Tag Archives: Larry Weiss

JOE LICARI / MARK SHANE: SWEET MUSIC

Clarinetist Joe Licari has been a fixture on the New York scene for a good long time now and he shows no signs of slowing down or of losing his light touch.  Tangible proof of this can be heard on his latest compact disc (recorded in December 2010), ALL MY LIFE — a series of duets with the irreplaceable Mark Shane on piano.

The standard repertoire — ALL MY LIFE, BODY AND SOUL, CHINA BOY, I MUST HAVE THAT MAN, and MOONGLOW — would suggest that this is very much in the mood and style of the greatest early Goodman small groups.  And indeed it is easy to close your eyes and to think that the King of Swing and Teddy Wilson have come back for a visit to this century.  The light touch, the easy, flowing melodies, the respect for the composers’ intentions, the delicate yet convincing swing are all there.  The longest track is five minutes and it seems too short.  But there’s more here than just another “let’s pretend to be Benny and Teddy” project.  This CD is more than Goodman Lite or Tofu-based Swing Era, especially when we move into Django (DJANGO’S CASTLE), a jointly-composed blues that begins with a minor theme that reminds me of KING OF THE ZULUS, a Bob Wilber original and two of Joe’s own compositions — all of the three with simple, haunting melodic lines.

Listened to closely, Licari brings much more than the usual pastiche of Goodmania to his playing.  In fact, his woody lower register suggests those two less-heralded masters, Joe Marsala and Rod Cless.  And where other clarinetists need to dazzle (or occasionally pummel) us with their facility, running up and down the keys, this is not Licari’s way.  He is not overcautious or tentative — he knows where he’s going at every turn of phrase — but he is sparing with his notes and he uses them to construct logical, sweetly balanced phrases that fit in to one another to create fulfilling solos, never getting too far from the melody but enlivening it nonetheless.

And Shane remains a wonder.  Yes, his style owes a great deal to Teddy and Fats Waller and Earl Hines . . . but it’s clear that he has also listened hard to the masters Tommy Flanagan and Hank Jones.  This is particularly evident in his unaccompanied introductions, each a four or eight-bar jewel, a little resonant composition that would be complete and satisfying in itself.  He never rushes, never drags, never overacts . . . he is the very model of a delicious, fully formed composer-at-the keyboard.  And Joe and Mark make a wonderful team: no one steps on the other one’s lines.  The CD has a lovely homelike natural sound, and it is thoroughly heart-warming, rather like having the good fortune to hear Joe and Mark in your living room.  It is available at http://www.joelicari.com., and I think every house should have not one but several copies.

On that same site, you can find a whole big handful of compact discs Joe has recorded with a wide variety of musicians, and his own book — his delightfully down-to-earth memoir, THE INVISIBLE CLARINETIST.  Most memoirs are exercises in self-absorption and self-praise or there’s some wrenching trauma at the center.  Not so for Mr. Licari — his book is a series of cheerful tales of encounters with Benny Goodman (on record), Bob Wilber, Wild Bill Davison, Dill Jones, Kenny Davern, Larry Weiss, Bernie Privin, Cliff Leeman, and many more.  It’s very entertaining because it’s so unaffected — rather like having Joe come over to your house and tell you stories.  A delightful experience — and it’s also available on Joe’s website.

Joe Licari is not invisible: he’s alive and well and playing beautifully.

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REMEMBERING LARRY WEISS by RAY CERINO

Larry Weiss, the New Jersey-based cornetist and pianist, has died at 83, after a long illness.  His friend and mine, the jazz aficionado, popular music scholar, and amateur tenor saxophonist Ray Cerino, sent these lines at my request:

Larry Weiss, a good friend of mine, and an extraordinary musician, died over a week ago. Because I had played with Larry for several years in a pro-bono quartet at a life-care facility, the writer of this blog asked me to provide my thoughts on Larry the musician.

The first thought that comes to mind is a word in the title of a book by his friend, Warren Vache called “The Unsung Songwriters”. Although Larry was well-known and respected by all the famous musicians he played with, the majority of jazz concert-goers never heard of him. In that regard, Larry was unsung, and his special, musical ability went largely unrecognized.

The way I like to describe Larry is as a self-taught, natural, supremely gifted musician. When Larry soloed on a song, he did not simply play the notes of the chords underlying the melody, nor did he play the scales in the modal form of the harmony, as is frequently offered as an improvised chorus by younger players today. Larry created a new, beautiful variation, under which the original melody could always be heard. And often he would substitute an altered chord of his own devising, especially audible on the piano, which would introduce a new, intense feeling to the music. He did this all without ever referring to a printed note. The music came from his heart, to his ear, to his hands, seamlessly. And the music that emerged contained original, surprising passages that could move the astute listener deeply.

As a friend of Larry’s for over twenty years, we spent a lot of time together at my house, playing and listening to music. Larry was always gracious in offering to play piano accompaniment to my pedestrian tenor sax solo efforts, never making harshly critical remarks about my playing. He had a good many live recordings on cassette tape that he had acquired over the years, and we would play and listen to these on my stereo system. I recall how he would listen intently to a particular passage of which he was proud, and point to the speakers to underline his high regard for the music. When I asked him how he created so noteworthy a phrase of music, he would just shrug, and say “that’s what I heard”. Like I said, a gift.

As I mentioned above, other well-known and knowing musicians were well aware of the quality of Larry’s musicianship. Larry told me once that he was on the stand with Bob Haggart, bassist and composer of “What’s New”. Larry had just finished a solo of that tune when he felt a tap on the shoulder. He turned around and saw Bob smiling and giving him a big “thumbs up”. Many times as we listened to other famous musicians, Larry would say “I played with him”. He was never boastful: in fact he was modest to a fault. In talking about his solos, he would often say “I’m not claiming this is great, but I am rather proud of it. (And if Larry was proud, you know if it had to be good).

Unfortunately there are only a few commercial recordings of Larry’s work on cornet available, two with a group led by his friend, Warren Vache,and one CD, on piano, with Joe Licari.

That’s Larry, the unsung musician. I was lucky to have been his friend, and to have spent time discussing and listening to the music we both love.

A few words from Michael Steinman:

I am glad that Jim Balantic had uploaded to YouTube two duo selections by the fine clarinetist Joe Licari and Larry on piano — HAUNTING MELODY and MOONLIGHT BECOMES YOU, where Larry plays subtle Teddy Wilson-style piano with great delicacy:

That CD, and others, can be obtained on Joe’s site: http://www.joelicari.com/

I never met Larry Weiss, but I knew his work as a cornetist and admired it greatly.  He shared my admiration for Bobby Hackett’s beautiful tapestries of melody.  And Larry was more than a copyist — not that it would have been easy to copy Hackett — he was someone who had so thoroughly internalized the Master’s style in broad outlines that he could then invent his own personalized utterances at a moment’s notice. 

I heard Larry play cornet in many rather vigorous traditional ensembles, and his voice was a clarion one.  “Luminous” is an overused adjective these days, but it applies.  He was modest; he didn’t shout; his tone glowed.

I have one example alone of Larry’s gentle mastery for the JAZZ LIVES audience.  I have shared this video clip — from the 1983 Manassas Jazz Festival — before, as an aching tribute to the much-beloved Vic Dickenson, in memory of the astonishing band he and Bobby Hackett led at the Roosevelt Grill in 1969 (its rhythm section usually Dave McKenna, Jack Lesberg or Milt Hinton, and Cliff Leeman). 

But this time I would ask my readers to do what is nearly impossible — to tear themselves away from Vic and from Dill Jones and Steve Jordan — and listen to Larry Weiss.  Modest and unassuming, using his mute, sometimes creating obbligatos that one has to strain to hear, he makes great beauty, great empathy, lasting music. 

In the world of jazz, the night sky is full of stars.  There’s Louis, blazing bright; Jack, Lester, Bird, Ben, the two Sidneys . . . and more.  Galaxies, in fact.  But there are also stars not often seen.  You might need a telescope to find them.  But their light is just as memorable: that’s how I think of Larry Weiss.

VIC DICKENSON SINGS OF DESIRE

I never thought I would see this performance again.

I first saw it perhaps twenty years ago on a blurry videocassette copy sent to me by my generous friend John L. Fell, a film scholar and scholarly collector of the best jazz.  John and I shared a deep affection for the poetic improvisers — Billy Butterfield, Pee Wee Russell, Lester, and Vic Dickenson, among a hundred others.

This song was captured on November 26, 1983 at the Manassas Jazz Festival, in a program called ” Remembering the Roosevelt Grill,” in honor of the peerless small band that Vic and Bobby Hackett led there (with Cliff Leeman, Jack Lesberg, and Dave McKenna).  Hackett-disciple Larry Weiss played cornet, Dill Jones, piano; Steve Jordan, guitar; Bob Decker, bass, and Ernie Hackett, Bobby’s son, was on drums.

I don’t need to anatomize Vic’s instrumental style for anyone — he got more vocal sounds, deeply felt and human, out of that recalcitrant instrument than almost anyone.  (Ironically, Vic talked less than most musicians: it all came out of the horn.)  He loved to sing, and was earnest and whimsical at the same time.  I referred to this performance in a posting about Humphrey Lyttelton and Henri Chaix some time back, because it moved me so in memory.  It’s a great surprise to find it sitting quietly on YouTube.  Thank you, unknown benefactor!

Vic was seriously ill when he made the trip to Manassas and knew it.  Although he played intermittently after this festival, I think this is the last glimpse of him in action.  His feeling and humor come out in every note, as well as the joke of holding up two fingers.  Other men might do all they wanted to do in one hour; he would need double the time.

I saw Vic as often as I could between 1971 and 1981, but I wish he had been able to move and enlighten us just a little bit longer.  He died on November 16, 1984.  I miss his sound and his presence.  If only he could be with us still.


For those who want to know more about Vic’s life, the extraordinarily dedicated jazz writer / researcher Manfred Selchow’s book DING! DING!  A BIO-DISCOGRAPHICAL SCRAPBOOK ON VIC DICKENSON is irreplaceable.