Tag Archives: Jazz Lives

THRILLING TERRIBLE CHILDREN, SEDATELY WELL-BEHAVED ADULTS (IN JAZZ, OF COURSE)

Consider this very truncated list: Bix Beiderbecke, Jack Purvis, Billie Holiday, Charlie Parker, Chet Baker, Jabbo Smith, Sandy Williams, Cassino Simpson, Dave Tough, Tony Fruscella, Fud Livingston, Dick McDonough, Serge Chaloff, Fats Navarro, Fats Waller, Bunny Berigan.

What do they have in common?  Would you, were you a recording supervisor, hire them for a record date?  Would you hire them for your orchestra or gig?  Could you count on them to do the work asked of them?  (A hint here: as much as I revere, let’s say, Fruscella or Livingston, I wouldn’t want them driving the kids to summer camp.)

That list contains poets of the music, artistic trailblazers, instantly recognizable creators, memorable improvisers.  But it is also a list of people who didn’t show up on time or at all for the gig or has to be awakened in the middle of a song to play, people who were addicted to alcohol, food, drugs, and sex; people who had borderline personality disorder; people who stole, lied, and destroyed property; people who refused to bathe or change their clothes . . . and more.

Even if this seems blasphemous, do me the kindness to read on.

And if you proclaim that Genius must be forgiven anything because it’s Genius, I wonder how you would feel if the Genius vomited on your living room rug or stole money from you.

I suspect that most jazz fans are Apollonian (in Nietzsche’s dichotomy): they drive in the proper lane; they shower regularly; they hold jobs; they change the registration sticker on their car when the law says they must.  But, perhaps as a result, they are fascinated by the Dionysiac, the Bad Boys and Girls of Jazz, the people whose behavior is flashy, self-destructive, eccentric, illegal.

Consider this: if someone could come up with an authenticated needle used by Billie or Bird, or a piece of Bix’s mummified blue sweater, how much would those holy relics — the jazz Shroud of Turin — fetch on eBay?

Violently erratic “bad” behavior makes good copy.  How many biographies of Bix are there, as compared to his more restrained contemporaries? How many theatrical presentations “recreating” Billie are there, as opposed to the lives of other singers who drank Seven-Up?

I was motivated to write this piece because of the just-issued biography of Johnny Guarnieri, SUPERSTRIDE, beautifully written and researched by Derek Coller, depicts a good husband and father, and a craftsman, someone serious about his art even when striding joyously.

I think of others of the same general character: people who kept pocket notebooks and were thus early to gigs, who came prepared to make music, with horns that worked and a knowledge of the charts; musicians who could transpose and knew their keys; who came to the club date in appropriate, even elaborate formal wear; whose clothes were clean; who conducted themselves as professionals and whose behavior might have been placid and thus not worthy of chronicling, but who behaved as adults.

Think of Maxine Sullivan, George Duvivier, Milt Hinton, Joe Wilder, Teddi King, Eddie Barefield, Al Hall, Ed Hall, Mary Lou Williams, Marian McPartland, Bennie Morton, and Buster Bailey among others: artists who didn’t use “genius” as an excuse for childishness.  Sadly, I sense a silent snobbery among jazz fans, who look down on these mature men and women because their personal lives are uneventful.  And, aside from Hinton, Wilder, and Ed Hall, how many of the artists in the list above have been properly chronicled?   Men and women who didn’t destroy themselves and others are proper figures to contemplate and admire.  Even if they are tediously busy being professional, monogamous, and sober, their lives  have much to show us.

Obviously it’s not thrilling to write about someone who does his or her job without drama, but we should be celebrating these artists as grownups.  And grownups are hard to find in any field.

Here’s music made by several grownups: musicians, classically trained who could cut the charts and swing like mad, who appear on many record dates because they were both creative and reliable: William C. Bailey of Memphis, Tennessee, coincidentally backed by Osie Johnson, drums, and that very same Johnny Guarnieri among others:

I wonder what would happen to us, as an audience, if we chose not to fetishize childish self-destructive behavior, and instead celebrated adult behavior?

Inspiration for this post is, as it often is, thanks to Sammut of Malta, whose thoughts are always inspiring.

May your happiness increase!

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GUILLERMO, FERNANDO, and A BEAUTIFUL LADY IN BLUE (June 14, 2019)

Lady in Blue, Henri Matisse

I’m waiting, with some sly amusement, to read a comment on JAZZ LIVES that runs, “Michael, what’s wrong with you that you post so many pretty things on your blogsite?  ‘Pretty’ is so ancient.”

Well, brace yourself.  Here comes more Pretty, with side Dishes of Delicate, Tender, and . . . it’s a waltz.  Can you take it?  I know you can.

Here’s the splendid song — by Sam M. Lewis and J. Fred Coots — as performed in 1936 by Ray Noble and his Orchestra, with Al Bowlly’s heartfelt exposition of the story, elating and melancholy all at once:

And the sweet brand-new version created by Guillermo Perata, cornet; Fernando Montardit, guitar (June 14, 2019), where they steadfastly stay in 3/4 and don’t double the tempo:

For all of you who celebrate Beauty.

May your happiness increase!

DID YOUR RECENT BLOOD TEST SHOW DECREASED GROOVE LEVELS? JAZZ LIVES IS HERE TO HELP (Redwood Coast Music Festival, May 12, 2019)

When I feel poorly, the conventional choice is this (with all respect to my internist, not pictured here):

I prefer this medical group, photographed at their 1936 convention:

A similar gathering of holistic groove-healers, inspired by Ammons and Basie, assembled on May 12, 2019, at the Redwood Coast Music Festival: doctors Carl Sonny Leyland, piano; Little Charlie Baty, guitar; Marc Caparone, cornet; Clint Baker, string bass; Jeff Hamilton, drums. “Young J.C.” is James Caparone, himself.

With thanks to Mark and Valerie Jansen, patron saints of Redwood Coast sounds, where musicians not only know how to spell RHYTHM but make it jump.

May your happiness increase!

MODERNISM WITH DEEP ROOTS, AND A LOYAL BEAGLE, TOO: DAN MORGENSTERN RECALLS RANDY WESTON, KENNY DORHAM, JAKI BYARD, and JERRY NEWMAN (Dec. 14, 2018)

In the video interviews I have been doing with and of Dan Morgenstern (since March 2017) I have learned to be a better detective . . . when I arrive with a few names on a notebook page that Dan and I have agreed he wants to speak about, and he tells me a story about Perry Como and Cozy Cole (the evidence is here) I abandon the piece of paper and follow his lead.  On December 14 of last year, we’d decided to speak of Randy Weston, who had recently moved on, age 92, about Kenny Dorham, about Jaki Byard, and (as a little experiment) I asked him about Jerry Newman, musical archaeologist and recording engineer.

Even though we kept to the script, the videos have beautiful surprises in them, including an informal jam session with two tenor players and a pianist, a cash box with not much in it, a loyal beagle, and a leather trumpet case.  Enjoy the stories!

First, some music — HI-FLY, from the famous Randy Weston date at the Five Spot (1959) with Randy, Coleman Hawkins, Kenny Dorham, Wilbur Little, Roy Haynes, arrangements by Melba Liston:

Randy by Dan, the first part:

Part Two:

I HAD THE CRAZIEST DREAM, also 1959, with Kenny Dorham, Tommy Flanagan, Paul Chambers, Roy Haynes:

Kenny by Dan, the first part:

Part Two:

Part Three (a postscript):

Jaki Byard, TWO DIFFERENT WORLDS:

Jaki by Dan, the first part:

Part Two:

Jerry Newman’s 1941 recording of Monk with Joe Guy:

A few words about Newman:

There will be more stories from Dan, I guarantee (to quote Justin Wilson).

May your happiness increase!

“MUSKRAT RAMBLE”: A NOBLE + WYLIE SHOWCASE (Part Two): EMILY ASHER’S GARDEN PARTY at the RUTGERS PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH: EMILY ASHER, MIKE DAVIS, JAY RATTMAN, DALTON RIDENHOUR, JAMES CHIRILLO, ROB ADKINS, JAY LEPLEY (January 7, 2019)

Emily Asher’s Garden Party, photograph by Renée Toplansky.

Here are more wonderful highlights from my first concert of 2019 (my first post, featuring the New Wonders, can be found here), a showcase for several bands under the brightly colored banner of Noble + Wylie, a musician-run enterprise that fills a real need, representing splendid traditional jazz performers, offering the best services to the artists and their audiences.  The co-founders are musicians Emily Asher and Katie Lee, who know the business from many angles.  You can read more about this promising company at the link above, but a few sentences from Emily give a taste of their forthright approach: “I see Noble + Wylie as an agency which elevates and celebrates excellence. By focusing on honesty and quality over chaos and hype, I look forward to fostering long-term positive relationships with diverse music venues, festivals, schools, and private clients in order to provide distinctive and creative music to audiences world-wide.”

(If you search for Noble & Wylie — connected by an ampersand — you’ll find only UK shoes, no music at all.  Caveat emptor.)

At the January 7 showcase, we (that’s R1 and me) had the opportunity to hear three groups represented by Noble + Wylie: The Ladybugs, the New Wonders, and Emily Asher’s Garden Party — and I brought back some tasty video evidence.  Here is the first set by the Garden Party, a versatile band playing hot and sweet, mixing jazz classics and memorable new compositions. For this occasion, they are Emily Asher, trombone, vocal, compositions; Mike Davis, cornet; Jay Rattman, reeds; Dalton Ridenhour, piano; James Chirillo, guitar; Rob Adkins, string bass; Jay Lepley, drums, with incidental singing by members of the band.  My videos came from an odd angle, but I hope all can be forgiven.  This friendly, warm band knows tempos: hear their easy rock!

MUSKRAT RAMBLE:

WHEN YOU WORE A TULIP, with a Second Line sashay and a glee club, too:

Hoagy Carmichael’s MEMPHIS IN JUNE, arranged by Rob Adkins, with Jay Rattman bringing Johnny Hodges into church:

Emily’s own AN OPEN INVITATION TO A RAINSTORM, in honor of Beth Campbell:

Her Carmichael-inflected PACIFIC LULLABY, which deserves your close attention until James Chirillo’s closing chime:

And the wry MY LIFE WOULD BE EASY:

I recorded more music from this concert, and it will appear in the near future. Thanks to these unpretentious gifted musicians, and of course to Noble + Wylie.

May your happiness increase!

“LEAP, AND THE NET WILL APPEAR”: NIRAV SANGHANI and the PACIFIC SIX and GUESTS: NIRAV SANGHANI, ALBERT ALVA, SEAN KRAZIT, JUSTIN AU, RILEY BAKER, VIRGINIA TICHENOR, NICK ROSSI, MIKIYA MATSUDA, CLINT BAKER (June 16, 2019)

That serious young man and his friends have done it again, healthfully  rising the planet’s Swing levels.  He’s Nirav Sanghani, leading his flexible band, the Pacific Six, whose new CD I praised just last month here.

Here’s a jazz classic from the recent Bootleggers’ Ball, on Jun 16: the Six plus guests Justin Au, trumpet, and Nick Rossi, electric guitar (wearing tuxedoes).  The rest of the band, Virginia Tichenor, piano; Albert Alva, tenor sax; Mikiya Matsuda, bass; Sean Krazit, tenor sax; Clint Baker, drums; Riley Baker, trombone; Nirav Sanghani, rhythm guitar, bandleader.  The nice floating videography is by Jessica King, vocalist, percussionist, and cinematographer:

So many things in this life are uncertain.  The saying that I’ve chosen for my title is attributed to John Burroughs, Julia Margaret Cameron, and anonymous Zen masters.

LESTER LEAPS IN was most assuredly John Hammond’s title, not Lester’s — for that line on I GOT RHYTHM.  But attributions and minutiae matter less than the effect such things —  those words, that music, that band — have on our hearts.

May your happiness increase!

“SUPERSTRIDE: JOHNNY GUARNIERI” by Derek Coller (Jazzology Press)

I know it’s not true of other art worlds (say, literature and painting) where a proliferation of deities is not only allowed but encouraged, but jazz seems to want a very small number of Stars.  Singers? Billie and Ella.  Trumpet players?  Miles and Louis.  Saxophonists?  Trane and Bird.  And so on.  This reductionist tendency makes me sigh, especially when it comes to pianists, because there are so many more to celebrate than (let us say) Fats, Monk, Tatum.  You don’t want to get me started, from Clarence Profit to Sam Nowlin to Alex Hill to Frank Melrose to Nat Jaffee, and so on up to the present day.

Someone who deserves more attention is the expert and rollicking Johnny Guarnieri, whose recording and performance career covers forty-five years, from 1939 to 1984.  When I think of Johnny, I think of irresistible swing, lightness of touch, beautifully perceptive ensemble playing, amazing technique both in and out of the stride idiom, and (perhaps not an asset) stunning mimicry of any pianist or style you’d want.  I heard him live once, at Newport in New York, and even given the hall’s terrible acoustics and amplification, he was dazzling: it was clear why Eubie Blake called Johnny the greatest pianist he had heard.

And on any Guarnieri recording — with Goodman, Lester, the Keynote aggregations, Ziggy Elman, Artie Shaw, both the big band and the Gramercy Five, Cootie Williams, Ben, Hawk, Rex Steart, Benny Morton, Louis, Lips, Bobby, Don Byas, Slam Stewart, Red Allen, Ruby Braff, Joe Venuti, Buddy Tate, Vic Dickenson, Stephane Grappelly, solos and small bands on his own — he is instantly recognizable and enlivening: he turns on the light switch in a dim room.

Yes, he sounds like Fats in the opening chorus of SHOULD I — but his comping behind the soloists is immaculate, displaying a strong terse simplicity, propelling Joe Thomas and Don Byas along.  If you have him in your band, it’s a given that the performance will swing.

Guarnieri’s life and music are documented beautifully (typically so) in a new book — an  bio-discography, SUPERSTRIDE (Jazzology Press) by the fine writer and careful researcher Derek Coller.  The compact book — around 260 pages — is full of new information, first-hand reminiscence, splendid source materials including photographs.  Best, not only is it a satisfying five-course dinner of fact and information, but it presents Guarnieri as one of those undramatic people who behaved well to others, was a professional, and didn’t demand attention to himself through narcissism or self-destructive tendencies.  He comes off as someone I regret not meeting, generous, gracious, an old-fashioned gentleman and craftsman.  (Read the story of his generosity to then unknown actor Jack Lemmon, who was himself quite a pianist; read the recollections of Johnny’s “boys,” who learned from him.)  He had one vice: he smoked a pipe; one physical problem, seriously poor eyesight, which kept him out of the military during the war.

Because Johnny led a quiet life, his biography is more brief than the record of high dramas and crises other musicians present.  Coller’s chronological overview is detailed although not overly so, and it moves very quickly for just over a hundred pages.  I remember saying to myself, “Wait!  We’re in 1947 already?”  But the speed and the lightness of the narrative — Coller is an old-fashioned plain writer who wants the light to shine on his subject, not on his linguistic capers — make it delightful and a quiet reproach to other writers whose ego is the true subject.  The book slows down a bit, a pleasant change, when we get to the longtime residency Johnny had at the Tail of the Cock in Los Angeles, but it is much more a narrative of a professional taking whatever jobs came his way rather than psychobiography or pathobiography.  I’ve left out the fascinating exploration into his family — both his father and mother and the information his daughter provides — and his interest in playing, with such elan, in 5/4.

Also . . . there are pages of musical analysis of Johnny’s style by someone who knows how the piano can be played, Dick Hyman; reminiscences and reviews by musicians and journalists; a very thorough discography and a listing of Johnny’s compositions . . . and more, including fascinating photographs and newspaper clippings.

The book is to the point, as was its subject, and in its own way, it swings along superbly.  Anyone who’s thrilled to the playful brilliance of a Guarnieri chorus will enjoy it.  And it sends us back to the recordings, a lovely side-effect.  Here’s a later solo performance, so tender:

The Jazzology website is slightly out of date, but I am sure that the book can be purchased directly from them, and it is worth the extra effort to have a copy.

May your happiness increase!