Tag Archives: Lee Hudson

THE JOEL PRESS QUARTET at SMALLS: MICHAEL KANAN, LEE HUDSON, FUKUSHI TAINAKA (July 3, 2016): PART TWO

It’s been a true privilege to hear, converse with, and video-record the inventive and durable saxophonist Joel Press for the last five years (and since I met Michael Kanan through Joel, it has been a double blessing).  Of course, the person behind all of this was the irreplaceable Robert D. Rusch of CADENCE, a true benefactor.

Joel was most recently playing a gig in New York City on July 3, 2016, at Smalls — with a quartet of Michael, piano; Lee Hudson, string bass; Fukushi Tanaka, drums.

JOEL by Herb Snitzer

Here are five evocative performances from that evening: GONE WITH THE WIND, SOFTLY AS IN A MORNING SUNRISE, FOOLIN’ MYSELF, NOSTALGIA, and YOU DO SOMETHING TO ME.

And — by popular demand — four more delights: BLUES, WHAT IS THIS THING CALLED LOVE?. BODY AND SOUL, IT’S YOU OR NO ONE.  Please note that every note has substance and emotional meaning, and the quartet makes even the most familiar line or standard seem lively and poignant.

BLUES:

WHAT IS THIS THING CALLED LOVE?:

BODY AND SOUL:

IT’S YOU OR NO ONE:

Thank you, Joel, Michael, Lee, Fukushi, and Smalls.  We are in your debt.

May your happiness increase!

THE JOEL PRESS QUARTET at SMALLS: MICHAEL KANAN, LEE HUDSON, FUKUSHI TAINAKA (July 3, 2016): PART ONE

I’ve been fortunate enough to know, hear, and admire the Swing Explorer — saxophonist Joel Press — for a decade now.  It happened, as many good things do, utterly by surprise, but through the quiet guidance of a good friend.  The good friend is Robert D. Rusch, the creator of CADENCE, that rare thing, a candid jazz magazine.  In 2006, I was reviewing CDs for CADENCE, and one called HOW’S THE HORN TREATING YOU? arrived in the mail — with this cover portrait (by Herb Snitzer) of a man I’d not known:

JOEL by Herb SnitzerI was moved and delighted by Joel’s easy yet searching approach to melody and swing: new and yet affectionately connected to the great traditions.  To explore Joel’s many worlds, one place to start would be here.

A decade later, more or less, we found ourselves in friendly proximity: Joel on the bandstand at Smalls, me with a video camera as close as I could get without posing a fire hazard.  The other members of this compact inventive ensemble are Michael Kanan, piano; Lee Hudson, string bass; Fukushi Tainaka, drums.

Here’s a still photograph of that world, taken for us by Chihiro Tainaka, with the back of my head accurately and mercilessly rendered for posterity.  Two seats to my left is the warm and thoughtful Maya Press, beaming love at her father.JOEL PRESS Smalls 7 3 16 Chihiro Tainaka

But you can’t play a picture, any more than you can eat the recipe.  So — with Joel’s approval — I present five performances from that night at Smalls, with some more to follow.  His soft tone, love of melody, and caressing swing are still gloriously intact, and his colleagues on the bandstand are the most subtly intuitive conversationalists one could want.

GONE WITH THE WIND:

SOFTLY, AS IN A MORNING SUNRISE:

FOOLIN’ MYSELF:

NOSTALGIA:

YOU DO SOMETHING TO ME:

I wanted to call this blogpost PRESS ONE FOR SWING.  Now you know why. More to come.

May your happiness increase!

SHE’S BACK, ALTHOUGH SHE’S NEVER BEEN AWAY

Marty Elkins hat

Marty Elkins is one of my favorite singers.  If you know her work, you’ll understand why.  If she’s new to you, prepare to be entranced:

For one thing, she swings without calling attention to it.  Nothing in her style is written in capital letters; she doesn’t dramatize.  But the feeling she brings to each song comes through immediately.  Her voice is pleasing in itself and she glides along next to the song, not trying to obliterate it so that we can admire her and her alone.  And that voice is not an artifice — a mask she assumes to sing — it comes from her deepest self, whether she is being cheerful or permitting that little cry to come out.  I think her approach to the songs on this CD is a beautifully mature one: not the shallow cheer of someone who’s not lived . . . nor the bleakness of the world-weary.  I hear in Marty’s voice a kind of realistic optimism, a faith in the universe that also knows melancholy is possible.  Gaze at the sky in blissful wonder but look out for that cab while crossing the street.

I know that such art is not easily mastered . . . ask any singer whether it’s simply a matter of memorizing the notes and the words and standing up in front of the microphone — but Marty quietly has something to tell us, and we feel what she feels.  Direct subtle transmission!

And she improvises.  Her third chorus on any performance is not simply a repetition of the second.  She doesn’t obliterate the composer or the lyricist; rather she makes friends with the song and — as if she were a great designer — considers the approach that would show it off most truly.

I shelve my CDs alphabetically — so to the left of ELKINS there is ELDRIDGE, to the right ELLINGTON.  Fast company, but neither Roy nor Duke has protested; in fact, were they booking gigs at the moment, Marty would be getting calls.  But my ELKINS holdings have been — although choice — small in scope.  Two CDs, to be precise: FUSE BLUES (Nagel-Heyer 062) finds her with Herb Pomeroy, Houston Person, Tardo Hammer, Greg Staff, Dennis Irwin, Mark Taylor.  (The provocative title is Marty’s own blues which has a great deal to do with the ministrations offered by her electrician.)  IN ANOTHER LIFE (Nagel-Heyer 114), a duo-recital for Marty and Dave McKenna, is just gorgeous. Here‘s what I wrote about IN ANOTHER LIFE when it was released — not just about the CD, but about Marty’s beautiful singing.

So it’s delightful news that Marty has released her third CD, WALKIN’ BY THE RIVER (Nagel-Heyer 119), and it is a treat.

marty-elkins-walkin-by-the-river-2015

Marty isn’t a Diva or someone who demands to be a Star.  When I’ve seen her in performance — sitting in or on her own gig — she is on equal, friendly terms with the instrumentalists, never demanding the spotlight.  But quietly, subversively, her voice finds a place in our hearts: it is the closest thing to having someone you’re fond of whisper something pleasing in your ear.  And it’s not just me, or my ear.  Marty has things to tell us about love, about pleasure, about sadness.  Many of the songs on this CD are familiar — but they take on new depth and feeling when she sings them.  And Marty has a real feeling for the blues, so her offerings seem authentic rather than learned . . . with bluesy turns of phrase that are warm surprises in standard 32-bar songs.

Marty has consistently good musical taste.  Her band: Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Howard Alden, guitar; Steve Ash, piano; Joel Diamond, Hammond C3, Lee Hudson, string bass; Taro Okamoto, drums.  This small group is priceless in itself — intense yet relaxed, with a light-hearted Basie feel on some numbers, a gritty soulful drive on others.  But — with all respect to these musicians — I am always happy on a track when the band plays and Ms. Elkins returns for another chorus.  She’s their equal in keeping our attention.

Her songs: IF I COULD BE WITH YOU /  RUNNIN’ WILD / IS YOU IS OR IS YOU AIN’T MY BABY? / GARBAGE CAN  BLUES / WHEN MY SUGAR WALKS DOWN THE STREET / DON’T LET THE SUN CATCH YOU CRYIN’ / THERE’LL BE SOME CHANGES MADE / DOWN TO STEAMBOAT TENNESSEE / COMES LOVE / ILL WIND / I’LL NEVER BE THE SAME / BETWEEN THE DEVIL AND THE DEEP BLUE SEA / WALKIN’ BY THE RIVER.  Song historians will note some nods to Lee Wiley, Una Mae Carlisle, and of course Billie.  But this is living music, not a repertory project, thank goodness.

Marty, thank you!  Now — let’s have a regular gig for this remarkable singer?

I just found out that the CD  will officially be out in September, which is nearly here.  You can check out Marty’s website, or find Marty at her regular Thursday-night gig Cenzino Restaurant in Oakland, New Jersey, where she performs with Bob Wylde, guitar, and Mike Richmond, string bass.

May your happiness increase!

 

CATHERINE RUSSELL BRINGS IT BACK, INDEED

We’re glad that there is a Catherine Russell, and she’s generously offered us another delicious helping of the heartfelt swing she and her colleagues create — in a new CD, called BRING IT BACK:

CATHERINE RUSSELL: BRING IT BACK (Jazz Village JVS 97001) Bring it Back; I’m Shooting High; I Let A Song Go out of My Heart; You Got To Swing and Sway; Aged and Mellow; the Darktown Strutters’ Ball; Lucille; You’ve Got Me Under Your Thumb; After the Lights Go Down Low; I’m Sticking With You Baby; Strange As It Seems; Public Melody Number One; I Cover The Waterfront.

Catherine Russell is a marvel: a great star and entertainer who gives herself utterly to the music, the rhythm, the words, and the emotions. She could have been a true rival for any of the great singers of the past, but she sounds utterly like herself.

She doesn’t have a gravelly voice or carry a handkerchief, but she embodies the warm, vibrant spirit of Louis Armstrong. That isn’t surprising, because her parents were Armstrong’s long-time pianist and musical director Luis Russell and singer / bassist Carline Ray.

BRING IT BACK continues her series of energized yet subtle CDs that draw on little-known tunes from an earlier era (composers from her father to Fats Waller, Harold Arlen, Jimmy McHugh, and Ida Cox) and blues-based material associated with Esther Phillips, Al Hibbler, Wynonie Harris and Little Willie John. The disc is emotionally satisfying, because Russell proves herself an adult who brings a consistent understanding to the emotions of each song. When the CD is over, it seems as if it’s just begun — and that’s not a matter of timing but of our pleasure: we want to hear more!

Russell’s voice is a pleasure in itself, with a high clear cornet-like attack when she chooses to croon an optimistic love song or romp through a swing fiesta such as SWING AND SWAY or PUBLIC MELODY. (At times she sounds like Ray Nance. Is there a higher compliment?) She takes on the dark rasp of a tenor saxophone when she sings the blues: Ben Webster, feeling low-down and grouchy, awakened too early.

Whatever the material or tempo, her intonation and time are splendid; no faux-Holiday lingering behind the beat for her. Russell’s energy comes through whole on BRING IT BACK, just as audiences worldwide have seen her dancing around the stage, a woman giving herself to rhythm.

On this disc, she is surrounded by a limber medium-sized band of New York swing stars: Mark Shane, piano; Matt Munisteri, guitar; Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; John Allred, trombone; Andy Farber, Dan Block, Mark Lopeman, reeds; Lee Hudson, string bass; Mark McLean, drums; Brian Pareschi, trumpet; Nicki Parrott, string bass; Glenn Patscha, Hammond B-3 organ. The band evokes but doesn’t copy swing and rhythm and blues from the last century, encouraging Russell to be inspired, never derivative. The CD moves from jitterbug extravaganzas to dark midnight blues without a letup. I found myself playing my favorite tracks over and over.

Louis would be proud.

May your happiness increase!

APRIL IS THE COOLEST MONTH, or NEW YORK JOYS (2013)

Every time I get ready to declare, “OK, I will spend the rest of my life happily in California,” New York crooks a dainty finger at me and whispers, “Not so fast, fellow.  I have something for you.”

ny skyline

These are some of the musicians I was able to see, hear, and video during April 2013 — an incomplete list, in chronological order:

Svetlana Shmulyian, Tom Dempsey, Rob Garcia, Asako Takasaki, Michael Kanan, Michael Petrosino, Joel Press, Sean Smith, Tardo Hammer, Steve Little, Hilary Gardner, Ehud Asherie, Randy Reinhart, Mark Shane, Kevin Dorn, James Chirillo, Brian Nalepka, Dan Block, Danny Tobias, Matt Munisteri, Neal Miner, Catherine Russell, Jon-Erik Kellso, Lee Hudson, Lena Bloch, Frank Carlberg, Dave Miller, Billy Mintz, Daryl Sherman, Scott Robinson, Harvie S, Jeff Barnhart, Gordon Au, John Gill, Ian Frenkel, Lew Green, Marianne Solivan, Mark McLean, Dennis Lichtman, Tamar Korn, Raphael McGregor, Skip Krevens, Andrew Hall, Rebecca Kilgore, Dan Barrett, Scott Robinson, Pat O’Leary, Andy Brown, Giancarlo Massu, Luciano Troja, Rossano Sportiello, Randy Sandke, Harry Allen, Dennis Mackrel, Joel Forbes.

And I saw them at the Back Room Speakeasy, the Metropolitan Room, Smalls, the Bickford Theatre, the Ear Inn, Symphony Space, the Finaldn Center, Jazz at Kitano, Jeff and Joel’s House Party, Dizzy’s Club Coca Cola, Jalopy Theatre, Casa Italiana, and Zankel Recital Hall.

T.S. Eliot had it wrong.  Just another average jazz-month in New York.

P.S.  This isn’t to slight my California heroes, nay nay — among them Marc Caparone, Dawn Lambeth, Carl Sonny Leyland, Clint Baker, Jeff Hamilton, Chris Dawson, Marty Eggers, Katie Cavera, Kally Price, Leon Oakley, Mal Sharpe, Tom Schmidt, John Reynolds, Melissa Collard, Ari Munkres, GAUCHO, PANIQUE, Bill Carter, Jim Klippert, JasonVanderford, Bill Reinhart, Dan Barrett . . . .

May your happiness increase.

CATHERINE RUSSELL SWINGS! WE SWAY (April 25, 2013)

We hold these truths to be self-evident.  Catherine Russell is a serious creator of joy — part of the pursuit of happiness.

She proved it again last night in her first set at Dizzy’s Club Coca C0la (part of Jazz at Lincoln Center, high above the Manhattan panorama).  Catherine had four of her friends in sweet support: Mark Shane, piano; Matt Munisteri, guitar and six-string banjo; Lee Hudson, string bass; Mark McLean, drums.  Their hour-long performance was varied, satisfying, light-hearted, and deep.

Much of her repertoire comes from two places: the blues, naughty, sad or springtly, from the Twenties to the Fifties; swing tunes from the great golden age.  So Catherine gave us the blues by singing songs associated with Lil Green, Little Willie John, Dinah Washington, Wynonie Harris (ROMANCE IN THE DARK, I’m STICKIN’ TO YOU, MY MAN’S AN UNDERTAKER, and WHISKEY ON THE SHELF), moving from deep intimacy to mock-threat to a Dionysiac rent party.

In her swing mode, she romped through SHAKE THAT THING, EVERYBODY LOVES MY BABY, invited us into a cab for DROP ME OFF IN HARLEM, made the room tilt with Ida Cox’s YOU GOT TO SWING AND SWAY and the Ellington-Strayhorn I’M CHECKIN’ OUT, GOOM-BYE.  (Had Catherine been born a hundred years ago, she would be one of the deities of the Swing Era.)

But there’s a third side to Catherine that might be overlooked — that she is a peerless singer of love ballads — whether the object of devotion is a landscape (the touching EV’NTIDE by Hoagy Carmichael for Louis Armstrong) or a person (LUCILLE, written by Catherine’s father, pianist Luis Russell, for Louis to sing about his wife).  In these songs, we heard a deep vein of tenderness, of love without irony being conveyed directly through Catherine’s voice.

And what a voice!  She moves from a dark lower register to a trumpetlike delivery, rising to gospel / rhythm ‘n’ blues drama at her top.  It’s a delight to hear her deliver a melody, apparently as written, but with subtle reshapings that deliver it anew, improvising in ways that always serve the song.  Catherine’s swing quartet was simply delightful — starting the evening with a rocking yet leisurely exploration of ROSETTA — masters at play.

Here she is in March — with the Bohem Ragtime Jazz Band in Hungary and the great trumpeter Herbert Christ — offering us the NEW CALL OF THE FREAKS (reaching back to father Luis Russell’s searing hot band of 1929-30.  students of lyric poetry will also want to memorize the refrain: “Stick out your can / Here comes the garbage man,” words to live by:

Catherine is a treasure.  Her stint at Dizzy’s is from Thursday, April 25, to Sunday, the 28th.  She turns timid, quiet audiences into swing enthusiasts — in the most delicious subtle ways.

May your happiness increase.

DAN BLOCK’S NEW WORLDS: “DUALITY”

As a player expertly able to fit himself into many kinds of music, Dan Block has added his own flavorings to many sessions led by others.  But his finest accomplishments may be the four CDs under his own name: AROUND THE BLOCK (1999); DAN BLOCK PLAYS IZZY BALINE a.k.a. IRVING BERLIN (2004); ALMOST MODERN (2006); FROM HIS WORLD TO MINE: THE MUSIC OF DUKE ELLINGTON (2010).  Each of these discs is the result of deep thinking, superb musicianship, intense feeling, wit, and a pungently lively imagination.

The newest one, DUALITY, is a frankly astonishing presentation of duet performances.

On it, Dan plays tenor and baritone saxophones, Albert system clarinet and bass clarinet, among his friends and peers: Catherine Russell (vocal), Ted Rosenthal (piano), Matt Munisteri (guitar), Mark Sherman (vibraphone), Lee Hudson (string bass), Scott Robinson (reeds), Rossano Sportiello (piano), Paul Meyers (guitar), Saul Rubin (guitar), Tim Horner (drums).

The repertoire Dan has chosen ranges from Ellington, Gershwin, Styne, Beiderbecke, Kern, Dameron, from a sweetly ancient pop song to Brazilian chorino to Shostakovich.  Each piece and each performance has its own logic and splendor.  The music is varied but not self-indulgent; it is beautiful but never merely pretty.

Because creativity is intensely difficult, many experienced improvisers have a series of learned gestures appropriate to the situation they find themselves.  “You want me to fit into a 1929 big band?  OK, I’ll put on that hat.  Back a torch singer?  Can do.  It’s atonal time?  Let me rummage in my case for my special atonal galoshes.”  Dan Block never plays by-the-numbers: rather, in the best spirit, he makes it up as he goes along, adapting himself to the circumstances and adapting the circumstances to himself.

DUALITY is a beautiful representation of the many worlds Dan Block creates for us.  Each of the eleven performances has the depth of feeling and intelligence one would find in a moving one-act play.  The disc becomes a series of gratifying voyages to lands we might have thought we knew — with new beauties revealed to us on the first hearing and on subsequent visits.  There is the bouncing curiosity of THE JAZZ SAMBA, the playful conversational jousting of PITTER PANTHER PATTER, the yearning of IF YOU COULD SEE ME NOW, the water-pistol fight of LYRIC WALTZ, the shimmering melancholy of IN THE DARK . . . and so much more.

I always think it nearly rude to write, “Go here.  Buy this.  Put everything else down and listen.”  But in the case of DUALITY, I feel myself entirely justified.  Dan Block has created music that resonates long after the disc has come to a stop.  A brave explorer, he takes us along on his quests.

You can hear excerpts and purchas DUALITY here and here — and visit Dan’s own site here.

May your happiness increase. 

CATHERINE RUSSELL WELCOMES US IN!

Photograph by Richard Conde

The Beloved and I were in the presence of magic at the Allen Room (Jazz at Lincoln Center) last night when singer Catherine Russell welcomed us in.

I don’t mean that she just began her show by saying, “I’m glad you are all here,” as artists usually tell an audience.

But from the first phrase of her opening song, I’M SHOOTING HIGH, she turned the Allen Room into something warm, making us feel both as if we were in her own magically cozy space.  Although she was stylishly dressed, in front of a ten-piece band, with the great New York street scene viewed from above, none of this distracted her from her great purpose: to lift us up through sweet swinging music.

She is such an expert performer that she made her art — clearly the result of great attention to detail — seem natural and intuitive, as if she and the band had just gotten together to have a good time.

Her delight in being with us was genuine.  When a couple, arriving late, made their way to their seats down front, Catherine beamed at them and said the most encouraging thing, “Welcome, welcome!” — and we relaxed even more, knowing that she meant it.

What she was welcoming us to was a musical evening of the most gratifying kind.  It was inspired by Louis Armstrong, for one, always a good start.  Most of the songs she and the band offered were connected to Louis, but she remained herself: no growl, no handkerchief, no mugging.  Rather she understood and demonstrated what Louis was all about — deep romance, great fun, rocking rhythm, daring improvisations.  Love, whether eager celebration or brokenhearted lament — was her theme.  And there was another man inspiring her performance: Louis’ friend, pianist, and musical director for many years: Luis Russell, who (by the way) happened to be Catherine’s father.  Pops and Daddy, if you will.

She drew most of her material from the great period of the Louis / Luis collaboration — 1935-42, the songs now collected on the great Louis Mosaic box set, so we got to exult with her for I’M SHOOTING HIGH (“Got my eye / On a star / In the sky”), dream along with I’M IN THE MOOD FOR LOVE, swing out on I CAN’T GIVE YOU ANYTHING BUT LOVE, mourn to I COVER THE WATERFRONT, laugh out loud to PUBLIC MELODY NUMBER ONE.  Catherine’s vision of Louis reached back to the Twenties for STRUTTIN’ WITH SOME BARBECUE, SUGAR FOOT STRUT (now, finally, I know what the lyrics are talking about!), and a romping EVERYBODY LOVES MY BABY.

And it expanded to include BACK O’TOWN BLUES and LUCILLE, songs with which she had a very personal connection.  The first of those two — written by Louis and Luis — was the flip side of Louis’ 1956 hit, MACK THE KNIFE.  For some, that fact would be only a jazz-fiend’s winning Trivial Pursuit answer.  But for Catherine it was so much more.  The royalties from BACK O’TOWN BLUES enabled her parents, Luis and Carline Ray (Catherine’s mother had been in the audience for the first show) to purchase their first new car — a two-tone blue 1956 Mercury.  Even from row N, the Beloved and I could see how much that car had meant to the Russells from Catherine’s very warm retelling of the story.  And the very touching LUCILLE had been written by Luis in 1961 for Louis to try — a loving tribute to Lucille Wilson Armstrong . . . and, not incidentally, a beautiful song, now fully realized by Catherine.

She also showed her great emotional range in a dark reading of NO MORE, a sultry evocation of ROMANCE IN THE DARK, a hilarious I’M CHECKIN’ OUT, GOOM-BYE (evoking Abbey Lincoln, Lil Green, and Ivie Anderson, respectively).

Catherine is also an astonishing singer, if you haven’t guessed by now.  She has a perfectly placed voice, with power and depth but a kind of reedy intensity (she can sound like an alto saxophone but more often she reminded me of a whole reed section coming out of her long lithe frame).  Her sound is sweet yet pungent.  She has great dramatic intensity but she never seems as if she’s “acting.”  From somewhere inside the song, she lights the way, matching her readings of lyrics and melody exactly to the emotions . . . making familiar songs feel roomy and new.  And rhythm bubbles up through her — she was always in motion, rollicking around the stage, expertly dancing, embodying joy in person.

And the band was just as delightful: let me write their names here again to celebrate them: Matt Munisteri, Mark Shane, Lee Hudson, Mark McLean, Jon-Erik Kellso, Dave Brown, John Allred, Scott Robinson, Andy Farber, Dan Block.  New York’s finest!  Each one of them had something deliciously incisive to bring, from McLean’s saucepan-percussion reminding us of Zutty Singleton on SUGAR FOOT STRUT, Allred’s plunger-dialogue on GOOM-BYE, Scott Robinson’s soprano taragota on NEW CALL OF THE FREAKS (a whole surrealistic play in itself, with the horn section picking up their paper parts to read the unforgettable Dada poetry: “Stick out your can / here comes the garbage man. . . . “).  Kellso, once again, became the Upper West Side Louis, and Matt swung us into bliss — to say nothing of the eloquent gents of the sax section, Mister Brown to You, the reliable Hudson keeping it all together, Mark Shane pointing the way — Jess Stacy to Catherine’s Helen Ward.  The brilliant arrangements by Matt, Jon-Erik, and Andy gave us a rocking big band distilled to its essence.

The Beloved and I enjoyed every note.  We would be there tonight if we could.  If you can, stop reading this post right now and get a pair (or more) of tickets for the Saturday night shows — 7:30 or 9:30.  Or if that’s not possible, do what I did and buy Catherine’s latest CD, STRICTLY ROMANCIN’ — it has some of the same songs and almost the same band.

Miss Russell will welcome you in, too!

May your happiness increase.

COMES IN LIKE A LION, SWINGS OUT LIKE A CAT

We have delightful plans for this Friday night — March 30, 2012: we’ll be at the Allen Room at Jazz at Lincoln Center to hear the remarkable singer Catherine Russell and her all-star band:

Our Catherine’s pedigree is impeccable — daughter of pianist-composer-bandleader Luis Russell and string bassist-bandleader Carline Ray, she grew up with the music (how about childhood acquaintance with one Mister Armstrong?) and she keeps swinging with a big heart.   And her new program will not only connect with her CD, STRICTLY ROMANCIN’ but will focus on Louis and Luis — lifelong friends.  The concerts will take place on Friday and Saturday, March 30 and 31, 2012, with two shows nightly (7:30 and 9:30), located on Broadway at 60th Street in New York City.

And Grammy-winner Miss Russell is wise enough to know that a great singer deserves a great band — with new arrangements.  The sterling fellows onstage will be  Matt Munisteri, guitar, arranger, musical director;  Mark Shane, piano;  Jon Erik-Kellso, trumpet, arranger;  John Allred, trombone;  Dan Block, saxophones, clarinet;  Andy Farber, saxophones, arranger; Lee Hudson, string bass;  Mark McLean, drums; Dave Brown, trumpet; Scott Robinson, whatever he likes.   For tickets visit the JALC Box Office at Broadway at 60th, or www.jalc.org — or call Center Charge at 212-721-6500.  The Beloved and I will be there — I’ll be making notes on a pad to tell you what happened . . . be sure to get there on your own!

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.

A ROBOTIC REMINDER, or DON’T MISS THESE GIGS!

If the mechanical men know about Michael Kanan, Joel Press, Joe Hunt, Lee Hudson, Sean Smith, and the wonderful jazz they will be creating this weekend at Smalls (138 West 10th Street, New York City, Friday night, May 13) and at Sofia’s (211 West 46th Street, NYC, Saturday night, May 14), shouldn’t you?

There will be room for everyone — interplanetary and terrestrial — I guarantee.  Bring your Beloved!

DEEP JAZZ AHEAD: MICHAEL KANAN QUARTET with JOEL PRESS (May 13 and 14, 2011)

These are gigs to plan for — with the subtle and moving Michael Kanan at the piano; the veterans Joel Press (the Swing Explorer on tenor and soprano) and Joe Hunt (by way of Bill Evans and Getz, on drums) with expert bassists Sean Smith (the 13th) and Lee Hudson (the 14th).

As Michael writes, “Joe Hunt lived in New York and played with many of the jazz greats like Bill Evans, Stan Getz, George Russell, Charles Mingus, and many others. Check out this article about him”: http://www.allaboutjazz.com/php/article.php?id=26099

“Joel Press is also a veteran of the New York jazz scene in the 50’s and 60’s.  He had the great experience of hearing giants like Bird, Pres, Coleman Hawkins, and Monk.  He truly embodies their sound and spirit.  Hearing him is hearing the sound of swing!  And New York audiences are familiar with fantastic bassists Sean Smith and Lee Hudson.”

Michael speaks the truth — here and at the piano.  I know some deep jazz will be played on these two nights by people of feeling.

Friiday, May 13th: Smalls Jazz Club, New York City.  183 West 10th Street (just west of 7th Ave).  7:30 – 9:45.  $20 admission, well-stocked bar.  www.smallsjazzclub.com

Saturday, May 14th: Sofia’s Ristorante, New York City.  221 West 46th Street, between Broadway and 8th Ave.  7:00 – 11:30.  no cover/minimum, bar seating available.

LOVE IS IN THE EAR (Feb. 13, 2011)

Because it was The Night Before Valentine’s Day, the EarRegulars played amorous jazz at The Ear Inn (326 Spring Street, Soho, New York City): they were Chris Flory, guitar; Charlie Caranicas, trumpet / fluegelhorn; Dan Block, tenor / clarinet; Lee Hudson, bass, romping through Irving Berlin’s THE BEST THING FOR YOU (WOULD BE ME). 

Better than a heart-shaped box of chocolates or a paper-wrapped bunch of cut flowers (the latter is seen crossing the room early on in this video).

As Eubie Blake and Noble Sissle told us, Love will find a way!

PETE MALINVERNI: “A BEAUTIFUL THING”

Photograph by Abigail Feldman

Pianist Pete Malinverni has a serious exterior — he’s tall and broad-shouldered and his black eyeglasses define his face.  But that’s only a facade.  Even though I’ve only met him twice, I see that his character is both spiritual and wildly playful: he has an impish, puppylike delight in the sensations around him. 

And it comes through in his music.  That playful creativity is happily on display on his latest CD, A BEAUTIFUL THING!  (Saranac Records 1009). 

The title refers to an original piece dedicated to his parents who are embarking on their fifty-eighth year of contented matrimony.

The CD is a trio effort — Pete is joined by old friends and jazz masters Lee Hudson, bass; Eliot Zigmund, drums.

Now, I know that there are more than enough piano trios on the market implicitly clamoring for a listener’s attention.  But Pete, Lee, and Eliot are masters of the form — they achieve a delicious synergy from the start, harmoniously. 

And the music is perfectly varied (most CDs grow burdensome because the artists tend to cram in too much of the same thing at once): this disc moves from multi-theme originals which recall piano and compositional styles across the jazz spectrum to lovely, pensive ballads (A HOUSE IS NOT A HOME), spirituals (GO DOWN, MOSES), standards (LA VIE EN ROSE and SWEET AND LOVELY) handled with sensitivity and originality.  His compositions aren’t paper-thin superimpositions on familiar chord changes: EVOCATIVE and IN THE GARDEN OF THE ETERNAL OPTIMIST have their own identities: ringing lines and small musical surprises throughout.  And the trio knows what it is to swing.   

When many jazz CDs by a variety of players turn out to be more-of-the-same, Pete’s new disc is a satisfying experience.  Check out his website, www.petemalinverni.com., for the beautiful details.

I WISH I WERE TWINS (For Sunday, Dec. 12, 2010)

Only hypothetically.  Think of the grocery bill doubled, the attendant clutter in the apartment if there were two of me . . . and so on.  But this coming Sunday night (December 12, 2010) I have two gigs I badly want to go to — and videorecord — and the only way to hear them both from start to finish is by way of Frank Loesser’s song.

The first gig is (not surprisingly) a special edition of The EarRegulars at The Ear Inn (326 Spring Street, Soho, New York City) which runs from 8-11.  Jon-Erik Kellso will be doing that remarkable thing, sharing the stage with one of his trumpet-playing pals, the esteemed Randy Reinhart.  Matt Munisteri and Joel Forbes will be doing what they do wonderfully on guitar and bass.  I swear on a stack of Adrian Rollini autographs that Huge Fun is in the offing.

But wait!  There’s more!

Dan Block and Friends are playing the lovely (and sometimes little-known) music of Ellington and Strayhorn that night at the Brooklyn Lyceum — 227 Fourth Avenue, Brooklyn, New York.  But the good news is that there are two sets, one at 9 and the other at 10:30.  Dan will be joined by Lee Hudson, bass; James Chirillo, guitar; Michael Kanan, piano; Tom Melito, drums; Mark Sherman, vibes.  Admission is $10. 

So I have a plan: the first set at The Ear, offer a libation to Phillup DeBucket, get in the car, reposition the GPS on the windshield, and drive to Brooklyn.  It gets my blood moving even thinking about it.  No need to be twins here.  I hope to see some of the faithful at either / both gigs: you’ll recognize me by my intent look, my videocamera, my tripod, and my delight at being alive to hear and witness such wonderful events.

P.S.  If you don’t know Fats Waller’s recording of Frank Loesser’s I WISH I WERE TWINS, you haven’t lived.  Then there’s Red Allen’s.  And Marty Grosz’s.  The world is not only wide but delightful . . .

DAN BLOCK’S VIVID IMAGINATIONS

Dan Block is a peerless reed player, arranger, composer, bandleader.  A new CD captures his many imaginations whole.  The picture (by Dan’s daughter Emma) adorns the cover of his Ellington tribute, FROM HIS WORLD TO MINE. 

Tributes to Ellington, hoever well-intentioned, have often become self-limiting, even formulaic.  Some musicians try to duplicate the sound of famous recordings; others rely upon Duke’s hit songs; others nod to an Ellington line for a chorus and then go off on their own.  Dan Block’s way is his own.  No SATIN DOLL, no transcriptions.   Rather, the most familiar songs on this CD are OLD KING DOOJI and KISSING BUG.  (Ask anyone who admires Ellingtonian to hum DOOJI and you’ll see what I mean.)  The repertoire, although not consciously esoteric, encompasses both COTTON CLUB STOMP and SECOND LINE. 

Dan didn’t try to find musicians who could simulate Cootie, Blanton, Greer.  And while he can evoke Jimmy Hamilton, Webster, Gonsalves, Bigard, Hodges, he doesn’t ever shed his own identity.  Every track has its own sound — respectfully inventive.  So an Ellington composition from 1940 (MORNING GLORY) is treated as if it were timeless (which it is) material for melodic improvisation, but never imprisoned by its “period” and “genre.”

Duke’s compositions are deeply re-imagined: KISSING BUG, which leads off, has Dan wistfully playing the line — only after he has perched atop the rattling percussion of Renato Thoms, the drums of Brian Grice, the chiming vibes of Mark Sherman, alternating with 4 /4 sections where we hear James Chirillo’s guitar, Lee Hudson’s bass, Mike Kanan’s piano.  The rhythm section work throughout — in shifting permutations — is energized without being restrictively “modern” or “traditional.”  Although Dan is the only horn player on this CD, I never tired of his sounds or styles.     

I also noticed and applauded the natural sound of the sessions, for which I thank not only Dan but fellow saxophonist Andy Farber, who did the recording and shared mixing duties with Andrew Williams.  The players whose work I knew — James Chirillo, Pat O’Leary, Lee Hudson — sound beautifully and thoroughly realized.  The players who were new to me impress me thoroughly. 

Each track has its own suprises — a brief but wholly musical drum solo on BUG; an unaccompanied tenor cadenza on a musing NEW YORK CITY BLUES.  Dan understands that a slight shift of tempo (changing a ballad into a Fifties walk) makes a new composition although the notes seem the same. 

Dan has a searching lyricism, but he also loves to rock, as I see whenever he performs.  Not only does he vary his approach from performance to performance, but his horn (alto, tenor, a variety of clarinets, bass clarinet, and basset horn) without the result becoming gimmicky. 

The disc is full of marvels — but three in particular stand out.  One is THE BEAUTIFUL INDIANS (originally from 1947) that Dan makes into a shimmering impressionist painting through multi-tracking four reed voices (on as many instruments) — reed lines echo and intertwine, then hum and waft — all supported exquisitely by Hudson on bass and O’Leary on cello. 

Another is the ambling ballad medley of ALL HEART and CHANGE MY WAYS, a track combining duets for clarinet and piano, then alto sax and piano.  Mike Kanan is wondrously intuitive, his lines gliding from one beautiful voicing to the next. 

But I marvel the most at the pensive A PORTRAIT OF BERT WILLIAMS reconsidered at a slightly faster tempo as a four-minute chamber piece for Dan, bass clarinet; Chirillo, guitar; O’Leary, cello; Hudson, bass.  Imagine the Budapest Quartet playing Dvorak’s “American” Quartet / hybridized with the Basie rhythm section, with a touch of Lucky Thompson, Oscar Pettiford, and Skeeter Best . . . that would hint at this irresistible performance.  (Chirillo’s acoustic playing is both funky and delicate.)  This quartet returns for a sweetly lamenting ROCKS IN MY BED which reminds me of Jimmy Giuffre, Pee Wee Russell, and Danny Barker: you’ll understand when you hear it. 

But this disc is full of pleasures, some instantly apparent, some appearing only on repeated hearings.  The music honors Ellington but no one is subsumed into an already-established idea of “Ellingtonia.”  And the title says a great deal: Dan and friends play approach Ellington’s music by finding revelations within it.     

The disc costs $20.  To order yours, email its creator at BlockDan@aol.com.

“LIVE” AT SMALLS JAZZ CLUB

Although occasionally jazz clubs are uncomfortable — hard seats, noisy patrons, people jammed in — they provide an immediacy of experience that is unmatched by even the finest compact disc or video clip.  But you would need to live in or near an urban center (in my case New York City), have an independent income, be able to be in two or three places at once, and have a strong immune system to experience even one-fourth of what is happening any evening (and some afternoons).  And you’d have to be nocturnal — with the opportunity to sleep during the day, as many musicians do.

In the belief, perhaps, that if you offer something for free, people who love it will then follow it to its source, the people who run Smalls Jazz Club (on West Tenth Street) have been offering live video and “archived” audio of jazz performances at http://www.smallsjazzclub.com/index.cfm?itemCategory=32321&siteid=272&priorId=0&banner=a.

What does that mean?  As far as I can tell, you could sit in front of your computer, click on the address above, and get to see and hear — in real time — what the musicians are playing at Smalls.  True, the video is somewhat limited in its visual range; the image is small.  And it can’t be recorded for playing at a later date.  

But it’s vividly there, and for free.

And the other half of the birthday-present-you-didn’t-know-about is that the site is also offering audio of past performances (by those musicians who don’t object to having their work distributed in this fashion).  I didn’t check everyone’s name, but I saw dates were available featuring Dan Block, Ehud Asherie, Jon-Erik Kellso, Randy Sandke, Terry Waldo, Orange Kellin, Joel Frahm, Ari Roland, Stepko Gut, Matt Musselman, Will Anderson, Dmitry Baevsky, Lee Konitz, Teddy Charles, Jesse Gelber, Charlie Caranicas, Kate Manning, Kevin Dorn, Danton Boller, Joel Forbes, Lee Hudson, Rob Garcia, Howard Alden, Neal Miner, James Chirillo, Chris Flory, Eddy Davis, Conal Fowkes, Scott Robinson, Steve Ash, John Bunch, Jay Leonhart, Dick Hyman, Ethan Iverson, Olivier Lancelot, Sacha Perry, Rossano Sportiello, Mark Lopeman, Michael Blake, Harry Allen, Andy Farber, Tad Shull, Grant Stewart . . . and these are only some of the names on the list I know.  So many pleasant hours of listening await you!  And everyone hopes that you will someday go to West Tenth Street and climb down the narrow stairway to Smalls.

WHEN DREAMS COME TRUE

Please note that my title isn’t “If . . . . ”

The ideal jazz club experience, if you were to take fabled movies as a guide, is an exuberantly chaotic spectacle.  One trumpet player vanquishes another by playing higher and louder; two drummers pound away in grinning synchronicity; musicians magically get together in thunderous ensembles.  Everyone knows what the song is and what key they are playing in; musical routines miraculously coalesce without rehearsal.  Inevitably the audience is on its feet, cheering.  Long live the new king of jazz!  Everybody join in!  (Consider, if you will, “Second Chorus,” “The Glenn Miller Story,” or “The Five Pennies,” and other deliciously unreal episodes.)

I doubt that many of these fanciful scenes ever happened away from the soundstage.  Even if they did, hey aren’t my idea of pleasure.  Everything is too loud, and the movies assume that everyone in the crowd is hip, attentive, listeners unified into an appreciative community.  I wonder if this audience ever existed, although in Charles Peterson’s glorious photographs of 52nd Street jam sessions, no one is texting or even reading a newspaper.

For me, the ideal scenario is quieter: a small audience, paying attention, in a quiet club — quiet enough so that I can hear the music.  And the improvising shouldn’t be self-consciously exhibitionistic, one player trying to outdo another.  My dream, rarely realized, needs an intuitive connection between players and audience.  It happened often in the sessions Michael Burgevin led at Brew’s, featuring Joe Thomas, Vic Dickenson, Ruby Braff, Sam Margolis, Jimmy Andrews, Kenny Davern, Dill Jones, Rudy Powell, Herb Hall, Marshall Brown, Wayne Wright, and others.

Last night (Sunday, December 7) was frigid and the winds were unkind — perfect weather fo staying indoors.  But I made my way to the Ear Inn to hear the EarRegulars.  Because Jon-Erik and Jackie Kellso are off somewhere around the Mexican Riviera, the Regulars were led by the brilliantly soulful guitarist Matt Munisteri.  He arrived first, his hands cold, looking harried but greeting me pleasantly.

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Next in the door was the fine, surprising tenor saxophonist Michael Blake, whose playing I had appreciated greatly on the only other occasion I had heard him — also at the Ear.  Bassist Lee Hudson and trombonist Harvey Tibbs completed this quartet. Matt, Harvey, and Lee have all played together at the Ear and I would imagine other places, so they know and respect each other.

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Michael, about whom I wrote some weeks ago, fit in immediately.  By his playing, I would guess that he isn’t one of those deeply archival types who thinks, when someone mentions a song title, “Oh, yes, Billie recorded that with Bunny and Artie in 1936.  In two takes.”  But when either Matt or Harvey called Walter Donaldson’s IT’S BEEN SO LONG as their first tune, I could hear Michael listening intently for the first few measures, perhaps to remind himself.  Then he, like Lester, leaped in.  His jazz radar is exquisite.  Someone said of Milt Gabler, the Saint of Commodore Records, that he “had ears like an elephant.”  Michael deserves the same accolade: he is a peerless ensemble player, finding countermelodies, call-and-response, and harmony parts while everything was moving along at a brisk tempo.

cork-1108-ear-inn120708006Harvey Tibbs, resplendent as always in white shirt, was in execptional form as well: several songs began with trombone-guitar duets, beautiful vignettes.  Like Michael, Harvey can fit himself into any ensemble, galloping or loitering.  He has a wonderful musical intelligence, which he displayed on James P. Johnson’s OLD FASHIONED LOVE, which had a truly churchy ambiance to start — helped immeasurably by Matt’s delicate single-note lines, music for a troubadour under his Beloved’s balcony.  Lee Hudson kept lively, limber time, saving himself for an intense solo on WRAP YOUR TROUBLES IN DREAMS in the second set.

A lively JUST YOU, JUST ME followed James P.’s paean to the more seemly days of yore; here, Blake exploded into his solo, sounding at times like a supercharged Lester Young with modern sensibilities.  Michael’s tone is often consciously dry instead of pretty, and he approaches his lines in a sideways fashion (his phrases begin and end in surprising places).  A phrase might have an audacious shape — a Slinky tumbling down an irregular staircase — but each one landed without mishap.  I could hear the whole history of jazz tenor in his work — not only Lester, but Lucky Thompson and Al Cohn, Sonny Rollins as well.  He and Harvey took off on a song I didn’t expect — JAZZ ME BLUES — their version harking back not to Bix but to Glenn Hardman or to some imagined jam session in the afterlife, with Bird sitting amidst the Dixielanders at Copley Square.  Although Tom Delaney’s Twenties classic is full of breaks, Blake bobbed and weaved in the ensembles.  A moody WHAT IS THIS THING CALLED LOVE? followed — suggesting that the four players were really considering that question on the tiny square of floor they claim as the Ear’s bandstand.  Finally, in deference to inescapable holiday music, someone called for a Bird-and-Diz version of WHITE CHRISTMAS, and it joyously closed the set.

A long pause for the quartet’s dinner ensued, but a noble visitor, his tenor saxophone at his side, joined them: none other than Dan Block.  The two players had a good time, playing their solos while standing at the bar, one listening deeply to the other, or forming a loose circle.

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Harvey, perhaps, called for the Basie classic 9:20 SPECIAL to begin the second set, then they all became optimistic (the only way to face the economic news) with WRAP YOUR TROUBLES IN DREAMS, then, in honor of the gales outside, a trotting GONE WITH THE WIND.  They ended with a jubilant IF DREAMS COME TRUE, where Blake got so caught up in the vehemence of his double-time phrases that he was almost kneeling on the floor as he soloed.

It was an extraordinary night of music.  Perhaps it would have seemed insufficiently dramatic for the movies, but my jazz dreams came true for a few hours.

P.S.  The delghtful jazz singer Barbara Rosene was also in the audience.  Her new Stomp Off CD, “It Was Only A Sun Shower,” is perhaps her finest recording to date.  A new one is in the works, devoted to naughty double-entendre songs from the Twenties, where the He-Man (whether Handy or Military) always stands at attention, can trim any girl’s garden and make her coffee boiling hot.  What delights await us!