Tag Archives: John Gill


IDA BLUE. Photograph by Philip Schnell

IDA BLUE. Photograph by Philip Schnell

A little poem: She / and they / just blew me away.

I’m speaking of Ida Blue’s recent appearance at Joe’s Pub, which was a phenomenon rather like the Aurora Borealis as redesigned by Robert Johnson, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, and a dozen others.  With Ida at the helm: she is not simply someone who is producing microwave renditions of old records.

And then there was the band: Kevin Dorn, driving it all with subtlety and ferocity mixed, drums; John Gill, National steel resonator guitar, played as only he can; three reed virtuosi: Dan Block, baritone sax, bass clarinet; Evan Arntzen, clarinet, tenor sax; Jay Rattman, bass sax.  Dan Block said of this band, after the fact, “We were like three 747’s!” — no collisions, but much delightful polyphony and energy.  Here’s what I wrote about the evening when it happened.

And here are the first six songs Ida and the band performed that rocking evening, in case you missed the earlier posting.

Now, for those who have been patiently or eagerly waiting (or both), more. Seven more, making lucky thirteen.

Pigmeat Terry’s BLACK SHEEP BLUES:



Victoria Spivey’s IT’S EVIL HEARTED ME:


Sister Wynona Carr’s touching I’M A PILGRIM TRAVELER (for me, one of the evening’s most memorable performances — very tender and candid.  We are all pilgrim travelers):

Robert Johnson’s 32-20 BLUES:

Now, let’s assume you’ve enjoyed this dazzling show — albeit through my video camera — for free.  How could you repay and support these musicians?  One way would be to actually attend some live music in your neighborhood, which doesn’t have to be New York.  You could also keep track of Ida Blue and friends here or here or show your love here.  I know I provide music free for those miles away from it . . . but a group of people sitting in front of their computers and doing nothing else in the way of active support will mean that this art form has a harder time.  End of sermon.

May your happiness increase!


IDA BLUE. Photograph by Philip Schnell

IDA BLUE. Photograph by Philip Schnell

A little poem: She / and they / just blew me away.

I’m speaking of Ida Blue’s recent appearance at Joe’s Pub, which was a phenomenon rather like the Aurora Borealis as redesigned by Robert Johnson, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, and a dozen others.  With Ida at the helm: she is not simply someone who is producing microwave renditions of old records.

And then there was the band: Kevin Dorn, driving it all with subtlety and ferocity mixed, drums; John Gill, National steel resonator guitar, played as only he can; three reed virtuosi: Dan Block, baritone sax, bass clarinet; Evan Arntzen, clarinet, tenor sax; Jay Rattman, bass sax.  Dan Block said of this band, after the fact, “We were like three 747’s!” — no collisions, but much delightful polyphony and energy.  Here’s what I wrote about the evening when it happened.

And here are highlights from the first half of this delightfully seismic event:

LITTLE DROPS OF WATER (originally recorded by
Edith North Johnson):

Memphis Minnie’s I’M NOT A BAD GAL:


SKINNY LEG BLUES (by the elusive Geeshie Wiley):

Something different but entirely apropos, Mitchell’s Christian Singers’ YOU GOT TO MAKE A CHANGE:


What joy — even in sadness — and what beautifully focused, expertly powerful emotional intensity.  A second half of this program will arrive soon.  Until then, feel the oceanic surges.

May your happiness increase!


For about seventy-five minutes last night, Ida Blue showed great passionate artistry once again.  The occasion was her evening of blues — riotous, carnal, spiritual, hushed — performed at Joe’s Pub:

Ida Blue Joe's Pub cover

and here’s Ben Guthrie’s photograph of the Blues Debut as it was actually happening:

Ida Blue Joe's Pub Ben Guthrie

Usually, when I attend a music event that I plan to write about, I make notes. You may have seen me writing: song titles, distinctive things that happened during a particular performance, my own critical shorthand of checks and question marks, of YES, NO, and WOW.

My notes from last night are a delighted mess, because I was having such a wildly good time that the idea of leaning forward attentively to catch when Ida identified the song title and the famous blues performer it was associated with soon became an idea whose time had not come.  Early on in the evening, I gave up the idea of being the careful archivist.  Instead I chose to write down phrases that struck my fancy — from the lyrics and from Ida’s interchanges with her audience.

I can tell you this: the exuberant young woman — The Lady in Red — who took the stage and told us all that she was sweating (out of emotional enthusiasm, for it wasn’t necessarily warm in Joe’s Pub) won us over time after time.  As did her band: a glorious quintet, the likes of which I’d never seen together: Kevin Dorn, drums; John Gill, National guitar; Dan Block, bass clarinet / baritone saxophone; Jay Rattman, bass saxophone; Evan Arntzen, clarinet / tenor saxophone.  That band rocked.  And it wasn’t a matter of volume or bar-walking. Rather, each of the musicians showed the finest subtlety — as soloist, and even more as an essential part of an ensemble, organically shape-shifting as the mood struck them.  So the saxophones hummed behind Ida or a guitar solo, or they took solos, or there were gloriously happy dialogues between two and three, phrases traded — in the best New Orleans / Memphis / New York City traditions, traditions being created on the spot in Joe’s Pub.

For her part, Ida was having a wonderful time and shared her joys with us.  No matter what she was singing — songs associated with Memphis Minnie, Robert Johnson, Sister Wynona Carr, Victoria Spivey — her delight came through even when the lyrics were grim.  (That’s what I think of as the Basie paradox: “Look! I’m having such a good time playing these sad, dark blues!  I can’t believe how good this misery makes me feel!”)

Ida’s voice was entirely at her command, and her improvisatory courage utterly commanded the audience.  She sang lyrics with the force of a cornet; growled and moaned, even offering a cantorial cadenza.  Sometimes she sounded on the edge of tears; sometimes she boldly told us something naughty with a great wink. Some lines, although the words weren’t necessarily funny in themselves, became small comedies; other times, she resorted to her own stutter-phrasing, repeating a word or a syllable five or six times for emphasis (as if Kevin was hitting the snare with pistol-shot force).

And, as always, she was in motion.  Hands held high above her head; dancing as wildly as she could on the small stage; ruffling her hair violently; grinning, laughing, having herself a fine time.  She looked out into the audience, saying with great pleasure, “I KNOW you!  I KNOW you too!” She wished her friend Sunny (of Sunny’s Bar in Brooklyn) a happy eighty-first birthday, and asked us all to raise our glasses.  We could refuse her nothing, and we followed suit.  She kicked off each song at a particularly groovy tempo, and although the repertoire was primarily twelve-bar blues, one song did not feel like its predecessor.

Although the mood was often lovelorn, Ida performed a few blues hymns — I’M A PILGRIM TRAVELER (which has “I’ll make it if He holds my hand” as a particularly moving affirmation).  And when she sang “It keeps me singing in my soul,” I felt as if she’d made 425 Lafayette Street into a pop-up revival meeting.

To give you a flavor of the evening, here are a few phrases from assorted lyrics:

I got those itty-bitty legs!

When you see me comin’, pull down your window blind.

Some cold rainy day.

Lord  have mercy on me.

I took his last nickel.


My man’s done evil, and I’ve done evil too.

Buy me a shotgun.

I’m going to shoot my pistol.

Where did you stay last night?

I could make a case that all human experience could be encapsulated in those words — and others — that Ida delivered with such fervent honesty last night.

After the show, when photographer Ben Guthrie and I were standing outside the Public Theater, I said to Ben — fully aware that it was both the truth and a terrible cliche, “When PBS comes around, if we’re still here, we’ll be able to say, ‘We saw her when . . . ‘”

Some ecstatic evening, it was.

May your happiness increase!


Just hold on a moment.  Before you start packing the car to flee somewhere pastoral for the final weekend of August, may I inform you of two delightful reasons to stay in (or visit) New York City on Saturday, August 29, 2015?

The first concerns our friend Dennis Lichtman — virtuoso on clarinet, fiddle, and mandolin.  I first heard and met Dennis in 2009 when he was a member of the Cangelosi Cards, then heard him in other contexts around the city — always playing marvelously, with a bright sound and memorable creativity, whether sitting in with a hot band or leading his own group, the Brain Cloud.

Photograph by Bobby Bonsey

Photograph by Bobby Bonsey

At 2 PM on Saturday, Dennis will be celebrating his tenth year as a resident of the borough of Queens, New York — in music.  He and a great band will be offering a concert celebrating the history of jazz in Queens . . . the result of his first grant project, “Queens Jazz: A Living Tradition.”  Thanks to the Queens Council on the Arts, he will be presenting “original music inspired by this borough’s jazz heritage.” In addition, there will be classic songs associated with Queens jazz masters of the Twenties to the Forties. (Think of Clarence Williams and Fats Waller, among others.)

The concert — the FREE concert — will take place at the Louis Armstrong House Museum, 34-56 107th Street, Corona, New York, (718) 478-8274.  In case of rain, it will be held at the Queens Public Library, 40-20 Broadway, Queens, New York.

Lichtman Queens Jazz

Dennis has assembled a wonderful band: Gordon Au, trumpet; J. Walter Hawkes, trombone; Dalton Ridenhour, piano; Terry Wilson, vocal; Nathan Peck, string bass; Rob Garcia, drums.  You can keep up with Dennis here and here is the Facebook event page for the concert.

But that might leave you at liberty in mid-afternoon on a beautiful Saturday.  What to do?

I will be heading towards lower Manhattan for evening music of a most soulful kind: Miss Ida Blue and friends (including Dan Block, reeds, and John Gill, guitar) will be hosting an evening of the blues at Joe’s Pub.  The photograph below also shows Andrew Millar, drums, and a figure I assume to be the heroic Brian Nalepka — you hear his sound even when you can’t see him.

Photograph by Steve Singer

Photograph by Steve Singer

Here is the Facebook event page for this concert.  It’s a one-hour gig, starting at 9:30.  And Miss Ida and Joe’s Pub go together spectacularly, as I have written here about her triumphant May 15 gig.  I first heard her delivering the blues like a superb short-order cook — hot and ready — with the Yerba Buena Stompers, and I look forward to more of that spicy cuisine at this year’s Steamboat Stompwhich will begin in New Orleans a little more than a month from this posting.

Miss Ida Blue debut blues

I note with pleasure that Miss Ida has two pairs of dark glasses in this photograph.  Obviously the energy she unleashes is so powerful that wise listeners might want to bring extra protection — aural sunscreen.  But don’t be afraid: her power is a healing joyous experience.  And you might hear songs associated with blues monarchs Memphis Minnie, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Robert Johnson, Sister Wynona Carr, and others, all performed with conviction, invention, and ingenuity by our own Ida.  To purchase tickets ($15), click here.

Now you know it all, and can make plans.  For me, a suburban New Yorker who commutes to Manhattan and Brooklyn for pleasure, I can occupy my spare moments in the next two weeks with the philosophical calculus of transportation: drive to Corona in the morning, enjoy the concert, then choose — take my car into lower Manhattan on a Saturday night and attempt to find street parking, or go home after Corona, take the commuter railroad in . . . matters of time, finance, ease.  Such things should be my (or your) largest problems.  I hope to see friends at both concerts!

May your happiness increase!


In a nice way, Miss Ida Blue is a strong-willed person.  Definite rather than ambivalent.  And it comes through in her singing, with this 1938 song a particularly fine example.

I’M GONNA LOCK MY HEART is firmly associated with Billie Holiday in her early golden period, and Billie made the song multi-layered.  The message of the lyrics is, if taken seriously, rather bleak: my heart has been broken and so I am never falling in love again.  But the song itself is curiously jaunty, in the best pop tradition: I will sing about my woes in a swinging way, because you and I really know that this is only a song.


I am delighted to have this video — thanks to the diligent generosity of Rae Ann Berry, the crowned Queen of West Coast Hot Jazz Video.  She recorded it on June 27, 2015, at the 25th Annual America’s Classic Jazz Festival in Lacey, Washington.

Miss Ida is accompanied by that spectacular hot band, the Yerba Buena Stompers: Kevin Dorn, drums, Clint Baker, tuba; John Gill, banjo; Conal Fowkes, piano; Orange Kellin, clarinet; Tom Bartlett, trombone; Leon Oakley, cornet; Jon-Erik Kellso (subbing for Duke Heitger), trumpet:

And Miss Ida’s deep love for Billie Holiday is nothing new, as you can read https://jazzlives.wordpress.com/2015/05/18/havin-herself-a-time-miss-ida-triumphs-joes-pub-may-15-2015/ — my frankly ecstatic report on her May 15 gig at Joe’s Pub.  Ida’s evocation of Billie is not a matter of learned gestures; Ida sounds like Ida, and we are terribly glad about that.  She has never locked her heart, and that quality of openness comes through in every note.

May your happiness increase!


Photographs by Kate Dulub

Photographs by Kate Dulub

Late last Friday night, I and an illustrious audience (including Terry Waldo, Mike Davis, and Mike Zirpolo) enjoyed a stirring evening of music at Joe’s Pub. Miss Ida Blue and a stunning band of New York jazzmen paid tribute to Billie Holiday in her centennial year.

Miss Ida has impressed me in her appearances with the Yerba Buena Stompers, as a delightfully personal interpreter of Twenties blues, but at Joe’s Pub she absolutely surpassed herself.  It wasn’t because she suddenly succeeded at imitating Billie or “channeling” her — but because the spirit of Thirties Billie animated her, making her even more joyously herself.  The sixteen songs she and the band delivered came from 1933 (YOUR MOTHER’S SON-IN-LAW) to 1944 (I COVER THE WATERFRONT).  Without offering a history lesson, she and the band happily evoked a singer, an era, and a world of heedless yet expert music.


A word about the superb band.  Like Miss Ida, they evoked rather than copied. Pianist Conal Fowkes had created arrangements that kept the contours of the original recordings without tying the musicians to the manuscript paper.  And he swung out in his own delicate yet ardent version of Teddy Wilson’s glowing style. Conal’s rhythm section mates are wonderful swingers as well, and they meshed gloriously: John Gill, guitar; Brian Nalepka, string bass; Kevin Dorn, drums.

Their pleasure was evident even when I couldn’t see their faces.  Their rhythmic rocking was a treat; they never faltered.  And the tempos were in themselves delightful and instructive: always slightly faster or slower than the original inspirations, which gave me a sense of looking at a newly cleaned masterpiece, or someone lovely who always wears black, turning up in mint green.  The most pleasing small shocks.


The horn soloists were uniformly eloquent: reed heroes Jay Rattman and Dan Block occasionally made me recall Buster Bailey and Lester Young, but they sounded so much like themselves that it was deeply authentic music; Block, especially, took on a  heavier tone and more definite attack than the floating Lester of that period, although his obbligatos behind Ida were touching clouds of sound.  Jon-Erik Kellso loves Buck Clayton, so occasionally he offered a ringing statement in the best Basie manner, but we wouldn’t know Jon without his plunger mute, so often there was a good deal of Cootie’s ferocity audible there. As always, his melody statements and ride-outs were lyrical, memorable.  The band sounded well-rehearsed but happily loose.


Miss Ida, most appealingly, knows where she has come from, and has a sweet earnest reverence for her ancestors.  Not just Billie, but Miss Ida Cox [hence her chosen stage name] and it was very pleasing to hear her and the band do their soundcheck for us with a tough blues in honor of B.B. King, the monarch who just made the transition.  And she was so happy to be at Joe’s Pub, honored to sing for Billie and for us.  Early in the evening, she turned and waved happily at the rhythm section as if she just couldn’t believe her good fortune to be on the stand with her heroes.  Ours, too.  She told us how her hair had caught on fire at a gig (Kevin Dorn, the 007 of swingtime, rescued her); I wonder if she knows the story of Billie, the curling iron, and the gardenia — told to us by Sylvia Syms, whose recollection I trust completely.  A sign from the heavens of some destiny.


Listening closely to Miss Ida (as well as the gorgeous band) I began to hear aspects of her style I’d not heard before.  For one thing — and I mean this as praise — she is a substantial stage personality.  One way this is expressed is in her nearly constant yet genuine motion, as if her energy is too strong for her to stand still.  It’s not just hair-tossing, but a continual series of dance moves that also look like yoga poses and warm-up stretches, even a jubilant marching-in-place.  Often she held her arms over her head, her hands open.  I think it was always exuberant emotion, but it was also her own expression of an ancient and honorable theatrical style . . . so that even the people in the most distant balcony of the Apollo Theatre could see you and join in with the person onstage.  And her voice matched her larger-than-life physical presence.  On a Twenties record label, she might have been billed as COMEDIENNE WITH ORCHESTRA, and that odd designation rang true.  The comedy bubbled up here and there in speech: she hails from Brooklyn, so that her sailboat in the moonlight was idling along in Sheepshead Bay.  But it also emerged delightfully in her voice: I heard echoes of Fanny Brice, of comic Eastern European melodies . . . it never sounded as if she was taking Billie or the music lightly, but as if she was having such a good time that she couldn’t help playing.  And the audience loved it.  It was SHOW in the best tradition — not caricature, but something Louis would have admired immensely.

For me, the two highlights of the evening were songs devoid of comedy but rich in feeling: the rarely-heard CARELESSLY and the more familiar I COVER THE WATERFRONT.  (A sweet sad I’LL NEVER BE THE SAME featuring Dan Block and Conal Fowkes was not far behind.)

Without a hint of self-conscious “acting,” Miss Ida let those melancholy narratives of heartbreak unfold eloquently for us.  Although I had known her almost exclusively as a blues singer, I saw her, in a blinding flash, as a deep ballad singer, someone who could break our hearts while singing of her own distress.

I could write more about the beauties of this evening, of I’M GOING TO LOCK MY HEART, of MY FIRST IMPRESSION OF YOU, and the other performances by Miss Ida and her band that impressed me so, but I will instead simply hope that she gets many more opportunities to create this wonderful evening in other places, for other audiences.

Early on in this performance, she turned to us, and grinning, said, “This is so so so exciting!”  It was and it is.

May your happiness increase! 


Billie Holiday has been the victim of a good deal of dangerous adoration.  She was copied by other singers during her lifetime and it has only increased mightily since her death in 1959.  Emerson’s idea that “imitation is suicide” has never taken root with them.

So when a singer launches into FINE AND MELLOW, my usual reaction is to look for a hiding place, because in Billie’s case, what passes for homage is often toxic flattery.  Many of her admirers have often caught only the most superficial aspects of her style: the feline growl, the behind-the-beat phrasing that often sounds as if a battery needs charging.  Choosing the Doomed Heroin Madonna, they forget the joy she embodied.

But I am eagerly anticipating a performance of Billie’s music this coming Friday, May 15, 2015 — because I know the singer and the musicians are both respectful and true to their own essential selves.  The singer is Miss Ida Blue, someone I’ve come to admire and love for her heated work with the Yerba Buena Stompers, and a wonderful band of New Yorkers who know what swing is: Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Jay Rattman, Dan Block, reeds; Conal Fowkes, piano; John Gill, guitar; Brian Nalepka, string bass; Kevin Dorn, drums.  Billie and the Basie-ites, but here and now.  I can hear it now: a congenial group delivering their own thoughtful evocations of “such beautiful music.”

I suspect the theme for this evening will be less DON’T EXPLAIN and more GETTING SOME FUN OUT OF LIFE, and that suits me perfectly.

The show is at Joe’s Pub, and the doors open at 11 PM.  Details here.

And while you’re leisurely getting your way to Friday, let this ring in your ears:

May your happiness increase!