Last Sunday, in the late afternoon, I began to fidget — perhaps two hours before The EarRegulars were scheduled to start playing at The Ear Inn. The Beloved said to me, kindly, “What are you so anxious about? We’ll be there in plenty of time,” which was of course true. (She knows such things.)
I replied, “You’re right, but I’ve been waiting two months for this evening,” which was no less true.
Why? Let’s call the roll:
Andy Schumm, cornet (sitting in for a traveling Jon-Erik Kellso); Dan Barrett, trombone; Matt Munisteri, guitar; Scott Robinson, bass sax.
And I didn’t even know that there were going to be august guests, that Vince Giordano would sit in on tenor guitar, that Dan Block and John Otto would bring their clarinets, that I would get to hear saxophonist Ned Goold, and that I would meet the thoroughly captivating singer Jerron Paxton.
Had I known all this in advance, I might have camped out at the bar of The Ear Inn (that’s 326 Spring Street, Soho, New York City) a day in advance.
But we got there in time, I situated myself in proper video range (near pals Jim and Grace Balantic, Rob Rothberg, Bill and Sonya Dunham, and Lucy Weinman), and here’s what happened. I’m thrilled by what I witnessed and recorded: a dozen beauties, a jazz bouquet. (And I wasn’t the only one feeling blissful: look at the expressions on the faces of the musicians!)
The EarRegulars began with a bouncy CHINA BOY — recalling not just Bix and Whiteman, but also Bechet-Spanier and the Condon gang:
A rousing opener usually is followed by something in a medium-tempo, but not for these fellows: someone suggested the lovely, sad/hopeful Irving Berlin song WAITING AT THE END OF THE ROAD, which evokes Bing and Fats as well as Bix (or Secrest, you choose):
Dan Barrett called for MY HONEY’S LOVIN’ ARMS (or, as Cutty Cutshall used to say, MAHONEY’S); he and Andy knew the verse and leaped in, and then Dan vocalized — splendidly and wittily:
AT THE JAZZ BAND BALL could have been the title of this posting and an apt summation of the whole night:
A sweetly pensive SLEEPY TIME GAL (in a Red Nichols IDA mood) was next, with Scott singing out on his bass saxophone:
Clarinetist John Otto joined in, and Vince Giordano added his own special pulse to the rhythm section. Dan Barrett suggested one of his favorite jam tunes, the early-Thirties number, its title a wistful plaint, its tempo more optimistic, DO YOU EVER THINK OF ME?:
WEARY BLUES is always too joyous to live up to its name, and this version was a honey — with Scott picking up his flea-market trumpet, then (to my delight and astonishment) Dan putting his own mouthpiece on it and swinging out!
YOU TOOK ADVANTAGE OF ME demands a chase chorus in honor of Bix and Tram– Dan Block had joined the EarRegulars and the three horns conversed diligently and sagely on this 1927 Rodgers and Hart classic:
Then something even more remarkable (and cinematic) happened. A substantial young man, handsome and casually imposing — he would have been all these things even if he hadn’t been wearing down-home overalls — was asked by Matt Munisteri to sing. (Thank you, Matt!)
I’LL BE A FRIEND “WITH PLEASURE” is thought of as a wounded dirge, although the Condonites tried to turn it into a romp on their BIXIELAND album. People who know the original recording well start cringing well in advance of Wesley Vaughan’s sweetly effete “vocal.”
When the young man started to sing, I nearly fell off my barstool. Although his strong musical personality was evident from the first phrase, he put himself at the service of the song, with an unaffected but deeply moving style that comes from his shoes on up. His name is Jerron Paxton; he later told me he was “half blind,” and his business card reads MUSICIANER. Hear for yourself; he’s astounding! (The serious bespectacled man sitting behind Jerron is photographer John Rogers, a jazz devotee of the finest kind):
Then saxophonist Ned Goold joined the band, to great effect — soloing in a deliciously individualistic way and placing himself perfectly in the band riffs. Jerron sat out MARGIE, which swung delightfully: Bix and Tram and Lester and Jo would have been happy with this version. Scott quoted HANDFUL OF KEYS; Dan Barrett became Tricky Dan Nanton; Andy and Matt duetted (!), and Scott picked up his trumpet once again:
I was hoping that Jerron would be asked to sing again (not being able to believe my ears) and Matt must have read my mind, for he invited Jerron for BLUE, TURNING GREY OVER YOU — which melded swing and melancholy. Dan Barrett’s muted sound is a joy, and Scott just sang on his bass saxophone:
Even in Soho, everyone has to go home sometime, and things ended with JAZZ ME BLUES:
Driving home, I felt thoroughly jazzed, completely elated. Although many times the recordings one makes at the gig (audio or video) seem diminished, pallid in the unforgiving light of day, these continue to amaze.
And the young man from Wisconsin? He doesn’t need me to trumpet his glories: music speaks louder than words, most beautifully, in Andy’s case.
Jim Balantic, seated next to me, leaned over and whispered, “This is the greatest night of my life.” I don’t know if that statement would stand up under hypnosis or truth serum, but I certainly know how he felt.
In case you’re new here, singular versions of this musical magic take place every Sunday night from 8-11 at The Ear Inn. This evening was extraordinary but not in the least atypical!