Tag Archives: Jimmie Rowles

STATE OF THE ART: DALTON RIDENHOUR and EVAN ARNTZEN (Scott Joplin International Ragtime Festival, Sedalia, Missouri: June 2, 2018)

Dalton Ridenhour, photograph by Aidan Grant

Duet playing in any genre is difficult — making two into one while keeping the individuals’ individualities afloat.  Improvised duet playing, as you can imagine, might be the most wonderful soaring dance of all but it is fraught with the possibility of disaster.  Can we agree on a tempo?  Is one of us rushing or dragging?  Do we agree on the changes?  Do we play the tag at the end of every chorus?  Do we change key for the final chorus?  Or, as Vic Dickenson said, “How do you want to distribute the bounces?”

Evan Arntzen, photograph by Tim Cheeney

But I am sure that some of my most enthralling moments have been as an open-mouthed spectator at some duets: Louis Armstrong and Earl Hines or Buck Washington, Al Cohn and Jimmie Rowles; Ruby Braff and Ellis Larkins; Ruby and Dick Hyman; Vic and Ralph Sutton; Eddie Lang and Lonnie Johnson; Zoot Sims and Bucky Pizzarelli, Andrew Oliver and David Horniblow, Marc Caparone and Ray Skjelbred . . . . and and and.  Now I add to that list the two fellows photographed above . . . on the basis of two songs in concert.

Here are two lovely examples of how improvised duet playing — by two people, expert and intuitive — can touch our hearts while we marvel at the risks taken and the immense rewards.  Pianist Dalton Ridenhour was playing a solo set at the Scott Joplin International Ragtime Festival in Sedalia, Missouri, and gave us a surprise by inviting his colleague and neighbor, clarinetist Evan Arntzen, to the stage for a dozen memorable minutes.

The tender and evocative THAT OLD FEELING:

The song I call CHANGES MADE (and then someone insists that THERE’LL BE SOME CHANGES MADE is the properly pious title . . . . what-ever):

I dream of a venue and an occasion where Dalton and Evan could play as long as they wanted . . .

May your happiness increase!

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ANDY BROWN, SWING MASTER: “APPEL DIRECT”

Theoretically, I should not be able to write that the Chicago-based guitarist Andy Brown is in fact a Swing Master.  He is certainly too young and too healthy. He’s been on a skateboard.  He might even lack the maladjustments so common to Great Artists.  But these things have not limited his creative magic.

andy_brown2

There’s more delightful evidence at hand, a new Delmark CD, DIRECT CALL, which I would gladly dub SWING MASTERPIECE OF 2016.

andy brown direct call cover

For those who’d rather trust their ears than this blog, here are samples from the CD.  And here is the riotously rocking title track — Django’s APPEL DIRECT:

The three other masters here are Phil Gratteau, drums; Jeremy Kahn, piano; Joe Policastro, string bass.  Like Andy, they know what and where it is.

The session was recorded in Chicago last September — beautiful sound thanks to my non-relative Scott Steinman: THE JEEP IS JUMPIN’ / PRISONER OF LOVE / EL CAJON / FUNK IN DEEP FREEZE / APPEL DIRECT / RELAXING / ONE MORNING IN MAY / CATCH ME / ELA E CARIOCA / FREAK OF THE WEEK.

In a crime novel whose name I forget, someone said, less politely, “Everybody can talk but not everyone has things to say.”  The art of swing improvisation is not something learned from the Real Book or from copying gestures to fool an audience. (Ending a performance of SHINY STOCKINGS with three Basie chords doesn’t make it Basie.)

Compelling, light-hearted, authentic swing and melodic improvisations are a matter of years of study — usually on the job.  The members of this quartet, although not Elders chronologically, are wise players whose art comes from playing, listening, thinking, feeling.

Some like their jazz to be startling, even abrupt.  It has to be “innovative” and “adventurous.”  I wouldn’t deny them such pleasures, but music that shouts BOO! in my ear is not for me.  I warm to jazz that delicately balances the familiar and the surprising, with comfort the result, as if I were a passenger with a driver I wholly trusted.  This comfort is felt immediately in the opening choruses of APPEL DIRECT.  “These players know how to sustain feeling and build on it; they won’t let me down or disappoint me.”

Although the CD is in no way a repertory project, I could settle into the joy of experiencing and anticipating right from the start: the same way I feel when (let us say) I heard Teddy Wilson, Milt Hinton, and Jo Jones play an eight-bar introduction.  Basie and Charlie Christian.  Jimmie Rowles, Jim Hall, Leroy Vinnegar, Frank Butler. You can supply your own names.  Mastery and ease.

I urge you to check out the CD, and, even better, share the music with others . . . or do that most radical thing, hear this quartet in a Chicago club or elsewhere. I believe that you will feel uplifted, rewarded — by the sweetness of PRISONER OF LOVE, the rare energy of CATCH ME and the other swinging tunes.  It’s a beautifully integrated quartet, with each player generously giving of himself to the band.  And now I will play APPEL DIRECT again.

May your happiness increase!

“A HEAVEN ON EARTH TO SHARE”: GABRIELLE STRAVELLI / MICHAEL KANAN at THE DRAWING ROOM (February 8, 2015)

What follows captures one of those magic times when the song, the title, the performance, and the performers can all be described in the same phrase.

SO RARE

The song, to many of us, is associated forever with Jimmy Dorsey — his last hit –but it was a pop hit in 1937.

SO RARE 45

The simple melody line has made it adaptable to all kinds of improvisers: there is an airshot by the Benny Goodman trio when it was new, and later performances by Ella Fitzgerald, Mose Allison, Anthony Braxton, and the duo of Jimmie Rowles and Joe Pass.

But I submit that the version that is now forever in my mind and heart is this one, created by Gabrielle Stravelli and Michael Kanan on February 8 of this year at The Drawing Room, 56 Willoughby Street, in Brooklyn.

Gabrielle introduces it in a touching, light-hearted way (while Michael plays gorgeously behind her) and then transforms the song.  No longer simply a piece of nostalgia, it becomes the most warm expression of happy praise and exultant joy from one lover to another.  Love never ages:

Isn’t that marvelous?  The dark beauty of Gabrielle’s voice, moving from the casually spoken to the eloquently full-throated, and the moving subtleties Michael always creates.  And that steady sweet patient tempo.

I offer another masterpiece from that evening — and there were many — here.

I propose that music like this — delicate, haunting, elegant, deep — is indeed so rare.

And I send thanks to Gabrielle’s parents.

May your happiness increase!

MICHAEL KANAN and NEAL MINER at MEZZROW (Part Two): September 16, 2014

One of the recent pleasures of living in or near New York City has been the emergence of new places to hear music, and one of the most restorative of these places is the downstairs oasis MEZZROW, at 163 West Tenth Street.  I haven’t been able to be there as often as I’d liked, but so far I’ve been delighted by the ambiance, the quiet, the good piano, the sweetly natural sound.

On September 16, 2014, which seems so long ago, I was able to experience the floating musical energies of two of my heroes, pianist Michael Kanan and string bassist / composer Neal Miner. Here is the first part of their performance that night, and I am pleased to offer you five more selections.

Neal’s TIMELINE (cleverly, a line built on the harmonies of TIME ON MY HANDS):

ALL THE THINGS YOU ARE — which segues into Neal’s AT THE BISTRO:

THE BEST THING FOR YOU (WOULD BE ME):

BALLAD MEDLEY (EV’RY TIME WE SAY GOODBYE and I GUESS I’LL HANG MY TEARS OUT TO DRY):

Neal’s BLUES OKURA:

Beautiful music, complex and direct at the same time — the result of deep study and deep feeling, but aimed at our hearts and landing there gently. Human warmth, generosity of spirit: du holde Kunst indeed.

May your happiness increase!

BENNY, BUDDY, BUCKY, JIMMY, JACK, MERV

Don Robertson pointed out this video on Facebook: perhaps it is new to you, as it was to me.

Nothing complicated: Benny Goodman and Buddy Rich playing together for the first time in thirty years, with Jimmy Rowles, piano; Bucky Pizzarelli, guitar; Jack Six, string bass — on the Merv Griffin Show in 1979.  The songs — nothing complicated there, either — AS LONG AS I LIVE and I GOT RHYTHM.  The “Sextet”: someone’s math was off that night.

Benny is in splendid form; Buddy, grinning wildly, offers masterful support and heroically beautiful brushwork throughout; Bucky and Jack are indispensably generous in their swing-pulse.

But what draws my attention throughout is Jimmy (I think he preferred “Jimmie,” so I apologize to him) Rowles.  Once you’ve heard / seen the video once and admired the Stars, I beseech you to go back and listen solely to the piano.

THAT may not be the only way to play the piano — I am not going to be narrowly didactic here — but Rowles so beautifully fuses the worlds of 1940 Lester, Basie, Duke, and Ben, with the later worlds of Miles and Bird, Dizzy and Roach.  And he always sounds like no one else.

Initially, you might say of a Rowles phrase or accent or voicing, “What is he doing?” and then it becomes both inevitable, perfectly right, and a choice only he could have made.  It is the very opposite of formulaic playing; listening to him provides us with a series of lovely small gifts — “How did you know that was exactly what we wanted?”  I miss Jimmie Rowles.  I do.

Listen again.

This one’s for Michael Kanan.

May your happiness increase.

ROBERTA PIKET, “SOLO”: SWEET PUNGENCY

Although others have justly celebrated her, I was unaware of pianist Roberta Piket until she sat in on a Lena Bloch gig at Somethin’ Jazz at the end of April 2012.  Then I heard the lovely, inquiring sounds that she made: she appears on the final two performances here.

ROBERTA PIKET Solo

I am even more impressed by her latest CD, called simply SOLO.

My early introductions to solo piano were, not surprisingly, based in swing: Waller, Wilson, James P., Hines, Williams, Tatum, and their modern descendants — players who appropriately viewed the instrument as orchestral, who balanced right-hand lines against continuous, sometimes forceful harmonic / rhythmic playing in the bass.  I still admire the Mainstream piano that encompasses both Nat Cole and Bud Powell, but I no longer feel deprived if I listen to a solo pianist who approaches the instrument in a more expressive way, freeing both hands from their traditional roles.  To me, James P. Johnson’s IF DREAMS COME TRUE, Wilson’s DON’T BLAME ME, Tatum’s POOR BUTTERFLY, and almost anything by Jimmie Rowles scale the heights. But I know there are fresh fields and pastures new beyond those splendid achievements.  And players who are willing to explore can often take us on quite rewarding journeys.

Roberta Piket is on her own quest — although she notes that SOLO was, in some ways, a return to her own comfort zone.  But within that zone she both explores and provides comfort for us.  For one thing, her choices of repertoire are ingenious and varied: Arthur Schwartz, Monk, Strayhorn – Ellington, Bruno Martino, Wayne Shorter, Sam Rivers, Chick Corea, Marian McPartland, and Frederick Piket.

Her work surprises — but not for novelty’s sake alone — and whose variety of approaches is intuitively matched to the material she has chosen.  Some solo artists have one basic approach, which they vary slightly when moving from a ballad to a more assertive piece, but the narrowness of the single approach quickly becomes familiar and even tiresome.  SOLO feels more like a comprehensive but free exploration of very different materials — without strain or pretension, the result feels like the most original of suites, a series of improvised meditations, statements, and dances based on strikingly chosen compositions.

The first evidence of Piket’s deep understanding of line and space, of shade and light, comes almost immediately on the CD, as she approaches the repeated notes of I SEE YOUR FACE BEFORE ME with a serious tenderness reminiscent of a Satie piece, an emotion that echoes in its own way in the final piece.  (I hope Jonathan Schwartz has been able to hear this: it is more than touching.)

Then, as soon as the listener has been sweetly and perhaps ruefully lulled, two strong, almost vigorous improvisations on Monk themes follow.  Many pianists have reduced Monk to a handful of by-the-numbers dissonances; not Piket, who uses his melodic material as a starting point rather than attempting to show that, she, too, can “sound Monkish.”

Lovely songs by Strayhorn (SOMETHING TO LIVE FOR) and McPartland (IN THE DAYS OF OUR LOVE) are treated with sincerity and reverence, but Piket does far more than simply play the familiar melody and chords: her voicings, her touch, illuminate from within.  ESTATE shows off Piket’s easy versatility, as she places the melody in the bass and ornaments in the treble during the performance.  Roberta’s precise power and energetic technique are shown in the uptempo original CLAUDE’S CLAWED, Shorter’s NEFERTITI, and Corea’s LITHA — at times powerful investigations that bridge post-bop jazz and modern classical, at times a series of unanswered questions.

The disc ends as it began, with tenderness — Sam Rivers’ BEATRICE,  an easy swinger that seems light-hearted without losing its essential serious affection.  And there’s a prize.  I didn’t know about Roberta’s father, Viennese-born composer Frederick Piket (whose life and work is examined here).  Although he wrote much “serious” music — secular and religious — IMPROVISATION BLUE is a lovely “popular” song I kept returning to: its melody is haunting without being morose, and I imagined it scored for the Claude Thornhill band in a Gil Evans chart.  It should have been.

SOLO begins sweetly and tenderly and ends the same way — with vigorous questioning and exploring of various kinds in the middle.  Roberta is an eloquent creator who takes chances but is true to her internal compass, whichever way it might point for a particular performance.

You can hear some of SOLO at Roberta’s website and at CDBaby.

On Facebook: Roberta Piket’s Music and Roberta Piket.

And this January 31, you will be able to hear Roberta, the inspiring percussionist Billy Mintz (he and Roberta are husband and wife, a neat match), celebrating tenor saxophonist Lena Bloch’s birthday — with bassist Putter Smith and legendary saxophonist John Gross.  Fine Israeli food and wine are part of the party at the East End Temple.  Tickets are $18 in advance, $22 at the door; $15 for students: click here to join the fun.

May your happiness increase.

WHEN THE COMMON LANGUAGE IS SOPHISTICATED SWING: TED BROWN / BRAD LINDE: “TWO OF A KIND”

One of the nicest aspects of the jazz brother-and-sisterhood is that music eradicates many barriers less enlightened people mistakenly construct.  When Louis Armstrong arrived in a foreign country whose language he couldn’t speak, the band playing STRUTTIN’ WITH SOME BARBECUE at the airport told him that everyone knew what to say and how to say it.

Jazz critics construct Schools and Sects, so that people under thirty are supposed to play one way, people over seventy another.  But the musicians don’t care about this, and jazz has always had a lovely cross-generational mentoring going on, where the Old Dudes (or the Elders of the Tribe or the Sages) took on the Youngbloods (or the Future Elders or the Kids) to make sure the music would go on in the right loving way.  In theory, the Jazz Parents look after the Young’uns, but the affectionate connection works both ways: sometimes younger players bring back the Elders (Eva Taylor, Sippie Wallace, Jabbo Smith) from their possibly comfortable retirement, find them gigs, make sure that the audience knows that the Elders aren’t dead and can still swing out.  When the partnership works — and it usually does — everyone feels good, especially the listeners.

One of the most rewarding examples of this has been the side-by-side swing partnership of tenor saxophonists Ted Brown (now 85) and Brad Linde (now 33), which I have followed and documented in a variety of live appearances in New York City, the most recent being a wonderful evening organized by Brad at The Drawing Room in Brooklyn in December 2012, to celebrate Ted’s birthday.

TED AND BRAD coverAnother celebration is the new CD by Ted and Brad — TWO OF A KIND (Bleebop Records # 1202).  It reminds me of the Satchel Paige line about age: it was all about mind over matter, and if you didn’t mind it didn’t matter.  Or words to that effect.  If you closed your eyes while listening to this delightful CD, you wouldn’t hear Elder and Younger, you wouldn’t hear Master and Student.  You would hear two jazz friends, colleagues, taking their own ways on sweetly swinging parallel paths to a common goal — beautiful arching melodies, interesting harmonic twists, and subtle rhythmic play.  And the material is both familiar and fresh — Ted’s original lines that twist and turn over known and time-tested chord structures: SMOG EYES, SLIPPIN’ AND SLIDIN, and his new tribute to Lester, PRESERVATION, and Lester’s blues line POUND CAKE.  Warne Marsh, Lennie Tristano, and Lee Konitz are happily in evidence here as well, with Warne’s BACKGROUND MUSIC, the theme from Tschaikovsky’s Opus 142 that Ted and Warne recorded together on a classic session, Konitz’s LENNIE’S, and the indestructible MY MELANCHOLY BABY and BODY AND SOUL.

It’s a delightful CD — on philosophical grounds of music transcending artificial definitions and barriers — beautifully recorded, full of feeling and sweet energy.  No abrupt shocks to the nervous system, no straining after novelty — just evocations of a world where melody, harmony, and swing rhythms have so much to offer us.  Thank you Brad, Ted, Tom, Michael, Don, and Tony.

Visit Ted’s website here; Brad’s here.

I was originally considering titling this post BEAUTIFULLY OLD-SCHOOL, but realized that not all of my readers would take that as a compliment.  I don’t mean that TWO OF A KIND consciously tries to make it sound as if life had come to a graceful halt in 1956, but if one heard this CD playing from another room, one might think it was a newly discovered classic Verve, Vanguard, or Contemporary Records issue — because of the great ease and fluency with which the players approach the material and intuitively understand their roles in an ensemble.  The young players — although not known to me — are just splendid, as individualists and as a cohesive rhythm section.  Michael Kramer, guitar; Dan Roberts, piano; Tom Baldwin, string bass; Tony Martucci, drums, work together as if to the late-swing / timeless-Mainstream manner born, and if I heard sweet subtle evocations of Mel Lewis, Ray Brown, Tal Farlow, and Jimmie Rowles, no one would blame me.

If you have never heard Ted and Brad together, here they are at The Drawing Room — playing BROADWAY with Michael Kanan, piano; Murray Wall, string bass; Taro Okamoto, drums.  Sweet swing, gentle urgencies, messages to send throughout the universe.

May your happiness increase.