Tag Archives: Joe Wilder

OSCAR PETTIFORD, FOUND

OP front

Bassist, cellist, and composer Oscar Pettiford is in the odd position of being both legendary and forgotten (as Whitney Balliett wrote of Pee Wee Russell). If you ask any aficionado of jazz string bass playing to name a dozen favorites — living and dead — it’s likely that the names will come easily.  But Pettiford’s is often not among them.

Yes, he died young, but not before performing and recording every famous musician (with some notable exceptions) in a short career.  An incomplete list would include Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, Charlie Parker, Bud Powell, Miles Davis, Billie Holiday, Thelonious Monk, Dizzy Gillespie, Art Tatum, Django Reinhardt, Les Paul, Charlie Christian, Gil Evans, Sonny Rollins, Art Blakey, Woody Herman, Coleman Hawkins, Ray Charles, Stan Getz, Lucky Thompson, Charles Mingus, Zoot Sims, John Coltrane, Sonny Stitt, Julius Watkins, Ben Webster, Sammy Price, Ruby Braff, Mel Powell, Ellis Larkins, Max Roach, Shelly Manne, Billie Holiday, Red Norvo, Clifford Brown, Buddy De Franco, Phineas Newborn, Kai Winding, Roy Eldridge, Ray Brown, Lionel Hampton, Don  Byas, Clyde Hart, Earl Hines, Budd Johnson, Joe Thomas, Pee Wee Russell, Jimmy Giuffre, Martial Solal, Attlia Zoller, Lee Konitz, Warne Marsh, Billy Eckstine, Cozy Cole, Shadow Wilson, Charlie Shavers, Johnny Hodges, Rex Stewart, Cootie Williams, Ed Hall, Lawrence Brown, Sonny Greer, Maxine Sullivan, Dick Hyman, Eddie Bert, Joe Derise, Ike Quebec, Jonah Jones, Buck Clayton, Helen Humes, Benny Harris, Boyd Raeburn, Serge Chaloff, Howard McGhee, Sir Charles Thompson, Wynonie Harris, Vic Dickenson, Red Rodney, Tal Farlow, Denzil Best, Jo Jones, Leo Parker, Al Haig, Al Hibbler, Nat Pierce, Bill Harris, Howard McGhee, J.J. Johnson, Art Taylor, Wynton Kelly, Lockjaw Davis, Jackie McLean, Kenny Clarke, Dave McKenna, Milt Jackson, John Lewis, Chris Connor, Hank Jones, Earl Coleman, Thad Jones, Tommy Flanagan, Donald Byrd, Billy Taylor, Chuck Wayne, Roy Haynes, Art Farmer, Gigi Gryce, Al Cohn, Frank Wess, Jimmy Cleveland, Barry Galbraith, Joe Morello, Joe Wilder, Harry Lookofsky, Jimmy Jones, Urbie Green, Ernie Royal, Herbie Mann, George Barnes, Clark Terry, Dave Schildkraut, Helen Merrill, Jimmy Raney, Horace Silver, Doug Mettome, Quincy Jones, Duke Jordan, Hank Mobley, Kenny Dorham, Cecil Payne, Toots Thielmans, Red Garland.

This suggests that Oscar’s peers respected him and called him for gigs and recordings.  It’s not as if he was obscure: his career was longer than, say, Blanton’s or Steve Brown’s.  But, oddly for jazz, which loves to mythologize the musicians who die young and abruptly (and Pettiford died as the result of a 1960 automobile accident) he hasn’t received the benefit of the weird reverence fans and writers have for the young dead.

Of course, it could be that bass players don’t get the respect they and their instruments deserve, but it is and was hard to ignore Pettiford on a session. He offered a rhythmic foundation that was powerful rather than obtrusive, but when he soloed, his lines have the solid eloquence that any horn player would aspire to — while seeming light rather than ponderous.  And as the list of players above suggests, his musical range was exceedingly broad: he wasn’t captured on record in free jazz or ragtime, but he elevated every other variety of jazz and jazz vocal performance he was part of.  Had he lived longer, he might have enjoyed the visibility of a Milt Hinton or a Ray Brown, but we have only brief moments of him on film (the 1945 THE CRIMSON CANARY) and a few seconds of his speaking voice.

Surely he should be better known.

Enough words and keystrokes for the moment: listen to his 1960 feature on WILLOW WEEP FOR ME:

and here he is, playing his own BLUES IN THE CLOSET — from a little-known 1953 television broadcast — on cello (which he took to for a time after breaking an arm in a baseball game):

And his stirring solo on STARDUST:

Now, two pieces of good news that might go some distance in making Oscar’s name and music known to a larger audience.  One is that there is a YouTube channel, PettifordJazz, with sixty videos of Pettiford solos, ensembles, and compositions.  That means that no one has to start collecting Oscar’s music — it is being made available to all for free.

Oscar (or “O.P.”, as his colleagues called him) also spent the last two years of his life in Europe (mostly in Scandinavia and Germany), and recorded often there.  Sessions with guitarist Attila Zoller have been issued and reissued on a variety of labels (in the vinyl era, they appeared on Black Lion) and a famous 1960 concert in Essen with Bud Powell, Kenny Clarke, and Coleman Hawkins was available forty years ago.  Recordings made in 1958-59 for the German radio network have now been issued for the first time on compact disc, in beautiful sound, as OSCAR PETTIFORD: LOST TAPES — GERMANY 1958 / 1959, on SWR Music.

American expatriates Lucky Thompson (on soprano sax for a gorgeous, melancholy SOPHISTICATED LADY) and Kenny Clarke (drums on the final five performances of the disc) are the “stars,” but Zoller stands out as a beautifully measured guitarist.

OP cover rear

And although some US critics of the time might have been condescending to European players, this disc shows their equal mastery. Trumpeter Dusko Goykovich duets with Oscar on the opening BUT NOT FOR ME.  Other notable players here are clarinetist Rolf Kuhn; light-toned tenorist Hans Koller; baritone saxophonists Helmut Brandt, Helmut Reinhardt, Johnny Feigl; altoist Rudi Feigl; guitarist Hans Hammerschmid; drummers Jimmy Pratt and Hartwig Bartz.  The songs are a mix of standards and originals: BUT NOT FOR ME / SOPHISTICATED LADY / A SMOOTH ONE / O.P. (Hans Koller) / MINOR PLUS A MAJOR (Kuhn) / POOR BUTTERFLY / ANUSIA (Hans Koller) / MY LITTLE CELLO (Pettiford) / THE NEARNESS OF YOU / YESTERDAYS / ALL THE THINGS YOU ARE / BLUES IN THE CLOSET (Pettiford) / BIG HASSLE (Hammerschmidt) / ATLANTIC (Helmut Brandt) / ALL THE THINGS YOU ARE / BLUES IN THE CLOSET — the last two are live performances.

And just because it’s accessible and stirring, here is that film clip — from an otherwise undistinguished 1945 murder mystery, THE CRIMSON CANARY, which features Hawk, Pettiford, Howard McGhee, trumpet; Sir Charles Thompson, piano; Denzil Best, on a fast SWEET GEORGIA BROWN line by Hawkins called HOLLYWOOD STAMPEDE:

Ultimately, I think if you’d asked Coleman Hawkins, Duke Ellington, or any number of jazz luminaries, “What about this O.P. fellow?  Should I listen to him?” the answer would have been a very strong affirmative.  So let us do just that. These tapes were lost, but have been found: spread the word about Oscar.  Remind those who have forgotten; introduce those who never knew.  “Learn it to the younguns!” as the youthful protagonist of Ellison’s INVISIBLE MAN hears at the start of that novel.

May your happiness increase!

SWEETNESS AND LIGHT AND FRIED CHICKEN, TOO: THE SUNNYLAND JAZZ BAND WINS OUR HEARTS (Part One: Oct. 18, 2012)

There aren’t many bands that would inspire me to make a 160-mile automobile round trip after a day’s work, but I did it for the Sunnyland Jazz Band and I still feel immensely gratified.

I met banjoist / guitarist / singer / composer Bob Barta at Jeff (Barnhart) and Joel (Schiavone)’s House Party the week before, and had been delighted by him as a musician and as a gentle, witty, thoughtful person.  An added bonus: I also got to meet and talk with the remarkable Sherrie Barta.

When Bob told me about the Sunnyland ensemble — a trio of trumpet, banjo, and tuba — appearing every Thursday at Bonnie Jean’s on Main Road in Southold, I packed the car with provisions, told the imaginary staff I would be home late, and headed east . . . through old haunts.

It was a delightful musical evening, as you will hear.  Bob’s cohorts are trumpeter / singer John Klumpp and tubaist John Lovett, and they work together so beautifully.  They are sweet without being sticky, light without being insubstantial.  All I can say is that I have their music firmly ensconced in my mind and heart, days after I first heard it.  A singular and touching experience!

I have to point out that Bonnie Jean’s serves real food — I didn’t hear the microwave binging anywhere.  My homemade fried chicken, sauteed spinach, fingerling potatoes, etc., were first-rate.  Good coffee, too, and all at decent prices.  The desserts looked lovely but I was full.  Even if it isn’t Thursday night, I would stop there for the food — and for the lighthearted solicitude of the amiable Jenny and Theresa.  You can read the menu and get all excited here.  Or here if you prefer Facebook.  Worth the trip!

Some of my friends and JAZZ LIVES readers might see the instrumentation here — trumpet, banjo, and tuba, and quail.  Or perhaps blanch.  I understand.  Two of the instruments in this grouping have bad reputations.  But no instrument is inherently naughty . . . it’s just the uses it gets put to by people who are more concerned with volume and effects than with making beautiful sounds.  John Lovett (hiding behind his coils of tubing) creates a resonant deep cushiony sound out of his tuba — it reminds me of a very deep French horn, mobile and sweet.  And Bob is a peerless banjo player who doesn’t see his instrument as a kind of drum that happens to have strings in front of it.  John Klumpp needs no explanation, no rationales: he sounds like a cross between three players: Jabbo, Wilder, and himself.  Two of the three men in this band are known, in addition, to break into song.  They are sweetly persuasive singers and their swinging earnestness goes right to the heart.  Trust me on this.  And you have the videos to prove it.

Bob — who has a puckish sense of humor — called A CUP OF COFFEE, A SANDWICH AND YOU as the first song.  (At the end, he told us that it was a toss-up between that and DINAH.  Think about it):

On the same theme, AUNTIE SKINNER’S CHICKEN DINNERS, although both Sherrie and I were wondering if the original lyrics contain the word “panties”:

Then, for a change of pace.  Think Al Bowlly, not Jack Nicholson, as you hear MIDNIGHT, THE STARS AND YOU:

MOONLIGHT is a Con Conrad tune that was new to me:

Even for someone who finds himself on a plane as often as I do, BACK IN YOUR OWN BACKYARD resonates sweetly:

I think that HIAWATHA’S LULLABY had a brief moment of popularity in 1933, thanks to Adrian Rollini and others — but I never expected to hear it in 2012:

LAZY RIVER.  Oh, you dog river:

A truly rocking version of HERE COMES THE HOT TAMALE MAN even though Bonnie Jean’s is not your usual taqueria:

And the sweet question — dear and romantic — HOW COULD I BE BLUE?:

There will be two more sets from the SJB.  But you should go to Bonnie Jean’s and see for yourself.  I plan to . . .

May your happiness increase.

A FEW WORDS FOR MAT DOMBER

I just received word that Mat Domber, who founded Arbors Records in 1989, died peacefully this morning — with his beloved wife Rachel at his side.  Mat had been ill for some time, but you hardly knew it: when I last saw him, at a Harry Allen Monday night function at Feinstein’s last June, he was cheerful, amused, and gracious as ever.

When the history of any art form is written, it invariably concentrates on the artists who are seen as the prime movers — and logically so.  But artists need patrons and friends and people who help them communicate their vision.  Mat Domber was a stellar example.  Other jazz fans delight in the music; some throw parties for their friends, or concerts.

Mat and Rachel decided that the music they loved wasn’t getting recorded . . . and thus he put his business acumen and his musical taste into play — at first, relying on Rick Fay and Dan Barrett for musical guidance, but eventually building up a roster of players and singers he knew were first-rate.  If you go to your CD shelves at this moment, chances are some of the most gratifying discs there are on the Arbors label.

I list some of the players who might otherwise have had fewer chances to express themselves: Rebecca Kilgore, Ruby Braff, Ralph Sutton, Dick Hyman, Kenny Davern, John Sheridan, Scott Robinson, Jon-Erik Kellso, Duke Heitger, George Masso, Bob Wilber, Ehud Asherie, Johnny Varro, Dan Block, Marty Grosz, Eddie Erickson, Jackie Coon, Warren Vache, Nicki Parrott, Rossano Sportiello, Peter Ecklund, Bucky Pizzarelli, Aaron Weinstein, Harry Allen, Bob Haggart, John Bunch, Derek Smith, Keith Ingham, Ellis Larkins, Bobby Gordon, Ken Peplowski, Randy Sandke, Randy Reinhart, Joel Helleny, Howard Alden, Joe Wilder, Jerry Jerome, Flip Phillips . . . you can add other names as well.

Mat was a delight to be with — someone who enjoyed the company of the musicians after the session almost as much as he enjoyed the sessions.  And he made Arbors parties and festivals and happenings for all of us to enjoy.

There will be other things to say about Mat, but I will end this by saying that Ruby Braff and Kenny Davern, two of the most exacting men in the world of jazz, relied on him.  He will be missed.  JAZZ LIVES sends its deepest sympathy to Rachel and the people who loved Mat Domber.

May your happiness increase.  

A GREAT HUMAN STORY: “THE SAVOY KING: CHICK WEBB and the MUSIC THAT CHANGED AMERICA”

We have all seen our share of documentaries, perhaps beginning in elementary school.  The least successful are tedious although well-meaning, taking us year-by-year, serving up moral lessons.  Although they strive to inform and move us, often they are unsatisfying and undramatic in their desire to present us with facts.

Jeff Kaufman’s brilliant feature-length portrait is a soaring antidote to every earnest, plodding, didactic documentary.  It is full of feeling, insightful without being over-emphatic.  It tells several stories in affecting, subtle ways.

Chick Webb was a great musician — a drummer other drummers still talk about with awe and love.  He guided and lovingly protected the teenaged Ella Fitzgerald, helping her grow into a mature artist.  Crippled from childhood — he would never grow much taller than 4′; he was in constant pain; he died shortly after turning thirty — he was fiercely ambitious and ultimately triumphant in ways he did not live to see.

But this is far more than the story of one small yet great-hearted man.  It is much larger than the chronicle of one jazz musician.  It is the story of how Webb’s love, tenacity, and courage changed the world.  That sounds hyperbolic, and I do not think that any American history textbook has yet made space for the little king from Baltimore, who deserves his place alongside Rosa Parks and Jackie Robinson.  This film will go a long way towards correcting that omission.  For Chick, tiny yet regal behind his drum set, helped create an environment where Black and White could forget those superficial differences and become equal in the blare of the music, the thrill of the dance.

Without Webb, would there have been a Savoy Ballroom where American men and women could have forgotten the bigotry so prevalent, lost in the joy of swing?  I like to imagine someone, trained into attitudes of racism from birth, hearing HARLEM CONGO on the radio and feeling transformed as if by a bolt of lightning, not caring that the players were not Caucasian, making the shift in his / her thinking from cruel derision to admiration and love.  How may people moved to an acceptance of racial equality because they were humming Ella’s recording of A TISKET, A TASKET?  We will never know . . . but just as the sun (in the fable) encouraged the stubborn man to shed his heavy coat where the cold wind failed, I believe that jazz and swing did more than has ever been acknowledged to make White and Black see themselves as one.

And the film documents just how aware Webb was of the reforming power of his music.  The idea of him as a subtle crusader for love, acceptance, and fairness is not something imposed on him by an ideologically-minded filmmaker: it is all there in the newspaper clippings and the words he spoke.

Here is Candace Brown’s superb essay on the film — with video clips from the film.

I must move from the larger story to a few smaller ones.  Put bluntly, I think filmmaker Kaufman is a wonder-worker, his talents quiet but compelling — rather like the person in the tale who makes a delicious soup starting with only a stone.  It took six years and a great deal of effort to make this film, and the result is gratifying throughout.

Making a documentary in this century about someone who died in 1939 has its own built-in difficulties.  For one thing, the subject is no longer around to narrate, to sit still for hours of questions.  And many of the subjects friends and family are also gone.  Chick Webb was a public figure, to be sure, but he wasn’t someone well-documented by sound film.  Although his 1929 band can be heard in the rather lopsided film short AFTER SEBEN, the director of that film cut Chick out of the final product because he thought the little man looked too odd.

I don’t think so.  Here is a still from that film (with Chick’s dear friend John Trueheart on banjo and my hero Bennie Morton on trombone):

But back to Kaufman’s problem.  Although there are many recordings of Chick’s band in the studios and even a radio broadcast or two, other figures of that period left behind more visual evidence: think of the photogenic /  charismatic Ellington, Goodman, Louis.  Of Webb and his band in their prime, the film footage extant lasts four seconds.

So Kaufman had to be ingenious.  And he has been, far beyond even my hopes.

The film is a beautifully-crafted tapestry of sight and sound, avoiding the usual overexposed bits of stock film and (dare I say it) the expected talking heads, droning into the camera.  The living people Kaufman has found to speak with love of Chick Webb are all singular: jazz musicians Roy Haynes (swaggering in his cowboy hat), Joe Wilder (a courtly knight without armor), Dr. Richard Gale (son of Moe, who ran the Savoy), dancers Frankie Manning and Norma Miller . . . their affection and enthusiasm lifts up every scene.

And Kaufman has made a virtue of necessity with an even more brilliant leap.  Webb wasn’t quoted often, but his utterances were memorable — rather like rimshots.  Ella, Gene Krupa, Ellington, Basie, Helen and Stanley Dance, Artie Shaw, Mezz Mezzrow, and twenty others have their words come to life — not because a serious dull voiceover reads them to us, but because Kaufman has arranged for some of the most famous people in the world to read a few passages.  Do the names Bill Cosby and Janet Jackson suggest how seriously other people took this project?

THE SAVOY KING is a work of art and an act of love, and it desrves to be seen — not just by “jazz lovers” or “people who remember the Big Band Era.”

It has been selected to be shown at the 50th annual New York Film Festival, tentatively on September 29, which in itself is a great honor.

That’s the beautiful part.  Now here comes four bars of gritty reality.  In the ideal world, no one would ever have to ask for money, and a major studio would already have done a beautiful job of exploring Chick Webb’s heroism, generosity, and music by now.  But it hasn’t happened, and we know what results when the stories we love go Hollywood.

Filmmaker Kaufman is looking for funding through INDIEGOGO to arrange a “proper launch” for this film — the goal being $5000 to cover the extra work of our PR team (media, publicity, sales, etc), and other key expenses that will help lead to a commercial release.  All levels of support (ideally $75 and up) will make a real difference.  Here is the link.

Think of a world made better by swing.

See and support this film.

May your happiness increase.

MR. MASSO CAME TO TOWN (March 6, 2012)

I would have been eager to visit clarinetist Ron Odrich’s monthly session at San Martin on East 49th Street, New York City (it happens the first Tuesday of each month) for his swooping playing — and the lovely work of his colleagues James Chirillo (guitar); Gary Mazzaroppi (string bass); “Cenz” (drums).  But last Tuesday’s session was even more special because it allowed me to hear one of the quiet masters of jazz in person.

I refer to trombonist George Masso: veteran of the late Forties Jimmy Dorsey band (a band whose trumpet section had Charlie Teagarden and Maynard Ferguson!) and then right-hand man to Bobby Hackett, Ken Peplowski, Barbara Lea, Spike Robinson, Harry Allen, Wild Bill Davison, the World’s Greatest Jazz Band, Warren Vache, Ed Polcer, Joe Wilder, Urbie Green, Helen Ward, Al Klink, Scott Hamilton, Ruby Braff, Tom Pletcher, Maxine Sullivan, Mike Renzi, Kenny Davern, Carl Fontana, Dave McKenna, Eddie Higgins, Randy Sandke, Charlie Ventura, Dan Barrett, Dick Hyman, Bob Wilber, Lou Columbo, Ralph Sutton, Jake Hanna, Woody Herman, and the King of Swing himself.

Obviously, if all those people had called upon Mr. Masso, he was special: this I already knew from the recordings: his accuracy and fine, broad tone — his remarkable combination of swing-time and ease with a broad harmonic palette and astonishing technique, always in the service of melody and logical improvisations.

Two additional facts you should know before you watch the videos that follow (featuring superb playing by everyone in the group).  George Masso is one of the most gentle, humble people it will be my privilege to know — so happy that a fan (myself) would make a small pilgrimage to hear and capture him (his lady friend June is a dear person too, no surprise).

Mister Masso is eighty-five years old, obviously one of the marvels of the age.  Cape Cod and Rhode Island must agree with him.  And his playing certainly agreed with everyone there.

They began their set with TANGERINE:

I’M OLD-FASHIONED, taken at a walking tempo:

BLUE BOSSA, lilting and graceful:

A romping I FOUND A NEW BABY:

And — not dedicated to anyone in the room! — George’s ballad feature on OLD FOLKS:

Masterful.

P.S.  I hope George comes back to New York City — with his trombone — soon!  In April, Ron’s guest star will be baritone saxophone wizard Gary Smulyan.

BAD BOYS, NAUGHTY GIRLS: JAZZ MYTHOGRAPHY

This post grew out of an online conversation with my friend Julio Schwarz Andrade, a fine young musician currently exploring the music of short-lived trumpeter Tony Fruscella.  Julio said he found Fruscella both moving and inconsistent, and asked my opinion.  I said that Fruscella was one of those musicians elevated to mythic status not only because he could play beautifully (hear his I’LL BE SEEING YOU) but because the jazz audience seems eager to create a posthumous mythography, celebrating behavior they themselves don’t indulge in.

“Live fast, die young, and leave a good-looking corpse,” is the philosophy of Studs Lonigan in James T. Farrell’s fiction.

I think it ironic that men and women who pay their bills, have two beers on a Friday night and then stop, wear their seat belts — people who not only espouse all the bourgeois middle-class virtues but live them — are secretly entranced by those who do not or cannot: the OUTLAW, the SUPERNOVA, the ECCENTRIC.

Were I asked by a young jazz musician how to ensure posthumous fame, one answer would be “Practice your instrument so that you play brilliantly, memorably.  Learn from those who have gone before you and listen closely on the bandstand.”

But that isn’t always enough to merit a place in the great jazz mythography.  So my advice (delivered ironically) might sound like this: “Want to make sure that your life in jazz will be chronicled long after your death?  Take heroin; you’re much more interesting if you’re tortured.  Die young.  Break the law.  Be dramatically inconsistent, so that someone narrating the arc of your career can chart your “early beginnings,” “meteoric rise,” “sad end.”  Behave in an apparently erratic fashion.  Steal someone’s horn; give up hygiene.  Cultivate intellectual arrogance; antagonize your fellow players.  Avoid the ordinary, the conventional, give up all attempts at social awareness.”

Of course, the musicians and singers I know view these personality traits — echoes of a presumed hipster way of life — with pained skepticism at best.  They may see themselves as outsiders, but they prize bourgeois virtues: showing up early for the gig, ready to play, one’s clothes clean, being a professional, knowing the key.  They like to work alongside reliable individuals, not those too stoned to play.

But these habits don’t make for dramatic mythography, so they don’t get celebrated.

Although the players and singers who outlived the most famous self-destructive figures in jazz speak with reverence and affection of the dead, it can’t have been easy to deal with these “jazz titans” on the stand.  In retrospect, they describe how A stole someone’s horn, how B didn’t bathe, how C broke the plate-glass window; how D nodded off while the band was playing, how E apparently committed suicide through excess of food or drink.  Great stories after the fact, but not easy to tolerate in real life.  In this century, nonconformity seems expected, and Thoreau still has validity, but is it essential to creative improvisation?

The voyeuristic fascination with the painful details of the lives of some musicians puzzles me.  I wonder how many people who see Billie Holiday as an iconic victim have heard more than a few of her performances.

Do some people secretly envy the outlaw his or her defiance, self-destructive boldness?  Are prudent listeners enthralled by myths of people who defied everything that was “good” for them because the short lives of their musical heroes make them feel comfortable and secure?  Or are others so entranced by the Jazz Martyr, whose life is so deeply focused on the music that all else becomes unimportant?

In a world where people — kindly and sometimes officiously — tell us what to do (get that taillight fixed, lose fifteen pounds, be on time for work) I wonder if some well-behaved people find stories of disobedience vicariously gratifying?

Could we make a case that (for one example) Fats Waller had to behave the way he did — or thought he did — to create the music that lives on after him?  EARLY TO BED was the name of his last musical show . . . but a way of life he chose to reject.

Speculating on the inner lives of the people we admire must always be both intriguing and futile: they take their secrets with them.  Who among us fully understands what motivates his or her behavior?

I don’t see the doomed-artist mythography diminishing any time soon, as long as readers want to immerse themselves in tales of Outsider rule-breaking.  But I wish we could simply listen to the music without getting distracted by the figures we have invented.

Perhaps we could also honor a Barry Harris, a Buck Clayton, an Ed Hall, a Benny Morton, a Joe Wilder, an Eddie Higgins, a Milt Hinton.  These players — and so many others — show that one can be a middle-class citizen and a creative improviser.  But the bad boys and girls get all the press.

P.S.  As a real-life postscript.  Last night (Feb. 21, 2012) I went to a new room where a fine jazz trio was playing.  Behind me were two “jazz fans,” talking throughout the music about their favorites and when they had discovered each musician.  At one point, the conversation about pianists took this turn: “I can’t think of the name of that druggie jazz pianist.  Very famous,” (presumably Bill Evans?) and a few songs later, one fan opined to the other, “I liked Chet Baker.  But he wasn’t a very nice person.  And, you know, he took drugs.”

LISA MAXWELL SINGS HAPPILY

The fine pianist, arranger, and scholar Keith Ingham left a message on my phone in July, saying that he had recorded a session with a singer who was very good and whom I would like.  Keith hasn’t been wrong yet.

Thanks to Keith, I had the pleasure of hearing Lisa Maxwell, and I hope you will share that pleasure.

Her brand-new CD, accurately called HAPPY,  is just out on CDBaby and will be on iTunes in a few days.  It will soon be available in the tangible form (disc plus notes plus jewel box) that some of us love so well.  Whatever form you find it in, it’s delightful.

Easy on the ear, as they used to say, but not Easy Listening.

The CDBaby link is http://www.cdbaby.com/cd/LisaMaxwell1

There, you can hear brief samples of each track — samples that should give you a clear idea of what a genuinely unaffected singer Lisa is.

Here are the notes I wrote for HAPPY, which will give some indication of how much I like the music she and her friends made:

When Keith Ingham says, “I have a singer I’d like you to hear,” you pay attention, because he has worked and recorded with Maxine Sullivan, Peggy Lee, Susannah McCorkle, and many more.

And then Lisa Maxwell’s voice comes out of the speakers and you bask in her exuberant confidence.

Lisa has all the virtues any singer could ask for. Her voice is appealing; her rhythm glides; her phrasing is all her own. She knows that each song is its own little playlet. Without dramatizing, she lets the song itself take center stage.

Unlike many singers who toy with or obliterate lyrics, Lisa deeply respects the words, “How I adore the brilliance of those writers, how their words form the picture! Then they’re intertwined with the notes that project the story into another dimension.” She sings with a deep intuitive awareness; the lyrics are not simply a series of syllables to get through. Her understanding of the music comes through in every bar: she isn’t tied to the notes, but she respects the composer’s intention while she rides the rhythm easily. Listen as she takes the twists and turns of I’LL TAKE ROMANCE, how nimbly she threads through SUNDAY IN NEW YORK.

Lisa’s gentle, floating approach creates vistas of sound and feeling. She doesn’t strain or emote, but gets inside each song and makes it glow. She sounds light-hearted, innocent, but the illusion of such artlessness can only be given us by a mature artist. Lisa has a sufficiently strong personality to simultaneously embrace the shade of Billie Holiday on YOU CAN’T LOSE A BROKEN HEART and to make her own way within the song.

She believes in the songs she chooses to sing, and a conversational candor animates MY HEART GOES WITH YOU and THIS IS ALWAYS. Throughout this disc, Lisa’s second choruses build on her first; she’s a low-key but effective improviser.

Much of the repertoire is familiar, but she gently makes these songs new, “I’ve done many of them many times, some less so, one (“My Heart Goes With You”) never. I loved the idea of being totally spontaneous in these sessions, along with Keith, and gave him complete freedom to arrange in any way he wanted. I wanted to be collaborative, to share in the purest sense, to go along for the ride. I want everyone to be “Happy” and everyone involved deserved their solos, their chances to shine. I love their work.”

And the playing is delightfully cohesive: Keith’s supportive lines, with never a superfluous note; Frank Tate’s deep woody sound and his splendid pulse; Al Gafa’s muted chimes, Steve Little’s padding brushwork; Ben Wittman’s just-right percussive seasonings.

Keith’s arrangements are full of irresistible pleasures: the interpolation of MANHATTAN in SUNDAY IN NEW YORK; the joyous swing of IT MIGHT AS WELL BE SPRING and BLUE MOON, the start of JUNE NIGHT that suggests that some JIVE AT FIVE at a campsite might have helped this summer evening be a memorable one.

SOMEONE TO WATCH OVER ME sounds so genuine in its sweet seriousness, with Keith’s piano underscoring every note. In Lisa’s unaffected delivery, the wistful message comes through with delicacy and strength.

Lisa says, “I have a long relationship with this song, going way back to my studying at HB Studios in the Eighties. Working on this song, I was torn to shreds by my teacher for “not feeling it.” I was never going to accept that. Keith and I did it in one take, at the end of our two day recording session.”

Another understated masterwork is her version of THE FOLKS WHO LIVE ON THE HILL. Hear how Lisa handles the bridge of that song, a passage many singers flatten. Her deep, gentle sincerity comes through – she’s smiling, not resigned, “This song is my personal “Over the Rainbow,” painting a picture of the most sublime, simple life. A perfect home, a perfect setting, a perfect relationship, involving children, and the acceptance of time passing, and things changing and remaining optimistic.”

The music from these sessions reminds me of a time, not so long ago, when jazz and “popular music” co-existed and drew strength from each other: when Joe Wilder and Milt Hinton and Barbra Streisand and Bobby Darin worked together – a golden time, taken for granted, but not forgotten. And we have Lisa Maxwell to thank for this happy marriage of classic American songs and swinging chamber music.

She refuses to show off, to be the Star. Rather, her singing takes us gently inside the lyrics and the melody, helping us hear afresh what they say and embody about our shared experiences. And by her very graceful approach to these songs, she wins our hearts.

It all comes back to Lisa’s title for this CD, “I think my approach is both happy in my delivery, which will, I hope, make people feel happy as they listen. Additionally, I am FINALLY happy with myself as a singer. It has been a long, determined road for me, all about wanting to get good, and “owning” my interpretations. I have been driven since I was eight years old, and I believe the voice, whether speaking or singing, is MY way to express my soul. Singing is a very physical experience for me, deep inside.”

To Lisa Maxwell, “Each tune is a story to me,” and HAPPY lets us hear and learn from a superb storyteller.

“WELL, THIS’LL BE FUN”: MEMORIES OF JAZZ AT CHAUTAUQUA, 2004

I have a special place in my heart for Jazz at Chautauqua: it was the first jazz party I’d ever attended, an uplifting experience in every way.

The 2011 Jazz at Chautauqua is taking place this year — September 15-18.  Details to follow.

This is the piece I wrote after my first experience of Jazz at Chautauqua.  Joe Boughton is no longer with us, but the elation remains the same.

Well, This’ll Be Fun

On a Thursday evening in September 2004, two jazz musicians decided on Eubie Blake’s “You’re Lucky To Me” to begin their performance, set an affable, conversational tempo, and started – moving from embellished melody to more adventurous improvisations before coming back down to earth.  They stood at one end of a small rectangular mint-green hotel dining room elaborately decorated with nineteenth-century chandeliers and moldings.  The tall young trumpet player, apparently a college fullback, wore jeans and an untucked striped dress shirt; the pianist resembled a senior account executive for a firm that knew nothing of casual Fridays.  As the applause slowly diminished, Duke Heitger, trumpet held loosely at his side, looked slyly at John Sheridan, the other half of his orchestra, grinned, and said, “Well, this’ll be fun.”  They had just played the opening notes of the seventh annual Jazz at Chautauqua, a four-day jazz party held at the Athenaeum, the upstate New York site of the Chautauqua Institution – now a hotel unused for nine months of the year (no heating system).  Appropriately, the site reflected something of the Chautauqua ideal of entertaining self-enrichment, now given over to a weekend’s immersion in the music once our common colloquial language.

The imaginary map of American culture might seem a homogenous cultural landscape of Outkast, Diet Coke, press-on nails, and Paris Hilton.  But there are millions of smaller, secret cultural nations pulsing all at once: people subversively playing Brahms at home, wearing hemp clothing, and making sure that what commercialism has consigned to the past is kept alive.  One of those underground institutions is the jazz party – an idea quietly subsisting for forty years, now one of the only venues for this music.

If a newcomer assumed that a “jazz party” is nothing more than two or three semi-professional musicians playing background music for a roomful of people, perhaps a singer seated atop a piano, Jazz at Chautauqua would be staggering.  It featured nearly thirty-three hours of nonstop music played to two hundred and fifty people between Thursday evening and Sunday afternoon by twenty-six musicians: Bob Barnard, Heitger, Jon-Erik Kellso, Randy Reinhart, and Joe Wilder (trumpet, cornet, and flugelhorn); Dan Barrett and Bob Havens (trombone); Harry Allen, Dan Block, Bobby Gordon, Bob Reitmeier, Scott Robinson (reeds); Johnny Frigo (violin); Jim Dapogny, Larry Eanet, Keith Ingham, and John Sheridan (piano); Howard Alden and Marty Grosz (guitar); Vince Giordano, Nicki Parott, and Phil Flanigan (bass); Arnie Kinsella, Eddie Metz, Jr., and John Von Ohlen (drums); Grosz, Rebecca Kilgore, and Parrott (vocals).  These players are unknown to a general audience but are both remarkable and sought after.  Except for Wilder, the musicians were white, (which didn’t bother him: he was delighted to be playing among friends) and many hailed from the tri-state area, with a few startling exceptions:  Barrett and Reitmeier flew from California, Kilgore from Oregon, and the winner for distance, Barnard, from New South Wales.  Most of them were middle-aged (although Parrott and Heitger are not yet forty), looking oddly youthful (I think that joy transforms), but jazz musicians, if fortunate, live long: Frigo is 87, Wilder, 82.

A listener, fortified by food at regular intervals and consistently available drinks (for me, an excess of caffeine for medicinal purposes – a jam session started while I was asleep on Thursday night, and I was anxious that I miss nothing else) may sit in a comfortable chair and listen to eight hours of jazz in short sets, from fifteen minutes for duets to an hour for a larger band.  It was overwhelming, as though someone who had only read about model trains or Morris dancing had wandered into a convention of enthusiasts where everything in the ballroom focused on the chosen subject, non-stop.  But Chautauqua was more than a museum: it offered the art itself in action, unfettered and created on the spot.

All this is due to its creator and director, Joe Boughton, who feels a moral compulsion to preserve the music he first heard in the Boston area in the late 1940s.  Boughton is a solidly packed man who in profile resembles a Roman general, but his more characteristic expression is pleasure when his musicians are playing well and his audience is reverent.  He is the enemy of needless chatter unless it comes from the bandstand, and printed cards decorated each table, reading, “Afford our artists the respect they deserve and be considerate to those at your table and surrounding tables who have come from long distances and paid a lot of money to hear the music and not be annoyed by talking.”  That contains Boughton’s voice – low-key but impatient with nonsense.  He is also a one-man campaign to rescue jazz from the deadening effects of a limited repertoire.  Jazz musicians who are thrown together on the stand choose familiar songs: variations on the blues, on “I Got Rhythm,” “Sweet Georgia Brown,” as well as crowd-pleasers “Take the ‘A’ Train” and “Satin Doll,” which Boughton calls “Satin Dull.”  At Chautauqua, now-rare melodies filled the air — jazz standards ranging from King Oliver’s “Canal Street Blues,” circa 1923, to the Parker-Gillespie “Groovin’ High” of 1945 and John Lewis’s “Skating In Central Park,” but rare once-popular surprises, including “I’m Sittin’ On Top of the World,” “Smiles,” “Ida,” “Aren’t You Glad You’re You” and “Moon Song.”  Although the songs might seem antique, the approach is not self-consciously historical: the young tenor saxophonist Harry Allen (to cite only one example) who delivers eloquent solos while standing motionless, once leaning against the bar, would fit in well with the bebop legend Clifford Brown or the Harlem stride master James P. Johnson.

Each of the four days was full of highlights, rarely loud or at a high pitch, but emotionally exhilarating all the same, from the first set on Thursday, as the Heitger-Sheridan duet became a trio with the addition of drummer John Von Ohlen (who resembles Ben Franklin in coiffure but Franklin, from eighteenth-century reports, tended to drag at fast tempos – something that Von Ohlen, sharp and attentive, never does) on a Benny Goodman Trio –tempoed “Liza” that blossomed into a quintet in mid-performance with tenor saxophonist Dan Block and bassist Phil Flanigan joining in because they couldn’t wait until it concluded.  Block looks as though he had slipped off from his professorship at an esteemed university, but has (unlike Allen) all the archetypical tenor saxophonist’s violent physical gestures, moving his horn ecstatically as his phrases tumble out, adopting a hymnlike tone on a ballad or floating at a fast tempo in the best Lester Young manner.  Flanigan hoisted this band (and others) on his shoulders with his elastic, supple time and when it came to his solo, no one succumbed to bass ennui, for his choruses had the logic and emotion of Jack Teagarden’s architectural statements.  (Flanigan is married to the eloquent singer Hanna Richardson, who had been at Chautauqua in 2003 and was much missed this year.)

Thus, Thursday night, an hour along, had become 52nd Street or Minton’s again, with no cigarette smoke or watered drinks in sight.  No one got up and danced, a pity, but no one clapped to an imagined beat while the musicians played – an immense relief.  What made the music memorable might have escaped a casual listener who expected jazz performances to be lengthy, virtuosic solos.  The players were concise, saying what they had to say in two or three choruses, and the technical brilliance was usually in making the difficult seem easy, whether on a racing hot performance or a tender ballad (although perfectly placed high notes did ornament solos).  What distinguished the performances was a joyous, irresistible forward motion – listeners’ heads steadily marked the beat, and everyone had their own sound: I could tell who was taking a solo with my eyes closed.  And there was an affectionate empathy on the stand: although musicians in a club chatter during others’ solos, these players listened intently, created uplifting background figures, and smiled at the good parts.  Off-duty players stayed to admire.  And when the last set of the night ended, the players gathered around the bar to talk about music – but not predictably.  Rather, they swapped stories about symphonic conductors: Joe Wilder sharing Pierre Boulez anecdotes, Dan Block giving us Fritz Reiner gossip.  The general bonhomie also turned into friendly banter with their colleagues and the audience: most musicians like to talk, and most are naturally witty.  The unstoppable Marty Grosz, beginning to explicate the singing group the Ink Spots for a late-evening tribute, said, “I’ll make this short, because I already hear the sounds of chins hitting breastbones.”  (He was wrong: the crowd followed every note.)

Some stereotypes are truer than not, however: I overheard this conversation between a musician I’ll call “M” and a solicitous member of the Chautauqua staff:

“M, would you like a drink?”

“Yes, thank you!  Gin.”

“A martini?  With ice?  Olives?  An onion?  Some tonic?”

“No.  [Emphatically.]  Gin.

Gin in its naked state was then provided.

On Thursday evening, I had talked with Phil Flanigan about the paying guests.  I had brought with me gloomy doubts about the aging, shrinking, and exclusively white audience, and the question of what happens to a popular art when its supporters die off, envisioning nothing but empty chairs in ten years.   I had expected to find a kindred pessimism in Flanigan, earnestly facing his buffet dinner, but it didn’t bother him that the audience that had once danced to Benny Goodman had thinned out.  Flanigan told me, emphatically, how he treasured these people.  “They’re dedicated fans.  They come to listen.”  “What about their age?” I asked.  “Lots of age,” he said.  “This is a good thing.  Think of the accumulated wisdom, the combined experience.  These are the folks who supported the music when it was young.  When they were young!  What do you know? They just happened to be loyal and long-lived.”  (Flanigan’s optimism, however, would have been tested to the limit by the affluent, fiftyish couple who shared our table and seemed to ignore the music in favor of the New York Times, barely looking up.)

Flanigan’s commentary was not the only surprise – especially for those who consider jazz musicians as inarticulate, concerned more about reeds than realities.  The next day, I had attached myself to Joe Wilder for lunch.  The conversation, steered by Wilder, weaved around memories of his friends, famous and not – but he really wanted to talk about Iraq and eco-devastation, and his perspective was anything but accepting.

Friday began with rain, and the hotel corridors were ornamented by white plastic buckets; from one room I heard an alto player practicing; behind another door trumpeter Jon-Erik Kellso was turning a phrase this way and that in the fashion of a poet accenting one word and then another while reciting the line half-aloud.  I spent some costly time entranced by the displays of compact discs, buying and considering.

Later, the party began officially in the main ballroom with fourteen musicians (six brass, four reeds, four rhythm), stretched from left to right, jostling for position on the stage of the main ballroom, played “Way Down Yonder in New Orleans,” at its original, yearning tempo, with the trumpeter Randy Reinhart directing traffic, the musicians creating simple chordal backgrounds of organ tones played in whole notes (called “footballs” for the way they look on music paper) and the brilliant anachronism Vince Giordano switching from his bass saxophone (an instrument out of fashion by 1935) to the only aluminum double bass I have ever seen, as the spirit took him, the convocation suggesting Eddie Condon meeting Count Basie in 1939.

The set that followed was a masterpiece of small-band friendship, featuring Allen, Wilder, Block (on alto), the underrated Washington, D.C., pianist Larry Eanet, Howard Alden, Flanigan, and Von Ohlen.  In forty minutes, they offered a strolling “If Dreams Come True,” with Flanigan beginning his solo with a quote from the verse to “Love in Bloom,” a speedy “Time After Time,” usually taken lugubriously, with the melody handed off among all the horns and Alden in eight-bar segments, an even brisker “This Can’t Be Love,” notable for Eanet, who offered his own version of Hank Jones’s pearls at top speed and for Wilder – who now plays in a posture that would horrify brass teachers, his horn nearly parallel to his body, pointing down at the floor.  His radiant tone, heard on so many recordings of the Fifties, is burnished now into a speaking, conversational one – Wilder will take a simple, rhythmic phrase and repeat it a number of times, toying with it as the chords beneath him go flying by, a Louis Armstrong experiment, something fledgling players shouldn’t try at home, and he enjoys witty musical jokes: quoting “Ciribiribin” and, later, “Mona Lisa,” in a solo on “Flyin’ Home.”  Often he brought out a bright green plastic cup and waggled it close to and away from the bell of his horn, creating growly, subterranean sounds Cootie Williams would have liked.  (“From the five and ten,” he said, when I asked him about the cup.)  Wilder’s ballad feature, “I Cover the Waterfront,” was a cathedral of quiet climbing phrases.  And the set closed with a trotting version of “The Jeep is Jumpin’,” a Johnny Hodges riff on “I Got Rhythm” changes, played the way it was in 1941, before musicians believed that audiences needed to hear everything faster and louder.

A series of beautifully shaped impromptu performances followed, including a Bobby Gordon – John Sheridan duet full of Gordon’s breathy chalumeau register, and a Rebecca Kilgore set.  Kilgore has a serious, no-nonsense prettiness and doesn’t drape herself over the microphone to woo an audience, but she is an affecting, sly actress, who uses her face, her posture, and her hands to support or play off of what her beautiful voice is offering.  She is especially convincing when she is acting herself and her twin at once: on “Close Your Eyes,” a song full of serious assurance that the hearer will be safe forever in the arms of the true love, Kilgore managed to suggest that the lyrics were absolutely true while she audibly winked at the audience, as if to say, “Do you believe this sweet, silly stuff I’m singing?”

Friday closed with Vince Giordano’s Nighthawks, an explosive ten-piece band, replicating late Twenties and early Thirties jazz and dance orchestras.  Giordano, who resembles a movie idol who could have partnered Joan Blondell, is remarkable – an eloquent melodist and improviser on his unwieldy bass saxophone, where he gets a room-filling tone both sinewy and caressing; his aluminum string bass, ferociously propulsive tuba, and boyishly energetic vocals.  The Nighthawks reunion band featured whizzing tempos, bright solos, and on-target ensemble passages on a for-dancers-only repertoire, circa 1931, Savoy Ballroom.  Most listeners have never heard a band like the Nighthawks live – they shout to the heavens without being extraordinarily loud, and their ensemble momentum is thrilling.  Hoarse and dizzy, we climbed the stairs to our rooms at 1:30 AM.

Saturday morning began sedately, with solo piano, some pastoral duos and trios, and then caught fire with a Kilgore-James Dapogny duet.  Dapogny is a rolling, rumbling pianist in the style that used to be called “Chicagoan”: right-hand single note melody lines, flashing Earl Hines octaves, stride-piano ornamentations supported by a full, mobile left hand, and he and Kilgore had never played together before.  Kilgore let herself go on the nineteenth-century parlor favorite “Martha,” subtitled “Ah! So Pure!” which Connee Boswell took for a more raucous ride with the Bob Crosby band sixty-five years ago.  Kilgore’s approach was gliding and swinging, with hand gestures that would not have disgraced a Victorian songstress or a melodramatic 1936 band singer (a raised index finger for emphasis, a gentle clasp of her own throat), but the sly glint in her eye and the sweetly ironic quotation marks in her delivery suggested that Martha’s purity was open to question.  Then came a trio of Dan Barrett and Bob Havens on trombones, backed only Marty Grosz, someone his Chicago comrade Frank Chace has called “a one-man rhythm gang,” in a short set notable for fraternal improvising and Barrett’s interpolating one vocal stanza of a lewd blues, “The Duck’s Yas Yas” into “Basin Street Blues.”  More brass ecstasy followed in a trumpet extravaganza, ending with a six-trumpet plus Barrett version of Bunny Berigan’s famous “I Can’t get Started” solo, by now a piece of Americana, with the ballroom’s walls undulating with the collective passion.  The Nighthawks played an afternoon session, full of exuberance and wit: Giordano, calling a difficult tune for the band, smiled at his players and said, “Good luck, boys,” in the manner of Knute Rockne encouraging Notre Dame, before they leapt in to the forests of notes.  And it wasn’t all simply hot music: where else in America, I wondered, could you hear someone sing “Okay, Baby,” with its deathless, funny lyrics about the romantic couple: “The wedding ring I’ve bought for you / Fifty-two more payments and it’s yours, dear”?  Grosz followed with a set devoted to those musicians who would have turned 100 this year – Coleman Hawkins, James P. Johnson, Jimmy Dorsey, and Fats Waller, where Grosz (who knows these things, having come here from Berlin as a child in 1930) commented, “America is the land of easy come, easy go,” before singing a Waller ballad, “If It Ain’t Love,” as tenderly as if he were stroking the Beloved’s cheek.

Sunday morning began with a solo recital by guitarist Howard Alden, which itself began with a rueful “Blame It On My Youth” – Alden also had elevated all the rhythm sections of the bands he had been in, as well as being a careful, lyrical banjo soloist with the Nighthawks – but the temperature of the room soon rose appreciably.  A nearly violent “It’s All Right With Me” featured three storming choruses of four-bar trades among Harry Allen, Wilder, Barrett, and Dan Block; Duke Heitger closed his set with an extravagant “You’re Driving Me Crazy,” with its seldom-played stomping verse, here played twice before the ensemble strode into the chorus; the band supported by Grosz, constructing chordal filigrees at a very fast tempo; Giordano, slapping his aluminum bass for dear life, and Ed Metz, Jr., recalling Zutty Singleton, Armstrong’s drumming pal of the late Twenties, if Singleton had gone to the gym regularly.

Then it was time to go, to close with another Boughton extravaganza – a ballad medley lifted up greatly by Scott Robinson’s “Moonlight Becomes You” on bass flute, Jon-Erik Kellso’s “Willow Weep For Me,” growled as if he had become one of Ellington’s brass in 1929, and the clarinetist Bob Reitmeier’s soft “Deep Purple.”  These heartfelt moments gave way to the true closing “After You’ve Gone,” which featured impromptu piano duets among the many pianists, and an uproarious enthusiasm – greeted with the cheers it deserved.

I wasn’t surprised that on Sunday afternoon, driving back through Erie, Pennsylvania (where Lloyd’s Fireworks advertised “pepper spray, stun guns, sale on Lord of the Rings tape”) that my thoughts drifted back to Heitger’s Thursday-evening prediction.  Yes, there had been too much white and blue hair to make me feel confident about the future of the audience, Flanigan notwithstanding; there had even seemed to be too much music, pushing me to the brink of satiety, and it had all been evanescent – but Heitger had been right: it had been fun.

And just so my readers don’t forget the present and future while celebrating past glories: this year’s Jazz at Chautauqua will include (in egalitarian alphabetical order) Alden, Allen, Barrett, Block, Jon Burr, Dapogny, the Fauz Frenchmen, Grosz, Havens, Heitger, Glenn Holmes, Ingham, Kellso, Kinsella, Kilgore, Dan Levinson, Bill Ransom, Reinhart, Robinson, Sandke, Andy Schumm, Sheridan, Pete Siers, Rossano Sportiello, Andy Stein, Lynn Stein, Frank Tate, Von Ohlen, and Chuck Wilson.  That should provide sufficient music for a weekend!

JOSH DUFFEE / CHAUNCEY MOREHOUSE: Institute of Jazz Studies at Rutgers, March 23, 2011

JAZZ LIVES readers know Josh Duffee — or have been depriving themselves of a great pleasure if they don’t. 

Here he is, bespectacled, serious, dapper, and swinging hard — off to the right behind a minimalist drum kit.  (Who needs more?)  I caught this at the 2010 Whitley Bay International Jazz Festival:

Now you can see this young fellow is a wonderful drummer: he’s in there, as they used to say.  His friends are Andy Schumm, cornet; Paul Munnery, trombone; Norman Field (becoming Tesch, wonderfully), clarinet; Jeff Barnhart, piano; Jacob Ullberger, banjo; Frans Sjostrom, bass sax. 

But Josh also shines when he’s not moving around or making one object come into contact with another, rhythmically.  He is a great natural scholar of the music — without academic pretensions or hauteur — and one of his subjects is the masterful and under-celebrated Chauncey Morehouse, a thoughtful force of nature. 

I saw Mr. Morehouse at either the 1974 or 1975 New York Jazz Repertory concert tributes to Bix . . . he wailed!  I also tape-recorded the concert and know where the tapes are . . . but no longer have a reel-to-reel recorder.  Any suggestions?

Here’s Chauncey, featured at his tuned N’Goma drums as a member of the 1938 Saturday Night Swing Club radio program.  On film!  With Leith Stevens directing the house band, Paul Douglas as master of ceremonies, and some people named Bobby Hackett, Pee Wee Russell, Georg Brunis, and Eddie Condon joining in for the closing “jam session” on THE DIPSY DOODLE:

So I will be at Rugers this coming Wednesday, March 23.  You come, too!  It’s free and worth the trip.  And (just as an aside) I won’t be videotaping Josh’s two-hour presentation to put on JAZZ LIVES — for a variety of reasons, none of them ominous.  So you should take the bus, the train, or even drive to Rutgers.  My experiences with Josh — as a percussionist, thinker, and generous person — are all the evidence I need.

JOSH DUFFEE PRESENTS CHAUNCEY MOREHOUSE

Jazz Research Roundtable

The Institute of Jazz Studies
Department of Visual and Performing Arts
Faculty of Arts and Sciences
Rutgers – Newark

Since 1995, IJS has hosted its monthly Jazz Research Roundtable meetings, which have become a prestigious forum for scholars, musicians, and students engaged in all facets of jazz research.  Noted authors, such as Gary Giddins, Stanley Crouch, and Richard Sudhalter have previewed their works, as have several filmmakers.  Musicians who have shared their life stories include trumpeter Joe Wilder, pianist Richard Wyands, guitarists Remo Palmier and Lawrence Lucie, trombonist Grachan Moncur III, and drummer/jazz historian Kenny Washington.

All programs are free and open to the public, and take place Wednesday evenings from 7:00 to 9:00 pm in the Dana Room, 4th floor, John Cotton Dana Library, Rutgers University, 185 University Ave., Newark, NJ.  Refreshments will be served.

For further information, please call (973) 353-5595.
Financial support for the Roundtable is provided by the Rosalind & Alfred Berger Foundation.

Institute of Jazz Studies
Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey
John Cotton Dana Library
185 University Ave.
Newark NJ USA 07102
Tel: (973) 353-5595
Fax: (973) 353-5944

CLICK HERE TO GIVE BACK TO THE MUSICIANS IN THE VIDEOS (ALL MONEY COLLECTED GOES TO THEM):

 https://www.paypal.com/cgi-bin/webscr?cmd=_s-xclick&hosted_button_id=VBURVAWDMWQAS

A VISIT TO THE IDEAL WORLD (Jan. 27, 2011)

Who knew that one version of Paradise could be found in Williamsburg, Brooklyn? 

It’s true!

It’s the Radegast Hall and Biergarten, at 113 Third Street — at the corner of Berry Street — take the L to Bedford Street. 

In December 2010, I’d gone into new territory to hear the Grand Street Stompers, a delightfully compact jazz ensemble led by Gordon Au, and I had a fine time.  The people I’d met had been lovely, the music surprising and reassuring in equal measure, the beer — a lemon-colored, fizzy Gaffel Kolsch — delicious.   

http://www.radegasthall.com/

But it was even better last Thursday, Jan. 27, 2011. 

I had learned that the GSS would be playing that night.  But the days before had been particularly snowy.  It wasn’t the Blizzard of 2011 by any means, but it was messy and slushy.  Stubbornly, I had decided that I had to be there.  

Snow boots, knapsack with video equipment, gloves, cash, a street map . . . I patted my pockets to assure myself I had everything a bold jazz explorer needs! 

I arrived at Radegast more than an hour early, and went into the long rectangular room next to the bar to eat something.  After being gently directed by a pleasant waitress to the grill in the back of the room, I stood in rapt contemplation (like Joe Rushton) of the sausages and burgers-in-training sizzling on the grill. 

“Sizzling” is a dreadful cliche of menu-speak, I know, but in this case it was true.  I had a gracious mind-expanding discussion with the grill-Sage about choices, and I ended up with an awe-inspiring meal for less than ten dollars: smoked kielbasa, a mound of warm sauerkraut, some grill-toasted peasant bread, large self-serve helpings of Radegast’s own mustard. 

I was already in culinary Paradise with this wonderful unassuming hearty unfussy food.  I ate it slowly and savored every last molecule.  The temptation to return to the grill and say, “Do that again . . . with this sausage,” was strong but but I resisted.

Now, I hear some of you saying, “Michael, this narrative of your dinner has some appeal, but when did JAZZ LIVES become DINNERTIME?”

Have patience.

I found out later from the friendly manager, Chris, that the owner tailors the music on the sound system to the band playing there that night.  So while I contemplated my meal with true reverence, I was even more uplifted by the music. 

For me, to walk into a place and hear music I love on the sound system is a great, rare gift.  For it to be Sidney Bechet and Jonah Jones (Blue Note, circa 1954) was wonderful.  For it to be Bobby Hackett and the Andrews Sisters performing BEI MIR BIS DU SCHOEN (1937), even  better.  For the iPod shuffle to come up with I HOPE GABRIEL LIKES MY MUSIC by Mr. Strong . . . !  Bliss.

Then, I went to the bar and ordered my Gaffel Kolsch (I am a one-drink person while videorecording) and it was just as good as I’d remembered. 

Then the musicians — people I admire and like — began to come in.  I had lovely conversations with Gordon (trumpet, arranger, composer); Tamar Korn (vocals and astral travel); Dennis Lichtman (clarinet and wit); Emily Asher (trombonist in charge of blossoming); Nick Russo (banjo, guitar, and true hipness); Rob Adkins (bass, and serious joy).  And — for the cinematically-minded — when I had first been at Radegast the room had been so atmospherically dark that I could just about discern the faces of the musicians.  Better light this time, much appreciated!

The Grand Street Stompers settled themselves on their wooden chairs and Gordon kicked off the first number (he doesn’t announce them although he is happy to talk about what the band played after the set, if you ask).  I didn’t recognize it from the verse.  Then the band swung into the chorus and I nearly fell off the barstool in delight: I’ve only heard two bands perform SHE’S A GREAT GRET GIRL: Vince Giordano and the Nighthawks in 2010 and the original, Roger Wolfe Kahn in 1927 — a record featuring Joe Venuti and Eddie Lang and a very hungover but startlingly original young man from Vernon, Texas, Jack Teagarden.  It’s a great great song for easy jamming:

I have watched that clip a dozen times and it improves under scrutiny: the GSS rocks, and you might enjoy watching the body language of a group of very happy improvisers — they rock and grin, too!

What could follow that?  (I thought, “Well, if nothing else happens tonight — which I seriously doubt — I’ve had my Jazz Moment for the month!”)  But equally fine music was in store . . . a dirty, gutty, downhome version of AUNT HAGAR’S BLUES that made me think of Louis in the Columbia studios, proceeding seriously through W.C. Handy’s sermon on the healing powers of hot music, that low-down stuff, rendered as sensitive dance music to hold your Beloved close.  I wouldn’t change a sixteenth-note, from the thoughtful deep conversation among the horns to Rob’s bowing to the lovely head-arrangement passages.  Their mixture of care and ardor is something to admire:

Many musicians who are brilliant irreplaceable improvisers aren’t equally compelling composers — which is understandable, for they create their compositions every night on the second chorus of BLUE LOU.  Gordon Au is an exception: his compositions sound like songs rather than improvisations on someone else’s ideas.  And, as Dennis Lichtman pointed out, Gordon’s songs sound like his improvised playing — the same nice balance between rise-and-fall lines full of repeated notes and a cheerful reverence for the melody itself.  Here’s his ESCALLONIA RAG, which reminds me once again of an imagined piece for the Sixties Louis Armstrong All-Stars:

Gordon’s university training is in science, so I shouldn’t have been surprised that he named this original after a lovely Hawaiian flower: http://www.hear.org/starr/images/species/?q=escallonia+rubra+var+macrantha&o=plants

Then it was time for Tamar to sing, always an Event in my book.  It takes courage to open your performance (in a room full of chat) with a ballad, and then to begin that ballad with two rubato choruses.  But this is what the intrepid, searching Miss Korn did with MEMORIES OF YOU.  Her voice, as always, makes me think of great acting that isn’t acting, “country music” that isn’t the Grand Old Opry . . . you get the idea.  And the musicians follow, adding their own commentaries on this song, both sad and hopeful, coming together for hymnlike cadences while Rob is, cello-like, bowing away to great effect in the darkness, before Tamar returns to sing, so deeply, and with such feeling for the lyrics: 

MEMORIES OF YOU was (and is) so intense that I didn’t know what could follow it — certainly not something in the same wistful mood.  I don’t know who suggested SWEET SUE, but it was a fine choice — the delights of love realized rather than a song of yearning and remembering.  Not too fast, and pretty.  And the band!  Emily Asher is blossoming as a player: while we are sleeping, she’s spreading her wings!  And in case you wonder where the drum-cymbal-tambourine propulsion comes from, it is just another of the many faces of Tamar.  I love the dialogue between the two “trumpets,” as well.  This band doesn’t only share our dreams; it creates them:

Since I’ve heard so many formulaic performances of WON’T YOU COME HOME, BILL BAILEY? I tend to approach the song cautiously.  Of course Louis and Danny Kaye did it hilariously in the film THE FIVE PENNIES and, more recently, the most eminent Joe Wilder played it at a concert — having announced it, deadpan, as THE RETURN OF WILLIAM BAILEY.  This version is a delight — from the opening and closing vocal interludes (Tamar’s soprano scatting is what the angels would sound like, if 1. I believed in them, and 2. they swung) and the rocking momentum.  If Bill stayed away after hearing this imploring in jazz-time, there would be no hope for him:

As before, I said to myself, “What could follow that?” and Gordon, who is a wise leader, changed the mood with his own PAVONIS (named for the species or genus of the peacock) which reminds me of Carmichael and Strayhorn at the same time — moody, shifting, surprising, and lovely:

And the set ended with a little rough-and-ready jam session on the wonderful LOVE NEST (which will remind some of you of Burns and Allen, some of a 1944 Commodore record session that brought together Max Kaminsky, Rod Cless, and James P. Johnson).  Here the Grand Street Stompers were joined by the very engaging Lucy Weinman (of the Big Tent Jazz Band) who knows what it is to swing out.  Cool stockings and great ensemble lines, no?

A wonderful experience, as you can tell.  And it happens at least once a month!  (There’s a natural segue to be made from this post to the PayPal button below, but I’ll let my readers get there on their own.)

REMEMBER!  ALL MONEY GOES TO THE MUSICIANS!  SO PLEASE CLICK ON THE LINK BELOW AND BE GENEROUS!

https://www.paypal.com/cgi-bin/webscr?cmd=_s-xclick&hosted_button_id=VBURVAWDMWQAS

ANDY STEIN and JOE WILDER at JAZZ AT CHAUTAUQUA 2010

The pairing of violin and trumpet as a jazz front line might initially seem odd until one thinks of Stuff Smith and Jonah Jones, Stephane Grappelli and Bill Coleman, even Joe Venuti and Jimmy Dorsey.  Then, of course, there’s Ray Nance, who was his own pairing.

Someone at the 2010 Jazz at Chautauqua had the good idea of putting violinist (and vocalist and saxophonist) Andy Stein together with trumpeter-fluegelhornist Joe Wilder for a set, and backing them with Arnie Kinsella, drums; Keith Ingham, piano; Vince Giordano, string bass and more — all New York friends and long-time associates.  Andy and Joe had worked together for Garrison Keillor on the PRAIRIE HOME COMPANION show, and (as the Irish say) this band “worked a treat.”

Here’s what happened!  I first must note — admiringly — the way Andy and Joe play so beautifully as front-line partners, each allowing the other space, their lines intertwining beautifully. 

They began with the jazz standard CHEROKEE, played at a tempo more easy than blistering, with the original melody being heard:

I suspect that Don Redman understood that GEE, BABY, AIN’T I GOOD TO YOU? was one of those rhetorical questions: if the object of one’s affection replied, “I don’t think so,” the relationship was in trouble.  But this performance of this mournful song is anything but that:

Joe spent many years in the pit orchestras of Broadway shows, although I don’t know if he was there for Irving Berlin’s CALL ME MADAM.  But the duet YOU’RE JUST IN LOVE is, well, lovely:

Andy’s BLOZIN’ — as he explains — is his own satire on the pretentions of the bebop generation.  You’ll have to listen twice to catch all his funny, snide lyrics:

Finally, the old jazz chestnut BACK HOME AGAIN IN INDIANA — but with the proper melody line, as Andy (he’s quite exact) explains it to us, to conclude a winning set of sweet Mainstream jazz:

And — is it too unsubtle to point this out?  Joe Wilder was eighty-eight years old when he performed this set.  He is one of the marvels of the age, no question!

JOE WILDER’S MAGIC

 Ask any musician, “Tell me about Joe Wilder,” and watch the warm smile that immediately emerges.  He’s a rare being — generous in person and in his music, warm and caring, whether the horn is up to his lips or he’s chatting over lunch, in a cab, or at an airport.  There’s no division between the public man and the private one: both are genuinely loving, open individuals.     

I met him in person perhaps thirty years ago at an outdoor concert in Glen Cove, New York.  Joe travels in the best company, so he was playing in a little band with Dick Hyman, Milt Hinton, Phil Bodner, and perhaps Bobby Rosengarden.  And I’ve gotten to know him better by seeing him at Jazz at Chautauqua for the past six years.  Joe never forgets a friend or a kindness, so although he knows thousands of people, he remembered me kindly.  

I had heard Joe on records for a long time — the golden arching phrases of his Columbia records of the Fifties, the warm balletic phrases of his Savoy session, his more recent work for the Evening Star and Arbors labels. 

But this was the first year I really accomplished what I’d hoped to do — catch Joe in performance with groups of his friends.  And here are two examples of Mr. Wilder’s subtle magic — in company with Keith Ingham, piano; Frank Tate, bass; John Von Ohlen, drums — as he approaches two familiar jazz standards, making them brand-new by his delight in playing.  Keith had his back to me, but he was grinning — and you can see the delight on the faces of Frank and John as well.   

Joe’s style is a wonderful mixture of the singing embrace of a melody — great ringing “lead” playing that would point the way for a big band or a symphonic trumpet section — mixed with a dancing harmonic and rhythmic subtlety worthy of the great modernists that would be impossible to notate.  Joe loves to play with what he’s given, and he is a born experimenter. 

He took great delight in something that I’d written in CODA: that I could hear him in solos getting into what other musicians would think of as traps or dead-ends, and then getting himself out without creasing his clothes.  His solos sound like the conversation of someone bursting with ideas whose straight-ahead expositions are always full of thoughtful, witty parentheses. 

And you can hear his whimsical embellishment at work on these songs, as if he was constantly amusing himself by testing his artistic ingenuity: “Can I get this rapid-fire reference to THE CONTINENTAL in this phrase and get out again without messing up in relation to the rapidly moving chords under me?  Wow, I can and I could!  What’s next?”  He’s always thinking while he’s playing, and his solos aren’t formulaic arrangements of familiar modules laid end to end. 

Here he is, dancing around HAVE YOU MET MISS JONES:

And being the perfect gentleman escorting that SATIN DOLL:

By the way: did I mention that Joe Wilder was born February 22, 1922? 

Don’t let the numbers fool you: he has the youngest and biggest heart I know — and he never closes it off to the music or to us.

FIFTY-SECOND STREET WEST (Cafe Borrone, Oct. 15, 2010)

Because of the wonderful photographs that Charles Peterson and others took, some of my readers will be able to visualize the bandstand at Jimmy Ryan’s sixty-five years ago — crowded with hot musicians jamming on, say, BUGLE CALL RAG, with every luminary in New York City eagerly improvising at the peak of their powers.

Now imagine that scene with additions.  A wondrous singer — let’s say Connee Boswell, Lee Wiley, or Mildred Bailey is joining in for a few numbers. 

And, if your imagination can hold this, Django Reinhardt and some members of his group are also there, off to the side, having a fine time.  Bob Wills is coming through the door, too. 

Did this happen?  If it did — in New York City, circa 1945 — it hasn’t been documented.  But something very much like it happened last Friday, October 15, 2010, in Cafe Borrone, which sits happily in Menlo Park, California.

Cafe Borrone has — through the generosity and prescience of its owner, Roy Borrone — having Clint Baker’s All-Stars as its Friday night jazz band.  For twenty years of Fridays, mind you.  And the 15th was a twentieth-anniversary party.

And “SFRaeAnn,” who is Rae Ann Berry on her driver’s license, was there to record this occasion.  Clint’s regulars were in attendance, but so were some instrumentally-minded friends.  As was the eloquently hot Gypsy-tinged small group Gaucho, and New York’s own wonder, Tamar Korn.  The musicians (collectively) are Clint Baker, playing everything expertly; Robert Young, saxophone; Leon Oakley, cornet; Katie Cavera, banjo, guitar; Tom Wilson, trombone; Jim Klippert, trombone; Dave Ricketts, guitar; Rob Reich, accordion; Mike Groh, guitar; Ari Munkres, bass, J. Hansen, drums, Riley Baker, drums.

A word about GAUCHO — a group I’ve seen in San Francisco (and I’ve also listened happily to their recordings): many “Gypsy swing” groups that loosely resemble this one specialize in superhero-speedy readings of the Reinhart-Grappelly repertoire.  In such cases, I agree with my friend Anthony Barnett when he proposes a moratorium on such endeavors.  In my case, all I want is not to be pummelled with notes.  But GAUCHO is superbly different.  The overall affect is superficially of music you’d hear on the porch or in the living room, but that feeling is undercut by the instant awareness that no amateur musicians ever, ever sounded this good.  Its two guitarists play and swap roles with grace and a stylish casualness.  Rob Reich makes the accordion an instrument I would happily listen to, as he spins out wandering lines (I was traumatized by an accordion as a child.)  And Ari Munkeres brings together Pops Foster and Paul Chambers very adeptly.  The overall feeling brings together Teddy Bunn and Western swing and a whole host of refreshing improvisations on various subtle, profound models.   

Here’s part of a delightful EXACTLY LIKE YOU, where Tamar and Leon converse:

And a full-fledged YOU’RE DRIVING ME CRAZY — where Tamar’s eyes and facial expressions reveal a great comic actress, singing the twisty lyrics at a rapid clip.  (Not only that: she sings the verse twice!)  This performance becomes a series of witty conversations and overlapping monologues, most fetchingly: 

How about SOME OF THESE DAYS, with an incredible outchorus where instruments and Tamar (the Mills Sister) blend so exuberantly:

Here’s a  delicate, unaffected I’M CONFESSIN’ — a performance where Ari’s arco bass, Leon’s Ziggy Elman – Harry James emoting, Robert’s sweet alto, and more theoretically disparate elements come together to create something terribly moving:

The simplistic philosophy of WHEN YOU’RE SMILING remains true — complain too much and even the dog walks out of the room — but what catches my eye in the first minute of this performance is that an audience member has asked Tamar to dance (unless I am missing the essential subtext).  At what other site do band members dance with the audience?  I ask you!  And don’t miss the vocal duet between Tamar and Jim Klippert, a man who is having just too much fun to keep it to himself:

Tamar sat out PLEASE DON’T TALK ABOUT ME WHEN I’M GONE (perhaps the jitterbugging had worn her out for the moment?) and Clint took the vocal, with solos from everyone: 

And the evening ended with a romp nothing short of ecstatic on BILL BAILEY (or, as Joe Wilder calls it, THE RETURN OF WILLIAM BAILEY), which should have you grinning for days:

I’m thrilled that this music was created and that the apparently tireless Rae Ann Berry saved it for us and for posterity.  Bless Roy Borrone, all the musicians, and our own devoted videographer, too.

P.S.  And I have it from good authority that GAUCHO’s new CD has Miss Korn and Mister Oakley in attendance — with some songs that Tamar has written lyrics for.  I check the mailbox every day . . . and will let you know when it arrives!

DON’T MISS JAZZ AT CHAUTAUQUA 2010!

There are still seats available for the September 2010 Jazz at Chautuaqua.

That means plenty of hot music, rhythm ballads, lesser-known but beautiful songs from Tin  Pan Alley, Broadway, and Hollywood . . . all performed by a celebrated cast of musicians and singers.   The party begins on Thursday, September 16, 2010, at the Hotel Athenaeum on Lake Chautauqua, New York. 

The heroes and heroines on the bill are Bob Barnard, Randy Reinhart, Joe Wilder, Andy Schumm, Randy Sandke, Dan Barrett, Bob Havens, Bobby Gordon, Harry Allen, Chuck Wilson, Scott Robinson, Bob Reitmeier, Dan Block, Marty Grosz, Gene Bertoncini, Ehud Asherie, John Sheridan, Keith Ingham, Rossano Sportiello, Mike Greensill, Vince Giordano, Jon Burr, Frank Tate, Andy Stein, Pete Siers, Arnie Kinsella, John Von Ohlen, The Faux Frenchmen, Rebecca Kilgore, and Wesla Whitfield.

As always, the music will begin with a series of informal jam sessions on Thursday night, and continue from Friday afternoon to Sunday around 2 PM.  In the past five years, some of my most exultant musical experiences have taken place there, and I am looking forward to more of the same — plus tables of rare sheet music and CDs, books and photographs (the latter department presided over by the venerable Duncan Schiedt) — good food, an open bar, friendly conversation and a chance to meet old friends who love Hot jazz.

I picked this rendition of IF DREAMS COME TRUE from last year’s party in case anyone is still wondering whether the jazz is worth the trip.  Jon-Erik Kellso, Scott Robinson, Ehud Asherie, Andy Brown, and Arnie Kinsella show that Jazz at Chautauqua is indeed a place where dreams do come true.

For more information on pricing, weekend lodging, and ticket order procedures, contact the Athenaeum Hotel at 1-800-821-1881 or athenaeum1881@hotmail.com.

DELICATE FORCE: HANK JONES (1918-2010)

Hank Jones, 2005

It’s unrealistic, but I thought that Hank Jones would be around forever: so I was unreasonably shocked to hear of his death at age 91.  The obituaries speak of the musicians he played with so gloriously — from brothers Elvin and Thad to Charlie Rouse and Joe Lovano . . . to Ella Fitzgerald, Benny Goodman, Artie Shaw, Hot Lips Page, Charlie Parker, Coleman Hawkins, Lester Young, Joe Wilder, and Ruby Braff.  He had fine taste: the “New York Rhythm Section” that flourished in the Fifties included Hank, Milt Hinton, Barry Galbraith, and Osie Johnson. 

Modestly, he didn’t want the spotlight for himself (although he recorded prolifically as a leader for forty years and more); nor did he say that his sound on the piano, his touch, was exceptional.  But anyone hearing even four bars of his playing could identify Hank — he had a singular way of hitting notes on the piano, of phrasing a line of notes, of voicing a chord . . . so that it could be no one else.  I don’t know enough about piano technique to say whether it was a matter of touch, of pedaling — but he could make the simplest (even the most cliched) phrase sound pearly.  Next to him, many other pianists (with monumental reputations) sound over-elaborate or uncouth.  (The player closest to Hank in this was Ellis Larkins.)  Hank’s phrases seem to float above the piano, transcending the mechanics of hands pressing down wood, the wood hitting strings, and so on.  And he had a particularly steady rhythmic sense: his beat was also unmistakable, apparently decorous.  But the elegant surface veneer of his playing, its sheen and gloss, could not mask his swinging force beneath.  Like Bobby Hackett, he was never loud.  He didn’t have to be.   

And he’s gone.  But we had sixty-five years to hear him: what a generous life!

“The Official Hank Jones Website” can be found here: http://www.officialhankjones.com/.  It’s rather outdated, but it will do to remind us of the glorious playing of Hank Jones.

THE MYSTERIES OF JACK TEAGARDEN

Although he would have been astonished if you had told him he was in any way mysterious, Jack Teagarden is difficult to unravel.  For one thing, Jack (or Big Tea or Mr. T.) was regarded as perhaps the finest trombonist of his time by musicians in and out of jazz: how about counting as your fans and colleagues Coleman Hawkins, Bing Crosby, Johnny Mercer, and Louis Armstrong? 

If you go by the rules or the expectations that lead people to create them, Jack should have sounded and played differently.  A White musician of German ancestry born in Texas in 1904 could have been a trombone virtuoso, but one you would have expected to have come to jazz through the side door.  Other White musicians heard their jazz from recordings of the ODJB or the NORK, but Jack seems to have been improvising at an astonishing level before he heard jazz in any “official” fashion. 

Teagarden astonished all the musicians who heard him uptown in 1927.  And he kept astonishing them, including Bob Brookmeyer, until his death in 1964. 

Teagarden came up in a “hot” tradition, where you were supposed to raise the temperature of the dance band recording with your eight-bar bridge (safely hidden in the last minute of those grooves).  And he was a superlative stimulus to musicians as secure in their own identies as Benny Goodman, Pee Wee Russell, and Bix Beiderbecke. 

But Teagarden never seemed to work hard: his playing and singing looked as if anyone could do it.  Other musicians of his generation and beyond who sweated and strained dramatically got more attention and accolades.  Because Jack had a half-dozen “hits,” he became identified early on with that narrow repertoire.  He now often seems like a man imprisoned by BASIN STREET BLUES in front of a fairly well-behaved small group.     

How did he become Jack Teagarden?  What was it like to be Jack Teagarden?   

A variety of scholars, including the late Richard M. Sudhalter, have nibbled away at these mysteries, but they are being taken up again by the young jazz scholar and trombonist Alex W. Rodriguez. 

And Alex will be sharing his insights at Rutgers University on Wednesday, April 21, 2010, during a “Jazz Research Roundtable” sponsored by the Institute of Jazz Studies: WHITE AND BLUE: THE JAZZ LEGACY OF JACK TEAGARDEN.  

The Roundtables have been going on since 1995, with many distinguished musicians and scholars as guests, including Gary Giddins, Stanley Crouch, Richard M. Sudhalter, Joe Wilder, Richard Wyands, Remo Palmier, Lawrence Lucie, Grachan Moncur III, Randy Sandke, Marty Napoleon, Larry Ridley, Nicki Parrott, and Kenny Washington.

All programs are free and open to the public, and take place Wednesday evenings from 7:00 to 9:00 pm in the Dana Room, 4th floor, John Cotton Dana Library, Rutgers University, 185 University Ave., Newark, New Jersey.  Refreshments will be served.  For more information, call (973)353-5595.

To read more about Alex, check out http://www.npr.org/blogs/ablogsupreme/2009/09/jazz_now_alex_rodriguez_lubric.html.  And, better yet, visit his intriguing blog: http://lubricity.wordpress.com/about/

I hear you saying, “LUBRICITY?  What in the name of Tricky Sam Nanton is LUBRICITY?”  Alex can tell us:

“Lubricity is the quality of shiftiness or slipperiness, the ability to resist definition, and the capacity for reducing tension.  To me, it’s a perfect descriptor for jazz as it lives in our world today.  It’s also a tribute to the bebop musicians like Charlie Parker and Thelonious Monk who had a fascination with obscure multisyllabic words like “Epistrophy” and “Ornithology”.  Finally, it’s a tip of the hat to my instrument, the trombone, which requires a lubricious slide in order to be played effectively.  Join me in discussing the definition-resistant musical tradition we call jazz through my perspective as a young trombonist and aspiring jazz historian.”

That fellow Rodriguez has a voice, doesn’t he?  An encouraging sign in anyone, scholar, musician, or not.

BLANK PAGES AND SILENCES

Serious jazz scholarship (as opposed to reviews) began more than seventy years ago: early books by Robert Goffin, Hughes Panassie, Charles Delanay, Wilder Hobson, Charles Edward Smith and Frederic Ramsey come to mind, as well as essays by Ernst Ansermet, Otis Ferguson, and Roger Pryor Dodge. 

In 2010, there is no scarcity of books on jazz, from musicology to polemical ideology.  Biographies and autobiographies — from Armstrong to Zwerin with perhaps one hundred subjects between — the autobiographies of Buck Clayton, Sammy Price, Bob Wilber, biographies of Monk, Mingus, Holiday, Fitzgerald, Parker, Paul Desmond, Ellington.  Books have been published about musicians who are still relatively obscure: Mark Miller on Herbie Nichols, Anthony Barnett on Henry Crowder.  

John Chilton’s studies of Bechet, Hawkins, Eldridge, and Red Allen are models of the form.  Ed Berger and his father did right by Benny Carter; Ed devoted a book to George Duvivier and is working on one about Joe Wilder.  My shelves are full, and I’m not listing criticism and discography. 

Most of what I have noted above (with admiration) is jazz scholarship from the outside — by enthusiastic listeners who have immersed themselves in jazz.  I would be the last to disparage that as an art form, as writers who do it include Martin Williams, Dan Morgenstern, Gene Lees, Chris Albertson, Frank Driggs, Nat Hentoff and two dozen others.  A few musicians — rare souls — who were also fine writers: Dick Wellstood, Richard M. Sudhalter, Rex Stewart, Dick Katz.    

But even given all of this, how often have jazz musicians been asked to tell their stories? 

I know that there is a history of popular journalism — early on in urban Black newspapers — of getting quotations from musicians, but I wonder how many utterances that were attributed were actually spoken by the musicians themselves.  Later on, one had DOWN BEAT and METRONOME, and smaller magazines — Art Hodes’ THE JAZZ RECORD, here and abroad.  Some of this “journalism” perpetuated the stereotype of the musician as an eccentric character who spoke an unintelligible hipster gibberish.     

There are, of course, the pioneering recorded interviews of Jelly Roll Morton done in 1938 — mythic in many ways — that might be the first oral history of a jazz musician.  Whether you take them as an extended piece of performance art or as first-hand narrative / reportage, they remain invaluable.

Others have attempted to let the players speak — the Oral History Project had musicians interviewing their peers and friends, Stanley Dance’s series of books, the Shapiro / Hentoff HEAR ME TALKIN’ TO YA, Gitler’s SWING TO BOP, the diligent work of Bill Spilka, Hank O’Neal’s book THE GHOSTS OF HARLEM, collections of interviews and profiles by Whitney Balliett, Peter Vacher, Max Jones.  Phil Schaap has done extensive, rewarding radio interviews for forty years now.  Lester Young spoke to Chris Albertson and Francois Postif.  And irreplaceable video-documentaries focus on Ben Webster, Lester, Goodman, Phil Woods.  Fifty years ago, Riverside Records recorded Coleman Hawkins and Lil Hardin Armstrong telling their stories.             

But all of this is outweighed by the invisibility, the unheard voices of musicians. 

Who thought to ask Kaiser Marshall or Walter Johnson anything after they had finished a set with the Fletcher Henderson band?  Who interviewed Ivie Anderson?  Allen Reuss?  Jimmy Rowles?  Dave McKenna?  Al Cohn?  Shad Collins?  Barry Galbraith?  Shorty Baker?  Did anyone ask Denzil Best or Nick Fenton about what it was like to play at Minton’s?  Who spoke with Joe Smith or Joe Nanton about their experiences?  George Stafford, Tiny Kahn, Nick Fatool, Dave Tough?  (I know some of these figures were interviewed or analyzed by my hero Whitney Balliett, but the burden of jazz history of this sort shouldn’t have to rest on one writer’s shoulders.)

Granted, many stellar musicians were once anonymous sidemen and women, and the leaders of bands got all the attention.  So there are more interviews of Ellington than of Johnny Hodges, more of Goodman than of Vido Musso, more of Basie than of Jack Washington.  But Swing Era fans knew every member of the reed section in their favorite orchestras.

Thus claims of “obscurity” have to be taken less seriously: there was a time when Cootie Williams was nearly as well known as Jackie Robinson would be — you may substitute names you prefer in this equation of “famous jazz musician” and “famous sports figure.” 

I can imagine a number of reasons for musicians being ignored.

Some musicians would rather play than talk about their playing; some are even taciturn, although articulate.  And sometimes even the most garrulous players are not the best interview subjects.  “What was it like to play with Big Boy Smith?” one asks.  “Oh, it was a ball!  We had a great time!” the musician answers.  The interviewer waits for more.  “Do you remember any specific incidents?”  “Oh, no.  It was a lot of fun.  We couldn’t wait to get on the bandstand.”  And so on.  I’ve had this happen to me with the most sophisticated players here and in Europe.  They wereen’t reluctant to talk, but they weren’t intuitive novelists themselves.

Although cordial to outsiders, many musicians also don’t see the point of discussing serious matters — like music — with them.  Too much explaining.  Life is short; the next set is coming soon.   This does say something about the unseen wall between themselves and fans — people who don’t know what it is to play, to improvise professionally, come from a different planet.  Nice folks, but aliens.  Even sweet-natured Bobby Hackett referred to the audience as “the enemy.”  “Fans” and “academics” are friendly, “critics” and “writers” might be useful, but none of them really know

And oftentimes, musicians are ambushed by people who want to talk wishing to talk at inopportune times.  A musician asked to comment on the music she’s just played after a forty-five minute set may well be drained by the effort.  When they’re not playing, musicians talk of other subjects, including the cost of things, their most recent car repair, health care proposals.  Anything is more interesting than responding to “What inspires you when you take a solo?”  Some may want to be left in peace, to eat their scrambled eggs while they’re somewhat hot.  And who could blame them?       

When some venerable musicains are finallyinterviewed when they have become venerable, they have forgotten the details.  What they did forty years ago wasn’t musical history, but a way of making a living.  And even those who have sharp memories may not want to tell all: candor might mean losing friends or gigs.  And some aren’t interested in reliving their pasts: autobiographies and interviews are career-ending landmarks: what musicians do when they can no longer play.  Doing beats talking and theorizing.      

Others are “saving it for their book” — books that might get poublished posthumously if ever.  And when musicians die, sometimes their spouse discards “all that old clutter,” including letters and memorabilia.  Sometimes a divorce means that possessions get thrown out, or a son or daughter believes that Papa’s papers are worth millions and refuses to let anyone make money from themsee them.    

Having said all that, I want to put it aside. 

There were all the reasons that musicians might not want to be asked. 

But so many, I have to believe, would have been delighted to tell their stories.  Why weren’t they?

Much comes from the earliest perception of jazz as entertainment, hardly serious.  It was played at night in places where people talked loudly, smoked, drank, and danced.  Real art could be found in museums and in concert halls.  Jazz players weren’t ordinary people; they existed outside polite society; some thought them licentious madmen working themselves into ecstasies on the bandstand.  Who would be so bold as to ask one of them a question?  And what savage reply would result? 

The subject of race can’t be pushed aside.  If both White and Black listeners thought that jazz was primarily dance music, why study it?  Why take its players seriously?  And the early preponderance of White jazz scholars and critics — some Europeans and White Americans — can be traced to the idea that jazz was no more than “good-time music,” denying Afro-Americans proper dignity.  Would you want your daughter to marry a jazz musician?  Would you want your African-American child to concentrate his or her academic efforts on Cab Calloway, on Louis Armstrong?  But the initial racial imbalance did shift, and I suspect that Joe Nanton would have been happy to speak with a White college student if the student was both sincere and aware.  As would Rod Cless have been.       

I think of Emerson in “The American Scholar,” delivered in 1846, urging his audience to study their own culture — only in this way could a nation exist.  Many years after Emerson’s death, an American college student couldn’t expect to do advanced study about the authors of his time and place: a college education required German, Chaucer, rather than James T. Farrell and Charlie Chaplin.  To say nothing of Sidney Catlett.  And so it was for jazz.  By the time that academia caught up with it, so many of the progenitors were dead, their stories untold. 

The losses are irreparable.  To urge readers to interview a jazz musician today won’t replace what has been lost. 

What might Frank Teschmacher or Freddie Webster have told us, have someone thought it sufficiently important to ask them?

Those pages remain irrevocably blank.

COPYRIGHT, MICHAEL STEINMAN AND JAZZ LIVES, 2010
Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.  Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Michael Steinman and Jazz Lives with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

CHAUTAUQUA JOYS

The Beloved and I spent the past long weekend (Thursday, September 17 – Sunday, September 20) at the Athenaeum Hotel in Chautauqua, New York, delighting in the twelfth Jazz at Chautauqua. 

This party, burnished to a happy sheen, is the result of Joe Boughton’s sixty-year immersion in the timeless jazz he loves, situated somewhere between King Oliver and Charlie Parker, with reverential nods to Mr. Condon, Mr. Strong, Mr. Waller, Mr. Wilson.  Joe is also the fierce champion of melodies that don’t get played elsewhere, and as the common parlance of jazz occasionally seems to shrink into a few syllables, Joe is trying to keep the beautiful repertoire of the past alive.  That means CHINA BOY, BLUE TURNING GRAY OVER YOU, SKYLARK, I CAN’T BELIEVE THAT YOU’RE IN LOVE WITH ME, I’M SORRY I MADE YOU CRY, and others.  Play SATIN DOLL at a Boughton extravaganza and you might get glared at, which I understand. 

Jazz at Chautauqua has its own delightful conventions (and I don’t mean the clusters of people who gather around the coffee urn, the bar, the tables of compact discs and sheet music).  Thursday night is devoted to what Joe calls “informal music with all musicians in parlor room,” sometimes the most eloquent jazz of the whole weekend — loose jam session sets by bands Joe has assembled on the spot — no lighting, the musicians on the same level as the audience.  Friday afternoon is spent in the parlor around a grand piano, with a variety of solo recitals, and the opening blow-out that night begins as if we had returned to the Third Street Condon’s of 1947, with two front lines alternating and then joining forces for an unusual number (this year it was GOD BLESS AMERICA), a ballad medley, and an old favorite. 

Each day features an exalted version of Vince Giordano and the Nighthawks, because most of the Chautauqua players are also Nighthawks alumni — rather like an all-star baseball team behind their blue banners and music stands.  In between, there’s the occasional set by “the faux Frenchmen,” a QHCF group augmented this year by Andy Stein on violin, sets for the wondrous Rebecca Kilgore.  Musicians ranging in age from 29 to 87 come and go, and there’s a good deal of friendly conversation between players and listeners, with some players holding forth at length while sitting on the porch or leaning against the front desk.  (The Athenaeum, if you’ve never been there, is a delicious throwback: an entirely wooden hotel, over a hundred years old, with perhaps the most friendly, solicitous hotel staff on the planet.) 

In years past, I brought my notebook to Chautauqua and wrote down the details of every set.  This year, I abandoned my notebook for other methods of capturing the evanescent and as a result this reminiscence is more impressionistic than quantitative.  I was also busily chatting with friends David and Maxine Schacker, John Herr, John and Mary-Etta Bitter, Jim Adashek, Sally and Mick Fee, Caren Brodskey, and making new friends of Steve LaVere, Lois Lardieri, James Stewart, John and Helen Trudinger, as well as various Boughtons.  Essayist and art photographer Lorna Sass graciously offered her candid portraits for this post. 

What sticks in my mind is, of course, the music.  On Thursday night, after a witty set by “the faux Frenchmen,” a delicious band of Andy Schumm, Dan Barrett, Bob Reitmeier, Jim Dapogny, Vince Giordano, Marty Grosz, and John Von Ohlen took the stand, and offered seven tunes that paid homage to Red Nichols (a slow SHEIK OF ARABY), Louis (YOU’RE DRIVING ME CRAZY) and the tradition of the “rhythm ballad,” with Marty Grosz’s earnest vocal on BACK IN YOUR OWN BACKYARD.  They were followed by Duke Heitger, Dan Block, Bob Havens, Ehud Asherie, Frank Tate, and Pete Siers, whose set reached a peak with SEPTEMBER SONG — featuring Duke, plunger-muted, and Dan Block, richly emotional.  Joe Wilder and Harry Allen floated over the wonderful rhythm section of Rossano Sportiello and Jon Burr for four leisurely numbers, ending with a growly JUST SQUEEZE ME and a BLUES in Bb.  Then, suitably inspired by what they had heard, Jon-Erik Kellso, Scott Robinson (wearing a red-and-black shirt that had SPACE CADET or was it SPACE CHAMP printed on the front) hit five home runs, playing ecstatic tag with one another with the help of Ehud, Andy Brown, and Arnie Kinsella — a rhythm section that had probably never gotten together ever but produced gliding, propulsive swing.  The closing SOMEBODY STOLE MY GAL was hilarious, hot, and intense. 

After that point, I put my notebook away — so what remains is a happy blur of solos, ensembles, and moments. 

ChauAndyStein09Andy Stein, shown here on violin, was even better on his secret weapon, the baritone sax, anchoring and boosting every group he played in.

Jim Dapogny, properly Professor Dapogny, jazz scholar, once again showed himself the invaluable member of every ensemble, his right hand landing with force and delicacy to produce ringing octaves; his left offering powerful stride and variations. 

 

ChauEhud09Just as impressive was Ehud Asherie, not yet thirty (someone I had recommended to Joe to fill the piano chair) who so impressed us all — whether recalling Donald Lambert or being harmonically and melodically adventurous.  One of the highlights of the first night was a long Asherie-Harry Allen duet set, capped by three numbers where Ehud invited Dan Barrett to join them.  Two horns plus a piano might seem lopsided, but it was a wonderfully balanced trio. 

Andy Schumm, the young Bixian from Wisconsin, continued to delight and amaze — not only with his evocations of the Beiderbecke era (his versions of RHYTHM KING and NO-ONE KNOWS WHAT IT’S ALL ABOUT) but with his delicate fluency: he would fit in anywhere and shine.  When I passed through the bandroom, I was touched to see Andy and Tom Pletcher, Bixians young and old, deep in conversation.  Too bad that they didn’t get to play a set together.

Guitarist Andy Brown reminded me happily of George Van Eps, his chordal traceries gleaming (he is one of those rare guitarists who knows better than to stun us with rapid-fire passages); he and the lovely Petra van Nuis offered two brief sets.  Petra, who appears girlish, has a surprising emotional range: she got absolute rapt attention at 9 in the morning with her opening song, a version of SERENATA.  (Later in the weekend, I prevailed upon the modern troubadour Edward Lovett to sing two songs, accompanying himself on the guitar: he’s somewhere between Seger Ellis, young Crosby, and Dave Frishberg — you’ll hear about him!) 

ChauDuke 09And there were non-musical moments: Duke Heitger, now the delighted father of two beautiful little girls, showing off their pictures and positively glowing with pride.  Marty Grosz, discoursing at length both on and off the stand — at one point discussing how current CD covers all show grinning performers and his reluctance to adopt that pose.  Marty also sang I CAN’T BELIEVE THAT YOU’RE IN LOVE WITH ME at the just-right 1931 ballad tempo, recalling his hero Red McKenzie. 

Jon-Erik Kellso, at his ease on the stand (he is an inestimable bandleader as well as player) and happily taking his ease with wife Jackie.  Rebecca Kilgore, getting so pleased with the rhythm and solos her accompanists were creating that she indulged in a good deal of ladylike trucking on the stand (as well as singing better than ever). 

ChauJoe09

On one of Rebecca’s sets, Joe Wilder was so buoyed by the rhythm section of Rossano Sportiello, Jon Burr, and Pete Siers, that he flew through dazzling solos — leading Dan Block, as a spectator, to say, “Unbelievable!” while shaking his head in amazed delight.  Scott Robinson, playing a luminous AT SUNDOWN on trumpet.  That same Dan Block, eloquent on clarinet, bass clarinet, and various saxophones, his body always reflecting the power of the music flowing through him.  An impassioned I CAN’T GET STARTED by Duke Heitger, who saw the heights of passion and attained them.  Arnie Kinsella, the poet of volcanic ebullience, hitting his cowbell in a solo, as he said later, “as loud as he could,” because he wanted to — in a way that we agreed was a celebration of joyous impulse and a Bronx cheer in the face of death. 

The music still rings in my ears.  And I am thrilled to announce that on Sunday, Joe Boughton was busily signing up musicians for next year’s Jazz at Chautauqua.  I’ll have to wait, but it won’t be easy. 

I’ll have more to say about this ecstatic weekend in posts to come.

DREAMS OF CHAUTAUQUA 2009

I may have overwhelmed readers of this blog with my new enthusiasm for the Whitley Bay International Jazz Festival, less than a month away.  But I hope you understand. 

Chau foliageHowever, when falling in love with something new it would be ungracious in the extreme to forget the familiar — and, in this case, the familiar (but ecstatic) is Joe Boughton’s western New York State extravaganza, Jazz at Chautauqua.  This year the dates are September 17-20. 

I know all of the reasons people decide not to go to jazz parties.  The money.  Their health.  The potential inconvenience.  The economy.  And so on.  I would be remiss if I suggested that any of these reasons should be ignored.  But I am writing this post, of my own accord, to tempt people into Pleasure.

Although at times the modern world seems to be a gaudy hedonistic circus, I still think that Pleasure gets a bad rap.  We’re always urged to hang out with Prudence, that rather severe woman in the corner.  You know — she’s drinking water when everyone else is having Campari; she doesn’t eat anything fried, ever . . . she knows what’s in her 401K plan to the penny.  Prudence will outlive all of us.  But is she having any fun?  Do her investments make her tap her foot and bob her head?

Here endeth the sermon.  I’ll suggest, however, what the Beloved and I are looking forward to at this year’s Chautauqua:

Leaves under our feet in the walkways between the houses.  Stories, on and off the bandstand, from that bow-tied master of badinage Marty Grosz.  Joe Wilder playing SAMBA DE ORFEU.  Jon-Erik Kellso saying naughty things through his plunger mute.  Jim Dapogny rocking the piano in the parlor with a song no one’s ever heard before.  Newcomers Andy Brown (guitar), Petra van Nuis (vocal), Ehud Asherie (piano), and Tom Pletcher (cornet) making everyone lean forward, intently, when they play.  Andy Schumm, Dave Bock, and Tom bringing Bix into the Hotel Athenaeum.  Duke Heitger leading the troops through some romping ensemble.  Dan Block and Harry Allen caressing a ballad.  Rebecca Kilgore being tender or perky, as required.  Dan Barrett being himself.  Vince Giordano, likewise, and leading the best version of the Nighthawks anyone could imagine.   

I can hear it now!

I can hear it now!

That’s only a small sampling, and I mean no disrespect to the musicians I’ve left out of my list. 

So perhaps you might consider slipping out the side door while dour Prudence squats watchfully in the kitchen, making sure that no one puts butter on their bagel.  You can always explain to Prudence when you get back!  Tell her that it was your moral duty to be there.  Moral duty she understands.  And perhaps you can bring her a CD, too.

For details, prices, and availability, you can visit the Allegheny Jazz Society website at www.alleghenyjazz.com, or call the ever affable Apryl Sievert at the Hotel Athenaeum (1-800-821-1881.)  Remember, no one has yet invented a way to make carpe diem work retrospectively.

DAN TOBIAS, QUIETLY LYRICAL

After discovering Louis Armstrong, I began my exploration of jazz by way of Bobby Hackett, so I am innately fond of those trumpet and cornet players who make their way to the heart of a song subtly, even subversively.   This inclination led me to Ruby Braff and Buck Clayton, Shorty Baker and Joe Thomas, Joe Wilder, Jon-Erik Kellso, Bob Barnard, Duke Heitger, Peter Ecklund, Marc Caparone, and Dan Tobias.

Dan Tobias may be the least well-known player on that list, which is a pity.  He hasn’t made compact discs under his own name, and he isn’t a regular on the jazz festival / jazz party circuit.  But the good news is that he is alive, youthful,  and playing beautifully.  New Yorkers and Jerseyites (especially the latter) can see him play, and he has two gigs coming up (details below).  But you don’t have to believe me without any evidence.

Here he is, playing BODY AND SOUL with casual unaffected mastery.  Hear his lovely tone, his delicate phrasing, his architectural sense of how to construct a solo.  Admire his love of the melody and respect for it, too.  And his singing approach to that demanding collection of tubing and metal. Dan can lead a shouting ensemble, and he can zip around corners in the best Clifford Brown way, but he is essential a tone-painter.  (In fairness, this impromptu duet favors the capable pianist Joe Holt, but you can’s miss our Mr. Tobias.)

I first heard Dan play on a CD by the Midiri Brothers band, where his compact lyricism was immediately apparent, and then I had the good luck to catch him one night as the cornetist with Kevin Dorn’s Traditional Jazz Collective.  I haven’t heard him regularly enough for my taste, but he has shown up occasionally at the Ear Inn . . . and impressed everyone, even when the front line included his admiring peers Kellso and Ecklund.  On that score, rumor has it that he will once again be at the Ear this Sunday (that’s May 31) with guitarist Matt Munisteri.  I’ll be there, happily.

And there’s another gig in Dan’s home state of New Jersey, in Medford, to be exact — on June 13, from 7:30 to 10 PM.  Dan writes, “The concert will take place at Memorial Hall,Cathedral of the Woods, 100 Stokes Road, Medford Lakes, New Jersey [609-654-4220].  This is a group from Trenton that rehearses weekly (not weakly).  The band features Trenton organ legend Tom Pass, chop monster guitarist Mike Remoli, the fearless saxophonist Dom DeFrancesco, the ever swinging Joe Falcey, and me on the trumpet. The material that we perform is adventurous and the band takes no prisoners!  The venue is a cool log cabin building with really good acoustics.  I hope that you can make it to the concert!”  Admission is $0, $15 for students and seniors, and refreshments are included.

A good deal!  If you’ve heard Dan play live, you won’t need my urging; if you haven’t, wait no longer.

I BELIEVE IN MIRACLES

That title isn’t just a pretty Thirties song recorded by Fats Waller, Ruby Braff, Bob Wilber, Ralph Sutton, and Marty Grosz.  Although I am incorrigibly secular, my version of a jazz miracle took place a few days ago when I learned that the 2009 Jazz at Chautauqua party was going on, full speed ahead, this year.  It will take place, as it has for some time, at the lovely, old-fashioned Athenaeum Hotel, looking out over Lake Chautauqua.  Joe Boughton, who has a deep affection for improvised lyricism and wondrous songs that haven’t been overplayed, is once again at the helm.  He tells me he’s grown a beard, but I expect that the faithful will still recognize him.  And he has once again triumphed over the obstacles that would have stopped an army in their tracks to create this party.

Loyal readers of this blog — if they search for “Chautauqua” — will find that it was the subject of my very first posting.  I am very sentimental about this party, because I’ve heard some of the best impromptu jazz of my life there.  The party starts with informal music (sometimes the best of the whole weekend, but that’s a secret) on Thursday night, September 17 — and it goes apparently without a four-bar rest up to the early afternoon of Sunday, September 20.

I won’t clutter up this blog with the annoying details of prices, but you can find all of that out for yourself by contacting Apryl Seivert, reservations manager and tracer of lost persons at the Athenaeum — at 1-800-821-1881 or at athenaeum1881@hotmail.com.

I know that September seems a long way off, but it’s not too early to close your eyes and imagine the music that you’ve heard at past Chautauquas . . . or the music you know that the players below will invent.  Here’s the magical cast of characters, most of them returning veterans with a few new stars:

Cornet / trumpet: Duke Heitger, Jon-Erik Kellso, Joe Wilder, Andy Schumm, Tom Pletcher

Trombone: Dan Barrett, Bob Havens

Reeds: Dan Block, Harry Allen, Bob Reitmeier, Bobby Gordon, Chuck Wilson, Scott Robinson

Piano: Keith Ingham, Ehud Asherie, James Dapogny, Rossano Sportiello

Guitar: Marty Grosz, Howard Alden, Andy Brown

Bass: Jon Burr, Frank Tate, Vince Giordano

Tuba / Bass Sax: Vince Giordano

Drums: John Von Ohlen, Pete Siers, Arnie Kinsella

Vocal: Rebecca Kilgore, Petra van Nuis, Marty Grosz

Extra Added Attractions: the faux frenchmen with Andy Stein and Joe Lukasik

I know that it is a really bad idea to rush time ahead — you never get those days back! — but I’m looking forward eagerly to this.  More to come!

RAY BRYANT IS THRIVING

I can’t recall the first time I heard a recording of pianist Ray Bryant — perhaps because he was captured so often and so well during the Fifties and onward.  Was it with Miles or Sonny Rollins?  No, more probably it was as a member (along with brother Tommy) of the Jo Jones Trio.  Or as a sideman on any number of Prestige swing-to-bop sessions.  I even recall finding a used copy of his Columbia record THE MADISON TIME, which featured Buddy Tate and Benny Morton, among others.  Then he made some records for Norman Granz (a solo album, one with Zoot Sims, among others) but he didn’t have as high a profile as other pianists.  That struck me as odd, because Bryant’s approach to the piano was expertly orchestral, without any narrow definitions.  He struck me as a musician, a pianist rather than someone limited to a single approach. 

ray-bryant1Thus it is a great pleasure to report that there is a new solo piano CD by Bryant and that it is even better than I thought it would be.  It’s called IN THE BACK ROOM and appears on the Evening Star label — a label known for its beautifully done CDs featuring Benny Carter, Joe Wilder, Phil Woods, Randy Sandke, among others.  Prodcer Ed Berger has a long association with the Institute of Jazz Studies at Rutgers University– he is one of the finest jazz scholars we have — and all of the twelve performances on this CD were recorded at the university in 2004 and 2008, some during a Fats Waller Centennial celebration.  Five tracks are Waller compositions, and one is IF I COULD BE WITH YOU, by his teacher James P. Johnson.  The other tracks include EASY TO LOVE and ST. LOUIS BLUES — and, most importantly, four Bryant compositions.   

Most pianists have the same difficulty considering Fats Waller’s music that trumpet players asked to pay tribute to Louis do, I assume: the musical personalities are so strong, their effect so definite, that the musician paying homage might be tempted to imitate the model.  This isn’t terrible in itself: if I knew someone who could play POTATO HEAD BLUES or AFRICAN RIPPLES at will, I would have them come to my apartment often.  But the wiser course might be to honor the durable melodies as improvisatory material and go from there.  With Waller, however, the risks are immense: what can a player bring to HONEYSUCKLE ROSE that is reasonably authentic and still new? 

No one need worry.  Bryant is a mature artist, wholly comfortable with his own identity so that he relaxes into his own style — which, one notes immediately, is not built on well-worn figures and pianistic cliches.  Rather, he seems to love the way the piano can be made to sound, full and rich, without straining for effect.  He is happy to play the melody, to ornament its harmony subtly.  His solos sing; his rhythm is relaxed yet consistent.  And he is a master of the small variations possible within medium tempo. 

Although Bryant is known for his deep immersion in the blues and his originals such as “Little Susie,” the most moving music on this CD comes when he plays his own compositions.  One of them, “The Impossible Rag,” is a tour-de-force that pianists might find it hard to reproduce, but Bryant’s virtuosity is more a matter of deep feeling.  It comes out most strongly in “Lullaby and” “Little Girl” (the latter dedicated to his wife Claude).  “Little Girl,” an almost grieving meditation, sounds cantorial in its minor harmonies: in it, we hear someone considering the possibilities of simple melodic motifs — eloquently and sorrowfully.  I didn’t think of jazz when I heard it; rather, of Dvorak.  “Lullaby” also takes an apparently simple idea and explores it, gently and sweetly — with contrasting brief sections balancing against each other.  Both pieces stayed in my memory for a long time, which says a good deal about Bryant’s powers to evoke emotions.  Even if you think you know Bryant’s work, this CD is worth searching out.  And if the Evening Star label is new to you, delights await.  Visit http://www.bennycarter.com/common/eveningstar/