Last week I left my comfortable suburban burrow to travel to what turned out to be a very rewarding city:
No, JAZZ LIVES has not gone country. Rather, I came down for a record date featuring these fellows.
Marc Caparone, cornet; Steve Pikal, string bass; Danny Coots, drums; Brian Holland, piano; Evan Arntzen, clarinet and tenor (rear); myself (front); Derek Garten (recording engineer). Photograph by Amy Holland.
and, just because it exists, another photograph:
This session was to create a CD — their debut on disc — of the Holland-Coots Quintet, a group that had already appeared with great success at the Durango Ragtime Festival. Here — with videos captured by Judy Muldawer — is my post about this glorious band. I spent two happy days in the studio — a place of music, insights, deep feeling, and laughter, overseen by the masterful engineer / all-round whiz Derek Garten — as the band made magic happen, song after song.
The theme of the CD (which doesn’t yet have a title) was the music of Fats Waller, and the music associated with him. Experienced listeners know that people have been paying tribute to Fats for more than eighty years now, which means they were doing it at the same time HE was doing it, if that logical turn isn’t too annoying. (Think of Bob Howard and Putney Dandridge, and later Pat Flowers and Johnny Guarnieri.)
But many musicians and bands (1934 to the present!) have taken the easy way out, walking off with the most obvious superficial mannerisms: stride piano at a fast tempo, a half-dozen Waller phrases thrown in at random, AIN’T MISBEHAVIN’, HONEYSUCKLE ROSE, YOUR FEETS TOO BIG, the illusion of eyebrows moving up and down in time, ad-libs that are no longer improvised, and so on. The most studied tributes have a trumpet player who has studied Autrey, a reed player deep into Sedric, and if the budget allows, an acoustic guitarist who has done post-doctoral in Casey.
Add gestures, stir lightly, and you have a recognizable product that people who don’t know the musicians will pick up off the table, and, with luck, purchase. Microwave-Fats.
This CD is fresh, not frozen. It captures Fats’ deep soul in all its aspects.
This quintet rejected shallow caricature in favor of music that is light-hearted but full of feeling, swinging without artifice. For one thing, song choices that showed a deep understanding of Fats and his world. A few volcanic explosions (MINOR DRAG, I WOULD DO ANYTHING FOR YOU), a nod to a classic Waller-Razaf standard (KEEPIN’ OUT OF MISCHIEF NOW), one to James P. Johnson (IF I COULD BE WITH YOU), some Fats songs that don’t get played (MOPPIN’ AND BOPPIN’, THIS IS SO NICE IT MUST BE ILLEGAL, LONESOME ME, LIVER LIP JONES), several from the early, dewy Rhythm sides (WHOSE HONEY ARE YOU, I BELIEVE IN MIRACLES, I’VE GOT MY FINGERS CROSSED), and a romantic ballad — Fats was a deep romantic — composed by Russ Columbo and two people I’d not heard of, and gorgeously sung by Evan, LET’S PRETEND THAT THERE’S A MOON, which is my new favorite recording.
The music is sincere but never self-consciously so; no one is “acting” a part, but in Roswell Rudd’s words, they are playing their personalities. I will let you know more about the CD as it comes up to the surface, ready to be bought and loved.
I can’t share the music from the CD with you: that will come in due course. (I will be writing about the new Holland-Coots duet CD, SWINGIN’ FOR THE FENCES, soon.) But I have something to enthrall and delight. I’d asked Brian if he and the band would consider, when the session was over, performing something for my camera, so that I could share it with the JAZZ LIVES audience as a token of generosity (the band’s) and a hint of things to come. It’s ragtime via the DeParis Brothers’ band, RUSSIAN RAG, and it’s a wow:
Festival producers, take note!
(The sound of the video is captured by the RODE microphone on top of my camera; the CD’s sound is light-years better, but I wanted people to hear this joyous expert outburst now.)
Blessings and gratitude to Danny, Brian, Marc, Evan, Steve, Derek, Kimberly C, Bella C, Hannah C, Amy G, Amy H, Cheryl P, Rona from Waffle House, and Miss Rose from Kroger — not only for the music but for the encompassing warmth.
May your happiness increase!