Tag Archives: Jim Czak

“TWO SONGBIRDS OF A FEATHER”: BECKY KILGORE / NICKI PARROTT

I’ve known both of these gloriously talented musicians for more than a decade, and have delighted in their live performances at festivals for that time.  So I am delighted to report that their first full-length duo CD, TWO SONGBIRDS OF A FEATHER (Arbors ARCD 19447) is even better than I expected.

SONGBIRDSThe facts?  The CD was recorded in March 2015 (lively sound thanks to the ever-professional Jim Czak) with beautiful photographs and design by Brian Wittman.  The band is Mike Renzi, piano; Harry Allen, tenor saxophone; Chuck Redd, drums; Nicki, bass; Becky, guitar on several tracks; Becky and Nicki, vocals and patter.  The songs: TWO LITTLE GIRLS FROM LITTLE ROCK / TWO SONGBIRDS OF A FEATHER / RAY NOBLE MEDLEY / LIFE IS SO PECULIAR / WHEN LOVE GOES WRONG / S’WONDERFUL / Theme From VALLEY OF THE DOLLS / THEY SAY IT’S SPRING / BLUE MOON – MOONGLOW / THEM THERE EYES / A WOMAN’S PREROGATIVE / EL CAJON / WHEN I GROW TOO OLD TO DREAM.

First off.  There isn’t a moment on this CD, whatever the mood or tempo, that doesn’t swing.  And it’s a deep intuitive swing: take, for example, the a cappella chorus that begins WHEN I GROW TOO OLD TO DREAM.  With all due respect to the instrumental accompaniment — a fine band — Becky and Nicki are swinging in the best understated but authentic Basie manner when they utter the first syllable.  And their voices — alternatively lighter, darker, flying, trading places in mid-air — go together perfectly, whether they are alternating phrases within a song, singing in unison or harmonizing.  Each performance is full of small sweet surprises (including some witty banter) which makes the CD an old-fashioned experience, a “show” rather than simply two people standing at microphones and singing one song after another.  One can hear that the routines have been carefully planned, but nothing is stiff or formal.  They sound as if they are having a good time, fully enjoying the pleasures of music-making.  The effect is never cute or artificial, but there is a good deal of cheerful play.  And singers could learn so much from studying this disc.

Some highlights.  Nicki and Becky essay some of their proven crowd-pleasers, with roots in Louis Jordan (PECULIAR) and the Marilyn Monroe songbook (LITTLE ROCK, WRONG) — but much of the material here is new to Kilgore-Parrott fanciers.  There’s a clever arrangement of S’WONDERFUL, a racing romp on THEM THERE EYES, and several blissfully tender performances — the Ray Noble medley couldn’t be more sweet; VALLEY OF THE DOLLS is rueful and yearning; the BLUE MOON – MOONGLOW collation enables us to hear those familiar songs anew.  And the title track, SONGBIRDS, has a lively chorus by Brian Wittman — living up to his name — a verse by Becky, music by Nicki. True group work!  If there were still a network of hip radio stations, the performance of the Johnny Mandel – Dave Frishberg EL CAHON would be an instant classic.

The thirteen selections are wonderfully varied and paced, so the CD seems far too short.  And the band rocks gorgeously around and with the singers.

I am being unsubtle when I say BUY THIS ONE, but occasionally subtlety is a burden.  I received my copy yesterday and it is now playing for the fourth time. On the surface, it is an hour of joy: I think it is hours of that rare substance.

P.S.  You’ll note — rare for me — that no videos accompany this posting.  On camera, Nicki and Becky come across as the most hilariously swinging and endearing pair of vocal pals, sisters even.  But even in the most expertly-done jazz party situations, they sing into a microphone, the sound goes through an engineering board, comes out of two large speakers, crosses the room, and is picked up by my camera’s trustworthy but small microphone.  All this is to say, gently, that the videos often do not do singers’ voices justice — and the sound on this CD is so much more intimate and rich that I would do the disc a disservice by posting a video as evidence.

May your happiness increase!

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AMONG FRIENDS: MUSIC and WORDS for JOE WILDER (Sept. 8, 2014)

Joe Among Friends

Last night I spent a very touching and uplifting three hours in the company of people — many of whom I didn’t know and vice versa — united in one thing: we all loved the magnificent trumpeter and dear man Joe Wilder.

I don’t know the source of the saying, “The only thing wrong with funerals is that the one person you want to see is not present,” and that was certainly true in the filled-to-capacity St. Peter’s Church, but you could feel Joe’s gracious, easy spirit in every word and every note played.  The service was organized by Joe’s daughter Elin, Joe’s great friend and biographer Ed Berger, and the music was directed by Warren Vache.  Praise to all of them.

I couldn’t bring my video camera, so my notes will have to suffice.

I came to St. Peter’s early (I have been trained to this behavior by anxious parents, but often it pays off) and could see Russell Malone playing ballads for his own pleasure, including a soulful, precise DEEP IN A DREAM, then greeting Gene Bertoncini, who took up his own guitar.

Then the music changed to purest Wilder — MAD ABOUT THE BOY, CHEROKEE, and more.

It was clear that this was a roomful of dear friends.  Much hugging, much laughter, everyone being made welcome.  Although many people wore black or dark clothing, the mood was anything but maudlin.

Warren Vache quietly and sweetly introduced the first band: Harry Allen, Bill Allred, John Allred, Bill Crow, Steve Johns, Michael Weiss — and they launched into IT’S YOU OR NO ONE and then a medium-tempo CHEROKEE, full of energy and smiles passed around from player to player and to us.

We then saw a series of clips of an interview done with Joe (the source I copied down was http://www.robertwagnerfilms.com) — where he spoke of his experiences, both hilarious (sitting next to Dizzy in Les Hite’s band) and more meaningful (his perceptions of race).  What struck me was the simple conviction with which he said — and clearly believed — “I couldn’t have had a better life.”

Joe’s trumpet colleague from the Symphony of the New World, Wilmer Wise, told a few tales of the man he called “my big brother.”

Jimmy Owens stood in front of us and spoke lovingly of Joe, then took his fluegelhorn and played a very touching THERE WILL NEVER BE ANOTHER YOU (has Harry Warren’s song ever sounded so true?) ending with subterranean low notes, and an excerpt from NOBODY KNOWS THE TROUBLE I’VE SEEN.

Hank Nowak, another trumpet colleague (who met Joe at the Manhattan School of Music in the Fifties) spoke endearingly and then played a beautiful selection from Bach’s second cello suite — as if he were sending messages of love to us, with exquisite tone and phrasing.

Ed Berger told stories of Joe — whom he knew as well as anyone — and ended with some of Joe’s beloved and dangerously elaborate puns.

More music, all sharply etched and full of feeling: Bucky Pizzarelli and Ed Laub duetted all-too briefly on TANGERINE; Dick Hyman and Loren Schoenberg played STARDUST, and were then joined by Steve LaSpina and Kenny Washington for PERDIDO.

Jim Czak told his own story, then read a letter from Artie Baker (swooping down gracefully at the end to give the letter to Joe’s daughter Elin);.

Jimmy Heath (who spoke of Joe as “Joe Milder”), Barry Harris, Rufus Reid, Gene Bertoncini, and Leroy Williams took wonderful lyrical paths through I REMEMBER YOU and BODY AND SOUL.

Jim Merod, who knew Joe for decades, was eloquent and dramatic in his — let us be candid and call it a lovely sermon — about his dear friend.

Wynton Marsalis spoke softly but with feeling about Joe, and then played a solo trumpet feature on JUST A CLOSER WALK WITH THEE that (no cliche here) had the church in a joyous rhythmic uproar.

Russell Malone and Houston Person played ANNIE LAURIE with great sensitivity, just honoring the melody, and Russell created a delicate IT MIGHT AS WELL BE SPRING; Rufus Reid and Kenny Washington joined them for IN A MELLOTONE. Ken Kimery of the Smithsonian Jazz Orchestra spoke of Joe’s mastery and generosities. Warren Vache brought his horn in a wonderful duet with Bill Charlap on what he called “Joe’s song,” COME ON HOME, and then with Steve LaSpina and Leroy Williams, offered a quick MY ROMANCE.

Bill Kirchner took the stage with Bill Charlap to present a searching SHE WAS TOO GOOD TO ME.

It was nearing nine-thirty, and I knew my demanding clock radio (it shakes me awake at five-forty-five most mornings) had to be obeyed, so I stood up to go, as Warren was encouraging any musician in the house who hadn’t yet played to “jam for Joe” on SUNNY SIDE OF THE STREET.  Among the musicians he announced were Bria Skonberg and Claudio Roditi, and cheerful music enwrapped me as I walked out into the night air.

I am sorry I couldn’t have stayed until everyone went home, but I felt Joe’s presence all around me — in Warren’s words, a man so large that each of us could take a little of Joe with us always.

A pause for music. Something cheerful and playful — from 2010:

Now a pause for thought, whether or not you were able to attend the memorial service.

How can we honor Joe Wilder now that his earthly form is no longer with us?

We could purchase and read and be inspired by Ed Berger’s wonderful book about Joe, which I’ve chronicled here — SOFTLY, WITH FEELING: JOE WILDER AND THE BREAKING OF BARRIERS IN AMERICAN MUSIC (Temple University Press).

We could buy one of Joe’s lovely Evening Star CDs and fill our ears and houses with his uplifting music.

Or, we could act in Wilderian fashion — as a kind of subtle, unassuming spiritual practice.

Here are a few suggestions, drawn from my own observations of Joe in action.

Give more than you get.  Make strangers into friends. Never pretend to majesties that aren’t yours.  Fill the world with beauty — whether it’s your own personal sound or a (properly room-temperature) cheesecake.  Act lovingly in all things.  Never be too rushed to speak to people.  Make sure you’ve made people laugh whenever you can. Express gratitude in abundance.

You should create your own list.

But “Be like Joe Wilder in your own way” isn’t a bad place to start.

 May your happiness increase!

PERFECTLY WILD: MENNO DAAMS and EHUD ASHERIE at The Knickerbocker, New York (October 8, 2013)

I’ve always thought that wonderful things are happening while I am sleeping, missing out on them. Possibly a neurotic idea, but occasionally the evidence confirms it.

Last night, Tuesday, October 8, 2013, pianist Ehud Asherie had another week of his regular solo piano gig at The Knickerbocker on 33 University Place, New York City.  That in itself would be an excellent thing: Ehud is a masterful improviser whose imagination roams around the entirety of jazz.  He has a classical touch and a deeply wry sense of humor.  And he never ever forgets how to swing!

But Ehud had a friend — someone dear to me, the Dutch trumpeter Menno Daams.  (To be accurate, he brought his cornet.)  And his lovely wife — that’s no cliche — Ineke Rienks, captured the duo’s performance of WILD MAN BLUES.

You would think with that title that wild unbridled passion would be governing their art, but to create wildness, or the impression of it, a great deal of expert mastery, of fierce restraint is needed.  Dionysiac wildness would know little of bar lines, chord changes, or sympathetic accompaniment. Menno and Ehud are so skilled at evoking the tradition as a way of singing their own individualistic songs.  Although the room in this shot looks empty, it was filled with the admiring spirits of Louis Armstrong, Jelly Roll Morton, Henry Red Allen, Rex Stewart, Earl Hines, Fats Waller, Bud Powell . . . and more.  And first among equals?  Ehud Asherie.  Menno Daams.

As a postscript.  People who know me have noted my recent but powerfully-growing love of California (specifically Marin and the Bay Area) and the people, jazz friends and others.  But often during the preceding week  (Menno’s trip to New York, hanging out with Rossano Sportiello, Nicki Parrott, Becky Kilgore, Ed Metz, Jim Czak, John Post, and Bill Moss; hearing Warren Vache, Shannon Barnett, Harvey Tibbs, and others sit in with the Munisteri-Kellso EarRegulars at The Ear Inn; hearing Abigail Riccards and Michael Kanan in Brooklyn) . . . I think that New York is putting up a really good fight.  “You like Marin?  You enjoy the farmers’ market?  You’ve made friends with all sorts of people, from Sam Rocha to Beck Ringle?  You’ve heard wonderful music?  Fine, Michael!  Let New York show you what WE can do . . . .!”  Tune in tomorrow, boys and girls.  Who knows what will happen next?

May your happiness increase!