Tag Archives: John Gill

HAVIN’ HERSELF A TIME: MISS IDA TRIUMPHS (Joe’s Pub, May 15, 2015)

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.

MISS IDA TWO

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.

MISS IDA THREE

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 FOUR

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.

MISS IDA FIVE

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! 

MISS IDA PROMISES SWING AND FEELING (Joe’s Pub, May 15, 2015)

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!

DON’T MISS THE BOAT! (September 18-20, 2015)

Good news!  Duke Heitger’s third Steamboat Stomp — a delightful effusion of music in New Orleans, often with the steamboat Natchez as a floating stage, is a certainty for September 2015.

Here’s Duke’s announcement:

It is my pleasure to announce that our 3rd annual Steamboat Stomp will take place in New Orleans from September 18-20, 2015.  For those of you unfamiliar with Steamboat Stomp, it is an intimate festival held in New Orleans, the birthplace of jazz, dedicated to the finest of classic jazz. The Steamboat Natchez, one of the last authentic steamboats still operating in the United States, will serve as the anchor for this three-day festival. Ticket sales are scheduled to begin March 18 at www.steamboatstompneworleans.com. I would, however, encourage you to secure your hotel room now. Please contact me at dukeheit@bellsouth.net for assistance if needed. Along with the announced artists, we continue to secure some of the top jazz musicians in the world.  As most of you know, these types of productions exist as a result of the generosity of jazz aficionados like yourselves. I hope you will consider attending and/or becoming a sponsor and play an active role in supporting this exciting event.  I have enclosed information about sponsorship levels and patron ticket packages for your consideration. Again, please let me know if you have any questions. And please pass along this message to anyone you think might be interested. I truly believe we are creating something special and hope you can join us. Thank you for your consideration.

The announced artists for the Stomp — and it’s six months in advance — include the Yerba Buena Stompers (Duke, Leon Oakley, Tom Bartlett, Orange Kellin, Conal Fowkes, Clint Baker, John Gill, Kevin Dorn, Miss Ida Blue); Topsy Chapman and Solid Harmony, the Dukes of Dixieland, Duke’s own Seamboat Stompers, the Tim Laughlin Trio, Banu Gibson and New Orleans Hot Jazz . . . and more, including calliope concerts by Debbie Fagnano.  All of this on an authentic Mississippi paddle-wheel steamboat.  Whether you want to envision yourself as one of the musicians in Fate Marable’s band or a Mark Twain character, it’s the best place.

And here are three videos from the 2013 Stomp:

Appropriately, STEAMBOAT STOMP by the Yerba Buena Stompers:

Banu Gibson’s declaration in song of what was readily apparent, I’VE GOT A HEART FULL OF RHYTHM:

And Steve Pistorius’ beautiful lament, I’D GIVE A DOLLAR FOR A DIME:

It takes dollars as well as dimes to keep enterprises like the Steamboat Stomp from vanishing.  So I hope you can join us.

May your happiness increase!

A MOVING EXPERIENCE: MISS IDA PLANS A SOUTHERN TRIP (November 27, 2014)

Back in November, at the San Diego Jazz Fest, Miss Ida Blue, a Brooklyn native, sang of her plans for a southern trip.  Did she know something about the recent weather?  Here she is, singing W. C. Handy’s ATLANTA BLUES — an improvisation on MAKE ME A PALLET ON THE FLOOR — on November 27, 2014, aided by the Yerba Buena Stompers: John Gill, banjo; Conal Fowkes, piano; Clint Baker, tuba; Kevin Dorn, drums; Orange Kellin, clarinet; Tom Bartlett, trombone; Leon Oakley, cornet; Duke Heitger, trumpet:

To hear more from Miss Ida, click here, or follow her here.  Maybe she’ll invite you along next time.

May your happiness increase!

 

LIVING ABUNDANTLY (Nov. 27, 2014)

The 2014 San Diego Jazz Fest was the living embodiment of jazz abundance (an overwhelming assortment of choices!) so it’s appropriate that it featured one of my favorite bands — the truly abundant Yerba Buena Stompers, here closing a jubilant set with a song that speaks of overflowing largesse. The Stompers are Leon Oakley, cornet; Duke Heitger, trumpet; Tom Bartlett, trombone; Orange Kellin, clarinet; Conal Fowkes, piano; John Gill, banjo; Clint Baker, tuba; Kevin Dorn, drums.  Everyone can be heard — I find the two-trumpet conversation thrilling, but the band rocks. But that’s no surprise:

May your happiness increase!

THREE FOR PAPA JOE: THE YERBA BUENA STOMPERS at the SAN DIEGO JAZZ FEST (November 27, 2014)

I saw a bumper sticker here in California that read JOE OLIVER IS STILL KING. I might take issue with that, since Papa Joe has many heirs, including that young man from back o’town, but I understand the sentiment.

The Yerba Buena Stompers share that feeling but they do better than just nostalgic affection: in their hands, King Oliver’s music comes alive, and I’ve closed my eyes at a YBS gig and thought, “This is what it must have sounded like at the Lincoln Gardens!”  (Listen closely to the two-horn duet on DIPPERMOUTH if you doubt me.)

I know other bands are playing these tunes — somewhere, even as my fingers race across the keyboard — but no band sounds like the Stompers.

The Stompers are Conal Fowkes, piano; John Gill, banjo, leader, vocal; Clint Baker, tuba; Kevin Dorn, drums; Leon Oakley, cornet; Duke Heitger, trumpet; Orange Kellin, clarinet; Tom Bartlett, trombone.  And this is how they looked and sounded on November 27, 2014, at the San Diego Jazz Fest, playing three Oliver-associated songs.  Beautifully.

Ask not for whom the bell tolls.  It’s the CHIMES BLUES:

And the RIVERSIDE BLUES by Thomas A. Dorsey:

Finally, for the young man mentioned above, the DIPPERMOUTH BLUES:

Some band. Long may they Stomp!

May your happiness increase!

“OKAY, CATS. YOU READY?”: THE YERBA BUENA STOMPERS with MISS IDA BLUE at the SAN DIEGO JAZZ FEST (Nov. 27, 2014)

“That band makes honest music,” says a friend of mine about the Yerba Buena Stompers.

Here is a YBS offering from the 2014 San Diego Jazz Fest: John Gill, banjo / vocals; Conal Fowkes, piano; Clint Baker, tuba; Kevin Dorn, drums; Orange Kellin, clarinet; Tom Bartlett, trombone; Duke Heitger, trumpet; Leon Oakley, cornet; Miss Ida Blue, vocal.

That last name on the list might be new to some of you.  “What?  A girl singer with the Stompers?”  Be calm.  Miss Ida is not the usual appendage, an attractive woman who comes up to woo us with PENNIES FROM HEAVEN and SUNNY SIDE OF THE STREET.  No, she’s deep in the blues, offering songs many of us have heard but once on some ancient recording.  Miss Ida has deeply immersed herself in the repertoire, and she does more than present living copies of famous singers: there’s an energetic street-girl insouciance about her delivery that had the crowds at San Diego all excited.  See for yourself — on her Facebook page, her website, and in the videos below:

CREOLE BELLES (listen to John asking the band a question at the start):

MAMA’S GONE, GOODBYE:

SHIM-ME-SHA-WABBLE:

GOIN’ CRAZY WITH THE BLUES (Miss Ida Blue):

LITTLE DROPS OF WATER (Miss Ida Blue):

Hearing the Stompers, I know John’s question was sweetly rhetorical.  These cats were born ready.

May your happiness increase!