Tag Archives: Johnny Guarneri

STEVE PIKAL, “SWINGIN’ THE BASS,” with DALTON RIDENHOUR at the 2018 Scott Joplin International Ragtime Festival (June 1, 2018)

Steve Pikal, characteristically morose. Photograph by Andrea Canter.

String bassist / perpetual motion machine Steve Pikal is a marvelous force of nature.  Ask any musician who has been privileged to play alongside him.  His time is splendid, his inventiveness astonishing, his energy a delight.  He has perfect pitch — you can’t lose him! — and he finds the right notes.  He takes his playing tremendously seriously, but his work is joyous, and his ego almost invisible.  When I suggested to him that I do a bass-instruction video about him, he laughed and said he was self-taught so he didn’t know what he would have to offer.

Music elevates him, and the only time I’ve ever seen him without a smile is when he’s been studying a new chart with intentness.  I quote, “Swingin’ the Bass with all you great cats as often as I can is my mission. Gotta love it!!

What follows, slightly less than three minutes, is one of those occasions where I thank my lucky stars that I have a video camera and microphone, it was ready to go, and I was carrying it.

All through the Scott Joplin International Ragtime Festival, free musical programs were sprinkling the air with notes — some a few blocks away at Gazebo Park, but most under the red-and-white tent pitched a block away from the Hotel Bothwell.  I had gone back to the hotel to get my camera and fresh batteries to record an evening’s concert performance, and was on my way to the theatre . . . when delightful strains of Swing filled the air.  It was Steve, apparently joining pianist Dalton Ridenhour for a number.  It sounded so good: jazz pheronomes, that I began to record the second half of their improvisation on MY BLUE HEAVEN, which owed a good deal to Walter Page and perhaps Johnny Guarnieri — but most of all to Pikal and Ridenhour. It makes me happy every time I revisit it:

I hope that the Fates offer another chance — when I am early and ready — to see, hear, and record Steve and Dalton again.  There will be a plenitude of Pikal-powered joy on this site (the Holland-Coots Jazz Quintet and the Rock Island Roustabouts) and there are several new CDs that feature him, most notably GROOVUS (with Brian Holland and Danny Coots).

What a wonder he is, and how fortunate we are to have him.

May your happiness increase!

THEY SOUGHT IT, THEY FOUND IT, THEY OFFER IT TO US: ENGELBERT WROBEL, STEPHANIE TRICK, PAOLO ALDERIGHI, NICKI PARROTT, BERNARD FLEGAR (April 9, 2016, Westoverledingen, Germany)

Notes from the JAZZ LIVES editorial board.  I originally posted this video and created this blog in November 2016, and some logistical considerations interfered, so it went into the darkness.  But now it pokes its sweet head up again into the light and like happiness, it will not be denied. 

The United States Constitution, I remember, offers its citizens the promise of “the pursuit of happiness.”  Happiness can be quite elusive, but occasionally it slows down long enough for us to get a sniff, a taste.

I present to you five earnest, gifted artists who are in pursuit as well as expertly embodying it.

JAZZ IM RATHAUS April 2016 Photograph by Elke Grunwald

JAZZ IM RATHAUS April 2016 Photograph by Elke Grunwald

All of this — improvisations on a venerable Vincent Youmans song — took place on April 9, 2016, at the Rathaus in Westoverledingen, Germany  — cozy and sweet — under the benignly serious aegis of Manfred Selchow: concert impresario, jazz scholar, and friend of three decades.  The artists I refer to are Engelbert Wrobel, tenor saxophone; Stephanie Trick and Paolo Alderighi, piano and hijinks; Nicki Parrott, string bass; Bernard Flegar, drums.

And without consciously choosing to copy, to reproduce, these five players summon up the joyous swing of the Lester Young recordings in the early Forties: the trio with Nat Cole and Buddy Rich; the quartet with Sidney Catlett, Slam Stewart, Johnny Guarnieri.

More to come.  And a special postscript.  I’ve video-recorded Paolo, Stephanie, Nicki in varied settings and they are heroes to me.  Angel (that’s what his friends call Engelbert) I’ve only captured once before, on his visit to New York at The Ear Inn.  But this was my first opportunity to see as well as hear the youthful Master Bernard Flegar.  Does he not swing?  I ask you!

May your happiness increase!

FIVE GEMS BY THREE MASTERS: ROSSANO SPORTIELLO, FRANK TATE, HAL SMITH at the CLEVELAND CLASSIC JAZZ PARTY (September 16, 2016)

We must acknowledge the passage of time.  Art Tatum, Johnny Guarneri, Hank Jones have become Ancestors.  Israel Crosby, Milt Hinton, and Oscar Pettiford have moved to another neighborhood.  Sidney Catlett, Dave Tough, and Jo Jones have passed into spirit.

FRANK.

FRANK.

But we cannot mourn those shifts too sorrowfully, because we have Rossano Sportiello, piano; Frank Tate, string bass; Hal Smith, drums to show us how it’s done in 2016 — Old Time Modern, flawlessly.

They did it (perhaps for the first time ever?) at the 2015 Cleveland Classic Jazz Party, for a short spell.  It seemed that by the time I had set up my camera, their set was over.

HAL.

HAL.

This year, on September 16, 2016, I was better prepared . . . and caught the whole glorious effusion.  I was transported, and the audience was rocking alongside me.  You’ll hear immediately that I don’t list the names of the illustrious forbears in vain. This trio has a lightness and grit that I don’t hear very often, and it is good medicine for troubled times and happy ones.  They perform two early-twentieth century pop classics, two blues, with nods to Basie, Charlie Christian, and the boogie-woogie masters, as well as Rossano’s Chopin-into-jazz transformations.  All with style, grace, and enthusiasm beyond compare.  And this is a blissfully natural-sounding group: a fine grand piano (no microphones pushed under its lid); an unamplified string bass; a drum kit of snare drum and hi-hat cymbal, wire brushes to the fore — the old days without anything dusty about them.

ROSSANO.

ROSSANO.

SHOULD I? (from Rhapsody to Romp, which could serve as a title for the set):

SWEET LORRAINE:

SOFT WINDS:

CHOPIN IN JAZZ:

BASIE BLUES / BOOGIE (exalted dance music):

I have it on good authority that this trio is accepting gigs.  Private parties, public concert tours, canonization . . . what you will.  They deserve it, and so do we.

May your happiness increase!

CHARLES, JIMMIE, MIKE, SKIPPY, PETE, COOTIE, DAVE, 1941

Some Swing fan had very good taste in his / her autograph quest, getting our heroes to sign their names on the same piece of paper:

CHARLIE CHRISTIAN SIGNATURES w DAVE TOUGH

That assemblage comes from the Benny Goodman Orchestra in early 1941 (February – March): Charlie Christian, electric guitar; Jimmie Maxwell, trumpet; Mike Bryan, guitar; Skippy Martin, alto saxophone / arranger; Pete Mondello, tenor saxophone; Cootie Williams, trumpet; Dave Tough, drums.

I first saw this browning piece of notebook paper as part of the Larry Rafferty Collection: someone no doubt has bought it by now but there’s no reason JAZZ LIVES can’t share the image with the Faithful.

And some of my favorite music of all time (I think I first bought the record of this in 1972): an excerpt from a Goodman Sextet without Benny, warming up in the studio: Charlie, Cootie, Dave, Johnny Guarneri, George Auld — working on what would be called A SMOOTH ONE:

I don’t hear the string bass of Artie Bernstein, but do I hear the voice of John Hammond early on?  “Mop!” is our man Cootie Williams. This is music — like a deep pool — that one could descend in to for a long time.  Bliss that it was recorded at all, and even better that the whole rehearsal / informal session did survive, was issued in several formats (Meritt Record Society and Masters of Jazz, vinyl and CD).

A year after he signed this paper, Charlie Christian (1916-1942) was dead.

May your happiness increase!

KEY NOTES

I bought myself a truly gratifying holiday present:

KEYNOTE BOX

For details from the Fresh Sound website, click here.

It’s possible that some readers might be unfamiliar with the Keynote Records catalogue, so if the tiny portraits above don’t pique your interest, here are a few words.  Between 1941 and 1947, with the bulk of its sessions taking place in 1944-6. this independent jazz label produced a wide sampling of the best jazz records ever made — from the New Orleans jazz of George Hartman to the “modern sounds” of Lennie Tristano and Red Rodney.  Keynote was the expression of one man’s intelligent taste — the Javanese jazz fan and producer Harry Lim (1919-1990).  Lim’s records neatly balance written arrangements, head arrangements, and improvised solos.  Many of the Keynote issues were recorded for issue on 12″ 78s, thus giving musicians room to create in more leisurely ways.  In fairness, the Keynote sessions were not the only ones taking place in the wartime years: Lim’s issues ran parallel with Commodore, Blue Note, Hot Record Society, Signature, and even smaller labels — Asch, Jamboree and Wax among them.  Keynote featured jazz players who were already stars: Coleman Hawkins, Roy Eldridge, Lester Young, Red Norvo, Benny Carter, Sidney Catlett, Teddy Wilson, Johnny Hodges, Slam Stewart, Jack Teagarden, Earl Hines, Count Basie (pseudonymously), as well as improvisers of equal worth who were often not given their due: trumpeter Joe Thomas, Milt Hinton, Bill Harris, Willie Smith, Kenny Kersey, Jonah Jones, George Barnes, Johnny Guarneri, Emmett Berry, Aaron Sachs, Herman Chittison, George Wettling, Hilton Jefferson, Tyree Glenn, Gene Sedric, Juan Tizol, Rex Stewart, Pete Brown, Cozy Cole, Charlie Shavers, Nick Fatool, Bujie Centobie, Irving Fazola, Allan Reuss, Dave Tough, and many others.  Three particularly remarkable sessions brought together like-minded but singular horn players: trumpeters Eldridge, Thomas, and Berry; saxophonists Hawkins, Don Byas, Tab Smith, Harry Carney; trombonists Vic Dickenson, Harris, Claude Jones, and Benny Morton.

Several things need to be said about the new Fresh Sounds reissue.  For one, it is a “European bootleg,” which will repel some collectors of this music, and I think rightly so.  However, the Keynotes have never been issued in any systematic way on compact disc — in their home country or otherwise.  And the Fresh Sound set concentrates, with a few exceptions, on issued material.  I don’t know whether this was a choice designed to entice listeners who find alternate takes annoying, or to keep the set’s price attractive.  (I bought mine on Amazon for $94, which seems a good value for 243 sides.)  The sound is good, although I haven’t compared it to any 78 or vinyl issues.  True Keynote devotees will, of course, have their own copies of the comprehensive vinyl issue of the label’s offerings, and the Fresh Sound box won’t replace that.

The reissue history of the Keynote recordings is characteristically odd — leaving aside the comprehensive vinyl set — with early vinyl assortments assembled by instrument (trumpet, trombone, or saxophone), then later ones featuring stars Hawkins, Young, Woody Herman sidemen, Norvo, Tristano, etc.  As I write this, I am taking great pleasure in the sixth disc — selected at random — hearing sessions led by Barney Bigard, Horace Henderson, Bill Harris, Willie Smith, Corky Corcoran, and Milt Hinton — a fascinating cross-section of timeless jazz recorded in 1945.  “Fresh Sound” is an apt description for these sides recorded more than half a century ago.

Fresh Sound producer Jordi Pujol made an intriguing and ultimately rewarding choice when looking for documentary material to fill the 125-page booklet.  He included a careful history of the label — sources unknown — which tells a great deal about how these sessions came to be.  (I feel, once again, that we should all give thanks to selfless men such as Harry Lim.)  Then, rather than reprint the enthusiastic, empathic notes written by Dan Morgenstern for the Keynote vinyl box set, Pujol returned to the archives of DOWN BEAT and METRONOME for contemporary reviews and session photographs.  The photographs — although many of them have been reproduced elsewhere — offer a few treasures: Lester Young, Johnny Guarnieri, Slam Stewart, and Sidney Catlett at their December 1943 session, and photographs from the jam sessions Lim created before Keynote began recording regularly: one, in particular, caught me: a 1940 Chicago session featuring Rex Stewart, Lawrence Brown, Earl Hines, John Simmons, Tubby Hall . . . and the elusive Boyce Brown.  The reviews from the contemporary jazz magazines are both grating and revealing.  One might forget just how hard those writers and editors worked to appear breezy, slangy, hip — Catlett is referred to as a “colored tubman” in one review — and how severe they were in assessing what now seem masterpieces, using “uneventful,” “nothing distinctive,” “routine,” “pleasant,” “don’t emerge as anything too special.”  Lester Young is referred to as “Les,” his tenor sound as “muddy-toned.”  That the music survived this critical approach from writers who were its advocates says much about its durability.  Here, by the way, is a side DOWN BEAT termed a “fiasco” and gave it a grade of C.  I rest my case:

I think I got more than my money’s worth.  You might agree.

May your happiness increase! 

LES SWINGBERRIES: “LAUGHING AT LIFE” (2012)

Imagine a small group — in Whitney Balliett’s words, “flesible, wasteless,” that successfully evokes the best jazz of the Swing Era without copying recorded performances, that is fresh, witty, precise.  Need an anlalogue?  How about Glenn Miller’s Uptown Hall Gang with arrangements and originals by Mel Powell?

This group exists, and they’ve made their first CD — consistently splendid music.    A few of my readers complain that my musical endorsements are nudging them towards ruin, but LES SWINGBERRIES are worth it.

About thirteen months ago, I wrote happily about this group — propelled by their 2011 YouTube videos: click here for that post.

One of the video performances that so captivated me is Les Swingberries’ transformation of Johann Strauss’ RADETZKY MARCH (“JAZZETSKY MARCH” in their hands):

From left to right, they are Jerome Etcheberry, trumpet / arrangements; Aurelie Tropez, clarinet; Jacques Schneck, piano; Nicolas Montier, guitar.  I haven’t had any contact with Monsieur Schneck, but I admire his light, elegant playing immensely; Monsieur Etcheberry has absorbed all of the good trumpet sounds of this fertile time and processed them through his instrument so that he sounds like himself (with side-glances at the great figures).  Our contact has been limited to mail and cyber-message, but how could I not admire a man who signs himself “Trumpetfully yours“?  (The only inscription that comes close to that is from Hot Lips Page: “Very Blowingly.”)

I’ve been fortunate enough to exchange a few sentences with Mlle. Tropez at the International Jazz Festival at Whitley Bay — where she was not only a charter member of Les Red Hot Reedwarmers but also played some memorable casual swing duets with pianist Paul Asaro.

And Monsier Montier I met for the first time (I hope there will be others) as a wonderfully agile tenor saxophonist at last year’s Sacramento Music Festival.  It came as a huge shock to find out that he is the immensely gifted guitarist in this group, not only echoing Charlie Christian but also Tiny Grimes and a host of other fine players.

But I hear you saying, “OK, I’m sold.  But I can’t fly to France to catch this group in a club or jazz festival.  What shall I do?”

The answer, dear readers, is only a few clicks away.  Les Swingberries have issued their first CD, which is called LAUGHING AT LIFE — not only a song they play but an indication of their buoyant spirits.

The thirteen selections on the disc are varied and lively — two Mary Lou Williams compositions, CLOUDY and GHOST OF LOVE; Leonard Feather’s SCRAM!  Three other themes are “classics” by Strauss, Tschaikovsky, and Offenbach — initially, I thought of the John Kirby Sextet, but then the heretical whisper came into my mind, “This is better than the Kirby Sextet ever did,” because of a light-hearted rhythmic looseness owing something more to Wilson and Waller than to Kirby.  The group seems to float, and the performances seem too brief (although they are between three and five minutes).  The arrangements are beautifully subtle; on a second or third listening, I found myself marveling at the writing for two horns that suggested a larger ensemble; the fact that a rhythm section of piano and guitar never seemed thin or under-furnished.

Both CLOUDY and GHOST OF LOVE are lovely mobile mood pieces with inspired playing by each member of the quartet.  LAUGHING AT LIFE has equally hip writing / voicing / harmonized lines that suggest an unissued Keynote Records session tenderly waiting for a twenty-first century jazz archaeologist to uncover it for us.  The group lights up BLUE ROOM and HALLELUJAH! from within; the remaining four performances are originals — one a funny tribute to Rex Stewart, REXPIRATION (where the rhythm section gets some of the waiting-for-Benny feeling of Christian and Johnny Guarnieri, always a good thing).  SCHNECK IT OUT has surprising harmonies yet a walking-down-the-street feeling I associate with YACHT CLUB SWING.  BERRY CRUMBLE is built on BACK HOME AGAIN IN INDIANA, but in such a sly way that it would take any listener two or three minutes to uncover those familiar harmonies.

Listening to this CD, I never had the feeling of surfeit that many CDs produce (“Oh, this has been wonderful . . . but eight more tracks?”) — it is a subtle, enriching musical experience, and a lot of fun.

I have some trepidation about delivering my readers into the Land of Downloads, but here is the link to the iTunes site — where one can purchase a song for 0.99 or the whole CD for 10.99. Or, if you prefer your music delivered by the Amazon conglomerate, here is their link.

May your happiness increase.

EMMETT BERRY’S BUESCHER TRUMPET, 1952

This Buescher trumpet, the advertisement tells us, is the model Emmett Berry plays with Johnny Hodges.  For tremendous power and range, which Mr. Berry would have had on any horn.

Emmett Berry came from the tradition of individualistic players — with an intense near-ferocity no matter what the context . . . with Fletcher or Horace Henderson, Don Byas, Coleman Hawkins, Cozy Cole, Edmond Hall, Bennie Morton, Buck Clayton, Dickie Wells, Buddy Tate, Count Basie, Jimmy Rushing, Walter Thomas, Ben Webster, Budd Johnson, Oscar Pettiford, Harry Carney, Johnny Guarneri, Illinois Jacquet, Billie Holiday, Teddy Wilson, Benny Carter, Eddie Heywood, Vic Dickenson, John Kirby, Gerald Wilson, Betty Roche, Helen Humes, Johnny Thompson, Jimmy Witherspoon, Al Sears,Al Hibbler, Lem Davis, Dodo Marmarosa, Slim Gaillard, John Simmons, Zutty Singleton, Sidney Catlett, Sammy Price, Milt Hinton, Jo Jones, Eddie Bert, Lucky Thompson, Bennie Green, Lawrence Brown, Sidney Bechet, Ruby Braff, Art Farmer, Claude Hopkins, Pee Wee Russell, Bob Brookmeyer, Andy Gibson, Paul Gonsalves, Cannonball Adderley, Shorty Baker, Chu Berry, Earl Hines, Joe Williams.  On Keynote he was the third trumpet player with Joe Thomas and Roy Eldridge.  He was in the trumpet section for a Miles Davis and Gil Evans session.

Between 1937 and 1967, he seems to have been active on gigs and in the recording studio, even if some of that work had him playing second trumpet to Buck Clayton or as part of the brass section behind a singer.  But this record of activity says to me that various people (Harry Lim, John Hammond, Count Basie, Jimmy Rushing, Buddy Tate) valued him as a powerful, reliable, creative player — someone who could swing, improvise, blend with a section, sight-read music the first time he saw it.

Buck Clayton’s story of Berry whacking Jimmy Witherspoon in the head with his trumpet when Spoon had been particularly out of line suggests that Berry was not someone to be trifled with, and his phrasing does suggest an expert boxer and dangerous counterpuncher.

But no one seems to have interviewed him during his playing career, and I have it in my memory (true?) that he suffered some sort of late-life mental collapse and retired from music.  (What does anyone know of him in the years from 1967 to 1993?)

His sound– so vehement — remains in my ears.  On the early Clef sessions with Hodges, on THE SOUND OF JAZZ, backing Rushing on Vanguard — unmistakable.

Here’s “a little good blues” with Earle Warren, Sir Charles Thompson, Gene Ramey, and Oliver Jackson, from 1961:

Berry doesn’t take enough space, and his vehemence is hinted at rather than fully released, but his sound and physical presence are fully evident.

He’s someone I miss.

May your happiness increase.