Tag Archives: Louis Armstrong

“THE JOYS OF DIXIELAND” (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.

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!

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“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!

MAKING MELODY COME ALIVE: LARRY McKENNA, AARON SEEBER, DAVID WONG (March 18, 2018)

Listening to Louis Armstrong play, Bobby Hackett reportedly said to an observer, “Do you know how hard it is to make melody come so alive?”  Hackett knew, because he made such transformations happen for forty years of picking up the cornet.  I am sure that both Bobby and Louis would deeply admire the mastery of tenor saxophonist Larry McKenna, a legendary figure I got to meet a few weeks ago at a downtown New York restaurant.

Larry had made the trip (by Bolt bus!) from his Philadelphia home, and he was quietly dazzling — along with the sensitive playing of David Wong, string bass, and Aaron Seeber, drums.

Such beauty might sound easy, but it isn’t easy to create.  So we salute Mr. McKenna, graceful, quiet, modest, yet building castles of feeling and sound right in front of us.

May your happiness increase!  

MASTERS OF MODERN MUSIC: DAN MORGENSTERN RECALLS DIZZY GILLESPIE, JAMES MOODY, TADD DAMERON (December 15, 2017)

Our man in jazz Dan Morgenstern has always distinguished himself by his happy ability to hear good things wherever he goes; his range is not limited by styles and schools.  So it’s not surprising that he should be so fond of the “new music” that greeted him on his arrival in the United States in the second half of the Forties.

His recollections of Dizzy Gillespie, James Moody, and Tadd Dameron are not only tributes to their music, but to their warm personalities.

First, a brief soundtrack: Dizzy’s 1945 recording of Tadd’s GOOD BAIT (with Don Byas, Trummy Young, Clyde Hart, Oscar Pettiford, and Shelly Manne):

and, from 1971, the same GOOD BAIT as performed by Moody and Al Cohn, Barry Harris, Sam Jones, Roy Brooks:

Then, Dan’s very affectionate portrait of Dizzy, which ends up in Corona, Queens, with a famished John Birks foraging for snacks at a friend’s house:

Intimately connected with Dizzy, James Moody, another joy-spreader:

And finally, the vastly influential Tadd Dameron:

This post is in honor of my dear friend Doug Pomeroy, who — like Dan — continues to spread joy.

May your happiness increase!

THE HORACE GERLACH FAN CLUB, or ANYTHING CAN SWING: THE ORIGINAL DOWNHOME JAZZ BAND (Toledo, Ohio, February 25, 2017)

On Benny Goodman’s “Camel Caravan” radio show — circa 1938 — there was a feature called ANYTHING CAN SWING, and what follows is a fine illustration.

Louis Armstrong followers like myself know the sacred and mysterious name of Horace Gerlach — co-composer with Louis of three masterpieces: SWING THAT MUSIC, I’VE GOT A HEART FULL OF RHYTHM, and IF WE NEVER MEET AGAIN.  I’ve featured them on this blog as performed by Louis, Marty Grosz, Banu Gibson, and others.

But I’ve never had occasion to spotlight the fourth Gerlach opus, which probably made him the most money, DADDY’S LITTLE GIRL.  In some traditional weddings, it is the song the bride and her father have their ceremonial dance to.  (I don’t know how this makes the groom feel, but leave that to you to ponder.)

Thanks to my friend and friend of JAZZ LIVES Laura Wyman — CEO of Wyman Video — we have this hot performance of DADDY’S LITTLE GIRL by the Original Downhome Jazz Band (February 25, 2017, Ye Olde Durty Bird, Toledo, Ohio) captured on video for everyone to enjoy, whether or not there is a daughter in the house.

The ODJB is Dave Kosmyna, leader, cornet, vocal; Chris Smith, trombone; Ray Heitger, clarinet; James Dapogny, piano; Pete Siers, drums, and do they beat it out:

Laura has also shared many fine hot videos on her YouTube channel.  Wyman Video (expert, discreet, and informed) can come and video your event: fee schedule available on request. Weddings, recitals, hot bands, basement jam sessions: you name it.

For now, I will muse upon the invisibility of Horace Gerlach: composer, arranger, friend of Louis.  Anyone have a portrait of the man to share?

May your happiness increase!

EMBRACED WARMLY BY MUSIC: DANNY TOBIAS, GEORGE RABBAI, PHIL ORR, PAT MERCURI, JOE PLOWMAN (Part One): March 24, 2018

It’s lovely to see and hear indebtedness, art, and gratitude all combined into a glowing musical gift.  I’m not at all being hyperbolic, as you will understand.

But before I get wrapped up in the music, let me point out that this all happened yesterday, Saturday, March 24, at a place you should know about — the 1867 Sanctuary Arts and Culture Center at Ewing, New Jersey.


And what was “this”?

Now you know.  But in all fairness to the graphic designer and the copywriter here, that advertisement might have made people who didn’t know Danny, George, Pat, Phil, or Joe leap to incorrect conclusions.  “Pops to Bop” might have suggested a-history-of-jazz-trumpet, or an afternoon vacillating between WHAT A WONDERFUL WORLD and DIZZY ATMOSPHERE.  But these musicians meet on common ground; they love one another, and the music was so warmly played and presented that there was not even a thirty-second note of the formulaic here.  It wasn’t a battle of genres: quite the contrary, if you squinted in just the right way through the stained glass windows, you could see Buck, Louis, Sweets, Basie, and Dizzy grinning like mad.

And although the brass instruments displayed and played here are often quite assertive, there was none of that signifying stuff, no “I can play higher, I can play louder,” so the sound was resonant, glowing, and in its own way serene, even at faster tempos.  

Introducing the second song, HALF NELSON, Danny talks about how George was and is his inspiration, and even if he hadn’t explained that, we could hear it in the air.

Let me share the first four performances with you.

Danny’s original (in the spirit of the season to come) PASS OVER:

Following that thread, I’M CONFESSIN’:

HALF NELSON, credited (I think) to Miles, but who can tell?

And to close off this segment, George’s lovely reading of BODY AND SOUL:

It was a nearly six-hour round trip by car from my place to Ewing: I’d do it every weekend ti hear this band.  Aren’t they wonderful?  Savor this quartet of beauties: there are ten more to come.

May your happiness increase!

THAT’S LIKE IT OUGHT TO BE: DAVID HORNIBLOW and ANDREW OLIVER PLAY MORTON, CONTINUED

In this case, a song title is a perfect embodiment of a musical endeavor — the Complete Morton Project of David Horniblow (reeds) and Andrew Oliver (piano) — brilliant players and imaginers both.  They’ve been astonishingly posting two new performances of Mister Jelly Lord’s music for much of 2018, and I have been happily reposting them here.  Read more on Andrew Oliver’s blog.

From doctorjazz.co.uk, with this explication: Mark Miller sends the following pictorial advert for a previously unknown engagement featuring “Jelly Roll” Morton and His World Famous Victor Recording Orchestra at Madison Lake, New York from The Brookfield Courier, dated Wednesday, 26th June 1935, page 4, columns 6—7.

Here’s THAT’S LIKE IT OUGHT TO BE:

On that performance, David plays Barney Bigard’s solo precisely — no easy task.  He’s written, “The clarinet player on the original recording is the great Barney Bigard, and his style was so compellingly odd that I’m playing it note-for-note, and on a vintage Albert System Selmer clarinet which is very similar to the instrument he would have played it on. Excessively nerdy I guess.”  To which I must respond, “‘Nerdy,’ my Aunt Fanny.  ‘Extraordinary’ is more like it.”  And Andrew’s playing is explosively fine.

GAMBLING JACK, frolicsome and certainly rare:

Incidentally, deep Mortonians will know this already, but the music you are admiring was often not scored or recorded by piano and clarinet — so these performances are much more ambitious than transcriptions of recorded performances.  More from Andrew’s blog about the next two songs here.

LOAD OF COAL (which had the then-young drummer William “Cozy” Cole on the original recording, so I have always thought its title a pun):

As shown by the Gennett label, STRATFORD HUNCH was at first a piano solo, but it lives many lives:

STRATFORD HUNCH became — slightly streamlined — CHICAGO BREAKDOWN, and was recorded by Louis Armstrong in 1927 in a band arrangement that, among other things, omits Morton’s introduction — but features brilliant playing by Louis and Earl Hines.

Since David and Andrew pay Louis’ record homage, I include it here as well.  And if anyone thinks Swing didn’t start until 1936, please offer the closing chorus of this recording as refutation:

Back to Mister Jelly for a moment, to comment with admiration that Andrew and David have created twenty-two videos to date, and they intend to keep going until they reach one hundred.  What splendid diligence, I say.

May your happiness increase!