Tag Archives: Larry Ham

DWAYNA LITZ CAN SING!

One of the many friends of JAZZ LIVES asked if I had heard the singer Dwayna Litz and sent along this YouTube video:

And I found this one on my own:

Now, I don’t know much about Dwayna Litz — aside from the fact that she has an attractive, beautifully focused voice.  Her singing, at turns, suggests someone who could fill the hall or command the stage, but she isn’t restricted to capital letters.  She doesn’t consider herself a “jazz singer” (and she leaves extended passages of scat-singing and “recomposing” melodies to others), but she swings.

And although she treats her material reverently, her natural exuberance comes through in every note.  She has a fine vocal instrument, but best of all, she seems to have done the deep work of studying the music: she respects the song and gives the lyrics intelligent readings so that one comes away from her performance of SOMEONE TO WATCH OVER ME feeling that the song’s essential honesty has been shared.

The YouTube videos above are snippets of a documentary about the process leading up to her new CD, COUNTING YOUR BLESSINGS, which features among other players the pianist Larry Ham, saxophonist Marc Phaneuf, and trombonist John Allred — on thirteen songs that cover a broad range of emotions and approaches — from the sweet serenity of Berlin’s COUNT YOUR BLESSINGS to the naughty rock of SATISFY MY SOUL to Sondheim’s OLD FRIENDS.  Whatever the setting, Dwayna shines like a bright light.

Visit her website  here to learn more about her music.  I expect great things from Ms. Litz!

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LOOK FOR THE SILVER LINING

It’s the title of a very pretty and optimistic 1920 show tune . . .

but it’s also a well-kept New York City secret — a serene below-stairs room in a 150-year old Tribeca brownstone.  The room is cozy — it holds fewer than 100 people — but it’s not cramped; there’s room for a first-rate piano and top-flight jazz improvisation. There is a menu of small plates and a very adventurous selection of cocktails.

The SILVER LINING is located at 75 Murray Street (between Greenwich and West Broadway): their phone is 212-513-1234; the website is thttp://silverliningbar.com/

I heard about Silver Lining first through the most reputable sources — the musicians themselves — who talked of a lovely room conducive to great playing.

And the musicians?  If you check the website, you’ll see fine and familiar names: Dan Block, Dan Aran, Ehud Asherie, Larry Ham, Jon-Erik Kellso, Ray Gallon, Ned Goold, Chris Flory, Sacha Perry, Eliot Zigmund, Jon Burr, Steve Ash, Spike Wilner.

The musicians are booked by Vito Dieterle — a splendid jazz player himself (a floating tenor saxophonist whose work I admired when he was playing alongside Claire Daly in Joel Forrester’s small group) — so I know things are going to go well.

Look for the Silver Lining!

“EACH DAY IS VALENTINE’S DAY”: LARRY HAM, CHRIS HANEY, KLAUS SUONSAARI (Feb. 10, 2012)

Although I am seriously romantic, I am not terribly interested in the flurry of gas-station roses and GMO candy that marks February 14 as Valentine’s Day.  But I do love MY FUNNY VALENTINE, and I thought it very sweetly appropriate that pianist Larry Ham, bassist Chris Haney, and drummer Klaus Suonsaari played it at Sofia’s several nights before it would be the anthem du jour.  Here is their soulful rendition, with Larry’s fascinating harmonies reminding me of Jimmy Rowles; Chris spinning quietly eloquent lines; Klaus making those wire brushes whisper and cajole.  Great music for romantics any day in the year!

Song scholars will know this, but MY FUNNY VALENTINE was originally performed in the Rodgers and Hart musical BABES IN ARMS . . . sung to “Val,” or Valentine — by the young woman who cheerfully enumerates his flaws but wants him to keep them.  I didn’t know that “Valentine” was originally played by Ray Heatherton, famous in my time as someone appearing on children’s records and later as the MC of the Long Island, New York BREAKFAST CLUB.  If only I had known about his past lives when I encountered him in 1974, I could have asked him . . .

This one’s for the Beloved, who occupies the position of Valentine so securely that I cancelled any other auditions shortly after we met . . .

MICHAEL KANAN and FRIENDS ARE THROWING A PARTY (Nov. 6, 2011)

A Rent Party, to be exact.  For those who don’t know, this comes out of a Harlem tradition in the Twenties and onwards: if you needed some financial aid, you hired a friendly piano player (who brought his friends with him) and asked people to contribute what they could to keep Old Man Depression at bay.

Pianist Michael Kanan has moved into a new studio — there was a fire too close to the old one — and it’s a beauty, spacious and with lots of windows.  But the Rent . . . is . . . Higher, a fact of urban life.  So here’s Michael’s solution: invite his friends to play his beautiful piano and ask a congenial group to support this enterprise.

He writes:

To celebrate the opening of our new rehearsal studio – “The Drawing Room” – we are presenting a concert by the “Four Pianists”. Larry Ham, Tardo Hammer, Pete Malinverni, and Michael Kanan will alternate at the mint condition Steinway C grand piano. There will be some special guests sitting in as well.  As we are trying to defray some of the cost of moving into the new space, we’ll ask for donations at the door.  Please contribute whatever you’d like.

Sunday, November 6th

7:00 – until it’s done

At “The Drawing Room”

70 Willoughby Street #2A, between Lawrence St. and Bridge St.

Downtown Brooklyn

Admission: contribute what you’d like

for info: 917-836-2105

The Drawing Room is a large, comfortable space which can accommodate a large, happy crowd. Bring anyone you’d like, and spread the word!  Feel free to BYOB.  Our studio is accessible by several subway lines. From Midtown Manhattan you can get there in 30 minutes or less.  If you choose to drive, you can probably find street parking on a Sunday evening.  

I know that Michael has great plans for the new space, and I hope to be there for some of those happenings: I can’t make this one, because I’ll be at Mike Durham’s Classic Jazz Party.  But having heard these four pianists take turns at a far less congenial venue, I can guarantee that this Rent Party will be worth it.

MICHAEL KANAN and FRIENDS (Sept. 1, 2011)

You don’t ordinarily think of special things happening on Thursday — Friday morning work looms — but September 1, 2011, will be a special night for beautiful improvisations in New York City.  If you can get to 211 West 46th Street between 7 and 11:30, you will hear some splendid music.

The occasion is another one of Michael Kanan’s beautiful piano evenings, taking place at Sofia’s!  Michael, Larry Ham, Tardo Hammer, and Pete Malniverni will be alternating at the keyboard for the entire evening — ably supported by Lee Hudson, bass; Eliot Zigmund, drums.

From those names, you know that lyrical explorations of melody, of songs newly reconsidered and ones you haven’t heard in a long time, will be the consistent subject.  All the pianists on this bill are friends; they have their own deep ways of exploring music without falling back on the usual post-bop cliches, and they are players who easily get to the heart of a song.

Michael is not only a subtle man at the keyboard; he has a subtle architectural way with musical evenings.  Rather than organize his friends into possibly lengthy solo showcases, he makes these Sofia’s evenings a series of small surprises, a tumbling cornucopia of musical gifts.  Each of the four pianists will perform two songs and then get off the piano bench for his colleague.  The result is not only a night of bright moments and subtle contrasts, but each of the players, in his own way, reflects what he’s just heard — so the evening is much more than one improvisation after another, it takes on its own shimmering shape — as if you’d eaten a wonderful layered multi-course meal, seen a moving three-act play.  It’s a chamber concert of the finest kind for jazz listeners.

Sofia’s is at 221 W. 46th Street, NYC (between Broadway and Eighth Ave): no cover, no minimum, just quiet jazz mastery.

THE ARTS OF THE PIANO TRIO (Sofia’s, Dec. 4, 2010)

Michael Kanan is not only a superb pianist.  He knows how to organize a jazz performance.  And he has the finest friends I could imagine. 

I first came to hear Michael when he played two nights at the end of June with the brilliant saxophonist Joel Press: musical events one can find on JAZZ LIVES.  Michael was and is a melodic player with a fine rhythmic surge, creating lines that move into spaces and places I didn’t expect: not esoteric or counterintuitive, but original. 

So when Michael mentioned that he was bringing three pianist friends — Tardo Hammer, Pete Malinverni, and Larry Ham — along with bassist Neal Miner and drummer Eliot Zigmund to the street-level Sofia’s (in the Hotel Edison, 221 West 46th Street) for a Saturday session of piano trios, I was extremely excited.  With video camera, new Rode microphone, and tripod, I made myself as small as possible in the only available space, next to a mirror, which accounts for some interesting doubling-phenomena. 

Michael also did something simple and imaginative: rather than have lengthy sets for each of the players, each pianist played two songs in turn, then made way for the next person.  It was wonderful to watch Tardo, Pete, and Michael intently absorb what Larry was playing — and if you switch the names around, you get a sense of the evening. 

I won’t comment at length on the players, except to say that I had heard Larry Ham as a member of Dan Block’s “Almost Modern” band, both live and on CD, as well as on a fascinating recital for the Arbors label.  Tardo Hammer didn’t know me (which is understandable) but I had admired his LOOK STOP LISTEN (Sharp Nine) as well as his work with the Warren Vache-John Allred quintet.  Pete Malinverni was someone new to me, which I regret, but his playing made a deep impression.  Pete, incidentally, summed the evening up for me when we spoke at the end: “It’s melody, man!”  Appropriately, many of the songs played that night harked back to the singers Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, and Billie Holiday. 

Aside from being a splendid videographer, Neal Miner is a resoundingly rewarding bassist — in many contexts — as well as a composer.  And Eliot Zigmund showed himself a master of sounds: not simply sticks on the cymbals, but the many varieties of padding and urging that the wire brushes can afford. 

Here are an inspiring dozen from that night, studies in jazz empathy:

Tardo’s A NIGHTINGALE SANG IN BERKELEY SQUARE:

Pete’sYOU DON’T KNOW WHAT LOVE IS:

Michael’s DOGHOUSE BLUES (composed by nimble Neal Miner):

Michael’s WHILE WE’RE YOUNG:

Larry’s FALLING IN LOVE WITH LOVE:

Larry’s THE RING:

Tardo’s SOCIAL CALL:

Tardo’s GUESS I’LL HANG MY TEARS OUT TO DRY:

Pete’s GOOD QUESTION (his exploration and response to WHAT IS THIS THING CALLED LOVE):

Michael’s I’M THROUGH WITH LOVE:

Tardo’s MY OLD FLAME:

Mathematically-minded readers will notice that the division of four players and a dozen selections is not quite even: no disrespect meant, just a matter of room acoustics and the like.  There were almost as many stellar performances that night that do not appear here.  Those who find the occasional surges of conversation difficult to tolerate are asked to read my prior posting, A LITTLE SOFTER, PLEASE? 

I have refrained from commenting on individual performances, but a few words might be in order.  Notice that all of these players have mastered the subtle arts of deep harmonic exploration while keeping that rhythm going.  No Monk cliches, no tired Basie-isms, no cocktail piano rhapsodies.  Yes, pianistically-allied readers can (if they like) Trace Influences and Chronicle Echoes, but I’d rather listen to the musical cathedrals these players build — in midtown, yet. 

Most of the songs deal — at least in their lyrics — with love.  Found, lost, rejected, endured, celebrated.  But the love celebrated here is not just romantic: these players not only love but embody the great spirit of creative improvisation.  I can’t wait until Michael’s next piano effusion!

PIANO PLAYHOUSE: SATURDAY AT SOFIA’S (Dec. 4, 2010)

Larry Ham

Something special! 

Tardo Hammer

At Sofia’s Ristorante (at street level — 211 West 46th Street, part of the Hotel Edison, between Broadway and Eighth Avenue), there will be a four-hour session featuring four extraordinary pianists and rhythm, this coming Saturday, December 4, 2010.

Michael Kanan

The “rhythm” is bassist Neal Miner and drummer Eliot Zigmund.

Pete Malniverni

The pianists are Michael Kanan, Larry Ham, Tardo Hammer, and Pete Malinverni.  The music will run from 7:00-11:30 PM, the four pianists alternating at the keyboard.  I hope to be there . . . for a remarkable evening of jazz.  I hope that some of my readers join me — and there’s a tradition of sitting-in at Sofia’s, so who knows what surprises may happen?