Tag Archives: Louis Armstrong

“ADMIT ONE”: LOUIS ARMSTRONG and his N.B.C. ORCHESTRA at PORT ARTHUR, TEXAS, November 15, 1940.

Yes, July 4th!

I found this holy relic for sale on eBay. Do I have to say how much I would have given to be there? But alas, my parents had not even met. So there goes that dream. It is, of course, only a piece of paper. But Louis’ big band did broadcast between 1939-43, and some extraordinarily rare and fine music was preserved for us — and issued on a CD on the Ambassador label, Volume 10 of their Armstrong series, the gift of the late Gosta Hagglof to all lovers of hot music.

So in honor of Louis and in honor of his birthday (let’s not argue about the date this year, please) I have extracted two very lively and different performances. Alas, neither is from the Port Arthur dance, but they are by his remarkable big band — with him remarkably out in front, showing the way, as he continues to do.

This composition by Joe Garland got the dancers on the floor and kept them there. The band for this performance is Louis Armstrong, trumpet, vocal; Shelton Hemphill, Bernard Flood, Henry “Red” Allen, trumpet; Wilbur deParis, George Washington, J.C. Higginbotham, trombone; Charlie Holmes, Rupert Cole, alto saxophone; Bingie Madison, clarinet, tenor saxophone; Joe Garland, bass sax, reeds, arranger; Luis Russell, piano; Lee Blair, guitar; Pops Foster, string bass; Sidney Catlett, drums. Cotton Club, New York City, March 22, 1940. Listen for Sidney Catlett catching every detail in the arrangement, Garland on bass saxophone, Red Allen on trumpet — further evidence that Red wasn’t “buried” in Louis’ band — and the sound of the respective sections, well-rehearsed, before Bingie Madison’s clarinet and Louis’ entrance, his sound so recognizable, then the duet with Sidney, electrifying:

and a lovely performance (missing the cadenza at the end) of a song written for Louis in 1936 by Sammy Cahn and Saul Chaplin, SHOE SHINE BOY. The band’s personnel had changed: Louis Armstrong, trumpet, vocal; Frank Galbreath, Shelton Hemphill, Bernard Flood, trumpet; George Washington, James Whitney, Henderson Chambers, trombone; Rupert Cole, Carl Frye, alto saxophone; Prince Robinson, clarinet, tenor saxophone; Joe Garland, reeds, arranger; Luis Russell, piano; Lawrence Lucie, guitar; John Simmons, string bass; Sidney Catlett, drums. Casa Manana, Culver City, California, April 1, 1942. Hear the tenderness in Louis’ voice (and the sweet inspired trumpet obbligato behind his singing), again with Catlett’s heroic support. The incomplete recording catches me by surprise, but I can imagine the notes that follow and hope you can also:

Bless Louis, and his orchestras, and the unknown recordists. The dancers, too. To me, every day is Louis’ birthday. I hope for you also.

May your happiness increase!

“NO.”

When you’re not smiling.

I’ve spent years saying YES to things that I would rather not have done, out of the misguided notion that I had to, to be liked, accepted, or praised. Often the appeal was wrapped in flattery, and I accepted the task without considering what a careless acceptance would mean.

Only in later years have I worked on the art of saying NO.

This came out of working with women even more downtrodden than I’d ever been, women who had been compelled to think it would be wrong to refuse a burden.

They were trained to stifle the NO they wanted to say. Or “I just can’t.” “I would prefer not to.” “Isn’t there someone else you can exploit?” “Do it yourself,” or a thousand other self-preserving statements, “Are you fucking kidding me?” being the most candid one.

As I age, I see more clearly the limits of my energy and my desire to preserve myself, but I don’t want to be offensive, or perhaps I don’t want to be perceived as that.

So when my inner voice is saying, in response to some request, “I’d rather die,” I am practicing saying, “I’ve got too much on my plate right now to do it.” Among close friends, I can mutter, “I’d rather stick myself in the face with a plastic fork,” often accompanied by an upward-stabbing gesture of the right hand and arm. But that’s only in my inner circle, and accompanied by hilarity on all sides.

In the recent past (and I know I am not alone in this) I framed the backing-off as an apology, “I’m really sorry; I’d like to help you, but (a trailing-off pause)” — but it dawned on me that my requester heard only “I’d like to help you” and pressed on.

So no more apologies. A head-shake, a smile, and “I really can’t,” will have to suffice.

What has this got to do with jazz? Wait.

Victoria Spivey wrote this song, NO, PAPA, NO! — which she recorded in 1928, as did Duke Ellington, and Louis. Her version is rather formulaic (although not outdated) — stern statements to a male lover about what he cannot do to her. As my 78 collection expanded over the pandemic, I obtained this disc, with its much more stark title:

Considering this sacred artifact recently provoked thoughts about the self-preserving power of refusal.

But first, the music: a rather light-hearted twelve-bar blues with key changes lifting it out of the predictable, Earl Hines shining through — Louis, looking backwards to Joe Oliver and forward to the way he would approach the blues until his death:

Now, I imagine myself pressed into a corner by someone insistent, someone who won’t honor my feelings as expressed in more intense refusals. At last I have my secret weapon, in reserve as a last resort.

“Michael, I’m begging you. Only you can do this for me. And I’ll always be grateful.”

“Well, let me check with Louis.”

“Louis?”

“Yes, Louis always helps me make decisions as important as this. I’ll be back in a few.”

Then I can gather my strength, look closely at the OKeh label, perhaps play the record itself, which won’t take long, and say, “Sorry to make you wait. Louis says NO, and I never disagree with him. Take good care,” and leave.

See if it works for you, and report back.

May your happiness increase!

THE IMMORTAL BOB BARNARD (1933-2022), PART FIVE: BOB AT THE EUREKA JAZZ FESTIVAL, BALLARAT, with THE AUSTRALIANS: NEVILLE STRIBLING, ADE MONSBOURGH, GRAHAM COYLE, CONRAD JOYCE, PETER CLEAVER, ALLAN BROWNE (1986)

These video performances (thanks to Simon Stribling, a brilliant trumpeter and alto saxophonist) have been on YouTube for perhaps fifteen years, but even I didn’t know of all of them, so I urge you to watch, enjoy, and marvel.

The band alongside Bob, cornet, is Neville Stribling, alto saxophone, clarinet, vocal; Ade Monsbourgh, tenor saxophone, clarinet, vocal; Graham Coyle, piano; Conrad Joyce, string bass; Peter Cleaver, guitar / banjo; Allan Browne, drums, washboard. Jazz royalty. And the repertoire has a distinct Louis flavor with one bow to the Rhythmakers and another to Coleman Hawkins and Benny Carter: what could be wrong with that?

Astonishing lyrical hot playing, offered to us with the greatest casualness: the work of masters.

WHEN YOU’RE SMILING:

IF I COULD BE WITH YOU ONE HOUR TONIGHT (vocal, Neville):

OH, PETER (YOU’RE SO NICE)!:

MY BUDDY (for Coleman Hawkins and Benny Carter):

I’M A DING DONG DADDY (FROM DUMAS):

I rarely make such claims, but if you can listen to this music without being uplifted, I would think we have little in common.

I am, for the moment, concluding my little series of loving homages to Bob Barnard. But he and his sound are never far from my ears and heart. And I — a retired academic — offer JAZZ LIVES’ readers the most pleasing homework: go and find more of his music, to start and end your days in joy.

Thanks also to John Scurry for his consistent support and his help with this post.

May your happiness increase!

THE IMMORTAL BOB BARNARD (1933-2022), PART FOUR: BOB, CAPTURED IN FLIGHT (Jazz at Chautauqua and with Vince Giordano’s Nighthawks)

Thinking of mid-period blue-label Decca Louis for I’M SHOOTING HIGH, with John Sheridan, piano; Frank Tate, string bass; Arnie Kinsella, drums (Jazz at Chautauqua, September 21, 2007, surreptitious audio only):

On a visit to New York in 2010, Bob sat in with Vince Giordano’s Nighthawks (personnel given in the description) for a few songs:

SOMEBODY LOVES ME:

More Louis, appropriately, with SOMEDAY YOU’LL BE SORRY:

and that hymn to staying at home, BACK IN YOUR OWN BACKYARD:

Bob brought joy then and continues to do so now.

May your happiness increase!

THE IMMORTAL BOB BARNARD (1933-2022)

Wikipedia, where almost-cooked facts are arranged for our pleasure, tells me today that Bob Barnard, “an Australian trumpet and cornet player,” born November 24, 1933, died yesterday, May 7, 2022. I heard the news yesterday from the very fine friend of the music John Trudinger. My first reaction was double: I felt as if I’d been pierced right through my chest, but at the same time I heard a great golden sound, that of Bob’s glowing horn. And I thought of what Bobby Hackett had said of Louis Armstrong’s “death,” that Louis was alive as long as we could hear him.

I was fortunate to see and hear and even chat with Bob on his visits to New York and to Jazz at Chautauqua, which is why I start with his rare character. He had his own center, a sweet equanimity. He was ready to find the world both welcoming and amusing, and although I never heard him tell a joke (or be mean at someone’s expense), he always looked as if he was ready to start laughing — of course, not when the horn was at his lips, when he was completely serious. I think of him with a gentle amiability, head slightly cocked at the latest absurdity but ready to make everything right through music.

Along with that ease in the world, and perhaps its foundation, was a lovely mature courage. When he led groups at Chautauqua and elsewhere — musicians who didn’t usually play together or who (let me whisper this) always know more obscure repertoire, he was beautifully unflappable. He called tunes that he knew everyone would enjoy, but when he announced BOULEVARD OF BROKEN DREAMS or GIVE A LITTLE WHISTLE I could see the faintest looks of “What the hell is this? How does the bridge go?” among the very experienced musicians on the stand. Bob called a medium tempo and started playing the melody . . . wordlessly teaching by example, “THIS is how it goes. Follow me and I won’t let you get lost.” And no one did.

I hope that my readers know what an unforgiving instrument the trumpet (or cornet) is, how demanding . . . and if they don’t know, they pick one up sometime and attempt a clear tone, held notes, the barest semblance of agility.

Bob, Pat O’Leary, Scott Robinson, Matt Munisteri at The Ear Inn, 2010.

Bob is — not was — an absolutely spectacular brass virtuoso. But one with deep-seated taste and grace. He came out of Louis and Bix, but with a keen sense of their songful lyricism: the only one who approached his mastery in this is Connie Jones. He was also fearlessly agile all over the range of the horn. I think of Bob’s limber, audaciously sweet playing as skywriting or acrobatics on the highest diving board.

Here’s a sample from Bob’s visit to The Ear Inn, September 26, 2010, with Scott Robinson, tenor saxophone; Matt Munisteri, guitar; Pat O’Leary, string bass:

and also in sweetly Louis-inspired mode, performances with John Sheridan, piano; Arnie Kinsella, drums, at Jazz at Chautauqua, September 16, 2010.

I LOVE YOU, SAMANTHA (from High Society):

LYIN’ TO MYSELF (from the glorious Deccas):

and, finally, THE SKELETON IN THE CLOSET. Originally I thought that bringing this performance forward to mark Bob’s moving on would seem a failure of taste, but I think he would laugh at the juxtaposition, never one to take himself too seriously:

And a beautiful interlude from Bob’s last recording session, JUST MY LUCK, with guitarist Ian Date in March 2016:

Bob made his first recordings in 1949, and readers who know him will have their own favorites. But you can hear his style, his joy, his lyrical exuberance in these performances. And if you knew him, even glancingly, as I did, you hear the friendly singular man, in love with melodies, in every note.

He lives on and will live on in those sounds.

May your happiness increase!

“GONE FISHIN'”: APRIL 1-14, 2022

This is the Official JAZZ LIVES Out-Of-Office Message. It’s a metaphor: I love fish but someone else catches them for me. But I will be taking a break from blogging for the dates above. For good reasons, I assure you, not any blog-related disorders including my chronic stiff neck from too much time in front of the lit screen. And it’s not an April Fool joke, either. Because people worry, I haven’t received any ominous diagnosis; I am not going into rehab; I am not going to Mexico for bargain-priced blog-liposuction. I am taking a break for very good and pleasing reasons, and I am coming back.

I doubt that any reader is seized with anxiety at this news. However, since I have been sending out blogposts since February 2008 along with YouTube videos (at my “swingyoucats” channel here) I trust you can find some music to brighten your days.

Here’s something to start you off.

May your happiness increase!

MISTER TEA, SEEN and HEARD

Early on in my listening career I was frankly enraptured by Jack Teagarden, trombone and voice. I heard his ST. JAMES INFIRMARY from Louis’ 1947 Town Hall concert and although I played that whole recording until it turned grey, that track and AIN’T MISBEHAVIN’ were especially worn. In my local department store, a Decca anthology, THE GOLDEN HORN OF JACK TEAGARDEN, was a cherished purchase, with recordings from 1929 to 1947. Ask any trombonist how astonishing Jack’s technique is — and note I use present tense. And as for his singing . . . who has matched its easy fervor?

This little meditation on the man from Texas is motivated by two autographed photographs on eBay. The seller is from Belgium. Here is one link (the portrait); here is the other (the group photo).

First, a standard publicity shot when Jack was a member of Louis’ All-Stars (and thus employed by Joe Glaser’s Associated Booking Corporation) — inscribed “To Rosie and Tony,” in peacock-blue fountain-pen ink. I suspect that either Rosie or Tony dated the photograph at the bottom; the neat printing is probably not Jack’s:

That photograph holds no mysterious half-submerged stories. But this one does. It is heralded by the seller as “Louis Armstrong – Lucille Wilson – Jack Teagarden – RARE back signed photo – COA,” and I have no quibbles with that except that by 1942, “Lucille Wilson” had taken “Armstrong” as her surname.

But wait! There’s more! Is the partially obscured clarinetist to the left Peanuts Hucko? I believe the seated baritone saxophonist is not Ernie Caceres, but the elusive Bill Miles. And standing behind Louis is a naggingly familiar figure: the penny dropped (as my UK friends may say) — drummer Kaiser Marshall. His headgear suggests that this is a candid shot from a 1947 gathering, “Jazz on the River,” that also included Art Hodes and possibly Cecil Scott — connected to the premiere of the film NEW ORLEANS at the Winter Garden Theater in New York City.

William P. Gottlieb took a good number of photographs of this concert which was to benefit the Damon Runyon Cancer Fund, and you can see them at the Gottlieb holdings at the Library of Congress here. Here’s one:

Other musicians in this band were Cecil Scott, Sandy Williams, and Henry Goodwin. We have even more evidence: an NBC radio broadcast of a concert at the Winter Garden on June 19, 1947, the performers being Louis and Jack, Peanuts and Caceres, Bobby Hackett, Dick Cary, Jack Lesberg, George Wettling, and Sidney Catlett. The broadcast, m.c.’d by Fred Robbins, offered ‘WAY DOWN YONDER IN NEW ORLEANS, MUSKRAT RAMBLE, DEAR OLD SOUTHLAND, DO YOU KNOW WHAT IT MEANS TO MISS NEW ORLEANS, SOMEDAY YOU’LL BE SORRY, and TIGER RAG.

Back to the second photograph for a moment. It does not look to me like a Gottlieb shot. Was it was a candid one, created by another photographer. Is the number on the back significant of anything more than the developer’s index? I do not know. Did Louis, Lucille, and Jack sign this photograph at or after the concert? And . . . who can decipher the fourth signature, quite cryptic and unfamiliar to me?And an aside: we don’t always think of Kaiser Marshall when we list Louis’ great drummers, but they were colleagues in the Fletcher Henderson band during Louis’ 1924-5 tenure, and they teamed up so very memorably for the 1929 KNOCKIN’ A JUG session — although not after that, at least in terms of recorded evidence. You can hear Kaiser (born Joseph) with McKinney’s Cotton Pickers and, in 1946-47, with Mezz Mezzrow and Sidney Bechet for KING JAZZ recordings. Kaiser died on January 2, 1948; he was only 45.

All of that has taken us some distance from Jack Teagarden, but I hope you found this jazz-mystery solving rewarding. Now, for some relevant music from the 1947 Winter Garden broadcast — with Louis in that brief golden period when he appeared and recorded with a group of musicians we would most happily associate with Eddie Condon, to great effect:

‘WAY DOWN YONDER IN NEW ORLEANS:

MUSKRAT RAMBLE :

DO YOU KNOW WHAT IT MEANS TO MISS NEW ORLEANS? (Bobby Hackett at the start, and a gorgeous solo by Jack):

(Note: the YouTube compilers seem to have hidden DEAR OLD SOUTHLAND, a duet for Louis and Dick Cary, and SOMEDAY YOU’LL BE SORRY. I have no idea why.)

TIGER RAG (with raucous Jack and a wonderful Sidney solo):

Photographs, imperishable music, and a small mystery: JAZZ LIVES’ gift to you.

May your happiness increase!

WE STILL MISS JOHN SHERIDAN (Jazz at Chautauqua, September 20, 2013)

Here are two savory solo piano performances by John Sheridan, almost a decade ago, having his own kind of intent fun at the piano in the parlor of the Hotel Athenaeum, the Friday afternoon before the proceedings officially began.

John had a vast repertoire, so these two performances — riotous yet exact, meditative yet focused — are simply two aspects of his multifarious self. I invite you to savor them, and also share my slight amusement at John’s crisp rapport with the listeners, never mean-spirited but always slightly brusque, at least on the surface.

COME BACK, SWEET PAPA, by Paul Barbarin and Luis Russell, made immortal by Louis Armstrong in Chicago, 1926. Verse and chorus, delightfully orchestral and vivid:

and the other end of the emotional spectrum, a ruminative impressionistic THE LEGEND OF LONESOME LAKE by Eastwood Lane, a composer and composition Bix Beiderbecke knew well:

It’s easy to say that artists are immortal as long as their art is within reach, and it’s true . . . but I wish the telephone would ring and John would be on the other end. Seeing and hearing him, however, is a delight, even if tinged with regret.

May your happiness increase!

ONDATRA ZIBETHICUS, ON THE LOOSE IN SOHO: JON-ERIK KELLSO, HARVEY TIBBS, MATT MUNISTERI, NEAL MINER at The Ear Out (November 3, 2021)

I had to choose: if I’d called this post A WANDERING RODENT, that would have given the wrong idea. And this photograph might not have helped, except as an advertisement for better dental hygiene:

But it’s only my comedic way of introducing a glorious performance of MUSKRAT RAMBLE by the EarRegulars at the end of their 2021 summer season at The Ear Out. The naturalists whose music charms us so are Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Matt Munisteri, guitar; Harvey Tibbs, trombone; Neal Miner, string bass — taking this venerable composition at the proper rambling tempo:

Goodness, how they swing. What a gift to us. And to Louis, too.

May your happiness increase!

STOMP FOR CHRISTMAS: MORE FROM GORDON AU and THE GRAND STREET STOMPERS (GORDON AU, JOSH HOLCOMB, MATT KOZA, NICK RUSSO, ROB ADKINS, SHANE DEL ROBLES, TAMAR KORN, MOLLY RYAN) at CHELSEA TABLE and STAGE, December 3, 2021.

Appropriate to the season, here are three more holiday-wintry favorites, performed by Tamar Korn, Molly Ryan, voice and drama; Rob Adkins, string bass; Matt Koza, reeds; Nick Russo, guitar and banjo; Gordon Au, trumpet, leader, composer, arranger; Josh Holcomb, trombone; Shane Del Robles, drums. Tamar, Molly, and the Grand Street Stompers had their HOLIDAY STOMP at the new venue, Chelsea Table and Stage, on 26th Street in Manhattan, New York City, December 3, 2021. These performances were recorded by Chelsea Table and Stage and are presented here with thanks.

Here’s a song that has wistful resonance, not just for December 25:

Who’s that man kissing Mommy? Why, it’s Kris Kringle as Shorty George:

and the other side of Mr. Claus . . . that scary phenomenon, in honor of Louis Armstrong, the truest giver of gifts:

May your happiness increase!

PART THREE: HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO OUR MAN DAN MORGENSTERN, 92!

Dan Morgenstern’s birthday celebration is too large to be contained in one twenty-four hour period, so this is the third day of posting interviews he did in front of my camera. I present this small tasting menu to remind people of Dan’s even-handed expansiveness: other jazz writers range across styles and decades, but few do it with the comfort and empathy he shows. And his first-hand experiences with his and our heroes are priceless.

How about Coleman Hawkins and Jack Purvis?

and Pops Foster?

and Sidney Catlett?

and Miles Davis, too:

Miles as friend and neighbor:

and it always comes back to Louis:

My informants in the Jazz Under-and-Overworld tell me that this Wednesday, at 5 PM (doors open at 4) David Ostwald and the Louis Armstrong Eternity Band will be paying loving tribute to Dan, who will be there (we hope!) at Birdland, in New York City. Birdland does not allow impromptu videography, so I hope you can join us. Or if you are far away, Dan is on Facebook and I am sure he could endure some more congratulations and greetings.

May your happiness increase!

MAGNIFICENCE: TOM BAKER PLAYS “WEST END BLUES” with MICHAEL SUPNICK, EVAN CHRISTOPHER, CHRIS HOPKINS, MARTIN WHEATLEY, TREVOR RICHARDS (Ascona, July 4, 2000)

There isn’t much that needs to be said about this performance of WEST END BLUES except to say that it is gorgeous — impassioned and exact — and that we miss Tom Baker, who did so many things superbly. Tom’s on cornet; Michael Supnick, trombone; Evan Christopher, clarinet; Chris Hopkins, piano; Martin Wheatley, banjo; Trevor Richards, drums, and this resounding piece of music was preserved by us through the sainted efforts of my friend and hero Enrico Borsetti:

Tom left the scene in 2001. Born in 1952. What a loss. But thank goodness for the heroes in this video who are, as we say, keepin’ on.

May your happiness increase!

HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO OUR MAN DAN MORGENSTERN, 92!

Happy 92nd birthday, Eminent Dan Morgenstern, friend of Louis, George Wein, Hot Lips Page, two hundred others, and deep friend of the music. I’ve been privileged to bring my camera to Dan’s Upper West Side apartment and stand back while the magic — insights, memories, stories, and affection — unfolds. Here are a few of his conversations about his and our heroes, with more to come.

Lester Willis Young:

Lester, George Holmes Tate, and Eugene Ramey:

Stanley Getz:

Bernard Rich:

I will share a few others tomorrow — names you will recognize — and also some interviews you haven’t tuned in on yet.

May your happiness increase!

THEY WANT US TO BE HAPPY, TOO: STEPHANIE TRICK, PAOLO ALDERIGHI, NICKI PARROTT, ENGELBERT WROBEL, BERNARD FLEGAR (Jazz im Rathaus, Westoverledingen, Germany (April 9, 2016)

I’m pleased to share with JAZZ LIVES’ readers (and watchers) a complete set from a few years ago — from only my second trip to Germany. Both times I ventured out of my nest because of the kind urgings of Manfred Selchow, concert producer extraordinaire. Even if you’ve never been to one of Manny’s concerts, perhaps you’ve heard the results as issued on a long series of irreplaceable all-star Nagel-Heyer CDs. He created a weekend of rewarding jazz concerts in “the Town Hall,” which carries with it a wonderful resonance of Louis and Eddie Condon and many others in performance.

And here is a very recent photograph of Manfred and his wife Renate with the wonderful drummer Bernard Flegar:

This little band features Stephanie Trick and Paolo Alderighi, piano; Engelbert Wrobel, clarinet and saxophones; Nicki Parrott, string bass and vocal; Bernard Flegar, drums. And the program is so delightfully varied: no one could say these songs are new, but the energy this band brings to them, the cohesive joy, is very special. I’m grateful to the musicians for their for their generous music (and permission to share this set) and to Eric Devine for technical wizardry.

Before we move to the music, a few words. I’m always pleased when jazz fans go beyond their love for “the locals” which can, at worst, become provincialism, to discover worthies who don’t live ten miles away. Nicki, Stephanie and Paolo, and Engelbert (known as “Angel” to his friends and for good reason) all have their enthusiastic constituencies: some of this due to excellent recordings, often on the Arbors Records label, some due to what I would guess are exhausting touring schedules.

But Bernard, who has visited the US but not toured there, might be less well known, and this is a deficiency to be immediately remedied.

He is what the heroes of our jazz past would call someone who kicks the band along — but he is not a noisemaker. Ask Dan Barrett, Allan Vache, Menno Daams, Chris Hopkins, and others and they will tell you how sympathetically he listens, in the grand tradition, how he seamlessly merges what he has studied of the great percussive history into his own sound and approach, and how gloriously he swings.

You’ll hear for yourself, but if you ever begin to lament that the great drummers are gone or aging, explore Bernard’s work as documented on CD and video — and he is now an essential part of a new band, Armstrong’s Ambassadors, also featuring Angel (Matthias Seuffert is in the 2020 video), Colin Dawson, and Sebastien Giradot. (The band name should tell you all you need to know about their affectionate reverence for a certain Mister Strong.)

But let’s go back to 2016 for some elegant hot diversions.

A very Basie-ish BLUE SKIES, featuring Nicki, Paolo, Angel, and Bernard:

Stephanie joins in the fun for HONEYSUCKLE ROSE:

A band-within-a-band — Paolo, Nicki, and Angel — for OVER THE RAINBOW:

THE MEN I LOVE, announces Nicki — with happy glances at Paolo, Bernard, and Angel:

and finally, a swing declaration of intent, with everyone playing AMEN — I WANT TO BE HAPPY:

And to move us forward to the present and future, here’s an almost nine-minute sampler of how splendidly the new band, Armstrong’s Ambassadors, pays swinging homage:

Wonderful music from Nicki, Stephanie, Paolo, Angel, and Bernard — all of them still flourishing and expressing themselves so well — and from this new band. Hope springs, doesn’t it?

May your happiness increase!

BIX, 1979: THE NEW YORK JAZZ REPERTORY COMPANY at the Grande Parade du Jazz: DICK HYMAN, DICK SUDHALTER, BOB WILBER, SPIEGLE WILLCOX, NORRIS TURNEY, HEYWOOD HENRY, BUCKY PIZZARELLI, GEORGE DUVIVIER, BOBBY ROSENGARDEN (July 10, 1979)

I have a real affection for the recordings and performances of the New York Jazz Repertory Company: a floating all-star ensemble I saw in person in 1974 and 1975, honoring Louis and Bix, among others.

At their best, they were expert, passionate, and evocative — the supporting players were the best studio players / jazz improvisers who could sight-read with elan and then solo eloquently. And they always had the best ancestral guest stars: in the concerts I saw, Ruby Braff, Ray Nance, Vic Dickenson, Taft Jordan, Chauncey Morehouse, Paul Mertz, and Joe Venuti. I can’t leave out the superb guidance and playing of Dick Hyman, whose idiosyncratic brilliance is always a transforming force.

Later in the Seventies, someone, probably George Wein, understood that the NYJRC was a compact, portable way of not only reproducing great performances but in taking jazz history, effectively presented, on the road, to France, the USSR, and elsewhere. Thus they made appearances at festivals and did extensive tours — bringing POTATO HEAD BLUES with Louis’ solo scored for three trumpets, frankly electrifying, as I can testify.

Here they are at the Nice Jazz Festival, making Bix come alive by (with some exceptions) not playing his recorded solos, gloriously. And the rhythm section swings more than on the 1928 OKehs, which would have pleased Bix, who didn’t want to be tied to what he’d played in 1923. Occasionally the “big band” tends to be a fraction of a second behind where one would like it, and Spiegle Willcox uncharacteristically gets lost in a solo . . . but the music shines, especially since this is the joyous evocation of Bix rather than the too-often heard elegies for his short life. My small delight is that someone — Pee Wee Erwin — quotes SHINE ON, HARVEST MOON in the last sixteen bars of AT THE JAZZ BAND BALL. And Dick Sudhalter and Bob Wilber positively gleam throughout.

The collective personnel: Dick Hyman, piano, leader; Dick Sudhalter, cornet, flugelhorn; Spiegle Willcox, trombone; Bob Wilber, clarinet, reeds; Bucky Pizzarelli, guitar; George Duvivier, string bass; Bobby Rosengarden, drums; Pee Wee Erwin, Ernie Royal, Jimmie Maxwell, trumpet; Budd Johnson, Arnie Lawrence, Norris Turney, Haywood Henry, reeds; Britt Woodman, Eddie Bert, and one other, trombone.

RIVERBOAT SHUFFLE / DAVENPORT BLUES (Sudhalter, flugelhorn – Hyman) / IN THE DARK (Bucky, Hyman, Duvivier) / ‘WAY DOWN YONDER IN NEW ORLEANS (Sudhalter, Turney) / IN A MIST (Hyman) / CLEMENTINE (Sudhalter, unid. tbn, Bucky, Hyman / JAZZ ME BLUES (Sudhalter, Spiegle, Wilber, Hyman — playing Bix’s solo) / SWEET SUE (Spiegle, Bucky, Wilber, Sudhalter playing the 1928 solo) / SINGIN’ THE BLUES / AT THE JAZZ BAND BALL //

This televised presentation was designed to show what the NYJRC could “do”: a varied selection of music across decades and styles. I will post another segment, by “The Unobstructed Orchestra,” soon.

Forty-five minutes of the past made completely alive.

May your happiness increase!

Postscript, which could be called ON THE FUNCTION OF CRITICISM. A few minutes after I’d posted this, someone I don’t know wrote to comment on YouTube: I offer an edited version: “The great weakness of this re-creation is Z, I am sure he plays all the notes, but somehow it does not work at 100%. L was still a good mainstream player and the rythm section is very adequate, P consistently good.”

I find this irksome, perhaps out of proportion to the size of the offense, and, of course, everyone is entitled to their opinion. But to make it public, in print, is upsetting to me — as if the commenter had been invited to my house for dinner and, upon being served, told me that my place settings were somehow not up to his standards. I do not like everything I hear, but I think “criticism” of this sort contributes nothing to the discussion, except, perhaps, a buffing of the ego of the commentator, who Knows What’s Good.

I am aware that this is hugely anachronistic, out of place in 2021, but I bridle when my heroes are insulted . . .

“MY THOUGHTS ARE EVER WENDING HOME”: MARC CAPARONE, JOHN SMITH, CARL SONNY LEYLAND, JEFF HAMILTON (August 13, 2013)

Marc Caparone is a hero of mine, someone who balances passion and control in the nicest individualistic ways. Here he is, heading the most quietly illustrious chamber group at his own birthday party: John “Butch” Smith, alto saxophone; Carl Sonny Leyland, piano; Jeff Hamilton, drums. And the song — HOME, so identified with Louis, Jack Teagarden, and Joe Thomas — never fails to move me.

Home, you know, is a state of mind more than an address.

I have particular associations with this performance, having heard the Louis versions and the Jack Teagarden Keynote recording perhaps fifty years ago, and knowing the musicians here for more than a decade. Even if the song and the players are new to you, I hope the passion and joy reaches you:

Just beautiful. Here’s hoping you have your metaphysical HOME, or find one soon.

May your happiness increase!

START THE WEEK RIGHT

Do you dread the start of the workweek? Or does Monday remind you of homework undone, bills unpaid, responsibilities that weigh? Take heart: JAZZ LIVES is here to help.

(Cue rousing music): the EarRegulars to the rescue! And they’re locally sourced and cage-free. Investigating all the corners of Earl Hines’ 1928 classic, they are Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Jay Rattman, clarinet (in a Bechet mood for a few seconds, sparking joy); Matt Munisteri, guitar; Tal Ronen, string bass. All of this took place at the Ear Out — 326 Spring Street — on June 6, 2021:

And just think, with Monday done and done, the rest of the week will soar (or totter) by. Wishing you safe passage — with the help of these joyous sounds.

I have it on good authority that the Sunday-afternoon revival-meetings will continue through October, with guests Don Mopsick, Evan Christopher, Dennis Lichtman, Bill and John Allred . . . don’t miss out!

May your happiness increase!

“CAN’T YOU TAKE A DARE?”: JON-ERIK KELLSO, JAY RATTMAN, MATT MUNISTERI, TAL RONEN, ALBANIE FALLETTA, JOSH DUNN at The Ear Out (June 6, 2021)

The source. As expected:

But we’re in 2021, in the land of blessed live performance, not simply staring rapt at the blue Decca label, and the expression on Albanie Falletta’s face says it all:

A daring little band — the EarRegulars — performing on June 6, 2021, at The Ear Out, 326 Spring Street, Soho, New York City. The core group for this Louis Armstrong classic (written by Terry Shand and Jimmy Eaton) is Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Jay Rattman, clarinet and alto saxophone; Matt Munisteri, guitar; Tal Ronen, string bass. Eminent guests: Josh Dunn, guitar; Albanie Falletta, resonator guitar. Please note the groovy tempo — not too fast — for this playful inducement to public and private displays of affection.

Another musical marvel, I think. Have you been? These Sunday-afternoon sessions will not happen when the frost is on the pumpkin. So get your musical blessings while you may.

May your happiness increase!

DICK HYMAN / RUBY BRAFF IN CONCERT: “EUPHONIC ORGANISATION” (11.9.85, Norfolk, England)

Dick Hyman and Ruby Braff — a wonderful CD, by the way

Because I followed Ruby Braff around circa 1971-82, I had many opportunities to see him in a variety of contexts. But I saw him in duet with Dick Hyman only twice, I think, and neither time was Dick playing the gorgeous pipe organ he has at his command here. Thank goodness for the BBC, which took the opportunity of recording Ruby and Dick in concert at a spot which had an actual Wurlitzer pipe organ.

I’d heard this forty-minute session on a cassette from a British collector, but only this year — through the kindness of a scholar-friend did I get to see the performance and have an opportunity to share it with you. The details:

Dick Hyman, Wurlitzer pipe organ; Ruby Braff, cornet, introduced by Russell Davies. SLEEPY TIME DOWN SOUTH / THEM THERE EYES / LOUISIANA / HIGH SOCIETY / WHEN I FALL IN LOVE / JITTERBUG WALTZ (Braff out) / BASIN STREET BLUES. Recorded for broadcast on the BBC at the Thursford Fairground Museum, Norfolk, UK. A few audio and video defects come with the package: the occasional pink hue, the slight static. I’m not complaining. Annotations thanks to Thomas P. Hustad’s definitive bio-discography of Ruby Braff, BORN TO PLAY (Scarecrow Press, 2012).

Music that impresses the angels and moves the heavens. And speaking of blessedness, let us honor the durably lovely Dick Hyman, still making celestial sounds.

May your happiness increase!

“THAT’S SO PRETTY!”

My thoughtful friend Richard Salvucci introduced me to the Fifties recordings of pianist / arranger Elliot Lawrence and his big band, and I am entranced by them.

My delight surprised me: I ordinarily lean towards small groups with vivid solo improvisations. Years ago, I would have scoffed at this music as “Easy Listening,” “bland pop,” “businessman’s bounce,” played by a “society orchestra.” But this innocent-looking Decca session of songs associated with college life and college dances, merits more than a reflex dismissal. The collective personnel for these 1950-51 sessions is (more or less): Joe Techner, John Dee, Gerry LaFuru, trumpets; Rob Swope, Earl Swope, Ollie Wilson, trombone; Bill Danzien, French horn; Mike Goldberg, Buddy Savitt, Al Steele, Merle Bredwell, reeds; Elliot Lawrence, piano; Mert Oliver, string bass; Howie Mann, drums; Rosalind Patton, vocal.

Possibly JAZZ LIVES’ readers know of Elliot Lawrence because of his more famous Fantasy sessions devoted to Gerry Mulligan arrangements, or his work on many different transcriptions, but his very appealing music stands on its own. I present some for your pleasure.

Those who live for the next solo might be disappointed, for this is an orchestra more than a showcase for soloists: the shifting textures and voicings are so attractive. This is a well-rehearsed, highly professional group playing compact, deft arrangements — in time, in tune, with fine intonation. The band is subtle: it doesn’t get loud or strain for effect. Rosalind Patton was never famous, but her charming voice is eloquent in its restraint. She does everything right. (Alas, she was a chain smoker who died at 63 in 1985.) Even the choral arrangements on a few tunes — not my favorite thing — do no harm.

Listen for yourself, and listen to this half-hour for its splendid understated musicianship:

Here’s another example:

And something perhaps out of the ordinary, a 1948 “cowboy song,” that I wanted to hear again:

I am aware that some of my readers may have left the room, in search of more brightly-colored sensations. But there is something larger than my new fondness for the Elliot Lawrence Orchestra here.

“Jazz fans” and “jazz critics,” for the most part, privilege rhythmically-charged improvisation. “That‘s jazz,” they say. If a recording doesn’t have those qualities, it’s “sweet” or “popular,” and thus it is less worthy. But eager listeners have not always been ideologically-driven fans or critics. I would wager that dancers enjoying Henderson or Goldkette at Roseland, Oliver at the Lincoln or Royal Gardens, the parade of bands at Harlem ballrooms, enjoyed the music . . . if Goldkette played VALENCIA in 6/8 or Henderson played a waltz, those who could dance, danced to it. And records of well-played music caught the ear, and sold.

But divisiveness crept in — in the guise of “authenticity.” “Sweet” was for the older generation, the parents and grandparents who didn’t understand, were ancient, they couldn’t hear “the new music.” And for the self-defined jazz cognoscenti who truly “knew,” the real thing was of course “hot.” It was Louis on I MISS MY SWISS, Bubber on WHAT IS THIS THING CALLED LOVE?, or Bix on SWEET SUE.

It was a commonplace that you could find one of those discs with the hot chorus worn grey through repeated playing and the rest of the record shiny, nearly pristine. But the received wisdom was that people who preferred the “sweet” orchestra as well as the “hot” chorus lacked discrimination. Probably they didn’t even know the difference between Jack Purvis and young Bunny Berigan. Unthinkable!

Thanks to Richard Vacca and his BOSTON JAZZ CHRONICLES, I just saw a wonderful handbill advertising Frank Newton’s band at the KEN club in Boston, 1943: here. What struck me was the guarantee of authenticity to entice an audience: “They [the band] never blew a schmaltzy note in their lives.”

And from this sometimes snobbish hierarchy of what was worthy and what was not, a fascinating and perhaps perverse value system solidified. It was sometimes organized along racial lines: Andy Kirk’s band playing a Mary Lou Williams arrangement was “real”; if a White band played the same chart well, it was an aberration. Or it was “commercial.” The divisiveness could be read along Marxist lines as well: White musicians were imitators; White bandleaders were capitalist oppressors; Black musicians were original; Black bandleaders suffered because of White popularizers. Bessie Smith was genuine; Mildred Bailey a good pop singer. Real musicians suffered and died young; if you lived a long life without trauma, how authentic were you?

The musicians themselves were not reading these books and articles, and they were hanging out with their friends at the Union or the Copper Rail. Maybe they were jealous of X for getting that good gig, but in general they knew that music, well-played, was beautiful, and that it took as much skill to read a complicated chart as it did to stand up and create a hot chorus.

These arbitrary distinctions affected an audience that had never read Panassie or Hammond, as public taste changed over years and decades. Some “new art” aims to shock the bourgeoisie. If your mother likes your new record, there must be something wrong with it. It can’t be “cutting-edge” or “innovative.” People might whisper that you spent New Year’s Eve watching Guy Lombardo with your family. How very uncool.

But when did “pretty” music lose its value? Was it at the height of the Swing Era, where a “killer-diller” was seen as superior to a pretty ballad? Did the rise of a more abstract jazz in later decades set up a value system where if you could hum it or dance to it, it wasn’t worth study and emulation? Was “pretty” for squares too limited to understand Miles? Should we blame Wynonie Harris, or Elvis? Or the hauteur of modern art in general — I think of Eliot and THE WASTE LAND or late Joyce — consciously closing the door on the “average” reader, proposing a much smaller, more arrogantly erudite audience?

All I know is that when Richard Salvucci sent me music by Elliott Lawrence, my first reaction was, “That’s so pretty!” And “pretty” was not in any way condescending.

Here’s another illustration of the same principle, in the singing of Nat King Cole. He was an astonishing and influential pianist, but I know some people who say “He should have stuck to the piano!” in the tones one uses for traitors.

Consider this — one of the most beautiful expressions of expert art and deep feeling I know of:

His voice; his acting; his idiosyncratic rubato phrasing — those hesitations and accelerations — beyond words. For once, I am not obsessing about the people who “disliked” the YouTube video. Let them find their own pleasures, far from me.

But I am sure some readers of JAZZ LIVES will say, “That’s very nice, but it’s just pretty,” denying its sublime mastery. Imagine a modern trumpeter playing what Nat sings, if it were possible: would we not be awestruck? But he was “such a success,” “a great popular singer,” appealing to the unsophisticated masses, so perhaps some undervalue that performance.

And here’s a final illustration, dear to me for years. There’s no hot solo; the orchestral background is reverent, not raucous, but it is one of the most convincing pieces of art I know:

Here’s my mission statement. There should be some place in art for work that does not leap out of the closet and scare the viewer, some place for beauty that seems so very simple. Here one can quote Thelonious Monk or Aubrey Beardsley: I would rather that readers listen again to Elliot Lawrence and Nat Cole and Louis, and re-examine their own internalized value systems, give them a good shake to see if there’s any validity there or just a set of unexamined, now limited, beliefs.

I won’t enter into the squabble over whether the music I’ve presented is or isn’t jazz. I don’t care about those air-tight compartments with their neat labels. But these performances are frankly beautiful, and I will brook no disagreement.

It could be that “pretty music,” even “schmaltz,” varieties of “decorative art,” that touch hearts, that pleases a large amount of people, has more merit than we ever afford it.

May your happiness increase!


AN ONRUSH OF JOY, or “SO FUN!”: JON-ERIK KELLSO, RICKY ALEXANDER, ALBANIE FALLETTA, SEAN CRONIN at Cafe Bohemia, 15 Barrow Street, New York City (January 9, 2020)

Cafe Bohemia, 15 Barrow Street, Greenwich Village, New York City

Gather round, children. There was once a time when I could come out of the #1 subway at Christopher Street, cross the street and walk south to this joyous haven of sounds and people — between September 2019 and March 12, 2020. These days my city wanderings rely on the #2 and the #Q to Brooklyn, but the feelings I have for and about Cafe Bohemia are intense.

Pre-pandemic joys: they seem like effusions of joy from another world. But how they uplift! Yes, the WEARY BLUES is neither of those things, especially when delightfully exploded from within by Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Ricky Alexander, clarinet; Albanie Falletta, resonator guitar; Sean Cronin, string bass. May these times come again!

For me, once wasn’t enough, so I hope you can make time to watch it again. It doesn’t grow old.

May your happiness increase!

SONG FOR A RECOVERING CITY: JON-ERIK KELLSO, SCOTT ROBINSON, MATT MUNISTERI, PAT O’LEARY at The Ear Out, May 2, 2021

When the EarRegulars — my heroes below — played this pretty tune from the movie NEW ORLEANS, there was no Hurricane Ida. But given Ida’s power and fury, it seems so appropriate to offer it now as a hope for healing and reconstruction. (I was fortunate in my New York suburban apartment, but many were not.)

Those heroes, if you don’t already know them by now, are Pat O’Leary, string bass; Matt Munisteri, guitar; Scott Robinson, here on C-melody saxophone; Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet.

Music might not be able to rebuild destroyed landmarks or cur down trees that fell . . . but it heals in its own way:

And in response to the question, “Michael, when are you going to get tired of posting videos from the EarRegulars?” the most polite answer is, “When the moon turns green.” Or you can think of your own appropriate variations signifying “Never.”

They are so reassuring in the midst of this very lopsided world. Bless them: they bless us.

May your happiness increase!