Tag Archives: Jelly Roll Morton

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!