Tag Archives: Little Brother Montgomery

I CALL ON KIM CUSACK (Part Two): MARCH 27, 2018

Here is the first part of the video interviews I did with the Esteemed Mister Cusack — a great deal of fun, good anecdotes, well-told, and new information about everyone from George Brunis to Phyllis Diller: a great honor and pleasure for me.  Here’s the second part.

The first six segments were moderately autobiographical, but Kim doesn’t revel in himself as the only subject.  So in the videos you will see below, my request had been for Kim to talk of people he’d encountered and played with whom we might otherwise not have known, although some of the players are well-known to those who relish the music: Barrett Deems, James Dapogny, Truck Parham, Little Brother Montgomery.  Good stories, seriously rewarding insights not only into people but also into “the business,” including the Chicago underworld.

I’ll let the videos speak for themselves, as Kim does so well.

Norm Murphy and Frank Chace:

Art Gronwald and Little Brother Montgomery (this is for Ethan Leinwand):

Bobby Ballard, Bob Skiver, Floyd Bean:

Smokey Stover and Truck Parham:

Bob Cousins, Wayne Jones, Barrett Deems:

and finally for that afternoon, Kim’s portrait of our hero Jim Dapogny:

I  hope to visit Delavan, Wisconsin, again — to delight in the company of Kim and Ailene Cusack and Lacey, too.  And who knows what treasures I might bring back for you?

May your happiness increase!

I CALL ON KIM CUSACK (Part One): MARCH 27, 2018

Paul Asaro, piano; Kim Cusack, clarinet

I admire the reedman and occasional vocalist Kim Cusack immensely and had done so through recordings for a long time before we met in person.  When we exchanged courtesies and compliments at a California festival — perhaps the San Diego Jazz Fest in 2011? — I was thrilled by his music as it was created on the spot, and I liked the man holding the clarinet a great deal.

A hero-worshiper, I found occasions to stand at the edge of a small circle when Kim was telling a story.  And what he had to tell us was plenty.  He never tells jokes but he’s hilarious with a polished deadpan delivery and the eye for detail of a great writer.

I had said to another hero, Marc Caparone, “I wish I could get Kim to sit for a video interview,” and Marc — ever the pragmatist — said, “Ask him!” I did, and the result was a visit to Kim and the endearing Ailene Cusack (she’s camera-shy but has her own stories) in their Wisconsin nest.

The results are a dozen vignettes: illuminating, sharply observed, and genuine.  Kim’s stories are about the lively, sometimes eccentric people he knows and has known.  I am honored to have had the opportunity, and I hope you enjoy the videos.  I know I did and do.

I’ve prefaced each video with a very brief sketch of what it contains.

Early days, going back to fifth grade, and early influences, including Spike Jones, moving up to high school and a paying gig, with side-glances at rock ‘n’ roll and the Salty Dogs:

From Career Day at Kim’s high school to early adulthood, and a seven-year stint teaching, with Eddy Davis, Darnell Howard, Mike Walbridge, James Dapogny, the Chicago Stompers, the Salty Dogs, Frank Chace, Marty Grosz, Lew Green, Wayne Jones, and the saga of Paul’s Roast Round:

From the Chicago Stompers and union conflicts to Art Hodes and Ted Butterman and Wayne Jones to Kim’s secret career as a piano player . . . and the elusive piano recording, and a mention of Davey Jones of Empirical Records:

Kim’s portraits of distinctive personalities Ted Butterman, Bob Sundstrom, Little Brother Montgomery, Booker T. Washington, Rail Wilson, Peter Nygaard, Phyllis Diller and her husband “Fang,” the Salty Dogs, Eddy Davis, George Brunis, Stepin Fetchit and OL’ MAN RIVER in Ab. Work with Gene Mayl and “Jack the Bear” on trumpet. And Barrett Deems!  (More Deems stories to come.)

More portraits, including Gene Mayl, Monte Mountjoy, Gus Johnson, the legendary George Brunis, Nappy Trottier, who “could really play,” Wild Bill Davison, Johnson McRee. And a playing trip to Alaska for three weeks with Donny McDonald and later Ernie Carson:

Scary airplane trips with the Gene Mayl band over Alaska, and a glance at the splendid pianist John Ulrich, a happy tourist:

I have six more vignettes to share, with memories of Norm Murphy, Frank Chace, Barrett Deems, Bob Skiver, Little Brother Montgomery, and more.  My gratitude to Kim and Ailene Cusack, for making this pilgrimage not only possible but sweet, rewarding fun.

May your happiness increase!

THEY DO THE THING, AND SPLENDIDLY: ETHAN LEINWAND / VALERIE KIRCHHOFF

If you don’t get to St. Louis often, these two people may be unfamiliar to you.  But they make excellent music.

You say you’d like to hear some?  Consider this — a short film by Bill Streeter:

and this, which pairs Ethan with Valerie Kirschhoff:

A friend told me about Ethan and Valerie, and I’ve been listening to their CDs with great pleasure.  I know that comparisons are not only odious, but they cause one to lose friends, but Ethan and Valerie, together or singly, have got it.  By “it” I mean a certain easy authority and authenticity: when they perform their special music — the low-down St. Louis blues, rags, and pop of the time — I don’t feel as if they are children playing at being adults, nor do I feel that I am listening to copies of 78s.  (However, if they’d been born a century ago, you would, I am sure, know them from their recordings on Paramount, Bluebird, and Decca.  They’re that much in the groove.)

Ethan and Valerie have a certain brash tenderness that is very much appealing, and although I hear echoes of certain performers (famous and obscure) I hear the personalities of these two — in this century — coming right at me.  This is rare and delicious, and even when they perform songs that are by today’s standards “ancient,” they seem full of emotion and fun.

And they are not shallow: by that I mean that certain young “stride” pianists have taught themselves AIN’T MISBEHAVIN’ and four other tunes; certain young singers know GOD BLESS THE CHILD and FINE AND MELLOW . . . and then it’s time for a break.  One of the pleasures of the three CDs I have on hand: THE ST. LOUIS STEADY GRINDERS, MISS JUBILEE: “THROW ME IN THE ALLEY,” and Ethan’s solo piano offering, THE LOW-DOWN PIANO, is the scholarly breadth of their chosen repertoire.  It’s not simply a non-stop parade of twelve-bar blues (incidentally, the closing video of this blog shows Valerie, with ukulele and friends, including Marty Eggers, making a meal of MURDER IN THE MOONLIGHT, which belongs to Mound City hero Red McKenzie, although Marty Grosz has brought it back in recent times).

In his solo recital, Ethan plays compositions by Romeo Nelson, Little Brother Montgomery, Jabo Williams, Montana Taylor, and others in addition to the expected heroes; I was familiar with two of the sixteen compositions on the GRINDERS CD, and MISS JUBILEE dips happily into Thirties ephemera, including THE DUCK’S YAS YAS YAS and JERRY THE JUNKER.  (In fact, on that CD — with friends — the overall effect is somewhere between Clarence Williams and the Lil Hardin Armstrong small groups, with a dash of the Washboard Rhythm Kings, and completely refreshing — a kind of hot elegant rawness, a wild oxymoron that will make sense with the first listening.)

I am not writing as much as I might, because I’d rather listeners go to the videos and sound samples to enjoy for themselves.  Ethan and Valerie have put up many videos on YouTube, and they have an expansive online presence, as one must these days.

Here is Ethan’s website. And here is the site for MISS JUBILEE — the aptly-named group Valerie and Ethan co-lead.  And the Facebook page for the ST. LOUIS STEADY GRINDERS — who also live up to their proud title, never faltering or hesitating.

You can listen to excerpts from and buy MISS JUBILEE’s CDs here and the same is true for Ethan’s solo piano CD  here.

They are very welcome: they make the best noises, and they spread joy in all directions.

May your happiness increase!

TWO CHAMPIONS: “FLEA CIRCUS,” PETE SIERS DUO FEATURING MR. B

Webster Kirksey, basketball champion

Webster Kirksey, basketball champion

Now I have to narrate, with embarrassment, how I waited some time to review an excellent jazz CD because its title made me itchy all over.   Here’s Exhibit A:

FLEA CIRCUS

Before you start scratching, too, use those hands to click here for sound samples from this disc. (It’s also available through iTunes and Amazon.)

The duo here — really a trio, but with two musicians, which I call good conservation of energy, is Pete Siers, drums, and “Mr. B,” who is Mark Lincoln Braun, piano, vocals, and perhaps a little more.

I relaxed when I read in the excellent notes by arwulf arwulf, that Pete has always wanted to play in the circus — or is it “with” the circus?  No matter.  So I assume that FLEA CIRCUS refers only to the compact size of the enterprise.

Enough of that.  FLEA CIRCUS is a deeply felt album of deep blues and related songs, sung* and played by two men who are wholly in the tradition.  The sixteen titles here are varied not only in tempo,  key, and composer, but also in mood. Each one is a small dramatic playlet, intense or free-wheeling, with its own mood: funky, rueful, hilarious, romping, woebegone, tender, Friday-night-paycheck-at-the-bar.  No listener would find an hour with these two creative spirits too much: rather, when the disc was over, I said, “Is that it?” which speaks well for a return engagement for Pete and Mark.

Here are the songs: VICKSBURG BLUES (in honor of Little Brother Montgomery) / SHE’S TOUGH* / JIMMY’S SPECIAL (for Jimmy Yancey) / WHAT WAS I THINKING OF?* / I LIKE WHAT YOU DID (WHEN YOU DO WHAT YOU DID LAST NIGHT) a variation on Roosevelt Sykes’ immortal theme / KIRKSEY FLASH, for Web Kirksey, pictured above / TREMBLIN’ BLUES / MOJO HAND* / COW COW BLUES (for and by Cow Cow Davenport) / LITTLE BROTHER / TEXAS STOMP / TOO SMART TOO SOON* / WAY DOWN UPON THE SWANEE RIVER (in honor of Albert Ammons) / WHEN I LOST MY BABY (for Blind John Davis) / NEVER WOULD HAVE MADE IT (with a guest appearance by trombonist Christopher Smith) / YPSI GYPSI (a world of its own) //

Both of these musicians know how to take their time, so this isn’t a boogie-woogie extravaganza with Niagara Falls of notes that overwhelm the listener. Were I introducing the CD to someone new to it, I would start off with what I believe is Mark’s original, SHE’S TOUGH, where the Love Object stops clocks, distracts college professors, and silently effects a cease-fire.  The lyrics are delightful, but the piano playing is even better, and Pete’s silken accompaniment is a lesson for all drummers.  TOO SMART TOO SOON should have been recorded by Walter Brown with Jay McShann, if you know that reference.  Mark’s singing, throughout, is perfectly focused — honoring rather than copying — and the recording adds just a touch of what I hear as Fifties reverb to his voice, adding a good deal to the atmosphere without making this an exercise in play-acting.

Even though Pete is the nominal leader on this disc, it is not a percussionist’s narcissistic dream.  I heard only two drum solos — very brief but delightful, but what I truly heard and appreciated was his unerringly thoughtful and swinging support, nothing formulaic or mechanical.

Together, Pete and Mark evoke the very best of vocal blues, piano blues, boogie-woogie, with sweet nods to R&B and early rock ‘n’ roll.

The result is delightful, and I hope many people listen, download, purchase.  Don’t be like me and be put off by the idea of dancing insects, please.  FLEA CIRCUS is the real thing, full of flavors.  It rocks.

May your happiness increase!

JAMES DAPOGNY, BARRELHOUSE POET — in CONCERT WITH HIS EAST COAST CHICAGOANS! (November 16, 2012)

James Dapogny — pianist, composer, arranger, scholar, wry and thoughtful — is one of my heroes.  But the eminent Professor doesn’t have much patience for hyperbole, so I will keep it to a low murmur.

He didn’t learn his Swing from a book; rather, he embodies it in playing that is both bluesy / funky / downhome / greasy (these are the highest compliments) and lyrical / singing.  He can call to mind the dark-blue shadings of Jess Stacy or Frank Melrose; he can evoke Jelly, Little Brother, Hines, Sullivan, Fats . . . but what he’s best at is off-handedly creating his own singular worlds that resonate in the mind long after he has stepped away from the piano.

We can’t ask Sippie Wallace or Frank Chace for testimonials anymore, but if you run into Jon-Erik Kellso or Kim Cusack, ask them what they think of Professor Dapogny — who is both a Professor emeritus and a “professor” in the old New Orleans definition of the term.

Trombonist and scholar David Sager, who admires Dapogny as I and many others do, has created an opportunity for the Professor and eminent friends to become his East Coast Chicagoans in a concert in Silver Spring, Maryland, on Friday, November 16, 2012.  The musicians David has assembled are stellar team players and soloists: Randy Reinhart, cornet; Anita Thomas and Scott Silbert, reeds; David Sager, trombone; Craig Gildner, guitar; Tommy Cecil, bass; Brooks Tegler, drums.

Details can be found here— a Kickstarter campaign to fund the concert, to pay the musicians (what a delightful idea), and to record the proceedings.

I know that some readers will groan — silently or otherwise — at the mention of Kickstarter, because it occasionally seems that every improvising artist is asking for financial support through it, but times’ getting tougher than tough . . . and with all the things that we are urged to buy that will give us only the most brief pleasure (at best) supporting James Dapogny and his East Coast Chicagoans will not only benefit the listener but the musicians.

So I encourage you to consider supporting this enterprise, even if you can’t get to Silver Spring.  I have hopes of attending, and the District of Columbia is not my usual Friday destination . . . but this is important.

Don’t forget this Friday date!

May your happiness increase.

SONNY’S BLUES (and MORE): DIXIELAND MONTEREY, March 4, 2011

When the sweet-natured pianist and singer Carl Sonny Leyland took the stage at Dixieland Monterey, I expected rocking rhythms and down-home singing.  I wasn’t mistaken.

But mere recordings and videos don’t entirely summon up the romping momentum and good humor of this entirely complete player / vocalist / understated showman.  Carl does nothing more dramatic than pat his foot, adjust his glasses, speak softly to the audience between sips of water.  But he’s a jazz and blues volcano, someone whose motion is perpetual and perpetually exciting.  On the surface, he might initially sound like “a boogie-woogie pianist,” which he is — but he has (like Pete Johnson) tugged at the form to make it less restrictive.  He isn’t locked into eight-to-the-bar and his swing is ferocious but light, with echoes of Hines and Fats and Stacy woven into a beautifully organic style.

In this session, he had the finest musical comradeship in bassist Marty Eggers and drummer Jeff Hamilton (“our” Jeff Hamilton, I will point out).  The teamwork of this trio is sensational.  Marty plays the bass with the grace and fervor of Pops Foster or Milton John Hinton, no less.  And Jeff could swing a seventeen-piece band with just his hi-hat, and creates swaying columns of sound all over his set.

Without a hint of antiquarianism, we’re back in the Thirties with Little Brother Montgomery’s SHREVEPORT FAREWELL:

Groovy as a ten-cent movie!  Jimmy Yancey’s JIMMY’S ROCKS:

Sad, wistful, and blue: W.C. Handy’s variations on a folk lament, LOVELESS LOVE:

A favorite rag, BLAME IT ON THE BLUES:

Just an ordinary BOOGIE WOOGIE, inspired by Meade Lux Lewis:

For my dear Aunt Ida Melrose, a rocking OH, BABY:

YANCEY SPECIAL (plus litigation):

You made me what I am today — that’s THE CURSE OF AN ACHING HEART:

Carl’s own RAT CATCHER’S BLUES, funny and gruesome too.  To paraphrase Ogden Nash, “I’d hate to be  / the rat / That Carl is angry / At.”:

An exuberant HINDUSTAN BOOGIE:

And a romping set closer for Pete Johnson and Big Joe Turner, ROLL ‘EM PETE:

Want to learn more?  Visit http://www.carlsonnyleyland.com., http://www.jeffhamiltonjazz.com.  It doesn’t seem that Marty has his own website — he has bigger and better things to do (such as play the bass in a way that reminds me of Walter Page) — but you can find him in many places online and in real life.

Carl Sonny Leyland is so much more authentic than James Baldwin’s story.

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