Tag Archives: jazz

RAINBOWS ‘ROUND OUR SHOULDERS at THE EVERGREEN JAZZ FESTIVAL (July 25-27, 2014) with JAMES DAPOGNY’S CHICAGO JAZZ BAND

I visited Evergreen, Colorado, for the first time on July 25-27, 2014, and I had “the Evergreen experience” three ways. I was there for the Evergreen Jazz Festival — a weekend of delights.

First, this wonderful celestial manifestation:

Rainbow Twoand another attempt at capturing it with my phone:

Rainbow OneThe name EVERGREEN is no hyperbole, either:

PineThe second “Evergreen experience” escaped my camera because I was utterly unprepared. After a night of music at the EJF, I was sitting in my car in a parking lot — a very dark night — talking to the Beloved to tell her of the day’s events — and twenty or more immature elk trotted past the hood of the car. Of course it was the parking lot of the Elks’ Lodge, so I shouldn’t have been surprised, but I felt as if I’d witnessed a small Nature show for my benefit.

The true “experiences” of that weekend (aside from lovely gracious new friends) were musical, provided generously by James Dapogny and the Chicago Jazz Band: Dapogny, piano / arrangements; Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Chris Smith, trombone, vocal; Kim Cusack, clarinet, alto saxophone, vocal; Russ Whitman, clarinet, tenor, baritone saxophone; Rod McDonald, guitar; Dean Ross (a Denver native), string bass; Pete Siers, drums.

Here they are — “asking the musical question,” twice. Gloriously.

AIN’T ‘CHA GOT MUSIC? is by James P. Johnson, a show tune from 1932 — memorably played and sung by Henry “Red” Allen and a small group in the next year. Here, a swinging arrangement by Dapogny and a fervent vocal by Chris Smith:

DO YOU EVER THINK OF ME? asks the eternal (perhaps wobegone) question in a rocking performance at odds with its sad title. The song, from 1920, was composed by Earl Burnett with lyrics by Harry D. Kerr and John Cooper:

doyoueverthinkofme

Thanks to Jeannie and Ted Mann and Jim Reiners for making it possible for me to have these inspiring experiences, musical and otherwise! I will have more musical delights to share with you — but I hope to be back amidst elk, rainbows, and wonderful music in 2015. And perhaps you will join me at the Evergreen Jazz Festival, where rainbows proliferate, outdoors and in.

May your happiness increase!

May your happiness increase!

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UNABRIDGED and UPLIFTING: CARL SONNY LEYLAND and RAY SKJELBRED at MONTEREY (March 19, 2014)

There are occasions when we have two pianos on stage, and two pianists. Perhaps it’s not so unusual these days. But I submit to you that the pairing of Carl Sonny Leyland (on the right side of your screen) and Ray Skjelbred (left) is remarkable for its wit, depth, and playful inventiveness.  It happened on March 9, 2014, at the Jazz Bash at the Bay in Monterey, California, and I present the results here now in all their splendor.  Unabridged, unexpurgated, unedited, and full of life. I apologize that my camera’s wide-angle lens wasn’t sufficiently ample to keep both Masters in the shot, but the sound is I hope compensation for the visual limitations.  (I was seated in the first row and kept swiveling my head back and forth, so my camera followed suit.)

I think it was an absolute honor to be there, and that this is unrivaled music.

NOBODY’S SWEETHEART NOW:

WININ’ BOY BLUES:

FAN IT / OH, BABY!:

HOW LONG BLUES:

CHINA BOY:

BUDDY BOLDEN’S BLUES:

OUR MONDAY DATE:

SUGAR:

BLUES MY NAUGHTY SWEETIE GIVES TO ME:

SPECIAL DELIVERY BLUES:

I WOULD DO ANYTHING FOR YOU:

Both of these great musicians — strong-minded individualists — reveled in this opportunity to create something larger than themselves, something warmly alive and unforgettable. To echo Carl’s words after the end of NOBODY’S SWEETHEART, “Yeah. Fun.”

May your happiness increase!

WRITE ON THE HEAD!

I received a fascinating letter some days ago from John Cox, a musician from Melbourne, Australia, who has played with Len and Bob Barnard and many other traditional / New Orleans / swing bands.

John told me that he has a signed banjo head from the Twenties with members of the King Oliver band, that he would like to sell and have go to a good home. Several New Orleans authorities including Greg Lambousy have said they thought it was genuine.  John says he has a Gretsch tenor banjo which the head came from. He’s looking to sell both for a starting bid of $1800 (he has had offers from interested people and institutions) and you can email him at johnpaulacox@optusnet.com.au.

BANJO HEAD

From what I can see, the Louis signature is genuine. And it appears that the original owner of this holy relic offered it to musicians in 1923, 1926, and 1928 for their signatures.  I see Freddie Keppard, Sippie Wallace, Baby Dodds, Johnny Dodds, Honore Dutrey, Manuel Perez, Bud Scott, and one other (top left) that I don’t quite recognize. (News flash!  Kris Bauwens, who knows a great deal about these things, has suggested that it is Bunk Johnson.  Indeed!)

I asked John about the provenance of this object, to learn more about it, and to sense its authenticity, and he told me that he bought the head from a man named Sampson, living in Queensland.  Sampson told John that the banjo had belonged to his father.  When Sampson’s father was about 15, Sampson’s grandfather would take him to the United States from England by ship to New Orleans, up the Mississippi River to Chicago.  They would stay in a hotel and get contraband to take back to England. In the hotels were jazz bands, and he befriended Bud Scott, who looked after him and gave him the banjo, which he had musicians sign over the years.  The banjo would have been fairly cheap at the time.  The boy was nicknamed “Mississippi Sam,” which was shortened to “Sippi Sam.” John believes the story to be true as Sampson’s father had died but Sampson said he could always remember the banjo at the family home.  Sampson had come out to Australia as a child and was about sixty when John met him.

I don’t ordinarily turn JAZZ LIVES into a hot market, but this object is so enthralling on its own that I felt drawn to do so. Please do get in touch with John if your budget can tolerate the purchase of such a beautiful artifact.

May your happiness increase!

FLIGHTS OF FANCY: ALBERT BALL’S FLYING ACES

When I hear young jazz musicians playing, I always hope that they will record — so that their music can be heard beyond the small circle of people who will attend their live performances.

In London, there’s a small group (ever expanding) of lively young musicians — in this case, devoted to the hybrid of ragtime, popular song, and improvisations that were in the air in the first decades of the last century.

ALBERT BALL'S FLYING ACES

Their debut CD, ALBERT BALL’S FLYING ACES, asks the audience to imagine what might have happened if Ball, an actual pilot and musician who died in the Great War, had survived and formed a band when he came home. The music — played by young people with iPhones — echoes that lost generation who perished in World War One, and reflects lovingly on James Reese Europe, the Original Dixieland Jazz Band, and pretty melodies — both the ones of their time and ones newly composed to reflect that spirit.  The music is at once nostalgic, reflective, and energetic.

FLYING ACES

The musicians may not be familiar names to you — yet — but their work is impressive: Nicholas D. Ball, drums, percussion, vocal; Simon Marsh, reeds; Eleanor Smith, trombone, violin; Matt Redman, banjo, vocal; Richard “Dickie” Evans, sousaphone; Jonathan Butterfield, piano — with guest appearances by Patricia Hammond, vocal; Geoffrey Bartholomew, trumpet.

The songs are ON SILVERY WINGS OF SONG (2012) / THE AEROPLANE RAG (1912) / WHEN HAPPINESS REIGNS (c. 1920) / WAIT ‘TILL YOU GET THEM UP IN THE AIR, BOYS (1919) / PATCHES — A RAG-TIME DUET (c. 1916) / POOR BUTTERFLY (1916) / AFGHANISTAN — A ROMANCE OF ASIA (1919) / COMMON STROLL (2012) / THE FLYING CORPS RAG (2012) / WHAT DO YOU MEAN BY LOVING SOMEBODY ELSE? (1916) / SERENADE LYRIQUE — PICTURESQUE WALTZ (1899) / YOU’RE HERE AND I’M HERE (1914) / KEEP THE HOME FIRES BURNING (1914) / ROSES OF PICARDY (1916).  You’ll note some new titles — composed by Members of the Ensemble, heartwarming favorites of the Great War, and compositions by Kern, Novello, Elgar, and von Tilzer.

It’s much easier to ascend with the help of this band than it is to find a biplane in proper working order, so I commend them to you.

And with fully modern means of communication! Here is their official site (a charming witty period piece).  Mister Ball has also been granted a Facebook page for his band, and he has his own YouTube channel as well. As the crowning touch, the band’s CD can be obtained here.  The Great War began a hundred years ago, but these Aces are still flying high.

May your happiness increase! 

JACK KAPP INSISTS

Two stories from the past.

One comes from someone’s reminiscence of being on the bus with the Jazz at the Philharmonic troupe — this could have been in 1957 — where Sonny Stitt, a brilliantly virtuosic player, was walking up and down the aisle of the bus, horn in full flight, playing everything he knew, pulling out every impressive piece of acrobatic improvising to wow his august audience.  Lester Young, probably seated in the back of the bus, is supposed to have said, “That’s very nice, Lady Stitt.  But can you sing me a song?”

Bing Crosby and Jack Kapp (1901-1949) in the studio

Bing Crosby and Jack Kapp (1901-1949) in the studio

Jack Kapp, the head of Decca Records, was famous for wanting his artists — Bing Crosby, the Mills Brothers, the Boswell Sisters, Louis Armstrong, the Andrews Sisters — to play and sing the melody so that the ordinary listener knew it was there.  Some sources say there was a wooden Indian at one end of the studio with a sign around its neck, WHERE’S THE MELODY? — others remember it as a picture of a Native American maiden with a cartoon balloon in which the same question was written in bold letters.

Famously, Kapp has been depicted in recent years as a fierce oppressor, someone who chained his free-spirited artists to the black dots on the manuscript paper.  It was all about the money, scholars propose, aiming music at the lowest common denominator who couldn’t understand anything they couldn’t hum along to.

Jazz writers like to imagine “what would have happened if (fill in hero / heroine’s name) had been able to record for a more hip company.  What magical music would we have now?”  They shed tears for Louis Armstrong, “forced” to record Hawaiian songs with Andy Iona.

Third story.  Time: 2014.

I received a CD not long ago by a jazz group I hadn’t heard of, although their credentials and associations were impressive.  And the CD had many beautiful songs on it — lovely melodies that I looked forward to hearing.  When I put the CD on, I was immediately taken with the beautiful recorded sound, the expansive improvisations, the sophisticated technique of the players — no one seemed to take a breath; no one faltered; the improvisations — at the highest level — went on without a letup. But in each case, the improvisations were so technically dazzling, so dense with musical information that the song, hinted at in the first chorus, sank deeper and deeper under the water.  Intricate rhythmic patterns, hammered out unceasingly; layers of substitute harmonies; unusual tempos (ballads taken at triple speed) dominated every performance.

The disc lasted about an hour.  It was brilliant and awe-inspiring but I found it truly exhausting and, to me, antithetical to the spirit of the original songs.  I know, I know.  Jazz is “about” improvisation, right? Only dullards play exactly what’s on the page, correct?

I listened to the whole CD, and as much as I marveled at the technique, the assurance, the bold dash of the whole thing, all I wanted to do was to hear something beautiful, something songful and soulful.  Ben Webster playing HOW LONG HAS THIS BEEN GOING ON?  Louis playing and singing WHEN YOU’RE SMILING. Bird with Strings.  A Johnny Hodges slow blues.  Benny Goodman playing LADY BE GOOD.  Miles Davis exploring the PORGY AND BESS score.

I always agreed with the commonly held notion of Jack Kapp as a materialistic soul-destroying enemy of creativity.

Now I might rethink my position, because beautifully playing the melody seems like balm to my ears.

And I think that many musicians would say it is much more difficult to play that ballad “straight” and convey the song’s emotions than to leave the original behind in thirty-two bars in the name of improvisation.

I hope you find beautiful melodies wherever you go.  They are all around us.

May your happiness increase! 

WHY?

The Beloved is very proud of me and what I do, something I treasure.  And in this spirit, she will often introduce me to someone she’s just met who has expressed an interest in music, and say of me, “This is the Sweetie: he has a jazz blog.”

I smile at the person after this identifying statement and wait patiently. Sometimes the reaction is, “Oh, you like Miles?” and I can then explain that my heroes are Louis, Lester, and their living friends. But more often than not the response is polite silence. And a fixed look often comes over the other person’s face — somewhere between puzzled, being struck dumb, having nothing to say, wishing the subject had never been brought up, feeling ignorant, feeling threatened.

I think it has something to do with the ominous, oppressive word

JAZZ

which for a variety of reasons seems to leave people with nothing to say in return.

I am willing and often able to converse on other subjects: the deliciousness of the food, the delights of Northern California, the other person’s interests, where the good places to eat are, how lovely or horrid the weather has been . . . the usual run of non-threatening conversation.

But simply introduce JAZZ into the conversation and the room falls silent.  Is it that people don’t like it, don’t understand it, and are thus reluctant to talk about something so esoteric, so outre?  Really, I have no intention of holding forth about, say, an alternate take of an unissued Jabbo Smith 78 I have found after decades of searching. I am not going to lasso the New Person and force him or her to listen to me play THAT’S MY HOME (badly) on the cornet, or compel him or her to watch my latest YouTube clip.

But someday I am going to try an experiment, and ask the Beloved to introduce me as a) someone who collects rare books; b) builds harpsichords; c) flies model airplanes; d) has a Lionel train setup in the basement; e) is learning the tango; f) rides an adult-size tricycle everywhere; g) just came back from a trip to Wisconsin . . . and see if the petrified stare comes out in the same way.  I wonder what it is about JAZZ that produces such silence?

Note: I have not written this post as an inducement for the cognoscenti to tell me how we are live in a cultural wasteland; how Americans are so stupid; how no one knows anything. Ranting about a current offense to taste is, to me, tedious.  I don’t encourage angry contemptuous bashing here, and hope I have not been guilty of it myself.

But it is — a la Yul Brynner — a puzzlement.

May your happiness increase! 

“LET ME HEAR THAT MUSIC!”

It’s all true.

This morning, I was driving across Manhattan to see the Beloved. Predictably, I was stuck in congealing traffic.  I did what I often do (since the weather was fine and I wasn’t going anywhere fast) — put a new jazz CD in the player, opened my window, and turned up the sound.  I assure you, should you worry, that my aging car’s sound system can do no harm to my or anyone else’s eardrums.

As I inched forward, I saw a man on foot — what Chaucer might have described as a mendicant, someone in search of alms — going from car to car, peaceably. He was not intoxicated, untidy, or threatening. When he was several cars away, I reached into my trousers pocket to find a dollar to give him.  When he came to my car window, I offered him the dollar, and said, “Here you are, my man,” and he took the bill and thanked me.

But then something quite unexpected happened.  He heard the music (a hot rendition of LOVE ME OR LEAVE ME by Bryan Shaw’s Hot Shots — a glorious new Arbors CD featuring Dan Barrett, Evan Arntzen, Ehud Asherie, Brad Roth, John Dominquez, Jeff Hamilton) and his face changed — from casual to intent.

That’s Dixieland!” he cried.  “Let me hear that music!

I turned up the volume and we listened, together, happily, for another half-chorus before the drivers in back of me grew restive.  He was smiling.  So was I.

Music, surely, has charms.  At the end of his day, the dollar I gave him is faceless, without personality: the minute or so of hot jazz we shared might have a much more lasting — and salutary — effect.

Postscript: Since I abhor the names and styles and categories under which improvised music labors, I did not think it a useful expenditure of energy or love to be didactic, “No, my good man.  ‘Dixieland’ can be defined as . . . . . What we are listening to is small-band swing / contemporary traditional / Mainstream . . . .”  I leave that to others.

May your happiness increase!