Tag Archives: joy

“AT BREAK OF DAWN, THERE IS NO SUNRISE,” or THE JOY OF SORROW: ALBANIE FALLETTA, JOSH DUNN, SEAN CRONIN, KEVIN DORN, JON-ERIK KELLSO, EVAN ARNTZEN (Cafe Bohemia, New York City, March 12, 2020)

Albanie Falletta and Jen Hodge, another night at Cafe Bohemia, creating beauty.

Great art doesn’t need a museum with guards or a concert hall: sometimes it happens right in front of us, and this was one of those moments: my last trip into New York City to be transported by live music before the world we all knew began to distort in front of us, a visit to Cafe Bohemia on 15 Barrow Street in Greenwich Village for the last of the Thursday-night-jazz-prayer-meetings. March 12, 2020.

I’ve posted music and written about that ominous and uplifting evening here and here — and I can still see in my mind’s eye the stairway down into the nearly-empty subway station, the feel of a produce-section plastic bag wrapped around my hand (I hadn’t found gloves for sale yet) so that I would touch as few surfaces as possible.  A new world, and not an easy one.  But I digress.

The music.  The magical transmogrifiers I capture with my camera are — I use the present tense on purpose — Albanie Falletta, voice and resonator guitar; Kevin Dorn, drums; Sean Cronin, string bass; Josh Dunn, guitar; Evan Arntzen, tenor saxophone; Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet.  The sad text that they make joyous — the great paradox of art — is Einar A. Swan’s 1931 WHEN YOUR LOVER HAS GONE.

That paradox fascinates me.  If you look at the individual facial expressions as the alchemists below make their wise feeling ways through this venerable lament, they are not morose.  Rather, they are the concentrated faces of people intent on making the result of their work (lifetimes of practice and contemplation) come out right.  Were they to “break up their lines to weep,” to quote Yeats, the song would fail as each one retreated into their private universe of grief.  And there is always enough to grieve about.  But I think of Basie and Jimmy Rushing singing and playing the saddest song with a glint of mischief under their labors, embodying and celebrating the powers of art.

Here I’d like to quote from the unpublished journals of Sammut of Malta:

Nothing is ever strictly functional in music because all music is ornamental.

Music is not necessary for our well-being even if we come to need it on an emotional level. The fact is that if organized sound were never a thing, we’d still be here. But that’s what make something as simple as a triad so amazing. There’s really no practical reason for it to exist. But we wouldn’t want to be here without it. So that’s why I’d suggest there’s never any such thing as JUST A II-V-I progression.

We are such complicated humans and simplistic beasts all at once who can never see past our own noses. So when I hear a bass line—any bass line— I like to remind myself of its ultimate meaninglessness outside of my ears, but it makes it more special for that reason.

Or, as Hot Lips Page once told Steve Lipkins on the band bus, “Look, an Eb don’t mean shit unless you bring something to the fucking note.”

What Albanie, Kevin, Sean, Josh, Evan, and Jon-Erik bring to that Eb and all the other notes in this performance is precious — wafting past us in time, evaporating, but memorable.  Bless them for moving us so.

And I will restate some thoughts that are even more pertinent in June:

This should be obvious, but people under stress might forget to look at “the larger picture,” that others have a hard time also.  I’ve created this post for free, but what follows isn’t about me or what’s in my refrigerator.  The musicians didn’t receive extra money for entertaining  you.  How can you help them and express gratitude?  Simple.  Buy their CDs from their websites.  Help publicize their virtual house concerts — spread the news, share the joy — and toss something larger than a virtual zero into the virtual tip jar.  Musicians live in a gig economy, and we need their generous art more than we can say.  Let’s not miss the water because we ourselves have let the well run dry.  Spiritual generosity means much more than a whole carton of hand sanitizer, or a really cool leopard-print mask.

What you give open-handedly to others comes back to your doorstep.  Musicians remind us that there’s more to live for than lunch, and we must prize them for their pointing this out in every Eb.

May your happiness increase!

EDDY DAVIS, PRESENT TENSE (1940-2020), Part Four — “WILD REEDS AND WICKED RHYTHM” AT THE EAR INN with SCOTT ROBINSON, ORANGE KELLIN, CONAL FOWKES, DAN BLOCK, PETE ANDERSON

Eddy Davis at ScienSonic Laboratories

I’ve asked musicians who worked with Eddy and thus knew him better to write their loving recollections.  But I will indulge myself here for a few sentences.  Eddy always acted glad to see me, and he was happy to have his performances captured on film, but I am not sure he knew what to make of me (a reaction he was not alone in) so we never had a long conversation until the last time I saw him — where he enthusiastically spoke with great energy about the musicians he had played with when he was sixteen or seventeen.  I was amazed and delighted and pursued him with the idea of doing a video interview, but — for all sorts of reasons I can only guess at — he was silent about the idea, which I regret greatly.  At least he wrote some of it down on a letter to me which I will share in Part Five — but, ever the well-brought up Midwesterner, he addressed me as “Mr. Steinman,” curiously formal.

He was remarkable to me because of his indefatigable energy.  He electrified any group that had the good fortune to have him at the center.  He was genuinely a joyous sparkplug. The other people on the stand felt it, as did we.  He bounced; he rocked; he was having a lovely time and wanted to make sure we did also.  Eddy was a complete showman, but it felt completely honest.  And his unpredictability was charming in startling ways.  I never knew what he was going to do, and that was such a pleasure — anticipating the next brightly wrapped package and then savoring its contents.

His command of harmony was lovely; he knew where he was going and genially took everyone along with him.  His solid rhythm was never mechanical, and in some ways his banjo artistry redeemed every caustic thing said about that stringed instrument; he was flexible and elastic and I imagine I hear the whole history of jazz and popular music in his playing.  And that history — made current and shiny — came through in his incredibly broad repertoire: Doc Cooke and early Ellington, Django and Jerry Herman, his own lyrics to jazz classics.

He gave of himself with such deep generosity.  And although each of us is unique, few of us can embody that idea so joyously.

May your happiness increase!

FEAR, OR JOY? YOU PICK.

Someone asked me last week why I wore a Louis Armstrong button, and without thinking, I said, “He taught me how to live my life,” which I was proud of saying. I know that CABARET was written by Kander and Ebb, but I encourage you to take three minutes or so and listen — I mean listen — to Louis’s 1966 version (the one with strings).

That song, and Louis’ performance of it, has a special relevance for me at this moment.  Friends and family are devoting their energies to being afraid of the Coronavirus.  I hear of their buying masks and hand sterilizer, stocking up on food and water for when “the lockdown” comes, restricting their travel.  I can hear their voices over the phone, trying to mask their frightened disapproval, when I say I am getting on a plane in perhaps ninety hours to fly to Monterey for the Jazz Bash by the Bay, which begins March 5.  “You’re getting on a plane, Michael?  Well, be careful not to to touch your face.  You could wear a pair of gloves . . . ”

Their caution might be well-founded.  I could contract the virus, it could turn into pneumonia, I could die.  Or, I could get hit by a Range Rover as I cross the street, even when I have the light in my favor. I’m  not being facetious.  And I hear the voices of my loving over-cautious parents, “Be careful.  Be careful!”

But the opposite of Fear is Courage, and Courage has as its reward Joy.  If I stay home, I won’t hear these fellows play and sing:

So I’m on my way to Monterey on Thursday morning, and here‘s the schedule, a wondrous hot-jazz version of Ceres’ cornucopia.  You pick: stay at home with those books you’ve been promising yourself to read, and perhaps some takeout as a treat, or venture forth with plans to live joyously.  (I know some of you can’t fly to Monterey, but adapt my encouragements to your own neighborhood.)

Now I have to finish packing.

May your happiness increase!

HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO LARRY McKENNA! (Part Two): LARRY McKENNA, SAM TAYLOR, STEVE ASH, NEAL MINER, FUKUSHI TAINAKA at SMALLS (June 23, 2019)

Larry McKenna got to the gig early, as did I and many others who knew what gorgeous music we were about to hear, created right in front of us.  He and Sam Taylor, both on tenor saxophone; Steve Ash, piano; Neal Miner, string bass; Fukushi Tainaka, drums, made castles of sound for us — two sets’ worth.  And for those who live by clocks and calendars, Larry turned 82 on July 21, 2019.  He’s not “spry”: he is in full flower right now.  Consider the blossoming evidence of the first set at Smalls here.

Before the gig. Photograph by Melissa Gilstrap.

(Incidentally, Larry and Danny Tobias have a little concert date on Sunday, September 21, at the 1867 Sanctuary in Ewing, New Jersey — details here.)

Now, for the second set at Smalls — beautiful playing by everyone!

SOMETHING’S GOTTA GIVE (as they used to say, “from the movie of the same name):

The lovely THERE’S NO YOU (hear a delighted woman in the audience say, “Oh, yeah!” once the melody registers):

The durable swing standard ROSETTA, which gives Sam a very touching opportunity to tell about his early and sustained connection with Larry:

MORE THAN YOU KNOW, a feature for Sam:

And to close, another song associated with Earl Hines [and Louis Armstrong and Lester Young!] its title a sweet reminder of the bonds we forge, YOU CAN DEPEND ON ME:

The sounds of this evening were completely gratifying, but what got to me — and you can see it in the videos — were the smiles on the musicians’ faces (echoed on the faces of people near me), expressions of  gratitude, joy, and pride — what an honor it was to be there and, to hear the artistry, to feel the delight.  How rare, how wonderful.

May your happiness increase!

“YOU HAVE YOUR HEALTH, SO THANK YOUR LUCKY STARS”: TAMAR KORN’S WILDWOOD RAMBLERS (June 17, 2018)

Tamar Korn is magic, and she makes magic happen.  But even those of us who are accustomed to her extra-terrestrial surprises can find themselves astonished.

It happened throughout the afternoon of June 17, 2018, where, thanks to Brice Moss and family, Tamar and her Wildwood Ramblers (Evan Arntzen, Dennis Lichtman, Sean Cronin, and Adam Brisbin) could romp and woo us with their sounds in the glade.  But one performance still brings stifled tears to my eyes.

Before we begin: the song is not A BEI GEZUNDT, recorded by Mildred Bailey and Cab Calloway, but an earlier composition by Abraham Ellstein, sung by Molly Picon in the 1938 film MAMELE.  And if you want to see Molly in domestic bliss — even though the challah burns — you can search YouTube for “Molly Picon” and “MAMELE.”

But I want to draw your attention, and hearts, to Tamar and her Ramblers.

This performance reminds me that when Fats Waller was asked by an interviewer late in his short career what he saw himself doing in future, he answered that he wanted to tour the country giving sermons in front of a big band.  Tamar does all this with her most empathic quartet — first, teaching them the song (what dear quick studies they are) and then offering us the lesson of hope and gratitude, something we need in these days and nights.

Because Tamar and friends are on this planet, I thank my lucky stars.  You are encouraged to join me in this emotion.

May your happiness increase!

IN JOY WE TRUST: TAMAR KORN’S WILDWOOD RAMBLERS (Part Three): JUNE 17, 2018

It’s Labor Day 2018, and instead of playing outdoors or being at someone’s barbecue, I’m inside at my computer — by choice, I add.  I have joy to spread.

This is the third in a series documenting a wonderful uplifting long afternoon out-of-doors, a Brice Moss Production featuring Tamar Korn, Evan Arntzen, Dennis Lichtman, Adam Brisbin, and Sean Cronin.  Parts one and two can be savored here.

Tonight, if you are caught in homeward-bound holiday traffic, this music will keep you from feeling trapped.  Just don’t stare at the screen, please?

Here are four more effusions of pure “It’s good to be alive.”  (There will be a Part Four as well.)

CREOLE LOVE CALL (scored for two clarinets, and one Songbird — flitting gracefully between Adelaide Hall and Louis’ slide whistle):

The ancient favorite — DARKTOWN STRUTTERS’ BALL — which my father taught me before I’d entered kindergarten.  Happily, there are no videos of my performances.  But here are the Wildwood Ramblers — and stay until the end for a very sweet surprise (although if I have to tell you that, something’s wrong):

Some very good advice (with choral effects) even if you don’t have a Sweetie to Squeeze, GET OUT AND GET UNDER THE MOON:

and another moon tune — DANCING IN THE MOONLIGHT:

The experience, then and now, makes me tremendously happy.  I feel that if anything will save us, it will be joy.  So drink deep (stay spiritually hydrated!) of what these blessed artists so generously offer.

May your happiness increase!

“FROM THEIR HEARTS (Part Three): JON-ERIK KELLSO, CHARLIE HALLORAN, BRIAN NALEPKA, JOHN GILL, and JON DE LUCIA, JORDAN HIRSCH (The EarRegulars at The Ear Inn, July 8, 2018)

The EarRegulars, plus catsup. Photograph by Neal Siegal.

Here is the link to Parts One and Two, containing ten radiant performances from that very gratifying evening at 326 Spring Street, Soho, New York City.

And here are a few of the closing performances.

BEALE STREET BLUES:

IF YOU WERE THE ONLY GIRL IN THE WORLD (Mr. Nalepka sings of romance):

‘WAY DOWN YONDER IN NEW ORLEANS, with guest Jon De Lucia, clarinet:

THE CURSE OF AN ACHING HEART, with Jordan Hirsch, trumpet, and added soundtrack from the Wolf Cubs to my right, or, as Louis says, “Somebody must have been putting alcohol in our liquor”:

A wonderful evening, hugely restorative.  You’ve never been to The Ear Inn?  Get thee hence on a Sunday evening — early to grab a barstool or table — and live life fully.

May your happiness increase!

FROM THEIR HEARTS (Part Two): JON-ERIK KELLSO, CHARLIE HALLORAN, BRIAN NALEPKA, JOHN GILL (The EarRegulars at The Ear Inn, July 8, 2018)

From left, Brian, John, Jon-Erik, Charlie, that very night. Photograph by Neal Siegal.

Another serving of musical splendor: expertise and passion in equal measure.  Visit here for the first four performances (BOGALUSA STRUT, SOMEDAY SWEETHEART, WHO’S SORRY NOW, TISHOMINGO BLUES) and for details.

Music does indeed speak louder than words, so here’s more, the best kind.

WEARY BLUES:

YOU TELL ME YOUR DREAM (swing out, Brian!):

FIDGETY FEET:

PRETTY BABY:

DO YOU EVER THINK OF ME?:

OLD FASHIONED LOVE:

Even in darkness, joy is all around us, and these performances — so generous! — are powerful reminders.

May your happiness increase!

FROM THEIR HEARTS (Part One): JON-ERIK KELLSO, CHARLIE HALLORAN, BRIAN NALEPKA, JOHN GILL (The EarRegulars at The Ear Inn, July 8, 2018)

After the last tune had been played on Sunday, July 8, at The Ear Inn (326 Spring Street, Soho, New York City), Brian Nalepka — string bass, vocals, wit — caught my eye and smiled, “That was a GOOD night, Michael!” and he didn’t have to say anything more.  What the EarRegulars created that night, as they have done for eleven years of Sundays, was magical.  They demonstrated, for a few hours, how music is the best medicine for all kinds of woes.

The genuine heartfelt practitioners that night were Brian; John Gill, banjo, National guitar, vocal; Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet, leader; New Orleans luminary Charlie Halloran, in New York for a few days, trombone, or as he likes to call it, “trampagne.”  When you play as beautifully as Charlie does, you have wide-open linguistic license.

A few more words about him: I’d heard his recordings and they bring great joy: I’m thinking of his QUALITY SIX and CE BIGUINE, both celebrated on this blog (as well as wonderful work with half-a-dozen other bands) — but the closest we’d ever come to a real conversation was that we waved to each other across a fence at one of the Steamboat Stomps. So I was delighted to hear him in person, doing the thing at close range, and to find out that he is as gracious a person as he is a fine musician.  And I don’t overstate.

The Fellows, that very night. Photograph by Neal Siegal.

Here are some highlights from early in the evening.  The band just glowed, and so did we.

A rocking BOGALUSA STRUT:

A tender but groovy SOMEDAY SWEETHEART — a version that seems to need no comma in the middle:

Asking the musical question, WHO’S SORRY NOW? — here, it’s not fashionable to invoke the name of Miff Mole, but Charlie brings him to life in this century, exuberant and precise.  And we’re so lucky to have this band sharing its love every Sunday:

And to close this segment, a down-home TISHOMINGO BLUES, wonderfully sung by John Gill:

I will have more joyous evidence — inspired and inspiring — to share with you after a brief interval.

May your happiness increase!

A SHRINE FOR JOY: DANNY TOBIAS, SCOTT ROBINSON, JAMES CHIRILLO, FRANK TATE: The EarRegulars at The Ear Inn, August 6, 2017

You won’t find 326 Spring Street, Soho, New York City, on any ecclesiastical register of shrines, but that’s their omission, one I am working to correct.  On Sunday nights, from about 8-11 PM, joy reigns when the EarRegulars are in their sacred space.  I am not being impious: many nights at The Ear Inn have left me deeply reassured, even consoled, with the feeling that beauty is possible and within our reach if we can only pay attention to it.  For me, it’s about ninety minutes away; for those of you in close connection to computers and phones, it’s even easier to find.

On August 6, 2017, the EarRegulars were Danny Tobias, trumpet; Scott Robinson, taragoto, alto clarinet, baritone saxophone; James Chirillo, guitar; Frank Tate, string bass.

Here are two swinging benedictions for us all.

Irving Berlin’s ALL BY MYSELF:

And a song often turned in to vaudeville patter but with a big swinging heart, BLUES MY NAUGHTY SWEETIE GIVES TO ME:

and it was late in this evening when James Chirillo created this beautiful interlude, if you haven’t already delighted in it:

The moral of all of this, which you are free to accept or reject, is that if each of us felt free to spread joy as generously and without pretension as the EarRegulars do, we would be living in a paradise of our own making now.

May your happiness increase!

MAGIC MADE AUDIBLE: TAMAR KORN, ROB ADKINS, DAN BLOCK at CASA MEZCAL, PART ONE (May 24, 2015)

I follow the lead of the Blessed Eddie Condon when it comes to hyperbole about music, but in this case restraint is something I will put aside for a moment.  What you are about to see — the first part of a Sunday afternoon session at Casa Mezcal featuring Tamar Korn (voice and theatre), Dan Block (reeds and courage), Rob Adkins (string bass and moral foundation) is some of the most quietly astonishing music I’ve ever seen.

A friend of mine who saw one of the videos called it “an opportunity for magic to be made audible,” and I think that is perfectly evocatively true.

I’ve always had an idea that the music made when there’s no audience is a transporting experience, that the way musicians play for themselves is freer and more exalted than when they have to be conscious of an audience.  In most public situations, all sorts of distractions intrude.  An audience there for brunch won’t stop talking.  Waitstaff cross back and forth with dishes, full or empty. Even the artists most able to free themselves from their surroundings have to notice, now and again, what is buffeting them from the outside world.

Sunday, May 24, 2015, was a gloriously sunny day — a gift from the cosmos to remind us that such things are possible.  And Casa Mezcal was nearly empty as a result.  I was there, as was my new friend Richard Basi from Oregon, and a few others.  But the room was so still that Tamar decided to sing without amplification.  And there was no instrument — piano or guitar — to provide chords.  So the result was ethereal, elastic, delicious: three voices in sweet conversation, stretching time, pitch, and lines.  I’ve left in more than I usually would of the pre-song whimsical deliberations because I find them immensely touching.

What happened wasn’t anything predictable.  It wasn’t Singer with Accompaniment (in Twenties terms, Comedienne with Orchestra) nor was it a cut-down Billie, Pres, and Walter.  Imagine a soulful conversation where no one gets stifled or interrupted, where no one is The Lead, where the common goal is something new and beautiful and rare.  Experiencing this was like being admitted behind the curtain for the genuine deep rituals.

Here are eight glorious performances from the trio’s first set: a divine interchange of energies, and I do not use those words lightly.

CHEEK TO CHEEK:

SINGIN’ THE BLUES:

BETWEEN THE DEVIL AND THE DEEP BLUE SEA:

LOUISIANA FAIRY TALE:

THEM THERE EYES:

COME RAIN OR COME SHINE:

WHEN I TAKE MY SUGAR TO TEA:

ON THE SUNNY SIDE OF THE STREET:

Gorgeous, free, exact, playfully exuberant, joyous.  And this was only the first set of two.  It was an honor to be there.

May your happiness increase!

SPREADING JOY IN MICHIGAN (May 8, 2015)

Any universe is a beautiful place that has such brightly-shining people in it, including the unseen woman behind the camera.

Here are the details . . . the song, the dancers, the musicians, the occasion.

ALL GOD’S CHILLUN GOT RHYTHM (Walter Jurmann, Gus Kahn, Bronisław Kaper; arranged by James Dapogny).

Dancers:  Erin Morris, Brittany Armstrong-Morton, Rachel Bomphray, Sarah Campbell, Hayden Nickel, Nathan Bugh, Patrick Johnston, Chris Glasow, Ryan Morton, Bryant Stuckey.  (For more information about Erin Morris and her Ragdolls, visit here, and then, feeling the spirit, here.  JAZZ LIVES will soon be able to offer information for those wishing to form local chapters of the Erin Morris and her Ragdolls International Fan Club.

Musicians: , Mike Karoub (cello), James Dapogny (piano), Rod McDonald (guitar), and Joe Fee (bass). College Theater, Washtenaw Community College, Ann Arbor, Michigan. May 8, 2015. Filmed by Laura Beth Wyman.

Bless each of them . . . so generously blessing us with joy.  Tell your friends.

May your happiness increase!

“IT’S A WONDERFUL WORLD” AT THE SAN DIEGO JAZZ FEST: TIM LAUGHLIN, CONNIE JONES, MIKE PITTSLEY, CHRIS DAWSON, KATIE CAVERA, MARTY EGGERS, HAL SMITH

You don’t have to write Odes to Nightingales to be lyrically poetic. In this century, we have Tim Laughlin, clarinet; Connie Jones, cornet and vocal; Mike Pittsley, trombone; Chris Dawson, piano; Marty Eggers, string bass; Katie Cavera, rhythm guitar; Hal Smith, drums, to prove this.

The song on which they wax poetic is IT’S A WONDERFUL WORLD, performed at the 2012 San Diego Jazz Fest:

(Connie — a great unheralded singer — embodies a special optimism. Bless him and his colleagues.)

While you are basking in the good sounds and good feeling, think of this: Tim and Connie, with their New Orleans All Stars — Doug Finke, trombone; Chris, Marty, Katie, and Hal — will be playing more than a few sets at this year’s San Diego Jazz Fest, November 26-30.

And they are certainly not the only band: click here.

If you can live joyously, it’s always a wonderful world.

May your happiness increase!

ANOTHER KIND OF TRIBUTE TO DUNCAN P. SCHIEDT: DUKE HEITGER, BOB HAVENS, DAN LEVINSON, ANDY STEIN, ROSSANO SPORTIELLO, JON BURR, RICKY MALICHI at JAZZ AT CHAUTAUQUA (Sept. 21, 2013)

I’ve spent the last few days grieving for Duncan P. Schiedt.  And my mourning and appreciation is not something I can put away neatly in the closet of emotions and say, “Oh, well, we must move on.” But I wondered if there was a way I could honor Duncan with some joy leavened into the loss . . . and I present my own version of the eternal flame of hot jazz.

What follows is not “just another set of videos I took.”

“Nay nay,” to quote the Master.

Aside from the mail — and then email and telephone — the only place I ever encountered Duncan in person was at Jazz at Chautauqua, nine years in a row (2004-2013).  And I saw him at an adjacent table (with Liz) having a fine time enjoying the music. I know that Duncan was in the room while this set was being created, and it doesn’t take much imagination to add his smiling countenance to the mostly-unseen audience.  I don’t think the musicians will mind.

Incidentally, “Jazz at Chautauqua” has now been reborn as the Allegheny Jazz Party — I’m making plans for my maiden voyage to Cleveland in mid-September.

But back to September 21, 2013.

Those musicians! Duke Heitger, trumpet; Bob Havens, trombone; Dan Levinson, clarinet; Andy Stein, baritone saxophone; Rossano Sportiello, piano; Jon Burr, string bass; Ricky Malichi, drums — in a session of Condonesque good-old-good ones going back to Porter Steele and forward to Frank Loesser, in the best way.

ROYAL GARDEN BLUES:

A SLOW BOAT TO CHINA:

MY GAL SAL:

STARS FELL ON ALABAMA (by Mister H for Mister T):

HIGH SOCIETY (wait for the riotous version of the Alphonse Picou chorus):

Our lives are so finite . . . but what we do in those brief spans is so beautiful.

May your happiness increase!

A GOOD ANSWER! (JON BURR, HOWARD ALDEN, MENNO DAAMS) Hotel Edison, October 4, 2013)

I fell into conversation with a musician at a gig last week — we were both early and he did me the great courtesy of taking me seriously as I set up my video camera.  “Why do you listen to this music?” he asked.

I gave him my usual and true answer: it was possible for me to hear and listen to Louis Armstrong from my childhood on.  He looked sternly at me and said, “That‘s not an answer.”

I was shocked and thought: how dare you, Sir, suggest that my earliest experiences of the music were in some ways not sufficient rationale for my joy in it now?

But I gathered myself and said, after a pause, “This music makes me feel even more how fortunate we are to be alive.”  He paused, too, then said, almost with reverence, “That’s an answer.”

Here is a physical embodiment of that answer: a performance that makes me feel so joyous, music that balances all the unseemly race to false happiness we find in the world, music that says, “It will be all right.  Beauty is possible.  Here we are to spread joy.”

Bassist, composer, and bandleader Jon Burr has a weekly gig — something I hadn’t known of — in the lounge of the Hotel Edison on Fridays, approximately 4 to 6 PM.  The Edison is between Broadway and Eighth Avenue in Manhattan, between 46th and 47th Street.  I was accustomed to enter the hotel from the south side, 211 West 46th, but the music is most easily accessed from the north.

For this Friday, Jon was in tandem (and that cliche is true) with guitarist Howard Alden, and the ever-resourceful trumpeter Menno Daams — in New York City with his wife Ineke on a visit from the Netherlands — combined to become the essential Count Basie band (no piano, no tuxedos needed) for SHINY STOCKINGS.  They are my heroes and they need no armor.

If you don’t feel better after this performance, email me at swingyoucats@gmail.com and we’ll talk.

Thank you so much, Jon, Howard, and Menno.  You brought a new kind of love to us!

May your happiness increase!

DON’T WAIT UNTIL YOU’RE DEAD

Many of us have made plans, whether vague and silent or specific and detailed, about what should happen to our STUFF (thank you, George Carlin) after we are no longer around to enjoy it.

But this post isn’t to urge people to make such plans. I would like readers to consider the idea of spontaneous philantropies while the giver and the recipient are both alive and sentient.  

Suppose you know that a jazz friend has never heard an unusual or rare record. You could make a bequest of that disc in your will . . . or you could give it to your friend NOW. If that’s too painfully a precursor of your own death, you could invite your friend over to hear it. You could send a copy now — before other responsibilities get in the way of this impulse.

If you know that your niece is playing saxophone in the school band, why not make sure she has AFTERNOON OF A BASIE-ITE, Ben Webster with Strings, and Buddy Tate records to enjoy? Again, NOW. A fledgling singer has never heard Mildred Bailey or Jimmy Rushing? You’re beginning to see a pattern.

These generosities make a number of happy results possible. Who doesn’t love getting a gift that, in its essence, says, “The person who gave this to me knows me so well and loves me”? So your gesture becomes an offering of affection and joy. In addition, acts like these are quiet ways of letting the music reverberate through the universe: jazz proselytizing, if you will.

A good deal of my musical happiness has been the direct result of the active generosity of many people, living and dead, friends and collectors who said, “You HAVE to hear this!”  Marc Caparone, Ricky Ricccardi, Manfred Selchow, Stu Zimny, David Weiner, Rob Rothberg, Bill Gallagher, David Goldin, Butch Smith, John L. Fell, Joe Boughton, Hal Smith, Wayne Jones, Bob Erdos, Bill Coverdale, Roy Bower, Bert Whyatt, Derek Coller, and two dozen others. Without them, my musical range would have been much more narrow. I remember the giver as much as I do the gift.

Much of my work on this blog is my own attempt to give gifts of music old and new. “Wait, you have never heard HAVEN’T NAMED IT YET?” “You never heard Lips Page or Tricky Sam Nanton play the blues?”

It’s a paradox, but giving precious artifacts away to someone who will appreciate them does not diminish your ownership; it intensifies your pleasure.

I am skirting the practical details of sharing; I don’t mean to suggest that you simply burn CDs, because that deprives the original artists of royalties or income. But I do urge people to open their treasure troves and share the music.

So rather than thinking about the next record or CD you absolutely must possess, why not turn the impulse on its head and think, “Who in my life would be thrilled to listen to what I so enjoy? Who deserves a gift of music, and how might I make this possible?”

In return, you will hear their pleasure and gratitude and be warmed by it. Such acts are love embodied, and the energy behind them is never wasted.

P. S.  If you’re reading this and thinking, “All that is very nice, but I have no rare jazz records to share with other people,” there are always chances to make generosity take shape without spending money. Consider the Ethel Waters principle:

If you say to someone today, “I love you,” “Thanks for everything,” “I’m grateful to you,” “I’m so sorry,” “Can you forgive me?” “What can I do for you?” or “It’s been a long time since we spoke,” those words have the ringing beauty of a Bix solo or a Lester Young chorus.

May your happiness increase!

A LESSON IN SPIRITUAL PHILOSOPHY FROM THE MASTER

The urge to share this ecstatic experience came upon me yesterday because of a conversation I had with the thoughtful, surprising art historian Claudia Cage.  We drifted sideways into the question about our power and ability to perceive (and thus inhabit) our lives.  Some people can’t help but view their saga as tragic, and often they have very solid evidence to support this darkness.  But others — like Claudia and myself — choose to look for joy, for laughter, as salvations.

Those who know my turn of mind might not be surprised at the music that I sent her, then the Beloved, my friend Gretchen, and now you.  It is that most wondrous expression of art and power, a performance that makes me cry — with joy, with exultation, a whole complexity of emotions — every time I hear it.

WHEN YOU’RE SMILING is fairly thin melodic material, and jazz groups tend to romp through it faster and faster, as if to conceal how little there is to work with.  But not our hero, who understood its deep message and the operatic possibilities of those long held notes.  I would love it if every singer or everyone who wanted to sing was able to study the vocal chorus (which begins with a scatted version of the trumpet break — talk about beautiful structures!) — its warmth, its casual seriousness, its great human compassion.  Louis isn’t insisting that his moral message is the only one; he is not up in the pulpit.  Rather, his is a gentle arm around the listener’s shoulder, saying sweetly, “Hey, man, I know this world is hard.  It can wear you down to nothing.  But if you welcome joy and live it, then — who knows? — things will get easier.  You have nothing to lose by smiling, man.”

And then the trumpet solo, an angel from on high sending us his golden clarion message: do your best to be happy, and all will be well.  Amazing music out of a deep, wise, jubilant soul.

For anyone who still holds to the tired view that Louis Armstrong’s creative life sputtered and died after 1928, I prescribe a course of repeated listening.  And, rather like antibiotics, you can’t stop taking the joy-medicine even if you feel better.

On that note, I will say that I live in a Long Island suburb; my apartment windows face a four-lane main road.  Across the street from me, a new exercise studio opened a few months ago, and they feature Zumba to music so loud that I feel it in my socks; it makes the windows vibrate.  I wish them no harm (although I do regularly ask them to turn it down a bit) but I secretly wish I had a cosmos-rattling sound system in my apartment.  I would open my windows, duck down where I could not be seen, and play this version of WHEN YOU’RE SMILING so that everyone’s windows rattled . . . but with joy, with delight, with the feeling that it is better to be alive while you have the chance.  (Once a day only, and my goal would be that I would then pass people on the street and some more of them would be smiling, perhaps some one even humming the song.)

In this very unpredictable century, I find it comforting that this video has been seen nearly four million times on YouTube.  Send it to someone you love; it beats anything that comes in a box and it is much easier than a trip to the mall.  I wish with all my heart that someone could play this performance for the Dalai Lama — who already knows its truths — as a loving embrace.

Love your life with all its imperfections and it will love you back.   It may not be possible to make the whole world smile with you, but you can spread joy as you go on your daily rounds.  Louis did, and modeling oneself on Louis is a pretty good choice.

May your happiness increase.

GOT MY BAG, GOT MY RESERVATION: SACRAMENTO MUSIC FESTIVAL: May 25-28, 2012

A musician I know emailed me last night, “Michael, are you going to Sacramento?”

“Try and stop me,” I thought.

I don’t really like travel all that much: a series of small discomforts, even though everyone from the TSA agents to the person sitting next to me on the airplane is pleasant and more.  I have to remember to pack batteries for everything that needs a battery.

But live hot jazz played by my friends is enough to make me strap that seat belt low and tight around my hips (it sounds like a song from Mamie Smith’s 1929 repertoire, doesn’t it) and get ready for takeoff.

So I will be away from JAZZ LIVES for this long holiday weekend . . . but I will be

a) having the time of my life listening to the Reynolds Brothers, Clint Baker, Rebecca Kilgore, Dan Barrett, Rossano Sportiello, High Sierra, Bryan Shaw, Howard Miyata, Hal Smith, Molly Ryan, Sue Kroninger, and two dozen other heroes and heroines;

b) Isn’t a) enough?

This will all happen at the Sacramento Music Festival, which begins on Friday afternoon and goes through until mid-Monday.  I know that there is room for you, too, so if you can get yourself there, it will be worth the trip.  Memorial Day is often degraded in this country: instead of celebrating the lives of those who died for us, we have “sales” at the mall.  But the Sacramento Music Festival — and its cousins — offer us tangible proof, through music created in front of us, that it is good to be alive and in love with living.

I hope I will see some of my friends who don’t play instruments there — as well as the wonderful people making the air ring.

Here is the SMF’s Facebook page.

And here is a link to their schedule on the SMF website.

May your happiness increase.

THERE’S MAGIC IN THE EAR (Part Two): The EarRegulars and Friends at The Ear Inn, May 13, 2012)

There are certain live musical events I hope to remember the rest of my life.  Three that come to the surface immediately: an I WOULD DO MOST ANYTHING FOR YOU that Ruby Braff created one night in 1975 at the last Eddie Condon’s — at such a quick tempo that the other players had to scurry to get in their sixteen bars before the performance ended.  There’s also a Vic Dickenson chorus of LOUISE performed as part of a Condonite ballad medley alongside Bob Wilber, Kenny Davern, and Dick Wellstood in 1972 at Your Father’s Mustache.  The BODY AND SOUL played at the 1975 Newport “Hall of Fame” by Bobby Hackett, Vic, Teddy Wilson, Milt Hinton, Jo Jones — where Hackett gave the bridge of the final chorus to Jo, who created a subtle, dancing wirebrush sound sculpture.

I could extend this list, but it is only my way of prefacing this: the music I heard and recorded last Sunday night at The Ear Inn (326 Spring Street, Soho, New York) — created by the EarRegulars and friends — is on that list.

The EarRegulars that night were Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet (a special one, a 1970s Conn horn that had belonged to Bobby Hackett); Ken Peplowski, tenor saxophone and clarinet; James Chirillo, guitar; Jon Burr, string bass — and some fine congenial friends.  I have written in my earlier post (check it out here) about a community of joyous magicians (Jazz Wizards, perhaps?), artists and friends listening deeply to one another . . . but the new friends coming along didn’t break the spell.  Rather, they enhanced it.  The party expanded and became more of what it was meant to be.

Listen, savor, marvel, be enlightened!

They began with that twelve-bar commentary on how the universe feels on a dark Monday morning — a lament with a grin, THINGS AIN’T WHAT THEY USED TO BE.  Here it’s a soulful shuffle with a big heart.  Things might be annoying but if we play the blues for a good long time, we won’t notice so much:

Listening to THINGS, I thought once again of Miss Barbara Lea’s mildly imperial disdain for what she called “Sounding Like” — the game critics and listeners play of “Oh, that phrase Sounds Just Like . . . ” and a name, famous or obscure, follows — but most importantly, the names mentioned are never those of the musicians actually playing.  I declare that for this post, the musicians these players Sound Like are named Kellso, Peplowski, Chirillo, Burr, Anderson, Au, Musselman . . . no one else but them!

Someone proposed that minor romp — all about a melancholic African fellow whose liturgical utterance swings like mad: DIGA DIGA DOO.  Concealed within in, not too subtly, is an Andrew Marvell carpe diem, which you can find for yourself.  The Ellington connection isn’t all that obscure: it was a 1928 hit by Dorothy Fields and Jimmy McHugh from the show BLACKBIRDS OF 1928 — which also included Bill Robinson’s DOIN’ THE NEW LOWDOWN.  (If Fields and McHugh had never collaborated, how much poorer would our common language be.) And the Ellington band recorded it when the song was new and kept the chord changes for many romps in later decades.  All I can say is that I was happy to hear them begin it — and I got happier chorus by chorus through their Krazy Kapers:

The eternal question, DON’T YOU KNOW I CARE (OR DON’T YOU CARE TO KNOW)?  What beauty!  And the surprise for me — among others — is that lovely bridge.  In this performance, every note is in place but it all sounds fresh, new — from their hearts!

An aside: as an introduction to DON’T YOU KNOW?, Jon-Erik said that the EarRegulars were going to continue their explorations of Ellingtonia because a friend was in the house who likes Ellington.  I found out later that it was the UK rocker Joe Jackson, who has created his own Ellington-tribute CD: details here.

The first of the Friends to join the fun was the brilliant young reedman Will Reardon Anderson, who had been sitting at a table with a very happy Missus Jackie Kellso — he leapt in the carrot patch for a exhilarating COTTON TAIL:

The emotional temperature in the room was increasing, not only because we moved from the plaintive question DON’T YOU KNOW I CARE to the romantic request JUST SQUEEZE ME.  And the stellar cornetist Gordon Au joined the band for this sweet improvisation.  (Behind Missus Kellso the observant eye can catch a glimpse of night-owl Charles Levinson and ragtime hero Terry Waldo, enjoying themselves immensely.)  The first thirty seconds of this performance continue to make me laugh out loud . . . for reasons I don’t need to explain here.  And I hope you’ll drink in this performance’s beautiful structure — from ensemble to solos to conversations.  We’re among Friends!

And the young trombone master Matt Musselman came to play on the last song of the night, Juan Tizol’s PERDIDO . . . a true exercise in swing by all concerned!  And pay attention (to echo Jake Hanna) to the casually brilliant dialogues than just happen: not cutting contests, but chats on subjects everyone knows so well:

I write it again (“with no fear of contradiction,” as they used to say): we are so fortunate to live on the same planet as the magical creative folks.  Blessings on all of you!

May your happiness increase.

THERE’S MAGIC IN THE EAR (Part One): The EarRegulars at The Ear Inn, May 13, 2012

I write this on Wednesday, May May 16 — several days after the magical improvisations of last Sunday night, when The EarRegulars created life-enhancing beauty at The Ear Inn (326 Spring Street, Soho, New York) once again.  But the music from The Ear is still vibrating in my ear and lifting my spirits.  I know that I will be savoring it for a long time to come.

The EarRegulars that night were Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet (a special one, a 1970s Conn horn that had belonged to Bobby Hackett); Ken Peplowski, tenor saxophone and clarinet; James Chirillo, guitar; Jon Burr, string bass.  They were joined by some exalted friends you will encounter in the second chapter.

Each of the four EarRegulars here is a profoundly gifted musician, as my readers will know and have witnessed in person.  But this Sunday session was one of those special occasions where everything jelled from the first notes.  I won’t say “It kept on improving,” because it was already superb.  Everything was in place, yet nothing was planned or formulaic; you could see from the grins on the faces of the players just how pleased and surprised they were, how well and deeply they felt their most subtle impulses heard — for this was a listening band, a true community of joyous magicians.

Enough words.  The depth and playfulness of this music makes them trivial, perhaps an impudence.  Listen, savor, marvel, be enlightened!

Tommy Dorsey’s pretty theme, taken at a sweet loping pace, I’M GETTING SENTIMENTAL OVER YOU:

The good advice created by Harry Barris and friends, WRAP YOUR TROUBLES IN DREAMS:

Harking back to Duke Ellington and Lionel Hampton but never Charles Laughton, RING DEM BELLS:

The pretty ballad that Louis recorded in 1938, ONCE IN A WHILE:

The hot tune that Louis recorded in 1926, ONCE IN A WHILE.  Only at 326 Spring Street!:

Oh, so sweet!  SUGAR, set up beautifully by Jon and James:

The Twenties ode to the madness syncopation brings, CRAZY RHYTHM:

It was just magical — watching and hearing these musicians transform metal, wood, electricity, breath, and moisture into a joy that had tangible heft and substance.  But there were no tricks, no stuffed rabbits or items concealed from view: it was simply the magical combination of tension and repose, expertise and abandon.

I felt that the money I put in the tip jar was paltry in comparison to the experience I had participated in.  And these musicians go off to do this night after night.  Aren’t they something?

Hail, O EarRegulars!  We are lucky to live in your world.

May your happiness increase.

A SNIPPET OF “SAN”: THE ELLIS ISLAND BOYS (and a GIRL) at DISNEY CALIFORNIA ADVENTURE, Feb. 3, 2012

The good news.  Ralf Reynolds, washboard; John Reynolds, guitar; Katie Cavera, string bass; Marc Caparone, trumpet, soar through a bit of SAN in the sunshine.

The bad news: the clip is fifty-three seconds long:

I’ve been wondering about the brevity of these clips.

Some with more technological knowledge might say that the camera phone is not equipped for long videos.

But I have another hypothesis.  The Ellis Island Boys (and a Girl) deliver such powerful medicine, such concentrated joy . . . that the camera phones automatically shut off to protect the operator from passing out from bliss.

I will check with the local healers and report back.

Notice the rainbow / prism off to the left of the screen?  That’s no accident: the heavens approve, too.

MAKING LIGHT OF OUR GRIEF

Why should someone happy sing a sad song?

This question has been part of my thoughts since Labor Day weekend.  At the 2011 Sweet and Hot Music Festival, I had seen Dan Barrett and Marc Caparone join Dan Levinson on the stand — very informally.  (Molly Ryan and Mark Shane were already there, and even though they are not the focus of this posting, they are dear to me and anyone who listens.)

Dan L. has long been making good things happen with the somewhat obscure Jimmie Noone repertoire, and he called READY FOR THE RIVER.  After the instrumental choruses, he  asked, “Want to do it as a band vocal?” — the three hornmen decided in the space of a few seconds that they all knew the words to the song, and this resulted:

I haven’t been able to get that song or that performance out of my mind.  Although my life is happier than it ever has been, at odd moments through the day I find myself cheerfully sotto voce singing about committing suicide.  Trying to plumb this mystery, I cheerfully told the Beloved once again about the song and sang it to her as we walked through Central Park this afternoon.

There’s no post-modern ambiguity in the lyrics.  The singer is planning to drown himself.  The lyrics to the bridge are “Made my will, wrote some notes.  Goin’ to keep on walking till my straw hat floats.”  But the paradox of the pleasure I am taking in this sad song doesn’t frighten me.  Rather, it opens out into broader vistas.

I could start with the simple pleasure of a catchy melody and well-crafted, surprising lyrics.  The song has an irresistibly simple melody: the “A” sections are within the span of an octave, and the bridge uses only four notes.  Easy to remember, to hum, to whistle, full of emphatic repeated notes.  They lyrics are clever: suicide never seemed so much like a nifty thing to do.  The contrast between playful melody and direly witty lyrics is intriguing in itself.  But I had heard the Noone record of READY FOR THE RIVER years ago with no particular compulsion to revisit it.  I didn’t sing it to myself when I might have had much better reason to take it seriously.

And this rumination is not entirely self-referential: two Dans and one Marc take great joy out of singing those sorrowful lyrics on the stand.  Watch them sing, and I believe you see three men singing a dark song — but they are so delighted with the music passing through them that they are having a hard time not giggling.

I am entranced by the performance and its implications.  We perceive three artists, united by common language, shared knowledge, simultaneous emotions, breaking into song — harmonizing on a shared theme.  They create a community that transmutes gloom.  In performance, READY FOR THE RIVER is so much more than sheet of music or a disc.

And, as with all improvisation, a transformation happens: something is created that did not exist before.  Marc Caparone inhales, passes his exhaled breath vibrating through the metal of his cornet, and what comes out perhaps twenty inches from his face is music.  He sends his notes out into the room — “This is what I have to tell you!” — and the sound bounces back to him.  Dan and Dan hear it; the three voices are triply individual and at the same time a choir.

In making a song about deep sadness, our feeling that nothing can be fixed, these artists turn the grieving darkness into something beautiful that will sustain us.  If we sing about ending our lives, perhaps we have defused the impulse and have purged the need to act on it.  If we can put our sorrows into song, we can endure the worst of them.  Grief that once weighed us down is now just a bubble.

Thanks to them, my straw hat floats.  Joyously.

*********************************************************

I had assumed that READY FOR THE RIVER dated from late 1929, a song naturally catching the mood of the country after the Wall Street Crash.  But I was mistaken: it was first recorded (according to Tom Lord) on March 27, 1928, by Emerson Gill and His Bamboo Garden Orchestra, vocal by Pinkey Hunter.

I’m always happy to have my assumptions refuted by evidence, and I now envision well-dressed men and women happily dancing to a snappy song about suicide.  I wish that the late Dennis Potter (of PENNIES FROM HEAVEN and THE SINGING POLICEMAN) were here to savor this image: