Tag Archives: John Otto

THE CAPTAIN STRIDES BY (Part Two): JOHN ROYEN’S NEW ORLEANS RHYTHM at the SAN DIEGO JAZZ FEST: JOE GOLDBERG, JOHN OTTO, RILEY BAKER, MARTY EGGERS (December 1, 2019)

Photograph by Alex Matthews, 2014, with Marty Eggers and Katie Cavera.

John Royen is a masterful musician, and it was an honor to encounter him at the 2019 San Diego Jazz Fest.  Here‘s the first part of the story, with performances including Hal Smith, Marty Eggers, Katie Cavera, and Dan Levinson, as well as a dramatic medical tale.

But wait! There’s more.

At the very end of the festival, John assembled a delightful small band with Joe Goldberg, clarinet; Riley Baker, drums [you can’t see him, but you can certainly feel his reassuring pulse]; Marty Eggers, string bass — and, on JUST TELEPHONE ME, the delightful reedman John Otto joined in.  Here are the first performances from that set.  Not only does John play up a storm, but he is a wonderful bandleader — directing traffic and entertaining us without jokes.  If you follow JAZZ LIVES, you already admire Marty Eggers, but Riley’s drumming is better than wonderful, and it’s lovely to hear Joe out in the open like this (he’s one of the sparkplugs of Hal Smith’s On the Levee Jazz Band also).  How they all swing!

I always think I am weary of INDIANA, since so many bands play it too fast in a perfunctory manner, but John’s version is a refreshing antidote to formula:

Then, a highlight of the whole weekend — John Otto brought his alto saxophone and John Royen led the band into a song you never hear north of NOLA — (WHENEVER YOU’RE LONELY) JUST TELEPHONE ME, with a particularly charming vocal — charming because it’s completely heartfelt:

Alas, John Otto “had to go to work,” so he couldn’t stay — I would subsidize a CD of this band, by the way.

I have some of the same feelings about AIN’T MISBEHAVIN’ that I do about INDIANA — many bands run through it too quickly (it is a love song, dear friends) and call it when they can’t agree on the next selection . . . but here John, Joe, Marty, and Riley restore its original character.  And don’t miss John’s surprising bridge:

People who don’t know better will assert that SHINE is a “racist” song — they and you should read the real story — SHINE, RECONSIDERED  — and this performance shines with happy energy:

Since it doesn’t do anyone good to unload the whole truckload of joys at once, I will only say here that five more performances from this set are just waiting for a decent interval.  Watch this space.  And bless these inspired players.

May your happiness increase!

THE CAPTAIN STRIDES BY (Part One): JOHN ROYEN’S NEW ORLEANS RHYTHM and SOLO at the SAN DIEGO JAZZ FEST: DAN LEVINSON, KATIE CAVERA, MARTY EGGERS, HAL SMITH (November 29 / 31, 2019)

An authenticated signature.

Festivals and jazz parties make it possible for me to greet old friends again and bask in their music, but a great thrill is being able to meet and hear someone I’ve admired for  years on record — people who come to mind are Bent Persson, Jim Dapogny, Ray Skjelbred, Carl Sonny Leyland, Rebecca Kilgore, Hal Smith (it’s a long list) and now the wonderful pianist John Royen, whom I met for the first time at this year’s San Diego Jazz Fest.

At work / at play, 2014, with Marty Eggers and Katie Cavera.  Photo by Alex Matthews.

For John’s New Orleans Rhythm, the first set, he was joined by Dan Levinson, clarinet and tenor; Marty Eggers, string bass; Katie Cavera, guitar; Hal Smith, drums. I hear someone’s therapy dog, or an audience member was whimpering with delight.

SOME OF THESE DAYS:

WABASH BLUES:

WOLVERINE BLUES:

That was Friday.  We didn’t see John, and Conal Fowkes took his place at a set; we heard that John had decided (not really) on an internal home improvement, and had had a defibrillator installed at a nearby hospital.  This surprised me, because his beat has always been terribly regular.

But he reappeared magically on Sunday, looking like himself.  Virginia Tichenor graciously ceded some of her solo piano time so that he could play.  And play he did.

His solo playing was both assertive and delicate, spicy yet respectful of the originals.  John’s relations with the audience are so charming . . . and his playing, while not always fast or loud, is lively — lit brightly from within.

The Lion’s HERE COMES THE BAND:

ATLANTA BLUES, or MAKE ME A PALLET ON THE FLOOR:

and John’s delightful improvisations on MY INSPIRATION:

There will be a Part Two: John with Joe Goldberg, Marty Eggers, Riley Baker, and a brief visit from John Otto.  An honor to encounter the Captain, who creates such good music.

May your happiness increase!

PARADOXES OF FEELING: BRIAN HOLLAND, MARC CAPARONE, JOHN OTTO, STEVE PIKAL, DANNY COOTS at the EVERGREEN JAZZ FESTIVAL (July 27, 2019)

Ann Ronell’s 1932 song is a terribly sad one, a story of romance that failed.  Here is the verse that few sing — perhaps because it is so openly melancholy:

Oh Lord, why did you send the darkness to me?
Are the shadows forever to be?
Where’s the light I’m longing to see?
Oh Lord, once we met by the old willow tree
Now you’ve gone and left nothing to me
Nothing but a sweet memory.

But the instrumental version I present here — although its hues are dark — does not leave this listener feeling despondent.  Rather, I admire the technical, lyrical, and emotional mastery of these players: Brian Holland, piano; Marc Caparone, cornet; John Otto, reeds; Steve Pikal, string bass; Danny Coots, drums, in this performance recorded at the 2019 Evergreen Jazz Festival:

One reason I call this post PARADOXES OF FEELING is that the five people playing such gloriously sad music are not in themselves depressives — to them it’s another artistic opportunity to enter an emotional world, fully inhabit it, and then move on to something of a different hue, perhaps CHINATOWN, MY CHINATOWN, and “be” that song as well.

Another reason, more personal, is that tomorrow morning, when it is still quite dark, I will be driving to the airport to travel to the San Diego Jazz Fest, where this band and others will work marvels right in front of us.  The other bands?  Hal Smith’s “On the Levee Jazz Band,” Grand Dominion, the Yerba Buena Stompers, John Royen’s New Orleans group, the Carl Sonny Leyland trio, the Chicago Cellar Boys, and too many others to mention . . . to say nothing of attending everyone’s set.  I’ll see my friends and heroes Jeff Hamilton, Kris Tokarski, Clint Baker, John Gill, Katie Cavera, and others — even if only in passing in the halls.

If I’m not laid low by a spoiled avocado or attacked by an enraged fan who wants to know why his favorite band doesn’t receive sufficient coverage on JAZZ LIVES, I will return with evidence of beauties, sad or joyous, to share with you.

May your happiness increase!

“LIKE THE RIPPLES ON A STREAM,” or IMPERMANENCE, by HARVEY SHAPIRO and by BRIAN HOLLAND, DANNY COOTS, MARC CAPARONE, JOHN OTTO, STEVE PIKAL (Evergreen Jazz Festival, July 26, 2019)

For those of us who keep music in our hearts, this 1934 song is special.

Yes, it is a carpe diem love song, but it is also about how nothing lasts forever.  It inevitably leads me back to Harvey Shapiro’s poem about Charlie Shavers, reprinted here with apologies for copyright infringement:

That melancholy sharply-realized poem leads me back to these moments in time:

I don’t know the remedy for impermanence — but, as Doctors Holland, Coots, Caparone, Otto, and Pikal enact here: “Take your saddest song and make sure it swings.  You don’t have unlimited chances to swing your song.”

May your happiness increase!

THE FAT BABIES: “UPTOWN” (Delmark Records): ANDY SCHUMM, JOHN OTTO, JONATHAN DOYLE, DAVE BOCK, PAUL ASARO, JOHNNY DONATOWICZ, BEAU SAMPLE, ALEX HALL

To my ears, modern bands don’t find it easy to reproduce the music of Twenties and early Thirties medium-sized ensembles beyond playing the notes, although I commend their attempts.  The most pleasing exceptions have been Vince Giordano’s Nighthawks, still doing the thing regularly in New York and elsewhere; I’ve also delighted in some ad hoc ensembles put together at the Whitley Bay Classic Jazz Festival.  (Listeners have other favorites, I know: I am not compiling a list here.)

But most recently, the Chicago-based FAT BABIES are are a consistent pleasure.

Here’s UPTOWN, performed at the July 2016 Evergreen Jazz Festival:

UPTOWN is also the name of the Babies’ latest CD, their fourth for Delmark, beautifully thought-out, played, and recorded.

Visit here to buy the disc and hear samples, or vice versa.

The band on this disc is the 2016-18 version, with Andy Schumm, cornet, alto saxophone, clarinet; Dave Bock, trombone; Jonathan Doyle, clarinet, tenor, soprano; John Otto, clarinet, tenor; Paul Asaro, piano, vocal; Johnny Donatowicz, tenor banjo, tenor guitar; Beau Sample, string bass; Alex Hall, drums, percussion.  They deeply understand the music without being stuffy.

Of the thirteen selections, UPTOWN and THAT GAL OF MINE are originals by Andy Schumm; SWEET IS THE NIGHT by Jonathan Doyle.  The arrangements and transcriptions are by Schumm, Doyle, and Paul Asaro, who also sings on five tracks with proper period flourishes.  The rest of the repertoire — venerable songs — EDNA, HARMONY BLUES, THE BATHING BEAUTY BLUES, RUFF SCUFFLIN’, OUT OF A CLEAR BLUE SKY, THUMPIN’ AND BUMPIN’, THE SPELL OF THE BLUES, TRAVELIN’ THAT ROCKY ROAD, THE SOPHOMORE, HARLEM RHYTHM DANCE — have noble associations with King Oliver, Bennie Moten, Andy Kirk, Eubie Blake, Harold Arlen and Ted Koehler, Bing Crosby, the Dorsey Brothers, McKinney’s Cotton Pickers, Clarence Williams, Claude Hopkins, and others.  But you’ll notice that the song selection, although deep and genuine, is not The Same Old Thing (you know: the same two Ellingtons, one Bix, DIPPER MOUTH BLUES, MOTEN SWING, and so on): even scholars of the period might not be used to hearing some of these compositions.

What makes this band so delightful?  The answers come thick and fast.  They are a working band, so their section work is beautifully polished but never stiff.  The solos caress or explode, depending on what the song requires.  There’s also a refreshing variety in tempo and mood: the Babies do not need to play racetrack tempos all the time, and they know that hot is best served with with nicely seasoned side dishes of sweet.  This is music for dancers as well as listeners.  I’ve seen other ensembles do creditable work with charts they are seeing for the first or second time, but nothing can replace the comfortable familiarity that comes with playing a song twenty times in a month.

“Authenticity” is always a slippery subject, but the Babies manifest it in every note and phrase: they’ve lived with this music long enough and intensely enough to have the rhythmic feel of this period as part of their individual and collective nervous systems, so there is no self-conscious “going backwards,” but the band feels as if they’ve immersed themselves in the conventions of the style — which go beyond slapped bass and choked cymbal.  It doesn’t feel as if they are acting, pretending to be ancient: their joy in being comes through.  And the solos are stylistically gratifying without being museum-pieces.  It’s been said before, but if the Babies were to be dropped in Harlem in 1931, they would cause a sensation and be welcomed at the Rhythm Club, the dance halls, and after-hours clubs.

It’s joyous music, joyously played.  And my only reservation about this Delmark CD (which, again, I point out, is beautifully recorded) is that it’s not a three-disc set.  Maybe next time.

May your happiness increase!

LIFE IMPROVES AT FORTY, ESPECIALLY FOR THE SAN DIEGO JAZZ FEST and SWING EXTRAVAGANZA (Nov. 27-Dec. 1, 2019)

The 1932 best-seller (with a Will Rogers movie a few years later):

Even before I was 40, I was slightly suspicious of the idea, even though it came from better health and thus longer life expectancy.  Was it an insult to the years that came before?  And now that I’m past forty . . . .

But the San Diego Jazz Fest and Swing Extravaganza is celebrating its fortieth this year and is in full flower.  So no Google Images of birthday cakes for us — rather, music of the highest order.

The bands and soloists who will be featured include John Royen, Katie Cavera, the Holland-Coots Jazz Quintet, Grand Dominion, John Gill, On the Levee Jazz Band, the Mad Hat Hucksters, Carl Sonny Leyland, the Heliotrope Ragtime Orchestra, the Yerba Buena Stompers, the Chicago Cellar Boys, Titanic Jazz Band, the Night Blooming Jazzmen, and more than twenty others, with youth bands, sets for amateur jammers, and the Saturday-night dance extravaganza featuring On The Levee and the Mad Hat Hucksters.

The Festival is also greatly comfortable, because it is one of those divine ventures where the music is a two-to-five minute walk from the rooms at the Town and Country Convention Center.

http://www.sdjazzfest.org/data/uploads/pdf/schedule.pdf

is the “almost final” band schedule for Wednesday night through Sunday.  I will wait until the “final” schedule comes out before I start circling sets in pen and highlighting them — but already I feel woozy with an abundance of anticipated and sometimes conflicting pleasures.

For most of the audience, one of the pleasures of the festival circuit is returning to the familiar.  Is your trad heartthrob the duo Itch and Scratch, or the Seven Stolen Sugar Packets?  At a festival, you can greet old friends both on the bandstand and in the halls.  But there’s also the pleasure of new groups, and the special pleasure of getting to meet and hear someone like John Royen, whom I’ve admired on records for years but have never gotten a chance to meet.

Here’s John, playing Jelly:

And here are a few previously unseen videos from my visits to the Jazz Fest.  First, one of my favorite bands ever, the band that Tim Laughlin and Connie Jones co-led, here with Doug Finke, Katie Cavera, Hal Smith, Chris Dawson, and Marty Eggers — in a 2014 performance of a Fats classic:

and the Chicago Cellar Boys — who will be at this year’s fest — in 2018.  The CCB is or are Andy Schumm, John Otto, Paul Asaro, Johnny Donatowicz, and Dave Bock:

and for those deep in nostalgia for traditional jazz on a cosmic scale, how about High Sierra plus guests Justin Au and Doug Finke in 2014:

Pick the bands you like, explore those new to you, but I hope you can make it to this jolly explosion of music and friendship: it is worth the trip (and I’m flying from New York).  You’ll have an unabridged experience and lose your anxieties!

May your happiness increase!

HAPPY BIRTHDAY OR ANNIVERSARY, BOYS! CHICAGOANS in CALIFORNIA, CONTINUED (The CHICAGO CELLAR BOYS at the SAN DIEGO JAZZ FEST, November 25, 2018)

I read recently that the Chicago Cellar Boys were celebrating being a band for two years: I don’t know whether we should wish them HAPPY BIRTHDAY or HAPPY ANNIVERSARY, but my impulse is to celebrate them: their wonderful mixture of exactitude and abandon is so very inspiring, so hot, so sweet.  How do we celebrate here at JAZZ LIVES?  We share video that you haven’t seen before unless you were at the gig.  That’s what we do!

KEEP SMILING AT TROUBLE, not only a good song but a fine life-maxim, performed in the style of the Apex Club Orchestra, with its verse as well:

ROSY CHEEKS, with an idiomatic vocal chorus by Paul Asaro:

Clarence Williams’ BOTTOMLAND, played at a yearning tempo:

A word about husbands who suffer; take it seriously or not, POOR PAPA:

Another song related to Jimmie Noone’s small band, which performed at the El Dorado Club — I read that EL RADO SCUFFLE was named because some of the lighting on the club’s sign was not working:

SO TIRED, which is obviously not the Cellar Boys’ theme song:

SWEET EMMALINE, recorded in 1928 by Clarence Williams.  Is there any truth to the rumor, half-remembered, which has Clarence saying, late in life, that he wrote none of the music for which he took credit?

A great band!

Incidentally, parents in the JAZZ LIVES audience are surely familiar with “the terrible twos,” where the toddler says NO to everything, dramatically.  The CCB say NO to many things: inauthentic music, badly played music, striped vests, stuffed pets on the gig, poor-quality snacks in the musicians’ room, too-tight polo shirts.  To wonderful music they say YES, as do we.

Two other bits of relevant information.  The Cellar Boys will be back at this year’s San Diego Jazz Fest, and they will have copies of their debut CD, BUSY ‘TIL ELEVEN, which is a Rivermont Records production.  Also for Rivermont, they’ve recorded a microgroove 78 rpm record (four songs) if it isn’t sold out by now.

And if you’ve never seen a copy of THE SYNCOPATED TIMES, you owe it to yourself to click on the bright-blue rectangle below, which is there for some good reasons.

May your happiness increase!