Tag Archives: John Gill

CONAL FOWKES PLAYS WILLARD ROBISON (San Diego Jazz Fest, November 27, 2016)

To some of my readers, neither name in my title will be dramatically familiar.  I plan to change that quickly in this blogpost.  First, here’s Conal Fowkes:

SONY DSC

SONY DSC

He is a magnificent pianist (and, yes, a string bassist, singer, composer) at home in many genres.  And in demand!  You might have seen him playing and singing as Cole Porter in Woody Allen’s MIDNIGHT IN PARIS.  If you go to hear Woody and his band, Conal will be there.  If you’re in search of down-home rock, Conal is the man: often with John Gill’s Yerba Buena Stompers, having a fine time on PINEAPPLE RAG or HEEBIE JEEBIES.  Conal also shows up alongside banjoist Eddy Davis and multi-instrumentalist Scott Robinson (they just captivated an audience at The Django last Saturday night) . . . and if you were around New York in the glory days of The Cajun, Conal was there — as is only right — regularly.  Of late, I’ve seen and captured Conal with Barbara Rosene and with trumpet hero Danny Tobias.

Here‘s Conal’s website where you can find out about his other film appearances, his recordings, his gig schedule.  What his site won’t tell you, I will: he is one of the kindest and most reliable people on the planet, just the fellow you would want around when you need help.  (One, at a festival, he quietly told me that my clothing was unzipped where it should not have been — without embarrassing me.  THAT is a true nobleman.)

Conal is a modest fellow (although his talent is in no way “modest”) who is just as happy to be a splendid sideman.  So he isn’t always issuing solo CDs, which is a pity.  But he did step into the limelight for slightly under an hour at the 2016 San Diego Jazz Fest, as solo pianist and in duet with the irreplaceable Dawn Lambeth.  I’ll share those duets in future posts, but a lengthy Conal solo on a first-rate piano is a major event.

The texts for Conal’s mellow sermon come from the hand of the gifted and unusual American songwriter / pianist / singer Willard Robison . . . whom some of you will know for OLD FOLKS; A COTTAGE FOR SALE; ‘T’AIN’T SO, HONEY, ‘T’AIN’T SO, ‘ROUND MY OLD DESERTED FARM, GUESS I’LL GO BACK  HOME THIS SUMMER, DON’T SMOKE IN BED, TRUTHFUL PARSON BROWN, and many others.  Mildred Bailey loved Robison, as did Ralph Sutton and Jack Teagarden, and in our own time Matt Munisteri has performed his works with deep understanding and feeling.

But here’s Conal.  He is an artist with many sly, subtle personalities — appropriate to the material he is creating — but the personalities come out of the same deep roots: lyrical singing melodies, a sweetly propelling rhythmic sense, a delicate touch, and a willingness to serve the song rather than to stand in front of it, obscuring our view.

It doesn’t get better than that — those dozen minutes of gentle searching music.

May your happiness increase!

FOUR DAYS at the SAN DIEGO JAZZ FEST (November 24-27, 2016)

san-diego-jazz-fest-stock-photo

THINGS I LEARNED (OR RE-LEARNED) AT THE 2016 SAN DIEGO JAZZ FEST:

1. Never set up a travel schedule that gets you home (after a long weekend of life-changing music) at 5:20 AM Monday.  Not “sleeping” on a plane is worth a higher fare.

2. Music is best experienced in the company of friends — those on the bandstand, those in the audience.  The former, a partial list: Marc Caparone, Dawn Lambeth, Ray Skjelbred, Conal Fowkes, Kris Tokarski, Clint Baker, John Gill, Duke Heitger, Jeff Hamilton, Kevin Dorn, Orange Kellin, Leon Oakley, Dan Barrett, Tom Bartlett, Stephanie Trick, Paolo Alderighi, Katie Cavera, Josh Duffee, Andy Schumm, John Otto, Dave Stuckey, Dan Barrett, Larry Scala, David Boeddinghaus, Nobu Ozaki, Virginia Tichenor, Marty Eggers, Mike Davis.

Off the stand: John Ochs, Pamela Ochs, Donna Feoranzo, Allene Harding, Rae Ann Berry, Barbara L. Sully, Judith Navoy, Mary (“The Ambassador of Fun”) and her twin, Chris and Chris, Paul Daspit, Jim and Mary McNaughton, Gretchen Haugen, Patti Durham, Angelica, Carol Andersen, Bess Wade, Cat and Scotty Doggett, Ed Adams.

Much-missed and I await their return: Hal Smith, Janie McCue Lynch, Donna Courtney, Mary Cross.

I know those lists are incomplete, and I apologize to any reader I’ve accidentally omitted.

3. This festival is delightfully overwhelming.  At any given time, music was happening in seven rooms simultaneously.  There was a Wednesday night session, a Thursday night session, full days on Friday and Saturday (with approximately seventy offerings of music, most an hour long) and a full afternoon on Monday.  By six PM on Monday, I was full and sloshing.

4. I am a man of narrow, precisely defined “tastes.”  I didn’t grow up sitting in Turk Murphy’s lap — now there’s a picture! — I began my listening education with Forties and Fifties Louis, so I need lyricism and melody the way plants need sun and air.

Many of the bands so dear to my California friends strike me as perhaps over-exuberant.  And when a fellow listener, politely curious, asked me “When did you get into trad?” I had to consider that question for a moment before saying, “I didn’t start listening to ‘trad’ . . . ”  As I get older, I find my compass needle points much more to subtle, quiet, sweet, witty, delicate — rather than the Dixie-Apocalypse.  Each to his or her own, though.

5. Videos: I videoed approximately eighteen sets, and came home with perhaps ten times that number of individual videos.  They won’t all surface; the musicians have to approve.  And I probably didn’t video your favorite band, The New Orleans Pop Tarts.  Rather than mumble about the unfairness of it all, come to next year’s Fest and live in reality rather than virtually!  Or buy an RV and a good camera so that you can become an official NOPT groupie-roadie-archivist.

6.  For the first time in my life I helped sponsor a group.  It was extremely rewarding to think that I had helped some music to be heard in public that otherwise would not have.  I’ve offered to do it again for 2017.  And, not incidentally, sponsors get to sit in the very front row, a great boon for people like me who want to capture the music to share with you.  Videographers like myself want to be made welcome.

7.  Moral tradeoffs are always possible and sometimes happily inevitable.  At the San Diego Jazz Fest, one can share a large platter of tempura-batter-fried pickle slices and fresh jalapenos . . . because one is doing so much walking that the second activity outweighs the first.  Or one tells oneself this.

8.  On a darker note, odd public behavior is more pungently evident. People who call themselves jazz fans talk through a whole set about the new puppy (and I like puppies).  Years ago I would have blamed this on television and the way viewers have been able to forget the difference between private and public behavior.  Now I simply call it self-absorption, and look for a window that I can open.

Others stand up in front of a band to take iPhone photos of the musicians, pushing their phones into the faces of people who are playing and singing. Photographers have treasured costly cameras that beep, whir, and snap — we ignore these aberrations at many events (I think some photographers are secretly excited by such things) but at musical performances these noises are distracting.

I won’t say anything about those folks who fire off flash explosions in well-lit rooms.

I cannot be the only person who thinks of creatively improvised music as holy, a phenomenon not to be soiled by oblivious behavior.  As a friend of mine says, “You’re not the only person on the planet.”

9. The previous paragraph cannot overshadow the generosity of the people who put on the Fest and the extreme generosity of those who create the music.  Bless them.  And the nice young sound people who worked hard to make music sound as it should!

It’s appropriate that the Fest takes place at Thanksgiving: I feel so much gratitude as I write these words, upload videos, and look at my notes of the performances I attended.

More — including videos! — to come.  Start planning to come to the 2017 Fest, to bring your friends, to sponsor a band.  Any or all of these activities are so much more life-enhancing than Black Friday.

May your happiness increase!

MUSIC IN ABUNDANCE, FOR WHICH I AM THANKFUL: THE SAN DIEGO JAZZ FEST (November 23-27, 2016)

One way to celebrate Thanksgiving — eating a communal meal:

thanksgiv-day

(In honor of my vegan / vegetarian friends, among them Lisa, Susan, Hedda, Sam, Melissa, and others yet unmet, a photograph free from animals and relatives with knives.)

But there are other ways to celebrate gratitude — although we know such celebrations should be every day.

swing-dance-at-san-diego-2016

I am not light on my feet, and my usual dance partner is a camera tripod, so I might simply be observing this . . . but please note that it is just one part of the very pleasing San Diego Jazz Fest — which has been my Thanksgiving celebration for the last five or six years.

Here’s one of the great pleasures of last year’s Fest — thanks to Hal Smith!  Dawn Lambeth (more about her below) introduces Ray Skjelbred and Marc Caparone for a tribute to Jim Goodwin, Bing Crosby, and Louis Armstrong:

It would be unkind to relegate Dawn to the role of M.C., so here she is — one of the most subtly swinging singers I’ll ever hear:

Ray, Marc, Dawn, Carl Sonny Leyland, the Yerba Buena Stompers, David Boeddinghaus, Paolo Alderighi, Stephanie Trick, Grand Dominion, High Sierra, Kris Tokarski, Lakeshore Syncopators, Chloe Feoranzo, Hal Smith, Virginia Tichenor, Katie Cavera, John Gill, Marty Eggers, and more.  But you don’t have to imagine who might be playing and singing: you can visit here — with colored markers — to begin arranging a weekend of Thanksgiving pleasures, including parasol parades, brass bands, rockabilly, zydeco, and other dishes.

More about the bands here, and the crucial page — how to buy tickets! — here.  The whole website lives here on Facebook.

You’ll be grateful, I promise you.  So much more refreshing than carb-induced slumber, sports on television, and a week of turkey sandwiches, getting less appealing by the day.

May your happiness increase!

 

BOB AND RUTH BYLER + CAMERA = HOURS OF GOOD MUSIC

Bob and Ruth Byler

Bob and Ruth Byler

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

May your happiness increase!

MORE HOT NOTES FROM UNDERGROUND: TERRY WALDO’S GOTHAM CITY BAND at FAT CAT (March 13, 2016)

Fat-CatBilliards, ping pong, and Terry Waldo’s Gotham City Band — on appropriate Sunday afternoons at Fat Cat.  On March 13, 2016, the downstairs revelers were Terry, piano; Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Jim Fryer, trombone; Evan Arntzen, clarinet / soprano; John Gill, banjo; Brian Nalepka, string bass; Daniel Glass, drums, with a guest appearance by Eldar Tsalikov on the final three performances.  I posted the first half of this delightful session here.

Here are some highlights from the latter half of this hot session.

A song I associate with that hilly city: setting the cordial barroom atmosphere firmly in place, SAN FRANCISCO BAY BLUES.  Terry’s vocal is confidential, but that’s part of the theatre — one doesn’t shout one’s heartbreak across the room:

Something for Bix, RHYTHM KING, with an appearance by Doctor Kellso and his patented glass medical appliance (it saves lives):

EVERYBODY LOVES MY BABY (vocal by Terry):

Hot from the oven, I AIN’T  GONNA GIVE NOBODY NONE OF MY JELLY ROLL, sung with serious charm by Evan (and hear the delightful alto sax of sitter-in Eldar Tsalikov).  Magnificent playing on this one — the power of sugar and white flour, no doubt:

BEALE STREET BLUES, with Jim telling the story, vocally and instrumentally:

RUNNIN’ WILD (with choreography, too!):

For more of the same, be sure to check the schedule at Fat Cat — where there’s interesting jazz seven afternoons and evenings a week (and admission is unbelievably inexpensive): that’s 75 Christopher Street, right off Seventh Avenue South, and very close to the subway.

May your happiness increase!

HOT NOTES FROM UNDERGROUND: TERRY WALDO’S GOTHAM CITY BAND at FAT CAT (March 13, 2016)

FAT CAT NYCPerhaps two Sundays of every month, Terry Waldo’s Gotham City Band descends the wide stairway to the expansive basement that is Fat Cat (75 Christopher Street, New York City) for a hot session from about 5:45 to 7:45. Ragtime, blues, W.C. Handy, Morton, Louis, vintage pop tunes, and more are the delightful offerings.  I took my camera down there on Sunday, March 13, and captured a dozen highlights — music created by Terry, piano / vocal; John Gill, banjo / vocal; Brian Nalepka, string bass / vocal; Daniel Glass, drums / no vocal yet; Jim Fryer, trombone / vocal; Evan Arntzen, clarinet / soprano saxophone / vocal; Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet / no vocal yet.

Here are the first six delights.

MANDY, MAKE UP YOUR MIND, which begins as a duet for Jim Fryer and John Gill and then takes on passengers:

AT THE JAZZ BAND BALL:

HESITATING BLUES, at a faster-than-usual tempo, with a soulful vocal by John Gill:

CAKE WALKING BABIES FROM HOME, delivered enthusiastically by Evan Arntzen:

THE SONG IS ENDED, happily not true, sung earnestly by Jim Fryer:

MAHOGANY HALL STOMP, Jon-Erik Kellso’s majestic evocation of Mister Strong:

Another half-dozen to come.  Look for Brian Nalepka’s up-to-the-minute announcements on Facebook for which roving masters will be with Terry on Sundays to come.  And remember — you CAN keep a good band down.  At least for two hours in the Fat Cat basement and rec room.

May your happiness increase!

DANIEL GLASS, MASTERFUL CHAMELEON: “THE CENTURY PROJECT,” “TRAPS,” AND MORE

I know that the magnificent drummer Daniel Glass is capable of fully engaged conversation; he eats and drinks (pistachios and more), and has a full life away from his drum kits.  But he continues to be so generous in his wise offerings that I don’t quite see how he carries on a life in addition to what he gives us.  I’ll have to ask him whether he actually sleeps . . . when I see him next.  Daniel is so often in motion that a still picture hardly does him justice, but it is a start.

Daniel Glass at 2105 Chicago Drum Show

The wisecrack (so beloved by those who have never been in front of a classroom) is “Those who can’t do, teach.”  Daniel Glass is that rare creature who both does and teaches, and he accomplishes both of those ends with a light yet memorable touch.  When I call him a chameleon, I don’t of course mean it in the zoological way, but I mean it as highest praise: someone who easily and without fuss shows us generously his deep and varied talents, all of which come from a center of knowledge, the desire to inform us with gentleness and accuracy, and a splendid basis of experience — living experience, never dusty.

I should explain that I am not a drummer; my drum career was if not nasty and brutish, certainly short — because I am mentally but not physically coordinated. The high points of my percussion career have been as an observer (watching Krupa, Jo Jones, Gus Johnson, Leeman, and their modern forbears), an autograph-seeker (Jo again) and purchaser (one set of 5B parade sticks bought from Jo at Ippolito’s drum shop.

But I am someone who finds information — beautifully and clearly presented — thrilling.  And if Daniel Glass never put a stick to a drumhead, I would salute him as a splendid guide through matters percussive.  But more about that below.

I first met Daniel in the darkness of Fat Cat one Sunday when Terry Waldo’s Gotham City Band was the most admired attraction.  I’d never heard him and was properly suspicious — after all, how good could he be if I didn’t know him? — but within two choruses I realized I was in the presence of a Master, someone who played for the comfort of the band, was in the idiom but not imprisoned by it, a musician with history and innovation balanced neatly within him.

Here’s WOLVERINE BLUES (with Jon-Erik Kellso, Evan Arntzen, Jim Fryer, John Gill, Brian Nalepka in addition to Terry and Daniel):

And here are all the videos from that frolicsome late-December 2015 session.

When I had my Daniel Glass Experience (the first of several) I had no knowledge of this gloriously head-spinning performance from 2009 created by Daniel — with the smallest amount of percussive equipment one can imagine) — the blessed John Reynolds, and the superb Rusty Frank:

Sidney and Jo are grinning, I am sure.

Here is a wonderful interview where Daniel explains where he came from and where he is taking us.  It’s from 2012, so some of the references to “now” are perhaps slightly out of date, but it gives a wonderful sense of who he is as a musician and scholar:

Part One:

Part Two:

I couldn’t keep up with the articles, books, and videos that Daniel has created, but I can say a few words about his two 2-CD sets, THE CENTURY PROJECT and TRAPS.  The first would have pleased Isiah Berlin because Daniel is both hedgehog and fox: his knowledge and love and enthusiasm is both intensely focused and broad.  THE CENTURY PROJECT, on the face of it, is a history of jazz drumming from 1865 to 1965 — and it accomplishes that purpose beautifully — but it is also a quietly subversive, never didactic, history both of American music and of the contributions from other cultures.  We think of the trap set as an American creation, but Daniel opens up that perhaps narrow idea to ask where the Turkish tom-toms came from, the Chinese cymbals, temple blocks, and so on.  Never dull but splendidly researched.

Here’s Daniel explaining and beautifully demonstrating “double drumming,” which was a revelation to me — both the history and the performance:

Here’s the splendidly musical solo with which Daniel concludes THE CENTURY PROJECT — on a cousin of SING SING SING:

Oh, and did I mention there is music?  Daniel and friends (including our own Dan Barrett and Dan Levinson) move from New Orleans parade music to ragtime to early jazz onwards to swing, bebop, and beyond.  Even if you’ve never come closer to drumming than tapping impatiently on the arm of the couch in the doctor’s waiting room, these musical interludes are priceless as jazz and as history.

And here is a very brief introduction to TRAPS, the companion 2-DVD set which beautifully displays and anatomizes a century of the most gorgeous vintage drum sets:

Even I, who know little about vintage drums aside from the sound of Zutty Singleton’s cymbals in 1928 or Sidney Catlett’s hi-hat in 1944, or the way those drum sets looked in still photographs and films, found this riveting up-close history.

Daniel’s website — found here — offers a fascinating blog, podcasts (philosophical and percussive) opportunities for lessons in person and via Skype, the aforementioned books, DVDs, and more.  Clinics and gigs of all kinds — from Terry Waldo to Eydie Gorme and Marilyn Maye, from private parties to Christmas celebrations and swinging big bands.  He has much to share with us, and he offers it generously.

May your happiness increase!