Tag Archives: jazz piano

A TREASURE: JAMES P. JOHNSON, 1921

From the estate of the late Mike Montgomery — offered for sale on eBay by “bixokeh.”  A treasure!

May your happiness increase.

A SMALL MASTERPIECE: CHRIS DAWSON’S “BEAUTIFUL LOVE”

This performance of Victor Young’s BEAUTIFUL LOVE — by the subtle, heartfelt pianist Chris Dawson — is aptly named.  The 1931 song was originally a waltz, but that was before Art Tatum, Bill Evans, Jimmy Rowles, and many singers got to it.  (That the song appeared in the film THE MUMMY still continues to baffle and amaze.  Who sang it and to whom?

Here’s Chris — every note a pearl, but there’s nothing precious about his approach to the keyboard:

And for the Jazz Karaoke fans out there, here’s an online version of the lyrics.

Beautiful love, you’re all a mystery

Beautiful love, what have you done to me?

I was contented till you came along

Thrilling my soul with your song

Beautiful love, I’ve roamed your paradise

Searching for love, my dream to realize

Reaching for heaven, depending on you

Beautiful love, will my dreams come true?

Just please don’t drown out the quietly brilliant Mr. Dawson.  That wouldn’t be Beautiful Love at all.

MODERNISM WITH ROOTS: KEITH INGHAM PLAYS JOHN LEWIS (Jazz at Chautauqua, Sept. 18. 2011)

Everyone knows John Lewis at the pianist and musical director of the Modern Jazz Quartet, and a serious composer.  The aura of seriousness followed Lewis in other ways: I don’t recall any photographs of him in a t-shirt, although there are some portraits in which he is broadly smiling.  But the imagined picture of that handsome man in the tuxedo is so strong that some might forget that Lewis had deep roots in Basie and Ellington and the blues, that he accompanied Lester Young and Jo Jones on some splendid small-group recordings, and that he swung.  (Check out DELAUNAY’S DILEMMA on an Atlantic session — IMPROVISED MEDITATIONS AND EXCURSIONS — if you don’t believe this.)

What better pianist to honor Lewis than our own Keith Ingham, someone who is also occasionally perceived through the wrong end of the telescope as a uniquely fine accompanist to singers, someone able to swing any band or to write arrangements that make everyone sound better.  But Keith is not caught in the Thirties; his new Arbors CD has (by his choice) songs he loves by Wayne Shorter as well.

So we have a meeting of two modernists with roots — Lewis creating lovely melodies on his score sheet; Keith creating his at the piano, with the inspired playing of Frank Tate, string bass, and John Von Ohlen, drums, to guide and propel — all recorded at Jazz at Chautauqua on Sept. 18, 2011.

AFTERNOON IN PARIS:

SKATING IN CENTRAL PARK:

DJANGO:

ODDS AGAINST TOMORROW:

Cerebral music with a deep soul.

And while we’re on the subject of Mr. Ingham and his subtly deep ways at the keyboard, I would like to follow up on an earlier posting — featuring Keith playing Dave Brubeck (also Arthur Schwartz and Billy Strayhorn).  My friend Hank O’Neal (a member of the down-home nobility) sent the Brubeck recital to Dave himself!  Dave loved it and said so in an email: “From listening to the Chautauqua concert on UTube I would say that Keith Ingham has a wonderful concept, an appreciation of jazz from the past and a look into the future.  Really enjoyed it.”

I know that Keith spends far more time at the piano keyboard than the computer keyboard, but I know that Dave’s praise will get to him.  Love will find a way, as Eubie Blake and Noble Sissle told us.  And I hope some smart jazz booking agents will find ways to send Keith in person throughout the world of clubs and concerts.

The Brubeck post, in case you missed it, can be found here

KEITH INGHAM PLAYS BRUBECK, ARTHUR SCHWARTZ, STRAYHORN, and MORE (Jazz at Chautauqua 2011)

Many people know Keith Ingham as a wonderful accompanist to singers — never getting in the way, but always adding so much to their work.  Others have found him a fine band pianist — going back to Stacy and boogie-woogie, forward to a swinging empathy.  But the Ingham fewer people know about is the powerful Mainstream player — someone with strong lyrical tendencies, a poet of songs others don’t play.  But there’s nothing fussy in Keith’s approach, and whether he is tracing a tender love ballad or building an improvisation from clearly-constructed rhythms and harmonies, he’s always in control without losing any essential grace.

Here are two brief recitals from the 2011 Jazz at Chautauqua party.  The first finds Keith on his own, exploring songs and composers that some in the audience might have found surprising.  But everything gleams under his fingers, beginning with this leisurely exploration of some songs by Dave Brubeck:

The compositions are IN YOUR OWN SWEET WAY, IT’S A RAGGY WALTZ, and TAKE FIVE.  Like Dave McKenna, Keith often arranges songs whimsically by the themes implied in their titles — so here are HERE’S THAT RAINY DAY, A FOGGY DAY, and SOME OTHER SPRING (although the weather was perfectly pleasant at Chautauqua):

And Keith closed this recital with an Ellington / Strayhorn medley — of PASSION FLOWER, UPPER MANHATTAN MEDICAL GROUP, CHELSEA BRIDGE, and TAKE THE “A” TRAIN — energized, not formulaic:

The next day (Saturday, Sept. 17) Keith asked bassist Jon Burr and drummer Pete Siers to join him for a serious (but light-hearted) exploration of the songs of Arthur Schwartz, including I GUESS I’LL HAVE TO CHANGE MY PLAN, DANCING IN THE DARK, MAKE THE MAN LOVE ME, BY MYSELF, and more.  Here’s that delicious recital:

Craig Ventresco told me some years back that Keith was “a real musician,” and these performances testify to that.  I hope someone lets Jonathan Schwartz know about the recital of his father’s work: I am sure that JS would be very pleased.

JOHN SHERIDAN KICKS IT (Sept. 5, 2011)

Underestimate pianist / composer / arranger John Sheridan at your peril.  Neatly dressed, apparently serious-minded, he is really a volcanic eruption of swing just waiting for the proper moment.  Yes, he can play the most delicate traceries behind a soloist or our Becky Kilgore, and when he sits down at a new piano he is more likely to venture into IN A MIST than HONKY TONK TRAIN BLUES (although his version of the latter song is peerless).  But he’s a Force of Nature when seated at the piano.  No cascades of notes; no violent runs up and down the keyboard; no “displays of technique”: John simply starts plainly and builds and builds — at these times, the pianist he summons up most is the much-missed Dave McKenna, without consciously aping the Woonsocket, R.I. master’s locomotive patterns.

Sheridan remains Sheridan, and that’s a good thing.

Here he is (with Richard Simon, bass; Dick Shanahan, drums) in the final set of the final afternoon of the 2011 Sweet and Hot Music Festival.  All the musicians and the varied audiences were in a state of Jazz Satiety: whatever could have been played or heard was in the preceding four days.

So wily Mr. Sheridan eschewed his stride extravaganzas and tender ballads: instead, he suggested something both elementary and profound, Sonny Rollins’ calypso ST. THOMAS.  And from those simple chords and potentially repetitive rhythmic patterns he built a powerful edifice — a masterpiece of variations on themes, of creative improvisation.  And it rocked the house there — as I think it will do for yours now:

Another winning play from John Sheridan, man of many surprises!

MICHAEL KANAN and FRIENDS (Sept. 1, 2011)

You don’t ordinarily think of special things happening on Thursday — Friday morning work looms — but September 1, 2011, will be a special night for beautiful improvisations in New York City.  If you can get to 211 West 46th Street between 7 and 11:30, you will hear some splendid music.

The occasion is another one of Michael Kanan’s beautiful piano evenings, taking place at Sofia’s!  Michael, Larry Ham, Tardo Hammer, and Pete Malniverni will be alternating at the keyboard for the entire evening — ably supported by Lee Hudson, bass; Eliot Zigmund, drums.

From those names, you know that lyrical explorations of melody, of songs newly reconsidered and ones you haven’t heard in a long time, will be the consistent subject.  All the pianists on this bill are friends; they have their own deep ways of exploring music without falling back on the usual post-bop cliches, and they are players who easily get to the heart of a song.

Michael is not only a subtle man at the keyboard; he has a subtle architectural way with musical evenings.  Rather than organize his friends into possibly lengthy solo showcases, he makes these Sofia’s evenings a series of small surprises, a tumbling cornucopia of musical gifts.  Each of the four pianists will perform two songs and then get off the piano bench for his colleague.  The result is not only a night of bright moments and subtle contrasts, but each of the players, in his own way, reflects what he’s just heard — so the evening is much more than one improvisation after another, it takes on its own shimmering shape — as if you’d eaten a wonderful layered multi-course meal, seen a moving three-act play.  It’s a chamber concert of the finest kind for jazz listeners.

Sofia’s is at 221 W. 46th Street, NYC (between Broadway and Eighth Ave): no cover, no minimum, just quiet jazz mastery.

BACK TO SCHOOL

I think I’ve been in the classroom — sitting in a student desk or perched on top of the desk at the front of the room — for ninety percent of my life.  And as someone who went straight through from grade school to graduate school, I have very little desire to go back to school.  I would be a bad student, shifting in my chair, drawing in my notebook, thinking “I could do this better.”

And — in parallel — the signs in stores and online ads that proclaim BACK TO SCHOOL in yellow and red (the colors of pencils and erasers) are not cheering to me: they haven’t been for a long time.

But if I could enroll in any program on earth in September 2011, it would be this one:Because of the fame he had won as a member of the Goodman small groups, Teddy Wilson started this enterprise in 1938.  From what I can gather, the records were made available to students, who also bought text — explaining certain subtleties of what Wilson was playing and why — so that they, too, could walk their tenths or perfect their arpeggios.  I picture young men and women in their basements or rec rooms, listening hard to a particular four-bar passage on their recording, trying to duplicate it at the keyboard.  Not easy!

The music on this 78 (and perhaps eighteen other performances, including unissued takes) was not readily available to people not enrolled in the program.  A bootleg 10″ lp on the Jolly Roger label offered six or eight sides in the Fifties, and perhaps twenty-five years later Jerry Valburn issued all the sides on the Merrit Record Society label, and they have come out on CD, divided between the Classics and Neatwork labels.  They are fascinating interludes in the Wilson discography, for it seems that after he had recorded a few sides that would be issued on Brunswick 78s, he then took additional studio time to record several selections for his School for Pianists. (I can’t call all the titles to mind, but I remember I’LL SEE YOU IN MY DREAMS, LOCH LOMOND, TIGER RAG, MY BLUE HEAVEN, THAT OLD FEELING . . . )

When I encountered him at close range (in 1971), Wilson was the very definition of taciturn.  Not impolite, but hardly warm.  But if I could sit in any classroom, I would fill out my program to be in Professor Teddy’s class, hoping that I could make my fingers move in a Wilsonian fashion.

LEARN TO PLAY THE PIANO THE JOE SULLIVAN WAY

I would if I could.  Wouldn’t you?

First lesson below.  Practice this for next week, and remember not to rush!

ON THE FIRST OF MAY!

It is Mark Shane Day,” to paraphrase Lorenz Hart. 

The extraordinary pianist will be playing a solo concert, TICKLING APERITIF, concentrating on the music of James P. Johnson.

The concert, sponsored by the Tri-State Jazz Society, will take place on Sunday, May 1, 2011, 2-4:30, at the Old Pine Street Church, 412 Pine Street, Philadelphia, PA 19106.

What makes that location special is the church’s good acoustics (it’s been used for recording sessions) and the new Steinway piano.

But wait!  There’s more!   Anyone who has not previously attended a Tri-State Jazz Society concert will be admitted for half-price.  High school and college students with IDs and younger children accompanied by a paying adult are admitted FREE.  Regular admission is $20, members $10.  No advance sales or reservations, so get there early!

For more information and directions, visit http://www.tristatejazz.org.  You may also email publicity@tristatejazz.org. or call (856) 720-0232.

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!

WELCOME ALEX LEVIN!

I’m always delighted to learn about someone younger who has the real jazz spirit. 

Many people can play.  But not so many can really play — and there is a difference beyond the changed font. 

To get past one’s technique to be creative (without being self-indulgent); to honor the jazz tradition without being stuck in the past; to get a lovely sound out of one’s instrument; to create solos that stand on their own as artistically complete; to tell one’s story . . . that’s more rare.

Pianist Alex Levin’s first CD shows him to be one of the rare ones.  When you visit his website — as I hope you will — you’re greeted instantly with the opening bars of a lightly graceful CHEEK TO CHEEK: http://www.alexlevinjazz.com/

You’ll admire his light touch, his lovely voicings, the way he makes the piano sing out.  And he’s got an innate rhythmic enthusiasm that makes for danceable music — without sacrificing everything for the pure push of rhythm. 

Alex says he’s been inspired by the late Herman Foster, but he doesn’t sound like one of those technically-assured people with no ideas of their own.  You know, all those Jazz-Master-Clones, well-intentioned but ultimately limited. 

The musical pleasures I am describing are to be found on his new CD, called NEW YORK PORTRAITS (its neat cover, designed by Peter Moser, is at the top).

Without making jokes, Alex is witty — catch the extended intentional detour into JEEPERS CREEPERS on CHEEK TO CHEEK, fitting perfectly.  He’s courageous, too: it takes a certain candor and openness to approach BODY AND SOUL these days, and his version stands beautifully on its own. 

Alex has surrounded himself with the best talent: bassist Michael Bates and drummer Brian Floody, and left them space to breathe, to sing their own songs.  The two originals on this CD have their own melodic gravity — and shape, and the music Alex has created will (although accessible to people who “don’t like jazz”) will reverberate pleasantly in your ears for a long time.  Check him out.

As Billie Holiday said of Jimmy Rowles — she was telling Lester Young about this new White musician, unknown to Lester (who was suspicious), “I don’t know . . . boy can blow!”  As can Alex.  

SWING OUT WITH JUST ONE CLICK: ALL MONEY COLLECTED GOES TO THE MUSICIANS!

https://www.paypal.com/cgi-bin/webscr?cmd=_s-xclick&hosted_button_id=VBURVAWDMWQAS

PIANO SUMMIT at SOFIA’S (Part Two): Dec. 4, 2010

The music I heard and captured at Michael Kanan’s piano soiree at Sofia’s Ristorante (in the Hotel Edison, 211 West 46th Street, New York City) on Dec. 4, 2010, so captivated me that I decided to post another half-dozen performances from that splendid night. 

The participants were Larry Ham, Pete Malinverni, Tardo Hammer, and Michael, piano; Neal Miner, bass; Eliot Zigmund, drums.  What continues to fascinate me is the wide emotional range in these performances — from spiky to tender, from witty to rhapsodic.  Although these players know the traditions deeply and empathically, this wasn’t a repertory evening, with the ghosts of (say) Nat Cole, Bud Powell, Fats Waller, McCoy Tyner . . . etc., being feted.  It was enthralling to hear these men at the piano and the warm-hearted playing of Neal and Eliot — a gathering of friends.

When I met Michael about a week later (he was playing alongside Dan Block at the Brooklyn Lyceum) I complimented him on his format for the evening, where each of the four pianists played two leisurely selections, then got off the bench for the next player.  I thought it went a long way in preventing the usual set-shaping that musicians fall into, but Michael pointed out one of his aims (fully realized) that I hadn’t consciously absorbed.  I had seen the other players paying close attention while they were members of the listening audience — but Michael had more than this in mind: that each player would be influenced (subliminally or directly) by what his colleagues had played — making the evening an organic artistic whole rather than simply a round-robin.

It worked — and it transcended my already high expectations.  Here are a half-dozen more opportunities to savor this evening.

Tardo Hammer, sure-footed yet loving risks, began the evening with an individualistic reading of Gigi Gryce’s MINORITY (a composition whose title I had to ask):

Pete Malinverni (“It’s melody, man!”) embarked on a pair of standards, at once tenderly reverent and quietly, subversively, taking them apart from inside.  Here’s I REMEMBER YOU:

And a romantic MY IDEAL:

Michael Kanan continued with two delicious explorations: on ALL THE THINGS YOU ARE, he didn’t presume to imitate Art Tatum, but I swear I keep waiting for Ben Webster to join in.  Then he turned it into a spiky BLUE SKIES.  I wonder how audible the woman who wanted to sing along is (although she had a pleasant enough voice, she was standing — by my lights — far too close).  Youth must be served, I suppose:

And here’s Michael’s controlled but enthusiastic reading of LET’S FALL IN LOVE:

And we’ll let have Larry Ham lovingly have the last word with CLOSE ENOUGH FOR LOVE:

This was a wholly gratifying jazz evening: I hope Michael can arrange piano soirees on a regular basis!

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!

THE MAESTRO PLAYS COLE PORTER at Birdland (Dec. 1, 2010)

Last night, Wednesday, December 1, the Beloved and I went to Birdland to catch another edition of David Ostwald’s Louis Armstrong Centennial Band.  The weather had kept many people away, but the band played beautifully to the small, attentive audience.

That band?  David, tuba; Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Dan Block, clarinet, alto, and a surprise vocal; Jim Fryer, trombone, euphonium, and vocals; Kevin Dorn, drums. 

And Rossano Sportiello, piano. 

Rossano — “The Maestro” to me any many others — made the most of his solo feature.  He decided, without any fanfare, to create a small but powerful Cole Porter tribute, beginning with a sad, delicate EV’RYTIME WE SAY GOODBYE and moving into a JUST ONE OF THOSE THINGS that was a rollicking extravaganza. 

Students of the jazz tradition will be able to say, “Oh, there’s a Dave McKenna walking bass,” or perhaps, “Catch those hints of Cliff Jackson, will you?”  But it’s all Rossano: the gliding agility, the dazzling intensity that doesn’t rely on raising the volume or pounding the keys; the singular voicings, his beautiful touch. 

It was an astonishing performance — and halfway through this video, I couldn’t resist panning away from the piano to catch the rest of the LACB, leaning silent and awestruck at the other end of the room, savoring every nuance. 

Maestro Sportiello melds lyricism and swing so beautifully, that a performance like this, extraordinary for us, is what he does so well every time I’ve ever heard him play. 

Bravo!  Bravo!

PIANO PLAYHOUSE: SATURDAY AT SOFIA’S (Dec. 4, 2010)

Larry Ham

Something special! 

Tardo Hammer

At Sofia’s Ristorante (at street level — 211 West 46th Street, part of the Hotel Edison, between Broadway and Eighth Avenue), there will be a four-hour session featuring four extraordinary pianists and rhythm, this coming Saturday, December 4, 2010.

Michael Kanan

The “rhythm” is bassist Neal Miner and drummer Eliot Zigmund.

Pete Malniverni

The pianists are Michael Kanan, Larry Ham, Tardo Hammer, and Pete Malinverni.  The music will run from 7:00-11:30 PM, the four pianists alternating at the keyboard.  I hope to be there . . . for a remarkable evening of jazz.  I hope that some of my readers join me — and there’s a tradition of sitting-in at Sofia’s, so who knows what surprises may happen?

PHILIPPE SOUPLET’S “PIANO STORIES”

Not long ago, I encountered the impressive French jazz / stride pianist Philippe Souplet on YouTube. 

Here’s the evidence: his 2009 performance of MULE WALK:

Now, Philippe has come out with his first solo CD, and it’s delightful: PIANO STORIES: FAT LIONS, GENTLE DUKES, AND OTHER OLD FRIENDS — which should give you an idea of his musical range and light-hearted approach to the music. 

On it, he explores compositions by Willie “the Lion” Smith, Billy Strayhorn, Duke Ellington, Fats Waller, Edgar Sampson, Arthur Schwartz, and of course James P. Johnson.

The CD benefits greatly from a wonderful piano, splendidly recorded, but Philippe’s approach to this material would come through in less ideal circumstances. 

Although he is deeply respectful of the Stride tradition, he doesn’t treat the repertoire as a series of rigidly established classical compositions.  He’s a graceful improviser, serving the music.  He isn’t combative — he doesn’t try to overwhelm the music with speed and volume.  His tempos are peaceful, giving the melodies time to breathe. 

And Philippe is not constrained by some narrow definitions of musical history: there’s an elegant openness to his playing, with sideways glances at Dave McKenna and Hank Jones.  It’s a varied CD that ranges from the pensive to the joyous. 

The selections are I GUESS I’LL HAVE TO CHANGE MY PLAN / HERE COMES THE BAND / CHELSEA BRIDGE / THE MULE WALK / HONEY HUSH / ELLINGTON – STRAYHORN MEDLEY: Passion Flower – Mood Indigo – Prelude To A Kiss – Do Nothin’ Till You Hear From Me / IF DREAMS COME TRUE / MORNING AIR / RETROSPECTION / IT DON’T MEAN A THING (IF IT AIN’T GOT THAT SWING) / I’VE GOT A FEELING I’M FALLING / MELANCHOLIA / AIN’T MISBEHAVIN’. 

Philippe produced the CD himself: you can contact him at psouplet@wanadoo.fr. for information about how to purchase a copy.

FINDING SONNY CLARK

Sam Stephenson’s JAZZ LOFT PROJECT blog is one I visit regularly — not only for its subject matter but for the caliber of Sam’s prose.  Often the site’s subject is the magical and mysterious music and life revolving around Eugene Smith, photographer and thinker and friend of jazz. 

But today I was captivated by a black-and-white picture of a first grade class . . . which turns out to have the jazz pianist Sonny Clark in its front row.  I’m calling your attention to this post because of the loving perceptive research into someone’s life that Sam is doing here. 

Even if you’re not as deep into Clark’s life and music as Sam is, you should read this posting: http://www.jazzloftproject.org/blog/general/conrad-yeatis-clark-first-grade

JOHN BUNCH by RANDY SANDKE

Randy Sandke writes:

Someone should really acknowledge the passing of John Bunch.  He was a truly unique stylist and a brilliant improviser.  I remember listening with awe once as he played multiple choruses on the blues, every one taking up a new idea and developing it through each 12-bar sequence without being the slightest bit pedantic.  I thought I was listening to the spontaneous creation of a 20th Century Goldberg Variations.  John had a all the qualities of a great player – originality, flawless technique (which never called attention to itself), great subtlety, and infectious swing.  All he lacked was the major recognition, partly because his personality was very much like his playing: no flash or gimmicks.  Also, perhaps because he was identified as a “mainstream” player, which signifies lack of originality in critical parlance.  But as Harry Allen once said, John was always the most modern (and timeless I would add) player on the bandstand.

<http://www.nytimes.com/2010/04/02/arts/music/02bunch.html>

Nate Chinen’s piece in the NY Times was respectful and accurate to a point, but again, it implied that John was a “swing” player (there’s that word again).  John’s conception began with bebop, and his whole approach (rhythm, harmonic, melodic) was much more in the Hank Jones school than Teddy Wilson, though again, he spoke unequivocally in his own voice.

John was also a gentle and self-effacing person, on the reserved side, but one who had a wealth of fascinating stories to tell: of being shot down over Germany in WWII and spending months in a prisoner-of-war camp (all of which he told me as we were touring Germany); how his trio in Indianapolis couldn’t find a bass player so they used Wes Montgomery playing bass lines on guitar; and how, after playing with a young Freddie Hubbard, he thought “this guy sounds terrible; he’ll never make it.”

John will be sorely missed by those who knew him and those who revered his playing.  Like any true artist, he leaves a void that cannot be filled.

I can only add that I first saw and heard John play with Ruby Braff in the early Seventies.  In retrospect, I was so awed by Ruby’s playing that it took some time for me to actually hear closely what John was consistently, quietly doing.  But I can still see and hear Ruby standing by the piano while John soloed, urging him on, agreeing, smiling at what he heard. 

In a musical landscape of extroverts and self-dramatizers, John pursued his art — serenely and thoughtfully, with wonderful swing and understated eloquence.  In my experience, certain musicians, now gone, were always reliable and more: seeing them onstage, I could relax, knowing that the music was going to be superb.  Jake Hanna, George Duvivier, Milt Hinton, John Bunch.  We are fortunate to have heard them, to have been welcomed into their individual rooms.

To hear more from John himself, visit Marc Myers’ invaluable JazzWax, where he is posting an interview he did with John — incomplete but invaluable: http://www.jazzwax.com/2010/04/interview-john-bunch-part-1.html?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+Jazzwax+%28JazzWax%29&utm_content=Google+Feedfetcher

THE BOUNCE ACCORDING TO JOE ALTERMAN

There’s a Stephen Sondheim song — BOUNCE — from the musical of the same name.  I heard it many times on Jonathan Schwartz’s show on WNYC-FM.  It’s a cynical paean to the ability to re-adapt, to get up off the floor, to reinvent yourself, sung by two brothers who have seen a great deal.

I thought about it, however irrelevantly, when the young jazz pianist Joe Alterman sent me a copy of his debut CD, PIANO TRACKS (VOLUME ONE).  Young?  He’s twenty-one.  Credit for my knowing about Joe is due to the energetic Marc Myers, of JazzWax: read his December 2009 post on Joe here: http://www.jazzwax.com/2009/12/joe-alterman-piano-tracks.html.

Joe admires the lyrical, singing, propulsive styles — they’re timeless — embodied by Hank Jones and other giants. 

Joe’s also got his own personal blog, where he writes about meeting Hank Jones and Jimmy Heath, studying with Don Friedman, and more — humble, funny, and to the point.  It’s http://joealterman.blogspot.com/

But back to the CD at hand.  It was recorded last year, and it is a comfortable kind of music: swinging without being self-conscious, embracing the past without being restricted by “repertory” conventions.  Joe is a melodic player — someone who respects the compositions he sets out to play (Arlen, Johnny Green, Styne, Gershwin, Mancini) and is also an adept composer.  I’ve heard some contemporary pianists recently who seem to believe that their improvisations must be aggressive to be compelling, so they rampage over the keyboard as if they were annoyed by it.  That’s not Joe’s style.  He knows the virtue of space, of letting lines breathe.  And he knows how to swing naturally in the fashion of Red Garland and Ahmad Jamal.  Some of the infectious bounce of this CD is due to bassist Scott Glazer and drummer Justin Varnes (on one track, they are replaced by Sam Selinger and Tiffany Chang), but with all due respect to them, I think Joe could swing on his own.  He understands the possibilities within “medium-up-tempo,” and the CD has its own rocking momentum.  And several of his originals deserve their own life — the moody THE FIRST NIGHT HOME, and the naughty blues (BEFORE YOU BRING ME MY CORNBREAD) SLAP SOME BUTTER ON THAT BISCUIT, which surely has lyrics waiting to be sung. 

You can hear some music from the CD at Joe’s site — click on http://www.joealtermanmusic.com/live/

Sondheim’s song urges us all to “learn how to bounce,” which I know is a commendable skill — but young Joe Alterman already knows how.  Welcome!

WHAT ED BEACH GAVE US

I’ve just learned that Ed Beach is dead.  He was 86 and had lived in Oregon (his home state) for a long time.  No service is planned, so people who recall him, love him, and love what he did will have to perform their own affectionate memorials in their heads.

Fittingly, for a man who spent his life as a voice coming through the speaker, there is no picture of Beach on Google Images.  But that voice — cavernous, drawling, amused, dragging out certain syllables — is here in my memory, and when people like myself who grew up listening to Beach speak of him, one of them will bring forth his cherished phrases and start laughing.

What I know of his biography is limited.  Oregon-born, he was a capable West Coast jazz pianist who admired Tatum and the early bop players.  How he got into radio I don’t know, but my first awareness of him began in 1969, when I saw in the New York Times that there was a two-hour program called (rather flatly) JUST JAZZ on the then reigning non-commercial New York jazz station, WRVR-FM, 106.7, broadcasting from the Riverside Church. 

That in itself was interesting: it was on two hours every weekday and for four hours on Saturday night.  In this age of digitized music and internet streaming, those hours may not seem like a great deal, but it was a boon even then.  And what caught my attention was the listing of a two-hour show on Lee Wiley, someone I’d read about but hadn’t heard.  (I’d read George Frazier’s love-besotted liner note reprinted in EDDIE CONDON’S TREASURY OF JAZZ.  More about that book and that piece sometime.)  So I found a new box of reel-to-reel tape and sat in front of the speaker while Ed Beach played Lee Wiley’s recordings and spoke in between them. 

I didn’t know at the time that I had uniwttingly encountered one of the great spiritual masters, someone who (along with the musicians themselves and Whitney Balliett) would teach me all that I needed to know about jazz.

Beach’s show began with his chosen theme — Wes Montgomery’s BLUES IN F — played softly as connecting-music in between the performances he wanted to share with us.  Then, that deep voice, introducing himself and the show, and offering a very brief sketch of the artist who was the show’s subject . . . and into the music.  He didn’t overwhelm with minutiae; he didn’t teach or preach.  (Yes, I am comparing him with the Phil Schaap of today, but defenders of Phil need not leap to his defense.  This is about Ed Beach.) 

Beach wasn’t terribly interested in full personnels, in the best sound quality, in the original label of issue, presenting alternate takes in sequence, arranging an artist’s career chronologically. 

Rather, his was an eclectic, human approach — as if you had been invited to a listening session with someone who had a large collection, was eager to share his beloved treasures, moving from track to track as delight and whim took him.  So his approach was personal, apparently casual — as one selection reminded him of another, not just for their apparent similarity, but for the juxtapositions and the range of an artist’s work he could show in two hours.  Someone like Lee, whose recorded career was compact (this was in 1969, before all those versions of LET’S CALL IT A DAY surfaced) could be covered well in two hours.  Other artists, with longer careers, got multi-part shows: four hours on Louis in the Thirties.  Beach’s range was wide: I remember shows on Rollins and on Johnny Dunn.  And — given his format — he didn’t replay his favorite recordings.  Ed Hall today, Hank Mobley tomorrow, and so on. 

In hearing and recording and rehearing those shows I was not only learning about performances and performers I hadn’t heard of (because much classic jazz was out of print and my budget was limited) but about a loving reverence for the music, a point of view that could shine the light on the ODJB and on Clifford Brown, without condescending to either.  He mixed reverence for the music and irreverence for things outside it (he was powerfully funny in an understated way).  He tried to teach us all what to listen to and how to listen to it.

Now, when we can buy the complete recordings of X — going for hours, with unissued material, arranged in sequence — a Beach show might seem a fragmentary overview.  And I remember the mixed feelings I had, perhaps thirty-five years ago, when my collection (in its narrow intense way) began to expand past what he had played — or, even given new discoveries — what he had known.  I had that odd sense of a student discovering something that his much-admired professor hadn’t had access to . . . mingled emotions for sure. 

(Beach also had a program, for some brief time, BEACH READS, where he did just that — in that resonant voice, purling his way in hilarious deadpan through S.J. Perelman.  I can hear those cadences now.  And he was just as articulate off the air.  I remember having a small dialogue with him through the mail.  Powerfully under the spell of Mezz Mezzrow’s REALLY THE BLUES, I had written something negative to him about Red Nichols, accusing Nichols of being in it for the money.  Forty years later, I remember Beach’s sharp response: “Jazz musicians don’t play for cookies and carrots.”

All things, even Golden Eras that no one recognizes at the time, come to an end.  JUST JAZZ started to be aired at odd hours.  I set my alarm clock to get up at 7 AM on a Saturday morning to tape a two-hour Sidney Catlett show.  Pure jazz, without commercials, was not a paying proposition.  WRVR changed its programming schedule, putting Ed “in drive time,” airing brief jazz-related commercials (one of them was for the Master Jazz Recordings label — MJR of sainted memory) and then the station was sold.  I heard him again only on my deteriorating tapes and then only in my imagination.       

I hope that others who had the precious experience will share their memories of Ed — and perhaps this post will make its way to his family, so that they will know even more of how “Uncle Gabchin” or “Sam Seashore,” of the firm of “Wonder, Blunder, and Thunder,” some favorite self-mocking personae — how much Ed Beach was loved.  And remains so. 

Few people gave us so much, with so little fanfare, so generously.

RAY SKJELBRED’S GOT IT!

But we’ve known this for a long time.

I first heard Ray on recordings by a gratifyingly loose group called Berkeley Rhythm (sent to me by my friend and mentor John L. Fell) and then I bought some sessions he was on — one in particular was a duet session with cornetist Jim Goodwin, “Takin’ A Chance on Love,” whose cover featured poker-playing, cigar-smoking dogs.  Then I found compact discs by Ray as a member of Hal Smith’s Roadrunners (a wondrous group also featuring Becky Kilgore and clarinetist Bobby Gordon).

Ray is a stomping pianist in the style of Joe Sullivan, Jess Stacy, Earl Hines, and Frank Melrose — with many delightful idiosyncracies throughout in repertoire and approach.  I was delighted to see that “SFRaeAnn” had captured Ray at Pier 23 and put some performances on YouTube so that East Coast types like myself didn’t feel so deprived.  Cheers and thanks and more!

In this style, it takes a player of a certain sensitivity and steadiness to resist the temptation to play everything fast and loud.  Here, Ray explores William H. Tyers’s “Panama”: the even tread of his swing is something to savor!

Here he plays “a mystery tune,” whose chord changes will reveal themselves to my wise readers (and Ray gives us the answer at the end, rather than cause despair and deprivation):

A duet for solo piano?  The Ellington-Blanton “Pitter Panther Patter,” reimagined as it would have been on Chicago’s South Side circa 1933:

In these more recent clips, the audience commentary is more audible than is ideal, but I thought I would share Ray’s tender version of a song that both Louis and Bird loved, “The Gypsy” — with a Stacy tremolo here and there:

Finally, a rocking “Basin Street Blues,” worthy of the piano masters:

Thank you, Ray, for keeping the flame so nobly — and thanks, too, to “SFRaeAnn” for her recording and posting skills and generosities.

THE PIANIST IN QUESTION

weinI was in the middle of writing an ambivalent review for All About Jazz of the Mosaic reissue of George Wein’s Newport All-Stars 1967 concerts when I stopped.  The CD, GEORGE WEIN IS ALIVE AN WELL IN MEXICO, features Ruby Braff, Pee Wee Russell, Bud Freeman, and Jack Lesberg.  It was originally issued on Columbia Records, and Mosaic has added three previously unissued tracks.  The slow numbers offer poignant playing from Russell late in his career, with Freeman and Braff in peerless, musing form, Lesberg giving great support.  And reissue producer Michael Cuscuna, long may he wave, apologizes for reproducing the dreadfully insulting cover photograph and tells a wonderful story about two of the faux-Mexican banditos, who are doing their best to summon up the spirit of Alfonso Badoya.   

But Lamond’s drums pummel the listener, which could be more the fault of the hall and the recording engineer.  And all of Wein’s pianistic shortcomings are brilliantly audible — the heavy touch, the clogged phrasing, the repeated formulas, the dragging rhythms.

In the interest of fairness, I took a YouTube break to check myself, to see if I was being unjust to Wein.  As an impresario, he has contributed immeasurably to jazz.  Imagine if the Newport Jazz Festivals had never existed! 

But as a pianist and bandleader? 

I found this performance of LADY BE GOOD — from Copenhagen, dated 1974 (although it might be 1969) with Braff, Red Norvo, bassist Larry Ridley, Barney Kessel, Lamond, and Wein.

Wein kicks off a very brisk tempo and all is well, sometimes inspiring, until he solos, perhaps becase Kessel and Ridley’s strong rhythmic pulse keeps the band on track.  But Wein then launches complicated figures that he is just-nearly-able to play at this tempo.  The solo isn’t disastrous, but it offers evidence to support what I’ve been hearing on records and in person for a long time.  Unkind, perhaps; unjust, no.  Imagine this band with a young Mark Shane, with Dick Hyman, John Bunch, Hank Jones, or Jimmy Rowles.  How they would have flown! 

And since there is more to life and to this post than pulling anyone to pieces in public, I encourage vewers to delight in the solos by everyone else in this performance — Norvo’s limber arpeggios, a floating phrase Braff pulls off in his second bridge, Kessel’s bluesy intensity. 

Should the philosophical question come up, “Is it better to have this performance, with its flaws, then not?” my answer would be a quick Yes.  But it reminds us just how marvelous it is when everyone in an improvising jazz group is emotionally and technically on the same wavelength, and perhaps just how hard it is to accomplish that special creative unity.