Tag Archives: JAZZLIVES

A “PURE DARK TONE” TO EXPRESS BEAUTY

Since childhood, Sonny LaRosa, trumpeter, has given himself body and soul to the music he loves and creates.  Here he is, two years ago, at 88:

Photograph by Douglas R. Clifford.

Photograph by Douglas R. Clifford.

And here is the February 2015 newspaper story, how Sonny retired from 36 years of leading his own generous creation, America’s Youngest Jazz Band. But this is not a story about a frail nonaganerian.  This is not a tribute to a man who is, as they say, “resting on his morals.”  This is a salute to a glorious trumpet player . . . although he might have escaped your notice.

Sonny’s approach is a kind of trumpet playing you don’t hear often enough: a languorous, full-toned, loving approach to the melody.  He clearly is deeply affectionate: when he plays YOU GO TO MY HEAD or IMAGINATION, what you hear first is a beautiful act of reverence to the composer.  This isn’t to say that he is tied to the written manuscript.  No, he has a subtle rhythmic lilt, and when he improvises, you hear that he knows sophisticated harmonies.  Nothing’s formulaic or mechanical in his playing, and although his art is virtuosic, he doesn’t show off: no ascents into the highest register, no blurts of volume.

You wouldn’t expect anything else from a man whose father played him Louis records from age 4 onwards.  And even better — Sonny, in his early teens, met and spoke to Louis, who encouraged him and recommended a “good teacher,” who turned out to be Maurice Grupp.  Sonny had many teachers, but ultimately went his own way — away from the symphony, deep into the world of beautiful sounds.  He is one of those rare ambassadors of beauty, his music unfussy, humble, and loving.  His goal, he says, was to have “a pure dark tone,” and he’s succeeded nobly.

Sonny CD cover

Here you can hear Sonny play ANGEL EYES from his most recent CD, which is called THE HAUNTING SOUND, STYLE AND SOUL OF SONNY LA ROSA — and that title, to me, isn’t in the least hyperbolic.  When asked about his passion, he’s said, “I like that feeling of playing like somebody would sing . . . the way Sinatra would sing a song.  God gave me the gift of sound,” and that is no boast.

The CD offers twelve lovely standards: ANGEL EYES / IMAGINATION / MISTY / JUST ONE MORE CHANCE / BY THE TIME I GET TO PHOENIX / MY FUNNY VALENTINE / I GOT IT BAD AND THAT AIN’T GOOD / YOU GO TO MY HEAD / AUTUMN IN NEW YORK / SOLITUDE / CLOSE TO YOU / Theme from LOVE STORY — and two dazzling etudes at the end, KEEL ROW, played straight, and then as a Sonny-plus-Sonny duet which swings mightily. The backgrounds are very simple; the performances are unadorned explorations of song, and most of them end with a gentle fade, as if a beautiful sailboat was drifting into the distance.

If you scroll down to the bottom of this page, you can hear a few more samples from the CD.

I have been enjoying this CD for its masterful yet quietly glowing trumpet playing — and I’ve also played it in the car for a friend who says “I don’t like jazz,” but who said, “Wow! That is gorgeous!  I like that!” so the CD works on many levels.

You can purchase the CD (and I encourage you to!) for $15, which includes postage, directly from Sonny.  Contact him here and tell him JAZZ LIVES sent you.  This world can be very dark these days.  I think of Sonny’s art as healing for our troubles.  It’s music that comes from his heart, and it will gently make its way into yours.

May your happiness increase!

CHAMBER MUSIC OF THE LAST CENTURY

Just a congenial musical group in the corner of a clarinet player’s apartment, playing a familiar composition from their collective past.

Yes, Mister Goodman, Hampton, Stacy, Krupa, and Braff.  I’d heard an audio tape of this but hadn’t known this video was on YouTube — in color, no less.  Thanks to the inimitable Superheidi for pointing it out.

May your happiness increase!

SUNDAY, MONDAY, and ALWAYS: THE HARRY ALLEN QUARTET at FEINSTEIN’S: The First Set (June 10, 2012)

Harry Allen is one of those rare musicians who needs only his horn to get something started — but when he’s joined by Chuck Riggs (drums), Joel Forbes (string bass), and Rossano Sportiello, a delicious combination of excitement and relaxation fills the room.  This happened once again on Sunday, June 10, 2012, at Feinstein’s (the comfortable club nestled within Loews Regency, 540 Park Avenue, New York City).  Harry and his friends were there — thanks to Mat and Rachel Domber, the generous spirits responsible for so much good music through Arbors Records and live concerts.

It was a privilege to be there, and the Beloved and I basked in the warm, friendly atmosphere of that room — and the warm creativity of the players.  And for the first time, I was allowed to video-record the evening, so consider yourself invited to the extraordinary musical scene created magically by Harry and friends — with surprises to come.

Harry began the evening with a loping performance of CHEEK TO CHEEK that would have pleased Fred, Ginger, and Mr. Berlin as well:

Then, something really pretty — a pensive reading of Kern’s SMOKE GETS IN YOUR EYES that, surprising us all, segued into a rollicking I WANT TO BE HAPPY with the first of several extraordinary outings from our hero Rossano at the piano:

The familiar anthem of hipness, SATIN DOLL:

And A BEAUTIFUL FRIENDSHIP (with such beautiful support from Joel and Chuck):

A tender MY FOOLISH HEART (did the SATIN DOLL prove fickle?):

Harry closed off the first set — a satisfying offering of jazz — with the always-delicious  (Basie-flavored) BLUES, this time in Ab:

Harry and friends have been a regular attraction on the first Monday of every month — for over a year now.  (The Sunday, June 10, date was an exception.)  They will return on the first Monday of September with more good sounds and special guests.  Here’s the schedule:

September 10th: (Harry and the young saxophone masters!)  Luigi Grasso, Jesse Davis, Harry Allen, Rossano Sportiello, Joel Forbes, Chuck Riggs.

October 8th: (Harry and splendid singers!)  Lynn Roberts, Rebecca Kilgore, Nicki Parrott, Mike Renzi, Harry Allen, Joel Forbes, Chuck Riggs.

November 5th: (Harry and the jazz masters!)  Bucky Pizzarelli, Ken Peplowski, John Allred, Bill Allred, Rossano Sportiello, Joel Forbes, Chuck Riggs.

December 2nd: (Harry and the jazz masters, continued!)  George Wein and the Newport All Stars

You can find out more about the musical bill of fare offered at Feinstein’s by visiting http://www.fesinsteinsattheregency.com.

And I’ll be back shortly with more music from this glorious evening.  May your happiness increase.

“DENNIS’ BASS”: NEAL MINER’S TRIBUTE TO DENNIS IRWIN AND HIS BASS

Not for bass faces only.

Neal Miner is not only a splendid string bassist; he’s a fine filmmaker and someone who finds stories worth telling everywhere he looks.  Even if you have only a small interest in jazz string bass playing, I think you will find this film entrancing in itself.

Anything observed closely is beautiful, Emerson said — here is living proof: a memorial to a great musician by the people who loved him, and a living embodiment of his spirit through the instrument that he made his own.

In order of appearance: the majestic string bassist Dennis Irwin (1951-2008); pianist Larry Goldings; drummer Matt Wilson; bassist / filmmaker Neal Miner; singer Aria Hendricks; Dennis’ American Standard plywood string bass; Neal’s student Joanna Sternberg; string bassist Mike Karn; singer Annie Ross; pianist Jon Weber; drummer Tony Jefferson; string bassists John Roche; Doug Weiss; Spencer Murphy; Stephanie Greig; sound engineer Jean-Pierre Remeaux; feline Remy Hendricks.

HOT ANTIC JAZZ BAND at WHITLEY BAY 2011 (thanks to Elin Smith)

I met Elin Smith and her husband Ron at the first Whitley Bay International Jazz Festival I attended in 2009.  Elin is very sociable, so when we noticed we both had video cameras and tripods, and were looking for clear sight lines, we began to talk and very quickly became friends.  And we’ve continued our friendship ever since.  Because of my own video debacle of 2011, I am indebted to Elin and Flemming Thorbye for the videos of Whitley Bay you will see in the next few postings.

Aside from being a deep-dyed videographer and jazz enthusiast, Elin also has her own blog — a wide-ranging one, called elinshouse  — her own amused perceptions of the world and a steady hand on the camera with which she records them.  Thanks, Elin!

The first set of the weekend belonged to the greatly animated Hot Antic Jazz Band, led by cornetist / vocalist / raconteur Michel Bastide, with a guest appearance by trumpeter / vocalist / Festival Director Mike Durham, as well as the young Norwegian trombonist Kristoffer Kompen; Michel Bascont, clarinet; Martin Seck, piano; J-P Dubois.banjo; Bernard Antherieu, tuba; Raymond Grasier, washboard.  The Hot Antics kicked things off most enthusiastically with a program of music associated with Clarence Williams.

SPANISH SHAWL:

SWEET EMMALINA:

CANDY LIPS:

WILDFLOWER RAG (a solo for pianist Martin Seck):

WHAT MAKES ME LOVE YOU SO?:

MY GAL SAL:

More to come!

Tickets for the 2012 Whitley Bay Classic Jazz Party are going fast: click here for details.  Here’s the line-up!

Duke Heitger (USA), Spats Langham (UK), Bent Persson (Sweden), Keith Nichols (UK), Matthias Seuffert Germany), Cecile McLorin Salvant (USA), Michael McQuaid (Australia), Caroline Irwin (UK), Stéphane Gillot (France), Emma Fisk (UK), René Hagmann (Switzerland), Martin Litton (UK), Andy Schumm USA), Rico Tomasso (UK), Jean-François Bonnel (France), Norman Field (UK), Thomas Winteler (Switzerland), Malcolm Sked (UK), Michel Bescont (France), Alistair Allan (UK), Kristoffer Kompen (Norway), Richard Pite (UK), Martin Seck (Germany), Jens Lindgren (Sweden), Martin Wheatley (UK), Josh Duffee (USA), Keith Stephen (UK), Manu Hagmann (Switzerland), Phil Rutherford (UK), Henry Lemaire (France), Frans Sjöström (Sweden), Nick Ward (UK) – and Mike Durham (West Jesmond).

Mike Durham says, “All concerts will take place in the four-star Village Hotel’s Inspiration Suite, with cabaret seating: a new band or solo artist brought to you at the comfort of your table every 60 minutes (or less!) from midday to midnight (with a break for dinner). All properly themed – no disorganised “let’s just get together and blow” sessions….. except for the late-night jam-session in the hotel’s Victory Pub.”

YES, IT’S THE LAST TIME! WHITLEY BAY 2012

It’s true.  Festival Director – Hot Trumpeter – Singer – Mike Durham tells me that the 2012 Whitley Bay Classic Jazz Party (beginning October 25, 2012, with a curtain-raising Thursday night concert at The Sage Gateshead and continuing through Sunday night / early Monday morning, October 28-29, depending) is THE LAST TIME.  (Honey babe.)

And for once, the race is absolutely to the swift: attendance is strictly limited to the first 280 patrons to book online.  The price is £125 (for those outside the United Kingdom, that translated into $140 when I booked a ticket two days ago).  You can purchase your seat through PayPal — or use a credit card — by visiting here.

The lineup of musicians and singers is spectacular: consider these names —

Duke Heitger (USA), Spats Langham (UK), Bent Persson (Sweden), Keith Nichols (UK), Matthias Seuffert Germany), Cecile McLorin Salvant (USA), Michael McQuaid (Australia), Caroline Irwin (UK), Stéphane Gillot (France), Emma Fisk (UK), René Hagmann (Switzerland), Martin Litton (UK), Andy Schumm USA), Rico Tomasso (UK), Jean-François Bonnel (France), Norman Field (UK), Thomas Winteler (Switzerland), Malcolm Sked (UK), Michel Bescont (France), Alistair Allan (UK), Kristoffer Kompen (Norway), Richard Pite (UK), Martin Seck (Germany), Jens Lindgren (Sweden), Martin Wheatley (UK), Josh Duffee (USA), Keith Stephen (UK), Manu Hagmann (Switzerland), Phil Rutherford (UK), Henry Lemaire (France), Frans Sjöström (Sweden), Nick Ward (UK) – and Mike Durham (West Jesmond).

And the party is like no other.  Here’s what Mike tells us, “All concerts will take place in the four-star Village Hotel’s Inspiration Suite, with cabaret seating: a new band or solo artist brought to you at the comfort of your table every 60 minutes (or less!) from midday to midnight (with a break for dinner).  All properly themed – no disorganised “let’s just get together and blow” sessions….. except for the late-night jam-session in the hotel’s Victory Pub.”

Here’s some music to order your seats!

LOST AND FOUND (featuring GRAVITY, HUBRIS, and GENEROSITY)

A long narrative follows, but with a point — for patient readers.

I attended two jubilant jazz parties in November 2011: the Whitley Bay Classic Jazz Party in England; the San Diego Thanksgiving Dixieland Jazz Fest.  Both made me feel like a mountain goat with a video camera, leaping from one figurative musical peak to the next.  I came home from each with a small notebook, its pages filled with personnel and song titles, exclamation points and check marks.  I had recorded twenty-six sets at Whitley Bay, twenty at San Diego.  Since my camera in each case would not hold all the data I was gathering, I carefully transferred it to an external hard drive, one guaranteed for durability.  When I resumed ordinary life in December, that Western Digital drive had nearly four hundred videos on it, which I gazed upon in the same way the miser leers at his treasure in cartoons.  I knew that, come the end of the semester, I would begin to transfer the best performances for my readers.  Could any mishap befall this hoard of gigabytes?  Not to me, I assured myself.  I’m careful.  I know what I’m doing!

Readers even faintly aware of Greek tragedy will be aware of the concept of hubris, or pride unsupported by evidence. But I am getting ahead of myself.

Readers should know that I was not the lone videographer at these two festivals.  At Whitley Bay, my friendly colleagues were Elin Smith and Flemming Thorbye; at San Diego, the high priestess of West Coast hot jazz, Rae Ann Berry.  More about those focused people later.

Now on vacation, with a dining room table in someone else’s house a a makeshift video studio, I set up my tangle of wires and began to transfer the Whitley Bay material — and aimed the first performance at my friend Nancie Beaven, who holds the Hot Antic Jazz Band close to her very substantial heart.  The video had an ornate metal structure in the left of the frame, and it began with the usual HAJB “gab,” but I was pleased with it, as was Nancie:

But Chance comes into our lives, bringing along its sibling Accident, and cousin Gravity.  I tripped over the tangle of wires, not once, but twice, sending the plastic drive crashing to the floor, and when the wreckage was tidied up (superficially), the hard drive whined and blinked, but something in it had been wounded.  I remained calm and didn’t fume — for, after all, getting angry at yourself isn’t all that satisfying.  And I have been practicing my “acceptance” in light of several disappointments in the last few months.

What also tempered my emotions was that I could have prevented this debacle had I paid attention to the quiet counsel of Byron, my computer expert, who had said to me that everything I had on these hard drives and elsewhere should have a separate backup.  The thought made me nervous: I saw my apartment turning, even more, into a storage space for little black plastic boxes — no more clothing and goodbye food and dishes and pots! — in pursuit of data protection, but when the WD box hit the floor, I thought of just how right he had been.

Elizabeth Kubler-Ross spent her time characterizing stages that were much more serious, but I think she would have recognized something similar in the emotions I passed through when imagining the loss of what I had captured in those videos.  (Today a local computer expert told me that the drive was dead, and if I wanted to spend over a thousand dollars I could recover the data — a steep price to erase the incident.)  But I knew that I had not been the only person with a camera in the room, and I emailed my videoing-friends to ask if I had their permission to repost a selection of their videos, crediting them, on JAZZ LIVES.  They all generously said YES.  Because of them, my readers will experience some of the delights that we all did.

The morals?

1)  Generosity created results in generosity received.

2)  BACK UP YOUR DATA.  One never knows, do one?