Tag Archives: Joe Ascione

BOB AND RUTH BYLER + CAMERA = HOURS OF GOOD MUSIC

Bob and Ruth Byler

Bob and Ruth Byler

I first became aware of Bob Byler — writer, photographer, videographer — when we both wrote for THE MISSISSIPPI RAG, but with the demise of that wonderful journalistic effusion (we still miss Leslie Johnson, I assure you) I had not kept track of him.  But he hasn’t gone away, and he is now providing jazz viewers with hours of pleasure.

“Spill, Brother Michael!” shouts a hoarse voice from the back of the room.

As you can see in the photograph above, Bob has always loved capturing the music — and, in this case, in still photographs.  But in 1984, he bought a video camera.  In fact, he bought several in varying media: eight-millimeter tape, VHS, and even mini-DVDs, and he took them to jazz concerts wherever he could. Now, when he shares the videos, edits them, revisits them, he says, “I’m so visual-oriented, it’s like being at a jazz festival again without the crowd.  It’s a lot of fun.”  Bob told me that he shot over two thousand hours of video and now has uploaded about four hundred hours to YouTube.

Here is his flickr.com site, full of memorable closeups of players and singers. AND the site begins with a neatly organized list of videos . . .

Bob and his late wife Ruth had gone to jazz festivals all over the world — and a few cruises — and he had taken a video camera with him long before I ever had the notion.  AND he has put some four hundred hours of jazz video on YouTube on the aptly named Bob and Ruth Byler Archival Jazz Videos channel. His filming perspective was sometimes far back from the stage (appropriate for large groups) so a video that’s thirty years old might take a moment to get used to. But Bob has provided us with one time capsule after another.  And unlike the ladies and gents of 2016, who record one-minute videos on their smartphones, Bob captured whole sets, entire concerts.  Most of his videos are nearly two hours long, and there are more than seventy of them now up — for our dining and dancing pleasure.  Many of the players are recognizable, but I haven’t yet sat down and gone through forty or a hundred hours of video, so that is part of the fun — recognizing old friends and heroes.  Because (and I say this sadly) many of the musicians on Bob’s videos have made the transition, which makes this video archive, generously offered, so precious.

Here is Bob’s own introduction to the collection, which tells more than I could:

Here are the “West Coast Stars,” performing at the Elkhart Jazz Party, July 1990:

an Art Hodes quartet, also from Elkhart, from 1988:

What might have been one of Zoot Sims’ last performances, in Toledo, in 1985:

a compilation of performances featuring Spiegle Willcox (with five different bands) from 1991-1997, a tribute  Bob is particularly proud of:

from the 1988 Elkhart, a video combining a Count Basie tribute (I recognize Bucky Pizzarelli, Milt Hinton, Joe Ascione, and Doc Cheatham!) and a set by the West End Jazz Band:

a Des Moines performance by Jim Beebe’s Chicago Jazz Band featuring Judi K, Connie Jones, and Spiegle:

and a particular favorite, two sets also from Elkhart, July 1988, a Condon memorial tribute featuring (collectively) Wild Bill Davison, Tommy Saunders, Chuck Hedges, George Masso, Dave McKenna, Marty Grosz, Milt Hinton, Rusty Jones, John Bany, Wayne Jones, in two sets:

Here are some other musicians you’ll see and hear: Bent Persson, Bob Barnard, Bob Havens, the Mighty Aphrodite group, the Cakewalkin’ Jazz Band, the Mills Brothers, Pete Fountain, Dick Hyman, Peter Appleyard, Don Goldie, Tomas Ornberg, Jim Cullum, Jim Galloway, Chuck Hedges, Dave McKenna, Max Collie, the Salty Dogs, Ken Peplowski, Randy Sandke, Howard Alden, Butch Thompson, Hal Smith, the Climax Jazz Band, Ernie Carson, Dan Barrett, Banu Gibson, Tommy Saunders, Jean Kittrell, Danny Barker, Duke Heitger, John Gill, Chris Tyle, Bob Wilber, Gene Mayl, Ed Polcer, Jacques Gauthe, Brooks Tegler, Rex Allen, Bill Dunham and the Grove Street Stompers, Jim Dapogny’s Chicago Jazz Band, the Harlem Jazz Camels, and so much more, more than I can type.

Many musicians look out into the audience and see people (like myself) with video cameras and sigh: their work is being recorded without reimbursement or without their ability to control what becomes public forever.  I understand this and it has made me a more polite videographer.  However, when such treasures like this collection surface, I am glad that people as devoted as Bob and Ruth Byler were there.  These videos — and more to come — testify to the music and to the love and generosity of two of its ardent supporters.

May your happiness increase!

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THE JAZZ BOOKSHELF: “JAZZ BEAT: NOTES ON CLASSIC JAZZ” and “MR. B”

A quarter-century ago, in actual bookstores, I could find shelves devoted to books on jazz.  That reassuring sight still exists (I saw it in the Strand in New York last week) but the great era of print publishing is, understandably, over. Thus it’s always a pleasure to encounter new books on jazz, and the two below are quite different but will both reward readers.

Jazz-Beat-review--195x300

JAZZ BEAT: NOTES ON CLASSIC JAZZ, by Lew Shaw (AZtold Publishing) is a very amiable collection of profiles written by an admiring, long-time fan and former sportswriter.

What makes these brief affectionate portraits different from the norm is that all (except one) the musicians in this book are living.  Not all of them are stars, but they have devoted followings — from the youthful Jonathan “Jazz” Russell, Pete and Will Anderson, Josh Duffee, Michael Kaeshammer, Ben Polcer, Molly Ryan, Bria Skonberg, Andy Schumm, Stephanie Trick, to the veterans Bill Allred, Jim Cullum, Bob Draga, Yve Evans, Chet Jeager, Flip Oakes, Bucky Pizzarelli, Richard Simon, Mike Vax, Pat Yankee, and Ed Polcer — the book’s inspiration, whose picture is on the cover.

Shaw also profiles other regulars on the festival circuit, Tom Rigney, the Uptown Lowdown Jazz Band, the Natural Gas Jazz Band, the New Black Eagles, Igor’s Jazz Cowboys.

His emphasis is on musicians exploring older jazz forms and repertoire, but the book is happily free from ideological bickering (with one exception, and the words aren’t the author’s*.  The book is comfortable and easy: I sense that the musicians are delighted to find someone sympathetic, interested, willing to get the facts right for publication.

I was pleased to find a number of my jazz friends and heroes profiled, among them Clint Baker, Kevin Dorn, Banu Gibson, Nicki Parrott, Carl Sonny Leyland, Randy Reinhart, Hal Smith, Rossano Sportiello, and the late Mat Domber.  I know I’ve left several people off this list, but readers will have fun seeing some of their favorites here.

Shaw’s method is simple: he establishes the musician’s place in the world of contemporary traditional jazz, constructs a brief biography — a story rather than a collection of dates and a listing of names and places.  Some comments from a writer or blogger offer different insights (I’m even quoted here a few times) and the musician speaks for him or herself.  The result is a fast-moving collection of short pieces (somewhere between journalistic features and extensive liner notes) that capture their subjects’ personalities in only a few pages.

Shaw is frankly admiring — from a literate fan’s perspective.  For instance (I picked this at random), the opening of his piece on Bob Draga: “Clarinetist Bob Draga is considered the consummate entertainer, having mastered the art of pleasing an audience with musical talent, classy appearance and entertaining repartee.”  That’s Bob, to the life.

One particularly moving episode in this book is the profile of drummer Joe Ascione — and his life with multiple sclerosis since 1997.  If Shaw had done nothing but allow Joe to speak for himself, JAZZ BEAT would still be well worth reading. Many fans come up to musicians at gigs, concerts, and festivals, and ask questions; it is reassuring to see that Lew Shaw has willingly shared his energies and research with us.  The 211-page book is nicely produced with many black-and-white photographs, and copies can be ordered here.

*Chet Jaeger, of the Night Blooming Jazzmen, told Shaw about playing in a Disneyland marching band when Dizzy Gillespie was also performing there, and his reaction: “I decided I would attend and try to learn something about modern jazz, but I gave up after a few numbers.  I always say that when I hit a bad note, everyone knows it’s a bad note. When Miles Davis hits a bad note, people will say, ‘Isn’t that creative.'”

MISTER B

Cary Ginell, author of a fine book on the Jazz Man Record Shop (reviewed here) and a rewarding biography of Cannonball Adderley (here) has produced another first-rate book in the same series: MR. B: THE LIFE AND MUSIC OF BILLY ECKSTINE (Hal Leonard, 228+ pages).  Ginell may turn out to be this generation’s model for jazz biography, for he doesn’t indulge in pathobiography (chronicling every time his subject is supposed to have left no tip for a waitperson or some other example of bad behavior) and he isn’t a secret Destroyer (appearing to write admiringly of the subject then deflating the Hero(ine) chapter after chapter).

His books are tidy, graceful, compact affairs — full of stories but never digressive, sticking to chronology but never mechanical.

Eckstine has been treated gingerly by the jazz community: yes, he was Earl Hines’ band vocalist, bringing the blues to a larger audience with JELLY, JELLY, then someone given credit for his “legendary” band featuring Dizzy, Bird, Fats Navarro, Art Blakey, and others . . . but once Eckstine comes to even greater prominence as an African-American balladeer (think of I APOLOGIZE), the jazz audience loses interest and the naughty word “commercialism” enters the dialogue.

Ginell doesn’t over-compensate, and he — unlike Mister B — doesn’t apologize, but he makes a serious case for Eckstine being one of the important figures in the slow struggle for White Americans to respect people of color.

One of Eckstine’s sons remembered, “Until the day he died, whenever he ordered a sandwich, he always separated the two pieces of bread and gently ran his fingers over the meat, because on a number of occasions while touring the South, they would send the band boy. . . to pick up food from a white restaurant. When they got the sandwiches, they would discover finely ground glass, or vermin feces mixed in with the tuna, chicken, egg, or potato salad.”  We also learn about the repercussions of a LIFE magazine photograph where Eckstine was captured amidst young White female fans — a horrifying example of racist attitudes in 1950. Stories such as that are invaluable, and make a book both readable and memorable, no matter who its subject might be.

The band business was difficult even when the enemy wasn’t trying to poison you so directly; Ed Eckstein also recalled that the critic Leonard Feather subtly attacked his father’s band because Eckstine refused to record Feather’s compositions.  Eckstine and Dizzy Gillespie created a parody — sung to the tune STORMY WEATHER, with these lyrics:

I know why, we can’t get a gig on Friday night, / Leonard Feather / Keeps on makin’ it hard for me to keep this band together, / Talkin’ shit about us all the time . . .  

We learn about the relationship between June Eckstine and the promising young Swedish clarinetist Stan Hasselgard; we learn of Eckstine’s close friendship with Dr. King, his devotion to his fans, his generosities.  And as for Eckstine’s apparent “selling-out,” he had this to say, “Some creeps said I ‘forsook’ jazz in order to be commercial. So I saw one of these creeps, a jazz critic, and I said, ‘What are you, mad at me because I want to take care of my family?  Is that what pisses you off? You want me to end up in a goddamn hotel room with a bottle of gin in my pocket and a needle in my arm, and let them discover me laying there? Then I’ll be immortal, I guess, to you . . . It ain’t going to work that way with me, man. I want to take care of my family and give them the things that I think they deserve.'”

And we learn that Eckstine’s last word was “Basie,” which should go some distance in supporting his deep feeling for jazz.

It’s an admirable book.  Although nearly everyone who worked with Eckstine is dead, Ginell has had the cooperation of the singer’s family and friends; he has done thorough research without allowing minutiae to overwhelm the narrative, and the book moves along at a fine 4 / 4 pace.  With rare photographs, as well.

Ginell’s work — and this series in general — is very fine, and these books fill needed spaces in jazz history.  Who’s next?

May your happiness increase!

“AIR MAIL SPECIAL”: JOHN COCUZZI, ANTTI SARPILA, BUCKY PIZZARELLI, JASON WANNER, RICHARD SIMON, and BUTCH MILES

Benny Goodman and Charlie Christian and the small groups they levitated (for only a brief time, 1939-41) continue to resonate, even though I believe that none of the original players survive.

But the music does.

Here is a fervent sample — recorded live at the 2011 San Diego Jazz Party.  (It comes from the “swingink” YouTube channel.)

This all-star sextet (led by Antti Sarpila) is playing AIR MAIL SPECIAL — composer credits Goodman, Christian, and Mundy — although my guess is that the composition should read CHARLES CHRISTIAN (100%), BENJAMIN DAVID GOODMAN (fine-tuning after the fact, percentage undetermined), and JAMES MUNDY (arrangement for big band).  Poor Charlie didn’t even live long enough to enjoy the royalties from his one-third, but that’s another story.

Many Goodman tributes are overseen by clarinetists, senior or junior, who have memorized the King’s fleet set-pieces without understanding the central nervous system that made them work so well.  Goodman seemed to use many notes, but he also had an intuitive grasp of space — how silence, like breathing, was essential to swing.  He had great flexibility on his instrument but was never shrill; he was melodic rather than loud.  Finnish clarinetist ANTTI SARPILA knows this from the inside out, having studied with the Master Robert Sage Wilber.

Then there’s the vibraphone / vibraharp — another instrument that lends itself, in the wrong hands, to swirling excesses: too many arpeggiated chords, too much jumping up and down a la Hamp, too much pounding.  If you simply watch JOHN COCUZZI’s mallets, you’ll be hypnotized — they go so fast, and in this performance one disintegrates under the strain (where is Dixie Rollini when you need her now?) but don’t let the flashing sticks fool you.  John’s phrases are elegant, his constructions logical and hot but never losing their cool.  He rocks!

Then there’s that wonderfully age-defying rhythm section: Uncle BUCKY PIZZARELLI, who is both the single-string Friend of Charlie Christian and a chording dynamo (a long-time Goodman alumnus); young titan JASON WANNER, spinning out beautifully nuanced piano lines; reliable swinger RICHARD SIMON; engine-room man BUTCH MILES.

Put them all together and you have an AIR MAIL SPECIAL that’s both riotous and right on time!

And for a reason to save your pennies or to make your own coffee now and again — John Cocuzzi has just recorded a delicious CD called GROOVE MERCHANT for the Arbors people — with Antti, the irreplaceable pianist John Sheridan, guitarist James Chirillo, bassist Frank Tate, and drummer Joe Ascione.  I’ve heard an advance copy and it swings in a lovely, insinuating way — and some tracks have become instant classics, stuck in the JAZZ LIVES car player.  Coming soon!

For now, dig this AIR MAIL SPECIAL: it repays frequent watchings.

KENNY DAVERN, IRREPLACEABLE

Thanks to Don Wolff for recording and posting this splendidly moving reading of ONE HOUR — from the 1997 Mid-America Jazz Festival — by Kenny, Howard Alden, Johnny Varro, Bob Haggart, and Joe Ascione.  Majesty, simplicity, delicacy, and power . . . . and the first chorus alone is a graduate seminar in lovely melodic embellishment:

And when you’ve gotten through marveling at what Kenny plays, fore and aft, check Johnny Varro’s one chorus — equally marvelous, understated, easy to overlook. 

Don Wolff’s YouTube channel is “MrDonWolff” or a reasonable facsimile thereof — worth several hours of fascinated watching . . . .

“PAY ATTENTION!” CELEBRATING JAKE HANNA (August 8, 2010)

The greatest artists have a way of making us comfortable.  We see them, unannounced, come on the stage, and we relax and get ready to be delighted.  “This is going to be wonderful!” we think, before the first note has been played.  Hank Jones and Milt Hinton and Ruby Braff and Vic Dickenson and another dozen others always evoked that feeling.  And Jake Hanna. 

 Jake lifted up every session with his beautiful sound, his floating, encouraging time, his own delight at being there.  But he was so consistently generous that I fear he didn’t get celebrated sufficiently when he was alive.  But the musicians knew, and wise listeners did also.

He isn’t with us anymore — to push the band joyously on his hi-hats, to crack wise on the bandstand, to tell long scurrilous hilarious stories off it.  But his presence is very much real and alive.

Jake’s niece, Maria Judge, has organized a musical celebration in honor of Jake.  It will be held in his hometown, Dorchester, Mass., on August 8 at 2 PM.  Musicians who loved Jake and who shared his artistic vision (loosely paraphrased, it went something like: “If you’re not going to swing, what the hell are you doing on the bandstand?”) will be there: Becky Kilgore, Howard Alden, Randy Reinhart, Warren Vache, Harry Allen, Joe Ascione (playing a set of Jake’s drums),  and Joel Forbes.  Knowing Jake — and how deeply people loved and admired him, there will be a great deal of laughter and swing.  I would give anything to be at the back of the hall with my video camera, and hope that someone takes my place.

The Hometown Celebration will take place on Sunday, August 8, beginning at 2 PM, at Florian Hall, 55 Hallet Street, Dorchester, Mass. 02124.  Don’t know how to get there?  Look-a-here . . . and there’s more information on the brand-new website, http://www.jakehanna.com.  My title (and one of my most-used tags)?  “Pay attention!” was one of Jake’s favorite phrases.  Attention must be paid . . . .

THE FINAL SEASON: “HIGHLIGHTS IN JAZZ”

Jack Kleinsinger has been putting on jazz concerts every year in New York City for thirty-seven years — including just about everyone alive and playing, including Dizzy Gillespie, Earl Hines, Buddy Rich, and Big Joe Turner.  2009 will be the end of the incredible run for “Highlights in Jazz.” 

I have fond memories of the concerts: in fact, I was in the audience for Jack’s second concert — a 1972 tribute to Fats Waller at the Theatre deLys.  At other times, I recall seeing Teddy Wilson, Buddy Tate, Dicky Wells, PeeWee Erwin, Bobby Hackett, Dick Hyman, Vic Dickenson, Milt Hinton, Kenny Davern, Jon-Erik Kellso, David Ostwald, Doc Cheatham, and many others.  My memory isn’t deep enough (Jack’s is) to delineate all of the surprise guests, but they were happy to be there. 

So consider these concerts!  There won’t be another season, and I don’t see new series emerging that give so much loving attention to Mainstream and earlier styles of jazz.

Here are the details:

Thursday, September 10, 2009 – 8 pm
Cabaret Jazz: featuring Barbara Carroll and Paula West

Thursday, October 8, 2009 – 8 pm
Hot Jazz From New Orleans To Israel: featuring Evan Christopher, Duke Heitger, Anat Cohen,
Ehud Asherie, George Masso, Jackie Williams, Johnny Varro, Joe Ascione

Thursday, November 12, 2009 – 8 pm
Living Jazz Legends: featuring Buddy DeFranco, Jay Leonhart, Joe Cohn, Ron Odrich, Ed Metz, Jr.
and Bucky Pizzarelli, John Pizzarelli, Martin Pizzarelli, Mickey Roker

Thursday, December 10, 2009 – 8 pm
Celebrating the Swing Masters:
Ken Peplowski Recalls Benny Goodman
Terry Gibbs Recalls Lionel Hampton
Freddie Bryant Recalls Charlie Christian

All Shows at TRIBECA Performing Arts Center
Borough of Manhattan Community College, 199 Chambers Street
TRIBECA Box Office at (212) 220-1460  http://www.tribecapac.org/music.htm 
Subscriptions $130, individual tickets $35, students $32.50.  Make checks payable to & mail to: Highlights in Jazz, 7 Peter Cooper Road, New York, NY 10010 (enclose a self-addressed stamped envelope)

P.S.  In a more enlightened time, Knopf would have published Jack’s memoirs, and Columbia Records would have been issuing a sustained series of concert CD / DVD packages.  These things haven’t happened, which is perhaps all the more reason to celebrate what has taken place.

OUR FAR-FLUNG CORRESPONDENTS: SACRAMENTO JAZZ JUBILEE (II)

Bill Gallagher, also a fine writer, is encountered too infrequently in the pages of the IAJRC Journal. Here’s his report on the Sacramento Jazz Jubilee, held Memorial Day Weekend:

This celebration of jazz was started in 1974, primarily as a Trad Jazz festival. Today it is still mostly a Trad thing but there is a good deal of Mainstream jazz and even Latin, Gypsy and Zydeco. The problem, if you could call it that, is that there are 105 different bands appearing throughout the city at 30 different venues. Commendably, there are a number of youth bands that get to strut their stuff and it is heartening to see jazz attract the younger set, particularly while the audience (myself included) seems to be aging at an alarming rate. Attendance this year was about 75,000 people. Not a bad draw, you might say, but not close to the 200,000 attendees of ten years ago. Another reality in this age of shrinking budgets is that fewer international bands are to be seen. While the festival provides a highly efficient transportation system for getting from one venue to another, the sheer size of the three-day event makes it impossible to see and hear everything. But that doesn’t stop the faint of heart from trying.

Overlooking the magnitude of the event and its associated logistics, there was lots of great jazz. Becky Kilgore and BED knocks everybody’s socks off. Various All Stars in numerous configurations provided stunning, extemporaneous performances. Performers like Harry Allen, Russ Phillips, John Allred, Randy Reinhart, Joe Ascione, John Cocuzzi, Jim Galloway, Jake Hanna and, I’m proud to say, my good friend and pianist with few peers, Eddie Higgins, provided a continuous succession of one great performance after another. But a good part of the fun was listening to the banter that goes on with musicians and the occasionally funny slip by a fan. What do I mean? Well, here’s a sampler.

Tommy Saunders made reference to a compatriot of many years with the aside, “I’ve drunk to your health so much I’ve ruined mine.”

A woman approached Bob Schulz of the Frisco Jazz Band with a request. Would you play “I’ll Be Your Friend For Pleasure”? Sure, but I think you mean “I’ll Be Your Friend WITH Pleasure.”

As Jim Galloway began to introduce a number that featured him, “Bewitched, Bothered and …” But before he could get the last word out, Dan Barrett injected “Bob Wilber-ed.”

Bob Ringwald, father of actress Molly Ringwald, performed “Bethena,” a beautiful Scott Joplin rag. As background, Bob told the audience that his daughter had asked him to play it for her wedding. It was a difficult piece to learn and it took Bob some time to finally get it down. “In fact,” said Bob, “it took me longer to learn it than the marriage lasted.”

Great music. Great fun. Good times.

—- Bill Gallagher