Tag Archives: Lester Young

HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO LARRY McKENNA! (Part Two): LARRY McKENNA, SAM TAYLOR, STEVE ASH, NEAL MINER, FUKUSHI TAINAKA at SMALLS (June 23, 2019)

Larry McKenna got to the gig early, as did I and many others who knew what gorgeous music we were about to hear, created right in front of us.  He and Sam Taylor, both on tenor saxophone; Steve Ash, piano; Neal Miner, string bass; Fukushi Tainaka, drums, made castles of sound for us — two sets’ worth.  And for those who live by clocks and calendars, Larry turned 82 on July 21, 2019.  He’s not “spry”: he is in full flower right now.  Consider the blossoming evidence of the first set at Smalls here.

Before the gig. Photograph by Melissa Gilstrap.

(Incidentally, Larry and Danny Tobias have a little concert date on Sunday, September 21, at the 1867 Sanctuary in Ewing, New Jersey — details here.)

Now, for the second set at Smalls — beautiful playing by everyone!

SOMETHING’S GOTTA GIVE (as they used to say, “from the movie of the same name):

The lovely THERE’S NO YOU (hear a delighted woman in the audience say, “Oh, yeah!” once the melody registers):

The durable swing standard ROSETTA, which gives Sam a very touching opportunity to tell about his early and sustained connection with Larry:

MORE THAN YOU KNOW, a feature for Sam:

And to close, another song associated with Earl Hines [and Louis Armstrong and Lester Young!] its title a sweet reminder of the bonds we forge, YOU CAN DEPEND ON ME:

The sounds of this evening were completely gratifying, but what got to me — and you can see it in the videos — were the smiles on the musicians’ faces (echoed on the faces of people near me), expressions of  gratitude, joy, and pride — what an honor it was to be there and, to hear the artistry, to feel the delight.  How rare, how wonderful.

May your happiness increase!

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WELCOMING SOUNDS: “STRIKE UP THE BAND”: RICKY ALEXANDER (with MARTINA DaSILVA, JAMES CHIRILLO, ROB ADKINS, ANDREW MILLAR)

Ricky Alexander, saxophonist and clarinetist, holding up his debut CD, July 2019. Photograph by Nina Galicheva.

This Youngblood can play — but he doesn’t wallop us over our heads with his talent.  To quote Billie Holiday, recommending a young Jimmie Rowles to a skeptical Lester Young, “Boy can blow!”

Ricky Alexander is an impressive and subtle musician, someone I’ve admired at a variety of gigs, fitting in beautifully whatever the band is (Jon DeLucia’s Octet, Gordon Au’s Grand Street Stompers, The New Wonders, at The Ear Inn, and more) — swing dances, big bands, jam sessions.

I particularly cherish his sweetly understated approach: he loves melody and swing, which is rarer than you might think: youthful musicians in this century are sometimes prisoners of their technique, with the need to show off the chord extensions and substitutions they’ve learned in dutiful hours in the woodshed, even if the woodshed is a room in a Brooklyn walk-up.  The analogy for me is the novice cook who loves paprika and then ruins a recipe by adding tablespoons of it.  In jazz terms, Ricky’s opposite is the young saxophonist whose debut self-produced CD is a suite of his own original compositions on the theme of Chernobyl, each a solo of more than ten minutes.  Perhaps noble but certainly a different approach to this art form.

Ricky tenderly embraces a song and its guiding emotions.  He has his own gentle sound and identity.  Hear his version of Porter’s AFTER YOU, WHO?:

If readers turn away from this music as insufficiently “innovative,” or thinks it doesn’t challenge the listener enough, I would ask them to listen again, deeply: the art of making melody sing is deeper and more difficult than playing many notes at a rapid tempo.  And youthful Mr. Alexander has a real imagination (and a sly wit: the lovers in this Porter song are on the edge of finding a small hotel — run by Dick and Larry — to increase their bliss, in case you didn’t notice).

His music is sweet but not trivial or shallow: hear his sensitive reading of I’VE GOT A RIGHT TO SING THE BLUES for one example.  And he quietly shows off a real talent at composition: on first hearing, I thought his I KNEW I LOVED YOU was perhaps an obscure Harry Warren song.

Ricky’s also commendably egalitarian: he shares the space with guitarist James Chirillo, string bassist Rob Adkins, drummer Andrew Millar, and the colorful singer Martina DaSilva, who improvises on several selections to great effect.  As well as those I’ve commented on above, the repertoire is mainly songs with deep melodic cores: WHERE OR WHEN, A KISS TO BUILD A DREAM ON, I CAN’T GET STARTED, SKYLARK (as a light-hearted bossa nova), STRIKE UP THE BAND, with several now fairly-obscure delights: THE LADY’S IN LOVE WITH YOU, AND THE ANGELS SING, and a particular favorite from the 1935 hit parade, YOU HIT THE SPOT by Gordon and Revel.

STRIKE UP THE BAND is a model of how artists might represent themselves on disc.  Like Ricky, this effort is gracious, welcoming, friendly: listeners are encouraged to make themselves at home, given the best seat on the couch.  It’s smooth without being “smooth jazz”; it has no post-modern rough edges on which listeners will lacerate themselves.  And although Ricky often gigs with groups dedicated to older styles, this is no trip to the museum: rather, it’s warm living music.

I’m told that it can be streamed and downloaded in all the usual places, and that an lp record is in the works.  For those who wish to learn more and purchase STRIKE UP THE BAND, visit here.  If you know Ricky, the gently lovely character of this CD will be no surprise; if he’s new to you, you have made a rewarding musical friend, who has songs to sing to us.

May your happiness increase!

AUDREY ARBUCKLE, “BUCKLES,” A DEVOTED JAZZ FAN (1954-56)

Since jazz fans seem — note I say seem — to be overwhelmingly male, it’s lovely to find this collection of jazz autographs collected by the young jazz fan Audrey Arbuckle, between 1954-56 in Chicago.  My guess is that “Buckles,” born July 19, 1931, is no longer collecting autographs and may no longer be with us, but I can’t prove it.

Here’s the seller’s description:

Here is a unique and amazing collection of famous jazz musician autographs on matchbooks, tickets and table cards put together during 1954-1956 by a young college student nicknamed “Buckles” who went to jazz clubs like the original Blue Note in Chicago and the Basin Street East.

Eventually Buckles had the autographs she collected laminated between a clear plastic sheet.

On one side, are the autographs of jazz legends Lester Young, Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Dave Brubeck, Coleman Hawkins, Illinois Jacquet, Chet Baker, Carmen McRae, Sonny Stitt, Paul Quinichette (“Vice-Prez” to Lester’s “Prez”), Roy Eldridge, Jeri Southern and Paul Desmond. There is even the team of Kai Winding and J. J. Johnson whose combined autographs together, on the same page, from the same club date, is very hard to find.

On the other side of the laminated sheet is: Count Basie, the tragic, talented jazz singer Beverly Kenney, Bob Bates, drummer Candido, singer Chris Connor and the great Paul Gonslaves who signed his name on part of a Duke Ellington ticket. Gonsalves famously blew 27 insane bars during his sax solo on “Diminuendo and Crescendo in Blue” that sent the crowd at the 1956 Newport Jazz Festival into a frenzy and put Duke Ellington’s band, which had been going through a popularity slump, back in its rightful place. Also a picture of “Buckles” who got the autographs.

The laminated page — which no doubt preserved those sixty-five year old scraps of paper, although oddly — is up for bid at $850 or “best offer,” and here is the link.

And the photographic evidence: some of these signatures (Beverly Kenney!) are incredibly rare — but to think of this young woman who saw and heard so much, it’s astonishing.  The front side of the page, which takes some careful viewing:

and the reverse:

and some close-ups, the first, Dave Brubeck:

then, the two trombone team of Jay and Kai:

Paul Gonsalves, who played tenor saxophone:

then, Coleman Hawkins and Illinois Jacquet:

and Chet Baker:

Louis, Velma, Arvell, and Barrett Deems:

The Maestro:

and what is the prize of the collection (second place goes to Beverly Kenney’s neat handwriting) a Lester Young autograph.  Even though it looks as though it was written on a piece of Scotch tape, such deity-sightings are rare:

and, a little music, lest we forget the point of these exalted scribbles:

Wherever you are now, Buckles, whatever names you took later in life, know that we cherish you and your devotion.  Did you graduate college, have a career, get married and have a family?  The laminated page says to me that these signatures and experiences were precious.  But what happened to you?  I wish I knew.

This just in, thanks to Detective Richard Salvucci, formerly of the Philadelphia police force, and one of this blog’s dearest readers: https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/113718218 — which suggests that Audrey Ellen Arbuckle was born in 1934 and died in 2009, buried in an Erie, Pennsylvania cemetery.  I wish she were here to read this, but I am sure her spirit still swings.

May your happiness increase!

“LEAP, AND THE NET WILL APPEAR”: NIRAV SANGHANI and the PACIFIC SIX and GUESTS: NIRAV SANGHANI, ALBERT ALVA, SEAN KRAZIT, JUSTIN AU, RILEY BAKER, VIRGINIA TICHENOR, NICK ROSSI, MIKIYA MATSUDA, CLINT BAKER (June 16, 2019)

That serious young man and his friends have done it again, healthfully  rising the planet’s Swing levels.  He’s Nirav Sanghani, leading his flexible band, the Pacific Six, whose new CD I praised just last month here.

Here’s a jazz classic from the recent Bootleggers’ Ball, on Jun 16: the Six plus guests Justin Au, trumpet, and Nick Rossi, electric guitar (wearing tuxedoes).  The rest of the band, Virginia Tichenor, piano; Albert Alva, tenor sax; Mikiya Matsuda, bass; Sean Krazit, tenor sax; Clint Baker, drums; Riley Baker, trombone; Nirav Sanghani, rhythm guitar, bandleader.  The nice floating videography is by Jessica King, vocalist, percussionist, and cinematographer:

So many things in this life are uncertain.  The saying that I’ve chosen for my title is attributed to John Burroughs, Julia Margaret Cameron, and anonymous Zen masters.

LESTER LEAPS IN was most assuredly John Hammond’s title, not Lester’s — for that line on I GOT RHYTHM.  But attributions and minutiae matter less than the effect such things —  those words, that music, that band — have on our hearts.

May your happiness increase!

“SUPERSTRIDE: JOHNNY GUARNIERI” by Derek Coller (Jazzology Press)

I know it’s not true of other art worlds (say, literature and painting) where a proliferation of deities is not only allowed but encouraged, but jazz seems to want a very small number of Stars.  Singers? Billie and Ella.  Trumpet players?  Miles and Louis.  Saxophonists?  Trane and Bird.  And so on.  This reductionist tendency makes me sigh, especially when it comes to pianists, because there are so many more to celebrate than (let us say) Fats, Monk, Tatum.  You don’t want to get me started, from Clarence Profit to Sam Nowlin to Alex Hill to Frank Melrose to Nat Jaffee, and so on up to the present day.

Someone who deserves more attention is the expert and rollicking Johnny Guarnieri, whose recording and performance career covers forty-five years, from 1939 to 1984.  When I think of Johnny, I think of irresistible swing, lightness of touch, beautifully perceptive ensemble playing, amazing technique both in and out of the stride idiom, and (perhaps not an asset) stunning mimicry of any pianist or style you’d want.  I heard him live once, at Newport in New York, and even given the hall’s terrible acoustics and amplification, he was dazzling: it was clear why Eubie Blake called Johnny the greatest pianist he had heard.

And on any Guarnieri recording — with Goodman, Lester, the Keynote aggregations, Ziggy Elman, Artie Shaw, both the big band and the Gramercy Five, Cootie Williams, Ben, Hawk, Rex Steart, Benny Morton, Louis, Lips, Bobby, Don Byas, Slam Stewart, Red Allen, Ruby Braff, Joe Venuti, Buddy Tate, Vic Dickenson, Stephane Grappelly, solos and small bands on his own — he is instantly recognizable and enlivening: he turns on the light switch in a dim room.

Yes, he sounds like Fats in the opening chorus of SHOULD I — but his comping behind the soloists is immaculate, displaying a strong terse simplicity, propelling Joe Thomas and Don Byas along.  If you have him in your band, it’s a given that the performance will swing.

Guarnieri’s life and music are documented beautifully (typically so) in a new book — an  bio-discography, SUPERSTRIDE (Jazzology Press) by the fine writer and careful researcher Derek Coller.  The compact book — around 260 pages — is full of new information, first-hand reminiscence, splendid source materials including photographs.  Best, not only is it a satisfying five-course dinner of fact and information, but it presents Guarnieri as one of those undramatic people who behaved well to others, was a professional, and didn’t demand attention to himself through narcissism or self-destructive tendencies.  He comes off as someone I regret not meeting, generous, gracious, an old-fashioned gentleman and craftsman.  (Read the story of his generosity to then unknown actor Jack Lemmon, who was himself quite a pianist; read the recollections of Johnny’s “boys,” who learned from him.)  He had one vice: he smoked a pipe; one physical problem, seriously poor eyesight, which kept him out of the military during the war.

Because Johnny led a quiet life, his biography is more brief than the record of high dramas and crises other musicians present.  Coller’s chronological overview is detailed although not overly so, and it moves very quickly for just over a hundred pages.  I remember saying to myself, “Wait!  We’re in 1947 already?”  But the speed and the lightness of the narrative — Coller is an old-fashioned plain writer who wants the light to shine on his subject, not on his linguistic capers — make it delightful and a quiet reproach to other writers whose ego is the true subject.  The book slows down a bit, a pleasant change, when we get to the longtime residency Johnny had at the Tail of the Cock in Los Angeles, but it is much more a narrative of a professional taking whatever jobs came his way rather than psychobiography or pathobiography.  I’ve left out the fascinating exploration into his family — both his father and mother and the information his daughter provides — and his interest in playing, with such elan, in 5/4.

Also . . . there are pages of musical analysis of Johnny’s style by someone who knows how the piano can be played, Dick Hyman; reminiscences and reviews by musicians and journalists; a very thorough discography and a listing of Johnny’s compositions . . . and more, including fascinating photographs and newspaper clippings.

The book is to the point, as was its subject, and in its own way, it swings along superbly.  Anyone who’s thrilled to the playful brilliance of a Guarnieri chorus will enjoy it.  And it sends us back to the recordings, a lovely side-effect.  Here’s a later solo performance, so tender:

The Jazzology website is slightly out of date, but I am sure that the book can be purchased directly from them, and it is worth the extra effort to have a copy.

May your happiness increase!

SOMETHING FOR THOSE PEOPLE, AND WE KNOW WHO THEY ARE: HEALING SOUNDS FROM The JONATHAN DOYLE SWINGTET: JONATHAN DOYLE, JACOB ZIMMERMAN, CHARLIE HALLORAN, KRIS TOKARSKI, JAMEY CUMMINS, STEVE PIKAL, HAL SMITH (Redwood Coast Music Festival, May 11, 2019)

The gorgeous music below is sent out as a moral inducement, less of a rebuke, to the people who “don’t know how to Act Nice.”

The boss who raises his voice at a subordinate; the salesperson who tries to flatter us to make the sale; the insecure person who bullies; the driver who tailgates; the liar; the self-absorbed person too busy recounting their own exploits to ask how you might be or too busy to leave that smartphone alone . . . the list is, sadly, long, and there is no need to add to it here.

To these people I send Jonathan Doyle’s instructive but also healing gift of this performance — called DON’T BE THAT WAY — performed at the 2019 Redwood Coast Music Festival.  The artful creators are Jonathan Doyle, tenor saxophone; Jacob Zimmerman, alto saxophone; Charlie Halloran, trombone; Kris Tokarski, piano; Jamey Cummins, guitar; Steve Pikal, string bass; Hal Smith, drums.  This easy rocking performance (not too fast, thank you!) summons up Teddy Wilson, Lester Young, Lionel Hampton small-group recordings rather than the famous Benny Goodman one.

Incidentally, I don’t espouse Goodman-bashing, but the 1934 Webb recording of the song, an instrumental, has Edgar Sampson as composer; later, Mitchell Parish added lyrics; Benny added his name, as the sheet music bearing his image, twice, shows.

The Swingtet scales peaks without stressing itself or us.  How splendidly they glide.  Bless them!  And bless Mark and Valerie Jansen for making this life-changing music happen at the Redwood Coast Music Festival, a sweet explosion of joys which will nuzzle our faces once again on May 7-10, 2020.  For now:

So, please.  Be any way that’s kind, easy, and compassionate.  Be aware that we are all connected.  Be candid, be loving.  Be aware.

But DON’T BE THAT WAY.

May your happiness increase!

THE SECOND PART: “AT 91, TED BROWN CONTINUES TO BREATHE MUSIC: TARDO HAMMER, PAUL GILL, RAY MACCHIAROLA, JEFF BROWN (75 Club, March 23, 2019)”

Ted at the 75 Club: photograph by Seth Kaplan.

You can find the first part of this rare and delicious performance here — eight songs created by the esteemed tenor saxophonist Ted Brown, with Tardo Hammer, piano; Ray Macchiarola, guitar; Paul Gill, string bass; Jeff Brown, drums — at the 75 Club (75 Murray Street, New York), on March 23.  Here’s the rest of the evening’s music, six selections.

But before you immerse yourself in the floating inquiring sounds created that night, just a word — perhaps tactless but necessary.  Ted is having some financial trouble and would welcome your assistance.  Click here to see what it’s all about.  “Every nickel helps a lot,” reminds the Shoe Shine Boy.

Now to music.  Ted’s repertoire his broad, his approach melodic, lyrical, quietly surprising.  But you knew that.  Or you will learn it now.

A classic Forties pop, famous even before Bird took to it, SLOW BOAT TO CHINA:

For Lester and Basie, BROADWAY:

and more Lester and Basie, LESTER LEAPS IN:

The gorgeous Irving Berlin ballad, HOW DEEP IS THE OCEAN?:

Perhaps in honor of Ginger Rogers, her hair a crown of shampoo turned white, THE WAY YOU LOOK TONIGHT:

and Ted’s own JAZZ OF TWO CITIES, with no apologies to Dickens:

I bow to Mr. Brown, who creates such lasting beauties.

May your happiness increase!