Tag Archives: Jerome Kern

DAN BLOCK’S NEW WORLDS: “DUALITY”

As a player expertly able to fit himself into many kinds of music, Dan Block has added his own flavorings to many sessions led by others.  But his finest accomplishments may be the four CDs under his own name: AROUND THE BLOCK (1999); DAN BLOCK PLAYS IZZY BALINE a.k.a. IRVING BERLIN (2004); ALMOST MODERN (2006); FROM HIS WORLD TO MINE: THE MUSIC OF DUKE ELLINGTON (2010).  Each of these discs is the result of deep thinking, superb musicianship, intense feeling, wit, and a pungently lively imagination.

The newest one, DUALITY, is a frankly astonishing presentation of duet performances.

On it, Dan plays tenor and baritone saxophones, Albert system clarinet and bass clarinet, among his friends and peers: Catherine Russell (vocal), Ted Rosenthal (piano), Matt Munisteri (guitar), Mark Sherman (vibraphone), Lee Hudson (string bass), Scott Robinson (reeds), Rossano Sportiello (piano), Paul Meyers (guitar), Saul Rubin (guitar), Tim Horner (drums).

The repertoire Dan has chosen ranges from Ellington, Gershwin, Styne, Beiderbecke, Kern, Dameron, from a sweetly ancient pop song to Brazilian chorino to Shostakovich.  Each piece and each performance has its own logic and splendor.  The music is varied but not self-indulgent; it is beautiful but never merely pretty.

Because creativity is intensely difficult, many experienced improvisers have a series of learned gestures appropriate to the situation they find themselves.  “You want me to fit into a 1929 big band?  OK, I’ll put on that hat.  Back a torch singer?  Can do.  It’s atonal time?  Let me rummage in my case for my special atonal galoshes.”  Dan Block never plays by-the-numbers: rather, in the best spirit, he makes it up as he goes along, adapting himself to the circumstances and adapting the circumstances to himself.

DUALITY is a beautiful representation of the many worlds Dan Block creates for us.  Each of the eleven performances has the depth of feeling and intelligence one would find in a moving one-act play.  The disc becomes a series of gratifying voyages to lands we might have thought we knew — with new beauties revealed to us on the first hearing and on subsequent visits.  There is the bouncing curiosity of THE JAZZ SAMBA, the playful conversational jousting of PITTER PANTHER PATTER, the yearning of IF YOU COULD SEE ME NOW, the water-pistol fight of LYRIC WALTZ, the shimmering melancholy of IN THE DARK . . . and so much more.

I always think it nearly rude to write, “Go here.  Buy this.  Put everything else down and listen.”  But in the case of DUALITY, I feel myself entirely justified.  Dan Block has created music that resonates long after the disc has come to a stop.  A brave explorer, he takes us along on his quests.

You can hear excerpts and purchas DUALITY here and here — and visit Dan’s own site here.

May your happiness increase. 

“THINKING WITH YOUR HEART”: GABRIELLE STRAVELLI, MICHAEL KANAN, PAT O’LEARY, and MICHAEL PETROSINO at THE DRAWING ROOM (April 1, 2012)

Photograph copyright 2012 by Mike Sergio

Singer Gabrielle Stravelli captured our hearts for good the other night at The Drawing Room, with her combination of absolute accuracy and total abandon.  She dove deep into the music, balancing tenderness and tough,  exuberant swing.  If she’s new to you, prepare to be uplifted; if you know Gabrielle’s work, this was an especially gratifying performance.

She was supported by three of the most subtle musicians I know.  I’ve already written in praise of the eloquent, subtle, surprising Michael Kanan and Pat O’Leary — but drummer Michael Petrosino was an absolute revelation: a true sound-painter, his every stroke and accent strong yet delicate, creating colors and textures that amazed and delighted us all.

Here are eleven marvels — a thrilling evening at The Drawing Room (70 Willoughby Street, Brooklyn, New York): thanks to Gabrielle, Michael, Pat, Michael, Stephanie, and a wonderfully attentive audience.

BETWEEN THE DEVIL AND THE DEEP BLUE SEA:

DREAM DANCING:

COME RAIN OR COME SHINE:

SKYLARK:

SO WHAT / OH, BOY (a witty superimposition: Buddy Holly meets Miles Davis):

JOY SPRING (Clifford Brown, lyrics by Jon Hendricks):

INVITATION:

SPRING IS HERE in duet with Pat, a true highlight:

THAT OLD BLACK MAGIC:

I think Gabriell’s impromptu reading of BILL — in duet with Michael, who appropriately ventures into CAN’T HELP LOVIN’ THAT MAN — is a masterpiece of feeling:

DEVIL MAY CARE:

WE’LL BE TOGETHER AGAIN

Gabrielle Stravelli embodies intimacy, playfulness, joy in her music.  When she sings, it is a brave “thinking with your heart,” coming through her songs.

May your happiness increase.

LOVE LETTERS: MARIANNE SOLIVAN and MICHAEL KANAN at THE DRAWING ROOM (March 24, 2012)

The love letter (not an emoticon or a tweet) can carry many messages.

I adore you.  I wish you were mine.  Thank you, my dear one.  Come run away with me, my Prize!  Why don’t you write to me?  What happened?  I have found another.  Why did you break my heart?  Will you come back to me?  Remember our moments together?  I miss you so.

Singer Marianne Solivan and pianist Michael Kanan know all about love — in human form and in the song.  They’re not a couple, but it’s clear from the way they play that they have depths of emotion to share with us.  The results are subtle and memorable.  Marianne and Michael know music’s power to move us to tears and to make us feel lighter-than-air, as well as its tragicomic bitter-sweetness: when we hear a sad song and think, “Oh, that is so beautiful!” while we are feeling the sadness.

They are poets, improvising their poems as they go.  They ask deep questions of us through music, and the answers they offer aren’t easy or monochromatic — each time we listen, the answers shift slightly in the light.  They move through each song experimentally, considering it a new experience, testing its limits, sounding its depths.

Their art, at once strong and delicate, asks only that we give ourselves to it wholly — no multitasking, please.  In admiration, I will stand out of its way, for it would be wrong to offer commentaries.

What follows is my video-recording of a spiritually intense evening at Michael’s Brooklyn studio, The Drawing Room (70 Willoughby Street).  It was a privilege to be there and an honor to be allowed to share it with you.

Jerome Kern’s mournful IN LOVE IN VAIN, with a surprise concealed inside:

A joyous, sideways look at the Rodgers and Hart THERE’S A SMALL HOTEL: where is this hotel?  We want to book rooms there, too:

I COVER THE WATERFRONT (with the lovely dark verse):

The wistful I CAN DREAM, CAN’T I?:

LET’S GET LOST:

I DON’T WANT TO CRY ANYMORE:

TOO CLOSE FOR COMFORT:

HAUNTED HEART (interpolating LOVE LETTERS):

Berlin’s magically buoyant ISN’T THIS A LOVELY DAY?

MORE THAN YOU KNOW:

BILLY STRAYHORN Medley (STAR-CROSSED LOVERS / A FLOWER IS A LOVESOME THING / PASSION FLOWER):

Theme music for timid arsonists: I DON’T WANT TO SET THE WORLD ON FIRE:

The wrenching I GUESS I’LL HANG MY TEARS OUT TO DRY:

Grammarians point out that I ONLY HAVE EYES FOR YOU should correctly be I HAVE EYES ONLY FOR YOU, but grammarians don’t usually write memorable songs.  I always think of this song in connection with Lester Young, who said of something he approved of that he had “big eyes for that”:

Berlin’s series of devoted questions to be addressed to the Beloved, HOW DEEP IS THE OCEAN:

Michael and Marianne are both marvelously capable of emotional and artistic magic on their own.  I have been publicizing the very moving events at The Drawing Room, and you can also visit Marianne’s website here.  When you visit her site, you will hear the strains of Marianne and Michael exploring I WISH I KNEW — from Marianne’s new CD, PRISONER OF LOVE.

They will be appearing on April 19, 2012, at Smalls (183 West 10th Street, Greenwich Village, New York) from 10 PM to 12:30 AM, with bassist Marco Panascia and drummer Jerome Jennings.

For the love of music: love letters from Marianne and Michael, straight from their hearts.

May your happiness increase.

LOOK FOR THE SILVER LINING

It’s the title of a very pretty and optimistic 1920 show tune . . .

but it’s also a well-kept New York City secret — a serene below-stairs room in a 150-year old Tribeca brownstone.  The room is cozy — it holds fewer than 100 people — but it’s not cramped; there’s room for a first-rate piano and top-flight jazz improvisation. There is a menu of small plates and a very adventurous selection of cocktails.

The SILVER LINING is located at 75 Murray Street (between Greenwich and West Broadway): their phone is 212-513-1234; the website is thttp://silverliningbar.com/

I heard about Silver Lining first through the most reputable sources — the musicians themselves — who talked of a lovely room conducive to great playing.

And the musicians?  If you check the website, you’ll see fine and familiar names: Dan Block, Dan Aran, Ehud Asherie, Larry Ham, Jon-Erik Kellso, Ray Gallon, Ned Goold, Chris Flory, Sacha Perry, Eliot Zigmund, Jon Burr, Steve Ash, Spike Wilner.

The musicians are booked by Vito Dieterle — a splendid jazz player himself (a floating tenor saxophonist whose work I admired when he was playing alongside Claire Daly in Joel Forrester’s small group) — so I know things are going to go well.

Look for the Silver Lining!

THE HEART OF THE SONG: ABIGAIL RICCARDS and MICHAEL KANAN (June 12, 2011)

Abigail Riccards and Michael Kanan inspire awe and wonder.

I experienced this first-hand in a small Brooklyn studio last Sunday, June 12, 2011, and share the music with you here. 

These two artists created music full of feeling but never “dramatic.”  Each song had its own pliant shape, with unaffected casual intensity and splendor. 

Abigail has a speaking directness.  Her mobile voice arches into long tones and soaring phrases; she lives within the lyric and the melody she is singing.  She makes each song full of small peaks of intelligence and emotion. 

Hear, for instance, how she handles the words “drop a line” in Wilder’s I’LL BE AROUND.  Her TOO LATE NOW is almost unbearably poignant yet it doesn’t whimper or carry on.  Her approach is at once serious and joyous.  BLUE SKIES cavorts. 

And although these songs are not new — each one has powerful ghosts standing behind the curtain to upstage the living artists — Abigail takes her own small liberties and makes them work, turning IN LOVE IN VAIN (one of the saddest songs I know) into something a little more resilient, in the same fashion that Billie Holiday recreated TRAV’LIN’ ALL ALONE as her own nearly defiant statement. 

Abigail’s singing touched everyone in the room: even in the videos here, you can feel their powerful quiet empathy and delight.  I hear a great artistry.

Michael is a poet at the keyboard with none of the pretense some have brought to that role.  I think often of Jimmy Rowles when he plays, and at times of the witty, pointed spareness of John Lewis.  Like Abigail, he never overacts, never calls attention to himself in some look-at-me way, but you can’t help but pay attention — both to what he is creating and what trodden ways he is wisely avoiding. 

His sound is lucent; his pauses are knowing and subtle; he is a master of light and shade and shadow.  At its most serene and quiet, his playing is resonant. 

The art of accompaniment might be the most arduous of endeavors, and Michael is the most generous of partners, sweetly creating just the right sound-shape to make the singer or players around him seem even better. 

And these two artists create a delicate yet powerful musical world in duet — their playful energies complementing each other.  They are gracious; they are polite; they don’t interrupt each other’s sentences, but together they make something wise and subtle and rich that wasn’t there a minute before. 

They offer and enact deep calm and brave experiment.

LUCKY TO BE ME:

TOO LATE NOW:

YOU’D BE SO NICE TO COME HOME TO:

IN LOVE IN VAIN:

THE MORE I SEE YOU:

I’LL BE AROUND:

I’M OLD-FASHIONED:

ALL THE WAY:

BLUE SKIES:

EV’RY TIME WE SAY GOOD-BYE:

Throughout this performance, I kept feeling it was an honor to be in the same room, a privilege to witness and record such art.  I still do.

INSPIRED DIALOGUES: LENA BLOCH and EVGENY SIVTSOV (CAFFE VIVALDI, May 8, 2011)

I have thought tenor saxophonist Lena Bloch a remarkable player in the too-few times I have seen and heard her.

Last Sunday (Mother’s Day 2011) I finally had an opportunity to experience her in a most intriguing duo with pianist Evgeny Sivtsov, appearing at Caffe Vivaldi (32 Jones Street in West Greenwich Village, New York City).

Duet playing is a fascinating balancing act.  As in any other relationship where two people have strong personalities and solidly established selves, the paradox emerges immediately that each one must be ready, at a moment’s notice, to switch roles.

And it’s much more subtle than Leader and Follower — in this case, Lena and Evgeny didn’t always follow the typical patterns, but they engage in playful, often dramatic dialogues.  At times I thought of Steve Lacy, other moments reminded me of Al Cohn and Jimmy Rowles, of Ted Brown and Michael Kanan — all fine echoes and resonances.

At first, Evgeny impressed me as a powerful, imposing player (although he is tall and thin), making great clusters of sound — more THE GREAT GATES OF KIEV than FIFTY-SECOND STREET THEME, but beneath his apparent ferocity was a playful self that emerged later in the set, where I heard prancing echoes of Erroll Garner, or Johnny Guarneri.

Lena has her own sound and conceptions.  She has a beautiful tone (even when she chooses to make it dry for a moment) and she understands melodic playing.  She is no rhapsodist, but an explorer, not afraid of venturing outside the contours of the expected melody.  But she never uses her tenor saxophone to make sounds that might assault us.

This session found Lena and Evgeny inventing inspired dialogues — a set of improvisations on standard songs that made the familiar fresh, with Lena’s tenor lines often riding the currents of Evgeny’s piano — a little boat in powerful currents, able to ride them without ever going under.  Exultant music — serious, playful, unpredictable.

And from behind my video camera, I found the faces and bodies of the two players visually fascinating, their artless movements and expressions compelling proof of how music moves us.  Watch Evgeny as he bravely makes his way through the thickets — unknown territory! — bobbing and weaving like the truly impassioned man he is.  And observe the wonderful way Lena’s face, while she was listening and leaning, reflects every note and nuance she heard on the piano.

Great, playful art.

Cole Porter’s I LOVE YOU:

I’LL REMEMBER APRIL.  (And I’ll smile):

I HEAR A RHAPSODY (an accurate title):

EVERYTHING HAPPENS TO ME (with its serious, grieving air):

YOU STEPPED OUT OF A DREAM:

Frank Loesser’s jaunty IVE NEVER BEEN IN LOVE BEFORE:

LONG AGO AND FAR AWAY:

THE INSPIRING CHRIS HODGKINS

Meet the versatile and creative Cardiff, Wales-born trumpeter Chris Hodgkins.  

His music answers questions: how to make art new without abandoning the tradition; how to have one’s own voice while honoring your ancestors and colleagues. 

I first heard about Chris through the magic of Google Alerts — because someone had compared him to Ruby Braff, which is my idea of an accolade.  Then I found out that he and his musical friends had created three compact discs, PRESENT CONTINUNOUS, FUTURE CONTINUOUS, and BOSWELL’S LONDON JOURNAL:

Just so know what the musicians look like should you encounter them on the street: to the left is bassist Alison Rayner; to the right of Chris is guitarist Max Brittain.  Click here to hear Alison Rayner’s QUEER BIRD, from PRESENT CONTINUOUS:

http://www.chrishodgkins.co.uk/album1.asp

And here’s Alison’s SWEET WILLIAM, from FUTURE CONTINUOUS:

http://www.chrishodgkins.co.uk/album2.asp

Click here to hear THE MACHINE, from BOSWELL’S LONDON JOURNAL (where alto saxophonist Diane McLoughlin joins Chris, Alison, and Max):

http://www.chrishodgkins.co.uk/album3.asp

You’ll hear that his music is, on one hand, rooted in a Mainstream tradition: I hear Braff, Lyttelton, Buck Clayton, echoes of Horace Silver and Blue Note recordings of the Sixties, of Henry Mancini and occasionally Strayhorn . . . in a streamlined instrumentation (a trio of trumpet, guitar, and bass on two CDs, enlarged into a quartet on the third by the addition of tenor sax).  Chris himself is a singular player; his tone ranging from the silken to the edgy, his lines winding and floating over the ringing lines of Brittain’s guitar, the deep pulse of Rayner’s string bass, and on BOSWELL’S LONDON JOURNAL they all get along nicely with the lemony alto saxophone of McLoughlin.  By the way, Chris loves the assortment of sounds and timbres that mutes give to his horn (as well as playing open) so the three discs never sounded like more of the same.   

I get a bit nervous when confronted with CDs that are all “original” compositions — whisper this: many musicians, stalwart and true, do their best composing on the bandstand, not on manuscript paper (but don’t say it too loudly) so that I was delighted to see some Kern and McHugh, Lyttelton, an Ellington blues, YOU’RE A LUCKY GUY and IF WE NEVER MEET AGAIN.  Moving a little beyond the “songbook” tradition, I noted that Chris delights in a wide variety of composers and songs: Neil Sedaka’s BREAKING UP IS HARD TO DO, lines by Conte Candoli, Sahib Shihab, Thad Jones, Harry Edison.  And then there are the originals — varied and lively, in many different moods and tempos.  (How could you do anything but admire a man who titles a song SWINGING AT THE COPPER BEECH?  And if you don’t get the in-joke, I’ll explain.)

BOSWELL’S LONDON JOURNAL is a real pleasure — and I am not speaking as a still-active professor of English, but as a jazz listener.  I admire Chris’s awareness of his emotional and spiritual roots in the literary / cultural past, and his joyful audacity.  The first track on the CD, THE MACHINE, describes a stagecoach ride taken by Boswell.  Chris’s original lines fall somewhere in between the twelve-bar blues and OLE MISS, and the sound of the band perplexed me — light, airy, yet serious — until I recalled its analogue: Buck Clayton’s Big Four for HRS in 1946: trumpet, clarinet, electric guitar, and bass (Scoville Brown, Tiny Grimes, and Sid Weiss, if I recall correctly).  What follows is not exactly program music: had I lost the liner notes explaining what each composition referred to, I would have still enjoyed the music — but knowing the artistic structure underneath made this a much-more-than-usually pleasing musical travelogue, veering here and there from updated Thirties rhythm ballads to hints of Horace Silver and Hank Mobley as well as very hip film soundtracks and Sixties pop of the highest order (AUCHINLECK).  I don’t know if I would have guessed the subtext of the winding, pensive REPENT IN LEISURE (referring to Boswell’s having caught gonorrhea), but the historical / musical connection works for me.  It is great fun to listen to the music on this disc — full of feeling, subtlety, and charm — whether reading the notes at the same time or as an after-commentary.

Chris Hodgkins is a fine trumpet player, small-group leader, and composer; he has good taste in his musical friends and in the music he chooses to play.  As a professor of mine used to say over thirty years ago, “I commend him to you.”

MICHAEL BANK QUARTET at PUPPETS JAZZ BAR (Oct. 28, 2010)

Puppets Jazz Bar, in Park Slope (that’s 481 5th Avenue in Brooklyn) was new to me, but owner Jaime Affoumado — a jazz drummer himself — told me that it’s been thriving for six years.  Puppets is a delightful spot, with vegan / vegetarian dishes, intriguing drinks, a first-rate piano, and a clear view of the band.  

Pianist Michael Bank isn’t new to me, and that’s a pleasure in itself.  His playing combines the best elements of timeless mainstream / modern / swing: it’s only logical that he should have studied with Jaki Byard, played alongside Fats Waller’s guitarist Al Casey.  Michael always swings and adds his own idiosyncratic touches to even the most well-behaved melody statement. 

Michael can offer authentic Wallerisms and Ellingtonian touches, but he isn’t a clone of anyone, and his sly, subtle playing melds the lightness I associate with Wilson and Basie with more exploratory harmonies — a perfect fit. 

For this evening, Michael was joined by two veterans of the New York jazz scene: bassist Murray Wall and drummer Giampaolo Biagi — and a new face, the young guitarist Matt Smith.  Here’s the first set plus a swinging feature for Murray.  

To begin with, Michael called the most “ordinary” opening song anyone could think of — an easy ON THE SUNNY SIDE OF THE STREET, in C.  But notice his intriguing twists and turns, his delicacy and humor.  There’s nothing formulaic here:

Kern’s YESTERDAYS often labors under the morose seriousness the lyrics suggest: this performance (thanks to Giampaolo’s and Murray’s strong pulse) makes me think that the halcyon days were spent uptown at the Savoy Ballroom, even though Matt’s chiming lines come from a few decades later:

I associate YOU STEPPED OUT OF A DREAM with Bobby Hackett — but the energetic rocking of this quartet shows that this dream is a swing fantasy:

GONE WITH THE WIND is one of those twining songs I can’t hear often enough: its melody alone is a pleasure.  Matt’s backwards-looking lines are intriguing exercises in balancing the notes in his own good time.  And Michael’s solo chorus is worth the wait — both thoughtful and hilariously exuberant:

Murray Wall proposed (in response to Giampaolo’s suggestion that they play some Ellington music) his own I GOT IT BAD, which again took the typically sad song and shook it up happily and plausibly.  Ellington had the finest bass players; he would have loved this version:

Michael Bank doesn’t come down to New York City often enough for my taste.  As a soloist and leader, he’s worth looking out for!

YES, INDEED!*

A new CD by the group formerly known as B E D is cause for celebration.  Although this quartet (by common consent) has shed its coy acronym to be known simply as the Rebecca Kilgore Quartet, their musical essence — swinging, tender, witty, surprising — has not changed except to get better. 

Rebecca’s Quartet is a musical alliance between Becky (vocals and guitar); Eddie Erickson (the same plus banjo), Dan Barrett (trombone, cornet, piano, arrangements, vocals) and Joel Forbes (string bass).  They were friends and co-conspirators long before they formed this versatile group, and their pleasure in playing and singing continues to grow, audibly.  And I stress that the RK4 is a musically interconnected group rather than a star turn for a singer and her backing rhythm section. 

This CD is also happily distinguished by its variety (most CDs seem too long not because we can’t sit still for sixty-five minutes, but because many groups present the same experience eleven or twenty times during the course of the disc) — and it’s not an artificial yearning for “something completely different” from track to track.  Singers Becky and Eddie are often out front, as they deserve to be, but the music behind and around them is both delicate and propulsive.  Much of that is due to bassist Joel, someone I’ve been privileged to see and hear at close range at The Ear Inn.  Joel knows all about the right notes in the right places, and his big woody sound lifts any ensemble.  Here — since there’s piano only on one track and no drums at all, we can hear his righteous elegance.  He’s featured throughout the CD but comes to the forefront on MY OLD FLAME, which is just lovely.

Daniel P. Barrett, to be formal, inhabits a roomy musical universe.  Shall we begin with the talents he’s less celebrated for?  His piano on THERE’LL BE SOME CHANGES MADE would make you think that Nat Cole had decided to remain an instrumentalist, and his cornet playing on A GAL IN CALICO and GET ACQUAINTED WITH YOURSELF is a flexible, swinging delight — evoking Bobby Hackett and Bill Coleman.  Want more?  He’s an impish singer on ACQUAINTED: it’s hard to hear him sing anything without grinning at his wryly personal delivery.  The clever, understated arrangements are his, and his trombone playing is what the instrument ought to sound like, whether he’s caressing a ballad line or nodding to one of Vic Dickenson’s less printable epigrams.

Eddie Erickson hasn’t yet gotten his due as a wonderful rhythm guitarist and creator of tumbling single-note lines where every note is perfectly in place, even when the tempo is supersonic.  His banjo playing is so melifluous that it makes me forget all the other things done to and with that instrument in the wrong hands.  As a singer . . . he is earnest without being homespun, someone who makes the lyrics come alive without the slightest hint of affectation.  He makes the rather violent lyrics of A GAL IN CALICO charming rather than oppressive; his MY OLD FLAME is rueful but wise; his DAY DREAM is tenderly masterful.  He is also a wonderful team player, having the time of his life joining in with Becky when they sing.

And “Rebecca (Becky) Kilgore,” as the back cover identifies her?  My feeling (based on this CD and her Jerome Kern tribute, SURE THING, just out on Audiophile) is that her only flaw is that she keeps getting better.  When I have received a new CD of hers, I think I know how good it’s going to be, but her subtlety continues to amaze me.  She is able to sing songs that I know by heart and make them evocative and fresh — including THEY CAN’T TAKE THAT AWAY FROM ME and THE WAY YOU LOOK TONIGHT, which I had thought Mr. Astaire had permanently made his own.  Her wistfulness, her deep feeling are evident all through I WISH I KNEW; her multi-lingual effortlessness comes through on UNDER PARIS SKIES.  Her delivery of the lyrics is of course pitch-perfect, conversationally casual and graceful, but she is a great dramatic actress who never is caught acting: her rubatos, her hesitations and urgencies, are emotionally convincing improvisatons.  And she doesn’t demand the spotlight for herself: her singing makes acceptable songs sound much better than they would otherwise, and makes great songs astonishing.  On this CD, as well, our Becky displays another side to her character, a wholly natural kind of bluesy Funk: hear her on BUZZ ME BLUES and the half-time section (homage to Connee Boswell and the Sisters) of CHANGES MADE.  And the whole band rocks church on the opening YES, INDEED! — an appropriate title for this delightful disc. 

Here’s a link to CD Baby to purchase the Blue Swing Fine Recordings CD: http://www.cdbaby.com/cd/RebeccaKilgoreQuartet

*This post’s title, of course, comes from the CD itself and its opening track: I wanted to call this YOU WILL SHOUT WHEN IT HITS YOU, but my legal advisers said that these words sounded like an incitement to civil unrest so that I should find another phrase.  And the cover picture, most atmospheric, captures Dan’s mother Dorothee striding down a busy street in St. Louis, circa 1937 — she kows where she’s going and she’s going to get there . . . just like the RK4.

COMING SOON!

coming_soon I’d like to alert you to three new compact discs I’ve heard — available soon!  

MELISSA COLLARD has recorded a session for Audiophile — with Hal Smith, drums; Richard Simon, bass; Chris Dawson, piano; Bryan Shaw, trumpet.  I first heard Melissa some five years ago on her debut CD, “Old Fashioned Love,” (Melismatic Records), a wonderful disc, thoughtful, witty, and moving.  This one’s even better. 

For the same label, REBECCA KILGORE has recorded a disc devoted to Jerome Kern, “Sure Thing.”  It also features Hal, Richard, and Chris.  Until you’ve heard Becky sing I’VE TOLD EV’RY LITTLE STAR, you haven’t lived . . .

DANNY TOBIAS, who just brought his cornet to the Ear Inn, has recorded an intimate swing session with Joe Holt, piano; Gary Cattley, bass, that reminds me very much of the best late-period Ruby Braff recordings.  Need I say more?

Make room on your CD shelves . . .

DOIN’ THE VOOM VOOM / THE HOT WINDS

Doin' the Voom Voom CD coverPeople who listen to music extensively and closely become harder to please.  And I am a prime offender.  This over-sensitivity causes me a great deal of trouble, but many new CDs that seem almost wonderful to me.  But the “almost” is lethal.  On these discs, the effort is discernible, the sincerity, the energy — but something just isn’t in place.  One musician might be rushing or dragging the tempo; there could be a slight tension in the band (three members going one way, two thinking about going in the opposite direction); a CD could have an odd recording balance; the material might be excellent in itself but not for these performers, and so on.  If I were to describe this critical tendency of mine, I might call it “attentive,” “discerning,” “”detail-oriented,” “finicky,” or “listening too damned closely,” depending on my mood.  Perhaps if you have, as I have, heard a band of Bobby Hackett, Vic Dickenson, Teddy Wilson, Milt Hinton, and Jo Jones, it sets the aesthetic bar sky-high.

And, as an additional caveat, I am distrustful of any writer’s hyperbole, especially mine.  Earnest as it might be, such prose always sounds like ad copy: “this new CD by Minnie and the Meowers offers the best meowing you’ll hear all year” makes me want to run to my litter box and hide under it.

All this is prelude to my stating that two new Arbors CDs — the label that has done so much to document and preserve the kinds of jazz I love dearly — seem as close to perfect as recordings ever get.

The cover of the first CD is depicted above — trumpeter Duke Heitger and pianist Bernd Lhotzky, recorded in Germany in 2008.  Now, the trumpet (or cornet) and piano duet in recorded jazz goes back to Joe Oliver and Jelly Roll Morton in 1924, and it stretches into the future: Louis and Earl, Ruby and Dick Hyman or Ralph Sutton or Ellis Larkins, Butterfield and Wellstood, Randy Sandke and Dick Hyman, Sudhalter and Kellaway, Eldridge and Bolling . . . including brilliant (as yet unrecorded duets) by two of my heroes, Jon-Erik Kellso and Ehud Asherie.  For me, there’s something extraordinary about the pairing of a soaring hot trumpeter and a stride pianist.  For one thing, the trumpeter has a mobile, energetic rhythmic pulse to improvise over; the pianist has the pleasure of darting in and out of the trumpet lines.  It is magically orchestral and magically fulfilling.  That’s the case on this CD with Duke and Bernd.  To start with the basics: I’ve never heard either of them play so lavishly and nobly, and I’ve heard both of them live in a variety of contexts: Duke at Chautauqua for perhaps five years in a row; Bernd at Westoverledingen and the 92nd Street Y.

Maestro Lhotzky first.  Stride pianists often get caught up in their own enthusiasm (and who would blame them?) so even the best tend to get louder and faster, which is perfectly understandable in a romping solo but less than wonderful when there’s another player involved — it’s as if the trumpeter becomes a child trying to catch the ice cream truck that is accelerating down the street.  Zeno’s paradox in jazz.  Bernd doesn’t have that problem: he is steady but never dull, propulsive but calm — appearing to run as fast as he can without losing his essential cool.  The piano sound he creates is wonderful, whether he is pensively wandering through a ballad or doing his best James P. Johnson.  And he is a peerless accompanist, nearly telepathic.

“Lord Heitger,” as Bernd playfully calls him, wears his heart on his sleeve, but his emotion never gets in the way of the music.  He can shout, he can soar, he can growl and moan — at any tempo.  On this CD, his tone is gorgeously round (the way jazz trumpet is supposed to sound but often doesn’t), his passions on display.  He often reminds me of 1930 Louis but he is purely himself, Duke of a royal lineage.

And neither musician embarks on the treacherous business of “recreating the originals.”  Yes, the wise ancestors of jazz are everywhere on this disc: Louis and Fats, Duke and Bubber — but there are also immensely feeling evocations of Sir Edward Elgar (not your usual idea of a solid sender), Willard Robison, Kern and Gershwin, Ray Noble, Richard Rodgers, Toots Mondello (!) and Carlos Gardell.

Most CDs — do I write this too often? — flirt with monotony by being seventy-five minutes of similar or identical music.  This one is a joy from first to last.  And even the Beloved, who’s a tough critic (her ideals are Louis, the early Goodman small groups, Nat Cole’s piano) said, simply, “That’s gorgeous!” before we were a half-minute into “The Folks Who Live on the Hill.”  Hooray for this duo.  May they make a dozen more CDs as rewarding as this one, and may those discs come in a steady stream, perhaps two a year.

Hot Winds coverThe other Arbors CD is the debut of another Marty Grosz assemblage, organization, or perhaps brainstorm — a purportedly all-reed group featuring the dervishes Dan Block and Scott Robinson with a rhythm section of Marty, Vince Giordano, Rob Garcia, and guest appearances from “Panic Slim” on trombone.  I write “purportedly,” because the irrepressible Robinson, who just turned fifty, brought along his cornet, echoe cornet, and Eb alto horn.  I won’t go on about this CD, because I’ve done so already on this blog, in a post called MAKING RECORDS WITH MARTY GROSZ.  (I was lucky enough to attend two of the three sessions at Clinton Studios, and brought both camera and notebook.)

I’ll just say that the CD captures all of the enthusiasm, swing, and wit of those sessions — glorious visits to the land of Hot Jazz.  Engineer Doug Pomeroy did a wonderful job, and you can hear every ping of Rob Garcia’s glockenspiel and the deep resonant sound of Vince’s bass sax, tuba, and aluminum string bass.  More?  Well, Marty essays (as he might say) the other William H. Tyers classic, “Maori,” (recorded by Ellington and anyone else?), pays tribute to his Chicago pal Frank Chace with a tender “Under A Blanket of Blue,” and the whole band stretches out on a wondrously funky “Riverside Blues.”  I am also grateful for this CD because it captures Marty — at last — recording one of my favorite not-too-complicated songs, Herman Hupfeld’s 1933 classic, “I Gotta Get Up and Go To Work,” which is how I feel in the morning.  A neat collage by the Master, typically lemony notes.  To quote Fats on “Swing Out to Victory” : “Yeah, man!  Solid!  Here we come.”

The Arbors Records site is on my blogroll — www.arborsrecords.com — and, as they used to say on radio, “You won’t be sorry.”  And heartfelt thanks to Mat and Rachel Domber — maybe the best patrons this music has, people who put their energy and their support where their good taste is.

P.S.  I need to know.  Was “the Voom Voom ” ever a real dance or is that Ellington-Miley title their version of “That Da Da Strain”?  Surely one of my readers will know.

P.P.S.  Is it “The Hot Winds is a peerless small group,” or “The Hot Winds are astonishing”?  Or is it like using the sprinkler to water the lawn in suburbia — it depends whether the day in question is odd or even on the calendar?

JOURNEY TO BOHEMIA: DICK TWARDZIK, SERGE CHALOFF, CHARLIE PARKER, and DYLAN THOMAS: THANKS TO SAM PARKINS

dick-t-photo-with-chetRichard Twardzik, Boston jazz pianist, was dead at 24.  And I don’t believe he ever saw any of his recordings issued.  His name has emerged once again in the jazz press (a fine appreciation by Ted Gioia at www.jazz.com) and there is a new biography out (BOUNCIN’ WITH BARTOK, by Jack Chambers, Mercury Press).  The photograph above shows him with trumpeter Chet Baker.

But The Real Thing is closer to home.  Sam Parkins, who never ceases to amaze, sent me this long essay — fascinating and heartbreaking in its immediacy — an excerpt from his book JOURNEY TO BOHEMIA, whose title refers both to the land beyond the familiar and to Cafe Bohemia.  Even if you’ve never heard Dick’s recordings, Sam’s essay-meditation is enthralling.

DICK TWARDZIK 1931-’55

Greetings gentle readers (that’s a 19th century locution. May not hold in today’s world): There’s a way over due bio published (back-ordered at Amazon) which may cause me to modify this and that – ‘though I bet I know stuff he doesn’t. As is true with all of these writings, this goes out to a dozen or so persons. Alta Ann is my first wife, member of my family and a good pal.

DICK TWARDZIK, d.’55; heroin overdose in Paris, with Chet Baker, age 24, is known to any even slightly modern jazz pianist because there’s a small recorded legacy. He’s the only junkie I knew – and I knew and loved this guy and could still weep for him – that wasn’t depressed. He had the joy of youth, always excited about what might come next. I wrote my first piano sonata for him, but death intervened…

$ [Alta Ann – you were in on the end – the night before he went off with Chet Baker. We had invited him to dinner; with desert I played him some of the Billy Banks sides with Fats Waller. He sat down at that great Bechstein grand in the living room and got very upset because he – a marvelous technician – couldn’t lay a glove on some of those triplet filigrees that Waller tosses off like cake frosting. It was you who asked – our friend now really clean after six months in the Bridgewater detox unit – “Dicky – why are you doing this – going off with all those junkies?” “To prove that I can do it”. You all know of course that he got dead in Paris instead. 1955]. Fine.

* * *

Dicky’s parents had restored the old house in Danvers (north of Boston) to its late seventeenth century state. Sure – it was central heated, had storm windows, sheep weren’t allowed to wander in and out of the kitchen. But they got it right, furniture and all – except for the big Steinway in the living room.

The kitchen was the showpiece. Discretely, at the far end of the big room, was a modern electric stove, refrigerator, butcher block island for chopping vegetables and having breakfast, but what you saw when you walked in the door, revealed by removing layers of sheetrock, plaster and wallpaper, was the ancient fireplace and chimney, with the hooks, rods and movable grills used to boil, broil, fry etc.; the oven to the right where bread was made, and the warming oven above it.

And on the left? A little door in the wall about a foot off the floor. Dick said that when they uncovered it and checked it out they left everything exactly the way it was:

He opened the door – and there was a little stairway – maybe a dozen steps, child-sized, that went nowhere. And, each exactly in the middle of its stair, climbing one at a time, were seven genuine, hand made, 17th century left shoes.

It’s late fall 1945. I’m on a long furlough, in the uniform of the buck-assed private I was. I get on a Cambridge bound trolley to Bobby Thayer’s house; he’ll drive us to the session.

But a note about Thayer, whom we won’t meet again. He had been in the trumpet section of the ‘kid band’ I played in through high school and early college, and had the distinction of being the first trumpet player in greater Boston – only a couple of months after those first mind-blowing Diz/Bird records – to master the complexities of Dizzy Gillespie’s style, which required blinding technique. He did make one little adjustment. He played all those licks at half-speed.

I meet his pretty wife, who spoke with a fashionable lisp. Go out to his ratty old Pontiac. Remember we’re all about 19. Head for downtown Boston to a jam session with (for me) mostly strangers – turns out to be the super stars of the region – Joe Gordon, Sam Rivers, Floogie Williams. Bobby, an otherwise lousy trumpet player, is accepted because of his curious quasi-mastery of Dizzy’s stuff. Turns out I can play with these guys because be-bop, which I never mastered, wasn’t the coin of the realm yet.

On the way, Bobby lights the first joint (marihuana) I had ever seen, let alone tried. Passed it over to me. Lovely.

The First Whorehouse. That was the working title in my early notes about Dick Twardzik. Most of the truly valid jazz joints I played in from 1944 on had a core ‘sin’ that defined them. The Golfers club, Ithaca, gambling. The Melody Lounge, Lynn MA, heroin. Harold’s House of Dixie, W. Orange NJ, money laundering and clubhouse for the North Jersey mafia. Barbara Kelly’s Glass Hat, Manhattan, blatant high-end prostitution. The Bowdoin Bar and Grill (where we’re going now) – really low-end prostitution. A sailor who had been all over the world said he never found a joint as rotten as this one in Calcutta. (To obfuscate matters – they weren’t all real ‘joints’. The Golfers Club was an old theater – take out the seats, add a bar and you have a dance hall. Gambling hidden in the back. Ditto Harold’s House of Dixie. College kids hangout. Bowling alley, cafeteria, two bars – and a big dance hall upstairs. Half a dozen hoods meet in an alcove under the stairs maybe twice a month. Black suits, navy shirts, silver ties, grey fedoras).

We’re driving but you could take the scenic route: Get off the trolley at Boylston St.; walk northeast (you’re on Tremont St.) the full length of the Boston Common past the Park St. Church. Tremont curves around to the left and becomes Cambridge St., headed for the river. If you’re walking in the 21st century you’ll come to a desolate moonscape called Government Center.

But if your journey is in 1945 you’ll find Scollay Square, the “Armpit of Boston”, a bustling market place with porn shops – dildos, vibrators, 8 m.m. ‘blue’ movies. Strip joints [being Boston, they didn’t quite take it all off – except for a flash when facing away from the audience – and toward the band], and the venerable Old Howard Theater, home of Sally Rand and Gypsy Rose Lee. As you keep going toward the river the sleaze quotient becomes more pronounced and you come to Bowdoin Square – the back-side of Beacon Hill, with its Christopher Wren houses and some of the oldest money in America. Hang a left on Grove St. and there’s The Bowdoin Bar and Grill.

As you tour around this neighborhood keep in mind that WW II is just over and the Boston Navy Yard has hordes of sailors and marines in need of entertainment.

Ambience? Wasn’t any. No amenities. Maybe forty feet square. Row of tables on the left as you enter; kitchen on the right – a square chunk subtracted from the room. Past the kitchen in the resulting indent, three booths, followed by the men’s room – and the bandstand stretching across the back of the room. No sit-down bar; kitchen acted as a service bar. ‘Bar & Grill’? Massachusetts law requires that any establishment serving liquor must serve food, so the ‘Grill’ part was covered by remarkably good hamburgers when needed. The rest was dance floor.

Personnel: The kitchen – and the staff (patience my dears) were utterly dominated by Mary, the chef/bartender/boss. What in those politically incorrect days was called a bull dyke. At least 280 pounds, and I’m afraid it was all muscle. And two waitresses named Dusty and Dry Run. (For non-military readers, a ‘dry run’ is when the troops hold their rifles up, aim them at something, the sergeant says “Fire!”, pull the triggers – and nothing happens. No bullets). Well into their thirties, good-looking in a rough and ready way.

This was a non-resident brothel. The ladies had an apartment nearby, and one or the other would disappear for a half-hour periodically. When asked they would dance with the sailors; when not asked they danced with each other, with running commentary. Sample: “Hey Dusty, you stupid cunt. Your fucking slip is showing”.

Bobby and I climb on the (crowded) bandstand. Band as good as it gets; launch into some variant of the blues. Never was introduced to anybody. The stage is about 2 1/2 feet high; I’m perched at the edge, blowing leaning back a bit, eyes closed – and feel an unaccustomed draft around my crotch. Look down. My fly is open. “Oh – Dusty always does that to the new boy”. She had danced by, and…

One last tableau of The Bowdoin Bar and Grill: It’s a long set, strenuous, serious blowing. The joint is mobbed – it’s Friday night. Payday, and the sailors have money to burn. A crowd at the middle booth on the left gets my attention – three guys on the far side, four jammed in the near side and another half-dozen leaning on the table or the booth, laughing like hell. The guy in the middle of the far side is slumped down, head back, eyes closed in an expression of ecstasy — I peer under the table at his outstretched legs and there’s Dry Run on her knees, administering – well – in the Clinton era it was called oral sex…

Funky club, great session, great players – but that’s not why we’re here. We’re here to meet the piano player. The closet that was the men’s room stuck out into the dance floor right by the bandstand; the piano was tucked in behind it, the piano player faced away from us. All I noticed was a little guy, playing music I’d never heard before (but he had. Bud Powell) hunched over the piano with an inch thick pile of hand-written music on the bench beside him.

At eleven the trumpet player looked at his watch and said, “Hey Dicky – you gotta get outa here!”. We declared a break, the piano player turned around, slightly dazed – and I saw a kid.
Dicky said “Oh migod”, grabbed his music and fled. The trumpet player explained: “He’s only fourteen. His mother wants him home by midnight and the last train out of North Station is at 11:30”. I asked the obvious question, “Who is he?”

“That’s Dick Twardzik. He wrote out every tune we might play, but hasn’t memorized them yet – that’s what the pile of music is about…”

I didn’t see Dick again until I came back to Boston in 1950. He had been with Serge Chaloff’s band for about a year and that’s where the trouble started.  (If you don’t know who Chaloff is, you could start with the Wikipedia entry online: brilliance, heroin, cancer. )

There’s a back-story about Chaloff’s cancer that came from Dick Wetmore, the great cornetist/violinist I played with around Boston for years. It happened that Dick and Serge Chaloff developed testicular (NOT spinal – that’s later) cancer at about the same time. The treatment was to lose the infected ball, (leaves one ball and leaves you sterile so Dick, with no condom, could blithely screw his heart out – which he did). And to go for twenty weekly radiation treatments. Dick Wetmore did it and is living in Florida as we speak.

Serge went for two weeks, “Oh the hell with it”, stopped going for treatment, went back to music and junk (heroin) – and that particular cancer’s first migration is to the nearest bones, in this case, the spine…

Woody’s Second Herd? Formed in 1947 after the huge success of the First Herd (see ‘Woody ‘n Igor’, module 4). Propelled Stan Getz to stardom with his ethereal solo on “Early Autumn”. Getz, Chaloff, Zoot Sims and Al Cohn made up the most famous “Four Brothers” sax section mentioned above (other players not so illustrious came and went). All addicts. In fact half the Second Herd were junkies. The stated reason for the break-up of the band in 1949 was financial – the dancers didn’t understand heavily be-bop tinged music. David Young, who knew Woody and most of the musicians, told it a little differently:

“Woody had to break up the band because guys were throwing up all over the bandstand”.

Gene Lees, Woody’s biographer, says “Hiring him must be accounted one of Woody’s worst errors: Serge was a serious heroin addict and, like so many of his kind, a dedicated proselytizer for the drug”.

Band breaks up in ’49, Chaloff returns to Boston with enough of a reputation as a star to be able to start a band of very young men (age 19 or so) and keep them working. And still proselytizing. It is here that Dick Twardzik and his band mates became heroin addicts.

The yin and the yang of the Chaloff family: Serge’s mother, Margaret Chaloff, was considered one of the finest piano teachers in Boston, with a studio over Symphony Hall. Dick studied with her for years. Gene Lees has high praise for her in his bio of Woody Herman.

I came back to Boston June, 1950, and into a steady Saturday night ballroom job for the summer – Nuttings on the Charles (river) – near the end of the ballroom era. Sparsely attended, only one night a week. After a six-year absence I knew almost no one. Circulated, went to sessions, slowly got back on the scene – and started four years of graduate school in composition at the New England Conservatory in the fall (playing constantly to pay for it). In getting back on the scene I encountered Dick Twardzik all over the place. Sessions, the occasional gig – not much of that though. I veered away from bop into New Orleans while Dick forged ahead as one of the few major ‘modern’+ piano players – remember 1950 is early days in be-bop, est. 1945. (+ let’s dispose of that right here. There was a lot of silliness about terminology. Be-bop, modern jazz, with a slightly different twist, but inaudible to the un-hip ear, progressive jazz. George Russell in desperation called his version ‘the New Thing’. Composers in the early 14th century faced the same problem. Came up with the ‘Ars Nova’).

But I particularly I encountered him at The New England Conservatory of Music (likewise encountered the legendary avant-garde pianist, Cecil Taylor, who gets a long look later). Dick was studying composition, and – and this is one of the real artistic drags about his death: He was studying harp with Louise Pappoutsakis, the Boston Symphony harpist, and would have evolved into – not the first, but the only be-bop harpist.

There is a warren of practice rooms on the second floor of the conservatory; each with a pretty good grand piano (and a dungeon in the basement with maybe fifty cubicles with not so good uprights). I’d see Dick at one of those grands, join him and he would show me what he was pursuing at the moment. For instance, what he called his ‘speed bass’. True stride piano in the manner of Fats Waller requires the left hand to drop at least two octaves (a leap of about a foot and a half) for a bass note on beats 1 and 3, leaving the chord indicating the harmony back up in the middle on beats 2 and 4. Playing a lot of Chopin helps. Dick kept his left hand in the middle position and hit the nearest ‘correct’ note (bass equivalent) to the south with as little hand motion as possible. (Any readers who know Dave McKenna’s music will hear this technique in frequent use).

I went to hear him with Serge, and particularly with Bird when he came to town – unlike classical performers, jazz players on tour then and now almost always go out alone and are at the mercy of local rhythm sections.+ It’s the Hi-Hat club, described elsewhere (the second burned-for-insurance fire closed it permanently). Of course I went. But missed the first tune of the first night. [+one of those half-truths that are taken for gospel at the time. Two Charlie Parker CDs, both taken from broadcasts in Boston clubs, have Charles Mingus, bass, Roy Haynes, drums – and Dick Twardzik, piano. For the non-jazz reader – Mingus and Haynes, New Yorkers, were about to become international stars].

Music lesson: Pop music back into the mists of history has been pretty simple. During the Golden Age of American Song – Berlin, Kern, Gershwin, Porter et al – the harmony would change typically every two measures; once in a while, as in ‘The Song is You’, every measure, and on the lazy side, ‘Sweet Georgia Brown’, every four measures, with four beats to each measure. Until be-bop came along. The improvisers took to modifying the songs in the direction of complexity, putting in as many as one chord change per beat.

So Charlie ‘Yardbird’ Parker comes to the Hi-Hat and Dick Twardzik is tapped for the piano chair. “Ohmigod – I’m going to play with the Great Master”. Dick sat down at the piano and worked out complex re-harmonizations of every tune he could think of that might be in play and went to the gig*.

First song up is the above mentioned ‘Sweet Georgia Brown’. ‘F7′ for four measures, ‘B-flat 7′ for four measures and so forth. Dicky is ready. He has a different chord for each beat, totaling sixteen chord changes for every four measures where there had only been one. At the end of the song, Bird – having never bothered to shake hands with his piano player before the gig – comes around behind the piano and says in Dicky’s ear, “Kid – just play ‘F7′. I’ll do all the diddley shit”.

[* typical sad Charlie Parker story. He was hired to play seven nights – Monday thru Sunday – at the Hi-Hat. He actually showed up for only five. One absent night was a mystery, during the other he was found out cold in a gutter. And he was so revered that he was invited back anyway. His legendary absences were part of the mystique. I’ll say right here, noting as I read about the Hip-Hop world that nothing has changed except the be-bopping junkies of my youth didn’t shoot each other**, that the general irresponsible lifestyle of our heroes made great newspaper copy and influenced a lot of kids]. [**But once in a while someone else did. Lee Morgan was shot on the bandstand by an outraged wife; Wardell Gray was shot by the outraged husband of his girlfriend – or so said the tale that circulated at the time (1955). The current internet bio has a mafia/drug-tinged story instead. The joys of history].

Dylan Thomas made four trips to America, beginning in February, 1950. America didn’t interest him; he came mostly for the money. The job that got him here the first time was a reading at New York’s YMHA, which paid $500 plus airfare. Factor in inflation – in 2006 dollars that’s closer to five grand. Once he got here he took his show on the road, making substantial money, much of which he drank…He died in New York during the fourth tour, of acute alcohol poisoning, November ’53.

Of all the scenes described in these writings – some hazy memories, some Hi-Definition Technicolor – the most vivid is this:

Dick’s mother was an artist. Her day job was as an illustrator at MIT for books and scientific papers produced by the faculty. Dylan Thomas came to America for the third time in April of 1953 and his first stop was MIT, Cambridge, for a lecture/reading. 3 o’clock on Friday afternoon, end of the school week.

Mother picked us up at school (New England Conservatory) at 2:30 on a beautiful spring afternoon; Dick had those bright red spots on his cheeks that showed he was really flying. Mother says indulgently, “Oh Dicky…” (must have shot up in the men’s room after lunch), and drove us across the Harvard Bridge to MIT.

The reading was closed to the public; it took place in a very ordinary classroom – teacher’s desk up front on the left, equal size table on the right for the guest. We were almost late. Walked into a nearly full house and found seats just as the presiding faculty member was introducing Dylan Thomas.

What did he look like? The picture of him in the BBC bio shows an uncanny resemblance to Orson Welles as Harry Lime in ‘The Third Man’. Attractive, perspiring, mop of wild curly hair, red-faced, really drunk, but the kind of drunk that can function normally when he should be in a coma. He began his lecture, interspersed with readings from his poetry – and you couldn’t tell them apart. His language was luminous – beyond beautiful, and his presence eerily commanding [the Welsh and Irish can do that. Celts]. It isn’t often given to any of us to be in the same room with true genius. Palpable, vibrating genius.

So where am I? In the presence of two great artists, both doomed to die real soon of substance abuse – Thomas, gone at 39, with a substantial body of work behind him, the other, Dick, 24, with the barest hint of what’s coming in his sparse recorded legacy.

Here’s a glimpse of Dick’s genius. He is simply not ‘just another be-bop piano player’ In recordings with Chet Baker and Serge Chaloff he sounds more conventional, but that’s what a sideman is supposed to do. Not upstage the leader [and more than by-the-way, note his gorgeous piano sound. Gene Lees in his Woody Herman biography says that that sound quality is a hallmark of all of Margaret Chaloff’s students].

And there is a home recording, 1954 Improvisations. Boston. June-October 1954, where, in a fragment of Jerome Kern’s ‘Yesterdays’ the future really shows. He deconstructs the tune the way Charles Ives might have – and then he’s gone.

Dick’s is the only early death among musicians/composers that really bothers me artistically [it killed me emotionally]. Mozart made it to 35. And left a complete life’s work. I’ve always felt that he lived a compressed, accelerated existence and died of old age. Ditto, Bird, also gone at 35.

Charlie Christian? Dead of TB at 26, with less than two years in the public eye and ear. But heavily recorded, and – here’s the Internet quickie: “was the founding father and primary architect of the modern jazz guitar style”. And revolutionary. Someone else would have done it, but in fact it was Christian that set the stage for guitar driven rock and roll, comin’ at you a little over ten years after his death in 1942.

Dick Twardzik left only the barest hint of what was to come…

I realized, whizzing around the park on my bike yesterday, what I uncovered here. Note the extreme contrast of the house Dick lived in and the joint he – and we all – played in. A couple of observations: No matter what your background – in Dick’s case it seems clear that there was substantial wealth in his family – you were likely to play in the scuzziest possible circumstances unless you became a star and Storyville (or its equivalent in any city) could afford you. More likely in a joint with the mafia lurking in the background. And of course – as an only child from an affluent family, how could he not have been rescued from his virtual suicide? It wasn’t exactly a secret. Let’s look:

His father was one of only two stained glass window designers and builders in the United States. Had an atelier on St. Botolph St., the front 3 stories high so they could assemble a finished window, then take it apart for (very careful) shipping. St. Botolph – that funky little street that petered out behind the Conservatory, coming over from Mass. Ave. just across the tracks from the ‘colored district’. David Young’s studio was there in the early 50s.

[What follows is probably from my friend Jack Lawlor, the left-handed bass player who shows up on several records and attended the sessions we held at Dick’s parent’s home. As I write, the long promised biography of Dick remains back-ordered at Amazon and people in Dick Twardzik chat rooms are getting pretty upset. So 1) I have no confirmation of the health issue; 2) Jack Chambers, the biographer, could conceivably have missed this. Families are pretty close-mouthed about health disasters].

It matters that Dick was a sickly child. He had a rare disease – here’s the Internet word:

“…probably had polyarticular arthritis, a form that affects children in at least five joints. Samantha at 16 months had 11 swollen joints, in her knees, wrists, toes, elbows and fingers. NY Times 9.30/03, Health & Fitness”

People that knew him told me that by the time he was 11 Dick had every joint in his body operated on. Helps explain the indulgent mother. How could you not spoil an only child with such a dreadful illness?

There was just forming up when I returned to Boston in 1950 a consortium of young modern musicians that called themselves ‘The Jazz Workshop’+; their mission to provide a space where students and professionals could play and study together. They found a bar downtown that had a little used back room; they persuaded the owner that jazz would bring in customers and were given carte blanche to do whatever they liked. I paid my dues with saw, hammer and nails many an afternoon helping to build the stage. [+Those musicians, led by trumpeter Herb Pomeroy, became the core faculty of the internationally famous Berklee School of Music. They are now of course very senior faculty or emeritus]. It prospered; a Monday night big band session was laid on, with Jaki Byard writing the arrangements and sitting in the tenor sax chair rather than piano.

And eventually they had to move to larger quarters; a club called The Stable on nearby Huntington Ave.

Dick Twardzik was a frequent member of the Jazz Workshop ‘in house’ rhythm section and it was here that he asked his fellow musicians for help with his heroin addiction. We have seen that his family was no help at all.

Now look: This may be apocryphal in places; it went around town as scuttlebutt. But it rings true. He asked the guys in the band for help “…and they laughed at him”. So after the gig, at two o’clock in the morning, on a cold December night, he walked up to a cop on Huntington Ave. and said, “Officer – I’m an addict and need to quit. Can you help me?”

Bless that cop. I’m sure there was and is a city agency set up for this. They helped get Dicky into the Massachusetts detox unit in Bridgwater, where he stayed for six months, met a priest he really liked and started going to church. Came out squeaky clean and full of the joy of life. He had finally beaten it.

In a musical composition that returns to the beginning for the last few measures, there is a convention that we’ll use here. “Dal Segno” – “to the sign”, which is a squiggle not on the keyboard. We’ll use $.

“Dal segno $ al fine [finish]”

If you don’t want to bother, it goes like this:

$ [Alta Ann – you were in on the end – the night before he went off with Chet Baker. We had invited him to dinner; with desert I played him some of the Billy Banks sides with Fats Waller. He sat down at that great Bechstein grand in the living room and got very upset because he – a marvelous technician – couldn’t lay a glove on some of those triplet filigrees that Waller tosses off like cake frosting. It was you who asked – our friend now really clean after six months in the Bridgewater detox unit – “Dicky – why are you doing this – going off with all those junkies?” “To prove that I can do it”. You all know of course that he got dead in Paris instead. 1955].

Fine.

Copyright © 2006 Leroy Parkins

[Here’s Sam’s own biographical sketch, taken from his MySpace page:

Leroy (Sam) Parkins: born in reign of Calvin Coolidge. Heard Benny Goodman, Duke Ellington, Lionel Hampton 1936 – 1945. Charlie Parker from then on. Normal life no longer possible. Cornell for composition; New England Conservatory for Masters. Saxophonist-in-residence two whorehouses (Bowdoin Bar & Grill, Boston, 1945; Barbara Kelly’s Glass Hat, NYC 1960), the Heroin Capital of the North Shore (Melody Lounge, Lynn MA, 1954 but didn’t sample the wares); Carnegie Hall (one-shot, 1976) etc.etc. Sixteen years with two major society orchestras. Duties included playing New Years Eve for the Carnegies and Mellons at Rolling Rock Country Club, Ligonear, PA.; deb parties as far away as St. Louis, MO. Joined production staff CBS Masterworks 1967. Recorded the complete Charles Ives chamber music. One Grammy (European); four Grammy nominations. Recorded Milton Babbitt, John Cage, Charles Wuorinen et al for New World Records, 1975. Black composers series, various labels: Music of Jelly Roll Morton, James P. Johnson, Eubie Blake, Cecil Taylor, Benny Carter, Scott Joplin. Stravinsky’s ‘Ebony Concerto’ with Richard Stolzman and Woody Herman’s Thundering Herd, RCA Victor, 1987. Grammy nomination. As featured soloist, ‘Take Me To the Land of Jazz’, Aviva records. Stereo Review, Album Pick of the Year, Acoustic Jazz, 1979. Recorded ‘Preservation Hall Live!’ for Sony Classical, 1991. Miscellaneous recordings since; clarinetist-in-residence, Cajun Restaurant, NYC; ditto weekly stint New York Public Library. Commence writing ‘Journey to Bohemia’ 1997. Lived.]