Tag Archives: Louis Armstrong

A PASTORAL DREAM: BRYAN WRIGHT PLAYS REGINALD FORESYTHE

I’ve known Bryan Wright (or Bryan S. Wright, if we are to be formal) as the wearer of many hats: musical scholar, record collector,  recording engineer, guiding genius of his own Rivermont Records.  That would be enough of a curriculum vitae for several people or several lifetimes.  But my list needs to be opened up to include Bryan as a sensitive, thoughtful pianist and composer.

I had some wonderful opportunities to hear Bryan in those roles at the Scott Joplin International Ragtime Festival (May 31-June 2) in Sedalia, Missouri.

I was particularly taken with one piece that Bryan not only played but offered to us as a kind of surprise gift: THROUGH THE TREES, by the imaginative composer and pianist Reginald Foresythe (1907-58).  Before I heard Bryan’s performance, I knew Foresythe as the composer of DEEP FOREST, and of several bouncy compositions with eccentric titles: SERENADE TO A WEALTHY WIDOW and DODGING A DIVORCEE.  Brief research reminded me that he had also composed the song I associate with Mister Strong, HE’S A SON OF THE SOUTH.  But the first two compositions seem to me to herald the unusual mood pieces that Raymond Scott and Alec Wilder created a few years later.  I was not prepared for THROUGH THE TREES.

Before I proceed, I must point out that our ability to hear this piece is also due to the generosity of the British scholar-collector-sound restorer Nick Dellow, who is a deep student of Foresythe and made the sheet music of this otherwise unknown and unrecorded piece available to Bryan — and Bryan’s wife Yuko made the excellent video of Bryan at play.

I told Bryan that I thought of this music as both embodying and bringing peace.

Isn’t that just lovely, as a composition and a performance?

Should you want to hear more of the tender, ruminative Foresythe, I offer this:

Both of these compositions are too large and spacious to fit into stylistic compartments, and for that I (and I think you) should be glad. Thank you, Bryan, Yuko, Nick, and Reginald Foresythe.

May your happiness increase!

 

xxxxx

Advertisements

“HIS GIRLFRIEND’S UNDER-SLIP”

Exhibit A:

The eBay seller reports:

Louis Armstrong performed in Ludington, Michigan on July 24, 1962. My husband and then girlfriend went to the concert. Satchmo signed my husband’s hanky and his girlfriend’s under-slip. The hanky has never been washed and is a bit yellowed as you can see. Newspaper article is included as proof.

Here is the link: ten  bids so far.

What I want to know is what became of the “then girlfriend” and the young man whose handkerchief it was.  And is the seller now his widow?  A short story, barely submerged, exists.

Where’s the under-slip?  I have the mental picture of Louis autographing that.

And for the Corrections Officials: no, it’s not one of Louis’ handkerchiefs.  But it is as close as we have gotten so far.  The signature looks authentic, and the green pen adds seriousness to the enterprise.

May your happiness increase!

ART IS NOT THE BOX IT COMES IN

 

Have you heard this recently, this ecstatic sustained outpouring of wise joys?

You can read the names off the record label before the music starts, so I don’t have to name the divine figures.

I nearly drowned in an online discussion this morning — what is the difference between “New Orleans jazz” and “Dixieland”?  That dangerous question quickly branched off into definitions of “Chicago jazz” and “true traditional jazz,” with small mutterings about “two-beat” and “four-beat.”

Gentlemen (for they were all male), these names were not invented by musicians.  From what I’ve seen in practice, the Ancestors did not go on the job or into the record studio and say, “Well, fellows, now we are about to create three minutes — or ten minutes — of Authentic _____________ (insert divisive name here).”

They might have said, “Here’s a song we love.  Here’s a good old good one,” but usually they referred to what they were doing as “playing music,” or — when things got too divisive — as “our music.”

(At this point, someone will expect me to repeat what Eddie Condon or Duke Ellington said about music.  I won’t.  My audience already knows those quotations by heart.)

I backed away from the online discussion because my GP is trying to get my blood pressure down, and such conversations are not good for me.  But I think of it this way: if your birthday present comes in a box wrapped with newspaper, and the present pleases you, do you need to obsess on the newspaper?

The nomenclature was invented by clubowners, record companies, journalists — to sell a product.  Music might be made into a product, but it is essentially a heartfelt personal creation, and arguing about the names for it ultimately has little to do with the art.  And such arguments fragment what is already a small audience.

So . . . call it what you will, if you must.  But realize that names are not the reality of what we cherish when we hear or play it.  And perhaps you might want to listen to that sainted recording once again.

P.S.  For once, I am going to exert imperial privilege — my blog is like my house, and if guests behave badly, I point them to the door.  So negative comments will not see the light.  And now, I am going into Manhattan — below Fourteenth Street — to savor some music.

May your happiness increase!

PERFECTION OF THE ART: “CLASSIC BRUNSWICK AND COLUMBIA TEDDY WILSON SESSIONS 1934-1942” (Mosaic Records)

Teddy Wilson was soft-spoken and reticent, so this is a rare interlude, a 1950 radio interview (from WNYC) by Ralph Berton, a good prelude to the recent banquet of Teddy’s recordings on Mosaic Records:

I’ve been waiting for this set every since I heard rumors of it, and it has not disappointed me in the slightest.

But I must start with a small odd anecdote.  Like many, I have a mildly unhealthy attachment to Facebook, and when this set entered the emotionally-charged world of FB dialogue, one jazz fan said that he was waiting to read the reviews before purchasing it.  It was as if he had said, “I hear about this writer Toni Morrison.  I want to read some reviews before buying one of her books.”  Substitute “Brahms” or “Modigliani” or “Connee Boswell” and you get the idea.  Cue rueful laughter.

Readers of this blog know how fervently I support Mosaic Records (and I don’t get copies for free) so I offer correctives to misperceptions of Wilson and, by  extension, the recordings in this box set.

Wilson gets less praise than he deserves, because of unavoidable events in his life and the lives of his contemporaries.  One is the looming dramatic presence of Billie Holiday, without debate one of the finest artists in the music but also someone (like Charlie Parker) wrapped in a mythology that blots out those associated with her.  The recordings in this set do not have Miss Holiday, so some listeners might perceive them as second-string.  True, so far there has been no coffee-table book chronicling a week in the life of, say, Boots Castle.  But the singers here are never inept, and some of them — Helen Ward and Nan Wynn, with brief appearances by Ella and Lena (!) — are memorable.  Removing Lady Day from the equation makes it possible to actually savor the instrumental performances, and they are consistently remarkable.

His greatest public exposure was as a sideman with Benny Goodman, and the Trio and Quartet records are splendid.  But being typecast as the hero’s friend in the movies is not the same as being the hero.  I am sure that Wilson could claim a better salary from 1935 on, but it took some time for him to be understood for his own virtues.  And there was always Fats Waller and Art Tatum — talk about looming presences.

Wilson’s consistency has, perversely, made him a quiet figure in jazz hagiography.  From his introduction to Louis’ 1933 WORLD ON A STRING to his last recordings in 1985, he was recorded so often that there is a feeling of abundance and perhaps over-abundance.  There is no single monumental recording — no WEST END BLUES, no BODY AND SOUL, no SHOE SHINE BOY — to bow down to. (Something of the same fate — almost a punishment for excellence — has befallen Benny Carter, for one.)  Some have reduced Wilson to caricature: a medium-to-uptempo sliding right-hand piano arpeggio; true, that some of his late performances were beautifully-done but cast in bronze, with few surprises.  I wish his detractors might spend an afternoon with a transcribed solo and see how easy it is to reproduce even four bars of it.

He was always himself — balancing elegance and passion — and the recordings in this set are so consistently rewarding that they tend to overwhelm the listener who sits down to ingest them in large gulps.  Not for the first time in reviewing a Mosaic box, I have wanted to compel listeners to take the contents as they were offered in 1936: two sides at a time, no more than once a week.  In this way, even an “average” side — say, SING, BABY, SING — emerges as marvelously multi-layered.  I will point out that these sessions were intended to be “popular” and thus ephemeral: records to be listened to on jukeboxes at a nickel a side: current tunes, music to dance to.  I suspect the musicians were paid scale and went home with the idea that they had made some extra money, not that they had made Great Art.  They’ve been proven wrong, but in the nicest ways.

The music impresses and moves me on several levels.  One is that it is operating at a high level of excellence, hugely professional and still charmingly individualistic.  Everyone’s voice is heard: Buster Bailey, Mouse Randolph, Cozy Cole.  There are no dull solos; the swing is wondrous, never mechanical.  The ensemble playing is the easy mastery of people who play in sections night after night and thus know all there is about ensemble dynamics and blending — but who are also feeling the pleasure of loose improvising amidst respected colleagues.  The three-minute concertos are dense with musical information but are easy to listen to, apparently simple until one tries to mimic any part.  The soloists are a cross-section of worthies, a list of them too long to type.  Check the Mosaic discography.

In addition, the singers — who range from merely excellent on up — are charming reminders of a time when “jazz” and “pop music” were comfortable with one another.  Imagine a time when young and old could hear a new recording of a song from a new Bing Crosby movie (let’s say LAUGH AND CALL IT LOVE) and appreciate it, appreciate a Jonah Jones solo — all on the same aesthetic plane.  The most creative improvising was accepted as wonderful dance music, an exalted period where highbrow and lowbrow met, where snobberies were not so deeply ingrained, and certainly the audience was not fragmented and sectarian.

The result is an amiable perfection: I never want to edit a passage on a Wilson record.  Perhaps paradoxically, I also understand why Bird, Dizzy, and Monk — who admired Wilson and his colleagues deeply — felt the need to go in different directions.  What more could one create within this form?  How could one’s swing and improvisation of this type be more perfect?

Eight decades later, these records still sound so buoyant, so hopeful. The news from Europe was grim, and became more so.  But in the face of apocalypse, these musicians swung, sang tenderly, and gave us reason to go on.

I first heard Wilson early in my jazz apprenticeship; he was one of the first musicians, after Louis, to catch my ear.  Blessedly, I saw him in person several times in 1971-4, and I bought the records I could find — the French “Aimez-vous le jazz?” of his 1935-7 solos, the later Columbia two-lp sets of the small groups issued here and in Japan, Jerry Valburn’s Meritt Record Society discs.  When compact discs took over, I bought the Classics and Neatwork, the Masters of Jazz compilations.  However, I can write what I have written before: this Mosaic box offers music that I’ve never heard before, in splendid sound.

I’ve written elsewhere on JAZZ LIVES of my strong feeling that Mosaic Records is a noble enterprise.  Supporting their efforts is that rare double reward: a moral act that offers deep rewards.  So I won’t belabor that point here.  If you insist that everything should be for free online, that view that troubles me, especially if you expect a salary for the work you do.  But I will leave that to others to argue.

I confess that I am writing this review early, rather than waiting until I’ve arrived at the last track of the seventh disc — I have been savoring the earliest sides over and over.  And I have been appreciating Loren Schoenberg’s especially fine liner notes — over and above his unusually high standard! — for their subtleties and research.  And the photographs.  And the splendid transfers.  I haven’t even gotten to the unissued sides at the end of the package: 2018 is still young.

For more information, go here — either to purchase this limited edition while it is still available.  Or, so the people who say, “Well, how many unissued sides are there in this box?  Is it a good value?  I already have a lot of this material already,” can make up their own minds.  Those unaware of the beauty of this music can be amazed.

And those who, like me, look at this music as a series of aesthetic embraces, can prepare themselves for seven compact discs of joy and surprise, music both polished and warm.

May your happiness increase!

“IT’S NICE TO SEE YOU FOLKS HERE”: RAY SKJELBRED at the SAN DIEGO JAZZ FEST (November 26, 2016) PART ONE

Ray Skjelbred, poet and explorer, at the piano, musing, feeling, sharing colorful worlds of his own invention.

PINKY ROSE, a blues rumination:

NO COMPLAINTS, a lilting homage to Jess Stacy:

SITTING ON TOP OF THE WORLD, a blues by the Mississippi Sheiks:

IT’S A RAMBLE, by the mysterious Oro “Tut” Soper, a pianist who once kissed the young Anita O’Day passionately before remembering he wasn’t [because of religious beliefs] supposed to:

HEAH ME TALKIN’ TO YA, celebrating Louis Armstrong, Earl Hines, and Don Redman:

Rambles and saunters in worlds known and unknown: elegant, rough, always alive.

More to come from the Esteemed Mr. Skjelbred.  And this aural bouquet is in honor of Aunt Ida Melrose Shoufler, who understands.

May your happiness increase!

“THE JOYS OF D*******D” (PART ONE): ROSSANO SPORTIELLO, DUKE HEITGER, DAN BARRETT, SCOTT ROBINSON, DAN BLOCK, FRANK TATE, HAL SMITH (Cleveland Classic Jazz Party, September 15, 2017)

Let the truth come out: the glorious pianist Rossano Sportiello loves Dixieland. Yes, that naughty word so scorned by many jazz listeners.

[An update: since I published this blog, with the word spelled out in full, I have been rebuked by several esteemed jazz journalists, a few of them friends, for my daring to print the obscenity, as if I were wrapping myself in the flag of the Confederacy.  “‘D*******d’ is the name given to the kind of music Rossano heard, loved, and played in his Milan youth.  And — should sensibilities still be raw — it’s the name Louis gave to what he played.  Do I need to cite a higher authority?]

Not, as he will point out, the homogenized variety, but the music he grew up listening to: Eddie Condon, Pee Wee Russell, Bobby Hackett, and their noble colleagues.

In 2017, for one of his sets at the much-missed Cleveland Classic Jazz Party, he chose to play the familiar repertoire . . . but with energy and love.  He called on Hal Smith, drums; Frank Tate, string bass; Dan Block, clarinet; Scott Robinson, tenor saxophone; Dan Barrett, trombone; Duke Heitger, trumpet, to accomplish this.  And even though these songs (or almost all of them) have been played to shreds by less-splendid musicians, they shine here.  Admire the relaxed tempos and fine dynamics: the hallmarks of players who remember what the songs are supposed to sound like, that MUSKRAT and BARBECUE have fine melodies that must be treated with care and admiration.

They began with the song Louis loved so well, STRUTTIN’ WITH SOME BARBECUE:

Again, thinking of Louis, a sweet-and-slow AIN’T MISBEHAVIN’:

Hot Five territory once more, but not too fast, for MUSKRAT RAMBLE:

There’s a second half, to come soon — classic performances, created on the spot.

Thanks not only to these delightful creators, but to Nancy Hancock Griffith and Kathy Hancock for making all this possible.  The Cleveland Classic Jazz Party is now only a sweet memory, but it was a glorious outpouring while it lasted.

May your happiness increase!

“A WORKING BAND”: WELCOME THE RIVERSIDE JAZZ COLLECTIVE!

Some New Orleanians will glower at me for writing these words, but all the music marketed as “New Orleans jazz” is not equally satisfying or expert.  The proof is on the city’s streets or on YouTube.  All that’s apparently steaming is not Hot, to coin a new cliché.

But this post is to welcome a new band — the Riverside Jazz Collective — and their debut CD, which is a delight. It’s the brainchild of pianist / arranger Kris Tokarski (whom I admire greatly) and his congenial friends: Benny Amon, drums; Alex Belhaj, guitar, vocal; Tyler Thomson or Andy Reid, string bass; Ben Polcer, trumpet, vocal, or Alex Owen, cornet and vocal; Charlie Halloran, trombone; Chloe Feoranzo, clarinet, vocal.

If you don’t know those names, you need a refresher course in Old Time Modern.

And the repertoire is lively and — even when venerable — fresh and joyous:
STOMP OFF, LET’S GO / IT BELONGS TO YOU/ JUST GONE / HERE COMES THE HOT TAMALE MAN / WABASH BLUES / READY FOR THE RIVER / RIVERSIDE BLUES / DON’T LEAVE ME IN THE ICE AND SNOW / SWIPSEY CAKEWALK / BLUES MY NAUGHTY SWEETIE GIVES  TO ME / ONE SWEET LETTER FROM YOU / SEE SEE RIDER / MELANCHOLY BLUES / SOCIETY BLUES / WHENEVER YOU’RE LONESOME.

That’s a wholly “traditional” repertoire, with nods to Louis Armstrong, Erskine Tate, Kid Ory, Jelly Roll Morton, Bunk Johnson, King Oliver, Freddie Keppard, Jimmie Noone, Tony Jackson, and more — but happily it isn’t DO YOU KNOW WHAT IT MEANS TO MISS NEW ORLEANS?  Nothing’s routine or stale here.

Here is the band’s Facebook page — where you can learn about their next gigs.

I’d asked Kris if he needed a liner-note writer, by which I meant myself, and I was delighted when he said yes.  Here’s what I wrote, in a very short time, because the music hit me hard in the nicest ways:

In the old days, when one could see the liner notes on the back of the “record,” or the “lp,” those paragraphs served a commercial purpose: to make the undecided purchaser head to the cash register at a trot, clutching the record. Today, the purchaser might read the notes after buying the CD (or perhaps not at all): so I write to share my enthusiasm. And there’s a lot to be enthusiastic about the Riverside Jazz Collective.

Musicians I know speak of “playing tunes,” as in “Oh, we played some tunes,” which suggests that on those occasions there is little written music but much collective joy that comes out of well-earned knowledge of the music. The RJC knows the original records and they may have “roadmaps” as in “Second chorus is stop-time for cornet and piano only,” but they aren’t trying to create imitations of the classics in the best sound. And they have the comfortable ease and friendliness – to us, to each other – of A Working Band, something delicious and rare.

The RJC is interested in “old” songs that are melodically and emotionally durable – from joyous stomps to love songs to one Chicago lament that says, “You know what? I’m going to kill myself,” even if the lyrics are too witty for that to be a real threat. Their repertoire is often “New Orleans jazz,” however you might define it, as it surfaced in other cities, notably Chicago. And one can point to a good number of Ancestors here, from Tony Jackson to Louis Armstrong to Oliver, Morton, Keppard, Bunk, and Ory.

This band also enacts a neat balance between collective improvisation and solos, but they bring a little twenty-first century energy, elegance, and intelligence to their hot reverence. Enthusiasm is the driving force here, not cautious antiquarianism. This band has also heard jazz created after 1927, and that awareness gives these performances a happy elasticity, an optimistic bounce. Hear HERE COMES THE TAMALE MAN for a brilliant example of sonic joy-spreading. I could explain more, but it would cost extra.

It feels good, and it feels real. You know there are mountains of what I’d call “tofu music” being marketed as genuine, but your ears, your feet, and your heart tell you when the jazz has been manufactured in a lab by chemists. I greet the Riverside Jazz Collective at the start of what I hope is their brilliant career. My words are written in a time of ice and snow, but the music warms and embraces. And now IT BELONGS TO YOU.

Visit here — and these compact versions of spiritual uplift can belong to you, either as download or disc; you can hear samples of the music as well.

Welcome to the Riverside Jazz Collective.  They spread joy: I hope they find prosperity and appreciative audiences.

May your happiness increase!