Tag Archives: Jimmie Rodgers

PAPPY AND JUNIOR’S WESTERN SWING ALL-STARS (Part Two): DAVE “PAPPY” STUCKEY, HAL “JUNIOR” SMITH, ELANA JAMES, MARC CAPARONE, JONATHAN DOYLE, DAN WALTON, JAMES MASON, RUSTY BLAKE, CHRIS WILKINSON, JAMEY CUMMINS, WALLY HERSOM (Redwood Coast Music Festival, May 10, 2019)

In he name of joy, I present the second half of Dave Stuckey and Hal Smith’s Western Swing party at the 2019 Redwood Coast Music Festival.

But for the people who didn’t get yesterday’s plateful, here it is.  (Not just music, but two lovely essays on Western Swing, one each by Hal and Dave.)

The wondrous music-makers are Dave Stuckey, guitar, vocal; Elana James, fiddle, vocal; Hal Smith, drums; James Mason, fiddle; Dan Walton, piano, vocal; Marc Caparone, cornet; Jonathan Doyle, reeds; Rusty Blake, steel guitar; Chris Wilkinson, guitar; Jamey Cummins, guitar; Wally Hersom, string bass.  And this glorious outpouring took place at the Redwood Coast Music Festival on May 10, 2019.  (I will point out that next year’s RCMF is May 7-10, 2020, and we are going to be there.)

Here’s the swinging REMINGTON RIDE:

Asking the musical question, WHAT’S THE MATTER WITH THE MILL? — a song I could hear Stuff Smith and his Onyx Club Boys doing (with a cameo appearance by the Roving Photographer):

Cindy Walker’s I HEAR YOU TALKIN’ with echoes of Fifty-Second Street:

The pretty MAIDEN’S PRAYER:

TIME CHANGES EVERYTHING, as we know:

Dan Walton’s PIPELINER’S BLUES, from the Moon Mullican book:

TEN YEARS:

Cindy Walker’s DUSTY SKIES:

SAN ANTONIO ROSE, the “Western Swing national anthem”:

How can you hear more of this . . . . ?  Come to the Redwood Coast Music Festival, May 7-10, 2o2o.

May your happiness increase!

PAPPY AND JUNIOR’S WESTERN SWING ALL-STARS (Part One): DAVE “PAPPY” STUCKEY, HAL “JUNIOR” SMITH, ELANA JAMES, MARC CAPARONE, JONATHAN DOYLE, DAN WALTON, JAMES MASON, RUSTY BLAKE, CHRIS WILKINSON, JAMEY CUMMINS, WALLY HERSOM (Redwood Coast Music Festival, May 10, 2019)

It’s taken me many years to truly appreciate the breadth and soulfulness of Western Swing but I get it now, so I was thrilled to attend (and record) this leisurely long presentation by a genuinely all-star group, co-led by Dave Stuckey, guitar, vocal; and Hal Smith, drums, at the 2019 Redwood Coast Music Festival.

Here’s the personnel — the hot / sweet rascals all in a row: Dave Stuckey, guitar, vocal; Elana James, fiddle, vocal; Hal Smith, drums; James Mason, fiddle; Dan Walton, piano, vocal; Marc Caparone, cornet; Jonathan Doyle, reeds; Rusty Blake, steel guitar; Chris Wilkinson, guitar; Jamey Cummins, guitar; Wally Hersom, string bass.

Because I don’t think of myself as an authority on this music, I asked Dave and Hal for their comments, which are as different as they are.  Dave, first:

While most people think of Western Swing as a melting pot…and I wouldn’t disagree necessarily (music did come across the border…Wills had Spanish Fandango, the Tune Wranglers had el Rancho Grande, etc), I think that was a just a subset of what they played. The base line was jazz, though. When you look at WS’s (as it was called by 1947 — previously it was regarded as Hot String Band) repertoire, it’s all jazz. Very few originals.

I always think of it as a bunch of cats in Texas who were wild about jazz and wanted to play it – so they did with the instruments they had (steel guitar, fiddles). Judging from what I’ve heard from the limited amount of old-timers I’ve been lucky enough to meet is that jazz was just about ALL they listened to.

I met Benny Garcia, the excellent guitarist for Wills, Tex Williams, Hank Penny and at one point, Goodman (!). He grew up in Oklahoma City and when we chatted, all he wanted to talk about was Charlie Christian, his biggest influence.

I don’t know how often the jazz guys even knew of Western Swing but I do know the story of Jimmie Bryant, the singular country jazz guitarist who, it was said, would often leave his weekly gig at Hometown Jamboree in El Monte (south of L.A.) and shoot up to Hollywood and sit in with Stuff Smith at Billy Berg’s on Vine Street.

Jimmie Rodgers is a wellspring, just like Pops. I regard those two as the only occupants on Music Mount Olympus. I also think to call Jimmie The Father of Country Music is to way undersell him. He was all of it – jazz, country, blues, Hawaiian. I don’t know if you’ve read Finding Jimmie Rodgers by Barry Mazor, but I think you’d really enjoy it. It ties a lot of it together with fact and supposition.

Milton Brown? Well, it’s hard to imagine what the whole timeline would be like had he not died so young. He was right there…once he and Bob broke up after that first, seminal record, they both went in fairly disparate, but equally great directions.

and Hal:

I was aware of Western Swing music in the ’60s, after finding out that hot jazz cornetists Benny Strickler and Danny Alguire had worked with Bob Wills’ Texas Playboys. But it was difficult to find comprehensive reissues of Wills’ music until the ’70s. Once I heard those recordings, with more great hornmen like Tubby Lewis, reedmen Wayne Johnson and Woody Wood, the Jess Stacy-like piano of Al Stricklin, the hot jazz of fiddlers Jesse Ashlock and Joe Holly and steel guitarist Leon McAuliffe, the swinging drums of Smokey Dacus, Bob Fitzgerald and Monte Mountjoy and the friendly vocal styles of Tommy Duncan and Wills himself…I was hooked!

Fast-forward to the early 2000s in Southern California, when I made the acquaintance of Dave “Pappy” Stuckey. We quickly found out that we shared a lot of musical interests, from the Firehouse Five Plus Two to Eddie Condon to…Western Swing! With the help of some talented Southern California musicians, we organized the “Hi-Lo Playboys” to perform at a variety of events. However, conflicting schedules, disagreements regarding the band’s approach and a general lack of work doomed this group within a short time.

Fast-forward again to the 2017 Redwood Coast Music Festival…As Dave and I rode together in a van to the Eureka airport, the subject of Western Swing came up. We agreed that a hot Western group would be a great addition to the musical presentations at Redwood Coast. When we contacted Festival Director Mark Jansen, he immediately agreed. After receiving the green light for a special set at the 2018 festival, “Pappy” Stuckey and “Junior” Smith began to contact musicians who would be able to play the music the right way and simultaneously put together set lists to reflect the best music from the Texas Playboys repertoire. “Pappy and Junior’s Barn Burner” was a smash hit at the 2018 Redwood Coast Music Festival. Happily, Mark Jansen agreed to a reprise in 2019 and friend Michael videotaped the band for posterity.

And now . . . the first half of this glorious effervescent evening of music.

TAKE ME BACK TO TULSA:

A HOME IN SAN ANTONE:

WHOA BABE! — which some of us will also know from a Lionel Hampton Victor:

BEAUMONT RAG:

I’M FEELING BAD:

SMOKE, SMOKE, SMOKE:

BLUE TEARS:

DRIVIN’ NAILS IN MY COFFIN:

I will close by saying that my ears were opened wider by this erudite hilarious feeling presentation, that a second half is waiting in the wings, that all of this wouldn’t happen were it not for the generosities of Mark and Valerie Jansen, AND that the next Redwood Coast Music Festival is May 7-10, 2020, and you will see us there.

May your happiness increase!

VIVIDLY ALIVE: THE BRAIN CLOUD, “LIVE AT BARBES”

I adore the surprises that happen at jam sessions or when musicians are asked to play alongside each other in new combinations, but Heaven smiles on that rare entity, a WORKING BAND.  The Brain Cloud, led by Dennis Lichtman (clarinet, violin, mandolin, and more) is such a remarkable entity — and they’ve just released their third CD, “Live at Barbes.”

Photo by Seth Cashman

Here’s a sample: music does speak louder than words!

Dennis Lichtman and all the members of the Brain Cloud have created the world’s most swinging, melodic “safe space”: which is to say, a place where all kinds of lyrical music are welcome to flourish — not historical or archaeological, but alive now.

Once upon a time, we know, there was just MUSIC — a beautifully undulating landscape as far as we could see.  Then, people looking to sell product — journalists, publicists, record company executives, even some musicians — came and divided the landscape up into little fiefdoms whose occupants glared at one another.  The Brain Cloud suggests that a return to the prelapsarian world is possible: imagine a record store where The Carter Family and Benny Carter are friends, where Lester Willis Young and Bob Willis share a drink, a cigarette, and a story.  Or a place where double-entendre blues sit in the same pew as hymns, where “Dixieland,” “roots music,” “Americana,” all those dazzling names for what is essentially the same thing, coexist beautifully, because they are all only music that has stories to tell and in the telling, enlightens the listener.

Photo by Tom Farley

To the music: as you can hear and see above, the opening track on this CD, JEALOUS HEARTED ME, is no academic exercise: a Carter Family song, it reminds me of rocking Fifties rhythm and blues, with an outchorus that would equal any Eddie Condon IMPROMPTU ENSEMBLE.  The expert Merrymakers here are Dennis Lichtman, clarinet, mandolin, fiddle; Tamar Korn, vocal improvisations; Skip Krevens, guitar, vocals; Raphael McGregor, lap steel guitar; Andrew Hall, string bass; Kevin Dorn, drums.

Each track is wonderfully itself — the CD isn’t a monochromatic blur — but each is a joyous lesson in the merging of “styles.”  So aside from the “roots” classics — venerable as well as new (from Jimmie Rodgers and Patsy Cline) — there’s Alex Hill’s YOU WERE ONLY PASSING TIME WITH ME (hooray!) and the 1939 Broadway song COMES LOVE and the Twenties LONESOME AND SORRY and IF YOU WANT THE RAINBOW.

Since the Brain Cloud has had a long residency at Barbes (on Monday nights) there is a delightful mix of exuberance and comfort.  Everyone’s made themselves to home, as we might say.  And — in case you worry about such things — the recorded sound is excellent.  Those who have been to Barbes already have multiple copies of this disc; if you’ve never made it into Brooklyn for such frolics, you’ll want your own copy.  And on a personal note: listening to the Brain Cloud has helped me to drop my own narrow suspicions of music that I didn’t think was “jazz,” always a good thing; I’ve been following them since 2009, and this disc is a wonderful encapsulation of what the band does so well.

Here you can find out more about the Brain Cloud, hear more music, buy this disc, or a download, or even as a limited-edition cassette.  And more.  Don’t just sit there!  Move that cursor!

May your happiness increase!

THE MANY LIVES OF THE BLUES: RAY SKJELBRED, SOLO PIANO, AT THE SAN DIEGO JAZZ FEST (Nov. 25, 2016)

Yesterday I posted two duets between pianist Ray Skjelbred and cornetist Marc Caparone, and encouraged my viewers to take a chance by watching and listening — even if they’d never heard either player — and some people did.  One of them wrote to me and asked if I could post some more of Ray.  Nothing simpler and nothing more gratifying, so here are a bundle of blues and blues-related solos from a set Ray did at the San Diego Jazz Fest on November 25, 2016.  He introduces them, so you won’t need explanations from me:

Dr. Bunky Coleman’s BLUE GUAIAC BLUES [medical explication, not for the squeamish*]:

Jimmie Rodgers’ TUCK AWAY MY LONESOME BLUES:

Ray’s own SOUTH HALSTEAD STREET, for Jane Addams and Art Hodes:

THE ALLIGATOR POND WENT DRY (for and by Victoria Spivey):

SUNSET BOOGIE (for and by Joe Sullivan):

Ray Skjelbred is a poet — also when he gets up from the piano bench — of these shadings and tone-colors, of the rhythms of the train heading through the darkness.  We are fortunate to live on his planet.

May your happiness increase!

And the promised medical bulletin: [*guaiac is a resin found i our happiness increase!n certain trees, and it is used in medical testing to check for blood, otherwise invisible, in one’s stool.  If the guaiac turns blue, one has that problem described above.  Now you know.]

“CALIFORNIA BLUES” and OTHER PLEASURES: THE HIGH SIERRA JAZZ BAND at MONTEREY (March 8, 2014)

The High Sierra Jazz Band is the only musical aggregation able — or willing — to evoke Joe Oliver, Jimmie Rodgers, Paul Whiteman, and Peter Lorre in the space of a single set, as they do here. That versatility counts for a good deal with me. They also regularly honor Louis, Bix, Bechet, and Jelly Roll.

If you’d like an embodiment of true jazz loyalty, you have only to attend a High Sierra set where you can hear fans gently debating with each other about whose love for the band is stronger, deeper, and more durable.  “Well, when I first saw them in 1978,” begins one, and the person in the next seat says, “We’ve known Pieter long before that,” at which point I pretend to be adjusting the lighting on my camera in case the debate escalates.  But you get the idea.  

Here’s a set recorded on March 9, 2014, at JazzAge Monterey’s Jazz Bash by the Bay — the noble perpetrators being Pieter Meijers, leader, clarinet, soprano saxophone; Howard Miyata, trombone, vocal; Marc Caparone, cornet; Stan Huddleston, banjo; Earl McKee, sousaphone, vocal; Bruce Huddleston, piano; Charlie Castro, drums. 

In honor of the Creole Jazz Band and its many descendents, MABEL’S DREAM:

For M. Morton, WININ’ BOY BLUES:

CALIFORNIA BLUES, a soulful melding of two Jimmie Rodgers’ blue yodels (numbers 4 and 9) with Marc and Earl honoring not only the Singing Brakeman but his colleague Louis:

More for Louis, a three-trumpet version of POTATO HEAD BLUES, with the famous solo transcribed for Dick Hyman’s New York Jazz Repertory Concert, where the trumpets were originally Pee Wee Erwin, Joe Newman, and Jimmy Maxwell:

Tell the children to be good.  Here comes THE YAMA YAMA MAN (with the verse):

Back to M. Morton for the KANSAS CITY STOMPS:

And a Bixian duo, withLOUISIANA:

And a concluding FROM MONDAY ON:

Hot and expert.

May your happiness increase!

 

A SECOND HELPING OF DELICIOUS HOME-COOKING: THE BRAIN CLOUD at THE JALOPY THEATRE (April 26, 2013)

Big flavors.  Never genetically modified.  Nothing artificial.  Sweet and savory.  Real pleasure.  Intensity and delicacy in one.

Here’s the first set that the Brain Cloud (featuring Dennis Lichtman, Tamar Korn, Andrew Hall, Raphael McGregor, Skip Krevens, Kevin Dorn, with guests Noam Pikelny, Rob Hecht, and Michael Gomez) created at Brooklyn’s Jalopy Theatre on April 26, 2013.

And more!  As before, notice the delight this band takes in making the familiar new and lively, and creating its own classic tunes and performances:

WE ARE NOW!:

MISS THE MISSISSIPPI AND YOU:

WHEN MY DREAMBOAT COMES HOME:

IN THE BEGINNING (Tamar’s own “gospel tune”):

LONESOME ROAD BLUES:

I dedicate this post and the one before it to the loving presence of Tadek Korn.

May your happiness increase!

THE BRAIN CLOUD ENERGIZES BROOKLYN! (April 26, 2013): THE FIRST SET

The BRAIN CLOUD is a cooking Western Swing-plus band composed of Dennis Lichtman, clarinet, electric mandolin, fiddle; Tamar Korn, vocals; Raphael McGregor, lap steel guitar; Skip Krevens, guitar; Andrew Hall, string bass; Kevin Dorn, drums — and for this splendid CD release concert on April 26, 2013, at the Jalopy Theatre in Brooklyn, they were joined by guests Noam Pikelny, banjo; Rob Hecht, fiddle; Michael Gomez, guitar.

Dennis and company are deeply into the music — but they are not “playing old records”; rather, they bring their own idiosyncratic personalities to the material.  And even if you are not terribly receptive to “Western Swing,” fearing that the first word overwhelms the latter, I urge you to put your preconceptions in the bathroom medicine chest and simply listen — I predict you will be delighted.  Jazz fans will hear echoes of Floyd Smith and Charlie Christian, of Count Basie and Benny Goodman — all synthesized in the most natural way in 2013 music that has an arresting but loving impact.

Here’s the first set.

ALMOST TO TULSA:

OUTSIDE LOOKING IN (what witty lyrics!):

TRIGGER BLUES (featuring an impromptu duet between Tamar and Andrew, with hints of MY DADDY ROCKS ME):

The classic I AIN’T GOT NOBODY, with Rob Hecht and Noam Pikelny joining in:

The very sweet MAIDEN’S PRAYER:

I SLEEP WITH ONE EYE OPEN:

Patsy Cline’s love-lament I’VE GOT YOUR PICTURE:

SUGAR BLUES, with Michael Gomez joining in:

WHEN YOU WORE A TULIP:

The concert was uplifting in the nicest ways — worth the walk in the darkness over the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway!

I should point out that this was also a CD release party, so don’t let the videos produce forgetfulness . . . the new CD, OUTSIDE LOOKING IN, is a delight that stands alongside the videos for pure pleasure.  You can order OUTSIDE LOOKING IN as a CD, download, or vinyl record (why not get all three and be safe?) at braincloud.

THE BRAIN CLOUD

May your happiness increase!

LOVE’S REFRAINS: TAMAR KORN AND FRIENDS IN CONCERT (Part Two): August 4, 2012

Happiness filled the room at the Porto Franco Art Center when Tamar Korn, vocal improvisations; Craig Ventresco, guitar and banjo; Gordon Au, trumpet; Dennis Lichtman, clarinet and violin; Rob Adkins, string bass, had a friendly gathering on August 4, 2012.

Even if you closed your eyes and listened, you would know that the musicians and audience were deeply happy.  It was a privilege to be there and a deeper one to be able to share this experience with you.

Here is the second half of that concert, and my only sadness is that there isn’t a third and a fourth half . . . .

I GET THE BLUES WHEN IT RAINS:

OLD-FASHIONED LOVE:

THE SONG IS ENDED:

MISS THE MISSISSIPPI AND YOU:

WHILE THEY WERE DANCING AROUND:

STARDUST:

Oh, memory!  Oh, memory!

May your happiness increase.

DELICATELY INTENSE: TAMAR KORN and FRIENDS in CONCERT: PART ONE (August 4, 2012)

I’ve been listening, entranced, to Tamar Korn four almost four years now, and I first recorded her in November 2008, at the East Village bar, Banjo Jim’s.  She was then a charter member of the Cangelosi Cards, a group that mixed Twenties hot jazz, Quintette of the Hot Club of France, Fats Waller, Jimmie Rodgers, and what I think of as barn-dance music.  It is possible that the first time I heard her was at the end of a Sunday night at The Ear Inn, where everyone was entranced by her singing.  Later, she has appeared with Dennis Lichtman’s Brain Cloud, Gordon Au’s Grand Street Stompers, and with small groups of her own.

Tamar was not merely a singer who had chosen to mimic an assortment of unusual vocal breaks and yodels, adding to this a muted trumpet simulation that would have won the hearts of the Mills Brothers, and an air-violin that was both another way to get to the heart of the melody and a loving evocation of her father, an expert violinist.  Her background was originally in theatre, so she delighted in experimenting with the possibilities of her voice, a remarkable instrument in itself.  Her approach is deceptively delicate but intense, and she makes each song into a small drama, arching from quiet expositions to near-operatic climaxes, her improvisations becoming more and more brave.  But she always swings.

I usually saw and recorded Tamar in places where people were chatting, drinking, laughing . . . understandable but distracting.  So when I had the chance to capture her and the Cards at the Shambhala Meditation Center in New York City (February 27, 2010), it was a cherished experience.  (Thanks to Paul Wegener!)  Here is one segment of that evening.

I thought that the concert at the Shambhala would be the only time I would be able to see and hear Tamar and friends in such a peaceful place.

But I am happy to report that through the good offices of all the musicians and the Varshavsky family, I was able to bring my video camera to the Porto Franco Art Center at 953 Valencia Street in San Francisco . . . and share the divine music with you.

Tamar was joined by her New York friends Gordon Au, trumpet; Dennis Lichtman, clarinet and violin; Rob Adkins, string bass, and SF’s remarkable Craig Ventresco, guitar and banjo.

LAZY RIVER:

A fast SOMEDAY SWEETHEART:

I’VE GOT A FEELIN’ I’M FALLIN’:

IF YOU WANT THE RAINBOW (You Must Have The Rain):

ANNIVERSARY WALTZ:

WHEN YOU WORE A TULIP:

Miss Korn is amazing.  But so are Messrs. Au, Lichtman, Adkins, and Ventresco, each of them a sweet explorer, searching deep into the music.

Another set awaits.

May your happiness increase.

DEAN MARTIN IN THE LAND OF JAZZ?

In May 2012, I visited the National Underground on East Houston Street in New York City to hear John Gill’s National Saloon Band play a few glorious sets, with music ranging from Chicago jazz of the Twenties to Bing Crosby in the Thirties to Jimmie Rodgers . . . see the expansive range of John and the band here and here.

The management of the National Underground might not have had the most solid understanding of what John’s audience would have understood as appropriate background music — but they did the best they could for “older Americana”: a Dean Martin compilation CD.

I always thought Martin was vastly underrated as a swinging singer, and recall with pleasure the words of the late John S. Wilson, jazz critic for the New York Times (he had a seminal radio program on WQXR-FM, which began with Ellington’s ACROSS THE TRACK BLUES — evidence of Wilson’s deep good taste):  he wrote that Martin deserved to record with the best jazz background then possible — a small band featuring Joe Thomas, trumpet; Vic Dickenson, trombone; Ben Webster, tenor.  (I think that band could have made Raymond Massey swing, but no matter.)  It never happened, and I didn’t have any sense that Dean Martin had actually recorded with a swinging background.

The compilation CD went through the familiar Martin recordings and then arrived at one new to me, a song that borrows elements from a half-dozen songs, not the least of them being I’M GONNA SIT RIGHT DOWN AND WRITE MYSELF A LETTER.  This lyrical conceit is more vindictive than lonesome, addressed to a presumably unfaithful or duplicitous lover, I’M GOING TO PAPER MY WALLS WITH YOUR LOVE LETTERS.  But listen closely to the band:

The opening ensemble reminds me of the Rampart Street Paraders — neatly “arranged Dixie,” in the manner of Matty Matlock or Billy May, with the string bass playing in two, a descending “Dixieland” figure scored for the horns, then a clarinet obbligto making its way in as the chorus continues — it could be Matlock or two dozen other players to my ears.  After Martin finishes his first chorus, things get looser and more heated.  Is that Dick Cathcart on trumpet?  Clyde Hurley?  And the trombonist, expertly maneuvering around in the middle and low section of the ensemble, could be Moe Schneider — lacking the violent swashbuckling of Abe Lincoln.

But wait!  There’s more!

At 1:27,more or less, the veil of polite behavior lifted, the businessman’s-Dixie got put aside, and the Masters came out to play.  To my ears, the drummer is Nick Fatool, the trombonist Lou McGarity (based on the shouting entrance into the solo).  This deliverance lasts less than thirty seconds, but it’s a wonderful surprise.  (And — so reminiscent of the 1928-31 “hot dance”records that had a peppy orchestral rendition of a danceable melody, then a winning but restrained vocal chorus — with a fiery eight or sixteen bars of jazz improvisation in the last chorus . . . if the prospective buyer had gotten that far, the sale was complete and Mother or Father were not going to scared off by some unbridled devil’s music.)

The closing chorus is slightly more emphatic than the first, but it’s fairly clear that the players have gone back to the manuscript paper: the whole recording, presumably from the middle Fifties, has a sweetly nostalgic air, harking back to Bing Crosby and the John Scott Trotter small groups.

I confess that what has appeared above has very little solid evidence to support it.  I could find no hard evidence of personnel, recording date, and location: the only evidence I have is that the song was recorded by The Ravens and the Andrews Sisters . . . my guess is that this order is right.  If anyone knows more than I have offered here, please chime in.  Until then, I invite you to savor Martin, the band, and that brief hot interlude in the middle.  Eckhart Tolle tells us that it is not our true work to name the beautiful bird or plant that we encounter in our travels, but to enjoy it . . . so if it turns out to be  someone entirely unknown to me on drums, on trombone, I will be surprised but I will live through it.

And this post is for the fine trumpeter and subtle singer Andrew Storar, who told me two days ago that Dean Martin was his favorite.

May your happiness increase.

JOHN GILL’S AMERICAN SONGS (Part Two: May 30, 2012)

It’s easy to tell the truth . . . so I will write it again.  (If you didn’t see Part One of this happy musical evening, here it is.)

Although John Gill is soft-spoken and wryly modest, he’s an extraordinary figure. It’s not just that he is a swinging banjoist, guitarist, drummer, and trombonist. It’s not merely that he is an intuitively fine bandleader: his bands have a certain serious lope, and the musicians look happy (no small thing). It’s not simply that he is a splendidly moving singer.

What makes John unique to me is the range and depth of his musical imagination. Many musicians have found a repertoire they prefer and it becomes their identity: when you go to hear X, you know that (s)he will play RIVERBOAT SHUFFLE. Y will break out one of the OLOGY tunes — ANTHROP or ORNITH. Z likes SATIN DOLL.

But John Gill’s world isn’t narrowly defined by one group of songs, one “genre,” one “style.” His knowledge of American music and performance styles is long, deep, and wide. In his spacious imagination, Bix and Louis visit Bing and Pat Boone; Elvis has coffee with Jolson; they hang out with Hank Williams and Buddy Holly, while Johnny Dodds, Billy Murray, Turk Murphy, and Lu Watters gossip about Tommy Rockwell and what’s new at the OKeh studios. Bessie Smith and Sophie Tucker talk fashion; Cole Porter, George M. Cohan, and W. C. Handy compare royalty statements. King Oliver lifts the sugar bowl from Scott Joplin’s table, and Jimmie Rodgers does the Shim-me-Sha-Wabble.

When John is in charge, none of this seems synthetic or forced; you never hear the sound of gears changing. All of these musics live comfortably within him, and he generously shares them with us in his heartfelt, swinging ways. I had another opportunity to watch him in action at the National Underground on May 30 with his National Saloon Band — Will Reardon Anderson on clarinet and alto; Simon Wettenhall on trumpet; Kevin Dorn on drums; Steve Alcott on string bass.

Here’s the second part of that wide-ranging musical offering.

The NEW ORLEANS HOP SCOP BLUES, which I associate with Bessie Smith and a 1940 Johnny Dodds recording:

Leadbelly’s THE MIDNIGHT SPECIAL:

For Sophie Tucker, Louis Armstrong, Bing Crosby, and a thousand others — that hot jazz admonition, SOME OF THESE DAYS:

Another Jimmie Rodgers evergreen, THE DESERT BLUES:

I wasn’t kidding when I mentioned Cole Porter above; here’s I LOVE PARIS:

A song by Ewan MacColl from 1949, made famous by The Dubliners, DIRTY OLD TOWN:

Lots of fun with THE SECOND LINE IN NEW ORLEANS, a rocking good time:

John evokes Bing Crosby splendidly — without imitating him note-for-note — and he performed one of my favorite early Bing romantic songs, PLEASE (it’s part of the Polite Bing Trilogy: MAY I? / PLEASE / THANKS:

And to close off the performance (they kept on, but bourgeois responsibilities called me home), they performed John’s own salute to New Orleans, THE BORDER OF THE QUARTER:

In my ideal world, Professor Gill would be both Artist-in-Residence at any number of prestigious universities with American Studies programs . . . but he would have time to lead bands regularly.  Any takers?

May your happiness increase.

JOHN GILL’S AMERICAN SONGS: PART ONE (May 30, 2012)

Although John Gill is soft-spoken and wryly modest, he’s an extraordinary figure.  It’s not just that he is a swinging banjoist, guitarist, drummer, and trombonist.  It’s not merely that he is an intuitively fine bandleader: his bands have a certain serious lope, and the musicians look happy (no small thing).  It’s not simply that he is a splendidly moving singer.

What makes John unique to me is the range and depth of his musical imagination.  Many musicians have found a repertoire they prefer and it becomes their identity: when you go to hear X, you know that (s)he will play RIVERBOAT SHUFFLE.  Y will break out one of the OLOGY tunes — ANTHROP or ORNITH.  Z likes SATIN DOLL.

But John Gill’s world isn’t narrowly defined by one group of songs, one “genre,” one “style.”  His knowledge of American music and performance styles is long, deep, and wide.  In his spacious imagination, Bix and Louis visit Bing and Pat Boone; Elvis has coffee with Jolson; they hang out with Hank Williams and Buddy Holly, while Johnny Dodds, Billy Murray, Turk Murphy, and Lu Watters gossip about Tommy Rockwell and what’s new at the OKeh studios.  Bessie Smith and Sophie Tucker talk fashion; Cole Porter, George M. Cohan, and W. C. Handy compare royalty statements.  King Oliver lifts the sugar bowl from Scott Joplin’s table, and Jimmie Rodgers does the Shim-me-Sha-Wabble.

When John is in charge, none of this seems synthetic or forced; you never hear the sound of gears changing.  All of these musics live comfortably within him, and he generously shares them with us in his heartfelt, swinging ways.  I had another opportunity to watch him in action at the National Underground on May 30 with his National Saloon Band — Will Reardon Anderson on clarinet and alto; Simon Wettenhall on trumpet; Kevin Dorn on drums; Steve Alcott on string bass.  They began the evening with a MAKE ME A PALLET ON THE FLOOR, which W. C. Handy then “adapted” as the ATLANTA BLUES:

One of those good old good ones that all the musicians love to play (and that includes Bix, Louis, Benny, and Basie), the ROYAL GARDEN BLUES:

Here’s where John differs from the “traditional jazz” formula: how about the Jimmie Rodgers song T FOR TEXAS:

For the dancers (and they were at the National Underground that night), SHIM-ME-SHA-WABBLE:

If you enjoy odd intersections, I think MUDDY WATER counts as one, a song both Bing Crosby and Bessie Smith recorded in 1927:

Here’s a pretty 1931 pop tune that came back to life a quarter-century later (Vic Dickenson liked to play it, too), LOVE LETTERS IN THE SAND:

And — to close off this segment — a song I’d only heard on recordings (Johnny Dodds); next time, I’ll ask John to sing WHEN ERASTUS PLAYS HIS OLD KAZOO:

In my ideal New York City, John Gill is leading small hot bands like this on a regular basis.  It would take months before he and his colleagues had to repeat a song . . .  More to come!

May your happiness increase.

ROCKING WITH DENNIS LICHTMAN’S BRAIN CLOUD (at the Jalopy Theatre, March 25, 2011)

Dennis Lichtman’s Brain Cloud is a hot band.

Never mind that its guiding star is Bob Wills rather than King Oliver: don’t let it bother you.

There was a time in American popular music where these “genres” overlapped so happily that Western Swing recordings looked back to Lang and Venuti, sideways to Bennie Moten and later to Charlie Christian. . . and often swung as hard as the Condon Commodores.  Is that sufficient recommendation?

The Brain Cloud takes its name from a Wills song — where having a “cloudy” brain is related to the deep blues — but there’s nothing particularly foggy or ambiguous about the band.

Nice unison arrangements, intense (and not overlong) solos for everyone, and wonderfully on-target singing and impromptu choreography from Miz Tamar Korn.  Dennis plays electric mandolin, clarinet, and fiddle — and chooses the good-natured tempos; he’s joined by Andrew Hall, bass, and one of my dear friends, drummer Kevin Dorn.  Raphael McGregor plays the pedal steel guitar, and Skip Krevens the electric guitar — and sings a few.

At the Jalopy Theatre in Red Hook, Brooklyn — where the Brain Cloud had their CD release party on March 25, 2011, Dennis had a few special guests — and I don’t use that term lightly: Noam Pikelny on banjo; Scott Kettner on snare drum and triangle; Matt Munisteri on guitar; Pete Martinez on clarinet.  I was there on camera and tripod, along with JAZZ LIVES’ pal Doug Pomeroy, recording engineer extraordinaire.

Here’s what we saw.

As if to welcome the most finicky of JAZZ LIVES readers into the Brain Cloud tent, Dennis began with Mel Powell’s 1942 MISSION TO MOSCOW — a most interesting chart / composition for the Benny Goodman band.  Hear how it blends what the critics would later call “pre-bop” with sections coming straight from the Ellington “doo-wah, doo-wah” of IT DON’T MEAN A THING:

Then, the moody Wills song the band was named for, BRAIN CLOUDY BLUES:

Another piece of “crossover” music — HAVE YOU EVER BEEN LONELY?  I have the 1931 sheet music which has the face of that famous Western swingster, Harry Lillis Crosby, on the cover:

The mournful BLUES FOR DIXIE, which has neat lyrics:

I may have the title wrong, but I believe this is DARK AS THE NIGHT (BLUE AS THE DAY):

Courtesy of the well-versed Matt Munisteri (who sat in), HONEY FINGERS:

I learned MY WINDOW FACES THE SOUTH from another famous Western swing star, Thomas “Grits” Waller:

Dennis’ story of playing PEACOCK RAG in Hawaii is a rare piece of narrative plumage in itself:

RHYTHM IN MY SOUL is an apt title for this band’s efforts:

A 1939 Broadway song (from a production called YOKEL BOY, no kidding) that became a favorite with Billie Holiday and Summit Reunion, among others — it’s COMES LOVE:

Florists take note!  Here’s WHEN YOU WORE A TULIP (a song I associate with New Orleans bands and — perhaps oddly? — Judy Garland and Gene Kelly):

The sweet Jimmie Rodgers lament, MISS THE MISSISSIPPI AND YOU:

A different variety of sweetness, SUGAR MOON:

The very funny up-tempo narrative of love unfulfilled: girls, don’t ever hang out with a fiddler if he won’t put his instrument in the case for you — HE FIDDLED WHILE I BURNED:

And a closing rouser with all the guests — James P. Johnson’s OLD-FASHIONED LOVE (with the Western Swing changes, you’ll hear):

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What a wonderfully spirited band!  And now you know what band to engage for your daughter’s graduation, your son’s bris, your husband’s retirement, the mutual celebration of someone’s divorce coming through . . .

The only problem with these videos (of which I am quite proud) is that you can’t watch them in the car — except, of course, if you’re a passenger.  May I offer a safer solution?

Clock here: https://www.cdbaby.com/cd/braincloud to purchase the BRAIN CLOUD debut CD — which has the same band (Dennis, Tamar, Kevin, Skip, Andrew, and Raphael) performing ten selections: MISSION TO MOSCOW / BLUES FOR DIXIE / BRAIN CLOUDY BLUES / MY WINDOW FACES THE SOUTH / PEACOCK RAG / HE FIDDLED WHILE I BURNED / COMES LOVE / SWEET CHORUS / SUGAR MOON / SITTIN’ ALONE IN THE MOONLIGHT — beautifully recorded, so that you will hear things that the videos can’t capture.

Illustration by Jillian Johnson

EXTRA! THE CANGELOSI CARDS CD

newsboy2Thanks to Eve Polich, I learned that the Cangelosi Cards debut CD was not only finished but on sale.  I’d been thinking about this disc since Tamar Korn had said that the Cards were making their first-ever formal recording.   

But at the same time, bringing this extraordinary group into a recording studio made me anxious.  The Cards create an ecstatic spectacle whenever they perform.  Even if there isn’t a whole line of dancers in front of the band, the music makes everyone bond joyously, and the band climbs higher and higher. 

I’ve been at recording sessions, observing the most experienced professionals, and I know the effect that even the most congenial studio can have on creative improvisers.  Everyone plays splendidly, but there is the chilling effect of being watched too closely, of having your every breath recorded — literally — for posterity.  It’s a rare band that’s totally relaxed in the studio, and most musicians seem exhausted at the end of the session, relieved that it’s over, vaguely dissatisfied with the results.  I wondered if the artificial environment of the recording studio would cause the Cards to lose some of their exquisite energies?   

I need not have worried.  Yes, there’s no crowd audible on the CD, and the absence of enthusiastic noise took a few minutes to get used to.  But the music comes through more clearly than it ever does in live performance.  I hear nuances of timbre in solo and ensemble that I would only have sensed in a club.  And the Cards seem not at all intimidated by the microphones, the weight of being captured for immortality.  From the first notes of MY BLUE HEAVEN, the Cards rock — without strain or tension, but with a graceful intensity.  The rhythm section is splendidly easy; the front-line players show off their distinctive voices and timbres.  Subtle, convincing little arrangements, too.  As we’ve seen, the Cards are full of surprises: no performance is predictable, although there is none of that irritating seeking-after-novelty that distinguishes lesser groups.  You’ll hear a persuasive, irresistible swing that gives way to tender ballad playing, in their characteristically varied repertoire — hinting at Billie Holiday and Jimmie Rodgers, to mention only two names. 

Tamar’s voice is, as always, a delight — and in this form, I can hear textures that a club audience might have over-ridden.  She sings sweetly, growls the blues, becomes her own trumpet / hi-hat cymbal, and yodels — her focused but expansive vocal instrument responding to every nuance of the music.  And I truly admire the witty trombone playing of Musselman, Lichtman’s fluent clarinet and eloquent mandolin work, Milius’s forceful harmonica solos, Meyer’s perfectly poised violin playing, Sanders’ solid rhythm playing and eloquent lines, Holden’s deep-down bass support, and Webster’s nimble, searching piano.  The Cards would have been welcome on Fifty-Second Street in its glory days: hear the rocking momentum they create on IDA, as well as the Victorian delicacy of TREASURES UNTOLD.       

And, although it seems paradoxical, the disc isn’t too long.  Many CDs are filled to the brim with twenty similar performances, making listening to them somewhat exhausting.  The eight selections here are a wonderfully satisfying banquet.     

The details?  The CD is available for $10 from La Compania de Musicos Viajeros (www.losmusicosviajeros.net) 718-744-7391; email is correspondence@losmusicosviajeros.net.  Obviously, the ideal way to buy it is to pick up several copies at a Cards appearance.  Why “several copies”?  They make ideal gifts;  they will be collectors’ items; they help fund this irreplaceable band.  But you already have figured that out.  I heard rumblings that it would be possible to download the music from the site, but you’d have to check there.

The disc is called THE CANGELOSI CARDS: CLINTON STREET RECORDINGS.  My Blue Heaven / It’s Like Reaching For The Moon / Blue Yodel No. 2 / Ida, Sweet As Apple Cider / September Song / Puttin’ On The Ritz / Treasures Untold / The Anniversary Song.  It features the full octet: Jake Sanders, guitar; Tamar Korn, vocals; Cassidy Holden, bass; Matt Musselman, trombone; Dennis Lichtman, clarinet and mandolin; Marcus Millius, harmonica; Karl Meyer, violin; Gordon Webster, piano.

It delights me — and I can’t wait until the next one!