Tag Archives: Louis Armstrong

SUNDAY NIGHTS AT 326 SPRING STREET (Part Thirty-Two) — WE NEED SOMETHING TO LOOK FORWARD TO: SESSIONS AT THE EAR INN, featuring THE EarRegulars (2007 – the Future)

I looked in the kitchen cupboard where the Fanciful Prose is kept, and I’m nearly all out — so all I will write is that I hope you join me on our Sunday journey through time and space to that Oasis of Good Sounds and Good Friends, The Ear Inn at 326 Spring Street.  Let us visit with the EarRegulars, that noble group of superheroes who pretend to be mortals with ordinary powers — an illusion that drops when they begin to make music.

Come with me to November 7, 2010, for some quartet magic from Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet, Alex Hoffman, tenor saxophone, Matt Munisteri, guitar; Neal Miner, string bass.

Memory and cognition are wonderful things, thus, I THOUGHT ABOUT YOU:

That’s not a cane!  It’s MY WALKING STICK, thanks to Irving and Louis:

And the ballad that Frank Chace so loved, UNDER A BLANKET OF BLUE:

Let’s have some peaceful Sundays, shall we, where we can gather in loving friendship.  Someday, face to face and hand in hand — but until that’s possible, let us pretend that it is, in front of our lit screens.

May your happiness increase!

“CHINATOWN”! — JON-ERIK KELLSO, CHRIS FLORY, EVAN ARNTZEN, NEAL MINER (Cafe Bohemia, November 14, 2019)

Certain simultaneous experiences resonate in my memory even though they happened decades ago.  I believe that I heard Louis sing and play CHINATOWN, MY CHINATOWN in the same year that I was first introduced to that downtown New York City neighborhood, through the kindness of S.N. Zimny, so a hot performance of that song always tastes like the first bite of roast duck chow mei fun to me.

Louis loved Chinese food, by the way.

More recently, through the good offices of Joel and Mary Forrester, I found out about XO Kitchen Restaurant on Hester Street, pictured above and below.

They are open for business!  I don’t have the psychic energy needed to go there, but I can dream.  (If you go, know that they don’t take credit cards.)

WordPress is not yet sophisticated enough for me to send you dinner through this blogpost — you’re on your own — but I can and will share a hot performance of CHINATOWN that was created right in front of me on November 14, 2019, by Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Chris Flory, guitar; Evan Arntzen, clarinet and tenor saxophone; Neal Miner, string bass, at Cafe Bohemia, 15 Barrow Street.

Returning to the culinary thread for just a moment, Google Maps says it’s a 1.7 mile walk from Cafe Bohemia to X O — either way — that would take 12 minutes.  They haven’t seen me walk, but no matter.

Here’s the music: as satisfying as any meal I could imagine and then some:

Perhaps 2021 will be the year when both these pleasures are once again available to us, freely and easily.  For now, you can change the dinner menu in intriguing ways — perhaps add stir-fried broccoli? — and you can watch and listen, I hope joyously in both cases.

May your happiness increase!

THE WEATHERBIRD JAZZ BAND SOARS ALOFT, AND WE ARE GRATEFUL

In these most tempestuous times, we need some relief, and the phenomenon known as the Weatherbird Jazz Band offers it — hot jazz with passion and precision.  And although I wouldn’t want to move permanently to 1928 Chicago, these musicians make the trip easy and rewarding.

The marvelous players and occasional singers are Bent Persson, trumpet or cornet; Kaj Sifvert, trombone; Tomas Ornberg, clarinet or soprano saxophone; Ulf Johansson Werre, piano; Goran Lind, string bass; Goran Eriksson, banjo or alto saxophone; Sigge Dellert, drums.  They don’t rush; they aren’t noisy; they have a deep dark authentic groove over which luminous soloists soar.

LIVIN’ HIGH:

ST. JAMES INFIRMARY:

ORY’S CREOLE TROMBONE:

FUNNY FEATHERS:

FIREWORKS:

Over the past ten months, I’ve posted more than two dozen videos of this reassuringly groovy hot band: you can enjoy them here, herehere, herehere, and here.  I don’t know what the CDC says, but if you are suffering from the news, be assured that this band is systemically healing, an anti-inflammatory, anti-anxiety, anti-depressant, anti-nausea, anti-fungal, anti-whatever-the-hell-might-be-ailing-you-at-the-moment panacea, cure, and solution.  Or your money back.  I speak from experience: playing FUNNY FEATHERS four times in a row has made me feel better about life . . . try it!

May your happiness increase!

HOPEFULLY YOURS: JACOB ZIMMERMAN and STEVE PIKAL (Jazz Bash by the Bay, March 7, 2020)

It’s time for some music both tranquil and energized: an improvised duet on the Andy Razaf – Paul Denniker ‘S’POSIN’, by Jacob Zimmerman, clarinet, and Steve Pikal, string bass, at the Jazz Bash by the Bay in Monterey, California, on March 7, 2020.  Jacob and Steve were part of the Holland-Coots Jazz Quintet, musing their way through this 1929 song, associated with Fats Waller.

This interlude feels like a lovely series of inquiries gently tossed back and forth, a conversation floating in mid-air, touching the melody, stating it, then veering into swinging patterns, to return to the melody:

I find it impossible to listen to that performance only once at a sitting.

A few happy digressions about the song.  Although you don’t hear the lyrics, they are charming variations on “I adore you. May I kneel at your shins,” and so on.  I imagine the slightly abashed wooer quietly inhabiting the conditional tense: “Would it be acceptable to you if I told you how entrancing you are, or would you turn my words away?” or the hypothetical, “Suppose I said you are Alpha and Omega, honey lamb? Would you respond positively or negatively?”  We might characterize this lover-to-be as overly timid, but I think such sweet tentativeness is a tender way of avoiding the usual aggressiveness.

I wanted to wait until this section of the blogpost to mention that my favorite full-scale version of this song was the Seger Ellis when-worlds-collide recording on June 24, 1929, for OKeh: Ellis captures eagerness and worried reticence, and he’s accompanied by Jimmy and Tommy Dorsey, Stan King, Justin Ring, Harry Hoffman, and Mister Strong, formerly known as “Little Louis.”  It’s on YouTube.

Finally, when I Googled “‘S’POSIN’,” this came up:

He’s a Las Vegas attorney, although now his firm is now the Posin Law Group: “Providing personalized and superior representation to the Las Vegas community since 1997 for Family Law, Criminal Law, Personal Injury and Bankruptcy. . . . if you were involved with domestic violence, a car accident, divorce problems, a DUI or any other drug related charges our team of experts will be there to provide support, advice and representation in court. . . . please call our offices at 702-396-8888 and schedule a consultation.”

Now, sing along with me, “‘S’posin’ I should fall upon my face / Would you think that you would take my case?” or your own variation, apologies to Andy Razaf.  Then go back and admire Messrs. Zimmerman and Pikal anew.

May your happiness increase!

THE AUTOGRAPH DANCE, CONTINUED

Yes, Billy Banks!

Once I was a hero-worshipping autograph-seeker (“hound” is so dismissive). Beginning in 1967, I asked Louis, Teddy Wilson, Jo Jones, Vic Dickenson, Sonny Greer, Buck Clayton, Bobby Hackett, Zoot Sims, and others, for theirs.  Oddly, only Jo, who had a reputation for being irascible and unpredictable, asked my name and inscribed my record “To Micheal.”  Other musicians I would have liked to ask but either found them intimidating, or — since I was a criminal with a poorly concealed cassette recorder — thought it best to stay hidden.

Autograph-seeking presumes reverential distance.  I am a Fan, you are The Star.  The Fan approaches the Star, timidly, politely, holds out a piece of paper or some other object, and asks for a signature or an inscription.  In that ten-second interchange, the Fan feels seen, and the Star may feel exhausted or be gratified by the appearance of a Fan or a line of them.  (In my literary life, I asked Seamus Heaney, Paul Muldoon, Richard Ford, and Julian Barnes to sign books.  And Whitney Balliett.)

But I no longer chase Stars.  Were I to have asked Jim Dapogny, Connie Jones, Jake Hanna, or Joe Wilder for “an autograph,” they would have found the request strange, because I had been talking or eating with them as a presumed equal.  I am sure the anthropologists have a name for this kind of cultural transgression, as if your mother made special waffles for your birthday and you left her a tip, even 25%.  In my world, at least, many of the Stars have become Friends: whether formality is a thing of the past or my stature has changed, I have no need to investigate.

I will say that, a few years ago, when a musician-friend of mine, thinking to praise me, said I was “the best fan” he knew, I snapped, “I’m not a Fan!” and then explained what I associated with the term.  He changed his designation, to what I don’t remember, and it felt better.

Yet I think autographs are sacred — here is a photograph that Sidney Catlett held and wrote on.  The Deity comes to Earth for thirty seconds and touches down.  I have bought or copied pieces of paper signed by Pete Brown, Rod Cless, Henry “Red” Allen, Pee Wee Russell (who wrote his first name as two separate words, should you wonder), Adrian Rollini, Claude Hopkins, and more.

I continue to keep track of such holy relics on eBay, as people who follow JAZZ LIVES know.  In that spirit, here are manifestations of the autograph dance.

Someone came to Cab Calloway — anywhere between 1942 (when the record was issued) and his death in 1994, and asked him to sign this lovely purple OKeh 78, which he did, with his signature phrase, in the white ink used for record labels:

I have seen enough Cab-signatures to think this one authentic.

And here he is — in his best passionate mode, with a very early reading of Alec Wilder’s classic:

This autograph’s closer to home for me:

Again, completely authentic.  But from what I know — from my own experience of Ruby (and this could have been signed any time between 1954 and 2002) I am reasonably sure that when the admiring Fan approached him, Ruby would have said something dismissive, because he disdained his early work vehemently.  I recall when I first met him in 1971, praising his MY MELANCHOLY BABY on a new Atlantic recording by George Wein’s Newport All-Stars, and Ruby’s response was terse, curt, and precise, “THAT shit?”  Difficult to find shades of ambiguity in that response.

Here’s Ruby’s ELLIE (one of his few compositions) from that date, with Johnny Guarnieri, Walter Page, Bobby Donaldson:

Some artists, remarkably, used the occasion to impart a message — in this case, a moral lesson.  Saxophonist Don Lanphere, later in life, was born again and changed his life completely . . . so much so that an inscription became a chance to spread the Gospel:

It feels as if Don had more than a momentary acquaintance with Debbie, Ron, and Bob, but I may be assuming too much.

Here’s his beautiful DEAR OLD STOCKHOLM from the 1983 sessions, a duet with pianist Don Friedman:

Those three examples suggest face-to-face contact, and certainly a few words being exchanged.  The closing artifact, here, comes from another dance entirely.  For instance, I have a photograph signed by Connee Boswell, in her distinctive hand, and then personalized by her secretary, and I presume this all was done by mail, that the Fan wrote to Miss Boswell asking for an autographed picture — and that Connee, sometime, somewhere, sat down with a pile of them and signed her name a hundred or five hundred times in a sitting, and the photos could then be sent off.  (Better, mind you, than Benny Goodman requiring people who worked for him to copy his signature onto photographs.)

I had to do some quick research to find out (to remind myself) that the 8-track tape was popular between 1965 and the late Seventies . . . it was replaced by the smaller, more flexible cassette tape, which could also be recorded on.  I saw these tapes and players in action, but neither my parents nor I had an 8-track deck in our respective cars.

But some people did.  Thus . . .

I note with amusement the ages of the attractive couple on the cover: would you think that in 1970 they would be close-dancing to Harry rather than the Stones?  I doubt it.  And inside:

This was on sale on eBay for a very low price: $10 plus 3.99 shipping, and I asked a dear friend who admires Harry if he wanted it as a gift, and he snorted and said, “Please,” in the way that people do when they really mean, “I’ll kill you.”  I amused myself by imagining the scene of the person or couple coming across the dance floor to Harry at the set break and asking him to sign their new treasure, which he did quickly and without fanfare.  But I was wrong, because a return to eBay showed two other signed sets, which suggests to me that Harry spent some tedious hours at home or in a hotel room, signing set after set, box after box.  Hence:

At least those purchasers got a “Sincerely.”  I remember sets packaged by the Longines Symphonette Society, but can’t recall whether they were offered on television after 11 PM, and whether the autographed sets cost more.

Here’s a favorite recording by Harry, the October 1939 SLEEPY TIME GAL, in three tempos, with just the rhythm section — Jack Gardner, piano;  Brian “Red” Kent, guitar; Thurman Teague, string bass; Ralph Hawkins, drums:

I hope you noticed the profound Louis-influence there, starting with the opening references to SLEEPY TIME DOWN SOUTH.  It’s the perfect segue to this delightful photograph — place, date, and photographer unknown (thanks to Loren Schoenberg for the Facebook “Rare Jazz Photos” group) of two men beaming love at each other.  Feel free to invent appropriate dialogue:

Heroes.  Oh, such heroes.

May your happiness increase!

SUNDAY NIGHTS AT 326 SPRING STREET (Part Twenty-Nine) — WE NEED SOMETHING TO LOOK FORWARD TO: SESSIONS AT THE EAR INN, featuring THE EarRegulars (2007 – the Future)

Grab your coat, grab your hat . . . at least in theory.

We’re continuing with the brilliant music, romping or pensive — created by the EarRegulars on September 26, 2010: Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Scott Robinson, tenor saxophone; Matt Munisteri, guitar; Pat O’Leary, string bass:

The Ear Inn, 2012 Photograph by Alexandra Marks

ON THE ALAMO:

concluded:

and Bob Barnard, cornet, in a properly Louis mode, sitting in for Jon-Erik, for CHINATOWN, MY CHINATOWN:

Then, a glorious exploration of Ray Noble’s THE TOUCH OF YOUR LIPS:

concluded:

My calendars tell me that this is the last Ear Inn / EarRegulars posting I will do in this most dramatic year, 2020.  I will continue to share the enthralling music from the recent past into 2021 — as long as it takes for us to be able to meet again in the temporal-physical universe.

Chronicling these precious evenings is a bittersweet pleasure, but the joy of celebrating this music and the wonderful people who so generously create it is nothing but sweet.  See you on the other side, at 326 Spring Street.  We live in hope.

May your happiness increase!

ANDY MacDONALD’S “SUITE SOLITUDE”

I first encountered Andy MacDonald on Facebook — a shy but amiable presence who liked my postings.  We had similar tastes, so we actually had a conversation (now, how nineteenth-century is that?).  Jazz guitarist, songwriter, singer — and for once that latter combination of words did not inspire fear.

He shared his new three-song opus, SWEET SOLITUDE, and I liked it very much, so much so that I am encouraging you to take a sniff, or several, at it.

But first.  Andy and “pandemic puppy,” whom he’s named Duke Ellington, the inspiration for one of three parts of the Suite, which veers delightfully from hot small-band swing, to Lang-Venuti frolic and meditation, to a song which I think of as our century’s Tom Lehrer goes to Eddie Condon’s.

But every blog should have a photograph of a cute puppy and his happy owner:

One is not enough:

Here are two videos from the Suite, the first asking the musical question, “Will everything be all right soon?” featuring Andy, guitar; Drew Jurecka, violin:

and “March 13, 2020,” featuring Andy, guitar and voice; Drew Jurecka, violin; Dave Kosmyna, cornet;  Tom Richards, sousaphone and trombone:

I’d asked Andy to write something about himself to introduce himself to the mass of people who hadn’t yet realized what was lacking in their lives, and here’s his verbal opus:

I’m a Canadian guitarist, banjoist, and vocalist playing hot jazz in a cold country. I’m from Toronto, but I decided Toronto wasn’t cold enough so I moved to Montreal in 2015. I’ve played (and taught) jazz in Canada, USA, and Europe and my favourite audience members are swing dancers. Django Reinhardt has always been my greatest influence on the guitar, but recently I’ve been going backwards and getting inspired by the players who influenced Django. Eddie Lang, Joe Venuti, Louis Armstrong, and Fats Waller are my new muses.

My musical mission is to write honestly about profound subjects without taking myself too seriously. I feel like Fats Waller and Marty Grosz take a similar approach. Fats wrote sincerely about heavy stuff like depression, heartbreak and loneliness, yet his music sounds lighthearted and whimsical. His tune Draggin’ my Poor Heart Around (recorded March 13, 1931) opens with the line: «Sweet mama, did you ever hear of depression? Well, that’s what you did to my heart, I’m tellin’ ya!» When he starts his piano solo, he declares: «Oh baby, listen to my pleadin’ on the ivories!» My 2019 album Asking For A Friend is a heartbreak album that for me is comedic and upbeat in its tone.

I love drawing inspiration from classic hot jazz recordings to create new works. The balancing act of respecting the tradition while saying something original is a tricky challenge. Luckily, there seems to be a new resurgence of interest in this music so even in Canada, it’s possible to find talented players to help bring the music to life. In the “before times”, I ran a weekly hot jazz jam in a dive bar with cheap whiskey and free pool. I can’t wait to get back there!

About Suite Solitude

Suite Solitude is a collection of three songs brought on by the tragedy of social isolation and the COVID19 pandemic. The original idea for the project was to do a real-time, live recording using state-of-the-art software. Well, the software and internet speeds are still about 5 years away from that being feasible, so we recorded it all one track at a time in this order: 1) guitar & banjo; 2) sousaphone; 3) cornet; 4) violin; 5) trombone; 6) voice. Each time, the latest mixdown would be sent to the next player to record so that there could be at least some social and musical interaction.

I wrote about how much my life has flipped upside down since this pandemic began. I lost all my work as a musician and music therapist so it felt like the rug got pulled from under me in a very sudden way. Although the themes are profound at face value, there’s a good deal of comic relief and lightheartedness to the music. For example, when writing about my new puppy, I sing: «Pandemic puppy will help me see when times get rough, you can just say {RUFF} He’s chasing squirrels, he’s chasing ducks, he gives no [BARK]s

You can purchase the music on Bandcamp for $8CAD: https://andymacdonald.bandcamp.com/album/suite-solitude.

Consider yourself encouraged to do such a thing — I mean purchase the music on Bandcamp.  With or without cute puppy, Mr. MacDonald shows great promise and I would like to see his talents encouraged.

May your happiness increase!

 

“BORN TO SWING”: MATTHIAS SEUFFERT, PATRICK ARTERO, THILO WAGNER, LINDY HUPPERTSBERG, GERGOR BECK (October 2019)

Thanks to these delightful musicians, a reminder that swinging jazz is resilient and, what’s more, present: this concert was shown recently on television, a very pleasing phenomenon in itself.  Its theme?  Swinging jazz is thriving.

Matthias Seuffert, January 2020.

The creators are Matthias Seuffert, tenor saxophone and clarinet (hear him on the latter on AFTER SUPPER); Patrick Artero on trumpet; Thilo Wagner on piano; Lindy Huppertsberg, string bass and announcements; Gregor Beck, drums.  The repertoire honors “New Testament” Basie and Neal Hefti, Fifties American pop classics, Louis and Hoagy Carmichael, Edgar Sampson and the Swing Era, neatly evoked without all those music stands: FLIGHT OF THE FOO BIRDS / AFTER SUPPER / SECRET LOVE (Thilo, Lindy, Gregor) / JUBILEE / and the encore, BLUE LOU.

Wonderful music, so expert, so warm, and so reassuring.  Bless its vividly imaginative friends, making it get up and do its dance in 2019.

May your happiness increase!

YOU OUGHTA BE IN PICTURES (which are then sold on eBay) WITH A BRIEF DISASTROUS EPISODE OF POKING THE BEAR

In the last years of my teaching career (forty years’ plus) I had had enough of many irritations, and I printed out a page with block letters — DON’T GO POKIN’ THE BEAR (the apostrophe is because I thought it was a rural phrase) — and hung it next to my office door.  I knew what it meant (don’t go out of your way to irritate me) but I am not sure it worked.  And given the social inability of many of my colleagues, no one asked me, “What kind of bear are you, Michael?” and I could have answered, “Stuffed.”

Second, if I had more of a life (as I had before March 12 and hope for again) I would not spend so much time on eBay.  But I hope my ennui is my readers’ gain.  Looking for photographs of my jazz heroes autographed and / or inscribed by them, I encountered some new delights from a Belgian seller.  I present them to you for your pleasure — in each case, with appropriate music.

And to set the stage, the Boswell Sisters and the Dorsey Brothers, 1934:

JOOGIE BOOGIE (Chicago, 1950), Lil Hardin Armstrong, personnel unknown:

To Willie, in 1954:

Oscar Pettiford, with Sidney Catlett, Eddie Heywood, Charlie Shavers, Ed Hall, Frank Socolow, for BLUES IN ROOM 920 (1944):

Oscar, inscribed to Bill Coleman; I don’t recognize the inscription on the right:

Red Norvo, I GOT RHYTHM, with Joe Thomas, Vic Dickenson, Hank D’Amico, Teddy Wilson, Slam Stewart, Specs Powell (1944):

To Willy:

and trumpeter Ernie Royal. STARDUST: Ernie, Billy Taylor, Oscar Pettiford, George Barnes, Osie Johnson (1954):

and the man himself:

and something that strikes me as unusual: Bill Coleman inscribing a photograph to his wife of fifteen years, Lily.  THAT’S KICKS (1944), which Bill recorded with Sammy Price, Joe Eldridge, Ike Quebec, Oscar Pettiford, Doc West:

and here’s to the happy couple:

But, as with many things, especially online commerce, CAVEAT EMPTOR is the law of the land.  If you choose to purchase an autograph or an inscribed photograph, please compare the signature on it with others visible on eBay or on Google.  There are forgers out there, and I have a brand-new story, which seem sour or funny or both.  Hark to my tale.

Possibly the most often-seen jazz autograph on eBay is that of Louis Armstrong, who signed his name a million times over fifty years.  His calligraphy was not smooth and elegant, rather angular and labored.  His genuine signature is completely recognizable.  The forgeries, and I have seen many, are too neat.  And people forget that their heroes often signed their names while leaning against a wall, balancing a small piece of paper in midair.

Yesterday I saw a truly poor forgery on eBay, as if someone had attempted to copy Louis’ idiosyncracies . . . and had failed. It was a first take.  (I’m not displaying it here because I want it to vanish.) “Priced to sell!” the seller trumpeted (forgive me) and it had a “certificate of authenticity” attached.  For some reason, this seemed appalling to me — heretical, an insult to my idol.  And in my annoyance, I wrote a clearly graceless note to the seller:

Dear X—-, sadly, whoever sold this to you as genuine wasn’t being honest. It’s about a C- forgery. I have several originals, one I did get from the great man himself in 1967, and his handwriting was always more angular and messy. Compare it with others for sale on eBay. Sorry to break the news, but I dislike tofu sold as steak. Michael Steinman (a Louis enthusiast for decades)

Who knows what I thought I would accomplish — righteous indignation is always treacherous unless you have an army — but I got a faceful:

Yenta, I don’t think you know what side is up, any further accusations or messages will be considered harassment and reported….

That’ll teach me to not poke the bear, don’t you think?

May your happiness increase!

 

 

AND NOW, A WORD FROM OUR SPONSOR (thanks to HAL SMITH and THE SYNCOPATED TIMES, November 2020)

Your only-intermittently-Humble-Correspondent, 2012. Photograph by Marcia Salter.

I am honored by being the subject of a piece in November 2020 The Syncopated Times, whose link you can find below.  All credit goes to my friend Hal Smith — most of you know him as a percussive sparkplug, but he’s a fine intuitive journalist as well as being a great writer-archivist.  I’ve been interviewed twice before, by Andrew Sammut and Mike Zirpolo, but I was thrilled to have the email conversation with Hal that resulted in this piece.  I didn’t tell him what questions to ask: he just knew and I felt comfortable.  And the piece doesn’t start with my musical training at my mother’s knee, because it didn’t go that way.

I characterize myself as a Shy Extrovert: someone who thrives on attention in very short bursts — if the light is too bright, I run for cover.  Those who know me well might say, “Yes, Michael.  He shows up and hugs everyone and then he hides behind that camera.”  But I am very proud of this and hope you won’t mind a blogpost’s worth of muted preening.  Thanks in advance for reading.  (And if someone chose to subscribe to TST, that wouldn’t bother me at all.)  None of this would have happened without the kind enthusiasm of TST’s editor, Andy Senior, who lives the music also.

The link is here.  And there are color photographs toooooooooo! (Alas, I didn’t credit the fine photgrapher / videographer Laura Wyman for them.)

May your happiness increase!

WITH THANKS AND APOLOGIES (November 26, 2020)

I don’t know what your Thanksgiving is going to be like this year.  We are adaptable beings, but it’s at moments like this we feel keenly how strange the world has become.  But since everything is constantly in flux, I extend hope to all of you — all of us — for easier times coming soon.

I think of Josh Billings, who played suitcase with whisk brooms for the Mound City Blue Blowers, who said to one of my heroes (perhaps Eddie Condon) when asked for his opinion about the future, “Better times are coming . . . . now and then.”  That seems right: guarded optimism.

But I wanted to take sixteen bars to say how deeply grateful I am to the musicians who elevate my spirits, who make me feel more alive, who give me reason to get out of bed when the skies have seemed most dark.  You Ladies and Gents, you Cats, give me regular infusions of joy — which it is my privilege to share here.

And I thank the people who “tune in” to JAZZ LIVES on a regular basis.  When I began to float this little paper boat down the river in February 2008 — before Facebook — I would email friends and say, “I just posted a new blog.  You might like it,” which is a thinly-hidden “Pleeeeeeeeeease look at the bookshelf I made in Wood Shop.”  Eventually JAZZ LIVES was able to breathe on its own, and people I’ve never met before come up to me at clubs and festivals and speak gratefully to me.  So thank YOU, in both cases:

I also have to apologize to musicians who have sent me CDs, worthy offerings that they hoped I would publicize.  There are piles of CDs all around this cluttered apartment. Sometimes I think that the stress generated since March has unscrewed crucial connections on the Michael circuit-board.  I know it has wrecked my concentration.  I hope to get to all the CDs, but the focus I had pre-pandemic is not what I have now.  If I’ve let you down, I am really sorry, because I know that a silence feels hard these days.  I’ll keep trying.

Those are all the words I have for now.  I send love.  I am thankful for everyone who even sniffs at a post I write.  And now I am going to attempt some fresh cranberry-orange relish, which has at most four ingredients, five if you count the food processor.

May your happiness increase!

 

MASTERS OF ART: RUBY BRAFF, HARRY “SWEETS” EDISON, JOE NEWMAN, JOHNNY GUARNIERI, MICHAEL MOORE, RAY MOSCA (Nice Jazz Festival, July 26-27, 1975)

Ruby Braff

This musical interlude is an absolute triumph — not a cutting contest, but a jovial conversation among three brass legends (Braff, cornet; Sweets and Joe, trumpet) with a thoroughly congenial modern-swing rhythm section (the splendid virtuosi Johnny Guarnieri, piano; Michael Moore, string bass; Ray Mosca, drums).

Harry “Sweets” Edison

Ruby, Joe, and Sweets are vehement individualists with roots in the same earth that gave us Louis and Basie.  You’ll hear florid declamatory phrases, side-of-the-mouth whispers and in-jokes, loud blasts and half-valve things a gentleman does not say in company.  They live in 1975 yet are completely aware of the half-century of music that came before.  And they live now, thirty-five years later.

Joe Newman

The songs are ROSETTA, JUST FRIENDS, CAROLINA SHOUT (Guarnieri, solo), TAKE THE “A” TRAIN, all performed at the Nice Jazz Festival, July 26 and 27th, 1975.  Heartfelt thanks to Tom Hustad, who made all this possible:

What gifts these magicians gave us.  What gifts the music continues to give us.

May your happiness increase!

“TELL ME SOMETHING SWEET!”

The beautiful long run of Victor records Fats Waller made from 1934 to 1942 often simulate a party in three minutes, where everyone is having an unrestrained good time.  The best of them are remarkable energetic fun, and a classic example is THE JOINT IS JUMPIN’.  Here’s a less famous explosion, FLOATIN’ DOWN TO COTTON TOWN, with sound effects as well as extraordinary stride piano from Fats:

Note Fats’ subversion of the minstrel-show question and answer, and his updating of the 1919 song lyrics to “children.”

But Fats could also be tender, quiet, and pensive.  Here is FAIR AND SQUARE, music by Ada Rubin (“Queenie” when she performed with Tempo King for Bluebird Records), lyrics by Andy Razaf:

The first chorus, featuring Fats without the horns, is wonderful dance music; the second chorus, where the horns hum respectfully behind him, has him making his way through the lyrics with only the slightest hint of comedy; the third chorus (only the last sixteen bars) beginning with a hint of rolling bass before the horns come in, is almost as delicate.

And here is one of his most touching performances:

But Fats’ natural exuberance, his true life-force, was joyous.  Trying to restrain it was like telling a puppy not to wag its tail.  So here are two other less-known favorites of mine, not necessarily “great songs,” although SOMETHING TELLS ME is irresistible, but I love the way Fats gently builds from quiet restrained tenderness to real joy.  SOMETHING TELLS ME (Harry Warren and Johnny Mercer) also has the distinction of fine recordings by Louis and Connie Boswell.  Fats’ record starts with Gene Sedric in his best dance-band mode, with occasional celeste interjections, and then hits its swinging stride:

Candidly, WHAT WILL I DO IN THE MORNING? has most of its brilliance in its title.  The A and B sections are fairly thin variations on a repeated pianistic motif — although the bridge is an imaginative change — and the lyrics rely heavily on the end-rhymes.  But listen to how Fats moves gently from what I would call anxiety in swingtime for the first sixteen bars to hilarity, with his quacking repetition of “What!” seven or eight times, which always makes me laugh:

For many, the joyous clamor Fats generates obscures his subtleties, his gentleness and delicacy, as if it had been decided he was Our Jazz Clown.  He could whisper and cajole as well as shout.  I am amazed that no one celebrates him as a memorable singer as well as pianist and composer, creating three-minute dramas that continue to gratify us.  The “Rhythm” records could occasionally seem formulaic, but treasures abound.

May your happiness increase!  

MUSIC FOR TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 3, 2020

Photograph by Jack Bradley, 1969

I choose this music for Election Day.  Find solace.  Find hope.

A more powerful spiritual tincture:

Join me in my musical prayer for peace.

“SPRING AHEAD, FALL BACK” the JAZZ LIVES WAY

Today, Saturday, October 31, is Halloween — but no “spooky” posts, because the holiday is eviscerated for valid health reasons.  And at my age, the only costume I don is my own, and I don’t buy candy bars for myself.

But Sunday, November 1, is the official end of Daylight Saving Time in most of the United States, “giving us” an extra hour of sleep or some other activity.  (Sundays are reserved for the EarRegulars, which is why this post comes early.)

I encourage all of you to enjoy the faux-gift of sixty minutes in some gratifying ways.  But here are my suggestions about how you could happily stretch out in the extra time: versions of IF I COULD BE WITH YOU ONE HOUR TONIGHT, the unaging classic by James P. Johnson and Henry Creamer, which speaks to our desire to spend time in pleasurable ways.

Here’s a pretty, loose version from the September 2010 Jazz at Chautauqua, performed by Marty Grosz, guitar, vocals, and commentary; Randy Reinhart, cornet; Dan Block, Scott Robinson, reeds; John Sheridan, piano; Vince Giordano, string bass, tuba, bass sax; Arnie Kinsella, drums:

Two years later, Andy Schumm’s evocation of the Mound City Blue Blowers, at the Whitley Bay Classic Jazz Party, paying tribute to one “Red” McKenzie, hot ambassador of the comb / newspaper — here, with Andy, comb;  Jens Lindgren, trombone, off-screen because of a patron’s coif; Norman Field, Jean-Francois Bonnel, reeds; Emma Fisk, violin; Spats Langham, banjo, vocal; Frans Sjostrom, bass saxophone; Malcolm Sked, brass bass; Josh Duffee, drums:

and, from the 2018 Scott Joplin Ragtime Festival in Sedalia, Missouri, here’s the Holland-Coots Jazz Quintet, for that set, Brian Holland, piano; Danny Coots, drums; Evan Arntzen, tenor saxophone, vocal; Marc Caparone, cornet; Marty Eggers, string bass (subbing for Steve Pikal, who was on secret assignment):

1944, for V-Disc, with Jack Teagarden, trombone and vocal; Bobby Hackett, cornet; Lou McGarity, trombone; Ernie Caceres, clarinet; Nick Caiazza, tenor saxophone; Bill Clifton, piano; Herb Ellis, guitar; Felix Giobbe, string bass; Cozy Cole, drums — one of those perfectly memorable recordings I first heard decades ago, with its own sweet imperfections: some uncertainty about the chords for the verse, and the usually nimble Caiazza painting himself into a corner — but it’s lovely:

Of course, we have to hear the composer, in 1944, with Eddie Dougherty, drums:

Marion Harris, 1930:

Sidney Bechet, Muggsy Spanier, Carmen Mastren, and Wellman Braud, 1940:

Helen Humes and Buck Clayton with Count Basie, 1939:

Ade Monsbourgh and his Late Hour Boys, 1956, with Bob Barnard, trumpet;  Ade Monsbourgh, reeds, vocal; Graham Coyle, piano; Jack Varney, banjo, guitar; Ron Williamson, tuba; Roger Bell, washboard:

George Thomas with McKinney’s Cotton Pickers, 1930:

and at the very summit, Louis in 1930:

Now, you’re on your own: use the time for pleasure.

May your happiness increase!

WHO’S THE BOSS?

Some readers of JAZZ LIVES may scan this post, see that it is not brimming over with new performance videos of their favorite band, and turn to something more interesting on their phones.  I do understand: words and ideas don’t go down as smoothly as videos.  But humor me on this, if you will.

I was alive and reasonably capable in the world (I had a job, I’d earned some degrees) before I encountered a computer, and at first it was merely a hip typewriter.  Some years later, email, YouTube, social media, and so on, changed my world as they did yours.  I still marvel at the ways human behavior and decorum have been warped by the ubiquity of the internet.  This is most apparent to me in one of my chosen playgrounds, YouTube.

For a long time, the anonymity of an alias has made it possible for some people who might have gastric reflux disorder or other internal sournesses to be “critics” with high-powered scopes.  I take this personally, which is my problem, but when I post a video, it’s never by someone I think inept or amateurish.  Florence Foster Jenkins, Mrs. Miller, Jonathan and Darlene Edwards are not artists I cherish for my listening.

So when someone writes, “This sucks,” I delete the comment and lock the gate so they can’t do it again.  In the same way that if you invited me for lunch at your house, I wouldn’t say, “This food tastes like shit,” I expect people to keep their harsh estimates to themselves.  This lack of restraint encourages my reciprocation.  Someone writes of a 2008 performance, “Tempo too fast,” I may respond, “You’re so right.  I’ll go back to 2008 right now and ask them to slow it down for you.”  Childish, perhaps.  But I won’t have people I admire shat on.

I’ve given up on the possibly logical rebuttal to “The drummer is lousy,” which is, “Sir, can you tap your index finger on the desk for the length of this performance and keep good time?”  Or “Her screechy voice gets on my nerves,” which is, “When is your next concert tour?” but I think the platform from which one issues a critical judgment ought to be built on some informed experience.

Certain scornful comments have immense validity, but we must (as they say) “consider the source.”  Yank Lawson told the story of the first time he played with Sidney Bechet, wanting to impress the Master, he sailed into JAZZ ME BLUES at a dazzling tempo, and when it was through, looking to Bechet for praise, Sidney said only, “Young man, you played that song too fucking fast.” To me, those words are hard, but they are also the syllables that the Sage delivers when you’ve climbed up to the cave in the Himalayas.

But Bechet’s assessment is galaxies away from such inspired nit-picking as “She should have introduced the drummer and bassist by name instead of referring to them as ‘my friends,'” to which I nearly wrote, “Have you considered volunteering for Habitat for Humanity to put all that energy to better use?”  (I did write back and say that the two musicians had been introduced lavishly through the concert, but why I spent energy on this is mysterious even to me.)

I learned early from my mentor Sammut of Malta that what was particularly offensive about such “criticism” was its false courage — as if one could pin an anonymous note on another middle-schooler’s coat, saying what one would never have the courage to say in person.  Sammut wisely suggested to me that the rule of criticism might well be, “Would you walk up to the musician and say this to her face?”  Let that sink in.  Imagine, if you will, someone walking up to Louis at the intermission and saying, “You know, you’re supposed to be a great jazzman.  Why do you play the same solos?” but that was printed over and over.

But there’s a new wrinkle in this anonymous sociopathy which I’d like to ask you to look for, because it’s a thrilling arrogance.  I realized recently that the commenters no longer looked upon themselves as Wise Critics (DOWN BEAT staff, giving this two stars and that five) but . . . . Employers.

Slowly, the criticisms have edged from “I don’t like this,” to “This isn’t good,” to a more haughty disapproval, as if the waitperson had brought our salad too warm or our entree too cool.  The subtext is, “You have not delivered to me the product I wanted, so I will be unsparing in pointing out the limitations of what you have done.”  It’s also worth noting that no one pays to see free videos.

Artists are not members of a service industry.

So “The band isn’t as good as the band I think is really good,” is no longer a statement of personal displeasure but a more powerful expression of official censure, as if the listener could say, “You guys play that tempo again, and OUT with you!”  I wonder where this will go, this impulse not simply to disapprove but almost to punish.  I want to be present with my camera when a fan walks up to one of my admired musicians, stands in front of her, claps his hands to get her attention, and says, “I think that song should be played slower, and I prefer Bb to C.”  You may think I exaggerate, but the notion that the audience is the boss of the musicians is gaining ground, if the comments are any indication.  What’s next?

I entered the land of performance, whether live or in another medium, with the basic assumptions that the musicians had worked long and hard (“ten thousand hours”) to make music at something nearing a professional level.  In performance, I observe someone mis-finger a note, play a wrong chord, slow the tempo down, and I notice such things.  But I also know that I am not at the level of even making such a single mistake in a performance; I’ve been listening all my adult life, but a performance by me would have more errors than gratifications.  So I approach even imperfect performances with a modicum of admiration.  I might not like the way X band plays; it does not appeal to me; I like Y so much better . . . but I wouldn’t mock X in public from behind the paper shield of anonymity.

I can stop the video or the CD, I can leave the club or the concert hall in mid-performance, but I haven’t the right to yell at the people onstage.  And I don’t assume that the musicians exist, or play, to please me.

I went back through my collection of other people’s comments and couldn’t find really dramatic examples of this tendency, and then I realized I had deleted them.  It’s the only way I can protect the artists I admire from sneers of people who think they have the right to be mean-spirited.  Keep an eye out as you travel the byways of YouTube and other organs of public expression: you will find that what I describe here is not an over-sensitive fantasy of my own invention.

Great art outlives its critics.  The writer who called Trumbauer’s SINGIN’ THE BLUES “disappointing,” Mike Levin, who mocked Lester Young’s “cardboard tone,” are no more, but we can still listen to Tram and Pres and exult.

To paraphrase Jim in Huckleberry Finn, we don’t own the musicians.  They own themselves.  And we should bless them rather than carp at them.

May your happiness increase!

 

WINGSTON PLAYS THE HITS, JULY 26, 1954

Wingy Manone isn’t well-remembered today, but he was a singular personality.  There were more powerful trumpet players, more polished singers, more original comedians, but the combination of his talents added up to an energetic joy-maker.

For those who have never heard him, he sits somewhere between Louis and Fats as a swinging jester.  His great heyday was the Swing Era, when he took little bands into the studio for OKeh, Brunswick, Bluebird, and smaller labels, and created jam-session recordings often based on frankly ephemeral popular songs.  From this distance, some of his gaiety seems a little amateurish, reminiscent of the relative who asks to sing a slightly off-color parody with the wedding band, but Wingy always hired the best musicians so that his records always have gratifying interludes.  I always looked forward to what he would do with sentimental or formulaic hits, so when this four-song “extended play” disc appeared on eBay, I bought it to share with you.

Recorded in New York, July 26, 1954, it presents Wingy with Lou McGarity, trombone; Hank D’Amico, clarinet; Charlie Queener, piano; Milt Hinton, string bass; Cliff Leeman, drums.  One traditional jazz standard, one Wingy original, one current film hit, and (of course) one remake of his hit, ISLE OF CAPRI.  (I wonder if this was a George Avakian experiment.)  I doubt that these performances got a great deal of radio airplay, and Columbia didn’t record more music to make a full-length 10″ or 12″ record, but the music is jovial, swinging, and rare.

Wingy’s pronunciation of “coins” and his spoken interlude are both priceless.

PAWNSHOP DOOR is a fast blues — with the drama of Wingy’s band being so hot they lose the job — and ST. JAMES INFIRMARY is one of the better versions of that overdone song. 

On all four tracks, there’s spectacular playing from Leeman and McGarity, as well as some classic Fifties echo in the recording studio, adding up to ten minutes of jivey fun.

May your happiness increase!

HAPPY 91st BIRTHDAY, DAN MORGENSTERN!

Today, October 24, 2020, Dan Morgenstern celebrates his ninety-first birthday, and we celebrate him.  He’s been an eager participant on the jazz scene since his mother took him to see Fats Waller and the Quintette of the Hot Club of France in 1939; he’s hung out with Louis, Billie, Duke, Lester, Bird, Miles, Stan, Rowles, and a hundred others; if there was a jazz event in New York, Boston, or Chicago in the last seventy years, chances are he was there and wrote about it.  I could continue, but I’d rather let him speak for himself.

Since spring 2017, I’ve had the immense privilege of bringing my camera to Dan’s Upper West Side apartment and capturing his singular memories: you can find memorable ones on the blog.  But for today, I offer two interview segments that have not been seen.

Dan talks about Ella:

Ella in 1936 with Teddy Wilson, Frank Newton, Bennie Morton, Jerry Blake, Teddy McRae, Leemie Stanfield, John Trueheart, and Cozy Cole:

and about Lena, Maxine, and Eva Taylor (I apologize for the ragged ending of the segment, but YouTube refused to let me be any neater):

Lena in 1941 with Teddy Wilson, Bennie Morton, Emmett Berry, Jimmy Hamilton, Johnny Williams, J.C. Heard:

Maxine in 1938 with Bobby Hackett, Bud Freeman, Chester Hazlett, and others:

Eva Taylor, 1926, with Clarence Williams and Charlie Irvis, others unidentified:

and fifty years later (!) with the Peruna Jazz Band:

We are so fortunate to have our Jazz Eminence, Mister Morgenstern, with us!

May your happiness increase!

THE WEATHERBIRDS FLY BY AGAIN

Seasonal Hot migrations: the Weatherbird Jazz Band has just paid us another welcome visit.  (I’ve posted perhaps two dozen of their performances, which are both gratifying and easy to find.)

Here are six more beautiful performances, mostly celebrating the 1925-28 sides that Louis Armstrong and friends created in Chicago, with celebratory glances at Jelly Roll Morton, Clarence Williams, and the NORK.

The Weatherbirds, for these sessions, are Bent Persson, trumpet or cornet; Kaj Sifvert, trombone; Tomas Ornberg, clarinet or soprano saxophone; Ulf Johansson Werre, piano; Goran Lind, string bass; Goran Eriksson, banjo or alto saxophone; Sigge Dellert, drums.  You’ll notice that I refrain from explaining and explicating: this music needs no subtitles, just listeners open to joy.

MY MONDAY DATE:

SOMEDAY SWEETHEART:

TIN ROOF BLUES:

BLACK BOTTOM STOMP (today is Mr. Morton’s birthday):

SWEET EMMALINA:

and I CAN’T GIVE YOU ANYTHING BUT LOVE:

May your happiness increase!

SUNDAY NIGHTS AT 326 SPRING STREET (Part Seventeen) — WE NEED SOMETHING TO LOOK FORWARD TO: SESSIONS AT THE EAR INN, featuring THE EarRegulars (2007 – the Future)

Something you ought to Ear.

Wow.  It’s Sunday again.  How the days go by so quickly when it feels as if more than half of our former lives have been put in the freezer . . . a puzzlement, as the King said.  Here ‘s the record of last week’s pilgrimage to the Soho Shrine, The Ear Inn on 326 Spring Street.

And now, we spin the dial on the cyber-roulette wheel and take you back to May 16, 2010, when the EarRegulars were Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Pete Martinez, clarinet; Matt Munisteri, guitar; Greg Cohen, string bass.

Let’s start with a pretty song, one that could be our national anthem these days, I BELIEVE IN MIRACLES:

Now, the fable of a remarkable Texan, I’M A DING DONG DADDY FROM DUMAS:

DING DONG DADDY (concluded):

I looked up Dumas, Texas, and it’s just under 1750 miles from New York, a straight shot of 26 hours in the car.  All things are possible for those who believe:

WILLIE THE WEEPER had a wonderful dream.  No words, but join him:

Care to Stomp?  Here’s MAHOGANY HALL STOMP, with Dan Block, tenor, sitting in, a performance that astonishes me ten years later:

For the final song of this offering, I’M CONFESSIN’, Dan sat out, and they were joined by Alex Norris, trumpet, from Vince Giordano’s Nighthawks:

Let us all believe in Miracles.  Honestly, we should.

May your happiness increase!

HAPPY 95th BIRTHDAY, GEORGE WEIN!

In front, Bobby Hackett, Louis Armstrong, George Wein; behind them, Joe Newman, Dizzy Gillespie — at the July 1970 celebration of Louis at the Newport Jazz Festival.

I saw the pleasing news on Facebook — and in an online source called CELEBRITY ACCESS, which summed it all up with a video and these words (if the New York Times had a front-page story, it eluded me, alas):

NEWPORT, RI (CelebrityAccess) — George Wein, the legendary pianist, jazz and festival promoter, turned 95 on Saturday.

Wein, who founded the Newport Jazz Festival and co-founded the Newport Folk Festival, also played a key role in the creation of the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival.

Wein’s birthday was marked by tributes from the likes of James Taylor, Senator Jack Reed, Dianne Reeves, Jason Moran, Nate Smith, and Ben Jaffe.

George deserves a little more fuss.

The Newport Jazz Festival, which he founded in 1954 — and is still a going concern — featured everyone.  The Preservation Hall Jazz Band to Archie Shepp. Duke, Louis, Miles, Trane, Dizzy, Monk, Hamp, Benny, Billie, Roy, Hawk, Pres, Ben.  What other festival featured both Donald Lambert and Sonny Rollins?  If you didn’t appear at Newport — in its now sixty-six year span — you had died before it began [Bessie Smith, Charlie Parker, Frank Newton, Hot Lips Page] or you had missed your set.  George’s reach was extensive and his tastes heroically inclusive.  Those who never got to Rhode Island were nourished by recordings and performance film footage; George created tours — Europe and Japan — that brought the music to eager audiences who would otherwise not have partaken of it first-hand.

Before Newport, George had clubs in Boston: Storyville and Mahogany Hall, where you could enjoy Sidney Catlett, Stan Getz, Sidney Bechet, Lee Konitz, Erroll Garner, and other deities.  When the Newport Jazz Festival took a brief trip to New York, as the Kool Jazz Festival or the JVC Jazz Festival, I was able to see Benny Carter, Allen Eager, Charles Mingus, Lee Wiley, Gene Krupa and others who gladden my heart.  In the early Fifties, George also had a record label — Storyville — where you could hear Milli Vernon and Beryl Booker, Ruby Braff, Teddi King, Ellis Larkins, Johnny Windhurst and Jo Jones.  I’m also reasonably sure that George’s generosity — not publicized, but apparent — kept some musicians in gigs and dinner for long periods.

Incidentally, I am doing all of this delighted salute from memory: George’s 2004 autobiography, MYSELF AMONG OTHERS, is a much more detailed view at almost six hundred pages, so I know I have left out a great deal for which George deserves praise.

George also loves to play the piano and to sing, and although I think those activities have slowed down or ceased in recent years, his pleasure in these activities emerged most fully in the Newport All-Stars, a group that at various times featured Tal Farlow, Pee Wee Russell, Buzzy Drootin, Stephane Grappelli, Joe Venuti, Red Norvo, Norris Turney, Scott Hamilton, Warren Vache, Bud Freeman, Slam Stewart, and others: George’s discography begins in 1951 and its most recent entry is 2012.

I’d like to offer some swinging evidence of George as pianist: not at his own festival in Newport, but at the Grande Parade du Jazz in Nice, in July 1977: a nearly nineteen-minute jam on TAKE THE “A” TRAIN, nominally under the leadership of clarinet legend Barney Bigard — featuring Jimmy Maxwell, Joe Newman, trumpet; Clark Terry, trumpet and flugelhorn; Eddie Daniels, tenor saxophone; Slam Stewart, string bass; Bobby Rosengarden, drums.  Notice the atypically expansive piano solo that George creates at the start: percussive, surprising, mobile . . . and watch Barney Bigard’s delighted face at the end.

Happy birthday, George!  Our lives would be much poorer had you chosen another career.

May your happiness increase!

“THE GIRL IN THE GROOVE”: JEN HODGE ALL STARS (JEN HODGE, JOSEPH ABBOTT, CHRIS DAVIS, BRAD SHIGETA, JOSH ROBERTS, MIKE DAUGHERTY, CLARA ROSE)

Jen Hodge is the real deal — as melodically propulsive ensemble player or soloist, singer, bandleader, or jazz-instigator / investigator.  (Now we can add “whistler” to the list of credits, by the way.)  So I’m not at all surprised that her new CD, THE GIRL IN THE GROOVE, is lively, varied, and flavorful.  Incidentally, the second link will lead you to Jen’s online CD release party via Facebook, on Friday, October 2, from 9-11, EDT.  Consider yourself invited.

And since Jen and friends often play for swing dancers, the music on this disc has a definite warm pulse, felt rather than being a matter of volume, that is consistently cheering.  That’s evident from the first notes of the aptly named HODGE PODGE (all right, it was named for Johnny Hodges) that keeps the bounce of late-Thirties Ellington without being a museum piece.  Brad Shigeta growls and snarls his way through the main strain of HERE LIES LOVE before involving the rest of the band in the swinging elegy.  Incidentally, any 2020 CD that has a little-played Ralph Rainger composition, made famous by Bing Crosby, has already curled up at the foot of my bed — even before Mike Daugherty’s stop-time chorus and the singular Chris Davis and Joseph Abbott.

What could be more overdone than I GOT RHYTHM, you ask?  Not in Jen’s version, which begins with her winsome singing of the verse, rubato, over Josh’s guitar tapestries . . . sliding into a rocking vocal chorus with the band taking turns around her — then taking things to a cheerfully higher level with vocal twists and turns.  Jen’s singing is sweetly unfussy and genuine, charming because she isn’t imitating anyone, just having a good time sharing the song with us.  SUMMERTIME, also teetering on the brink of extinction, sounds both fresh and ominous — March of the Aliens, and they are coming to your town in the next hour! — but it continues on its own singular path with Joseph Abbott’s lyrically clear improvisation on the melody, then Brad Shigeta’s affectionate snarl (he means no harm) and Abbott’s sky-blue tones as the band riffs somewhat menacingly underneath.  You’ll have to hear it to understand.

USE YOUR HEAD, an old-time-modern original by Jen, starts off at marvelously low volume — as if the band had decided to jam the insinuating composition in whispers.  Apparently the lyrics are a series of instructions to a prospective lover, auditioning for the gig.  I hope so.  More blessed to give, and all that.  When the performance was over, rocking itself to a kind of pleasurable summit, thanks to Clara Rose as well as the band, I was only disappointed that Jen didn’t come back to sing a half-dozen more choruses.  Yes, it’s 2020, but it’s a song that would have done nicely for Clara, Mamie, or Bessie in 1931.  Or Fats Waller, any decade.  I played it three times before moving on, and I expect to repeat the pleasurable experience tomorrow.  Come for the philosophy, stay for the swing.

I must halt matters here and praise Jen’s string bass playing.  As wonderful as the other musicians are on this CD — and they damned well are — my ears kept coming back in delight to the lines she was creating under and through the ensembles, and her concise swinging “speaking” solo work.  And her arco passage on DEAD MAN BLUES is so poignant, so focused.  And, just for the record, she plays with equal beauty and conviction in person: I have shared videos of Jen at Cafe Bohemia, where no one talked through a single solo, because every solo kept us rapt.

Then there are the arrangements, mostly group efforts by the band, three by Jen herself, and HODGE PODGE by the sterling Alan Matheson.  On Joseph Abbott’s THE EARTHQUAKE DRILL, I had to look at the band personnel again to remind myself that this was a compact, flexible, sauntering sextet — no piano — because so much was going on in this fast blues, and not only a SING SING SING interlude for clarinet and drums.  You could — and you will want to — listen to the whole disc several times, once focusing on the soloists, once on the charts, once . . . you will figure it out.  It sounds happy and natural: this band floats on the fun it creates.

Every jazz CD needs some side-glances at The End, to keep the hoodoo away: this one has not only HERE LIES LOVE, but a jaunty variation on the “New Orleans Function” theme, where FLEE AS A BIRD turns the corner into DEAD MAN BLUES — less Morton than Manone, I think, until the final choruses, reminiscent of MOURNFUL INTERLUDE, providing a splendid trot home from the imagined gravesite.  Be not afraid: nothing’s dead on this disc, even with some ancient repertoire, frisky and bold.

Speaking of frisky and bold, there’s Jen’s soulful rendition of UP ABOVE MY HEAD, which has the appropriate words, “I really do believe / there’s joy somewhere.”  How true for this disc.  And although the original composition reaches all the way back, Jen’s version hints both at a revival service and something Charles Mingus might have invented and played — spirituality with a deep (mildly whimsical) seismic motion.

And the CD ends with a lovely tribute — not only to generations of trumpet players who gently begin STARDUST with the verse — but to the much-missed swing matriarch and Sage, Dawn Hampton, who left us a YouTube video of her whistling that composition in the most heartfelt manner.  Jen’s whistling reminds me not only of the mysterious Maurice Hendricks (look him up, do), but also of someone whistling — earnestly and passionately — on her way home from school or a tennis match.  And, in ways that surprised me, of Louis: I felt the same chills up and down my spine.  I don’t write such praise lightly.

Here you can pre-order the digital CD (it will slide down the birth canal on October 2) and hear samples.  It’s a wow.

May your happiness increase!