Tag Archives: Louis Armstrong

“CAN YOU GET BACK IN?”

“When did you leave heaven?” may not be in anyone’s list of the worst pick-up lines (which, in 2019, are far more salacious) but I doubt that it would effectively start a conversation with an attractive stranger — I mean a conversation where the response was more promising than “Get away from me.”  But the impulse to call someone we’re attracted to divine is venerable and strong.

A Mexican image of the divine feminine, from my favorite folk art gallery, eBay.

There are many songs where the loved one is described as an angel, but here’s a tender and witty one, music by Richard Whiting, lyrics by Walter Bullock, from the 1936 film featuring Alice Faye, SING, BABY, SING (a song revitalized by the cheerful Bill Crow).  Follow me into adoration territory in swingtime.

Henry “Red” Allen in all his glory, playing and singing, 1936:

and a more famous version from 1942 with a famous clarinetist under wraps for two minutes, a session led by Mel Powell, and featuring colleagues from that clarinetist’s orchestra except for Al Morgan and Kansas Fields.

Thank goodness for the first forty-five seconds devoted to that hero, Lou McGarity, before it becomes Mel’s own Bobcats:

Mel Powell, Jimmy Buffington, Bobby Donaldson, a dozen years later, and one of my favorite recordings — a Goodman Trio without the King:

Something you wouldn’t expect, Big Bill Broonzy, 1956:

and the intensely passionate reading Jimmy Scott gave the song in 2000 (with our hero Michael Kanan in duet):

and the Master.  Consider that stately melody exposition, how simple and how moving, and Louis’ gentle yet serious reading of the lyrics is beyond compare.  Complaints about the surrounding voices will be ignored; they’re the heavenly choir:

Love has the power to make the Dear Person seem so much better than merely human, and this song celebrates it.  As we do.

May your happiness increase!

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“IT MUST BE SOME MAGIC ART”: DAWN LAMBETH, CONAL FOWKES, MARC CAPARONE (San Diego, Nov. 24, 2018)

Yes, it’s the Real Thing.

This wonderful little-known 1932 song by Fats Waller, Don Redman, and Andy Razaf, is yet another celebration of romantic devotion.

But it is one of the clever concoctions I call “backwards songs” for want of a better name.  The lyricist and singer don’t say “This is love,” because that gambit had animated a thousand pop songs even by this date.  Rather, the lyrics upend the expected conceit by asking, “If it ain’t love, why are its effects so powerful?”  The parallel song is the Dietz-Schwartz THEN I’LL BE TIRED OF YOU where the singer doesn’t state “I will never tire of you,” but proposes, “I will be tired of you when — and only when — these unimaginable cosmic events take place,” entering love’s house by the window.

Here’s a very tender performance of this song — only a few months ago — by three of my favorites: Dawn Lambeth, vocal; Conal Fowkes, piano; Marc Caparone, cornet — in performance at the San Diego Jazz Fest, November 24, 2018:

I love drama in music: Louis soaring; Big Sid and Sidney Bechet rocking the once-stable world; the Basie band in a final joyous eruption in the outchorus.  But I have a deep feeling for music like this, that tenderly caresses my soul, that comes in the ear like honey.  Dawn, Conal, and Marc do more than play a song: they beam love out at us.  And I, for one, am grateful.

May your happiness increase!

“THUMBS DOWN” and OTHER INEXPLICABLE MANIFESTATIONS OF THE MODERN AGE

I have no problem understanding taste.  I admire Charlie Shavers; you prefer Shorty Baker.  I think that the 1938 Basie band and the 1940 Ellington band were high points in civilization; you choose, instead, Lunceford and Miller.  Fine, and we need not snarl at each other on the street.  I can even understand the anonymous YouTube lone disliker — out of a sea of thumbs up, there’s one person who thinks, “That’s not so good.”  And I know that criticism is not new to this century, as Nicolas Slominsky has shown: for one example, I have read that the audience at the Apollo Theatre’s Amateur Night was savage and satirical in its disapproval of performers who weren’t up to what the audience thought was the standard.

I have worked hard to acquire some equanimity when faced with negative responses to videos and posts I have created for JAZZ LIVES.  When people comment negatively in either sphere, I can simply make the comment go away, leaving a faint bad smell until I open the window.  However, some of the comments are so acrid that they make me get up from the computer and do something else for a few minutes.  Typically, someone doesn’t approve of the angle from which I am videoing (assuming, I guess, that I am using several people and a multi-camera perspective) — especially if one of the performers is an attractive woman whom the male commenter doesn’t see enough of.  In that case, if the spirit moves me, I gently explain the limitations of a single-camera setup or of my desire to not get walloped by someone’s swingout, or other factors that the commenter may not have understood.  And in many cases, my calm approach gets a calm apologetic response, which is gratifying.

In other situations, the prose is darker.  I shoot videos in places where — you’ll be horrified — people drink alcohol, eat food, and converse . . . as opposed to videoing in the Sistine Chapel.  Thus, many viewers write in to me in a near-rage: “I’d like to shoot the people who were talking while this great band was playing!” I do understand, but the impulse — even rhetorical — is frightening in this century, and again I try to write a calm explanatory note.  (Years of being a college professor have left their mark on me in a gentle moral didacticism.)  I have also said that yelling at people in a video shot five years ago will have little effect on making them quieter.

If the commenter, in either case, continues to fume in response, I will often suggest that he should ask for a refund.  Rimshot.  And no one has written in to ask for one, for obvious reasons.

I understand that there are situations were sharp criticism in public from a nameless “reviewer” is not only appropriate but helpful.  If I go to a restaurant and something makes me ill, in writing about my experience I might be warning others away so that they did not have to spend hours in the bathroom.  If my painter, lawyer, doctor, or other professional does a poor job, there might be good reason to say so in public.  (I would hope, though, that the first line of response would be to contact the restaurant or the professional, as a courtesy.)

But a video that someone disapproves of has no power to do harm, and one can always shut it off, muttering, “Wow, that’s awful,” to oneself.

All of this distresses me, not because people are not “entitled to their own opinion,” but because it seems ungenerous to criticize a product or a production that is offered open-handedly and for free.  And the criticism is often voiced in a coarse unfeeling way.  Of course, this tendency is amplified by the anonymity of the commenters, who are not asked to offer their credentials in evaluating artistic performance.  The man — and the commenters are all men — who says that X is a rottten trumpeter is never asked to demonstrate his own ability on the horn by playing C JAM BLUES, even in Bb.

But anonymity gives courage.  Thus, this comment on a YouTube video of mine this morning.  The subject, a singer I respect greatly, someone with classical training and jazz experience, accompanied by a pianist: “Listening to that whiney voice instead of the sense of the song…horrible nonsense..he’s good but who can tell w that phony warbling…yikes”

That approach and that language seems abusive.  I imagine that few artists read the YouTube comments, but why should someone doing their best be skewered by a nameless “reviewer”?  Would the commenter have the courage to go up to an artist in a club and say, “Your whiney voice is horrible nonsense and phony warbling?”  I would guess not, for fear of getting whacked with an RCA ribbon mike.  And stand.  And I would dearly like to be on the jury to vote for the musician’s acquittal and then award damages in a lawsuit.

I wonder if there is some motivation I am overlooking.  Does it make the commenter feel superior?  “I am an experienced music critic, and everyone is entitled to my opinion, as a public service?  Or does it come out of a silent insecurity?  “X makes CDs and is famous.  Why doesn’t anyone want to give me a gig like that?  I hate X!”

What I suspect, and hope I am wrong, is that it is yet another manifestation of general pervasive mean-spiritedness, that there are hate-filled people in the world who have not got enough to occupy themselves, so they rack up disapproval right and left.  That makes me sad.  Someone once said, “If you’re not being loving, why are you taking up space on the planet?”  True enough.

Something to end this sad essay on a hopeful note: music that no one can disapprove of:

May your happiness increase!

 

MEMORIZE THESE NAMES: YOUNGBLOODS WHO CREATE LYRICAL SWING PLEASURE (January 11, 2019)

I would ordinarily wait to post this but I think everyone needs to take a dip in the Lagoon of Joy.  There’s no lifeguard needed because the only danger one might encounter might be excessive grinning and head-bobbing.  The reason?

Here’s SWEETHEARTS ON PARADE, the love-child of Louis Armstrong and Carmen Lombardo (only figuratively) performed in the most delicate swinging manner by three Youngbloods: Guillermo Perata, cornet; Fernando Montardit, guitar; Ivan Chapuis, string bass.  Recorded in Buenos Aires, on January 11, 2019.  That’s 2019.  That’s RIGHT NOW.  Let that sink in, please?

I’ve had the true good fortune to meet Fernando at The Ear Inn: he makes me think of George Van Eps, while the other two brilliances summon up Ruby Braff and Milt Hinton, among others.  Gorgeous music.  It falls on the ear like loving words.  More, please?

May your happiness increase!

LET’S HEAT IT UP: COLIN HANCOCK MEETS THE CHICAGO CELLAR BOYS (San Diego Jazz Fest, Nov. 25, 2018): COLIN HANCOCK, ANDY SCHUMM, PAUL ASARO, JOHN OTTO, JOHNNY DONATOWICZ, DAVE BOCK

It’s January, and the temperatures are, shall we say, brisk.  Let’s assume your house has drafts — air pours through windows and air-conditioners — or it’s simply not that warm inside.  You could buy this to solve the problem:

or, in honor of the King of Swing, you could put on a sweater (credit to CLEO of Kildare Street, Dublin, Ireland):

 

But I have a more immediate solution, one that won’t require you to wait several days for a product to be shipped.  That is, you could invite — through cyberspace — Colin Hancock and the Chicago Cellar Boys over for a visit.  You can learn more about Colin, a tremendously gifted multi-instrumentalist, arranger, vocalist, bandleader, and scholar here, or on this blog here.  Colin was at the 39th San Diego Jazz Fest this past November with the Original Cornell Syncopators, and you will see some videos from their performances shortly.  But the Chicago Cellar Boys were also there — Andy Schumm, cornet, clarinet, saxophone; John Otto, reeds; Paul Asaro, piano, vocal; Johnny Donatowicz, guitar, banjo; Dave Bock, tuba.  Learn more about them here or on the blog here also.

At the San Diego Jazz Fest, there were two bright shining moments — Hot Camelot, if you will — when Colin sat in with the Chicago Cellar Boys and magic ensued.  See if the room temperature doesn’t rise.

SHIM-ME-SHA-WABBLE, for the New Orleans Rhythm Kings and the Chicagoans (and https://jazzlives.wordpress.com/2016/05/26/the-latest-prance-words-and-music/ is the music and lyrics for that intoxicating 1917 melody):

WEARY BLUES, for Johnny Dodds and Louis and generations to come:

It feels like May now, thanks to these great hot spirits.

May your happiness increase!

“THAT AMAZING MUSIC”: PHILLIP JOHNSTON and the SILENT SIX at SMALLS (November 27, 2018)

Phillip Johnston and friends create music that’s unpredictable but rooted, surprising but deeply immersed in his own versions of the jazz tradition.  I had the good fortune to sit right in front of his Silent Six (a whimsical monicker) at Smalls in Greenwich Village last November, and can share with you a number of wonderful highlights.

He began the evening by discussing his recent joyous study of the music of the Twenties and Thirties, focusing on Jelly Roll Morton, Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, and Don Redman, and you will hear compositions by Louis and the Duke below, elevated by the same exploratory imaginative spirit that animated their creators.  (Sometimes we forget that POTATO HEAD BLUES was a brand-new tune in 1927, rather than a hallowed artifact of Hot.)

Phillip described the compositions and arrangements of that period as “that amazing music,” completely modern, larger than categories.  Hearing the Silent Six, you realize that he is also (without being immodest) describing what it does in this century.

The Silent Six is Phillip Johnston. soprano and alto saxophone; Joe Fiedler, trombone; Mike Hashim, baritone saxophone; Neal Kirkwood, piano; Dave Hofstra, string bass; Rob Garcia, drums. Philip originally formed the NYC-based Six to perform live in WORDLESS!, his multi-media film/music/lecture collaboration with Pulitzer-Prize winning illustrator and graphic art historian Art Spiegelman that had its 2013 debut at the Brooklyn Academy of Music and continues to tour worldwide.

And now for some music from Smalls.  Attentive listeners will hear deep roots: blues, shuffles, variations on familiar harmonic patterns, all performed with vigor, looseness, and wit — over irresistible dance rhythms, the result a series of surprises that immediately become comfortable.

Louis Armstrong’s POTATO HEAD BLUES:

Ellington’s AWFUL SAD:

Phillip’s DUCKET’S GOT A WHOLE IN IT (identified as a “deep shuffle”):

and his own LATER:

Phillip’s HOFSTRA’S DILEMMA (for stalwart string bassist Dave):

TEMPORARY BLINDNESS:

PLANETELLA ROCK:

Phillip also has two new CDs for us — DIGGIN’ BONES and THE ADVENTURES OF PRINCE ACHMED.  You can read reviews of them here.  Learn more / buy DIGGIN’ BONES here; for more about ACHMED, visit here.

This post is for Maurice Kessler, gig-friend extraordinaire.

May your happiness increase!

 

“KINDLY RESTRAIN THAT WILD CREATURE”: BRIAN HOLLAND, DANNY COOTS, MARTY EGGERS, MARC CAPARONE, EVAN ARNTZEN at the Scott Joplin International Ragtime Festival (Sedalia, Missouri: June 2, 2018)

A completely torrid interlude from the 2018 Scott Joplin International Ragtime Festival, featuring the Holland-Coots Jazz Quintet with Marty Eggers, string bass, sitting in for Steve Pikal.  The other incendiaries are Brian Holland, piano; Danny Coots, drums; Marc Caparone, cornet; Evan Arntzen, clarinet.  Although TIGER RAG owes something to Jelly Roll Morton, this rendition owes a great deal to Louis Armstrong. And who would find fault with that?

I’ve written a good deal and posted more than a few videos of this multi-talented group on this blog, which you can find.  However, I hope you know that they are among the stars of the late-Spring STOMPTIME cruise in the Eastern Caribbean: details here.  I am fairly sure that no pets are allowed on board, so you’ll have to check with the cruise line.

May your happiness increase!