Tag Archives: Jazz Lives

“PARTNERS”: NANCY HARROW’S GIFT

The singer, composer, artist Nancy Harrow is not only a rewarding musician but, from what I can see, someone doing a fine job of navigating this complicated human-being business with art, energy, grace.  She has opened her hand again to reveal a gift for us: a new CD, PARTNERS.

Here you can read details of the CD (the song list, the personnel) and admire the spunky cover photograph.  Go to the top of the page and hear Nancy’s recording of IT’S A WONDERFUL WORLD — previously unissued and unheard, from 1964, Nancy with Kenny Burrell, Major Holley, and Denzil Best.

Incidentally, you can skip what follows and go directly here to hear samples, purchase the disc, download the music.

It is the privilege of the mature artist who has created a body of work to look back and assemble a selection from that art into a new mosaic, the familiar creations making new patterns.  Yeats, for one example, after he had written poems that would fill a new volume, spent as much time arranging them — new, old, revised — into partnerships and neighborhoods that said as much as the poems themselves did.

PARTNERS has some of the same essence, very different from “Greatest Hits,” “Golden Favorites,” or “Million Sellers,” because Nancy (rather than Decca or Columbia) has been in charge, and her sensibility — not, I state, her ego — is evident when one regards the CD as an artistic whole.  The cover lists a jazz nobility.  PARTNERS is a series of small-group performances: mostly duets, trios, and quartets — an octet in only one instance — that Nancy and friends, no, partners, recorded between 1962 and 2016.  The performances aren’t arranged chronologically, but they offer a limber, mobile, portrait of the artist, for us to marvel at.

Even the most dedicated collector of Nancy’s recorded music will be wide-eyed at six previously unheard (and unknown performances).  Five — IN A MELLOTONE, BUT BEAUTIFUL, YOU’RE MY THRILL, I GOT IT BAD, and IT’S A WONDERFUL WORLD — are demonstration performances (“demos”) recorded in 1964, pairing Nancy with Kenny Burrell, Major Holley, and Denzil Best.  These brief recordings are sweet intense surprises.  When I first received a copy of PARTNERS, I found myself replaying these performances over and over, thinking, “Ah!  That’s what Nancy was up to!”

The sixth gift is a 1991 duet on NOT WHILE I’M AROUND, sung by Nancy and her son Anton, also a wondrous expressive vocalist.  I find tears in my eyes on each rehearing.  In other moods, Vernel Bagneris, Grady Tate, and an irrepressible Clark Terry share the spotlight.

I “knew” the seventeen other songs on this disc: in my alphabetical arrangement of CDs, Nancy is (I hope comfortably) between Mary Cleere Haran and Coleman Hawkins . . . and I have her issued CDs, a generous offering.  But I hadn’t truly heard the performances, I think, until I’d heard them in the shapes that PARTNERS makes possible.

Nancy has remarkable emotional energy and a focused directness, so that her singing — even though I know it’s not the case — seems a completely personal statement aimed at the single listener, like a conversation one has when there are only two or three people in the room.  And the emotions!  Tenderness, joviality, teasing, astonishment, protective love, joyous exuberance . . . and even irritation as well as rue and hopefulness.  Nancy doesn’t shout or carry on, but her range is broad, every expression genuine.  Her quiet honesty is so rare and so embracing.

I shared PARTNERS with the fine singer Petra van Nuis, who wrote,”There is that central element which makes Nancy so special and unique. That element is feeling.”

I’d written this and this about Nancy’s art for JAZZ LIVES — but still I was thrilled that she asked me to contribute a few lines to the new CD:

For those who feel, a universe vibrating with love speaks through melody, harmony, and rhythm. Singing lets a very few, the rarest creators, send deep messages about what it is like to be alive, whether we are perplexed by circumstances, downcast, or rejoicing. In calmer times, everyone would have recognized Nancy Harrow as a priestess of heart-tales, helping us hear, helping us feel. She still seems a magical practitioner of rare arts, although she is a modern divinity who sends emails. I can testify to her tangible self, teacup in hand, grinning broadly, ready to break into laughter. I have seen her eat a cookie. Very reassuring.

I had originally thought to write a few lines about the performances that touched me at my very center. But they all do. What I hear and feel in this recording is a deep, complete, and varied personality shining her light at me, one track after the other. I hear energy, warmth, passions. Distinct and the same all at once. Her voice makes lovely shapes, now tough, now tender, now impish.

It would be impudent of me to squeeze her art into text any more than I have already. Listeners will write their own admiring, perhaps astonished, essays as they move from song to song.

Bless Nancy Harrow. Some of us lived long stretches of time without clearly knowing she was there, but she enriches our lives now and will continue to do so.

PARTNERS is yet another great gift, from and by a great artist.

May your happiness increase!

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DALTON RIDENHOUR PLAYS THE BLUES, or “KEEP OUR CITY CLEAN,” (Scott Joplin International Ragtime Festival, June 1, 2018)

Dalton Ridenhour, photograph by Aidan Grant

Dalton Ridenhour is a genuine improvising musician, but someone whose subtleties might get taken for granted because he is so good at so many things.  And he doesn’t self-congratulate as he plays, as some do, turning their head to the audience as if to say, “See how impressively I played that last little thing there?  Time to break into spontaneous applause!”

He has the confidence and steadiness to go his own way within a song or a performance, creating structures of sound that aren’t flashy but that are terribly moving.  I came away from Dalton’s solo performances at the Scott Joplin International Ragtime Festival feeling that I’d witnessed someone brave and patient, balancing the familiar and the inherently personal.  I told him after one set that I thought he had built his own house and was roaming around inside it, and the metaphor seemed to please him.

His SEDALIA BLUES pleased us so much more.

Around the three-minute mark in this leisurely performance, a while city sanitation truck came to a stop on the street (out of camera range but nearby) and began doing what such trucks do.  It had “Keep Our City Clean” painted in green letters on its side, and for a moment I thought of titling this improvisation “KEEP OUR CITY CLEAN BLUES,” but it isn’t my place to do so.  My place is to celebrate Dalton Ridenhour, splendid quiet explorer of heartfelt music.

Here’s SEDALIA BLUES.  Underestimate it, and Dalton, at your peril.

I will post more from Dalton, in solo and duo, for certain.

May your happiness increase!

TRIUMPHANT! (Part Two) THE HOLLAND-COOTS JAZZ QUINTET at the SCOTT JOPLIN INTERNATIONAL RAGTIME FESTIVAL in SEDALIA, MISSOURI (May 31-June 2, 2018): BRIAN HOLLAND, DANNY COOTS, MARC CAPARONE, EVAN ARNTZEN, STEVE PIKAL

We continue the further adventures of our Quintet of Superheroes at the 2018 Scott Joplin International Ragtime Festival: those real-life vanquishers of gloom and inertia being the Holland-Coots Jazz Quintet: Brian Holland, piano; Danny Coots, drums; Steve Pikal, string bass; Marc Caparone, cornet, vocal; Evan Arntzen, clarinet, tenor saxophone, vocal.

Here‘s Part One, and a little text of approval from Kerry Mills here.

And three more juicy and flavorful examples of this band’s versatility: a hot ballad (vocal by Marc), a Joplin classic, and a searing tribute to a dangerous animal or to Michigan (you can choose) by Jelly Roll Morton.

SOMEDAY, SWEETHEART (I prefer the comma, although you can’t hear it):

What some people think of as “the music from ‘The Sting,'” Scott Joplin’s THE ENTERTAINER, here in a version that owes something to Mutt Carey and Bunk Johnson, who loved to serve their ragtime hot:

Jelly Roll’s WOLVERINE BLUES, in a version that (once we get past Danny’s carnivorous introduction) blows the mercury out of the thermometer:

A Word to the Wise. Get used to these five multi-talented folks, singly and as a band.  (“These guys can do anything,” says Brian, and he’s right.)  They’re going to be around for a long time.  I’m going to be posting their music as long as I can find the right keys on the keyboard.

May your happiness increase!

I CALL ON KIM CUSACK (Part Two): MARCH 27, 2018

Here is the first part of the video interviews I did with the Esteemed Mister Cusack — a great deal of fun, good anecdotes, well-told, and new information about everyone from George Brunis to Phyllis Diller: a great honor and pleasure for me.  Here’s the second part.

The first six segments were moderately autobiographical, but Kim doesn’t revel in himself as the only subject.  So in the videos you will see below, my request had been for Kim to talk of people he’d encountered and played with whom we might otherwise not have known, although some of the players are well-known to those who relish the music: Barrett Deems, James Dapogny, Truck Parham, Little Brother Montgomery.  Good stories, seriously rewarding insights not only into people but also into “the business,” including the Chicago underworld.

I’ll let the videos speak for themselves, as Kim does so well.

Norm Murphy and Frank Chace:

Art Gronwald and Little Brother Montgomery (this is for Ethan Leinwand):

Bobby Ballard, Bob Skiver, Floyd Bean:

Smokey Stover and Truck Parham:

Bob Cousins, Wayne Jones, Barrett Deems:

and finally for that afternoon, Kim’s portrait of our hero Jim Dapogny:

I  hope to visit Delavan, Wisconsin, again — to delight in the company of Kim and Ailene Cusack and Lacey, too.  And who knows what treasures I might bring back for you?

May your happiness increase!

A PASTORAL DREAM: BRYAN WRIGHT PLAYS REGINALD FORESYTHE

I’ve known Bryan Wright (or Bryan S. Wright, if we are to be formal) as the wearer of many hats: musical scholar, record collector,  recording engineer, guiding genius of his own Rivermont Records.  That would be enough of a curriculum vitae for several people or several lifetimes.  But my list needs to be opened up to include Bryan as a sensitive, thoughtful pianist and composer.

I had some wonderful opportunities to hear Bryan in those roles at the Scott Joplin International Ragtime Festival (May 31-June 2) in Sedalia, Missouri.

I was particularly taken with one piece that Bryan not only played but offered to us as a kind of surprise gift: THROUGH THE TREES, by the imaginative composer and pianist Reginald Foresythe (1907-58).  Before I heard Bryan’s performance, I knew Foresythe as the composer of DEEP FOREST, and of several bouncy compositions with eccentric titles: SERENADE TO A WEALTHY WIDOW and DODGING A DIVORCEE.  Brief research reminded me that he had also composed the song I associate with Mister Strong, HE’S A SON OF THE SOUTH.  But the first two compositions seem to me to herald the unusual mood pieces that Raymond Scott and Alec Wilder created a few years later.  I was not prepared for THROUGH THE TREES.

Before I proceed, I must point out that our ability to hear this piece is also due to the generosity of the British scholar-collector-sound restorer Nick Dellow, who is a deep student of Foresythe and made the sheet music of this otherwise unknown and unrecorded piece available to Bryan — and Bryan’s wife Yuko made the excellent video of Bryan at play.

I told Bryan that I thought of this music as both embodying and bringing peace.

Isn’t that just lovely, as a composition and a performance?

Should you want to hear more of the tender, ruminative Foresythe, I offer this:

Both of these compositions are too large and spacious to fit into stylistic compartments, and for that I (and I think you) should be glad. Thank you, Bryan, Yuko, Nick, and Reginald Foresythe.

May your happiness increase!

 

xxxxx

ONE TREAT AFTER ANOTHER: DARYL SHERMAN, “LOST IN A CROWDED PLACE”

Daryl Sherman‘s new CD, LOST IN A CROWDED PLACE (Audiophile), is just splendid, and I don’t exaggerate.  I’d thought that with her most recent disc, MY BLUE HEAVEN, she’d reached a real peak of intimacy and swinging expressiveness.  But this newest recording offers even more expansive delights.  And, by the way, don’t let the title put you off: the music is not morose.

Daryl, once again, presents very heartfelt dramatic vignettes — a dozen.  It’s a tasting menu for the ears, the brain, and the heart, and one can dine at this particular restaurant over and over again.  No shock at the multi-digit bill, no caloric woes.

Daryl’s colleagues — in various permutations — are our hero Jon-Erik Kellso on trumpet; Don Vappie on guitar, banjo, and vocal; Jesse Boyd, string bass; Boots Maleson, string bass on RAINBOW HILL only.

They are a splendid crew, but I want to say something about the pianist, who also happens to be Ms. Sherman.  Daryl’s playing here is so fine that I occasionally found myself distracted from what she was singing or one of the instrumentalists was playing to admire its restrained elegance that never lost the beat.  Think, perhaps, of Hank Jones or of Dick Katz.  And when Daryl accompanies herself, she is — without multiple-personality disorder — a pianist who is kind to the singer and a singer who doesn’t overwhelm the pianist.  Her opening instrumental duet with Jon-Erik on the title song is wonderful — the way it should be done.

Then there’s Daryl the composer / lyricist: both selves in evidence on the opening song, THE LAND OF JUST WE TWO, a song that could easily pass as a kinder, gentler Frishbergian romance.  Her lyrics to Turk Mauro’s improvisation over TANGERINE that he called TURKQUOISE are nimble and witty.

There’s Daryl the song-scholar: offering not only the rarely heard verse to STARS FELL ON ALABAMA but the never-heard verse to IF WE NEVER MEET AGAIN, bringing forth Barbara Carroll’s LOST IN A CROWDED PLACE — with sweetly anachronistic lyrics (from 1956) by Irving Caesar that speak of finding a dime for the pay phone — and Billy VerPlanck’s RAINBOW HILL, here offered as a fond tribute to Daryl’s friend, Billy’s wife, singer Marlene.

There’s Daryl the comedienne, never resorting to “humor,” which quickly wears thin, but underpinning her vocal delivery with an unexpressed giggle.  I don’t know that it’s possible to sing and grin simultaneously, but there are places on AT SUNDOWN where I’d swear it was happening, and even more so as Daryl negotiates her way with great style through THE LORELEI.  It’s not comedy, exactly, that uplifts many of the songs on this disc, but it is Daryl’s pleasure at being able to be the vehicle through which the music passes to us. EVERYTHING BUT YOU is not just an Ellington song to her, but a witty, rueful commentary on romance.

Going back to my start: when I first heard MY BLUE HEAVEN, I thought, “This is the way Daryl really sounds in the most welcoming circumstances — no debatable amplification system, no patrons with glasses full of ice, no waitstaff asking, “Who has the parmigiana?”   Her singing on CROWDED PLACE is even more subtly compelling, if that’s possible.  I won’t compare her to other singers: she is herself, and that’s reassuring.  The recording by David Stocker is faithful without being clinical or chilly, so that her remarkable sound — “sounds,” I should say — come through whole.

I would have singers study her phrasing on this disc — that wonderful science of balancing song and conversation, adherence to the melody and improvisation.  How she does it from song to song, from chorus to chorus, is something quite remarkable.

And Daryl presents herself as not “just a singer,” which is to say, someone trained in singing and performance practice who has brought a dozen lead sheets to the studio, but someone with great (quietly dramatic) skill at making each song its own complete emotional and intellectual statement.  Each of the twelve performances is like a fully-realized skit or an aural short story, and no one sounds like the other in some monotonous way.  Consider the sweet — and I mean that word seriously — duet (a duet of many colors, shifting like a long sunset) between Daryl and Don on YOU GO TO MY HEAD, a song that I would have thought done to a crisp, or the HELLO, DOLLY! world Daryl and Co. create on NEW SUN IN THE SKY.  These are memorable performances, each one with its own shadings.  And the mood is often a wise tenderness, something rare and needed in our world.

Daryl’s colleagues are inspiring on their own, but at times rise to new and surprising creative heights.  Boots Maleson is her long-time colleague, and his one offering, RAINBOW HILL, reminds me of  how beautifully he plays, both pizzicato and arco.  More to the forefront is bassist Jesse Boyd, eloquent and swinging.  I have the privilege of seeing and hearing Jon-Erik Kellso often in New York City, and I know him best as the heroic leader of the EarRegulars, but here he is a superb accompanist as well as delivering some melodic choruses that startled me with their beauty, or providing the perfect echoes in THE LORELEI.  I’d only known Don Vappie at a distance, but his rhythm guitar is more than welcome, his solos remind me of a down-home Charlie Byrd, his banjo is splendid, and his vocal duet on YOU GO TO MY HEAD is touching, loose, and inspiring.  Fine incisive notes by Carol Sloane, who knows, also.

But this is Daryl’s masterful offering.  I only apologize for writing at such length that some readers might have been delayed from purchasing several copies.  LOST IN A CROWDED PLACE is that rewarding, and you can purchase it here.  Thank you, Daryl.

May your happiness increase!

KERRY MILLS LIKES IT: BRIAN HOLLAND, DANNY COOTS, STEVE PIKAL, MARC CAPARONE, EVAN ARNTZEN (Scott Joplin International Ragtime Festival, Sedalia, Missouri, May 31, 2018)

Because I am a Nassau County employee, my Verizon phone plan offers special features.  The most relevant one here is my phone’s abilities to receive texts from the dead, and they don’t even have to be Verizon subscribers.  I won’t bore you with previous instances of this, except to say that Sophie Tucker goes on and on.  One would think she’d never texted before.

This afternoon, my phone gave its special secret tone — somewhere between a canary in mating season and a pelican with its mouth full of fish — and there was a text from ragtime composer and publisher Kerry Mills.  I had never heard from Mr. Mills before, but saw that he does subscribe to JAZZ LIVES.  (People saying “But he’s been dead since 1948! can go in their room and play with their toys.  Or they can perhaps get better phones tomorrow.)

Mr. Mills’s text:

Michael u went to Joplin Festival did they play my rags Kerry Mills

I am writing this post to assure him that, indeed, his most famous cakewalk was played — by musicians who win the cake as far as I’m concerned: Brian Holland, piano; Danny Coots, drums; Steve Pikal, string bass; Marc Caparone, cornet; Evan Arntzen, clarinet.  Outdoors, too, and for free, for all the community to hear, which in my book gets them extra credit:

And while I was finishing this post, my phone made its noise again, and I saw these words:

v nice tx to band Kerry

Good enough for me.  See you at the meeting, or another location of your choice.  “Kerry sent me!” will open the door.

May your happiness increase!