Tag Archives: Jazz Lives

NANCY ERICKSON’S SPLENDID STOCK COMPANY: “HERE & NOW”

Nancy Erickson is a superb singer.  If you haven’t heard her because she is nicely tucked away in the Pacific Northwest, you will be rewarded once you do.

Nancy’s new CD, recorded live, is HERE & NOW, which is an accurate title.  You can hear sound samples and purchase one (or several) here.  I’ve liked her work since I heard her own composition “New Year’s Eve” and wrote about it here in December 2015, and then I was delighted by her then new CD,WHILE STROLLING THROUGH THE PARK, which you can read about here.

As an antidote to the profusion of hyperlinks above, some words.  A few years ago, I would have been embarrassed to quote from myself, but we are now so deeply in the “selfie” age that I trust readers will forgive me: “With this CD, I think Nancy Erickson deserves our very close attention as a fully-formed artist, one of our best contemporary singers — full of feeling, wit, affection, reverence for tradition and a thoroughly winning originality.”

I believe those words even more, listening to HERE & NOW. I should first say that it is a live session before a clearly attentive (even reverent) audience, but that recording “live” is a testament to courage and candor.  No Autotune, no punches, inserts, or other recording-studio dark magics.  Beautiful, satisfying singing, with very fine instrumental accompaniment from the 200 Trio — Cole Schuster, guitar; Greg Feingold, string bass; Max Holmberg, drums, and Alex Dugdale, saxophone.  Nancy has a splendid vocal range, although it never seems she is doing tricks to impress us; her voice pleases in all registers without strain; her diction is flawless; her swing likewise, and her scat-singing is quite delightful.  And when she’s tender, or sharp-edged, or playful, she always swings.

Now, what do I mean by Nancy’s “stock company”?  I don’t mean that she is an expert jazz impersonator — she isn’t Rich Little, and she doesn’t do the police in different voices.  But to me, a stock company is a small collection of highly trained versatile actors: one night, an actress is Ophelia, tender, doomed, fragile; the next night, Goneril or Regan, furious, dangerous, scheming; later on in the week, the angry middle-aged wife in an Albee play, or, hat cocked to one side, the lead in SUMMER STOCK.

Nancy is not an “actress” in the banal sense, and she doesn’t suffer from multiple-personality disorder, but she does morph from song to song so that we hear her beauty, dramatic power, and precision from different angles.

So the tender welcome she offers us in GENTLE RAIN, “There’s a hand for your hand,” which just about made me stop typing so that I could reach out one or both of mine to the speaker, is no longer there on the second track, IF I TELL YOU I LOVE YOU — the rest of the title being “I’m lying.”  This singer is darker-voiced; she is sharpening her scimitar as she sings, each cadence matched to the blade getting more lethal.  She is, as a friend of mine once said, not someone you’d argue with over whose chicken wings those are in the refrigerator.  The darkness lifts a bit — or at least its sunset-shade changes — with a film noir BLACK COFFEE, a period piece whose lyrics might need a dusting.  (No wonder the singer is gloomy and jittery: nicotine, caffeine, and her “oven” don’t add up to a healthy diet.)

A forcefully rollicking MY SHINING HOUR is exultant (and expertly navigated), including Nancy’s scatted exchanges with the drums.  I played this track for a friend, without comment, and the reaction was “Who is that?  She’s got mega-chops,” which I second.  NIGHT IN TUNISIA is easily swinging, and Nancy’s reading is the first where the lyrics have seemed meaningful, and her handling of the instrumental interlude is equally satisfying.  IT’S YOU I LIKE — yes, Mister Rogers’ heartfelt paean to complete uncritical acceptance — begins as a rubato duet for voice and guitar.  Extremely touching, I assure you, and not just for children.  If there was such a thing as radio airplay anymore, this would be a hit, and not just because we need its message.

Nancy’s own LET LOVE BEGIN — a dark yet hopeful invitation to romance — follows, and both singer and song seem fully engaged in the honest appeal, without guile of subtext.  Guile is, however, what WHATEVER LOLA WANTS is all about: the love song of the praying mantis on the honeymoon, perhaps, if I have my insects correct here.  (I grew up with the score of DAMN YANKEES, so listening to LOLA for the first time, when it was over, I thought wistfully of hearing Nancy sing YOU’VE GOTTA HAVE HEART as a ballad.  I don’t know if it’s a good idea, but if anyone could do it, she can.)

Sting’s FRAGILE was new to me (I don’t always take up residence in the modern world) but Nancy’s reading of “How fragile we are” haunted me for days after my first listening.  HOT HOUSE begins with a light-hearted, almost girlish scat reading of the melodic line, which becomes a virtuoso wordless exploration, worthy of a fine bebop instrumentalist.  HONEYSUCKLE ROSE, initially scored for voice and walking bass, feels new — not ninety years old.  Hear Nancy essay “touch my cup” and shift the syllabic emphasis ever so slightly — to great effect.  What she does with “You’re confection, goodness knows!” is hilarious and expert.  And as a gentle embracing coda, there is a two-minute LA VIE EN ROSE: it begins as a duet for voice and bass, and then becomes a sing-along, with Nancy leading the room in the melodic line reduced to “la-la” syllables.  Rather than being a gimmick, it succeeds completely: we hear the room following her, obediently and with affection.  Magic!

Twelve songs, fifty minutes.  A singer you might not have heard of.  But I assure you, the experience of this CD is rather like the most subtle compelling one-woman show you could imagine.  Again, I urge you to visit here for samples: you will not be disappointed.

May your happiness increase!

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IT MUST BE JELLY: ANDREW OLIVER and DAVID HORNIBLOW PLAY MORTON

The COMPLETE MORTON PROJECT keeps on rolling along, which is lovely.  We know there isn’t an infinite supply of Morton compositions — which makes me a little nervous, thinking of the end — but their steady progress, song by song, is more than uplifting.

And since I am always a little behind the best runners, here are four more.  IF YOU KNEW comes from the late sessions for the General label (“Tavern Tunes” — for the jukebox market in places where people drank alcohol?) but my thought is that if you knew how good this music was, and you surely do, you would spread the word:

and the beautifully tender love song, SWEET SUBSTITUTE, here with equal time given to the yearning verse.

I think I first heard Henry “Red” Allen’s 1965 version — he had been on the original session — and then other heroes, Rebecca Kilgore and Marty Grosz, did it also.  But this version is just as heartfelt:

and this week’s basket of Jelly!

Beginning with a wild romp that is either near to or right on top of FAREWELL BLUES, Jelly’s BURNIN’ THE ICEBERG, a title that makes me uncomfortable in the face of global warming / climate change / welcome, O Doom / whatever you’d like to call it:

and finally, the spectacularly evocative WININ’ BOY BLUES, which has as many interpretations attached to it as you can imagine.  Looking around online for the record label below, I found someone reproducing the lyrics as “whining boy.”  For goodness’ sake.  Morton never whined, nor does his music.

Perhaps the truth lies in between the Library of Congress lyrics and the idea of someone bringing wine to resuscitate hard-working women:

Yes, it MUST be Jelly when Andrew Oliver and David Horniblow get together, no matter which side of the room the piano nestles, although they can and do play many more beautiful songs.  Wonderfully.

P.S.  And. . . . have you heard the Vitality Five’s latest e-78, which pairs LAND OF COTTON BLUES and THAT’S NO BARGAIN?  Check it out (as they used to say on the Forty-Second Street of my adolescence — New Yorkers will get the reference — here.

May your happiness increase!

HOT AND LOVELY: ANDY SCHUMM and his GANG in DAVENPORT, IOWA (August 1, 2018)

CHRIS and CHRIS

Thanks to Chris and Chris!  Here’s the first set at a bar called GRUMPY’S.  Beautifully recorded and annotated, too:

Bix Beiderbecke’s 47th Annual Memorial Jazz Festival 2018 had a pre-arranged gathering at Grumpy’s Village Saloon, Davenport, Iowa, August 1st. The Fat Babies, here somewhat reduced in numbers, but with sit-in David Boeddinghaus on piano and Andy Schumm cornet, clarinet, saxophone, John Otto reeds, John Donatowicz banjo, guitar, Dave Bock tuba, gave us, the lucky ones that day, a jolly good time. This plus-hour full first set was videographed in one-go, in pole position, head on, with a handheld SONY Handycam, FDR-XA100 in quality mode. For those who couldn’t make it to Grumpy’s, this coverage might be the next best thing. Enjoy!

THAT’S A PLENTY (with a special break) / HOT TIME IN THE OLD TOWN TONIGHT / Andy introduces the band / HE’S THE LAST WORD (which I hadn’t known was by Walter Donaldson) where Andy shifts to tenor sax to create a section, and Maestro Boeddinghaus rocks / FOREVERMORE, for Jimmie Noone, with Andy and John on clarinet: wait for the little flash of Tesch at the end / Willie “the Lion” Smith’s HARLEM JOYS / a beautifully rendered GULF COAST BLUES, apparently a Clarence Williams composition [what sticks in my mind is Clarence, as an older man, telling someone he didn’t write any of the compositions he took credit for] / HOT LIPS / Alex Hill’s THE SOPHOMORE, and all I will say is “David Boeddinghaus!” / THE SHEIK OF ARABY, with the verse and a stop-time chorus.  Of course, “without no pants on.” / Bennie Moten’s 18th STREET RAG / GETTIN’ TOLD, thanks to the Mound City Blue Blowers / Andy does perfect Johnny Dodds on LONESOME BLUES, scored for trio / For Bix, TIA JUANA (with unscheduled interpolation at start, “Are you okay?  Can I get that?” from a noble waitperson) / band chat — all happy bands talk to each other / a gloriously dark and grieving WHEN YOUR LOVER HAS GONE that Louis smiles on / and, to conclude, STORY BOOK BALL (see here to learn exactly what Georgie Porgie did to Mary, Mary, quite contrary.  Not consensual and thus not for children.)

A thousand thanks to Andy, David, John, Dave, Johnny, and of course Chris and Chris — for this delightful all-expenses paid trip to Hot!

May your happiness increase!

MORE INSTANT YET LASTING GRATIFICATION (Part Three): “ANIMULE DANCE” at the LOVELACE: EVAN ARNTZEN, SEAN CRONIN, ADAM BRISBIN (August 10, 2018)

This is the third and final segment of my splendid afternoon at The Lovelace (66 Pearl Street, New York City) with the “Animule Dance,” Evan Arntzen, reeds / vocal; Adam Brisbin, guitar / vocal; Sean Cronin, string bass / vocal.  The thought that it is — for the moment — the final segment makes me sad, but the realization that we can enjoy these performances again and again is cheering.

Let’s call a heart a heart. Explanation below.

For the story behind Romy’s heartfelt gift, please visit here — and you’ll also find the first two parts of the music made by this splendid trio that day.  As an aside, many musicians don’t like having their work compared to that of the Ancestors, but as I have been delighting in these videos again, I thought I heard an alternate universe where Lester Young, Milt Hinton, and Al Casey were jamming for their own pleasure.  Floating, you know.  Not imitating, but Being in 2018.

And here are the last of the savory treats from that rare Friday afternoon, so delicious.

INDIANA (with sweet hints of Don Byas and Slam Stewart):

SQUEEZE ME, which couldn’t be nicer:

A Spanish-singed I LOST MY GAL FROM MEMPHIS:

OLD-FASHIONED LOVE, which mixes Twenties soul, bluegrass tints, and a little Django and Billy Taylor as well, before Evan wins the Miscellaneous Instruments category by a nose.  Thanks to Scout Opatut for direction and continuity: her Oscars are on the way:

an easy yet impassioned RUSSIAN LULLABY:

WHEN YOU’RE SMILING served with a bowl of gumbo:

and the closing Frolick, LIMEHOUSE BLUES:

What a thrilling band!  I want lucrative gigs, public and private, club and festival, what the Youngbloods call merch — pinback buttons, hoodies, bath sponges, bumper stickers — CDs I can play in the car, the concert tour (I’ll be press agent and videographer), and worldwide huzzahs.  Nothing less.

May your happiness increase!

“ALL ABOARD!”: THE ROCK ISLAND ROUSTABOUTS VISIT the EVERGREEN JAZZ FESTIVAL (July 27-29, 2018)

A hot band is good to find, and the Rock Island Roustabouts answer to that description.  I’ll leave it to Hal Smith to explain how this band, which debuted at a Davenport, Iowa tribute to Bix Beiderbecke, came to be named after a Chicago train line . . . because he knows about these things.  Me, I come for the music.

And music there was.  I’ve done the unusual thing of sending out a full plateful — nine videos at once, recorded in three sets at the Evergreen Jazz Festival (July 27, 28, 29) so that you can experience this band’s power and versatility.  The Roustabouts are co-led by Jeff Barnhart, piano, and Hal Smith, drums, with — in this incarnation — Dave Kosmyna, cornet; Doug Finke, trombone; Jonathan Doyle, reeds; Bob Leary, banjo / guitar; Ryan Gould, string bass, and on the last three performances here, a guest appearance by Lauryn Gould, soprano sax.

The music goes deep and although there are some favorites, the Roustabouts like songs that don’t ordinarily get played.  So there’s Louis Armstrong and Kid Ory, but also Frank Melrose, Jimmy Blythe, Johnny St. Cyr, and Tiny Parham.

Settle down in your seats.  Make sure you know where the fire extinguisher is, and check that it’s charged.

Kid Ory’s SAVOY BLUES:

THE GIRLS GO CRAZY when this band plays, but the enthusiasm isn’t gender-specific:

Frank Melrose’s MARKET STREET STOMP, scored for Messrs. Smith and Barnhart:

One composition titled MESSIN’ AROUND, this one by pianist Jimmy Blythe:

And Johnny St. Cyr’s song of the same name — to mess around was serious yet delightful business, as you can tell:

Louis’ MAHOGANY HALL STOMP, at the nice 1929 tempo:

An incomplete but wonderful version of Tiny Parham’s WASHBOARD WIGGLES (blame the sun-blinded and exhausted man behind the camera) which adds Lauryn Gould, who plays that irascible saxophone beautifully:

A song that I’d never heard performed live, I LOVE YOU SO MUCH IT HURTS, which coalesces into a lovely rocking performance.  I did some small research, expecting that its source was an obscure Wingy Manone record, but no — the later New Orleans bands, who picked up good tunes no matter their source, found this one, from 1948, by Floyd Tillman.  I am not digressing when I offer the Patsy Cline version first (Ray Charles recorded it also):

Now, hear how the Roustabouts make it their own:

and William H. Tyers’ proven mood-enhancer, PANAMA:

May your happiness increase!

NATE NAJAR’S BEAUTIFUL SOUNDS: “UNDER PARIS SKIES”

Love comes in through the ears as well as through any other channel: the voice you hear on your phone (if you are fortunate) or the purring, from any species, that makes you smile.  Louis, Lee Wiley, Bobby Hackett, Ben Webster, Bing, and many others create sounds that assure me that things are going to be all right.

Nate Najar by Jamie Inman

Guitarist Nate Najar has some of that very same magic.  His new CD isn’t “Easy Listening” (for those who remember that archaic category) but it certainly is easy to listen to, and to love.  It’s both beautiful music and a homage to a time when beautiful music was a common language.  The theme is French, and the title is UNDER PARIS SKIES.  It isn’t released yet, so you’ll have to wait until September 7, but you can line up here.  Nate says it will be available in all the old familiar places, including his site.

What distinguishes this CD from the thousands of guitar sessions, and even the thousands of sessions devoted to the music of France, is Nate’s sweet expertise. He loves translucent melodies; he has a light touch; he swings without cliche or strain, and the CD is also elegant dance music.  I’ve heard him swing all by himself — he has his own rhythmic engine — but he’s also aided immeasurably by Tommy Cecil, string bass; Matthew Home, drums; and playing vibraphone on two tracks, the splendid Chuck Redd.  They work together in true gracious harmony, with Nate making sure everyone gets a chance to sing out.  (Hear Tommy’s lead on APRES UN REVE and know how acoustic string bass should be played.)

The songs are nicely chosen, familiar and obscure.  I apologize for the lack of accents, but that may be why Miss Virby gave me a 75 in French III.  LA MORT DOUCE / I WILL WAIT FOR YOU / NUAGES / LA JAVANNAISE / SOUS LE CIEL DE PARIS (Under Paris Skies) / CE PETIT CHEMIN / APRES UN REVE / SA JEUNESSE / QUE RESTE-T-IL DE NOS AMOURS? (I Wish You Love) / CHANSON DU COEUR BRISE (Song of Songs) / LA MARSELLAISE.

Some of the repertoire has, in the past, fallen into sentimentality, but Nate likes to swing just as much as he likes to increase the humidity, so I WISH YOU LOVE starts off as a proper rhapsody and then moves into a modern-Basie-rock, energized and energizing.  There’s also a good deal of understated wit here: these musicians aren’t obsessive quoters (I could name names) but the rare references to other songs often made me laugh out loud.

Nate’s own playing is quietly spectacular: hear his solo exploration of SONG OF SONGS: majestic yet not melodramatic, easily mobile but never trivial.  And the sound he gets out of his unamplified guitar is a gorgeous song in itself, so much like a beautifully modulated human voice.

It would be easy to pass this CD by for one more “innovative,” “cutting-edge,” or “adventurous,” which often means lengthy less-melodic excursions, but I encourage you to seek it out.  We can never have too much light-hearted beauty, and Nate Najar lives right in the center of it, as this CD proves.

Nate doesn’t make it to New York that often, but he will be playing music from UNDER PARIS SKIES on October 14 at the Blue Note in New York City — a Sunday brunch, with details here.  It will be a very good way to feel comfortable in the world, no matter what Monday brings.

Thank you for the beauties, Monsieur Najar.

May your happiness increase!

MILLION DOLLAR MOVIE: “PIANO JAZZ – CHICAGO STYLE!” featuring RAY SKJELBRED

Like other jazz fans and collectors, I have had many dreams of music I would like to hear, and in my lifetime many of those dreams have come true: the alternate takes of the Jones-Smith, Inc. session; airshots of the Basie band at the Randall’s Island Carnival of Swing; the Ellington Fargo concert; the Jerry Newman uptown recordings; more Louis and Big Sid, on and on.

Earl Hines and Ray Skjelbred

The pianist Ray Skjelbred — treasured courageous explorer of beauty — is part of this story of dreams taking lovely shape.  I heard him on recordings perhaps fifteen years ago, and I encountered him in videos perhaps eight years ago, first in those of Rae Ann Berry, then in my own attempts, having met him, to capture him with appropriate skill and reverence.

In whatever medium I found him, I was astonished by the spacious, emotionally dense worlds he invented at the keyboard.  I still am.  And although Ray allowed me to capture individual performances that he approved of, solo and in duet; Ray leading his own Cubs — I am proud of the results, but they are beautiful snapshots for the most part.  In my videos, the sound might be imperfect; the audience might be chatting or moving in and out; Ray would speak, memorably, but briefly.

I came to dream of a Skjelbred film, a recital-explanation that would help us capture his secrets and his deep essence, as much of his history and magic that he cared to reveal.  But it remained a dream until Ray’s friend John Ochs, with Ray, created a profound but never sententious portrait of Ray and the musical atmosphere he both swims in and has enriched for decades.  It exists, and it can be seen.

From the first pearly notes of Joe Sullivan’s GIN MILL BLUES to Ray’s reminiscences-with-music of Burt Bales, Johnny Wittwer, Earl Hines, Joe Sullivan, Art Hodes, Jess Stacy, stride piano, octaves, tenths, the blues, tremolos, a stomping LITTLE ROCK GETAWAY, anecdotes of Sullivan — among well-trained kindergarten children, or listening to Bob Zurke play GETAWAY, a  brilliantly meandering chorus of ROSETTA which reminds me of someone picking up glittering beach glass at the ocean’s edge, and a riotous BEAU KOO  JACK, and so much more — the film is a treasure.  It is both the chronicle of a questing artist and his interactions with Hines, Sullivan, Stacy, Hodes, and a series of casual lessons from a Master about other Masters.

I admire it tremendously.  Ray’s deadpan puckish humor animates all of his conversation with us, as when he describes a heart attack at the keyboard turning, for seconds, into stride piano . . .his description of a poor traditional band as “six people with shotguns.”  I encourage viewers to savor his after-midnight introduction to I FOUND A NEW BABY and the last minutes of MY LITTLE PRIDE AND JOY.

It isn’t a how-to film that entices the viewer with the kinds of promises historically made on matchbooks, “See, you can play _____ too if only you learn these sixteen gestures,” nor is it a chronological autobiography of gigs and encounters, but a warming combination of sounds, techniques, memories and music created right at the moment.  I don’t think I’ll ever forget Ray’s story of Jess Stacy’s summation of a visit from jazz acolytes, at first  unfamiliar to him, as “Those nice boys.”

The film is emotionally filling without being overwhelming: when I finished watching for the first (of several times) I felt as if I had spent a month with Ray, yet it felt like a seamless easy journey, over too soon.

Recorded in one sitting, at a fine piano, with subtle, telling editing, it is so far beyond my best videos that I am both thrilled it exists and slightly embarrassed by my own earnest amateur sallies.

I am not the only person to appreciate this film: it has been selected by the New York Jazz Film Festival and will receive an award for HISTORY / DOCUMENTARY at the end of August.

I am able to share the film with you — and frankly I would find it inexplicable if hundreds of people did not take advantage of the opportunity — but I do not know for how long this will be possible.  These things are mysterious, but Imight not be able to share this film indefinitely.

So I urge and beseech my viewers to be with Ray Skjelbred, man and artist of independent spirit, for one hour (and twenty-three minutes and fifty-eight seconds) tonight, or, if not tonight, then tomorrow night.

Early on in the film, Ray says, as if to himself, “All music is a narrative of some kind — it starts somewhere and it goes somewhere.”  He could have been describing this very fulfilling film as well.

May your happiness increase!