Tag Archives: Jelly Roll Morton

“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!

 

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“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!

JOPLIN, JOHNSON, JELLY, and MAX: MAX KEENLYSIDE PLAYS (Scott Joplin International Ragtime Festival, Sedalia, Missouri, May 31, 2018)

Max Keenlyside at the 2018 Scott Joplin International Ragtime Festival. Photograph by Stoptime Photo.

The young Canadian piano wizard Max Keenlyside is a fine player and composer, and we had a delightful brief meeting in person at the Scott Joplin International Ragtime Festival, where he played an untitled and incomplete Joplin piece that I’ve titled FRAGMENTS OF JOPLIN.  Music here:

I didn’t catch it all on video, but Max told me later that Joplin’s widow, Lottie, gave Brun Campbell a photo of Joplin at the piano, where there is visible part of an otherwise unknown Joplin composition, which Max transcribed, played, and amplified on.  (Max also told me that “the full story was written about at length, I think, by Chris Ware in an issue of The Ragtime Ephemeralist, which surely must now be as rare as hens’ teeth.”)

Max’s musical range is broad, as you will see and hear, and I think it’s splendid that he might allow audience members to pick the program from his list.  One he chose was James P. Johnson’s romp, RIFFS:

His next piece, Harold Arlen’s lovely IT’S ONLY A PAPER MOON, so captivated me that I posted it right after the Festival — but since I can’t be sure that everyone’s already enjoyed it, I post it here again.  Fats peeks in now and again, but it’s all Max:

Then, some Morton episodes, always welcome.  First, THE PEARLS, which encapsulates the Master at the piano:

and from the Library of Congress recordings, SPANISH SWAT

A properly vigorous TIGER RAG, complete with elbow:

To conclude the set, a new composition by Max, which he explains, THE RED MOON:

And not incidentally, the Scott Joplin International Ragtime Festival will take place next year from May 29 to June 1, 2019.  I’ll tell you more about it as I know . . . because I plan to be in Sedalia, Missouri, for that weekend of joy.

May your happiness increase!

OF COURSE, THEY WEREN’T “TRAINED SINGERS”!

Anna Moffo, one of my mother’s favorite sopranos: my definition of a “trained singer.”

Everyone of us has pet theories: there’s a secret way to fold fitted sheets; day-old bagels, toasted, are better than fresh, and so on.  You, no doubt, have yours.

One of mine that is relevant to JAZZ LIVES is that often, singers who never sing because they are busy playing are the best singers of all.  I don’t mean those who are clearly identified as singers — Louis, Jelly, Teagarden, Cleo Brown — but those instrumentalists who have recorded once or twice only.  So I assembled a host of my favorites, leaving out scat choruses.  Some recordings were inaccessible: Sid Catlett’s OUT OF MY WAY, Basie’s HARVARD BLUES (where he, not Jimmy, takes the vocal) Ed Hall’s ALL I GOT WAS SYMPATHY — but this is, I hope, a pleasing, perhaps odd offering.  I present them in no particular order, except for Lester being the last, because that recording so touches me.

James P. Johnson, 1944 (with Frank Newton, Al Casey, Pops Foster, Eddie Dougherty).  The story is that Alan Lomax thought that James P. was a blues pianist when he interviewed him for the Library of Congress — and compelled him to sing this.  I don’t know: James P. is having a good time:

Coleman Hawkins, 1936, highly impassioned (when was he not?):

Vic Dickenson, crooning in 1931 with the Luis Russell Orchestra:

Vic — nearly fifty years later — singing his own composition with Ralph Sutton:

Benny Carter, aiming for Bing and having a dear good time in the process, 1933.  (This has been one of my favorite records since 1974.  Catch Benny’s trumpet solo and clarinet solo.  And Sid Catlett pleases.)  Those clever lyrics aren’t easy to sing at that tempo: ask Dan Barrett:

And another helping of Benny-does-Bing, gliding upwards into those notes.  Another favorite:

Yes, Art Tatum could sing the blues.  Uptown, 1941:

I save this for last, because it leaves me in tears.  Lester Young, 1941, and since this is the only copy of a much-played acetate, there’s a lot of surface noise.  Be patient and listen deeply:

Little is known about that recording, but I remember learning that one side of it was a dub of SHOE SHINE BOY by Jones-Smith, Inc., and this — a current pop tune with glee-club embroideries — was the other.  It’s been surmised that this was a demo disc for Lester’s new small band that he hoped to make flourish after leaving Basie.  Some of the sadness, to me, is that the attempt worked poorly, and although Lester loved to sing, there is only one other recording (the 1953 IT TAKES TWO TO TANGO) that exists.

These singers go right to my heart.

May your happiness increase!