Tag Archives: Johnny Dodds

WHAT WOULD JELLY DO? “RAGTIME – NEW ORLEANS STYLE, VOLUME TWO”: KRIS TOKARSKI, JOSHUA GOUZY, HAL SMITH

Kris Tokarski has been one of my favorite solo and ensemble pianists for some years now.  It can’t be “many” years, because Kris is perhaps half my age, but my admiration is not limited by the length of our acquaintance.  He listens, he creates melodies, he swings, he sounds like himself, and he has a deep appreciation for the past without being chained by narrow historical definitions.

He’s recorded in a variety of settings, but here I draw your attention to two CDs of ragtime pieces done with delicacy and individuality: the first, issued in 2016 on Solo Art, paired him with drummer-scholar Hal Smith and string bassist Cassidy Holden, pleased me and others immensely: read more about it here.  KINKLETS from that disc:

The second disc by Kris and  Hal, now joined by bassist Joshua Gouzy, issued on Big Al Records, is called RAGTIME – NEW ORLEANS STYLE, VOLUME TWO, and it’s a real pleasure. Hear a sample for yourself here (scroll down the page through the evidence of how well Kris plays with others and on his own).

The premise is a collection of rags that Jelly Roll Morton planned to record — or would have known and played.  And it’s not a fanciful vision, as Hal Smith’s  solid annotations show — in 1939, Morton discussed with Roy Carew his plans to play Joplin and others in his own style, because, as he told Carew, “he didn’t know of anyone more qualified to do it than himself,” and he envisioned recording thirty or forty rags.  (Oh, had he lived for another decade!)

He didn’t live to accomplish this, but we have Tokarski, Gouzy, and Smith to make the fantasy real.

I am especially fond of projects that take a gently imaginative look at the past. Let those who feel drawn to such labors reproduce recordings: the results can be dazzling.  It takes decades of skill to play BIG FAT MA AND SKINNY PA and sound even remotely like the Hot Five.  But even more entrancing to me is the notion of “What might have happened . . . .?” going back to my early immersion in Golden Era science fiction.  An example that stays in my mind is a series of Stomp Off recordings devoted to the Johnny Dodds repertoire, with the brilliant Matthias Seuffert taking on the mantle.  But the most memorable track on those discs was Porter’s YOU DO SOMETHING TO ME, a pop tune from 1929 that Dodds might well have heard or even played — rendered convincingly and joyously in his idiom.  (It really does something to me.)

That same playful vision applies to this disc.  It merges, ever so gently, Jelly Roll Morton and an unhackneyed ragtime repertoire, mixing piano solos and piano trio.  That in itself is a delightful combination, and I replayed this disc several times in a row when I first acquired a copy.

Kris plays beautifully, with a precise yet flexible approach to the instrument and the materials.  He doesn’t undercut, satirize, or “modernize”; his approach is simultaneously loving and easy. It’s evident that he has heard and absorbed the lessons of James P. Johnson and Teddy Wilson — their particular balance of propulsion and relaxation — as well as being able to read the notes on the page. He doesn’t pretend to be Morton in the way that lesser musicians have done (with Bix, Louis, Monk, and others) — cramming in every possible Mortonism over and over.  What he does is imagine a Mortonian approach, but he allows himself freedom to move idiomatically, with grace and beauty, within it.  And he doesn’t, in the name of “authenticity,” make rags sound stiff because they were written before Joe Oliver and Little Louis took Chicago.  He’s steady, but he’s steadily gliding.  His approach to the rags is neither stuffy reverence nor near-hysterical display.

He’s in good company with Josh and Hal.  Many string bassists working in this idiom confuse percussiveness with strength, and they hit the fretboard violently: making the bass a victim of misplaced enthusiasm.  Not Joshua, who has power and melodic wisdom nicely combined: you can listen to his lines in the trio with the delight you’d take in a great horn soloist.  Every note sings, and he’s clearly there with the pulse.

As for the drummer?  To slightly alter a famous Teagarden line, “If Hal don’t get it, well, forget it right now,” which is to say that Hal’s playing on this disc is a beautifully subtle, completely “living” model of how to play ensemble drums: gracious yet encouraging, supportive.  He doesn’t just play the beat: he creates a responsive tapestry of luxuriant sounds.

The CD is beautifully recorded by Tim Stambaugh of Word of Mouth Studios, and the repertoire is a treat — rags I’d never heard (THE WATERMELON TRUST by Harry C. Thompson, and ROLLER SKATERS RAG by Samuel Gompers) as well as compositions by Joplin, Lamb, Scott, Turpin, Matthews, and May Aufderheide.  Nothing overfamiliar but all melodic and mobile.

Here’s another sample.  Kris, Joshua, and Hal are the rhythm section of Hal’s Kid Ory “On the Levee” band, and here they play May Aufderheide’s DUSTY RAG at the San Diego Jazz Fest in November 2018:

Hear what I mean?  They play with conviction but their seriousness is light-hearted.  Volume Two is a disc that won’t grow tired or stale.  Thank you, Kris, Josh, and Hal!  And Jelly, of course.

May your happiness increase!

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RARE OR FAMILIAR, ALL SPLENDID: THE CHICAGO CELLAR BOYS (and a GUEST) at the SAN DIEGO JAZZ FEST: ANDY SCHUMM, JOHN OTTO, PAUL ASARO, JOHNNY DONATOWICZ, DAVE BOCK, and COLIN HANCOCK (November 25, 2018)

I admire the Chicago Cellar Boys immensely, as JAZZ LIVES readers have seen since their inception in 2017, and I’ve been privileged to see and hear them in person (the most recent time just a day ago at the Juvae Jazz Mini-Fest in Decatur, Illinois . . . more from that occasion soon).  I also hear that their debut CD is on the way.

Their virtues are considerable.  They are that most glorious entity, a working band with beautiful arrangements, hot or sweet, wonderful solo and ensemble playing.  But something that may not catch the listeners’ attention quickly is the breadth of their repertoire — visible in the thick black binders brought to the stage.  Every CCB set has several tunes in it that I’ve known only as obscure recordings or ones I’ve never heard at all, and when they perform a “chestnut,” it is beautifully alive in its own idiomatic shape.  They are: Andy Schumm, cornet, clarinet, tenor saxophone, arrangements; John Otto, clarinet, alto saxophone; Paul Asaro, piano, vocals; Johnny Donatowicz, banjo, guitar; Dave Bock, tuba.  And here are six delights from the 39th San Diego Jazz Fest, performed on November 25, 2018.

First, a charming 1929 exclamation of delight:

and something cosmological from the same year, by Phil Baxter.  Feel free to sing the special aviation-themed lyrics as the Cellar Boys soar lyrically:

Here’s Andy’s superbly indefatigable reading of the Johnny Dodds showcase, LITTLE BITS:

and a reading of THE SHEIK OF ARABY that owes more to Rudolph Valentino than to Hot Lips Page, but I don’t mind at all:

I’ve already posted the two videos below, but these exercises in spontaneous combustion, Chicago-style, deserve multiple watchings.  Don’t be afraid to cheer! (As I write this, the first video has been seen 591 times.  One person took the trouble to “dislike” it.  What a pity, Sir!) Here the youthful multi-instrumentalist Colin Hancock sits in on cornet with the Cellar Boys (Andy switches to clarinet) and the results are ferocious:

SHIM-ME-SHA-WABBLE:

Finally, a rousing WEARY BLUES:

I promise you there will be more of the Chicago Cellar Boys “while breath lasts,” as my dear benefactor Harriet Sheehy used to say.  For now, enjoy the sweet heat.

May your happiness increase!

 

“BENNY AMÓN’S NEW ORLEANS PEARLS” WINS THE COVETED JAZZ LIVES “GFP”* AWARD: BENNY AMÓN, WENDELL BRUNIOUS, STEVE PISTORIUS, FREDDIE LONZO, ALEX BELHAJ, TOM FISCHER, TYLER THOMSON, JOE GOLDBERG, TIM LAUGHLIN

Let us start with the glorious evidence.

That’s the opening track of Benny’s new CD, and when the band shifts into tempo after Benny’s interlude I find myself in tears of joy.

Benny Amón is one of my heroes  And hero Benny can also write.

Often I’ve felt complete awe and incredulity for my experiences playing music in the city of New Orleans. I have been incredibly fortunate to gain mentors, many of whom are featured on this recording session, who have taught me to play New Orleans traditional music with the right feeling and spirit while also encouraging me to find my own voice as a musician.

This recording session is snapshot of that journey after spending most of my 20’s living in this beautiful city. The session is comprised of some of the most treasured musicians to come from this city and some of the greatest to have moved here. This exchange of generations, of cultures, of perspectives of music and life is what has helped make this recording session so successful.

My most important mentor and collaborator over the past several years, Steve Pistorius is featured prominently on this record whether it be ragtime duets, trios with horn players, or in the 7 piece ensemble. As Wendell Brunious likes to say, Steve is the #1 interpreter of the Jelly Roll Morton style of piano. Steve contributed much by writing out good melodies and chords as well.

Speaking of Wendell Brunious, we have worked together often at Preservation Hall over the past few years. Wendell is one of the best trumpet players and entertainers in the whole world and comes from one of the most important musical families of New Orleans. He is a gem that we cannot take for granted.

Freddie Lonzo is another of the New Orleans born and raised musicians who I have been working with over the past years at Preservation Hall and also at the Palm Court Jazz Cafe. He is one of the few trombone players left who understands how to play New Orleans style tailgate trombone. His positive energy and humor is infectious, as is his singing.

Tom Fischer has been in New Orleans for longer than I have been alive and his dedication to excellence on both clarinet and alto saxophone is evident on this record.

New Orleans’ own clarinetist Tim Laughlin recorded two songs on this cd that turned out beautifully. He is one of the my first and most important mentors in New Orleans.

Tyler Thomson also known as “Twerk” by many, is absolutely on fire on this record. Bringing incredible power and solidity to the bands he plays with. He would make Pops Foster, Chester Zardis, and Alcide Louis “Slow Drag” Pavageau proud.

Alex Belhaj is a dear friend of mine who moved to New Orleans a few years ago and he is a frequent collaborator with the Riverside Jazz Collective. His fine banjo and guitar playing is featured in the 7 piece band.

Joe Goldberg is another transplant to New Orleans who has earned the respect of all the top players in both the traditional and modern jazz scenes. His clarinet and soprano saxophone playing as well as his singing is featured on a couple of songs.

As a final note I would like to add a reflection on the actual site of the recording session. George Blackmon, an old friend and excellent studio engineer moved his entire set up to the Scandinavian Jazz Church (Formerly known as the Norwegian Seamen’s Church) to record the bands. The sound he got in that beautiful old church is reminiscent of old New Orleans dance halls where the New Orleans Jazz Revival bands led by such luminaries as Bunk Johnson and George Lewis used to play and record. The Jazz Church unfortunately was sold and since has been closed down after over a 100 years of service to the New Orleans community. The Church hosted jazz concerts and jazz prayer services for decades. The Church generously allowed us to record and use their facilities free of charge. This recording, and the accompanying videos produced, will stand as a last testament to this beautiful and historically important New Orleans institution.

Most importantly, the music on this record is an authentic and timeless account of the New Orleans Jazz scene as I experienced it at this time of my life; full of life, and joy. I am proud to release this music and hope that you enjoy it!

You  might think that Benny has said everything that needs to be said, but I want to add some perceptions he might be too modest to write himself.  Although he turns 30 this year, he is a mature artist with large heartfelt visions and sensitivity.  He is a spectacularly fine drummer.  He makes beautiful sounds, he plays for “the comfort of the band,” he knows dynamics and timbres, and he swings no matter what the tempo.  But he’s more than a wonderful percussionist.

Much of what is marketed as jazz these days — although it says it is inclusive — is a matter of boundaries and barriers, enacted in terms of repertoire and colleagues.  “Ourselves alone,” as the Irish used to say. Benny understands the music as spacious, its boundaries easy and flexible.  That doesn’t mean the new CD takes an iconoclastic approach for novelty’s sake, but it does mean that his vision of New Orleans jazz is easy and loose.  There are echoes on this disc of Bunk Johnson, King Oliver, Louis Armstrong, Jelly Roll Morton, Johnny Dodds, Jimmy Blythe, and Zutty Singleton — but also Eddie Condon, Billie Holiday, James P. Johnson.  Sidney Bechet is in town, but it is the later rhapsodic French Bechet; the Bunk echoes are of the “Last Testament” session.  I am tempted to write a track-by-track guided tour, but why spoil your surprises?

Benny’s gracious understanding also extends to the musicians he chose for this disc.  He has opened his musical house to friends who can really play and sing, people who are individualists.  And the welcome includes Elders and Youngbloods, which makes the session particularly earthy, fresh, and sweetly -surprising — it has some of the feel of a cross-generational down-home jam session where everyone is grinning their faces off at what they are hearing and what they are part of creatively.  It isn’t trad-by-the-numbers; it isn’t busker-stomp; it isn’t formulaic in any way.  And the repertoire is splendidly unhackneyed without being consciously esoteric.

Many CDs offer a huge plateful of The Same Thing, the musical equivalent of an eight-pound plateful of shrimp with lobster sauce.  But I have played this disc half a dozen times from first to last, enraptured.  There are full-ensemble pieces, one-horn, piano-drums trios, a gorgeous drum solo (BENNY FACE, as melodic as any orchestral piece), piano and drums, a few vocals (Goldberg on MY BABY; Brunious on BACKYARD; Lonzo on CALIFORNIA) — and speaking of BACKYARD . . .

How fresh and heartfelt that is!

Now I must explain the “GFP Award.”  I’d asked Benny to send me a copy of the disc when it was ready (handsome art direction there, too) and when I got it in the mail, drawn by whatever magnetism, I played it that night and wrote him immediately that it was, and I quote, a GIANT FUCKING PLEASURE (I use the vernacular when possible) and he asked me to please use that language in my blog.  I am too restrained to make it the heading . . . but the disc makes me happy.  You can buy the physical disc or a digital download here.  Don’t miss an opportunity to be uplifted.

Bless Benny and his friends.  They bring such joy.

May your happiness increase!

LET’S HEAT IT UP: COLIN HANCOCK MEETS THE CHICAGO CELLAR BOYS (San Diego Jazz Fest, Nov. 25, 2018): COLIN HANCOCK, ANDY SCHUMM, PAUL ASARO, JOHN OTTO, JOHNNY DONATOWICZ, DAVE BOCK

It’s January, and the temperatures are, shall we say, brisk.  Let’s assume your house has drafts — air pours through windows and air-conditioners — or it’s simply not that warm inside.  You could buy this to solve the problem:

or, in honor of the King of Swing, you could put on a sweater (credit to CLEO of Kildare Street, Dublin, Ireland):

 

But I have a more immediate solution, one that won’t require you to wait several days for a product to be shipped.  That is, you could invite — through cyberspace — Colin Hancock and the Chicago Cellar Boys over for a visit.  You can learn more about Colin, a tremendously gifted multi-instrumentalist, arranger, vocalist, bandleader, and scholar here, or on this blog here.  Colin was at the 39th San Diego Jazz Fest this past November with the Original Cornell Syncopators, and you will see some videos from their performances shortly.  But the Chicago Cellar Boys were also there — Andy Schumm, cornet, clarinet, saxophone; John Otto, reeds; Paul Asaro, piano, vocal; Johnny Donatowicz, guitar, banjo; Dave Bock, tuba.  Learn more about them here or on the blog here also.

At the San Diego Jazz Fest, there were two bright shining moments — Hot Camelot, if you will — when Colin sat in with the Chicago Cellar Boys and magic ensued.  See if the room temperature doesn’t rise.

SHIM-ME-SHA-WABBLE, for the New Orleans Rhythm Kings and the Chicagoans (and https://jazzlives.wordpress.com/2016/05/26/the-latest-prance-words-and-music/ is the music and lyrics for that intoxicating 1917 melody):

WEARY BLUES, for Johnny Dodds and Louis and generations to come:

It feels like May now, thanks to these great hot spirits.

May your happiness increase!

THEY KEEP ROLLING ON: DAVID HORNIBLOW and ANDREW OLIVER PLAY MORTON, BEAUTIFULLY

It’s one thing to have a bright idea, another to give that idea tangible shape.  But consistent unflagging creativity is dazzling.  The Complete Morton Project — Andrew Oliver, piano, and David Horniblow, reeds, with occasional doubling and special guests — is a wonderful embodiment of all the principles above.

I have trouble keeping up with their weekly gifts, but here is another sustained offering of pleasure.

DON’T YOU LEAVE ME HERE was recorded in Morton’s last flourish, although I suspect he had had the composition in his repertoire for years.  With its melancholy title, it’s always a pleasing shock to hear it treated in this jauntily ambling fashion:

and a Morton line that used to be played more often — famous versions with Louis, Bechet, Red, Johnny Dodds — WILD MAN BLUES, with a delicious conversation-in-breaks created by Andrew and David:

GAN JAM (or GANJAM) was never recorded by Jelly, but was envisioned as an orchestral composition for a big band.  James Dapogny reimgined it as it might have been, and here the CMP envisions it as a duet — full of what might have been called “Oriental” touches but to our ears might simply be extended harmonies, quite fascinating.  I’d bet that someone hearing this for the first time would not think Morton its composer.  You can read Andrew’s observations on both tune and performance here:

Finally, a title that would not apply to what Andrew and David have been giving us so generously, THAT’LL NEVER DO (did Morton say that to one of his musicians at a rehearsal or run-through?).

I see a chorus line in my mind, high-kicking:

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!

ART IS NOT THE BOX IT COMES IN

 

Have you heard this recently, this ecstatic sustained outpouring of wise joys?

You can read the names off the record label before the music starts, so I don’t have to name the divine figures.

I nearly drowned in an online discussion this morning — what is the difference between “New Orleans jazz” and “Dixieland”?  That dangerous question quickly branched off into definitions of “Chicago jazz” and “true traditional jazz,” with small mutterings about “two-beat” and “four-beat.”

Gentlemen (for they were all male), these names were not invented by musicians.  From what I’ve seen in practice, the Ancestors did not go on the job or into the record studio and say, “Well, fellows, now we are about to create three minutes — or ten minutes — of Authentic _____________ (insert divisive name here).”

They might have said, “Here’s a song we love.  Here’s a good old good one,” but usually they referred to what they were doing as “playing music,” or — when things got too divisive — as “our music.”

(At this point, someone will expect me to repeat what Eddie Condon or Duke Ellington said about music.  I won’t.  My audience already knows those quotations by heart.)

I backed away from the online discussion because my GP is trying to get my blood pressure down, and such conversations are not good for me.  But I think of it this way: if your birthday present comes in a box wrapped with newspaper, and the present pleases you, do you need to obsess on the newspaper?

The nomenclature was invented by clubowners, record companies, journalists — to sell a product.  Music might be made into a product, but it is essentially a heartfelt personal creation, and arguing about the names for it ultimately has little to do with the art.  And such arguments fragment what is already a small audience.

So . . . call it what you will, if you must.  But realize that names are not the reality of what we cherish when we hear or play it.  And perhaps you might want to listen to that sainted recording once again.

P.S.  For once, I am going to exert imperial privilege — my blog is like my house, and if guests behave badly, I point them to the door.  So negative comments will not see the light.  And now, I am going into Manhattan — below Fourteenth Street — to savor some music.

May your happiness increase!