Marty, joyously and goofily, respond to what his friend Jim has made happen.  After that, the band must decipher Marty’s swing hieroglyphics, his on-the-spot directions, “Play a fill!” and someone — to cover up a blank spot — whistles a phrase, and the performance half-swings, half-wanders to its conclusion.  Relief sweeps the bandstand.

These five minutes are highly imperfect, but also heroic: great improvisers making their courageous way through territory where their maps are ripped, unreadable, and incomplete — refusing to give up the quest.

If you need to understand why I have written so much about Professor Dapogny, why his absence is a huge void in my universe and that of others who knew and love him, watch this performance again for his masterful individualistic guidance: Toscanini in a safari jacket.  Completely irreplaceable, modeling joy and courage all at once.

May your happiness increase!

PAINTED PEACOCK AND PURPLE SUNBIRD: JON-ERIK KELLSO, TOM PLETCHER, BOB HAVENS, DAN BLOCK, BOB REITMEIER, EHUD ASHERIE, VINCE GIORDANO, HOWARD ALDEN, PETE SIERS (Jazz at Chautauqua, September 19, 2009)

Preparing to write this post, I needed to know, so I spent a few minutes while my coffee cooled, inquiring of Google, “Where is Hindustan located?”  And finally the reliable Encyclopedia Britanica (much more hip than the World Book Encyclopedia) of my childhood genially answered:

Hindustan, (Persian: “Land of the Indus”) also spelled Hindusthan, historically, the northern Indian subcontinent—in contrast to the Deccan, the southern portion of the Indian subcontinent. This area can be defined more particularly as the basin of the five Punjab rivers and the upper Indo-Gangetic Plain. As a mostly fertile and well-populated corridor situated between walls of mountain, desert, and sea, Hindustan has been regarded as the principal seat of power in South Asia, containing the bulk of wealth and physical energy. The name Hindustan is sometimes used to indicate the lands “north of the Vindhya Range.” It is also occasionally used as a synonym for the entire Indian subcontinent.

Now that’s settled.  Moving closer to our usual concerns, there is the 1918 hit song of the same name.  I didn’t know that one of the composers, Oliver Wallace, also wrote the score for Disney’s DUMBO; his collaborator, Harold Weeks, seems only to have composed HINDUSTAN.

A more erudite cultural historian schooled in “Orientalism” could write a great deal about the fascination in the late teens and early Twenties with popular songs celebrating the non-Western: THE SHEIK OF ARABY, SONG OF INDIA, SO LONG OOLONG, CHINA BOY, SAN, NAGASAKI, CHINATOWN MY CHINATOWN: songs that Americans and others sang and played, while they regarded people from those regions with suspicion — “You’re not from around here, are you?  Where were you born?” — and refused them employment and housing.  As a species, we are fascinating.

I think I first heard the song on Jean Shepherd’s radio program (circa 1969) and he is the reason I knew a portion of these lyrics — which, I confess, I also looked up this morning for accuracy: “HINDUSTAN, where we stopped to rest our tired caravan / HINDUSTAN, where the painted peacock proudly spreads his fan / HINDUSTAN, where the purple sunbird flashed across the sand /  HINDUSTAN, where I met her and the world began.”

“Where we stopped to rest our tired caravan”! This performance, from the 2009 Jazz at Chautauqua weekend, is anything but tired, sparked by Jon-Erik Kellso’s idea of changing the key for every chorus (I believe between C and Eb). Trumpeter Jon is joined by Tom Pletcher, cornet; Bob Havens, trombone; Bob Reitmeier, clarinet; Dan Block, tenor saxophone; Ehud Asherie, piano; Howard Alden, guitar; Vince Giordano, string bass; Pete Siers, drums:

Wow.  I’m off to find the painted peacock.

May your happiness increase!

SZECHUAN HOT (Part Five): BOB WILBER, JON-ERIK KELLSO, MARTY GROSZ, VINCE GIORDANO (Jazz at Chautauqua, Sept. 21, 2008)

Where it happened!

The last of five splendid performances that took place at Jazz at Chautauqua, September 21, 2008, celebrating the hot music of the Bechet-Spanier Big Four, enlivened in the present moment by Bob Wilber, clarinet and soprano saxophone; Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Marty Grosz, guitar; Vince Giordano, string bass.  The first four performances: THAT’S A PLENTY, SQUEEZE ME, SWEET SUE, and IF I COULD BE WITH YOU (ONE HOUR TONIGHT) can be savored here.

And the inspiration, although not on the original Hot Record Society label:

And here we go!

All I will say is that these informally-captured treasures have been in the Official JAZZ LIVES vault for a dozen years.  They haven’t gotten stale; in fact, their flavors seem richer today than ever.  Bless them all: Sidney Bechet, Muggsy Spanier, Carmen Mastren, Wellman Braud, Steve Smith (HRS record producer), Vince Giordano, Marty Grosz, Jon-Erik Kellso, Bob Wilber, Joe Boughton, family, and friends . . . even the people crossing in front of me with plates of food and Styrofoam cups of coffee, because they, as the audience, made Jazz at Chautauqua possible.  Days gone by.

May your happiness increase!

TWO QUARTERS FOR THE METER (Part Four): BOB WILBER, JON-ERIK KELLSO, MARTY GROSZ, VINCE GIORDANO (Jazz at Chautauqua, Sept. 21, 2008)

The scene of the gorgeous music, and now, the poignant memories:

Where it happened!

The inspiration:

The reality, as created forty-eight years later, by Bob Wilber, soprano saxophone; Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Marty Grosz, guitar; Vince Giordano, string bass:

How lyrically they swing out — and before noon, no less.  For those of you who slept late (in a manner of speaking) here you can enjoy the first three songs performed that morning: THAT’S A PLENTY, SQUEEZE ME, and SWEET SUE.

Three footnotes.

My title . . . in my suburban town, parking meters ornament the sidewalks except for a very few oases.  And municipalities such as mine are always looking for more money, so when I moved here in 2004, a quarter bought me sixty minutes on the meter.  A few years ago, the Code Enforcement people decided that this was too generous, and now I’d need two quarters for the same time.  Love, or even a trip to the pizza parlor, became twice as costly.  But still worth the price.

The title of the song.  Exhibit A:

But also Exhibit B:

I prefer the latter, perhaps because I was trained by the late — and very much missed — John L. Fell, who would type WDYINO for the famous song about New Orleans.  Life is too short to spell everything out, and you can always ask.

Finally, when my hero Vic Dickenson, very late in his life, sang ONE HOUR, when he got to that phrase, he would very clearly and vehemently hold up two fingers so that everyone could see that sixty minutes would be insufficient for “I’d love you strong.”  You can see that performance here — a small masterpiece.

One more performance from 2008 exists: see you and it tomorrow.

May your happiness increase!

SINGULARLY SUSAN (Part Three): BOB WILBER, JON-ERIK KELLSO, MARTY GROSZ, VINCE GIORDANO (Jazz at Chautauqua, Sept. 21, 2008)

Where it happened!

As JAZZ LIVES waves adieu to 2020, we continue with our series of five memorably hot performances created at Jazz at Chautauqua on a Sunday morning, September 21, 2008, by Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Bob Wilber, clarinet and soprano saxophone; Marty Grosz, guitar; Vince Giordano, string bass — honoring irreplaceable recordings from 1940 featuring Sidney Bechet, Muggsy Spanier, Carmen Mastren, and Wellman Braud, known to us as the “Bechet-Spanier Big Four.”

If this is your first immersion in Hot, you can visit the first two splendid performances — THAT’S A PLENTY and SQUEEZE ME — here.

And here’s Will J. Harris and Victor Young’s 1928 paean to Miss Sue, with a charmingly period sheet music cover to start the good works.

and the sounds of 2008 as we — hopeful and cautious — peer into 2021:

May your happiness increase!

REWARDING PROXIMITY (Part Two): BOB WILBER, JON-ERIK KELLSO, MARTY GROSZ, VINCE GIORDANO (Jazz at Chautauqua, Sept. 21, 2008)

The holy relic of 1940 . . .

coming alive in the present tense, here:

thanks to Bob Wilber, soprano saxophone; Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Marty Grosz, guitar; Vince Giordano, string bass.  For Part One (THAT’S A PLENTY) and more explication, click here.  Today, our breakfast menu has one item, Fats Waller’s airbrushing of THE BOY IN THE BOAT into SQUEEZE ME:

Delightful.  Timeless.  And this Big Four played three more.  No fractions.

May your happiness increase!

JOYOUS PLENITUDE (Part One): BOB WILBER, JON-ERIK KELLSO, MARTY GROSZ, VINCE GIORDANO (Jazz at Chautauqua, Sept. 21, 2008)

Evoking this, nearly seventy years later:

in this wonderful place.  Magical indeed.

It was a Sunday morning, 10:30 or so, and perhaps half of the audience was deep in contemplation of their breakfasts on September 21, 2008.

But magic larger than bacon and coffee was being revealed to us. We can revisit it now: festival director Joe Boughton’s idea to recreate the Bechet-Spanier Big Four of Blessed Memory (1940, Hot Record Society: Sidney Bechet, Muggsy Spanier, Carmen Mastren, Wellman Braud) with living Masters: Bob Wilber, clarinet and soprano; Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Marty Grosz, guitar; Vince Giordano, string bass.  Five songs were performed, each a Hot Benediction:

I had no video empire then — no collection of cameras, tripods, batteries, external hard drives — and I recorded this quite surreptitiously.  But I didn’t want it to vanish.  For you, for me, forevermore.

May your happiness increase!

HOW ARE YOUR NERVES? A CONSULTATION WITH DUKE HEITGER, BOB REITMEIER, SCOTT ROBINSON, ANDY SCHUMM, DAN BARRETT, EHUD ASHERIE, MARTY GROSZ, FRANK TATE, PETE SIERS (Jazz at Chautauqua, September 2009)

Is the world going a little too fast for you?  Is this your internal soundtrack?

Do you feel like a character in a Fleischer cartoon where everything’s too speedy to be brought under control?  (I mean no disrespect to the 1936 Henderson band — with spectacular playing on this fast blues, appropriately called JANGLED NERVES  — from Chu Berry, Roy Eldridge, Sidney Catlett, Fernando Arbello, and Buster Bailey.)

I believe the following interlude will calm and enliven your nerves at the same time.  It happened here, in a vanished but remembered past — the third weekend in September 2009 at Jazz at Chautauqua, Joe Boughton’s creation, at the Athenaeum Hotel in Chautauqua, New York.

Joe loved to begin and end his weekend programs with ballad medleys, and here is a segment of one of them, featuring Duke Heitger, trumpet; Andy Schumm, cornet; Dan Barrett, trombone; Scott Robinson, tenor saxophone; Bob Reitmeier, clarinet; Ehud Asherie, piano; Marty Grosz, guitar; Frank Tate, string bass;, Pete Siers, drums.  The bill of fare is MEMORIES OF YOU (Duke), STARDUST (Bob), PRELUDE TO A KISS (Scott), OLD FOLKS (Andy), IF I HAD YOU (Dan, with the ensemble joining in):

Let’s see how you’re feeling tomorrow.  Leave a message with Mary Ann.

May your happiness increase!

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HEAVEN RIGHT HERE ON EARTH: MARTY GROSZ, JAMES DAPOGNY, JON BURR, PETE SIERS, DAN BLOCK, SCOTT ROBINSON, BOB HAVENS, ANDY SCHUMM (Jazz at Chautauqua, September 19, 2014)

News flash: Laura Beth Wyman, the CEO of Wyman Video and a fellow videographer, has pointed out that in September 2014, Jazz at Chautauqua had morphed into the Allegheny Jazz Party and moved west to Cleveland.  Since a lesson of later life is that I have to live with my errors, I do so here: some of the prose details that follow are now in the wrong state, but the music still gleams.

Making the annual trip to the Athenaeum Hotel for the Jazz at Chautauqua weekend was never that easy, so once there I felt relief as well as excitement.  But it was heavenly once I could see the people I love whom I saw so rarely, and even more blissful once the music began.  Now, through the lens of 2020, Jazz at Chautauqua seems poignant as well as heavenly.

So it’s with those emotions — joy, nostalgia, wistfulness — that I offer you eight minutes of an elixir for the ears and heart: ‘WAY DOWN YONDER IN NEW ORLEANS, which used to be a medium-tempo saunter.  I present the first recording of this 1922 Creamer and Layton song, with its “Spanish tinge” verse.  And note that the Crescent City angels are wearing blue jeans, a garment that goes back to the end of the nineteenth century: see here:

But we can talk about clothing another time.  Now, a mighty crew of hot players take this jazz standard for a gentle yet propulsive ride: Marty Grosz, guitar; Andy Schumm, cornet; James Dapogny, our Prof., piano; Bob Havens, trombone; Dan Block, clarinet; Scott Robinson, tenor saxophone; Jon Burr, string bass; Pete Siers, drums. I offer a special bow of gratitude to Nancy Hancock Griffith, who we see briefly at the start: she never sat in on an instrument, but she and her mother, Kathy Hancock, made it all happen.

Such a weekend will probably never come again, but I bless the players and the organizers . . . and I’m grateful for my little camera, that made audio-visual souvenirs like this possible.

May your happiness increase!