Tag Archives: Jimmy Van Heusen

WHEN BEAUTY IS THE ONLY WAY: ABIGAIL RICCARDS and MICHAEL KANAN

When the soul needs solacing, anti-inflammatories from the bathroom medicine chest just won’t do.  I present two you two deep practitioners of the healing arts: Abigail Riccards and Michael Kanan. I’ve had the pleasure of seeing and hearing the two of them in duet only twice, but each time remains memorable.  Here are two songs from their recitals that are especially soulful: we need such balm.

Even though this performance begins whimsically — Abigail’s impromptu version of NAME THAT TUNE, with Michael as the sole contestant — it quickly becomes an unforgettable expression of quiet longing:

Abigail continues to make music of the most lovely kind in Chicago; Michael is simultaneously in New York and touring the world. Together or singly, they improve our world.

May your happiness increase!

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DAWN LAMBETH: MOONBEAMS AT MONTEREY

Polka

POLKA DOTS AND MOONBEAMS, by Johnny Burke and Jimmy Van Heusen, was Frank Sinatra’s first big hit record.

Although the lyrics take odd turns — initially one stumbles over the idea of a “pug-nosed dream” as the brand-new Love Object, it remains an endearing song.  Lester Young, Clifford Brown, Paul Desmond, Glenn Miller, and Wes Montgomery recorded it, among others.

The song seemed especially endearing this past March when Dawn Lambeth sang it during a Van Heusen tribute set at Dixieland Monterey / Jazz Bash by the Bay, accompanied by Yve Evans and friends.

One of my favorite singers, Dawn is a sophisticated artist who manages to make the dream-castles she creates seem real, withour straining.  Easy and casual; she summons up deep emotions without feeling the need to act them out.  A performance by Dawn lingers in the memory with sweet swing.  Her song winds its way into our hearts.

Incidentally, the song has a verse that no one sings — a very brief prelude to introduce the story of love found in a garden:

Would you care to hear the strangest story? / At least it may seem strange to you. / If you saw it in a moving picture / You would say it couldn’t be true.  

But Dawn makes it perfectly true.

May your happiness increase! 

SERENE EARTHLY MUSIC: REBECCA KILGORE and KEITH INGHAM at JAZZ at CHAUTAUQUA (Sept. 22, 2012)

For me, this was one of the high points of the long jubilant weekend that was the 2012 Jazz at Chautauqua — the duet of Rebecca Kilgore and Keith Ingham on the Jimmy Van Heusen – Johnny Burke song, IT’S ALWAYS YOU.

Keith’s sweet harmonies, his rhythmic steadiness, his intuitive sense of the right notes — he is a brilliant accompanist — go so well alongside Rebecca’s convincing underacting, her gentle sincerity, her creamy tone and delicate rubatos.

And, like all great art, it looks easier than it really is.

Thank you, Keith and Rebecca.  This gracious fervent music touches the heart.

May your happiness increase.

WARM YET COOL: BOB REITMEIER and KEITH INGHAM at JAZZ AT CHAUTAUQUA (September 21, 2012)

I had never seen these two singular musicians in duet before, but this set at the 2012 Jazz at Chautauqua was a highlight: clarinetist Bob Reitmeier bringing his own cool clear-toned lyricism alongside Keith Ingham’s more impassioned orchestral creations, rocking or pensive.

Berlin’s PUTTIN’ ON THE RITZ, which summons up Fred Astaire:

The Carmichael-Mercer SAY IT WITH A KISS, evoking Maxine, Billie, Teddy, and Bobby Hackett:

Bing and Bob, anyone?  Here’s the Burke-Van Heusen THE ROAD TO MOROCCO:

The Carmichael-Loesser HEART AND SOUL (explored fully this time):

Memories of Louis, Dizzy, and a Benny Goodman Camel Caravan before Charlie Christian burst on the scene — UMBRELLA MAN:

The Gershwins’ STRIKE UP THE BAND:

There’s a good deal of summer’s-not-over frolic here, but with an awareness that the leaves are starting to turn.  And I can look out my window and see the trees weighed down by a November mini-blizzard; I suggest we turn away from the Weather Channel and find our comfort and elation in the beautiful music.

May your happiness increase.

CONVERSATIONS: HARRY ALLEN and ROSSANO SPORTIELLO, PART ONE (Smalls, April 12, 2012)

Great conversationalists have something memorable to tell us; they know how to be still; they listen deeply; they encourage everyone around them.

Musically, Harry Allen (tenor sax) and Rossano Sportiello (piano) are exemplary models of this art, and they proved it beautifully on April 12, 2012, in two sets at Smalls Jazz Club (183 West Tenth Street, Greenwich Village, New York City).

The occasion was a CD release party in honor of the Allen-Sportiello duo — a tribute to lyricist Johnny Burke, a great friend of Harry’s father, and the man who contributed so much to American popular song.  Think of PENNIES FROM HEAVEN, IT COULD HAPPEN TO YOU, SWINGIN’ ON A STAR, MOONLIGHT BECOMES YOU, OH YOU CRAZY MOON, LIKE SOMEONE IN LOVE, WHAT’S NEW, and IMAGINATION among others . . . ask anyone about those songs, and the person will not only hum the melody but start to sing Burke’s words.  (And if you need more evidence, two fellows named Crosby and Sinatra made Burke’s words their own.)

More about the CD — which is called CONVERSATIONS — at the end of this posting.  For now, here is the first set — music so sweetly intimate, so wonderfully realized, that we could only watch and marvel at these two artists with so much to say and such grace in expressing it.

PENNIES FROM HEAVEN:

DID YOU CALL HER TODAY? — a Ben Webster line on the chord changes of IN A MELLOTONE, which was based on ROSE ROOM . . . but it’s all Harry and Rossano here:

And the yearning question, WHAT’S NEW?:

LIKE SOMEONE IN LOVE:

A romping DIAMONDS ARE A GIRL’S BEST FRIEND (with hilarious lyrics by Leo Robin):

A poetic IMAGINATION:

IT COULD HAPPEN TO YOU:

That was the first set.  More to come!

The duo CD is called CONVERSATIONS.  It’s beautifully recorded and the program is varied — with two “new” songs, both memorable: I WISH YOU NEEDED ME and IF LOVE AIN’T THERE — as well as very touching liner notes by Mister Allen himself.

The best way (as I write this) to purchase a copy of the CD is to encounter Harry or Rossano on a gig — pleasure redoubled.  But it’s now also available at iTunes and CD Baby — click here — or, contact Harry here or Rossano there and either gentleman will find a way to get a copy to you.  It is worth it, I assure you.

P.S.  Starting on Friday, April 20, 2012, I will be watching and hearing Harry and Rossano and two dozen other jazz masters play and sing at the Atlanta Jazz Party . . . hope to meet some of my readers there!

May your happiness increase.

GOOD AND GROOVY — “PLAY DATE”: NEAL MINER / CHRIS BERGSON

I have had the opportunity to hear guitarist / vocalist Chris Bergson and string bassist Neal Miner three ways recently: in their short film, “The Making of Play Date”; at a live session at 55 Bar on Christopher Street, Greenwich Village, New York — and (most conveniently for my readers), their new CD, PLAY DATE:

It’s a superb disc — and since it doesn’t have any liner notes, I feel obliged to supply a few lines to explicate and praise.  Readers of JAZZ LIVES will know how much I admire Neal — he is both supple and steady, and his lines make elegant sense without being fussy.  He never expends flurries of guitarish notes and his bass always sounds down-to-earth.  A melodic fellow who swings!  Chris was new to me, but Neal and he go back a decade, and he is just as much a melodic swinger as his pal on the upright . . . whether he’s playing acoustic, electric, or singing in a surprisingly let-it-all-out way.

One of the nicest things about this CD — and there are many — is the middle course it steers.  Guitar / bass duets sometimes turn into sweet Easy Listening or cutting contests (I can play faster than you can; I can run up and down the fretboard like a wild bunny) — or they are attempts to create ornate orchestral textures.  Chris and Neal choose naturalness over artifice — so that the disc has the sound and heft of two brilliantly relaxed friends making music for themselves or, at most, a few friends — the site someone’s living room.

No studio tension, no fancy miking or reverb, no inserts or punches: just music.

And the music is wonderfully varied — from Monk, Rodgers, Van Heusen, Berlin, Schertzinger, Schwartz — to Ray Charles and a few originals.  Within that tune list, all sorts of delicious surprises await: the Bergson / Miner duo is aware of a variety of musical shapes: the twang of early Fifties rock, the saltiness of Roger Miller, and some deep-down blues.  They offer the verse to THESE FOOLISH THINGS.  It’s hugely entertaining music and I didn’t look at my watch once.

Here’s a link for MP3 downloads: Play-Date and the link to CD Baby for those in that frame of mind: chrisbergsonnealminer.  And while we’re energetically stacking up links, here’s one last one — to the YouTube video — from someone’s blog: jazzlives.  With music this fine, “attention must be paid.”  By the way, the absolute best way to purchase this CD is to encounter Neal or Chris on an actual gig and give either of them some cash and walk off with a real CD: this way, the money is going directly to the creators.  But you knew that already.

HARRY ALLEN’S JOYOUS FIRST MONDAYS at FEINSTEIN’S

The good music that the Beloved and I heard and saw on the first Monday in December, 2011, still rings in our ears.  And there’s more to come.

The first Monday night of every month has taken on new significance since Harry Allen and his world-class musical friends (courtesy of Arbors Records) have been appearing at Feinstein’s at Loews Regency in New York City (540 Park Avenue (at 61st Street, 212-339-4095).

The December show was Harry’s Christmas extravaganza — with notable musicians to keep hackneyed tunes at a safe distance.  For those who dread “New York night clubs” because of imagined high prices, the cover charge for Harry’s Monday nights is twenty dollars a person, and it’s a very warm, unstuffy place — comfortable and friendly.  An excellent value: three hours of totally acoustic jazz.

The first set was devoted to Harry’s quartet, with Rossano Sportiello, piano; Joel Forbes, string bass; Chuck Riggs, drums.  Everyone was in superb form, and the program floated from a trotting PEOPLE WILL SAY WE’RE IN LOVE to a deeply yearning OVER THE RAINBOW with Harry’s astonishingly yearning Judy Garland coda.  Then came a faster-than-light WHIRLY BIRD, distinguished by Rossano’s playing,mixing Bud Powell and super-stride.  THE TOUCH OF YOUR LIPS went from romantic to raunchy in only a few minutes, with honors going to Joel Forbes, exploring the mysterious depths of the harmonies, and the set ended with an exuberant tribute to Johnny Burke and Jimmy Van Heusen in IT COULD HAPPEN TO YOU, capped with a Riggs snare-drum solo.  This is a working band, and they were having a fine time.

After a brief break, Harry called some friendly luminaries to the stand for a delightful concert in miniature, adding James Chirillo on acoustic guitar to the original rhythm trio.  Chirillo’s sound (to borrow Whitney Balliett’s words for Freddie Green, “bells and flowers”) was a sweet highlight.  Bob Wilber, in New York for a visit, led off with a medium-tempo OLD-FASHIONED LOVE, beginning with an a cappella reading of the verse, then offered LOVE FOR SALE.  Wilber showed that his incredible tone — on his curved soprano — is still glossy: he didn’t miss a step.

Two brothers-in-swing, Jon-Erik Kellso and Randy Sandke, took Wilber’s place to roam through WINTER WONDERLAND, exchanging epigrams and commentaries in the most affectionate, swinging ways.  A tenor trio of Harry, Dan Block, and Scott Robinson had a delightful romp through BLUES UP AND DOWN, each player displaying his singular approach to the blues, with John Sheridan taking Rossano’s place at the piano.  Trombonists John Allred and Tom Artin thought about holiday travel on LET’S GET AWAY FROM IT ALL, with Allred quoting AIN’T CHA GLAD early in his solo.  Harry gathered the troops for an eight-horn PERDIDO that brought back the Buck Clayton Jam Sessions right in front of us.

The closing set, led by John Sheridan, drew on his most recent Dream Band project — also available on an Arbors Records CD, HOORAY FOR CHRISTMAS — that depicted the many moods of the holiday — adding Becky Kilgore to the top of the tree.  She began with three less-heard celebrations: Don Sebesky’s HOORAY FOR CHRISTMAS, Carroll Coates’ A SONG FOR CHRISTMAS (done as a bossa nova), and a swinging version of Kay Thompson’s THE HOLIDAY SEASON.  Sheridan’s own CHRISTMAS WILL BE A LITTLE LONELY THIS YEAR was a melancholy triumph — the room was hushed and silent, a great tribute.

Becky then called on the masters of holiday music, Irving Berlin and Bing Crosby, for a song originally meant for Thanksgiving but apt all year round, I’VE GOT PLENTY TO BE THANKFUL FOR (her singing so graceful that Scott Robinson stood there, his arms akimbo, admiring every nuance); Scott brought his bass clarinet for a pretty Harry Warren ballad, I KNOW WHY (AND SO DO YOU), which led into an exuberant dismissal, LITTLE JACK FROST GET LOST, and a moody THE DIFFICULT SEASON (an instrumental with touches of the Alec Wilder Octet), and a closing jaunt through SANTA CLAUS IS COMING TO TOWN.

If you weren’t there, there are a few tangible ways to capture part of the delicious music.  One is John Sheridan’s Arbors compact disc HOORAY FOR CHRISTMAS.  Another is a new du0 of Harry Allen and Rossano Sportiello devoted to the music of Johnny Burke, a friend of Harry’s father.  Burke was the lyricist — but he collaborated on some of the finest songs of the twentieth century, including PENNIES FROM HEAVEN, MOONLIGHT BECOMES YOU, and OH, YOU CRAZY MOON (the last two given heartbreaking depth on this disc).  The disc is called CONVERSATIONS, and so far it’s available only at live performances, which is a good thing — an inducement to search out Harry and Rossano in person.

You’ll have twelve more chances at Feinstein’s in 2012, because the series will run throughout the year.  The January program will showcase Harry’s “Four Others,” a saxophone quartet inspired by Woody Herman’s “Four Brothers.”  Harry’s original band features three other swinging modernists, Eric Alexander, Grant Stewart, Gary Smulyan, plus his original rhythm trio of Rossano, Joel, and Chuck.  The February gala will bring Scott Hamilton to Harry’s side.  Great value and great jazz!