Tag Archives: jazz ballad

BEAUTIFUL DANCE MUSIC: HENDERSONIA at the WHITLEY BAY CLASSIC JAZZ PARTY

Here is one of the high points of a wonderful tribute to Fletcher Henderson’s “Connie’s Inn Orchestra,” led by Claus Jacobi, saxophone, with Rico Tomasso, Duke Heitger, Menno Daams, trumpet / cornet; Kristoffer Kompen, Graham Hughes, trombone; Matthias Seuffert, Jean-Francois Bonnel, Claus Jacobi, reeds; Keith Nichols, piano; Jacob Ullberger, banjo / guitar; Malcolm Sked, bass; Richard Pite, drums. Recorded on November 8, 2014, at the Whitley Bay Classic Jazz Party:

The song?  STARDUST.  What could be more beautiful? And this performance speaks to a time when rhythmic ballads could be both hot and tender, when improvisation could also be romantic dance music, when African-American bands could venture into Caucasian pop music . . . and play it beautifully. And the quietly eloquent shadow of Bix is evident throughout. (Would this performance also be possible without the genial angelic guidance of Louis?  I think not.) A profound gentle lyricism in dance tempo — a great achievement then and now (with heroic subtle playing from Mister Daams and the band as a whole).

Oh, memory.  Oh, memory.

May your happiness increase!

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BALLADS BY HARRY ALLEN, DAN BLOCK, BOB HAVENS, DUKE HEITGER, JON-ERIK KELLSO, RANDY REINHART, ANDY SCHUMM, REBECCA KILGORE, DAN BARRETT, ROSSANO SPORTIELLO, MARTY GROSZ, FRANK TATE, JOHN VON OHLEN (Jazz at Chautauqua, Sept. 22, 2013)

Norman Granz took credit for inventing what came to be called “the ballad medley” for his concert performances.  Rather than have everyone stand onstage and take solo choruses on what might be a fourteen-minute BODY AND SOUL, Granz proposed — for variety’s sake — that each of the musicians would emerge from the wings, hastily tell the rhythm section what (s)he had chosen, both song and key, and play or sing a chorus of it, then exit.

For the audience, it is a parade of small memorable delights. First, it reminds us what great players and singers can create within the space of one chorus of a song — note that, at their most leisurely, these performances are two minutes apiece. They offer us subtle embellishments on enduring melodies.  And the tempos!  Once upon a time, there was a precious little thing called the RHYTHM BALLAD, which meant that even if the lyrics said, “I am throwing myself out of the window because you don’t love me,” the rhythm ticked quietly underneath in medium tempo.  The ballad medley requires a perfectly attentive and wise rhythm section, especially a pianist who can respond in a second to something muttered, “WHEN DAY IS DONE, three flats,” modulate in to the proper key and be ready.

The late Joe Boughton, who delighted in jazz ballads, made sure that his jazz parties always included such interludes.

On September 22, 2013, at the closing set of Jazz at Chautauqua, a series of small miraculous evocations came and went in front of our eyes.  I am honored to have been there and privileged to capture much of the ballad medley for you.

The participants are Rossano Sportiello, piano; Marty Grosz, guitar / vocal; Frank Tate, string bass; John Von Ohlen, drums; Jon-Erik Kellso, Andy Schumm, Randy Reinhart, Duke Heitger, trumpets; Dan Barrett, Bob Havens, trombones; Andy Stein, violin; Harry Allen, Dan Block, reeds; Rebecca Kilgore, vocal.

EASY LIVING (Harry Allen), DAY DREAM (Dan Block), CAN’T HELP LOVIN’ THAT MAN (Bob Havens), I KNOW WHY (Duke Heitger):

I’LL NEVER BE THE SAME (Jon-Erik Kellso):

MY FUNNY VALENTINE (Randy Reinhart); PLEASE (Andy Schumm); LAURA (Andy Stein); IF WE NEVER MEET AGAIN (Marty Grosz); SOPHISTICATED LADY (Rossano Sportiello):

And a wonderful closing serenade, OHIO by Rebecca Kilgore and Dan Barrett:

OHIO offers a perfect transition.  Jazz at Chautauqua has changed its name and moved west — to Cleveland, Ohio — but I know its essential musical nature will not diminish or change.  It’s now the Allegheny Jazz Party, beginning on Thursday, September 18, and concluding (with a ballad medley) on Sunday, September 21.  I hope your life-path and travel plans allow you to be there!

May your happiness increase!

“BUT IS IT JAZZ?” “DOES IT MATTER?” or THE JUDGE PASSES SENTENCE

I had an email conversation a day ago with a musician — expert on his instrument and with a deep immersion in a wide range of music — about a performance I had recorded of his . . . a powerful exposition of a piece of late Sixties “popular music,” which he played splendidly.  He wrote me with some concern, wondering if his performance was, in fact “jazz.”

I wrote back to assure him that it was both beautiful and memorable, and that was what mattered.

Definitions and categories can be useful: if you have a celiac disorder, it is necessary to learn the ingredients on the package so you know no wheat is hiding to attack your body . . . but in art?

I know many listeners who set up boundaries.  This “style” is “too modern,” so they avoid it; this is “old-fashioned,” so others close a door on it.  Others see the racial profile of the musicians or the audience and make up their minds that way.  Too many old folks in the crowd?  Can’t do that.  And so on.  Not enough players of the approved color?  Oh, no.

Perhaps the questions should be, “Does this musical performance make me feel glad to be alive?  Does it stir something in me?  Does it have its own logic and beauty?  Am I happier as a result of it?”  “Will I remember it in ten minutes?”

Here are two examples of beautiful music.  According to some classifiers and dividers, one is jazz, the other isn’t.  Do such rules really matter?

and

Now, this comparison isn’t to say one musician is “as good as” the other; it isn’t to exalt Bing at the expense of Hawkins.  It is simply to say that there are a million varieties of beauty in the world . . . too bad for people who deprive themselves of any of them.

And the Judge.  He was born Milton John Hinton, and later in his life he acquired the nickname of “The Judge,” part a comic homage to Pigmeat Markham’s routine, part a tribute to his being there early at record dates and gigs . . . but he had note paper that I saw for myself, with the heading . . .

THE JUDGE (and a a drawing of a string bass)

You are hereby sentenced to thirty days of listening to good music!

I’m prepared to serve my sentence, Your Honor.  And thank you for the reminder!

May your happiness increase!

BIG JAZZ: JON-ERIK KELLSO, ROSSANO SPORTIELLO, ALEX HOFFMAN, KERRY LEWIS at JAZZ at CHAUTAUQUA (September 22, 2012)

I follow Jon-Erik Kellso, who is superbly consistent . . . someone who reaches into his musical bag of treats and invariably comes out with something new — in his depth of feeling, his variety of pure (and impure) sounds, his intensity, his swaying ascents and descents.  And when Jon-Erik has intuitive friends around him (as he does many Sundays at The Ear Inn and here) — jazz masters Alex Hoffman, tenor saxophone; Rossano Sportiello, piano; Kerry Lewis, string bass — great things happen.  Sweet melodies, hot rhythms.

The proof is right here (recorded Saturday, September 22, 2012, at Jazz at Chautauqua) — where Fifty-Second Street meets Lake Chautauqua, where 1946 and 2013 wander amiably down the same paths.

Because Jon-Erik loves Roy Eldridge (the act of a wise musician), he began the set with the rarely-heard LITTLE JAZZ:

Time for a Basie groove?  Always a good idea.  Plunge ahead! TOPSY:

Alex displayed his own particular soft, compelling brilliance on THREE LITTLE WORDS:

In honor of the season and also because he doesn’t often get to play it, Jon called for SEPTEMBER SONG, where his sound is so eloquent (and the exchanges with Kerry are a treat):

And a little TEA FOR TWO, inspired by one of Coleman Hawkins’ many riff inventions on its chords:

If you’re not moving around in your chair, something might be wrong with your computer.  I have wonderful repair people . . . everything that’s technologically-flawed can be fixed.  But this music needs no alterations.  Thank you, Jon, Alex, Kerry, Rossano!

May your happiness increase.

FOUR LETTERS FOR BIX AND LESTER: ROSSANO SPORTIELLO, ANDY SCHUMM, RANDY SANDKE, DAN LEVINSON, JOHN VON OHLEN (Jazz at Chautauqua, September 17, 2011)

Not every successful jazz group has to have an orthodox shape or instrumentation: in fact, the absence of a crucial or expected instrument often galvanizes the other players into something rich and rare, as was the case on September 17, 2011, at Jazz at Chautauqua.

I don’t know if anyone started out playing with Bix or Lester in mind, but the results summon up those two quiet geniuses most beautifully.  And when we remember that Lester learned so much about lyricism — in addition to his own singular impulses — from listening to Bix and Tram records with Eddie Barefield — the connection isn’t far-fetched.

Here we have Rossano Sportiello on piano and quiet aesthetic leadership; Randy Sandke on soaring trumpet; Andy Schumm on hot introspective cornet; Dan Levinson on sweet clarinet and tenor sax; John Von Ohlen on subtly propulsive drums.

I associate MARGIE with Bix Beiderbecke in 1928, with Duke in 1935, and with a wonderful rarity — a collector’s tape of Jack Teagarden soloing over that very same Bix recording.  It’s an old-fashioned song that doesn’t get old, and this performance has some of the rattling good humor of the Ruby Braff – Mel Powell – Paul Quinichette – Bobby Donaldson trio recordings for Vanguard:

THESE FOOLISH THINGS, to me, always summons up Lester Young — and Rossano’s piano playing evokes Ellis Larkins and Nat Cole without copying them.  Dan’s tenor solo shows that he might be thinking about the President as well:

SUNDAY hadn’t come yet, but this cheerful Jule Styne 1927 hit always evokes memories of the happy past — and the Jean Goldkette Victor.  (“Wanna see you next Sunday!  Ah-ha!  Ah-ha!” or words to that effect).  Some stride and a swinging wire brush solo do no one any harm:

Most jazz sets close with something quick, dramatic, loud.  If the audience isn’t standing and cheering, what went wrong?  But not this evocative group of brave explorers.  Rossano started off at a lovely slow tempo — seeming to creep sideways into a slow, slow blues — so reminiscent of the Lester / Nat Cole BACK TO THE LAND.  But we’ll just call it a BLUES:

Remarkable and unhackneyed.

THE (POSSIBLY REVERSIBLE) DECLINE OF THE WEST (Nov. 18, 2011)

Last night, on my way to Smalls to hear Joel Press and Spike Wilner, I walked past a Greenwich Village bar / restaurant that was advertising JAZZ on its sandwich board outside.  This was exciting news, and I was hopeful and curious.  I ventured in and listened for ten minutes.  It seemed to be a good-natured jam session — trumpet, saxophone, guitar, drums, with one of the horns occasionally sitting at the piano and chording when not taking a solo.  It was pleasing to see that the players were a diversified little group.  They finished their improvisation on some mildly familiar changes and launched into the very pretty ballad POLKA DOTS AND MOONBEAMS.

The guitarist was more than competent, but his volume was high, and it seemed as if he couldn’t wait to begin playing double-time.  The drummer had a pair of wire brushes (a great thing) but was out of synch with the rest of the group — so busily accenting phrases that the time was often lost; the saxophonist had a pleasant tone but was offering a mix of famous Bird licks; the trumpeter didn’t seem to realize that he was playing a love song.

I sighed, and thought (not for the first time) that I want a second business card — in addition to the JAZZ LIVES ones now fluttering through the universe.  It wouldn’t advertise anything, but would make two moral statements:

BRING BACK MEDIUM TEMPO

REMEMBER BEN WEBSTER

Does this sound like a good idea?  I could leave them on music stands . . . .

P.S.  Then I went to hear Spike and Joel — fellows who know these things deep in their souls, so all was well.

SWEET RHYTHMS in PARIS: NICOLAS DARY / LUIGI GRASSO / EHUD ASHERIE 2011

That’s Luigi Grasso (alto saxophone), Nicolas Dary (tenor), Ehud Asherie (piano), Mathias Allamane (bass), and Philippe Soirat (drums), playing BEWITCHED (Luigi) and SERENADE IN BLUE (Nicolas) — recorded at the Sunside in Paris, February 2, 2011.  Lovely!

SWEETNESS DESERVES SWEETNESS: CLICK HERE!  ALL MONEY COLLECTED GOES TO THE MUSICIANS.

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