Tag Archives: Johnny Mathis

HE BROUGHT HIS FRIENDS: STEVE PISTORIUS, TOM FISCHER, BEN POLCER at the STEAMBOAT STOMP (September 19, 2015)

Steve Pistorius and Friends, photograph by Dominique G. Ramos

Steve Pistorius and Friends, photograph by Dominique G. Ramos

Less is indeed more sometimes at jazz parties as well as other places.  Here’s proof of a most delicious sort, down below the main deck of the Steamboat Natchez during the 2015 Steamboat Stomp — a cozy little chamber jazz session scored for three Maestri, Steve Pistorius on piano and moral leadership; Tom Fischer on clarinet; Ben Polcer on trumpet and vocal on BABY BROWN.

And there are certain delights you might not notice on first viewing.  In the audience were Banu Gibson and David Boeddinghaus among other luminaries. Although my videos don’t always have compelling visual effects (I prefer to aim my camera at the band and leave it there) please note the floating scenery viewed out the window behind Tom, and how the light changes as the time passes.  Most beautiful.

And then there’s the music, with nods to Handy, Waller, Morton, Twenties pop songs — a session with timeless joy and wit.

YELLOW DOG BLUES:

BABY BROWN:

TIGER RAG:

COQUETTE:

WEARY BLUES:

To quote Johnny Mathis sixty years ago, “Wonderful, wonderful.”  Thank you, O Three Wise Men.

May your happiness increase!

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FIVE BEAUTIES FROM AN AFTERNOON AT CASA MEZCAL: ROB ADKINS, DAN BLOCK, EHUD ASHERIE (October 5, 2014)

I’ve written before about my new jazz oasis, Casa Mezcal, 88 Orchard Street, which has a Sunday jazz brunch from 1-4 PM with some of my friends (who also happen to be the finest players and singers in New York).  So far I’ve been there exactly twice, but it is now my Sunday-afternoon port of call.  It is a rare pleasure to see and hear music in daylight, to have interestingly non-formulaic Mexican food, and to encounter a gracious staff.  And then there’s good lighting for the videographer who eats my food.

Two Sundays ago, the trio led by string bassist Rob Adkins (a modest, endearing fellow who plays beautifully) was pianist Ehud Asherie and reedman Dan Block, two of my heroes. Ordinarily, the ethereal and always surprising Tamar Korn is in charge (as she was on October 19 — more about that in a future posting) but this afternoon was strictly instrumental, and beautifully so.

Here are five delicacies from that afternoon:

JUST ONE OF THOSE THINGS, an early-afternoon romp:

HOW ABOUT YOU? — a song I associate with Judy Garland’s sweet early version.  And New York in October has been as warm as it might be in June:

MISTY, which requires a little explanation.  Most musicians I know loathe this song or play it with much reluctance.  Their reaction has nothing to do with Erroll Garner or with Johnny Mathis, but the song has been pulped by overexposure.  Listen, however, to the tender beauty Dan brings to this (after Ehud’s comic interlude ends):

DREAM, that Johnny Mercer classic, is usually taken as a sweet lullaby, but Dan reimagines it (with great flair) at a walking Basie tempo:

SHOE SHINE BOY was my request, since I’d heard Ehud playing the Lester solo as a swing exercise before the first set began:

I may be weary from trying to find parking, and I may get turned around on Delancey Street and have to ask for directions, but I plan to spend my Sunday afternoons at Casa Mezcal until further notice.  The music is fresh and lively (and so is the guacamole).  See you there!

May your happiness increase!

GEORGE AVAKIAN’S 90th BIRTHDAY PARTY (Birdland, March 18, 2009)

George’s birthdate is March 15, 1919.  So his celebration last night was slightly late — but neither he nor anyone in the audience that filled Birdland to capacity last night seemed to mind.  It made sense to celebrate George amidst the music he loves — Louis, Duke, and Fats, played live and joyously.

We heard heartfelt tributes to George from Dave Brubeck, Sonny Rollins, Bob Newhart, Michel Legrand, Quincy Jones, and Joe Muranyi — a stellar assortment for sure.

And Birdland was filled with the famous — Tony Bennett, Dan Morgenstern, Daryl Sherman, Vince Giordano, Michael Cogswell, Mercedes Ellington, Lloyd Moss, Phoebe Jacobs, Robert O’Meally, Ricky Riccardi, the Beloved, and myself.

All of us were there to honor George, who has recorded and supported everyone: Louis and Duke, Brubeck and Rushing, Eddie Condon, Garner and Mathis, Rollins, Miles Davis, John Cage, and Ravi Shankar — in a wonderful career beginning with the first jazz album (CHICAGO JAZZ, for Decca, in 1939), helped reissue unknown jazz classics, made recordings of the first jazz festival.

The Louis Armstrong Centennial Band played a marvelously uplifted version of its regular Wednesday gig — with Paquito D’Rivera sitting in with his clarinet when the spirit moved him — that’s David Ostwald, tuba; Randy Sandke, trumpet; Wycliffe Gordon, trombone and vocals; Anat Cohen, clarinet; Mark Shane, piano and vocals; Kevin Dorn, drums.  I was recording the whole thing (audio and video) and offer some video clips.

However, I have not chosen to post the version of ST. LOUIS BLUES during which my tabletop tripod collapsed and sent the camera, still running, into the Beloved’s salad.  It’s cinema verite as scripted by Lucy and Ethel.

Here’s a tribute by Wycliffe to Louis, to Hoagy Carmichael, and to George — ROCKIN’ CHAIR:

And a gently trotting version of the 1927 Rodgers and Hart classic, THOU SWELL, remembering George’s reissuing the best of Bix Beiderbecke:

Duke Ellington said that he was born at the 1956 Newport Jazz Festival, and George’s stewardship of the famous Columbia recording of that concert was the occasion for the band to recall Duke, pre-Newport, with a wonderfully deep-hued MOOD INDIGO (also for Mercedes Ellington, honoring us all by her presence):

George never recorded Fats Waller, but he did help Louis record the peerless SATCH PLAYS FATS, so the band launched into a perfectly jubilant I’M CRAZY ‘BOUT MY BABY, complete with the verse (“I’m walking on air . . . .”) and an extraordinarily evocative vocal by Mark Shane, who known more about the many voices of Fats than anyone:

Finally, here’s George himself to say a few words.

Happy birthday, Sir!  Thanks for everything!  Keep on keeping on!

HAPPY BIRTHDAY, GEORGE, IN ADVANCE!

george-avakian-1956The photograph on the right was taken more than a half-century ago, in the Columbia studios, where Louis Armstrong was recording a tribute to W.C. Handy.  The fellow on the right is our subject today: record producer and jazz scholar George Avakian.  He’s made wonderful recordings with everyone from Louis to Duke to Johnny Mathis t0 Buck Clayton to Miles Davis to Eddie Condon to Jimmy Rushing and on and on . . . .

And, for those of us with long memories, there were the CHICAGO JAZZ sessions for Decca — a mere seventy years ago.

George is turning ninety!  And we will be among the happy, grateful people celebrating this at Birdland next Wednesday, March 18.

But it’s not simply a matter of cake and soda in paper cups.  Nay nay.

David Ostwald’s Louis Armstrong Centennial Band will be on the stand from 5:30 to 8 PM (a longer stretch than usual) — David on tuba, Randy Sandke on trumpet, Wycliffe Gordon on trombone, Anat Cohen on clarinet, Mark Shane on piano, and Kevin Dorn on drums.  I would be very surprised if some friends of the band — and of George — didn’t come by and sit in.

For reservations at Birdland, the place David calls “New York’s friendliest jazz club,” 315 West 44th Street, call 212-581-3080.