Tag Archives: Johnny Varro

HIDDEN TREASURE, NOW SHARED: JON-ERIK KELLSO, JOEL HELLENY, CHUCK WILSON, JOHNNY VARRO, PHIL FLANIGAN, JAKE HANNA (May 2007, Sacramento Jazz Jubilee)

I bought a video camera in 2006 but didn’t come to California until 2010 (except for that sojourn in utero, where the lighting was poor).  But there were people, bless them, recording jazz performances before I figured out how to do it.  Bob and Ruth Byler captured music at many festivals in California and Florida.  I wrote a piece about him here in 2016 while he was around to read it.

I don’t know whether Bob thought he would get to the documentation someday, or if he thought everyone knew who everyone was, but the many videos he left us are often mysterious.  I know it might sound ungrateful, but when I look at one of them, I have to think about who’s playing; he often combined footage from two festivals on one VHS tape, and, in the name of thrift, he often did not preserve those moments when the leader introduces the players.

Mister Kellso, still happily with us.

All this is prelude to say that, while roving around YouTube like a terrier in search of crumbs, I found a fifty-minute video from the 2007 Sacramento Jazz Jubilee, which was held over Memorial Day weekend when I attended later.

I knew I recognized most of the six “N.Y. All-Stars” in the second: Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Joel Helleny, trombone; Chuck Wilson, alto saxophone; Johnny Varro, piano; Phil Flanigan, string bass; Jake Hanna, drums (Jon-Erik identified two people I had mistaken).

For once, “All-Stars” was apt.

Having seen it, Jon-Erik was eager for me to share it, and with alchemical magic (thanks to Tom Hustad) — chalk symbols on the wood floor, chanting, and incense — I can present to you the music played by the New Yorkers.  I never had the good fortune to meet Joel Helleny, but I admire his work tremendously; this is a fine sample.

The exuberantly-talented and much-missed Joel Helleny.

A treasure!  And even though California festivals sometimes aim at more ostentatiously “trad” repertoire and performance practice, this is Mainstream of the highest order.  The songs are ROSETTA / WRAP YOUR TROUBLES IN DREAMS / THE JEEP IS JUMPIN’ (obviously not a title familiar to some patrons) / GEE, BABY, AIN’T I GOOD TO YOU? (Kellso’s feature, inexplicably truncated) / IF DREAMS COME TRUE // The video has all the characteristic limitations of the genre, including a restless, chatty audience (I told a friend years ago that I wanted to fund the Sit Still and Be Quiet Jazz Festival) but you won’t find me complaining.  I encourage you to celebrate this magical time-capsule.  And I bless all the participants.

May your happiness increase!

YOUR HAPPINESS LIES / RIGHT UNDER YOUR EYES, or POSTPONE THAT TRIP (2020 Edition)

I believe that the first version of this now-neglected classic song I heard was Jolson’s, then Billie’s . . . and it is even more pertinent now, as an antidote to the restless itch to be somewhere else, or to have a “bucket list” of places to visit.  In this time of sheltering-at-home, to me it seems the ideal soundtrack, even if your backyard is only imaginary or remembered.

From 2011:

2012:

Later that year, and closer to my backyard:

2014:

and 2016:

I even have a version of this song recorded in March 2020, but it hasn’t passed the Imperial Board of Censors just yet.  And since I am keenly aware of ironies, I know that for all but one of these performances celebrating the joys of one’s own place, I had to get on a plane to enjoy and record it.  Calling Steven Wright or perhaps Ralph Waldo Emerson — the latter of whom wrote “Traveling is a fool’s paradise. Our first journeys discover to us the indifference of places. At home I dream that at Naples, at Rome, I can be intoxicated with beauty, and lose my sadness. I pack my trunk, embrace my friends, embark on the sea, and at last wake up in Naples, and there beside me is the stern fact, the sad self, unrelenting, identical, that I fled from.

So today, perhaps, I will put off the thrilling journey to the Post Office and, later, when adventure calls to me, I will take the cardboard boxes to the recycling area. Back in my own backyard for sure.  Possibly constrained, but reasonably safe from harm.

May your happiness increase!

 

NEW OLD MUSIC FROM “LITTLE BOBBY HACKETT” and HIS FRIENDS: JACK GARDNER, EDDIE CONDON, LOU McGARITY, PEANUTS HUCKO, JOHNNY VARRO, JACK LESBERG, BUZZY DROOTIN (1945, 1964)

Our generous friend Sonny McGown, through his YouTube channel called    “Davey Tough,” has been at it again, spreading jazz goodness everywhere.  And this time he features the man Louis Armstrong called “Little Bobby Hackett.”  If you’ve missed Ricky Riccardi’s wonderful presentation — music and words — of the remarkable relationship of Bobby and Louis, here  it is.

And here are more Hackett-gifts.  The duet with Jack Gardner I’d heard through the collectors’ grapevine, but the 1964 Condon material is completely new.  And glorious. Sonny, as always, provides beautiful annotations, so I will simply step aside and let Robert Leo Hackett cast his celestial lights.

Here he is with the rollicking pianist “Jumbo Jack” Gardner — and they both are wonderfully inspired:

and a wonderful surprise: an Eddie Condon recording I’d never known of, with Condon exquisitely miked for once (let us hear no more comments about his not playing fine guitar; let us hear no more about “Nicksieland jazz”).  And let’s celebrate the still-thriving Johnny Varro, alongside Peanuts Hucko, Lou McGarity, Jack Lesberg, and Buzzy Drootin:

May your happiness increase!

MARK IT DOWN! THE CENTRAL ILLINOIS JAZZ FESTIVAL (March 30, 2019: Decatur, Illinois)

Here’s something for the intellectual puzzle-solvers in the JAZZ LIVES audience.

One.

 

Two.

 

 

 

 

Three.

Kenny Davern, Yank Lawson, Connie Jones, Pee Wee Erwin, Doc Cheatham, Chuck Folds, George Masso, Don Goldie, Johnny Varro, Jon-Erik Kellso, Paul Keller, Ed Polcer, Eddie Higgins, Marty Grosz, Bill Allred, Bob Schulz, Bobby Rosengarden, Milt Hinton, Brian Torff, Johnny Frigo, Peter Ecklund, John Sheridan, Brian Holland, Rebecca Kilgore, Dan Barrett, Eddie Erickson, Ken Peplowski, Vince Giordano and the Nighthawks, the Fat Babies, and more.

Figured it out?  The answers, although indirect, are below, and they relate to the Juvae Jazz Society and the Central Illinois Jazz Festival: the story of their inception is here.

I confess that Decatur, Illinois has really never loomed large in my vision of bucket-list places.  But I have been terribly myopic about this for the past quarter-century.  Consider the poster below, please:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Juvae Jazz Society is celebrating its twenty-fifth anniversary, and rather than expecting people to bring them silver plates and candelabra, they are throwing a one-day jazz party, which you might have understood from the poster above.  (The list of musicians is just some of the notables who have played and sung for them in the last quarter-century.)

Although I admire Petra van Nuis and Andy Brown immensely, I’ve never had a chance to hear Petra and the Recession Seven live.  The Chicago Cellar Boys are one of my favorite bands and would even be so if Dave Bock wore a more sedate bow tie.  Other surprises are possible as well.

Some groovy evidence for you:

and those Boys:

So I’m going to be there.  Care to join me?

May your happiness increase!

RUBY, LOUIS, BUCK, ME (1954, 1983, 1989, 1996)

Ruby Braff, December 7, 1980. Photograph by Michael Steinman

Ruby Braff, December 7, 1980. Photograph by Michael Steinman

Ruby Braff remains one of my heroes: brave, curious, exploratory, full of lyrical warmth in his music — and one of those people I had many opportunities to observe between 1971 and 1983, at close range, in New York City.

Here is something new to me and I think absolutely remarkable — an interview with Ruby, done August 18, 1989, at the Newport Casino.  Ruby is remarkably patient with a somewhat inept questioner, but the subject is Louis Armstrong, so Ruby was very happy to speak about his and our hero:

Ruby despised his earlier recordings — and said so often, loudly and profanely.  I have no idea if he would have winced and swore at this one, but I am safe from his anger, so I present the 1954 Vanguard session (thanks to John Hammond) that paired him with Buck Clayton, Bennie Morton, Buddy Tate, Jimmy Jones, Steve Jordan, Aaron Bell, and Bobby Donaldson.  The shift into 4 / 4 at the start is one of my favorite moments in recorded jazz.  And the song is, of course, also.

LOVE IS JUST AROUND THE CORNER:

Much later, in 1996, Ruby created a gorgeous and irreplaceable Arbors CD, BEING WITH YOU, in honor of Louis and of Ruby’s recently-departed friend, the great reedman Sam Margolis. Along with Ruby, there were Jon-Erik Kellso, Scott Robinson, Dan Barrett, Jerry Jerome, Johnny Varro, Bucky Pizzarelli, Bob Haggart, Jim Gwin.  Ruby gave everyone a spot, and the results are glorious. And if you didn’t know what a magnificent singer he could be, savor LITTLE ONE.

I apologize for the intrusive advertisement that begins the final two videos:

LITTLE ONE:

And my own Ruby story, very brief and elliptical.  I had followed Ruby around with cassette and reel-to-reel recorder, with notebook and (once) camera — so much so that my nickname was “Tapes,” as in “Hey, Tapes!” — from 1971 on. This was not embarrassing to me; rather, it was an honor.

He played a concert at the New School with Dick Hyman early in 1983, and I, recently married, asked my new wife to come along.  She did not particularly like jazz, but it was a novel invitation and off we went.  We sat down in the middle of the auditorium — early, as is my habit — and I looked around for Ruby.  Surely, I thought, I could make eye contact and he would come over, exchange pleasantries, and I could not-so-subtly suggest to my new bride that I was Someone in this jazz world.  Ruby emerged from somewhere, and I stood up.  Perhaps I waved to catch his eye, or said, “Hey, Ruby!”  He looked at me, grinned, and pointed a forefinger.  “You!” he said.  “I remember you when you were in diapers!”  That was not the effect I had hoped to create, so I sat down and the deflated encounter was over.  He played beautifully.  As he always did.

Ask me about lyrical improvisation, and I might play you this as a glowing exemplar.

ONE HOUR:

I miss Ruby Braff, although, like Louis, he is always with us through his music.

May your happiness increase!

 

HELP FAST EDDIE GET BACK TO SPEED

Eddie Erickson and Becky Kilgore, striking a pose in 2008

Eddie Erickson and Becky Kilgore, striking a pose in 2008

If you don’t know Eddie Erickson, I humbly suggest that your life has been incomplete.  “Fast Eddie,” as he’s also called, is many things: a swinging solo and rhythm guitarist; a blazing banjoist; an incomparable clown and vaudevillian; a remarkably moving ballad singer.  I first encountered him as one-third or one-fourth (who’s counting?) of B E D, named for Becky Kilgore, Eddie, and Dan Barrett, with essential swing counseling from the “silent J,” Joel Forbes.

Here is Eddie as the captivating balladeer (in 2011, with Sue Kroninger and Chris Calabrese):

Here is Eddie as the wonderful swingster (in 2014, with Becky Kilgore, Dan Barrett, Rossano Sportiello, Nicki Parrott, Ed Metz):

Here is Eddie the irrepressible comedian, making old jokes seem new (in 2014, with Johnny Varro, Bria Skonberg, Antti Sarpila, Nicki Parrott, Chuck Redd):

How could a man so ebullient have medical problems?  Well, if you know Eddie, you know he’s recently recovered from serious heart surgery — a replacement valve — and is slowly, slowly doing all right.  He is recovering at home.

But he has expenses to pay.  You know what those white envelopes that come from the hospital, the medical group, and other people look like?  He’s got a pile of them.  And a free-lance jazz musician, a Swing Troubadour, is not always a bourgeois sort with a regular salary.  So if you can’t gig for some time while recovering . . . you can imagine.

(This is not, I assure you, an empty appeal.  I don’t like to use JAZZ LIVES to sell products or to raise money — but this afternoon I walked to the mailbox and sent a check before writing this blogpost.)

“Here’s the deal,” as Eddie and  Bill Dendle would say.

This little appeal for funds has been vouched for by Sue Kroninger, someone I trust deeply, and I’ve just gotten off the phone with Elinor Hackett, someone who loves Eddie sincerely — another secular saint.

Elinor, a dear friend/fan/supporter of Eddie (indeed a supporter of trad jazz, youth programs, festivals and live music) has opened an account at Chase, which will be used to collect any donations to help Eddie in his efforts to get well and pay his medical bills. Eddie has given so much love to so many people throughout his life, that it seems fitting that this time it’s his turn to receive some love in return.  At the moment, the account is in Elinor’s and Eddie’s sister, Diane’s name — Eddie will be able to access the money when he is a little stronger.

Thanks for giving this your attention. Please pass it along to anyone who you feel might also be interested.  I know that many people who love Eddie don’t always have computers or spend as much time on them as we do.

Please send as ample a check as you can to Elinor Hackett at the address below. Make the check out to Elinor, and write “Gift of Love to Eddie” in the memo space of your check.  Mail it to Elinor Hackett, 9037 Mojave Dr, Sacramento, Ca 95826-4521.

All checks will be logged and deposited in this special “Love Eddie” account.
Questions?  Email elnor2jaz@gmail.comor / phone 916-363-8895

And a few lines for me: it is more blessed to give than to receive, and the joys of doing a kindness last longer than the pleasure one has in being the recipient.  I don’t want to belabor the point, but I shall: if everyone who’d ever laughed hilariously or grown teary at a performance by Eddie Erickson sent him the price of a Starbucks coffee or a two-pound bag of supermarket potato chips, he would never have to worry.

Thank you for reading this.  And thank you even more on Eddie’s behalf.

May your happiness increase!

JAMMIN’ AT VINCE’S: VINCE BARTELS, DAN BARRETT, DAVE STONE, ALLAN VACHÉ, RUSS PHILLIPS, JOHNNY VARRO at SACRAMENTO (May 25, 2014)

Slightly less than a year ago I was a happy member of the throngs at the 2014 Sacramento Music Festival. I couldn’t make it there this year, but that’s no reason you and I can’t savor some wonderful music I recorded there. All but one performance is emerging from the JAZZ LIVES vaults (deep and extensive) for your listening, dining, and dancing pleasure.

Vince Bartels

The band here is led by drummer Vince Bartels — his All Stars — and they are accurately named.  Dan Barrett, cornet; Allan Vaché, clarinet; Russ Phillips, trombone; Johnny Varro, piano; Dave Stone, string bass.  The ambiance, for the most part, is an unabashed lovefest for the music Eddie Condon and friends made in the Fifties.  Not all the selections were in the Condon repertoire, but the band kicks along splendidly without any imitations.

SWING THAT MUSIC:

THE ONE I LOVE:

Condon Jam Session

THE SELFIE MEDLEY (which requires a little commentary. First, I think the selection of ballads — a beautiful thing — draws seriously on the Columbia recording of JAM SESSION COAST-TO-COAST, one of George Avakian’s nicest ideas.  I hadn’t known that Vince had a M.A. in improvisational theatre, but he puts it to good use here, asking the audience to come up, surround the band, take selfies of themselves and the band, put them on Facebook, send them to relatives overseas, or what you will.  Thus the visual is often a little obscured, but the music is delicious):

OH, BABY!:

CAN’T WE BE FRIENDS? (a heartfelt duo-feature for Russ and Dave):

MOTEN SWING:

JUBILEE:

Oh, joy was certainly spread in abundance.  More to come.

May your happiness increase!

“THE HOME OF SWEET ROMANCE”: REBECCA KILGORE, DAN BARRETT, JOHNNY VARRO, WAYNE WILKINSON, NICKI PARROTT, DANNY COOTS at the ATLANTA JAZZ PARTY (April 18, 2015)

SAVOY

It wins you at a glance.

Where?  The Savoy Ballroom, of course.  The  Home of Happy Feet in Harlem stopped being a Swing mecca in 1958, but its spirit remains.

That spirit was very much in evidence at this year’s Atlanta Jazz Party, and on April 18, 2015, Rebecca Kilgore and a wonderful small band brought it even more sharply into focus with a performance of Edgar Sampson’s STOMPIN’ AT THE SAVOY. Her Stompers were Dan Barrett, trombone; Johnny Varro, piano; Wayne Wilkinson, guitar; Nicki Parrott, string bass; Danny Coots, drums.  (Does that closing riff owe its existence to Coleman Hawkins and Roy Eldridge?)

You don’t need a ballroom with these wonderful musicians.

May your happiness increase!

THE MUSIC SPEAKS FOR ITSELF: THE WEST TEXAS JAZZ PARTY (May 14-17, 2015)

I could write a long piece on the history of the West Texas Jazz Party — in Odessa, Texas — which in 2016 will celebrate its fiftieth year.  This, for those keeping count, makes it the longest-running jazz party in existence.  I could list the names of the luminaries who played, say, in 1980 — Red Norvo, John Best, Lou Stein, Carl Fontana, Kenny Davern, George Masso, Herb Ellis, Buddy Tate, Flip Phillips, Dave McKenna, Milt Hinton, Gus Johnson, PeeWee Erwin, Cliff Leeman, Bobby Rosengarden, John Bunch, Buddy Tate, and the still-vibrant Ed Polcer, Bucky Pizzarelli, Michael Moore, Bob Wilber.

The West Texas Jazz Society site can be found here — quite informative.

But I think it is more important to offer the evidence: the music made at this party, which is superb Mainstream jazz.  Here are several videos from the 2013 WTJP — they will unfold in sequence if you allow them to — featuring Ken Peplowski, Ehud Asherie, Ed Metz, Joel Forbes, Chuck Redd, Randy Sandke, and John Allred:

And the musicians themselves speak sweetly about the pleasure of attending the party and playing there (Ken, Chuck Redd, Dan Barrett, Bucky):

The superb videos — both music and interview — are the work of David Leonnig, who’s also helped inform me about the Party.

This year’s party will take place May 14-17, at the MCM Eleganté Hotel
in Odessa, Texas and the musicians are:

Piano: Johnny Varro, Ehud Asherie, Rossano Sportiello
Bass: Joel Forbes. Frank Tate, Nicki Parrott (vocals)
Drums: Chuck Redd (vibes), Tony Tedesco, Butch Miles
Trumpet: Ed Polcer, Warren Vache, Randy Sandke
Trombone: Dan Barrett, John Allred
Reeds: Ken Peplowski, Scott Robinson, Allan Vache
Guitar: Bucky Pizzarelli, Ed Laub (vocals)
Vocals: Rebecca Kilgore

The West Texas Jazz Party is sponsored in part by:

• The Texas Commission for the Arts
• Odessa Council for the Arts and Humanities
• The Rea Charitable Trust

Patron Tickets: $200: Reserved Seating for all performances and Saturday Brunch.

General Admission: Each performance $50 • Brunch $50

For Hotel Reservations, call 432-368-5885 and ask tor the Jazz Rate of $129.00. For Jazz Party or Brunch Reservations, call 432-552-8962. The WTJP now is accepting credit cards or make a check payable to: West Texas Jazz Society • P.O. Box 10832 • Midland, Texas 79702.

It looks as if a good time will be had by all. For the forty-ninth consecutive year!

May your happiness increase!

A REMINDER: THE ATLANTA JAZZ PARTY IS ALMOST HERE (April 17-19, 2015)

I am excited to be attending the 2015 Atlanta Jazz Party — a week away!  That’s April 17 through 19th in the very comfortable Grand Ballroom of the Westin Atlanta North at Perimeter.  It’s an incredibly lavish buffet of hot music: seven sets on Friday night, seven sets on Saturday afternoon, seven sets on Saturday night, and seven sets on Sunday. All performers are featured in each session. Atlanta Jazz Party Patrons and Guarantors get to attend all four sessions plus the exclusive Saturday morning jazz brunch!

And there’s something new and exciting: the new Jazz Dinner Buffets featuring surprise special guest performers on Friday and Saturday Night, in the newly created “Johnny Mercer Room” right across from the Grand Ballroom. This change is important to the Party’s survival.  And I know — don’t ask me how — that one of the “surprise special guest performers” is someone legendary.

Who’s playing and singing?  Ben Polcer, Duke Heitger, Bria Skonberg, Allan Vaché, Tom Fischer, Eddie Erickson, Darian Douglas, Sean Cronin, Dalton Ridenhour, John Cocuzzi, Johnny Varro, Rossano Sportiello, Dan Barrett, Russ Phillips, Nicki Parrott, Paul Keller, Danny Coots, Chuck Redd, Rebecca Kilgore.

Here’s Danny Coots and Ten at the 2014 AJP:

and since that sounds so good, let’s have another:

and the song that conveys the way I feel about the Party:

See you there, I hope.  It’s one of those enterprises that truly deserves your energetic support.

May your happiness increase!

SPORTIELLO-METZ, UNLIMITED (Atlanta Jazz Party, April 27, 2014)

Rossano Sportiello, piano, and Ed Metz, snare drum with wire brushes, made up a fully satisfying combo / band / orchestra in their morning set at the 2014 Atlanta Jazz Party.  The music they made has resonated happily in my memory, and now I have the pleasure of sharing it with you.

Rossano began the set with a heartfelt BLUE AND SENTIMENTAL — which had a Strayhorn coloration at the start.  In an age of bright colors and high volumes, it is so reassuring to hear a Maestro like Rossano play a ballad — not in any hurry to get through, to speed it up:

From Basie to his teacher, Fats, for HANDFUL OF KEYS, joined by Ed:

Then, a long interlude-concert which allows both players to shine as soloists and as part of a wondrous duo.  The selections are MISTY, IT’S THE TALK OF THE TOWN, CHINATOWN (with a hand-drum solo a la Jo Jones), LUCKY TO BE ME, Liszt’s CONSOLATION #3, SHOE SHINE BOY — a full circle back to Basie:

Throughout this morning serenade, I was reminded of the beautiful sound of Johnny Guarnieri and Sidney Catlett, and I marvel at Rossano’s beautiful precision and the astonishing variety of sounds and textures Ed gets out of this most minimalist drum kit — and the duo’s apparently indefatigable swing. Proof, once again, that you don’t need a lot of volume to swing.

All this happened at the April 2014 Atlanta Jazz Party, and I have every expectation that equally beautiful music will be created there again this April. Details and registration information here.  And since — as is the custom in most parties — the earlier you register, the better your seating . . . carpe diem in a big way.

The players this year will be Ben Polcer, Duke Heitger, Bria Skonberg, Allan Vache, Tom Fischer, Dan Barrett, Russ Phillips, John Cocuzzi, Rossano Sportiello, Johnny Varro, Dalton Ridenhour, Eddie Erickson, Nicki Parrott, Paul Keller, Sean Cronin, Danny Coots, Chuck Redd, Darrian Douglas, Rebecca Kilgore.  Quite a varied and energetic crew.

May your happiness increase!

DEEP FEELING: VINCE BARTELS ALL STARS at the SACRAMENTO MUSIC FESTIVAL (May 23, 2014: DAN BARRETT, RUSS PHILLIPS, ALLAN VACHE, JOHNNY VARRO, DAVE STONE)

Vince Bartels, a superb drummer, takes his inspiration as a bandleader from Eddie Condon — so his programs are varied in every way.  Where other bands opt for Fast and Loud, Vince has a deep romantic streak which he encourages in his colleagues.  Thus the Migrant Jazz Workers (the band name created by Eddie Higgins) often pause to look lovingly at the scenery. They aren’t ashamed of sweetness, and they strive to create memorable beauty.

These marvels happened regularly when Vince and his band played at the 2014 Sacramento Music Festival — the Workers were Dave Stone, string bass; Johnny Varro, piano; Allan Vache, clarinet; Russ Phillips, trombone; Dan Barrett, trumpet.

I offer three particularly deep performances — no self-consciousness, no dramatization . . . just beautiful music.

Their extraordinary, sensitive reading of the Ellington SOLITUDE:

Johnny Varro’s sparkling ONE MORNING IN MAY (which Hoagy Carmichael’s mother said was her favorite of her son’s songs):

Russ Phillips, singing and playing the Ellington AZALEA, inspired by Louis Armstrong’s memories of a New Orleans flowering bush that he could never forget.  (How beautifully Russ sings!):

Yes, “traditional jazz” can be sweet and lovely, too.  Thank you, Vince, for keeping this music alive.

May your happiness increase!

FRESH-SQUEEZED: VINCE BARTELS, ALLAN VACHÉ, DAN BARRETT, RUSS PHILLIPS, JOHNNY VARRO, DAVE STONE at the SACRAMENTO MUSIC FESTIVAL (May 23, 2014)

Mister Waller would be delighted.  And we were too.

Vince Bartels had assembled a truly all-star band in the Condon tradition for the 2014 Sacramento Music Festival, with himself on drums, Dave Stone, string bass; Johnny Varro, piano; Allan Vaché, clarinet, Russ Phillips, trombone; Dan Barrett, trumpet. And they performed SQUEEZE ME and got every drop of sweetly lascivious energy out of it — a memorable performance indeed:

I mean my fellow-listeners no disrespect, but that performance deserved much more applause than it got.  Perhaps everyone was stunned into silence.  You may applaud now, as loudly as possible.  If you are someplace where applause might not be appropriate, I will settle for loud grinning and sending this blogpost on to others who might like to have their spirits uplifted.  OK?

May your happiness increase!

SWEET AND SALTY: EDDIE ERICKSON’S AMERICANA at the 2014 SAN DIEGO JAZZ PARTY

This version of SIDE BY SIDE, performed by Mr. Erickson at the  February 2014 San Diego Jazz Party, has some surprises.

Eddie’s co-conspirators (some of them who may not know the script) are Johnny Varro, piano; Nicki Parrott, string bass; Chuck Redd, drums; Bria Skonberg, trumpet; Antti Sarpila, clarinet.  But the spotlight is justifiably on Mr. Erickson, great guitarist, seductive vocalist, splendid improvisatory-theatre director and comedian, creating a sweet collective experience that turns comic at the end:

I read what I could about the closing verse and one source says that of course the author is Anonymous, but this set of lyrics is said to have originated during the Second World War.  Seems right to me: the sort of thing that soldiers could sing to amuse themselves, that children could learn and horrify their parents, and that we could all remember — a sort of guilty pleasure.

May your happiness increase!

OF COURSE WE CAN, or THE ANSWER IS “YES”: DAVE STONE, RUSS PHILLIPS, VINCE BARTELS, JOHNNY VARRO at the SACRAMENTO MUSIC FESTIVAL (May 25, 2014)

The song that follows was created in 1929 by Kay Swift and Paul James; I learned it first from the duet of Ella and Louis, then from the heartfelt early Crosby version and a later Sinatra one. But even though the lyrics speak of heartbreak, this quartet — captured live at the 2014 Sacramento Music Festival — is sweetly optimistic rather than self-pitying. Hear the subtle variations on this theme created by string bassist Dave Stone, trombonist Russ Phillips, with unerring support from drummer / leader Vince Bartels and the invaluable pianist Johnny Varro.

CAN’T WE BE FRIENDS?

Of course we can:

May your happiness increase!

KILGORE SWINGS EMERSON

In SELF-RELIANCE, Ralph Waldo Emerson writes, “The soul is no traveller; the wise man stays at home.” BACK IN YOUR OWN BACKYARD, written by Dave Dreyer, Billy Rose, and Al Jolson in 1928 (I would give almost all of the credit to Mr. Dreyer) makes the same claim in a different way. It proposes that home is so lovely that it makes travel unnecessary, and that those who roam find their greatest happiness when they return — nostalgia more than transcendentalism, perhaps, but the effect is the same.

Rebecca Kilgore doesn’t present herself as a philosopher, although she does hail from Massachusetts, home of Emerson, Thoreau, and the Alcotts, but she makes this philosophical statement exultant in its hopefulness and its swing.

This performance was recorded at the 26th San Diego Jazz Party, on February 22, 2014.  The other philosophers on the stand are Chuck Redd, drums; Nicki Parrott, string bass; Eddie Erickson, guitar; Johnny Varro, piano; Bria Skonberg, trumpet; Antti Sarpila, clarinet.

Home is where such music is.

May your happiness increase!

THE GOOD NEWS FROM THE SACRAMENTO MUSIC FESTIVAL (May 2014)

It was oppressively hot last weekend at the Sacramento Music Festival, but the music itself made it all more than worthwhile.  Here’s one extended sample, nearly twelve minutes of beauty created by Vince Bartels and the All-Stars in honor of Eddie Condon, a medium-slow Bb blues that segues into OLE MISS.  The players are Vince, drums; Dave Stone, string bass; Johnny Varro, piano; Allan Vache, clarinet; Russ Phillips, trombone; Dan Barrett, trumpet:

And this wonderful sustained invention took place on May 23, 2014.

Vince and his colleagues here (the late Eddie Higgins, when he was originally part of this band — making their debut CD — called them the MIGRANT JAZZ WORKERS) are honoring, both in spirit and example, Eddie Condon.

What Eddie made happen on a regular basis is quite beautiful and he doesn’t get the credit he deserves: in my jazz pantheon, he is alongside the greatest figures.  He masterfully shaped any group of idiosyncratic eccentrics into a band, gave them an aesthetic (I would say “moral”) focus, and then let them find their own ways to the truth, individually and collectively.  There are and were and will always be marvelous improvisers, but there was only one Eddie, and it was very lovely to see his music being honored and illuminated in this way.  I just wish the Blue Network still existed, but I hope that (in my own way) that JAZZ LIVES spreads the word from Calcutta to Ketchikan. For all you G.I.’s and hot fans!

I will have more video dispatches from the SMF — featuring Vince, Ray Skjelbred and his Cubs, High Sierra, Bob Schulz, Eddie Erickson, and others — as the spring and summer unfold.

May your happiness increase!

ALMOST THERE: THE SACRAMENTO MUSIC FESTIVAL (May 23-26, 2014)

Next Friday morning, I will be in my New Old Car, heading to Sacramento, California, to spend the Memorial Day weekend amidst music-making friends . . .

Here is the Festival’s site, and the complete list of artists is available here.

I’ll simply note a few JAZZ LIVES’ favorites (in an ecumenical alphabetical order): the Au Brothers, Gordon Au, Bob Schulz Frisco Jazz Band, Clint Baker, Dan Barrett, Dave Bennett and the Memphis Boys, Eddie Erickson, the Freebadge Serenaders, Grand Dominion, High Sierra, Katie Cavera, Kim Cusack, Meschiya Lake and the Lil Big Horns, Marc Caparone, Midiri Brothers, Mike Daugherty, Pat Yankee, Ray Skjelbred and his Cubs, Red Skunk Gipzee Swing, Royal Society Jazz Orchestra, Hal Smith, Stephanie Trick, Allan Vache, Johnny Varro, Vaud and the Villains, Vince Bartels All-Stars . . . and more.

And for every band / performer listed above, there are four I haven’t named — all having a wonderful time in simultaneous sessions. I hope to meet readers new and already-known at Sacramento.

May your happiness increase!

FABULOUS FRIDAY at the SAN DIEGO JAZZ PARTY (Part One): FEBRUARY 21, 2014

A week ago (that would be February 21) I was ready to have fun at my first-ever San Diego Jazz Party.  And I certainly did.  The music below will speak — and play and sing — for itself, but the SDJP was a real pleasure . . . comfort all around, the details managed gently and wisely, the musicians smiling.  As were we.

Here are a few shining examples of how fine the music was, how comfortable the musicians were . . . couldn’t ask for more!

If you need more words — data, information, facts —   here is what I wrote about the party as it was in progress.  But I think you’ll want to hear and see some of the joyousness first.

WABASH BLUES (Ed Polcer, cornet; Dan Barrett, trombone; Antti Sarpila, soprano saxophone; Bucky Pizzarelli, guitar; John Cocuzzi, piano; Richard Simon, string bass; Ed Metz, drums):

ROBBINS’ NEST (John Allred, trombone; Harry Allen, tenor saxophone; Chuck Redd, vibes; Jason Wanner, piano; Dave Stone, string bass; Butch Miles, drums):

THE FIVE O’CLOCK WHISTLE (Rebecca Kilgore, vocal; Eddie Erickson, guitar; Dan Barrett, trombone; Rossano Sportiello, piano; Nicki Parrott, string bass; Ed Metz, percussion and miscellaneous instruments):

That, dear friends, is just a sample of how delicious the whole weekend was.  And my videos — which I am proud of — can’t convey the whole experience.  You’ll just have to be there in 2014.

May your happiness increase!

GOOD, BETTER, BEST: SWEET NOTES FROM THE 26th SAN DIEGO JAZZ PARTY

The musicians are taking a break; it’s too early for another meal; what should I do?  I can share my joy at being at the San Diego Jazz Party, that’s what.

It’s only about twenty percent through (there’s still a full day-and-a-half of music to come) but it has been splendid.  Nicely organized, humanely planned — all the things that make a jazz weekend comfortable as well as gratifying — and the music last night was often spectacular.  You can find out the complete list of players here but I just want to speak of a few delicious moments that happened last night so you, too, can get a taste . . .

Even before the official festivities began, there was wonderful music during the cocktail hour: Harry Allen, Dan Barrett, Eddie Erickson, Jason Wanner, and Dave Stone started slow and easy and then romped through a closing IDAHO; Antti Sarpila, Chuck Redd, Bria Skonberg, Rossano Sportiello, and Nicki Parrott followed with a passionate NEW ORLEANS and an old-school SOMEBODY STOLE MY GAL.

(During the soundcheck that followed, Sarpilla sat down at the piano and quietly — as if no one had been listening — played a sweet, streamlined DROP ME OFF IN HARLEM, which was a private treat.)

A ten-minute swaggering WABASH BLUES was offered to us by Ed Polcer, Bria, Antti, Bucky Pizzarelli, John Cocuzzi, Richard Simon, Ed Metz.  A smaller group — John Allred, Harry Allen, Chuck Redd, Jason Wanner, Dave Stone, and Butch Miles — showed us what Groovy and Sweet meant in less than half an hour, with a coasting ROBBINS’ NEST, a from-the-heart SOLITUDE, and an exuberant CHEROKEE.  Becky Kilgore, looking mighty glamorous, took the stage with old pals Barrett and Erickson, Rossano Sportiello, Nicki Parrott, and Ed Metz for a set that culminated in the best FIVE O’CLOCK WHISTLE since Ivie Anderson, and a Romany duo: Becky’s own THE GYPSY (which began with a tender Sportiello-Barrett duet) followed by Eddie’s narrative of finding love and caffeine, IN A LITLE GYPSY TEAROOM.

And four more sets followed!  How about a duo of Venerables Bucky Pizzarelli and Mundell Lowe (the latter now 91) for — among other beauties — I REMEMBER YOU and an Oscar Pettiford blues?  Bria Skonberg told us all about Ruth Etting and then sang and played — with real ardor — LOVE ME OR LEAVE ME.  Houston Person wooed the crowd with medium-tempo ballads and Ellington; Anti Sarpilla took out his curved soprano for SUMMERTIME and his clarinet for RUNNIN’ WILD, and a band of Harry Allen, Bria, and Dan Barrett, Rossano, Richard Simon, and Butch Miles created a hot THEM THERE EYES, which made many pairs shine and gleam.

If you were in the audience, you know I am understating what we all saw and heard.  More to come.  Save your quarters, make your plans for 2105.

May your happiness increase! 

FEBRUARY COULD BE THE WARMEST MONTH, IF YOU’RE PROPERLY SITUATED: THE SAN DIEGO JAZZ PARTY (February 21-23, 2014)

Although it is the shortest month, February has a well-deserved reputation for unpleasantness.  But this February could change all the bad press, if you can make it to the San Diego Jazz Party.

The Party begins Friday, February 21 and continues at a leisurely pace to Sunday, February 24, 2014, at the Hilton San Diego / Del Mar (15575 Jimmy Durante Blvd., Del Mar, CA 92014-1901 — (800) 833-7904 (toll-free) / (858) 792-5200 (local) / (858) 792-9538 (fax).

Here is the Party’s site.

They’ve been doing a fine job of presenting classic mainstream jazz since 1988, when these musicians who appeared at the first Party, a list that makes me very nostalgic:

John Clayton, Jr. (b); Bob Haggart (b); Milt Hinton (b); Kenny Davern (cl); Peanuts Hucko (cl); Bob Wilber (cl); Jake Hanna (d); Gus Johnson, Jr. (d); Butch Miles (d); Herb Ellis (g); Bucky Pizzarelli (g); Dick Hyman (p); Paul Smith (p); Ralph Sutton (p); Scott Hamilton (ts); Flip Phillips (ts); Marshal Royal (as); Buddy Tate (ts); Al Grey (tb); George Masso (tb); Bill Watrous (tb); Ed Polcer (co); Warren Vaché (co); Snooky Young (t).

The 2014 list of players and singers is just as inspiring: Harry Allen, John Allred, Dan Barrett, John Cocuzzi, John Eaton, Eddie Erickson, Rebecca Kilgore, Mundell Lowe, Ed Metz Jr., Butch Miles, Nicki Parrott, Houston Person Jr., Bucky Pizzarelli, Ed Polcer, Chuck Redd, Antti Sarpilla, Richard Simon, Bria Skonberg, Rossano Sportiello, Dave Stone, Johnny Varro, Jason Wanner.

On that list, players born in 1922 and 1926: will we have decades to see their like again? And — to balance it all out — there are Youngbloods born in 1978 and only a little earlier. Men and women, American and European, a lovely diversified mix — but with one common goal, to swing memorably and melodically.

And when you look here, at how the sets have been planned — you can see how intelligently this Party has been laid out. All the music is in one ballroom of a comfortable hotel (so no rushing from room to room); the music runs from late afternoon Friday to late afternoon Sunday with breaks for meals, and the layout of who-plays-when is wise and sensible. There’s a comforting awareness of an audience’s need for dynamics, for variety, so solo piano sets and duos for piano, for guitar, alternate with quartets and quintets.  There is one eleven-person blowout and that is appropriately on Saturday night.

As to those important questions, “Can I / we get there?” “Can I / we afford it?” you’re on your own and only by visiting the site will you find answers to these questions. I do think that a weekend like this is worth its weight in YouTube videos and CDs, but that’s me.

Worth repeating, I think: many jazz fans spend much energy lamenting What Was. “Were you there at the sessions when Kitty Katz and the Persian Hairballs would play MY LITTLE BIMBO or C JAM BLUES for weeks at a time? That club / festival / party is now gone and I miss it so.”  I miss it too. But I know why it’s no longer here, and so do you.

As Eleanor Roosevelt or perhaps Scatman Crothers said, “It is better to Do Something than to Lament in your den.  The things you love will evaporate if you aren’t participating in them.”

See you at San Diego on February 21st! Details here. And if you want to tell them, “I only did it to stop that pesky JAZZ LIVES from tugging at my cyber-clothes and hissing “Carpe diem!” in my ear, I will accept the stigma and the guilt.

May your happiness increase!

GOIN’ TO SAN DIEGO (and YOU CAN COME, TOO)

I’ve been listening to a bootleg Jimmy Rushing lp where he sings GOIN’ TO CHICAGO, with the famous lines, “Goin’ to Chicago / Sorry, but I can’t take you.”

Thus my title: the Beloved and I are thrilled to be making our debut voyage to the 2014 San Diego Jazz Party, and we can — in a manner of speaking — take you. And even if you don’t want to be Our New Pals, you owe it to yourself to check out what the SDJP is offering from Friday, February 21 to Sunday, February 24, 2014, at the Hilton San Diego / Del Mar (15575 Jimmy Durante Blvd., Del Mar, CA 92014-1901 — (800) 833-7904 (toll-free) / (858) 792-5200 (local) / (858) 792-9538 (fax).

Here is the Party’s site.

They’ve been doing a wonderful job of presenting classic mainstream jazz since their first party in 1988: I looked at their archives and found these musicians who appeared at the first Party, a list that makes me very nostalgic.  It’s also proof of fine taste:

John Clayton, Jr. (b); Bob Haggart (b); Milt Hinton (b); Kenny Davern (cl); Peanuts Hucko (cl); Bob Wilber (cl); Jake Hanna (d); Gus Johnson, Jr. (d); Butch Miles (d); Herb Ellis (g); Bucky Pizzarelli (g); Dick Hyman (p); Paul Smith (p); Ralph Sutton (p); Scott Hamilton (ts); Flip Phillips (ts); Marshal Royal (as); Buddy Tate (ts); Al Grey (tb); George Masso (tb); Bill Watrous (tb); Ed Polcer (co); Warren Vaché (co); Snooky Young (t).

Some of those heroes are gone, but the 2014 list of players and singers is just as inspiring: Harry Allen, John Allred, Dan Barrett, John Cocuzzi, John Eaton, Eddie Erickson, Rebecca Kilgore, Mundell Lowe, Ed Metz Jr., Butch Miles, Nicki Parrott, Houston Person Jr., Bucky Pizzarelli, Ed Polcer, Chuck Redd, Antti Sarpilla, Richard Simon, Bria Skonberg, Rossano Sportiello, Dave Stone, Johnny Varro, Jason Wanner.

On that list, players born in 1922 and 1926: will we have decades to see their like again?  And — to balance it all out — there are Youngbloods born in 1978 and only a little earlier.  Men and women, American and European, a lovely diversified mix — but with one common goal, to swing memorably and melodically.

And when you look here, at the lineup — how the sets have been planned — you can see how intelligently this Party has been laid out. All the music is in one ballroom of what I see is a comfortable hotel (so no rushing from room to room); the music runs from late afternoon Friday to late afternoon Sunday with breaks for meals, and the layout of who-plays-when is wise and sensible. Some parties put one seven-piece band (three or four horns with rhythm) on after another and the results can seem similar.

At this Party, there’s a very comforting awareness of an audience’s need for dynamics, for variety, so solo piano sets and duos for piano, for guitar, alternate with quartets and quintets; there’s only one eleven-person blowout and that is appropriately on Saturday night.

As to those important questions, “Can I / we get there?” “Can I / we afford it?” you’re on your own and only by visiting the site can you find answers to the second question. I do think that a weekend like this is worth its weight in YouTube videos and CDs, but that’s me.

What follows might seem overly gloomy, but it’s no less true.  Many fanciers of the music who have long memories spend much energy lamenting What Was.  “Were you there at the sessions when Big Barko and his Leash-Pullers used to play IN A MELLOTONE (or UNDER THE BAMBOO TREE) for forty-seven minutes?  That club / festival / party is now gone and I miss it so.”

I miss it too.  But I know why it’s no longer here, and so do you.

As Eleanor Roosevelt or perhaps Eddie South used to say, “It is better to write a check, make a hotel reservation, and be there now than to sit in your living room lamenting that The Great Things are here no more.  The Great Things need you to preserve them.”

See you at San Diego on February 21st! Details here.  And if you want to tell them, “I only did it to stop that nagging JAZZ LIVES from plucking at my sleeve and whispering “Carpe diem!” in my ear, I will bear the emotional burden.

May your happiness increase!