Tag Archives: Jerome Kern

FIVE BY FIVE (Part Two): JOE PLOWMAN and his PHILADELPHIANS at the 1867 SANCTUARY: JOE PLOWMAN, DANNY TOBIAS, JOE McDONOUGH, SILAS IRVINE, DAVE SANDERS (February 8, 2020)

This is the second half of a wonderful afternoon concert that took place at the 1867 Sanctuary in Ewing, New Jersey — Joe Plowman and his Philadelphians, featuring Joe on string bass; Danny Tobias on trumpet, flugelhorn, and Eb alto horn; Joe McDonough on trombone; Silas Irvine on piano; Dave Sanders on guitar.

You can enjoy the first half here — the songs performed are COTTON TAIL, WHO CARES?, JUST ONE OF THOSE THINGS, SUNNY SIDE OF THE STREET, and THE SONG IS ENDED.

And below you can hear and see performances of MY FUNNY VALENTINE, WHY DO I LOVE YOU?, THE FRUIT, WHAT’LL I DO?, and I NEVER KNEW.

When everything is once again calm, you might make a trip to the Sanctuary (101 Scotch Road in Ewing) for their multi-musical concert series: it is a lovely place.  But the vibrations in that room were particularly lovely on February 8, 2020.

Since it was less than a week before Valentine’s Day, Richard Rodgers’ MY FUNNY VALENTINE was not only appropriate but imperative: Danny offered it (with the seldom-played verse) on flugelhorn:

Jerome Kern’s WHY DO I LOVE YOU? — following the amorous thread — was another feature for the melodic Joe McDonough  — with beautiful support from Messrs. Sanders and Irvine in addition to the leader:

Joe (Plowman, that is) explored Bud Powell’s twisting THE FRUIT with Silas right alongside him at every turn:

Irving Berlin’s mournful elegy, WHAT’LL I DO? reassembled the quintet:

And a final jam on I NEVER KNEW — a song musicians have loved to play since the early Thirties — closed the program:

Beautiful, inspiring music: thanks to this quintet and Bob and Helen Kull of the     1867 Sanctuary.

May your happiness increase!

“SPIRITUAL REFRESHMENT = LIVE MUSIC” (Part Two): YAALA BALLIN and MICHAEL KANAN, “The Great American Songbook, Requested” (St. John’s in the Village, New York City, October 19, 2019)

Yes, these two magicians: Yaala Ballin, singing; Michael Kanan, playing.

About four weeks ago, they did their subtle transformations here:

They made music blossom.  The sign is perfectly apt.

Never let it be said that JAZZ LIVES omits any relevant detail:

And here‘s the first part, the songs being I COULD WRITE A BOOK; SO IN LOVE; EASY TO LOVE; THE WAY YOU LOOK TONIGHT; BEWITCHED, BOTHERED, AND BEWILDERED; HOW DEEP IS THE OCEAN?

And if that weren’t enough, here is the second part.

S’WONDERFUL:

IN A SENTIMENTAL MOOD:

I LOVE PARIS:

IT’S ALL RIGHT WITH ME:

MANHATTAN:

I’LL BE AROUND:

CHEEK TO CHEEK:

It was delightful to be there, which my videos may not convey wholly.  But if you missed it, and I am sure some New York readers did, be glad: Michael and Yaala will be doing another box-of-surprises program at Mezzrow on December 11 of this year.  Details here.

Yaala told us, during the concert, that she, Michael, Ari Roland, and Chris Flory are recording a CD devoted to her near-namesake, Israel Baline, whom we know as Irving Berlin.  That will be a treat — but do come out for the music as it is performed in real time, in front of people who appreciate it.

May your happiness increase!

START WITH OPTIMISM, AND IF THAT DOESN’T WORK, AIM FOR RESILIENCE: REBECCA KILGORE, ROSSANO SPORTIELLO, DAN BARRETT, JON BURR, RICKY MALACHI at JAZZ AT CHAUTAUQUA (Sept. 21, 2012)

There are maladies everywhere, but there are also cures.  You could see your doctor and get a prescription designed to take care of angst, malaise, and ennui; it would be a little plastic vial with a long name that would surely upset your stomach.  Or you could simply click on the two videos below, never before seen, and wait for the results . . . with no side-effects.  Music hath charms, indeed.

Rebecca Kilgore, Rossano Sportiello, Dan Barrett, Jon Burr, Ricky Malachi at Jazz at Chautauqua 2012.

These two performances took place at the Jazz at Chautauqua weekend in September 2012, and they bring joy.  Specifically, Rebecca Kilgore, Rossano Sportiello, Dan Barrett, Jon Burr, and Ricky Malachi — vocals and guitar, piano, trombone, string bass, and drums — do that rare and wonderful thing.

Here’s a burst of optimism in swing, the 1939 pop hit above, which has been so completely overshadowed by WHAT A WONDERFUL WORLD and IT’S A BIG WIDE WONDERFUL WORLD that I am immediately grateful to Becky and friends for singing and playing it:

And resilience added to optimism, in a song associated with the unlikely spectacle of Fred Astaire having trouble mastering a dance step.

This Kern-Fields beauty occasionally gets mixed up with the Berlin LET YOURSELF GO, perhaps the same principle, but one is about recovery (even a triumph over gravity) — the other, release:

These performances are from seven years ago, but Becky and friends are currently performing their magic in various ways and places.  You can find out her schedule here, and there is her seriously beautiful new CD with Echoes of Swing (Bernd Lhotzky, Colin T. Dawson, Chris Hopkins, and Oliver Mewes) called WINTER DAYS AT SCHLOSS ELMAU, about which I’ll have more to say soon.  Rossano’s globe-crossings are documented here; Jon Burr’s many adventures here and Dan Barrett’s here.

Not a pill in sight, and I feel better now.

May your happiness increase!

“SPIRITUAL REFRESHMENT = LIVE MUSIC”: YAALA BALLIN and MICHAEL KANAN, “The Great American Songbook, Requested” (St. John’s in the Village, New York City, October 19, 2019)

Last Saturday, I was on my way along West 11th Street in Greenwich Village to the church above for a musical event that turned out to be more memorable than I could have imagined.  Ambling along, I had my video equipment; the musicians are friends of mine as well as heroes, and I was imagining the blogpost that might come of it.  Then I saw this banner from another church and the top two phrases struck me as completely apropos to the event to come — and they are, in the ideal world, the same thing:

Back to St. John’s for the event poster, which depicts Yaala Ballin:

“The Great American Songbook, Requested” presented Yaala Ballin, vocal, and Michael Kanan, piano, in a duo-recital drawing on Rodgers and Hart, Irving Berlin, Cole Porter, Jerome Kern and Dorothy Fields, George and Ira Gershwin, Duke Ellington, and Alec Wilder.

The songs were treated lovingly, but as old friends — which is to say that both Yaala and Michael have a reverence for their melodies and harmonies as printed on the contemporaneous sheet music, and a depth of knowledge about the best performances, but that they felt free to improvise, to express their own personalities without obscuring the music.

“Requested” was a sly and endearingly playful idea.  When we entered the church, we were given a list of songs, more than forty, organized by composer, and asked to write down two on a small slip of paper — a favorite first, another second — that we wanted to hear.  It gave the afternoon the slight flavor of a children’s party (or the office grab bag, without the terrors that can inspire).  The thirteen selections Yaala and Michael performed were drawn at random from a basket that Yaala — for that brief time, the Red Riding Hood of the West Village — had brought with her.  Of course, they knew the songs on the list, but it was a small adventure, the very opposite of a tightly-planned program.  And it worked sweetly, as you will see and hear.

I COULD WRITE A BOOK (Richard Rodgers, Lorenz Hart, Pal Joey):

SO IN LOVE (Cole Porter, Kiss Me Kate):

EASY TO LOVE (Porter, Born to Dance):

THE WAY YOU LOOK TONIGHT (Jerome Kern, Dorothy Fields, Swing Time):

BEWITCHED, BOTHERED, AND BEWILDERED (Rodgers and Hart, Pal Joey):

HOW DEEP IS THE OCEAN? (Irving Berlin):

I don’t think this playful, light-hearted but emotional musical partnership displayed this afternoon, could have been better.  I could go on about Michael’s deeply musical approach to the piano, and the chances Yaala takes and how they pay off, but the evidence is all here.  And seven more performances will be shared soon.

Yaala and Michael will be performing another version of this concert at Mezzrow on December 11.  And (as if that would not be enough), Yaala, Michael, Ari Roland, and Chris Flory are going in to the studio to record a CD of Israel Baline’s music (he wrote the preceding song and a few others).

May your happiness increase!

LIGHT-HEARTED MELODIC DANCES: ALEX LEVIN TRIO, “A SUNDAY KIND OF LOVE” (ALEX LEVIN, PHIL ROWAN, BEN CLINESS)

I gravitate towards music that welcomes me in.  I approve of melodies.  I even love them, and I love those that I remember.  There!  I’ve said it.

And the pianist Alex Levin has the same affectionate relations with song: he’s not a prisoner of the written notes, but he respects what the composer has created, and his own original compositions have the gamboling pleasure of the great songs that some of us still hum in the car or in the grocery-store line.

I first heard (and heard of) Alex almost a decade ago, when he released his first CD, which I liked a great deal: you can read my review here.

And I like Alex’s new CD even more.

Here’s what I wrote, offhandedly, after hearing only two or three tracks through my computer’s speakers.

Some ninety years ago, jazz began to position itself as the delinquent of music.  In opposition to all those sweet bands with violins, playing the melody in harmony, tied to the notes in front of them, jazz took a puff on its Marlboro, abruptly stood up from its seat (frightening the kittens) and made unpredictable sounds.  That was HOT, a spiritual barrage against the apparent dullness of SWEET.  And jazz listeners followed the narrow often unmarked ideological path: think of all those 78s whose grooves remain black, shiny, unplayed except for the eight bars of Bix or Purvis or Jack.  Sweet was for Aunt Martha; hot was for rebellious enlightened  outsiders.  It created a pervasive false dichotomy: if you could hear the melody, was it true improvisation? 

And — to oversimplify (because Bird and Trane could play melodically with great art) jazz aimed at abstraction, sharp edges and magical paths into the labyrinth.  Thus, so many listeners tell themselves and others that they don’t understand jazz, as if  it became a subject one had to study for to pass the final.

But the great players and singers knew and still know that melody is at the heart of any musical expression, and that “sweetness” was, in itself, a goal rather than a trap.  Think of Lester Young, “I don’t like a whole lot of noise — trumpets and trombones…I’m looking for something soft. It’s got to be sweetness, man, you dig?”

It is in this spirit of an apparent conservatism that becomes radical that I commend to you Alex Levin’s new trio CD, A SUNDAY KIND OF LOVE, where the trio does more than glue themselves to the written notes, but they treat melodies with love and respect . . . the result being quietly affecting swing playing of the highest order.  Some might not be able to hear the lights and shadows, preferring instead the sounds of the piano dropped to the street below, but that would be their loss.

Because readers are sometimes hurried, you can hear samples, download the music, or purchase a CD here.  And I caution the unwary listener to not jump to conclusions: “It sounds too easy,” for as that great master of contemporary jazz, Ovid, was fond of saying, ars est celare artem [he recorded it for Clef], which Monk transposed into “Simple ain’t easy.”

Now back to our regularly scheduled basket of prose.

I left off there, because Life (the hussy) interfered, with her racket of parking tickets, laundry, dinner, recycling, and more — make your own list.  But I came back and listened to the CD in a sitting, my enthusiasm just as strong.

Some facts.  Alex, who has a light touch on a well-recorded piano, is accompanied — in the truest sense of the word — by the fine string bassist Phil Rowan and drummer Ben Cliness.  And they have the ease, intuitive comfort, and wit one would expect from a working band: they catch each other’s signals without having to be told to turn the page.  incidentally, I’ve seen a review of this CD calling it “modern” and “clever.”  I can’t argue with those terms, but to me it seems “heartfelt” and “playful,” which qualities are audible.

Alex has divided the repertoire on this disc between standards that, for the most part, got their greatest exposure in the Fifties: the title track (which, for those of us over fifty, has a yearning nostalgia — rather like THE THINGS WE DID LAST SUMMER — even though my adolescence came later), SURREY WITH THE FRINGE ON TOP, THE BEST THING FOR YOU (Would Be Me), WHAT IS THIS THING CALLED LOVE? and I’VE TOLD EV’RY LITTLE STAR — which, for the purists in the audience, is a much older composition, but I would guess most memorably allied with jazz because of Sonny Rollins (although Annie Ross, Marian McPartland, and others returned to it).

And of course one could say, “There are a million piano trio recordings that draw on Rodgers, Berlin, Porter, and Kern,” but the other five tracks — all Levin originals — SWEETS, THE JETSETTERS, BLUES FOR WYNTON K., AT LEAST WE’RE TOGETHER, STROLLING THROUGH YONKERS — are strong jazz compositions on their own, with one foot delicately poised in the past, Alex not trying to hide that his heart belongs to 1956 Prestige, but moving around happily in this century.  His songs ARE songs rather than lines over slightly modified chord progressions; they have the breath of life rather than the aroma of the Xerox machine.

Convinced?  It’s music that befriends the listener, which is sometimes rare.  Hear for yourself here, and then download or purchase, as the spirit moves you.

May your happiness increase!

WON’T YOU PLEASE ARRANGE IT? (July 10, 2019)

We love Ray Skjelbred, who loves Jerome Kern, Dorothy Fields, Ginger Rogers, Fred Astaire, and Joe Sullivan.  Here, he starts THE WAY YOU LOOK TONIGHT — dedicated to Ginger, her hair a mass of shampoo-suds — as a rubato exploration, then shifts into dreamy dance music:

And here’s the original scene from SWING TIME, which makes me wish that the fantasies of 1936 were plausible: that our lovers could serenade us so tenderly through the bathroom door.  I don’t know where the RKO studio orchestra would fit themselves, but no matter.

Thanks to Ray for evoking such a sweet moment, and to Rae Ann Berry for the video.  And here‘s Ray’s November 2016 solo rendition of this song (he told me it was the first time he’d performed it) along with several other gems.

May your happiness increase!

SWEET LESSONS IN MELODIC EMBELLISHMENT (1946)

I woke up yesterday morning with the melody of SHE DIDN’T SAY YES in my head — as performed in 1946 by Joe Thomas and his Orchestra for Keynote Records — and that performance insisted that I share it and write a few words in its honor.  The song comes from the 1931 Jerome Kern – Otto Harbach musical comedy THE CAT AND THE FIDDLE, and it is limited in its ambitions (words and music) but it is also irresistible.  The steplike melody is difficult to get rid of once one hears it, and the coy naughtiness of the lyric — raising the question of being “bad” when badness seems so delightful, but tossing the moral question back at the listener — combine in a kind of musical miniature cupcake.

Here is a video clip from the 1934 film version of the play — Jeanette MacDonald, looking lovely, sings SHE DIDN’T after a large clump of cinematic foolishness, including post-Code dancing, has concluded. (My contemporary perspective makes this scene slightly painful to watch, as Jeanette is bullied by the crowd into declaring a love that she seems to feel only in part.)

The song was recorded a number of times in the early Thirties (by Leo Reisman and Chick Bullock, among others) but may have surfaced again with the 1946 film biography of Kern, who had died suddenly the year before, TILL THE CLOUDS ROLL BY.  However, since its performance in the film by the Wilde Twins goes by quickly, I think other reasons may have led to its being chosen for this Keynote Records date.  Did Harry Lim hear something in its melody — those repeated notes that Alec Wilder deplored — or did Joe Thomas like to play it?  We’ll never know, but it is a recording both memorable and forgotten.

The band was “Joe Thomas And His Orchestra,” itself a rare occurrence.  Lim had used Joe on many sessions for Keynote (the Forties were a particular period of prominence on records for him, thankfully — where he recorded alongside Art Tatum, Coleman Hawkins, Jack Teagarden, Roy Eldridge, Don Byas, Teddy Wilson, Sidney Catlett, Ed Hall, Barney Bigard, and other luminaries).  The band was  Joe Thomas, trumpet; Tyree Glenn, trombone; Hilton Jefferson, alto saxophone; Jerry Jerome, tenor saxophone; Bernie Leighton, piano; Hy White, guitar; Billy Taylor, Sr., string bass; Lee Abrams, drums, and it was done in New York on August 16, 1946.  I don’t know who did the backgrounds and introduction, but the recording is a small marvel of originalities.  I listen first for the soloists and their distinctive sounds and then consider the performance as an example of what one could do with texture and small orchestral touches with only an octet.

I first heard this record coming out of my radio speaker when Ed Beach did a show devoted to Joe Thomas — perhaps in 1969 — and then I got to see Joe both on the stage of Carnegie and Avery Fisher Halls (with Benny Carter and Eddie Condon, consider that!) and at much closer range in 1972-74, thanks to the kindness of my dear Mike Burgevin.

I don’t want to subject this recording to chorus-by-chorus explication, but I would ask listeners to hear the individual sounds and tones these players had: Joe, Tyree, Hilton, Jerry — each man singing his own distinctively recognizable song — and the perky unflagging rhythm section, with Leighton beautifully doing Basie-Wilson-Guarnieri, and the lovely support of Billy Taylor, Sr., who had kept the Ellington band swinging.

“We had faces then!” to borrow from SUNSET BOULEVARD.

I keep coming back to the gleaming warm sound of Joe Thomas — in the first chorus, outlining the melody as if nothing in the world were more important; in the closing chorus, flavoring and shading it as only he could.  And the rest of the band.  As a friend said to me recently, “They were pros.  They really knew how to do it.”  And bless Harry Lim: without him, we would know such things happened but they would now be silent and legendary rather than tangible and glowing.

This music says YES, no hesitation.

May your happiness increase!