Tag Archives: Julian Johnson

HOT SOUNDS AT TWILIGHT: COLIN HANCOCK, MIKE DAVIS, VINCE GIORDANO, TROY ANDERSON, JULIAN JOHNSON, DAN LEVINSON, ALBANIE FALLETTA, ARNT ARNTZEN at the MORRIS MUSEUM (June 10, 2021, Morristown, New Jersey)

Early in the evening: from left, Albanie, Arnt, Dan, Vince, Troy, Colin, Julian, Mike.

It was a wonderful evening, and this post is simply to say so — a review of the Broadway opening the next morning — and to share the joys. The event, to give it its official title, was SOUNDS OF THE JAZZ AGE with COLIN HANCOCK’S RED HOT EIGHT, and it was held on the back deck of the Morris Museum in Morristown, New Jersey, overseen by the very kind and efficient Brett Messenger.

The purveyors of joy were Colin, trumpet, tenor saxophone, and imagination; Vince Giordano, bass saxophone, string bass, tuba, and vocal; Dan Levinson, clarinet, alto saxophone; Troy Anderson, tenor and soprano saxophone; Mike Davis, cornet, trombone, mouthpiece, vocal; Julian Johnson, drums; Albanie Falletta, resonator guitar, vocal; Arnt Arntzen, banjo, guitar, vocal. The scope of the program was narrow in time — perhaps 1920-1928 — but transcontinentally and stylistically broad. Arranged passages sat neatly next to explosive hot improvisations; dance-band melodies, “hot dance” rhythms, and small-band ecstasies nestled comfortably against the setting sun as they did in real life Jazz Age dance halls, speakeasies, malt shoppes, and recording studios.

They started off with FIDGETY FEET, with no lesson in sight, except to demonstrate, “We are here to play lively living music,” and they succeeded. Next, Art Hickman’s pretty 1920 standard ROSE ROOM, its origin in San Francisco, which has had a long life, both in its own clothing and as IN A MELLOTONE — displaying a lovely passage scored for two saxophones, in this case Dan and Troy. Someone wandering by might have thought, “This is tea-dance music,” but it had a hot pulse with rocking solos, and the genre-sliding was more than entertaining. From Hickman, Colin moved to the great star of Twenties music — call it and him what you will — Paul Whiteman — for an idiomatic and swinging WHISPERING with a patented crooning chorus by Mike Davis. I know this sentence is unsubtle, but Colin and his Eight made no artificial distinctions between “sweet” music as played by white bands and “hot” music played by their black counterparts, acknowledging without lecturing us that there was no dividing line between the two.

Colin then nodded to the great Twenties phenomenon of recordings of the blues and bent that definition to include a jolly YOU’VE GOTTA SEE MAMA EVERY NIGHT, which is, after all, good advice, if Mama wants all that attention. Bennie Moten’s frolicsome EIGHTEENTH STREET STRUT and LOUISIANA, subtle homage to both Whiteman and Beiderbecke, followed — the band hitting on all cylinders, the audience enthusiastic, the sky darkening (as it should) and the stage lighting properly illuminating the players.

I can’t have been the only one in the audience who was hungry (it had been a long ride to Morristown) so I was happy to hear two songs about food, however indirectly: the Keppard-flavored HERE COMES THE HOT TAMALE MAN and Louis’ Hot Five I WANT A BIG BUTTER AND EGG MAN, with hilarious vocals by Albanie and Arnt. Vince sang THERE’LL BE SOME CHANGES MADE in a truly hot version (Dan evoked Frank Teschemacher) that summoned up the Austin High Gang. In honor of Red Nichols and the whole tradition of Sam Lanin, there was FIVE FOOT TWO, EYES OF BLUE.

A “Jazz Age” concert typically would end with a lengthy rousing closer — this one took a slightly different turn, with fairly brief (although searing) renditions of MILENBERG JOYS and CLARINET MARMALADE not only played but recorded on the spot on a vintage phonograph — and the records played back on the spot. It was a wonderful demonstration of the new technology, great hot music (we applauded the live rendition, we applauded the record) and wonderful theatre.

I won’t praise every musician — you will hear for yourself — but the patriarchs of Twenties jazz were cheered and inspired by the youngbloods on the stand. And Colin (whose solos were intense and incendiary) found ways to show the depth and breadth of this music, avoiding the overused repertoire (no DIPPER MOUTH BLUES, for one) and sketching in a vast panorama of joyous sounds that moved all around the country and also — without slighting him — said politely, “Louis Armstrong brought his own way to play, but not everyone went in his direction all the time.”

Here’s MILENBERG JOYS, which shows off the band and Colin’s easy scholarship — history made alive and in delighted motion. I’ve edited the video so you at home don’t have to sit through the necessary non-musical portions. What a show!

The Morris Museum had held concerts on the Back Deck through the pandemic, cheers to them, so the singles and couples last night in their lawn chairs had a good deal of space. It was easy for me to imagine the heroic shades of the past — Louis and Jimmy Joy, Art Hickman and Jack Pettis, Red Nichols and Miff Mole, Sam Lanin and Ben Selvin, Ikey Robinson and Kaiser Marshall, George Johnson and Vic Berton, Adrian Rollini and Freddie Keppard, Eva Taylor and Clarence Williams, all the cats from the ODJB and the NORK, Bix and Tram, Bennie Moten and May Alix and a hundred others, comfortable in lawn chairs, grinning their faces off at the living energized evocation of the music they made about a hundred years ago.

“The past isn’t dead. It’s not even past.”

Were you there to share the joys? I hope so. Bless Colin, Vince, Dan, Troy, Mike, Julian, Albanie, Arnt — the heroes among us — and the enthusiastic audience.

And yes, there will be more videos. But . . . if you want more concerts, you have to leave your house.

May your happiness increase!

COME BACK TO LIFE! COME OUT FOR MUSIC!

I can’t speak for everyone, but the fourteen-month period after mid-March 2020 felt for me like a) being locked in the basement with very dim lighting; b) a dinner-theatre production of RIP VAN WINKLE; c) induced coma with meals, phone calls, and my computer; d) a long undefined stretch during which I could watch uplifting videos here; d) all of the above.

But I feel as if spiritual Reveille has sounded, and the way I know that is that live music has been more out-in-the-open than before. (I mean no offense to those gallant souls who swung out in the parks for months.) I’ve been to see and hear the EarRegulars three times in front of the Ear Inn on Sundays (1-3:30, 326 Spring Street, Soho, New York City) and if the sun shines, I will be there this coming Sunday to say hello to heroes Jon-Erik Kellso, Matt Munisteri, Jay Rattman, and Tal Ronen; I am going to the Morris Museum in Morristown, New Jersey, on Thursday, June 10, at 8 PM, to see Colin Hancock and his Red Hot Eight with Dan Levinson, Abanie Falletta, Arnt Arntzen, Vince Giordano, Mike Davis, Julian Johnson, and Troy Anderson (details here). On June 13 I am driving to Pennsylvania (thanks to the Pennsylvania Jazz Society) to see and hear Danny Tobias, Randy Reinhart, Mark Shane, Joe Plowman, Pat Mercuri, and Jim Lawlor (details here).

And, one week later, June 17 — Evan Arntzen and Jon-Erik Kellso, with Dalton Ridenhour, Tal Ronen, and Mark McLean, playing music from the new Arntzen-Kellso dazzler, the CD COUNTERMELODY. Details here. Important, rewarding, exciting.

First, Bennie Moten’s 18th STREET STRUT:

and this, with the verse, no less:

Now, some words of encouragement. Some of you will understandably say, “I live too far away, the pandemic is not over, and Michael will go there in my stead and bring his video camera.” Some of that is true, although I am taking a busman’s holiday and do not expect to video Evan’s concert, for contractual reasons. (And even Michael knows, although he does not wallow in this truth, that a video is not the same thing as being there.)

I know it’s tactless to write these words, but wouldn’t you like to experience some music that isn’t on this lit rectangle? More fun, and everyone is larger. And you can, after the music is over, approach the musicians and say, “We love you. Thank you for continuing on your holy quest where we can be uplifted by it. Thank you for your devotion.” If this strikes you as presumptuous, I apologize, and the Customer Service Associate will be happy to refund your purchase price plus tax.

I hope to see you out and about. We need to celebrate the fact of our re-emergence into the sunshine.

May your happiness increase!

THE HILL COUNTRY DANCE ORCHESTRA: “WORDS”

The chorus begins, “Words that seem so tender / Words of sweet surrender,” so you can invent the rest of this 1924 song — by Al Dubin, Al Tucker, and Otis Spencer — on your own.  I have to improvise as well, because the complete sheet music has eluded me so far.

Most of us, if we know the song at all, know the Fletcher Henderson acoustic Vocalion recording where youthful Louis Armstrong explodes into his chorus, backed by an equally stirring Kaiser Marshall, or perhaps later evocations.

Here is a very remarkable “modern” (i.e., 2019) recording of the song that only a few listeners have made friends with — by the Hill Country Dance Orchestra, a band you won’t find in Brian Rust’s books.  Listen and marvel:

Hot enough for you?  “Authentic” enough for you?  Yes, on both counts.

What’s most remarkable is that the Hill Country Dance Orchestra — its personnel two cornets, trombone, two alto saxophones, baritone saxophone, C-melody saxophone, clarinet, violin, banjo, piano, tuba, drums — is both a discographer’s dream and nightmare, because of this young brilliance, Colin Hancock from Texas (and now studying in New York City):

My more attentive readers might be saying, “But I don’t understand.  Which instrument does Colin play on this recording?”  And then I would respond, with the appropriate emphasis.  “ALL  OF  THEM.”  The magic of modern technology; the exuberance and accuracy of a great artist.

I’ll wait while you return to listen to this marvel once again.

And here is Colin’s newest band, his Signature Seven, rollicking through I’M GONNA STOMP MISTER HENRY LEE and DOWN HOME RAG:

Colin’s noble roisterers (he’s playing cornet) are Jeffery Miller, trombone; Daniel Dickinson, alto saxophone, clarinet; Troy Anderson, tenor saxophone; Juan Vidaurre, banjo; Isaiah Thompson, piano; Julian Johnson, drums.

Great music.  Tell your friends.  Wake the children.  No one will want to say, “I wasn’t paying attention when Colin Hancock and friends were making glorious sounds.”

And you can get a direct line to the new / old sounds by subscribing to Colin’s YouTube channel SemperPhonographCo here.  (Why wait?)

May your happiness increase!