Tag Archives: Louis Armstrong All-Stars

THE GRAND ST. STOMPERS: “DO THE NEW YORK”

do-the-new-york

Late last year, Gordon Au, — trumpeter, arranger, composer, bandleader, writer, thinker, scientist, satirist, linguist — sent me the digital files for the second CD by the Grand Street Stompers, DO THE NEW YORK, and I wrote back to him, “I am listening to DTNY (three tracks in, so far) and I love the mad exuberance and deep precision of the first track — a Silly Symphony, urban and hilarious and wonderfully executed. It’s a pity that the mobs no longer have transistor radios anymore, because each track could be an AM hit.”

Having listened to the disc several times by now, I stand by my initial enthusiasms.  But I wouldn’t want anyone to think that zaniness overrides music.  The compositions and performances are a lavish banquet of sounds and emotions: you won’t look at the CD player and think, “How many tracks are left?” at any point.

If you know Gordon Au, Tamar Korn, Molly Ryan, Kevin Dorn, Dennis Lichtman, Matt Koza, Matt Musselman, Nick Russo, Rob Adkins (and not incidentally Peter Karl, Kelsey Ballance, Kevin McEvoy, Barbara Epstein) you won’t need to spend a moment more on what I say.  Scroll down to the bottom of this long post and read Gordon’s notes, purchase, download: let joy be unconfined.

But I shall tell a story here.  Jon-Erik Kellso has been a very good guide to new talent: through him, for instance, I heard about Ehud Asherie.  In 2009, I arrived at The Ear Inn for a night of musical pleasure, and Jon-Erik told me he’d just finished “giving a lesson” to a young, seriously gifted trumpeter named Gordon who had wanted to study some fine points of traditional jazz performance practice from an acknowledged Master.  This young man would be at The Ear later.  And the prophesy came to pass.

Gordon’s trumpet playing was deliciously singular: he wasn’t a clone of one player or seven.  Climbing phrases started unpredictably and went unusual places; a solid historical awareness was wedded beautifully to a sophisticated harmonic sense, and everything made sense, melodically and emotionally.  He showed himself a fine ensemble player, not timid, oblivious, or narcissistic. When the set was over, we spoke, and he was genuinely gracious (later, in California, when I met his extended family, I understood why) yet with a quite delightfully sharp-edged wit, although he wasn’t flashing blades at me.

I began to follow Gordon — as best I could — to gigs: he appeared with Tamar Korn and vice versa; he took Jon-Erik’s place with the Nighthawks; he played with David Ostwald at Birdland . . . and soon formed his own group, the Grand Street Stompers.

(Gordon abbreviates “St.”; I spell it out.  My perversity, not his.)

Often I saw, and sometimes I videoed them at Radegast, then elsewhere — as recently as last year, when they did a remarkable session at Grand Central Station, surely their place on the planet.  Thus, as “swingyoucats” on YouTube, I’ve captured the band (releasing them, of course) on video for six years.

They are uniquely rewarding — a pianoless group that expresses its leader’s expansive, often whimsical personality beautifully.  Even when approaching traditional “traditional” repertoire, Gordon will take his own way, neatly avoiding piles of cliche in his path.  Yes, MUSKRAT RAMBLE — but with a Carbbean / Latin rhythm; yes, a Twenties tune, but one reasonably obscure, SHE’S A GREAT GREAT GIRL. Gordon’s compositions and arrangements always sound fresh — and they aren’t pastiches or thin lines over familiar chords — even if I’ve heard the GSS perform them for years.  And there are other wonderful quirky tangents: his love of Disney songs, the deeply refreshing ones, and his devotion to good yet neglected songs — the title track of this CD as well as WHILE THEY WERE DANCING AROUND on the group’s first CD.  And, I think this a remarkable achievement, with Gordon’s soaring lead and a beautifully-played banjo in the rhythm section, the GSS often summons up an early Sixties Armstrong All-Stars, all joyous energy.

A few more words about this CD.  Although one can’t underestimate the added frisson of hearing this band live — perhaps surrounded by dancers or dancing oneself, in a club, perhaps stimulated by ambiance, food, or drink . . . I think the experience of this disc is equal to or superior to anything that might happen on the spot.

Owing to circumstances, the GSS might be a quintet on the job; here it is a septet: trumpet / cornet; clarinet; soprano saxophone; trombone; banjo / guitar; string bass; drums; two singers.  This expansive array of individualists allows Gordon to get a more delightfully orchestral sound.  Even as a quintet, on the job, the GSS is a band and a working band at that: their performances are more than a series of horn solos, for Gordon has created twists and turns within his arrangements: riffs, backgrounds, trades, suets between instruments, different instruments taking the melodic lead — all making for a great deal of variety. Each chorus of a GSS performance feels satisfyingly full (not overstuffed) and delightfully varied.

And now I come to the possibly tactless part of the comparison between studio recording and live performance. With some bands, the studio has a chilling effect: everything is splendid, but the patient has lost a good deal of blood.  And the impolite truth is the a group like the GSS performs in places where alcohol is consumed, so the collective volume rises after the first twenty minutes.  Buy this disc to actually hear the beautiful layering and subtleties of the group that you might not hear on the job.  Or just check it out for the sheer pleasure of it all.

Sound samples, ways to purchase a physical disc or download one (complete or individual performances) here — and Gordon’s very eloquent and sometimes hilarious liner notes here.

Listen, read, enjoy, savor, download, purchase.  As Aime Gauvin, “Doctor Jazz,” used to say on the radio, “Good for what ails you!”

May your happiness increase!

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DIAL “SUPERIOR 0026” FOR THE ANSWERS

There surely is a story here.  The photograph (offered for sale on eBay) depicts Velma Middleton, Louis Armstrong, Barney Bigard, Jack Teagarden, a barely-in-the-frame Arvell Shaw and an almost-hidden Sidney Catlett:

LOUIS - BUSHKIN photo

That in itself is a find: new documentation of that wondrous constellation of musicians is enough for me.  We know that this photograph was taken some time between 1947 and 1949, Big Sid’s time with the band.

But here’s what’s on the back:

LOUIS - BUSHKIN photo rear

Pianist / singer / composer Joe Bushkin played with the All-Stars, but several years after this photograph was taken.  Does this artifact refer to the 1947 gathering where Louis and the band recorded Joe’s composition LOVELY WEATHER WE’RE HAVING as a wedding gift to the Bushkins?

I would be most eager to dial SUPERIOR 0026 if I knew that the person on the other end was in some way connected to this photograph.

For extra credit: we see three partially obscured letters behind Louis.  What words are we missing?

Postscript (as of 10:30 PM Eastern time, September 3): the photograph is still available on eBay: click here).

May your happiness increase!

CONSIDER THIS, DEAR FRIENDS!

It is now December 21, 2011, so I wish all of you a happy Solstice! 

But if the evidence around me is to be taken seriously, many people are rushing around in search of the perfect last-minute holiday gifts.  I have a great deal of ambivalence about this, although I haven’t renounced materialism entirely.  The holiday season intensifies the loud drumbeat of the online entreaty BUY THIS NOW AND BE HAPPY!  Once you are past childhood, you sense that some purchases lead to nothing more than January remorse.  How many sweaters does anyone need, especially when we know that some people don’t have sufficient clothing to keep them warm?

But — even with all that in mind, I wish to quietly offer a few last-minute JAZZ LIVES  suggestions for gifts that won’t be tossed aside on December 27.

Tops on my list is a membership in support of the Louis Armstrong House Museum.  Here’s the link: LOUIS!  There are benefits and perks to becoming e member, supporting the best museum I know.  But even if you don’t have the minimum amount for membership, generosity is possible on a smaller scale.  If everyone who ever was moved by a Louis Armstrong recording or video sent the museum a dollar, it would make it possible for the LAHM to keep the legacy of Louis vivid and tangible in this century. 

Perhaps you would like something for your contribution?  If you live close enough to Corona, Queens, New York, to pay the LAHM a visit, paradise awaits those who walk through the front door, in the gift shop.  Alas, the SATCHMO box sets have all been bought up, but there are racks and shelves of Louis-related gifts, from bags of rice with his picture on them, boxes of Swiss Kriss (something for Secret Santa at work, perhaps?), wonderful books by Ricky Riccardi, Michael Cogswell, and Jos Willems, DVDs and compact discs. 

Did someone say “compact discs”? 

The LAHM is the only place on the planet that has Gosta Hagglof’s lovely Ambassador series of discs — a wonderful labor of love, documenting Louis’ great work in the Thirties and Forties (and beyond) — with the Decca recordings, broadcasts, and more.  In fact, several of the Ambassador CDs contain music you can’t find anywhere else: the “Dancing Parties” one, devoted to Louis’ live recordings with Sidney Catlett, many of them from the Cotton Club, is extraordinary, as is the first volume of Louis and the All-Stars in Philadelphia 1948.  Unfortunately, the LAHM can’t ship you a boxful . . . you’ll just have to come to Corona in person, which is a life-changing experience. 

Other jazz gifts? 

Michael Zirpolo’s new Bunny Berigan book is a wow.  Find out more here

So is Dr. Judith Schlesinger’s feisty and compelling THE INSANITY HOAX.  Check it out here

Dawn Lambeth is coming out with a new DVD (hooray for Dawn and Chris Dawson) and there is a DVD documentary devoted to Marty Grosz, RHYTHM IS HIS BUSINESS.  Details to follow! 

Another possibility — giving thanks directly — is to go to a local jazz club.  Listen closely to the men and women swinging so deliciously.  Put something more than a dollar in the tip jar.  Buy a CD or DVD directly from the players.

And if all of this is beyond your capabilities, make sure you have jazz playing in your house . . . to lift your spirits, to make the rafters ring ‘way up to Heaven, and to enlighten your visitors.  If one more person gets to hear the 1938 Basie band, or George Wettling, or any jazz that makes you tingle, we are that much closer to creating and maintaining the wonderful world Louis sang about.

Happy holidays, dear friends!

“HAPPY BIRDLAND TO YOU!” (MAY 6, 2009)

The Beloved and I went to Birdland last night, video camera and tripod at the ready, to celebrate.  Not an occasion of our own, but to raise our glasses and cheer a long run that shows no sign of abating.  It’s the Wednesday night gig of David Ostwald’s Louis Armstrong Centennial Band (a/k/a/ the Gully Low Jazz Band) — which celebrated its ninth anniversary.  As David correctly pointed out, a two-week gig in jazz is a rare thing.  So for the LACB to be on the stand for approximately four hundred and fifty Wednesdays in a row is testimony to their endurance, the love they generate in their audiences, and the lasting appeal of the music they play and the exuberant way they play it.  It also says something about the enduring appeal of the man whose music they celebrate, but that should be obvious to everyone by now.

This Wednesday’s gig wasn’t a riotous affair.  True, a tidy little cake with one candle appeared during the second set, but the general atmosphere was superficially quiet.  But that’s a good thing in a jazz club when it is the attentiveness of a great band (musicians who listen to each other!) focused on their material and the quiet of a happy, perceptive audience, listening closely — people sitting straight in their chairs, grinning, tapping their feet, applauding in the right places.  A hip band, a hip crowd.  Just how hip was the crowd?  How about George Avakian, Daryl Sherman, Dan Morgenstern, Lloyd Moss, the Beloved, and myself.

The band was a first-class version of David’s floating ensembles: Jon-Erik Kellso on trumpet; Vincent Gardner on trombone and vocal; Anat Cohen on clarinet; Mark Shane on piano; David Ostwald on tuba and commentary; Kevin Dorn, “young Kevin,” on drums.  Here’s some of what they played — for those of you beyond midtown.

About the music: they began this Wednesday as they always have, in tribute to the Louis Armstrong All-Stars of blessed memory, with a nostalgic WHEN IT’S SLEEPY TIME DOWN that segued, after Kevin kicked it off, into a rousing BACK HOME AGAIN IN INDIANA.  (For wise commentary on Louis and the All-Stars, be sure to visit Ricky Riccardi’s site, “The Wonderful World of Louis Armstrong,” and save your dimes (get some cash for your trash!) for his book on Louis’s later years, to be published in 2010 by Pantheon.

ROYAL GARDEN BLUES is a song that has been flattened down somewhat by formulaic playing by many jazz bands of varying quality, but it was first a tribute to the place where Louis and King Oliver amazed everyone, so it has to be taken seriously.  And Bix Beiderbecke and his Gang did a pretty good version of it as well.  (So did Count Basie and the Benny Goodman Sextet, so the song — and its routines — are durable for sure.)

Don Redman’s pretty rhythm ballad, SAVE IT PRETTY MAMA, was recorded twice by Louis — in 1928 with his Hot Five, and in 1947 at Town Hall.  In these days of economic uncertainty, saving whatever “it” might be seems like a good idea, and Vincent Gardner sings the simple lyrics with conviction and a bit of amusement.

W.C. Handy’s compositions drew on traditional folk and blues forms, and ATLANTA BLUES is one of his most lively, also memorably recorded by Louis in his 1954 Columbia tribute, a recording produced by the venerable and venerated Mr. Avakian.

I don’t think Louis ever recorded SOMEDAY, SWEETHEART but it’s certainly a lasting tune.  Here, the spotlight falls on a quartet: Anat, Mark, David, and Kevin, at points summoning up the happiness that was the Benny Goodman Trio.  Or Mildred Bailey’s recording with Teddy Wilson.  (Mark knew the verse and played it splendidly.)

Finally, a delightful surprise: the Wednesday manager of Birdland, Brian Villegas, is also a fine singer: he joined the band on IT’S ALL RIGHT WITH ME — and it was more than all right with us.  Wishing you fame and happiness, Brian!

If you couldn’t make it to Birdland last night to join in the festivities, you missed something dee-licious, as Louis would say.  But some of the same hot jazz and good energy will be there next Wednesday from 5:30 – 7:15, and the Wednesdays into the future.  I’m sure David will accept belated felicitations with his usual graciousness.

MORE BIRDLAND BLISS (March 4, 2009)

The heroes return: David Ostwald (tuba), Jon-Erik Kellso (trumpet), Dion Tucker (trombone), Anat Cohen (clarinet), Mark Shane (piano), Kevin Dorn (drums) for “one up, one down.”

The “one up” is I CAN’T BELIEVE THAT YOU’RE IN LOVE WITH ME, one of those Thirties songs that can find its own identity at a variety of tempos, from ballad slow to this cheerful rock.  I like the Kellso-inspired riffs behind Anat’s solo, Mark’s playing behind the soloists, Dion’s modern guttiness, another Braffish riff, Kevin’s brushwork, and Mark’s energetic delicacy — catch what he does in the bridge of his first chorus.  Something for everyone!

A highlight of the evening was David’s calling MAYBE YOU’LL BE THERE (written, I think, by Charles LaVere) — a wistful, lonely ballad immortalized first by Jack Teagarden with the Armstrong All-Stars, later by Frank Sinatra.  It it not only a lovely song, but a wonderful performance — a true example of jazz heroism for Dion, who was not terribly familiar with its contours, but played it beautifully with one eye on the lead sheet.  In fact, Jon-Erik, Dion, and Mark do that most rewarding thing — summoning up the great forefathers Louis, Jack, and Teddy — without copying a note or a gesture.  Three cheers!

And more to come!  We expect to be at Birdland on March 18th to celebrate George Avakian’s ninetieth birthday.  You come, too . . . !