Tag Archives: Lino Patruno

JAMES BIRKETT AND EMMA FISK PLAY VENUTI AND LANG, WITH GREAT AFFECTION AND EXPERTISE

The back covers of the long-playing records of my youth often were adorned with thumbnail photographs of other record covers, and this solicitation, “If you’ve enjoyed this LONG PLAY record, you’ll be sure to enjoy . . . .”

If you savor beautifully recorded chamber jazz, swinging yet leisurely, you’ll be sure to enjoy the new CD by guitarist James Birkett and violinist Emma Fisk, devoted to the music of Joe Venuti and Eddie Lang.

Since Eddie’s death in 1933, there have been many attempts to recreate the magic the two Italian boys from Philadelphia created: Venuti himself always looked for guitarists who could come close to Eddie’s splendors: Dick McDonough, Frank Victor, Tony Romano, Bucky Pizzarelli, Carl Kress, Perry Botkin, Bobby Sherwood, George Barnes, Tony Gottuso, Danny Perri, Barney Kessel, Lino Patruno attempted to fill that role on record dates and more.

As I write this, Nick Rossi, Kris Tokarski, and Glenn Crytzer are involved in similar small group projects, and I know I am leaving someone out.  Matt Munisteri does a peerless Lang behind John Gill’s Bing.  Martin Wheatley and Spats Langham both understand him deeply.

Venuti was a hard act to follow — I am leaving aside the sometimes cruel practical jokes — but he was often in love with speed and execution, and many violinists have tried to out-Joe Joe, playing his intricate originals faster and faster.  (Performance speeds have been inching up for decades: consider the Django-phenomenon.)  And for most instrumentalists, not just string players, tone gets sacrificed to speed.

Emma Fisk, a romantic at heart, doesn’t turn Joe into unicorns-and-rainbows on this CD, but she does remind us of Joe’s affectionate side, the part of his character that would linger over long tones and leisurely phrases.  She doesn’t slow everything down, but she does change the mood from headlong briskness to a kinder, easier embrace.  In this she is partnered splendidly by the elegant guitarist James Birkett, who is lyrical beyond everything else.  He is new to me, but he is kind to the ears at every turn, without being overly sentimental.  So even the faster numbers on this disc — RAGGIN’ and MY HONEY’S — are sweet saunters instead of being mad sprints.  The music breathes comfortably and well.

Here you can witness Emma and James making music — video and audio — through the media of Vimeo, Soundcloud, and YouTube.  And here you can celebrate the Spring, reward yourself for good behavior, or warm someone’s heart — by buying one or more of these life-enhancing discs.

A delightfully mournful sample, James’ EDDIE’S LAMENT:

May your happiness increase!

Advertisements

“JAZZ ITALIAN STYLE, FROM ITS ORGINS IN NEW ORLEANS TO FASCIST ITALY AND SINATRA,” by ANNA HARWELL CELENZA

“I prefer books that tell me things I don’t know,” said Mark Twain. Or if he didn’t, he should have.

JAZZ ITALIAN STYLE is such a book — wide-ranging, full of intriguing information, and refreshingly straightforward.

I will say that I thought I knew a great deal about the title and the subject.  After all, I know Rossano Sportiello, Marc Caparone, Paolo Alderighi, and Larry Scala. I have recordings by Frank Sinatra, Joe and Marty Marsala, Leon Roppolo, Louis Prima, Joe Venuti and Eddie Lang, Wingy Manone, Jimmy Durante, Tony Sbarbaro, Nick La Rocca, Marty Napoleon, Phil Napoleon, Lino Patruno, and others.  Years ago, I owned a vinyl anthology on Italian Odeon called ITALIAN JAZZ OF THE 50s, which had music from the Roman New Orleans Jazz Band and Romano Mussolini, with other bands I do not recall.  In the very early Seventies, I ate authentic Italian food at the Half Note, under the loving supervision of the Canterino family.  (All of the above is true, although not meant to be taken with the utmost seriousness.)

But the glory of Celenza’s book is the information it offers — subtle illumination of areas of the subject that I was ignorant of, and I am sure my ignorance is not my sole property.  And the fruits of her investigation are the substance of this appreciation of her book.

But first: we are told, even before the book starts, that Celenza is “the Thomas E. Caestecker Professor of Music at Georgetown University, where she teaches courses in music history, radio journalism, and the music industry.”  To some readers, those credentials will seem either the kiss of death or the black hand: another academic book, indigestible, a forest of footnotes, theoretical and ideological beyond endurance.  Calm yourselves.  Celenza is an engagingly straightforward writer, clear, candid, and witty.  (I saw the wit when I opened my copy at random and saw she had translated “Il Quattro Buffoni,” a band name on a record label, as “The Four Idiots.”

She doesn’t talk down to the general reader, and the book down’t labor under chunks of undigested digressive facts.  And leaving aside the useful documentation and index, the book is a compact 192 pages, because Celenza has not felt an obsessive need to include every fact that wanders by, and her chosen time period is under half a century.  It isn’t a book-length study of Sinatra, fascism, or every Italian who’s ever improvised, and that adds to its charm and effect.  Rather, like effective cultural studies, it traces the interweavings of many phenomena: radio and the growth of the recording industry, political struggles and performance, and much more.

As I promised above, I salute this book for adding information to my mental hoard.  Here are a number of things I didn’t know before reading JAZZ ITALIAN STYLE.

•     “The most horrific mass lynching in US history occurred in New Orleans in 1891, when eleven Italian immigrants were shot and strung up by an angry mob after a  jury found them innocent of assassinating the local police chief, David Hennessey.”

•     In 1919, Chevalier Bruno Zuculin wrote a description of the musical scene in New Orleans — and the music itself — for Italian readers.  The article was published two months before Ernest Ansermet’s famous celebration of Will Marion Cook’s Southern Syncopated Orchestra, which included the young Sidney Bechet.

•     “D. Onivas,” whose orchestra is on the reverse of some 78s by Cliff Edwards, is the pseudonym of Domenico Savino, composer and conductor.

•     Jazz first came to Italy with the USAAS (United States Army Ambulance Service) and its American Jazz Band landed  — and when members of the American and Italian armies recorded for Fonotopia in December 1918.

•     I had assumed that Mussolini, like Hitler, was hostile to jazz as decadent music: not so, in fact, Il Duce “embraced” it as an expression of the Futurist art he celebrated.

•     Josephine Baker, Herb Flemming, and Al Wynn visited and worked in Italy.  Louis Armstrong gave two concerts in Turin in January 1935 and wrote a detailed happy letter to an Italian fan and record collector.

•     I had never heard or heard of the female vocal trio, “the three graces of the radio,” the Trio Lescano — Alexandra, Judith, and “Kitty,” originally from the Netherlands, who became singing stars in Italy.

•  During the Second World War, when recordings by American artists were played on the radio, new Italianized names for the musicians were invented: Luigi Braccioforte, La Colema, Del Duca, and Beniamino Buonuomo.  (Answer key on request.)

•     Sinatra’s four trips to Italy, in 1945, 1953, 1962, and 1987 — and the audience’s elation when he described his Genoan heritage, then their silence when he revealed his family was also half-Sicilian.

These excerpts are, of course, not the substance of this book.  Celenza has a wonderful understanding of the widespread forces that go into the development and growth of jazz in Italy, and one will come away from this book with a much deeper understanding of the mingling of history, race, ideology, and politics — during war and in peacetime.

JAZZ ITALIAN STYLE is very rewarding, but never ponderous.  Here are the publisher’s resources for the book, and this is the link for the CD label offering for sale almost all the jazz described in the book.  And since a book like this cries out for a soundtrack, here is the one Celenza has generously created — 124 relevant musical examples that delight and illustrate.

May your happiness increase!

FRANCESCA BIAGI: “FRANCES’ FOLLIES”

Signorina Biagi is a youthful Italian singer with a deep love for the film songs of the middle of the twentieth century — and her newest CD, FFANCES’ FOLLIES, pays tribute to that ebullient music.  Actress, student of theatre history, tap-dancer and fluegelhornist, Francesca has a deep involvement with the music of the Boswell Sisters (from 2003-7, she formed and led the Boop Sisters, a female vocal trio devoted to the music of Connee, Vet, and Martha (with an Italian accent, of course); she has also sung and played with the Bixilander Orchestra, a group whose musical world embraces both Bix and Basie.

Before we proceed, Francesca — a generous person! — would like to sing for you, and here are several songs related to FRANCES’ FOLLIES.

Each performance, in its own way, shows that she has made a careful study both of the songs and their iconic performances, and that she is a sweetly precise singer — mixing careful attention to the lyrics with a beautifully knowing awareness of the idiom from which they come.

FRANCES’ FOLLIES offers eleven songs — THREE LITTLE WORDS / TOP HAT, WHITE TIE, AND TAILS / SOME LIKE IT HOT / I’D RATHER BE BLUE OVER YOU / LET’S MAKE LOVE / GET HAPPY / NEVERTHELESS / MY HEART BELONGS TO DADDY / BY MYSELF / SHAKIN’ THE BLUES AWAY — associated with Fred Astaire, Doris Day, Marilyn Monroe, Fanny Brice / Barbra Streisand, Judy Garland, and others.  Francesca generously does not take center stage, though: she gives a great deal of room to her very impressive jazz accompanists, Attilio Marzoli, tenor sax; Adriano Urso, piano; Guido Giacomini, bass; Ricardo Colasante, drums — with guest Lino Patruno playing guitar on two tracks.  Pianist Urso summons up Teddy Wilson at every turn; Marzoli evokes Harold Ashby and Bud Freeman, and the other gentlemen of the rhythm section swing in ensemble and solo.

Francesca’s Facebook page offers interviews and information about the CD and her engagements, and the FRANCES’ FOLLIES site (noted above) is just as much fun.

There’s nothing foolish about these FOLLIES: the CD is a sweet-natured, gently swinging tribute to great music that should never be forgotten.

May your happiness increase.

BIX 2003: WILBER, DAVERN, PLETCHER, SJOSTROM, NICHOLS, PATRUNO, STEIN, FORBES, SAGER, GANDA at ASCONA

Thanks to Michael Supnick and his YouTube channel (“Michaelsjazz”) here are performances from the 2003 Ascona Jazz Festival, featuring a group of musicians connected to the sometimes-fanciful film about Bix Beiderbecke.  I believe it was called BIX: AN INTERPRETATION OF A LEGEND, and its intent was more homage than history.   

The full band includes the remarkable Kenny Davern and Bob Wilber, with Tom Pletcher on cornet, David Sager on trombone, Frans Sjostrom on bass sax, Keith Nichols on piano, Joel Forbes, bass, Lino Patruno on banjo, Walter Ganda on drums, and Andy Stein on violin.  

Let’s begin with JAZZ ME BLUES:

Bix never recorded ROSES OF PICARDY, but I would guess that he played this World War One melody:

We know he worked magic on SOMEBODY STOLE MY GAL:

Andy Stein and Lino Patruno become Venuti and Lang for a few minutes on STRINGING THE BLUES:

On MARGIE, Sjostrom is characteristically majestic and mobile:

Joel Forbes replaces Frans for I’LL BE A FRIEND WITH PLEASURE:

Finally, with everyone on board — here’s a rocking but not-too-fast ROYAL GARDEN BLUES:

And a “Chicagoan” version of CHINA BOY, notable for Sager’s shouting solo and the pleasure on Davern’s face during Stein’s solo:

Behind the musicians, visible in flashes, are scenes from the film, for which a version of this band provided the appropriate soundtrack.

Bix never got to Europe, but his music certainly did.  It was alive and lively in 20003 (his centennial) and continues to be.