Tag Archives: Jelly Roll Morton

“DU REDST EYEDISH?” “NAY NAY.”

My feeling is that Louis Armstrong could do anything he wanted to, and he did.  But not everything.

I present this excerpt from a recent “news” story posted in the Akron Beacon Journal that amused me in its affectionate inaccuracy.  The author, Facebook tells me, is news editor of The Daily Record, Wooster, OH, and he also works at the Ashland Times-Gazette.  It seems that a reader, Robert, sent him this story and he printed it.  Yes, fact-checking has been dead for some time.

TESSIE’S TIDBITS: A story about Louis Armstrong you probably didn’t know

By Jarred Opatz
Posted Aug 3, 2020 at 12:01 AM
Hi sweeties! I am going to date myself a bit as I remember Louis Armstrong on the radio as well as television. After all these years, I never know how he got the nickname “Satchmo” and the following article will fill you in.

Big Cheeks.

A grandson of slaves, a boy was born in a poor neighborhood of New Orleans known as the “Back of Town.” His father abandoned the family when the child was an infant. His mother became a prostitute and the boy, and his sister had to live with their grandmother. Early in life he proved to be gifted for music and with three other kids he sang in the streets of New Orleans. His first gains were coins that were thrown to them.

A Jewish family, Karnofsky, who had emigrated from Lithuania to the USA, had pity for the 7-year-old boy and brought him into their home. Initially giving “work” in the house, to feed this hungry child. There he remained and slept in this Jewish family’s home where, for the first time in his life, he was treated with kindness and tenderness.

When he went to bed, Mrs. Karnovsky sang him a Russian lullaby that he would sing with her. Later, he learned to sing and play several Russian and Jewish songs. Over time, this boy became the adopted son of this family. The Karnofskys gave him money to buy his first musical instrument as was the custom in the Jewish families.

They sincerely admired his musical talent. Later, when he became a professional musician and composer, he used these Jewish melodies in compositions, such as St. James Infirmary and Go Down Moses.

The little black boy grew up and wrote a book about this Jewish family who had adopted him in 1907. In memory of this family and until the end of his life, he wore a Star of David and said that in this family, he had learned “how to live real life and determination.”

You might recognize his name. This little boy was called: Louis “Satchmo” Armstrong.

Louis Armstrong proudly spoke fluent Yiddish! And “Satchmo” is Yiddish for “Big Cheeks”!!!

And I will bet you did not know any of this? Thanks, Robert for sharing!

+++

Imagine my astonishment.

Louis doesn’t even get composer credit for this magnificent song, and I’m not even talking about ST. JAMES INFIRMARY, credited to an outsider named “Joe Primrose,” obviously not from any shtetl I know:

Before you leave the room . . . I earnestly ask you to read one of the shortest posts I’ve ever done, on a related thread, called SO WHO KNEW?

P.S.  If any of the multifarious Corrections Officers are moved to write in and chide me for my inept Google-Yiddish or my gentle satire, please forbear.  I don’t come to your house and tell you that you’re making the kugel all wrong.

May your happiness increase!

“A POST-GRADUATE SEMINAR IN NEW ORLEANS CLARINET,” featuring RYAN CALLOWAY with CLINT BAKER’S NEW ORLEANS JAZZ BAND: RYAN CALLOWAY, CLINT BAKER, RILEY BAKER, JEFF HAMILTON, KATIE CAVERA, BILL REINHART, JESS KING, HAL SMITH (Jazz Bash by the Bay, Monterey, California, March 7, 2020)

“Don’t be afraid,” Clint says to some audience members, timidly straggling in to this session at the Jazz Bash by the Bay, and I would echo his words.  I know that “seminar,” to some, will mean a dry academic exercise . . . heaven forbid, a lecture. But that isn’t the case here.  Clint guides us through the subject, so I don’t have to write much, but this set is a joyous exploration into music that we take for granted, and players unjustly neglected in the rush to celebrate the newest and the most photogenic.  Take your seat: the fun’s about to begin.

This dapper young man spent eight years studying Albert-system clarinet under the tutelage of Professor Baker, and you’ll hear the delicious results.  (More musical than my doctoral orals.)  Clint plays trumpet here; Riley Baker, trombone; Hal Smith, drums; Jeff Hamilton, piano; Katie Cavera, string bass; Bill Reinhart, Jess King, banjo.

JUST A LITTLE WHILE TO STAY HERE, for Willie Humphrey:

PERDIDO STREET BLUES, for Johnny Dodds:

ORIENTAL MAN, for Dodds and Jimmy Blythe:

JUST TELEPHONE ME, for Tom Sharpsteen and the New Orleans revival players:

WOLVERINE BLUES, for Jelly Roll Morton and his clarinetists:

ST. LOUIS BLUES, for Larry Shields and the ODJB:

BURGUNDY STREET BLUES, for George Lewis:

HIGH SOCIETY, for Alphonse Picou and all the giants who play(ed) it:

I didn’t deceive you.  That was fun, and you’ve gotten some post-graduate music and education also.  Hail Ryan Calloway and his bandmates, and Professor Baker!

May your happiness increase!

IT SIMPLY MUST BE JELLY: REBECCA KILGORE, HOWARD ALDEN, KERRY LEWIS, ROSSANO SPORTIELLO, RICKY MALACHI, DUKE HEITGER, DAN BARRETT, SCOTT ROBINSON (September 20, 2012: Jazz at Chautauqua)

Yes, the ceilings leaked at the Athenaeum Hotel in Chautauqua, New York, and every year there were new Rorschach-blot patterns (is that a bird, a monkey, or a shapely leg?) above me.  The venerable elevator provoked anxiety.  But inside this hotel, one September weekend, starting for me in 2004, some of the best music I’ve ever witnessed was created for us, thanks to a stunning assortment of musicians.  Here’s a lovely interlude; watching it, I rub my eyes: did such things happen? Well, thank the Goddess for video evidence that I can share with you.

There will of course be debate over Jelly Roll Morton’s birthdate — September or October 20? — but there should be no debating the beauty of this performance, another treasure from the 2020 JAZZ LIVES Archaeological Dig. Here’s our Becky — Rebecca Kilgore — subtly embracing the song as only she can — with the noble help of Ricky Malachi, drums; Kerry Lewis, string bass; Howard Alden, guitar; Rossano Sportiello, piano; Scott Robinson, clarinet; Dan Barrett, trombone; Duke Heitger, trumpet.

Don’t want no regular!

Thanks not only to the musicians, but to the Emperor of it all, Joe Boughton, his family (hello to Sarah, Bill, and David!) and his friendly Chiefs of Staff and Official Diplomats, Nancy Hancock Griffith and Kathy Hancock.  Moments like this vibrate in the memory.

May your happiness increase!

LOVE-NOTES FROM 15 BARROW STREET: JON-ERIK KELLSO, EVAN ARNTZEN, ALBANIE FALLETTA, JEN HODGE (January 9, 2020)

Another uplifting evening at Cafe Bohemia, 15 Barrow Street, New York City.

Jon-Erik Kellso and Evan Arntzen at Cafe Bohemia, Jan. 9, 2020

From pleasure to pleasure.  First, May 8 is Jon-Erik Kellso’s birthday.  This post, and so many others, is in his honor.  Happiness to jonnygig!

Albanie Falletta and Jen Hodge, a few seconds before or after.

The ensemble, creators of joy.

Everyone, plus the little intruder at the right, the viewfinder of my camera.

Four wonderful players, four creations.  A certain symmetry.

THE SONG IS ENDED, where Albanie’s singing encapsulates Louis and the Mills Brothers, of course with noble swing friendship from The Ensemble:

MY MELANCHOLY BABY, which is now so ancient that Jon has to explain it:

A rollicking NEW ORLEANS STOMP:

DOCTOR JAZZ, who came to your house without Zoom:

Bless these four brilliant sparks, and Mike Zielenewski and Christine Santelli, as well as Matthew “Fat Cat” Rivera, for sustaining us.

May your happiness increase!

MAKING THE MUNDANE BEAUTIFUL, or LONG SLEEVES (Part One)

I am slowly getting back into 78-record collecting, thanks to Matthew “Fat Cat” Rivera, and I emphasize “slowly”: no bidding wars, and many of the records I’ve purchased would be considered “common” by more well-established collectors, although I will — immodestly — begin with a picture of a record I treasure, bought a few years ago.

However, this post isn’t primarily about the recorded obsession.  It is about the beauty of the ordinary: the paper sleeves once personalized by record stores.  I saw an eBay site devoted to jazz records from Denmark, and was thrilled by the more ornate labels of the records themselves and the beautifully creative sleeves.  There will be only three minutes of music on this post, but you can follow my lead to YouTube, where many of these recordings are waiting for your tender, approving touch.  Today my subject is advertising art at its most sweetly distinctive.

The eBay seller I have borrowed these images from is https://www.ebay.com/usr/seuk880, and the 78s are still for sale, as I write this in the last week of April 2020.  The seller has a large and varied collection, but here are a few that caught my eye — and might catch yours as well.

Tommy Ladnier, in high style:

Billie, originally on Commodore:

Louis, for my friend Katherine:

Hawkins, solo, a two-sided meditation:

This (below) is my absolute favorite of the whole series, and it it were not $10 for the Morton disc and $18 for the shipping, it would be on its way to me now.  Please, someone, buy this so I don’t have to?

Ella and Louis:

Glenn Miller:

Fats meets Freddy:

I don’t know the artist but could not resist the sleeve:

and here Aladdin points the way to swing:

I think ten of these beauties is enough for one post, but if there is interest, I have nineteen or twenty more sleeve-images to share with you.  And would.

I promised you three minutes of music, so that no one would go to bed feeling deprived.  Here’s REINCARNATION by Paul Mares and his Friars Society Orchestra : Paul Mares, trumpet; Santo Pecora, trombone; Omer Simeon, clarinet; Boyce Brown, alto saxophone; Jess Stacy, piano; Marvin Saxbe, guitar;  Pat Pattison, string bass; George Wettling, drums — January 1935, Chicago:

May your happiness increase!

“WOLVERINE BLUES”: WEATHERBIRD JAZZ BAND (BENT PERSSON, KAJ SIFVERT, TOMAS ORNBERG, ULF JOHANSSON WERRE, GORAN LIND, GORAN ERIKSSON, SIGGE DELLERT)

My dear jazz friend Christophe from Lugano, who happily answers to the sobriquet “Swiss Kriss” just sent me a present, a video-performance by the Weatherbird Jazz Band of Mister Morton’s WOLVERINE BLUES, which he asks that I share with you, as an antidote to isolation.  (The photograph below is from the cover of their Stomp Off Records lp, which may still be available through that company.  Inquire here.

The Weatherbirds (named for that famous Louis-Earl duet) flourished about forty years ago, but many of their members are thriving and continuing to make music — chief of them being Bent Persson, trumpet, who is also a Louis scholar making black marks on the page come alive.  You’ll hear it in his second solo chorus, which is his interpretation of a chorus Louis played that was notated in 1927 for the “Fifty Hot Choruses” folio.

But here’s some hot music!  The other Birds are Sigge Dellert, drums; Goran Eriksson, banjo; Goran Lind, string bass; Ulf Johansson Werre, piano; Tomas Ornberg, reeds; Kaj Sifvert, trombone.  And here they are, making music and raising our collective spirits:

This post is also for Laura Wyman, who knows all about being a Wolverine.  And there will be more music from this terrific band to come.

May your happiness increase!

FRIENDS AT PLAY: STEVE PISTORIUS, “LIVING ROOM SESSIONS, VOLUME ONE: NEW ORLEANS TREASURES”

If you detect the aroma of a pie baking in your neighbor’s house, it’s not necessary to analyze its appeal at length.

My enthusiasm for the disc below and the music it contains is strong: I received the disc in the mail yesterday; I am playing it now while writing this post.  And if you like subtle hot jazz that lives at the heart of the music — direct and unaffected — you will want a copy or a download.

That in itself is a cheering sight, and the details are even better.

The musicians: Steve Pistorius, piano / Joe Goldberg, clarinet, soprano saxophone, vocal / James Evans, clarinet, bass clarinet, C-melody saxophone, vocal / Benny Amon, drums, washboard, bock-a-de-bock cymbals / Tyler Thomson, string bass / Maxwell Poulos, tenor banjo, mandolin.

The songs: Sittin’ on the Curb-stone Blues / Candy Lips (I’m Stuck on You)
Where Did You Stay Last Night? / Maori (A Samoan Song) / Tears / I’m Alone Without You / Piggly Wiggly / Love is the Sweetest Thing / Okey Doke / If You Knew (How I Love You) / Every Evening / Too Tight / Quem me Comprende / Cushion Foot Stomp.

The time, the place, the technology: December 5 and 6, 2019; Steve’s living room; recorded by Ryan Baer on vintage equipment: his reel-to-reel recorder and RCA ribbon microphone.

How to hear it / how to purchase it:

Steve Pistorius – Living Room Sessions, Vol. 1

you can hear thirty-second sound samples of five performances and then purchase the disc.  (Notice I do not write, “If you are so moved,” because I am sure most listeners will be.)  Here — in the name of instant gratification — you can purchase a digital download of the music.

A few words from me, if needed.  I’ve been a convert to Steve’s music — solo piano and the brilliantly heartfelt musical ensembles he creates and leads — for some years now.  I warm to their warm, unbuttoned music — loose without being messy, expert without being over-analyzed.  The New Orleans repertoire on this disc isn’t overplayed tourist slosh; these are caressingly melodic pieces that could woo a listener if played straight, and the twining improvisations are memorable from the first hearing on.  Whether the mood is yearning and dreamy or plunging forward, each track is a delightful aural experience on its own terms.

And the band is made up of people who know the joy of ensemble playing, so the result is a vibrant tapestry of musicians playing “for the comfort of the band” as well as creating brilliant solos.  They know the routines and the conventions yet aren’t chained by them.  The songs are “old” but the music feels bright and new, never dusty — no scholarly recreations of old records.

The recording studio, even in the best circumstances, is an unnatural place, even if there is joking, there are sandwiches and good coffee.  Musicians know that what they do here will be scrutinized for — perhaps not “forever,” but for a long time, and that tends to make the room temperature drop.  That so much of our memorable music has been captured in such artificial circumstances speaks to the wisdom and intensity of the musicians.  But this disc benefits immensely from the collective relaxation of Steve’s living room — a friendly gathering rather than a doctoral examination.  You can hear it.  And the “vintage” technology, while never blurring the sound, is also comfortable.  The result is rather like being invited to hear music next door — a rent party where everyone is sweetly attentive and the music soars. The disc goes by far too quickly, which is why I am cheered by the hope of more volumes to come.

I could write more, but why?  This is a lovely, rewarding disc, and I thank everyone involved with it.  You will, too.  But now I want pie for breakfast, damn it.  Oh, well: I’ll just play the LIVING ROOM SESSIONS again.

May your happiness increase!

HEATING THE PEAKS: WOLVERINE JAZZ BAND at the EVERGREEN JAZZ FESTIVAL: JOHN CLARK, JEFF HUGHES, TOM BOATES, BOB BARTA, ROSS PETOT, RICK MacWILLIAMS, DAVE DIDRIKSEN (July 27, 2019)

Meteorologists would tell us that as one gains altitude, the temperature drops: in the mountains, one should bring a sweater.  But this theory would have been disproved by the Wolverine Jazz Band‘s appearances at the 2019 Evergreen Jazz Festival, where this hot, disciplined yet energetic band heated things up noticeably.

This session in the nearby church sounds clear although echoey, and you can barely see banjoist-vocalist Bob Barta, but the delightful character of the band does come through.  They are John Clark, clarinet and reeds; Jeff Hughes, cornet; Tom Boates, trombone and vocal; Ross Petot, piano; Rick MacWilliams, tuba; Dave Didriksen, drums, and the aforementioned Prof. Barta, filling in for the eminent Jimmy Mazzy.

The Wolverines romp effectively and energetically, but you’ll also hear the polish and variety that comes with a regularly working band — not just ensemble / solos / ensemble, and also a wide-ranging repertoire, full of surprises.

MILENBERG JOYS:

DOWN AMONG THE SHELTERING PALMS, with the verse, featuring Bob Barta:

AT THE CODFISH BALL, with Bob remembering Shirley Temple and Edythe Wright, but in his proper vocal register:

HONEY PIE, yes, by Lennon and McCartney, sung by Tom Boates:

CHEROKEE MAIDEN, again by Tom — from the Bob Willis book:

Johnny St. Cyr’s ORIENTAL STRUT:

BLUE PRELUDE, featuring Tom:

DIP YOUR BRUSH IN THE SUNSHINE, featuring everyone:

And if that wasn’t enough, the WJB recorded a splendid CD in 2018, called TELL ME, with an even more glorious array of songs (the same personnel except Jimmy Mazzy is there on banjo and vocals, and Herb Gardner appears three times as trombonist, pianist, composer, vocalist): IN OUR COTTAGE OF LOVE / IF I KNEW THEN / TELL ME / SWIPSEY CAKEWALK / BABY BROWN / TAKE YOUR TOMORROW / I AIN’T GONNA TELL NOBODY / ROSE ROOM / KICKIN’ THE GONG AROUND / I’M GONNA CHARLESTON BACK TO CHARLESTON / LONELY MELODY / GUNSHOTS AND SIRENS / SWEET MAMA, PAPA’S GETTING MAD / HOW DEEP IS THE OCEAN? / FROGGIE MOORE RAG.  Buy, download, and listen here.

Here’s a sample:

May your happiness increase!

REALLY, THEY COME OUT SWINGING! — Hal Smith’s ON THE LEVEE JAZZ BAND at SAN DIEGO (Part One: Nov. 30, 2019): BEN POLCER, RILEY BAKER, JOE GOLDBERG, KRIS TOKARSKI, JOSH GOUZY, HAL SMITH and JOHN GILL

One of the pleasures of the 2019 San Diego Jazz Fest was getting to hear and see Hal Smith’s gliding On the Levee Jazz Band.  Although they are devoted to the later music of Kid Ory and his California-based bands, they are a very subtle, swinging group whose music delights the dancers.  The personnel of this OTL incarnation is Ben Polcer, trumpet, vocal; Riley Baker, trombone; Joe Goldberg, clarinet; Kris Tokarski, piano; Josh Gouzy, string bass; Hal Smith, leader, drums. Ordinarily Alex Belhaj is the OTL guitarist, but Alex was home sick in New Orleans, so for this set his place was taken, splendidly, by John Gill, who also sang one for us.

A technical note (as one says): the band played in the large hall which had space for dancers in front, and the dancers happily took advantage of it.  But that would have made conventional filming difficult, so I took myself, camera, and tripod onto the stage, found a chair, made myself to home, and video-ed from there.  Yes, I lost a little volume on Joe Goldberg’s wonderful clarinet playing, but Joe is a forgiving sort, and I got to feature him in the last set of the festival with John Royen’s New Orleans Rhythm.  Ordinarily I don’t set up near the drums, but Hal is one of the handful of drummers I know who plays for the band, who understands dynamics.  So this was a delightful opportunity to capture exactly what he is doing, visually as well as audibly, and I hope you enjoy the results.

DOWN IN JUNGLE TOWN:

SUGAR BLUES, in honor of Joe Oliver’s glucose addictions:

Feeling low?  Feeling sore?  Consult DOCTOR JAZZ, who makes house calls:

ALL THE ‘GIRLS’ GO CRAZY, a hymn of appreciation:

A feature for Joe Goldberg, Ellington’s CREOLE LOVE CALL, which can be traced back to Joe Oliver:

A swinging treatment by Kris, Josh, and Hal of Jelly Roll Morton’s classic:

MUSKRAT RAMBLE, at a nice easy tempo which shows off all its beauties:

More Morton, WININ’ BOY BLUES, so soulfully sung by John Gill:

The On the Levee Jazz Band, you’ll hear, is playing a venerable repertoire, but their first priority is danceable swing.  You can read more about their CD here and the two CDs that Kris, Hal, and Josh (or Cassidy Holden) have made of delicious New-Orleans-flavored ragtime here.  “Check it OUT,” as they used to say in New York City forty-plus years ago.

 

May your happiness increase!

A SURPRISE FROM BREDA 2019

One of the blog-categories I created is “SURPRISE!” and the video below is an especially nice one.  I’ve admired the playing and fortitude and wit of Michael McQuaid and Nick Ward for a decade or so now, and although Andrew Oliver came along later (think of the Complete Morton Project) he is breathing the same exalted air.  The other gentlemen of the ensemble are new to me, more or less, but I embrace them as well.

Here, from a July afternoon at the Breda Jazz Festival, is a neat package of twenty-plus minutes of hot / sweet jazz:

The musicians are Michael McQuaid, clarinet, soprano saxophone, and trumpet;
Antoine Trommelen, soprano saxophone; Andrew Oliver, piano; Nick Ward, drums; Bart Wouters, string bass; Curtis Volp, banjo.

The songs are CHINA BOY, SOMEDAY SWEETHEART, SHREVEPORT STOMP, AFTER YOUVE GONE, and the aura is somewhere between a homespun Summit Reunion and the Bechet-Spanier Big Four . . . neither of which bothers me in the least.  Thanks to Paul Dunleavy for being the efficient man on the spot with a functioning camera: as a member of his professional guild, I want to see him get credit.

Some surprises I don’t like: no popping paper bags in back of me, no jury-duty notices in the mail, my doctor saying, “I don’t like the looks of this at all,” but I’m ready for more surprises like this one, any time.

May your happiness increase!

“OH, MEMORY! OH, MEMORY!” (Part Two): The MANHATTAN RAGTIME ORCHESTRA at THE CAJUN: JOHN GILL, MATTHEW SZEMELA, JON-ERIK KELLSO, CONAL FOWKES, BRAD SHIGETA, PETE MARTINEZ, JESSE GELBER, ROB GARCIA (July 13, 2006)

Once, the Manhattan Ragtime Orchestra had a steady gig in New York City where they made wonderful music.  The club is gone; the gig is gone.  But the music remains.

Here is the first part of this glorious archaeological dig, with almost an hour of new / old 2006 music, and the stories underneath the surface.

Here’s the first video segment:

and the second:

That night the MRO — usually led by clarinetist Orange Kellin — was Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Brad Shigeta, trombone; Pete Martinez, clarinet; Matt Szemela, violin; Jesse Gelber, piano; John Gill, banjo, vocals; Conal Fowkes, string bass; Rob Garcia, drums, and the songs played are WHEN MY BABY SMILES AT ME (Gill does Ted Lewis) / RED PEPPER RAG / UNDER THE BAMBOO TREE (Gill) / RUBBER PLANT RAG arr. Pete / EGYPTIA / “OUR GANG” theme out:

And Part Four, THE RAGTIME DANCE / KROOKED BLUES / NEW ORLEANS WIGGLE / HIGH SOCIETY / SONG OF THE ISLANDS (out theme) //

Those were great times.  And not simply because of any historical-nostalgic longings, but because of the wonderful music, played with inspiration rather than ironies.  I am grateful to have been there, and even more grateful that I could bring a video camera and a tiny tripod . . . gifts from the past that gleam today.

After this post was published, a friend reminded me that the CD,
“MANHATTAN RAGTIME ORCHESTRA: AT THE JAZZ BAND BALL” (with its
wonderful 1898 photograph of Broadway at 28th Street in Manhattan!),
is still available from Stomp Off Records: PO Box 342, York, PA 17405.

May your happiness increase!

DAVID, ANDREW, FERDINAND (THE COMPLETE MORTON PROJECT on DISC)

Internet commerce can feel awkward when one is attempting to say to prospective buyers, “You would enjoy spending money on this pleasurable rare object.”  Or, in the new expression I just learned from a Swedish jazz friend, “smashing the savings pig.”  Be not alarmed: purchase of this CD will not do any animal, ceramic or real, harm.

The CD in question is a beauty: “THE COMPLETE MORTON PROJECT / Neglected masterpieces by the first great jazz composer / ANDREW OLIVER / DAVID HORNIBLOW.” (lejazzetal Records: # LJCD21).  For those who are already excited, the link to purchase or download is here.                      .

I’ll let pianist Andrew explain:

David and I began playing together when I moved to London from Portland, Oregon, in 2013 and we quickly secured a weekly duo gig during which we learned a lot of Morton’s best known compositions.  We’ve continued to work together frequently in the Dime Notes and the Vitality Five, and one day in 2017 as we added yet another fantastic Morton tune to the book of one of the bands, David suggested we should just learn them all!  This seemed rather hilarious and we quickly started recording YouTube videos and posting them at a rate of two per week, with a goal to record and post all 93 tunes during 2018.  Despite a fair bit of stress later in the year, we managed to complete this goal and decided to put down some of our favorites in the studio for this album.  We’ve selected a cross section with a few well-known tunes and a lot of lesser-played ones demonstrating the full range of Morton’s compositional style and featuring David on bass clarinet and bass sax in addition to clarinet for some added textures.

The Morton compositions on the disc are SHREVEPORT STOMP / CROC-O-DILE CRADLE / GAN JAM / STATE AND MADISON / FINGER BUSTER / COURTHOUSE BUMP / STRATFORD HUNCH / MAMANITA / GOOD OLD  NEW YORK / FREAKISH / I HATE A MAN LIKE YOU / JUNGLE BLUES / BLACK BOTTOM STOMP / MR. JELLY LORD / MY HOME IS IN A SOUTHERN TOWN — spanning the stylistic and chronological range of his career.

The jazz audience can be thrifty, so perhaps I should explain why JAZZ LIVES readers would consider purchasing this CD when Andrew and David have unlocked the treasure chest of Mortonia week by week with slightly under one hundred music videos.  I can only say that, having followed the Complete Morton Project on video for about a year, I was delighted by what I heard on the CD.  Whether you view the videos as master takes or alternates, there is vibrant lively improvisation on each song, so I did not feel that I was listening to familiar music, even though I knew both the Morton compositions and the Oliver-Horniblow interpretations from last year.

Second, the sound is beautifully spacious — even though the YouTube channel sounded just right, the CD sound is more expansive and detailed.

Third, and this is not a comic statement, you can listen to the CD in the car without endangering others or yourself.  I would be alarmed if I got into a car with a Morton fancier who was watching the YouTube videos while attempting to drive us somewhere.  LET ME OFF UPTOWN or DROP ME OFF IN HARLEM would come instantly to mind, euphemisms for “Stop right now!”  So purchasing the COMPLETE MORTON PROJECT is not only an act of self-love; it’s good for pedestrians and other motorists.  I rest my case.  Buy it here.

Rereading what I’d written above, I wondered whether some would perceive it as flippant, which isn’t my intention.  Although Andrew and David are great players and great imaginers, their joyous work is seriously rewarding.  Morton’s work is so powerful — his compositions and  his orchestral recordings as well as his piano renderings — that it seems to leave many musicians awe-struck and somewhat frozen.  Thus, facing three minutes of architectural grandeur (say, the Victor BLACK BOTTOM STOMP) they are relegated to attempting to play the record through their own instruments in this century, and when such acrobatics come off, they are entrancing.  (Almost no one I can think of has attempted the other kind of homage: “let’s play DEAD MAN BLUES as a boogaloo,” and that is all to the good.)  What David and Andrew do and did is something else: their reductions of Morton (or, amplifications, if you consider those duo performances based on piano solos) seem to say, “We know this material is strong in every way: melody, harmony, rhythm.  Let us, as if we were restoring an irreplaceable eighteenth century painting, strip off all the accretions, all the layers of performance practice, all the flourishes that come from taking records as sacred text, and concentrate on the Music.  Let us also see, in the best New Orleans – Chicago – New York style, what our warm imaginations can bring to this song.”

Thus they venerate Morton but also play him, with wondrous results.

The link to see, hear, purchase other lejazzetal CDs — including four delightful ones by Martin Wheatley and friends; the Dime Notes; the Vitality Five, and more — is  here.

May your happiness increase!

OUT WEST: THE CHICAGO CELLAR BOYS at the SAN DIEGO JAZZ FEST: ANDY SCHUMM, JOHN OTTO, PAUL ASARO, JOHNNY DONATOWICZ, DAVE BOCK (Nov. 25, 2018)

These Boys don’t disappoint in their hot and sweet renditions of Twenties and Thirties Chicago-style jazz and pop music.  The CCB are Andy Schumm, cornet, clarinet, tenor saxophone; John Otto, clarinet, alto saxophone; Paul Asaro, piano, vocal; Johnny Donatowicz, banjo, guitar; Dave Bock, tuba.  I recorded these performances on November 15, 2018, at the San Diego Jazz Fest.

BLUES IN A MINOR honors the Blue Ribbon Syncopators, a reasonably obscure territory band from Buffalo, New York, who recorded this song in 1925 for OKeh.  It’s not a blues; it’s not in A minor.  An error in labeling?  You’re on your own:

Jelly Roll Morton’s dark lesson in keeping your own counsel, BIG LIP BLUES:

Clarence Williams’ rousing CUSHION FOOT STOMP (and I need a good answer about the etymology of the title):

The very pretty melody, A GARDEN IN THE RAIN:

Cliff Jackson’s (stride pianist with intriguing bass patterns, also leading the “Krazy Kats”) THE TERROR:

I have more video of the CCB in various places, but you should also know about their debut CD for Rivermont Records, BUSY ‘TIL ELEVEN, and that wonderful new oddity, a 10″ 78 rpm microgroove stereo vinyl record — a limited edition of 550 copies — that plays four songs in lovely fidelity while its ornate label rotates at the reassuringly high speed of a vanished time and place.  Learn more, hear more, and buy more here.

May your happiness increase!

WHAT WOULD JELLY DO? “RAGTIME – NEW ORLEANS STYLE, VOLUME TWO”: KRIS TOKARSKI, JOSHUA GOUZY, HAL SMITH

Kris Tokarski has been one of my favorite solo and ensemble pianists for some years now.  It can’t be “many” years, because Kris is perhaps half my age, but my admiration is not limited by the length of our acquaintance.  He listens, he creates melodies, he swings, he sounds like himself, and he has a deep appreciation for the past without being chained by narrow historical definitions.

He’s recorded in a variety of settings, but here I draw your attention to two CDs of ragtime pieces done with delicacy and individuality: the first, issued in 2016 on Solo Art, paired him with drummer-scholar Hal Smith and string bassist Cassidy Holden, pleased me and others immensely: read more about it here.  KINKLETS from that disc:

The second disc by Kris and  Hal, now joined by bassist Joshua Gouzy, issued on Big Al Records, is called RAGTIME – NEW ORLEANS STYLE, VOLUME TWO, and it’s a real pleasure. Hear a sample for yourself here (scroll down the page through the evidence of how well Kris plays with others and on his own).

The premise is a collection of rags that Jelly Roll Morton planned to record — or would have known and played.  And it’s not a fanciful vision, as Hal Smith’s  solid annotations show — in 1939, Morton discussed with Roy Carew his plans to play Joplin and others in his own style, because, as he told Carew, “he didn’t know of anyone more qualified to do it than himself,” and he envisioned recording thirty or forty rags.  (Oh, had he lived for another decade!)

He didn’t live to accomplish this, but we have Tokarski, Gouzy, and Smith to make the fantasy real.

I am especially fond of projects that take a gently imaginative look at the past. Let those who feel drawn to such labors reproduce recordings: the results can be dazzling.  It takes decades of skill to play BIG FAT MA AND SKINNY PA and sound even remotely like the Hot Five.  But even more entrancing to me is the notion of “What might have happened . . . .?” going back to my early immersion in Golden Era science fiction.  An example that stays in my mind is a series of Stomp Off recordings devoted to the Johnny Dodds repertoire, with the brilliant Matthias Seuffert taking on the mantle.  But the most memorable track on those discs was Porter’s YOU DO SOMETHING TO ME, a pop tune from 1929 that Dodds might well have heard or even played — rendered convincingly and joyously in his idiom.  (It really does something to me.)

That same playful vision applies to this disc.  It merges, ever so gently, Jelly Roll Morton and an unhackneyed ragtime repertoire, mixing piano solos and piano trio.  That in itself is a delightful combination, and I replayed this disc several times in a row when I first acquired a copy.

Kris plays beautifully, with a precise yet flexible approach to the instrument and the materials.  He doesn’t undercut, satirize, or “modernize”; his approach is simultaneously loving and easy. It’s evident that he has heard and absorbed the lessons of James P. Johnson and Teddy Wilson — their particular balance of propulsion and relaxation — as well as being able to read the notes on the page. He doesn’t pretend to be Morton in the way that lesser musicians have done (with Bix, Louis, Monk, and others) — cramming in every possible Mortonism over and over.  What he does is imagine a Mortonian approach, but he allows himself freedom to move idiomatically, with grace and beauty, within it.  And he doesn’t, in the name of “authenticity,” make rags sound stiff because they were written before Joe Oliver and Little Louis took Chicago.  He’s steady, but he’s steadily gliding.  His approach to the rags is neither stuffy reverence nor near-hysterical display.

He’s in good company with Josh and Hal.  Many string bassists working in this idiom confuse percussiveness with strength, and they hit the fretboard violently: making the bass a victim of misplaced enthusiasm.  Not Joshua, who has power and melodic wisdom nicely combined: you can listen to his lines in the trio with the delight you’d take in a great horn soloist.  Every note sings, and he’s clearly there with the pulse.

As for the drummer?  To slightly alter a famous Teagarden line, “If Hal don’t get it, well, forget it right now,” which is to say that Hal’s playing on this disc is a beautifully subtle, completely “living” model of how to play ensemble drums: gracious yet encouraging, supportive.  He doesn’t just play the beat: he creates a responsive tapestry of luxuriant sounds.

The CD is beautifully recorded by Tim Stambaugh of Word of Mouth Studios, and the repertoire is a treat — rags I’d never heard (THE WATERMELON TRUST by Harry C. Thompson, and ROLLER SKATERS RAG by Samuel Gompers) as well as compositions by Joplin, Lamb, Scott, Turpin, Matthews, and May Aufderheide.  Nothing overfamiliar but all melodic and mobile.

Here’s another sample.  Kris, Joshua, and Hal are the rhythm section of Hal’s Kid Ory “On the Levee” band, and here they play May Aufderheide’s DUSTY RAG at the San Diego Jazz Fest in November 2018:

Hear what I mean?  They play with conviction but their seriousness is light-hearted.  Volume Two is a disc that won’t grow tired or stale.  Thank you, Kris, Josh, and Hal!  And Jelly, of course.

May your happiness increase!

THEM THERE BOYS: THE CHICAGO CELLAR BOYS at the SAN DIEGO JAZZ FEST: ANDY SCHUMM, JOHN OTTO, PAUL ASARO, DAVE BOCK, JOHNNY DONATOWICZ (November 24, 2018)

They’re back!  And below I’ll have news of their appearance at a one-day Midwest festival on March 30, 2019.

The Chicago Cellar Boys made beautiful music at the 2018 San Diego Jazz Fest, and I caught as much of it as I could.  (Type in CELLAR on the search bar and see for yourself.)

Here is part of a set that I recorded on November 24.  The CCB are Andy Schumm, cornet, tenor saxophone, clarinet; John Otto, alto saxophone, clarinet; Paul Asaro, piano, vocal; Johnny Donatowicz, guitar, banjo; Dave Bock, tuba.  Dee-lightful.

INDIAN CRADLE SONG (in honor of the Dorsey Brothers and, faintly, Louis Armstrong).  Andy told me that he had hidden another song in the “chorale” section, but he’s too smart for me.  Maybe you’ll recognize it?:

BOSTON SKUFFLE (something for and by Jabbo Smith):

HOME, CRADLE OF HAPPINESS (a song popular in the early Twenties, recorded by a Sam Lanin group and by Ethel Waters):

FIDGETY FEET (a tribute to Bix and the Wolverines):

KING PORTER STOMP (the CCB’s homage to the 1924 Autograph duet session by King Oliver and Jelly Roll Morton — also the band-within-the-band):

Aside from their inspiring playing and singing, hot and sweet, there are the marvelous arrangements that make this two-horn quintet sound like a large group, and the positively exciting repertoire.  I know the music of this period fairly well, but I always go away from even one CCB set saying to myself, “I’ve never heard that wonderful tune before.”

And here — because listeners need to get away from their computers now and again (it’s good for us!) — is the festival they will be illuminating at the end of this month, along with Petra’s Recession Seven (featuring Petra van Nuis, Andy Brown, Russ Phillips, and other luminaries):

May your happiness increase!

JAMES. JIM. PROF.

James Dapogny died yesterday.  He was 78 and had been keeping cancer at bay for nine years until he could do it no longer.

Because the absence of people I love is deeply painful, I have embraced the notion that the dead don’t go away, that their temporal selves leave us but they merely move into other neighborhoods.  With Jim’s death, I cannot keep that illusion afloat.  There is a void much larger than his human form that will never be filled.  No parade of clicked-on Facebook sad emojis can express this.  And this sorrow isn’t unique to me: ask anyone who knew him, who learned from him, who savored his creativity and his company.

Prof. and still-active cellist Mike Karoub to Prof’s left. Photograph by Laura Beth Wyman, 2014.

An expansive, restlessly diligent and curious person, he had several names.  When I first met him (at Jazz at Chautauqua, 2004) I timidly called him “Mr. Dapogny,” and because I was shy, my voice was low and he referred to me — just once — as “soft-voiced Professor Steinman” while we were both leafing through Thirties sheet music.  Later, I bought all his records and CDs, where he was “James,” but I summoned up the courage to call him “Jim” to his face and — referring to him in the third person, I took on the affectionate coinage that Laura Beth Wyman, whom he called “my best student in thirty years,” and his dear friend, had created: “Prof.”

I will hand off to Prof.’s friend Kim Cusack for his memories:

Jim was puckish, never morose, so my first musical example is a jam-session rouser.  Keep your ears on the pianist, who explodes into a solo at 4:14:

Although he was characterized as a stride pianist and he loved the music of Fats Waller and Alex Hill, he dismissed that categorization, and told me that his mentors were Stacy, Sullivan, and Morton.  In the fashion of those three great individualists, his playing was full of spiky surprises — arresting commentaries that could woo and distract in the ensemble or when he accompanied a soloist.  I think he found stride conventions constricting, possibly monotonous, so I hear him as a Pee Wee Russell of the piano: going his own completely recognizable ways while uplifting all around him, creating bright-sounding treble lines but also providing solidly original harmonic support and rhythmic propulsion.  He was never predictable but always heroically satisfying.

But LADY BE GOOD, because it was impromptu (rain and wind made reading charts impossible) was not what Prof. liked best.  He delighted in “paper,” that is, arrangements — but they were charts with plenty of breathing room for the splendid soloists he hired and nurtured.  Here’s his powerfully blue version of the Ellington-Stewart MOBILE BAY, also from Evergreen 2014:

and another 2014 romper — this time, because the weather was better, the band could use Prof.’s charts:

Here is Prof. and a band in 2012 — note his dry whimsical introduction:

and a piano solo on one of the most familiar jazz ballads, uniquely Dapogny:

Jim (I have shifted to the non-academic because it feels warmer) was also terribly funny, in person and in print.  David Sager says he had “a sly and delicious wit,” which all of us experienced.  He was a wordsmith, a jester, a stand-up comedian, a sharp-edged deflater, a Michigan S.J. Perelman.  A deadpan improvising comedian, he didn’t mug and pander on the stand, preferring to let the heartfelt music speak.

He and I exchanged emails from 2011 to October 2018: a coda from one of his:

P.S. I don’t know if you ever read the columns of humorist Dave Barry, but I did because Wayne Jones used to send me bundles of them. The ones I liked best were those entitled “Ask Mr. Language Person,” in which Barry answered usage questions ostensibly sent in by readers. One asked about rules for the use of quotation marks in small-business signs. Barry answered that quotation marks
were to be used on words chosen at random. Then he gave three examples.
Try Our “Pies”
Try “Our” Pies
“Try” Our Pies
To me this is absolutely hilarious. It still makes me laugh.

My relationship with Jim grew and deepened.  When I first met him, I was intimidated by his comic rapier, and when I got to know him a little better, I asked him to put it down, which he did without fuss.  The more I encountered him, the more I admired him.  And finally I — like everyone else who knew him — loved him.

I took him on as one of my not-so-secret spiritual fathers, even though he was only a dozen years my senior.  The blend of humor and toughness (he could have shown up in a 1935 Warner Brothers picture, although not as the gangster lead) reminded me of my own father, so he was dear to me.  I originally wrote, “I hope I didn’t embarrass him too much with my direct affection,” but on second thought I hope I did embarrass him: that way I would know he had received the message I was sending.

He was extremely kind, superbly generous.  I had asked him to write a letter for me in support of a sabbatical I was hoping for, and I dare not read that letter now because I would not be able to write through tears.  And every so often he would praise something I’d written, which would make me feel like a peculiarly graceful colossus of words and insights.  (Of course, now and again, he corrected my wayward grammar, which made me wince and then rush to fix the lapse.)

Although he knew his own worth, he was infuriatingly modest.  I, and then Laura, shot videos of him in performance at Jazz at Chautauqua, the Evergreen Jazz Festival, and the Cleveland Classic Jazz Party.  The last email response I got from Jim — late October 2018 — concerned a trio video I had sent him to see if  he would agree to my posting it.  (Sometimes when I sent him videos, the answer was silence, which I could never tell whether it was “God, no!” or “I am too busy doing other things more important than considering my own performances.)  His response, the names redacted in true CIA fashion, was, “OK with me, but this doesn’t scream out for preservation except by being documentation that I once weaseled my way into the company of H- and R-.”

He was always busy transcribing charts for PORK, researching new old music, and more.  But I think his secret passion was in what we call, for want of a more gracious term, mentoring.  Ask any musician who played or sang with him: Jon-Erik Kellso to Dawn Giblin to Mike Karoub to Erin Morris to the members of his bands.  Like Ellington, he saw very clearly what strengths we had, and worked tirelessly to bolster us — offering the most gentle helping hand to make people more glorious versions of their natural selves.

One of my great pleasures, was my being able to visit him and Laura and Erin for a few days in 2016.  Yes, Jim was a scholar of all things musical — not just Jelly Roll Morton and James P. Johnson’s operas — and his range was broad.  When I visited Ann Arbor, the plan was that I would stay in a quietly nondescript motel, and work on my blog over breakfast (instant oatmeal from paper envelopes, and coffee) and then Jim and I, sometimes Laura along as well, would eat deliriously good ethnic food in some restaurant that only Jim knew — Indian, Korean, Thai, Chinese, Vietnamese — and the conversation would become expertly culinary as well, because he could cook, away from the piano.  He was truly insightful but ready to applaud others’ insights.

I dreamed of visiting him again, but missed my chance, just as I missed the opportunity to help bring Jim’s band once again to the Evergreen Jazz Festival in Colorado.

It would please me immensely if others who knew Prof., or James, or Jim, would add their voices to this post.  I will close with one of the great beautiful moments captured by video.  I am particularly proud of this 2015 performance because of the lovely music and that it was recorded by my friend Laura Beth Wyman.  Jim’s own FIREFLY:

The moral that James Dapogny’s life and art and generous friendship offers us is very simple.  We are fireflies.  At our best, we are brilliant: we trace paths along the summer night sky.  But we are fragile.  What can we do but live our lives so that when we depart, we are irrevocably missed?  As he is.

I will eschew my usual closing — consider it here but unsaid — to send love and sorrow to Jim’s wife, Gail, to his family, to his friends, to all the people he touched.

Adieu, James.  Farewell, Prof.  We love you, Jim.

“BENNY AMÓN’S NEW ORLEANS PEARLS” WINS THE COVETED JAZZ LIVES “GFP”* AWARD: BENNY AMÓN, WENDELL BRUNIOUS, STEVE PISTORIUS, FREDDIE LONZO, ALEX BELHAJ, TOM FISCHER, TYLER THOMSON, JOE GOLDBERG, TIM LAUGHLIN

Let us start with the glorious evidence.

That’s the opening track of Benny’s new CD, and when the band shifts into tempo after Benny’s interlude I find myself in tears of joy.

Benny Amón is one of my heroes  And hero Benny can also write.

Often I’ve felt complete awe and incredulity for my experiences playing music in the city of New Orleans. I have been incredibly fortunate to gain mentors, many of whom are featured on this recording session, who have taught me to play New Orleans traditional music with the right feeling and spirit while also encouraging me to find my own voice as a musician.

This recording session is snapshot of that journey after spending most of my 20’s living in this beautiful city. The session is comprised of some of the most treasured musicians to come from this city and some of the greatest to have moved here. This exchange of generations, of cultures, of perspectives of music and life is what has helped make this recording session so successful.

My most important mentor and collaborator over the past several years, Steve Pistorius is featured prominently on this record whether it be ragtime duets, trios with horn players, or in the 7 piece ensemble. As Wendell Brunious likes to say, Steve is the #1 interpreter of the Jelly Roll Morton style of piano. Steve contributed much by writing out good melodies and chords as well.

Speaking of Wendell Brunious, we have worked together often at Preservation Hall over the past few years. Wendell is one of the best trumpet players and entertainers in the whole world and comes from one of the most important musical families of New Orleans. He is a gem that we cannot take for granted.

Freddie Lonzo is another of the New Orleans born and raised musicians who I have been working with over the past years at Preservation Hall and also at the Palm Court Jazz Cafe. He is one of the few trombone players left who understands how to play New Orleans style tailgate trombone. His positive energy and humor is infectious, as is his singing.

Tom Fischer has been in New Orleans for longer than I have been alive and his dedication to excellence on both clarinet and alto saxophone is evident on this record.

New Orleans’ own clarinetist Tim Laughlin recorded two songs on this cd that turned out beautifully. He is one of the my first and most important mentors in New Orleans.

Tyler Thomson also known as “Twerk” by many, is absolutely on fire on this record. Bringing incredible power and solidity to the bands he plays with. He would make Pops Foster, Chester Zardis, and Alcide Louis “Slow Drag” Pavageau proud.

Alex Belhaj is a dear friend of mine who moved to New Orleans a few years ago and he is a frequent collaborator with the Riverside Jazz Collective. His fine banjo and guitar playing is featured in the 7 piece band.

Joe Goldberg is another transplant to New Orleans who has earned the respect of all the top players in both the traditional and modern jazz scenes. His clarinet and soprano saxophone playing as well as his singing is featured on a couple of songs.

As a final note I would like to add a reflection on the actual site of the recording session. George Blackmon, an old friend and excellent studio engineer moved his entire set up to the Scandinavian Jazz Church (Formerly known as the Norwegian Seamen’s Church) to record the bands. The sound he got in that beautiful old church is reminiscent of old New Orleans dance halls where the New Orleans Jazz Revival bands led by such luminaries as Bunk Johnson and George Lewis used to play and record. The Jazz Church unfortunately was sold and since has been closed down after over a 100 years of service to the New Orleans community. The Church hosted jazz concerts and jazz prayer services for decades. The Church generously allowed us to record and use their facilities free of charge. This recording, and the accompanying videos produced, will stand as a last testament to this beautiful and historically important New Orleans institution.

Most importantly, the music on this record is an authentic and timeless account of the New Orleans Jazz scene as I experienced it at this time of my life; full of life, and joy. I am proud to release this music and hope that you enjoy it!

You  might think that Benny has said everything that needs to be said, but I want to add some perceptions he might be too modest to write himself.  Although he turns 30 this year, he is a mature artist with large heartfelt visions and sensitivity.  He is a spectacularly fine drummer.  He makes beautiful sounds, he plays for “the comfort of the band,” he knows dynamics and timbres, and he swings no matter what the tempo.  But he’s more than a wonderful percussionist.

Much of what is marketed as jazz these days — although it says it is inclusive — is a matter of boundaries and barriers, enacted in terms of repertoire and colleagues.  “Ourselves alone,” as the Irish used to say. Benny understands the music as spacious, its boundaries easy and flexible.  That doesn’t mean the new CD takes an iconoclastic approach for novelty’s sake, but it does mean that his vision of New Orleans jazz is easy and loose.  There are echoes on this disc of Bunk Johnson, King Oliver, Louis Armstrong, Jelly Roll Morton, Johnny Dodds, Jimmy Blythe, and Zutty Singleton — but also Eddie Condon, Billie Holiday, James P. Johnson.  Sidney Bechet is in town, but it is the later rhapsodic French Bechet; the Bunk echoes are of the “Last Testament” session.  I am tempted to write a track-by-track guided tour, but why spoil your surprises?

Benny’s gracious understanding also extends to the musicians he chose for this disc.  He has opened his musical house to friends who can really play and sing, people who are individualists.  And the welcome includes Elders and Youngbloods, which makes the session particularly earthy, fresh, and sweetly -surprising — it has some of the feel of a cross-generational down-home jam session where everyone is grinning their faces off at what they are hearing and what they are part of creatively.  It isn’t trad-by-the-numbers; it isn’t busker-stomp; it isn’t formulaic in any way.  And the repertoire is splendidly unhackneyed without being consciously esoteric.

Many CDs offer a huge plateful of The Same Thing, the musical equivalent of an eight-pound plateful of shrimp with lobster sauce.  But I have played this disc half a dozen times from first to last, enraptured.  There are full-ensemble pieces, one-horn, piano-drums trios, a gorgeous drum solo (BENNY FACE, as melodic as any orchestral piece), piano and drums, a few vocals (Goldberg on MY BABY; Brunious on BACKYARD; Lonzo on CALIFORNIA) — and speaking of BACKYARD . . .

How fresh and heartfelt that is!

Now I must explain the “GFP Award.”  I’d asked Benny to send me a copy of the disc when it was ready (handsome art direction there, too) and when I got it in the mail, drawn by whatever magnetism, I played it that night and wrote him immediately that it was, and I quote, a GIANT FUCKING PLEASURE (I use the vernacular when possible) and he asked me to please use that language in my blog.  I am too restrained to make it the heading . . . but the disc makes me happy.  You can buy the physical disc or a digital download here.  Don’t miss an opportunity to be uplifted.

Bless Benny and his friends.  They bring such joy.

May your happiness increase!

“THAT AMAZING MUSIC”: PHILLIP JOHNSTON and the SILENT SIX at SMALLS (November 27, 2018)

Phillip Johnston and friends create music that’s unpredictable but rooted, surprising but deeply immersed in his own versions of the jazz tradition.  I had the good fortune to sit right in front of his Silent Six (a whimsical monicker) at Smalls in Greenwich Village last November, and can share with you a number of wonderful highlights.

He began the evening by discussing his recent joyous study of the music of the Twenties and Thirties, focusing on Jelly Roll Morton, Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, and Don Redman, and you will hear compositions by Louis and the Duke below, elevated by the same exploratory imaginative spirit that animated their creators.  (Sometimes we forget that POTATO HEAD BLUES was a brand-new tune in 1927, rather than a hallowed artifact of Hot.)

Phillip described the compositions and arrangements of that period as “that amazing music,” completely modern, larger than categories.  Hearing the Silent Six, you realize that he is also (without being immodest) describing what it does in this century.

The Silent Six is Phillip Johnston. soprano and alto saxophone; Joe Fiedler, trombone; Mike Hashim, baritone saxophone; Neal Kirkwood, piano; Dave Hofstra, string bass; Rob Garcia, drums. Philip originally formed the NYC-based Six to perform live in WORDLESS!, his multi-media film/music/lecture collaboration with Pulitzer-Prize winning illustrator and graphic art historian Art Spiegelman that had its 2013 debut at the Brooklyn Academy of Music and continues to tour worldwide.

And now for some music from Smalls.  Attentive listeners will hear deep roots: blues, shuffles, variations on familiar harmonic patterns, all performed with vigor, looseness, and wit — over irresistible dance rhythms, the result a series of surprises that immediately become comfortable.

Louis Armstrong’s POTATO HEAD BLUES:

Ellington’s AWFUL SAD:

Phillip’s DUCKET’S GOT A WHOLE IN IT (identified as a “deep shuffle”):

and his own LATER:

Phillip’s HOFSTRA’S DILEMMA (for stalwart string bassist Dave):

TEMPORARY BLINDNESS:

PLANETELLA ROCK:

Phillip also has two new CDs for us — DIGGIN’ BONES and THE ADVENTURES OF PRINCE ACHMED.  You can read reviews of them here.  Learn more / buy DIGGIN’ BONES here; for more about ACHMED, visit here.

This post is for Maurice Kessler, gig-friend extraordinaire.

May your happiness increase!

 

“KINDLY RESTRAIN THAT WILD CREATURE”: BRIAN HOLLAND, DANNY COOTS, MARTY EGGERS, MARC CAPARONE, EVAN ARNTZEN at the Scott Joplin International Ragtime Festival (Sedalia, Missouri: June 2, 2018)

A completely torrid interlude from the 2018 Scott Joplin International Ragtime Festival, featuring the Holland-Coots Jazz Quintet with Marty Eggers, string bass, sitting in for Steve Pikal.  The other incendiaries are Brian Holland, piano; Danny Coots, drums; Marc Caparone, cornet; Evan Arntzen, clarinet.  Although TIGER RAG owes something to Jelly Roll Morton, this rendition owes a great deal to Louis Armstrong. And who would find fault with that?

I’ve written a good deal and posted more than a few videos of this multi-talented group on this blog, which you can find.  However, I hope you know that they are among the stars of the late-Spring STOMPTIME cruise in the Eastern Caribbean: details here.  I am fairly sure that no pets are allowed on board, so you’ll have to check with the cruise line.

May your happiness increase!

The ON THE LEVEE BAND at the SAN DIEGO JAZZ FEST (Part One: Nov. 24, 2018)

Official Jazz history, which tends to compress and simplify, has often portrayed Edward “Kid” Ory as both a limited trombonist and a man lodged in the earliest decades of the music.  Both of these suppositions are wrong; as far as the first, ask any trombonist how easy it is to play what Ory played, and for the second, Ory’s later groups played for dancers in the Forties and Fifties and thus he was very much aware of the subtleties of the Swing Era-and-beyond four-four rhythmic pulse, as his later recordings show.  Drummer / scholar Hal Smith’s ON THE LEVEE JAZZ BAND takes its name from a club Ory ran in California, and its musical inspiration from those later performances.

Unlike some quite respected traditional jazz bands, the OTL floats rather than pounds, and its horn soloists clearly enjoy the freedom of playing with and among such gliding pulsations.  It’s their secret, one that perceptive listeners enjoy, even if they are not aware of the swinging feel of the group.  At times, they remind me happily of the ad hoc groups of Swing Era veterans recruited to perform “Dixieland” tunes c. 1959-60: think of Buck Clayton, Vic Dickenson, and Buster Bailey over a grooving rhythm section — playing the opening ensembles correctly and respectfully but going for themselves in solos.

In addition to Hal, the band as it performed at the 39th San Diego jazz Fest featured Charlie Halloran, trombone, Ben Polcer, trumpet, Joe Goldberg, clarinet; Kris Tokarski, piano, Alex Belhaj, guitar, Josh Gouzy, string bass. These selections come from a set the band did on November 24, 2018.

AT A GEORGIA CAMP MEETING:

TISHOMINGO BLUES, with a vocal by Ben:

Joe Oliver’s SNAG IT:

SAN, named for a King:

DUSTY RAG, a feature for Kris, Josh, and Hal — reimagining classic ragtime in New Orleans — that means Morton — style:

SOMEBODY STOLE MY GAL:

HOW COME YOU DO ME LIKE YOU DO?:

HIGH SOCIETY / WITHOUT YOU FOR AN INSPIRATION:

What a pleasure this band is.  And here is their website, as well as news of their debut CD here . And here is my review.  I approve!  And the band also has the Gretchen Haugen Seal of Approval, which is not an accolade easily won.

Catch them at a gig; buy the CD.  Have a good time.

May your happiness increase!

HAPPINESS IS JUST A THING CALLED JELLY: THE COMPLETE MORTON PROJECT, NOW COMPLETE: ANDREW OLIVER and DAVID HORNIBLOW

Why are these two men so elated?

Andrew (left), piano, and David (right) reeds, otherwise known to a loyal contingent of supporters as the Complete Morton Project, recently announced on Facebook that they have recorded the last of the Jelly Roll Morton compositions they set out to record more than a few months ago.  By my count, they have created 94 videos.  I’ve fallen behind, so this post is an affectionate but tardy attempt to gather up what you and I might have missed.  Eleven of the best!  And for inspired unstuffy commentary on the Morton cornucopia, visit  Andrew’s blog here.

CROC-O-DILE CRADLE, never recorded, existing only in manuscript (found, I believe, by Vince Giordano):

The most excellent WOLVERINE BLUES (not a blues) where David begins with Volly DeFaut’s 1925 clarinet solo:

CREEPY FEELING, an extended meditation from the Library of Congress sessions:

LONDON BLUES, courtesy of Kurt Nauck III

LONDON BLUES, which has a long pedigree:

PONCHARTRAIN, named for the New Orleans lake:

CRAZY CHORDS, which has fragments of 1930 modernism here and there, and David’s interpolation of the “rather dreadful” clarinet solo from the recording:

STOP AND GO, from Morton’s last compositions for big band:

MUSHMOUTH SHUFFLE (I’d love to know the thought or stimulus behind many of Jelly’s titles):

SUPERIOR RAG:

A late frolic, SWINGING THE ELKS, with a particularly exuberant solo by Andrew before David picks up the bass saxophone to solo on this flying march:

SPORTING HOUSE RAG, recorded late, sounds like an early showpiece: here, again, scored for piano and bass saxophone:

May your happiness increase!

“I ALWAYS BEGIN WITH THE EYES”: MAGDA BOREYSZA’S GLITTERING IMPROVISATIONS

I am neither an art connoisseur or collector, but recently, I have had the wonderful luck of being able to follow three artists, directly or tangentially connected to jazz, whom I also personally admire.  There’s John Scurry and Ivana Falconi Allen.  To that inspiring warm company I now add Magda Boreysza.

I first took note of Magda’s work this summer when I saw this poster, had an immediate fierce infatuation with it, bought two, and spoke with her in cyberspace.  This post is my idea, although many of the words are hers.

She is a three-dimensional jazz improviser, inventing worlds we hadn’t thought of before, populated with immaculately drawn and vividly imagined creatures.  Her scope is ever-expanding: she’s not primarily a “jazz artist,” but those two works — depicted here — were my entryway into her universes.

Here she is:

I think of my pictures as stories, and I always start with a character. As I draw, the character tells me what else is happening in the story/picture. I always begin with the eyes. They reveal who the character will be. All my imagery comes from the same world, where the boundaries between human and animal are blurry.

Cue theme music:

All my work is drawing-based, but I work in different mediums. I self-publish comics, I make painted ceramic masks, I’m a printmaker, and I also make regular drawings, which I sell as reproductions. I found I would rather draw my own ideas rather than working to someone else’s specifications. But from time to time, I will make an album cover or a poster for my musician friends.

Juju’s Jazz Band Ball is an event organized by my friend Ewan Bleach, of the Cable Street Rag Band. He asked me to create a poster, and we agreed that it should feature foxes and other feral animals found in the streets of London. I imagined their wild party, their jazz dance, and I tried to capture that energy as well as a typical alley in the Brick Lane area of London. The animal musicians are based on the band members.

I was born in Poland but mostly grew up in the south of Sweden, before moving to Scotland and eventually to New Orleans. I’m married to a jazz musician, Robin Rapuzzi, who plays washboard and drums in Tuba Skinny. Because of this, I’m immersed in the world of music, and I have myself started playing, mainly the bass drum and some auxiliary percussion.

At the Edinburgh College of Art, in Scotland, I specialized in traditional animation techniques, and I made a hand-drawn film for my Master’s — A Game of String, available to stream http://foxandcomet.com/post/113892897077/a-game-of-string-hand-drawn-animation-2010.

As for the Frog & Henry poster, I just wanted to make a silly image, and I was inspired by old cartoons, where objects are sentient.

These things and people inspire my work: Tove Jansson’s Moomin books. The works of David Lynch. Nature, animals, wilderness. Pagan folklore and ritual. Medieval western European religious art, such as the paintings of Hieronymous Bosch and Hans Memling. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, with John Tenniel’s original illustrations.

Here is Magda’s Facebook page. You can see more of her work here, and more importantly, you can buy it here.  Her imagination is spacious, sometimes dark and luminous at the same time, and she invites us in.

May your happiness increase!