Tag Archives: John Cocuzzi

HAIL AND FAREWELL: SACRAMENTO MUSIC FESTIVAL (a/k/a SACRAMENTO JAZZ JUBILEE) TO CLOSE AFTER 44 YEARS

More bad news for people who like their jazz in profusion over one weekend: the Sacramento Music Festival, once known as the Sacramento Jazz Jubilee, will not continue on next year. Here is the whole story.

An observant person could tell the reasons for this decision, and they are primarily financial: festivals are terribly expensive to run, and the ratio between costs and audience was not always encouraging.  I am sad to read this, because in the past six months a number of festivals have said goodbye.  I won’t mount the soapbox and harangue readers who had said, “Oh, I’ll go next year,” but the moral — carpe diem over a swinging 4/4 — is clear.

My videos — about one hundred and fifty — show that I attended the SJJ in 2011, 12, and 14.  It was an unusual event.  I seem to remember racing from one side of the causeway (if that is what it was called) to the other for sets, and scurrying (that’s not true — I don’t really scurry) from one venue to another.  There was an astonishing amount of good music in the years I attended, and some very lovely performances took place in the oddest venues.

Here are more than a half-dozen splendid performances, so we can grieve for the loss of a festival while at the same time smiling and swinging.

From 2011, TRUCKIN’ by Hal Smith’s International Sextet:

and one of my favorite 1926 songs, HE’S THE LAST WORD:

The Jubilee also made room for pretty ballads like this one, featuring John Cocuzzi, Jennifer Leitham, and Johnny Varro:

A year later, Rebecca Kilgore was HUMMIN’ TO HERSELF:

Marc Caparone doffs his handmade cap to Louis for HE’S A SON OF THE SOUTH:

Another pretty one — MORE THAN YOU KNOW — featuring Allan Vache:

and some Orientalia out of doors — SAN by the Reynolds Brothers and Clint Baker:

A nice medium blues by Dan Barrett and Rossano Sportiello:

THE BOB AND RAY SHOW in 2014 — Schulz and Skjelbred, performing SHOE SHINE BOY:

CAN’T WE BE FRIENDS, featuring Dave Stone and Russ Phillips with Vince Bartels and Johnny Varro:

and an extended performance by Ray Skjelbred and his Cubs from 2014:

One of my favorite stories — a Louise Hay affirmation of sorts — comes from the Sacramento Jazz Jubilee.  It was held over Memorial Day weekend, and there was riotous excitement on the days preceding Monday — but Sacramento on Memorial Day was one of the most deserted urban centers I’ve ever encountered. The nice Vietnamese restaurant I had hopes of returning to was shuttered for the holiday, the streets were quiet with only the intermittent homeless person taking his ease.  Since I have been a New Yorker all my life, the criminal offense termed “jaywalking” does not terrify me.  On one such Monday, the light was red against me but there were no cars in sight.  Full of assurance, I strolled across the street and made eye contact with a young woman standing — a law-abiding citizen — on the opposite curb.  When I reached her and grinned at her legal timidity, she looked disapprovingly at me and said, “Rule-breaker!”  I grinned some more and replied, “Free spirit!”

At its best, the Sacramento Jazz Jubilee inspired such free-spirited behavior, musical and otherwise — among dear friends.  Adieu, adieu!

May your happiness increase!

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FOR, WITH, AND BY BUCKY: NEW JERSEY JAZZ SOCIETY’S 45th ANNIVERSARY CONCERT (October 22, 2017)

The New Jersey Jazz Society is a fount of good things — concerts, publications, supporting the music and the musicians.  And no one has a bad word to say about Bucky Pizzarelli . . . so take a few very brief minutes and watch this:

For those who don’t want to watch even brief videos (there’s music in this one), a flurry of reiterated details:

Don Braden, Director, Tenor Sax/Flute
WBGO’s Rhonda Hamilton, Mistress of Ceremonies
Special guest Dorthaan Kirk, “Newark’s First Lady of Jazz”

Nathan Eklund Trumpet
Jason Jackson Trombone
Ed Laub, Dave Stryker Guitar
Tomoko Ohno Piano
Martin Pizzarelli Bass
Bernard Purdie Drums
Danny Bacher, Antoinette Montague, Alexis Morrast, Marlene VerPlanck Vocals
Leonieke Scheuble Piano
Tim Givens Bass
Nick Scheuble Drums
William Paterson University Students “Little Big Band”

Sunday, October 22, 2017
3:00– 6:00pm
Dorothy Young Center for the Arts on the campus of
Drew University, 36 Madison Avenue, Madison, NJ 07940

Big Band to Bebop and Beyond
A “Jersey Best” celebration of the rich jazz history of New Jersey; honoring the 75-year career of the Garden State’s own legendary guitarist Bucky Pizzarelli.
NJJS Members advance sale $30 each (at the door: $35)
Non-members advance sale $35 each (at the door: $40)
Students balcony seating $15 each (I.D. required)
Proceeds from the event benefit NJJS scholarships, and its educational program Generations of Jazz.  Please consider making a separate, tax-deductible contribution over and above the ticket price.
3 ways to order tickets:
• online: njjs.org
• by phone: 1-800-838-3006; select option 1.
• by mail: send a check payable to NJJS, including
a $3 per order handling fee, together with a stamped,
self-addressed envelope to: NJJS, c/o Kate Casano,
158 Cotton Street, Philadelphia, PA 19127.
Your order must be mailed no later than October 12.
NJJS is a qualified I.R.C. 501(c)(3)
dedicated to the performance, promotion and preservation of jazz.
Ticket price is not tax deductible.
NJJS is a qualified agency of the New Jersey Cultural Trust

It is possible but inconceivable that some people don’t know Bucky’s mastery (where might they have been hiding for the past decades?) so I offer two examples.

TRES PALABRAS, from the 2012 Atlanta Jazz Party:

and, on the other side of things, at the 2014 AJP. SING SING SING, with Allan Vache, John Cocuzzi, Paul Keller, and Ed Metz:

May your happiness increase!

SQUEEZINGS

squeeze-3

I try to avoid soda, the beverage of my childhood, but I once bought a bottle of SQUEEZE because its affectionate logo charmed me.  The bottle vanished in one of several moves, but the melody lingers on.

Fats Waller’s first published song — although it was liberally based on a bawdy tune called THE BOY IN THE BOAT, whose central image was not nautical.  But here are a few versions . . . . the first one from Jazz at Chautauqua in 2011 with Marty Grosz, Jon-Erik Kellso, Scott Robinson, Frank Tate:

with a pause for liquid enlightenment here:

squeeze-2

and a solo version by Ray Skjelbred, recorded at Cline Cellars in California, June 2013:

with one more icon:

squeeze

and from the 2014 Atlanta  Jazz Party, with Dan Block, Duke Heitger, Bria Skonberg, Ed Polcer, John Cocuzzi, Paul Keller, Ed Metz:

Reading this post and listening to the music, I don’t know if you’ll suddenly crave an orange soda, look around for the right person to squeeze and be squeezed by . . . in such things, you’re on your own.  But perhaps at the Cleveland Classic Jazz Party — starting September 15 — someone will give this wonderful song another squeeze.  You never know.

May your happiness increase!

KINGS OF SWING: ALLAN VACHÉ, ROSSANO SPORTIELLO, JOHN COCUZZI, PAUL KELLER, DARRIAN DOUGLAS at the 2015 ATLANTA JAZZ PARTY (April 18, 2015)

ALLAN VACHE

Allan Vaché knows what swing is all about, and when you get him on a bandstand with a good rhythm section, floating jazz improvisations happen.  And that was the case at the 2015 Atlanta Jazz Party — when he and Rossano Sportiello, piano; John Cocuzzi, vibraphone; Paul Keller, string bass; Darrian Douglas, drums, took their happy way through three Charlie Christian / Lionel Hampton riff tunes that have been associated with Benny Goodman for seventy-five years.

I’m amused that one title seems to refer to air travel (more of a novelty in 1939 than now), one to Benny’s clarinet, one to shooting craps.

FLYIN’ HOME:

SOFT WINDS:

SEVEN COME ELEVEN:

Yes, we certainly could lament that this is no longer our popular music, and occasionally I myself dip into that pit of despair, but the music that these five people made and still make is a true cure for any sadness.

And here is the information you’ll need about the 2016 Atlanta Jazz Party, April 22-24.

May your happiness increase!

JUST ANOTHER “DIXIELAND TUNE,” BUT OH HOW GOOD IT SOUNDS: DAN BARRETT, ED POLCER, DAN BLOCK, JOHN COCUZZI, FRANK TATE, ED METZ at the 2014 ATLANTA JAZZ PARTY

Even though now and again I feel the signs of a ROYAL GARDEN BLUES overdose approaching, there’s new life in “old music” that nobody can deny.

JAZZ ME BLUES

The JAZZ ME BLUES is surely an old chestnut, a “Dixieland classic,” a “good old good one” that some listeners and musicians assume comes from the era of faux-jazz: straw hats and striped jackets, jazz half-recreated rather than created.  But no material is in itself alive or dead; it depends on the energy, wit, ingenuity, and feeling that musicians can bring to it.

Thus, this artifact —

JAZZ ME BLUES 78

became something quite vivid and lively in an April 25, 2014 performance at the Atlanta Jazz Party by Dan Barrett, trombone; Ed Polcer, cornet; Dan Block, clarinet; John Cocuzzi, piano; Frank Tate, string bass; Ed Metz, drums (and a cameo appearance by Chair):

Notice the nice relaxed tempo, the little ingenuities, the backing figures, the eloquent but understated playing.  Nothing’s dead unless we choose to make it so is the moral of this particular story.  Also that the Atlanta Jazz Party is alive and well in 2016!  More details as the date approaches.

May your happiness increase!

SLIDING THE BLUES (RUSS PHILLIPS, DAN BARRETT, ROSSANO SPORTIELLO, NICKI PARROTT, JOHN COCUZZI at the ATLANTA JAZZ PARTY

When you’re sliding, the whole world slides with you.  Or we hope so.

These are trombonists I don’t mind encouraging, and a nifty medium-uptempo blues is a cure for many ills.

This one — the line Artie Shaw called SUMMIT RIDGE DRIVE after his home address of the time, recorded by the Gramercy 5 — is brought to swinging life by Russ Phillips (left), Dan Barrett (right), trombone; Rossano Sportiello, piano; Nicki Parrott, string bass; John Cocuzzi, drums.  One of the hundreds of sweet highlights of the 2015 Atlanta Jazz  Party.

And what a rhythm section.  Everyone‘s sliding, and not a cliche in sight.

May your happiness increase!

CONFESS YOUR FEARS AND THEY MAY BE TRANSFORMED: DUKE HEITGER, BEN POLCER, RUSS PHILLIPS, TOM FISCHER, JOHN COCUZZI, PAUL KELLER, DANNY COOTS at the ATLANTA JAZZ PARTY (April 17, 2015)

I’M CONFESSIN’ (a song with an unusual history — written in 1929 and published with another title and lyrics, then recreated a year later with the same melody, new lyrics, and an entirely different set of composers credited) is a lovely durable melody . . . of course, first made immortal by Louis Armstrong, who sang and played it for the next forty years.  I couldn’t find a copy of the first sheet music, but here is a later version:

I'M CONFESSIN'Many bands pick this as a reliable rhythm ballad — and some race through it as if on jazz cruise control, taking it as an interlude between one punishingly fast / loud number and the next.

Happily, this was not the case with Duke Heitger, Ben Polcer, trumpet; Russ Phillips, trombone; Tom Fischer, clarinet; John Cocuzzi, piano; Paul Keller, strig bass; Danny Coots, drums, at this year’s Atlanta Jazz Party (this performance was only the second song of the three-day marathon).  These master musicians created something frankly alchemical, transforming sadness into joy:

Everything about this performance entrances me: the sweet steady tread of the rhythm section (a wonderful team saying with every beat to the horn players, “Create whatever is in your heart and we will be there to support you, to make you feel safe”) to the compact singing utterances of the horns — how to make those instruments speak in such heartfelt ways in sixteen bars!  (Sixteen bars go by so quickly.)  The variety of sounds!

And just as a self-referential digression: inspired by the song, I stopped writing and went twenty feet to the other end of this long room, where a cherished cornet rests on blue velour in its ancient case.  I picked it up and “played” the first sixteen bars of I’M CONFESSIN’ and reminded myself only how incredibly difficult making an instrument sing is.  Mine sang, but I won’t describe how or what it was singing.

From the title alone, one would think that I’M CONFESSIN’ would be an exultant outpouring of love, with the Lover offering feelings openly.  And that is indeed the case.  But the Lover here is both frightened and self-aware, wondering if those feelings will be reciprocated or discarded.  And the Love Object — the source of power in this interlude — is both inscrutable and ambiguous: the eyes embody one “strange” message; the lips offer another.

I think that JAZZ LIVES readers might need to hear the lyrics as well as the melody. And thanks to my dear friend Austin Casey, here is THE version of the century: Louis on the Frank Sinatra Show.

Gorgeous, light-hearted, and heartfelt.  I offer this as evidence to those who think Louis didn’t care about the lyrics: here he offers each word as if it had been written by Keats.  Tonation and phrasing for the ages.  I also offer this performance not as a diminution of the one created on April 17, 2015, but to show that the two stand side-by-side, our heroes in this century so completely lit from within by Louis’ blessed spirit.

A last word about the alchemy of music, of candor.  The musicians in Atlanta did the impossible by transforming unease and anxiety into something beautiful, in the spirit of Louis.  This transformation is not always possible in what passes for real life, but it is worth attempting.  Keeping one’s terrors to oneself is what we have been trained to do.  Adults don’t talk about what scares them: they might terrify the children.  But I wonder if we said out loud to ourselves, “I am deeply afraid that ___________ might happen,” that the fear, put into syllables we can hear ourselves saying, might be more manageable.  Saying to the Love Object, “I’m afraid some day you’ll leave me / Saying ‘Can’t we still be friends?'” is a true act of courage, because the Love Object can always say back, “Indeed, that was just what I was thinking this very moment,” but [hence the MAY in my title] it could provoke reassurance.

JAZZ LIVES offers no advice in relationships, and hence is held harmless from any liability.  But speaking what you feel, embodying what you feel is always courageous, no matter what the result.

Keep CONFESSIN’, I say.

May your happiness increase!