Tag Archives: Jo Jones

HOT PIANO AND WELCOME DRUMS, 2019: “GUILLAUME NOUAUX & THE STRIDE PIANO KINGS”

Although the idea of stride piano is that the singular player on the piano bench is able to simulate the depth and textures of a larger ensemble in their solo playing, I recall very clearly that my earliest exposure to stride playing was in hearing duets between piano and drums: James P. Johnson and Eddie Dougherty (and Sidney Catlett’s work with James P. as part of a rhythm section), Donald Lambert and Howard Kadison . . . later, Willie “the Lion” Smith and Jo Jones — and of course, Fats Waller with Al Casey, bass, and drums.  So there is a real tradition, and an intuitive percussionist is a bonus rather than an intrusion.

Guillaume Nouaux is such a player, and his new CD is wonderful.  But you don’t have to take my non-playing word for it: I shared it with Mr. Kadison, the man about whom Donald Lambert said, “That’s my drummer!” and Howard was delighted by it.

“Delight” is appropriate here, because listening again to the CD — once won’t be enough for anyone — I was reminded of one of the stories I’ve probably told too often here, my feeling when Jo Jones came and sat in with Ellis Larkins and Al Hall.  Guillaume is just that kind of player: varied, intuitive, swinging, always making great sounds, adding some flavors that increase our aural joys.  He is a wonderful accompanist — like a great witty conversationalist who always knows the right thing to say, or perhaps a sly supple dance partner — but also a splendid melodic soloist, someone whose terse outings are shapely and welcome.  I can’t emphasize enough the glorious variety of sounds he gets out of his kit, although he’s not fidgety (some drummers won’t stay in one place for more than four bars) so he’s not restricted to one approach.  He can be very gentle, but he can also create great joyous noises.  (Hear his MOP MOP on this disc.) And neither he nor his great collection of pianists is aiming for the consciously archaic: the music on this disc isn’t trying to wear the same trousers it wore in adolescence, if you get the metaphor.

Each of the seven pianists (some very well-known to me, others new marvels) has two selections — loosely speaking, one up and one down — which is to say one a quick-tempoed stride showcase, the other more ruminative, which makes this disc so refreshing.  The songs are HARLEM STRUT / DROP ME OFF IN HARLEM / I WISH I WERE TWINS / WILLOW WEEP FOR ME / RUNNIN’ WILD / JITTERBUG WALTZ / CHEROKEE – SALT PEANUTS / WHY DID YOU TELL ME “I LOVE YOU”? / HANDFUL OF KEYS / OVERNIGHT / MOP MOP (For Big Sid) — Guillaume’s brief solo feature / TEA FOR TWO / WHEN I GROW TOO OLD TO DREAM / THE LADY IS A TRAMP / OVER THE RAINBOW.

Before you read a syllable more: discs and downloads can be obtained through Bandcamp here.  It’s also one of those rare discs — because of its premise (a rainbow of artists) that I play all the way through with pleasure.  And I believe you can hear some of the music for yourself there.  But if you need sonic breakfast-in-bed, here are Guillaume and Louis Mazetier trotting deliciously through DROP ME OFF IN HARLEM:

You can find out more about Guillaume and his imaginative projects here.

I will leave it to you to decide who plays on which track — it would make a very sophisticated Blindfold Test even for those who consider themselves stride experts.

Several other things need to be said.  The recorded sound is lovely (the piano is well-tuned and the balance between piano and drums, ideal).  You might think this is overly finicky of me, but one of my favorite sessions ever is the 1956 PRES AND TEDDY, where — I believe — the piano could have been tuned again before the session: I hear its glassy-tinkly upper registers and wince.  Not so here.

The repertoire is in part familiar, but hooray! no AIN’T MISBEHAVIN’, no HONEYSUCKLE ROSE.  And although both stride piano and jazz drumming are, even at slow tempos, displays of athleticism (try tapping your finger for three minutes and keeping steady time), this isn’t a collection of fifteen kinds of Fast and Loud.  Oh, there’s dazzling playing here . . . but there are also caresses and meanders of the best kind.  And each of the pianists brings his own particular approach to the material.  The CD delights me, and I think it will do the same for you.

Fats would have called it “a killer-diller from Manila.”  Don’t be the last one on your block to be grinning.

May your happiness increase!

“SUMMIT REUNION”: BOB WILBER, KENNY DAVERN, and the “Mega Swing Trio” (Berlin, 1993)

Bob Wilber with the superb drummer Bernard Flegar, after their gig in Bülach, Switzerland, June 11th 2005.

My good friend, the swinging drummer and jazz scholar Bernard Flegar, has come up with another treasure: forty minutes of “Summit Reunion,” the wonderful quintet (sometimes sextet) co-led by the much-missed Bob Wilber and Kenny Davern.  Here they are in Berlin, in 1993, accompanied by the fine — and superbly unfussy — “Mega Swing Trio,” Franck Jaccard, piano; Jean-Pierre Rebillard, string bass; Stéphane Roger, drums.  Thanks to Robeurt Feneck for the identifications!

As for Kenny and Bob, they remain masters with sublimely strong personalities and individual voices.  I first saw the two of them at a (free) outdoor lunchtime concert in 1973 and was thrilled — an emotion that is just as strong now.

ST. LOUIS BLUES (beginning edited) / SUMMERTIME (Davern, bass, drums) / A PORTER’S LOVE SONG TO A CHAMBERMAID / INDIAN SUMMER (Wilber, bass, drums) / S.K.J. BLUES (piano, bass, drums) / SOMEBODY STOLE MY GAL (with a fine drum solo that nods to Zutty and Jo, a splendid surprise) //

Blessings on Bernard, Kenny, Bob, and the trio.  Surprises like this give me and others joyous resilience . . . to keep on keeping on.

And for those of you who know JAZZ LIVES’ Sunday routine, of course we will meet metaphysically at The Ear Inn tonight also — this is just an extra dollop of swing.

May your happiness increase!

IRRESISTIBLY SWINGING: THE BROOKS PRUMO ORCHESTRA: “THIS YEAR’S KISSES”

The new CD by the Brooks Prumo Orchestra, THIS YEAR’S KISSES, is wonderfully groovy, rather like the thing you can’t stay away from, Bert Lahr’s single Lay’s potato chip.  (You can look that up on YouTube.  I’ll wait.)  By the way, I loved the BPO’s first CD, PASS THE BOUNCE (2017): read about it here.

Here‘s the Bandcamp link for KISSES, where you can see the personnel, the song titles, hear a sample, download, or purchase this CD.

The description reads: The Brooks Prumo Orchestra was made for dancing. Featuring brand new arrangements of long-lost big band tunes, original compositions, and crowd favorites, the Brooks Prumo Orchestra aims to embody a big band dance orchestra of the Swing era. Filled with world-class musicians, the band will evoke thoughts of Count Basie, Earl Hines, Andy Kirk, and Billie Holiday.

The noble members of the BPO are Alice Spencer, vocals*; Mark Gonzales, trombone; Jonathan Doyle, tenor saxophone, clarinet; Lauryn Gould, alto saxophone; David Jellema, cornet; Oliver Steck, cornet; Hal Smith, drums; Ryan Gould, string bass; Kris Tokarski,  piano; Brooks Prumo, guitar.

And the delicious repertoire is  CASTLE ROCK / SOMEBODY LOVES ME* / ‘T’AIN’T LIKE THAT / PEEK-A-BOO / THIS YEAR’S KISSES* / JO-JO / DON’T BE THAT WAY / ARMFUL O’ SWEETNESS* / OUT OF NOWHERE / THE THEME / WHAT’S YOUR NAME?* / BLUE LESTER / BROADWAY / I’M THRU WITH LOVE* / JEEP’S BLUES.

Those who know will see splendid associations: Al Sears, Johnny Hodges, Rex Stewart, Count Basie, Karl George, Billie Holiday, Joe Bushkin, Jo Jones, Lester Young, Buck Clayton, Alex Hill, Fats Waller, Henry “Red” Allen, Dexter Gordon, Nat Cole.

Happily, the CD is very forgiving of the dance-challenged: it allows me to sit in my chair, listen, and beam.  And to give you an idea of the intense attraction I had for this CD on my first hearing I thought, “I want this CD!” and then calmed down enough to think, “You already have it.”

Listening to it again and again, I envisioned the eleven members of this orchestra as a kind of M.C. Escher drawing, people swimming blissfully in two divergent streams at once.  One could be labeled NOW, which means that the musicians here sound like themselves — and their voices are so individualistic — but they are also having a high old time splashing around in THEN, so that many of the performances have a tender connection to past recorded performances.  But there is no conscious attempt (use your Steve Martin voice) to say, “Hey! Let’s Get OLD!” — no archival stiffness.  And the familiar material, say SOMEBODY, BROADWAY, NOWHERE, is delightfully enlivened by the band’s passionate immersion in not only the notes but the emotions.

The rhythm section is fine-tuned, flexible and resourceful, four individuals playing as one; the solos are memorable; the ensemble work is both loose and graciously cohesive.  This is a band, and even if there isn’t the official BPO band bus for the one-nighters, you can hear their pleasure in working together, easy and intense.

And a few lines, once again, for the miracle of nature known as Alice Spencer, who takes familiar music and makes it fresh, who makes songs associated with Billie Holiday for decades into her own without warping their intent, who can be perky or melancholy with utter conviction.  She is full of surprises — many singers telegraph what they are going to do in the next four bars, but she doesn’t — although her surprises always seem like the right thing once they have landed.  I won’t compare her to other singers: rather, she has an aura like a great film actress, comfortable in many roles.  Think Joan Blondell or Jean Arthur, and you have some idea of her great personal appeal.

This CD is a great gift.  It’s music for dancers, music for those of us who know the originals, music for people who need joy in their lives.  THIS YEAR’S KISSES is like sunshine breaking through: a consistent delight, much appreciated.  Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to listen to it again.

May your happiness increase!

THE BAND THE ANGELS HIRED FOR THEIR PROM (January 15, 1967, Carnegie Hall)

Some may read those words as blasphemy, but the music is its own divine truth.

One of John Hammond’s best ideas, and he had many, was the two FROM SPIRITUALS TO SWING concerts in 1938 and 1939: marvelous events with irreplaceable music from Benny Goodman, Sidney Bechet, James P. Johnson, Charlie Christian, Lester Young, Hot Lips Page, Ida Cox, Big Bill Broonzy, Sonny Terry, Brownie McGhee, Count Basie, and more.  The music was recorded, and even with some technical flaws, it remains monumental.  Because of Hammond’s connection with Vanguard Records, it was issued there — first a two-record set, and more recently, on CDs.  (Like most CD sets, it’s “out of print,” but you can find copies.)

But this post is concerned with “newer” music . . . created in 1967.

In 1967, someone had the good idea of booking Carnegie Hall for a thirtieth anniversary concert, and selections from the concert were recorded and (five years later) issued on a two-record set featuring Basie, Big Joe Turner, Big Mama Thornton, John Handy, George Benson, and Marion Williams.  I wrote on the back of my copy that I bought it at Record World, a local chain, for $5.29, on April 23, 1972.  (I no longer annotate purchases this way: life got more complicated.)  The segment I love the most has a distinct Basie flavor.

In conversation with a new erudite jazz friend, Randy Smith, I found that we both had hoped for this music to be issued on CD, but obviously the glory days of jazz reissues are gone for whatever corporate entity controls this music, and even the European issuers have not touched it.  So — since yesterday was oddly and happily quiet in my apartment building, the families and dogs elsewhere for the moment, I made a DIY transfer of the music.  There’s a certain echo-y quality, but pretend that you have been taken by magic back to Carnegie Hall on January 15, 1967, and let me — and us — have our fun.

Goddard Lieberson introduces the “Cafe Society Band,” with some rueful amusement that the crowd response to that fabled place is small (the generation that had heard Frank Newton and Billie Holiday, Teddy Wilson, and Basie there had probably stayed at home) and he stumbles over Milt Hinton’s name, but he brings on the celestial orchestra: Count Basie, piano; Buck Clayton, trumpet; Buddy Tate, tenor saxophone; Edmond Hall, clarinet; Milt Hinton, string bass; Jo Jones, drums, for SWINGIN’ THE BLUES.  I won’t explicate the delights here, but these nine minutes have been special music since 1972, and when I return to this performance I hear gratifying surprises, the hallmark of the greatest art.

The solos and ensemble interplay between Buck, Ed, and Buddy are priceless, showing that the players so brilliant in 1937 were still brilliant thirty years later, without a hint of repeating their routines.  (How DO they age so well?)  For me, though, this is a post-graduate seminar in rhythm-section playing, with each of the three “in the back” bringing so much sonic and textural variety, playing little aural games of hide-and-seek.  Basie, especially, shows once again that he was not only the master of silence, which is not a paradox, but of how to push a soloist with the right note or propulsive chord.  I think only Sidney Catlett approached his mastery in this — when to bide his time, when to create one accent that would have the effect of a “Yeah!”:

“They called him a shouter.”  Big Joe Turner, who had appeared at Hammond’s original concerts, comes onstage.  In his later years, he often appeared to be very little concerned with what verses he sang in what order (although he may have had a plan that I am not able to discern) and the result was a kind of swing autopilot, where I and others just listened to the majestic roar and holler of his voice.  But here, on a blues called (perhaps after the fact) I’M GOING AWAY TO WEAR YOU OFF MY MIND, his dramatic gift, his sadness, is lovely and powerful.  Hear how he sings his initial “Thank you,” and note the wonderful support Ray Bryant gives him, Buck’s solo, and Jo Jones’ exhortations:

Then, ROLL’EM, PETE — which Joe and Pete Johnson first recorded in 1938.  Pete Johnson had been ill, but he was at this concert.  I’ll let Dan Morgenstern, who was also there, describe the scene that you will hear, as he did in DOWN BEAT (included in Don DeMicheal’s fine liner notes):

Then, for the concert’s most moving moment, Lieberson escorted Pete Johnson on stage and introduced him as one of the participants in the original Spirituals to Swing and the greatest boogie-woogie pianist. Johnson had suffered a series of paralytic strokes and had not played piano for many years. His old buddy, Turner, took him by the hand, and for a moment the two middle-aged men looked touchingly like little boys.

Turner dedicated ROLL ‘EM PETE to his old friend, as Lieberson and Johnson were about to leave the stage. Instead, they stopped, and the pianist seated himself next to Bryant at the piano and began to play the treble part of his old showpiece, Bryant handling the bass. Johnson was a bit shaky but game, gaining in confidence as the number built in intensity:

It wasn’t 1938 any longer, but it was a damned fine evocation, with Buddy Tate at his vocal best, Edmond Hall matching him in exuberance (Hall died later that year), Buck and Jo building castles of swing as only they could:

In 2020, no one who sang or played on that stage in 1967 is around to uplift us.  (I take pleasure in knowing that Dan Morgenstern will read this post.)

But their sounds, their passion, their grace remains.

May your happiness increase!

HAPPY 95th BIRTHDAY, GEORGE WEIN!

In front, Bobby Hackett, Louis Armstrong, George Wein; behind them, Joe Newman, Dizzy Gillespie — at the July 1970 celebration of Louis at the Newport Jazz Festival.

I saw the pleasing news on Facebook — and in an online source called CELEBRITY ACCESS, which summed it all up with a video and these words (if the New York Times had a front-page story, it eluded me, alas):

NEWPORT, RI (CelebrityAccess) — George Wein, the legendary pianist, jazz and festival promoter, turned 95 on Saturday.

Wein, who founded the Newport Jazz Festival and co-founded the Newport Folk Festival, also played a key role in the creation of the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival.

Wein’s birthday was marked by tributes from the likes of James Taylor, Senator Jack Reed, Dianne Reeves, Jason Moran, Nate Smith, and Ben Jaffe.

George deserves a little more fuss.

The Newport Jazz Festival, which he founded in 1954 — and is still a going concern — featured everyone.  The Preservation Hall Jazz Band to Archie Shepp. Duke, Louis, Miles, Trane, Dizzy, Monk, Hamp, Benny, Billie, Roy, Hawk, Pres, Ben.  What other festival featured both Donald Lambert and Sonny Rollins?  If you didn’t appear at Newport — in its now sixty-six year span — you had died before it began [Bessie Smith, Charlie Parker, Frank Newton, Hot Lips Page] or you had missed your set.  George’s reach was extensive and his tastes heroically inclusive.  Those who never got to Rhode Island were nourished by recordings and performance film footage; George created tours — Europe and Japan — that brought the music to eager audiences who would otherwise not have partaken of it first-hand.

Before Newport, George had clubs in Boston: Storyville and Mahogany Hall, where you could enjoy Sidney Catlett, Stan Getz, Sidney Bechet, Lee Konitz, Erroll Garner, and other deities.  When the Newport Jazz Festival took a brief trip to New York, as the Kool Jazz Festival or the JVC Jazz Festival, I was able to see Benny Carter, Allen Eager, Charles Mingus, Lee Wiley, Gene Krupa and others who gladden my heart.  In the early Fifties, George also had a record label — Storyville — where you could hear Milli Vernon and Beryl Booker, Ruby Braff, Teddi King, Ellis Larkins, Johnny Windhurst and Jo Jones.  I’m also reasonably sure that George’s generosity — not publicized, but apparent — kept some musicians in gigs and dinner for long periods.

Incidentally, I am doing all of this delighted salute from memory: George’s 2004 autobiography, MYSELF AMONG OTHERS, is a much more detailed view at almost six hundred pages, so I know I have left out a great deal for which George deserves praise.

George also loves to play the piano and to sing, and although I think those activities have slowed down or ceased in recent years, his pleasure in these activities emerged most fully in the Newport All-Stars, a group that at various times featured Tal Farlow, Pee Wee Russell, Buzzy Drootin, Stephane Grappelli, Joe Venuti, Red Norvo, Norris Turney, Scott Hamilton, Warren Vache, Bud Freeman, Slam Stewart, and others: George’s discography begins in 1951 and its most recent entry is 2012.

I’d like to offer some swinging evidence of George as pianist: not at his own festival in Newport, but at the Grande Parade du Jazz in Nice, in July 1977: a nearly nineteen-minute jam on TAKE THE “A” TRAIN, nominally under the leadership of clarinet legend Barney Bigard — featuring Jimmy Maxwell, Joe Newman, trumpet; Clark Terry, trumpet and flugelhorn; Eddie Daniels, tenor saxophone; Slam Stewart, string bass; Bobby Rosengarden, drums.  Notice the atypically expansive piano solo that George creates at the start: percussive, surprising, mobile . . . and watch Barney Bigard’s delighted face at the end.

Happy birthday, George!  Our lives would be much poorer had you chosen another career.

May your happiness increase!

GET BUZZY! (September 20, 2020)

Kevin Dorn doesn’t have an advanced degree in Jazz History.  His classroom has always been the bandstand, where he embodies what he’s learned and imparts it both to his bandmates and to us.  Kevin’s been creating a series of videos that are edifying and lively: it’s fascinating to watch and hear him clarify what we have heard and enjoyed but without necessarily understanding what makes a particular drummer’s style so intriguing, so singular.  You can subscribe to his YouTube channel here.

Kevin’s most recent video presentation is about the drummer Buzzy Drootin, someone I was lucky enough to see several times in 1972.  Buzzy was then younger than I am now; he had great enthusiasm and energy, propelling ensembles and supporting soloists.  You could tell it was Buzzy in four bars.

Even if you’ve never picked up a pair of sticks, you’ll find this edifying, as I do:

Kevin could surely show some of the academics I know how to do it, and I don’t mean keeping time on a half-closed hi-hat.

May your happiness increase!

 

SEE IT NOW: RARE JAZZ PHOTOGRAPHS

Music to peruse by.

A few nights ago, I was deep in pleasing archaeology-commerce (prowling through eBay) and my search for “Ben Webster” came up with this gem (at a reasonable price).  The slide was attributed to Nat Singerman, although it was the work of his brother Harvey, someone I’d written about (with photographs) here in 2018.

and the more dramatic front side.  From other sildes, I propose that this band, Ben’s, had Howard McGhee, Oscar Pettiford, and Jo Jones.  I couldn’t identify the pianist in my 2018 post, but that is some band:

The seller, celluloidmemories, describes this and other slides here, although misrepresenting Nat as the photographer:

Just a wonderful item for the collector of jazz photography! This is a color “slide” that was owned by Nat Singerman, co-owner of the Character Arts photography studio in Cleveland in the 1940’s and 1950’s. Singerman and his co-workers produced these beautiful images and then would share them with many of their subjects. Here is an example with Art Hodes, the famed jazz pianist, looking at some of these slides through a viewer:


The slides are approximately 4” long by 1 5/8” in width and consist of two pieces of color film placed between glass slides. The result is a wonderful 3D-like view of these jazz legends. We recently acquired a large number of these largely unpublished images at auction and are now able to pass them along to the marketplace. The slides have been left “as found” and may have some dust / dirt / scratches to the glass, etc… The images are striking and very rare to find in bold color like this. For each slide, you will be able to see a close-up of the film image and a photo of the front and back the actual slide being purchased. These slides come from Nat Singerman’s personal collection and have been referenced in a NY Times Magazine piece back in 2013 and then again on Antiques Roadshow – PBS Episode #2005 – Little Rock – 2015.

So, now to the item up for bid here… This is an image of two members of Ben Webster’s Band performing at Cleveland’s Loop Lounge in September of 1955. I think the trumpeter is Howard McGhee. Don’t know who the drummer is. [Jo Jones, say I.] Wonderful image! Please see all photos. Don’t let this rare piece get away! Enjoy! Please note: All slides will be expertly packed for delivery via USPS Mail. This auction does NOT include the Art Hodes slide seen above. The word celluloidmemories will not appear on the actual slide. No copyrights or other rights of reproduction are being transferred or inferred in this auction. This item is being sold strictly as a collector’s item.

And a few other Harvey Singerman slides, with appropriate music — in this case, Art Hodes and Pee Wee Russell in 1968 (also Jimmy McPartland, Bob Cousins, Rail Wilson) on television in Chicago:

Art, Pee Wee, and a string bassist, March 1949, location not identified:

Etta Jones at Lindsay’s Sky Bar, Cleveland, May 1952.  Is that Jonah Jones, and is that Earl Hines’ band of that time?

Here are Etta and Earl:

Earl Hines, May 1952, “studio”:

And one that strikes me as spectacular: Red Norvo, Charles Mingus, Tal Farlow, Chicago, July 1951:

 

Freddie Moore, Club Riviera, March 1949:

There are several more worth looking for or at: Flip Phillips, Oscar Peterson, J.C. Higginbotham.

But before you drift away to the eBay page or elsewhere, remember that not all the good performance photographs are taken by professionals.  Jerry Kohout, brother of the Cleveland piano legend Hank Kohout, asked me recently if I would like to see candid photographs of his brother performing (probably at the Theatrical Grill) with well-known stars, and I said YES.

First, music to admire by: Bobby Hackett and Vic Dickenson in New York, 1957, thanks to my friend “Davey Tough” — whose channel blossoms with rarities you didn’t know existed:

The photographs:

Nancy Ray, vocal; Billy Butterfield, trumpet; Hank Kohout, piano.

and perhaps from the same gig, without Nancy for the moment:

Finally, heroes Bobby Hackett and Vic Dickenson (avec beret) with Hank:

Enjoy the sounds the pictures make: a vanished time that can be called back again.

May your happiness increase!

THAT RHYTHM, MAN

It gives me great pleasure to have heroes in music (and elsewhere) who are younger: that they’ll outlive me is a delightful thought — I see a continuity of wisdom and love embodied stretching in to the future.

Years gone by: 2008.

A special member of this crew is percussionist-philosopher Kevin Dorn, whom I’ve had the good fortune to know and admire for sixteen years this autumn. In person, Kevin has always shied away from the least taint of didacticism: he knows many things and will gladly share his thoughts and feelings in the right circumstances, but he’s never itching to tell you why he’s right and you’re wrong: a great humility.

The canard is that those who can’t do, teach, but Kevin has been creating and sharing the most delightful and informative solo drum videos — on request — with us. Here are his most recent offerings.

Inspired by the sounds I heard and saw, I wanted to play drums: the apex of this ambition was buying a pair of 5B parade sticks from Jo Jones at Ippolito’s Drum Shop, but I lacked both the focus and the coordination to make them dance. But I, and others, can live joyously through Kevin while he reveals the deep mysteries behind the sounds we groove to.

Another facet of George Wettling’s magic:

Getting Cozy:

I find this extended exposition particularly thrilling:

and Kevin himself has his say, neatly pressed, as always:

“Good deal!”  You can subscribe to Kevin’s YouTube channel here.

Emerson writes in NATURE (I am grossly paraphrasing) that everything, closely observed, is beautiful.  Proof here.

May your happiness increase!

"DOGGIN’ AROUND": JON-ERIK KELLSO, SCOTT ROBINSON, JOE COHN, MURRAY WALL (Cafe Bohemia, January 30, 2020)

I doubt that the title of this original composition by Herschel Evans, recorded by the 1938 Basie band, has much to do with this puppy, named W.W. King, or any actual canine.

Many of the titles given to originals in that period were subtle in-jokes about sex, but somehow I don’t associate that with Herschel.  I had occasion to speak a few words to Buck Clayton and Buddy Tate, to spend a long subway ride with Bennie Morton, and to be spoken at by Jo Jones . . . and I regret I never asked them, although they might have been guarded or led me down the garden path because I was clearly a civilian outsider.  But we have the music.  And — unlike other bandleaders — Bill Basie did not take credit for music composed by his sidemen, which I am sure endeared him to them even more.

Moving from the linguistic or the canine to the music, listeners will hear Jon-Erik Kellso delineate the harmonic structure of the tune as “UNDECIDED with a HONEYSUCKLE bridge.” What could be simpler?

Thus . . . music to drive away gloom, created by Scott Robinson, tenor saxophone, cornet; Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Joe Cohn, guitar; Murray Wall, string bass, Cafe Bohemia, 15 Barrow Street, New York City.

I look forward to the day we can meet at Cafe Bohemia and hear such music.

May your happiness increase!

IN PERFECT ALIGNMENT (Part Two): DANNY TOBIAS, DAN BLOCK, JOSH DUNN, TAL RONEN at CAFE BOHEMIA (11.21.19)

November 21, 2019 might have been an unremarkable day and night for some of us — leaving aside that it is Coleman Hawkins’ birthday — but at Cafe Bohemia, 15 Barrow Street, Greenwich Village, New York City, the stars were wonderfully in alignment when Danny Tobias, trumpet / Eb alto horn, Dan Block, clarinet / tenor, Josh Dunn, guitar, and Tal Ronen took the stage.

As James Chirillo says, “Music was made,” and we dare not underestimate the importance of that.

Not just formulaic “music,” but eloquent, swinging, lyrical playing in solo and ensemble, as you can hear in their BLUE AND SENTIMENTAL I’ve already posted here.

Those who take improvised music casually don’t realize the combination of skill, emotion, restraint, and individuality that is at its heart, where musicians create a model community for a few hours.

I hear an intelligent graciousness, where no one musician wants to be powerful at the expense of the others, where collective generosity is the goal, playing “for the comfort of the band,” as Baby Dodds described it — but when a solo opportunity comes along, each musician must be ready to speak their piece, share their distinct voice.  Too much ego and the band squabbles; too little ego and you have watery oatmeal for the ears.

That such music as you hear here and elsewhere on JAZZ LIVES exists is, to me, frankly miraculous.  Five glowing memorable examples of this holy art follow.  And if these sounds remind anyone of a small Count Basie group (you can add the sounds of Jo Jones in your head, if you care to) that would be fine also.

WRAP YOUR TROUBLES IN DREAMS:

DIGA DIGA DOO:

LADY BE GOOD:

THESE FOOLISH THINGS:

MY GAL SAL:

May your happiness increase!

A TRIUMPH: “LESTER’S BLUES – RED LABEL: HOMMAGE TO LESTER YOUNG AND THE BASIE-ITES” (2018)

A Preface:

I came to this band through their Facebook page and was thrilled by their sound.  When I noticed the great reed played David Lukacs (whose CD DREAM CITY I have praised here) was one of the two tenor saxophonists (he also plays clarinet) I asked him to put me in touch with saxophonist / leader Tom Callens.  A few days ago, a neat package arrived; I extracted both the CD and vinyl issue, slid the former into the player, played it three times in a row, and was uplifted each time. It has also become the soundtrack to this post, appropriately.

Several Relevant Illustrations:

This is the band’s website, where you will see their video of the recording of DICKIE’S DREAM.  I encourage you to click on it, or visit the video here:

Here’s TICKLE-TOE, a legal stimulant:

and a seductive live version of THE GOON DRAG. It’s also on the record, but the live version shows that their magic comes from inspiration:

Emulation, not Repetition (I):

LESTER’S BLUES is the wonderful embodiment of ideas (to be explicated below) for which Tom Callens may take credit.  The repertoire springs from Lester’s recordings of about a decade, with nods to Count Basie, Billie Holiday, but also Lester’s Aladdin period, his Keynote sessions, and the aforementioned GOON DRAG, originally a Sammy Price recording for Decca. The titles will make this even clearer: KING PORTER STOMP / ONE O’CLOCK JUMP / EASY LIVING / LESTER’S BE-BOP BOOGIE / SIX CATS AND A PRINCE / MY MAN / THE GOON DRAG / SHOE SHINE BOY / AD LIB BLUES / TICKLE-TOE / SUN SHOWERS / DICKIE’S DREAM.

The Repeater Pencil (II):

There’s evocation and freedom, soulfully balanced, throughout.  Lester said he didn’t want to be a “repeater pencil” (my musings on that here and here — the second post has the pleasure of my hero Dan Morgenstern correcting me).

Lester urged musicians to “be original,” to “sing your own song,” so I think he would be pleased by LESTER’S BLUES because it evokes him but does not copy.  The band is not Supersax, nor is it Lester’s Greatest Hits, nor is it The Chronological Lester.  What a relief.  But there’s no thin “innovation,” no playing MY MAN with a Second Line drum beat, nor is it “what would happen if Lester had played GIANT STEPS or THAT’S A PLENTY?”  Another relief.

The Musicians, Being Original (III):

Thus Delphine Gardin understands Billie but sounds pleasingly like herself (a self who knows the records but also knows the futility of mimicking them); ONE O’CLOCK JUMP is based on the small group Basie had ten years after Lester left; drummer Frederik Van den Berghe does not restrict himself to Jo Jones’ hi-hat; David Lukacs and Tom Callens know Lester’s solos but — except in the case of SHOE SHINE BOY — use them as suggestions rather than strictures.  And there are warm traces of Herschel Evans and later reed players here as well.  Singing EVENIN’, Tom Callens bows to Jimmy Rushing but is himself; pianist Luk Vermeir gracefully cuts a path around just-like-the-Count cliches.  Trumpeter Hans Bossuyt has an estimable wildness that breaks out of the Buck Clayton mold; Sam Gerstmans has a beautiful lower-register sound that Walter Page would praise, but he’s heard other players; guitarists Victor Da Costa and Bart Vervaeck swing their own glorious ways.

A First Inducement to Purchase (IV):

Thus, even if you know every performance on this disc by heart; if you can hum Lester’s solos on both takes of Billie’s WHEN YOU’RE SMILING, you will find this recording a series of small warming surprises that, listened to several times, become inevitable and memorable.  And the band is a band — there are beautifully “right” ensemble passages, jammed or written — thus the recording is more than a series of great solos over a rhythm section.  Tom is responsible for all the arrangements, which are varied and delightful.

Technical Data (V):

It’s no small thing that its recorded sound is lovely, the result of old-fashioned technology that still rewards us.  Callens’ liner note — more about that in a minute — is memorable in its rejection of all the digitalia that makes some sessions sound so cold: “Recorded live in one-takes (no edits), in one room with the band centered around two main microphones, mixed straight to analog 1/4″ tape on a two-track MCI 1H-110 machine.  No external effects other than compression were used during tracking.  The tapes were edited the old-school way — cutting and splicing — to prepare for mastering.”  More technical details await interested readers on the LP sleeve.

What it Means, and it Means a Great Deal (VI):

I rarely quote from liner notes except when I’ve written them (!) but Tom’s notes are so quietly fervent and wise that I share them without editing.  They give insights not primarily into the music of the band but the souls of its musicians and the soulful impulse behind its birth.  I don’t exaggerate.

You could say that the members of Lester’s Blues are from the MTV generation: born in a wealthy, predominantly white Western country in the eighties: raised on FM radio hits, as well as underground music like grunge, hip hop, drum’n’bass, triphop, witnessing the change from analog technology like wired phones, television, radio, cassettes, and vinyl to the digital age of computers, compact discs, mp3s, wireless technology, and the internet.  As we grew up, we saw the general ‘dehumanization’ of our world, as the disappearance of religion gave way to even great reliance on machines, the rise of tools for quantification and efficiency made out societies market-and-performance-driven, and the unrelenting blare of media left us in constant chaos and fragmentation.

As a result, the people around us are seeking authenticity, both externally and mentally, subconsciously feeling that they have lost something.  People are looking for connection.  You see it everywhere in specialist, handcrafted bicycles, clothes and beer; in yoga and meditation practices; in the return of past pop culture styles of dance, fashion, music, graphics and videos; in homegrown vegetables, local produce and slow food; in the desire for an original identity through particular choices of dress, tattoos, hobbies, language . . .

Most of our generation-X musicians went to the jazz conservatory and primarily learned the language of bebop and the idioms / styles that followed.  To be sure, that syllabus didn’t include any lessons on ‘connection’. . . After this education, we were thrown into the real world to start honing our craft, possibly playing different genres of music, by choice or financial necessity.  Such was, and still is, my path.  Over the year, I became aware that I was missing something deeper.  It led me to music that could connect to the soul: something healing or even spiritual.  I listened to classical and world music, often religious music, or particular singer-songwriters, gospel, and blues.

In the middle of all of this, I discovered the music of Lester ‘Prez’ Young.  I have kept on listening to him and his peers over the years.  It eventually dawned on me just how deeply his expression could reach me, on many levels, and so much emotion.  I am convinced that this music is one of the strongest, timeless projections in human nature, universally understood, and I get confirmation of that whenever I meet another Lester fan.  It touches me in more ways than I can describe.  It is music in which you feel that every musician is equally important, where everyone’s contributions melt into a single voice.  It has its unpredictabilities and imperfections.  It can be strange and weird, happy, vibrant, fast, slow . . . just like real life or nature.  It is, of course, technically impressive, yet at the same time it reaches an equally (if not more) impressive emotional level, sending shivers up your spine, making it a rare example of both technical prowess and emotional intelligence.

After a moment of deep introspection somewhere in 2016, it came to me that playing this music with people I love and respect professionally was something that I had to do, like a calling.  To study and share that music and its language-fabric, bringing it to life on stage and creating a moment where everybody would come together, right there in the present.  To look for surprises, to try and  have a coherent musical dialogue devoid of excess, to be open to our humanness, with all its quirks, inventiveness, and humor.  In sum: to search for another way of living the music than what we have become used or programmed to do.

This way of seeing things makes every step – the concert, rehearsal, recording – a life-learning experience.  We have already gained so much from being close to the music of Young, Basie, and their peers. Even if Lester Young may hesitate to see us playing his music and emulating his style – he used to say, ‘You got to be original, man!’ – I think we are paying in our own small way a tribute to his always-searching, life-respecting, irreverent yet humble, freedom-seeking being.  That’s what I see in this music, and hope you can see it, too.

After Such Knowledge, What Action? (VII):

Here (on Bandcamp) you can buy a “vinyl” 12″ long-playing record with a lovely Savoy label, or a CD, or download the music digitally.  Another digital version can be purchased through Amazon here and through Apple Music here.

(Other sites offer the music, but JAZZ LIVES doesn’t endorse other streaming music platforms that take advantage of musicians; if you want to exploit creators, you’ll have to find your own paths.)

This is extraordinary uplifting music, and it swings like mad.  Who deserves a copy more than you, Faithful Reader?

May your happiness increase!

FORTY YEARS OF PEE WEE RUSSELL, WITH DELIGHTED AMAZEMENT

Those of you who get excited by genuine paper ephemera (as opposed to this, which is not even a careful forgery) will have noticed my recent posting with many signatures of jazz greats here.  After I had posted my elaborate cornucopia of collectors’ treasures, I returned to  eBay and found this holy relic I had overlooked:

I find the card very pleasing, and fountain pen blots add to its c. 1944 authenticity.  But here’s the beautiful part:

and another version:

There wasn’t enough time between my discovery and the end of the bidding to post it, so (I hope readers will forgive me) I offered a small bid and won it.  I am completely surprised, because usually someone swoops down in the last two minutes and drives the price up beyond what I am willing to pay.

But the card now belongs to someone who loves Pee Wee Russell in all his many incarnations.  Here is a quick and idiosyncratic tour of Charles Ellsworth Russell’s constantly changing planetary systems — all held together by surprise, feeling, and a love for the blues.

Incidentally, some otherwise perceptive jazz listeners have told me that they don’t “get” Mr. Russell: I wonder if they are sometimes distracted from his singular beauties by their reflex reaction to, say, the conventions of the music he was often expected to play.  If they could listen to him with the same curiosity, openness, and delight they bring to Lester or Bix they would hear his remarkable energies even when he was playing MUSKRAT RAMBLE.

The famous IDA from 1927:

Philip Larkin’s holy grail — the Rhythmakers with Red Allen:

and CROSS PATCH from 1936:

even better, the 1936 short film with Prima, SWING IT:

DOIN’ THE NEW LOW DOWN, with Bobby Hackett, Brad Gowans, Eddie Condon:

and the first take, with Max Kaminsky, James P. Johnson, Dicky Wells, Freddie Green and Zutty Singleton:

and thank goodness a second take survives:

and Pee Wee with Eddie and Brad:

in 1958, with Bud Freeman, Ruby Braff, Vic Dickenson, and Nat Pierce:

and this, so beautiful, with Buck Clayton and Tommy Flanagan, from 1960:

with Coleman Hawkins, Emmett Berry, Bob Brookmeyer, Milt Hinton, Jo Jones:

an excerpt from a Newport Jazz Festival set in 1962:

a slow blues with Art Hodes in 1968, near the end of Pee Wee’s life:

and another wonderful surprise: the half-hour documentary on Pee Wee, in which our friend Dan Morgenstern plays a great part:

Pee Wee truly “kept reinventing himself,” and it would be possible to create an audio / video survey of his career that would be just as satisfying without repeating anything I’ve presented above.  His friends and associates — among them Milt Gabler, George Wein, Ruby Braff, and Nat Pierce — helped him share his gifts with us for forty years of recordings, a wonderful long offering.

May your happiness increase!

POETS IN THEIR YOUTH (October 11, 1938)

Thanks to Loren Schoenberg for sharing this gem with us.  If, like me, you grew up after the Swing Era had ended, the great creators were still in evidence: Benny, Teddy, Lionel, Gene, Harry, Basie, Duke, Benny Carter, Jo Jones, Milt Hinton, and half a hundred others.  But sometimes they seemed more venerable than lively, and that was to be expected: routine, age, and aging audiences had had their effect.  But it is lovely to be thrust back into late 1938, with fiercely beautiful evidence of just why they were seen as Masters.

Here, in under three minutes, Benny Goodman, Teddy Wilson, and Lionel Hampton — the last on drums — play a fiery but delicate I KNOW THAT YOU KNOW, at top speed, never smudging a note or resorting to cliché.

They were young: Hampton, the eldest of the three (one never thinks of him as such) had turned thirty only six months earlier: Goodman and Wilson were still in the latter half of their twenties.  (Gene Krupa had left Goodman and formed his own band earlier in 1938.)

I invite JAZZ LIVES listeners to do the nearly-impossible, that is, to clear their minds and ears of associations with these artists, their reputations, our expectations, and simply listen.  And thus admire: the precision, the near-audacity of improvisations at such speed, the intensity and the clarity with which the details are offered to us.  The unflagging swing, and the compact art: seven choruses in slightly less than three minutes.  The architecture of this performance, balancing solo and ensemble, giving each of the players the spotlight in turn.  And the fact that it was live — no second takes or studio magic.  One can admire this as a chamber-music performance thoroughly animated by the impulses that made “hot jazz” hot:

It’s easy to hear this in historical context: ten years earlier, Jimmie Noone and his Apex Club Orchestra had fashioned their own variations (Cliff Edwards, a dozen years earlier, had sung it with his Hot Combination) and Goodman had played it as an orchestral piece from 1935 on — with special mention to the Martin Block jam session of early 1938 where Benny, Teddy, Lester Young, Roy Eldridge, Jo Jones, Benny Heller, and Sid Weiss had jammed on the Vincent Youmans song.  And it comes out of a larger musical world: I hear late-Twenties and early-Thirties Louis and Benny Carter, Coleman Hawkins, Art Tatum, and Zutty Singleton standing behind this trio.

But I can also imagine the radio audience of 1938 — not only the children and adolescents who nagged their parents for drum sets, clarinets, pianos and piano lessons (some signing up for the Teddy Wilson School for Pianists) but also the youthful Charlie Parker, Bud Powell, and Max Roach hearing and studying, thinking of ways to emulate and then outdo.  It would have been considered “popular music” or “entertainment,” but now we can value it as it deserves.

It’s a magnificent performance, with details that glisten all the more on subsequent listenings.  Thanks to Benny, Teddy, Lionel, Loren, and the noble Sammut of Malta for art and insights into the art.

May your happiness increase!

FOUR-FOUR RHYTHM: KRIS TOKARSKI, JONATHAN DOYLE, LARRY SCALA, NOBU OZAKI, HAL SMITH at the SAN DIEGO JAZZ FEST (November 24, 2017)

Jazz at Lincoln Center (and JazzTimes) just sent an announcement about the 2019 Jazz Congress, January 7-8, 2019 at Jazz at Lincoln Center, Broadway at 60th Street, New York, New York.  One panel is:

 Jazz, Swing, Race and Culture
Considering swing as a rhythm or swing as a feeling or a verb, what are the social, cultural, and racial factors that affect individuals’ perception, acceptance or rejection of the concept? Player[s] and thinkers ponder what swing means in 2019.

I doubt that it will happen, but in my ideal world, the player[s] and thinkers at JALC will watch these videos before pondering.  The music was created in 2017, not 2019, and there are other ways to swing, but what Kris and his Gang did was genuine and might eliminate some theorizing.

These four performances come from a magical band that made a splash at the 2017 San Diego Jazz Fest: Kris Tokarski, piano; Jonathan Doyle, clarinet / tenor saxophone; Larry Scala, guitar; Nobu Ozaki, string bass; Hal Smith, drums.  I could spend paragraphs pointing out resemblances and echoes of the Ancestors (you’re free to chase such things at your leisure) but I’d rather you admire these living heroes at play, and such expert play.

LOVE ME OR LEAVE ME:

REPEATER PENCIL (and, yes, such a thing did exist: see here):

DROP ME OFF IN HARLEM:

JUST ONE OF THOSE THINGS:

Festival organizers, club bookers, concert promoters with taste: now’s the time!

Incidentally, this is the charming 1929 record from which I take my title:

May your happiness increase!

“LOVE THEM MADLY”: KANAN, FOSTER, & ARNEDO TRIO PLAYS ELLINGTON AND STRAYHORN

Some music you have to work hard to embrace, and many listeners relish the labor.  But other music, no less subtle or rewarding, opens its arms to you in the first four bars.  A new CD by Michael Kanan, piano; Dee Jay Foster, string bass; Guillem Arnedo, drums, is a wonderful example of love made audible.

If these names are new to you, please put down whatever you’re attempting to multi-task (on or with) and listen to this leisurely reading of ALL THE THINGS YOU ARE from a live performance in 2017:

This trio also knows how to relax, thus, that rarity, a picture of jazz musicians taking their ease outdoors:

You might know that Michael Kanan is one of JAZZ LIVES’ heroes, not only in this country, but internationally.  And the lineage is very pleasing: the saxophone master Joel Press introduced me to Michael, and (aurally) Michael introduced me to Guillem and Dee Jay.  For the past decade, Michael spends part of each summer as artist-in-residence at the Begues Jazz Camp, where he’s forged deep musical relationships with these two musical intuitives.  The CD came out of a series of concerts the trio did.  As Michael says, “There is space, swing, surprises and lots of love. We have tried to capture the spontaneity of the moment in time – a good conversation between the three of us.”

Instead of the usual liner notes, the CD offers splendid artwork by Maria Pichel, who combines bright colors and delicacy to mirror the music within.  So here are a few (unsolicited) lines from me.

The late Roswell Rudd told me in 2012, “Playing your personality is what this music is all about. . . . You know, this is a music where you are playing off other people, and you really have to be listening and responding and respecting and complementing what’s going on around you.”

The personalities that come through so clearly here are gentle and intense at once: musicians inspired by the originals but aware that reverent innovation is the only tribute.  The magnificent Ellington and Strayhorn compositions are an indelible offering.  They aren’t obscure or at least they shouldn’t be, and that asks contemporary artists the question, “All right — what are you going to say about these pieces?”

One approach is reverence taken all the way: a 2018 piano trio could do its best to replicate Ellington, Blanton, Greer, or Strayhorn, Wendell Marshall, Woodyard.  Conversely, the improvisers could take the originals and, after one reasonably polite chorus, jump into outer space, perhaps never to return.  The Kanan, Foster, Arnedo trio modifies these extremes by creating statements showing their affection for the strong melodies, harmonies, rhythms — but they know that “playing their personalities” is what Ellington and Strayhorn did, and would approve of.  So the CD is a series of sweet variations on themes, where (to borrow from Teddy Wilson), “it’s the little things that mean so much.”

In the quiet world of this CD, even a slight tempo change means that listeners have found themselves in a new space, as if you’d come home to find that your partner had repainted the light-gray living room walls a gray with a blue undertone.

What I hear on this disc is the confident playful assurance of musicians who know each other well, are respectful but also relaxed and brave.  Michael, Dee Jay, and Guillem are melodists who work together in kind fraternal fashion, so the lead gets passed around, one player moves into the spotlight and the others are happy for him to shine.  No cliches; no showboating; no tedious quoting; no formulaic playing or threadbare trademarks; the total absence of post-modern irony; no sense that swing is out of date.

The result is a series of sustained explorations that are full of sweet surprises: the wonderful swinging assertiveness with which C JAM BLUES starts; the touching coda to ISFAHAN; the slightly faster tempo for I LET A SONG that neatly contradicts the self-pitying lyrics; the exposition of LOTUS BLOSSOM would make anyone want to listen with bowed head, and the slightly altered rhythmic pulse that follows made me hear it as if for the first time; JOHNNY COME LATELY is perfect dance music — I defy anyone to stay motionless, even if the dance is happy nodding one’s head in time; Michael’s solo ALL TOO SOON is half-lullaby, half question yearning to be answered; the faster-than-expected I’M BEGINNING TO SEE THE LIGHT reminds me happily of Fifties Jo Jones with Ray and Tommy Bryant, for the trio’s swing is light yet insistent, and the rocking mood continues on through LOVE YOU MADLY; DAY DREAM, the concluding track, also seems a series of questions, some of them with answers.

I would tell any listener, “Play the disc over again, after you’ve let it settle in your mind, take up a comfortable space in your heart.  Play it for people who have ears.  Let them share the pleasure, the loving inquisitiveness.”

Because I have admired Michael’s playing for some time, I might have over-emphasized his contribution, but Dee Jay and Guillem are the equal of anyone with a more famous name, whether Elder or Youngblood: they play their instruments with honor and grace, avoiding the excesses that lesser players fall into.  Forget the snide jokes about bass solos; Dee Jay’s phrases are deft and logical, his time and intonation superb; Guillem, for his part, has such a swinging variety of sounds throughout his kit that he is marvelously orchestral without ever being overwhelming. The beautiful recorded sound, thanks to David Cassamitjana, is reassuringly warm and clear, putting us there, which is where we want to be.

You can hear the music here, on Spotify or iTunes, or purchase that endearing archaic object, an actual physical disc by clicking on “TIENDA” at the same site.

Even if you have as complete an Ellington-Strayhorn collection as possible, this is an essential disc: warm, candid, and gratifying.

And if you’d like to hear more from Michael, Dee Jay, and Guillem in a different but quite uplifting context, visit here also.

May your happiness increase!

BASIE PRINCIPLES

Paradise, 1940: Count Basie, Freddie Green, Walter Page, Jo Jones, Charlie Christian, Lester Young, Buck Clayton, Benny Goodman at Columbia Records

I am not Miniver Cheevy, nor do I long for pay phones, Donna Reed, and the nickel subway ride.  If you offered me time-travel to 1940, I would insist on a round-trip ticket, because I’d miss my friends too much. But this century seems hard, for all its vaunted technological strides.  Modern “edginess” and self-absorption make me cringe.

Two examples from the main street in suburban New York on which I live.

One is that as I drive slowly and attentively through congested areas, people with earbuds on, staring into their screens, looking down, walk directly in front of my car.  Of course I slow down, I do not roll down my window and shout at them.  But I think, in the words of Big Joe Turner, “You so beautiful, but you got to die someday,” or in my own words, “Your arrogance is horrible, and your defiance of common sense is stupid.  Will having the iPhone 93 make you immortal, or the fact that you have just had a perfect ‘mani and pedi’ protect you from my very slow-moving car?”  Their behavior is the complete expression of “ME, only ME,” and I think it sad.

Yesterday I was walking to the local train station to go to New York City to dine with friends.  Ahead of me was a man some years my senior who had an aluminum cane and moved with some difficulty.  He, his wife, and I arrived at a section of recently laid cement — like a small rivulet — that we had to step over.  His wife went first, then the construction workers looked at him, as he was slightly hesitant, and said, laughing, “JUMP!”  Jumping was not in this gentleman’s repertoire, but he managed to extend himself across the cement and make it to the other side, hailed by mocking laughter from the workers.  (I got across without disaster.)  That’s another kind of ME: “I am in good physical shape, so if you’re not, I have the right or perhaps the obligation to mock you.”

So, self-absorption, selfishness, small cruelties, unkindness, the absence of generosity, the individual held above the community.

What does all this have to do with Count Basie?

I owe these ruminations to my admired friend Nick Rossi, who posted this music on Facebook in honor of Count Basie’s birthday, August 21:

and I, having the two experiences above in my head, wrote this:

I wish this century allowed us to live our lives the way that rhythm section played — joyously, gently, precisely, modestly making room for everyone else, graciously creating beautiful spaces. LIVE THE BASIE WAY is a motto I imagine, although perhaps too much explaining would be needed.

The Basie rhythm section was a loving, spiritually aligned community, where even though Basie got his name on the music stands, he and everyone else knew that he was merely the figurehead who had the deep wisdom to let everyone hear Walter Page, Freddie Green, and Jo Jones.  Basie modestly let his “sidemen” shine; although he could have played solo forever and been his own orchestra, he created a little republic of generous interdependence.  Kindness and equalities rather than ego and mastery, generosity rather than selfishness.  And ease.

Even though 1942 was not an easy year for the world, Basie seemed to know, without making much of it, that we could mesh with the cosmos, keep it afloat and have it keep us afloat, if we picked the right medium-tempo.  Thus, love with open arms enacted in swinging 4/4.  Brother-and-sisterhood rather than a parade of egos in the spotlight, jostling for attention.

Taking it easy, stepping on no one’s feelings, finding the gracious way, without strain.  Cooperation rather than isolation, an unstated understanding that we are all aimed in the same direction and will reach the happy goal only if we help each other get there.

Imagine a world that moved this way, an irresistible perpetual motion machine:

Basie would have been embarrassed or aghast to read this philosophical praise.  When Whitney Balliett asked him where his piano style came from, his response was, “Honest truth, I don’t know.”  So he might have been very leery of being celebrated as someone whose laconic perfections were a spiritual path to follow.  But Basie’s is an honest truth, one we could all live and live by.

And a postscript: as I write this, there is a small jazz group called the New Blue Devils working towards playing the Basie way.  You could check them out.

May your Basie-ness increase!

SMITH and JONES, 1972-73

In my teens, I read MUSIC ON MY MIND, the autobiography of Willie “the Lion” Smith, and a sentence stuck in my mind, where the Lion mentioned a fifteen-minute duet he and Jo Jones had performed.  Jazz history is full of such remembered-but-not-recorded marvels, but this one haunted me, quite pleasantly, because I could imagine the two sounds blending magically.

Although I saw and was spoken to by Jo Jones several times between 1971 and 1983, the Lion had died before I could encounter him in person, and the closest I ever got to him was by spiritual transference through the eminent Mike Lipskin and a few television appearances.

This is the Lion, solo, and so pretty: for Mrs. Keenlyside, if she reads the blog.  The other voice, of course, is Albert Edwin Condon, and this is from one of the latter’s concerts, 1944-45:

Having Willie and Jo in duet only in my imagination, it was a lovely surprise to be record-hunting on Eighth Street in 1973 and find a new recording on the Jazz Odyssey label — THE LION AND THE TIGER, duets between my two heroes.  The two Elders were in generous sympathy, Willie, for the most part, eschewing the ferocious uptempos he liked in favor of sweetness, and Jo playing with great sensitivity.

When I saw Jo in person in his last years he sometimes played as if he were furious, wishing to annihilate musicians and audience, relying on his ride cymbal.  Here, even though the cover shows Jo at a full drum kit (possibly a photograph from Jazz Odyssey’s double-lp set, THE DRUMS) he stays, for the most part, on snare drum, a hi-hat, and his bass drum.  And much if not all of his work is wire brushes on the snare, his cymbal used for accents, and his bass drum a lesson in itself.  One exception — the closing JAM of under two minutes, a riotous TAKE ME OUT TO THE BALL GAME, proves that Jo brought his sticks and ride cymbal, but it’s a glorious mutual impromptu explosion.

I treasured that record, and found more than one copy in my travels.  There was a second volume, LE LION, LE TIGER, et LE MADELON, issued in 1975, that I also had and has now vanished.  And so had the Lion: it was his final recording.  Those two discs contained two dozen performances, perhaps eighty-five minutes of wonderful music.

But now!

Please note the enticing “2CD” top left.  Were this simply an authorized transfer of the two vinyl recordings to compact disc, it would be a delightful product.  But this new issue adds a good deal of previously unheard material, adding up to  more than forty tracks, including conversation between the two august participants, for a total of more than two hours of music.  And the notes tell us that four more performances will be issued on a future CD.

The record company, Frémeaux & Associés, is not devoted solely to jazz, but they have done chronological CD series devoted to Louis and Django, so they understand where north is.

Here is information about the new issue, comprehensible even to the monolingual.            .

The Lion and Jo worked together splendidly.  Both could, given less strong-minded players, lean into exhibitionism.  (Jo’s recordings in the same period when he was partnered with the organist Milt Buckner are high-intensity and high-volume proof.)  I sat through ten-minute drum solos from Jo: astounding but also exhausting, and the Lion was not modest, given the proper audience.  But on these sessions, Jo kept Willie on track in tempos, and Willie was not about to let Jo play his CARAVAN solo.  (When Jo begins one of his expansive displays, as on CAROLINA SHOUT, the silent awareness that Willie was sitting at the piano reins Jo in.)  They sent love to one another in every sixteenth note but there was brotherly restraint in the air.

Unlike some stride piano extravaganzas, these discs do not rely on displays of technique: in fact, the Lion’s affectionate rhapsodic side is more often on display: CHARMAINE, SWEETIE DEAR, and a 6/8 version of TROIS HEURES DU MATIN (for the last dance).  And the Lion’s dynamics are a lesson to all pianists: he loved to quietly meander in imagined meadows.  His dramatic sense is peerless: begin with a WOLVERINE BLUES that is a half-time sauntering rhapsody before becoming a stride romp with Jo playing sticks on his hi-hat and snare in stop-time passages. (And the notes tell us that four performances will be issued on a future CD.)

But these discs are not soporific.  There are riotous stomps — the second SWEET GEORGIA BROWN, the aforementioned JAM, JUST ONE OF THOSE THINGS, CAROLINA SHOUT, and others.  Although the Lion’s voice occasionally sounds tired, his piano is exuberant and exact: the astonishing end of a fifty-year recording career.  And Jo’s playing is precise and masterful.  The second disc ends with a nearly ten-minute HERE COMES THE BAND which is, to me, as close to the fifteen-minute unrecorded duet as I and you will ever come.

It was a long way from 1936, but each man was, in himself, the very definition of swing.  Put them together and magic larger than magic was the result.  Again, details here.  So far, it is not available through the usual download purees, nor are there sound samples.  You’ll have to be a bit courageous to hear this music.  But it rewards the brave searcher many times over.

May your happiness increase!

TAKE IT FROM THEM: NEVILLE DICKIE and DANNY COOTS PLAY FATS WALLER (Scott Joplin International Ragtime Festival; Sedalia, Missouri; May 31, 2018)

One of the great pleasures of the 2018 Scott Joplin International Ragtime Festival was their Fats Waller tribute concert — guess who was second row center with camera and tripod as his date?  I will share videos of the Holland-Coots Quintet playing and singing superbly, but first, something rich and rare, the opportunity to hear Neville Dickie in person.  I’ve heard him on recordings for years, but how he plays!  Steady, swinging, inventive, and without cliche.

Some pianists who want to be Wallerizing go from one learned four-bar motif to the next, but not Neville, who has so wonderfully internalized all kinds of piano playing that they long ago became him, as natural as speech.  Eloquent, witty speech, I might add.

Some might think, “What’s a drummer doing up there with that pianist?” but when the drummer is Danny Coots, it’s impudent to ask that question, because Danny adds so much and listens so deeply.  And there is a long tradition of Piano and Traps.  I thought immediately of James P. Johnson and Eddie Dougherty, of Frank Melrose and Tommy Taylor, of Donald Lambert and Howard Kadison, of Willie “the Lion” Smith and Jo Jones, of Sammy Price and Sidney Catlett, of Pete Johnson, Albert Ammons, and Jimmy Hoskins . . . and I am sure that there are other teams I have left out here.

Danny’s tap-dancer’s breaks may catch your ear (how expert!) but his steady color-filled but subtle support is what I admire even more.  He’s always paying attention, which is no small thing no matter what instrument you play.  In life.

Here are the four selections this inspired duo performed at the concert: only one of them a familiar Waller composition, which is also very refreshing.  Need I point out how rewarding these compact performances are — they are all almost the length of a 12″ 78 but they never feel squeezed or rushed.  Medium tempos, too.

A NEW KIND OF A MAN WITH A NEW KIND OF LOVE comes, as Neville says, from a piano roll — but this rendition has none of the familiar rhythmic stiffness that some reverent pianists now think necessary:

TAKE IT FROM ME (I’M TAKIN’ TO YOU) has slightly formulaic lyrics by Stanley Adams, but it’s a very cheerful melody.  I knew it first from the 1931 Leo Reisman version with Lee Wiley and Bubber Miley, which is a wondrous combination.  But Neville and Danny have the same jovial spirit.  And they play the verse!  Catch how they move the rhythms around from a very subtle rolling bass to a light-hearted 4/4 with Danny accenting in 2 now and again:

Then, the one recognized classic, thanks to Louis and a thousand others, I’VE GOT A FEELING I’M FALLING.  Neville, who certainly knows how to talk to audiences, is a very amusing raconteur in addition to everything else.  And the feeling I get when he and Danny go from the rather oratorical reading of the verse into tempo!

Finally (alas!) there’s CONCENTRATIN’ (ON YOU) which I know from recordings by the peerless Mildred Bailey and Connie (not yet Connee) Boswell: I can hear their versions in my mind’s ear.  But Neville and Danny have joined those aural memories for me:

What a pair!  Mr. Waller approves.  As do I.  As did the audience.

May your happiness increase!

“THE SAVORY COLLECTION 1935-1940” (Mosaic Records MD6-266, 6 discs)

Along with many of the faithful, I have been waiting and hoping since 2010 that this set would become a reality. When it arrived, I turned immediately to the fifth disc — one of a pair containing thirty-nine live performances by the Count Basie band from May 1938 to February 1940, and I was open-mouthed and astonished three minutes into the first performance (one of four particularly extravagant frolics from the Randall’s Island Carnival of Swing) — music that I thought I would never have the good fortune to hear.

Mosaic Records box sets usually have a similar effect on me, but this one is — as a character in a Sean O’Faolain story says — “beyond the beyonds.”  And, as a point of information, the box set contains substantially more music than was released through iTunes downloads.

You can learn more and hear something Savory here.

This set is more than a dream come true: it feels like a whole freight train of them.  In a postscript below, I’ve copied Loren Schoenberg’s list of the enlightened and generous people who this set possible.  Full disclosures: one, I was asked to write a few hundred words for this set, and thus one of my dreams came true, and two, I bought mine — with my allowance.

A Savory Disc

I will write primarily about the Basie cornucopia, but it is true for the set.

Many listeners forget the distinction between music created and captured in a recording studio and the sounds played “live.”  Many of the performances in the Mosaic box explode with happy ebullience.  Some of that is the freedom to play without being stopped at three minutes and twenty seconds (I hear John Hammond’s voice saying “Too long, Basie!” at the end of a take that could not be issued at the time) — in fact, the freedom to play without any recording supervisor (Hammond, Oberstein, Stephens, Hanighen) or their disapproving presence (Jack Kapp’s wooden Indian) in the room: the freedom to make a mistake and convert it into something remarkable by proceeding on.  Often, the recording studio is all we have or will ever have, but its stated and unstated restrictions can make for a chilly environment.

Some of the joy comes from playing from dancers — the radio airshots from the Randall’s Island festival are particularly frolicsome.  And we can’t discount the freedom to have a drink or something to inhale.

On the Basie sides, so much is both new and reassuring.  Lester Young, Dicky Wells, and Jo Jones sound like schoolboys who’ve been told the school has burned down.  Herschel Evans, so passionate, is in wonderful form (here and elsewhere in the set).  I can’t leave out Bennie Morton and Vic Dickenson, Buck Clayton, Sweets Edison, a particularly eloquent Jimmy Rushing, and Helen Humes’ most tender singing the lyrics to BLUE AND SENTIMENTAL.

I hear the arrangements anew — often, the Basie band is perceived as a springboard for soloists, and there’s much justification for that — but these airshots make it possible to hear the sections as if for the first time.  (Also, it’s evident how the arrangements become more complex.)  And the rhythm section!  Before hearing these recordings, I didn’t take in that Jo Jones was still playing temple blocks in mid-1938, and it’s a common assumption that Freddie Green and Walter Page were going along in a serious 4/4, four quarter notes to the bar, but their work is full of wonderful variations, accented notes and syncopations.  Even when a soloist closely follows the version created in the recording studio (some audience members wanted to “hear it the way it was on the record”) everything sounds joyous and free.

And since Bill Savory had professional equipment and the discs were splendidly restored by Doug Pomeroy, overall the recording quality is superb — far from the airshots we know recorded by a fan in the living room holding a microphone to the radio speaker to funnel sounds onto his Recordio disc.  The sound is not only clear — one hears details and the gentle enthusiasm of the audience — but large.  I can’t explain what “hearing the sound of the room” actually means, but there is a spaciousness that is delightful.

The new repertoire — not just Basie — is also a treat, as if we had been offered an audio equivalent to Bob Inman’s SWING ERA SCRAPBOOK . . . Basie performing RUSSIAN LULLABY (with Jimmy singing), ALEXANDER’S RAGTIME BAND, ROSETTA, LIMEHOUSE BLUES, and BUGLE CALL RAG.

To the other gems, some of which have already been well publicized:  Coleman Hawkins’ six-minute rhapsody on BODY AND SOUL; Fats Waller at the Yacht Club — so revealing of what he was like as pianist, singer, personality, and entertainer — with dance medleys of songs by J.Fred Coots (a close friend) and Sammy Fain; windows into his world that the Victor sides never provide.  Five minutes of young Ella; the Martin Block Jam session with the painfully lovely STARDUST featuring an ailing Herschel Evans; another Block session featuring Eddie Condon, Pee Wee Russell, Bud Freeman, Zutty Singleton, Charlie and Jack Teagarden, and Fats; Mildred Bailey singing TRUCKIN’ with the verse; Leo Watson taking on HONEYSUCKLE ROSE with the John Kirby Sextet and JEEPERS CREEPERS with Johnny Mercer; pearly Bobby Hackett, more from Joe and Marty Marsala, who didn’t get to record enough; Stuff Smith; Ben Webster, Albert Ammons, Chick Webb, Albert Ammons, Carl Kress and Dick McDonough, Ernie and Emilio Caceres, Roy Eldridge, Stew Pletcher, Ram Ramirez, Red Norvo, Teddy Bunn, Kenneth Hollon, Vernon Brown, Milt Hinton; Lionel Hampton, Charlie Shavers, Cozy Cole, Buster Bailey, Joe Thomas, George Wettling, Ed Hall, Carmen Mastren (with several long solos!), Jonah Jones, new music from the here-and-gone Teddy Wilson big band, the wondrous Benny Carter ensemble, and Glenn Miller; a set of four solo piano improvisations by Joe Sullivan, one of them ten minutes long — a true picture of the artist as a barrelhouse Joyce, wandering brilliantly.  And I am sure I’ve left someone out.

These six CDs are the Arabian Nights of swing, documents of a time and place where magic came out of your radio all the time.

I think it is obvious that I am urging listeners to purchase this set while they can.  But I must modulate to another key — that is, to quietly comment on the culture of entitlement, which, sadly, also infects people who love this music.  When some of the Savory material was issued on iTunes, some complained, “I don’t do downloads.” Now that it is all — plus more music — available on CD, I’ve heard some whinge, and yes, that is the right word, that they don’t want to buy this box set for various reasons.  Some think, incorrectly, that the six discs of the box have only what was released on iTunes, which is incorrect.  Check the Mosaic discography.

I’ve even heard people being petulant, “Why doesn’t this set include X or Y?” not understanding that the artists’ estates were paid for the music — think of that! a legitimate reissue! — and that some estates wanted extravagant reimbursement.

Consider what this set offers — rarities never even dreamed of — and do some simple math, how much each prized track costs the purchaser.  And, on another level, what you would pay to keep Mosaic Records afloat.  I know that, say, ten years ago, if you’d told me I could have thirty-nine new Basie performances for slightly more than a hundred dollars, I would have leaped at the opportunity, and I am no plutocrat.  Of course, one is free to ruminate and grumble . . . but this is a limited edition of 5000 sets.  Expect to see Savory boxes on eBay for $500 in a few months.  You’ve been warned.

And, by the way, visit here.

Loren’s thank-you note!

The National Jazz Museum in Harlem’s The Savory Collection Mosaic CD set has been issued after many years of planning. Many people were a part of the team who made it possible. Let’s start with Sonny McGown, who led me to the late Gene Savory, Bill’s son. Jonathan S. Scheuer, long-time board member of the National Jazz Museum in Harlem, purchased the collection and donated it to the museum. Frank Rich helped spread the word, as did Ken Burns, and within a few months, the Savory story graced the front page of the NYTimes. Fellow board member and attorney Daryl Libow stepped right in to handle all the myriad legal challenges. Doug Pomeroy rescued all that was salvageable from the discs. Dr. Susan Schmidt-Horning had interviewed and written about Bill and gave us lots of help from the academic/acoustic realms. Garrett Shelton was invaluable at iTunes for the initial releases, as was Ken Druker and the production team he assembled to make all of that happen. Samantha Samuels created first-class promo videos for us, and then Scott Wenzel, to whom the jazz world owes a huge debt for his unflagging production of the Mosaic catalogue (along with the rest of the Mosaic team, read: Michael Cuscuna and Fred Pustay) hopped back aboard to bring this collection to fruition; he had been there at the git-go, joining me and Kevin Cerovich in Malta, Ill., to catalogue and drive the discs to NYC.

The album is graced by essays of some of the finest writers out here, starting with Dan Morgenstern and Ricky Riccardi, Tom Piazza, David Fletcher, Michael Steinman, Vincent Pelote, Anthony Barnett, James Carter, Ethan Iverson, and Kenny Washington.

And none of the music would have been issuable without the cooperation of the artist’s estates, and the dedication of the board and staff of The National Jazz Museum in Harlem.  So it’s been a long haul, well worth the wait; here’s hoping Bill Savory would be pleased.

May your happiness increase!

I CALL ON MICHAEL HASHIM, PART TWO (July 19, 2017)

Because he is justifiably one of the most busy musicians I know, it was hard to find a time when saxophone master and master raconteur Michael Hashim and I could sit down and talk at leisure.  And because Michael is so busy gigging, it was hard to find a photograph of him without a horn attached to him, but I did.  (I love the dashing color palette here.)

Michael and I had a long afternoon’s conversation last July, the first two segments of which I posted here.

Now, throwing caution to the winds — or another apt cliche — I offer the four remaining segments of our talk.  And, as you’ll hear, Michael is one of those rare creatures who can speak beautifully, extemporaneously, without hesitation: lovely long sentences, full of information, feeling, and wit, come tumbling out.  A master of improvised prose as well as one of improvised music.

Three.  In which Michael speaks so well and affectionately of Jimmy Rowles — the pianist, the man, and the artist — with side-glances at Robert Mitchum, Henry Mancini, and The Fifth Dimension, Tommy Flanagan, Phyllis Diller, Benny Carter, Michael’s own recording with Rowles, Ray Brown, and some comments on race:

Four.  In which Michael tells anecdotes of encounters with heroes in New York, saxophonist Pony Poindexter, trombonist Benny Morton, as well as jazz clubs Eddie Condon’s and Jimmy Ryan’s, with memories of Red Balaban, Jo Jones, Bobby Pratt, Tony Bennett, Joe Muranyi, Artie Baker, Roy Eldridge, Scott Hamilton, Lou Donaldson, Freddie Freeloader, and others:

Five.  In which Michael remembers not only individual musicians but the feeling and understanding of their art that they embodied, including Cab Calloway, the Widespread Depression Orchestra, Eddie Barefield, Sammy Price, Jerry Potter, Earle Warren, Phil Schaap,Toots Mondello, Percy France, Doc Cheatham, Scott Robinson, Roy Eldridge, Ornette Coleman, Cecil Taylor, Lester Bowie, Haywood Henry:

Six. In which Michael lovingly speaks of the importance of the drums and remembers memorable percussionists and the players surrounding them, including Buddy Rich, Philly Joe Jones, Eddie Locke, Ray Mosca, Oliver Jackson, with a special pause for the master Jo Jones, for Sonny Greer, Johnny Blowers, Brooks Kerr, Russell Procope, Harold Ashby, Aaron Bell, Sidney Bechet, Charlie Irvis, Bubber Miley, Elmer Snowden, Freddie Moore, Eddy Davis, Kenny Washington, Billy Higgins, Wynton Marsalis, Branford Marsalis, George Butler, Jazz at Lincoln Center, Joe Henderson:

What an afternoon it was, and what a person Michael Hashim is.

May your happiness increase!

AFTER HOURS AT MEZZROW (September 3, 2017): JOHN MERRILL, DANNY TOBIAS, JOE LEPORE

I’ve been listening to the fine understated guitarist John Merrill for a few years now, almost always at the West Tenth Street shrine Mezzrow.  We’ve talked of capturing him on video when the cosmic forces were properly aligned, and they were on the evening of September 3, 2017, for what is billed as “after hours.”  In deference to people like myself who are — as Jo Jones termed us, I think dismissively — “nine to fivers,” the set started at eleven o’clock (after two wonderful sets by a Tad Shull trio, which you may admire here).

John had with him Danny Tobias, trumpet, and Joe Lepore, string bass.  They created two performances that are, for me, Instant Classics.

I SURRENDER, DEAR:

CHEEK TO CHEEK:

I look forward to another appearance by this trio.  Who knows, I could take off a Monday . . .

May your happiness increase!

HAL SMITH’S SWING CENTRAL: “WINDY CITY SWING” (JON DOYLE, JAMEY CUMMINS, DAN WALTON, STEVE PIKAL, HAL SMITH and JOSHUA HOAG)

Hal Smith is someone whose music I’ve admired long before I was able to meet him and hear the magic he works from a front-row seat.  Dogs bark; cats meow; Hal swings, and I’ve never known him to fail.  Better than CPR.

Put it another way: I’ve had a driver’s license for decades, and am thus less comfortable in the passenger seat.  When I hear a performance with Hal at the drums, I can relax — the same way I do when Jo or Sidney or Wettling or Tough is in control: I know everything’s going to be all right.

A new CD with Hal is always a pleasure; the debut recording of a new Hal Smith band is an event, one to be celebrated.  SWING CENTRAL lives up to its title, and there’s more at work here than a) a quintet playing a swing repertoire and b) that the musicians all live in the Central time zone.

Those musicians — exuberant and focused at the same time are, besides Hal — Jonathan Doyle on clarinet; Dan Walton, piano; Jamey Cummins, guitar; Steve Pikal, string bass, and appearing on one track, Joshua Hoag, also on bass.

What makes this clarinet-plus rhythm group different and thus a treasure is vividly apparent from the first notes of the first track.  For one thing, SWING CENTRAL is aware that there is music not played by Benny Goodman.  Heresy to some, I know, and I treasure my Goodman records as much as anyone, but this band and this disc go another way. And that way is the endearingly individualistic way mapped out by Lester Young, Pee Wee Russell, Frank Chace, and Charlie Christian.  SWING CENTRAL is a hot band, but not an exhibitionistic one: on this CD or in performance, you won’t hear a ten-minute version of SEVEN COME ELEVEN that’s capped with a drum solo.  Hearing the disc again, I thought, “This band is playing for the music, not for the audience,” which is a beautiful and rare thing.  And the musicians know the records, but have absorbed them into their cell memory, so that they can play themselves, which is the only way to honor the innovators.  “Feelin’ the spirit,” as they used to say.

 

Now that you’ve gotten over the pleasant shock of the remarkable cover art by JP Ardee Navarro, hear and see the band in performance (Austin’s Central Market, 2016) for yourself:

LITTLE GIRL:

and Jon Doyle’s charming sweet original, HELLO, FISHIES:

Hal asked me if I would write something for this CD, and I was honored.  Here’s what I came up with: easy to tell the truth, and easy to express happiness in words.  (And in case what I’ve written seems to favor Jon Doyle and the leader, I will say only that I’d like to hear a CD led by Dan Walton, Jamey, or Steve.)

A MEETING OF KINDRED SOULS

A true story. Dizzy Gillespie and Thelonious Monk were in a taxi, discussing “the beat”. Monk favored surprising shifts but Dizzy disagreed. “What would you do if your heart beat irregular? The steady beat is the principle of life.” My cardiologist would agree: healthy, happy organisms swing from the inside out. Hal Smith’s Swing Central is not only a wondrous cohesive group, inspired by the music of Pee Wee Russell, Lester Young, Frank Chace, and friends, but it affirms joyous principles. From Austin, Texas, comes healing jazz.

Leader Hal tells how this band came to be:

I’ve known Jon Doyle since 2009. The first time I heard him warming up on clarinet, quoting Pres’ solo from “I Want A Little Girl,” the seed was planted for this band. Steve Pikal and I worked together in the Jim Cullum Jazz Band in 2010. Steve’s outgoing personality and propulsive bass playing is always a positive influence. Dan Walton introduced me to the Western Swing scene in Texas. We played together with Jason Roberts’ band and later with Dan’s own Jump Swing Imperials. He understands that “less is more” and it shows. Jamey Cummins has been in Austin for some time, and is finally receiving the attention he deserves. He plays wonderful Freddie Green-like time and inventive, highly rhythmic solos.

We decided not to pursue the familiar Goodman-based clarinet-and-rhythm repertoire but rather to explore the more introverted music of Pee Wee Russell, Lester Young, Frank Chace. Jon Doyle took to the idea like a bat takes to the Congress Ave. Bridge. When we began, the musicians lived in the Central Time zone, so the band name suggested itself. (However, we are not going to add “Pacific” when a couple of our musicians have relocated to the West Coast!)

This was the easiest recording session I have ever done, and several other band members agreed. I think you’ll hear what a good time we had.

This quietly thrilling band reminds me not only of the three inspiring clarinet playing individualists, but of the possibilities of music that gently breaks down the barriers some listeners and journalists build, cubicles labeled “schools” and “styles.” Swing Central takes familiar songs and make them fresh and dewy; Jon’s compositions and reinventions are witty beyond their titles. And these players – happy rovers in the land of Medium Tempo, great ensemble players as well as inspiring soloists — go for themselves rather than copying.

About the repertoire. Listeners will hear the chord structures of SUGAR, MY GAL SAL, I FOUND A NEW BABY, and LADY BE GOOD reinvigorated. An answer key is available at the end of your workbook, but no peeking until you’ve handed in your finished pages.

BIG AL evokes Mr. Capone, who would have tipped Swing Central generously to keep playing his favorite song. Hal explains BATS ON A BRIDGE as “a real Austin phenomenon, and five of the six musicians here have deep roots in Texas’ weirdest city. http://www.batcon.org/index.php/our-work/regions/usa-canada/protect-mega-populations/cab-intro. HI, FISHIES comes from a sweet cross-species story. Ask Jon when you meet him on a gig. REPEATER PENCIL is for Lester, and for this band: artists who honor the innovators by being innovative themselves.

LONG-DISTANCE MAN owes its title to a Pres-and-Chace story recalled by Larry Kart: “[Chace] also told a very ‘Frank’ story about his encounter with Lester Young in 1957 in Pres’s hotel room in (I think) Indianapolis, where Frank was playing at a club and Pres was in town with a non-JATP package tour. The drummer in the band Frank was part of, Buddy Smith, suggested that they pay Pres a visit after the gig, and when they got there, Frank (‘I’m shy,’ he said), hung back while the other guys gathered around Pres. Having noticed this bit of behavior, Pres beckoned Frank to come closer, addressing him softly as ‘long-distance man.’ Probably a meeting of kindred souls.”

SHEIK OF AIRBNB is named thus because Jamey stayed in an AirBnB directly below the studio where the session was recorded. I MUST HAVE THAT MAN is from the band’s live gig at Central Market in Austin on Aug. 28, 2016. Josh Hoag (now with Asleep at the Wheel) filled in for Steve. The band decided that they must share this track with us: a lovely gift. When you are enjoying SUNDAY, don’t be surprised when the track fades out. Do not adjust your set. Hal explains, “Alex Hall’s reliable recording equipment may have been affected by a sun spot, or maybe one of Doyle’s blue notes. But we liked the overall feel so much — particularly Jon’s playing — that we decided to keep as much as possible and fade before the sudden ending.”

Sir John Davies, a Renaissance poet, wrote ORCHESTRA, his conception of a cosmos vibrating in symphonic harmony. If we are very fortunate, the world might vibrate as does Hal Smith’s Swing Central – tender, relaxed, urgent. We have a long way to go, but it’s a noble aspiration.

Here is the link to hear samples, purchase an actual disc, or a download.  Hal and SWING CENTRAL will be appearing at the Bix Festival on the first weekend of August in Davenport, Iowa. . . so you can have the mutual pleasure of buying CDs from the band there, also.  And here is the place to find out about all things Smith — the swinging ones, of course.

May your happiness increase!