Tag Archives: jazz improvisation

A MUSICAL TREASURE FROM DECEMBER 26, 1941, THANKS TO MEL POWELL AND HIS DAUGHTER KATI

Kati Powell, daughter of Mel Powell and Martha Scott, has already graced JAZZ LIVES with generosity of spirit and wit.  If you don’t know what I’m referring to, I propose that you might click here.

But Kati has other treasures for us.  It’s one thing to recount tales of Melvin Epstein, Louis Armstrong, Babe Ruth, Bill Dickey, and other luminaries.

Hearing Mel Powell, solo, in his prime, presumably at home, is something — as the Irish might say — “beyond the beyonds.”

Kati very generously allowed me to video-record this astonishingly rare recording and to share it with my readers and viewers.

I suspect that Mel had received or had purchased a home recording unit for the holidays (this recording is dated December 26) and he was relaxing at the piano.  I don’t know if the voice we hear is his: I doubt it, but other music scholars have said they think it is him, speaking.

Mel was then a member of the Benny Goodman Orchestra, and thanks to David Weiner and David Jessup, I can tell you that the band was playing at the Hotel New Yorker during that period.  The Sextet had a recording date for Columbia on the 24th and there are airchecks from the 27th, but nothing from this date, so I am sure this is a home recording, not a recording of a radio broadcast.  It’s glorious, no matter what the details are!

One:

Two:

Thanks and blessings to Melvin Epstein and Kathleen Powell!

May your happiness increase!

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EXPRESSIVE MUSIC (on SHORT NOTICE): MARIANNE SOLIVAN at IRIDIUM, May 22, 2012

I know that some of my readers already have plans for tomorrow evening (that’s Tuesday, May 22, 2012) at 10 PM.  And others might be out of range.  I hope it’s neither presumptuous nor too late to urge you towards a New York City jazz club . . . but I wouldn’t want anyone to miss an opportunity to be uplifted.

That soulfully pensive woman is Marianne Solivan.  In a short time, she’s become one of my favorite singers.  She doesn’t follow routines; she doesn’t “dramatize”; she doesn’t “innovate.”

What she does is more difficult and more valuable: she gives us her heart and craft in every measure, digging deep into each song to share its truths and beauties (and often its sadness) with us.

And tomorrow night she is going to be singing at Iridium with a peerless trio led by pianist Michael Kanan, a generous, heartfelt player who makes everyone around him sound splendid.  Providing intuitive accompaniment will be sound-painters Marco Panascia and Michael Petrosino, both of whom have impressed me substantially in person.

The Iridium is located at 1650 Broadway, at 51st Street.  You can make reservations by calling 212.582.2121. or by visiting  here.

In case you haven’t been transfixed by what Marianne and Michael can do, here is a deep example — their duet on HOW DEEP IS THE OCEAN, recorded at Michael’s “The Drawing Room” on March 24, 2012:

And here‘s Marianne’s website . . . where she has a brand-new CD, PRISONER OF LOVE, on display!

May your happiness increase.

BRIGHT SHADOWS: SPIKE AND MIKE at SMALLS (April 19, 2012)

“Spike and Mike” isn’t a new buddy film, a cable sitcom about two pets on the run, or a box of candy.  It’s the colloquial title that pianist Spike Wilner and saxophonist Michael Hashim accept as their own . . . also the title of a song Mike wrote to play in duet with Spike.  I learned all of this from the front row of Smalls, that congenial jazz club at 183 West Tenth Street, on April 19, 2012.

I’ve heard and admired both players for seven or eight years now: Spike in solo, duo, and with his own PLANET JAZZ; Mike in bands as superficially different as Kevin Dorn’s The Big 72 (once known as the Traditional Jazz Collective) and the Microscopic Septet.  To my ears, they are splendidly united in their playful idiosyncracies; each is a master of his instrument who closes his eyes and steps off into the unknown, trusting himself and listening to his colleague.  And they are friends, which comes through.  When I was at Smalls the week before this duet and asked Spike if I could come and record his duets with Mike, his instant response was, “Oh, I love that guy!”  And if you watch the videos closely, you’ll see Hashim grinning back at Wilner every time the saxophone is out of his mouth.  As a duo, they listen intently — making for the most gratifying play, where Earl Bostic and Nat Cole go off to interstellar space.

The program (mostly chosen by Mike) steered away from twice-baked chestnuts, leaning seriously — and beautifully — on Billy Strayhorn.  You’ll hear and see his explanatory introductions, so eloquent as to make my explanations superfluous.  But I have to point out that this program began with not one, but two romance-influenced questions.

WHAT IS THIS THING CALLED LOVE?

DON’T YOU KNOW I CARE (OR DON’T YOU CARE TO KNOW?):

SPIKE AND MIKE (an improvisation on the changes of TOPSY):

FLAMINGO:

Kurt Weill’s THIS IS NEW (which I had known only from the Lee Wiley recording on RCA Victor):

A Strayhorn duo — first, the very rare LAMENT FOR AN ORCHID (Absinthe) :

and the slightly more familiar JOHNNY COME LATELY:

BROTHER, CAN YOU SPARE A DIME? (sadly, almost as relevant in 2012 as 1932):

LONG AGO AND FAR AWAY:

MOON MIST:

THE LATE, LATE SHOW (courtesy of Dakota Staton):

Jobim’s very soulful DINDI:

As Mike says, “It’s a waltz.  It’s our biggest hit!”  What else but LOTUS BLOSSOM:

Romping on RHYTHM changes: STEEPLECHASE:

May your happiness increase.

CLASSIC SONGS MADE NEW: RANDY SANDKE, HARRY ALLEN, ANDY SCHUMM, JIM DAPOGNY, GLENN HOLMES, BILL RANSOM at JAZZ AT CHAUTAUQUA 2011

One of the eternal pleasures of jazz improvisation is that — as Hot Lips Page is supposed to have said, “the material is immaterial.”  So in the hands of inspired improvisers, it doesn’t matter how elderly or familiar the song is: their task and delight is to reimagine and levitate what we thought we already knew by heart.

This happened when Randy Sandke, trumpet; Harry Allen, tenor sax; Andy Schumm, cornet; Jim Dapogny; Glenn Holmes, bass; Bill Ransom, drums, took the stage in mid-September 2011 at Jazz at Chautauqua for three “good old good ones.”  Listen closely: there’s an innate respect for the original songs and their associations, but an inventive originality throughout.

WRAP YOUR TROUBLES IN DREAMS (for Bing Crosby and the many musicians inspired by him):

SWEET LORRAINE (music for sensitive brass, by way of Jimmie Noone and Nat Cole):

THE SHEIK OF ARABY (for Valentino and the aforementioned Lips Page):

Old chestnuts made fresh and lively!

THE TWO SIDES OF JOHN SHERIDAN (JAZZ AT CHAUTAUQUA 2011)

Pianist John Sheridan — like most of us — is a multi-faceted personality on and off the bandstand.  Musically, he can play forceful, stomping piano that elevates a band or builds up an astonishing momentum in a solo; that Sheridan in person is a man of strong opinions with a kind of amused defiance.  But there’s the other Sheridan, who gets used to a new piano by playing a sweet minute of IN A MIST, who has a deep feeling for the most tender love ballads, a real romantic.

Both sides of this intriguing pianist and individual were on display in his too-brief solo recital at this year’s JAZZ AT CHAUTAUQUA. 

He began with the beautiful LOVE LIES, a favorite of Ralph Sutton and Jack Teagarden:

I haven’t heard MARIA MY OWN (MARIA LA O) — an obscure song by Ernesto Lecuona, who wrote THE BREEZE AND I — for years, and I’m so happy that John plays it:

I know that MY FOOLISH HEART has deep meaning for John — in the best ways — so that even though this version began with a cheerful interruption, it never loses sight of its deep romantic center:

Time for a different kind of musing — PETE KELLY’S BLUES, which reminds me of a time and place when hot jazz could still be part of popular culture (a film, a radio series, a television show):

And finally a rollicking INDIAN LOVE CALL, as far from the warbling sweethearts as one could get: John’s tribute to the hard-driving Artie Shaw band version (with a hot Louis-flavored vocal by Tony Pastor):

We’re all complex personalities, but who among us makes as much music as John?

THE ARTS OF THE PIANO TRIO (Sofia’s, Dec. 4, 2010)

Michael Kanan is not only a superb pianist.  He knows how to organize a jazz performance.  And he has the finest friends I could imagine. 

I first came to hear Michael when he played two nights at the end of June with the brilliant saxophonist Joel Press: musical events one can find on JAZZ LIVES.  Michael was and is a melodic player with a fine rhythmic surge, creating lines that move into spaces and places I didn’t expect: not esoteric or counterintuitive, but original. 

So when Michael mentioned that he was bringing three pianist friends — Tardo Hammer, Pete Malinverni, and Larry Ham — along with bassist Neal Miner and drummer Eliot Zigmund to the street-level Sofia’s (in the Hotel Edison, 221 West 46th Street) for a Saturday session of piano trios, I was extremely excited.  With video camera, new Rode microphone, and tripod, I made myself as small as possible in the only available space, next to a mirror, which accounts for some interesting doubling-phenomena. 

Michael also did something simple and imaginative: rather than have lengthy sets for each of the players, each pianist played two songs in turn, then made way for the next person.  It was wonderful to watch Tardo, Pete, and Michael intently absorb what Larry was playing — and if you switch the names around, you get a sense of the evening. 

I won’t comment at length on the players, except to say that I had heard Larry Ham as a member of Dan Block’s “Almost Modern” band, both live and on CD, as well as on a fascinating recital for the Arbors label.  Tardo Hammer didn’t know me (which is understandable) but I had admired his LOOK STOP LISTEN (Sharp Nine) as well as his work with the Warren Vache-John Allred quintet.  Pete Malinverni was someone new to me, which I regret, but his playing made a deep impression.  Pete, incidentally, summed the evening up for me when we spoke at the end: “It’s melody, man!”  Appropriately, many of the songs played that night harked back to the singers Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, and Billie Holiday. 

Aside from being a splendid videographer, Neal Miner is a resoundingly rewarding bassist — in many contexts — as well as a composer.  And Eliot Zigmund showed himself a master of sounds: not simply sticks on the cymbals, but the many varieties of padding and urging that the wire brushes can afford. 

Here are an inspiring dozen from that night, studies in jazz empathy:

Tardo’s A NIGHTINGALE SANG IN BERKELEY SQUARE:

Pete’sYOU DON’T KNOW WHAT LOVE IS:

Michael’s DOGHOUSE BLUES (composed by nimble Neal Miner):

Michael’s WHILE WE’RE YOUNG:

Larry’s FALLING IN LOVE WITH LOVE:

Larry’s THE RING:

Tardo’s SOCIAL CALL:

Tardo’s GUESS I’LL HANG MY TEARS OUT TO DRY:

Pete’s GOOD QUESTION (his exploration and response to WHAT IS THIS THING CALLED LOVE):

Michael’s I’M THROUGH WITH LOVE:

Tardo’s MY OLD FLAME:

Mathematically-minded readers will notice that the division of four players and a dozen selections is not quite even: no disrespect meant, just a matter of room acoustics and the like.  There were almost as many stellar performances that night that do not appear here.  Those who find the occasional surges of conversation difficult to tolerate are asked to read my prior posting, A LITTLE SOFTER, PLEASE? 

I have refrained from commenting on individual performances, but a few words might be in order.  Notice that all of these players have mastered the subtle arts of deep harmonic exploration while keeping that rhythm going.  No Monk cliches, no tired Basie-isms, no cocktail piano rhapsodies.  Yes, pianistically-allied readers can (if they like) Trace Influences and Chronicle Echoes, but I’d rather listen to the musical cathedrals these players build — in midtown, yet. 

Most of the songs deal — at least in their lyrics — with love.  Found, lost, rejected, endured, celebrated.  But the love celebrated here is not just romantic: these players not only love but embody the great spirit of creative improvisation.  I can’t wait until Michael’s next piano effusion!

CHARLESTON IS THE BEST DANCE AFTER ALL

A delicious interlude: Lynne Koehlinger and Peter Varshavsky do an inspired Charleston routine to  Jimmie Noone’s “Every Evening,” at the 2008 Gatsby Ball.   
 
Lynne and Peter defy the laws of physics.  At some points, they seem to be moving in slow motion, with every kick and turn clear, never blurred.  But you know that they’re really dancing at an exhausting pace.  Hard work made to seem effortless!  Their routine has a lovely shape: they begin as a couple in perfect physical harmony, then break out for inspired capers during Earl Hines’s solo and the stop-time chorus, and conclude as a pair.  It’s worthy of Olympic consideration.  Why there isn’t a category for Jazz Dance still mystifies me.  Let’s call it Hot Made Visible.
Thanks to SUN, the Singers’ Underground Network (I just made that up) of Meredith Axelrod and Melissa Collard, who passed this gem on to me.  And now, to you.   
Dramatis Personae:
Melissa Collard should be someone readers of this blog know and admire.  Her first CD, OLD FASHIONED LOVE, is a treasure.  Rumor has it that she and Hal Smith have completed a second one, which is great news. 
Meredith Axelrod, who often works with guitar genius Craig Ventresco, has thoroughly internalized the vocal styles of the early twentieth-century in a way both eerie and exhilirating.