Tag Archives: Jimmie Blanton

“LOVE THEM MADLY”: KANAN, FOSTER, & ARNEDO TRIO PLAYS ELLINGTON AND STRAYHORN

Some music you have to work hard to embrace, and many listeners relish the labor.  But other music, no less subtle or rewarding, opens its arms to you in the first four bars.  A new CD by Michael Kanan, piano; Dee Jay Foster, string bass; Guillem Arnedo, drums, is a wonderful example of love made audible.

If these names are new to you, please put down whatever you’re attempting to multi-task (on or with) and listen to this leisurely reading of ALL THE THINGS YOU ARE from a live performance in 2017:

This trio also knows how to relax, thus, that rarity, a picture of jazz musicians taking their ease outdoors:

You might know that Michael Kanan is one of JAZZ LIVES’ heroes, not only in this country, but internationally.  And the lineage is very pleasing: the saxophone master Joel Press introduced me to Michael, and (aurally) Michael introduced me to Guillem and Dee Jay.  For the past decade, Michael spends part of each summer as artist-in-residence at the Begues Jazz Camp, where he’s forged deep musical relationships with these two musical intuitives.  The CD came out of a series of concerts the trio did.  As Michael says, “There is space, swing, surprises and lots of love. We have tried to capture the spontaneity of the moment in time – a good conversation between the three of us.”

Instead of the usual liner notes, the CD offers splendid artwork by Maria Pichel, who combines bright colors and delicacy to mirror the music within.  So here are a few (unsolicited) lines from me.

The late Roswell Rudd told me in 2012, “Playing your personality is what this music is all about. . . . You know, this is a music where you are playing off other people, and you really have to be listening and responding and respecting and complementing what’s going on around you.”

The personalities that come through so clearly here are gentle and intense at once: musicians inspired by the originals but aware that reverent innovation is the only tribute.  The magnificent Ellington and Strayhorn compositions are an indelible offering.  They aren’t obscure or at least they shouldn’t be, and that asks contemporary artists the question, “All right — what are you going to say about these pieces?”

One approach is reverence taken all the way: a 2018 piano trio could do its best to replicate Ellington, Blanton, Greer, or Strayhorn, Wendell Marshall, Woodyard.  Conversely, the improvisers could take the originals and, after one reasonably polite chorus, jump into outer space, perhaps never to return.  The Kanan, Foster, Arnedo trio modifies these extremes by creating statements showing their affection for the strong melodies, harmonies, rhythms — but they know that “playing their personalities” is what Ellington and Strayhorn did, and would approve of.  So the CD is a series of sweet variations on themes, where (to borrow from Teddy Wilson), “it’s the little things that mean so much.”

In the quiet world of this CD, even a slight tempo change means that listeners have found themselves in a new space, as if you’d come home to find that your partner had repainted the light-gray living room walls a gray with a blue undertone.

What I hear on this disc is the confident playful assurance of musicians who know each other well, are respectful but also relaxed and brave.  Michael, Dee Jay, and Guillem are melodists who work together in kind fraternal fashion, so the lead gets passed around, one player moves into the spotlight and the others are happy for him to shine.  No cliches; no showboating; no tedious quoting; no formulaic playing or threadbare trademarks; the total absence of post-modern irony; no sense that swing is out of date.

The result is a series of sustained explorations that are full of sweet surprises: the wonderful swinging assertiveness with which C JAM BLUES starts; the touching coda to ISFAHAN; the slightly faster tempo for I LET A SONG that neatly contradicts the self-pitying lyrics; the exposition of LOTUS BLOSSOM would make anyone want to listen with bowed head, and the slightly altered rhythmic pulse that follows made me hear it as if for the first time; JOHNNY COME LATELY is perfect dance music — I defy anyone to stay motionless, even if the dance is happy nodding one’s head in time; Michael’s solo ALL TOO SOON is half-lullaby, half question yearning to be answered; the faster-than-expected I’M BEGINNING TO SEE THE LIGHT reminds me happily of Fifties Jo Jones with Ray and Tommy Bryant, for the trio’s swing is light yet insistent, and the rocking mood continues on through LOVE YOU MADLY; DAY DREAM, the concluding track, also seems a series of questions, some of them with answers.

I would tell any listener, “Play the disc over again, after you’ve let it settle in your mind, take up a comfortable space in your heart.  Play it for people who have ears.  Let them share the pleasure, the loving inquisitiveness.”

Because I have admired Michael’s playing for some time, I might have over-emphasized his contribution, but Dee Jay and Guillem are the equal of anyone with a more famous name, whether Elder or Youngblood: they play their instruments with honor and grace, avoiding the excesses that lesser players fall into.  Forget the snide jokes about bass solos; Dee Jay’s phrases are deft and logical, his time and intonation superb; Guillem, for his part, has such a swinging variety of sounds throughout his kit that he is marvelously orchestral without ever being overwhelming. The beautiful recorded sound, thanks to David Cassamitjana, is reassuringly warm and clear, putting us there, which is where we want to be.

You can hear the music here, on Spotify or iTunes, or purchase that endearing archaic object, an actual physical disc by clicking on “TIENDA” at the same site.

Even if you have as complete an Ellington-Strayhorn collection as possible, this is an essential disc: warm, candid, and gratifying.

And if you’d like to hear more from Michael, Dee Jay, and Guillem in a different but quite uplifting context, visit here also.

May your happiness increase!

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DAN MORGENSTERN REMEMBERS CHARLIE PARKER (December 15, 2017)

I think what follows is just amazing, and it’s not inflated pride at having been the one who brought the camera and clipped the microphone to Dan’s shirt.  The first-hand sources in any field are few and precious.  Of course, there are many borrowers and interpreters, capable people who weren’t on the scene but are ready to theorize.  “Nay nay,” to quote Louis.

Jazz, so long viewed as “entertainment,” did not get the serious coverage it deserved for its first decades.  Thus we could search in vain for an interview with Bubber Miley or A.G. Godley.  And few people wrote their memoirs of involvement with Jimmie Blanton or Don Murray or Larry Binyon . . . but we have Dan, who was there and has a good memory.  And he has a novelist’s gift for arranging those memories in pleasing and revealing shapes.

When the subject is Charlie Parker, so many recollections of Bird veer between adulation for the musician and a superior attitude towards a man often portrayed as suffering from borderline personality disorder.  Thus Dan’s gentle affectionate inquiring attitude is honest and delightful.  His memories of Bird go back to the Three Deuces, the Royal Roost, Cafe Society, Bob Reisner’s Open Door, with strings at Birdland with Dizzy’s unsolicited clowning, his “last stand” at Birdland where Bud Powell could not accomplish what was needed, and a “miraculous” one on one encounter late in Bird’s life, balanced by a kind of exploitative incident in which Dan’s friend Nat Lorber was the victim, as well as a sad story of Bird’s late attitude towards life, and a portrait of the Baroness Nica.

Since Dan’s first-hand involvement with Bird was in the latter’s last years, I offer a very early Bird as a counterbalance — the recordings Parker made in Kansas City c. 1943 with the legendary guitarist Efferge Ware and drummer “Little Phil” Phillips, the latter celebrated by Bob Brookmeyer in his memories of K.C.  Thanks to Nick Rossi for reminding me of this.

Thank you, Dan.  And thank you.  Once is insufficient.

May your happiness increase!

SOME RARE STUFF

That’s Stuff Smith, one of the supreme beings of jazz violin, who deserves more attention than he received in life and does now.  An audio sample from 1936 with Stuff playing and singing (with Jonah Jones, Jimmy Sherman, Mack Walker, Bobby Bennett, Cozy Cole):

This little remembrance of Stuff is because I found two rare paper items on eBay — which you shall see.  But before I completed this post, I checked everything with Anthony Barnett, the reigning scholar of jazz violin, who’s issued wonderful CDs, books, and more about Stuff, Eddie South, Ginger Smock, and many other stars and hidden talents.  More about Anthony’s ABFable projects below.

Here is a 1947 Associated Booking Corporation (that’s Joe Glaser’s firm) magazine advertisement for both Stuff and Eddie South — Eddie has Leonard Gaskin, string bass; Allen Tinney, piano:

Music instruction books linked to famous artists proliferated from the Twenties onwards, and here is one I had never seen before.  I don’t know how deeply Stuff was involved with the compositions and arrangements, but this 1944 folio is a fascinating curio:

Characteristically and thriftily, a mix of public domain songs and a few originals:

The composition looks unadventurous, but this is only the first page.  “Who is Lee Armentrout?” is the big question on JEOPARDY, and the answer is here:

How about some more music?  “Can do,” we say — a lovely rendition of DEEP PURPLE, a duet between Stuff and Sun Ra, recorded on July 29, 1948 by drummer Tommy Hunter. Ra is playing a solovox which was a piano attachment.

Anthony tells me, “There is a lost recording by Ra and Coleman Hawkins from around the same period (but not the same session).  Stuff and Hawk led a band for a couple of weeks around that time with Ra on piano.”

I’ve been writing ecstatically about Anthony’s ABFable discs for more than a decade now: they are absolute models of loving presentation of rare music.  How about this : a CD of 1937 broadcasts of a big band, led by Stuff, its members drawn from the Chick Webb band plus other stars — with a young singer named Ella Fitzgerald?  Stuff leading a septet drawn from the 1942 Fats Waller band while Fats was touring; a Ray Nance compilation that features acetate recordings of Nance, Ben Webster, Jimmie Blanton, Fred Guy, Sonny Greer — oh, and Ben plays clarinet as well as tenor; more from Ray Perry, Eddie South, and glorious violinists you’ve never heard of.  Helen Ward, Rex Stewart, Teddy Wilson, Lionel Hampton, Joe Bushkin, Jo Jones  . . .

It’s self-indulgent to quote oneself, but perhaps this is forgivable: I don’t ordinarily endorse the productions of an entire CD label, but Anthony Barnett’s AB Fable series of reissues is something special: rare music, beautifully annotated and transferred, delightfully presented.  Barnett’s notes are erudite but never dull. Each CD I’ve heard has been a joyous experience in preconception-shattering. I used to think of jazz violin improvisation beyond Joe Venuti and Stéphane Grappelli as a mildly inconvenient experience. Grudgingly, I acknowledged that it was possible to play compelling jazz on the instrument, but I was politely waiting for Ray Nance to pick up his cornet. Barnett’s CDs have effected a small conversion experience for me—and even if you don’t have the same transformation take place, they are fun to listen to over and over again.

And — as a musing four-bar break: we are, in 2017, caught between the Montagues and the Capulets, the people who say, “Oh, CDs are dead!” and those who say, “I’ll never download a note.”  These CDs are rare creations, and those ignorant of them might be unintentionally denying themselves joy.  For more of the right stuff and Stuff — books, CDs, accurate information galore — visit here.

May your happiness increase!

THE GOLDEN AGE IS HERE AND NOW (PART TWO): JON-ERIK KELLSO, SCOTT ROBINSON, MATT MUNISTERI, GREG COHEN at THE EAR INN (May 15, 2016)

EAR INN sign

I was at The Ear Inn last Sunday night, delighting in the sounds so generously offered by The EarRegulars.  So it seems the most natural thing to share with you the second half of my post on the beauty laid before us on May 15, 2016, and its implications for people devoted to that beautiful phenomenon, jazz as created by living musicians in front of an appreciative audience.

In that post, you’ll hear two glorious performances by Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Scott Robinson, tenor saxophone, octavin, bass taragoto; Matt Munisteri, guitar; Greg Cohen, string bass.

Here are two more extended musical journeys — with a small travelogue by Scott Robinson about his unusual instruments in the middle.

Mister Morton’s WOLVERINE BLUES, beautifully presented. Pay close attention to the closing minutes, where the gentlemen of the ensemble add some wonderfully surrealistic ornamentation to the familiar themes.  At the close, you’ll hear an excited voice adding an unexpurgated affirmation: that’s the young reed wizard Evan Arntzen, seated to my right at the bar:

That deserves more than one viewing / hearing.  And I agree with Evan.

Scott Robinson is always asked about his magical musical implements, and this time I captured his words and gestures on video:

And, finally, the wistful question, DO YOU EVER THINK OF ME? — served hot:

I think that what the EarRegulars (and many other noble strivers) create is life-enhancing.  But without getting too didactic, such beauty deserves and needs our tender care, which takes the shape of active participation and personal support. You know how to do that.

May your happiness increase!

THE GOLDEN AGE IS HERE AND NOW (PART ONE): JON-ERIK KELLSO, SCOTT ROBINSON, MATT MUNISTERI, GREG COHEN at THE EAR INN (May 15, 2016)

EAR INN signMany people devoted to certain art forms are afflicted with incurable nostalgia. “What wouldn’t I give to hear Henrietta McGillicuddy play the blues on her Eb alto horn?  They say she could play a whole year without repeating herself!” And it doesn’t limit itself to jazz.  “Oh, yeah?  Pergolesi could kick your guy’s ass! And on a bad day Stuart Davis was better than anything now hanging in MOMA.”

I could go on, and possibly I already have.

But I remember a refrigerator magnet I saw in the very early Eighties, that had these words on it:

TIME TO BE HAPPY

Sage advice.  I understand the deep longing to hear one more note of Bix, of Bird, of Billie — to time-travel back to hear Louis in 1929 or Blanton with Jeter-Pillars.  But while some are busily dreaming of such things (I think of Miniver Cheevy with his collection of Black Swan acetates), the present is both glowing and going.  As in going away.

So I am always urging the people who love this art form to enjoy what is happening in the present moment rather than licking the dust off the statues. A hundred years from today, should we survive as a species, I suspect that cultural historians will be writing about the Golden Age of the early twenty-first century. And if they aren’t, they will be ignoring some irreplaceably precious evidence.

Here are two glorious examples (with two more to come) of the superb art that is happening now.  The artists are Matt Munisteri, guitar; Scott Robinson, tenor saxophone and unusual reeds; Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Greg Cohen, string bass — recorded just this month at the Soho Savoy, The Ear Inn (326 Spring Street, New York City) at one of the regular Sunday-night epiphanies from about eight to about eleven PM.

WHEN I  GROW TOO OLD TO DREAM:

 

A “peppy” LOUISIANA:

Yes, we could all sit at home and play our records.  But beauty, completely satisfying, is happening all around us.

May your happiness increase!

WORDS AND MUSIC BY RAY SKJELBRED (and HIS CUBS) at SAN DIEGO, NOVEMBER 28, 2015

norwegian-farm-photos

There’s a particularly hurried or perhaps impatient species of video-critic who comments on many of my YouTube productions when the musicians have the temerity to speak before playing, “Music starts at 2:30.”  That particular kind of data-notation is true enough, but I like to keep my video camera running, because many musicians are fascinating raconteurs and verbal improvisers. And I think of future generations : what wouldn’t we give to hear Alex Hill say, “Wow, it’s cold in here,” or Jimmie Blanton say, “Excuse me, what did you say?” So the passages of musician-monologue or -dialogue are always interesting to me.

Ray Skjelbred is a thrillingly individualistic pianist — he loves the tradition and it courses through him, but he knows that all journeys are wildly irregular.  So his little band, his Cubs, is always surprising.  They rock, also, at any tempo.  Here’s their performance of SUGAR from the 2015 San Diego Jazz Fest: that’s Ray, Kim Cusack, clarinet; Jeff Hamilton, drums; Katie Cavera, guitar; Clint Baker, string bass — from November 28, 2015.  (Jeff’s face is hidden by the music stand but you certainly hear and feel him — all to the  good.)

Public service announcement for the unusually restless.  The music in the video below begins at 1:40.  But if you skip it, you will have missed an opportunity to learn a great deal about an arcane but relevant subject:

Wherever Ray and his Cubs are, there’s lovely music and wondrous surprises. And I hope to see you at the San Diego Jazz Fest this Thanksgiving.

May your happiness increase!

IN A WARM EMBRACE

BEN in color

Imagine a sound that conveys love to the listener without a single syllable. Then, look at this man, who — by his physical aspect — might seem an unlikely prophet of such deep feeling.

BEN

He is Ben Webster, Ellingtonian, swing star, ballad player supreme.  You can find out about him in many ways, and I don’t intend to write his biography here, or even an appreciation.  But I will share a small story.

Last night I was on a plane from New Orleans to New York, where I had enjoyed a glorious weekend of friends, music, and food, because of Duke Heitger’s STEAMBOAT STOMP.  (Long may it stomp.)  Seated next to me was a cheerful woman perhaps in her forties, travelling with her husband and son in the row behind us; I asked if she wanted one of them to switch with me, but she didn’t.)

Planes are claustrophic and air travel is tedious, so in the past decade when I’ve been flying more often than ever before, I’ve drifted into conversations with the stranger sitting next to me.  I usually don’t start the conversation, but once it begins it is often surprisingly deep and open.  My theory about this is that in the dark confines of the plane, somehow untethered to the earth and all that’s familiar, we feel safe to tell others our secrets.  The plane becomes a flying confessional, with no penance and no expectation that the conversation will continue once we land.  The woman and I spoke of colleges, of education, of jobs, of modern life — all familiar territory — and then she said her son played the saxophone, currently the alto, but might be switching to tenor.

“OK,” I said, “I have a name for you.  [She took out her iPhone and went to the page for notes.]  BEN WEBSTER.  Ben Webster With Strings.  Imagine a huge warm sound.  In fact, imagine being in the warm embrace of a huge stuffed bear. That’s what those records sound like.”

[For the jazz-fetishists out there, I do know that Ben’s nickname was FROG and that BEAR was the satiric monicker for Jimmie Blanton, who might have weighed a hundred pounds, but somehow I thought explaining Ben’s sound as the loving embrace of an amphibian might not be so effective.]

This morning, as I awoke from a dream of dear friends and a bowl of shrimp with grits — the food the down-home angels eat — I thought, “I would bet that some people who read JAZZ LIVES have never heard Ben Webster with strings. Inconceivable!  Impossible!”  So this post is to send Websterian love all around. The original recording (as you will see) was called MUSIC FOR LOVING, and never was a title more apt:

May your happiness increase!