Tag Archives: Jennifer Leitham

THE BRAVE JOURNEYS OF JENNIFER LEITHAM: “I STAND CORRECTED”

Jennifer Jane Leitham by Garth Woods

Jennifer Jane Leitham by Garth Woods

I first encountered the virtuoso jazz string bassist Jennifer Jane Leitham at the Sacramento Music Festival a few years ago — and was impressed by her eloquent improvisations.  Not only did she have technique, but she was a powerfully focused musician. Although I had never encountered the jazz string bassist John Leitham in person, I had heard him on recordings with Mel Torme, George Shearing, and other jazz notables. I STAND CORRECTED is a marvelous film documentary that traces the transition from John to Jennifer.  It is a deeply felt collaboration between Jennifer and filmmaker Andrea Meyerson. You don’t have to be a jazz fan to admire the film or its subject. It chronicles  the life-long journeys of Jennifer Leitham, who courageously exists in two simultaneous realms.  One story — more familiar — is how a young person born in Pennsylvania (not New Orleans, New York, or Kansas City) becomes a jazz musician in a time and place not all that hospitable to jazz.  Or perhaps not to larger kinds of improvisation. But I STAND CORRECTED is about much more than “becoming a musician”: early inspirations, good teachers, learning one’s craft, breaking in, getting a nationwide reputation, working alongside famous players and singers — with heartbreaks that keep the story genuine, not an unbroken climb to the top. I STAND CORRECTED is about a young woman born into a boy’s body who, early on, knew she was in the wrong place, in a society that would not admit such things might be possible.  It is a record of how John became Jennifer while not letting her essence be destroyed in the process.  For  John Leitham was a wondrous musician before Jennifer emerged in the public eye, and one of the sweetest aspects of this saga is Jennifer’s awareness and acceptance of both selves: this isn’t a film about an enraged, wounded adult trying to obliterate her younger self, but an adult who wants to emerge as the person she knows herself to be. I STAND CORRECTED offers that human story and more in a most moving film. For one thing, Jennifer is an exceedingly likable guide, honest but not pompous nor didactic or narcissistic.  I STAND CORRECTED is not a sermon telling us that we should all be tolerant.  There are no scientific or academic talking heads, no instant revelations. The film is a casual but strongly felt journal of one woman’s struggle to be the person she was meant to be.  Jennifer is both candid and light-hearted without ever undercutting the seriousness of her quest.  The film touches on emotional crises (a divorce, family members unable to accept Jennifer when they knew only John) and medical catastrophes, without becoming bleak. Of course, it helps that an audience has seen Jennifer onstage, ebullient and serious at the same time, playing at the highest level of her art, testing herself while having the time of her life.  And the film is generously leavened with musical performances where Jennifer shows off her prodigious talents as improviser, composer, singer. But the real story is more than a music video. Along the way, John-in-the-process-of-becoming-Jennifer is forced to be a spy in enemy country.  But she finds allies, friends, and supporters.  Some of them are genuinely unaffected noble people: Doc Severinsen is someone you would always want in your corner — gentle yet unwavering, both parent and friend to someone who strongly needs both.  “I hired a bass player, not a man or a woman,” he tells her.  Bless him.  Ed Shaughnessy is not far behind.  (Jennifer’s younger brother is a prize, too.) I was reminded that Doc and Ed were born n an era of drinking fountains labeled COLORED and WHITE outside train stations in many states.  But they and other jazz musicians learned quickly that it didn’t matter what you looked like on the outside.  It didn’t matter who your life-partner was.  Black, white, gay, straight?  Could you play?  What was your heart like?  How well did you love? Meeting these gracious, generous people is one of the film’s pleasures.  But they are only reflecting back something shining out of the film’s heroine.  Jennifer Leitham is gently making her way, as we all must.  Her courage is admirable, for she made the transition at the height of her career, when “coming out as a woman” could have ended her life as a performing musician. I STAND CORRECTED introduces us to a person for whom making music was a way to save herself, to define herself . . . and her music is a great loving gift to all of us.  The salvation young John found while playing the electric bass left-handed (a conscious choice, perhaps an early sly way of saying “I am different”) radiates through this film — a gift Jennifer gives to us.  And as she trusts herself, we trust her. We are all trying to become the person we feel we are meant to be, and some get close to that goal.  Jennifer Leitham’s quest didn’t end when she came out of the hospital after surgery.  It continues every time she performs or tells her story — a story that will give some other young person courage to be him or herself. I STAND CORRECTED is beautifully yet unobtrusively presented: the film shifts back and forth from the early life of John Leitham to the music of Jennifer Leitham to her voyage of self-discovery, the situations she must face and the oppositions that result — as well as the emotional rewards. At the end of I STAND CORRECTED, we feel privileged to have met a happy, realized, creative human being: a woman with four birthdays. And as we are slowly — too slowly — leaving behind the world where skin color or sexual preference determines identity and worth, I STAND CORRECTED will be understood as a small milestone on the way to a world where the idea of MAN or WOMAN is put aside as irrelevant in favor of PERSON, of BEING. It is a rewarding film both musically and spiritually.  Make every effort to see it.  Its heroine’s courage and perseverance are inspiring.  In a world where many people make judgments based on someone’s external presence, we need to be reminded that the truths lie within. Here is the film’s website — where you can see trailers and find out where it is being shown. May your happiness increase.

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YOU WON’T NEED A SPREADSHEET TO HAVE FUN AT THE SACRAMENTO MUSIC FESTIVAL (May 25-28, 2012)

My friend Nancy Doran Giffin just sent me this early-birthday gift — the schedule for the 2012 Sacramento Music Festival.  I’ll be there.  Will you?  I can see myself racing around from sets:  the Reynolds Brothers, Rebecca Kilgore Trio, Bob Draga, Ray Templin, Clint Baker, Tofu Cavera, Uptown Lowdown, Dave Bennett, Allan Vache, Russ Phillips, John Cocuzzi, Uptown Lowdown, Stephanie Trick, Dan Barrett, Rossano Sportiello, Jennifer Leitham, Big Mama Sue, the Red Skunk Jipzee Swing Band, the New Black Eagles, Eddie Erickson, Molly Ryan, Bob Ringwald, Ray Templin, Vince Bartels . . . and that’s only about twenty percent of what’s on the program.

Since I am an old-fashioned type (I remember life before the computer), I will eventually give myself the sumptuous pleasure of printing out these pages and marking out my musical peregrinations with a yellow highlighter so that I don’t miss an exalted note.  But I’ve looked at this cornucopia for a long time, basking in anticipation of the wonders we will hear . . .

The festival schedule is posted and arranged by day.  Anyone can go to each day and do a “Find” for a particular name, then keep clicking “Next” to see all the places they are listed on that page.

Try it here.  Go ahead, knock yourselves out!

May your happiness increase.

“ROYAL GARDEN BLUES”: A GRAND FINALE: SWEET AND HOT 2011

Everyone on stage!

This ROYAL GARDEN BLUES, a hilarious jazz extravaganza, closed the festivites at the 2011 Sweet and Hot Music Festival.  You’ll have to navigate the solo order yourself, but the participants (more or less) include the guiding genius of festival, Wally Holmes.  Then you’ll encounter John Sheridan, piano; Allan Vache, Bob Draga, clarinet; Richard Simon, bass; Connie Jones, cornet, Jennifer Leitham, Nedra Wheeler, bass; Jim Galloway, reeds; Ed Polcer, Corey Gemme, Randy Reinhart, cornet; Tim Laughlin, Dan Levinson, reeds; Russ Phillips, John Allred, Dan Barrett, trombones; Mark Shane, Johnny Varro, piano; Howard Alden, guitar; Dick Shanahan, Frank DiVito, drums . . . and perhaps some unidentified flying swingers in the background as well. 

When the applause had died down, I heard a woman near me say happily, “Boy, that was fun!”  Absolutely right, ma’am.  I never thought I would want to spend Labor Day weekend in Los Angeles, but I’ve already (mentally) marked my 2012 calendar.  You come, too.

VINCE BARTELS’ SWING QUARTET PLUS at SACRAMENTO (May 29, 2011)

Drummer Vince Bartels knows how to put together assertively swinging groups, and this one — at the 2011 Sacramento Jazz Jubilee — was no exception.  The session began with pianist Johnny Varro, bassist Jennifer Leitham, saxophonist Pete Christlieb, and trombonist John Allred — playing SOFTLY, AS IN A MORNING SUNRISE exuberantly rather than tentatively crepuscular:

LIMEHOUSE BLUES began as a slow drag then romped:

Before the fire marshals were called in, Pete offered the pretty CLOSE ENOUGH FOR LOVE:

and Vince (a proud grandfather) gave twelve-year old Mackenzie Rose Sullivan her chance in the spotlight for ALL OF ME:

The PLUS became apparent when vibraphonist John Cocuzzi joined the group for a rocking TOPSY:

Another delicate interlude — THE NEARNESS OF YOU — featured Cocuzzi, Varro, and Leitham:

And John stayed around for a frankly dangerous CHEROKEE:

Ferociously hot!

LABOR DAY WEEKEND WILL BE SWEET AND HOT! (September 2-5, 2011)

To set the mood: Fletcher Henderson, 1931, vocal by Jimmy Harrison, SWEET AND HOT:

I could become oratorical — a preacher leaning over his congregation, looking over his glasses, solemnly dropping his voice for emphasis, asking, “Where will YOU spend Labor Day weekend 2011?  Where will YOU be September 2-3-4-5, 2011?”

But the Beloved and I already know the answer!

We’ll be at the Sweet and Hot Jazz Festival in Los Angeles, California.

Why?

Oh, I don’t know.  I don’t understand it myself.  There are some musicians and singers, for sure.  But only a few.  And no one you’d really know.

Here are some of the amateurs and nonentities who will be there.

Howard Alden, John Altman, Dan Barrett, Gil Bernal, Ian Bernard, Sean Callery, Chris Dawson, Frank DeVito,  Bob Draga,  Eddie Erickson, Yve Evans, Joel Forbes,  Jim Galloway,  Corey Gemme,  Banu Gibson, Jeff Gilbert, Rebecca Kilgore, Janet Klein, Dave Koonse, Sue Kroninger, Jennifer Leitham, Dan Levinson, Carl Sonny Leyland, Sherrie Maricle, Barbara Morrison, Roger Neumann, Russ Phillips, Randy Reinhart, the Reynolds Brothers, Molly Ryan, Mark Shane, Ed Shaughnessy, Jack Sheldon, John Sheridan, Richard Simon, Hal Smith, Putter Smith, Jonathan Stout, Allan Vache, Johnny Varro, Ed Vodicka, Pat Yankee, Barry Zweig.

And I’ve left out a whole raft of bands, players, singers, vocal groups, attractions, late-night jam sessions . . . too much to cover in one weekend for anyone.  I’ve already begun thinking of buying extra batteries for the camera and perhaps more comfortable shoes . . . ?

Los Angeles Airport Marriott Hotel, 5855 W. Century Blvd, Los Angeles, California 90045.  Call 310-641-5700 for reservations, and be sure to ask for the Sweet & Hot Rate: $120.00 per room/ per night + tax.  For Pool Room Packages (not a remake of THE HUSTLER, but rooms overlooking the pool) call Wanda– 505-795-7299 or via email mswanda@newmexico.com.

Information and ticket sales by phone: call Laurie 909-983-0106 or tickets @sweethot.org.

For a volunteer information and application, contact Bobbye: 818-887-0120 or bobbye70@yahoo.com.

I will have more to say about this in postings to come, but I am very excited by this opportunity and wanted my readers to know right this minute. . . . !

EIGHT DOLLARS BUYS A JAZZ WEEKEND!

Eight dollars might buy you a restaurant lunch but it won’t cover a ticket to the movies.  It doesn’t go very far in the world of jazz, although it would be enough for a used CD or some downloaded songs. 

But here’s a bargain!  

This coming weekend, March 26-28, the clever folks who run the Bohem Ragtime and Jazz Festival in Kecsemet, Hungary, will be broadcasting the proceedings online as they occur for the eight dollar fee mentioned above.  And the eight dollars that would buy you a hamburger and drink will also allow you to view the concerts as you like from April 1 – May 31, with unlimited visits to the site (www.bohemragtime.com.)  

The players include the Washboard Wizardz (USA), Nicolas Montier (France) – ts, Thilo Wagner (Germany) – p, Jennifer Leitham (USA) – sb, Vince Bartels (USA) – dr, Bohém Ragtime Jazz Band (Hungary), PapaJazz (Hungary) Swing Manouche Project (Hungary), Balázs Dániel (Hungary) Iván Nagy (Hungary) Penge Benge Jazz Band (Hungary). 

I know that people are used to viewing video music clips online for free, and I’ve contributed to that phenomenon.  But your eight dollars will also support the continuation of the Bohem Festival in years to come — surely a worthy endeavor. 

Here’s a clip from the 2009 Festival — an all-star group playing SOMEDAY SWEETHEART — proof of the musical and cinematic quality you can expect:

(The players were Herbert Christ, trumpet; Matthias Seuffert, clarinet; Tamás Ittzés, violin, vocal;  Morten Gunnar Larsen, piano; Ad van Beerendonk, bass; Nick Ward, drums.)

NEWS FROM THE BOHEM RAGTIME JAZZ BAND (February 2010)

I’ve shared some YouTube videos of the Bohem Ragtime Jazz Band here in the past: they do live up to their description as “possibly the workd’s most versatile jazz band” — the band adapts wonderfully to all kinds of jazz material without the soloists losing their essential identities.

The BJRB will be celebrating its twenty-fifth anniversary on March 8, 2010.  Congratulations!  Keeping a band together for a quarter-century in these perilous times (perilous for Hot jazz as well as most other things) is a real accomplishment. 

AND the Bohem Jazz Festival is nearly upon us.  That’s March 26-28, 2010.  More information about the six-day package offer here:http://festival.bohemragtime.com/images/fest10-touristinfo.pdf.  The musicians featured at the Festival will include Nicolas Montierm tenor sax;  Thilo Wagner, piano; Jennifer Leitham, string bass; Vince Bartels, drums; Washboard Wizardz, the BRJB, of course;  PapaJazz; Swing Manouche Project; Daniel Balazs, piano; Ivan Nagy, piano; the Penge Benge Jazz Band . . . and more.  

“How did he find all this out?” you might ask.  Easy as paprika: I simply visited http://www.bohemragtime.com.  You can, too!  They have an email newsletter, but they neither harangue nor pester — it’s great fun.  And if you aren’t fluent in Hungarian, don’t panic — click on the Union Jack and everything will appear in a flash in the most melodious English prose.  There you can hear and see Joe Muranyi singing BACK HOME AGAIN IN INDIANA, and find out about your special present from the BRJB.  It’s all true!

But since the Beloved and I are not going to be able to attend the Festival this year, I’ve been delighting in several CDs and DVDs put out by the BRJB and esteemed guests.  There’s a DVD by the BRJB itself, one with guests including Herbert Christ, Bria Skonberg, Matthias Seuffert, Bob Barnard, Nick Ward, and Jeff Hamilton, and a delightful CD — a hot piano / violin recital, with both instruments expertly played by the swinging Tamas Itzes. 

Check it out — no, check them out. 

Sound of New Orleans
(with Bob Barnard & Herbert Christ – tp, Matthias Seuffert – cl, ts)
CD: KJA-BCD 8020, 2005

1. I’m Sorry I Made You Cry (Nicholas Joseph Clesi)
2. You’re Lucky To Me (Andy Razaf–Eubie Blake)
3. Cornet Chop Suey (Louis Armstrong)
4. Sorry (Raymond Klages–Howdy Quicksell)
5. Someday Sweetheart (Benjamin & John Spikes)
6. Stompin’ At The Savoy (Benny Goodman–Andy Razaf–Chick Webb–Edgar Sampson)
7. Black Beauty (Duke Ellington)
8. Smackaroony (Bob Barnard)
9. Wall Street Rag (Bud Coleman)
10. Black Bottom Stomp (Jelly Roll Morton)
11. Everybody Loves My Baby (Jack Palmer–Spencer Williams)
12. Sing, You Sinners (W. Frank Harling–Sam Coslow)
13. Home (Harry & Jeff Clarkson–Peter van Steeden)
14. San (Walter Michels–Lindsay McPhail)
15. Mandy, Mandy, Make Up Your Mind (Meyer–Johnston–Clarke–Turk)
16. Body and Soul (Green–Heyman)
17. Down In Honky Tonk Town (Charles McCharon–Chris Smith)
18. Sweet Substitute (Jelly Roll Morton)

Bohém Ragtime Jazz Band Live! – 12. Dixieland Jubilee, Stuttgart
CD: CACD 8302, 2008

1. Milenberg Joys (Jelly Roll Morton-New Orleans Rhythm Kings)
2. I’m Sorry I Made You Cry (N. J. Clesi)
3. Ballin’ The Jack (Chris Smith)
4. Someday Sweetheart (Benjamin & John Spikes)
5. Whistling Rufus (Kerry Mills)
6. Love At Sundown (H. M. King of Thailand Bhumibol Adulyadej)
7. Sam, the old accordion man (Walter Donaldson)
8. Cataract Rag (Robert Hampton)
9. I’m Confessin’ (Doc Daugherty-Al J. Neiburg-Ellis Reynolds)
10. Creole Jazz (Claude Luter)
11. Black Beauty (Duke Ellington)
12. Louisiana (J. C. Johnson-Andy Razaf-Shafer)
13. Maple Leaf Rag (Scott Joplin)
14. Tango Palace (Ott fogsz majd sírni…) (József Kola-Andor Szenes-Joe Murányi)
15. Honey Suckle Rose (Andy Razaf-Thomas “Fats” Waller)
16. The Entertainer (Scott Joplin-John Brimhall)
17. Good night, ladies (traditional)

1. Wild Romantic Blues [2:15]  
2. Tin Whistle Blues [3:00]  
3. Kiss Me Sweet [2:58]  
4. Never Let No One Man Worry Your Mind [2:28]  
5. The Carolina Blues [1:56]  
6. The Fives [2:28]  
7. Freakish Blues [2:22]  
8. Irresistible Blues [2:46]  
9. Charleston Clarinet Blues [2:34]  
10. War Bride Blues [4:05]  
11. Paradise Blues [2:57]  
12. Monday Morning Blues [2:22]  
13. Blue Law Sunday Blues [2:39]  
14. Jerry the Junker [2:15]  
15. Black Cat Blues [2:55]  
16. Alabama Blues [2:18]  
17. Louisville Blues [3:06]  
18. Jogo Blues [3:16]  
19. It Takes a Long Tall Brown-skin Gal to Make a Preacher Lay His Bible Down [3:03]  
20. You’re Such a Cruel Papa to Me [2:53]  
21. A Bunch of Blues [4:04]  
22. Regretful Blues [3:38]  
23. You’ll Want Me Back Someday [3:06]

And here’s a YouTube sample:

MAHOGANY HALL STOMP (with József Lebanov, trumpet; Attila Korb, trombone; Zoltán Mátrai, clarinet; Tamás Ittzés, piano, leader; József Török, tuba; György Mátrai, banjo; Alfréd Falusi, drums.