Tag Archives: Lorna Sass

LOVE IN BLOOM AT BIRDLAND: DAN BLOCK / JAMES CHIRILLO (May 8, 2013)

May 8, 2013, was a special day in jazz lore — although the mainstream jazz media didn’t pay it any attention: the fourteenth anniversary of David Ostwald’s Wednesday early-evening gig at Birdland with the band once called the Gully Low Jazz Band, then the Louis Armstrong Centennial Band, now (appropriately) the Louis Armstrong Eternity Band.  The participants included Jon-Erik Kellso, Tom Artin, Dan Block, David Ostwald, James Chirillo, Marion Felder — and guest stars Anat Cohen and Bria Skonberg.  The joint was jumping, but here’s a sweet bit of musical romance: Dan and James duetting, becoming a tiny but fulfilling orchestra on TAKING A CHANCE ON LOVE:

Who knew midtown New York City could suddenly become so bucolic?  The pipes of Pan and a verifiable Roman lute . . .

This one’s for the Beloved, who was at my side, for Lynn and Danny, for Mar and Ricky, Noya and Eric, and all the other loving couples out there.  And if you’re currently single, be not afeard: take a chance on love!

May your happiness increase!

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OUR BECKY, HER NEW YORK: REBECCA KILGORE, DAN BARRETT, EHUD ASHERIE at SMALLS, April 28, 2013

Everyone in the know was excited that Rebecca Kilgore, our Becky, Miz Roo, was coming to New York and New Jersey for a short stop at the end of April 2013.  Before heading off to the UK for the Norwich Jazz Party, she and Dan Barrett had one gig at Smalls, one glorious evening with Rossano Sportiello and friends at Carnegie Hall (!), and another intimate evening at Shanghai Jazz.

The Beloved and I attended the first two . . . and I brought my camera to Smalls (183 West Tenth Street, Greenwich Village, New York).  I’ve adjusted the videos so that Becky, pianist Ehud Asherie, and trombonist Dan appear to be performing in a light-hearted version of film noir . . . but the music shines brightly in a rainbow of colors!

Here, incidentally, is what I wrote in anticipation of Miss Becky’s visit.

And here are five glorious performances from that Smalls triumph in swing . . . with a few more to come!  Our Becky swings sweetly, offers nuances and shadings that surprise, move, and enlighten.  She makes us smile — under a baking spotlight, in the middle of two great jazz extroverts, in front of a portrait of Louis, smiling for good reason.

The Beloved and I weren’t the only ones paying close delighted attention: the room was full of singers: Marianne Solivan, Hilary Gardner, Molly Ryan, Yaala Ballin, Petra van Nuis — as well as friends of the Jazz Bears: Justin, Danny, and Kristin; Jeanie Wilson beamed at us; Bill and Sonya Dunham made sure everyone behaved well; Stompy Jones and Maxine were there in spirit, too.

THOU SWELL:

I HEAR MUSIC:

I DON’T STAND A GHOST OF A CHANCE WITH YOU:

TEA FOR TWO:

GONE WITH THE WIND:

What extraordinary music!

May your happiness increase.

THE REMARKABLE YAALA BALLIN: “LIVE SESSION”

Yaala Ballin knows how to share.  And that’s special in itself.  We first met her at a Marianne Solivan gig at Iridium, where the elegant Ms. Ballin was placed next to us.  She had ordered a dessert — which turned out to be a slice of red velvet cake — and although we had only known each other for a matter of minutes, she offered us half.  Old-fashioned style.

YAALA BALLIN

And then we heard her sing!  Frankly, her musical art is more gratifying than any dessert I could imagine.  Her new CD, LIVE SESSION, was recorded at Michael Kanan’s studio, The Drawing Room, in October 2012 — audio and video by Neal Miner.  On it, Yalla sings alongside Michael, piano; Ari Roland, string bass; Keith Balla, drums.

Here are the details and audio excerpts of each performance.  For those impatient with clicking, the songs are NOBODY ELSE BUT ME / AUTUMN IN NEW YORK / YOU’D BE SO NICE TO COME HOME TO / HOW LITTLE WE KNOW / FALLING IN LOVE WITH LOVE / I’M THROUGH WITH LOVE / ALWAYS.

Yaala Ballin stands out because of her artistic integrity — that gives great delight.  Her artistry is very plain: she does not “dramatize”; she does not obliterate the song with her own ornamentations; she does not coo or woo.  She does not impersonate any one of The Great Dead.

Rather, she has a beautiful voice, unerring rhythmic command, and courage: her rubato embellishments are both brave and sure-footed. Her singing is confident, assured, as if a great actress strode on stage, sure of herself and her lines, deeply informed about the music she wants to make and the effect she hopes it will have on us.  Nothing is studied; there are no faux-spontaneous gestures; her singing seems utterly natural and at the same time powerful, focused.  Although Yalla is not yet forty, her singing is mature; we listen to her and relax, secure in her mastery of music and lyrics.  She plays with the song while honoring it, as do her superb accompanists.

What she so generously shares with us is remarkable.

Here is her website, and her Facebook page.

But you don’t need to take any of this on faith.  Neal Miner has posted videos of LIVE SESSION on the Gut String Records YouTube channel.  You can see that my praise of Yaala Ballin is based on her deep musical knowledge, enthusiasm, and empathy.

Here are two of the seven performances:

AUTUMN IN NEW YORK (with the rare and moving verse):

and the witty and touching NOBODY ELSE BUT ME:

Convinced?  I thought you would be.  Yaala has a number of New York City gigs, but the one I have circled on my calendar is this: she and Michael Kanan will be performing in duet at Smalls (183 West 10th Street) on May 12, 2013, at 7:30. I’ll be there!

May your happiness increase.

A LESSON IN SPIRITUAL PHILOSOPHY FROM THE MASTER

The urge to share this ecstatic experience came upon me yesterday because of a conversation I had with the thoughtful, surprising art historian Claudia Cage.  We drifted sideways into the question about our power and ability to perceive (and thus inhabit) our lives.  Some people can’t help but view their saga as tragic, and often they have very solid evidence to support this darkness.  But others — like Claudia and myself — choose to look for joy, for laughter, as salvations.

Those who know my turn of mind might not be surprised at the music that I sent her, then the Beloved, my friend Gretchen, and now you.  It is that most wondrous expression of art and power, a performance that makes me cry — with joy, with exultation, a whole complexity of emotions — every time I hear it.

WHEN YOU’RE SMILING is fairly thin melodic material, and jazz groups tend to romp through it faster and faster, as if to conceal how little there is to work with.  But not our hero, who understood its deep message and the operatic possibilities of those long held notes.  I would love it if every singer or everyone who wanted to sing was able to study the vocal chorus (which begins with a scatted version of the trumpet break — talk about beautiful structures!) — its warmth, its casual seriousness, its great human compassion.  Louis isn’t insisting that his moral message is the only one; he is not up in the pulpit.  Rather, his is a gentle arm around the listener’s shoulder, saying sweetly, “Hey, man, I know this world is hard.  It can wear you down to nothing.  But if you welcome joy and live it, then — who knows? — things will get easier.  You have nothing to lose by smiling, man.”

And then the trumpet solo, an angel from on high sending us his golden clarion message: do your best to be happy, and all will be well.  Amazing music out of a deep, wise, jubilant soul.

For anyone who still holds to the tired view that Louis Armstrong’s creative life sputtered and died after 1928, I prescribe a course of repeated listening.  And, rather like antibiotics, you can’t stop taking the joy-medicine even if you feel better.

On that note, I will say that I live in a Long Island suburb; my apartment windows face a four-lane main road.  Across the street from me, a new exercise studio opened a few months ago, and they feature Zumba to music so loud that I feel it in my socks; it makes the windows vibrate.  I wish them no harm (although I do regularly ask them to turn it down a bit) but I secretly wish I had a cosmos-rattling sound system in my apartment.  I would open my windows, duck down where I could not be seen, and play this version of WHEN YOU’RE SMILING so that everyone’s windows rattled . . . but with joy, with delight, with the feeling that it is better to be alive while you have the chance.  (Once a day only, and my goal would be that I would then pass people on the street and some more of them would be smiling, perhaps some one even humming the song.)

In this very unpredictable century, I find it comforting that this video has been seen nearly four million times on YouTube.  Send it to someone you love; it beats anything that comes in a box and it is much easier than a trip to the mall.  I wish with all my heart that someone could play this performance for the Dalai Lama — who already knows its truths — as a loving embrace.

Love your life with all its imperfections and it will love you back.   It may not be possible to make the whole world smile with you, but you can spread joy as you go on your daily rounds.  Louis did, and modeling oneself on Louis is a pretty good choice.

May your happiness increase.

“SHE INHABITS HER SONGS”: MARIANNE SOLIVAN’S ONGOING ART

Midway through Marianne Solivan’s first song, the Beloved turned to me and whispered, “She inhabits her songs,” which I immediately took as a truth so self-evident that it deserved to be the title of this blogpost (copyright 2012 Lorna Sass).

We were celebrating at the second set of a jazz brunch at North Square (in the Washington Square Hotel, at the northeast corner of Washington Square Park in Greenwich Village, New York City) with the constantly-energizing singer Marianne, guitarist Ethan Mann, and her long-time associate, bassist Dmitry Ishenko.  (For the schedule of jazz brunches, click here.)

In the space of an hour, Marianne Solivan showed herself not only a great improvising actress — a brave musical creature making up deeply moving scripts as she goes along. producing and directing them as the rhythm rolls underneath her — but an elaborately gifted musical architect.  Each song felt like a new room in a previously unvisited house, full of surprising angles and turns, bathed in shifting lights.  Her creations felt absolutely authentic: there was no practiced effect, no planned-out “surprises,” but we felt as if we were hearing and watching someone simultaneously inventing and inhabiting expansive spaces.

Some of the magic came from her choice of repertoire — she makes familiar songs new through daring tempo choices (a racing I CAN’T GIVE YOU ANYTHING BUT LOVE that shook some of the familiar affectionate dust from those familiar words and notes; a very slow HEART AND SOUL that showed off Loesser’s lyrics for the first time, rescuing that song from generations of amateur pounding duo-pianists).  Some of her magic is in witty shifts of phrase, where expected clusters of words fall in places we don’t expect, elongated or compressed.  In ALL OF NOTHING AT ALL, she took the “Please” that begins the bridge and stretched it out to dramatic length — making it a true heart-entreaty.

The highlights of her set were her reinvention of HEART AND SOUL at a tempo so slow that in other hands it would have come to a stop — making that song a painfully exultant exploration of love found — and a slow inquiry into Bobby Troup’s YOU’RE LOOKING AT ME, in which the singer takes “I’ve been such a fool — I can’t believe it,” to new heights . . . or new depths.

In all of her songs, Marianne was beautifully accompanied (in the most true sense of that word) by Ethan Mann, spinning out slightly lopsided-on-purpose single-note lines, and by bassist Ishenko, a fluid, flexible foundation of rhythm.  It was an astonishing afternoon, but we expect no less from Marianne Solivan, a brave explorer jumping off into the unknown and spreading carpets out for herself and us to land on.

May your happiness increase.

DREAMS, BLUEBIRDS, GOODWILL

I don’t usually write blogposts about blogging, but I ask my readers to follow this one to the end.  It has its own surprises.  The Beloved and I sometimes talk about worry and its ubiquity and how to shake it off.  About a week ago, I posted GET HAPPY?  And a day later, the Beloved posted her own variations on the theme, MY WORRY CUP.  Both of these blogposts have this piece of music in common:

I am always moved by the wistful optimism of the song and the beauty of Bing’s voice — and the way that this performance has its own satisfying dramatic shape, moving from song to recitative to whistling.  It’s a very compelling performance, and it always reminds me that one’s troubles can be made to vanish if you gently wrap them in dreams.  The lyrics also suggest that there is a limitless supply of dreams in the universe — always a good thing to hear.

You will notice that the YouTube video begins with a close-up of a lovely record label — what collectors call a “buff Bluebird,”very attractive in itself.  Bing recorded the song in 1931 and the record seen here is from mid-1937.

A few days after we had published our blogposts, the Beloved spotted a Goodwill store we had both delved into in 2011, always finding treasures.  We went inside, elated and curious, and threw ourselves into the treasure hunt.  I found a spectacularly bold Hawaiian shirt; the Beloved found her own prize.  I remembered that in 2011 I had bought a half-dozen late-Twenties records there, so I knelt on the floor among scattered 78s.  I opened one of the ten-record brown cardboard albums and saw a buff Bluebird label.  Expecting nothing remarkable, I drew out a well-preserved copy of Bing’s WRAP YOUR TROUBLES IN DREAMS, a record I had never owned.

It is a cliche to write, “My mouth fell open.  I was speechless,” but it was true.  Carefully I put the record into a paper sleeve and, holding it behind my back, went over to the Beloved and said, quietly — in the presence of Mystery — “You won’t believe this.”  And we marveled at the artifact that had appeared to us.

The object and its suggestive powers are both powerfully in our thoughts.  If you like the mathematical: what are the chances that a piece of fragile, breakable shellac would emerge intact after seventy-five years?  What are the chances that it should appear to us, who had been humming and singing and thinking about that song for the days immediately before?

I could hypothesize that Someone or Something put it there for us to find, as a little gleaming light on the path, or The Path.  Since I believe that the dead know what is going on on this planet, I could — with some quiet amusement — think momentarily that Bing had arranged for it to be there.  I could even entertain the possibility that it was there as a reward in a universe where such synchronicities are all around us if are hearts are open to them.  I could turn the whole idea on its head and think that this disc was the starting point for my journey and the Beloved’s, that we had thought of the song and written our posts because the record was waiting to be found.  I think it meaningful that the disc appeared in a place called GOODWILL, where many less fortunate people come to shop — their troubles larger than their abilities to dream them away.  All the omens, including the hopeful Bluebird, augur well.  The other side of the 78, and I think not by accident, is an Irving Berlin song called THE LITTLE THINGS IN LIFE.  Ponder that.

I have no real answers.  But I am awestruck, delighted beyond the quick formulaic responses with which we brush away the beautiful Mysteries: “accident,” “randomness,” “luck,” or “coincidence.”

What do my readers think?

And while you muse and dream, please listen to Mister Crosby.

I send thanks to Bing, to Harry Barris, Ted Koehler, Billy Moll, David J. Weiner.  I hope to spread Goodwill through JAZZ LIVES.

May your troubles be small.  May your dreams be powerful.

May your happiness increase.

SMILING WITH GOOD REASON: JON-ERIK KELLSO and EHUD ASHERIE in DUET at SMALLS (April 5, 2012)

Musicians onstage at Smalls jazz club (183 West Tenth Street, Greenwich Village, New York City) perform in front of a large poster of Louis Armstrong, smiling, fashionably decked out in his new London togs, circa 1932.

It wasn’t my imagination — you can see for yourself — Louis was smiling even more blindingly for the first two sets of April 5, 2012, when trumpeter Jon-Erik Kellso and pianist Ehud Asherie — deep musical friends — created one delightful improvisation after another.  (Echoes of Louis and Earl Hines!)  And seated near me was portrait photographer Lorna Sass, who has generously shared two portraits with JAZZ LIVES.

Jon-Erik and Louis. Photograph by Lorna Sass. Copyright 2012

Here’s the first set.

The Rodgers and Hart THOU SWELL — for Bix or just for fun:

Something very sweet and heartfelt, by Sissle and Blake — LOVE WILL FIND A WAY:

Did you see a bunny?  It’s our pal COTTON TAIL:

THANKS A MILLION (for Louis — and only Jon-Erik plays the sweet verse):

More Sissle and Blake!  A romping I’M JUST WILD ABOUT HARRY:

James P. asks one of the few questions really worth asking: AIN’T CHA GOT MUSIC?

Ehud Asherie -- both of him -- at the piano. Photograph by Lorna Sass. Copyright 2012

Second set:

Something for and from Tom Waller: UP JUMPED YOU WITH LOVE:

Did you go shopping?  I FOUND A NEW BABY:

Another delicacy from Louis — IF WE NEVER MEET AGAIN:

Let’s swing a while with SWEET SUE:

You knew CHRISTOPHER COLUMBUS.  But I’ll bet your fourth-grade history teacher never taught that C.C. “used the rhythm as a compass”:

I was smiling broadly, too.  You can see and hear why, can’t you?

May your happiness increase.