Tag Archives: jazz blog

THE “JAZZ LIVES” CUSTOMER SERVICE WINDOW IS NOW OPEN TO DEAL WITH YOUR QUESTIONS

1.  Michael, are you in New York or in California?

That is not an easy question.  Email me at swingyoucats@gmail.com for my precise co-ordinates, updated minute by minute.  We’re working out a deal with the Doppler radar people on The Weather Channel . . . stay tuned.

2.  Why do you post so many videos?  I can’t keep up with them.  I’m overwhelmed.  It seems as though there must be two of you.

I’m sorry.  Creating stress was never my intent.  But I know all things are finite.  People, too.  Someday I won’t be able or won’t be around to do this, and some of my favorite musicians might join me . . . so I am doing what gives me pleasure now.  People who subscribe to JAZZ LIVES are under no obligation to watch or read everything . . . as long as the internet exists, I hope it will be here for you when you choose to catch up.  And there’s only one of me, which is a good thing in a one-bedroom apartment.

3.  Why don’t you post anything by my favorite band?

A blog is — for better or worse — an expression of personal taste.   I fully acknowledge that and even embrace it.  If you feel that the Caffeinated Hot Shots O’Rhythm aren’t sufficiently represented in cyberspace, I encourage you to start a blog and post some videos — the internet is wide and broad enough to encompass many people and many kinds of music.  If you’d like advice on how to create a WordPress blog, I will be happy to offer some.  

3a.  Musician X doesn’t appeal to me at all.  How can you post such stuff on your blog?  That’s not “jazz”!

See 3.  And for those viewers who find my taste annoying, I choose the restaurant analogy.  If a restaurant you have often eaten in has a dish you deplore — liver and onions, say —  on the menu as one of the daily specials, do you stalk out of the restaurant in a huff?  Perhaps you could pick something else on the menu rather than being annoyed at the chef.  And I’d rather not spend my time on the planet debating what “jazz” is . . . I’d rather do what I’m doing now.  It gives me immense pleasure.

May your happiness increase.

SLIM AND SPAM

One of the fascinating aspects of having a blog is the spam messages sent to it, or to me.  It’s hard to take them personally: they are rather like flyers for the local Chinese restaurant stuck under the door, or the thick wad of newspaper (with ads for everything I really don’t plan to purchase) that is sent to me weekly.  I am not talking here about the gibberish studded with references to “payday loans” and enhancements to body parts, but to something more subtle — at first glance — that I will call the ALL-PURPOSE HALF-TRANSLATED COMPLIMENT.  The English here is almost idiomatic, but it doesn’t arrive where it’s intended (which makes me suspect that these rote encomia are written in another language and fed into Google Translate) and the results are just slightly out of tune.  I go on deleting them, sometimes laughing as I do so, but I thought that those readers who don’t have blogs might enjoy a handful of auto-compliments floating in cyberspace. 

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BIG JAZZ: CELEBRATING ROY ELDRIDGE’S 100th at THE EAR INN (Jan. 30, 2011)

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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!

WELCOME ALEX LEVIN!

I’m always delighted to learn about someone younger who has the real jazz spirit. 

Many people can play.  But not so many can really play — and there is a difference beyond the changed font. 

To get past one’s technique to be creative (without being self-indulgent); to honor the jazz tradition without being stuck in the past; to get a lovely sound out of one’s instrument; to create solos that stand on their own as artistically complete; to tell one’s story . . . that’s more rare.

Pianist Alex Levin’s first CD shows him to be one of the rare ones.  When you visit his website — as I hope you will — you’re greeted instantly with the opening bars of a lightly graceful CHEEK TO CHEEK: http://www.alexlevinjazz.com/

You’ll admire his light touch, his lovely voicings, the way he makes the piano sing out.  And he’s got an innate rhythmic enthusiasm that makes for danceable music — without sacrificing everything for the pure push of rhythm. 

Alex says he’s been inspired by the late Herman Foster, but he doesn’t sound like one of those technically-assured people with no ideas of their own.  You know, all those Jazz-Master-Clones, well-intentioned but ultimately limited. 

The musical pleasures I am describing are to be found on his new CD, called NEW YORK PORTRAITS (its neat cover, designed by Peter Moser, is at the top).

Without making jokes, Alex is witty — catch the extended intentional detour into JEEPERS CREEPERS on CHEEK TO CHEEK, fitting perfectly.  He’s courageous, too: it takes a certain candor and openness to approach BODY AND SOUL these days, and his version stands beautifully on its own. 

Alex has surrounded himself with the best talent: bassist Michael Bates and drummer Brian Floody, and left them space to breathe, to sing their own songs.  The two originals on this CD have their own melodic gravity — and shape, and the music Alex has created will (although accessible to people who “don’t like jazz”) will reverberate pleasantly in your ears for a long time.  Check him out.

As Billie Holiday said of Jimmy Rowles — she was telling Lester Young about this new White musician, unknown to Lester (who was suspicious), “I don’t know . . . boy can blow!”  As can Alex.  

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HOT LINKS, TENDER BUTTONS, AND YOU

Is this post about sausage?  No, but I might have gotten your attention.

Will JAZZ LIVES now focus on Gertrude Stein’s book TENDER BUTTONS? 

Also unlikely. 

Many readers have told me that their efforts to reward the musicians they love got nowhere.  “The button doesn’t work.”  “The link doesn’t show up in my email.”  And, most painfully, “You’re discriminating against Mac users.”

I apologize for my temporary technical difficulties and technological limitations. 

But the hot link below, the tender button, is now workingProceed boldly.

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REMEMBER! BILL GALLAGHER RECALLS DOTTIE BIGARD

Dottie in her apartment: the crooked picture over her shoulder is one of Charles
My friend, jazz scholar Bill Gallagher, writes,
Dorothe “Dottie” Bigard was the wife and widow of Barney Bigard and a virtual encyclopedia of jazz personalities. I first came to know Dottie around 1990. Barney had passed away in 1980 and, at the time, she was a companion of Sir Charles Thompson.

Charles and I had been in close contact, as he and I were working on his discography (http://www.jazzdiscography.com/Artists/Thompson/index.html). Often, Dottie and I would chat a bit before Charles picked up the phone, and that is how our friendship began. Not long after, their relationship broke up (Charles had moved to Japan and married over there) but Dottie and I had, by that time, become good friends. We talked on the phone at least once a week and I would visit with her when I was in Southern California while on business trips. On those occasions she preferred to stay in, so we’d order in Chinese and sit around and talk for the evening.

With a large potrait of Barney over her head, to the right

Dottie’s relationship with Barney began shortly after the outbreak of World War II and so she first became part of the Ellington family and, later, with the Armstrong family when Barney joined Louis in 1947. I remember watching the Ken Burns JAZZ series and seeing a clip of Louis and Lucille entertaining in their home in Queens and there was Barney and Dottie sitting in the living room having a great time. She tossed off those experiences like they were just every day occurrences, like brushing your teeth, but to me it was hallowed ground. To my everlasting regret, I didn’t evoke more jazz anecdotes from her because she could have filled a book. More often, our conversations would just as likely be about news, weather and politics as it would  be about jazz.

Dottie and Barney in Nice, France, 1977

She knew everyone associated with jazz, it seemed. There wasn’t a single name that I could throw her way that she didn’t have some experience to share. Once, I mentioned that I had just picked up a CD featuring Albert Nicholas and she went on to say that he and Barney used to room together when they lived in Chicago and Barney was playing with Joe Oliver. However the friendship and the living arrangement broke up when they both started dating the same girl. “Is there anyone you don’t know?” I’d ask her, and she would just laugh.

Dottie’s manner was casual and friendly and there was a certain rough charm about her that, perhaps, came from her Wyoming origins. Whatever her exterior, she had a heart of gold and a love of all things jazz. I recall her telling me that when she first met Barney, she really didn’t connect him with Ellington – she was a Goodman fan. But all that changed and later when she would attend gatherings of the Ellington Society, she was treated like royalty.

A social call from Kenny Davern

In August 2000, my wife and I were driving home from a few days in Carmel and she was checking our phone messages. There was a call from Floyd Levin telling me that Dottie had suffered a fatal heart attack. She was 82, but in my mind we were contemporaries, and I knew that I would probably never get to know anyone like her again. They say that after God made certain people, He threw the mold away. It couldn’t have been more true in the case of Dottie Bigard.

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JUST ROLL AROUND HEAVEN ALL DAY

 

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When I get up, it’s still quite dark — and cold in New York — and even though the groundhog is (in his own way) predicting an early spring, it remains to be seen.  This morning, prompted by whatever feeling of “But I don’t want to go to work!” I found myself humming

Up in the morning,

Out on the job,

Work like a devil for my pay . . .

lyrics from a rather simple hymnlike pop song written before I was born, one of those songs that purports to come from the mouth of a laboring man who wishes he could be in Heaven rather than slaving away on Earth.

I know it’s hilariously self-indulgent of me, because it’s a very good thing to be employed and complaining about it is bad manners . . . but . . . still.

YouTube, blessed YouTube, helped me out — you, too, can sing along. 

Some of my readers will groan at the choir and the swooping strings, but since the Decca sessions of Louis and Gordon Jenkins were the first jazz I heard that hit me, hard, I love this music.  And the sweetness of the arrangements brings out Louis’s most tender side — a man who knew what it was to work hard, that he might have remained a laboring man himself forever if not for luck and fate and that pistol . . . perhaps also remembering Joe Oliver and his vegetable stand. 

I don’t want to be like that lucky old sun just yet!  May Louis shine his beloved rays down on you all through your existence, waking and sleeping. 

SO RARE: SAYING GOODBYE TO “CADENCE”

I think sometimes that becoming a complete human being requires immense daily practice in the art of saying goodbye. 

Our emails (and perhaps the morning paper) tell us all about the deaths of people we love and know, or perhaps have never met.  Jazz blogs like this one have to resist very strongly the urge to turn into the Daily Necrology. 

And we say goodbye to things and situations that are meaningful to us — and I don’t just mean the lost iPod or the very sweet person who used to work at the grocery store who has moved away. 

For the jazz devotee, loss is tangible all around us.  We awaken into this music with the sharp mournful awareness of the people we will never get to encounter in person.  My readers can compile their own list of names. 

Places, too.  Think of all the concerts we never got to, the clubs closed, the record stores now turned into banks and forgettable restaurants.  Nick’s, the Commodore Music Shop, Swing Street, 47 West Third . . . and so on.

The past few years have been especially hard on print journalism, not simply for jazz periodicals, although in my own experience CODA and THE MISSISSIPPI RAG have both ended fruitful existences; JAZZ JOURNAL died and was reborn. 

About a week ago I got an email from CADENCE, which opened (after a polite salutation): By now you have heard that Cadence will stop publishing at the end of this year unless other arrangements come forth. (Any of you want to be a publisher?)

I sidestepped the parenthetical question, but I read the announcement with sorrow and inevitability.  In this century, any periodical that publishes with a minimum of advertising and a commitment to candor is remarkable.  To do it for what will be thirty-six years at the end of 2011 (if my math is correct) is remarkable . . . and when you consider that the subject of CADENCE is and has been Creative Improvised Music, its continued stamina is an accomplishment to be celebrated at the same time we mourn the announced end of their epoch. 

I can’t speak for the world of, say, opera journalism or that of hip-hop.  But about jazz publishing I do know something. 

And because it is a particularly cloistered world, with a smaller (sometimes more intense) audience than many other arts, it has certain inescapable qualities, one of them often a certain slyness. 

In this world, candor is particularly rare: when the business end of a magazine must keep its advertising income up, the possibility of true assessments narrows. 

I have been told, explicitly, by two editors that writing negative reviews did jazz harm; their journals were there to encourage the music.  So if I wrote that the Great Neck Jalapeno Boys were out of tune, my words did jazz an injustice. 

I was younger and more eager for an outlet, so I subsumed my criticisms in my reviews . . . and, to be fair, I was being asked to write about music I liked, for the most part.  But I continue to see “reviews” (in quotations) and advertisements on adjacent pages in journals other than CADENCE

Which came first, the chicken-journalism or the egg-money for the ads?

CADENCE has been different.  I confess that my first experience with the magazine goes a long way back — the Eighties — when Tower Records carried it, and I would stand in their magazine racks and skim it, looking for the names of people I recognized.  My horizons were much narrower, and often I went away from my quick and selfishly unpaid-for reading thinking that it was full of discs by people I didn’t know and whose music I wouldn’t like if I did know.

That changed after I got a chance to write about some CDs that were more to my taste and after I spoke on the telephone to its editor, Bob Rusch (or RDR).  He was imposing on the phone, but we got along fine — he only needled me that I was slow in sending reviews. 

And as our friendship deepened, I had — and have — the deepest respect for him as a person of feeling and perception, someone willing to commit himself to an ideal.  The ideal had a hard time making money, and it would have been so much easier to be polite, take the ad money, make the deals.  But Bob and the Crew are stubborn: their stubbornness coming from ethics and a love for the music. 

When, at the end of 2011, CADENCE might call it quits, I will have writen for it for about six years.  They have been a rewarding experience.  I haven’t liked all of what I’ve been asked to review, but I have been exposed to music and musicians — deeply gratifying — I never would have encountered otherwise.  And Bob’s guidance has made me a better writer, a deeper thinker, a better listener.  Hilariously, he’s only chided me when he thought I was being slippery-tactful, and he’s never asked me to change a word, even if I disliked music he thought was fine. 

I gather that even after CADENCE ceases to publish as a print journal, its other enterprises — creating CDs by worthy artists who aren’t well-represented in the mainstream, and promoting top-flight audio products by way of North County Audio — will continue.  And there may be more, although I don’t know the details.

I will be very sad when it all comes to a close — no more cardboard boxes of surprises! — but I salute Bob and the Crew for their wonderful example of loving fortitude.  And if a publisher were willing to take over the magazine, I could certainly continue to do my bit . . . there is a small mound of CDs on the coffee table near me that I have to write about, now!

Hail, hail!

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PHILIP LARKIN’S “LETTERS TO MONICA”

I admired Philip Larkin first as a poet, then as an obstinately reactionary jazz critic, then as a writer of letters. 

The first two roles have been examined many times, but I want to say something about his correspondence: thoughts provoked by a new collection of letters to Monica Jones, the woman he had a relationship with for over thirty years.  The phrase “had a relationship” is murky, but their encounters on the page and off defy easy classification.

Larkin could be exceedingly gracious in his correspondence if he chose to: the scholar William McBrien (an authority on both Stevie Smith and Cole Porter) told me that the poet was extremely courteous and modest in their exchanges. 

But more often Larkin is writing to people he has known for decades, and the letters are difficult to read (even when hilarious) because he comes through so completely as someone who knows how flawed he is while hugging his flaws to himself proudly.  He can’t help himself, but who can?  Selfish and complaining, irritable and ungenerous, he also can turn the harsh light on himself and writes of his horror at what he perceives.  At such times I forgave him his meanness of spirit.  But as soon as that moment passed, the next letter returned him to his familiar self, disappointed in almost everything around him.

So his letters are often appalling, often irresistible character studies.  It would have taken a great novelist to delineate him without caricature.   

Larkin experienced hot jazz as a religious revelation and never faltered in his devotion to the Truth as he saw it.  For him, the acme of Western civilization was the recording sessions of the Rhythmakers in 1933 — featuring Henry “Red” Allen and Pee Wee Russell. 

The pianist Larry Eanet once wrote that the first jazz records he heard, the Louis Armstrong – Earl Hines sessions of 1928, hit him “like Cupid’s arrow,” and this was Larkin’s experience also. 

The Rhythmakers records were the standard by which everything, live or on record, had to be judged . . . and as a result, almost everything Larkin ever heard after his first ecstasy, with the exception of Sidney Bechet, seemed flawed. 

Larkin’s letters to Monica are sometimes claustrophobic studies in bewilderment and barely-suppressed rage.  We observe Larkin being selfish on one page, sometimes apologizing for it two pages later.  That he and Monica kept up a running lovers’ narrative of themselves as two rabbits is surprisingly charming but, even with that as counterpoint I could read only a dozen pages at a time before I needed to put the book down, if not away.

I also understand more than ever the wisdom of some public figures who refuse to have their private papers made accessible to “scholars” after their deaths.  I think Larkin would have been enraged to know that readers were poking into his letters: in fact, he supervised the destruction of his diaries.

But this post is about Larkin’s devotion to jazz — and his letters are often lifted up from his annoyance, his sulks, his self-absorption, by his love for this transfiguring music. 

I offer a few passages here, the first two suggesting what it was to be a British record collector of American jazz.  (In these days of apparent plenty, with so much music made available, some forget what it was like to have so little at our fingertips.)

I am leaving out the passage where Larkin is furious because an acquaintance who has been to the States has brought him Volume Two of a Bechet Blue Note collection rather than Volume One — you’ll have to buy the book to read his small yet explosive reaction.

23 November 1950 (Belfast, p. 23)  . . . . I looked round the shops, buying a copy of Wild Bill Davison’s Tishomingo Blues that so insinuatingly wound itself into all last summer; but a sense of having been rebuffed remains with me, perhaps because the cow in the record shop wouldn’t let me — or didn’t want to let me — look through a pile of Jazz Collector & Tempo records she had just unpacked — cow of Hell!  I have never seen any before, & Belfast is the last place I expected to find them: I’m sure they will never sell them.  They are the Real McKoy, fantastic private dubbings of entirely irrevocable records: the Malone Reprint Society in terms of jazz . . . .

1 November 1951 (Belfast, 66-67) . . . . played my new records — six unsuspected sides by Muggsy Spanier, Pee Wee Russell et al. discovered by me in Tempo lists, 6/6 each.  I ordered them blind, & played them trembling, fearing lest they should be a fearful let down, but they weren’t: not a dud among them: six sides of aggressive attacking jazz, touching greatness here & there, but what John Hewitt would call ‘good bread’.  They date from Feb & March 1945: already ‘history’, really — wartime.  My great prayer is now to have scooped Kingsley [Amis] over them, wch I’m almost sure to have done.

Our heroes, seen through Larkin’s acerbic, disappointed eyes:

25 January 1957 (Hull, p. 213)  The Condon evening was too strange to describe fully — there were two ‘houses’, each an hour [Humphrey Lyttelton] an hour Condon — or supposedly.  The first was almost empty: the second almost full.  Condon was a little neurotic-lipped man, like a jockey retired by age & drink, with a drunkard’s careful movements.  W. Bill was a fat fiftyish Jack-Oakie College-Humor man, who chewed gum & clowned about.  I couldn’t adjust myself to the thought that these were friends of Bix, and that WB had been driving the car in 1932 when Teschmacher was killed.  They played fairly routine stuff, not as good as their records, though WB did some of his notorious tricks of tone.  I was in the front row: Condon sat playing his guitar about 6′ from my head.  The Lyttelton group was as usual, Johnny Picard blowing away manfully & very well.  But it was all very odd.  A lone shop girl sat beside me, who’d never heard a jazz concert before, & never heard of Condon.  I admired her resolution . . . .   

And two elegies in his own fashion:

7 May 1959 (Hull, p. 249)  I was saddened to hear of the death of Bechet tonight: of course, he hadn’t produced much lately — living among the French had brought out his Creole side musically — but he was a wonderful player in his day, as exemplified by the 2 choruses of Nobody Knows the Way I Feel This Mornin’ they played on Radio Newsreel tonight.  At least one could understand his music: not like this modern stuff . . . cacophony (mumble mumble), deliberate atonalism (mumble mumble) etc etc.  Of course one wanted to take him back to New York and put him behind a good blues singer & in front of a good guitarist for a session or two, but I suppose we shall have to be content with what there is.  I’ve always wanted to hear a 12″ Summertime (c. 1940) on which the musicians ‘burst into spontaneous applause’ at the end of the record . . . .

19 February 1969 (Hull, p. 397)  My record player has broken & been taken away, & life is very narrow.  Did you see that Pee Wee Russell is dead?

Larkin understood so well that life without jazz was indeed very narrow. 

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IN SUNNY ROSELAND WITH THE EarRegulars (Jan. 23, 2011)

ROSE ROOM, by Art Hickman and Harry Williams, has a special place in the hearts of jazz fans.  It’s a lovely pastoral song from either 1917 or 1918, but several things raise it above the level of the ordinary pre-Twenties pop hit. 

One is that it is famous as the song Benny Goodman called when that interloper Charlie Christian was sneaked up on the bandstand by the meddlesome but inspired John Hammond.  Legend has it that Goodman thought — not a nice thought — that Charlie wouldn’t know the song or would find the chord changes difficult and either be embarrassed or sneak off the stand in disgrace.  Of course, Charlie had no trouble and he played rings around everyone on the stand.  The rest is too-brief history.

Two is that it is the harmonic basis for Ellington’s IN A MELLOTONE.

Three is that it is one of those songs that reveals itself in different, beautiful ways whenever the tempo is changed.  I’ve heard it played as a romp, a saunter (the 1943 Commodore version with Max Kaminsky, Benny Morton, Pee Wee Russell, Joe Bushkin, Eddie Condon, Bob Casey, and Sidney Catlett), and as a yearning love ballad (J. Walter Hawkes, in this century, in live performance).

And four is that there is a Louis Armstrong and his All-Stars concert recorded in Vancouver in 1951.  For whatever reason, Louis was (atypically) not onstage when the concert was supposed to begin, so Barney Bigard, Jack Teagarden, Earl Hines, Arvell Shaw, and Cozy Cole just jammed ROSE ROOM for a start — an easy hot performance.  Were I Ricky Riccardi of THE WONDERFUL WORLD OF LOUIS ARMSTRONG, http://dippermouth.blogspot.com/, I could share it with you right now, but alas . . . you’ll have to imagine it.

But all that is prose.  How about some music?

Last Sunday, the mighty EarRegulars, the reigning kings of small-band swing who appear at The Ear Inn (326 Spring Street, 8-11 PM on Sundays — except this next week, Feb. 6, because of some large-scale sporting event whose name eludes me) took on ROSE ROOM late in the first set.

The EarRegulars were charter members, co-founders Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet (in a rousing Eldridge mood); Matt Munisteri, guitar; Neal Miner, bass; and the newcomer to The Ear Inn — but not to New York jazz! — tenor saxophonist Tad Shull, who has a laid-back, coasting behind the beat, relaxed Websterian approach that’s very refreshing.  Here’s what they played (with hints of Webster’s DID YOU CALL HER TODAY in the encouraging conversation between Jon-Erik and Tad at the end):

The Ear Inn is dark, but it was sunny Roseland for ten minutes!

REMEMBER: ALL MONEY GOES TO THE MUSICIANS!  SO PLEASE CLICK ON THE LINK BELOW!

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A VISIT TO THE IDEAL WORLD (Jan. 27, 2011)

Who knew that one version of Paradise could be found in Williamsburg, Brooklyn? 

It’s true!

It’s the Radegast Hall and Biergarten, at 113 Third Street — at the corner of Berry Street — take the L to Bedford Street. 

In December 2010, I’d gone into new territory to hear the Grand Street Stompers, a delightfully compact jazz ensemble led by Gordon Au, and I had a fine time.  The people I’d met had been lovely, the music surprising and reassuring in equal measure, the beer — a lemon-colored, fizzy Gaffel Kolsch — delicious.   

http://www.radegasthall.com/

But it was even better last Thursday, Jan. 27, 2011. 

I had learned that the GSS would be playing that night.  But the days before had been particularly snowy.  It wasn’t the Blizzard of 2011 by any means, but it was messy and slushy.  Stubbornly, I had decided that I had to be there.  

Snow boots, knapsack with video equipment, gloves, cash, a street map . . . I patted my pockets to assure myself I had everything a bold jazz explorer needs! 

I arrived at Radegast more than an hour early, and went into the long rectangular room next to the bar to eat something.  After being gently directed by a pleasant waitress to the grill in the back of the room, I stood in rapt contemplation (like Joe Rushton) of the sausages and burgers-in-training sizzling on the grill. 

“Sizzling” is a dreadful cliche of menu-speak, I know, but in this case it was true.  I had a gracious mind-expanding discussion with the grill-Sage about choices, and I ended up with an awe-inspiring meal for less than ten dollars: smoked kielbasa, a mound of warm sauerkraut, some grill-toasted peasant bread, large self-serve helpings of Radegast’s own mustard. 

I was already in culinary Paradise with this wonderful unassuming hearty unfussy food.  I ate it slowly and savored every last molecule.  The temptation to return to the grill and say, “Do that again . . . with this sausage,” was strong but but I resisted.

Now, I hear some of you saying, “Michael, this narrative of your dinner has some appeal, but when did JAZZ LIVES become DINNERTIME?”

Have patience.

I found out later from the friendly manager, Chris, that the owner tailors the music on the sound system to the band playing there that night.  So while I contemplated my meal with true reverence, I was even more uplifted by the music. 

For me, to walk into a place and hear music I love on the sound system is a great, rare gift.  For it to be Sidney Bechet and Jonah Jones (Blue Note, circa 1954) was wonderful.  For it to be Bobby Hackett and the Andrews Sisters performing BEI MIR BIS DU SCHOEN (1937), even  better.  For the iPod shuffle to come up with I HOPE GABRIEL LIKES MY MUSIC by Mr. Strong . . . !  Bliss.

Then, I went to the bar and ordered my Gaffel Kolsch (I am a one-drink person while videorecording) and it was just as good as I’d remembered. 

Then the musicians — people I admire and like — began to come in.  I had lovely conversations with Gordon (trumpet, arranger, composer); Tamar Korn (vocals and astral travel); Dennis Lichtman (clarinet and wit); Emily Asher (trombonist in charge of blossoming); Nick Russo (banjo, guitar, and true hipness); Rob Adkins (bass, and serious joy).  And — for the cinematically-minded — when I had first been at Radegast the room had been so atmospherically dark that I could just about discern the faces of the musicians.  Better light this time, much appreciated!

The Grand Street Stompers settled themselves on their wooden chairs and Gordon kicked off the first number (he doesn’t announce them although he is happy to talk about what the band played after the set, if you ask).  I didn’t recognize it from the verse.  Then the band swung into the chorus and I nearly fell off the barstool in delight: I’ve only heard two bands perform SHE’S A GREAT GRET GIRL: Vince Giordano and the Nighthawks in 2010 and the original, Roger Wolfe Kahn in 1927 — a record featuring Joe Venuti and Eddie Lang and a very hungover but startlingly original young man from Vernon, Texas, Jack Teagarden.  It’s a great great song for easy jamming:

I have watched that clip a dozen times and it improves under scrutiny: the GSS rocks, and you might enjoy watching the body language of a group of very happy improvisers — they rock and grin, too!

What could follow that?  (I thought, “Well, if nothing else happens tonight — which I seriously doubt — I’ve had my Jazz Moment for the month!”)  But equally fine music was in store . . . a dirty, gutty, downhome version of AUNT HAGAR’S BLUES that made me think of Louis in the Columbia studios, proceeding seriously through W.C. Handy’s sermon on the healing powers of hot music, that low-down stuff, rendered as sensitive dance music to hold your Beloved close.  I wouldn’t change a sixteenth-note, from the thoughtful deep conversation among the horns to Rob’s bowing to the lovely head-arrangement passages.  Their mixture of care and ardor is something to admire:

Many musicians who are brilliant irreplaceable improvisers aren’t equally compelling composers — which is understandable, for they create their compositions every night on the second chorus of BLUE LOU.  Gordon Au is an exception: his compositions sound like songs rather than improvisations on someone else’s ideas.  And, as Dennis Lichtman pointed out, Gordon’s songs sound like his improvised playing — the same nice balance between rise-and-fall lines full of repeated notes and a cheerful reverence for the melody itself.  Here’s his ESCALLONIA RAG, which reminds me once again of an imagined piece for the Sixties Louis Armstrong All-Stars:

Gordon’s university training is in science, so I shouldn’t have been surprised that he named this original after a lovely Hawaiian flower: http://www.hear.org/starr/images/species/?q=escallonia+rubra+var+macrantha&o=plants

Then it was time for Tamar to sing, always an Event in my book.  It takes courage to open your performance (in a room full of chat) with a ballad, and then to begin that ballad with two rubato choruses.  But this is what the intrepid, searching Miss Korn did with MEMORIES OF YOU.  Her voice, as always, makes me think of great acting that isn’t acting, “country music” that isn’t the Grand Old Opry . . . you get the idea.  And the musicians follow, adding their own commentaries on this song, both sad and hopeful, coming together for hymnlike cadences while Rob is, cello-like, bowing away to great effect in the darkness, before Tamar returns to sing, so deeply, and with such feeling for the lyrics: 

MEMORIES OF YOU was (and is) so intense that I didn’t know what could follow it — certainly not something in the same wistful mood.  I don’t know who suggested SWEET SUE, but it was a fine choice — the delights of love realized rather than a song of yearning and remembering.  Not too fast, and pretty.  And the band!  Emily Asher is blossoming as a player: while we are sleeping, she’s spreading her wings!  And in case you wonder where the drum-cymbal-tambourine propulsion comes from, it is just another of the many faces of Tamar.  I love the dialogue between the two “trumpets,” as well.  This band doesn’t only share our dreams; it creates them:

Since I’ve heard so many formulaic performances of WON’T YOU COME HOME, BILL BAILEY? I tend to approach the song cautiously.  Of course Louis and Danny Kaye did it hilariously in the film THE FIVE PENNIES and, more recently, the most eminent Joe Wilder played it at a concert — having announced it, deadpan, as THE RETURN OF WILLIAM BAILEY.  This version is a delight — from the opening and closing vocal interludes (Tamar’s soprano scatting is what the angels would sound like, if 1. I believed in them, and 2. they swung) and the rocking momentum.  If Bill stayed away after hearing this imploring in jazz-time, there would be no hope for him:

As before, I said to myself, “What could follow that?” and Gordon, who is a wise leader, changed the mood with his own PAVONIS (named for the species or genus of the peacock) which reminds me of Carmichael and Strayhorn at the same time — moody, shifting, surprising, and lovely:

And the set ended with a little rough-and-ready jam session on the wonderful LOVE NEST (which will remind some of you of Burns and Allen, some of a 1944 Commodore record session that brought together Max Kaminsky, Rod Cless, and James P. Johnson).  Here the Grand Street Stompers were joined by the very engaging Lucy Weinman (of the Big Tent Jazz Band) who knows what it is to swing out.  Cool stockings and great ensemble lines, no?

A wonderful experience, as you can tell.  And it happens at least once a month!  (There’s a natural segue to be made from this post to the PayPal button below, but I’ll let my readers get there on their own.)

REMEMBER!  ALL MONEY GOES TO THE MUSICIANS!  SO PLEASE CLICK ON THE LINK BELOW AND BE GENEROUS!

https://www.paypal.com/cgi-bin/webscr?cmd=_s-xclick&hosted_button_id=VBURVAWDMWQAS

WHAT RAPT CONTEMPLATION LOOKS LIKE

Josh Rushton, the very generous son of bass saxophonist (and clarinetist) Joe Rushton, sent along this photograph of his father — one of our collective heroes:

Josh says:

Hope your new year is starting out OK.  Just came across another shot of dad in rapt concentration, probably to a playback of just recorded track.  Not sure when this taken, could be early 1960’s or thereabouts in LA.  After seeing the PanAm bag in the distance, I might assume this took place after the 1960 good will tour for the US government?  Most of our family’s great B&W shots (including this one no doubt) were courtesy of Bill Wood, Red Nichols’ clarinet player back then, a good friend and frequent visitor to the Rushton household, and an avid near-pro photographer who never went anywhere without his Leica camera.

Making beauty is serious business!

Heartfelt thanks to both Rushtons and Bill Wood for their generous spirits.

REMEMBER!  ALL MONEY COLLECTED GOES TO THE MUSICIANS!  PLEASE CLICK ON THE LINK BELOW!

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OPEN YOUR HEART

In THERE’LL BE SOME CHANGES MADE
https://jazzlives.wordpress.com/2011/01/25/therell-be-some-changes-made/
I wrote from my heart.

I hope that people who love this music, who watch the videos I post, will give something back to the men and women who so inspire us. 

Someone dubbed my idea “the JAZZ LIVES cyber-tip-jar.”

It is an experiment in making it easy to send love and appreciation. 

I have created a PayPal account to collect whatever people can give.  Whatever I collect will go to the musicians.  I know my readers will make PayPal swing!

Don’t worry: JAZZ LIVES will never become public radio or public television.  No pledge drives, marathons, tote bags, exhortations. 

But I hope that the PayPal DONATE button inspires everyone to send something tangible to the musicians who so inspire us.

PLEASE CLICK ON THE LINK BELOW: ALL MONEY COLLECTED GOES TO THE MUSICIANS!

https://www.paypal.com/cgi-bin/webscr?cmd=_s-xclick&hosted_button_id=VBURVAWDMWQAS

And what would a JAZZ LIVES announcement be without the appropriate music?   

On January 20, 2011, the Beloved and I went to Smalls (138 West 10th Street) and delighted in the duets of Jon-Erik Kellso and Ehud Asherie.  One of the lovely songs they played — and I didn’t recognized it until Ehud announced it — was James P. Johnson’s OPEN YOUR HEART. 

Open yours.  Let it grow!

P.S.  It’s the morning of January 28th: the PayPal account is working splendidly; people have sent money; it will go to the musicians.  “Yeah, man!”

THERE’LL BE SOME CHANGES MADE!

“You gotta pay the band,” according to Abbey Lincoln.  

This isn’t a post about putting more than a dollar bill in the tip jar: that’s for another time.  

This post is about responding with open hearts to the marvels the musicians create for us.   

Because of JAZZ LIVES, I have been having the time of my life recording live jazz performances and sharing them in cyberspace for free.  I am so happy that people who can’t get to a New York club or Chautauqua or Whitley Bay can now enjoy what the musicians do so brilliantly.  And my readers tell me regularly how these videos enrich their lives.    

Without intending to take advantage of a soul, I have made it possible for people to see hours and hours of live music for free.  But the last two words of that sentence have come to seem an unfairness.   

Have no fear: I do not plan to stop videorecording jazz performances.  To do so would break my heart.

People have told me, “You are acting as an unpaid publicist.  These musicians are getting great publicity and exposure!”  Maybe that is true, but I think that even politely asking musicians to work for nothing isn’t right. 

When some New York City listeners tell me, “I don’t have to go to ____ club because I can watch the performances on your blog,” that’s not right, either.   

So, THERE’LL BE SOME CHANGES MADE.  You know the song.

want to make JAZZ LIVES a medium for generosity and appreciation so that people all over the world can send the musicians tangible recompense for their creativity.  

A few musicians I’ve spoken with have dissuaded me from the iTunes model (putting a set price one must pay to view each video). 

I like the idea of a PayPal DONATE button.  People could donate what they choose as the spirit moves them.  I know that my readers would be generous!   

Let us give back to those who give us so much joy.  It’s only fair!

UPDATE: HERE’S THE LINK!  CLICK ON IT, WON’T YOU?

https://www.paypal.com/cgi-bin/webscr?cmd=_s-xclick&hosted_button_id=VBURVAWDMWQAS

SPREADING JOY at THE EAR INN (Jan. 16, 2011)

It’s wonderful to spread joy.  To me, the concept doesn’t mean acting silly or buying someone a greeting card to send good cheer: it means something larger, creating beauty and sharing it so that other people become deeper and more enlightened.

Readers of JAZZ LIVES won’t be surprised when I say that the EarRegulars and friends spread joy splendidly on the evening of Sunday, Jan. 16, 2011 (from 8-11 PM).  As always, they did it at The Ear Inn, 326 Spring Street, Soho, New York City. 

The regular EarRegulars (what pleasure it is to write that!) were Jon-Erik Kellso, trying out a Thirties Conn trumpet; Matt Munisteri, guitar and vocalizations, both singular.  Then we had Mark Lopeman on tenor sax and clarinet and Neal Miner on string bass — both quietly eloquent, nimble individualists.  Later, the heroic Pete Martinez brought his clarinet!  (In a prior post, I’ve offered the three vocal performances at the end of the evening — by Tamar Korn and Jerron Paxton, with the addition of yet another clarinetist, Bob Curtis.)

But here is some genuine Hot Jazz to warm you up, spiritually and any other way.

WAY DOWN YONDER IN NEW ORLEANS is one of those songs that works wonderfully at a number of tempos, from the yearning Bix-and-Tram version (and even slower when performed by Peter Ecklund) to the jogging Kansas City Six (1938) version with Buck Clayton, Lester Young, Eddie Durham or Charlie Christian, Freddie Green, Walter Page, and Jo Jones.  I didn’t bring my metronome, so I can’t tell where the EarRegulars romp fits in, but it nearly lifted me out of my seat.  Hear the four players cascade, each one in his own way:

I associate BALLIN’ THE JACK with the Blue Note Jazzmen — also, oddly, with a vocal version done in the late Forties by Danny Kaye, someone who could swing in his own fashion when he decided to put the clowning aside.  The song — an ancient let’s-learn-to-do-this-dance by Chris Smith — has one of the most seductive verses I know of, and it was a thrill to hear the EarRegulars wend their way through it.  Hear how Jon-Erik balls the jack into his first solo chorus:

Mark, Matt, and Neal took time to consider OLD FOLKS, that loving Willard Robison meditation on a much-loved elder member of the family:

Because Mark Lopeman’s band director was in the house and TIGER RAG was the school fight song (what a hip place indeed!) Jon-Erik suggested it.  This version is compact (four players rather than thirteen) but it growls and frolics just as energetically.  Listen to Lopeman (when is someone going to offer him a chance to do a CD under his own name, please?): he rocks!

James P. Johnson’s OLD-FASHIONED LOVE is, to me a combination of a secular hymn to sweet fidelity given a down-home flavor.  I first heard it on the Vic Dickenson Showcase, so many years ago, and it’s never left me.  And I like the old-fashioned kind, I do, I do — as do the monogamous fellows of the ensemble.  You can hear it in their playing!  (It occurs to me that Matt’s tangy twang evokes not only the Mississippi Delta but also George Barnes, whose single-note lines consisted of notes that snapped and crackled.  And those wonderful exchanges between Jon-Erik and Neal — a bassist whose solos have strength and resonance.)

The irreplaceable Chris Flory (just returning to action after an accident — we’re so glad he’s back, intact!) took Matt’s place for HAPPY FEET, a song that has the distinction of being connected with Bing Crosby, Paul Whiteman, THE KING OF JAZZ, Fletcher and Horace Henderson, Red Allen, Dicky Wells, Fred Astaire — quite a pedigree (as opposed to “pedicure,” although witty Jon-Erik ends his solo with a kick at TICKLE-TOE!):

And I end this posting with the universal expression of desire (the second movement of the EarRegulars Happiness Suite), I WANT TO BE HAPPY, its delight intensified by a visit from Pete Martinez, who is beyond compare.  And the “Flory touch” at the start is completely remarkable; the riffs behind Pete are pure Louis, always a good thing:

I call that joy, don’t you?

SOMETHING FOR JIM ROTHERMEL

Jazz musicians give us so very much.  And sometimes all they get back is our applause, thirty dollars at the end of the night, a burger, a beer.  It seems to me that there ought to be a way to do better, especially in the case of reedman Jim Rothermel. 

I missed the benefit held on January 17 for Jim — someone I’ve admired in a variety of jazz contexts although I’ve never had the opportunity to hear him in person.  But here’s what Scott Anthony of the Golden Gate Rhythm Machine wrote:

As you may know, Jim Rothermel, the Golden Gate Rhythm Machine’s fabulous reed-man since 1984, has undergone almost 6 months of chemotherapy to combat acute leukemia.  He has been accepted at Stanford Medical Center for a bone-marrow transplant as soon as an acceptable donor is found, probably early in 2011.  Recovery from this procedure will take a number of months, possibly up to a year, during which time he will be unable to work or have any income at all.  We are hoping this benefit will raise money for his support during his recovery period.

Click here https://www.paypal.com/cgi-bin/webscr?cmd=_s-xclick&hosted_button_id=BJVUPK7HXLFGL to donate money for Jim: any amount will help!  And if you distrust online transactions, the old-fashioned method will do nicely, Checks made out directly to Jim can be sent to him at Jim Rothermel, 14 Seibel Street, San Rafael, CA 94901. 

Think of the music — and of the people who so heroically create it for us! 

THE INSPIRING CHRIS HODGKINS

Meet the versatile and creative Cardiff, Wales-born trumpeter Chris Hodgkins.  

His music answers questions: how to make art new without abandoning the tradition; how to have one’s own voice while honoring your ancestors and colleagues. 

I first heard about Chris through the magic of Google Alerts — because someone had compared him to Ruby Braff, which is my idea of an accolade.  Then I found out that he and his musical friends had created three compact discs, PRESENT CONTINUNOUS, FUTURE CONTINUOUS, and BOSWELL’S LONDON JOURNAL:

Just so know what the musicians look like should you encounter them on the street: to the left is bassist Alison Rayner; to the right of Chris is guitarist Max Brittain.  Click here to hear Alison Rayner’s QUEER BIRD, from PRESENT CONTINUOUS:

http://www.chrishodgkins.co.uk/album1.asp

And here’s Alison’s SWEET WILLIAM, from FUTURE CONTINUOUS:

http://www.chrishodgkins.co.uk/album2.asp

Click here to hear THE MACHINE, from BOSWELL’S LONDON JOURNAL (where alto saxophonist Diane McLoughlin joins Chris, Alison, and Max):

http://www.chrishodgkins.co.uk/album3.asp

You’ll hear that his music is, on one hand, rooted in a Mainstream tradition: I hear Braff, Lyttelton, Buck Clayton, echoes of Horace Silver and Blue Note recordings of the Sixties, of Henry Mancini and occasionally Strayhorn . . . in a streamlined instrumentation (a trio of trumpet, guitar, and bass on two CDs, enlarged into a quartet on the third by the addition of tenor sax).  Chris himself is a singular player; his tone ranging from the silken to the edgy, his lines winding and floating over the ringing lines of Brittain’s guitar, the deep pulse of Rayner’s string bass, and on BOSWELL’S LONDON JOURNAL they all get along nicely with the lemony alto saxophone of McLoughlin.  By the way, Chris loves the assortment of sounds and timbres that mutes give to his horn (as well as playing open) so the three discs never sounded like more of the same.   

I get a bit nervous when confronted with CDs that are all “original” compositions — whisper this: many musicians, stalwart and true, do their best composing on the bandstand, not on manuscript paper (but don’t say it too loudly) so that I was delighted to see some Kern and McHugh, Lyttelton, an Ellington blues, YOU’RE A LUCKY GUY and IF WE NEVER MEET AGAIN.  Moving a little beyond the “songbook” tradition, I noted that Chris delights in a wide variety of composers and songs: Neil Sedaka’s BREAKING UP IS HARD TO DO, lines by Conte Candoli, Sahib Shihab, Thad Jones, Harry Edison.  And then there are the originals — varied and lively, in many different moods and tempos.  (How could you do anything but admire a man who titles a song SWINGING AT THE COPPER BEECH?  And if you don’t get the in-joke, I’ll explain.)

BOSWELL’S LONDON JOURNAL is a real pleasure — and I am not speaking as a still-active professor of English, but as a jazz listener.  I admire Chris’s awareness of his emotional and spiritual roots in the literary / cultural past, and his joyful audacity.  The first track on the CD, THE MACHINE, describes a stagecoach ride taken by Boswell.  Chris’s original lines fall somewhere in between the twelve-bar blues and OLE MISS, and the sound of the band perplexed me — light, airy, yet serious — until I recalled its analogue: Buck Clayton’s Big Four for HRS in 1946: trumpet, clarinet, electric guitar, and bass (Scoville Brown, Tiny Grimes, and Sid Weiss, if I recall correctly).  What follows is not exactly program music: had I lost the liner notes explaining what each composition referred to, I would have still enjoyed the music — but knowing the artistic structure underneath made this a much-more-than-usually pleasing musical travelogue, veering here and there from updated Thirties rhythm ballads to hints of Horace Silver and Hank Mobley as well as very hip film soundtracks and Sixties pop of the highest order (AUCHINLECK).  I don’t know if I would have guessed the subtext of the winding, pensive REPENT IN LEISURE (referring to Boswell’s having caught gonorrhea), but the historical / musical connection works for me.  It is great fun to listen to the music on this disc — full of feeling, subtlety, and charm — whether reading the notes at the same time or as an after-commentary.

Chris Hodgkins is a fine trumpet player, small-group leader, and composer; he has good taste in his musical friends and in the music he chooses to play.  As a professor of mine used to say over thirty years ago, “I commend him to you.”

LOVE IN MUSIC by JIMMY ROWLES

 Jimmy Rowles plays and sings SUNDAY, MONDAY OR ALWAYS (Johnny Burke – Jimmy Van Heusen, written for Bing Crosby) with the help of bassist Rusty Gilder in 1974.

Send this clip to your Beloved . . . even if (s)he is just across the room . . . .

Thanks to Michael Kanan (a wonderful Rowlesian who knows not only what it is to listen to JR but to aspire to his greatness at the keyboard) for making me think of Rowles this morning.

TED BROWN AND FRIENDS (Part One): SOFIA’S, JAN. 13, 2011

To me jazz is still such a surprising expansive field — a huge meadow, in fact — that there are wonderful players I have never heard. 

I am trying to make up for these lapses, though. 

I confess that the tenor saxophonist Ted Brown, now 82, was only a name on the back of a record cover until he came to sit in on a Joel Press – Michael Kanan quartet gig at the very end of June 2010.  I already admired Joel immensely, and I could add Ted to the list of musicians whose playing spoke to me.

Ted came back to play gigs in New York City this month — the first one on Jan. 12, 2011, at the Kitano Hotel, with Michael Kanan, Murray Wall, bass, and Taro Okamoto, drums.  I hope to have some performances to share with you from that night.

But the next night (it was still dreadfully cold and snowy) Michael surprised all of us by saying that the quartet was going to be appearing at Sofia’s.  I had other non-musical obligations for the evening, which I quickly sloughed off so that I could see this quartet again.  And I am delighted that I did so!

Where the Kitano gig was lovely and serene, Sofia’s was much more like a convocation of friends.  Not exactly a jam session, but a sweet series of “Come on, join us!” as the evening progressed. 

After a first set by the quartet, a number of jazz-pals brought their horns and sat in for a number or two, with fine results.  No one tried to outdo anyone, no solos went on for long, but it gave me the feeling that I do not always have in jazz clubs, “This is the way the musicians would be playing if they were alone!”  A rare sensation.

I wouldn’t presume to point out highlights from each performance, but I would ask listeners to pay particular attention to Ted’s dry, sometimes hesitant, questioning sound and approach.  It isn’t a matter of physical inability: his powers are intact.  Rather it is a kind of focused purity, of paring-away the inessentials in the manner of late Lester Young, not running through long-held figures and phrases but choosing the two notes, perfectly placed, that have greater impact.  Ted’s spaces and pauses are as beautiful, architecturally, as the notes he plays. 

Michael Kanan is, quite simply, a great pianist, someone who nibbles away at the edges of a song — its melody, its harmony, displacing its familiar rhythms, setting up teasing tensions between left and right-hand lines and accents.  He reminds me of Jimmy Rowles, in the surprising, sometimes intentionally asymmetrical castles he builds in the music. 

Murray Wall is at one with the beat: see him rock with what he plays, bringing enthusiasm and precision to those notes, that pulse.  And Taro Okamoto has a ringing sound and great variety, no matter what parts of his drum kit he is experimenting on at that moment. 

And the delightful guest stars were up to their level: tenor saxophonist Brad Linde, a husky other-voice responding affectionately to Ted’s lines; the young trumpeter Felix Rossy (he and his father, drummer Jorge, hail from Barcelona) who recalls a young Miles, bassist Stephanie Greig, energizing the band with her rhythmic propulsion; trumpeter Bob Arthurs, cool yet impassioned.  And more to come!

The quartet began the evening with an easy melodic choice — Gershwin’s SOMEBODY LOVES ME taken at a fast clip:

SWEET AND LOVELY, its harmonies more complex, brought out the inherent striving lyricism not only in Ted but in the other players:

Michael suggested to Ted that they do the latter’s line SMOG EYES (a play on STAR EYES and Ted’s comment on the climatological burdens of Los Angeles, where he had moved from New York City — and an improvisation on the chord changes of THERE WILL NEVER BE ANOTHER YOU):

Then Felix Rossy, tentative in posture but not approach, joined in.  Felix has his back to the camera, but his sound — reminiscent of Tony Fruscella — comes through!  His father told me that Felix was 16 (he’ll be 17 on April Fool’s Day) and when I said to Jorge, “You did a good job!” Jorge grinned and blushed but said, “Thank you, but he did it himself,” which is a lovely compliment to them both.  The quintet embarked on a long exploration of ALL THE THINGS YOU ARE:

Someone suggested LESTER LEAPS IN (the spirit of Pres is never far when Ted is playing) but Michael wanted to make the tempo much less frenetic than it might have been, calling this version LESTER REASONABLY STROLLS IN, with Murray giving his bass over to Stephanie, who plays jauntily:

At Brad Linde’s telephonic urging, a true star walked in — raincoat tightly belted around him, his hair in a near crew-cut, said hello, made himself comfortable at the bar, ordered a Corona, and listened intently.  It was Lee Konitz, whose presence you must imagine through the next performances.  With his august (perhaps austere) presence, the second set ended with RELAXIN’ AT CAMARILLO, the Bird blues, with Felix sitting out, Stephanie remaining:

After a break, Brad Linde joined the quartet for a splendidly evocative YOU STEPPED OUT OF A DREAM — the two tenors graciously making way for one another, their sounds distinct but never clashing:

And the momentum of that DREAM carried them through an equally leisurely investigation of I’LL REMEMBER APRIL:

Then Bob Arthurs took Brad’s place for the Lennie Tristano 317 EAST 32nd STREET (Tristano’s address at the time), an improvisation on OUT OF NOWHERE:

Six more lengthy performances remain in this most fulfilling evening.  Join me for Part Two!

HEARTFELT: SEINA’S “TRIBUTE TO MR. LEONARD GASKIN”

Leonard Gaskin (1920-2009) was a solid bassist who played with everyone: Don Byas, Sonny Stitt, Stan Getz, Eddie Condon, Dizzy GIllespie, Billie Holiday, Ruby Braff, Miles Davis, Kenny Davern, Bud Freeman, Rex Stewart, Charlie Parker — and here he is recalled and his memory kept alive by the very sweet-natured young woman Seina. 

Don’t miss this:

REMEMBER! HERBIE NICHOLS AND THE OLD DAYS

My friend, the clarinetist H. Grundoon Chumley (he’s Scottish – Malaysian, hence his beautiful and unusual name), called me up to tell me stories from the late Fifties onwards on Seventh Avenue South in New York City. 

You know that the pianist Herbie Nichols played in Dixieland bands.  One night, I popped into a club called the Riviera — across from Nick’s on Seventh Avenue — and there was a jazz band.  The clarinetist was someone I knew from school and he forced me to sit in.  To my amazement, I got through it.  After the set was over, Herbie said to me, “Man, you’re a real player.”  That really egged me on, encouraged me tremendously, so I stayed with the horn and enjoyed it.  It was much later through a book by A.B. Spellman that I discovered the esteem in which Herbie was held.  I do recall the band at the Riviera — a Dixieland band led by the trumpet player Al Bandini, a friend of Pee Wee Russell’s.  Tom Lord played baritone.  After Herbie died, Bandini got Eddie Wilcox (who had taken over the Jimmie Lunceford band after Lunceford passed) who became the house piano player at the Riviera.  Once in a while Bandini would call and I would go down there and play.  A lot of pros would come and sit in: in those days there were many places to sit in and famous people walked in.  I never forgot one night.  A chap in a sailor suit came in and said, “Can I sit in?” and took out his trombone.  He played a solo on SWEET GEORGIA BROWN and our jaws dropped: it was Bill Watrous.  Another trombonist was Benny Morton — a wonderful man.  Once Dick Dreiwitz got us a gig to play Central Plaza (this would have been around 1961) because we all knew Jack Crystal from the Commodore Music Shop.  At the end of the night, the two bands would get together to play THE SAINTS.  I looked over at the other band, and it was Willie “the Lion” Smith, Charlie Shavers, and Jo Jones, and I couldn’t stop shaking.  Then I felt an arm around my shoulders, and Benny Morton was saying to me, “Come on, man, relax.  Just play!”  And I did.

One other thing.  We used to go to the Metropole and see all the greats — Coleman Hawkins, Buck Clayton, Gene Krupa, and Roy Eldridge.  I was a friend of Jack Bradley and he called me up — around 1964 or so — to tell me that Louis was going to play one night there.  There was a line around the block.  But I’ve never heard a record that captured a live performance, and that night I thought the ceiling was going to fall down with the power and purity of Louis’s sound.

THINKING ABOUT LOUIS, THINKING ABOUT RACE

Marc Caparone, Ricky Riccardi, and Michael Cogswell, considering important matters

If you travel in the same musical circles as I do, the name “Ricky Riccardi” won’t be new to you.  He is the creator of an extraordinary blog, THE WONDERFUL WORLD OF LOUIS ARMSTRONG http://dippermouth.blogspot.com/ — which offers generous helpings of insight, music, and affection on a regular basis; he is Project Archivist for the Louis Armstrong Archives at Queens College; he is the author of a splendid book, WHAT A WONDERFUL WORLD: THE MAGIC OF LOUIS ARMSTRONG’S LATER YEARS (http://www.amazon.com/What-Wonderful-World-Magic-Armstrongs/dp/0307378446/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1295474262&sr=8-1) which will be published in May 2011.  (And he’s an improvising jazz pianist, so a diminished chord is no mystery to him.) 

Ricky is a great jazz scholar and diligent excavator of facts, but he is more than a pale library drone: his love of his subject (that’s Mr. Armstrong) is an intense, enlivening thing — so that Louis, never dead, is even more alive when Ricky talks about him, something Ricky is not reluctant to do. 

But uncritical love can get boring to an outsider: what Ricky offers us on his chosen subject is a deep understanding.  He has carefully and thoroughly undermined many of the shallow but ferociously-held critical statements about Louis: that Louis peaked somewhere in 1927, or 1934, or another date; that Louis relied on memorized routines and had lost all creativity in his last quarter-century; that Louis had abandoned “jazz” for “entertainment.”  His research rests firmly on a constant, day-to-day involvement with first-hand materials, and it is thus evidence-based rather than speculative. 

All of this is prelude to the announcement that Ricky will be speaking on the rich and complex topic of “Louis Armstrong and Race,” in celebration of Black History Month 2011 — not once, but four times — at the Louis Armstrong House Museum in Corona, Queens.  His talk will cover a multitude of fascinating topics — from Louis’s birth and childhood in New Orleans to his mid-Fifties public explosions on behalf of civil rights.  I hope he’ll tell the joke that begins with another musician sticking his head into Louis’s dressing room and asking, “Hey, Pops!  What’s new?” but I don’t know if he’ll be taking requests. 

For those readers who stay in after dark, these presentations will take place in the serene afternoon: 1 and 3 PM on Saturday, February 12, and February 26.  The house is located at 34-56 107th Street, and admission to the museum (which includes the presentation) is $8 for adults and $6 for children.  Space is limited, so please call 718-478-8274 or email reservations@louisarmstronghouse.com. to reserve your seat.  I’ll be there, although I don’t yet know which day. 

Visit http://www.louisarmstronghouse.com. for details.