Tag Archives: Kansas City Jazz

THERE’S A PARTY AT CARL’S!

Relaxing at Pier 23, San Francisco

Relaxing at Pier 23, San Francisco

I present to you one of the finest CDs I’ve ever heard.  But it’s also one of the least-known.

It is a House Party.  And Carl is pianist / singer / composer Carl Sonny Leyland. He invites all of us to share the joys with Marc Caparone, trumpet / string bass; Jeff Hamilton, drums; Clint Baker, string bass / clarinet.

CSL cover

This exact group has not been videoed, but you can hear a good deal of the exuberant spirit Carl, Marc, and Jeff bring to the music — with the help of Butch Smith, alto saxophone, and Mike Fay, string bass:

Now, I know that some listeners pigeonhole Father Leyland as an eight-to-the bar wizard, a boogie-woogie marvel.  And in this they would be correct.  But he is a musician and a fine jazz improviser whose talent is not constricted by a label, so he goes where the music takes him, most often to the land of Swing.  The sounds you’ll hear on this CD make me think of Kansas City — the small-band music made by Hot Lips Page, Pete Johnson, Walter Page, Jo Jones and their friends.  And when Carl starts to sing the blues . . . we could be back at the Reno Club in 1935.  (The original premise was, I think, a contemporary evocation of Pete Johnson’s 1944 add-an-instrument “Housewarming” records — a good lively model to have.)

Many jazz recordings hew to a certain stylistic definition (I think of the pigeonholes in which one inserts mail) and that’s fine if that is what you’re in the mood for.  Here’s the reproduction of Fly and his Swatters; here’s the tribute to “Unknown White Teenager”; here’s the solo xylophone recital of early Sondheim.  (My examples are satirical but not too far from CDs now on my kitchen counter.)

Carl and his friends have a different end in view, which is why this CD is a House Party — recorded in Marc Caparone’s living room in Paso Robles, California. Carl explains, “Armed with good faith and plenty of liquor, the four of us got together and made the music you are hearing now.  There was no rehearsing, and in most cases I just launched directly into whatever came into my head at that moment.  Spontaneous creativity is what really turns me on in music and I will gladly take it over ‘tight,’ ‘clever,’ and ‘refined,’ every time.  I believe the results we attained that day combined spontaneous creativity with honest emotion.  Unrestricted by notions of trying to please anyone than ourselves, we played without inhibition.  Chances were taken, nothing was held back, and in addition to being artistically gratifying, it was a heck of a lot of fun.” 

I find the music that Carl, Marc, Clint, and Jeff make on this disc wholly life-affirming, whether it’s a groovy slow blues with a dark theme or a romp on a time-honored standard . . . but I also support the philosophy stated above.  This is honest music, aimed at our hearts.  So in my ideal world, this band would be headlining at festivals and concert halls, appearing at schools across the world. Until that happens, I urge you to invite yourselves to Carl’s House Party.

To buy the CD (and to hear and see much more of Carl), visit his website.

May your happiness increase!

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ALBERT AMMONS and FRIENDS: PERPETUAL SWING, 1936, 1944

Everyone knows those famous boogie-woogie pianists were best on their own, and they were stylistically limited.  Wrong.  Hear these three recordings by the heroic Albert Ammons (1907-1949) and noble hot colleagues.

In the first two, reedman Dalbert Bright is as nimble and enthusiastic as any swing-to-bop player; trumpeter Guy Kelly, although somewhat more taciturn in the manner of Tommy Ladnier, executes some heartfelt Louis. Ike Perkins, young Israel Crosby, and Jimmy Hoskins were Ammons’ preferred rhythm team, and it’s easy to hear why.  On the last recording, it’s as if Milt Gabler got the most rocking, riffing players he or anyone could find . . . evoking jam sessions in Kansas City that could go on for hours.

MILE-OR-MO BIRD RAG* (based on a strain of OL’ MISS):

NAGASAKI:

Guy Kelly, trumpet; Dalbert Bright, alto and clarinet; Ammons, piano; Ike Perkins, guitar; Israel Crosby, string bass; Jimmy Hoskins, drums.  Chicago, February 14, 1936.

JAMMIN’ THE BOOGIE:

Hot Lips Page, trumpet; Vic Dickenson, trombone; Don Byas, tenor; Ammons, piano; Israel Crosby, string bass; Sidney Catlett, drums.  New York, February 12, 1944.

Extraordinary tireless, gravity-defying swing, no?  And Ammons holds it all together, strides, encourages everyone . . .

*I always thought that this first title referred to a bird that could fly impossibly long distances.  Some online research revealed that the M-O-M-B exists only in boyishly naughty local legends involving avian body parts.  You’ll have to look these tales up for yourself.

May your happiness increase!

GOIN’ TO KANSAS CITY WITH THE IAJRC (Sept. 5-7, 2013)

I’ve been a member of the IAJRC for many years — that’s the International Association of Jazz Record Collectors — and it continues to make many good things possible.  In its quarterly journal, I have read fascinating stories, found out about CDs that would become life-enriching experiences, learned a great deal, and met wonderful people.  (Two Bills, as a matter of fact: Coverdale and Gallagher.)  So I think it’s a marvelous association, in the nicest senses of that overused word.  And their focus isn’t purely on ancient shellac, but on keeping jazz thriving.

Every year, the IAJRC creates a “convention”: but this isn’t simply an excuse to hear other people talk at length.  No, there one can meet friends with similar musical interests; hear rare music on disc; see film presentations; listen to live exciting jazz.  And this year it’s being held in Kansas City, Missouri — where visitors can enjoy the Marr Sound Archives, the American Jazz Museum, half-price on the breakfast buffet, a free drink in the lobby lounge every day (such blandishments are not small things).  Here’s the link to the detailed two-page flyer for the convention.  Go ahead, take a look.  I dare you.  And when you come back, your ears full of swinging four-four, you can then (if the neighbors don’t mind), attempt to sound like Big Joe Turner, “Weeeeeeeeeeeeeelllll, I’ve been to Kansas City . . . ”

May your happiness increase.

SERVE HOT! — CARL SONNY LEYLAND, MARC CAPARONE, MARTY EGGERS, HAL SMITH

From my mother, I inherited the belief that hot food should be served scalding hot, and I transferred this precept to my jazz listening.  This isn’t to say that there’s no room for cool . . . but I want the music that purports to be hot jazz to pose an imminent danger to my safety.  If I look at my watch during the performance, something’s not happening.

These six selections performed by a quartet during the 2011 Sweet and Hot Music Festival were more than adequately incendiary.  And that’s no surprise, with the rocking pianist Carl Sonny Leyland at the helm, rhythm section members Marty Eggers and Hal Smith (both powerful and subtle) and their friend and mine, trumpeter Marc Caparone.  Words can’t express . . . but if you need this music explicated for you, perhaps you should put away all the distractions and turn up the sound.  If it doesn’t move you, something might be wrong.  And not with the music.

Since Louis Armstrong used to begin his Fifties concerts with INDIANA, it’s a good precedent:

In another time, the whispered legend would have been that Carl Sonny Leyland might have sold his soul to the devil to understand and play the blues so convincingly . . . but the reverse is true.  Carl’s soul is generous — even when he’s playing and singing the story of ROUTE 666, “a bad road):

What could be nicer than hearing Carl say, “Here’s an old murder ballad,” a safe way for us to vicariously release our hostilities with STACK O’LEE:

WHEN YOU AND I WERE YOUNG, MAGGIE is one of my favorite “folk” songs, since it came to me first through Vic Dickenson and friends.  This quartet rocks it with great fervency:

MELANCHOLY BLUES (with the verse) — another expression of the jazz paradox . . . how music depicting misery can actually lift our spirits.  And Carl sounds eerily like Jimmy Rushing on some moments in his vocal, which is the best of things:

They closed this hot outing with THEEE THING (a variation on familiar chords): happy ferocity in 4 / 4:

If you’ll excuse me, I’m going to lie down and cool off.  That big plateful of hot Kansas City jazz has heated me up dangerously.

CHAMPIONS: THE RETURN OF THE REYNOLDS BROTHERS AND FRIENDS (Sept. 2, 2011)

A friend who reads JAZZ LIVES teasingly emailed me, “Hey, Michael, looks like your blog is now the Official Reynolds Brothers Fan Club site.”  Sounds like a good thing to me: maybe we can commission Katie Cavera to design a button to be sold at gigs.

Until that day, when we have a clubhouse and hold meetings, here’s more evidence: the set played by the Brothers (and friends) at the Sweet and Hot Music Festival on September 2, 2011.  It took place in Champions, the appropriately-named sports bar in the LAX Marriott — where beautiful music, subtle and hot, sprang forth among trays of hot chicken wings and the local IPA. 

For the occasion, the Brothers were there: that’s Ralf Reynolds (washboard, vocals); John Reynolds (guitar, whistling, vocals); Katie Cavera (string bass, vocals); Marc Caparone (cornet, vocals) — with friendly assistance from Carl Sonny Leyland (piano), and Larry Wright (alto sax, ocarina).  Later on our friend Dan Levinson (clarinet) came to bask in the sublime heat.

Showing a divine willingness to please, the Brothers offered I WOULD DO ANYTHING FOR YOU:

Honoring Mister Crosby and Mister Condon (who were friends), John whistles us into LOVE IS JUST AROUND THE CORNER:

In honor of Israel Baline, here’s some genuine optimism in BLUE SKIES:

Marc Caparone makes Henry “Red” Allen come alive again — maintaing his individuality in the process, which Red always did, on ROSETTA:

Carl Sonny Leyland likes to play SONG OF THE WANDERER (always a good thing) at a very quick rocking tempo — I  imagine the Reno Club version!  What a fine jazz pianist he is, and how he sparks this already searing group (joined by Dan Levinson):

I don’t know if the Marriott parking lot had extra-large spaces for desert caravans (in Los Angeles, that would surprise no one) but the Brothers closed their rocking set with HINDUSTAN:

Thank you, Ralf, John, Marc, Katie, Carl, Larry, and Dan . . . for keeping live music alive!

SWING MASTERS: BECKY KILGORE and FRIENDS at DIXIELAND MONTEREY (March 5, 2011)

I’ve admired Becky Kilgore’s singing and grace for some years now: her creamy voice, her understated, convincing dramatic sense, her innate swing.  And although she is poised, she is also a great chance-taking improviser, someone able to abandon herself to the song, shining her light through it, letting it reveal its beauties to us.

At Dixieland Monterey, she was most often joined by the noble members of her Quartet: Dan Barrett on trombone, vocals, and piano; Eddie Erickson on banjo, guitar, and vocals; Joel Forbes on string bass.

But there came a time when a few more pals — old and new — crept onto the stage to create a lovely little jazz party within the jazz party: Carl Sonny Leyland, rocking piano man; Bryan Shaw, trumpet wizard; Jeff Hamilton, drum stylist.

I am thrilled to be able to share some of the music created that evening with my readers.  It is a special pleasure — everyone was so happy and relaxed, witty and swinging.  Propulsive and gentle, masterful and casual: the great art that is a matter of skill, practice, nonchalance, and relaxation.

Let’s begin with I’M GOING TO SIT RIGHT DOWN AND WRITE MYSELF A LETTER that swings so persuasively from the first note — and Becky gets herself up on the streamline train without spilling her coffee!  Hear the horns and that rhythm section — eloquent and easy.

I would like my friends to use this clip as a Blindfold Test.  Say, for instance, you have friends who “don’t like jazz,” or “don’t get that old jazz,” or find “Dixieland” boring.  Let them hear this — without naming anyone’s name or explaining a thing.  Then ask, “Does that make you feel good?”  Let them get into the absolutely impromptu Kilgore – Hamilton discussion: it makes everyone on stage feel BETTER!

(Musicians’ in-joke: this song is sometimes called I’M GOING TO  SIT RIGHT DOWN AND KNIT MYSELF A SWEATER, but the weather is warming up rapidly, even in Farmer City, Illinois, so a letter might be all that was needed.)

HARD-HEARTED HANNAH comes from the intersection of vaudeville, pop music, and hot improvisation.  Once she’s been properly attired in Guitar, she treats the hyperbolic lyrics with just the right mixture of amusement and seriousness.  And, dear viewers, look how happy everyone on that stand is!  That isn’t always the case, and it is meaningful — a tribute to the easy grace of all concerned.  The interplay between Dan and Bryan is priceless (think of Teagarden and Davison, please?) over that splendidly-swinging Vanguard Records rhythm section (could someone direct me to the Reno Club or the Famous Door, 1938?).  Eddie digs deep into his stash of bent notes and witty banjo run before Dan decides to let us know all about the verse — in his upper register, but we get the point!  And Becky rocks us out through the rather gruesome lyrics (she is a stellar musical comedienne, isn’t she, in the great tradition?):

Although both Eddie Erickson and Thomas Waller are usually associated with hi-jinks and romping jazz, both of them shared a deep yearning tenderness.  (Hear Fats’ late recording of I’LL NEVER SMILE AGAIN if you need proof.)  Eddie is often asked to make people laugh, but his first vocal chorus is a sweet, feeling masterpiece in miniature — followed by Dan’s Dickensonian ruminations on the theme and Carl’s special mixture of Fats, Pete Johnson, and Jess Stacy, to great effect.  After Joel’s deep-down chorus, the key changes so that Becky can come in and float over the band.  She’s more than believable: the embodiment of tender commitment!

Even if you had left all your mischief behind, you might have to take a fast train to see your Beloved — and Carl Sonny Leyland, Joel Forbes, and Jeff Hamilton show us how with an easy but intense HONKY TONK TRAIN BLUES, with its own deep swinging pulse:

Less expert musicians would have tried to top the HONKY TONK TRAIN with something faster and louder — but not this group.  Becky chooses ALL OF ME, which (since 1931) has been turned into a jaunty offering.  But it’s really a song of near-romantic immolation: let me take myself apart to offer the pieces and the totality to you, as complete tribute to you and love.

She never sounds soggy or self-pitying, but she offers the imagined hearer and the audience her entire being.  Eddie’s chiming guitar solo doesn’t lose the mood (and Jeff’s cymbals are just-right commentary); Dan plays around wtih the opening phrase of the song in the best singing Benny Morton tradition, handing off to Carl (who is ornate without a superfluous note).  Becky, soaring and crooning, improvising without smudging a note or a word, is absolutely compelling without seeming to strain even the smallest muscle.  A perfect rhythm ballad and dramatic utterance:

I think it was an honor to be in that audience, a stroke of good fortune to have my video camera, and a privilege to be able to share this music with the readers of JAZZ LIVES.

These video performances were made possible by the editorial stewardship and support of the Shuzzit Charitable Trust.  JAZZ LIVES thanks to the SCT and to all the artists for performing as they did and do!

OH, SHAKE THAT THING!  CLICK HERE TO GIVE SOMETHING BACK TO THE MUSICIANS YOU SEE IN THESE VIDEOS (ALL MONEY COLLECTED GOES TO THEM):

https://www.paypal.com/cgi-bin/webscr?cmd=_s-xclick&hosted_button_id=VBURVAWDMWQAS

THE 1932 MOTEN BAND RETURNS!

The recordings that Bennie Moten’s Kansas City Orchestra did in the Victor studios in Camden, New Jersey, are sacred music to jazz listeners.  How could they be otherwise?  Riffs by Eddie Durham, extraordinary playing by Bill Basie, Walter Page, Ben Webster, Eddie Barefield, and Hot Lips Page. 

This video clip of Vince Giordano and the Nighthawks storming through TOBY at the February 2010 Central Illinois Jazz Festival is as close as we’ll get to recapturing that version of Hot Nirvana. 

It was captured by “tdub1941” of YouTube and appears there by special permission of Mr. Giordano himself. 

The hardest-working men in jazz here are Jon-Erik Kellso, Mike Ponella, Jim Fryer, Peter Anderson, Dan Block, Dan Levinson, Andy Stein, Peter Yarin, Ken Salvo, Vince, and Arnie Kinsella. 

Now do you believe in reincarnation?

Yeah, men!

Visit “tdub1941” for more from this same concert (Jelly Roll Morton’s BOOGABOO, Ellington’s OLD MAN BLUES, Cliff Jackson’s THE TERROR, several versions of SUGAR FOOT STOMP, and Jimmie Lunceford’s JAZZNOCHRACY) as well as a host of live jazz delights.