Tag Archives: Joe Muranyi

TWO GENTLEMEN OF THE LYRICAL BRASS FRATERNITY: JOHN BUCHER, PETER ECKLUND

I’ve been putting off this post because it makes me sad to write about these fine musicians I won’t encounter face to face again: I didn’t know either of them well, but felt that we had connected in various ways.  But it would be worse than my sadness to let their beauty be forgotten in the relentless howl of the news.  And although I cannot assume that John and Peter were close friends, their characteristic graciousness suggests to me that they would have known and admired each other.  So I trust they won’t mind the propinquity of this blogpost.

John Bucher, some years ago, photograph courtesy of The Syncopated Times

John Bucher moved on — to “go home,” in his own words, on April 5: he was 89 and had a long-time cardiac condition.  Peter Ecklund, who had dealt with Parkinson’s disease for a long time, moved to his own destination in another neighborhood on April 8: he was 74.

Peter Ecklund, photograph by Lynn Redmile

I didn’t know either of them well enough to have extended conversations, but I believe they both — in the past two decades — recognized me as being on their side, whether I was writing for The Mississippi Rag or another periodical, or, eventually, carrying a camera and a notebook for JAZZ LIVES.  Peter was gracious to me but terse in all communications — in person or in email — but I was aware that his health was a burden to him and perhaps, although I could publicize a gig, I might also capture his playing in ways that did not show him in the best light.  (In both Peter’s and John’s case, I did get permission to make any video public, and would have honored their wish to delete a performance.)  John would give me a substantial grin when I greeted him; circumstances never allowed us to sit down and talk, but he made me very welcome.

My awareness of Peter goes back before I met him in person, to recordings he made in 1987 for the Stomp Off label — one under Marty Grosz’s name (“The Keepers of the Flame”) and one session that Peter led (“Melody Makers”) — brilliant recordings that I played and replayed.  I may have found them at the Corner Bookstore in East Setauket, run by Nancy Mullen: Nancy and Frank were serious jazz fans who had celebrated their engagement at the bar at Lou Terassi’s in 1951 or 2, with Hot Lips Page and Zutty Singleton adjacent to them.  That, I point out, is the way to do it, although you’d have to find other comrades today.

In 1990, Nancy and Frank invited me to join them for a concert given by the Long Island Traditional Jazz Society in North Babylon, if I have the name right — Marty Grosz, Peter, Dan Barrett, Joe Muranyi, perhaps Greg Cohen and Arnie Kinsella — memorable to me now, thirty years later, for Muranyi singing LOUISIANA FAIRY TALE and interpolating, “Can it be NORTH BABYLON at last?”  I bought all the Stomp Off records and, later, the Arbors Records and Jazzology CDs on which Peter appeared, often as a key player in Marty Grosz’s Orphan Newsboys.  Peter had incredible leaping facility — romping through Jabbo Smith’s JAZZ BATTLE at top speed — but he was also a lyrical swinger who could create a memorable short story in a four-bar break.  When I heard him in person, he reminded me of Doc Cheatham — the light-footed dancing in air quality, a man with many delicate ideas to offer us in a chorus.

I met John in person for the first time in 2005, I think, at the Cajun — and admired him instantly.  Like Peter, I had heard him first, but in John’s case, not known his identity: John played on the soundtrack of Woody Allen’s SLEEPER, which was a hit at the movie theatre where I worked as a doorman (“Good evening,” tearing the paper ticket, then returning it with “Thank you.”)  so his firm swinging lead on CANAL STREET BLUES impressed me over and over.  I wish I’d known that he was playing so I could have told him this story when we met, nearly a quarter-century later.  But he knew how much I enjoyed his playing — whether at the Cajun, in a trio with Marty and John Beal at Charley O’s in midtown, or sitting in with the EarRegulars at the Ear Inn.  John was a thoughtful “singing” player who never hurried or missed a step, but he was never stiff.  A favorite quote, inserted neatly, was COLUMBIA, THE GEM OF THE OCEAN, which always made me laugh with pleasure.  He stayed in the middle register, but occasionally would end phrases with a growl or find a mute he liked to vary his sound.

Roswell Rudd once told me, “You play your personality,” and both of these gentlemen did just that.  Peter’s playing could be heated and impetuous, rounding the corner of a hot chorus, but he was poised and epigrammatic in person.  John, who made his living as some variety of stockbroker (he told his colleague and my friend Dick Dreiwitz that it was a career where he could go to work at 10 and stop at 3) was beautifully dressed; he sat up straight when playing.

After all those words, here is some lovely music.  I video-recorded John at the Cajun in 2006 (a whole evening) and when he visited The Ear Inn in 2010.  All the details are in the blogposts.

John at the Cajun, June 24, 2006: one and two, and at The Ear Inn, March 21, 2010: one and two.  Peter, sitting in at Radegast, whistling and ukulele, December 13, 2011: here.

It distresses me to realize that I and my camera came along too late in Peter’s playing career to have rewarding video-footage of his beautiful hot cornet playing, so I will include these performances, knowing that John would not feel slighted in the least.

and something for Bing (with a distinct Davison flavor):

I write this at the start of May 2020, having mourned a number of completely irreplaceable musicians — and people — whom I knew as well as heard.  I feel unequal to the task of mourning John and Peter adequately.  I also hope they sensed — when we did encounter each other — how much joy it brought me to see them on the bandstand, a pleasure that sustained itself through the evening and does so, years later, in memory and in video.

Blessings on you, inventive gentlemen of brass.  You can’t be replaced.  And I invite those readers who knew and admired John and Peter to chime in.

May your happiness increase!

“DOING THINGS RIGHT”: EDDY DAVIS, PRESENT TENSE (1940-2020)

Eddy Davis — that bright light, never very far from his banjo, always ready to propel the band, to play the proper chords, to uplift everyone with song — one that he wrote or a venerable classic — moved on after his illness yesterday afternoon.  My title for this post is because I think it will never be possible for me to think of him as was.

Eddy Davis and Conal Fowkes, Cafe Bohemia, Dec. 26, 2019.

Although I witnessed him in all his splendor over fifteen years, I didn’t get to know him in the way I might have others whom I saw and spoke to more regularly.  So in Eddy’s case, the music — eloquent, subtle, brightly-colored —  will speak for him here.  The last time I saw him was December 26, 2019, at Cafe Bohemia in Greenwich Village, where he was one-fourth of that night’s swinging quartet: Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Evan Arntzen, reeds and vocal; Conal Fowkes, string bass and vocal.  I’ve presented a hot performance from that evening here.

And now, with more complicated emotions, I offer the first three performances of that night.  They start off easily — I think of the way musicians feel the pulse of the room, get used to their instruments (even if it’s only been a day since they were last playing), take the  measure of their friends on the stand.  But don’t underestimate this music: I think of spicy cuisine that initially tastes tame but then after a few spoonfuls, you realize just how hot it is.

BOGALUSA STRUT:

and some basic math — doin’ things right:

and a dream of the place where they make you welcome all the time:

I will devote the next few days to honoring the sly, expert, exuberant Eddy — through performances I captured and through the recollections of others who were at closer range . . . who were playing rather than behind a camera.  He remains is.

And someone I respect deeply, Scott Robinson, has written this tender essay about Eddy, which I offer to you here:

I’ve just lost one of the dearest friends I’ve ever had in music. Eddy Davis was a highly significant and influential presence in my life. He was a fiercely individualistic performer… a veteran of the old Chicago days when music was hot, joyful, exuberant and unselfconscious. A character and a curmudgeon, who could hold court for hours after the gig. And a loving mentor who helped younger musicians like myself learn and grow in this music.

I had only played with Eddy a handful of times when he called me in late 1998 to say that he was forming a new band to fill a weekly Wednesday spot at the Cajun on 8th Avenue. He wanted me to play lead on C melody saxophone, in a little group with two reeds, and no drums. This by itself gives a clue to what an original thinker he was.

I already knew that Eddy was a proficient and highly individualistic stylist on the banjo, who sounded like no one else. What I didn’t know, but soon found out, was that this man was also a walking repository of many hundreds if not thousands of tunes of every description, ranging far beyond the standard repertoire… with a fascinating background story at the ready for nearly every one. I quickly learned that he was also a prolific and idiosyncratic composer himself, with a wonderfully philosophical work ethic: write original music every day, keep what works, and throw the rest away without a backward glance.

Eddy was also what used to be called a “character”: affable, opinionated, hilarious, and irascible all in one, and above all highly passionate about music. What I learned over the ensuing 7 ½ years in Eddy’s little band, I cannot begin to describe. I came to refer to those regular Wed. sessions as my “doctor’s appointment” — for they fixed whatever ailed me, and provided the perfect antidote to the ills of the world, and of the music scene. Over the years we were graced with the presence of some very distinguished musicians who came by and sat in with us, including Harry Allen, Joe Muranyi, Bob Barnard, Howard Johnson, and Barry Harris.

Eddy was generous with his strong opinions, with his knowledge and experience, and with his encouragement. But he was a generous soul in other ways as well. When he heard that I was building a studio (my “Laboratory”), he had me come by the apartment and started giving me things out of his closets. A Roland 24-track recorder… three vintage microphones… instruments… things that I treasure, and use every single day of my life. When my father turned 75, Eddy came out to New Jersey and played for him, and wouldn’t take a dime for it.

When I got the call today that Eddy had passed — another victim of this horrible virus that is ruining so many lives, and our musical life as well — I hung up the phone and just cried. Later I went out to my Laboratory, and kissed every single thing there that he had given to me. How cruel to lose such an irreplaceable person… killed by an enemy, as my brother commented, that is neither visible nor sentient.

THE CAJUN, by Barbara Rosene –a Wednesday night.

One night at the Cajun stands out in my memory, and seems particularly relevant today. It was the night after the last disaster that changed New York forever: the World Trade Center attack. There was a pall over the city, the air was full of dust, and there was a frightful, lingering smell. “What am I doing here?” I thought. “This is crazy.” But somehow we all made our way to the nearly empty club. We were in a state of shock; nobody knew what to say. I wondered if we would even be able to play. We took the stage, looked at each other, and counted off a tune. The instant the first note sounded, I was overcome with emotion and my face was full of tears. Suddenly I understood exactly why we were there, why it was so important that we play this music. We played our hearts out that night — for ourselves, for our city, and for a single table of bewildered tourists, stranded in town by these incomprehensible events. They were so grateful for the music, so comforted by it.

The simple comfort of live music has been taken from us now. We must bear this loss, and those that will surely follow, alone… shut away in our homes. I know that when the awful burden of this terrible time has finally been lifted, when we can share music, life, and love again, it will feel like that night at the Cajun. My eyes will fill, my heart will sing, and the joy that Eddy Davis gave me will be with me every time I lift the horn to my face, for as long as I live.

Scott Robinson

Eddy Davis at ScienSonic Laboratories

May your happiness increase!

THE PAST, PRESERVED: “TRIBUTE TO JIMMIE NOONE”: JOE MURANYI, MASON “COUNTRY” THOMAS, JAMES DAPOGNY, JOHNNY WILLIAMS, ROD McDONALD, HAL SMITH (Manassas Jazz Festival, Dulles, Virginia, Nov. 30, 1986)

One moral of this story, for me, is that the treasure-box exists, and wonderfully kind people are willing to allow us a peek inside.

A jazz fan / broadcaster / amateur singer and kazoo player, Johnson “Fat Cat” McRee, Jr. (1923-1990), — he was an accountant by day — held jazz festivals in Manassas and other Virginia cities, beginning in 1966 and running about twenty years.  They were enthusiastic and sometimes uneven affairs, because of “Fat Cat”‘s habit, or perhaps it was a financial decision, of having the finest stars make up bands with slightly less celestial players.  Some of the musicians who performed and recorded for McRee include Bobby Hackett, Vic Dickenson, James Dapogny, Don Ewell, John Eaton, Maxine Sullivan, Bob Wilber, Pug Horton, Kenny Davern, Dick Wellstood, Bob Greene, Johnny Wiggs, Zutty Singleton, Clancy Hayes, George Brunis, Willie “the Lion” Smith, Tommy Gwaltney, Joe Muranyi, Danny Barker, Edmond Souchon, Cliff Leeman, Bobby Gordon, Marty Grosz, Hal Smith, Kerry Price . . . .

McRee also had business sense, so the proceedings were recorded, issued first on records and then on cassette.  I never got to Manassas while the Festival was happening, but I did buy many of Fat Cat’s lps (with their red and yellow label) and years later, when I met Hank O’Neal, he told me stories of recording the proceedings on Squirrel Ashcraft’s tape machine here.

My dear friend Sonny McGown, who was there, filled in some more of the story of the music you are about to see and hear.  The 1986 festival was dedicated to Jimmie Noone and these performances come from a Sunday brunch set.  “It was a very talented group and they meshed well. Mason ‘Country’ Thomas was the best clarinetist in the DC area for years; he was a big fan of Caceres. . . . Fat Cat’s wife, Barbara, often operated the single VHS video camera which in later years had the audio patched in from the sound board. As you well know, the video quality in those days was somewhat lacking but it is better to have it that way than not at all. Several years later Barbara allowed Joe Shepherd to borrow and digitize many of the videos. In his last years Fat Cat only issued audio cassettes. They were easy to produce, carry and distribute. FCJ 238 contains all of the Muranyi – Dapogny set except for “River…”. However, the videos provide a more enhanced story.”

A few years back, I stumbled across a video that Joe had put up on YouTube — I think it was Vic Dickenson singing and playing ONE HOUR late in his life, very precious to me for many reasons — and I wrote to him.  Joe proved to be the most generous of men and he still is, sending me DVDs and CD copies of Fat Cat recordings I coveted.  I am delighted to report that, at 93, he is still playing, still a delightful person who wants nothing more for his kindnesses than that the music be shared with people who love it.

Because of Joe, I can present to you the music of Jimmie Noone, performed on November 30, 1986, by Joe Muranyi, clarinet, soprano saxophone, vocal; Mason “Country” Thomas, clarinet; James Dapogny, piano; Rod McDonald, guitar; Johnny Williams, string bass [yes, Sidney Catlett’s teammate in the Armstrong Decca orchestra!]; Hal Smith, drums; Johnson McRee, master of ceremonies and vocalist.  The songs are IT’S TIGHT LIKE THAT (vocal, Joe); CRYING FOR THE CAROLINES (vocal, Fat Cat); MISS ANNABELLE LEE (Joe); SO SWEET; RIVER, STAY ‘WAY FROM MY DOOR; APEX BLUES; SWEET LORRAINE (Fat Cat).

Some caveats.  Those used to videocassette tapes know how quickly the visual quality diminishes on duplicates, and it is true here.  But the sound, directly from the mixing board, is bright and accurate.  YouTube, in its perplexing way, has divided this set into three oddly-measured portions, so that the first and second segments end in the middle of a song.  Perhaps I could repair this, but I’d rather be shooting and posting new videos than devoting my life to repairing imperfections.  (Also, these things give the busy YouTube dislikers and correcters something to do: I can’t take away their pleasures.)

One of the glories of this set is the way we can see and hear Jim Dapogny in peak form — not only as soloist, but as quirky wise ensemble pianist, sometimes keeping everything and everyone on track.  Joe has promised me more videos with Jim . . . what joy, I say.

Don’t you hear me talkin’ to you?  It IS tight like that:

Who’s wonderful?  Who’s marvelous?

I’ve just found joy:

I started this post with “a” moral.  The other moral comes out of my finding this DVD, which I had forgotten, in the course of tidying my apartment for the new decade.  What occurs to me now is that one should never be too eager to tidy their apartment / house / what have you, because if everything is properly organized and all the contents are known, then surprises like this can’t happen.  So there.  Bless all the people who played and play; bless those who made it possible to share this music with you.  Living and “dead,” they resonate so sweetly.

May your happiness increase!

BEAUTY, SO RARE: HIDDEN TREASURES FROM JAZZ AT CHAUTAUQUA: JON-ERIK KELLSO, SCOTT ROBINSON, BOB HAVENS, JOHN SHERIDAN, KERRY LEWIS, PETE SIERS (September 23, 2012)

When it’s good, you know it.  When it’s sublime, you feel it.  Here are four previously unseen treasures from the sprawling JAZZ LIVES vault of video sweetness, recorded at the Hotel Athenaeum in Chautauqua, New York, on September 23, 2012, during the delightful gathering of cosmic energies once called “Jazz at Chautauqua,” the creation of Joe Boughton and then Nancy Hancock Griffith.

We take so much for granted, and on paper, this set might just have seemed another pleasing interlude in a long weekend of delights — a Sunday-brunch set focused on the music of Louis Armstrong.  With other players, even such an inspiring theme could have turned into genial formula.  But not with Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Bob Havens, trombone; Scott Robinson, metal clarinet, tenor saxophone, and taragoto; John Sheridan, piano; Kerry Lewis, string bass; Pete Siers, drums.

How they soar.  How tenderly they caress the music.  You’ll experience it for yourselves.

First, a WEARY BLUES that gently piles delight upon delight, a  great piece of Hot Architecture reaching toward the sky:

and, with some priceless commentary from Scott Robinson — erudite comedy gently coming to earth as a loving tribute to Joe Muranyi, who loved to play BIG BUTTER AND EGG MAN:

“Right on it,” as they say, with Mr. Robinson on the tenor, for ONCE IN A WHILE, where the rhythm section shines:

If the closing ninety seconds of that performance doesn’t make you jubilant, then perhaps you should consider seeing a specialist.

What could be better to close off such a glorious episode than an expression of gratitude, in this case, THANKS A MILLION, beginning with a Kellso-Sheridan duet on the verse:

I find that performance incredibly tender: gratitude not only from the musicians to the audience, but to Louis and the worlds he created for us.

Perhaps it’s true that “you can’t go home again,” but if I could book a flight to Buffalo in the certainty that I would see this band again, I’d be packed and ready.  Maybe it’s because I can’t get back to this morning in September 2012 in some temporal way that I feel so deeply the precious vibrations these ministers of swinging grace offer us.  Bless them.  It was a privilege to be there, an honor to be allowed to capture this for posterity.

Watch this with full attention; savor it; share it; exult in it.  Let us never take beauty for granted.

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!

IN PRAISE OF LOUIS: JOE MURANYI, BOB BARNARD, BENT PERSSON (MARCIAC 1997)

In my world, there’s always a time and place for Louis-devotion and devotions.

First, some healthy carbohydrates — the Swedish Jazz Kings playing POTATO HEAD BLUES at the Wangaratta Festival of Jazz in 2000:

The Swedish Jazz Kings are a wonderful band with Bent Persson on trumpet or cornet; Tomas Ornberg on clarinet and soprano saxophone.  I don’t know the remaining members of the orchestra, but they all sound better than Pretty Good.

What follows is one of those pleasantly explosive surprises one stumbles across if one is (like myself) deeply engrossed by the YouTube Palace of Pleasures.  I believe the video was shot by Michel Laplace, or at least he is the generous soul who made it available to us.  It features Bent with Bob Barnard — some incredible brass conversations — and the irreplaceable Joe Muranyi.

That’s Joe Muranyi, clarinet, soprano saxophone, vocal; Bob Barnard, cornet; Swedish Jazz Kings — Bent Persson, cornet; Tomas Ornberg, clarinet, soprano saxophone; Joep Peeters, piano; Ollie Nyman, banjo; Frans Sjöström, bass saxophone.  August 13, 1997 : playing and singing HOUSE RENT BLUES / I’M A LITTLE BLACKBIRD / KANSAS CITY MAN BLUES / I DIG SATCH.

Thanks again to Michel Laplace.  And to these magnificent musicians.  And of course to Louis, who lights our way.

May your happiness increase!

“LAZY ‘SIPPI STEAMER GOING HOME”: LEON OAKLEY, CLINT BAKER, RILEY BAKER, MARTY EGGERS, BILL RINEHART (May 15, 2016)

LEON

I’d heard and admired Leon Oakley on records for a long time before I first met him in five years ago.  We became friends instantly because of our shared love for lyrical hot music and our reverence for Louis.

But in all the performances of Leon’s that I’ve been privileged to witness, I’d never seen him sing.  Although I’m sure he’s done it before in public, this is a first for me — and it’s so lovely.

A little background.  The group Leon is leading was originally called the Black Diamond Blue Five, founded by the late George Knoblauch — devoted to a particular sound and approach, that being Clarence Williams small groups of the middle Twenties.  “Hot and ready,” would be one way to describe it.  This version, called “Friends of the Blue 5,” a title combining “Friends of Jazz” and “Blue 5,” took the stage at the New Orleans Jazz Club of Northern California in El Sobrante, California, on May 15. 2016.  The recording was done by the indefatigable Rae Ann Berry, who’s captured so many hours of pleasure for us all.  The other members of the band are the always-amazing Clint Baker, clarinet, trombone, vocal; his son Riley Baker, tuba; Marty Eggers, piano; Bill Rinehart, banjo.  The song is a late-Thirties Louis composition about the joys of steamboat travel — going no place in a hurry — down the Mississippi River:

One way to “honor” Louis would involve a handkerchief, grins and grimaces — a caricature that barely evoked the surface.  (Joe Muranyi said more than once that Louis hated such acting.)  I delight in the approach that Leon takes: gently earnest heartfelt singing and playing, completely loving, completely authentic.

I look forward to the 2016 Steamboat Stomp — where Leon, Clint, I, and other heroes will be on the Natchez, up and down that river.  Perhaps Brother Leon can be talked into a few vocal choruses?

And this post is for Jean Knoblauch, a dear friend even when at a distance.

May your happiness increase!

DICK, RYAN’S, FIVE CONNIE-SIGHTINGS, and PEE WEE

An eBay assortment of curiosities!

A Forties photograph autographed to Dick — by Count Basie (who seems to have signed it first in some careful way, then inscribed it on the site) and Jimmy Rushing:

TO DICK BASIE RUSHING

An autographed flyer for Jimmy Ryan’s — that jazz oasis (after a fashion) of West Fifty-Fourth Street, featuring Roy Eldridge, Bobby Pratt, Joe Muranyi, Dick Katz, and Ted Sturgis, Eddie Locke:

JIMMY RYAN'S DIXIELAND flyer

Collectors of sheet music know that the artists pictured or photographed on the cover may have had only the most tenuous connection to a particular song (I’ve seen copies of — among other oddities — WHEN THEY PLAYED THE POLKA featuring Adrian Rollini, LITTLE SKIPPER featuring Bobby Hackett, and LIGHTS OUT featuring Louis, which of course they may have played.)  But here are five Connie Boswell-sightings, circa 1931-33, both reassuring and elusive.

One:

CONNIE ONE

Two:

CONNIE TWO

Three:

CONNIE THREE

Four:

CONNIE FOUR

Five:

CONNIE FIVE

If anyone has acetates of Connie singing these songs, do let me know!

For those who want the rarest Boswelliana, check out the official Boswell Sisters eBay store — http://stores.ebay.com/theboswellsistersstore — which is run by Kyla Titus, Vet’s granddaughter, so you know the treasures are authentic. You can also visit it at helvetia520 — which has a 100% approval rating from buyers.

And this — I know that Al Bandini, a trumpet player who for a time ran the band at the Riviera in New York (which still exists, although serving food rather than music)  and Pee Wee Russell collaborated on GABRIEL FOUND HIS HORN, but this was new to me:

PEE WEE sheet music

I note with pleasure that this song comes from Mr. Russell’s Boston period, circa 1945, and find it particularly affecting that it was part of a music therapy program, which is more than apt.  (Someone outbid me on this, which is fine with me, although I won’t have Pee Wee gazing down at me from one of my apartment walls, alas.)

Draw your own conclusions about provenance and what it might mean that these lovely odd artifacts are bubbling to the surface.  I’m just delighted that they are.

May your happiness increase!

HE RODE WITH JAMES P. JOHNSON: TALKING WITH IRV KRATKA (July 31, 2015)

irv

Irv Kratka (drums) doesn’t have a huge discographical entry in Tom Lord’s books, but he played with some fine musicians: Bunk Johnson, Dick Wellstood, James P. Johnson, Ephie Resnick, Joe Muranyi, Bob Mielke, Knocky Parker, Jerry Blumberg, Cyrus St. Clair, among others, in the years 1947-50.  I knew of Irv from those recordings (many of which are quite rare) but also as the creator and guiding genius of Music Minus One and a number of other jazz labels including Classic Jazz and Inner City.

But I had never met Irv Kratka (human being, jazz fan, record producer, concert promoter) in the flesh until this year when we encountered each other at the Terry Blaine / Mark Shane concert in Croton-on-Hudson, and I immediately asked if he’d be willing to sit for a video interview, which he agreed to on the spot.  Irv is now 89 . . . please let that sink in . . . and sharp as a tack, as Louis would say.  His stories encompass all sorts of people and scenes, from Bunk’s band at the Stuyvesant Casino, Louis and Bunk at a club, a car ride with James P. Johnson, lessons from Billy Gladstone, a disagreement between Oscar Pettiford and Kenny Clarke, all the way up to the present and his current hero, multi-instrumentalist Glenn Zottola.

I didn’t want to interrogate Irv, so I didn’t pin him to the wall with minutiae about what James P. might have said in the car ride or what Jerry Blumberg ordered at the delicatessen, but from these four casual interview segments, you can get a warm sense of what it was like to be a young jazz fan in the late Thirties, an aspiring musician and concert producer in the Forties, onwards to today.  It was a privilege to speak with Irv and he generously shared his memories — anecdotes of Bunk Johnson, Baby Dodds, James P. Johnson, Sidney Bechet, George Lewis, Bill Russell, Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Dick Wellstood, Peg Leg Bates, Lena Horne, Joe Muranyi, Billy Gladstone, Jacques Butler, Jerry Blumberg, Art Hodes, Albert Nicholas, Sarah Vaughan, George Brunis — also fond recollections of Bob Wilber, Bob Mielke, Ephie Resnick and others.

Here are four informal segments from our conversation — the first and last fairly lengthy discussions, the middle two vignettes.

One:

Two:

Three:

Four:

Now, here’s another part of the story.  Irv plans to sell several of his labels: Inner City, Classic Jazz, Proscenium (the last with three Dick Hyman discs) Audio Journal (The Beatles at Shea Stadium – Audience Reaction), and Rockland Records which consists of the first and only CD by the Chapin Bros. (Harry, Tom, and Steve) comedy albums by Theodore, and a disc featuring Mae West songs / W.C. Fields. The catalogue includes 141 titles, and there are more than 42,000 discs to turn over to the new owner, all at “a very nominal price.”  Serious inquiries only to ikratka@mmogroup.com.

May your happiness increase!

FOR THE LOVE OF JOE MURANYI (March 9, 2015): BELA SZALOKY, MATT MUNISTERI, SCOTT ROBINSON, JON-ERIK KELLSO, PAT O’LEARY (Part Two)

If you haven’t seen Part One of this glorious concert, here it is.  We’ll wait for you to catch up.  The facts, for those who find them essential, are this.

On Monday, March 9, 2015, a wonderful jazz concert entitled “Joe Muranyi: A Tribute from America and Hungary” took place in New York City under the aegis of the Hungarian Cultural Center. I (and my camera) were lucky enough to be there — and here is the second part of the concert for you to savor.

The remarkable musician Béla Szalóky — a wonder on both trumpet and trombone — joined forces with the EarRegulars, those marvelous denizens of The Ear Inn (326 Spring Street, Soho, New York City) on Sunday nights: Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Scott Robinson, tenor saxophone, Joe’s taragoto and clarinet; Matt Munisteri, guitar; Pat O’Leary, string bass.

It was a marvelous evening of inspired music in the most deliciously quiet surroundings. Thanks to the head of the Hungarian Cultural Center, Gergely Romsics, for his gentle stewardship.

We start off with Yearning as scored for Jon-Erik, Matt, and Pat: GEE, BABY, AIN’T I GOOD TO YOU?

And everyone comes back onstage for a sweetly swinging I’M GONNA SIT RIGHT DOWN AND WRITE MYSELF A LETTER (Scott on taragoto):

Scott’s deeply searching solo taragoto performance of a Hungarian folk song,

Krasznahorka büszke vára (THE PROUD CASTLE OF THE TOWN), which then leads in to one of Joe’s favorite songs that he played with Louis Armstrong, OLE MISS:

Something else inspired and so beautifully performed by Louis, A KISS TO BUILD A DREAM ON, with Scott playing Joe’s tenor saxophone:

For Louis, again — BACK HOME AGAIN IN INDIANA:

And an encore, a blues by Pee Wee Russell that Joe often played, PEE WEE’S BLUES:

I know comparisons are odious, and hyperbole even more so, but I think this was one of the greatest musical evenings of my life.  And since I think that “the dead” don’t leave us when they separate from their corporeal selves, I believe entirely that Joe is very happy with the music played here and the love it expresses.  I was honored to be at this concert and am honored to be able to share it with you.

May your happiness increase!

FOR THE LOVE OF JOE MURANYI (March 9, 2015): BELA SZALOKY, MATT MUNISTERI, SCOTT ROBINSON, JON-ERIK KELLSO, PAT O’LEARY (Part One)

On Monday, March 9, 2015, a wonderful jazz concert entitled “Joe Muranyi: A Tribute from America and Hungary” took place in New York City under the aegis of the Hungarian Cultural Center.  I (and my camera) were lucky enough to be there — and here is the first part of the concert for you to savor.

The remarkable musician Béla Szalóky — a wonder on both trumpet and trombone — joined forces with the EarRegulars, those marvelous denizens of The Ear Inn (326 Spring Street, Soho, New York City) on Sunday nights: Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Scott Robinson, tenor saxophone, Joe’s taragoto and clarinet; Matt Munisteri, guitar; Pat O’Leary, string bass.

It was a marvelous evening of inspired music in the most deliciously quiet surroundings.  Thanks to the head of the Hungarian Cultural Center, Gergely Romsics, who introduces the evening.

THE SHEIK OF ARABY:

MEDUSA:

BIG BUTTER AND EGG MAN:

DON’T CRY:

I DIG SATCH:

What a wonderful concert — inspired so deeply by the love of Joe and his music. If you never knew Joe, these performances will act as a door into his world; if you did know him, they are even more touching: evidence of his creativity and the love he inspired in us all.

The second half of this concert is soon to come.

May your happiness increase!

TOMORROW (SOMETHING FOR MR. MURANYI) and THE FUTURE (SEPTEMBER IN CLEVELAND)

If you are reading this in the Northeast United States, you might be coming out of a sustained depression caused by several weeks of snow and cold.  It’s all melting, and I feel a thaw in my psyche.  There’s something about seeing the sidewalk that gives me hope.

What better way to celebrate our survival — that we didn’t have to break open the pemmican — than with some free heartfelt jazz coming tomorrow, Monday, March 9, at 7:30 PM, in New York City?

I said free. But you do have to RSVP them. The venue is the JCC in Manhattan, 334 Amsterdam Avenue, New York 10023, and the event is being put on by the Balassi Institute.

Here is the Facebook page for the event.

And here are the details:

FREE AND OPEN FOR THE PUBLIC
RSVP is required

Revisit the music of Louis Armstrong and Joe Murányi as interpreted by the cream of today’s trad jazz scene!
Joe Murányi (1928-2012), affectionately called “Hungarian Joe” by his bandleader, the great Louis Armstrong, was not just a traditional jazz clarinetist extraordinaire, but a record producer, activist and jazz writer. Born to Jewish Hungarian parents, his legacy is a testament to the cultural impact of immigrants of Hungary to the United States.

Joe Murányi was legendary for his skills and his kindness, no wonder that an all-star line-up of traditional jazz players has come together to commemorate him. Performing their tribute only once in New York, catch the great Scott Robinson, US Jazz Ambassador, collaborator on two Grammy-winning albums, Jon-Erik Kellso, Matt Munisteri and Pat O’Leary with Béla Szalóky, standout trombone and trumpet player for the the world renowned Benkó Dixieland Band, one of the several “ambassadors” of Hungarian jazz making a visit to NYC.

The performance is free, seating guaranteed only with RSVP to the Eventbrite page.  (Here is the Eventbrite link.)

You will notice that the band is a version of our beloved EarRegulars, and it is a rare chance to hear them in a concert setting.

I’ll be there, but I take up only one seat — which means there might be room for more of the faithful.

Imagine an interval where the band plays that 1929 pop hit, LIVE FOR TODAY (But Think of Tomorrow).

To think too much of September 2015 would be to rush away the joys of spring and summer to come, but it’s always nice to make plans, to have something rare to look forward to.  So I urge you to make a small space in your thoughts for the second annual Allegheny Jazz Party — taking place September 10-13, at the Inter-Continental Hotel and Conference Center in Cleveland, Ohio.  I was a very happy audience member (and camera-operator) at last year’s event, which was just like the hallowed Jazz at Chautauqua . . . but even better — under the benignly serious guidance of Nancy Griffith and Nancy Hancock.

The musicians? How about Duke Heitger, Jon-Erik Kellso, Randy Reinhart, Andy Schumm, Harry Allen, Dan Block, Ken Peplowski, Scott Robinson, Bill Allred, Dan Barrett, Howard Alden, Marty Grosz, Ehud Asherie, James Dapogny, Mike Greensill, Rossano Sportiello, Jon Burr, Nicki Parrott, Frank Tate, Ricky Malichi, Pete Siers, Hal Smith, Andy Stein, Rebecca Kilgore, Wesla Whitfield, the Faux Frenchmen.  Our friend Phil Atteberry will be giving a morning talk on the music of Cole Porter.

For more information, visit the AJS website, or call 216-956-0886. And if you’re like me — an eager early adopter of such things, the Inter-Continental Cleveland Hotel is at 9801 Carnegie Avenue . . . and there is a special rate of $189 per night plus tax.  (It’s a very comfortable hotel, I assure you.)  Call 855-765-8709 and mention the Allegheny Jazz Party or Group Code YON to receive the special rate.

May your happiness increase!

 

HEROIC FIGURES IN THE SHADOWS

A friend recently asked me about a valued musician, now gone, who never seemed to get the honors he deserved. “Why doesn’t anyone pay attention to X?”  I recalled that X was always working in groups led by A Star, a powerful personality.  I have no idea if X wanted to lead a group and couldn’t, but he never said in public that he felt the opportunity had been denied him.

It made me think again about “being a leader” in jazz.  We celebrate the musicians whose names appear on the record labels and the marquees, in boldface in discographies.  Theirs are the sounds we know, and they do deserve our attention and our love. Think of a universe without Count Basie — the sky suddenly grows dark at the mere statement of such a void.

But the Stars rely on the often semi-anonymous players who keep the great ship’s rhythmic engines humming.  Consider Ed Lewis, Joe Muranyi, Fred Guy, Leo McConville, Bobby Tucker, Wendell Marshall, George Stafford, Tommy Thunen, Curley Russell, Dave Bowman — players who didn’t chafe to be center stage.  There is a special cozy corner of Paradise for those who didn’t have the urge to solo, but who created backgrounds and section sounds that delight us, that made the Stars sound so fine.

Although he was a famous leader and a notable Personality, I think of Eddie Condon in this respect, as someone who cared more about how the band sounded than whether he soloed. Dave Tough, Freddie Green, also.

Musicians will tell you that “being a leader” brings what we call “fame,” but this public place can be a nuisance.  Visibility brings recognition: no longer are you third alto in the reed section, one of the Wisconsin Skyrockets, you are THE Skyrocket, and people know your name and recognize you.

But that recognition also means that fans want to talk with you when you are on your way to the bathroom.  People who “just love your music” grab your upper arm.  Some have their own ideas about songs you should be playing, in what tempos, and who you should Sound Like.  Play the clarinet, and you are told about an admirer’s favorite Benny Goodman record.  Sing, and you hear all about Billie Holiday (“Tsk, tsk.  Those drugs.”) or perhaps Diana Krall.

If you are leading a group in a club, the club-owner heads directly for you when something goes wrong.  You have to get the gigs.  You have to handle the money.

You have to deal with the personalities in the band (A, late again; B, grimy again; C, in despair; D, texting when not playing; E, a model in all things but eager to point out the flaws of A, B, C, and D.)

You have to talk on the microphone.  You must encourage the crowd to put money in the tip basket or buy CDs.  You deal with requests, with people who drink too much and talk too loudly.

Often, when your musicians are upset, frustrated, or angry, they blame you, or they simply mutter. “Sixty bucks?  Is that all?”  “My shepherd’s pie is cold.”  I hate that song.  Do we have to play it?”

To paraphrase Judy Syfers, “My God, who would want to lead a band?”

So let’s cheer for the Invaluable Near-Anonymities, the wonderful professionals in the String section of Charlie Parker with Strings, the baritone wizard Charlie Bubeck, who anchored the Ozzie Nelson band — reed players talked of him reverently, but he never led a date; the fellows strumming behind Django and Stephane.  They may have looked deeply into “the music business” and said, “I’d rather drive a cab than lead a band.”

A brief, wholly improvised list:

Zilner Randolph, Les Robinson, Buzzy Drootin, Mary Osborne, Nick Fatool, Ed Cuffee, Bill Triglia, Danny Bank, Dick Vance, Max Farley, Frank Orchard, Bob Casey, Red Ballard, Mickey McMickle, Jimmy Maxwell, Cliff Leeman, George Berg, Al Klink, Lee Blair, Leon Comegys, John Simmons, Les Spann, Allan Reuss, Don Frye, Kansas Fields, Louis Metcalf.

And a thousand more.  And certainly their living counterparts.  (I’ve limited my list to the Departed because I thought that no one I know would like to see their name on a list of the Brilliant Shadowy Underrated.  You and I know the people who make jazz go . . . !)

These people don’t win polls.  They don’t have to stand still for autograph hunters.  But where would we be without them?

May your happiness increase! 

GOODBYE, RED BALABAN. FAREWELL, BOB GREENE

I’ve written very sparingly about the deaths of jazz musicians in JAZZ LIVES — for one reason, thinking that turning this blog into an ongoing necrological record was at odds with its title. But without saying that one musician is more important than another (Bobby Gordon, Frank Wess, Al Porcino, Jim Hall, Chico Hamilton, Sam Ulano, and a dozen others I am not mentioning here) I want to write and share a few words about two deaths of late 2013.

One was the bassist / guitarist / singer / impresario Leonard “Red” Balaban, the other, pianist Bob Greene.  Both of them were ardent workers in the jazz vineyards, and both (in their own subtle ways) did as much to advance the music as more-heralded musicians.

I had occasion to observe and interact with Red Balaban many times in 1972-5, again in 1975-the early Eighties, and once in 2013. In the summer of 1972, I learned from reading the listings in THE NEW YORKER that Sunday-afternoon jazz sessions were being held at Your Father’s Mustache (once Nick’s, now a Gourmet Garage — sic transit gloria mundi) on Seventh Avenue and Tenth Street.  I and several friends made pilgrimages there.  The Mustache was a huge hall with sawdust on the floor, creaking long tables and wobbly chairs.  But for a nominal admission charge and the purchase of food and drink of dubious quality, we could sit as close to the bandstand as possible and (often) illicitly record the music.  The house band — Balaban and Cats — harking back to Red’s heritage in show business with the Chicago movie theatre chain created by Balaban and Katz — was usually a sextet, with Red playing string bass and singing, occasionally guitar or banjo, rarely tuba.  He called the tunes in consultation with the guest star, chose tempos, and led the session.  The Cats I remember were Marquis Foster, Buzzy Drootin, Dick Wellstood, Bobby Pratt, Chuck Folds, Red Richards, Sal Pace, Kenny Davern, Joe Muranyi, Dick Rath, Herb Gardner, Ed Polcer, Doc Cheatham, and I am sure there were others.  The guest stars, stopping in from Olympus or Valhalla, were Bobby Hackett, Ruby Braff, Buddy Tate, Jo Jones, Dicky Wells, Vic Dickenson, Benny Morton, Bob Wilber — enough stiumlation for a lifetime.  I was a college student with limited funds, so I didn’t see every session: missing Gene Krupa, Al Cohn, Lou McGarity, and others.  But I did see Eddie Condon in the audience, which would make the Sunday sessions memorable even if no music had been played.  And his daughter Liza was there now and again, photographing the musicians.

A few years later, I saw Red occasionally as a member of Mike Burgevin’s little band at Brew’s, playing alongside Vic Dickenson and other luminaries.  Eventually, Red and Ed Polcer created the “last” Eddie Condon’s, on 54th Street, and I went there when I could — the house band, as I recall it, included Ed, Vic, Herb Hall, Jimmy Andrews, John Bunch, Connie, Kay, Ronnie Cole, and another galaxy of visitors, including Helen Humes, Al Hall, Jimmy Rowles, Brooks Kerr, Marty Grosz, Bob Sparkman, Ruby Braff, Joe Bushkin, Milt Hinton, Jo Jones.  At Condon’s one could also see Billy Butterfield, Dan Barrett, Soprano Summit, Zoot and Al — a midtown oasis, now gone.

Finally, I got to meet Red once again, after a lapse of decades, at the October 2012 house party created by Joel Schiavone and Jeff Barnhart. I introduced myself as someone who had good reason to be grateful to him for those Sunday sessions, and we chatted a bit.

Thanks to CineDevine, we have two samples of Red, late in his career, gently entertaining the room, with assistance from Jim Fryer, Jeff Barnhart, and others.  In a Waller-Razaf mood:

and something pretty from Rodgers and Hart:

A musician I respect, someone around in those New York years, had this to say about Red: “Not only did he love the music, but thousands upon thousands of dollars went through his hands and into the hands of musicians.  What he did with Condon’s # 3 is part of New York City jazz history.  He was a kind man who came from a very interesting family.  He wasn’t Ray Brown or Bob Haggart, but he kept jazz alive.”

Without Red Balaban, I doubt that I — and many others — would have heard as much memorable music as we did in those New York years.  So we owe him a great deal.  And he will be missed.  Another view of Red can be found here.

Pianist Bob Greene also left us late in 2013.

Bob devoted his life to celebrating Jelly Roll Morton and his music. He wasn’t the only pianist who has done so, but his emulation was fervent. I saw him summon up the Master at Alice Tully Hall in 1974 with a lovely little band (Pee Wee Erwin, Ephie Resnick, Herb Hall, Alan Cary, Milt Hinton, Tommy Benford).  They couldn’t quite turn that austere space into a Storyville bordello or the Jungle Inn (it would have required an architectural reconstruction taking years) but the music floated and rocked.  Across the distance of the decades, I think of Bob as a brilliant actor, committed with all his heart and energy to one role and to the perfection of that role — not a bad life-goal.

Bob was respected by his peers.  Mike Lipskin said, “Bob was a fine performer of Jelly Roll Morton compositions, and devoted much of his life to keeping the memory of this giant early jazz pioneer alive. I had the pleasure of seeing him in concert many years ago.”  And a man we just lost, Bobby Gordon, told me, “I have fond memories of Bob for 40 years. He was always enthusiastic about music. I recorded with him 40 years ago and most recently for Jazzology. It was wonderful to record with him again, and a joy to be with such a remarkable talent. I will miss him……..a dear friend.”

Here’s a beautiful expansive piece by Hank O’Neal, a very lively evocation of Bob:

The first time I saw Bob Greene, he was playing a poor electric piano with a fairly loose ensemble, on the back of a flat bed truck. The band on the truck was trying, unsuccessfully, to recreate the feeling generated by old time bands on wagons in New Orleans. It is a long way from New Orleans to Manassas, Virginia, and 1967 was a half a century removed from those heady days in the Crescent City. I don’t remember the enterprise stirring up much support for the first Manassas Jazz Festival, but Bob was on board because his old friend, Edmund “Doc” Souchon was also there, and Doc had probably asked him to come along. I know it happened because I have a snapshot to prove it. In another snapshot from the same day he’s playing cornet.

You had to look pretty hard to find out anything about Bob. He’s not well-known today, rarely mentioned in any of the standard jazz reference books, and you have to dig pretty deep to come up with any information at all, but the bits and pieces are there if you look for them. And the story and the music he’s made along the way are both wonderful.

Bob’s first love was Benny Goodman, Jess Stacy and the swing guys who were all over the place when he was a teenager. He could still, when asked, do the best imitation of Stacy I’ve ever heard, but at some point he heard Jelly Roll Morton, and was hooked. Until his death in 2013, he remained one of the foremost exponent of Jelly’s music in the land. There are other guys who could play more notes, play King Porter Stomp louder or Fingerbuster faster, but when it came to really delivering the goods, with just the right mix of technique, exuberance and sentiment, nobody else even came close.

There are other guys who play Morton’s compositions well, in the style, often with more sheer technique, but, for the most part, this is just a portion, usually a small portion, of their repertory. The music of Jelly Roll Morton and some of his circa 1900 contemporaries, made up about 90 percent of Bob’s playbook, and the telephone doesn’t ring very often these days, or any other days for the past few decades, for someone to play a recital of Morton’s music. Which was just fine for Bob. He never had any intention of being a full time musician. The world was just full of too many other things to try.

Bob made his first recordings in 1950 with Conrad Janis (Circle) and in 1951 with Sidney DeParis (Blue Note) and recorded intermittently for the next sixty years, whenever it was convenient. His performance schedule was about the same. He played in and around New York City in the 1950s and Washington D.C. in the 1960s because he was writing some pretty fancy stuff for assorted notables to read on radio or in political speeches. Goodness knows what else he may have been up to. When he wrote a book about the OSS exploits of his cousin, Paul Blum, he had no difficulty gaining access to the highest levels of the intelligence community. But back to the music.

After Bob climbed down off the back of the truck during the ill-fated parade in Manassas, I discovered he could also play a real piano and when he played Morton it was special. As I’ve suggested, he made up in spirit and authenticity what he may lacked in a formidable technique. Not that he made mistakes, he didn’t, but to this particular pianist, passion was the point, not technique. He had all he needed to get his point across. Much in the same as Thelonoius Monk. Other people played Just A Gigolo better than Monk, but nobody played it with more quirky feeling.

The first time I really heard Bob was when I was asked to round up the gear to record a band to be led by the then legendary, now largely forgotten drummer, Zutty Singleton. The gear came from Squirrel Ashcraft, the recorder, microphones, even the take-up reels. It was February 12, 1967, I remember the date with great affection because it was the very first commercially released record I ever worked on. It was also my first encounter with Zutty, still a marvelous drummer, and the only person I ever heard in person who could almost simulate a melody on the drums.

Bob Greene was a strong presence among many exceptional players that day and the highlight of the recording, to me at least, was a duo, just Zutty and Bob, on Cake Walking Babies From Home. I don’t know if Jelly ever played the tune, but if he did, he would have played it like Bob played it that day, and maybe Zutty would have been around to make sure. This was Johnson McRee’s first record for his Fat Cat’s Jazz label, and except for a solo outing by Don Ewell, perhaps the best record he ever produced.

In the 1970s, I asked Bob to record for Chiaroscuro on many occasions, but he always declined. There was always a semi-legitimate excuse. He was the only person I asked to record in those years who didn’t jump at the chance, including Bob’s first idol, Jess Stacy. In the late 1970’s Bob assembled his World of Jelly Roll Morton band, made a fine record for RCA, played Carnegie Hall a few years and toured successfully with the group. But most of the time he was in between New Orleans, Paris, Tokyo and New York, rarely in any place for very long. He slowed down long enough to record all the Jelly Roll Morton tracks for Louis Malle’s fine film, Pretty Baby and he enthralled audiences with his Jelly Roll show at numerous Floating Jazz Festivals. I recorded one of these shows in the late 1980s. Maybe I’ll listen to it one day and see if it should be released.

In 1994 we produced an event for Cunard on Queen Elizabeth 2, a 12-day survey of the music of New Orleans, and Bob was on board, as both Jelly Roll Morton and as the pianist with the Preservation Hall Jazz Band. The New Yorker’s noted critic, Whitney Balliett, was also on board, in disguise as Baby Dodds, tastefully accompanying Bob on a snare and cymbal. Romantic that he was, Bob fell in love with the ship and was heartbroken when he learned that much of the furniture in the ship’s Theater Bar, where he held forth nightly with Whitney, was to be taken off QE2 when it reached New York, and given to the Salvation Army. He decided he had to have a table and four leather chairs and set about finding a way to work it out.

When we docked, I left via the crew gangway, and saw Bob at the other end of the pier in heated conversation with a man in a Salvation Army uniform. Longshoreman were hauling the furniture and putting it inside a truck. I later learned that Bob got his furniture. The deal was for a table and four leather chairs, in the best condition possible, delivered to his home on 92nd Street. In exchange, Bob promised to assemble a band, including Whitney, to play for a Salvation Army Christmas party. A decade or so later Bob moved out to the end of Long island and that old Theater Bar furniture moved with him, a few miles closer to Southampton. This is the kind of thing that appealed to Bob.

If Bob had worked at a career in music half as hard as he worked at getting that furniture, who knows what might have happened? But perhaps nothing would have happened, which is the case with most people who try to have a career in jazz, and he wouldn’t have had nearly as good a time as he had for the past 91 years. He was one of a handful of pianists I’d go out of my way to hear because he always made me happy. He had the same effect on others.

In November 2006 he toured Japan and a lot of other people went out of their way to hear him. After that he began working on a project to present a Jelly Roll Morton show at Jazz At Lincoln Center but it didn’t work out. A year or so after that he asked what I thought of getting him together with Joshua Bell for some duets. I thought it sound like a good idea, that Bell could do a lot worse. That didn’t work out either but an awful lot did and the music that resulted with simply wonderful.

Bob and friends:

MAMIE’S BLUES (2006):

I THOUGHT I HEARD BUDDY BOLDEN SAY (2010):

TIGER RAG (2011):

Thinking about these men, all I can say is this.

Not everyone is a Star, but everyone counts.  And fortunate are those who can follow their life’s calling and share their passions with us.

May your happiness increase!

SWEET WITCHCRAFT: DARYL SHERMAN at JAZZ at KITANO — with SCOTT ROBINSON and HARVIE S (April 18, 2013)

I had my first visit to the very cozy Jazz at Kitano a few weeks ago for a delightful set by singer / pianist / storyteller Daryl Sherman, accompanied by the multi-talented Scott Robinson and the very swinging string bassist Harvie S.  Here are some of the auditory delights of the first set.  Daryl draws on all kinds of music — familiar to obscure, from show tunes to hot jazz classics, always neatly accompanying herself with great style.

(I must apologize for the slightly muzzy quality of the visual image, which puzzles me.  Was Mercury in retrograde; were there sunspots; had my camera gotten into the gin when I’d put it down on the bar for a second?  For those who object to such imperfections, please pretend that what follows is divinely-inspired radio.)

Sorcery on the East Side — another way of reconsidering WITCHCRAFT (with a musical explanation of that unusual-looking reed by Magus Robinson):

Without being in the least disloyal to her extraordinary father, trombonist Sammy Sherman, Daryl tells a story of how she might have had a different parent.  A delightful visit to the land of WHAT IF:

One of Louis Armstrong’s less-known endearing Socialist specialties, a heartfelt reading of RED CAP (with Scott on the taragota given to him by Louis-alumnus Joe Muranyi):

The very pretty MIDNIGHT SUN:

A song — quite endearing — I’d never heard before — IN APRIL.  (The melody is Bill Evans’ FOR NENETTE; the lyrics are by Roger Schore, who was in the audience):

THEM THERE EYES is from 1930 but it never gets old:

Brilliantly at play — puckish and expert all at once.

May your happiness increase!

CYNTHIA SAYER TAKES A “JOYRIDE” — or FOUR STRINGS, NO WAITING

Cynthia Sayer, ebullient banjoist, singer, composer, has a new CD out — called JOYRIDE.  In my childhood parlance, a joyride was when you stole someone’s car, drove it like mad, and left it somewhere else.  But I think Cynthia’s criminal record is clean, so listeners need not fear.

JOYRIDEJOYRIDE is another stop on the journey Cynthia has been on for years — bringing her beloved instrument into the musical mainstream and rescuing it from jokes about its limitations.

For the CD, she offers ancient pop tunes, show music, Thirties swing classics, Hank Williams, Walt Disney, tangos, and a few originals.  (Warning, though: two of the songs here — one an original and one a Malneck-Mercer classic — are aimed at people who have just had a relationship explode.  Starry-eyed romantics may find them a little vinegary.)

Cynthia is aided and abetted by Charlie Giordano, accordion; Mauro Battisti, string bass; Larry Eagle, percussion; Sara Caswell, violin; Adrian Cunningham, clarinet; Jon Herington, electric guitar; Randy Sandke, trumpet; Scott Robinson, tenor saxophone / taragoto [hear him light up the sky on HONEY, playing Joe Muranyi’s beloved horn]; Marcus Rojas, tuba; Mike Weatherly, string bass / backup vocals.  JOYRIDE is part of Cynthia’s efforts to introduce to a wider audience the 4-string jazz banjo and the music associated with it.  Her CD will be issued on January 22, and the celebration of its release will take place at Joe’s Pub in New York City a week later (425 Lafayette Street NY, NY 10003: phone (212) 539-8778) at 7:30.  Tickets can be purchased  hereHer show will focus on “hot swing,” but also original compositions, tangos, and other surprises.  Hear I LOVE PARIS — a track from the new CD here.  And to learn more about Cynthia and her continuing musical adventures, click here.

May your happiness increase.

“SEND ME, GATE!”: DEEP GROOVES AT JAZZ AT CHAUTAUQUA: MARTY GROSZ, JON-ERIK KELLSO, RANDY REINHART, SCOTT ROBINSON, DAN BLOCK, BOB HAVENS, JOHN SHERIDAN, FRANK TATE, PETE SIERS (September 21, 2012)

My heroes.  Marty Grosz (guitar and moral leadership); Jon-Erik Kellso (trumpet); Randy Reinhart (cornet); Scott Robinson (Joe Muranyi’s taragoto, his own tenor sax); Dan Block (clarinet and slightly recalcitrant bass clarinet); John Sheridan (piano); Frank Tate (string bass); Pete Siers (drums).

Jelly Roll Morton’s SHOE SHINER’S DRAG:

JADA — taken at the kind of tempo you don’t hear often enough these days.  Soaring and sweet and rocking.

We were sent.  No question about it.

Your homework: find the computer in your home that has the best speakers and the largest monitor, turn up the sound, make sure the picture is “full-screen,” gather the family and pets . . . show ’em what Swing’s about.

May your happiness increase.

TEARS, SMILES, INSIGHTS, SWING: THE MEMORIAL SERVICE FOR JOE MURANYI (May 29, 2012)

People are known not only for what they accomplish while alive, but the quality of the memories and love they evoke in death.  Clarinetist / reedman / singer / composer / writer / raconteur Joseph P. Muranyi — Joe or Papa Joe to everyone  — was a sterling person even without making a note of music.  The tributes he received at his May 29, 2012 memorial service at St. Peter’s Church in New York City prove that as strongly as any phrase he played alongside Louis Armstrong, Roy Eldridge, Marty Grosz, Dick Sudhalter, Dick Wellstood, or many other musicians here and abroad. Aside from one brief musical passage (most of an ensemble version of OLE MISS) that I missed due to the camera’s whimsical battery, here is the entire service: words, video, audio, and live music.    We honor Joe Muranyi! And for the sake of accuracy.  Later in the program — one of its high points, to me — Scott Robinson played an unaccompanied tarogato solo (on one of Joe’s instruments) of a Hungarian folk song, “Krasznahorka büszke vára” which translates as “The Proud Castle of Krasznahorka.” In the next segments, you will hear and see the live and recorded presence of Joe himself, alongside Louis Armstrong, Tyree Glenn, Marty Napoleon, Buddy Catlett, and Danny Barcelona.  You’ll hear tales of Roy Eldridge and Charlie Shavers, listen to words and music from Tamas Itzes, Mike Burgevin, Scott Robinson, Chuck Folds, Brian Nalepka, Jackie Williams, Simon Wettenhall, Jordan Sandke, Herb Fryer, Tom Artin, Jim Fryer, Dan Block, Dan Levinson, Ricky Riccardi, Dan Morgenstern, Michael Cogswell, Fred Newman, Bob Goldstein, James Chirillo, Jack Bradley, and others. Here is what I witnessed.  But two hours is too small a room for Joe Muranyi, so this is simply one kind of tribute.  We will remember him always. May your happiness increase.

“ISTEN VELED, KEDVES BARÁTUNK!” or “GOODBYE, DEAR FRIEND”: FOR JOE MURANYI

Michael Cogswell of the Louis Armstrong House Museum has just told us that the memorial service for Joe Muranyi will take place on Tuesday, May 29, 2012, from 7-10 PM.  It will be held at St. Peter’s Church, 619 Lexington Avenue at 54th Street, in New York City.  I will provide more details when I know them.

I will have just come back from the Sacramento Music Festival, but I am sure that some JAZZ LIVES readers will be at the memorial service — to honor Joe, to hear good music, and to enjoy his presence through anecdotes and more.

Thanks to the fine swinging Tamas Itzes for the Hungarian farewell-from-the-heart.  And here’s a musical embrace — from Joe, for Joe:

This sweet, sad rendition of NEW ORLEANS features Joe with one of my favorite bands, the Scandinavian Rhythm Boys: Robert Hansson, trumpet; Frans Sjostrom, bass sax; Ole Olsen, string bass; Michael Boving, banjo / vocal.  It was recorded in 2009 by one of my generous-spirited video comrades, Flemming Thorbye.

Goodbye, Joe!  We celebrate you.

May your happiness increase.

JOSEPHUS: BY NANCIE BEAVEN

I’ve met the effervescent Nancie Beaven only once in person, but through a long cyber-correspondence we have become the best of friends.  It’s not only because of the music, but she has an indefatigable graciousness and grace.  I count myself lucky to know her!

But I never thought that Nancie would become one of the many (unpaid) JAZZ LIVES roving correspondents.

When we all learned of Joe Muranyi’s death, Nancie sent me these candid shots of Joe, playing with Jon Seiger’s All-Stars at the Hot Steamed Jazz Festival — either 2008 or 2009 with among others, bassist Lynn Eberhardt and drummer Russ Debona . . .

Photograph by Nancie Beaven. Copyright 2012.

Imagine that sound.

Photograph by Nancie Beaven. Copyright 2012.

As you can hear Louis say on concert recordings, “Come on, Joe!”

Photograph by Nancie Beaven. Copyright 2012.

We miss Josephus!

Thank you, Joe Muranyi.  Thank you, Nancie Beaven.

May your happiness increase.

GOODBYE, JOSEPHUS

My readers won’t need to be told who Joe Muranyi — clarinetist, soprano saxophonist, singer, composer, raconteur — was.  I am sorry to say was — but Joe died on April 20.

I remember seeing Joe on television with Louis, in person with Roy and at “Highlights in Jazz,” and at a concert in North Babylon, New York, where Joe (alongside Marty Grosz, Peter Ecklund, and Dan Barrett — if I remember correctly) sang LOUISIANA FAIRY TALE, amending the lyrics with a grin, “Can it be / North Babylon at last?”  He played in David Ostwald’s Louis Armstrong Centennial Band — and — most recently and bittersweetly — when I called him at the nursing home to ask if I could put my readers in touch with him, he was very kind to me.  So that is the way I shall remember him.

But I have help in loving memories: please click josephus to read my friend Ricky Riccardi’s deeply loving tribute to the man Louis Armstrong called “Josephus.”

May your happiness increase.

SPONTANEOUS EXPERIMENTS IN BLUE at THE FAMOUS EAR (July 3, 2011)

Maybe it was all because of the blue lights at The Ear Inn (326 Spring Street, Soho, New York City) last Sunday night, that things took on such a loose experimental flavor.

More likely it was the presence of Scott Robinson — a free spirit who encourages others to drop their inhibitions in a corner and proceed bravely into unexplored realms.

And Scott brought three instruments: his familiar tenor saxophone, his Hungarian taragota (originally owned and played by Joe Muranyi) — that sounds like a cross between a soprano saxophone and something else, while resembling a thick clarinet — and his German Jazzophone, a trumpet of sorts that is bent into the shape of a curved saxophone . . . with two bells, one open, the other able to be closed off for muted hallooing sounds.

This isn’t to say that Scott ran over everyone else in the EarRegulars — it’s not his style — but he did inspire one and all.  The other players were Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Jon Burr, bass; Joe Cohn, guitar; and guests Elana James (of the Hot Club of Cowtown) on fiddle and vocals; Tim Newman on bass trombone, and Vinny Raniolo on guitar. You’ll hear a good many playful conversations (especially between old friends Jon-Erik and Scott) that take us well beyond the ordinary excellence one finds at The Ear Inn.

Here are some highlights of a luminescent indigo get-together!

From the first set, a stirring COQUETTE that keeps thinking of P-TOWN, an original by guitarist Joe’s most esteemed father — Al Cohn:

An old favorite, MEAN TO ME, takes on a new shape as Jon-Erik plunges ahead and Scott brings out the taratgota:

IF I WERE A BELL (with two bells) is a showcase for the many lives of the Jazzophone:

And a rocking PERDIDO (the missed beginning is my fault; the surprise ending is no one’s fault):

The second set at The Famous Ear always has some surprises, and July 3 was chock-full of surprising, inventive players, two on “miscellaneous instruments.”

BABY, WON’T YOU PLEASE COME HOME? sounds even more mournfully pleading when played on the taragota, you’ll agree:

SUNNY SIDE OF THE STREET began as a feature for Tim Newman on the bass trombone.  Catch the Forties Ellington band riffs under him!

‘ZACKLY (or EXACTLY LIKE YOU for the precise) shows off the double talents — fiddle and vocal — of Elena Davis, one of the sparkplugs of the Hot Club of Cowtown:

DARK EYES had guitarist Vinny Raniolo, a real swinger, taking Joe’s chair:

And a closing BACK HOME AGAIN IN INDIANA [with a goodly outing for the Magic Jazzophone] made me sorry that this evening (the band played for more than a half-hour extra . . . having a ball!) had to end:

When I dream about inspiration and creative camaraderie, I dream of the Ear Inn and anyplace else these players can be found!