Tag Archives: Jim Gammon

“DINNER MUSIC” FROM MAL SHARPE and THE BIG MONEY IN JAZZ at FIOR D’ITALIA (March

Mos people know Mal Sharpe (with one of his current bands, the Big Money in Jazz) as someone who inspires audiences with exuberant music. But he and his musicians can create very subtle music as well, Jelly Roll Morton’s “sweet, soft, plenty rhythm.” It’s music to dine by. Of course, with Mal in charge, it will be colorful, lively, witty — quiet but never dull.

Mal’s smaller version of his classic band floats along without piano or drums, and with Mal’s playing and singing; Jim Gammon, cornet; Dwayne Ramsey, clarinet, tenor saxophone, vocal; Bill DeKuiper, guitar; Paul Smith, string bass and wordless vocal. . . .evoking New Orleans grit and the Kansas City Six.

This band plays every Wednesday night from 6 to 9 at the well-known Italian restaurant, Fior d’Italia (2237 Mason Street) in North Beach, San Francisco, and we came by for a meal and a serenade on March 19, 2014. Here are some of the musical highlights. You’ll have to invent the culinary ones for yourself: here are the menus.

JUST A LITTLE WHILE TO STAY HERE (the band’s theme and Mal’s offhanded sermon on carpe diem and tempus fugit, too):

MEAN TO ME (a rhetorical statement only):

SHINE (that splendid, misinterpreted song):

STRUTTIN’ WITH SOME BARBECUE (appropriate to a restaurant with various grilled meats, no?):

JUST A CLOSER WALK WITH THEE (soulfully sung by Dwayne):

And for an effervescent dessert, on the last number of the second set, San Francisco’s irrepressible jazz singer Kellye Gray was compelled to join the band with a rare whistling solo on DINAH:

Fior d’Italia is a North Beach classic, known for a varied menu, a comfortable ambiance, a sweet-natured staff . . . and the best dinner music you can think of on Wednesday evenings.

May your happiness increase!

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NOT ONCE, BUT FOUR OR FIVE TIMES: MAL DOES MARTINEZ (August 23, 2012)

One of the great pleasures of this summer stay in California has been the opportunity to hear / enjoy / talk with / delight in the remarkable Mal Sharpe, larger than life and I don’t mean in height or girth.  His music, his wildly improvised deadpan comedies, his stage presence . . . a remarkable fellow indeed.

Once a month, on a Thursday, Mal brings his Big Money in Jazz Band to Armando’s in Martinez — a very pleasant place (more a social club than a nightspot) run by the amiable Roy Jeans.  August 23 was Mal’s “Dixieland” immersion — for our benefit.

He played trombone and sang; Dwayne Rambey played clarinet, tenor saxophone, and soprano, and also sang; Clint Baker sat in the back and directed jazz traffic while playing the banjo or the guitar; youngblood / swing star Sam Rocha gave his all on tuba; fiery Jim Gammon poured his heart into his trumpet; swinging Roy Blumenfeld, drums.  (Notice that a few performances begin with an impromptu Gammon – Baker duet, reminding me of 1928 Louis and Johnny St. Cyr, very happily).

Here are four musical treats and one avian interlude.  For your dining and dancing pleasure, of course.

HINDUSTAN (where there are still a few parking spaces for caravans and no meters):

A magnificent piece of musical architecture — FOUR OR FIVE TIMES — our delight, doin’ things right:

THE SHEIK OF ARABY, clothed or not:

An ancient folktale about a member of the avian family.  Caution!  It contains a naughty word:

And a beautifully earnest reading of JUST A CLOSER WALK WITH THEE:

Wasn’t that nice?

May your happiness increase.

LAUGHIN’ IN RHYTHM: MAL SHARPE and BIG MONEY IN JAZZ at SAUSALITO (August 5, 2012)

Swing and improvised comedy have been the high points of my Sundays for the past two months, for I’ve been spending my afternoons (from 3-6) at the No Name Bar (757 Bridgeway) in Sausalito, California.  Mind you, I’m not a bar habitue — one drink is enough, two drinks is plenty.  And I’d rather have my calories in food.

But Mal Sharpe and his band, Big Money in Jazz, have been at the No Name Bar for years . . . and I can see why.  Even when the instrumentation is frankly improbable, relaxed swing fills the air — along with made-up-right-now comic vignettes, of which Mal is a master.

Last Sunday, the band featured three guitarists (“no waiting!”) — Denny Guyer, with the admirable summer hat; Bill De Kuiper, to his right, and Ken Emerson on lap steel guitar.  The eloquent Sam Rocha made it all right with his string bass; Roy Blumenfeld swung out on his drum kit; trumpeter Jim Gammon and Mal (trombone and vocals) were the front line.  Here are five highlights from that happy Sunday afternoon.

JUST A LITTLE WHILE TO STAY HERE is what I think of as a New Orleans carpe diem, but in Mal’s hands it seems a jocular way to begin his band’s weekly tenure at the No Name Bar, “Don’t be upset that we’re here and don’t object too loudly — we’ll be out of here in a few hours”:

Mal began the afternoon — it was warm — by telling the audience that what they were witnessing was NBC’s rebroadcast of the Christmas show (a nice absurdity on many levels) which then inspired Jim Gammon to lead the band into a funky, lopsided SANTA CLAUS IS COMING TO TOWN — as if Santa had been listening to Hot Lips Page rhythm and blues in his sleigh:

A vaguely Hawaiian-inflected BREEZE was a tropical delight, although the reasons behind this pineapple-flavored rendition are more than a bit puzzling to the anthropologists at the No Name.  Mahalo, you cats:

DALLAS BLUES is in part my responsibility.  I had been talking with the very entertaining Jim Gammon in the set break and had casually told him that Clint Baker (who has played with Mal’s bands) began his gig with a romping version of that song, one of my favorites.  When the next set began, I heard Jim suggest this song, “for Michael,” and I am delighted to have been the partial instigator of this song selection.  But I had no idea that one of Mal’s socio-political blues was in the offing: it will catch you by surprise, as will his surrealistic solo:

And, finally, LAUGHIN’ IN RHYTHM — courtesy of Slim and Slam or Sidney Bechet and Vic Dickenson.  It’s frankly goofy — I GOT RHYTHM with the giggles — but it sat just right:

Forget your troubles.  C’mon, get happy — some Sunday at 757 Bridgeway, Sausalito, from 3-6 PM.

May your happiness increase.

HONEY, DO!

Yet another excursion with Louis Armstrong — backwards to 1933 and 1966 or so and forwards to yesterday, July 7, 2012.

Step One: HONEY, DO! (lyrics by Andy Razaf, music by J.C. Johnson).  It’s customary to lament how poor Louis’ bands were, but this version is swinging away for the first part of the song.  And what Louis is doing, so joyously, is beyond description:

In 1966 — more or less — department stores in suburbia all had flourishing record departments.  I don’t know which store it was, but I remember as someone too young to drive a car going off with my mother to some store (more furniture than anything) for something she needed . . . and saying to her, “Ma, I’ll be right back,” running off to the record department, forsaking all others, heading to the Louis browser, snatching up this RCA Victor anthology with one side devoted to his recordings in the early Thirties, the other to his 1946-7 efforts, giving the cashier my $2.67 or an equivalent amount, and racing back to my mother (who had bought her pillows or bowls by that time) . . . I was guilty but exultant as she stood there — with that look of mild reproach and concern that I already knew too well: translation: “Did you have to spend your allowance on another record?”  Yes, Ma, I did.  I love you and you were right but now I have HONEY, DO! — nearly fifty years later, too.  A good return on $2.67.

Fast forward to yesterday, where the Beloved and I were digging Mal Sharpe and The Big Money in Jazz Band at the No Name Bar in Sausalito.  Circumstances prevented my video-recording, but I have a story for you all instead.  Superb music from Mal, Jim Gammon, trumpet; Rob Reich, accordion; Bill DeKuiper, guitar; Ari Munkres, string bass; Pete Magadini, drums.  A vigrously rocking band that also showed off deep subtlety — a version of I GOT IT BAD with its first chorus a duet for Jim (plunger-muted) and Ari.

Early in the final set, Mal (trusting the audience a bit) asked if anyone had a request.  STARDUST was suggested but politely turned aside for the moment, as was I DOUBLE DARE YOU.  But the latter suggestion turned Mal’s thoughts to Louis, and Pete suggested HONEY, DO! — which Jim took up with ease and pleasure.  The other members of the band weren’t entirely familiar with this obscure song, but they fell in gamely and the No Name Bar was rocking as the BMIJ turned the corner into the second chorus . . . and then Mal, bless him, put down his trombone and belted out the lyrics with skill and abandon.

I’m still grinning.  Maybe I can ask them to play it again when I have a video camera handy.  You should have been there!

May your happiness increase.

KALLY PRICE, ROB REICH, JIM GAMMON: “I’M CONFESSIN'”

Warning: this video is not for those who prefer their singers timid and demure.  Kally Price is the closest thing to a Force of Nature I have ever heard: in fact, if I still had my television set, I would have expected to be notified of this video performance on the Weather Channel.

It’s not that Kally is loud.  Or that she screams and shouts.  Or that she distorts the melody and lyrics into strange shapes, or overindulges in wild scat singing.  None of the above.  But what she does do is to take the most familiar song — in this case, the well-worn I’M CONFESSIN’ — and imbue it with so much intense passion that it’s a wonder that the song doesn’t split at the seams.  Kally has a rich, deep voice that can be sweet, mellow, or downright raw — and a huge emotional range, from caressingly tender to I-am-tearing-myself-open-right-now . . .

She is an extraordinarily powerful actress — I think she could play Medea — but she doesn’t seem as if she is putting on an external guise.  Rather, the words, the music, the power and the sweetness, bubble up from inside her.  Here she’s accompanied by the fine spare pianist Rob Reich (known better as the swinging accordion player for Gaucho) and the eloquent trumpeter Jim Gammon.

Courtesy of Porto Franco Records, you should watch, listen, and marvel for yourself here.  (And I am sure that some of my readers know more about the history of I’M CONFESSIN’ / LOOKIN’ FOR ANOTHER SWEETIE than I do.)

Honestly, I feel shaken after listening to Kally Price.  And that is a good thing!

May your happiness increase.

A CASUAL GIG IN MARTINEZ, CALIFORNIA (Aug. 25, 2011)

Armando’s in Martinez has beer, wine, and a good deal of jovial amusement from a fairly local audience who came to hear the band.  This little bar / club / hangout is located on 707 Marina Vista; it features a variety of good music, as the regulars know.  See their schedule (and the painted chairs) at http://www.armandosmartinez.com

But I went to see and hear a particular band: Mal Sharpe’s BIG MONEY IN JAZZ (a whimsical title for sure) — drawn from a floating collection of players.  On August 25, 2011, the band was Mal (trombone, vocal, and stern leadership), Jim Gammon (trumpet), Dwayne Ramsey (reeds), Jeff Hamilton (piano), Simon Planting (bass), Roy Blumenfeld (drums).  (Mal’s group appears at Armando’s on the last Thursday of each month and at other venues as well.  But he’s got too many identities to harness them into one website — Google “Mal Sharpe” and see for yourself.)

It’s rewarding to know that this version of jazz — loose and unbuttoned but expert — still thrives.  I admire Jim’s power and precision, Dwayne’s passion and expertise.  And Mal is very modest about his trombone playing, but he’s devoted to Vic Dickenson, and some of that humor and slyness comes through.  (Mal is a splendid bandleader as well: years in show business of every variety have taught him how to make an audience feel comfortable in minutes.)  Simon’s bass and Roy’s drums have their own individualistic sounds, and Jeff (yes, that Jeff Hamilton) creates swinging clouds at the keyboard — from stomp to impressionism in the space of a solo, most rewardingly.

Hear what this band does with four jazz classics.

Hello, Central, give me DR. JAZZ:

LADY BE GOOD:

SUNNY SIDE OF THE STREET:

ROYAL GARDEN BLUES:

It’s reassuring that bands like this still exist, and that places like Armando’s provide a comfortable place for them to play — and the audience was having a good time.  What more could anyone want?