Tag Archives: Jimmie Rowles

PLAY NICE: MILT JACKSON, JIMMIE ROWLES, BUCKY PIZZARELLI, SLAM STEWART, DUFFY JACKSON (Grande Parade du Jazz, July 13, 1979)

Some jazz groups “have history”: that is, the intuitive understanding that comes from playing often, even if not night after night, together.  (In the dating world, it’s called “chemistry.”) Other collaborations — by whatever circumstance — emerge when people who don’t ordinarily work together are asked to play for the public.  I don’t know whether the producer of the Grande Parade du Jazz, colloquially called the “Nice Jazz Festival,” decided it would be interesting to mix it up, or whether Milt Jackson said, “Here are the people I’d like to play with.”  I suspect the former.

But, for almost an hour, we have a set of music from Milt, vibraphone; Jimmie Rowles, piano; Bucky Pizzarelli, guitar; Slam Stewart, string bass; Duffy Jackson, drums.  I would guess that Milt and Jimmie might have encountered each other as far back as the mid-Forties in California; Bucky and Slam worked as a duo and in many rhythm sections at this time; Duffy, the youngest of the group, had experience as Basie’s drummer.  Being a Rowles-devotee, my overpowering first reaction was, “Goodness!  Nearly on  hour of Jimmie in a different context, on video!”

Preparing this post, I looked in Tom Lord’s discography for any evidence that this quintet — or a near-relation — had recorded, and found none.  But Milt, Jimmie, and Ray Brown (and perhaps others) had performed a year earlier in Sao Paulo as part of the Montreux Jazz Festival tour, and here’s photographic evidence.  I certainly would like to hear this:

Milt, someone with great awareness, treats the repertoire as he would if presiding over a jam session, and calls songs that no one could get lost in — THE MAN I LOVE / STARDUST / BLUES / DISORDER AT THE BORDER / SOMETIMES I’M HAPPY / BAGS’ GROOVE //.  I don’t know, if when the set was over, the players said to each other, “Well, we got through that.  Did you see all those television cameras?  Damn, people are going to be watching this?  I need to lie down,” or if the general reaction was, “What a triumph!”

2020 criticism of 1979 joys will be discouraged.  I think this is a priceless hour, and am thrilled it exists.  I hope you feel the same way.  And I am able to share this with you through the generous kindness of A Good Friend.

May your happiness increase!

DAN MORGENSTERN CELEBRATES JIMMY ROWLES (August 19, 2019)

Yesterday, I posted two lovely Jimmy Rowles piano solos here.  Today, I offer you two segments of an interview I did with Dan Morgenstern almost a year ago about his and my hero Rowles.  Symmetry, no?  (Incidentally, I am more of a participant in these segments, because I occasionally recalled a piece of information more rapidly: not my habit, but perhaps useful.)

and then . . .

And here ‘s a 2017 interview I did with Dan that starts with Rowles and then happily wanders to Georgia and potato salad.  I learned early in interviewing that you let the speaker go where (s)he wants to go and the results are more fun.  See for yourself.

Before you go, here’s that extended performance of TIGER RAG (1957) that Dan admires, by Rowles, Barney Kessel, Ben Webster, Frank Rosolino, Leroy Vinnegar, and Shelly Manne:

May your happiness increase!

JIMMY ROWLES, SOLO

Jimmy Rowles — a painter, sly and romantic, who sat on a piano bench — was not often recorded as a solo pianist.  Whether by choice or circumstance, I don’t know, but most often he was captured with a string bassist and drummer.  The bassists and drummers were always superb, but the half-dozen recordings of  Rowles unadorned are something extraordinary.

One can hear his chord voicings, his approach to playing in and out of time, his love for the melody.  I think his 1982 performance of HOW DEEP IS THE OCEAN, part of a collective tribute to Bill Evans, is subtle, sad, and quirky all at once, with touching nods to WHAT IS THERE TO SAY? and THERE WILL NEVER BE ANOTHER YOU as poignant salutes:

and a year earlier, for an Ellington-Strayhorn tribute, JUMPIN’ PUNKINS, where Rowles becomes the whole 1941 Ellington orchestra:

He remains a marvel, no matter how many times you hear a performance.

May your happiness increase!

BENNY CARTER and FRIENDS // TEDDY WILSON — with KAI WINDING, VIC DICKENSON, RAY BRYANT, HANK JONES, SLAM STEWART, MILT HINTON, MEL LEWIS, J.C. HEARD (La Grande Parade du Jazz, July 7, 9, 10, 1977)

I can’t believe how many people who love jazz are asleep on Benny Carter.

The King, a few years before 1977.

The hierarchy of stardom in jazz gets narrower with time, so it feels as if there is only room at best for a dozen boldface Names from Louis to Ornette.  Can contemporary jazz audiences understand the absolute reverence that Benny Carter received from his peers during his lifetime and now?  How many students in jazz education programs know him as he should be known?  After 1945, Charlie Parker cast a giant shadow, but Carter, quietly indefatigable, pursued his half-dozen careers with immense grace.  Perhaps his life lacked drama: he wasn’t a tragic figure; he lived a long time and was happily married (his widow, Hilma, is with us at 99!); he was a professional who made it all look easy: alto, trumpet, clarinet, trombone, compositions, arranging, bandleading, film and television scores — a genuine Renaissance man.  Ben Webster said that Benny could bake a cake as light as a feather and whip any man: what better testimonial could anyone want?  But I wonder how many fans today could name more than one Benny Carter record?

Recently a Irish collector-friend, Mchael O’Donovan, has passed on to me a substantial assortment of videos, some broadcast on French television, of La Grande Parade du Jazz, in the second half of the Seventies.  I’ve shared a duet between Jimmie Rowles and Sir Roland Hanna here.  I think these videos are precious, even though the cinematography is unusual: multi-camera setups where no shot is longer than a few seconds, and the videos came to me arbitrarily cut into time-chunks, so one will end at twenty minutes, no matter what is happening . . . but these are small complaints when one considers the wonderful assortments of jazz stars, the good sound, the leisure to stretch out.  Occasionally someone in the band rushes, but we’re all human.

And now, for some Benny Carter — with a wondrous feature for Vic Dickenson (I saw Vic play this perhaps twenty times, but watching him at close range is something I never dared to think I would see on video), delightful Mel Lewis, and some late-period but refreshing Teddy Wilson.

7-9-77 THERE IS NO GREATER LOVE Carter, Kai Winding, Ray Bryant, Slam, J.C. Heard 7-7-77 IN A SENTIMENTAL MOOD Vic, Hank Jones, Bill Pemberton, Oliver Jackson (identified by Bo Scherman, who was there!) 7-10-77 THREE LITTLE WORDS Benny, Bryant, Milt Hinton, Mel Lewis and the first few notes of the next song.

7-10-77 WAVE Carter, Ray Bryant, Milt, Mel Lewis
7-7-77 SIT RIGHT DOWN AND WRITE MYSELF A LETTER – I’VE GOT A FEELING I’M FALLING – AIN’T MISBEHAVIN’ – HONEYSUCKLE ROSE // SOPHISTICATED LADY – SATIN DOLL (partial) Teddy solo.

Doc Cheatham told James Dapogny that his secret to a long life was to listen to Louis Armstrong every morning, sound medical advice.  Matt Rivera begins his Monday-night Zoom sessions of the Hot Club of New York (7-10 PM, the link can be found here) with a Carter record.   Maybe that’s a perfect healing regimen: breakfast with Louis, dinner with the King.  In between, you’re on your own.  You can do this.

May your happiness increase!

PIANO PLAYHOUSE: JIMMIE ROWLES and SIR ROLAND HANNA in DUET (La Grande Parade du Jazz, July 1978, Nice, France)

Video performance footage of either of these two jazz piano giants is rare, and this might be the only evidence of them together in concert, recorded in early July 1978 at what we informally call the Nice Jazz Festival but what is also known as “La Grande Parade du Jazz.”  Here are Jimmie Rowles — the spelling he preferred — and Sir Roland Hanna, performing I LOVE YOU (the first part is missing) / INDIANA / MY FUNNY VALENTINE / ORNITHOLOGY.  I didn’t have a video camera in 1978, so please do not write in to complain about “my” fidgety editing, and know that recording two pianos on film is very difficult. But this is a treasure:

May your happiness increase!

A WELCOMING ART: The MICHAEL KANAN TRIO (GREG RUGGIERO, NEAL MINER)

Perhaps because I began my immersion in music in the last century with musicians who sent warmth through the speaker and in person, some “contemporary jazz” or “innovative music” seems forbidding, austere.  It looks at me suspiciously and asks, “Are you musically erudite enough to be allowed to listen to what is being created?” suggesting that I am metaphysically too short to ride the esoteric roller coaster.  But not the music Michael Kanan creates.

Pianist and composer Michael Kanan does not aim for the esoteric, although his art is consistently subtle.  He delights in song, in melodic improvisation, in swing.  His music says, “Let’s have a nice time.  Please come in!” and the most severe postmodernists gently thaw out after a chorus or two.  His playfulness is balanced by deep feeling, each note and chord carefully chosen but floating on emotion.  Jimmie Rowles stands in back of him, and Lester Young in back of both.  If you’ve been following this blog, Michael’s appeared often since 2010, when I first met him through his friend, the masterful reedman Joel Press.

Michael appears worldwide in many settings, but in New York City he is often happily onstage with Greg Ruggiero, guitar, and Neal Miner, string bass, his “brothers in rhythm.”  That splendid trio will be appearing at Mezzrow on West Tenth Street on December 27 and 28, sets at 7:30 and 9:00 PM.

But this post isn’t simply a gig advertisement.  In summer 2019, Michael, Greg, and Neal performed for an attentive audience at the now-vanished 75 Club, and those performances can now be savored here at Michael’s YouTube channel.  And here!

Ellington’s PIE EYE’S BLUES:

Michael’s own FOR JIMMY SCOTT:

His lovely THE PEARL DREAMS OF THE OCEAN:

The frisky POPCORN:

and a sweet MY IDEAL, where the trio sends Richard Whiting their love:

If you’re not close enough to Mezzrow to make this gig, you can have the trio at home with not much effort: they recorded their debut CD, IN THIS MOMENT, not long ago — also recorded live at that club.  The CD’s lovely art is by Anne Watkins, and you can read my review of the music here.

However you encounter Michael, Greg, and Neal, don’t deny yourself the pleasure.

May your happiness increase!

WELCOMING SOUNDS: “STRIKE UP THE BAND”: RICKY ALEXANDER (with MARTINA DaSILVA, JAMES CHIRILLO, ROB ADKINS, ANDREW MILLAR)

Ricky Alexander, saxophonist and clarinetist, holding up his debut CD, July 2019. Photograph by Nina Galicheva.

This Youngblood can play — but he doesn’t wallop us over our heads with his talent.  To quote Billie Holiday, recommending a young Jimmie Rowles to a skeptical Lester Young, “Boy can blow!”

Ricky Alexander is an impressive and subtle musician, someone I’ve admired at a variety of gigs, fitting in beautifully whatever the band is (Jon DeLucia’s Octet, Gordon Au’s Grand Street Stompers, The New Wonders, at The Ear Inn, and more) — swing dances, big bands, jam sessions.

I particularly cherish his sweetly understated approach: he loves melody and swing, which is rarer than you might think: youthful musicians in this century are sometimes prisoners of their technique, with the need to show off the chord extensions and substitutions they’ve learned in dutiful hours in the woodshed, even if the woodshed is a room in a Brooklyn walk-up.  The analogy for me is the novice cook who loves paprika and then ruins a recipe by adding tablespoons of it.  In jazz terms, Ricky’s opposite is the young saxophonist whose debut self-produced CD is a suite of his own original compositions on the theme of Chernobyl, each a solo of more than ten minutes.  Perhaps noble but certainly a different approach to this art form.

Ricky tenderly embraces a song and its guiding emotions.  He has his own gentle sound and identity.  Hear his version of Porter’s AFTER YOU, WHO?:

If readers turn away from this music as insufficiently “innovative,” or thinks it doesn’t challenge the listener enough, I would ask them to listen again, deeply: the art of making melody sing is deeper and more difficult than playing many notes at a rapid tempo.  And youthful Mr. Alexander has a real imagination (and a sly wit: the lovers in this Porter song are on the edge of finding a small hotel — run by Dick and Larry — to increase their bliss, in case you didn’t notice).

His music is sweet but not trivial or shallow: hear his sensitive reading of I’VE GOT A RIGHT TO SING THE BLUES for one example.  And he quietly shows off a real talent at composition: on first hearing, I thought his I KNEW I LOVED YOU was perhaps an obscure Harry Warren song.

Ricky’s also commendably egalitarian: he shares the space with guitarist James Chirillo, string bassist Rob Adkins, drummer Andrew Millar, and the colorful singer Martina DaSilva, who improvises on several selections to great effect.  As well as those I’ve commented on above, the repertoire is mainly songs with deep melodic cores: WHERE OR WHEN, A KISS TO BUILD A DREAM ON, I CAN’T GET STARTED, SKYLARK (as a light-hearted bossa nova), STRIKE UP THE BAND, with several now fairly-obscure delights: THE LADY’S IN LOVE WITH YOU, AND THE ANGELS SING, and a particular favorite from the 1935 hit parade, YOU HIT THE SPOT by Gordon and Revel.

STRIKE UP THE BAND is a model of how artists might represent themselves on disc.  Like Ricky, this effort is gracious, welcoming, friendly: listeners are encouraged to make themselves at home, given the best seat on the couch.  It’s smooth without being “smooth jazz”; it has no post-modern rough edges on which listeners will lacerate themselves.  And although Ricky often gigs with groups dedicated to older styles, this is no trip to the museum: rather, it’s warm living music.

I’m told that it can be streamed and downloaded in all the usual places, and that an lp record is in the works.  For those who wish to learn more and purchase STRIKE UP THE BAND, visit here.  If you know Ricky, the gently lovely character of this CD will be no surprise; if he’s new to you, you have made a rewarding musical friend, who has songs to sing to us.

May your happiness increase!

JIMMIE ROWLES, CARSON SMITH, SHELLY MANNE, CHET BAKER, CHARLIE PARKER (November 5, 1953)

Jimmie Rowles is one of my most exalted musical heroes — unpredictable, witty, full of feeling, unpredictable yet always right in ways that no one could expect.

This is a particularly rare Rowles-hearing, and one that people haveci,  sought after for some time (my fellow Rowlesians Michael Kanan, Jacob Zimmerman, and Richard Salvucci, this is for you).  Many jazz fans will be excited by this because it pairs Charlie Parker and Chet Baker for one of the few times they were captured together, but for me the attraction is Rowles.

The Stash record with this rare music; background by Tommy Bahama.

The occasion: a concert at the University of Oregon. These three songs or excepts from songs appeared on a Stash lp sometime before 1988: as far as I know this music, recorded on tape, has not appeared on compact disc.  Typically for that time, the unnamed recordist was thrifty: recording tape was costly, so (s)he concentrated on Bird.  Thus the recordings are excerpted — COOL BLUES less so — so we have to wait until eleven minutes in to hear Rowles out in the open, and he sounds so delightful.

Sonic caveats here: I decided a long time ago that I would rather present imperfect videos than spend time learning how to perfect the technology, so what follows is the original Stash lp, played through speakers, recorded by my camera.  Thus the sharp-eared may hear rustlings of cars outside, my refrigerator singing its own songs, and the pre-school brother-and-sister upstairs who live to chase one another.  I apologize for all this, but the music is the gift.

Bless Jimmie Rowles.

May your happiness increase!

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!

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.

DAVY MOONEY WRITES! (A NOVEL, THAT IS: “HOMETOWN HEROES”)

When a friend gives me a first novel to read, I worry.  Not that I doubt the intelligence, wit, feeling, of my friends — but what if I don’t like it?  What can I say?  I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings, but neither do I want to read a page of something I do not like.  So I am delighted to report that the jazz guitarist / composer / singer Davy Mooney, New Orleans native transplanted to Brooklyn, can write.

Hometown Heroes

In fact, Davy Mooney is a novelist.  His first book, HOMETOWN HEROES, combines the qualities of “a good read” and “a page-turner” with a seriously observant eye for social commentary and occasionally satire.  I won’t give the plot away, but in its 202 pages, you will learn what it feels like to be an improvising musician giving lessons to uninterested middle-schoolers; what’s involved in being a barrista; how it feels to play a jazz solo.  But that’s only the thin edge of it.  Mooney has seen and thought about all kinds of behavior: what Astoria, Queens, and New Orleans feel like in mores, climate, and affections, for one thing.  And he also has a deeper interest in what’s required to be an artist — not that all the guitar players in his book are heroes, martyrs, or geniuses.  One is hugely successful, has a television career, and an incredibly erotic girlfriend; the other might be a fine player, is struggling, and feels despair often.  (The second one, Joe, also tends to philosophize about his ground-level view of the world; Mooney does a lovely job of showing Joe as both sincere and in love with the sound of his own voice, but it’s never irritating.)

But there’s more.  Witches.  Not the Halloween crones, but women with power.  And I mean power — not the comic-book sort, but the energy to repair wrongs and to cause them, to reward the downtrodden and to punish the successful.  Rather like first-rate Golden Era science fiction or the best work of David Lynch, this novel makes a reader feel that there are undercurrents and shifts going on all around us while we drink our coffee, read the newspaper, engage in pleasant conversation.  “What’s going on that we are not aware of?” is one question that the book asks, and in a lightly witty way, “Who runs the show, and why?” is another.

Here’s the story that has been echoing in my head while reading the novel.  In 1942, I think, Billie Holiday and Lester Young (for a moment) joined forces on the West Coast.  Billie had heard and worked with Jimmie Rowles, then quite a young man, and tried to get Lester to invite him into the band.  Lester was suspicious.  Rowles hadn’t a long string of jazz credentials (even though Ben Webster had looked out for him) and, let’s face it, Rowles was “a grey boy,” a Caucasian.  So Lester had to be convinced.  Billie retold the story to Rowles on their 1955 rehearsal tape, “I said to him, ‘I don’t know . . . boy   can   blow!'”

Davy Mooney can blow — at the computer keyboard as well as at the guitar.  HOMETOWN HEROES is worth a good look.  You’ll have fun.

May your happiness increase.

May your happiness increase. 

ANOTHER WONDROUS PIANIST SIGNS IN

Jimmy Rowles was a wizard of light and shade, of wit and deep feeling at the piano.  I momentarily fell into one of my eBay reveries and considered bidding on this artifact (which seems to be less mutable than the recent “Arthur Tatum” sighting) but then thought, “What would I do with it?”  Perhaps the wiser act is merely to post it here so that everyone can admire it — without succumbing to the costly need to HAVE it.

Rowles autograph

And if you haven’t listened to Rowles recently, I urge you to do so — joking around with Billie and Artie Shapiro at a Clef rehearsal, with Ben, Lester, BG, Zoot, or Peggy Lee — inimitable and wholly himself.