Tag Archives: John Otto

WE SAVOR THE RITUALS (WITH A SMALL UPDATE): THANKSGIVING at THE SAN DIEGO JAZZ FEST (Nov. 21-25, 2018)

Even in the midst of darkness there are always reasons to be thankful.  Here is a detail from the classic Norman Rockwell portrait of a late-November American celebration, make of it and its assumptions (culinary, sociological, political) what you will.

But this post is about another ritual of communal gratitude, another place to give thanks: the thirty-ninth San Diego Jazz Fest, held this year from November 21 through the 25th. My update (as of late November 11) is to offer the flyer below, and to point out something I didn’t know when I’d written this blogpost — that the Saturday night Swing Extravaganza will also feature the wonderful band Michael Gamble and the Rhythm Serenaders with the wonderful singer Laura Windley. Add that piece of news into your computations.

I’m sitting here with the band schedule in front of me, and can narrate my own pleasure-map of delights for the weekend.  How about dance lessons, opportunities for “jammers” to play with others of their ilk, a Saturday night swing extravaganza?  Ongoing solo piano recitals featuring Kris Tokarski, Vinnie Armstrong, Stephanie Trick, Carl Sonny Leyland, Conal Fowkes, Paolo Alderighi, Paul Asaro, Marty Eggers, Virginia Tichenor?  Then sets by the Dawn Lambeth Trio featuring Marc Caparone, High Sierra, Grand Dominion, the Chicago Cellar Boys, the On the Levee Jazz Band, the Original Cornell Syncopators, the Heliotrope Ragtime Orchestra, Katie Cavera, Clint Baker, Hal Smith, Yerba Buena Stompers, Titanic, Colin Hancock, Charlie Halloran, Ben Polcer, Joe Goldberg, John Gill, Kevin Dorn, Andy Schumm, John Otto, Leon Oakley, Tom Bartlett, and more.

And more.  At any given moment at the fest, let us say on a Saturday, the music goes from breakfast to wooziness — 9 AM to near midnight — in six separate locations.  Using my right index finger (the highly-skilled instrument for such computations) I counted sixty-six sets of music on Saturday, sets either 45 minutes or an hour.

At other festivals, that would make for transportation difficulties (a euphemism for “How am I going to get to that other building before the band starts?) but since all the action is contained in one building, even people with limited mobility make it in before the music starts.

Did I mention that everyone I’ve ever dealt with at San Diego has been terribly nice, including such luminaries of cheer and comfort as Paul Daspit and Gretchen Haugen?  This is no small thing.

And for those of you who think you will be deprived of Thanksgiving edibles (which means “too much food”) as depicted by Mr. Rockwell above, take heart. There is a splendiferous buffet served on Thursday from 2 to 6 — you can reserve a place there, with a discount for those who do so before November 15: details here.  If you’re vegetarian or vegan, you’ll still totter out of there, quite stuffed.

I am a late adopter who hasn’t made all 38 festivals (to explain why would tax all your five wits) but when I did make my way to the Fest, of course it was video camera at the ready.  And here are three sets that pleased me greatly.  I have shot several hundred videos, and that’s no stage joke, but I don’t feel right about using videos of X if X isn’t at this year’s festival.  But the three sets below feature people who are alive and well for this year.  First, here are the Cornell Syncopators featuring Katie Cavera in 2017.  Then, here are the Yerba Buena Stompers in 2016, and here are Marc Caparone and Conal Fowkes paying tribute to Louism also in 2017.

Going back to 2009, I remember when I first started this blog, I used Rae Ann Berry’s videos as glimpses of the Promised Land.  Here, for example, is John Gill paying tribute, beautifully, to Mister Crosby, in 2009:

Why am I concluding this post with PENNIES FROM HEAVEN and John’s beautiful rendition?  It seems an obvious message as far as the San Diego Jazz Fest is concerned, this year or in years to come. Good things are coming, the lyrics say, but you can’t hide under a treeIf you bestir yourself on Monday, November 26, you’ll have to wait a whole year for this opportunity to be grateful amidst friends and lovely heated music.  Take a look here and you will be glad you did.  See you there.

May your happiness increase!

WHERE THE WILD ARCANA GROWS: ANDY SCHUMM and his GANG at GRUMPY’S in DAVENPORT, IOWA (Set Two, August 1, 2018)

Many jazz bands that identify themselves as steeped in Twenties Hot are devoted to the Ancestors and the irreplaceable recordings, but have reduced their  repertoire to a dozen-plus familiar songs: DIPPERMOUTH BLUES, SINGIN’ THE BLUES, TIN ROOF BLUES, THAT’S A-PLENTY, ROYAL GARDEN BLUES, STRUTTIN’ WITH SOME BARBECUE, and so on.  Those songs achieved classic status for good reason, but they quickly come to feel like the same Caesar salad.  (“Mainstream” groups do the same thing with PENNIES FROM HEAVEN, ALL OF ME, SUNNY SIDE OF THE STREET . . . continuing forward to GROOVIN’ HIGH and the bop -OLOGIES also.)

But the noble and flourishing Andy Schumm is not only a marvelous multi-instrumentalist (on this session, cornet, clarinet, tenor saxophone, “Reserphone,” and one voice in the glee club) but a truly diligent researcher — coming up with hot tunes and lyrical songs that rarely — or never — get performed.  At the end of the video presented here, you should observe the thickness of manuscript that he picks up off his music stand, and when he announces the next tune to the band by number as well as title, the numbers are notably three digits, suggesting a substantial “book.”

Andy and his Gang performed two wonderful sets of lively, “new” “old” material at the August 2018 Bix Beiderbecke Memorial Festival in Davenport, Iowa.  The Gang was a streamlined version of the Fat Babies, with Andy; John Otto, reeds; Johnny Donatowicz, banjo / guitar; Dave Bock, tuba, and guest star David Boeddinghaus, piano.  All of this good music was beautifully preserved for us by “Chris and Chris,” whose generosities you know or should know.  My posting of the first set is here.

As far as arcana is concerned, here are the songs performed: CUSHION FOOT STOMP (Clarence Williams), EL RADO SCUFFLE (Jimmie Noone: supposedly the club was the ELDORADO but not all the letters in the sign were visible), AIN’T THAT HATEFUL? (Oliver Naylor), JUST LIKE A MELODY (a Walter Donaldson composition, one known in recent decades thanks to Scott Robinson’s recording of it), FLAG THAT TRAIN (watch out for the Reserphone), I MUST BE DREAMING (a sweet duet for John Otto and David Boeddinghaus), BEER GARDEN BLUES (Clarence Williams, with glee-club vocal; Williams also recorded this melody with different lyrics, perhaps called SWING, BROTHER, SWING, but not the Billie-Basie song), GRAVIER STREET BLUES (Clarence Williams again, his Jazz Kings — thanks to Phil Melnick for catching the title, something I didn’t recognize, which proves my point about arcana), CROSS ROADS (California Ramblers), WAILING BLUES (thanks to Cellar Boys Wingy, Tesch, Bud, and Frank Melrose), an impish Boeddinghaus chorus of WE’RE IN THE MONEY, perhaps a satiric reference to the undernourished tip jar? — and closing with a wild SAN in honor of Jimmie Noone’s Apex Club Orchestra.

Thanks to Andy, John, John, Dave, Dave, and Chris and Chris.  (I see a pattern here, don’t you?)

“Chris and Chris” at the 2015 Steamboat Stomp in New Orleans. Photograph by Bess Wade.

May your happiness increase!

“MUSICALLY, IT WAS AN ECCENTRIC TIME IN AMERICA”: THE CHICAGO CELLAR BOYS at STUDIO 5 (Chicago, June 16, 2018)

Sometimes it feels lonely up here on the mountaintop — as if I’m the only one doing what I do, proselytizing and broadcasting heartfelt improvised music (modern-traditional-lyrical-Hot-call-it-whatever-you-like).  But I know that’s not true, and I am always getting reassuring surprises from the cyber-world.

It’s a long, beautifully video-ed and recorded live session by the Chicago Cellar Boys (the link is to their new website) — the more recent band-within-a-band of The Fat Babies, at Studio 5.  (They appear every Sunday night at the Honly Tonk BBQ in Chicago’s Pilsen neighborhood.)

The Chicago Cellar Boys take their name from a 1930 group that had Frank Melrose, Wingy Manone, Frank Teschemacher, Bud Freeman, George Wettling.  (Now Tom Lord says that the accordionist is Charles Magnante, which makes so much more sense than “Charles Melrose” — but I digress.)

The CCB are Andy Schumm, cornet, clarinet, tenor sax; John Otto, clarinet, alto sax; John Donatowicz, banjo, guitar; Paul Asaro, piano, vocals; Dave Bock, tuba.  And they are a wonderful mix of hot music, dance tunes, pop hilarity, arranged passages and “charts,” and delicious improvisations.

I won’t list the songs played — you can find the blisses and surprises for yourself — because I want to be sure to get this boon out to as many people as I can right now.  Thanks to the band, to Steve Rashid, and to Studio 5 for making such a wonderful explosion of art accessible to all of us:

The CCB will also be at this November’s San Diego Jazz Fest, so if I can fight my way to a seat in the front, there might be other videos.  And I understand they have made their first recording. “Wow wow wow!” as my friend and role model Anna Katsavos still says.

May your happiness increase!

HOT AND LOVELY: ANDY SCHUMM and his GANG in DAVENPORT, IOWA (August 1, 2018)

CHRIS and CHRIS

Thanks to Chris and Chris!  Here’s the first set at a bar called GRUMPY’S.  Beautifully recorded and annotated, too:

Bix Beiderbecke’s 47th Annual Memorial Jazz Festival 2018 had a pre-arranged gathering at Grumpy’s Village Saloon, Davenport, Iowa, August 1st. The Fat Babies, here somewhat reduced in numbers, but with sit-in David Boeddinghaus on piano and Andy Schumm cornet, clarinet, saxophone, John Otto reeds, John Donatowicz banjo, guitar, Dave Bock tuba, gave us, the lucky ones that day, a jolly good time. This plus-hour full first set was videographed in one-go, in pole position, head on, with a handheld SONY Handycam, FDR-XA100 in quality mode. For those who couldn’t make it to Grumpy’s, this coverage might be the next best thing. Enjoy!

THAT’S A PLENTY (with a special break) / HOT TIME IN THE OLD TOWN TONIGHT / Andy introduces the band / HE’S THE LAST WORD (which I hadn’t known was by Walter Donaldson) where Andy shifts to tenor sax to create a section, and Maestro Boeddinghaus rocks / FOREVERMORE, for Jimmie Noone, with Andy and John on clarinet: wait for the little flash of Tesch at the end / Willie “the Lion” Smith’s HARLEM JOYS / a beautifully rendered GULF COAST BLUES, apparently a Clarence Williams composition [what sticks in my mind is Clarence, as an older man, telling someone he didn’t write any of the compositions he took credit for] / HOT LIPS / Alex Hill’s THE SOPHOMORE, and all I will say is “David Boeddinghaus!” / THE SHEIK OF ARABY, with the verse and a stop-time chorus.  Of course, “without no pants on.” / Bennie Moten’s 18th STREET RAG / GETTIN’ TOLD, thanks to the Mound City Blue Blowers / Andy does perfect Johnny Dodds on LONESOME BLUES, scored for trio / For Bix, TIA JUANA (with unscheduled interpolation at start, “Are you okay?  Can I get that?” from a noble waitperson) / band chat — all happy bands talk to each other / a gloriously dark and grieving WHEN YOUR LOVER HAS GONE that Louis smiles on / and, to conclude, STORY BOOK BALL (see here to learn exactly what Georgie Porgie did to Mary, Mary, quite contrary.  Not consensual and thus not for children.)

A thousand thanks to Andy, David, John, Dave, Johnny, and of course Chris and Chris — for this delightful all-expenses paid trip to Hot!

May your happiness increase!

MORE FROM THE FAT BABIES in DAVENPORT, IOWA (August 3, 2017: Bix Beiderbecke Memorial Fest, Putnam Museum)

What follows seems — very reassuringly — like a tour through the landscape in which Bix Beiderbecke lived, and the ways in which he created it to his own dimensions.  It’s a leisurely concert given by The Fat Babies, who are Andy Schumm, cornet; Dave Bock, trombone; John Otto, Jonathan Doyle, reeds; Paul Asaro, piano; Johnny Donatowicz, banjo / guitar; Beau Sample, string bass, leader; Alex Hall — taking place at the Putnam Museum in Davenport, Iowa, as part of the 2017 Bix Beiderbecke Memorial Jazz Festival.

The nice video is yet another gift from “CANDC,” or “Chris-and-Chris,” who’ve also given us this delight — ninety minutes, two sets of the Babies, from the next day’s performances.

The songs are FIDGETY FEET / SUSIE /  BLUE RIVER /RIVERBOAT SHUFFLE / WHEN / OUR BUNGALOW OF DREAMS / OH, BABY! / SINGIN’ THE BLUES featuring a Whiteman coda / WOLVERINE BLUES (in the Wolverine Orchestra style, arranged by Andy Schumm) / I’LL BE A FRIEND “WITH PLEASURE” [vocal by Paul Asaro]/ FUTURISTIC RHYTHM / SLOW RIVER / I’M COMIN’ VIRGINIA / MY PRETTY GIRL.

May your happiness increase!

NINETY MINUTES at HIGH HEAT: THE FAT BABIES SWING OUT at the BIXFEST (Davenport, Iowa, August 4, 2017)

For no particular medical reason aside from age-based entropy, I’ve slowed down the mad pace of recent years.  At my most passionate peak of obsession and love, I flew or drove to seven or eight jazz festivals or parties in twelve months.  I haven’t given up, just slowed down.  One of the festivals I was sorry to miss was the Bix Beiderbecke Memorial Jazz Festival held in Davenport, Iowa, at the start of this August.  I knew that — unlike the tree in the metaphysical forest — that the bands I love would play even if I were not there to video them — but still.

So I was very glad that “jazzmanjoe100” recorded the wonderful music that Hal Smith’s SWING CENTRAL  performed at that festival.  And I am delighted that “CANDC” did the same for several sets: the one most pleasing being by The Fat Babies.  “CANDC” isn’t an impossible-to-pronounce word; rather, it stands for “Chris-and-Chris,” (pronounced as a rapid triplet) a Swedish pair, immaculately dressed as if going out for a carriage ride c. 1917: he videos; she dances.  In general, they both light up the place.

As do The Fat Babies, the beloved brainchild (b. 2010) of string bassist Beau Sample; featuring Andy Schumm, cornet, clarinet, and other instruments; Dave Bock, trombone and tuba; John Otto, reeds; Paul Asaro, piano and vocals; Johnny Donatowicz, banjo and guitar; Alex Hall, drums.  For this set, alumnus and guest Jonathan Doyle joined in on clarinet and tenor.

For this set, they offered their usually varied program that leans towards the esoteric, which is always a nice change.  They began with a hot CHANGES MADE, and then summoned up 1926 Luis Russell (in Chicago, before the incandescent days of Red and Higgy) with SWEET MUMTAZ.

I must ask: is MUMTAZ another slang word for muggles, muta, or pot?  Google has not been terribly forthcoming.

Then, SHE’S CRYING FOR ME from old New Orleans, Jon Doyle’s evocative SWEET IS THE NIGHT, and a heady — c. 1925 Henerson — MANDY, MAKE UP YOUR MIND.

Paul Asaro sings THE SPELL OF THE BLUES, which I associate with 1928 Bing; WILL YOU, WON’T YOU BE MY BABE? — splitting its associations between McKinney’s Cotton Pickers and 1934 Louis.  It’s followed by Tiny Parham’s ROCK BOTTOM, a reed feature on THE BATHING BEAUTY BLUES, a sweet LAZY WEATHER (do I correctly think of the underrated 1936 Don Redman band here?) and a closing romp with Clarence Williams 1933 HARLEM RHYTHM DANCE.

And another wonderful helping.

Paul starts things off with I DON’T CARE (obviously not the case!), and then they move to the Nichols-associated SALLY OF MY DREAMS.  Then Walter Donaldson’s SAY YES TODAY (memorable in the Roger Wolfe Kahn version), followed by the Tiny Parham CLARICE — a wonderful hot rhythm ballad with a tango interlude.  Then, Ellington’s BIRMINGHAM BREAKDOWN; Paul and Johnny Donatowicz summon up Bing and Eddie Lang on DID YOU EVER SEE A DREAM WALKING? — always a good question to ask.

Next, Willard Robison’s DEEP ELM, and Frank Bunch’s FUZZY WUZZY — talk about obscure yet delightful.  Then, FOR MY BABY, a 1927 hit, mixing hot dance and romance; Paul essays TEA FOR TWO all by himself, and beautifully, echoing Don Lambert’s habit of mixing tunes with THINKING OF YOU, APRIL SHOWERS, I’M CRAZY ‘BOUT MY BABY, KEEPIN’ OUT OF MISCHIEF NOW, FRENESI, and a few whose title proved elusive, for a wonderfully low-key display of virtuosity — where he resists the temptation to triple the tempo.

Finally MONA, thanks to Harold Austin’s New Yorkers (a double obscurity to me), and Benny Carter’s KRAZY KAPERS, based on DIGA DIGA DOO — precious to me in its 1933 incarnation and in its 2017 one: the final chorus is my idea of jubliation.

Quite a good deal of beautifully played hot and sweet music indeed.  What makes this band notable, for me, is their mastery of the late Twenties – mid Thirties hot dance sound (with arrangements that summon up the original records and in some cases, build on their glories), soloists who are convincing on a jungle romp or a danceable ballad.  But the band as a whole sounds so good: their intonation, their voicings, so people used to listening for the hot sixteen bars also find themselves admiring the ensemble.  As I do, as you will.

May your happiness increase!

CLIMB EVERY MOUNTAIN: STILL MORE FROM THE FAT BABIES at the EVERGREEN JAZZ FESTIVAL (July 30, 2016)

fatbabiespress2

Yes!  Even more from one of the most gratifying jazz bands — and working bands — on the planet.  THE FAT BABIES can offer electrifying transcriptions of recordings both familiar and obscure, but they can wonderfully “go for themselves” in convincing solos and hot ensemble playing.  In the videos below, you’ll hear idiomatic and swinging evocations of Benny Carter, Joe Robichaux, Jelly Roll Morton, Andy Kirk, Jabbo Smith, and Bing Crosby (is that Nat W. Finston and the Paramount Orchestra I hear in the hills?) — beautifully done with no museum archaisms or modern “innovations.”  Just good fun — created by Beau Sample, string bass and leader; Alex Hall, drums; Jake Sanders, guitar and banjo; Paul Asaro, piano and an ANIMULE vocal; Jonathan Doyle, John Otto, saxophones; Dave Bock, trombone; Andy Schumm, cornet.

I’ve posted a goodly number of Fat Babies videos from the Evergreen Jazz Festival hereherehere, and here — so no one can go to the larder and find it bare of salutary Fat.  But my videos (I’m proud of them) are nothing compared to the experience of hearing and seeing this band live, so the message should be clear.

KRAZY KAPERS:

NOBODY’S SWEETHEART:

THE SOPHOMORE:

THE ANIMULE DANCE:

PLEASE:

WEIRD BLUES:

KING KONG STOMP:

Check their website to see their schedule, learn about their new CD, and more. I see they will be back at the Evergreen Jazz Festival at the end of July 2017.

May your happiness increase!

THAT DANCING FEELING: RAY SKJELBRED, MARC CAPARONE, JOHN OTTO PLAY FIELDS and MCHUGH at SAN DIEGO (Nov. 25, 2016)

I could have called this post WHY I WENT TO SAN DIEGO, but the music — not my travel itinerary — is the real subject.  For me, “San Diego” is not the city, but the Jazz Fest there, which unrolled happily during Thanksgiving weekend of this year, a true cornucopia of delights.

doin-the-new-lowdown

One such delight was a trio performance by Ray Skjelbred, piano; Marc Caparone, cornet; John Otto, reeds — and this little gem, their cheerfully swinging exploration of the Fields and McHugh delight made famous by Bill “Bojangles” Robinson, DOIN’ THE NEW LOW-DOWN:

“That dancing feeling / Has my feet in a trance,” state the lyrics by Dorothy Fields.  How true, when this trio is around — a sweet compact lesson in ensemble intelligence, generosity, and swing.  Happily, there’s more from this session to share with you.

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!

“IT’S FAT LIKE THAT”: MORE FROM THE FAT BABIES at the EVERGREEN JAZZ FESTIVAL (July 30, 2016)

Rainbow One

One of the great pleasures of the summer of 2016 was the Evergreen Jazz Festival in Evergreen, Colorado.  There I and others enjoyed the Carl Sonny Leyland trio with Clint Baker and Jeff Hamilton; the Kris Tokarski trio with Tim Laughlin and Hal Smith (and guest star Andy Schumm), and the Fat Babies, with Beau Sample, Andy Schumm, Dave Bock, John Otto, Jonathan Doyle, Paul Asaro,  Jake Sanders, and Alex Hall.

I’ve posted videos from the Fat Babies’ July 29 set here.  And some especially Fat music here. And even here.

Here are three more from the next day’s frolic.

The first, a composition from 1925 where Louis Armstrong plays slide whistle as well as cornet with his Hot Five, WHO’S IT . . . which I am assuming might have something with playing tag or an adult version rather than being a metaphysical inquiry into the slippery parameters of identity.

whos-it

Here are the Fat Babies romping through the thickets of swing:

Another Louis-related item, I AIN’T GONNA PLAY NO SECOND FIDDLE, which he recorded with Perry Bradford’s Jazz Phools as well as with Bessie Smith:

and Jimmie Noone’s APEX BLUES:

And here is my review of the band’s latest CD — on the Delmark Records label, SOLID GASSUH — a disc whose virtues I do not exaggerate.

Support The Fat Babies!  They’re remarkable.

May your happiness increase!

TRUTH IN (HOT) ADVERTISING: THE FAT BABIES, “SOLID GASSUH,” DELMARK RECORDS 257

We hope this truth can be made evident.  The new CD by The Fat Babies, SOLID GASSUH, on Delmark Records, embodies Truth in Advertising in its title and its contents.

solid-gassuh

“Solid gassuh,” as Ricky Riccardi — the Master of all things Louis — informs us in his excellent liner notes, was Louis’ highest expression of praise.  (I’d like to see it replace “sick” and “killin'” in the contemporary lexicon.  Do I dream?)

The Fat Babies are a superb band — well-rehearsed but sublimely loose, authentic but not stiff.  If you don’t know them, you are on the very precipice of Having Missed Out On Something Wonderful — which I can rectify herehere, and here.  (Those posts come from July 29, 2016 at the Evergreen Jazz Festival, and feature the “new” Fat Babies with the addition of the heroic Jonathan Doyle on reeds.)

SOLID GASSUH was recorded at the Babies’ hangout, the Honky Tonk BBQ, but there’s no crowd noise — which is fine — and the recorded sound is especially spacious and genuine, thanks to Mark Haynes and Alex Hall.  I know it’s unusual to credit the sound engineers first, but when so many recordings sound like recordings rather than music, they deserve applause.

The Babies, for this recording, their third, are Andy Schumm, cornet and arrangements; Dave Bock, trombone; John Otto, reeds; Paul Asaro, piano and vocals (also the chart for EGYPTIAN ELLA), Jake Sanders, banjo and guitar, Beau Sample, leader, string bass; Alex Hall, drums.

Their repertoire, for those deep in this music, says so much about this band — DOCTOR BLUES / AFTER A WHILE / FEELIN’ GOOD / DID YOU EVER SEE A DREAM WALKING? / ORIGINAL CHARLESTON STRUT / PENCIL PAPA / I MISS A LITTLE MISS / PARKWAY STOMP / YOU WERE ONLY PASSING TIME WITH ME / ALABAMY BOUND / SLOW RIVER / DELIRIUM / EGYPTIAN ELLA / SING SONG GIRL / MAPLE LEAF RAG.  There are many associations here, but without looking anything up I think of Ben Pollack, Paul Mares, Boyce Brown, Ted Lewis, Benny Goodman, Bix Beiderbecke, Fud Livingston, Red Nichols, Miff Mole, Luis Russell, Bud Freeman, Bing Crosby, Nat Finston, Thomas Morris, Lil Hardin, Sidney Catlett, Al Wynn, Punch Miller, Alex Hill . . . and you can fill in the other blanks for yourself.  And even though some of the songs may be “obscure,” each track is highly melodic and dramatic without ever being melodramatic.  (As much as we love ROYAL GARDEN BLUES, it’s reassuring to know that it wasn’t the only song ever played.)

The Babies are remarkable for what they aren’t — not a “Dixieland” or “New Orleans” or “Condon” ensemble, but a group of musicians who obviously have studied the players, singers, and the recordings, but use them as inspired framework for their own creativity.  Occasionally, the Babies do offer us a transcription of a venerable recorded performance, but it is so energized (and by that I don’t mean faster or louder) that it seems as if someone has cleaned centuries of dust off an Old Master and it’s seen freshly.  More often, they use portions of an original arrangement, honoring it, as a way to show off their own bright solos.  So the effect at times is not an “updating,” but music seen from another angle, an alternate take full of verve and charm, as if the fellows had been playing the song on the job rather than in the studio.

If you follow the Babies, and many do, you will have known that this recording is coming, and will already have it.  When my copy arrived, I played it through three times in a row, marveling at its energy and precision, its lively beating heart.  SOLID GASSUH is immensely satisfying, as are the Fat Babies themselves.

You can purchase the disc and hear sound samples here, and  this is the Delmark Records site, where good music (traditional and utterly untraditional) flourishes.

May your happiness increase!

SO FAT, SO GOOD (Part One): THE FAT BABIES at the EVERGREEN JAZZ FESTIVAL (July 29, 2016)

Double rainbow, Evergreen, Colorado, 2014. Photograph by Michael Steinman

Double rainbow, Evergreen, Colorado, 2014. Photograph by Michael Steinman

Wonder of wonders (continue) with the Miracle Boys of Hot, The Fat Babies, at their July 29, 2016.  Even the elk were swinging.  They are (of course) Alex Hall, drums; Beau Sample, string bass; Paul Asaro, piano / vocal; Jake Sanders, guitar / banjo; Jonathan Doyle, John Otto, reeds; Dave Bock, trombone; Andy Schumm, cornet, clarinet, arrangements.

MANDY, MAKE UP YOUR MIND:

PLEASURE MAD (later known as VIPER MAD, by Sidney “Bash-shay” in any case:

HE MAY BE YOUR MAN (BUT HE COMES  TO SEE ME SOMETIMES):

and a quick but satisfying set-closer, MAPLE LEAF RAG, Charles LaVere 1935 style:

So hot it’s delightful.  And another whole Evergreen set to come.

And . . . the Babies have three CDs out on the Delmark label: CHICAGO HOT, 18th and RACINE, and the new Baby, SOLID GASSUH, as well as two featuring Paul Asaro on Rivermont, WHAT A HEAVENLY DREAM (devoted to Fats) and SWEET JAZZ MUSIC (for Jelly).  Lay in a supply.  They say it’s going to be a cold cold winter.

May your happiness increase!

“OH, FAT THAT THING!” THE FAT BABIES, featuring PAUL ASARO and JOHN OTTO, PLAY FATS WALLER (Evergreen Jazz Festival, July 29, 2016)

The most difficult part of this blogpost has been trying to find a polite title for the congenial combination of THE FAT BABIES and THOMAS “FATS” WALLER, but I think I’ve managed to be as little offensive as possible.  I hope.  No suggestions solicited, please.

Here are three performances by that wonderful octet — Andy Schumm, cornet; Dave Bock, trombone; John Otto and Jonathan Doyle, reeds; Paul Asaro, piano and vocals; Jake Sanders, banjo / guitar; Beau Sample, leader / string bass; Alex Hall, drums — at the Evergreen Jazz Festival in Evergreen, Colorado, on July 29, 2016.

THE FAT BABIES, before Jonathan Doyle had joined the band.

THE FAT BABIES, before Jonathan Doyle had joined the band.

From Fats’ first published song (based on THE BOY IN THE BOAT, as we know), onwards to a sadder one:

Finally, the delightful Jimmy McHugh tune that Fats made his own — performing it in the 1935 film KING OF BURLESQUE.  (Then, it got taken up by Louis and others, happily):

On all these performances, the ebullient Paul Asaro — striding, singing, and smiling — stands out, as he always does.  Paul has made two CDs — tributes to Waller and Morton — with the Fat Babies, issued on Rivermont Records.

More to come from Colorado — and if you’re near Chicago, you can hear The Fat Babies live.  http://www.thefatbabies.com/ is their website and performing schedule.  And — even more! — I’m waiting for a copy of their latest release, correctly titled SOLID GASSUH (!) on Delmark Records.

Hotter than a fat baby, for sure.

May your happiness increase!

DELEGATES OF PLEASURE: THE FAT BABIES (Part One) AT THE EVERGREEN JAZZ FESTIVAL, JULY 29, 2016

Rainbow One

I first heard The Fat Babies at the San Diego Jazz Fest, and of course enjoyed their CDs and the videos of their performances from Chicago.  But the 2016 Evergreen Jazz Festival offered a special treat: several sets of this very accomplished and joyous hot band at close range, where I could see and hear them in all dimensions.  I had a wonderful time, and I wasn’t alone.

If The Fat Babies are new to you, I won’t let too many words get in the way of instant access to pleasure.  They are Andy Schumm, cornet, clarinet, arrangements, compositions; Dave Bock, trombone; Jonathan Doyle, John Otto, reeds; Paul Asaro, piano and vocal; Jake Sanders, guitar and banjo; Beau Sample, string bass and leader; Alex Hall, drums.

Their repertoire is primarily from the very early Twenties to a decade later, with a goodly sampling of hot material — from the obscure to the familiar — delivered with energy and precision, but there are also wonderful detours into early Bing (instrumentally) and esoteric pop of the period.  And at a time when many bands devoted to this repertoire are Either / Or — offering exact transcriptions of venerable recordings or loose jam session romps on hallowed material, The Fat Babies move easily and without pretension between the two worlds.  And their whimsical title notwithstanding, they are an impressively lean band: their eight pieces are as effective, even more so, than some larger units.

I  nominate them as Delegates of Pleasure for this century.

delegates-of-pleasure

Here’s proof, if proof is needed.

ORIENTAL MAN (a video I keep on playing over and over, and it’s not for the cinematography, I assure you):

LIVIN’ IN THE SUNLIGHT, LOVIN’ IN THE MOONLIGHT (a Bing tune c. 1933, which sounds like a remarkably good life-plan, and the performance is the very definition of Hot Dance):

GET OUT AND  GET UNDER THE MOON (another excellent life-plan — preach it, Brother Asaro!):

UP TOWN (composed and arranged by Andy, a most convincing evocation of 1930-1 hot):

SALLY OF MY DREAMS (I know of only a few recordings of this — by the Dorsey Brothers, Ben Pollack, and Gregor and his Gregorians; Paul takes the vocal here):

The Fat Babies have made two CDs on their own, issued on the Delmark label, and another backing Marty Grosz.  I’ve heard tell that their third, SOLID GASSUH (truth in advertising) is ready to be released any second now.  I can’t wait.  And there will be more videos from Evergreen, I promise.

May your happiness increase!

HOT MUSIC FROM CHICAGO: MARTY and the BABIES

The paragraph that follows is not for the timid.  Years ago, when I first started trading cassette tapes with jazz fanciers who lived far away, I encountered the delightful Bill Coverdale of Naples, Florida — another Joe Thomas enthusiast. A dear man, now passed into spirit.  But when Bill wanted to know if I’d liked a particular tape or performance, he would write, “Did that wiggle your stylus?” You’d have to know something about pre-Eighties means of sound reproduction to get the joke . . . but this CD certainly does make for a good deal of wiggling joy.

DIGA DIGA DOO Grosz

That says it all, doesn’t it — and with the bonus of a Martin Oliver Grosz cutout collage.  But here are the details, so read on.

The selections chosen by the Gentlemen of the Ensemble: Why Couldn’t It Be Poor Little Me? / A Jazz Holiday / Intro to Blue (and Broken-Hearted) / Blue (and Broken-Hearted) / In A Little Spanish Town / Sweet Sue / My Daddy Rocks Me / Prince of Wails / Hold Me / Diga Diga Doo / Forevermore / Rose of Washington Square / How Deep Is The Ocean / A Good Man is Hard to Find / Church Street Sobbin’ Blues / Strut Miss Lizzie / Intro to The Lady in Red / The Lady in Red / Marty talks.

“Tell us a story, Mister Grosz!” Photo by Lynn Redmile

The Gentlemen of the Aforementioned Ensemble: Grosz, g, bj, voc, speech; Andy Schumm, cnt, blue-blowing; John Otto, cl, ts, bari-s; Jonathan Doyle, cl, ts; Dave Bock or “Panic Slim,” tb; James Dapogny or Paul Asaro, p; Beau Sample, bs; Alex Hall, d. 2013 and 2014, Chicago, Illinois.
Marty Grosz is the last of a breed that, were we to be honest, never existed anywhere except in our imaginations.  A chordal acoustic rhythm guitarist in the style of Dick McDonough, Carl Kress, Bernard Addison, Al Casey; a ringing banjoist who plays the instrument only under duress; a singer who combines the satire of Fats Waller with the tender croon of Red McKenzie and early Crosby; a sharp-edged raconteur and jazz / pop culture historian; a composer of swing ditties; a first-rate arranger; an adept on-the-spot bandleader, skilled at head arrangements while you wait. He once told a liner note writer (ruefully), “I would have been dynamite in 1933.” The regretful tone of that statement was no doubt because Marty was then 3; he is now 85, which makes us all the more glad to have him with us.

Marty’s most recent CD was, if I recall correctly, done in 2010.  With the slow attrition of “record companies,” I am thrilled that this one came out.

A little History, which fans of Marty will already know.

After many years as a respected but under-employed Chicago sideman playing what he likes to call Hot Jazz, alongside Frank Chace, Art Hodes, Don Ewell, Albert Nicholas, and others (even a mysteriously reappearing Jabbo Smith) he became much better-known during his brief tenure with the Bob Wilber-Kenny Davern Soprano Summit (1974-78); he made a few sessions under his own name, both bands and guitar duets; he was then part of the Dick Sudhalter / Dick Wellstood / Joe Muranyi Classic Jazz Quartet. To me, the Great Grosz Period began in 1987, when Bob Erdos of Stomp Off Records began to feature Marty as a leader – songs, personnel, arrangements, encouraging him to record obscure material.  From 1987 to 2010, he recorded prolifically for Stomp Off, Jazzology, Sackville, Jump, Arbors, and other labels. Then, as several of those labels closed their doors, there was a long hiatus. I followed Marty, often with camera, and can attest that he had neither staled nor withered.

His most recent recording, DIGA DIGA DOO, is both a celebration of Marty and of Hot. Recorded in 2013 and 2014, it relies on the hot sensation of the Midwest (and many festivals in the US and Europe) THE FAT BABIES, led by string bassist Beau Sample and featuring cornetist Andy Schumm, trombonist Dave Bock, reedman John Otto, drummer Alex Hall, pianist Paul Asaro. For a second session, Marty brought in the eminent pianist / arranger James Dapogny, Marty’s friend “Panic Slim,” trombone, and Austin, Texas, hot reedman Jonathan Doyle.

It is joyous Hot Music of the kind they would have played in Chicago in the Twenties through the Forties, but it is more than a museum piece, a recreation of old records in better sound. The band shines; their rollicking expert energy comes through every track. Schumm, freed of the necessity of Bix-impersonation, growls and saunters; Dapogny offers startlingly original orchestral backgrounds and solos; Otto veers between sweet melodism and Don Murray / Fud Livingston abstractions. And the other members are just as fine. Some of the selections place us firmly in 1928, but others offer intriguing new views of what is considered an old music, for Marty’s imagination also takes in “rhythm ballads” and music that I imagine he might have heard while playing for strippers.

One of the beautiful talents Marty rarely gets credit for is his effective, even when skeletal arrangements. It would have been easy to take this band into the studio and let them jam on familiar tunes, but Marty finds this approach boring and limiting. So – although the spirit of Hot isn’t ever lost – a Grosz session, in the studio or at a jazz party – has a good deal of paper, which works out well. One could profitably listen to any selection on this disc and admire the assignment of solos, the idiomatic backgrounds and riffs, which give a five-minute performance vitality and variety.

Another characteristic of Marty is an almost inexhaustible flow of verbal commentary; on this disc we have a few precious fragments that will let audiences a hundred years from today – should they exist – get a deeper sense of the man singing, playing, and leading.

A pause for candor. Is this the most polished disc that Marty has ever done? No, and at times it must be measured by the standards we apply to live performance rather than the clinical perfection we expect from studio sessions. But these selections are lively and authentic and thus precious. I could list many delights from this disc but will share only one. Listening to DIGA DIGA DOO for the first time, I came to IN A LITTLE SPANISH TOWN – which begins with a syncopated Spanish rhythm and then – after a wonderful string bass break – shifts into completely groovy swing. I think I’ve played that ninety-second passage a hundred times, and I force my friends to hear it, too.

Here it is, courtesy of “Orchard Enterprises,” a company that has now picked and gleaned the best music for free propagation on YouTube.  I disapprove of the endeavor but could not resist sharing this performance with my readers in hopes that it encourages actual disc purchases:

More about Marty in an April 2015 article hereAnd you can see him in full flower at the Allegheny Jazz Party, coming up in less than a month.

I keep returning to a quote from Stephen Sondheim because I find it particularly irksome: he told an interviewer that the late work of great artists (excepting I think Picasso and Stravinsky) was always second-rate. I’d like to lock our Stephen in a room with DIGA DIGA DOO at a medium volume until he recanted.

May your happiness increase!

FAT, HOT, GOOD: THE FAT BABIES at the SAN DIEGO JAZZ FEST (Nov. 28, 2014)

Seriously hot: the Fat Babies take on jazz classics, pop tunes, and obscure delights at the San Diego Jazz Fest (Nov. 28, 2014).  They are Beau Sample, string bass; Alex Hall, drums; Paul Asaro, piano, vocals; Jake Sanders, guitar / banjo; Dave Bock, trombone; John Otto, Jonathan Doyle (a guest star from Austin, Texas), reeds; Andy Schumm, cornet, arrangements.  They’re a favorite band of mine and they have a loyal following.

A small caveat: You’ll hear some sweetly animated conversation from a few people to my right.  I try to regard it as gently surrealistic commentary.  I was trained to respect my elders, even when they are oblivious, so JAZZ LIVES listeners bear the burden of my politeness. It’s too late to get annoyed at the audience (very pleasant people).  Or me.

Doc Cooke’s HERE COMES THE HOT TAMALE MAN:

Johnny DeDroit’s THE SWING:

From the Perry Bradford and his Jazz Phools book — originally featuring a young Louis Armstrong, LUCY LONG:

Bixiana! OH, BABY, DON’T SAY NO, SAY MAYBE:

More Bixiana! BIG BOY:

Jimmie Noone, Earl Hines, and the mysterious Floyd Mills’ CHICAGO RHYTHM:

A blues made memorable by a Jack Teagarden cornet chorus, IT’S SO GOOD [or, as Michael McQuaid once announced it at Whitley Bay, IT’S NO GOOD]:

A hot Henderson opus, COME ON, BABY!:

A pop tune recorded by Jack Linx and other worthies, OH, ME, OH, MY:

A Twenties pop ballad, SAVE YOUR SORROW:

Jumping forward into wild modernity, Paul pays homage to a delicious Fats Waller record of I’LL DANCE AT YOUR WEDDING:

Tiny Parham’s ROCK BOTTOM (not personally):

THERE’LL BE SOME CHANGES MADE (a little laginappe: a jam session for two reeds — John Otto and Jon Doyle — and the rhythm section):

Good hot sounds. There will be more good music at this year’s San Diego Jazz Fest, which will take place from Nov. 25-29.  Details will be available here, and I promise to write more about the Fest as the autumn gets closer.

May your happiness increase!

RED HOT! THE FAT BABIES at the SAN DIEGO JAZZ FEST (Nov. 28, 2014)

Authentic Mexican food, hot Chicago Twenties jazz, the warmth of the San Diego Jazz Fest . . . what more could anyone want?

Tamale_Basket

Here’s just a taste.  The Fat Babies take on the Doc Cooke / Freddie Keppard classic at the San Diego Jazz Fest (Nov. 28, 2014): they are Beau Sample, string bass; Alex Hall, drums; Paul Asaro, piano; Jake Sanders, guitar / banjo; Dave Bock, trombone; John Otto, Jonathan Doyle, reeds; Andy Schumm, cornet.

And that tamale is filled with good things: idiomatic but loose ensemble playing, hot horn solos, bass-drum accents, stride piano, Charleston rhythms, ensemble shouts . . . a very satisfying plateful:

More to come.  And should the Fat Babies be new to you, look for their two Delmark CDs, CHICAGO HOT and 18th AND RACINE — each a delight.

May your happiness increase! 

HAL SMITH HONORS “MISTER CHACE”

The splendid jazz drummer and jazz scholar Hal Smith and I share certain serious devotions.  One is to the pianist Frank Melrose and his daughter Ida; another is to the clarinetist and brave explorer Frank Chace.

Hal has emerged with yet a third talent to share (generously) with us: he has created a beautiful and lively video tribute to Mister Chace, with a glorious soundtrack of SORRY — played by Marty Grosz and his Honoris Causa Jazz Band from the Riverside recording called HOORAY FOR BIX — as well as a panorama of rare, never-before-seen, highly evocative photographs that open the door to understanding Frank Chace a little wider.

Thank you, Hal!  Frank would be amused, perplexed, and I think pleased by your creative act of love.  Ultimately, he would be delighted that someone who understood the music so well — and played it with equal grace — had taken the time to honor him:

Hal and Frank can be heard together on two rewarding and illuminating CD sets on the Jazzology label — one with Butch Thompson, John Otto, and Charlie DeVore; the other with Tom Pletcher and Tom Bartlett, among others.  Winning music indeed.

May your happiness increase!

KEEPING JAZZ LIVELY: THE FAT BABIES, “18th AND RACINE”

For some musicians and many audience members, honoring the innovative music of the past is a nearly academic matter.  To them, one should treat a 1927 McKenzie-Condon recording as if it were a Mozart score, and make it come alive in this century through absolute idiomatic fidelity to the original.

This approach, a heartfelt reverence for the past, can have electrifying results. Hearing a trumpet player exquisitely reproduce a Louis solo has always made me want to cheer, and I am sure that Louis would have seen this as an act of love — a love that took skill, expertise, and hours of diligence.

But I wonder if all the truly innovative musicians of the past would have delighted in this form of reverence.  Would Bix be cheered to know that somewhere, right now, a cornet player is reproducing his solo on SINGIN’ THE BLUES?  I have my doubts; after all, he told Jimmy McPartland that what he liked most about jazz was its innate unpredictability, that no one knew what was going to happen next. Lester Young said that he felt hemmed in by the players who had copied his every mannerism and then presented it as a style.

For me, the most rewarding music balances its obeisances to the past (often encapsulated in recordings) with freshness, the delicious uncertainty of surprise, of risk, of invention within an idiom.

My readers may not agree with this, and I won’t demean the contemporary player who, in honoring an idol, reproduces his every nuance as a tribute and a beautiful piece of “acting.”  And innovation has to be aware of context: the young tenor player in the 2014 “Swing Era” big band, soloing on STOMPIN’ AT THE SAVOY, who launches into a Wayne Shorter meditation, pleases me not at all.

I offer here another energized example of how one might honor the past without dishonoring the present — the second compact disc by the Chicago-based hot band, THE FAT BABIES (Delmark Records):

MI0003675022

I thought their first CD, CHICAGO HOT, was superb — you can read my encomium here, and this one is even better.

The musicians are Beau Sample, string bass; Alex Hall, drums; Jake Sanders, tenor banjo, Paul Asaro, piano / vocal; Dave Bock, trombone; John Otto, clarinet / alto saxophone; Andy Schumm, cornet / alto saxophone — with incidental singing by the members of the ensemble and arrangements by Schumm, Asaro, and Otto.  The songs are LIZA (Condon-Rubens), TILL TIMES GET BETTER, THE STAMPEDE, MABEL’S DREAM, NOBODY’S SWEETHEART NOW, I CAN’T DANCE (I GOT ANTS IN MY PANTS), 18th AND RACINE (an original by Andy), KING KONG STOMP, EL RADO SCUFFLE, OH BABY, STARDUST, I’LL FLY TO HAWAII, OH ME! OH MY!, THE CHANT, BLUEBERRY RHYME.  Experienced jazz listeners will be able to tick off the associations here: James P. Johnson, Jelly Roll Morton, the Washboard Rhythm Kings, Joseph Robichaux, Jimmie Noone, Fletcher Henderson, Jabbo Smith, Eddie Condon, Brad Gowans, Hoagy Carmichael, Bix Beiderbecke, and more.

But the Fat Babies do more than reproduce old records.  They invent within the familiar architectures; honoring hallowed introductions and endings, they create energetic, personal statements — so that the results sound both idiomatic and fresh, with influences and shadings in motion on every track.  The ensemble is lively and flexible; the solos are rewarding; the rhythm section swings along mightily.  And there’s a group vocal on I’LL FLY TO HAWAII — more than anyone could ever ask for.

The CD doesn’t sound like a brilliant history lesson.  Rather, it sounds like a happy gathering of the faithful who have understood that “going for yourself”  — as Fats and Billie, Chick Webb, and Freddie Keppard did — is the true jazz gospel.

Whether or not you share my sentiments about recreation, repertory, innovation, originality, or not, you owe it to yourself to investigate this session.  It’s alive, and that’s always a good thing.  Revering the dead by making sure what they created never moves again might not be what the dead, once living, wanted for themselves.

May your happiness increase!

VANESSA TAGLIABUE YORKE: “THE RACINE CONNECTION”

What it looked like at the 2012 Bix Fest, thanks to Tom Warner, Phil Pospychala, Andy Schumm, Dalton Ridenhour, Josh Duffee, and the engaging singer Vanessa Tagliabue Yorke:

This performance and ten others are now available on a Rivermont Records CD called “Vanessa Tagliabue Yorke: The Racine Connection,” and it’s a thorough pleasure.

8938525

When most people go to a jam session, club, concert, or festival, if the music is superb, there’s often the regret mixed with the joy: “Wow, that was wonderful. Wish I could hear that again!” The new Rivermont Records CD makes it possible, and a delight.  For one thing, Vanessa isn’t simply a record-copyist (although she does a very effective Annette Hanshaw homage on IF YOU WANT THE RAINBOW).  Rather, she comes to this music with a winning combination of heartfelt emotions and deep understanding.

980x980-8B5E4682-CC3A-4405-AD6EB222A991968E

She has a rangy, eloquent voice — no squeaky-girl Betty Boopisms for her — and at times she evokes the raw yet controlled passion of Piaf.  And her musical range is equally spacious, as evident in the songs selected: BLUE RIVER / WE JUST COULDN’T SAY GOODBYE / THOU SWELL / BACK WATER BLUES / THE VERY THOUGHT OF YOU / IF YOU WANT THE RAINBOW / BLACK BOTTOM / LOVELESS LOVE / PETITE FLEUR / IN THE WEE SMALL HOURS OF THE MORNING / THEM THERE EYES / NEBBIA.  That three or four of those songs go beyond what one might expect at a Bix Festival — and that they are rendered with great feeling and depth — is tribute to Vanessa’s artistic honesty and breadth.

And when this earnest swinging singer is accompanied by great musicians Andy Schumm, Dalton Ridenhour, Yves Francois, John Otto, Dave Bock, Frank Gualtieri, Jason Goldsmith, Leah Bezin, MIke Waldbridge, and Josh Duffee, you know there is fine playing in solo, ensemble, and accompaniment to go along with Vanessa’s voice.  Ten of the twelve selections were recorded “live,” in performance, which is all to the good: I’ll choose that “live” sound, which makes a listener feel as if (s)he is right there, over the pure — and sometimes tense — acoustic environment of a studio any day.

You can find this CD — and many more refreshing ones, present and historical — here.  I predict that Vanessa is at the start of a long and rewarding series of performances and CDs.

May your happiness increase!

“RED HOT! THAT’S WHAT!”: THE FAT BABIES ON DISC: “CHICAGO HOT”

Sometimes — even in this age of instantaneous communication — we are surprisingly insular.  I had heard a good deal about this marvelous Chicago hot jazz band called, oddly, THE FAT BABIES.  I knew they would be superb because of the musicians I knew: Andy Schumm, cornet and more; Paul Asaro, piano;  Dave Bock, trombone and more; John Otto, clarinet and alto saxophone; and Jake Sanders, tenor banjo — all players I had heard in person and of course admired.  Alex Hall, drums, and Beau Sample, string bass / leader, were names new to me, but I figured that musicians are known by the company they keep.

At the 2012 Whitley Bay Classic Jazz Party I acquired a copy of their new Delmark CD, CHICAGO HOT, and before I had a chance to listen to it, I also became the happy owner of WHAT A HEAVENLY DREAM — a Fats Waller and his Rhythm project led by Paul Asaro, this on the Rivermont label.  You can read my unashamedly ecstatic review of the Rivermont CD here.

CHICAGO HOT

CHICAGO HOT is accurately titled.  I was listening to it in the car today, and if you’d seen a very happy man at a stop light grinning like mad and clapping his hands and bobbing his head . . . three guesses as to that man’s identity.

Before I begin to explain and rhapsodize — for I can do no less — if you visit the band’s website here, you can hear samples from the CD.  The personnel is as mentioned above: Schumm, Bock, Otto, Asaro, Sanders, Sample, and Hall — with tuba legend Mike Waldbridge joining the band for the final track.  The song titles will state where this band is at: SNAKE RAG / LONDON CAFE BLUES / SAN / ALEXANDER’S RAGTIME BAND / I SURRENDER, DEAR / DARDANELLA / BLACK SNAKE BLUES / HERE COMES THE HOT TAMALE MAN (with vocal interjections that I have taken as this post’s title) / FROGGIE MOORE / WILLOW TREE / WEARY BLUES / LIZA / PLEASE / SUSIE / TIGHT LIKE THIS / STOMP OFF, LET’S GO.  So you’ll note the exalted Presences: Papa Joe, Jelly Roll, Louis, Fats, James P., Keppard, Doc Cooke, Bix, Miff, Bing, and their pals.  No vocals or jiving around — no funny-hat stuff — just CHICAGO HOT.

The Fat Babies have accomplished something brilliant on this disc and, I gather, continue to do so regularly in front of living audiences at Chicago venues and elsewhere.  That is, they easily handle the question of “transcription,” “imitation,” “emulation,” “evocation,” and creative reinvention.  What do all those words mean?  Put plainly, although many of the performances on this disc are based on hallowed recordings, I never got the sense that these living players were attempting to “play old records live.”  Their success, for me, is in the way they imbue these monumental artifacts with their own personalities, playing within the style but feeling free to move around in it.

Thus, for one example, Paul Asaro, when faced with a thirty-two bar solo on a song made immortal by Louis Armstrong in 1928, doesn’t place on himself the burden of “becoming” Earl Hines or “reproducing” Earl’s famous chorus.  No — Paul Asaro plays Asaro in those thirty-two bars, drawing on a deep knowledge of Morton, Waller, and a thousand other sources.

Dave Bock sounds like someone who’d be first call for a 1929 Henderson date; John Otto moves from Rod Cless to Darnell Howard.  Andy Schumm, who has legions of starry-eyed admirers who want him to do nothing but become Bix before their eyes, evokes the tougher, more vibrato-laden work of Dominique and George Mitchell with a lovely mix of power and delicacy.

And that rhythm section!  I could listen to Asaro, Sanders (very wistful single-string solos and driving rhythm), Sample (somewhere Milton J. Hinton is grinning admiringly), Hall (who moves nimbly from the heavy brushwork Tommy Benford favors to evocations of Chauncey Morehouse, early Jo Jones — before Basie — George Stafford, Wettling, and other heroes) — swinging!

That swing is worth noting in itself.  Too many recordings / concerts devoted to some historically-accurate notion of what “early jazz” sounded like are at a distance from loose, happy swing.  Now, I know that what constitutes “swing” and “swinging” changes from decade to decade and from individual subjective perception, but the Fat Babies don’t feel compelled to imitate the rhythmic conventions of a 1923 recording just because the Gennett disc captured a particular sound.  But they don’t “update” in annoying ways: there are no quotes from ANTHROPOLOGY or BLUE SEVEN.

Too many words?  Take a look at this, recorded by my friend Jamaica Fisher Knauer:

To quote Chubby Jackson, “Wasn’t that swell?”  Or Alex Hill, “Ain’t it nice?”  (As someone who has a smartphone but doesn’t center his life around it, I must say that this video — and others by “victorcornet21” are the only reason to even considering buying an iPhone.)

I don’t write this about all that many discs, but CHICAGO HOT is a splendidly essential purchase if you feel as I do about hot music, exquisitely and expertly played.

And a postscript.  Liner notes are sometimes as energetically effusive — and just as accurate — as the blurbs on the back cover of a best-selling book.  But Kim Cusack, reed wizard and singer, doesn’t do such things.  He is outspoken and candid about the music he loves and the arts he practices — so notes by Kim are both a rare honor and testimony to his joyous endorsement of this band.

And — as a bonus — I learned from those notes what the band’s (to me) odd name was.  It comes from an expression young Beau Sample heard in his home state, Texas: “It’s hotter than a fat baby.”  Now you know.

May your happiness increase.

“WHAT A HEAVENLY DREAM”: PAUL ASARO and THE FAT BABIES PLAY FATS WALLER AND HIS RHYTHM (Rivermont Records)

Fats Waller left us in 1943.  Both he and his swinging little band — his Rhythm — are inimitable.  But jazz musicians have a good deal of fun trying, in their own ways, to evoke their joyous spirit.  And their efforts give us joy, too.  Dick Wellstood had his Friends of Fats; Mark Shane has FATS LIVES!

2222pic

The most recent — and highly successful — effort is captured on a new Rivermont Records CD: PAUL ASARO and THE FAT BABIES: WHAT A HEAVENLY DREAM / THE FATS WALLER RHYTHM PROJECT (BSW-2222). Paul Asaro has been a sweetly propulsive pianist and equally fine singer for some years now, and this CD captures him in great form with a band of musicians who are working on his level — the hot Chicago band led by string bassist Beau Sample, with Alex Hall (drums); Jake Sanders (guitar); John Otto (reeds); Andy Schumm (cornet).

How good is this session?  Two critical reactions will have to suffice here.  One is that I received the disc in the mail (a holiday present from a jazz friend!), listened to it last night and this afternoon, and am impelled to let you know about it as soon as possible.  The second is a small experiment I conducted — and it’s one of those you can indeed try at home in complete safetly.  I put the CD into the Beloved’s computer (two rooms away) and let it start up.  “Is that Fats?” she said immediately.  When I explained that it was a modern band in the Waller spirit, she said, “Wow, they are swinging like mad.”  And the Beloved knows Swing.

On the surface, this project looks familiar: fourteen songs, all but one of them recorded by Fats and the Rhythm between 1934-1941.  But there is nothing formulaic about this disc.  For one thing, there’s no lengthy renditions of AIN’T MISBEHAVIN’, KEEPIN’ OUT OF MISCHIEF NOW,  or HONEYSUCKLE ROSE.  Some of the songs are familiar — YOUR FEET’S TOO BIG, TRUCKIN’, BLUE TURNING GREY OVER YOU — but the majority are lesser-played, and some are deliciously obscure: YOU’RE MY DISH, ABDULLAH, GOT NO TIME, and WINTER WEATHER. Paul sings on several of the songs, but he is wise enough not to attempt Fats’ particular brand of theatrical jocularity.  And the players are on their own to tell their own stories — a great thing.

What distinguishes this disc from other Waller-inspired evocations is its overall gentleness and sweetness.  Yes, a number of the performances are up-tempo romps so that Paul can show off his considerable stride chops and the band can make any good-sized building sway back and forth, but much of the disc is devoted to sweet-tempered rhythm ballads — coaxing rather than stomping. Paul is responsible for this musical worldview, which makes the CD easy to love rather than difficult to endure (many CDs, however well-meant, grow tedious because of a sameness of approach) but the players here offer their most friendly selves.

The rhythm section of Hall, Sample, and Sanders chooses simplicity over virtuosity; they glide rather than push, and the music breathes beautifully.  John Otto is characteristically subtle on tenor and clarinet, with none of the dramatics Fats’ reedmen sometimes drifted towards.  And then there’s Andy Schumm — making the whole enterprise glow with a delicate sound that of course recalls a mid-Thirties Bix . . . but I thought more often of the young Bobby Hackett on the Decca Dick Robertson sides and, at times, what would have happened if Joe Smith had lived.

This edition of the Rhythm — 2012 style — is precious, and I  can only hope that Paul and company achieve their next dream,  which is a CD of songs Fats never recorded done in this blissful way.

Here’s  the Rivermont Records Facebbok page, and their website.  (Visit the website and hear excerpts from the disc.)

But wait!  There’s more.  This recording is available both as standard audio CD and also as an audiophile-grade vinyl LP limited to 500 copies (in your choice of crystal clear or standard black vinyl). BONUS: Each LP includes a complimentary CD copy of the entire album.  Enjoy the album on vinyl and CD for the same price as the CD alone.

Yum yum yum, to quote Mr. Waller.

May your happiness increase.