Tag Archives: Jimmie Rowles

ELLA FITZGERALD, JIMMIE ROWLES, KETER BETTS, BOBBY DURHAM at ANTIBES, “Festival de jazz d’Antibes, Juan-les-Pins,” July 22, 1981

Photograph by Annie Leibovitz. The 1959 Mercedes has been sold.

This is one-half of a rare concert — no other performances from this year were captured — singular for that reason, and because it is the only evidence I have of Ella performing with Jimmie Rowles, piano; Keter Betts, string bass; Bobby Durham, drums, and the trio is featured for the first thirty-five minutes of this presentation. I think the Rowles solo medley is so very precious.

Here’s the bill of fare:

Rowles, Betts, Durham: DEVIL’S ISLAND / THE LADY IN THE CORNER / Betts feature / THE PEACOCKS – MY FUNNY VALENTINE – GOODBYE (JR solo) / NOW’S THE TIME (Durham) // Ella: THEM THERE EYES / AIN’T MISBEHAVIN’ / LET’S DO IT / AFTER YOU’VE GONE / Ella introduces the trio / TAKE THE “A” TRAIN (Drop Me Off In Harlem – I Love New York) / QUIET NIGHTS // Antibes Jazz Festival, July 22, 1981.

And the music:

May your happiness increase!

SWING NEVER WENT AWAY: BENNY GOODMAN, JIMMIE ROWLES, BUCKY PIZZARELLI, JACK SIX, BUDDY RICH (“The Merv Griffin Show,” October 15, 1979)

If you read the freeze-dried accounts of American popular music history, this music had been dead for thirty years, when “the Swing Era” expired. But how wrong that oversimplification is, proven by these eight minutes. A very lively corpse, no? This segment is from the Merv Griffin Show (Merv was a big-band singer before he became a talk-show host, television producer, and real-estate mogul, among other attributes) featuring musicians I won’t have to identify — Benny Goodman, Buddy Rich, Jimmie Rowles, Bucky Pizzarelli . . . you can figure out who Jack Six is and what he is doing by process of elimination, if you don’t already know him. The two songs chosen are a very mellow AS LONG AS I LIVE, harking back to the Sextet recording with Charlie Christian and Count Basie, and then — quite rare in “modern times,” I GOT RHYTHM played as itself. Beautiful playing from everyone — inspired and inspiring:

May your happiness increase!

“PLAYS WELL WITH OTHERS”: STEPHANE GRAPPELLI, LEE KONITZ, JIMMIE ROWLES, JOHN ETHERIDGE, DIZ DIZLEY, JACK SEWING at NICE (July 1978)

This set, blessedly preserved, reminds me of inventive restaurant cuisine, where one reads a listing of items one doesn’t expect to find together . . . but the result is surprising and memorable: music that tastes good to the ear. Violinist Stephane Grappelli’s group was patterned after the Quintette of the Hot Club of France — violin, two guitars, string bass — although he, not Django, was the star . . . with guitarists John Etheridge and Diz Dizley, string bassist Jack Sewing, whom I initially mis-identified as Brian Torff. Add to this established group the wondrous individualists Jimmie Rowles, piano, and Lee Konitz, alto saxophone, and unusual sounds result.

Whether everyone dispersed after the set saying, “Wow, that was fun!” or “Why can’t I pick my own friends to perform with?” I have no idea, but the three-quarters of an hour that we have is certainly not formulaic. You can do your own assessment: late-period Stephane, still rhapsodic, given to heroically fast tempos, playing “jazz standards,”; Lee Konitz and Jimmie Rowles on top of a QHCF rhythm team. I think the assemblage is both unpredictable and wonderful:

Stephane Grappelli, violin; Diz Dizley, John Etheridge, guitars; Jack Sewing, string bass.
I WONDER WHERE MY BABY IS TONIGHT / DO YOU KNOW WHAT IT MEANS TO MISS NEW ORLEANS / CRAZY RHYTHM / I CAN’T GIVE YOU ANYTHING BUT LOVE /

add Lee Konitz HONEYSUCKLE ROSE

add Jimmie Rowles LET’S FALL IN LOVE / I’LL REMEMBER APRIL /

Grappelli Quartet: MANOIR DE MES REVES – DAPHNE /

Konitz, Rowles return SWEET GEORGIA BROWN (incomplete on original):

Bless these players, and bless the Grande Parade du Jazz also.

A FEW MUSICAL NOUNS AND VERBS FROM CURTIS FULLER (1934-2021) with JIMMIE ROWLES, BARNEY WILEN, RED MITCHELL, BOBBY ROSENGARDEN (July 13, 1978)

The cold facts. Trombonist / composer / bandleader Curtis Fuller, born December 15, 1934, left us on May 8, 2021.

In Michael J. West’s farewell piece in Jazz Times, he wrote this, “Asked in a 2012 interview by writer Mark Stryker about the keys to a good solo, Fuller replied, ‘Humor and dialogue. … Music is English composition. Each song should have a subject, and phrases should have a noun, a verb, and like that. It should be expressive. Exclamation points: Bap!’”

I knew there were reasons I admired this man. And although I was initially excited about the music you will hear because of the presence of my hero Jimmie Rowles, I celebrate Curtis Fuller as well. This session from the Grande Parade du Jazz on July 13, 1978 — audio only — presents Curtis Fuller, trombone; Jimmie Rowles, piano; Barney WIlen, tenor saxophone; Red Mitchell, string bass; Bobby Rosengarden, drums, playing a repertoire that I would call sophisticated Mainstream: SOFTLY, AS IN A MORNING SUNRISE / ALL OF YOU / THESE FOOLISH THINGS (Mitchell) / STELLA BY STARLIGHT with Fuller cadenza / JITTERBUG WALTZ (Rowles, Mitchell, Rosengarden).

I know some of my more “traditional” readers might feel that jazz trombone begins and ends with Jack Teagarden, and I revere Jack, Vic, Bennie, Dicky, their ancestors and their modern heirs, but I urge them to give Curtis Fuller an open-eared hearing. He is a great vocal player; he speaks to us; he has things to say. Fuller is technically adept but he is more interested in telling us his very vocal stories. Hear him out. And you can, on a second hearing, absorb Rowles’ subversive beauties, and the way the rest of the band — apparently an unusual mixture of players — settles in to swing:

Thank you, Curtis, for your energy, humor, and open-heartedness.

May your happiness increase!

LEE KONITZ, LOCKJAW DAVIS, JIMMIE ROWLES, BUCKY PIZZARELLI, RED MITCHELL, SHELLY MANNE (Nice 7.9.78) — a second take.

Note: the first version of this post was completely in chaos: the audio was Konitz and colleagues but the video was the World’s Greatest Jazz Band — enough to make anyone race for Dramamine. I was informed by several attentive readers, withdrew everything for repairs, and hope it is now brought into unity. Apologies! Barney Bigard’s hand gesture at the start of the video (the last seconds of his set) conveys my feelings about technical difficulties, especially when they leap right past SNAFU to become totally FUBAR.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is lee-konitz-for-selmer.jpeg

“Strange bandfellows?” you say. I think some festival producers operate on the principle of the one Unexpected Element creating a great Chemical Reaction, that if you line up seven musicians who often play together, you might get routines. But add someone unusual and you might get the energy that jam sessions are supposed to produce from artists charged by new approaches. Or, perhaps cynically, it could be that novelty draws audiences: “I never heard X play with Y: I’ve got to hear this!”

Here are Lee Konitz, alto saxophone; Jimmie Rowles, piano; Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis, tenor saxophone; Bucky Pizzarelli, guitar; Red Mitchell, string bass; Shelly Manne, drums, placed together at the Grande Parade du Jazz on July 9, 1978.

I’m not ranking these remarkable musicians, but this is a group of players who hadn’t always been associated in the past: yes to Konitz and Rowles, Rowles and Mitchell; Bucky and Shelly played with everyone. But Lockjaw comes from another Venn diagram.

I can imagine Lee, who was strong-willed, thinking, “What am I supposed to do with this group?” and I wonder if that’s why he asked Shelly to improvise a solo interlude, why he chose to begin the set with a duet with Bucky — rather than attempting to get everyone together to play familiar tunes (as they eventually do). At times it feels like carpooling, where Thelma wants to eat her sardine sandwich at 8 AM to the discomfort of everyone else in the minivan. But sets are finite, and professionals make the best of it.

And if any of the above sounds ungracious, I know what a privilege it was to be on the same planet as these artists (I saw Bucky, Lee, and Jimmie at close range) and how, forty-plus years later, they seem surrounded by radiance.


The songs are INVITATION Lee – Bucky / WAVE / THE VERY THOUGHT OF YOU Bucky, solo / IMPROVISATION Shelly, solo / COOL BLUES, which has been shared in whole and part on YouTube, but this, I believe, is the first airing of the complete set.

All of them, each of them, completely irreplaceable.

May your happiness increase!

FESTIVALS MAKE STRANGE BANDFELLOWS: LEE KONITZ, EDDIE “LOCKJAW” DAVIS, JIMMIE ROWLES, BUCKY PIZZARELLI, RED MITCHELL, SHELLY MANNE (Nice, July 9, 1978)

Note: the first version of this post was completely in chaos: the audio was Konitz and colleagues but the video was the World’s Greatest Jazz Band — enough to make anyone race for Dramamine. I was informed by several attentive readers, withdrew everything for repairs, and hope it is now brought into unity. Apologies! Barney Bigard’s hand gesture at the start of the video (the last seconds of his set) conveys my feelings about technical difficulties.

“Strange bandfellows?” you say. I think some festival producers operate on the principle of the one Unexpected Element creating a great Chemical Reaction, that if you line up seven musicians who often play together, you might get routines. But add someone unusual and you might get the energy that jam sessions are supposed to produce from artists charged by new approaches. Or, perhaps cynically, it could be that novelty draws audiences: “I never heard X play with Y: I’ve got to hear this!”

Here are Lee Konitz, alto saxophone; Jimmie Rowles, piano; Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis, tenor saxophone; Bucky Pizzarelli, guitar; Red Mitchell, string bass; Shelly Manne, drums, placed together at the Grande Parade du Jazz on July 9, 1978.

I’m not ranking these remarkable musicians, but this is a group of players who hadn’t always been associated in the past: yes to Konitz and Rowles, Rowles and Mitchell; Bucky and Shelly played with everyone. But Lockjaw comes from another Venn diagram.

I can imagine Lee, who was strong-willed, thinking, “What am I supposed to do with this group?” and I wonder if that’s why he asked Shelly to improvise a solo interlude, why he chose to begin the set with a duet with Bucky — rather than attempting to get everyone together to play familiar tunes (as they eventually do). At times it feels like carpooling, where Thelma wants to eat her sardine sandwich at 8 AM to the discomfort of everyone else in the minivan. But sets are finite, and professionals make the best of it.

And if any of the above sounds ungracious, I know what a privilege it was to be on the same planet as these artists (I saw Bucky, Lee, and Jimmie at close range) and how, forty-plus years later, they seem surrounded by radiance.


The songs are INVITATION Lee – Bucky / WAVE / THE VERY THOUGHT OF YOU Bucky, solo / IMPROVISATION Shelly, solo / COOL BLUES, which has been shared in whole and part on YouTube, but this, I believe, is the first airing of the complete set.

All of them, each of them, completely irreplaceable.

May your happiness increase!

“SALUTE TO DUKE”: ILLINOIS JACQUET, BARNEY BIGARD, VIC DICKENSON, RUBY BRAFF, JIMMIE ROWLES, SLAM STEWART, SHELLY MANNE (Grande Parade Du Jazz, Nice, France, July 7, 1979)

It’s so Nice.

Here’s a group of musicians you would only see at a festival, playing “the music of Duke Ellington”: Illinois Jacquet, tenor saxophone; Barney Bigard, clarinet; Vic Dickenson, trombone; Ruby Braff, cornet; Jimmie Rowles, piano; Slam Stewart, string bass; Shelly Manne, drums. Take a moment to let those names sink in.

Sometimes these groups don’t coalesce: they are the musical equivalent of a soup made with the contents of the refrigerator, and even in this case the closing “Ellington composition” might seem like the lowest common denominator, but it works wonderfully — thanks to the experience of the soloists and the splendid rhythm section.  And if you look closely, you will see Vic Dickenson mutely ask to be left alone while he’s soloing — he didn’t like horn backgrounds — but he’s eloquent even when annoyed.  Any chance to see Jimmie Rowles at the piano is exquisite, and I feel the same way about watching Ruby and Vic together.

The two selections — the end of a longer set which, alas, I don’t have on video — are ALL TOO SOON (Jacquet and rhythm) / C JAM BLUES (ensemble).  They were performed at the “Grande Parade du Jazz,” July 7, 1979, and broadcast on French television.

May your happiness increase!

HOW’S YOUR DUDGEON?

First, it’s not Dudgeon and Dragons.  “High dudgeon” is annoyance, anger, resentment.  “She left the meeting in high dudgeon.”  A witty piece on the etymology by Patricia T. O’Conner and Stewart Kellerman can be found here.

And it’s also the title of a wonderful Joe Sullivan record.  I present the four sides he recorded in Los Angeles on April 1, 1945, for Sunset Records.  Sunset was the creation of Eddie Laguna, also a concert promoter, who’s proven elusive.  But the music isn’t.  Encouraged by his friend Zutty Singleton, Joe had moved west in 1943, and the first two sides recorded for Sunset were piano solos.

But these records are by a quintet and a trio: Joe, piano; Archie Rosati, clarinet; Ulysses Livingston, guitar; Artie Shapiro, string bass; Zutty Singleton, drums: NIGHT AND DAY / HIGH DUDGEON / BRUSHIN’ OFF THE BOOGIE / HEAVY LADEN (Joe, Archie, Zutty).

Joe is typecast as a “barrelhouse” “Chicago” pianist, and that he could be, but he loved the great lyrical songs — Coward and Porter as well as the blues.  Perhaps this choice was also inspired by another clarinetist named Shaw?

And the very thing:

Hear the crystalline sound of Zutty’s brushes:

and finally a trio performance (the cover of the Nagel-Heyer assemblage is odd at first — although Joe and Bird would have played together without scrapes):

A few small mysteries, without which no blogpost can be said to be complete.  One: I have not found a photograph or biography of Eddie Laguna, although he is references endlessly in articles about Nat King Cole  (Will Friedwald, inexplicably, even makes fun of his name) Wardell Gray, and others of that time and place.

Two: I am assuming that HIGH DUDGEON is Joe’s title, not Eddie’s, because it is credited to Joe.  He went to parochial school in Chicago, although he may have stopped in his teens.  I envision a nun saying, “Do that one more time, Joseph,  and you will see me in high dudgeon!’  Just as possible is that Joe picked it up from Bing Crosby, who loved elaborate flourishes of language.  Joe himself was articulate in speech and prose: see him on JAZZ CASUAL with Ralph J. Gleason; I’ve also seen several of his sophisticated letters to Jeff Atterton, which will turn up on another post.

All I know is that Joe’s music never leaves me annoyed, angry, resentful.  Is the opposite of HIGH DUDGEON something like FLOATING JOY?  Consider this, but listen to Joe as you do.

If you wanted to visit Joe in his San Francisco period — more or less from 1945 to his death in 1971, here’s where you would find him:

. . . . on the fifth floor:

A nifty postscript.  More than one skeptical reader wrote in to dispute the existence of Eddie Laguna, because that name was used as a pseudonym for Nat Cole on a record label.  The fine scholar-professor-guitarist Nick Rossi rode to the rescue with Ray Whitten’s photographs of the December 4, 1947 Dial Records date, led by Dexter Gordon at Radio Recorders, supervised by Eddie Laguna. Personnel as follows: Dexter Gordon, Teddy Edwards, tenor saxes; Jimmy Rowles, piano; Red Callender, bass; Roy Porter, drums.

Feast your eyes, friends!  Laguna, should you need a clue, holds no instrument.

and

and Mister Rowles in his Sweater, too:

and BILLBOARD, March 20, 1948:

May your happiness increase!

“IN POP & JAZZ HE’S GREAT!”: JIMMIE ROWLES (1968)

Two weeks ago, I saw this 45 rpm single on sale at eBay and immediately checked my online discography.  No information.  But the price was low, so I took a chance: both compositions were Rowles originals, and he’d recorded AFTER SCHOOL late in life.  I entertained the whimsy that his singing voice could, I thought, be called “THE GRAVEL PIT.”

How many Jimmy (he preferred Jimmie) Rowleses could there be, anyway?

I looked up “Dick Noel” and “Patrice Records” and found that Noel, a trombonist and singer (I think) had recorded sessions with “The Academy Brass,” whose august West Coast personnel included Billy Byers (arranger), Carol Kaye, Rolly Bundock (string bass); Jack Sperling (drums); Bud Shank (reeds); Al Hendrickson, Bobby Gibbons (guitar); Emil Richards (vibraphone); Larry Bunker (tympani); Billy Byers, Charlie Loper, Dick McQuary, Dick Noel, Ernie Tack, George Roberts, Joe Howard, Ken Shroyer, Lloyd Ulyate, Milt Bernhart (trombone).

AND Jimmy Rowles (keyboards).

If you’re still with me, May 1968 ads in BILLBOARD and CASH BOX advertised the coupling of AFTER SCHOOL and BEHIND THE FACE.

Now, the 45s do not have the whole band: definitely string bass and drums and some quiet guitar on BEHIND THE FACE.  I theorize that at the end of the session, after the horns had gone home, someone either suggested to Rowles that he record — playing and singing — two originals, or perhaps he had the idea himself.  That they were issued (as far as I know) only on a “promotional copy” suggests that they were given or sent to radio disc jockeys with the hope that they could become quirky hits, perhaps in the manner of Mose Allison.  (Dave Frishberg had not become famous in 1968 as a singer of his own songs.)

The idea didn’t work, but we do have the six or so minutes of music.  (My transfers are imperfect, but you knew that anyway.)

His quirky love song:

and a hard-to-characterize song that marries sly wit and a plea for equality:

This post is for Michael Kanan, Jacob Rex Zimmerman, and Stephanie Rowles, but everyone else is encouraged to listen in and marvel.

May your happiness increase!

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.