“Gang Busters!” says Joe Boughton, the commander-in-chief of Jazz at Chautauqua and many other jazz offerings. More about that quaint expression of praise at the end of this post.
The hot heroes are Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Bob Havens, trombone; Bobby Gordon, clarinet; Rossano Sportiello, piano; Vince Giordano, string bass; Arnie Kinsella, drums, performing at the 2007 Jazz at Chautauqua weekend (September 14, 2007) at the informal Thursday-night jam session. The songs are ROSETTA / LOUISIANA / HINDUSTAN / WRAP YOUR TROUBLES IN DREAMS / MY HONEY’S LOVIN’ ARMS.
All of this was recorded illicitly: my digital recorder may have been in my jacket pocket or brazenly on the table. I didn’t yet have a video camera, but this is a precious souvenir of days gone by.
Happily, Jon-Erik, Rossano, and Vince are thriving and gigging worldwide.
GANG BUSTERS was a radio program that ran from 1936 to 1957, with film and comic book spinoffs. It had a very dramatic opening, which gave rise to the slang phrase “It came on like GANG BUSTERS” for something memorable, the very finest. Here is the program’s opening: imagine this roaring out of the Atwater-Kent in the living room:
Although this ad hoc group of jazz crime-fighters can be pensive and subdued when the song calls for it, they certainly do come on! (I define “jazz crime” as formulaic, dull, badly-played music. So there.)
Those of us who were part of Jazz at Chautauqua and its offspring have the finest memories of great music and happy encounters; if you were never there, this set will give you a small idea of the heights that were scaled. Bless Joe Boughton, the peerless musicians, and those who kept the enterprise afloat.
Don’t be afraid. It’s only hot jazz of the highest order, 2023 style, performed by the EarRegulars at The Ear Inn (326 Spring Street, Soho, New York City): Jon-Erik Kellso, Puje trumpet; Scott Robinson, bass saxophone; James Chirillo, guitar; Russell Hall, string bass.
And by the way, hold that tiger!
And if there’s no mail in the mailbox, today is, after all, a national holiday: Scott Robinson’s birthday. We celebrate him as a soaring creator and deeply kind, funny human being. “Thank you for being born!” as someone once said.
I first heard the Louis Armstrong – Earl Hines duet on WEATHER BIRD about fifty years ago, and I write that as a point of pride, not as a marker of senescence. It is a marvel, and if you are unfamiliar with it, please take three minutes and hear it again on YouTube or whatever music-purveyor you use. We’ll wait. (There are at least ten versions on YouTube, one of them the 78 that was Mel Powell’s cherished copy.)
In the past decades, I’ve heard recreations of that recording, most notably the three-trumpet choir that Dick Hyman would assemble for this New York Jazz Repertory Company tributes to Louis. Once I saw them in person — Joe Newman, Pee Wee Erwin, and Mel Davis, with Hyman brilliantly playing Hines (November 4, 1974, Carnegie Hall, issued on an Atlantic Records lp called SATCHMO REVISITED). In 2020, Jerome Etcheberry’s SATCHMOCRACY performed it spectacularly on their first CD. (A second volume has just been issued, and you’ll hear more about it here soon.)
I also had the good fortune to be in the audience at the 2007 Jazz at Chautauqua weekend, created by Joe Boughton, where pianist John Sheridan (also responsible for the transcription heard here) performed WEATHER BIRD with four brass masters: Randy Reinhart and Bob Barnard on cornet; Jon-Erik Kellso and Duke Heitger, trumpet. In 2007, Joe had not yet allowed me to bring my video camera, and he frowned upon recording by other people. So this is a surreptitious illicit bootleg (!) recording made with a digital recorder concealed in my jacket pocket. I trust listeners will forgive the occasional rustle of cloth or human sound. The music is worth it, I assure you.
I’ve been an irregular visitor to the Sunday-night soirees created by The EarRegulars since they began in 2007, but what follows was special even for them. To use a musicians’ phrase of astonished delight, it “scraped the clouds.”
After a joyous collective improvisation on YARDBIRD SUITE, n audience member requested this song, which created a delightful visit to The Ear Inn by Thelonious Monk, invented and embodied by Scott Robinson, tenor saxophone; James Chirillo, guitar; Pat O’Leary, string bass; Jon-Erik Kellso, Puje trumpet, on Sunday night, November 20, 2022. The Ear Inn is at 326 Spring Street, Soho, New York City. And the Sunday sessions continue, blessedly.
But here’s Scott, celestially inspired as always:
That was something else. And although I couldn’t use my tripod, making the image slightly wave-driven, I feel so fortunate to have been there to capture these minutes of splendor for posterity. Bless Thelonious, Scott, James, Pat, Jon-Erik, and the Ear Inn.
One of the great rock songs in classic hot music: that is, you’ll rock back and forth in your chair. Guaranteed. And here’s a splendid version by four of the best: Albanie Falletta, resonator guitar, vocal, tour guide; Jon-Erik Kellso, Puje trumpet; Evan Arntzen, clarinet; Jen Hodge, string bass.
Boundless enthusiasm and contrapuntal joy free of charge.
This was performed at Cafe Bohemia, 15 Barrow Street, New York City, before the lights went out on Broadway. Happily the city and the music blaze again all over town.
Albanie explains it all, but if you crave an even more detailed socio-geographical-musical history of “Milneburg,” the New Orleans neighborhood that the song is named for, visit here. And about the composer credits: the introduction is by Jelly Roll Morton (thus my title) appended to the New Orleans Rhythm Kings’ composition GOLDEN LEAF STRUT, which is its own universe.
But the rollicking music is its own glorious explanation:
That satisfies all of our daily food group requirements and more.
Tishomingo, Mississippi, is a tiny town: between 1910 and 2020, the census recorded a population of 423 at its height in 1940. But in 1917, Spencer Williams wrote TISHOMINGO BLUES. My guess is that Williams knew the city only by hearsay, and was entranced by the sound of its name (he was living in New York City). But it’s a delightfully moody jazz classic with evocative lyrics.
It’s also a very durable song: musicians love it and it sticks in the memory. Here is a splendid dark yet hopeful rendition from the Thursday-night-pre-pandemic-band-of-heroes who graced Cafe Bohemia, 15 Barrow Street, on January 30, 2020: Albanie Falletta, vocal and resonator guitar; Jon-Erik Kellso, Puje trumpet; Evan Arntzen, clarinet and tenor saxophone; Jen Hodge, string bass:
I hope that it’s not too cold and inhospitable where you are. If it is, play this music again. You’ll feel warmed.
THIS JUST IN. The regularly scheduled evening gigs (8-11 PM) and afternoon delights (4-6 PM) will be recorded on both days. It will all be open to the public.
On January 15th, the band will be Jon-Erik Kellso, Matt Munisteri, John Allred, Pat O’Leary and guests Chris Flory and Scott Robinson.
On January 29th, Kellso, Munisteri, Allred, Neal Miner, and guests Jay Rattman, Scott Robinson, and Evan Christopher.
And I am sure there will be many other good surprises.
Great news from JAZZ LIVES’ hero Jon-Erik Kellso:
We’re going to make a “Live at the Ear” CD for Arbors Records on Sundays, January 15th and 29th, and I really hope you can attend!
We’re going to record the regularly scheduled evening gigs, and also mid/late afternoon sessions there on those days, open to the public, and we hope to pack as many of our friends in there to create the best listening atmosphere.
John Allred, trombone; Scott Robinson, reeds and brass; Matt Munisteri, guitar; Pat O’Leary, string bass, will be on the 15th.
John Allred, Matt Munisteri, and Neal Miner, string bass, will be on the 29th.
And we expect a few of our other favorites as special guests.
Here’s why this is exciting news.
BEALE STREET BLUES (2018):
DO YOU EVER THINK OF ME? (2016):
IN A MELLOTONE (2013):
SOMEBODY STOLE MY GAL (2011):
COTTON TAIL (2010):
The Ear Inn, the oldest still-active bar in New York City, is at 326 Spring Street. The EarRegulars, a small mobile shape-changing group of players les by Jon-Erik Kellso, has been in attendance every Sunday night — time off for holidays and pandemics — since July 2007. I was there on the second Sunday (Jon-Erik, Howard Alden, guitar; Frank Tate, string bass) and have been a happy visitor ever since, bringing a video camera along in 2009.
The group — often trumpet, a horn player, guitar, string bass — has usually begun the evening session as a quartet, but has expanded to thirteen players on one memorable occasion.
TIGER RAG (in two parts, 2011):
and the tip of the tiger’s tail as it curled around the building:
The Sunday sessions at the Ear have provided some of the most intimate thoughtful music I’ve ever heard, and some of the most exuberant jamming. So I have been hoping for a formal recording since the start, and Arbors Records has the experience and expertise (thank you, Rachel Domber) to make the result a wonder.
But musicians thrive on an appreciative audience. So I hope you can attend these sessions. Details above! Mark your calendars.
If the hot jazz classic THAT DA DA STRAIN is known at all these days, it might be for the versions recorded by the New Orleans Rhythm Kings, Muggsy Spanier and his Ragtime Band, or Bud Freeman and his Famous Chicagoans. But this 1922 tune has not been forgotten, not by a long shot. The delightful evidence will appear below, I promise.
First, some history.
Wild Bill Davison called this tune “baby talk” when explaining its title to an audience, and another musician linked it to the Dadaist movement in art. Each to their own.
I had forgotten that the song — lyrics by Mamie Medina, music by J. Edgar Dowell — had lyrics. (I haven’t found out anything about either of them.)
And here they are sung, wonderfully and energetically, by Ethel Waters. She’s joined by Joe Smith’s Jazz Masters: Joe Smith, cornet; George Brashear, trombone; possibly Clarence Robinson, clarinet; Fletcher Henderson, piano:
How could you resist a song whose first words of the chorus are DA DA, DA DA (repeated)? I am avoiding the knotty question of whether the hyphen belongs in the title or not: see below.
And for those who want to play it on the piano while the gang sings along, here is the treasure, the Thing In Itself, thanks to the Detroit Public Libraries.
and now, the recent past, as delineated in my title. Jon-Erik Kellso, Puje trumpet; Evan Arntzen, clarinet; Albanie Falletta, resonator guitar; Jen Hodge, string bass. Performed at Cafe Bohemia, 15 Barrow Street, New York City, on January 9, 2020.
“Isn’t that wonderful?” I want to ask rhetorically, but on second thought, want to make it a statement: “Damn, that’s wonderful!” — the splendid mixture of down-home porch music, New Orleans flavors, and heat.
(I know this post isn’t about me, or ME, but performances like this are why I carry a heavy knapsack with cameras, batteries, tripod, and notebook. My body complains but my soul leaps.)
These four sterling musicians are doing the thing in various places: keep track of them for pleasure, pure and delicious. And Cafe Bohemia will host Matt Rivera and the Hot Club of New York starting Monday, January 9, 2023 (7-10 PM). Read all about it here.
Sometimes change is frightening; in this case, the promise of changes to be made is a delight.
Here are four heroes, raising the room temperature in the best ways: Jon-Erik Kellso, Puje trumpet; Evan Arntzen, clarinet and tenor saxophone; Albanie Falletta, resonator guitar, vocal; Jen Hodge, string bass. Performed at Cafe Bohemia, 15 Barrow Street, New York City, on January 9, 2020.
Be careful. It’s HOT.
Halcyon days. And so wonderful that these four creators are still on the scene. Follow them in person to gigs if you want these joys aimed right at you.
for the historically-minded, here’s the 1924 Gennett recording by Guy Lombardo and his Royal Canadians:
and the 1928 Columbia by Thelma Terry and her Play Boys (with Bud Jacobson, Gene Krupa, and Thelma propelling it all on string bass):
Ninety years later, the song explored by living people in a jazz club, our friend-heroes Jon-Erik Kellso, Puje trumpet; Evan Arntzen, clarinet; Albanie Falletta, resonator guitar; Jen Hodge, string bass.
Performed at Cafe Bohemia, 15 Barrow Street, New York City, on January 9, 2020. Remember that date: it will show up on the final exam.
“Why January 9?” you ask.
After a long hibernation, Cafe Bohemia has once again opened to present fine live jazz, and on January 9, 2023, the Hot Club of New York, the lovely creation of Matthew “Fat Cat” Rivera and his heroic friends, returns in the flesh to 15 Barrow Street.
Details as I learn them, but the phrases “rare jazz on 78s from the original source,” and “jam session” did stick in my head.
For now, let’s savor the glories of January 9, 2020, while we dream ahead to 2023.
Legend has it that this was Al Capone’s favorite song, and another accretion of story has it that Sal was a legendary madam of an Evansville, Indiana bordello. We do know that MY GAL SAL was composed by Paul Dresser, whose brother Theodore was known for large novels, shocking in their realism. (Vic Dickenson changed the first line of this ditty to “They called her Syphillis Sal,” which seems relevant.)
But here’s a legendary performance by four heroes who happily are still with us, making the best hot lyrical sounds: Jon-Erik Kellso, Puje trumpet; Evan Arntzen, clarinet; Albanie Falletta, resonator guitar; Jen Hodge, string bass. Performed at Cafe Bohemia, 15 Barrow Street, New York City, on January 9, 2020:
Magical music created by friend-heroes. Catch them at their gigs and be uplifted by their generous joyous sounds.
I’ve been a fan of Vince and the Nighthawks for twenty years or more, and they are unique at what they do. And now, a weekly gig again!
Almost all of the shows are sold out, but tickets are still available for December 13 and January 3. The Birdland Theater is a compact space, so I suggest you get tickets without delay. Visit BirdlandJazz.com . . . .
You’ll notice that I don’t offer video evidence, although I often brought my camera to the Nighthawks’ gigs. They are too large, too splendid for a camera of my sort — and Birdland does not allow video-ing, so they have to be caught live, hot, in person. If you know them, you know, and if you don’t know, come and be uplifted.
Forward to the 2022 Mike Durham Whitley Bay Classic Jazz Party.
CHINATOWN, MY CHINATOWN might have stayed as an obscure pop tune, its lyrics more than slightly suspect, if Louis Armstrong — who loved Asian cuisine — had not recorded it. You can find his versions and those of Red Nichols, Fletcher Henderson, and the Cambridge University Quinquaginta Ramblers online without wrinkling your clothing through exertion.
But as an appetizer to the delightful cuisine that follows, I offer a recording that not enough people have heard, Reginald Foresythe’s HOMAGE TO ARMSTRONG:
You can also chase down versions by Art Tatum, Jack Teagarden, the Georgia Washboard Stompers, Hot Lips Page with Eddie Condon, Lionel Hampton, Roy Eldridge, Slim and Slam, Sidney Bechet, Teddy Wilson, Punch Miller, Kid Ory, Louis Prima, George Lewis.
But here’s a wonderful version from just a few days ago, captured at a night-time jam session at this year’s Mike Durham Whitley Bay Classic Jazz Party by Emrah Erken, he of the roving iPhone (his YouTube channel, a basket of marvels, is “Atticus Jazz”). The participants are Jon-Erik Kellso, Puje trumpet; Graham Hughes, trombone; Michael McQuaid, clarinet; Lars Frank, tenor saxophone; David Boeddinghaus, piano; Felix Hunot, banjo; Harry Evans, string bass; Richard Pite, drums.
This music doesn’t come tepid in a little cardboard box. Thank you, all!
I started writing this post about ten days ago and wrote several mournful paragraphs to begin, then thought, “I should put this aside for a bit,” as one does. I came back to it, reread it, and thought, “If Murray read this, he would perhaps say, with a gentle tilt of his eyebrow, ‘Really, Michael,’ and then pause for more than four bars, so that I would know I had been excessive. So since he created joy, I will cut to the music, which is joyous.
But first, as they say, here is the most detailed obituary for Murray:
THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD, August 27, 2022
Played bass for some of the great jazz musicians
(JAMES) MURRAY WALL September 28, 1945-July 18, 2022
Murray Wall, one of Australia’s most highly regarded jazz musicians, has died in New York City after a short illness. Originally from Melbourne, yet largely unknown in this country, Wall lived and worked for almost 50 years in New York. Over his lifetime, he played and toured with some of the world’s greatest jazz musicians including Benny Goodman, Barry Harris, Jon Hendricks, Eartha Kitt, Clark Terry, Anita O’Day, Billy Eckstine and Mel Torme.
Wall was born in Melbourne and grew up in the bayside suburb of Sandringham. In 1955, at the age of 10, his sister Sheila took him to a Nat King Cole concert at Festival Hall, a performance he would later credit as having inspired in him a life-long love of music. He was largely self-taught and learned jazz by playing along to records by Oscar Pettiford, Ray Bryant, and Lester Young. He also studied classical double-bass with Marion Brajsa, the principal bassist with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra.
Wall began playing professionally in 1962, working in dance bands with his brother Richard before progressing to performing and recording music in the Melbourne jazz scene. In 1969, he moved to Sydney to play bass in the first Australian production of Hair at the Metro Theatre in Kings Cross. Having established himself as a professional musician, he soon became an in-demand bass player for visiting American musicians such as Clark Terry, Billy Eckstine, and Mel Torme.
In 1979, Wall moved to New York and began studying improvisation with the jazz pianist, Lennie Tristano. In the early 1980s, he was invited by the legendary swing band leader Benny Goodman to join his group and continued performing with him until Goodman’s final gig the night before his death in 1986.
Wall was based in New York for his most of his working life and played with some of the most respected musicians including Ken Peplowski, Marty Grosz, Keith Ingham, Frank Vignola, Chuck Wilson, Buck Clayton, Eddie Locke, Claude Williams, Richard Wyands, Grover Mitchell, Kenny Davern, Warne Marsh, Dave Van Ronk, and Spanky Davis. He was also a regular player at Barry Harris’ renowned weekly jazz masterclasses.
Wall was hugely respected for his peerless musicianship and melodic playing as well as his friendship and camaraderie that made him widely liked and sought after by band leaders. He was generous with his time in helping younger players and Australian jazz musicians on pilgrimages to New York would seek him out for his anecdotes and advice. He was a working musician until the end and kept a regular gig at the 11th St. Bar until shortly before his death.
Wall is survived by his wife Diana, daughter Gabrielle and stepson Alexis, grandchildren Raphael and Olga, brother Richard and sister Sheila and their extended families in Australia.
Written by Guy Freer and his wife, Gabrielle, Wall’s daughter.
That’s one way to sum up Murray, beautifully. Here are four more: portraits in sound, where he is joined by Joe Cohn, Scott Robinson, and Jon-Erik Kellso on January 30, 2020.
For Hoagy, Louis, Jack, Mildred, and others, ROCKIN’ CHAIR:
THERE’LL BE SOME CHANGES MADE:
I FOUND A NEW BABY:
CREOLE LOVE CALL:
Thank you, Murray, and resonant gentlemen. Your sounds will vibrate forever.
Deep. Spiritually deep. Sonically deep. Melodic, lyrical, playful, emotive yet compact. Those are the sounds Murray Wall made on the string bass. Here he is surrounded by friends, colleagues, admirers, peers: Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Scott Robinson, reeds; Joe Cohn, guitar. All of this took place on a pre-pandemic Thursday night at Cafe Bohemia, 15 Barrow Street, Greenwich Village, New York City.
And the song Louis chose to keep it rolling:
Murray, you remain in our ears and our hearts. I forego the usual closing flourishes.
Before we start, on Monday, August 22, 2022, there will be a celebration of Murray Wall’s life and music at the 11th Street Bar in New York City (510 East 11th Street, between Avenues A and B, where Murray and Richard Clements co-led a band for a long memorable time. The website says 7:00 to midnight; the bar does not take reservations, and I won’t be in New York, so any video documentation will be by someone else. (Will someone take that unadorned hint?)
But the best way to love Murray is not in memory but in actuality; I want to do that here.
Let’s go back to January 12, 2011, for the momentous occasion of tenor saxophonist Ted Brown’s first gig as a leader in forty years. It happened at the Kitano Hotel, and Ted was joined by Murray, string bass; Michael Kanan, piano; Taro Okamoto, drums.
FEATHER BED (Ted’s line on YOU’D BE SO NICE TO COME HOME TO):
and LULLABY OF THE LEAVES:
HOW DEEP IS THE OCEAN? — those loving questions answered in sound and feeling:
GONE WITH THE WIND:
and finally, a performance that Murray doesn’t play on — a duet between Ted and Michael on PRISONER OF LOVE — but you’ll permit me to imagine him at a table near the band, listening and admiring, as we all were:
And something lovely that only a few people who weren’t at 15 Barrow Street, New York, on January 30, 2020, have experienced — I’LL NEVER BE THE SAME, performed by Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Scott Robinson, tenor saxophone; Joe Cohn, guitar, and Murray:
Murray Wall improved the spiritual landscape for anyone who knew him, even casually, and his art continues to do so today. I will have more to share with you.
Murray Wall, irreplaceable musician and man, moved to another neighborhood last month.
Here is my first posting in his honor. There will be more.
When dear and memorable people leave the planet, we don’t stop missing them in a few weeks, a few years, ever. Their absence is palpable, as was their singular presence. Murray was sweetly modest and utterly swinging; he created a beautiful foundation no matter what the context.
Here he is with Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Scott Robinson, reeds; Joe Cohn, guitar, on a Thursday night set (January 30, 2020) at Cafe Bohemia on Barrow Street in Greenwich Village, New York:
He sent love to us; I hope he knows that love was and is sent in return, in profusion.
A sweet and hot experience from a world in transition, in parole, as it were. Music beyond compare amidst strollers, chatters, and puppies on leash. Marvelous that it happened, and thrilling that it happened in a time and place that I and the OAO could visit. And we brought back souvenirs for you.
Here’s a rocking Louis performance that continues to inspire: ONCE IN A WHILE, with memories of Louis Armstrong and his Hot Five, performed on June 6, 2021, at The Ear Out — 326 Spring Street, Soho, New York — by the EarRegulars, who were Jon-Erik Kellso, Puje trumpet; Jay Rattman, clarinet; Matt Munisteri, guitar; Tal Ronen, string bass, and guest Josh Dunn, guitar (Josh takes the first solo, and in the Louis spirit, note Jay’s WEST END BLUES at the end of his solo (2:31)).
ONCE IN A WHILE, indeed, magic filled the air. Thanks to technology (a completely obsolete Panasonic HD video camera and very solicitous RODE microphone on a reliable tripod) it can be revisited at leisure.
The summer of 2021 was memorable in many ways for jazz lovers in New York City. A resurrection of sorts, if you will. And one of the most endearing manifestations of that coming-alive impulse was the space outside of The Ear Inn, 326 Spring Street, Soho, New York, on Sunday afternoons, where The EarRegulars made us all feel joyous and free, once again. (They are back to their regular Sunday-night revival meetings, from about 8 to about 11 PM: superb community and surprises galore.)
October 17, 2021, was one of those surprises, when Bill and John Allred, father and son trombonists, got together to add to The EarRegulars, who were Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Matt Munisteri, guitar; Pat O’Leary, heroic warrior [to be explained below] and string bass. What Bill and John do together is part practice, part telepathy, and wholly gratifying. And The EarRegulars are always living examples of thoughtful swing, in solo and ensemble.
Here’s Irving Berlin’s ALWAYS:
and the affirmation of romantic commitment:
and — under the heading IF YOU CAN MAKE IT HERE, YOU’LL MAKE IT ANYWHERE, the heroic battle of Pat O’Leary versus The Siren:
We had a wonderful time, out there in the fresh air and bright sunshine. Memorable hours among friends and the best sounds. And it still is happening Sunday nights, so come visit.
I think of this as the Jazz at Chautauqua Thursday Night All-Star Jam Band, and after you hear and see them for nine minutes I predict you will understand why.
Thursday night sessions, before the jazz weekend began, were loose swinging affairs in the Athenaeum Hotel parlor, where we sat at the same level as the musicians (rather than below them in a large ballroom) and all kinds of good things happened, as they did on September 20, 2012.
Here are Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Scott Robinson, cornet; Dan Barrett, trombone; Bob Reitmeier, clarinet; Alex Hoffman, tenor saxophone; Rossano Sportiello, piano; Jon Burr, string bass; Pete Siers, drums, romping on I’LL SEE YOU IN MY DREAMS, which begins in the most sweetly exalted 1936 Teddy Wilson style. Imperishable. I can’t watch it only once. And to list all the delights would take away your pleasure in finding them, so get ready to compile your own list of astonishments:
That kind of performance — expertise, wit, enthusiasm, joy — happens often when musicians of this caliber gather and the cosmic vibrations are right, but to me this is a perfectly memorable interlude, one I treasure.
Thanks to the musicians and to the late Joe Boughton, the emperor of rare songs, swing, and good feeling.
Three I’s: IMPORTANT, IRREPLACEABLE, and INEXPENSIVE.
But I’ll let Dan Levinson explain it all to us.
In 1992, legendary record producer George Avakian produced an album in homage to the pioneers of 1920s Chicago Jazz, known as The Austin High Gang, who had been among his most powerful influences when his love for jazz was developing. Those pioneers included Frank Teschemacher, Eddie Condon, Jimmy McPartland, Bud Freeman, Muggsy Spanier, Joe Sullivan, Gene Krupa, and others. Avakian’s 1992 recording featured two bands: one, directed by pianist Dick Hyman, which played Hyman’s note-for-note re-creations of the original recordings; and a second band, led by clarinetist Kenny Davern, which played its own interpretations of songs associated with the Chicago Jazz style, keeping the SPIRIT of the original artists close at hand. I was in the Teschemacher role in Hyman’s band, and had never been in a recording studio before.Avakian financed the whole project, but, sadly, was never able to find a label that was wiling to reimburse his cost and put the album out. The last time I went to visit George, in June of 2017, I asked him about the album again. Then 98 years old, he was clearly disappointed that it never came out, and he asked me to continue his search for a label and to “get it issued”. I exhausted my resources at the time, and wasn’t able to make it happen before George passed away several months later. Three years later, Bryan Wright, founder of Rivermont Records, rode in to save the day. And this month – thirty years after the original recording session took place – Avakian’s dream project is finally coming out on Bryan’s label as “One Step to Chicago: The Legacy of Frank Teschemacher and The Austin High Gang”. Bryan has – literally – spared no expense in assembling a beautiful package, which is actually a CD inside a booklet rather than a booklet inside a CD. I’ve written extensive liner notes detailing every aspect of the project, and there are also written contributions from author/record producer Hank O’Neal, guitarist Marty Grosz, and drummer Hal Smith, a specialist in Chicago Jazz style. I was able to track down the original photos from the recording session, and Bryan’s booklet includes a generous selection of them. I want to gratefully acknowledge the help of archivist Matt Snyder, cover artist Joe Busam (who designed the album cover based on Avakian’s 1940 78rpm album “Decca Presents an Album of Chicago Jazz”), the family of George Avakian, Hank O’Neal, Maggie Condon, and the New York Public Library, whose help in making this happen was invaluable.The album features a truly spectacular lineup of artists, including, in various combinations: Peter Ecklund, Jon-Erik Kellso, Dick Sudhalter, Dan Barrett, Ken Peplowski, Dick Hyman, Marty Grosz, Howard Alden, Bob Haggart, Milt Hinton, Vince Giordano, Arnie Kinsella, and Tony DeNicola.
The CD and digital download are available on the Rivermont Records website here. A vinyl version – a two-record set, in fact – will be available later this month.
And here is Rivermont founder (and superb pianist) Bryan Wright’s story of ONE STEP TO CHICAGO.
“Dick Hyman and his Frank Teschemacher Celebration Band” (Ecklund, Sudhalter, Kellso, Barrett, Levinson, Peplowski, Hyman, Grosz, Haggart, Giordano, Kinsella) play / recreate classic Chicago recordings from the Golden Era of free-wheeling jazz: ONE STEP TO HEAVEN / SUGAR / I’VE FOUND A NEW BABY / CHINA BOY / LIZA (Condon, not Gershwin) / SHIM-ME-SHA-WABBLE: eighteen minutes in the most divine Hot Time Machine.
and “Kenny Davern and his Windy City Stompers” (Davern, Kellso, Barrett, Hyman, Alden, Hinton, DeNicola) going for themselves on THE DARKTOWN STRUTTERS’ BALL / WABASH BLUES / NOBODY’S SWEETHEART / THE JAZZ ME BLUES / BABY, WON’T YOU PLEASE COME HOME? / INDIANA.
and — a bonus — a nearly nine-minute excursion on FAREWELL BLUES by the combined bands.
But I can hear someone saying, “Enough with the facts. How does it SOUND, Michael?” To which I respond without hesitation, “It sounds terrific. Finest kind. It delivers the goods — sonically, emotionally, and heatedly.”
I will give pride of place to the writers / scholars whose words and reminiscences fill the eighty-page booklet (complete with wonderful photographs) Dick Hyman, Hank O’Neal, Dan Levinson, Hal Smith, and Marty Grosz, explain and elucidate, as they do beautifully, the roles of George Avakian, Eddie Condon, Bix Beiderbecke, and two dozen other saints of Hot. That booklet is both perceptive and unabashed in its love for the people and the sounds, and it is more than worth the price of admission. Unlike much jazz writing about the hallowed past, it is also delightfully free of hyperbole and something I will politely call hooey.
The CD — aside from the booklet — has two wonderful selves. The first six performances are evocations of the original, classic, recordings, with musicians who know the originals by heart working from expert transcriptions by the Master, Dick Hyman. The business of “re-creation” is difficult, and I have gotten into trouble in the past when pointing out that in some cases it feels impossible. Great art comes hot from the toaster; it is innovative, imagined for the first time in those minutes in the recording studio. So re-creation requires both deep emotional understanding of the individuals involved, the aesthetic air they breathed, and expert sleight-of-hand to make a listener believe they are hearing the ghost of Tesch rather than someone dressed up as Tesch for Halloween.
But the re-creations on this disc are as satisfying as any I’ve heard, more than simply playing the dots on the page, but dramatically assuming the characters of the heroes we revere. They are passionate rather than stiff, and wonderfully translucent: when Ken Peplowski plays a Bud Freeman chorus, we hear both Bud and Ken trotting along in delightful parallel.
I confess that the second half of this disc makes my eyes bright and my tail wag: it isn’t “hell-for-leather” or “take no prisoners,” or whatever cliches you like to characterize the appearance of reckless abandon. What it presents is a group of sublime improvisers bringing all their knowledge and heart to the classics of the past, playing their personalities in the best ways. And each selection reminds us that however “hot” the Chicagoans prided themselves on being, lyricism was at the heart of their performances. I cherish INDIANA, performed at a rhythm-ballad tempo by Kenny Davern, Howard Alden, Milt Hinton, and Tony DiNicola, and the other band selections are full of surprises, pleasing and reassuring both. The closing FAREWELL BLUES has all the joy of a Condon Town Hall concert, and that is no small accomplishment.
And I can’t leave this without noting how lovely the recorded sound is — applause for David Baker, Malcolm Addey, and Peter Karl. I’ve heard more than two-thirds of these performers live, often at very close range, and this disc captures their sounds, their subtleties so marvelously.
This disc is a treasure-box of sounds and homages, with lively music from present company. I predict it will spread joy, and my only encouragement would be for people to for once shun the download, because they won’t get the book. It’s the Library of Alexandria transported to 35th and Calumet.
And here are some sound samples so no one need feel that they are purchasing on faith, although faith in these musicians and these producers would be wholly warranted.