Tag Archives: Johnny Donatowicz

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!

OUT WEST: THE CHICAGO CELLAR BOYS at the SAN DIEGO JAZZ FEST: ANDY SCHUMM, JOHN OTTO, PAUL ASARO, JOHNNY DONATOWICZ, DAVE BOCK (Nov. 25, 2018)

These Boys don’t disappoint in their hot and sweet renditions of Twenties and Thirties Chicago-style jazz and pop music.  The CCB are Andy Schumm, cornet, clarinet, tenor saxophone; John Otto, clarinet, alto saxophone; Paul Asaro, piano, vocal; Johnny Donatowicz, banjo, guitar; Dave Bock, tuba.  I recorded these performances on November 15, 2018, at the San Diego Jazz Fest.

BLUES IN A MINOR honors the Blue Ribbon Syncopators, a reasonably obscure territory band from Buffalo, New York, who recorded this song in 1925 for OKeh.  It’s not a blues; it’s not in A minor.  An error in labeling?  You’re on your own:

Jelly Roll Morton’s dark lesson in keeping your own counsel, BIG LIP BLUES:

Clarence Williams’ rousing CUSHION FOOT STOMP (and I need a good answer about the etymology of the title):

The very pretty melody, A GARDEN IN THE RAIN:

Cliff Jackson’s (stride pianist with intriguing bass patterns, also leading the “Krazy Kats”) THE TERROR:

I have more video of the CCB in various places, but you should also know about their debut CD for Rivermont Records, BUSY ‘TIL ELEVEN, and that wonderful new oddity, a 10″ 78 rpm microgroove stereo vinyl record — a limited edition of 550 copies — that plays four songs in lovely fidelity while its ornate label rotates at the reassuringly high speed of a vanished time and place.  Learn more, hear more, and buy more here.

May your happiness increase!

“BUSY ‘TIL ELEVEN,” A CHARLESTON LESSON, and OTHER ECSTASIES: The CHICAGO CELLAR BOYS at the JUVAE MINI-FEST: ANDY SCHUMM, JOHN OTTO, PAUL ASARO, JOHNNY DONATOWICZ, DAVE BOCK (March 30, 2019)

This started out as a video post — a sharing of platefuls of joy — of music from one of my favorite bands, the Chicago Cellar Boys — and then their wonderful debut CD, BUSY ‘TIL ELEVEN, landed in my mailbox.  So it’s now a CD review also.  You can learn more about the Rivermont Records CD here.  And in that same place you can hear some convincing sound samples as well.  For once, words seem superfluous.

If you like Twenties music, hot and sweet, expertly played, wonderfully recorded, thoroughly annotated, you will delight in this disc: twenty-one songs, many thoroughly rare, all uplifting and varied.  The band is thoroughly playful (the title is not a song in itself, but a line from one of the songs performed by pianist-vocalist Paul Asaro).

Perhaps you’ve sat long enough.  In the mood for vigorous aerobics?

Before you delight in the Chicago Cellar Boys performing at the Juvae Jazz Mini-Fest last March 30, here’s some relevant dance instruction:

The hot music that follows was performed in Decatur, Illinois, by the Boys: Andy Schumm, cornet, clarinet, tenor saxophone, arrangements; John Otto, clarinet, alto saxophone; Paul Asaro, piano; Johnny Donatowicz, banjo, guitar; Dave Bock, tuba.  Now, roll up the carpets and put the pets outside.

Here’s one for Charlie Johnson’s Paradise Orchestra and Sammut of Malta:

And a statement of intent, courtesy of Coon-Sanders:

Willie “the Lion” Smith’s particular brand of uptown hedonism:

A rare Fats Waller tune describing someone entranced by the dance:

Finally, Cliff Jackson’s THE TERROR (which is only scary for those who choose to play it):

I feel thinner already, and I’ve only intermittently left my chair.  May the Boys flourish; nay they have so many lucrative gigs that they have to turn some down; may their CD sell out (if it hasn’t already).

May your happiness increase!

“NOONE KNOWS”: The CHICAGO CELLAR BOYS at the JUVAE MINI-FEST: ANDY SCHUMM, JOHN OTTO, PAUL ASARO, JOHNNY DONATOWICZ, DAVE BOCK (March 30, 2019)

More of the good stuff, Jimmie Noone’s Apex Club Orchestra-style, by the Chicago Cellar Boys: Andy Schumm, clarinet, cornet, and tenor saxophone; John Otto, alto saxophone and clarinet; Paul Asaro, piano and vocal; Dave Bock, tuba; Johnny Donatowicz, banjo and guitar . . . recorded at the delightful one-day jazz extravaganza put on by the Juvae Jazz Society in Decatur, Illinois.

A tune all the musicians in the world like to jam (more fun than brother Ted’s AN AMERICAN TRAGEDY), Paul Dresser’s MY GAL SAL:

and that Oriental romance, SAN:

and another I-want-to-go-home-to-the-Southland song:

finally, the rousing Youmans I KNOW THAT YOU KNOW:

Postscript: I originally entertained thoughts of calling this post NOONE CARES, but realized that would be wrong on so many levels: these musicians care deeply, and I am sure that you — if you are reading this post — do, too.

May your happiness increase!

FOR NOONE IN PARTICULAR: The CHICAGO CELLAR BOYS at the JUVAE JAZZ SOCIETY MINI-FEST: ANDY SCHUMM, DAVE BOCK, JOHNNY DONATOWICZ, JOHN OTTO, PAUL ASARO (Decatur, Illinois: March 30, 2019)

I had a wonderful time last weekend at the one-day jazz festival — the little party thrown by the Juvae Jazz Society in Decatur, Illinois.  Friendly kind people, hot music, sweet sounds, and good feelings in the Flatland.

The two bands I made the trek to hear are Petra van Nuis’ Recession Seven (more about them soon) and the Chicago Cellar Boys: Andy Schumm, cornet, clarinet, tenor saxophone, arrangements; John Otto, clarinet, alto saxophone; Paul Asaro, piano, vocals; Dave Bock, tuba; Johnny Donatowicz, banjo, guitar.

Andy made his name with most jazz audiences (I saw him, with Dave Bock, first in 2007, alongside Dan Barrett at Jazz at Chautauqua) as a hot cornetist, the closest thing to “the dear boy” possible.  But in the intervening years, he’s branched out to embody a whole variety of cornet styles, and he’s also shown himself to be a fine tenor player in the Jack Pettis mold, and a spectacular  clarinetist, evoking Tesch, Mezz, and Jimmie.  That’s Teschemacher, Mezzrow, and Noone for the newcomers.

The last fellow on that list — facetiously called “Jimmie No-One” by Kenny Davern, who loved his playing, is our subject today.  Noone’s little Apex Club band featured himself on clarinet, Doc Poston on alto, Earl Hines on piano, Bud Scott on banjo, Johnny Wells on drums, and Lawson Buford or Bill Newton on tuba.  This little band’s most remarkable trademark was the interplay between Noone and Poston, who had worked with Freddie Keppard and Doc Cook earlier.  Incidentally, I’m told that the Apex Club was at 330 East 35th Street on the South Side of Chicago.  Here is a current view of that address, not inspiring.  Sic transit gloria mundi.

Even though the architecture is obliterated, the music remains, so here are the Chicago Cellar Boys becoming the Apex Club Orchestra on two selections — one unrelated to Noone, the other a direct hit.

EL RADO SCUFFLE was in the band’s book, and I read somewhere that the club Noone’s group was working at was the El Dorado, but some letters were missing from the sign or some lights didn’t function.  If that was the Scuffle or something larger I can’t know: create your own stories to this soundtrack:

I associate KEEP SMILING AT TROUBLE with Bunny Berigan, Bud Freeman, Joe Marsala, Vic Lewis, Eddie Condon, Jim Goodwin and Ray Skjelbred, Marty Grosz, Bobby Gordon, Dan Levinson — so it is a song with a wonderful pedigree. Here the Cellar Boys are already grinning, and Trouble has left the building — Trouble don’t like verses:

Delicious.  And more to come.

May your happiness increase!