Tag Archives: Jon-Erik Kellso

“MISTER GLOOM WON’T BE ABOUT”: JON-ERIK KELLSO, EVAN ARNTZEN, ROSSANO SPORTIELLO, FRANK TATE at LUCA’S JAZZ CORNER (Dec. 22, 2016)

luca-jazz-corner

Feeling lower than a snake’s belly?  Or perhaps is “fump” the objective correlative for now?  (Milt Hinton would be happy to explain.) Is the inside of your skull terribly dark these days?

This might help.  The elixir of life mixes the inspiring shades of Louis Armstrong and Hoagy Carmichael with the real-life inspirations offered us by Jon-Erik Kellso, Evan Arntzen, Rossano Sportiello, Frank Tate and someone holding a video camera — on December 22, 2016, at Luca’s Jazz Corner (1712 First Avenue, New York City).  There are no artistic or audible flaws in this video, but there are a few seconds where the focus blurs.  I wasn’t trying out new special effects, but the bright light from above confused the camera’s little brain.  However, blessedly, the sound is unaltered.  Hear for yourself:

Here is more evidence of the cosmic happiness that took place that night: RUNNIN’ WILD and FINE AND DANDY.  Incidentally, a young musician (I believe he plays trumpet) named Wynton Marsalis came in for the second set.  I am sure that he inspired the band, but I am even more sure that this delicious quartet inspired him as well.  As they did me.

Jon-Erik will be bringing a quartet back to Luca’s on March 23, 2017.  I plan and hope to be there.  You should come too.  (Other heroes — Gabrielle Stravelli, Michael Kanan, Pat O’Leary, and Ken Peplowski — have gigs coming up.)

May your happiness increase!

“IRISH BLACK BOTTOM”: TERRY WALDO, JON-ERIK KELLSO, JIM FRYER, EVAN ARNTZEN, JOHN GILL, BRIAN NALEPKA, JAY LEPLEY (Fat Cat, January 29, 2017)

okeh-irish-black-bottom

No, this isn’t an early celebration of Saint Patrick, nor is it a lesson in North American vernacular dance.  A week ago today, I had the delightful good fortune of being in the basement known as Fat Cat (75 Christopher Street) to hear Terry Waldo’s Gotham City Band — Terry, piano; Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Jim Fryer, trombone; Evan Arntzen, clarinet; John Gill, banjo; Brian Nalepka, string bass; Jay Lepley, drums.  And one of the lively excursions into hot archaeology that they offered was Percy Venable’s novelty number, IRISH BLACK BOTTOM, premiered by Louis Armstrong and his Hot Five in Chicago in 1926.  For the full history of this song and that performance, read on in Ricky Riccardi’s quite magnificent Louis blog.

And now, from 1926 to 2017, with a performance calculated to warm you more efficiently than heated seats in a new car:

The genial joyousness of that performance could win anyone over, even without the history.  But I also post this musical episode to reiterate a point.  Many “jazz critics” see the chronological advance of the music as one improvement succeeding another: Roy Eldridge was more “sophisticated” than Louis, Charlie Parker more than Roy, Miles and Trane and Ornette even more so. “Sophisticated” is a weighted word, especially when the appearance of complexity is taken as the highest good.  But for those who look at “Dixieland” as simple, I’d suggest that even a tune as lightweight as IRISH BLACK BOTTOM has its own sophistication, its own complicated routine, and it is not something one could pick up at one hearing, the Real Book notwithstanding.  Court adjourned.

May your happiness increase!

“DO SOME STUFF”: JON-ERIK KELLSO, EVAN ARNTZEN, ROSSANO SPORTIELLO, FRANK TATE (Luca’s Jazz Corner, December 22, 2016)

fine-and-dandy

Two adjectives and a conjunction never sounded so good as they did at Luca’s Jazz Corner at 1712 First Avenue in New York City on the night of December 22, 2016.  A wonderful band lit up that cozy room on the Upper East Side: Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Evan Arntzen, reeds; Rossano Sportiello, piano; Frank Tate, string bass.  (And if you wonder why this video is shot from behind the band, that was the best spot to be in.  We video types learn to be adaptable or we go home sulkily without hearing any music.)

The song itself is delightful to play and improvise on, although in my childhood a few bars of it at a rapid tempo became a comic cliche.  The composers, Kay Swift (music) and “Paul James” (lyrics) are a remarkable pair — married collaborators, even though Kay had a decade-long affair with another songwriter named George Gershwin.  The song was the title number for a hit Broadway show — the first ever composed wholly by a woman.  “Paul James” was the pen name of James Paul Warburg, a high-level economist and banker whose main desire in life was to write a hit song.

I think that Ms. Swift and Mr. Warburg would find this version lives up to the song’s title and intent.

A quite irrelevant anecdote here.  For the first twenty-plus years of my college teaching career, I labored under the burden of English 101: Freshman Composition.  “Burden” because I think writing can be improved, but there has to be something there to begin with, which many of my very delightful students lacked.  Relief came in the person(s) of many students who were born elsewhere, labeled “ESL” (English As A Second Language) students.  Their idioms were occasionally wobbly, but their insights were much deeper than their American-born peers.  From them, I picked up an expression I use now, “In my country.” as in “In my country, we don’t tip the waitstaff in pennies.”

But one of the idioms they found especially hard to digest was “not only _____ but also _______.”  So, writing this post, I thought often of the renamed Swift-James song, NOT ONLY FINE BUT ALSO DANDY, but I can see why the shorter title remains.  And how true it is of this performance.

May your happiness increase! 

 

MISTER LIPSKIN PAYS A VISIT BELOWSTAIRS (Dec. 18, 2016): MIKE LIPSKIN, JON-ERIK KELLSO, JIM FRYER, EVAN ARNTZEN, JOHN GILL, BRIAN NALEPKA, JAY LEPLEY (a/k/a TERRY WALDO’S GOTHAM CITY BAND at FAT CAT)

Pianist / vocalist / scholar / composer Terry Waldo leads his Gotham City Band several Sunday afternoons every month (from about 5:45 to 8) at Fat Cat, 75 Christopher Street in Greenwich Village, New York City.

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Fat Cat is an unusual jazz club, even considering that it is roughly parallel to two other basement shrines, Smalls and Mezzrow: Greenwich Village’s answer to the long-gone Swing Street.  A large sprawling room, it is filled with the furniture one would expect from a college student union: ping pong tables, pool tables, and the like.  One may play these games for $6 / hour and many young people do.  The bar also offers homemade pomegranate soda for $3, a remarkable boon.  Another distinctive feature of this establishment is the singular adhesiveness of their low couches: once I sit down, I drop below sea level, and know I will arise only at the end of the last set after embarrassing flailing.)

On this Sunday, Terry’s band was particularly noble: Jay Lepley, drums; John Gill, banjo; Brian Nalepka, string bass; Evan Arntzen, clarinet and soprano; Jim Fryer, trombone; Jon-Erik Kellso, cornet instead of his usual horn.  Terry had been leading the group in his usual cheerful egalitarian fashion.  Then I saw a distinctly recognizable fellow — musician and friend — appear to my left.  It was the Sage of several states (California and Arizona), friend and protege of Willie the Lion Smith . . . Mister Michael Lipskin, known to himself and us as Mike.  He asked Terry if he could play a few . . . and he did, shifting the repertoire to two numbers rarely called in such ensembles (by Ray Noble and by Ellington) with splendid results.  And here they are:

THE VERY THOUGHT OF  YOU (at a very Thirties rhythm-ballad tempo, entirely charming):

I’M BEGINNING TO SEE THE LIGHT:

The latter title may be slightly ironic given the intense belowstairs darkness of Fat Cat, but the music shines brightly.

May your happiness increase!

THE GRAND ST. STOMPERS: “DO THE NEW YORK”

do-the-new-york

Late last year, Gordon Au, — trumpeter, arranger, composer, bandleader, writer, thinker, scientist, satirist, linguist — sent me the digital files for the second CD by the Grand Street Stompers, DO THE NEW YORK, and I wrote back to him, “I am listening to DTNY (three tracks in, so far) and I love the mad exuberance and deep precision of the first track — a Silly Symphony, urban and hilarious and wonderfully executed. It’s a pity that the mobs no longer have transistor radios anymore, because each track could be an AM hit.”

Having listened to the disc several times by now, I stand by my initial enthusiasms.  But I wouldn’t want anyone to think that zaniness overrides music.  The compositions and performances are a lavish banquet of sounds and emotions: you won’t look at the CD player and think, “How many tracks are left?” at any point.

If you know Gordon Au, Tamar Korn, Molly Ryan, Kevin Dorn, Dennis Lichtman, Matt Koza, Matt Musselman, Nick Russo, Rob Adkins (and not incidentally Peter Karl, Kelsey Ballance, Kevin McEvoy, Barbara Epstein) you won’t need to spend a moment more on what I say.  Scroll down to the bottom of this long post and read Gordon’s notes, purchase, download: let joy be unconfined.

But I shall tell a story here.  Jon-Erik Kellso has been a very good guide to new talent: through him, for instance, I heard about Ehud Asherie.  In 2009, I arrived at The Ear Inn for a night of musical pleasure, and Jon-Erik told me he’d just finished “giving a lesson” to a young, seriously gifted trumpeter named Gordon who had wanted to study some fine points of traditional jazz performance practice from an acknowledged Master.  This young man would be at The Ear later.  And the prophesy came to pass.

Gordon’s trumpet playing was deliciously singular: he wasn’t a clone of one player or seven.  Climbing phrases started unpredictably and went unusual places; a solid historical awareness was wedded beautifully to a sophisticated harmonic sense, and everything made sense, melodically and emotionally.  He showed himself a fine ensemble player, not timid, oblivious, or narcissistic. When the set was over, we spoke, and he was genuinely gracious (later, in California, when I met his extended family, I understood why) yet with a quite delightfully sharp-edged wit, although he wasn’t flashing blades at me.

I began to follow Gordon — as best I could — to gigs: he appeared with Tamar Korn and vice versa; he took Jon-Erik’s place with the Nighthawks; he played with David Ostwald at Birdland . . . and soon formed his own group, the Grand Street Stompers.

(Gordon abbreviates “St.”; I spell it out.  My perversity, not his.)

Often I saw, and sometimes I videoed them at Radegast, then elsewhere — as recently as last year, when they did a remarkable session at Grand Central Station, surely their place on the planet.  Thus, as “swingyoucats” on YouTube, I’ve captured the band (releasing them, of course) on video for six years.

They are uniquely rewarding — a pianoless group that expresses its leader’s expansive, often whimsical personality beautifully.  Even when approaching traditional “traditional” repertoire, Gordon will take his own way, neatly avoiding piles of cliche in his path.  Yes, MUSKRAT RAMBLE — but with a Carbbean / Latin rhythm; yes, a Twenties tune, but one reasonably obscure, SHE’S A GREAT GREAT GIRL. Gordon’s compositions and arrangements always sound fresh — and they aren’t pastiches or thin lines over familiar chords — even if I’ve heard the GSS perform them for years.  And there are other wonderful quirky tangents: his love of Disney songs, the deeply refreshing ones, and his devotion to good yet neglected songs — the title track of this CD as well as WHILE THEY WERE DANCING AROUND on the group’s first CD.  And, I think this a remarkable achievement, with Gordon’s soaring lead and a beautifully-played banjo in the rhythm section, the GSS often summons up an early Sixties Armstrong All-Stars, all joyous energy.

A few more words about this CD.  Although one can’t underestimate the added frisson of hearing this band live — perhaps surrounded by dancers or dancing oneself, in a club, perhaps stimulated by ambiance, food, or drink . . . I think the experience of this disc is equal to or superior to anything that might happen on the spot.

Owing to circumstances, the GSS might be a quintet on the job; here it is a septet: trumpet / cornet; clarinet; soprano saxophone; trombone; banjo / guitar; string bass; drums; two singers.  This expansive array of individualists allows Gordon to get a more delightfully orchestral sound.  Even as a quintet, on the job, the GSS is a band and a working band at that: their performances are more than a series of horn solos, for Gordon has created twists and turns within his arrangements: riffs, backgrounds, trades, suets between instruments, different instruments taking the melodic lead — all making for a great deal of variety. Each chorus of a GSS performance feels satisfyingly full (not overstuffed) and delightfully varied.

And now I come to the possibly tactless part of the comparison between studio recording and live performance. With some bands, the studio has a chilling effect: everything is splendid, but the patient has lost a good deal of blood.  And the impolite truth is the a group like the GSS performs in places where alcohol is consumed, so the collective volume rises after the first twenty minutes.  Buy this disc to actually hear the beautiful layering and subtleties of the group that you might not hear on the job.  Or just check it out for the sheer pleasure of it all.

Sound samples, ways to purchase a physical disc or download one (complete or individual performances) here — and Gordon’s very eloquent and sometimes hilarious liner notes here.

Listen, read, enjoy, savor, download, purchase.  As Aime Gauvin, “Doctor Jazz,” used to say on the radio, “Good for what ails you!”

May your happiness increase!

FANTASY, IMPROMPTU: ERIN MORRIS, JAMES DAPOGNY, JON-ERIK KELLSO, LAURA WYMAN (January 21, 2017)

jon-erik-kellso-photo-by-aidan-grant

Jon-Erik by Aidan Grant

Sometimes your dreams do come true.

James Dapogny

James Dapogny

Here’s one of mine that did and does, in the Zal Gaz Grotto in Ann Arbor, Michigan, on the night of January 21, 2017, during the after-party for the River Raisin Ragtime Review: Erin Morris dances while Jon-Erik Kellso and James Dapogny play.  And Laura Wyman recorded it on her hand-held camera.

Erin by Jerry Almonte

Erin by Jerry Almonte

I bless the four of them.

Three souls in harmony, reflecting motion and sound,  each telling Don Redman’s tale: James, seated; Jon-Erik, standing; Erin, mobile.  Individuals in community, coming together to create something that enthralls and cheers.

Watch and listen a few more times and go deep in to the splendors.  There’s a famous anecdote of Earl Hines at the Chicago Musicians’ Union in 1924, fooling around at the piano with a new pop tune by Isham Jones, THE ONE I LOVE (BELONGS TO SOMEBODY ELSE) — and a chubby young man formerly of New Orleans comes up, unpacks his cornet, and joins in.  No one who wasn’t in that room ever heard that music — although a few intrepid heartfelt souls have made their own variations on that duet.  And as far as I know, no one danced.

I wasn’t there, either, but I think this impromptu trio is at the same level: it gives me chills and then a rush of gratitude.  Thank you, Erin, James, Jon-Erik, Laura.

Laura and her magic camera

Laura and her magic camera

(An alternate take:  here you can see the video produced by William Pemberton, director of the RRRR, same time, same place.)

The skies are dark this afternoon, but we live amidst marvels.

May your happiness increase!

YOU CAN CURE YOUR ILLS

What do artists do?  Some show us the world as it is.  Others help us dream of what it might be.  I put the Russian refugee Israel Baline — Irving Berlin to you — in the second group.  His songs often depict a world where love and joy are possible, even inevitable.

He wrote of “a land that’s free for you and me.”  Of course, another immigrant. And a Jew. If he came here today, would he be welcomed?

He understood that humans need music and words, beautifully allied, to get closer to joy for ourselves and to offer it to others.

Doctor Berlin prescribed this in 1928, and it is still good advice: regular doses of spiritual phototropism.

sunshine-irving-berlin-rare-antique-original-sheet

Nick Lucas, vocal and guitar:

 

Whispering Jack Smith’s subversively swinging version:

And something much more recent, from Tal Ronen’s Holy Moly at Smalls, December 24, 2015, with Tamar Korn, Tal, Steve Little, Rossano Sportiello, Jon-Erik Kellso, Jay Rattman:

Everything that grows, and that includes people in front of their computers, needs sunshine to thrive, something more than Vitamin D: we need sunshine in our souls.  I offer Berlin’s music and these three bright performances as bright rays streaming through the window.

Nourish your own soul in the sunshine, but don’t block anyone’s else’s view.

May your happiness increase!