Tag Archives: Johnny Donatowicz

BY POPULAR DEMAND: THE CHICAGO CELLAR BOYS at the SAN DIEGO JAZZ FEST: ANDY SCHUMM, JOHN OTTO, JOHNNY DONATOWICZ, DAVE BOCK, PAUL ASARO (November 24, 2018)

Here’s the good news.  I took as many opportunities as I could, without slighting other much-loved bands, to hear and video the Chicago Cellar Boys at the 2018 San Diego Jazz Fest.  Although I had some technical difficulties with my camera, I came home with over forty performances captured on video.  Here’s the second installment (the first offering is here).

There is no bad news.

LOVIN’ SAM FROM ALABAM’ (one of those songs particular to that decade that celebrates the amorous magic of a legendary figure — in some versions, Sam is also a Sheik, thus getting double credit):

THE THINGS THAT WERE MADE FOR LOVE:

WHO’S SIT? (originally recorded by the Hot Five, and some bright person suggested recently that the title we see here was missing a letter, but I propose that Mr. Fearn would not let that title be printed on an OKeh label):

APEX BLUES (for Messrs.  Noone and Poston):

BLUE BLACK BOTTOM (homage to Fats, piano solo by Paul Asaro):

SAXOPHONE SAM:

TIA JUANA (thinking of the Wolverines):

BEER GARDEN BLUES (a 1933 Clarence Williams song that I am sure celebrates the end of Prohibition, with a group vocal — later, Clarence, always industrious, gave it new lyrics as SWING, BROTHER, SWING, predating the Basie / Billie song of the same title, which had a different set of composers — one of them Walter Bishop Sr., whom my father worked with at Movietone News:

If you’ve listened closely to any of these performances, perhaps these words will be superfluous.  Although the CCB is (are?) young in terms of the calendar — born in 2017 — they are a glorious working band: yes, their solos are magnificently realized, sweet or hot; they are masters of Tonation and Phrasing — but they are a band, with gratifying ensemble telepathy.

Add to that their love of unusual repertoire, from the deeply sentimental to the searing, from love songs to dark blues; add to that the orchestrally-wise arrangements where something beautiful is always going on, the instrumental doubling that makes this quintet seem like a whole host of bands . . . may they go on and prosper for a long long time.  Each set was full of surprises, songs I’d never heard or heard of before, and songs I knew but heard for their first time — played with such conviction, intelligence, and joyous expertise.  Yes, there are homages to Noone, the Wolverines, and the Hot Five, but nothing’s hackneyed: this band loves later Clarence Williams and obscure territory bands, as well as songs possibly never recorded but still full of melodic substance.

They bring me (and others, of course) so much joy.

You can, as they say, find the CCB here on Facebook.  And two other bits of relevant information: the CCB is a smaller version of the delightful band, the Fat Babies, and the CCB has a steady Sunday-night gig here in Chicago’s Pilsen neighborhood.  I’ve never been, but Charles has promised to take me.  And I hear that a CD of the band is in the making.

For the historians among us — here is the Blessed Antecedent:

May your happiness increase!

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AUDIENCE PARTICIPATION at the SAN DIEGO JAZZ FEST: THE CHICAGO CELLAR BOYS (November 25, 2018): ANDY SCHUMM, JOHN OTTO, PAUL ASARO, JOHNNY DONATOWICZ, DAVE BOCK

I must write at the start that I had thought of titling this post YOU CAN’T MAKE THIS STUFF UP, but decided to direct readers in a slightly different direction.

The relations between artists performing in public and their audience are often strange, especially at live jazz events.  The ideal audience (to me) sits rapt and attentive, but this austere ideal is not shared by everyone.  Often, the members of the audience renew old acquaintance throughout a performance — listening, if at all, marginally — and then shout WOOHOO! at the end.  Or they applaud in the middle of performances, which is, I assume, to be encouraged as a show of gratitude, but hearing people applaud when two instrumentalists are “trading fours” — after each solo utterance — goes beyond praise.

Someone once suggested the rather bleak theory that audience members couldn’t stand suppressing their egos for long, so they had to respond because they, too, wanted to be heard.  If anyone’s now tempted to write in and characterize me as a killjoy, I will only say that to me music is holy and even the hottest band’s outchoruses should be appreciated in ways that allow everyone to hear the music.

All of this is preface to a performance, captured on video, by the Chicago Cellar Boys at the San Diego Jazz Fest just a few days ago.  The Cellar Boys (their name a homage to sessions featuring Frank Teschemacher, Frank Melrose, Wingy Mannone, and Bud Freeman; later, Marty Grosz (a/k/a “Mart ‘Beef’ Gross”), Frank Chace, Dick Wellstood, and Pops Foster.  These Cellar Boys are a band-within-the-band of the Fat Babies, comprised of Andy Schumm, cornet, clarinet, tenor; John Otto, reeds; Paul Asaro, piano, vocal; Dave Bock, tuba; Johnny Donatowicz, guitar, banjo.  Here is the penultimate song they performed at their last set, on November 25, 2018.

PLEASE watch and listen attentively to the very end:

I don’t know how to account for that audience member’s ejaculation. Was it simply reflex?  “Oh my goodness, the music is going to end!  We can’t have that happen!” Or was it the punchline to the joke — a bit of comedy?  I don’t know.  But I am so glad I let my camera run.

And, as a postscript, I found the CCB entrancing, so I recorded many performances at the San Diego Jazz Fest.  They satisfy.

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!

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!