Tag Archives: Judy Carmichael

“A LONELY BREEZE”: HARRY ALLEN, ROSSANO SPORTIELLO, FRANK TATE, RICKY MALICHI (Cleveland Classic Jazz Party, September 12, 2015)

Art by Ivana Falconi Allen

Art by Ivana Falconi Allen

Here’s a gorgeous ballad you might not have heard: music by tenor saxophonist Harry Allen, unheard lyrics by pianist / singer Judy Carmichael. It’s called A LONELY BREEZE, and it was performed at the 2015 Cleveland Classic Jazz Party: Harry had the help of Rossano Sportiello, piano; Frank Tate, string bass; Ricky Malichi, drums.  (Then, the Party was the “Allegheny Jazz Party,” but its magical essence remains, no matter what it’s called.)

The good news is that there is a whole new CD coming of Carmichael and Allen, so that we will be able to hear more of these compositions, music / lyrics.  Soon!

CARMICAHEL AND ALLEN

(I believe that the feline model is one of two Allen cats: Dorothy.  Although Adelaide might write in to correct me.)

And the quartet heard above — with variations — will appear again at the 2016 Party.

May your happiness increase!

PETER VACHER’S SUBTLE MAGIC: “MIXED MESSAGES:

The best interviewers perform feats of invisibility.  Yes, they introduce the subject, give some needed context or description, and then fade away – – – so that we believe that X or Y is speaking directly to us.  This takes a great deal of subtlety and energy . . . but the result is compelling.  Whitney Balliett did it all the time; other well-regarded interviewers couldn’t.  Peter Vacher, who has written for JAZZ JOURNAL and CODA, among other publications, has come out with a new book, and it’s sly, delightful, and hugely informative.

Vacher

MIXED MESSAGES: AMERICAN JAZZ STORIES is a lively collection of first-hand recollections from those essential players whose names we don’t always know but who make the stars look and sound so good.  The title is slightly deceptive: we are accustomed to interpreting “mixed messages” as a combination of good and bad, difficult to interpret plainly.  But I think this is Vacher’s own quizzical way of evaluating the material he so lovingly presents: here are heroic creators whose work gets covered over — fraternal subversives, much like Vacher himself.  One might think, given the cover (Davern, Houston Person, and Warren Vache) that this is a book in which race features prominently (it does, when appropriate) and the mixing of jazz “schools” is a subject (less so, since the players are maturely past such divisive distinctions).

Because Vacher has opted to speak with the sidemen/women — in most cases — who are waiting in the lobby for the band bus, or having breakfast by themselves — his subjects have responded with enthusiasm and gratitude.  They aren’t retelling the same dozen stories that they’ve refined into an automatic formula; they seem delighted to have an attentive, knowledgeable listener who is paying them the compliment of avidly acknowledging their existence and talent.  The twenty-one musicians profiled by Vacher show his broad-ranging feeling for the music: Louis Nelson, Norman ‘Dewey’ Keenan, Gerald Wilson, Fip Ricard, Ruby Braff, George ‘Buster’ Cooper, Bill Berry, Benny Powell, Plas Johnson Jr, Carl ‘Ace’ Carter, Herman Riley, Lanny Morgan, Ellis Marsalis, Houston Person Jr, Tom Artin, John Eckert, Rufus Reid, John Stubblefield, Judy Carmichael, Tardo Hammer, Byron Stripling.  New Orleanians, beboppers, late-Swing players, modern Mainstreamers, lead trumpeters and a stride pianist, and people even the most devoted jazz fancier probably has not heard of except as a name in a liner note or a discography.  Basie, Ellington, and Charlie Barnet make appearances here; so do Johnny Hodges, Jimmie Lunceford, Al Grey, Charlie Shavers, Bobby Hackett, Jimmy Smith, Sonny Red, Maynard Ferguson, Lionel Hampton, Jimmy Knepper, Lee Konitz, Ornette Coleman, Papa Celestin, Don Byas, Dexter Gordon, J. J. Johnson, Sonny Rollins, Charles Mingus, the AACM, Freddie Green, John Hammond, Roy Eldridge, Dick Wellstood, Duke Jordan, Sal Mosca, Junior Cook, Bill Hardman, Art Farmer, Mary Lou Williams.

But the strength and validity of this book is not to be measured by the number of names it includes, but in the stories.  (Vacher’s subjects are unusually candid without being rancorous, and a number of them — Braff, Berry, Stripling — take time to point out how the elders of the tribe were unusually kind and generous mentors.)  Here are a few excerpts — vibrant and salty.

Benny Powell on working with Lionel Hampton:

He was a pretty self-centered guy.  Kinda selfish.  When something wasn’t right or he wanted to admonish somebody in the band, he would have a meeting just before the show.  He’d get us all on stage and tell us how unworthy we were.  He’d say, “People come to see me.  I can get out on stage and urinate on stage and people will applaud that.”  He would go on and on like this, and when he was finished, he’d say, “All right, gentlemen, let’s have a good show.”  I’d say to myself, “Good show!  I feel like crying.”

Pianist Carl “Ace” Carter:

. . . the drummer . . . . was Ernie Stephenson, they used to call him Mix.  He said, “Why don’t you turn to music?  You can get more girls.”  He’s passed on now but I said if I ever see him in heaven I’m gonna kill him because to this day I haven’t got a girl.” 

Trumpeter John Eckert:

I didn’t appreciate Louis Armstrong until I played a concert with Maynard Ferguson’s band, when I was. maybe, 26 years old [circa 1965].  A lot of big acts were there, including Maynard, Dave Brubeck with Paul Desmond, and three or four other modern groups.  Louis ended the concert.  I’d always seen him as this old guy, with the big smile, saying negative things about bebop, but I was just thunderstruck at how he sounded.  I couldn’t believe how powerful he was, his timing, just the authority he played with — his group wasn’t really that impressive — but he was the king.

To purchase this very satisfying book, click here.

May your happiness increase.

“SWING, STRIDE”: STEVE GRANT at the PIANO (2012)

swingstride

This CD is accurately titled.  Pianist Steve Grant (from Australia) does both — neatly, wittily, and spicily.  The disc’s subtitle is “some good old jazz favorites,” which is also truth in advertising.

There aren’t any liner notes for the disc, so I hope Mr. Grant forgives me if I write the lines that I think should be there.

Many players in these idioms good-naturedly make the error of overwhelming the listener with their technique.  An Ellington original — a stride showpiece eighty years before this — was called LOTS O’FINGERS, and they take that ornateness as their goal.  Volume and tempo follow, and the result can be a density that is impressive but exhausting.

Not Steve Grant.  He can play at rapid tempos (the opening SWEETHEARTS ON PARADE is anything but languid, and HOW DEEP IS THE OCEAN suggests high tides!) but his playing is lucid, clear.

I thought of the 1935-7 Wilson solos (with a more experimental harmonic range), anchored by a light stride bass opened up with walking tenths and rhythmic suspensions.  Grant is not a gifted imitator, stringing together phrases laboriously learned from the recordings: he is an improviser, going where his impulses lead him.

On each track, he shows himself to be a master of implying: he doesn’t stress or lean on the listener, “Look!  I can really Get Hot, can’t I?”  Rather, a Grant solo is a series of small playful excursions, “Was that a tango I just heard going by?  Quick, look out the window!”  But he leaves himself and the listener a good deal of space, and the overall effect is, “That’s so simple.  If I practiced a bit more, I could play like that,” what I call the Bing Crosby Effect.  Another illusion, as anyone who sits down at the piano finds out.

Most of the tracks toddle along at a rocking medium tempo, but each one has its own delightful explosions.  LAURA, for instance, is full of quite remarkable right-hand arpeggios that show a harmonic imagination that’s anything but simple.  THE MIDNIGHT SUN combines optimism and melancholy with understated emotional power.  And Grant makes it possible to hear BODY AND SOUL without decades of familiar accretions on its hull.

But Grant — because he seems to be so simple — continually tricks us.  The first chorus of THESE FOOLISH THINGS might lull us into complacency,”Oh, he’s just playing the melody,” and then we wouldn’t notice the sweet, quietly subversive things he does in the choruses that follow.  Only a musician with a deep sense of humor and an expansive conception of what it means to improvise would or could create such rewarding music.  This CD is well worth investigating, and I’ve kept on being surprised by it on repeated playings.

The disc offers SWEETHEARTS ON PARADE / OLD FASHIONED LOVE / LAURA / BABY WONTCHA PLEASE COME HOME (I reproduce this title exactly) / THE MIDNIGHT SUN WILL NEVER SET / THESE FOOLISH THINGS / HOW DEEP IS THE OCEAN / BODY AND SOUL / DID I REMEMBER / PASSPORT TO PARADISE / BYE BYE BLACKBIRD.  It was recorded in the Echidna Studios, Yarra Glen.

Here’s the SHOP page on his website.  And here you can hear other solo performances recorded at home — I hope I won’t hurt his feelings by saying the piano sound is less than studio-quality.  (P.S.  As Julius Yang has pointed out below, it’s a kind of electronic piano.  So I hope I did not hurt Steve’s or the piano’s feelings.)

But the playing is delightful.  (As an aside, I first heard Grant on record as a shining member of Bob Barnard’s crew — at the jazz parties captured on NifNuf Records — then as a cornetist, superbly, alongside guitarist John Scurry on a Judy Carmichael trio CD — details here — he is something special!)

May your happiness increase.

JOHN SCURRY’S “REVERSE SWING”

One of the most gratifying things about being a jazz listener is the possibility of meeting one’s heroes in the flesh.  I could lament that I never saw Django or Charlie Christian or Teddy Bunn, but I’m happy and proud to be able to write, “I’ve met John Scurry.”

I first heard John — guitarist, banjoist, composer, and not incidentally an artist — on several NifNuf CDs that came out of Bob Barnard’s Jazz Parties (a glorious series of celebrations running for a decade). 

I would put the CD into the player, most often in my car, and just listen, not knowing who the players were aside from Bob and one or two others.  But when I got to my destination or at a stoplight, I would look at the personnel to see exactly who that most impressive (unidentified) player was.  Sometimes it was Fred Parkes, other times Chris Taperell or George Washingmachine. 

But I came to know John Scurry’s work quickly: his ringing lines that didn’t go in familiar paths, his solid rhythm, his interesting voicings.  I then heard him on CDs with Allan Browne and Judy Carmichael and continued to be impressed.

And it would have stayed that way except for this summer’s trip to England and the long thrilling jazz weekend at the 2010 Whitley Bay International Jazz Festival. 

One night before the festival actually began, there was a concert devoted to the great British dance bands of the Thirties.  After we found seats on the little bus that was to take us to the hall, I recognized some people I’d met at the previous year’s festival — the multi-instrumentalist Michael McQuaid and his sweetheart Anna Lyttle. . . then Michael introduced me quickly to his colleagues, “there’s Jason, and John, and Ian.”  I’m not terribly good with names the first time I’m introduced, so I let the new bits of data wash over me.   (Eventually I came to meet and admire Jason Downes and Ian Smith.)

Later on, though, someone pointed out “John” and gave him his full title . . . and I went up to him and said, “You’re John Scurry?  I’ve been admiring your work for a long time . . . ” and on.  When he played with Michael’s Late Hour Boys, he was even better in person.  (I’ve posted a number of clips on YouTube that will bear me out.)

I’ve been listening John’s winding, curious compositions on some other CDs with Allan Browne recently.  I regret that he hasn’t yet had the opportunity to make a solo or duo CD.  In a world full of guitarists, he surely stands out.

I was both delighted and a bit puzzled by the portrait top left — even though I could understand that it is summer in Australia while we are worrying about the effects of the first frost on the plants . . . so I asked John to explain:

The band is a drumless quartet with Eugene Ball trumpet, Mike McQuaid
reeds, Leigh Barker bass, and myself on guitar.  We are unrehearsed and
playing standards, some of my so called originals and whatever comes
to mind in the balmy summer eve atmosphere of the lovely interior
spanish mission style courtyard of the Mission to Seafarers in
Melbourne, and old circa 1910 building.  The painting is by Antoine Watteau and I think it may be in the Met.  Jed Perl who writes for The New Republic did an article on it a few  years back. The painting if I remember correctly was recently rediscovered: I downloaded the image from his article, which was called  ‘A Big Surprise”.  A very beautiful work, don’t you think?  Sort of
encopasses everything really.

 As to “reverse swing”.  It’s a cricketing term, wherein the ball when
bowled swings the other way unexpectantly and contrary to Mr. Isaac
Newton’s expectations.  I like the name, I’m left-handed and happen to
play cricket…and I’m a bowler.  At this stage up until Christmas the gig is only for three weeks, however as  with all things we live in hope and joyful anticipation that more music may be had from the seafarers in the New Year.
I did this gig last year with Mike and Leigh, it’s a lot of fun
working with an acoustically based group without drums……it’s good
to  find one’s voice for better or worse without certain aural
encumbrances.

I only wish that New York was closer to Australia, or the reverse.  Perhaps someone will record REVERSE SWING with a video camera and share the results with us?  It won’t be the same, but it will tamp down my “Something wonderful is happening far away and I can’t get to it.” 

May John Scurry and his friends — not only in the Australian summer — prosper.

JUDY CARMICHAEL STRIDES AWAY

The Beloved and I went to Olga Bloom’s “Bargemusic” last Thursday to hear the ebullient stride pianist Judy Carmichael and her trio — with sterling fellows Jon-Erik Kellso and Chris Flory — and the barge wasn’t the only thing a-rockin’. I’ll be writing up that concert for Jazz Improv (www.jazzimprov.com), but take that opening sentence as a preview.

Judy’s new CD, SOUTHERN SWING, just out, pairs her with two like-minded Australian stars, cornetist Stephen Grant and guitarist John Scurry, at the 2007 Wangaratta Festival of Jazz. It presents her set at the festival as it occurred, and the results are cheering. Judy offers a bouncy, streamlined version of many of Fats Waller’s most famous pianistic motifs. Her rhythm is energetic, her pleasure in what she is doing comes through wholly. Catch her bell-like solo passages late in “I Ain’t Got Nobody,” quite moving in their patient simplicity, her willingness to let the piano ring out. Some of Judy’s pleasure, however, comes through in her chatty banter between numbers: the band is so rewarding that I would have traded much of the banter for one or two more songs.

I knew Stephen Grant and John Scurry from hearing them on the CDs recorded live at cornetist Bob Barnard’s annual jazz parties. Scurry I was accustomed to as a limber single-string soloist and rhythm player: here, he offers acoustic chordal solos, heartening suggestions of players like Bernard Addison and Carmen Mastren. Grant is even more astonishing: he appears at the Barnard parties as a pianist — one so splendid that I found myself listening to ensemble passages to hear his uplifting Jess Stacy – Teddy Wilson lines. Here — damn him for being so excessively talented — he shows off his heartfelt, loose-limbed cornet playing. It sounds simple, but every note is perfectly placed, his tone is quietly burnished. Like Scurry, he’s absorbed the great players but isn’t imitating them: a listener catches an annunciatory Joe Thomas arpeggio or a Buck Clayton epigram, but it’s all Grant.  (I also learned that Grant’s talents extend beyond straight-ahead jazz, and that he has recorded on accordion and saxophone.  Highly envy-provoking, I must say.)

The trio creates some very pleasing moments of improvised synergy — the riffs that close the Wilson-Holiday inspired “If Dreams Come True,” the pretty Grant-Scurry duet on “Crazy He Calls Me,” and the mournful yet swinging “I Ain’t Got Nobody,” suggesting a Basie small group after hours, taking its time.

Visit www.judycarmichael.com to purchase this and other CDs, to see Judy with an alligator on her lap, as well as a ckip of her sextet (featuring Kellso and Michael Hashim) on Brazillian television. For CDs recorded at Bob Barnard’s Jazz Parties from 1999 on, don’t miss www.rockyotway.com.