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Otto “Toby” Hardwick of the Ellington band dubbed Roy Eldridge LITTLE JAZZ a long time ago. Not simply because Roy was short (great trumpeters often are, as Whitney Balliett pointed out). But Roy he was animated by the spirit of the music.
Roy always wanted to play; he had a gleefully feisty spirit; he swung harder than anyone could imagine. He has been gone for some time now, but I remember seeing him in concerts — at Williams College and Newport in New York — and at his late-life home base, Jimmy Ryan’s. He didn’t coast; he didn’t ever want to play it safe. And his giant spirit is alive in our hearts and our ears.
Jon-Erik Kellso admires Mr. Eldridge greatly — not only the built-in rasp of his trumpet tone or his hot, speedy articulation, but his inventiveness, his emotional force. In fact, the first time I heard young Kellso on a CD, years ago, I thought, “Who is this young cat who sounds a little bit like young Roy without copying the Master?”
Since January 30, 2011 happened to be David Roy Eldridge’s one-hundredth birthday, the EarRegulars turned their regular Sunday gig at the Ear Inn (326 Spring Street, Soho, New York City) into a small heartfelt tribute to the spirit of Little Jazz, again without copying the records.
In this, Jon-Erik was aided mightily by several swing sages: Dan Block on clarinet and tenor sax; Jon Burr on bass; Chris Flory on guitar. Oh, how they rocked!
Here are a few highlights:
Although AFTER YOU’VE GONE is sometimes a song played as a farewell, it was offered early in the evening at a relaxed yet steamy tempo, with the EarRegulars clicking in to gear. (Pay paricular attention to bassist Jon, who was eloquent beyond his usual eloquence in solo after solo.):
Roy was known for searing playing at fast tempos, but his ballads were something special, and audiences who knew this often came in to Ryan’s about 11:30 for “The Ballad.” I remember once hearing an extraordinary WILLOW WEEP FOR ME.
The EarRegulars didn’t make us wait that long to hear I SURRENDER, DEAR (yet another reminder of how much Coleman Hawkins and his generation devoted themselves to the singing and repertoire of Bing Crosby, with good reason):
I don’t recall Roy recording I FOUND A NEW BABY as such, but he improvised on its chord changes more than once, I believe — and this wasn’t a repertory tribute to Mr. Eldridge, but another Sunday night excursion into deep fun. (At the end of the night, Jon-Erik said, “I started making a list of tunes associated with Roy, but I realized that’s what we play, anyway!”):
The second set brought forth a classic Gift From The EarRegulars scenario: the chance to hear someone new to me and to be impressed.
I’d already been impressed by clarinetist / reedman Eric Elder from Chicago without hearing a note: his perceptive, witty emails got to the heart of things. When we met, we spent a good long time talking about music and musicians and life — a wonderful combination. So when Eric came up to play, I was excited. And he didn’t disappoint. Mind you, for a younger reedman (“Jon-Erik called him Eric Elder the Younger) sitting next to Dan Block and Pete Martinez is both Paradise and the hot seat — but Eric played nimbly and with feeling on the selections that closed out the night.
You’re going to hear a lot from him, I assure you.
Here’s one delicious highlight of the second set, containing a sweet surprise that (in my experience) happens often at the Ear Inn on Sunday nights. I was seated at the bar behind my camera, fixated on what was in my viewfinder, when I heard a trombone both smooth and gutty. I didn’t quite think of WHERE’S WALDO? or “Who is the mystery guest?” but eased myself forward, still shooting this veideo, to find our pal Jim Fryer seated, playing, adding joy to a pretty medium-tempo ROCKIN’ CHAIR (that’s Ruby Braff-tempo, by the way):
The session ended much later than usual.
I missed what would have been the convenient train.
I overslept the next morning and missed work.
I apologize to my students, but this session was sublimely worth it.
And if these video performances make you feel warm and sunny inside, you’ll know what to do!