Tag Archives: jazz guitar

IT’S ALL SO NICE: BENNY CARTER, GEORGE BARNES, RUBY BRAFF, MICHAEL MOORE, VINNIE CORRAO, RAY MOSCA (July 25, 1975)

George Barnes, guitar wizard

Not much explanation needed for what follows: a half-hour of divine live jazz performance recorded at the 1975 Grande Parade du Jazz in Nice, France, featuring Benny Carter, alto saxophone; George Barnes, electric guitar; Ruby Braff, cornet; Michael Moore, string bass; Vinnie Corrao, rhythm guitar; Ray Mosca, drums — improvising on three jazz evergreens: JUST YOU, JUST ME; MEAN TO ME; TAKE THE “A” TRAIN:

And if you wonder why I didn’t preface this post with photographs of Benny Carter or Ruby Braff, both of whom I admire greatly, it’s because the world is full of guitar players, and I hope more of them wake up to George Barnes and start studying his works.  He deserves such reverent attention.  Also,  his characteristic pose reminds me of seeing him at close range in New York City, where he always surprised and delighted.  Always himself, always brilliantly recognizable in two notes.  All right, one note.

To learn more, visit George Barnes, Guitar Legend on Facebook and the George Barnes Legacy Collection in the larger cyber-world, splendid informative sites created and maintained by Alexandra Barnes Leh, the loving curator of all things Barnes and daughter of George and Evelyn.

There are a few more video performances by this sacred assemblage, and I might be able to unearth them for you. . . .if, of course, there’s interest.  Are you out there?

May your happiness increase!

FOR CHARLIE, BY CHARLIE (PART TWO): LITTLE CHARLIE BATY, JAMEY CUMMINS, JACOB ZIMMERMAN, MARC CAPARONE, DAN WALTON, SAM ROCHA, JEFF HAMILTON, DAWN LAMBETH (Redwood Coast Music Festival, May 11, 2019)

From this distance, it feels as if Charlie Christian (July 29, 1916 – March 2, 1942) was an extra-terrestrial phenomenon, some entity that touched down so briefly on this planet, played a great deal of music — some of it, thank the Goddess, recorded — and then said he had to visit another neighborhood and we should study what he had given us.  Charlie feels more like a beam of light reflected through a spinning prism than an actual mortal, although we have stories of him at the back of the band bus, singing Lester Young solos.  And I suspect that what the doctors at the sanitarium on Staten Island, New York, wrote down as “tuberculosis” on his chart was an inter-galactic summons to another place that needed his particular blaze of joyous enlightenment.

He wasn’t the first to play jazz on the electric guitar (check out George Barnes, Eddie Durham, Floyd Smith, and others) but what he did was completely fresh then and remains so: the looping lines, the rhythmic attack both fierce and subtle, the harmonic suggestions, the incisive swing.  We celebrate him!

Charlie Christian as a member of Benny Goodman’s Orchestra, Waldorf-Astoria, New York City, September 1939. Thanks to Nick Rossi for the photograph.

This most recent celebration took place at the Redwood Coast Music Festival on May 11, 2019, and the brilliant players are Little Charlie Baty (right) and Jamey Cummins, guitars; Jeff Hamilton, drums; Sam Rocha, string bass; Dan Walton, piano; Marc Caparone, cornet; Jacob Zimmerman, clarinet; Dawn Lambeth, vocal.  Here are the first four performances: FLYING HOME, ROSE ROOM, BENNY’S BUGLE, and STAR DUST.

And the second half, beginning with SEVEN COME ELEVEN:

Dawn Lambeth stops by to sing I’M CONFESSIN’:

and the splendid 1931 I SURRENDER, DEAR:

Something Middle Eastern that isn’t hummus? Perhaps THE SHEIK OF ARABY:

And the closing swing delight, WHOLLY CATS, which I always think should have an exclamation point at its close:

Incidentally, it’s easy to be distracted by the gleaming sounds of the “two guitar heroes,” Little Charlie and Jamey, but I would direct or re-direct your attention to that glorious rhythm section of Dan Walton, Sam Rocha, and Jeff Hamilton; the sweet song of Dawn Lambeth; the wonderful improvisations of Jacob Zimmerman and Marc Caparone, whose idea this set was.

Make plans to visit the Redwood Coast Music Festival, May 7-10, 2020 — thanks to Mark and Valerie Jansen and their wonderful musical friends.

And for more about Charlie, from a different angle, here is Mel Powell’s recollections of the young man.  And a memory of Benny Goodman as well.

May your happiness increase! 

FOR CHARLIE, BY CHARLIE (PART ONE): LITTLE CHARLIE BATY, JAMEY CUMMINS, JACOB ZIMMERMAN, MARC CAPARONE, DAN WALTON, SAM ROCHA, JEFF HAMILTON, DAWN LAMBETH (Redwood Coast Music Festival, May 11, 2019)

Charlie Christian didn’t have many birthdays on this planet, but yesterday would have been another one.  We celebrate him and his music, and with good reason.

Charlie Christian as a member of Benny Goodman’s Orchestra, Waldorf-Astoria, New York City, September 1939. Thanks to Nick Rossi for the photograph.

This celebration took place at the Redwood Coast Music Festival on May 11, 2019, and the brilliant players are Little Charlie Baty (right) and Jamey Cummins, guitars; Jeff Hamilton, drums; Sam Rocha, string bass; Dan Walton, piano; Marc Caparone, cornet; Jacob Zimmerman, clarinet; Dawn Lambeth, vocal.  Here are the first four performances.

FLYING HOME:

ROSE ROOM:

BENNY’S BUGLE:

STAR DUST:

More to come in Part Two.  And more to come from the Redwood Coast Music Festival, May 2020 — thanks to Mark and Valerie Jansen and their wonderful musical friends.

And for more about Charlie, from a different angle, here is Mel Powell’s recollections of the young man.  And a memory of Benny Goodman as well.

May your happiness increase! 

KIHONG JANG: “THEY BROUGHT A NEW KIND OF MUSIC TO ME”

This young man creates wonderful music, free and easy as goldfish in a pond.

He’s Kihong Jang, a guitarist with a quiet compelling lyricism.  This post is to celebrate the release of his debut CD, out on Gut String Records.

And it’s delightful.  Before you read another syllable, listen to this:

Isn’t that delicious?

The session was recorded in late October 2018 — how very fresh! — and it features Kihong on the guitar you see here, JinJoo Yoo on piano, Neal Miner on string bass, Jimmy Wormworth on drums, performing YOU BROUGHT A NEW KIND OF MUSIC TO ME / GOLDFISH, GOLDFISH! / FLAMINGO / LESLIE / GENEALOGY / GOLDFISH, GOLDFISH! in an alternate take.

FLAMINGO, LESLIE, and the title track are Kihong’s compositions; the others are by JinJoo, Kihong’s musical and life partner.  And for those who quail at a CD of “originals,” several of these compositions are clever improvisations on the harmonic and melodic structures of songs full of substance that don’t get explored that often, for instance HOME and YOU BROUGHT A NEW KIND OF LOVE TO ME.  (Had someone been listening to George Wettling’s New Yorkers, recording for Keynote in 1944?  Or coincidence?)

Kihong is a deep feeling melodist, and every phrase he creates is paradoxical in that it is simultaneously terse and tender.  He has a classicist’s restraint: there isn’t an extraneous note; there are no runs up and down the fretboard just because he has practiced for years.  He is closer to Elizabeth Kenny than to Jimi Hendrix, and his clarity of intent is a blessing.  He takes his time, and he gets where he’s going.  His phrases have a careful, considered essence that goes hand in hand (pun intended) with serious emotion.  And ebullient swing.

The session is marvelously old-fashioned in its cheerful reverence for lyricism, but it doesn’t need to be dusted: it doesn’t reek of the Library or the Museum.  At points, the music reminds me most reassuringly of a previously unheard Fifties Clef session, but the fact that it was played and recorded last autumn is so hopeful.

I’m always fascinated by the ways musicians do and don’t reflect their personalities in their music.  In person, Kihong is just like his playing: modest, quiet but full of serious understanding.  He chooses his words in the way he selects his notes and phrases: he listens intently, he values silence as well as speaking, and when he has something to say it comes out of his clearly deep perceptions.

Kihong is a great ensemble player (the disc, although he is leader, is a truly egalitarian walk through the meadow) and there is ample space given to JinJoo, Neal, and Jimmy, to make their own eloquent statements in solo as well as members of the quartet.  I’ve written about JinJoo here and here, Jimmy (celebrated on film by Neal) here.  I’ve been celebrating Neal here as musician and composer since January 2011 (he appears in 79 posts!) so that should convey something of my admiration.

I want to write only that Kihong and friends make music.  Not music that insists, “I am important music!” but music that gently says, “I have two clementines in my pocket.  Would you like one?”  Listen and you will feel it.

And a jovial postscript — to send you on your way grinning.  As does the CD.

I asked JinJoo how she came up with the title “GOLDFISH! GOLDFISH!” for one of her compositions, and she told me, “At first, I wanted to call it as “Nostalgia”, but there’s already a tune by Fats Navarro with that title.
So I (almost) decided to name it ‘My Nostalgia’. (Not Fats’)… 😉

I was in Korea when Kihong asked my about song titles.

One day, I was having lunch with my mom and she started talking about some funny stories of my father and my uncle (they are twins) when they were young.  She told me some stories that she heard from my grandmother.  This one really cracked me up and I fell in love with it.

When my father and uncle were young, maybe 10, they lived in this small town called Jeon-ju.  My grandparents saved some money at that time (my grandfather was a teacher, so had a very stable income) and some people would borrow money from them.

One day, my grandmother figured out that one lady that she lent money before totally RAN AWAY, A–W–A–Y not even taking stuff from her house.  My grandma was really pissed off (because she really trusted her) and told my dad and uncle to GO TO THAT LADY’S HOUSE AND BRING ANYTHING THAT LOOKS PRECIOUS. And guess what? They brought goldfish from the pond that were swimming beautifully. (Some old houses in Korea had small ponds).
When they came back home EXTREMELY THRILLED, “Mom!! Mom!!! Look!!!! We brought goldfish!!!!”

Actually, what they really wanted to bring home was the lady’s DOG, but it was barking furiously so they gave up.  Later, they found out that that lady’s family really went completely broke. I could picture how excited my dad and uncle must have been when they found goldfish in the pond.  “Oh man, look! Goldfish!!! Goldfish!!”

And that’s how I came up with that title.

May your happiness increase!

THE RIGHT TIME: The GREG RUGGIERO TRIO (MURRAY WALL, STEVE LITTLE) at MEZZROW, October 1, 2018

The three serious-looking fellows below (from left, Murray Wall, string bass; Steve Little, drums; Greg Ruggiero, guitar) make wonderful music.  Greg’s new trio CD, IT’S ABOUT TIME, gentle explorations of great standards, is proof enough (read more here).

From left. Murray Wall, string bass; Steve Little, drums; Greg Ruggiero, guitar. Photograph by Gabriele Donati.

To celebrate the new CD, Greg, Steve, and Murray had a lovely session at Mezzrow (163 West Tenth Street, New York City) on October 1 of this year.  As befits a trio’s numerology, here are three selections showing the compact unhurried lyricism this group creates.  They know how to swing, how to leave space, how to play pretty, to create phrases to ring in the air: masters of their sonorous craft.

GONE WITH THE WIND:

I’LL SEE YOU IN MY DREAMS:

I’VE GROWN ACCUSTOMED TO HER FACE:

We could easily grow accustomed to this trio.

May your happiness increase!

“TAL FARLOW: A LIFE IN JAZZ GUITAR / AN ILLUSTRATED BIOGRAPHY,” JEAN-LUC KATCHOURA and MICHELE HYK-FARLOW

Tal Farlow, photograph by Francis Wolff, 1953

Once again, I am in the odd position of writing a review of a book I have not finished.  I am a very quick reader of fiction, but books full of new information are imposing.  The good news is that I feel compelled to write about this book now because it is expansive and delightful: a gorgeous large-format 340-plus page book about Tal Farlow, in English and French, illustrated with many rare photographs and at the end, “Gifts from Tal,” a CD of rare music.  Unlike many substantial research volumes, it is splendidly designed and visually appealing, with so many color photographs, magazine covers, and priceless ephemera that one could spend several days, entranced, without ever looking at the text.

Here is the link to purchase this delightful volume.

Recently, I finally decided to take the more timid way into the book, and started by playing the CD — rare performances with Red Mitchell, Jimmy Raney, Gene Bertoncini, and Jack Wilkins, some recorded at Tal’s home in Sea Bright.  Interspersed with those performances, quietly amazing in their fleet ease, are excerpts from interviews with Tal done by Phil Schaap, edited so that we hear only Tal, talking about Bird, about technique, about his childhood.  I think the CD itself would be worth the price of the book, which is not to ignore the book at all.  (It is playing as I write this blogpost.)

And a digression that might not be digressive: here is the author speaking (in French) about his book and about working with Tal and Tal’s wife to create it:

and a small musical sample (Neal Hefti’s classic, here titled very formally) for those who might be unfamiliar with Tal’s particular magic: he was entirely self-taught and could not read music:

The book brims with first-hand anecdotes about Tal in the company of (or being influenced by) Charlie Christian, Art Tatum, Charlie Parker, Billy Kretchmer, Dardanelle, Red Norvo (whose extended recollections are a  highlight), Charles Mingus, Mary Osborne, Eddie Costa, Norman Granz, Oscar Pettiford, and Tal’s brothers of the guitar, including Herb Ellis, Jimmy Raney, Barney Kessel.

It’s a dangerously seductive book: I began revisiting it for this blog and two hours went by, as I visited text and photographs from Tal’s childhood to his death.  For guitar fanciers, there are pages devoted to his Gibsons as well.

This book deserves a more comprehensive review, but I know JAZZ LIVES readers will happily write their own.  And I have my entrancing jazz reading for the winter to come.

May your happiness increase!

ANDY BROWN’S PASTORAL ORCHESTRA

If you haven’t heard Andy Brown play guitar, you’ve been deprived of deep subtle pleasures.  First off, Andy loves melody: he doesn’t see George Gershwin’s composition as a series of chord changes.  And he understands the song emotionally: no howling double-time arsonist passages on a love ballad.  His tone is beautiful; his rhythm is steady but flexible.  And he’s mastered the very difficult art of turning his guitar into the most delicate orchestra, playing what George Van Eps called “lap piano,” deftly offering the listener a melodic line that even the most jazz-phobic could follow, while offering melodic-harmonic figures that also keep the rhythm going.  In some ways, he is more reminiscent of Hank Jones than of any guitarist I know.  Listen and see that I do not overpraise him.

Here, Andy plays a solo guitar feature as a member of the Ben Paterson Trio  at the “Live at Studio5 Jazz Series” in Evanston, IL on April 9, 2017.  You can follow him here.  And he’s going to be one of the two guitarists at the September Allegheny Jazz Party: the other, a newcomer named Howard Alden.

May your happiness increase!

(CAFE) DIVINE INSPIRATION: LEON OAKLEY and CRAIG VENTRESCO, IN LIVING COLOR (Part Two: June 15, 2014)

Good things happen at Cafe Divine (1600 Stockton Street, San Francisco, California) — the food and the North Beach ambiance — but for me the best things happen on the third Sunday of each month, when the Esteemed Leon Oakley, cornet,and Craig Ventresco, guitar and banjo, improvise lyrically on pop tunes and authentic blues for two hours.  I posted four performances from their satisfying June 15, 2014, session here. I was taught as a child to share . . . so here are five more beauties, in living color both in the view and the soaring improvisations.

STRUTTIN’ WITH SOME BARBECUE (with Craig on banjo, delightfully):

BLUES IN F (nothing more, nothing less — evoking Joseph Oliver):

MARGIE (that 1920 lovers’ classic):

And two songs that make requests — one spiritual, connected to Bunk Johnson and Sidney Bechet, LORD, LET ME IN THE LIFEBOAT:

and one secular — I think of Pee Wee Russell with TAKE ME TO THE LAND OF JAZZ:

Which they do.  More Divine Music to come.

 May your happiness increase!

(CAFE) DIVINE INSPIRATION: LEON OAKLEY and CRAIG VENTRESCO, IN LIVING COLOR (Part One: June 15, 2014)

Have you been? I refer to the hot chamber music sessions created by Maestro Leon Oakley and Professor Craig Ventresco — improvising on classic themes — held at Cafe Divine, 1600 Stockton Street, San Francisco, California, on the third Sunday of each month.

Here are the first four of a dozen treats — in living color visually as well as musically:

SOMEDAY SWEETHEART:

A SHINE ON YOUR SHOES:

I WOULD DO ANYTHING FOR YOU:

MOONGLOW:

May your happiness increase!

FROM SPIRITUAL TO SWING: THE IVORY CLUB BOYS at ARMANDO’S (May 31, 2014): “NOBODY KNOWS THE TROUBLE I’VE SEEN,” Take One: PAUL MEHLING, EVAN PRICE, MARC CAPARONE, SAM ROCHA, ISABELLE FONTAINE

Hot music straight from their hearts: NOBODY KNOWS THE TROUBLE I’VE SEEN, as performed by the IVORY CLUB BOYS, Paul Mehling’s evocation of Stuff Smith’s delicious swing on Fifty-Second Street circa 1946-45. They are, for this hot concert, Paul, guitar; Evan Price, violin; Marc Caparone, cornet (subbing for Clint Baker); Sam Rocha, string bass; Isabelle Fontaine, guitar. This was recorded on May 31, 2014, at Armando’s in Martinez, California.  I was behind the camera, so you can’t see how much I was and am grinning. emotionally deep but very light-hearted improvisations, the work of swing masters:

Oh, and for those in the know . . . that was the soundcheck.  Draw your own conclusions about how wonderful this band is.

Here is the first posting — a riotous BUGLE CALL RAG from that same session. More to come, thank goodness. And the IVORY CLUB BOYS (with Clint on trumpet) will be appearing at Yoshi’s in Oakland on August 19.  Make a note of that, please.

May your happiness increase!

MAKING MELODIES RING: MUNDELL LOWE / BUCKY PIZZARELLI: GUITAR DUETS at the SAN DIEGO JAZZ PARTY (February 22, 2014)

The title says it all.  I am honored to have been there and to have captured these performances.  Mundell Lowe and Bucky Pizzarelli are masters, having a heartfelt conversation about all the important matters in the universe: love, light and dark, cosmic rhythms, melodies that sound like birdsong, all in front of us. We celebrate their endurance, but more than that we celebrate their art.

If you need official information about Mundell, here is his website; Bucky is moving too quickly to care about such things, so we must make do with Wikipedia.

Recorded at the 26th annual San Diego Jazz Party, on February 22, 2014.  On that day, Mundell was 91, Bucky 88.

JITTERBUG WALTZ (the crowd quiets down after a bit):

EMILY:

BODY AND SOUL:

STUFFY:

DARN THAT DREAM:

How often will any of us be in the presence of such Sages?

May your happiness increase!

CELEBRATING THE TWO GUITAR QUARTET: HOWARD ALDEN and ANDY BROWN CELEBRATE IN CHICAGO (November 1-2, The Green Mill)

I wish I could be there, because this quartet (Andy Brown, Howard Alden, guitars, Joe Policastro, string bass; Bob Rummage, drums) makes splendid music.

TWO GUITARS

If you can’t make it to these gigs (and even if you can) you will want a copy of their splendid new CD, HEAVY ARTILLERY, on Delmark Records. Here is what I wrote about it.

May your happiness increase!

DAVIDE BRILLANTE: FROM BOLOGNA TO NEW YORK, BRINGING SWEET SOUNDS

One of the loveliest aspects of our odd cyber-life is the experience of meeting someone face-to-face — a person known up to that point only as words or sounds on a screen — and finding that the person is even more rewarding than the original simulacrum.  In brief, “Isn’t it great when your Facebook friends are even more friendly in person?”

Guitarist Davide Brillante, from Bologna, is a shining example.  He and his wife Monica — whom I met in Brooklyn a few weeks ago — are sweet, generous people.  And although I had known Davide’s subtle guitar playing from YouTube videos, it wasn’t until I asked him to sit down and play some solos for me (for us, for JAZZ LIVES) that I saw how his gentle, inquiring soul comes right through the strings and notes.

Here are three touching performances.  And a word before the viewer jumps in.  Many of us are accustomed to fingerboard-burning guitar virtuosi who skitter all over like supercharged alien life forms.  Their playing is both astonishing and exhausting.

Davide Brillante, although he can play with splendid speed and crisp articulation, is seriously in love with melody and its possibilities.  So he will — on purpose — begin his performance as if he’s shyly meeting the song for the first time (introducing himself to the timid young woman across the dance floor at the sophomore prom) and gaining confidence in his ardent explorations.  His approach makes wonderful musical sense, and when I was through listening to these three performances, I thought, “Davide is a true romantic!” I think you’ll agree.

AFTER YOU’VE GONE (at a lovely leisurely tempo with a ruminative verse):

LET’S FALL IN LOVE:

ALONE TOGETHER:

Thank you, Davide.  Come back to New York soon!  Bring Monica, of course!

May your happiness increase!

SOMETHING TENDER: GEORGE and EVELYN BARNES by ALEXANDRA LEH

Like many jazz fans, I first heard the guitarist George Barnes on record. He had a swaggering attack and a powerfully recognizable sound, whether he was cutting through a big band record date or shaking up the group behind Louis Armstrong in 1956-7. In the early Seventies, I was able to see and hear him in person with Ruby Braff, George Duvivier, Dick Hyman, Jo Jones, Michael Moore, Wayne Wright — often in the brilliant Braff-Barnes Quartet.

Because Barnes had a way of attacking his notes that sounded like small swing firecrackers, I was utterly unprepared for the tender beauty of this performance. It is even more tender when you learn that it was something he played on the final day of his life. His daughter Alexandra has created this video tribute to her father, his music, and his beloved wife Evelyn — appropriately the music is ALL THE THINGS YOU ARE:

What beauty and what a tribute!

May your happiness increase!

“BEAUTIFUL FRIENDSHIP”: MUSIC FOR ADULTS (TOM DEMPSEY, TIM FERGUSON, JOEL FRAHM, ELIOT ZIGMUND)

I’m embarrassed to write that I had never heard of guitarist Tom Dempsey or string bassist Tim Ferguson before opening the latest mailer that held their new CD — a quartet with saxophonist Joel Frahm and percussionist Eliot Zigmund.

I should have taken notice of Tom and Tim by this time — they are active New York performers, with credits including Jim Hall, Mel Torme, Don Friedman, the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra . . . and many more.  But now I want to make up for my omission.

BEAUTIFUL FRIENDSHIP is a splendidly fine disc, and I might have put it on the pile because I didn’t know two of the four players.  What a mistake that would have been!  I receive many CDs — and many, well-intentioned endeavors (often self-produced and paid for by the artist) do not sustain themselves.  Some are formulaic: “Let’s play just like ______” or consciously anti-formulaic (which becomes its own cage): “Here are my six lengthy free-form original compositions.”

Not this one!

Layout 1

BEAUTIFUL FRIENDSHIP is devoted to lyrical, easeful exploration of melody, harmony, and rhythm.  It’s not Easy Listening for elderly recluses, nor is it self-conscious Innovation.

These four players understand something basic about music: the truth that we need Beauty, and Beauty never gets old.  Yes, Tal Farlow (for instance) played AUTUMN IN NEW YORK memorably in 1957, but that doesn’t mean that Duke’s melody is now forever used up.  One might as well say, “Oh, the sunrise bores me,” or “I’m so tired of this (wo)man I love embracing me.”  Do that, and you’re beyond recovery.

BEAUTIFUL FRIENDSHIP is not just about reverential playing of standards — by Randy Weston, Monk, Thad Jones — because the quartet stretches out and has fun on several originals.  IT’S TRUE is an engaging group conversation that ebbs and flows over six minutes; CAKEWALK begins as a funky Second Line outing and expands before returning to its roots as delicious dance music.  TED’S GROOVE is both groovy and uncliched, hummable swinging jazz.  Although I knew Joel from his work with Spike Wilner’s Planet Jazz and many other ensembles; Eliot Zigmund from sessions with Michael Kanan at Sofia’s — they play magnificently, but so do Tim and Tom.

It’s beautifully recorded, with plain-spoken but deep liner notes written by the two fellows.

You can visit Tom’s website and hear excerpts from this CD here or Tim’s    here to learn more about their backgrounds, their associations with other players.  But most importantly, if you are in New York, you will want to search them out.  I think that hearing them in tandem or in other contexts would be delightful — and you could say, “JAZZ LIVES sent me,” and buy copies of BEAUTIFUL FRIENDSHIP directly from the artists.  What could be nicer?  As for me, I’m keeping this one!

P.S.  Why MUSIC FOR ADULTS in my title?  There’s no barely-clad beautiful young thing on the cover; this isn’t advertised as Music To Make Out By.  To me, “adults” have outgrown barrages of virtuosity (“shredding”) for its own sake, yet they want something more than another bouncy rendition of a classic from Django’s book.  BEAUTIFUL FRIENDSHIP will please everyone with grown-up ears . . . people who have removed the earbuds long enough to listen.

May your happiness increase.

DELICACY AND STRENGTH: NATE NAJAR’S “BLUES FOR NIGHT PEOPLE”

Guitarist Nate Najar knows what that wooden box with strings is for — to fill the void with lovely, surprising sounds.  And he continues to do so on his new CD, a tribute to Charlie Byrd, BLUES FOR NIGHT PEOPLE.

Nate Najar cover

I write “continues,” because I was immediately impressed with Nate and his music when he came and sat in at The Ear Inn some time ago.  Ear-people know that 326 Spring Street is a hot place for guitarists: Matt Munisteri, Howard Alden, Chris Flory, James Chirillo, Julian Lage, and some other notables.

But Nate stands out as he did that Sunday night: a sweetly melodic player who didn’t let sweetness get in the way of swinging.  “Delicacy” and “strength” may seem an odd combination — a writer’s contradiction designed primarily to catch the eye — but they live happily in Nate’s playing.  His sound is beautiful, subtle, full of shadings — but he never is content to provide pretty aural wallpaper, the guitarist’s version of Laura Ashley for the ears.

No, his notes ring and chime; his phrases have meaning and depth on their own, and they fit into the larger compositions he creates.  And “strength” is evident in several ways on this disc.  In its most obvious manifestation, it comes across powerfully in the opening blues — not harsh, but not music for people who “play at” the blues.  But strength, we know, is also a kind of wisdom: knowing where to take a breath, where to be still, so that the music created resonates powerfully even after the performances have ended.

Come on and hear.  Here.

The CD, as you can see, is Nate’s respectful but lively tribute to another down-home poet of the guitar — where he remembers but does not imitate.  It offers a variety of moods, tempos, and sounds — from lovely ballad playing to rocking Latin expressiveness to barbecue-flavored blues.  Nate is accompanied by the wonderful bassist Tommy Cecil and the indispensable Chuck Redd — on vibes as well as drums.  Beautifully recorded.   And the CD has very plain-spoken yet elegant notes written by Nate and by Charlie’s widow, Becky.  The songs are MUSIC FOR NIGHT PEOPLE (the last movement, called 4 AM FUNK) / DJANGO / DESAFINADO /SWING 59 / O PATO / A SINGLE PETAL OF A ROSE / CONCIERTO DE ARANJUEZ / HAVE YOU MET MISS JONES? / WHO CARES? / SOMEONE TO LIGHT UP MY LIFE / SI TU VOIS MA MERE / REMEMBERING CHARLIE BYRD.

It’s wise, subtle, and genuine music.

May your happiness increase.

ANDY BROWN ADDS BEAUTY

What is the task of the Artist?  One answer is Joseph Conrad’s: “I want to make you see,” which to me means a clarity of perception, a heightened awareness of patterns and details never before observed.  I applaud that, but my parallel idea may strike some as more sentimental: that the Artist’s job / chosen path is to make the world more beautiful, to bring beauty where there was none a moment before.

In these two quests, guitarist Andy Brown succeeds wonderfully.  When he is playing the most familiar melody, we hear it in ways we had never thought of before — not by his abstracting or fracturing it, but because of his affection for its wide possibilities.  And we go away from a note, a chord, a chorus, a whole performance, feeling that Andy has improved our world.

Andy Brown CD cover

He is obviously “not just another jazz guitarist” in a world full of men and women with cases, picks, extra strings, and amplifiers.  For one thing, he is devoted to Melody — understated but memorable.  He likes to recognize the tune and makes sure that we can, also.

This doesn’t mean he is unadventurous, turning out chorus after chorus of sweet cotton for our ears.  No.  But he works from within, and is not afraid to apply old-fashioned loving techniques.  A beautiful sound on the instrument.  Space between well-chosen notes and chords.  An approach that caresses rather than overwhelms.  Swing.  A careful approach to constructing a performance.  Wit without jokiness.  Medium tempos and sweet songs.

His TRIO AND SOLO CD — pictured above — offers a great deal of variety: a groovy blues, a Johnny Hodges original, Latin classics, a George Van Eps original, some Thirties songs that haven’t gotten dated, a nod to Nat Cole, and more.  Although many of the songs chosen here are in some way “familiar,” this isn’t a CD of GUITAR’S GREATEST HITS, or the most popular songs requested at weddings.  Heavens, not at all.  But Andy makes these songs flow and shine — in the most fetching ways — with logical, heartfelt playing that so beautifully mixes sound and silence, single-string passages and ringing chords.

In the trio set, he is wonderfully accompanied by bassist John Vinsel and drummer Mike Schlick — and I mean “accompanied” in the most loving sense, as if Andy, John, and Mike were strolling down a country lane, happily unified.  The CD is great music throughout.  You’ll hear echoes of great players — I thought of Farlow, Van Eps, Kessel, Ellis, and others — but all of the influences come together into Andy Brown, recognizable and singular.

And he’s also one of those players who is remarkably mature although he is years from Social Security.  We hops he will add beauty to our world for decades to come.  To hear more from this CD — rather generous musical excerpts — click here.  To see Andy in videos, try this.

May your happiness increase.

DAVY MOONEY WRITES! (A NOVEL, THAT IS: “HOMETOWN HEROES”)

When a friend gives me a first novel to read, I worry.  Not that I doubt the intelligence, wit, feeling, of my friends — but what if I don’t like it?  What can I say?  I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings, but neither do I want to read a page of something I do not like.  So I am delighted to report that the jazz guitarist / composer / singer Davy Mooney, New Orleans native transplanted to Brooklyn, can write.

Hometown Heroes

In fact, Davy Mooney is a novelist.  His first book, HOMETOWN HEROES, combines the qualities of “a good read” and “a page-turner” with a seriously observant eye for social commentary and occasionally satire.  I won’t give the plot away, but in its 202 pages, you will learn what it feels like to be an improvising musician giving lessons to uninterested middle-schoolers; what’s involved in being a barrista; how it feels to play a jazz solo.  But that’s only the thin edge of it.  Mooney has seen and thought about all kinds of behavior: what Astoria, Queens, and New Orleans feel like in mores, climate, and affections, for one thing.  And he also has a deeper interest in what’s required to be an artist — not that all the guitar players in his book are heroes, martyrs, or geniuses.  One is hugely successful, has a television career, and an incredibly erotic girlfriend; the other might be a fine player, is struggling, and feels despair often.  (The second one, Joe, also tends to philosophize about his ground-level view of the world; Mooney does a lovely job of showing Joe as both sincere and in love with the sound of his own voice, but it’s never irritating.)

But there’s more.  Witches.  Not the Halloween crones, but women with power.  And I mean power — not the comic-book sort, but the energy to repair wrongs and to cause them, to reward the downtrodden and to punish the successful.  Rather like first-rate Golden Era science fiction or the best work of David Lynch, this novel makes a reader feel that there are undercurrents and shifts going on all around us while we drink our coffee, read the newspaper, engage in pleasant conversation.  “What’s going on that we are not aware of?” is one question that the book asks, and in a lightly witty way, “Who runs the show, and why?” is another.

Here’s the story that has been echoing in my head while reading the novel.  In 1942, I think, Billie Holiday and Lester Young (for a moment) joined forces on the West Coast.  Billie had heard and worked with Jimmie Rowles, then quite a young man, and tried to get Lester to invite him into the band.  Lester was suspicious.  Rowles hadn’t a long string of jazz credentials (even though Ben Webster had looked out for him) and, let’s face it, Rowles was “a grey boy,” a Caucasian.  So Lester had to be convinced.  Billie retold the story to Rowles on their 1955 rehearsal tape, “I said to him, ‘I don’t know . . . boy   can   blow!'”

Davy Mooney can blow — at the computer keyboard as well as at the guitar.  HOMETOWN HEROES is worth a good look.  You’ll have fun.

May your happiness increase.

May your happiness increase. 

OUR IDEAL: MICHAEL KANAN and PETER BERNSTEIN at SMALLS (March 31, 2011)

Pianist Michael Kanan and guitarist Peter Bernstein created great beauty at Smalls (183 Tenth Street) last Thursday night. 

They are both intuitively gracious players, so the two chordal instruments (each its own orchestra) never collided, never seemed to overpower each other.  It was a sweet dance, a conversation, rather than a cutting contest — with lovely sonorities.  Michael and Peter decided at the start of the night to alternate song choices: one of them would begin a song and the other would fall in — a delightfully playful collaboration.   

The music they made was harmonically and emotionally deep yet it felt translucent, open. 

Hear MY IDEAL or the second set’s BALLAD MEDLEY.  Brad Linde, sitting next to me for a few numbers before going off to his own gig with Ted Brown, thought of Bill Evans and Jim Hall.  I thought of the Pablo duet of Jimmy Rowles and Joe Pass, CHECKMATE, of Tatum and Debussy, of a reverence for melody and harmony.  But to burden this music with words would be wrong.  Listen!

THE NEARNESS OF YOU:

YESTERDAYS:

MY IDEAL:

LULLABY OF THE LEAVES:

PANNONICA:

WHAT IS THIS THING CALLED LOVE?:

WRAP YOUR TROUBLES IN DREAMS:

NOBODY ELSE BUT ME:

BALLADS (Gone With The Wind, Too Late Now, Moonlight in Vermont):

DEWEY SQUARE:

An honor, a privilege to hear this music!

TEDDY BUNN in FULL FLIGHT

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

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The world would be a better place if more people knew about guitarist / singer Teddy Bunn. 

There!  I’ve said it again! 

Most people who know anything about Mr. Bunn associate him with the Spirits of Rhythm and with deep blues playing.  But he could also fly over that fretboard in a most swinging fashion!

Here are two examples: IT’S SWEET LIKE SO (1931, Victor) a duet between Bunn and pianist Spencer Williams.  Williams — more often known as a composer — is equally adroit, mixing Hines and stride, although he tends to get faster and faster as the already fast tempo continues.  The song (if you can call it that) is a rapid-fire vaudeville piece with the same chord changes as a dozen other slightly naughty ones:

And here is one of Bunn’s masterpieces — a solo rendering (1940, Blue Note) of KING PORTER STOMP, where his enthusiasm and invention seem boundless, as he keeps his only indetity while impersonating a thirteen-piece swing band:

Listen and admire — the bent notes, the overall sonority — even if you’re not a guitarist.  And if you know a guitarist, do all of us a favor by sending this post along.  I have kept up my Bunnian missionary zeal for years now: when I meet a student who brings his or her guitar to class, I say, “Your homework is to check out Teddy Bunn.”  And a few — the rare few — have come back and thanked me.  “Professor, Teddy Bunn is really cool.” 

That he is.

FOR EDDIE LANG

Although he died in 1933, guitarist Eddie Lang continues to be one of those inspiring musicians whose presence elevated any session he was a part of.  His ringing sound, his phrasing and touch, his chordal sense are all immediately recognizable and cheering . . . . and he sounds so alive on records. 

I’ve just learned that the Eddie Lang website has returned; although it’s not yet complete, it promises to be a very rewarding resource.   

http://www.eddielang.com