Tag Archives: Jimmie Noone

“IS IT HOT IN HERE?” “NO, IT’S THE BAND”: HOT CLASSICISM ON THE RIVER (KRIS TOKARSKI, ANDY SCHUMM, HAL SMITH) SEPT. 23, 2016, PART TWO

HOT CLASSICISM is the name adopted by Kris Tokarski, piano; Andy Schumm, cornet and clarinet; Hal Smith, drums.  I am proud to know them and happy to hear them.  This is the second part of their set on the Steamboat Natchez during the 2016 Steamboat Stomp; here is the first.

What follows is another lively tour of all the shadings of hot, inspired by the heroes of Chicago, New Orleans, New York, and elsewhere — precision without stuffiness, eagerness without chaos.  The repertoire is classic but not exhausted, and the performances are vibrant.

NOBODY’S SWEETHEART NOW:

MISTER JOE:

JUST GONE:

MY GAL SAL:

TOM CAT BLUES (a duet for Andy and Kris):

STOMP OFF, LET’S GO!:

Wonderful cohesive inspired music.  Follow Kris, Hal, and Andy on Facebook to track down their next gigs.

May your happiness increase!

FOREVERMORE

forevermore

Three lovely statements on the theme of timelessness. And this very evocative song — full of simple intervals and whole notes — will stick in your mind, as it has in mine.  I first heard the Noone recording forty years ago, and FOREVERMORE has remained.

Jimmie Noone’s Apex Club Orchestra (Noone, Joe Poston, Earl Hines, Bud Scott, Johnny Wells) June 14, 1928, Chicago:

Joe Sullivan, March 28, 1941, New York:

Ray Skjelbred, November 26, 2016, San Diego:

What we love we make eternal.  Or perhaps the reverse: our fervent ability to love makes us eternal and we live after we have moved to other neighborhoods.

Thanks to the musicians above, and the friends: Milt Gabler, who made so much possible; Hal Smith, who led me to Ray Skjelbred’s music before I’d met either man; John L. Fell, who insisted that I listen closely to Sullivan; Candace Brown, who understands.

May your happiness increase! 

“THAT’S ‘COOPS,’ DEAR CHAP.”

The late clarinetist Alan Cooper deserves to be better-remembered.  Here he is in 1991 (courtesy of John Jamie Evans, who is not only the pianist in the photograph but also maintains the site devoted to Cooper and contemporaries, Alan Cooper Remembered.

cooper-and-evans-1991

To begin, here is Cooper’s obituary in The Guardian, by the fine jazz writer and scholar Peter Vacher:

The early 1960s was the era of the curious and brief British “trad jazz” boom. In those years the Temperance Seven, who played a version of 1920s white American dance music, achieved such success that in 1961 they had a British No 1 hit, You’re Driving Me Crazy, produced by George Martin in his pre-Beatles days. The follow-up, Pasadena. made No 4, and there were two other top 30 hits.

The clarinettist Alan Cooper, who has died of cancer aged 76, was a founder member of the group in 1957. Usually a nine-piece, and invariably billed as “one over the eight”, the Temps wore Edwardian clothes, played bizarre instruments, and projected vocals through a megaphone. Most of the band could play a variety of instruments, and Cooper – who arranged Pasadena – doubled on clarinet, bass-clarinet, soprano saxophone and the obscure phonofiddle. The band appeared on television shows such as ITV’s Thank Your Lucky Stars and a special featuring Peter Sellers – with whom they recorded. Cooper’s quirky playing style and wheezy sound were exactly right for the band. Even so, he left in 1962 after “internal dissensions”.

Born in Leeds, he fell in with traditional jazz at the city’s college of art, where aspiring guitarist Diz Disley was a fellow student. They played together in the college jazz band, the Vernon Street Ramblers, and were founder members of the Yorkshire Jazz Band, with which Cooper turned professional, recording in London in 1949.

After national service as a flying officer, Cooper moved to London in the mid-1950s. Initially a Royal College of Art student, he became a part-time lecturer at St Martin’s School of Art and at Chelsea Art School. He also performed in a quartet with bassist Bernie Cash and drummer Lennie Hastings, and recorded in 1958 with trombonist Graham Stewart’s Seven.

After the Temperance Seven, Cooper freelanced as a musician and lecturer, deputising in the Alex Welsh and Freddy Randall bands, and also appeared regularly with the Anglo-American Alliance alongside his old Temps bandmate John RT Davies (obituary, May 29 2004) and sundry Americans then resident in London, notably cornettist/journalist Dick Sudhalter. This informal outfit were the ideal backing band for the veteran blues singer Eva Taylor and former Paul Whiteman trombonist Bill Rank when they performed and recorded in London in the 1960s.

It was during this time that Cooper created his monument to Edwardian design and style with his three-storey house in Wandsworth. Formerly owned by the water-closet pioneer Thomas Crapper, it was taken over by Cooper on the understanding that it would be left untouched by modernity. He filled it with period artefacts and statues, vintage equipment including gramophones, and old instruments. He also kept open house for musician friends but moved, after a series of burglaries, to a tower in Hay on Wye, Herefordshire, which he restored, and where he recreated the Edwardian ambiance of his former home.

Cooper joined the revived New Temperance Seven in 1969 and recorded with them before working regularly with pianist Keith Nichols and touring overseas with drummer Dave Mills. He was also an occasional guest with Bob Kerr and His Whoopee Band, and led his own small groups.

He is survived by his second wife Jenefer and sons Boris and Rollo.

· Alan Swainston Cooper, musician, born February 15 1931; died August 22 2007.

An interlude for music and for a few words of my own.  I first heard Cooper on several recordings featuring Dick Sudhalter and his father, with John R. T. Davies, Henry Francis, and others — issued as “Sudhalter and Son” on the “77” label and (perhaps without a band title) on Davies’ own “Ristic” label.  [The Sudhalter and Sons records disappeared in one or another seismic life-change and I miss them.]

Cooper was impossible to ignore, difficult to describe, more eccentric than Pee Wee or Chace, often sounding as if he had sunk his clarinet into a bowl of soup and was playing the liquefied version.  Gurglings, mutterings, and other sounds made perfect sense, and I remember feeling admiration and hilarity and befuddlement all at once.  Bent Persson, who knows and feels the music deeply, has told me of his appreciation of Cooper’s true originalities.

Here, thanks again to Mr. Evans, is a sample of Coops at work on the closing choruses of BETWEEN THE DEVIL AND THE DEEP BLUE SEA:

Mr. Evans has posted seven such rare and delicious effusions here on his YouTube channel, well worth subscribing to.

Effervescent tributes, the first by Ray Smith, from Just Jazz Magazine in November 2007:

Alan always answered the ‘phone, in a rather dignified voice, by stating simply: “Cooper”. He always signed his letters “Coops”. I once made the mistake of introducing him as “My old friend, Alan Cooper”; “I’m not old” came the reply. Indeed, he wasn’t ever old. “I don’t know what I’m going to do when I grow up,” was one of his observations during a discussion about young children. We were playing, as a duo, at a school in the Middle East. I don’t quite remember why we were without the other members of the British All-Stars, but we had to play for a half hour to 5-10 year-olds. At the end of the informal concert, the children’s appreciation was loud and long. I glanced at Alan, and I believe I saw tears glistening in his eyes. Warm-hearted wouldn’t begin to describe him, as any one of his many friends will confirm.

Spending time with Coops was always good value, and we had plenty of time on the various Middle-East tours that Dave Mills put together. There are dozens of stories…. Bruce Turner was guesting on one trip. It was like working with Jimmie Noone and Johnny Hodges in the front line. Alan’s feature number was Strangler on the Floor (with apologies to Mr. Acker Bilk). Resplendent in his white dinner jacket, black bow tie, etc., his attire was completed – for said solo outing – by a battered bowler-hat which perched on the top of his head, looking slightly embarrassed by being there.

The routine went something like this: The first chorus – in the key of Eb – was played most beautifully in tribute to the original version. In the second chorus, Alan changed to the key of E Major. However… the rhythm section section stood its ground, and continued on its way – in Eb. The effect of the resulting non-euphonious sounds registered disbelief on the faces of the audience. On completing the second chorus, the clarinet was building-up for the big finish, when Dave Mills – secreted in the audience with a bird call about his person – started twittering on that very instrument. Alan – head cocked to one side – twittered back. This went on for some time; most of the audience had realized by this time that it was a spoof. Cooper remained dignified, as always, even after the big-finish – or rather “the business” to quote a Cooperism.

Unfortunately, on one occasion, a member of the audience was a native of Pensford – Acker’s home town – and set about Alan verbally, accusing him of insincerity, amongst other things. He just wouldn’t listen to Alan’s reasoning – or ‘piff-paff’, as he would have described it. Bruce Turner was jumping up and down saying, “Hit him, Dad, hit him” to no-one in particular. I had affected a burnt-cork mustache for that particular evening. Alan pointed at said affectation. “Would you say that was displaying insincerity?” “Well no, I suppose not.” “I rest my case,” and so saying, Alan strode off in the direction of the bar.  The following year, we toured in the summer time, which was stiflingly hot. Alan and I shared hotel room for four or five days in Abu Dhabi. Two single beds, one on either side of the room. The air-conditioning could be adjusted easily enough – there was a small light over the box on the wall – but knowing whether it should be left on… halfway… or turned off completely was a subject for experiment. On the first night, I adjusted the air-conditioning, and on the second night, Alan adjusted it. By the third night – my turn again – I forgot about until in bed with the lights out. I said something profane, and, without turning on the light, made my way noisily to the air-conditioning controls. Not being able to remember what the setting had been the previous night, I said, “Coops… did we have it off last night?” There was a brief silence whilst we both thought about the question. Suddenly, a sort of gurgling noise issued from the direction of Cooper.. and then gales of laughter from us both. We didn’t actually stop laughing for an hour… Well, about twenty-five years really.

The following story illustrates the regard in which Alan was held by his fellow musicians… We visited the Pizza Express one evening to listen to Kenny Davern. Having found a seat not too near the orchestra, Kenny Davern saw Coops, and whilst announcing the next number, said “Ladies and Gentlemen, there is only one clarinetist in England who scares the hell out of me, and he’s here tonight. Sitting over there – Alan Cooper.” Alan raised his hand, and sort of wiggled his fingers in acknowledgement.

The voice at the end of the telephone is no more. Thankfully, Alan’s clarinet playing can be heard on a host of recordings. It’s safe to say that we will always remember him.
God Bless, Coops.

And from Johannesburg.. (by David Mills)

On the 15 February, 1931, Gordon Alan Cooper, Alan Swainston Cooper, The Professor, and Coops – all one person – entered this world on the same day and year as Claire Bloom. Coops, as I remember him, brought with him a wealth of talent – as a painter, sculptor, teacher and musician, became one of the most original Classic jazz clarinetists in the UK and Europe – if not the World! I have very many fond memories of Coops and I list but a few. We formed the British All Stars Band in 1979, primarily to tour the Gulf States, the first time any British entertainers, let alone jazzers, had done this. Prior to that, Coops and I dreamed up the idea of taking The Temperance Seven on to Concorde, to be the first musicians to play at the speed of sound. In fact, Coops composed the Mach 2 March to celebrate this. After two years of planning and negotiating with BA, on the 31 March, 1976, we all boarded the BA Concorde flight to Bahrain and, an hour into the flight, the Chief Steward asked if the two of us would like to look at the flight deck. When Coops and I went to the flight deck, the Captain and Coops greeted each other: “Inky!” “Stinky!” Both had been pilots in the RAF at the same time, so Stinky asked Inky, “Would you like to fly us to Bahrain?” Coops took over, from Cyprus, and did! The following 25 years work in the Middle East was the result of that trip.

I’ll never forget in Muscat, Oman, on one occasion, when he rushed around all the band members’ rooms at the Ruwi Hotel saying, “Quick, quick, you must come. The Ruler is about to open the country’s first traffic light!”

Coops was a multi-talented, eccentric, loveable character whom no-one will forget, and whose presence made my, and many other lives much richer.
Coops, we loved you and will continue to do so.

More music — the performance that sticks in my psyche as well as my ears and is the inspiration for this long tribute.  It was recorded at the 100 Club in London on June 10, 1984, by Dave Bennett.  The band, in addition to Coops, is Ken Colyer, trumpet; Graham Stewart, trombone and vocal; Johnny Parker, piano; Jim Bray, string bass; Dave Evans, drums; guests Wally Fawkes, clarinet; Diz Disley, guitar — and they embark on a leisurely GEORGIA GRIND.  Not only do you hear Coops’ singular weird majesty on clarinet, entering through the window at :41, and he continues to enhance the solos and ensemble for the remaining eight minutes, masterfully:

In the past year, I’ve seen Coops’ house in Hay-on-Wye and had tea with his widow, the charming Jenny (thanks to Martin Litton and Janice Day) who showed me some intriguing Cooper-objects and told stories.  I’ve learned even more from my dear friend Sarah Spencer, who knew Coops well, and I present these fragments.

Coops added “-iness” to words (hungriness instead of hunger and the like) and he used to say “Hem Hem,” which came from a book of tales of schoolboy mischief, when talking about anything of a slightly risque nature.  He used to ingest Fisherman’s Friends lozenges by the handful constantly and so seemed, when his temperature reached that zone, to sweat or exude that scent from his pores.  For those of us fond of Coops, the smell of Fisherman’s Friends may make us slightly nostalgic.  For others, they may smell somewhat vile.  I remember, with my parents being from Yorkshire (as was Coops), we took a trip ‘oop north’ to Sheffield and came back with some local candy.  I brought him some. When he popped them into his mouth, the look on his face was one of utter nostalgia. “I doubted I would ever taste this again!”  He played a Clinton system clarinet, a Boosey and Hawkes variant of the Albert system and practically unheard-of outside of the U.K.  I have found it almost impossible to find photographs of them online.

Sarah told me, before I’d ever heard GEORGIA GRIND, that Cooper’s term of affection and esteem for men was “Dear Chap,” or sometimes “Dear Boy.”

Dear Coops, I am sorry that I never got to admire you at close range, in person. This blogpost will have to do as one tribute to someone who went his own way always and always spread joy.

May your happiness increase!

LYRICAL SWING: KRIS TOKARSKI, TIM LAUGHLIN, HAL SMITH (Evergreen Jazz Festival, July 31, 2016)

When it’s genuine, casual yet expert, you know it — no artifice laid on here to substitute for heartfelt swing and melodic improvisation.  Yes, there are shadows of various Ancestors and Elders — name them at your leisure — but the music made by Kris Tokarski, piano; Tim Laughlin, clarinet; Hal Smith, drums, is fresh and soulful and eager.  These three performances come from a blissful time in the Colorado mountains — more prosaic folks would call it the Evergreen Jazz Festival — and these were recorded at a local restaurant, The Fire Pit, on July 31.  First, a lover’s astonished delight:

Variations on the same emotional theme, after a fashion (an earlier song):

and a delightful blues line — so simple, but so deep — honoring both its creator, Jimmie Noone, and a whole era of Chicago inventiveness:

I am posting these performances not only because I love them but I have the immense good fortune to be writing this from a very pleasant hotel room in New Orleans, where I am because of Duke Heitger’s wonderful Steamboat Stomp, going on tomorrow through Sunday.  I’ll see and hear this trio there, and Kris has a new CD out, HOT CLASSICISM, which is an absolute delight — with Hal and Andy Schumm.  (I will have more to say about that one soon.)

Even if you can’t get down to New Orleans right quick, you can certainly savor these Joys.

May your happiness increase!

DOES YOUR SITE ACCEPT COOKIES?

COOKIE

Now that I’ve got your attention, let’s consider today’s subject. Eat your snacks if you’ve got them.

Exhibit A:

Jimmie Noone,  February 1935 (Jimmy Cobb, Eddie Pollack, Zinky Cohn, John Lindsay, john Henley, Benny Washington):

That version has pep and bounce, but we need the lyrics to sing along.

COOKIE sheet music

Let’s look inside:

COOKIE A

and . . . .

COOKIE B

and the close:

COOKIE C

Now that you’ve had your fill of information, here is Miss Cleo Brown, the true owner of this song,  if you please (with Perry Botkin, Artie Bernstein, and the electrifying Gene Krupa, in March 1935):

and the Teddy Hill Orchestra featuring a very lively Roy Eldridge, Chu Berry, and Dicky Wells (alongside Bill Dillard, Bill Coleman, Russell Procope, Howard Johnson,Teddy Hill, Sam Allen, John Smith, Richard Fullbright, Bill Beason) again in February 1935:

and another take from Cleo:

I’m fascinated by this one — showing that American pop music still made it to Germany in 1936.  It’s Peter Kreuder Mit Seinem Orchester: Kurt Hohenberger (tp) Franz Thon, Kurt Wege (cl,saxes) Peter Kreuder (p,arr,ldr) Hans Korseck (g) Rudi Wegener (b) Hans Klagemann (d) Kardosch-Sanger (vcl):

I first heard this song as a fragment — my father, born in 1915, sang it to one of my infant nieces.  Years later, I heard the Teddy Hill recording and understood again my father as a child of the late Twenties and middle Thirties, his head full of irresistible pop music heard on the radio.  Thanks for this, and more, Dad.

May your happiness increase!

“HERE COMES THE BAND” RAY SKJELBRED AT THE KEYBOARD (SAN DIEGO, NOV. 27, 2015)

Ray, a few days a go

Ray, a few days ago

I think that Ray Skjelbred, in all his varied incarnations, is too expansive for one blogpost at a time, so here — two performances by Ray and his Cubs plus Marc Caparone — is what I offered yesterday.  But the urge to honor Ray while he honors the music continues today, so I present four more performances, solo piano, from that same November 27, 2015, at the San Diego Jazz Fest.

“Solo piano” might be somewhat misleading.  In the past seventy years, there has been some redefinition of what that sounds like.  Of course, it is one person at the keyboard.  But with the advent of three and four-piece rhythm sections, the idea of what a pianist might do when seated alone at those white and black keys has changed.  Once, the pianist’s role was orchestral: think of Hines, Waller, Tatum — then it got pared down — from Wilson onwards to Haig and his descendants.

Ray Skjelbred is not limited to any one conception of playing, but he likes to make the piano a small but legendary orchestra, all by itself.  And in this solo set, he explicitly said that he likes playing “band” repertoire — songs associated with great jazz ensembles — I think not only for their evocative power (think of a magician who can evoke Louis, Don Redman, Bix, Adrian Rollini, Guy Kelly, Jimmie Noone) but for the larger space they offer, the freedom of repertoire that doesn’t arrive with its own set of prescribed conventions.

So here are four  beauties.  Muse on them, delight in them.

A groovy lowdown version of that new dance, THE BALTIMORE:

Don Redman’s NO ONE ELSE BUT YOU (revived in this century by Ruby Braff and Jon-Erik Kellso and friends):

THE BLUES JUMPED A RABBIT with a slow, sad, half-spoken vocal.  We’ve all felt that way:

BEAU KOO JACK (which of course means LOTS OF MONEY, thanks to Louis, Don Redman, and Earl):

Observe this man and his musical transformations closely.  He has much to teach us about the poetry of jazz.

May your happiness increase!

A GENUINE PAGE-TURNER: “SWINGIN’ ON CENTRAL AVENUE: AFRICAN AMERICAN JAZZ IN LOS ANGELES,” by PETER VACHER

I’m a very tough audience when it comes to jazz history books.  Many of them, understandably, are pastiches of familiar evidence with big helpings of speculation mixed in.  Nice enough for people new to the subject, but give me first-hand information rather than paraphrases of what has already been published.

In addition, most jazz literature seems star-struck, fixated on the forty or fifty BIG NAMES.  That’s splendid: books about Louis, Lester, Ben, Hawkins, Roy, Red, and others are treasures.  But since the musicians themselves didn’t always get the attention they merited, much jazz biography is brilliant posthumous research.  If someone were to turn up pages by Walter or Hot Lips (I couldn’t resist) they would be priceless.  And the people who never get to report on what they saw, felt, heard, experienced are likely to have the best stories to tell.  This brings us to Peter Vacher’s new book, SWINGIN’ ON CENTRAL AVENUE: AFRICAN AMERICAN JAZZ IN LOS ANGELES (Rowman & Littlefield, 2015, 331+ pages, many photographs).

It is an irresistible book, and I speak as someone who finds many books — after decades of reading — utterly resistible.

SWINGIN' ON CENTRAL AVENUE

Peter Vacher (much like the recently-departed John Chilton, although Peter is still very much alive) is one of those rare multi-talented writers: a splendid unaffected prose stylist, a very diligent researcher and “connecter,” someone with an eye for what’s true and what’s intriguing.  In this case, he offers us oral histories and historical research into the lives and music of sixteen musicians — his research done over more than two decades.  The musicians profiled are Andrew Blakeney, Gideon Honore, George Orendorff, “Monk” McFay, Floyd Turnham, Betty Hall Jones, “Red Mack” Morris, Caughey Roberts, Chester Lane, Monte Easter, Billy Hadnott, Norman Bowden, John “Streamline” Ewing, Chuck Thomas, Jesse Sailes, “Red” Minor William Robinson.

I knew of perhaps one-half of those musicians: Blakeney had played with Kid Ory; Honore with Jimmie Noone; Orendorff with Les Hite and Louis; “Red Mack” with Lee and Lester Young’s band; Caughey Roberts had been replaced in the early Basie band by Earle Warren; Billy Hadnott was on famous JATP recordings as well as with Nat Cole; Norman Bowden had recorded with Zutty Singleton; “Streamline” Ewing had played with Hines, McShann, Horace Henderson.

Because of the “star-system” in jazz, many might assume that these interviews with people who — apparently — were on the fringes of the big time would be narrow and not terribly interesting.  To assume this would be a huge error.  For one thing, these sixteen people hadn’t been interviewed much, if at all, so their reminiscences are fresh and eager, full of good stories.  Not one page in Vacher’s book has the stale, “Must we go through this again?” quality of the recitals the stars have given so often they take on an inescapable sleepiness (both in the speaker and the reader).  Although many older musicians expressed themselves through their instruments, sometimes their narratives are enthusiastic but closed: “Big Boy was a terror when he got into that whiskey, but he sure could blow.”  Not here.  And Vacher’s interludes are brief, lively, and the very antithesis of narcissism: he shines the light with great skill and affection on his subjects.

And the stories are amazing.  Andy Blakeney was in Chicago when Louis joined King Oliver; he played in a Doc Cooke band.  Streamline Ewing was asked to join the Basie band; he heard Charlie Parker before Bird had made records.  Speaking of Bird, he stayed with Billy Hadnott and his wife — and it’s a sad story — before the Hadnotts were compelled to ask him to leave.  Ewing also mentions seeing both Mutt Carey and Nat Cole at the union — consider that pairing!  Norman Bowden talks of rehearsing with Jelly Roll Morton, “the most sophisticated man I ever met in my life,” in 1940.  We hear of Benny Goodman sitting in with Mutt’s band in 1925; the book offers the first substantial sketches of drummer Cuba Austin, of bandleaders Reb Spikes, Sonny Clay, the pianist Lady Will Carr. We learn — in just a sentence — that the short-lived and extremely talented pianist Margaret “Countess” Johnson was Lester Young’s “heartbeat.”That Eddie Nicholson was Billie Holiday’s drug supplier.  There are extended stories about a young Charlie Christian, about Lester, about the Basie band at the Reno Club in 1935, about Louis, marijuana, Charles Mingus, Buck Clayton in Shanghai, Lionel Hampton in 1936 . . .  And some musicians, like Kid Ory and Christian, pop up in different contexts, so one has the advantage of seeing them as if they were characters in a Faulkner novel, from many angles.

I deplore the kind of advertising assertion that suggests, “If you don’t buy / read / eat ____________, your life will be joyless, devoid of meaning.”  But I found myself thinking, “Every jazz fancier I know would find something delightfully memorable in these pages.”

And there’s more.  Extraordinary photographs, many from the subjects’ personal hoards.  Interludes of fact taken from contemporary music magazines. And, should you think this to be simply a collection of oral histories of little-known musicians retelling their careers, the book presents so much more — as in race and racism from the Twenties onwards.  Not all the stories are grim, but they are all revealing.  I offer only one example — in Billy Hadnott’s section, Vacher includes this comment from DOWN BEAT, March 15, 1944, where Frankie Laine and a four-piece “mixed group” are praised for their music, then the reporter notes, “Despite their excellent air shots the group has found difficulty in club bookings because of the racial angle involved in the mixed group. Setup includes two colored and three ofays, and it will be interesting to find if this group can break through the Jim Crowism so strong out here.”  That quotation — both in subject and style — is worth a good deal of study, and it reminds us that there were two unions at the time in Los Angeles.

Such fascinating evidence spills out of Vacher’s book — because his subjects haven’t simply played or lived locally, and they are people one would otherwise know only as names in discographies or on record labels.

The book is entertaining, powerful, and eye-opening.  Peter Vacher has surpassed himself, and that is saying a great deal.  Now I’m going back to read more.  As a postscript, I opened the book at random and found Chester Lane’s story about working with Bob Alexander’s Harmony Kings in El Dorado, Arkansas, circa 1928, with Louis Jordan . . . and the band is taken over by one Wilson, who owns Wilson’s Tell-‘Em-‘Bout-Me Cafe.  I’ll stop there, but you will see why such real-life details make the book a deep pleasure.

May your happiness increase!

MY HONEY, THAT THING, A SWEETIE, NEVER THE SAME, A JUMP: RAY SKJELBRED, JONATHAN DOYLE, BEAU SAMPLE, HAL SMITH (SAN DIEGO JAZZ FEST, November 29, 2014)

Ray Skjelbred

Ray Skjelbred

I keep coming back to the videos I’ve shot at several yearly incarnations of the San Diego Jazz Fest — and finding treasures and marvels I’d overlooked.  (I also keep coming back to the actual Fest, but that should startle no one.)

Jonathan Doyle

Jonathan Doyle

Here are some highlights from a long quartet set performed by Ray Skjelbred, piano; Jonathan Doyle, the swing star from Austin, Texas; Beau Sample, string bass and leader of the Fat Babies; Hal Smith, who’s played with and swung everyone who deserves it.

Beau Sample

Beau Sample

My titles are an expression of whimsical shorthand, but there’s nothing left out in these performances.  First, a swing trio (Chicago pays San Diego a visit) then quartet improvisations that are delightful inducements to the dance, even if you are sitting in a chair.

Hal Smith

Hal Smith

MY HONEY’S LOVIN’ ARMS (scored for trio):

A song I associate with Bessie Smith, I’M WILD ABOUT THAT THING (decide for yourself what THAT THING is, but no need to write in, because no prizes will be awarded for the best answer).  I’m wild about this performance, I feel compelled to say:

BLUES MY NAUGHTY SWEETIE GIVES TO ME (in a medium tempo sitting nicely between Noone and Condon):

I’LL NEVER BE THE SAME (evoking Venuti and Lang, Billie and Lester, or both):

Finally, THE 313 JUMP, whose title has a new pop culture / numerological significance — just Ducky:

See you at the 2016 San Diego Jazz Fest — Thanksgiving weekend, Nov. 23-27.  Of course.

A postscript.  The jazz-scholar part of my being says that I could have written a thousand words on Influences and Echoes, with a long list of names, including Jess Stacy, Joe Sullivan, Earl Hines, Frank Melrose, Rod Cless, Frank Teschemacher, Lester Young, Eddie Miller, Wellman Braud, George Wettling, Jo Jones, Sidney Catlett, Milt Hinton . . . but I will let you do the research for yourself — in whatever way offers the most satisfying results.  I’d rather revel in the actual sounds made by Smith, Sample, Doyle, and Skjelbred on a late November day in 2014.

May your happiness increase!

CHICAGO RHYTHMS: MICHAEL McQUAID and his LATE HOUR BOYS (October 31, 2015)

01 Michael Mc Quaid and his Late Hour Boys

Michael McQuaid, alto saxophone, clarinet; Mauro Porro, trumpet, clarinet, tenor saxophone, piano; Spats Langham, banjo, vocal; Nick Ward, drums, Joep Lumey, string bass.  Recorded on October 31, 2015 at the Classic Jazz Concert Club in Sassenheim, Holland.

Spats, Michael, Mauro in Holland 2015

Spats, Michael, Mauro in Holland 2015

EVERY EVENING (with a vocal by Spats and a wonderful alto solo):

A rollicking LET ME CALL YOU SWEETHEART, with the rarely-heard verse and thrilling drumming from Nick Ward, as always:

TRAV’LIN ALL ALONE — sung poignantly by Spats:

A searing CHICAGO RHYTHM, a performance full of surprises:

I write this in January 2016 with temperatures properly wintry and a much-publicized blizzard announced: were I to play this music loudly through my open windows, it would turn bleak cold into balmy April: salutary global warming through expert heartfelt hot jazz.

Subscribe here and you can see wonderful performances by Bent Persson, Thomas Winteler, Les Red Hot Reedwarmers, and more.  And here is Michael’s website and Facebook page.

May your happiness increase!

HOT CLASSICISM: The TOKARSKI-SCHUMM-SMITH CHAMBER TRIO IN CONCERT, JANUARY 13, 2016

Kris Tokarski Trio

Here is video evidence of an extraordinary trio concert of the Kris Tokarski Trio — Kris Tokarski, piano; Andy Schumm, cornet / clarinet; Hal Smith, drums — performed at the Old US Mint, New Orleans, on January 13, 2016.  The stuff that dreams are made on:

Albert Wynn’s PARKWAY STOMP:

Tiny Parham’s CONGO LOVE SONG:

Doc Cooke’s HERE COMES THE HOT TAMALE MAN:

SHE’S FUNNY THAT WAY:

Mister Morton’s ode to Joe Oliver, MISTER JOE:

FROG-I-MORE RAG (or FROGGIE MOORE, if you prefer):

In honor of Danny Altier, MY GAL SAL:

ANGRY:

RIVERBOAT SHUFFLE:

Please note: these lovely performances, simultaneously delicate and intense, aren’t copies of the recordings, but evocations of cherished multi-layered creations.  Yes, you’ll hear echoes of Beiderbecke, Keppard, Dominique, Oliver, Noone, Simeon, Livingston, Hines, Morton, James P. Johnson, Alex Hill, Catlett, Benford, Singleton, Stafford, Pollack, Krupa, Dodds . . . but what you are really hearing is the Kris Tokarski Trio, graciously embracing present and past, leading us into the future of hot music.  And in its balance, the trio reminds me of the legendary chamber groups that embody precision and passion in balance, although Mozart, Brahms, and Dvorak created no trios for piano, cornet, and trap kit.  Alas.  They didn’t know what was possible.

I’m thrilled that these videos exist, and although I am fiendishly proud of my own efforts, these are much better than what I could have done.  Now, all I want is the Kris Tokarski World Tour, with a long stopover in New York.

Here is Kris’s Facebook page, and here is  his YouTube channel.  Want more? Make sure your favorite festival producer, clubowner, concert promoter, or friends with a good piano and a budget experiences these videos.

May your happiness increase!

SWEETHEARTS, NAUGHTY AND UNTRUSTWORTHY: THE EARREGULARS at THE EAR INN: JON-ERIK KELLSO, MATT MUNISTERI, SCOTT ROBINSON, ATTILA KORB (January 25, 2015)

Not all sweethearts are easy to deal with.  When they’re ON PARADE, they remind you that you’re alone. Nobody wants you to join in the amorous festivities.  That pretty young thing with the rouged cheeks?  She’s fallen from grace and is NOBODY’S [                 ] NOW.

Here, the mightily eloquent yet light-hearted EarRegulars — the Saints of Soho, known far and wide — give us two musical dramatizations of Sweetheart-ness gone awry.  They are Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Matt Munisteri, guitar; Attila Korb (visiting from Hungary), trombone AND trumpet; Scott Robinson, bass saxophone AND taragoto.

The first composition is the 1919 BLUES MY NAUGHTY SWEETIE GIVES TO ME — whose lyrics are a complete theatrical performance — read them here — an encyclopedia of sure-fire jokes of the time.  For me, this song comes in to the jazz repertoire with the lovely slow-drag version by Jimmie Noone and his Apex Club Orchestra, later by Eddie Condon on the JAMMIN’ AT CONDON’S recording (whose cover features Cliff Leeman’s right leg and the essential thermos).   But this SWEETIE offers up some mean blues in the eye and heart of the beholder, or perhaps the endurer.

The EarRegulars adopt a tempo that honors both ideas, and the result is glorious, a masterpiece of versatility, as Scott moves from bass sxophone to taragoto, and Attila takes up his trumpet to have a fascinating chat with Jon-Erik:

SOMEDAY SWEETHEART

Later, they explored SOMEDAY, SWEETHEART (I am used to it with the comma) — written that same year, a song of sullen unhappiness, sung by the lover who has been betrayed.  Oddly enough, the furious hurt lyrics are married to a very sweet melody, both of which can be explored here.

And here is the EarRegular performance — superficially less ambitious, with no instrument-swapping, but expressing the highest degree of lyricism and sonic variety:

I don’t know the moral of this offering, except to wish that all Sweeties be Naughty in the most gentle pleasing way, and that no Sweetheart be a betrayer. I hope for nothing but Sweetness for all of you.  And that the EarRegulars continue for as long as they want to, since they bring the deepest pleasure and restoration to us.  Catch them almost every Sunday night from 8-11 (approximately) at The Ear Inn, 326 Spring Street, Soho, New York City.

May your happiness increase!

A REMARKABLE MUSICAL FAMILY

Before you read a word of mine, I urge you to set aside fourteen minutes (multi-tasking discouraged) and enjoy this performance of SWEET SUE and GEORGIA CABIN by Evan Arntzen, reeds / vocal; his grandfather Lloyd Arntzen, reeds / vocal; his brother Arnt Arntzen, guitar / vocal; James Meger, string bass; Josh Roberts, guitar; Benji Bohannon, drums. Recorded at the Vancouver 2013 Jazz Band Ball by Bill Schneider.

There have been some families in jazz but it’s a fairly uncommon phenomenon; in this century I can think of the Marsalis clan, then an A B C — Au, Baker, and Caparone — and I am sure my readers will tell me of others I am unintentionally slighting.  But the Arntzen dynasty is truly impressive. (I’ve heard Evan at close range a number of times, and his talent is no fluke.)

The occasion for this celebration is my listening to two fairly recent CDs, both cheerfully swinging without tricks — and they both suggest that the Arntzens have are a musically functional family. (I’m old-fashioned enough to be in favor of families that not only don’t hate each other, but that create something supportive and lasting.)

The first CD, BLACKSTICK, offers a sweet story as well as authentic hot jazz.

BLACKSTICK

This CD is an expression of gratitude to Grandpa Lloyd Arntzen, who taught Evan and Arnt, as children, not only musical fundamentals but gave them a deep love of melodic improvisation and hot jazz.  And the best part of the CD is that it is not an elegy or eulogy — but that Lloyd plays and sings (even a Tom Waits paean to New Orleans) throughout the disc.  Aside from Evan, Lloyd, and Arnt, the  other musicians are Jennifer Hodge, string bass, Dan Ogilvie, guitar; Benji Bohannon, drums.  The sound of the music is comfortable, too: what could be better than recording it — with only two microphones — in Lloyd’s “basement rec. room,” where it all began?  The music is a happy and free evocation of the Apex Club Orchestra, Sidney Bechet with and without Mezz Mezzrow, and even Soprano Summit: moving from gentle serenades to ferocious swing.  Here you can hear the CD and — if you are so moved — purchase an actual copy or downloads.

INTRO BROS ARNTZEN

The second CD, cleverly titled INTRODUCING THE BROTHERS ARNTZEN, is just that, a compact but winning introduction to their musical world — which features not only a good deal of expert instrumental interplay but almost as much delightful harmony singing.

BROS ARNTZEN photo

The CD isn’t slick or slickly produced: it sounds most gratifyingly like the music dear friends might make in their living room for the enjoyment of a small group of like-minded people.  (It is properly advertised on the cover as MUSIC FOR DANCING.)

I am not a fan of manufactured country-and-western music, but this disc has a lovely “roots” flavor to it . . . and when I was only on the second track, a stomping VIPER MAD, which was followed by a truly touching HOME, I was convinced.  Jennifer Hodge is back on string bass, and Andrew Millar plays drums most effectively. Evan sticks to the clarinet, Arnt to the banjo, but this foursome creates a rich sound.  As before, you may hear / purchase here.

The Brothers aren’t entirely down-home antiquarians: they have their own fraternal Facebook page.  They have already brought a good deal of restorative music and good emotions into my world: welcome them into yours.

May your happiness increase!

BRILLIANT VERSATILITY: KEN MATHIESON’S CLASSIC JAZZ ORCHESTRA: THE GLASGOW SUITE / CLARINET GUMBO

Here’s what I wrote about Ken Mathieson’s Classic Jazz Orchestra when I first heard their three CDs (one devoted to Louis, one to Jelly, one to a jazz panorama) in 2010.  Five years later, it’s just as true.

It’s possible that you haven’t heard of Ken Mathieson, the leader-percussionist-arranger of the Classic Jazz Orchestra, but this post is designed to remedy this omission right away. For Ken Mathieson is a truly ingenious man who has made the CJO an equally flexible, innovative orchestra.

The CJO has been working since 2004, and Ken is a veteran leader, arrangger, and drummer with impeccable credits.  For fifteen years, he was the resident drummer at the famous Black Bull Club near Glasgow — where he supported and learned from Bud Freeman, King Benny Carter, Wild Bill Davison, Sonny Stitt, Art Farmer, Bobby Hackett, Al Cohn, Johnny Griffin, Ruby Braff, Sweets Edison, Teddy Wilson, Tal Farlow, and more.

And he’s offered his own solution to one of the problems of classic jazz performance.  Suppose the leader of a “classic” jazz ensemble wants to pay tribute to Ellington, Morton, Carter, or Armstrong.  Commendable enough.  One way is to transcribe every note and aural flutter on the great records.  Then, the imaginary leader can gather the musicians, rehearse them for long hours until they sound just like a twenty-first century rendition of this or that hallowed disc.

Admirable, but somewhat limited.  Emerson said that imitation is suicide, and although I would love to have my own private ensemble on call to reproduce the Morton Victors, what would be the point?  (In concert, hearing a band pretend to be the Red Hot Peppers can be thrilling in the same way watching acrobats — but on record, it seems less compelling.)

Getting free of this “repertory” experience, although liberating, has its disadvantages for some who take their new freedom too energetically.  Is POTATO HEAD BLUES still true to its essential self if played in 5/4. as a waltz, as a dirge, by a flute quintet?  Is it possible to lose the thread?

Faced with these binary extremes — wanting to praise the past while remembering that the innovations we so prize were, in fact, innovations, Mathieson has steered an imaginative middle course.  On two new CDs, he has managed to heed Ezra Pound’s MAKE IT NEW while keeping the original essences. Ken and the CJO have an open-ended and open-minded approach to jazz history and performance.  The original compositions stay recognizable but the stylistic approach to each one is modified.  Listening to the CJO, I heard not only powerful swinging reflections of the original recordings and period idioms, but also a flexibility that suggested that Mingus, Morton, Oliver Nelson, and Benny Carter were on an equal footing, respectfully swapping ideas.

The CJO has an unusual instrumentation which allows it to simulate a Swing Era big band or a hot trio: Billy Hunter plays trumpet; Phil O’Malley, trombone; Dick Lee, soprano and alto sax, clarinet; Konrad Wiszniewski, tenor; Martin Foster, tenor, baritone, and bass sax, clarinet and bass clarinet; Tom Finlay or Paul Harrison, piano; Roy Percy, bass; Ken, drums and arrangements.

Ken and his players seem to have made a silent pact with the music to treat it as if it were new: the solos exist in a broadly-defined area of modern Mainstream: thus, you are much more likely to think of Roy Williams or Scott Robinson than of Clarence Williams or Prince Robinson. I’ll leave the surprises on these three CDs to the buyers and listeners.  But in almost every case I found myself hearing the music with a delighted grim, thinking, “Wow!  That’s what they’re doing with that old chestnut?”

Now.  Here we are in 2015, with more good music on two new CDs.

The new CDs are KEN MATHIESON’S CLASSIC JAZZ ORCHESTRA: CLARINET GUMBO /WITH EVAN CHRISTOPHER (Lake LACD 133) and ALAN BARNES with KEN MATHIESON’S CLASSIC JAZZ ORCHESTRA: THE GLASGOW SUITE: THE MUSIC OF BENNY CARTER (Woodville WVCD 133).

CLARINET GUMBO, as you can guess, draws fervently and superbly on the New Orleans clarinet tradition, with delightful reed work from Evan, Dick, Konrad, and Martin — as well as several Jelly Roll Morton rarities which were part of the library of his abortive late big band, GANJAM, STOP AND GO, and JAZZ JUBILEE. evocations of Bechet, Bigard, Noone, Fazola, Simeon, and others — all voiced imaginatively and without cliche.  You can gather something about Ken and the CJO’s consistent ingenuity by noting this: the disc has five Morton pieces, including the venerable BLACK BOTTOM STOMP and the less well-known SUPERIOR RAG, but Ken has also reimagined Mingus’ JELLY ROLL as a musical scuffle between Messrs. Ferdinand and Chazz, each earnestly proposing that his way is the only right way.  Throughout the disc, even when the melodies are familiar (DARDANELLA, for instance, a tribute to Ed Hall) the scoring is fresh and lively without ever going against the essential nature of the song or its associations.  Beautifully recorded and nicely annotated, too.

Here’s FAZOLA from the clarinet CD: 

and the lovely, moody PELICAN DRAG: 

Tributes to Benny Carter are not as frequent as they might be, perhaps because his music is orchestral as well as featuring a saxophone soloist; it’s not easy to play well, and Carter himself created glowing examinations of his music while he was alive — which was only right, since his “old” charts still sounded wonderful. (I think of hearing his Swing Masters onstage at the first Newport in New York, in 1972.)

For this wonderfully varied tribute to Carter, the great Alan Barnes plays alto and clarinet — but as in the case of CLARINET GUMBO, he is one of many delights.  Those familiar with Carter’s recorded history will know A WALKIN’ THING, SYMPHONY IN RIFFS, HONEYSUCKLE ROSE, MALIBU, DOOZY, and a few others, but it is Carter’s five-part GLASGOW SUITE, composed in 1987, that is the delight of this CD.  Mathieson had the opportunity to work with Carter, and the two became friends as well as colleagues, something that shines through this recording.  It is not at all the endeavor of musicians hired for the moment to play scores they don’t love deeply.  Again, beautiful sound and warmly personal notes.

From the Carter tribute, here’s the perfectly sprightly DOOZY: 

and EASY MONEY .

(As an aside, I have grave reservations about YouTube’s practice of offering CDs in this fashion — no doubt without asking permission of the artists or offering them a thousandth of a cent royalty per view.  But I also feel that people need to hear the music before deciding to buy the CD . . . so I hope that these glimpses propel some readers to purchase rather than to “get it for free,” which has unpleasant effects on artists everywhere.)

Details of the CJO’s history and current performing schedule can be found here, and he Lake Records site is here.

These two discs, as is the case with all the CJO’s efforts, show a bright path into the future that carries the past along with it in the most tender way — while understanding that the innovations of the past need to be treated in living ways.

May your happiness increase!

LAURA HITS THE ROAD: CHICAGO SALTY DOGS (October 5, 2014)

My friend Laura Beth Wyman, flutist and videographer, is blazing new trails, with camera, microphone, tripod, and notepad, boldly capturing hot jazz in Michigan and bringing it back alive for everyone.

Her YouTube channel is still in its youth, but the music she’s captured so far is deliciously mature.  Vintage, in fact.

I encourage you to subscribe, and after doing so you can enjoy two performances from an October 5, 2014 West Shore Jazz Society concert by the Chicago Salty Dogs, who were for this occasion Kim Cusack, leader and clarinet; Art Davis, trumpet; Frank Gualtieri, trombone; James Dapogny, piano; Mike Walbridge, helicon tuba; Jack Kuncl, banjo; Steve Torrico, drums. These performances took place at the Oak Ridge Golf Club, Norton Shores, Michigan.

Something for Jimmie  Noone and Earl Hines (honored but not imitated by Cusack and Dapogny), APEX BLUES:

And for Mister Morton, a rollicking version of the WOLVERINE BLUES complete with two piano and one tuba solo:

Thanks to the Dogs and to the intrepid Ms. Wyman, climbing apexes and on the lookout for wolverines.  I hear tell there will be more music captured in its native Michigan habitats in future.

May your happiness increase!

FLAMING YOUTH: LES RED HOT REEDWARMERS at the WHITLEY BAY CLASSIC JAZZ PARTY (Nov. 2, 2013)

I mean it.  In a forest of young people playing and attempting to honor this classic music, Les Red Hot Reedwarmers are both ecstatic and expert — musical racing-car drivers who are also capable of deep lyricism.  I caught them in action at the Whitley Bay Classic Jazz Party on November 2, 2013.

They are Aurelie Tropez and Stephane Gillot, clarinets / saxophones (married and parents for those who like to know such things); Henri Lemaire, banjo / guitar; Martin Seck, piano; Jean-Phillippe Palma, bass; Julien Richard, drums and percussion.

Alex Hill’s moody, unforgettable DELTA BOUND (one of those songs that, once remembered, sticks in one’s mind):

VARIETY STOMP, where they simulate the fervor of the 1927 Henderson band:

RED HOT STARTERS, a new composition by Stephane:

CANDY LIPS (like VARIETY STOMP, a frolic):

LOVE, YOUR MAGIC SPELL IS EVERYWHERE, in honor of Mike Durham and Jimmie Noone:

LRHR began as a very inspired reinvention of Noone’s Apex Club Orchestra, but they have blossomed imaginatively since their start.  Please note how ingenious and multi-layered each performance is — a small concerto for six instruments, with variations in timbre and sound achieved not only by impressive instrument-swapping but also through orchestral textures.  Not only are they marvelous technicians, but they have a thoroughly original approach to their music, which makes their performances lively and varied.  They’ve also recorded wonderful compact discs for Stomp Off Records: KING JOE (2005); APEX BLUES (2007);  RED  HOT STARTERS (2013).

May your happiness increase!

IN WORDS, IN SOUND: FRANK CHACE (2003, 1957)

The Chicago clarinetist Frank Chace remains one of my heroes. In all things, he was an obstinate individualist.  I knew him first as a musician, then (in the last years of his life) as a correspondent, rarely by telephone and only slightly more frequently by mail.  Here is a Chace letter that recently turned up — unexpectedly.  The contents are not significant in themselves, but the letter is significant to me: I look at it and think, “At one time in my life, it was possible to get a letter from Frank Chace,” which still amazes me: CHACE LETTER

Lucid, sardonic, perceptive. He was the only correspondent I ever had or might ever have who could move easily from Noam Chomsky to Kansas Fields and Don Frye, Bobby Hackett and Dave McKenna, with hints of Bob and Ray at the end.  (The music references are to a private tape with some otherwise undocumented Eddie Condon-and-friends music from 1942 and 1944 that I had sent him.)

You can’t hear a letter, so here’s some audible Chace — a rarity, something I heard years ago on a cassette from the sweetly generous Bob Hilbert: four selections recorded in 1957 by a band led by cornetist Doc Evans. The concert, billed as a history of jazz, was issued in three 12″ lps on the Soma label, but Chace popped in for the “Chicagoan” portion, playing both clarinet and bass sax, the latter for one of only two times on record.

CHACE DOC EVANS

Because I have a fascination with ornate prose, I offer some paragraphs from this record’s liner notes (omitting the writer’s name) for your consideration:

There is almost as much of the white American Midwest as there is of the Negro South in classic jazz, which is only natural: like the chestnut tree of the poet Yeats, the “great rooted blossomer” of the Mississippi River and its tributaries (pushing across the New York-Hollywood “course of empire” of the entertainment industry) has been the nesting-place of jazz. Its songbirds have been of all colors, but the music they have made has been one integrated chorus . . . . Bix and Tesch could no more rid themselves completely of their common German ancestry than the Negro could completely rid himself of Africa; and thus a 19th-century European concept of melody and harmony, of “art” music, of the virtuoso instrumentalist, enters jazz with Bix and Tesch — enters, to be assimilated (if in such a short time as they accomplished that assimilation for themselves) by an act of will and talent, of sensibilities strained to the breaking point. . . . . But not all broke; followers of Bix and Tesch carry on . . . in our time the direct legitimate heir of Tesch, clarinetist Pee Wee Russell, for whom time has stood still and who has made it stand still for others. One man, one horn, one ghost epitomize Chicago style: eccentric, wailing, uninhibited. It is like Chicago, where the men of Storyville came to plant their music amid the aspirations of another race.

To the music, played by Evans, cornet; Chace, clarinet / bass sax; Hal Runyon, trombone; Dick Pendleton, clarinet (when Chace is on bass sax in JAZZ BAND BALL) alto / tenor sax; Frank Gillis, piano; Bill Peer, banjo; George Tupper, string bass; Warren Thewis, drums — SINGIN’ THE BLUES / AT THE JAZZ BAND BALL / SUGAR / I FOUND A NEW BABY:

The first two performances follow the original 1927 OKehs fairly closely, with Chace on clarinet on SINGIN’ and on bass sax — doing a creditable Rollini on JAZZ BAND, thirty years after the fact. Readers who like such things can consider whether these concert performances are effective copies. For me, the real pleasure comes in Chace’s solo chorus on SUGAR, his solo and ensemble work on the latter two tunes — a free-thinking Chicagoan approach. Superficially, he resembles Pee Wee Russell, but a more attentive hearing will turn up Simeon, Teschemacher, Noone, Dodds, and other evocations, all blended strongly into a unique entity known as Frank Chace. . . . someone who went his own way even when the constraints of the situation seemed claustrophobic.

I remember now that my telephone conversations with Frank were often bleak: he was convinced that everyone was corrupt, that there was no reason for him to play or record again. At this date, I can’t know if he was realistic or deeply depressed or both; he defeated my sustaining optimism with ease. But I miss him.

May your happiness increase!

EVERY EVENING: RAY SKJELBRED AND THE CUBS at SAN DIEGO (November 29, 2013): RAY SKJELBRED, KIM CUSACK, CLINT BAKER, KATIE CAVERA, MIKE DAUGHERTY

Pianist, bandleader, composer, and occasional vocalist Ray Skjelbred is gently but obstinately authentic, a prophet and beacon of deep Chicago jazz — whether it’s tender, gritty, or romping.  He and the Cubs proved this again (they always do) at their November 2013 appearances at the San Diego Jazz Fest.  For this weekend, The Cubs were Kim Cusack, clarinet, vocal; Clint Baker, string bass, tuba, vocal; Katie Cavera, guitar, vocal; Mike Daugherty, drums, vocal.

SIX POINT BLUES:

EVERY EVENING:

A highlight for all of us — heartfelt and quietly fervent — ANY TIME, ANY DAY, ANYWHERE:

Alienation of affections or kidnapping was never so festive as this rendition of SOMEBODY STOLE MY GAL:

HO HUM!:

PIANO MAN:

DARKTOWN STRUTTERS BALL:

That music is good news for us all.  But more good news — larger and more tangible than the computer monitor — is coming: the Cubs are making a California tour in early July 2014, beginning in two weeks. Jeff Hamilton will be on drums, along with the regulars you see above.

Thursday, July 10: Rossmoor Dixieland Jazz Club in Walnut Creek CA. For more information visit here.

Friday, July 11: Cafe Borrone in Menlo Park, California. 7:30 – 10:00 PM. (1010 El Camino Real, dress casual, good food and drink and a sweet atmosphere).

Saturday, July 12: Cline Wine and Jazz Festival in Sonoma, California. The Cubs will play three sets: for details, visit here.

Sunday, July 13: Napa Valley Dixieland Jazz Society. For more information visit: here.

Monday, July 14: Le Colonial in San Francisco, California (20 Cosmo Place). For more information visit here.

The admiring shades of Alex Hill, Sidney Catlett, Lee Wiley, Eddie Condon, Count Basie, Earl Hines, Sippie Wallace, Louis Armstrong, Jimmie Noone, Cassino Simpson, Tut Soper, Frank Melrose, Pee Wee Russell, Joe Sullivan, Jess Stacy, Wellman Braud, Frank Teschemacher, Gene Krupa, and scores of unheralded blues musicians stand behind this band — as the Cubs make their own lovely ways to our ears and hearts.  Panaceas without side-effects.

May your happiness increase!

“BLUE NOTES THAT FRAME THE PASSION”: RAY SKJELBRED’S TRIBAL WISDOM

Pianist / composer / scholar / poet Ray Skjelbred is one of the rare ones.

I don’t say this only because of his deeply rewarding piano playing — soloist, accompanist, bandleader — but because of the understanding that it rests upon.  Ray understands that he is one of long line of creators — members of the tribe of improvising storytellers, some of them no longer on the planet but their energies still vividly alive.

He doesn’t strive to copy or to “recreate”; rather, he honors and embodies in ways that words can only hint at.  Call it an enlightened reverence that takes its form in blues-based melodic inventions, and you’ll be close to understanding the essence of what Ray does, feels, and is.

Here are some of his own introspections: “I get ideas by trying to hear the world differently, sometimes even misunderstanding sound on purpose. . . . I like to see things differently, to shape a song, to make it mine. I like to make tempo changes, especially fast to slow, I like to make the notes as round and warm as possible and part of that comes from shading a composition with blue notes that frame the passion. I like to fill in harmonies when the melody feels a little bony to me. . . . I think music is an adventure, a chance to shape sound with your bare hands.”

I’ve admired his playing for some years now — before I knew him as a soloist, I heard him through ensembles on recordings led by other musicians, rather in the way one would hear Hines, Horace Henderson, Joe Sullivan, Frank Melrose, Jess Stacy, Zinky Cohn, Tut Soper, Cassino Simpson, Alex Hill, or a dozen others subversively and happily animating the largest group.

There are several ways to experience this magic — Ray making himself a portal through which the elders can speak, while adding his own personal experiences.  One, of course, is to witness his transformations in person.  To do this, you’d have to know where he is going to be playing — check out the bottom of the page here for his appearances in the near future.

Another way t0 have a portable Skjelbred festival is through his compact discs, recent and otherwise, listed here. I call two new issues to your attention.  One, RAGTIME PIANO, is — beneath its rather plain title — a continued exploration of subversive possibilities, witty and warm.

I remember the first time I began to listen to it — with small surprises popping through the surface like small flowers, catching me off guard, subtler than Monk creating his own version of stride piano but with some of the same effect.  Each track is a small hot sonata, with the surprises resurfacing to make the whole disc a suite of unusual yet comfortable syncopated dance music.

The sixteen solo piano performances offer classics, stretched and reconsidered: SWIPSEY CAKEWALK / SOMETHING DOING / WHOOPEE STOMP / LOUISIANA RAG / MOURNFUL SERENADE / DANCE OF THE WITCH HAZELS / PINEAPPLE RAG / AT A GEORGIA CAMP MEETING, as well as Ray’s originals — inspired by everyone from Emily Dickinson to Julia Child: SMILING RAG / LEAN AND GRIEFY RAG / DON’T CROWD THE MUSHROOMS / COCHINEAL RAG / LITTLE ELMER’S RAG / THE PICOT RAG / REFLECTIONS RAG / BALLS AND STRIKES FOREVER.

Another deep lesson in how to get the most music possible — and then some — from the piano can be found in Ray’s PIANO PORTRAITS, which demonstrates his range of endearing associations, from the Hot Five and early blues singers to Carl Kress and Eddie Lang, from Jimmie Noone and early Ellington to Bix, Hines, and Charlie Shavers. It’s a filling and fulfilling musical banquet: SITTING ON TOP OF THE WORLD / FEELING MY WAY / I’M COMIN’ VIRGINIA / WEATHER BIRD RAG / SQUEEZE ME / I NEED YOU BY MY SIDE / DINAH / READY FOR THE RIVER / ‘WAY DOWN YONDER IN NEW ORLEANS / CLARK AND RANDOLPH / CANNED MEAT RAG / BLUES FROM “CREOLE RHAPSODY” / BLUES FOR MILLIE LAMMOREUX / FATHER SWING / WHEN I DREAM OF YOU / A GOOD MAN IS HARD TO FIND / MY HEART / MUGGLES / UNDECIDED.  Ray’s prose is as forthright and evocative as his playing, so this CD is worth reading as well as hearing for his recollections of Johnny Wittwer, Joe Sullivan, Burt Bales, Art Hodes, and Earl Hines.

Another way to experience Ray, his mastery of “those pretty notes and jangly octaves,” can be through these video performances.  He has been more than gracious to me, allowing me to capture him in a variety of settings.  I offer one here, BULL FROG BLUES, recorded on November 29, 2013, at the San Diego Thanksgiving Jazz Festival — with his Cubs, that savory band: Kim Cusack, clarinet; Clint Baker, string bass; Katie Cavera, guitar; Mike Daugherty, drums:

Wherever Ray goes, whatever the context in which he makes music, it’s always rewarding.

May your happiness increase!

KEEPING JAZZ LIVELY: THE FAT BABIES, “18th AND RACINE”

For some musicians and many audience members, honoring the innovative music of the past is a nearly academic matter.  To them, one should treat a 1927 McKenzie-Condon recording as if it were a Mozart score, and make it come alive in this century through absolute idiomatic fidelity to the original.

This approach, a heartfelt reverence for the past, can have electrifying results. Hearing a trumpet player exquisitely reproduce a Louis solo has always made me want to cheer, and I am sure that Louis would have seen this as an act of love — a love that took skill, expertise, and hours of diligence.

But I wonder if all the truly innovative musicians of the past would have delighted in this form of reverence.  Would Bix be cheered to know that somewhere, right now, a cornet player is reproducing his solo on SINGIN’ THE BLUES?  I have my doubts; after all, he told Jimmy McPartland that what he liked most about jazz was its innate unpredictability, that no one knew what was going to happen next. Lester Young said that he felt hemmed in by the players who had copied his every mannerism and then presented it as a style.

For me, the most rewarding music balances its obeisances to the past (often encapsulated in recordings) with freshness, the delicious uncertainty of surprise, of risk, of invention within an idiom.

My readers may not agree with this, and I won’t demean the contemporary player who, in honoring an idol, reproduces his every nuance as a tribute and a beautiful piece of “acting.”  And innovation has to be aware of context: the young tenor player in the 2014 “Swing Era” big band, soloing on STOMPIN’ AT THE SAVOY, who launches into a Wayne Shorter meditation, pleases me not at all.

I offer here another energized example of how one might honor the past without dishonoring the present — the second compact disc by the Chicago-based hot band, THE FAT BABIES (Delmark Records):

MI0003675022

I thought their first CD, CHICAGO HOT, was superb — you can read my encomium here, and this one is even better.

The musicians are Beau Sample, string bass; Alex Hall, drums; Jake Sanders, tenor banjo, Paul Asaro, piano / vocal; Dave Bock, trombone; John Otto, clarinet / alto saxophone; Andy Schumm, cornet / alto saxophone — with incidental singing by the members of the ensemble and arrangements by Schumm, Asaro, and Otto.  The songs are LIZA (Condon-Rubens), TILL TIMES GET BETTER, THE STAMPEDE, MABEL’S DREAM, NOBODY’S SWEETHEART NOW, I CAN’T DANCE (I GOT ANTS IN MY PANTS), 18th AND RACINE (an original by Andy), KING KONG STOMP, EL RADO SCUFFLE, OH BABY, STARDUST, I’LL FLY TO HAWAII, OH ME! OH MY!, THE CHANT, BLUEBERRY RHYME.  Experienced jazz listeners will be able to tick off the associations here: James P. Johnson, Jelly Roll Morton, the Washboard Rhythm Kings, Joseph Robichaux, Jimmie Noone, Fletcher Henderson, Jabbo Smith, Eddie Condon, Brad Gowans, Hoagy Carmichael, Bix Beiderbecke, and more.

But the Fat Babies do more than reproduce old records.  They invent within the familiar architectures; honoring hallowed introductions and endings, they create energetic, personal statements — so that the results sound both idiomatic and fresh, with influences and shadings in motion on every track.  The ensemble is lively and flexible; the solos are rewarding; the rhythm section swings along mightily.  And there’s a group vocal on I’LL FLY TO HAWAII — more than anyone could ever ask for.

The CD doesn’t sound like a brilliant history lesson.  Rather, it sounds like a happy gathering of the faithful who have understood that “going for yourself”  — as Fats and Billie, Chick Webb, and Freddie Keppard did — is the true jazz gospel.

Whether or not you share my sentiments about recreation, repertory, innovation, originality, or not, you owe it to yourself to investigate this session.  It’s alive, and that’s always a good thing.  Revering the dead by making sure what they created never moves again might not be what the dead, once living, wanted for themselves.

May your happiness increase!

AT THE BALL, THAT’S ALL (THE ARMISTICE BALL 2013: November 2, Madison, New Jersey)

On November 2, 2013, you have another chance to travel back to a time and place not easily reached: America around a century ago.  It’s the Armstice Ball, a yearly affair held in New Jersey, with authentic Twenties music and dancing (even a lesson in the afternoon).  The band will be led by Dan Levinson, with jazz scholar Sue Fischer on drums; Jay Rattman on reeds; David Sager on trombone; Matt Tolentino on tuba (he’s the leader of the Dallas band “Singapore Slingers”; Mike Kuehn, banjo.  The Ball goes from 8 – 11 PM at the historic Madison Community House, 25 Cook Avenue, Madison, New Jersey.  Tickets are $30 in advance, $15 with a student ID, and $35 at the door ($20 for students).  (So it pays not to wait till the last minute!)

For details — everything you’d need to know about lodging, food, and fashions, click here.

I asked Sue about the repertoire and she told me that it will include some Morton — FROGGIE MOORE, KING JOE, some hot Chicago tunes related to Noone, Dodds, Hines: FORTY AND TIGHT, MY MONDAY DATE, OH SISTER AIN’T THAT HOT, I NEVER KNEW WHAT A GAL COULD DO, as well as waltzes I’M DRIFTING BACK TO DREAMLAND, and tangos CHALITA, ADIOS MUCHACHOS, and POR UNA CABEZA.  Among other surprises.  

Here’s a video from the 2011 Armistice Ball: different musicians, but you get the picture.  A classy affair, with one-steps for all!  (None of those artificially ripped jeans the youth of America now prefer, either.)  That’s David Boeddinghaus, piano; Randy Reinhart, cornet; Will Reardon Anderson, clarinet; Mike Kuehn, banjo; Johnny Peppers, bass sax; Sue Fischer, drums. And it looks like John Landry is ready to make sure there will be none of that indecent close-dancing here.  (I would be there, but I am going to be enjoying the Classic Jazz Party at Whitley Bay . . . too much distance from Newcastle to Madison, even for me.)

May your happiness increase!

“SAN” (Oriental Fox Trot) EXPLAINED

I asked in a post some months back whether anyone knew the lyrics or the story to SAN, that 1920 hit by Lindsay McPhail and Walter Michels.

Most of us, I think, know the song from Paul Whiteman’s 1927 recording featuring Bix Beiderbecke and Jimmy Dorsey, among others, or the Jimmie Noone recording . . . or versions by groups into this century.

John Cooper, pop culture sleuth, came up with the answers — to be found in the lyrics:

First Verse

King San of Senegal

Sat on the shore

At Bulamay,

Singing a sad refrain.

To his dear queen who’d gone away,

This was his lay.

Second Verse

One day the queen came home

Saw San in sadness on the shore,

Told him she’d no more roam.

Only her San would she adore,

Then came this lore.

Chorus

Oh, sweet heart Lona, my darling Lona,

Why have you gone away?

You said you loved me,

But if you loved me,

Why did you act this way?

If I had ever been untrue to you,

What you have done would be the thing to do;

But my heart aches, dear,

And it will break, dear,

If you don’t come back home again to San!

Chorus 2

Oh, sweet heart Lona, my darling Lona,

Have you come back to stay?

You said you loved me,

I knew you loved me,

I knew you’d come some day.

If I had ever been untrue to you,

What you have done would be the thing to do;

But now you’re mine, dear,

For all the time, dear,

And you’re forgiven by your loving San!

Now we know.  And even though “San” and “Lona” sound to me like a post-retirement couple — the kind who would run a small ice-cream stand or candy store at the beach — they are presumably Senegalese (West African) which, I guess, explains the camels on the cover.

And a postscript from a banjo-playing friend, Bob Sann: “There is a river in southeastern Poland called the San.  Perhaps Walter Michels, who wrote the music, had relatives there?  I did.”

May your happiness increase.

THE SHAPE OF A CAREER: RED McKENZIE, 1924-1947

Photograph thanks to Scott Black: a trio of solid senders, Frank Trumbauer, Red McKenzie, and their former boss Paul Whiteman

William “Red” McKenzie, born in 1899, had a career whose highs and lows might have made a good — and sad — film biography.  Let us begin with a phenomenal hit record, the 1924 ARKANSAS BLUES — a smash for the novelty group, The Mound City Blue Blowers (McKenzie on comb and newspaper, Jack Bland on banjo, Dick Slevin on kazoo):

A word about his musical abilities, unique to him.  McKenzie’s singing isn’t to everyone’s taste; he is earnest, declaratory, even tipping over into barroom sentimentality.  But he could put over a hot number with style, and his straight-from-the shoulder delivery is both charming and a product of the late Twenties.  As an instrumentalist — on the comb and newspaper, a homegrown kazoo with panache — he had no equal, and the remarkable thing about the records on which he appears is how strongly he stands his ground with Coleman Hawkins and Bunny Berigan, powerful figures in their own right.  Both singing and playing, McKenzie reminds me greatly of Wild Bill Davison, someone who had “drama,” as Ruby Braff said.

In the late Twenties McKenzie was not only a musician but an activist for the music, bringing hot jazz players — Bix Beiderbecke, Frank Trumbauer, Jimmie Noone, the Spirits of Rhythm — to the attention of record companies and creating early record dates where Caucasians and African-Americans to record.  Without McKenzie, Coleman Hawkins would have waited a number of years to be allowed into the recording studio to perform with mixed groups.

Here is McKenzie in 1929 — out in the open in the short film OPRY HOUSE as a delightfully unrestrained singer, with Bland, banjo; Josh Billings, whiskbrooms and suitcase:

His popularity grew — as s singer and someone whose face might sell sheet music of a new song:

McKenzie was the featured vocalist with the Paul Whiteman Orchestra — an orchestra, we should remember, that had launched the careers of Bing Crosby and Mildred Bailey — with a pretty 1932 tune, THREE ON A MATCH (featured in the Warner Brothers film of the same name, starring Ann Dvorak, Joan Blondell, and Bette Davis):

He continued to be someone whose presence could help sell new songs — this 1936 number, that most of us know through Billie Holiday’s recording:

and this 1936 song, more famous in Bing Crosby’s recording:

At forty, McKenzie went into a temporary retirement — moving back to his hometown, St. Louis, to work at a brewery for four years.  Apparently he was one of the great heavy drinkers of his time, and only the support of his great friend Eddie Condon kept him in the limelight in the Forties, where he appeared now and again at a Condon concert or a Blue Network broadcast.  The latter, I think, accounts for McKenzie’s 1944 appearance on a V-Disc and a session for Commodore Records — where Milt Gabler also thought the world of him.  Gabler produced record sessions simultaneously for Decca Records and the World Transcription System: here’s a 1944 version of DINAH with McKenzie, Max Kaminsky, Jack Teagarden, and Pee Wee Russell:

Here’s McKenzie as captured by William P. Gottlieb in an October 1946 photograph:

But little was heard from McKenzie for the last years of his life, except for one 1947 record date — shown in a newsprint advertisement for four sides on the National label.  His obscurity is nodded at — another “comeback story” in the sad word REINTRODUCING:

By February 1948 McKenzie was dead — cirrhosis the official cause.  I find IF I HAD MY LIFE TO LIVE OVER and HEARTACHES sad reminders of what had happened.  I would hate to think that his life could be summarized as an equal devotion to hot music and hard liquor, the latter winning out over the former.

Had he been in better health, he could have been one of those apparently ancient but still vivacious stars who appeared on the ED SULLIVAN SHOW and the HOLLYWOOD PALACE alongside Crosby, Sophie Tucker, Durante, and Ted Lewis . . . but it was not to be.

May your happiness increase.