Tag Archives: lyricism

POETIC SWING: HOD O’BRIEN and RAY DRUMMOND at MEZZROW, PART ONE (July 17, 2015)

Hod O'Brien and wife, singer Stephanie Nakasian

Hod O’Brien and wife, singer Stephanie Nakasian

Everybody told me that the unassuming, gentle Hod O’Brien was “a great bebop pianist,” and my reaction may say more about my narrowness, but I assumed that his playing with had a certain rhythmic angularity and be built on extended harmonies.  Well, some of that stereotype is correct: he is anything but predictable rhythmically and his harmonies are deep — but the secret needs to be a secret no more: he is a great lyrical player, someone deeply entranced by melodic improvisation.  His lines sing, and his playing is entrancing on many levels.  He was joined by the equally lyrical, eloquent string bassist Ray Drummond for an evening of duets at Mezzrow — July 17, 2015 — and here is the first set, full of surprises and consolations, music that uplifts and embraces.

LOOK FOR THE SILVER LINING:

DO NOTHIN’ TILL YOU HEAR FROM ME:

THERE IS NO GREATER LOVE:

ALL TOO SOON:

JUST YOU, JUST ME:

IN A SENTIMENTAL MOOD (featuring Ray):

YARDBIRD SUITE:

Quite wonderful.  And the atmosphere at Mezzrow was somewhere between a family picnic and a class reunion, with Hod nearly mobbed before each set by people who wanted to tell him with great love how they had first seen him in Montreal in 1977.  Send love out; get love back.

I promise that there will be a second set for all to savor soon.  Hail, O’Brien and Drummond — great poets of swinging improvisation.  Here is  Hod’s website. And he’s just published a very delightful memoir, HAVE PIANO. . . WILL SWING! — Stories From A Jazz Life, which I am currently enjoying.  More about that soon.

May your happiness increase!

BRIGHTENING THE CORNER: JOEL PRESS, MICHAEL KANAN, NEAL MINER at MEZZROW: PART ONE (July 26, 2015)

When I heard that Joel Press, tenor saxophone; Michael Kanan, piano; Neal Miner, string bass, were going to be playing a late-evening session at one of the two jazz shrines of West Tenth Street, Mezzrow, I got down there early to soak it all in — poems in music from three great lyrical poets.

Here are some highlights, and I do not use that word lightly.

Joel, Michael, and Neal tell us, without words, that melody matters, that the old songs are memorable, and that one can sing beautifully through one’s instrument in a community of friends.

THERE WILL NEVER BE ANOTHER YOU:

ALL OF ME:

WHAT IS THIS THING CALLED LOVE:

FOOLIN’ MYSELF:

AS LONG AS I LIVE:

LAST EXIT:

Another assortment of beauties to come in the near future.  The hymn BRIGHTEN THE CORNER WHERE YOU ARE speaks to our responsibility to do good, to be loving — at a moment’s notice — no matter how secular the surroundings.  Mezzrow, seen through the constricting lens of my camera, might be dark, but the music is touchingly bright.

May your happiness increase!

MARGUTH = MAGIC

Karen Marguth by Tomas Ovalle

Karen Marguth by Tomas Ovalle

Perhaps you have not yet heard Karen Marguth, who is a superbly winning jazz singer. If this is the case,  I could choose to get annoyed about a culture that sometimes elevates glossy mediocrities over creative individualists, but why fill the air with bleakness?  Rather, you have delightful surprises in store for you.

But enough from me — for the moment.  Listen to Karen here.

karen marguth just you

The reason I am celebrating Karen Marguth can be seen to the left — her remarkable new CD, JUST YOU, JUST ME.  The cover image is tiny but the music she makes is blissfully expansive.  She has only one accompanist — or collaborator — for the eleven delicious performances here, acoustic string bassist Kevin Hill.  They are a glorious pair; you won’t want anyone else.

Many singers, some of them with the best intentions in the world (male and female) decide that their CDs have to be productions.  So everything is done with beautiful elaborate care, down to the hair stylist for the photo shoot, the ornate arrangements — in the best tradition of singers who appeared, beautiful in person, in front of a big band where everything had been carefully planned out from the start.  I am not mocking this approach to art, merely noting that I often listen with my eyes closed rather than staring at the gorgeous creature, artfully posed, on the CD cover.

Karen Marguth is approaching music from a different perspective.  As music, as playful exploration.  She has a light-hearted honest voice that pleases on its own terms.  She sounds candid, as if she would never lie to us in music.  Hers is a flexible joyous approach to the song.  Karen has an instrumentalist’s ease — without “innovating” or “improving” on the composition at the composer’s expense. Karen takes small risks with bent notes, sweetly demure (but effective) scatting. And the most familiar songs glow under her caressing attention.

I should list them here: YOU’D BE SO NICE TO COME HOME TO / JUST YOU, JUST ME / I’M BEGINNING TO SEE THE LIGHT / LOVE’S GOT ME IN A LAZY MOOD / BLUES MY NAUGHTY SWEETIE GIVES TO ME / I GOT IT BAD / IMAGINATION / HARPO’S BLUES (by Phoebe Snow) / IT’S ALL RIGHT WITH ME / BABY WHAT’S YOUR ALIBI? (by Nellie Lutcher) / THE MOON IS MADE OF GOLD (by Richard Jones).

Each track has a small delicious series of surprises in it: very little is predictable but all the quirky twists pay off in the best ways.  I would suggest that listeners begin with I’M BEGINNING TO SEE THE LIGHT as a good place to hear what these reverent explorers accomplish so well.  And then Eddie Miller’s SLOW MOOD, transformed into LOVE’S GOT ME IN A LAZY MOOD.  There’s a song that has always made me want to leave the room — with new feminist lyrics by Karen and Brady McKay — BLUES MY NAUGHTY SWEETIE GIVES TO ME — that has become a hilarious delight because of Karen and Kevin.  YOU’D BE SO NICE and IMAGINATION have been done and perhaps overdone, but they sound so fresh here.

And Kevin Hill is all the rhythm section — and eloquent soloist — any band would ever need.  His sound, resonant without being overpowering; his intonation delightfully accurate.  No one would feel encouraged to talk during his solos. Milt Hinton would have invited him to St. Albans for Mona’s chicken and a good long session in the basement.  (There is no higher tribute I can imagine.)

I know a CD has captured me when, having heard it once through, I want to hear it again right away.  I’m listening for the third time to JUST YOU, JUST ME, and I plan to play it for friends and make converts.

This unobtrusive little CD — about the length of an ancient twelve-song vinyl record of my adolescence — is a very important piece of art, because it bravely defies convention to present naked song, unadorned (yet expert) improvisation, joyous eccentric collaboration.  In an age where froth tries to pass itself off as substance, Karen Marguth and Kevin Hill offer us beauty.  And that is worth celebration.

Here is the link to CDBaby — at a price that is next door to free.

Karen Marguth and Kevin Hill make magical music.  You’ll hear.

May your happiness increase!

THE COMFORT OF SWING: ROB ADKINS, DAN BLOCK, DALTON RIDENHOUR at CASA MEZCAL, APRIL 12, 2015 (Part Two)

About two months ago, I had the great honor of recording a delightful swing session at Casa Mezcal (86 Orchard Street, New York City) featuring Rob Adkins, string bass; Dalton Ridenhour, piano; Dan Block, clarinet and tenor saxophone.  This wasn’t a working trio, but they quickly showed their deep intuitive rapport, their lyricism and swing. Here is the first part of their session.

And ten more beauties. (I could have made two blogposts of this, but I felt that we all needed a deep immersion in this life-affirming music.)

YOU TOOK ADVANTAGE OF ME:

BODY AND SOUL:

SHE’S FUNNY THAT WAY:

I’M CRAZY ‘BOUT MY BABY:

BLUE RIVER:

BROADWAY:

LOVE ME OR LEAVE ME:

SWEET SUE:

TANGERINE:

BEALE STREET BLUES:

Here’s what I wrote about the players: I believe it bears repeating.  I’ve been admiring and following Dan Block for over a decade now: his music is a bright light in a sometimes murky world, always surprising but in its own way a deeply kind phenomenon. When he puts any horn to his lips, what comes out is intense yet playful: I’ve been moved to tears and have had to stifle laughter — the best kind — listening to his music.

Rob Adkins is terribly modest and gently low-key, but he reminds me — without saying a word — of Milt Hinton’s axiom that the bass was the foundation of the band. Harmonically, rhythmically, emotionally, morally. He knows and loves his instrument, and he plays for the comfort of the ensemble, never egotistically — although he is proud to swing and he is always ready to be lyrical. And as you can see and hear here, he is a great catalyst.

Dalton Ridenhour gets a few more words. Because the Music Business — as distinguished from the music — encourages non-musicians to make people into commodities, into products, I first encountered Dalton as “a ragtime pianist” and a “stride pianist.” These little boxes are accurate: he can play superbly in both idioms. But when I actually heard Dalton — both words need emphasis here — I understood that his musical soul was much more expansive than the careful reproduction of one idiom. He’s a free bird, someone whose imagination moves through decades and idioms with grace. You’ll hear his brave light-heartedness through this session (I also had wonderful opportunities to hear him at the Atlanta Jazz Party this year: more about that in time) — he makes music, something that is very rare and very endearing. So far, he has only one solo CD, but ECCENTRICITY on Rivermont Records (2o12) is a constant delight. I urge you to “check it out,” as they used to say on Eighth Avenue in New York City in the Seventies, and you will hear that Dalton has all the accuracy and sparkle of the Master, Dick Hyman, with his own very personal warmth.

Such music — casually expert, light-hearted yet deep — is rare.  I feel grateful that I am in the same time and place as these masters.

May your happiness increase!

THE EARREGULARS ASK THE DEEP QUESTION: JON-ERIK KELLSO, ENGELBERT WROBEL, NICKI PARROTT, JAMES CHIRILLO (April 26, 2015)

“Please don’t do that.  That’s mean.”

As adults, we don’t always hear that particular reproach for unkind behavior, but I wish more people said it when needed, and more people heard it, because meanness — whether it comes at us without a disguise, or it is cloaked in “acerbic humor” — is painful.  And it sticks.

MEAN TO ME one

The great songs that also seem so casual sometimes address the deepest issues. Thus, MEAN TO ME (music by Fred Ahlert, lyrics by Roy Turk) asks this huge question, “Why must you be mean to me?”  Even though it is put forth in the context of romantic love, it is a deep inquiry.

Even when I hear a medium-tempo instrumental version — which will follow — I also hear Annette Hanshaw’s plaintive voice, or perhaps Billie Holiday’s, asking that question.  Why must you be mean to me?

When I most recently heard the song, at The Ear Inn (326 Spring Street, Soho, New York City) on a Sunday night function — one of those gloriously fulfilling get-togethers that make New York so rewarding — I didn’t hear the words, I confess, because the instrumental joy was so deep that it commanded, in the nicest way, my attention.  The wondrous players were Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Engelbert Wrobel, clarinet; Nicki Parrott, string bass; James Chirillo, guitar:

The music they made has no trace of meanness.  Such beauty could, for those who understand it, make us better, kinder, more loving people.  Thank you, James, Nicki, Angel, and Jon-Erik.  Making the cosmos lighter, one note at a time.

May your happiness increase!

THE COMFORT OF SWING: ROB ADKINS, DAN BLOCK, DALTON RIDENHOUR at CASA MEZCAL, APRIL 12, 2015 (Part One)

The music I love conveys deep feeling in a few notes; it engages me.  I may not know the players as people but I feel their friendship in sounds.  When the music is spirited but calm, expert but experimental, playful without being goofy, I feel at home in the world, embraced by dear sounds.  It can happen in the first eight bars of the first song.

I had one of those wonderful musical interludes at Casa Mezcal on Orchard Street in April of this year — one of the divine Sunday afternoon sessions often led by Tamar Korn.  But when Tamar is out of town, her friends do their best to make sure we feel wonderful — instrumentally speaking.

Rob Adkins, musically and emotionally trustworthy — with his bass, with his fingers, with his bow — picked two great players to make up an uplifting trio: Dan Block, clarinet and tenor; Dalton Ridenhour, piano.  Here are some selections from the first half of the afternoon.  Yes, there’s audience chatter, but try to feel compassion for the people whose Sunday brunch is their social highlight, an escape from their apartments.  Or, if you can’t ascend to compassion, just listen to the music.  It’s what I do.

I’VE GOT A FEELING I’M FALLING:

NIGHT AND DAY (One):

NIGHT AND DAY (Two) — the reason for the break was that the battery in my Rode microphone passed out and could not be revived by the battery EMT crew, so there is a gap.  Imagine it as the music missed while Jerry Newman put a new acetate on the turntable and lowered the cutting arm.  Or not:

I NEVER KNEW:

YOU’D BE SO NICE TO COME HOME TO:

EVERYBODY LOVES MY BABY:

A few words about the players.  I’ve been admiring and following Dan Block for over a decade now: his music is a bright light in a sometimes murky world, always surprising but in its own way a deeply kind phenomenon. When he puts any horn to his lips, what comes out is intense yet playful: I’ve been moved to tears and have had to stifle laughter — the best kind — listening to his music.

Rob Adkins is terribly modest and gently low-key, but he reminds me — without saying a word — of Milt Hinton’s axiom that the bass was the foundation of the band.  Harmonically, rhythmically, emotionally, morally.  He knows and loves his instrument, and he plays for the comfort of the ensemble, never egotistically — although he is proud to swing and he is always ready to be lyrical. And as you can see and hear here, he is a great catalyst.

Dalton Ridenhour gets a few more words.  Because the Music Business — as distinguished from the music — encourages non-musicians to make people into commodities, into products, I first encountered Dalton as “a ragtime pianist” and a “stride pianist.”  These little boxes are accurate: he can play superbly in both idioms.  But when I actually heard Dalton — both words need emphasis here — I understood that his musical soul was much more expansive than the careful reproduction of one idiom.  He’s a free bird, someone whose imagination moves through decades and idioms with grace.  You’ll hear his brave light-heartedness through this session (I also had wonderful opportunities to hear him at the Atlanta Jazz Party this year: more about that in time) — he makes music, something that is very rare and very endearing.  So far, he has only one solo CD, but ECCENTRICITY on Rivermont Records (2o12) is a constant delight. I urge you to “check it out,” as they used to say on Eighth Avenue in New York City in the Seventies, and you will hear that Dalton has all the accuracy and sparkle of the Master, Dick Hyman, with his own very personal warmth.

And a small personal caveat.  Some of my listeners, who love making connections between the Now and the Hallowed Past, will leap to do this and hear Lester Young – Nat Cole – Red Callendar, or perhaps Lucky Thompson – Oscar Pettiford, etc.  I know it’s meant as high praise.  “Sounding Like” is a great game, and I do it myself.  But I beseech such wise historiographers to for once leave the records behind and hear the music for itself.  It is even more magnificent when it is not compared to anything or anyone.

There will be more music from this trio to come.  I look forward to someday encountering them again as a group.  Such things are possible and quite wonderful.

May your happiness increase! 

BEAUTIFULLY POLISHED BRASS

Here’s something good.

And another taste:

CHRIS HODGKINS CDI don’t ordinarily like surprises, because so many of them feel as if someone has crept up behind me and popped an inflated paper bag to watch me suddenly soar up to the ceiling — but the most lovely surprise is meeting someone new and finding out that (s)he has deep joyous talents you’d never known of before.

Such a person is trumpeter / composer Chris Hodgkins.  In fairness, I’d already heard Chris play (on recordings only, alas) and admired him as a thoughtful lyrical trumpeter — someone who admired Louis, Ruby, Brownie, Humphrey Lyttelton, without imitating a phrase.  And I hear the same kind of tenderness I always heard in Joe Wilder’s playing.  (In the interest of accuracy, I will note that I first heard and wrote about Chris a few years ago here.

The two YouTube videos above offer music from the new Hodgkins CD, BACK IN YOUR OWN BACKYARD, which I celebrate here as an outpouring of sophisticated yet gentle Mainstream jazz.

I had the opportunity to write a few words for this disc, and they will serve as my enthusiastic endorsement:

Chris Hodgkins and friends do not have the international reputations they deserve, but they create endearing music that doesn’t reveal all its secrets at once.

Aside from two originals and the poignant BLACK BUTTERFLY, the repertoire suggests a formulaic Mainstream set that one might hear at a jazz party. But that narrow assumption vanishes once the music begins, for Chris, Dave, Erika, and Ashley offer serene yet searching chamber jazz, refreshing improvisations on familiar songs. (Although I suppose that SWEETHEARTS ON PARADE is now arcane to all but a few listeners.)

I delight in the delicately streamlined instrumentation, reminiscent of sessions by Ruby Braff and Warren Vache. Hearing this music, I am breathing in the light-hearted interplay, without the conventions of four-bar trades or ensemble-solos-ensemble. The players have created an airy, open music, full of pleasant wanderings but solidly grounded in melody and beating-heart rhythms.

And this music gladdens on many levels: a musician could analyze and admire subtle rhythmic displacements, chord substitutions, shifting textures. A casual listener would say, “What is that? That sounds beautiful,” and both responses would be true.

Chris is a master of his instrument. He can modulate from what Agatha Beiderbecke heard in her son’s playing, a “sudden perky blare,” to what Ruby Braff recognized in Lawrence Brown’s “a wonderful little cry.” I hear echoes of a grand tradition – everyone from George Mitchell to Clifford Brown and beyond – but Chris is himself throughout.

Emotionally warm music comes out of the emotions of the players – not only their love of sounds and textures, but a love for the people who have gone before and who have created personal art. On this CD, one hears everyone’s affection and admiration for the great ancestors, but Chris cites two people in particular.

One, his older brother, played trumpet, so Chris heard Louis and Morton and more, but, as he says, “When I was about 14 or 15, my brother said, ‘You don’t want to hear it, you want to play it!’ so he got me a trumpet from a second-hand shop and I never looked back.”

Later, Chris played with guitarist Vic Parker. “He was born in Cardiff, played in London before and during the war. In 1940 he worked at the Embassy Club in Bond Street playing accordion and double bass with Don Marino Barreto. He can be seen in Barreto’s band during a nightclub sequence in the musical film Under Your Hat. He came back to Cardiff and I used to work with him in the Quebec every Monday and Wednesday. We had a little duo, just playing standards, and he would sing in a Cardiff accent. When you’re young, you forget so much. You can be handed the keys to the kingdom and you don’t notice. Working with Vic was like that: he was in his late 60s then, one of the nicest guys you could meet.”

Chris has also played alongside Pete Allen, Rod Mason, Kathy Stobart, Humphrey Lyttelton (whose passionate influence I hear), Buddy Tate, and Wild Bill Davison.

Chris is also a wise generous leader, someone who knows that Being Out Front Always is hard on one’s chops as well as on band morale, so each performance makes his colleagues equals rather than subordinates. One of the most moving performances here is A NIGHTINGALE SANG IN BERKELEY SQUARE, an etude for piano and two double-basses, both celebration and elegy for wartime Britain, with death, romance, and endurance intermingled.

And those colleagues! Bassist Erika Lyons appeared on a BBC master class with Ray Brown, and studied with Buster Williams, Rufus Reid, and Hal Galper. Now she plays jazz festivals all over the world. Pianist Dave Price is a deep student of jazz piano from the Thirties to tomorrow, and he has worked with Tubby Hayes, Tony Coe, Nat Adderley, and Peanuts Hucko among many others. Bassist Ashley John Long is known not only for his work with Hans Koller, Bobby Wellins, Keith Tippett and others, but for his compositions for film, television, and the concert hall.

Together, they make BACK IN YOUR OWN BACKYARD what jazz recordings should be, no matter what genre: warm, wide-awake, deeply personal.

If you go to the channel that Chris has created on YouTube, you can hear two more beauties from BACK IN YOUR OWN BACKYARD and more lovely music.

The CD offers SWEETHEARTS ON PARADE, A NIGHTINGALE SANG IN BERKELEY SQUARE, DROP ME OFF IN HARLEM, A KISS TO BUILD A DREAM ON, STRUTTIN’ WITH SOME BARBECUE, SUNDAY, ANGEL EYES, LIKE SOMEONE IN LOVE, BLACK BUTTERFLY, JEEPERS CREEPERS, BACK IN YOUR OWN BACKYARD, ALMOST LIKE BEING IN LOVE, SWINGING AT THE COPPER BEECH, BUDDY BOLDEN’S BLUES, YOU’D BE SO NICE TO COME HOME TO, VP, JUST FRIENDS — and it’s beautifully recorded. Here you can find out more — including how to purchase the disc, which I do recommend.

May your happiness increase!

“PENSIVE AND SWEET AND WISE”: HILARY GARDNER and EHUD ASHERIE HONOR RODGERS and HART at MEZZROW (March 17, 2015)

Here are two more beautiful songs from the Rodgers and Hart evening that Hilary Gardner and Ehud Asherie created for us on March 17, 2015, at Mezzrow on West Tenth Street, my new basement shrine to lyricism. The tender duets Hilary and Ehud create for us are tremendously moving celebrations of love.  Love is in the lyrics, in the melody, and of course in the performances.

WAIT TILL YOU SEE HIM, a paean in three-quarter time to the lover who is announced but not yet tangible, frankly beyond the singer’s powers to describe adequately.  (If you haven’t felt this way, have you truly been in love?) Hilary’s second chorus is both vulnerable and triumphant, a marvel:

I DIDN’T KNOW WHAT TIME IT WAS is a song of revelation: I was wandering the universe, my internal chronograph not working . . . until I met you.  And now all feels right. It’s a song of delight in that moment when emotion and evidence come together, through love, to create a new aware being:

What a lovely time it was.  And sublime it was, too.  I’ve posted other performances from that night here — and I hope for more.  Singly or in tandem, Hilary and Ehud never fail to move me.

Hilary and Ehud wouldn’t mind my closing with a recording from January 12, 1956: Lester Young, Vic Dickenson, Roy Eldridge, Teddy Wilson, Freddie Green, Gene Ramey, Jo Jones — doing TIME, a little faster.  Even the slightly untuned piano can’t make this any less of a masterpiece:

THIS JUST IN: Hilary and Ehud will be returning to Mezzrow on May 18, 2015.  Whether you’re in love or out, you owe it to yourself to hear and see this divine pair.

May your happiness increase!

SWEETHEARTS, NAUGHTY AND UNTRUSTWORTHY: THE EARREGULARS at THE EAR INN: JON-ERIK KELLSO, MATT MUNISTERI, SCOTT ROBINSON, ATTILA KORB (January 25, 2015)

Not all sweethearts are easy to deal with.  When they’re ON PARADE, they remind you that you’re alone. Nobody wants you to join in the amorous festivities.  That pretty young thing with the rouged cheeks?  She’s fallen from grace and is NOBODY’S [                 ] NOW.

Here, the mightily eloquent yet light-hearted EarRegulars — the Saints of Soho, known far and wide — give us two musical dramatizations of Sweetheart-ness gone awry.  They are Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Matt Munisteri, guitar; Attila Korb (visiting from Hungary), trombone AND trumpet; Scott Robinson, bass saxophone AND taragoto.

The first composition is the 1919 BLUES MY NAUGHTY SWEETIE GIVES TO ME — whose lyrics are a complete theatrical performance — read them here — an encyclopedia of sure-fire jokes of the time.  For me, this song comes in to the jazz repertoire with the lovely slow-drag version by Jimmie Noone and his Apex Club Orchestra, later by Eddie Condon on the JAMMIN’ AT CONDON’S recording (whose cover features Cliff Leeman’s right leg and the essential thermos).   But this SWEETIE offers up some mean blues in the eye and heart of the beholder, or perhaps the endurer.

The EarRegulars adopt a tempo that honors both ideas, and the result is glorious, a masterpiece of versatility, as Scott moves from bass sxophone to taragoto, and Attila takes up his trumpet to have a fascinating chat with Jon-Erik:

SOMEDAY SWEETHEART

Later, they explored SOMEDAY, SWEETHEART (I am used to it with the comma) — written that same year, a song of sullen unhappiness, sung by the lover who has been betrayed.  Oddly enough, the furious hurt lyrics are married to a very sweet melody, both of which can be explored here.

And here is the EarRegular performance — superficially less ambitious, with no instrument-swapping, but expressing the highest degree of lyricism and sonic variety:

I don’t know the moral of this offering, except to wish that all Sweeties be Naughty in the most gentle pleasing way, and that no Sweetheart be a betrayer. I hope for nothing but Sweetness for all of you.  And that the EarRegulars continue for as long as they want to, since they bring the deepest pleasure and restoration to us.  Catch them almost every Sunday night from 8-11 (approximately) at The Ear Inn, 326 Spring Street, Soho, New York City.

May your happiness increase!

WITH ELEGANT TENDERNESS: MICHAEL KANAN, GREG RUGGIERO, NEAL MINER at MEZZROW, MARCH 23, 2015 (Part One)

Pianist Michael Kanan is one of my heroes, someone whose musical and aesthetic instincts I trust without question.  I met him through the most respected saxophonist Joel Press, and once I’d heard Michael play a chorus I knew I was in the presence of a deep yet light-hearted sensibility.  He can be eloquent and touching but he never sells emotion to an audience in capital letters; he is witty but never comedic, and he has perfect taste without being fussy.  Michael also is a splendid compass needle pointing to the finest players and singers.  So when I read some time back that Michael was leading a session at Mezzrow, I sent in my money and was there about ninety minutes before it began (listening to the splendid guitarist John Merrill) to be sure I’d get to sit in the proper place.

Michael brought with him Neal Miner, that peerless string bassist and composer, and someone new to me, the lyrical and sure-footed guitarist Greg Ruggiero. Here’s the first part of the music they made that evening: graceful yet deep, intensely melodic but never heavy-handed.  Some viewers might think, “What can you do in 2015 with two venerable standards and a blues?”  I will say only, “Observe and marvel.”

ON THE SUNNY SIDE OF THE STREET (which starts in another direction — and I could be content with the first chorus alone):

Neal Miner’s BLUES OKURA:

BODY AND SOUL:

It was an astonishing evening at Mezzrow, but so far I’ve had no other kind there.  I’ll be back there for sure on April 14th to hear Barbara Rosene and Ehud Asherie — another special night to come.

And I promise you more performances from the exalted Kanan – Miner – Ruggiero ensemble.

May your happiness increase!

AND FAIR CANARSIE’S LAKE WE’LL VIEW: HILARY GARDNER and EHUD ASHERIE HONOR RODGERS AND HART at MEZZROW (March 17, 2015)

The combination of Hilary Gardner’s creamy voice — floating, multi-textured, full of feeling — and Ehud Asherie’s rollicking piano — sure-footed, playful, surprising — is intoxicating.  They go to my head: I feel elated and happy.

They did it again just a few days ago — on St. Patrick’s Day in Manhattan — when they presented a gorgeous concert of Rodgers and Hart at Mezzrow, that belowstairs oasis of fine music at 163 West Tenth Street.

A word about the video: viewers may at first think Ehud is getting visually slighted, which would be unjust.  But if you look in the mirror, you will see him fine profile — reversed? — moving in rhythm.  And his sound rings, which is the point.

There will be a few more videos from this evening.  And even better news — Hilary and Ehud are not finished exploring Mr. Rodgers and Mr. Hart.

Key change.

There have been so many recordings and performances of MANHATTAN that I have no intention of tracing its history.  But this one is both odd and special:

This clip — Allan Gould and Ruth Tester in the 1929 short devoted to Rodgers and Hart, MAKERS OF MELODY, is a fascinating window into what some might call early performance practice, and it reminds me that MANHATTAN was meant as a comic song for a UK couple marveling at this new landscape, where balmy breezes blow / to and fro.

The modern analogue, for me, is walking through Central Park and seeing visitors from other countries absolutely delighted and agog by the squirrels, snapping picture after picture of our furry friends to show to the folks back home, who will marvel.

Feel free to sing along, all through the day, no matter what borough you are in:

Summer journeys
To Niag’ra
And to other places
Aggravate all our cares.
We’ll save our fares.
I’ve a cozy little flat
In what is known as old Manhattan.
We’ll settle down
Right here in town.

We’ll have Manhattan,
The Bronx and Staten
Island too.
It’s lovely going through
The zoo.
It’s very fancy
On old Delancey
Street, you know.
The subway charms us so
When balmy breezes blow
To and fro.
And tell me what street
Compares with Mott Street
In July?
Sweet pushcarts gently gliding by.
The great big city’s a wondrous toy
Just made for a girl and boy.
We’ll turn Manhattan
Into an isle of joy.

We’ll go to Greenwich,
Where modern men itch
To be free;
And Bowling Green you’ll see
With me.
We’ll bathe at Brighton
The fish you’ll frighten
When you’re in.
Your bathing suit so thin
Will make the shellfish grin
Fin to fin.
I’d like to take a
Sail on Jamaica
Bay with you.
And fair Canarsie’s lake
We’ll view.
The city’s bustle cannot destroy
The dreams of a girl and boy.
We’ll turn Manhattan
Into an isle of joy.

We’ll go to Yonkers
Where true love conquers
In the wilds.
And starve together, dear,
In Childs’.
We’ll go to Coney
And eat baloney
On a roll.
In Central Park we’ll stroll,
Where our first kiss we stole,
Soul to soul.
Our future babies
We’ll take to “Abie’s
Irish Rose.”
I hope they’ll live to see
It close.
The city’s clamor can never spoil
The dreams of a boy and goil.
We’ll turn Manhattan
Into an isle of joy.

We’ll have Manhattan,
The Bronx and Staten
Island too.
We’ll try to cross
Fifth Avenue.
As black as onyx
We’ll find the Bronnix
Park Express.
Our Flatbush flat, I guess,
Will be a great success,
More or less.
A short vacation
On Inspiration Point
We’ll spend,
And in the station house we’ll end,
But Civic Virtue cannot destroy
The dreams of a girl and boy.
We’ll turn Manhattan
Into an isle of joy!

(I love beyond all that’s reasonable one turn of the lyrics — that “fin to fin” anticipates “soul to soul,” rather than the more predictable reverse.)

If Manhattan was indeed an isle of joy on the 17th, I think credit belongs to Dick, Larry, Hilary, and Ehud — let the green-garbed roisterers take a back seat.

May your happiness increase!

ROMANTIC SWING: TIM LAUGHLIN, CONNIE JONES, DOUG FINKE, CHRIS DAWSON, KATIE CAVERA, MARTY EGGERS, HAL SMITH (San Diego Jazz Fest, Nov. 30, 2014)

Here is an endearing  favorite — and a rare song, a beautiful “rhythm ballad” in the best style, a superb band, echoing Louis . . . I don’t want anything more than this.

The song,to give it its full title, is WAS I TO BLAME FOR FALLING IN LOVE WITH YOU?  But — rather like WHAT CAN I SAY, DEAR, AFTER I SAY I’M SORRY — the title gets split in two.  When Louis recorded it in 1935, very early in his Decca contract, it was called FALLING IN LOVE WITH YOU — and the composers are Victor Young, Newman or Neuman, and Gus Kahn. An online source says the song goes back to 1932, and “M. Neuman” is really a pseudonym for Chester Conn.  I leave such matters to better researchers, and say only that I’ve never seen a copy of the sheet music.  But my hypothesis is that if Louis was handed a song with this title, written by Victor Young and Gus Kahn, he would have been interested in it.  Or perhaps he heard it on the radio and his deep romanticism was stirred.  We don’t know, but his performance is inspiring.  (You can search it out on YouTube at your leisure, as well as a a later homage by Ruby Braff.)

But my delight is to offer you this twenty-first century version by some Masters of Romantic Swing, recorded on November 30, 2014, at the San Diego Jazz Fest — Tim Laughlin, clarinet; Connie Jones, cornet; Doug Finke, trombone; Chris Dawson, piano; Katie Cavera, guitar; Marty Eggers, string bass; Hal Smith, drums:

I could write at length about the beauties of this performance, but I will point out only the deep love of melody, the subtle flow of the rhythm section, the individual sounds of each soloist, the use of space, the new melodies created. All delicate and purposeful at the same time.  Bless these artists.  They so generously bless us.

May your happiness increase!

DREAMS COME TRUE: TIM LAUGHLIN, CONNIE JONES, DOUG FINKE, CHRIS DAWSON, KATIE CAVERA, MARTY EGGERS, HAL SMITH (San Diego Jazz Fest, Nov. 30, 2014)

In the early nineteen-thirties, Edgar Sampson (alto saxophone, composer, arranger, lyricist) wrote an irresistible song which he called IF DREAMS COME TRUE.  Benny Goodman’s name is on the sheet music, but I take that as evidence of the repellent practice of bandleaders and stars “cutting themselves in” on royalties for a composition they had nothing to do with in exchange for performing it and recording it.  Many beautiful recordings of this song — James P. Johnson’s, Billie Holiday’s, and Chick Webb’s come to mind.

Here is a contemporary version by some Masters of their Art (my posting inspired by Scott Ricketts) recorded on November 30, 2014, at the San Diego Jazz Fest — Tim Laughlin, clarinet; Connie Jones, cornet; Doug Finke, trombone; Chris Dawson, piano; Katie Cavera, guitar; Marty Eggers, string bass; Hal Smith, drums.

To me, it is the very epitome of floating swing lyricism — a leisurely cross-pollination of the Bobcats and a Teddy Wilson small group, a triumph of sweet individualism in this century:

I have only one problem with the song’s title, and it is a semantic one.  The song exists in the fragile realm of the doubtful, the conditional.  Dreams may come true but we aren’t at all sure.  Even changing it to WHEN DREAMS COME TRUE puts the happy consummation somewhere in the indistinct future.

Let’s be bold.  When Connie and Tim lead this band, DREAMS COME TRUE.  I will brook no arguments on this.  I know that they did and do for me, and for many in the audience.

May your happiness increase!

 

INCANDESCENCE: JAMES DAPOGNY WITH STRINGS (January 10, 2015)

James Dapogny of Ann Arbor, Michigan, is properly known as a pianist, arranger, bandleader, jazz scholar, culinary explorer, and wit, among other things.

But from the performance you are about to see, it’s clear that he is insufficiently recognized as a composer.  FIREFLY is a haunting melody with harmonies that never seem formulaic.  It seems new yet instantly familiar, going its own ways without being consciously and distractingly innovative.  I think of a three-way conversation between Professor Dapogny, Brahms, and Alec Wilder — sweet lyricism that’s never sentimental and continues to swing in its own gentle fashion:

This performance comes from a magical concert of January 10, 2015, at the Kerrytown Concert House in Ann Arbor, blessedly captured by Laura Beth Wyman.  The superb players are Mike Karoub, cello; Rod McDonald, guitar; Kurt Krahnke, string bass.  For more from this concert, click here for uplifting performances of THAT OLD FEELING, RUSSIAN LULLABY, and MY DADDY ROCKS ME.  And there is more to come.

May your happiness increase! 

“SEMPLICEMENTE PERFETTO!”: MATTEO RAGGI, PAOLO ALDERIGHI, DAVIDE BRILLANTE

We live in a clangorous world.  You don’t have to live across the street from a dance studio specializing in zumba (as I do) to know this.

The collective tempo we have created for ourselves is very quick, the volume level is high, the intensity is fierce.  Often all I want to hear is the sound of people singing through their instruments, leaving those rapid-fire flurries of notes for another time.  I don’t mean “smooth jazz”; rather, Ben Webster or Teddy Wilson playing a ballad; the Basie rhythm section; a Herb Ellis blues.

This is not a grumpy complaint about these dratted Modern Times, for many living musicians understand and exemplify this principle in their art, in the face of the tyrannical sixty-fourth note.

Matteo

A new CD — two sets of duets by three masterful musicians, recorded in 2013 — is one answer to this hectic world, evidence that swinging beauty is still within reach. It is simply perfect — hence my title.

Here’s a sample, Cole Porter’s I LOVE YOU, SAMANTHA (think of Bing, Grace Kelly, and Louis):

and the leisurely swinging EV’RYTHING I’VE GOT BELONGS TO YOU:

Sounds beautiful.

The tenor saxophonist is MATTEO RAGGI; the pianist is PAOLO ALDERIGHI; the guitarist DAVIDE BRILLANTE.  (I’ve had the immense good fortune to meet and record Paolo and Davide — Mario and I remain separated by several thousand miles, but this CD is as good as having him come to visit.)  You can hear more of Matteo on YouTube — he’s on there alongside Scott Hamilton, which is a high peak to be standing on — as well as Davide and Paolo, but this disc is special.

Each of the three is a lyrical player, a melodist at heart.  As you’ve heard, each one is skilled in constructing logical solos on his own, and masterful in the delicate art of duet playing — more subtle than verbal conversational dances but built on the same principles of individuality giving way to harmonically sensitive teamwork.  The music is the very opposite of soporific, because something is always happening rhythmically, even on the slowest ballad, but it will not make you feel as if you have stepped into the supercharged urban world.

Lester Young would have loved these sessions, and no one here is copying him, but the spirit is much the same.  (On that note: those readers who listen and want to play what Barbara Lea called “the game of Sounding Like” can get ready with their names.  Matteo sounds just like A, or perhaps B; Paolo like C or D; Davide like E or F — definitely!  But why not listen to these players on their own, rather than painting them as small living figures in the shadows of dead giants?)

Half of the ten selections are duets with Paolo (CHINATOWN; GHOST OF A CHANCE; I LOVE YOU, SAMANTHA; I’M PUTTING ALL MY EGGS IN ONE  BASKET; ON THE ALAMO); half with Davide (THE RED DOOR; COME RAIN OR COME SHINE; JITTERBUG WALTZ; POW-WOW; EV’RYTHING I’VE GOT BELONGS TO YOU).

Beautiful recorded sound (much better than on the YouTube videos) and casually erudite notes.  Now all that’s left to do is for you to find out more about Matteo and to buy the CD.  Try here!

Fratelli, grazie — for the fine sweet floating music.

May your happiness increase!

MICHAEL KANAN and NEAL MINER at MEZZROW (Part One): SEPTEMBER 16, 2014

Wonderful music is being made at the new jazz club at 163 West Tenth Street in New York City, Mezzrow,  and I was there to witness some of the beauty on September 16, 2014.  The creators were pianist Michael Kanan and bassist / composer Neal Miner, and the result was glorious sounds in an inviting place. Here is the first half of their sweetly inspiring recital. The videos are dark but the music gleams.

IT’S YOU OR NO ONE:

GONE WITH THE WIND:

LULLABY OF THE LEAVES:

WRAP YOUR TROUBLES IN DREAMS:

AUTUMN IN NEW YORK:

I will share the second half with JAZZ LIVES soon, but I’d like this one to sink in. Michael and Neal know that there is deep emotional life in “these old songs,” which have not grown old and will not as long as they are handled with intelligent tenderness.  As they are here.

May your happiness increase!

HONORING JOE WILDER, THREE WAYS

JOE WILDER

When I learned that the magnificent musician and lovely man Joe Wilder had left us, I wrote this:

I’ve learned this morning (May 9, 2014) from his friend and co-author Ed Berger that trumpeter and jazz pioneer Joe Wilder has died.  He leaves a huge hole in the world.

There was a flurry of false information back in February, and I spread what was erroneous bad news, but now it is sadly true.

Joe was not only a shining example to other musicians; he shone for us all. He was a gentleman in the way the word is no longer used: someone whose concern for his fellow human beings was strong.  He expected men and women to treat each other kindly — he did this as a matter of course — and he was shocked when it didn’t happen.

He was the very model of grace — and I mean a quality that goes beyond simple politeness.

We met first at an outdoor concert in 1981 where I took some photographs of the band.  Later, through a fan of Joe’s, I obtained his address (this was perhaps ten years later) and we entered into correspondence about the photos and some tapes of him he had not heard.

Those letters were precious documents — evidence of how that gentle man faced even the most mundane things.  Later, when I had the privilege of meeting him in person, his kindness and good humor was immense: the Beloved and I cherish a chance meeting with him on the street outside Birdland, where our collective delight was memorable. We weren’t simply thrilled to meet Joe Wilder — let me make this clear — he made us feel as if we were his dearest friends, and the memory of that chance encounter warms me now.

I will let others tell Joe’s stories — a particular friend, Ed Berger, has done and will continue to do that, superbly here. And happily Joe lived long enough to celebrate his ninety-second birthday among friends and to see that book published.

Instead, I will present some of his music that I was fortunate enough to capture.  Joe lives on in our memory, not only for his brilliant warm sound, his elegant capers on trumpet and fluegelhorn, but as a model of how to live: with kindness, compassion, awareness, and amusement.  These videos are from 2010, late in his playing career.

and here is an early masterpiece:

Thank you, Mr. Wilder, for being.  You came to us on February 22, 1922, and gave generously of your self every day.  I write these words with sorrow and send love to your family.  But I think of you with joy.

And Joe was far too modest a man to present himself as a model of how others should behave, but I think if we had him in our thoughts as an embodiment of loving action, he wouldn’t mind.

JOE WILDER cover

Some time after this sad posting, I had the good fortune to read Ed Berger’s book about Joe, JOE WILDER AND THE BREAKING OF BARRIERS IN AMERICAN MUSIC: SOFTYLY, WITH FEELING (Temple, 2014) which I commend to you with enthusiasm:

Trumpeter Joe Wilder was admired and loved as musician and man. The new biography by Edward Berger, aptly titled, embodies Wilder’s deep gentle spirit, unlike many new biographies that document and magnify their subject’s flaws. Berger and Wilder met in 1981 and they worked on this book for nearly a decade. Wilder’s gentle presence is evident on every page, and the book is not a showcase for his ego (unlike some other biographies); rather, this book is a loving embodiment of teamwork between two mature individuals with a great respect for accuracy. Not all the stories are gentle — the book has a number of studies of focused unkindness and unfairness — but the book itself is not a settling of old scores.

The biography has three intertwining stories. One is Wilder’s growth as a musician, from his childhood in Pennsylvania to being one of the most respected trumpet players in the world, with associations with everyone from Lionel Hampton to Gunther Schuller, Louis Armstrong, Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Alec Wilder, Rudy Van Gelder, Billie Holiday, Benny Goodman, Alec Wilder, Benny Carter, Ernie Kovacs and a hundred more. In his recollections of six decades as a professional musician, we observe jazz changing from a popular dance music played everywhere to a rarefied phenomenon in clubs, parties, and festivals. However, it is more than a listing of gigs and concerts, more than a series of anecdotal protraits. Joe was a rare individual, and the book properly lingers on his early life and development as a person, joyous, playful, but ultimately serious about his own place in the world and about the professionalism of his art..

The second strand is Wilder’s unheralded part in the long struggle to have racial equality in the United States. His stories (and Berger’s careful research) of discrimination and legalized abuse – personal and institutional – are painful. When we reach 1980 in the book and it is evident that the struggle is coming to a close, it is a relief.  In my encounters with Joe — he would not have wanted to be called “Mr. Wilder” more than once — he was down-to-earth, friendly, enthusiastic, welcoming, someone who did not draw lines between Musician and Listener, someone who made friends. But he had a deep and serious need to be treated fairly. Being taken advantage of — on the stand or off — infuriated him, and he told stories of being treated badly by musicians and non-musicians with a mixture of polite rage and astonishment.  A fair man, Joe simply could not understand why others would be anything but.

And the third is a sweet chronicle of Wilder himself, a delightful man: genuine, humble, witty, compassionate, “Mr. Social,” as one of his daughters calls him. He emerges as a remarkable man, who would have been so if he had never played a note: sensitive to injustice and ready to act against it, but a gracious, kind person.

Berger’s writing is worthy of his subject. The biography might make one feel as if Wilder is close at hand, fully realized. Berger’s research is superb but never obtrusive; his prose is understated yet effective. The book offers rare photographs (Wilder was also a fine photographer, seen in later decades with at least two cameras when not playing), and a discography full of surprises. Joe Wilder has been wonderfully captured in these pages, this loving, accurate portrait. All through these pages, I wanted to telephone Joe and congratulate him, even to say, “Have you read this wonderful book about you?  It is just like you; it sounds just like you!”  Reading it was a bittersweet affair: Joe is there for the ages, for people who never got to hear him in person or to share a word with him, but the book was so evocative that it made — and makes — me miss him all the more.

The third part of this tribute is yet to come.  Joe’s family, friends, among them Ed Berger and Warren Vache, have planned a memorial service for Joe — to be held on September 8, 2014, at St. Peter’s Church in midtown Manhattan, begining at 6:30 PM.

I hope to be there, without video camera, and I expect there will be a line of people waiting to get in. When I asked Ed who would be playing there, he sent this very sweet pointed answer — very much in the spirit of the man who is being honored:

We all agreed not to announce the musicians in advance.  We want people to come because they want to remember Joe Wilder, not because their favorite musicians are appearing for free.  But, as you can imagine, those participating will be quite a stellar assemblage!

The one person we yearn to see there won’t be there, but we will certainly feel his presence in the stories and music that his friends and family share with us.

May your happiness increase!

“A LOVELY MAN”: PORTRAITS OF SPIKE MACKINTOSH

Thanks to Dave Gelly and his book AN UNHOLY ROW, I found out about the magnificently subtle musician, trumpeter Ian Robert “Spike” Mackintosh, and wrote this in his honor.

Ian Cuthbert, attentive and generous, pointed me to one volume of the British singer George Melly’s autobiography, OWNING-UP, where there was a brief but memorable “pen portrait” of my elusive hero.  Here it is — and I am pleased that Spike in person is as singular as his trumpet playing.

. . . there was a whole generation of jazz musicians in England who predated the revival [which Melly dates as beginning in 1951] and yet played swinging music in the Harlem style of the late thirties. Some were professionals . . . . Others were amateurs, and the most remarkable of these was a timber merchant called Ian “Spike” Mackintosh who played trumpet in the style of mid-period Louis Armstrong. Small and neat, a little mustache and horn-rimmed spectacles, he looked exactly what he was, two sons down at Public School and a house at Cuffley. But inside him was a wild man in chains. He played with extreme modesty, his back to the audience, and a green beret full of holes hanging over the bell of his trumpet. In conversation he was both courteous and restrained, but he could become very aggressive if anyone suggested that there was any other trumpet player except his hero.

At parties there was a psychological moment when he would lurch towards the gramophone and take off whatever record was playing if it hadn’t got a Louis on it, and substitute one that had. Another anti-social habit was his reaction when his host turned down the volume. He’d just wait until he wasn’t looking and turn it up again.

He once offered Mick [Mulligan] and me a lift home from a suburban jazz club in his car, and when we were safely inside, drove all the way out to Cuffley despite our protests. His wife was away, and he wanted us to sit up all night listening to Louis and drinking whisky. It was an enjoyable night, and it didn’t finish until three p.m. the following day when the local closed. It was just that we hadn’t planned on it. Mackintosh’s friends were another hazard: huge city men in waistcoats, and pre-war musicians with patent leather hair. . . . despite Mac’s party tricks and city mates, we all liked him very much. He was kind, loyal, and generous, and he could, when on form, play absolutely beautifully.

This comes from pages 100-1 of my paperback copy of OWNING-UP — a book whose spine was nearly broken at those pages.  Was its previous owner also looking for Spike?

And this reminiscence (in August 2014) by the very gracious Ralph Laing:

Spike was a well-off London timber merchant with a passion for jazz and Louis in particular. To my knowledge the only sides he cut commercially were the feature on Sandy Brown’s ‘Sandy’s Sidemen’ and the Wally Fawkes sides you have on Lake. Like Wally he was never a professional, and in his early days was an inveterate sitter-in. Sandy featured him usually on the 100 Club alfresco Thursday night. He had three loves – his sons (all well positioned, especially billionaire Cameron), Louis Armstrong and booze. As he got older the latter dominated and it was hard to get him to play, although he often carted his trumpet around. I persuaded him to do a few numbers with my band at a Edinburgh Festival sometime in the late 1980’s, and that was unusual. Stan Greig and I, though, did spend many hours with him at my flat in Edinburgh (he always attended the Festival), listening to Louis, Jabbo Smith and Jack Purvis.  He loved to talk about and listen to jazz, and was a founder member of the Codgers, a group of London musicians and ex-musicians who cared about music (and a drink) – Wally, Stan, Ian Christie and Jack Hutton (ex-Melody Maker editor) among them. When he died his sons mounted the greatest jazz wake in British history at the ‘Pizza On The Park’ taking over the downstairs supper/night club and dispensing endless refreshment to most of the jazz fraternity. Those present and still alive remember it with awe. The surviving Codgers still host an annual Xmas dinner in his memory. He was a lovely man, unlike most, endearing and funny in his cups. I miss him.

Leader of the Classic Jazz Orchestra Ken Mathieson came up with these anecdotes, “in the book THE BEST OF JAZZ SCORE, which consists of selected excerpts from the BBC radio programme of the same name”:

George Melly:
Spike McIntosh played trumpet with the Wally Fawkes Band in the late 1950s. He was a great fan of Messrs Gordon’s and Louis Armstrong. In fact I suspect his real reason for playing the trumpet was to capture other musicians and take them home with him in order to drink the product of one and listen to the product of the other.

Humphrey Lyttelton:
There is a lovely story about Spike McIntosh being at a party at Wally Fawkes’ house. In those days Wally had a large divider in his main room which was covered in pottery, glassware, bowls of fruit and that sort of thing. Typically, Spike was among the last to leave and, as he got himself out of an armchair, he stumbled into this divider which crashed to the floor with Spike sprawled across the wreckage.

The crash woke up Wally’s daughter, then about nine years old. She came out on to the landing in some distress. Prostrate in the middle of the wreckage, Spike saw her at the top of stairs and, with as much dignity as he could muster, he said “Shouldn’t that child be in bed?”

Although his famous son, Sir Cameron Mackintosh, has been acerbic when mentioning his father in interviews, he was more affectionate in his extended sketch for the book, DADS: A CELEBRATION OF FATHERHOOD BY BRITAIN’S FINEST AND FUNNIEST, ed. Sarah Brown and Gil McNeil (Random House, 2008). This excerpt begins with Spike in the Second World War:

. . . . he was blown up . . .in the Egyptian desert during Montgomery’s rout of Rommel, at the Battle of El Alamein, and was rescued by some passing Bedouins who took him back to Cairo where he lay unconscious for three months. While recuperating, he was summoned to play for King Farouk, whose son loved jazz. Throughout his adventures, Dad’s trusted trumpet never left his side or his hospital bed.

Jazz was his life and he played with a veritable Who’s Who of British jazz (Humphrey Lyttelton, Wally Fawkes, Sandy Brown to name but a few). He even played with his hero Louis Armstrong whose style he closely mirrored, and, at one impromptu gig, Louis borrowed Dad’s treasured Selmer trumpet so he could join in. However, Dad had to make a living as a timber merchant to feed and educate three hungry boys — especially me — as jazz simply didn’t pay that much. The fact that Dad couldn’t make music his sole profession had one silver lining for myself and my two brothers, Nicky and Robert, as he always encouraged us to do anything we wanted as a career. His other great example was that he always went through life thinking the best of people — ‘jolly good chap’ — and was genuinely disappointed if they turned out to be ‘a rotter.’  This was counterbalanced by our mother’s far more beady approach to life.

Having met my mother Diana in Naples towards the end of the war, when they were both working for E.N.S.A., the Army’s entertainment division, he was no stranger to the flamboyance of show business, so I had no opposition to my dreams of being a theatre producer, nor did my youngest brother, Nicky, in becoming a chef or my middle brother Robert, in going into the music business, as both a writer and a record producer. Dad still managed to play regularly throughout his life and made several terrific recordings with his colleagues.

In retrospect, one of his other great gifts to us was taking us to see many of the jazz greats in their prime and sometimes introducing us to them after the show. Who could forget the dazzling concerts of Duke Ellington, Count Basie, and Louis Armstrong? The brilliant trombone playing of Jack Teagarden, the haunting saxophone of Johnny Hodges, the dazzling piano playing of Art Tatum and Earl Hines, and going to an intimate Ronnie Scott’s to see Ella Fitzgerald.

Every time I hear these great artists on the radio, I go, ‘Thanks Dad,’ and hear him ‘Zaba Doo Zatz’ in his inimitable musical ‘Satchmo’ growl, as he gratefully sips another pint.  

Two more visual portraits: the front and back cover of the vinyl issue of SANDY’S SIDEMEN, devoted to compositions by trumpeter Al Fairweather:

SANDY'S SIDEMEN lp cover

Spike, caricatured, at the top.

SANDY'S SIDEMEN lp backand a few words by Sandy Brown about Spike and his work on the “straight ballad,” HIGH TIME.

But the most affecting portrait of Spike Mackintosh I can offer is his music. Here is my homemade video of HIGH TIME, where his playing is both delicate and powerful. (The volume level is low, but you can always repair that.):

I need to know more about the reticent creator of such beauty.

May your happiness increase!

SUNDAY MORNING SERENADES: ED POLCER, DAN BARRETT, JOHN COCUZZI, BUCKY PIZZARELLI, PAUL KELLER at the ATLANTA JAZZ PARTY (August 26, 2014)

Even the most ardent jazz fan might not want to hear the band at full strength immediately on rising.  In keeping with that idea, here is a too-brief set of quiet beauty — swinging music performed on a Sunday morning (April 26, 2014) at the Atlanta Jazz Party by five masters of the craft: Ed Polcer, cornet; Dan Barrett, trombone; Paul Keller, string bass; Bucky Pizzarelli, guitar; John Cocuzzi, piano.

Listeners who have good memories or who were around in the years 1951-1976 might, as I did, note a gentle evocation of the music Bobby Hackett and Vic Dickenson made together — no copying of phrases at the 2014 Party, but a gentle melodic caress by all the players — showing just how much variety remains in “rhythm ballads” at “medium tempo.”

SECRET LOVE:

WHAT’S NEW?:

EAST OF THE SUN:

Thanks to these sensitive musicians and to the Atlanta Jazz Party, where such lyrical music is always offered so generously.

May your happiness increase! 

DREAMING THE HOURS AWAY: WESLA WHITFIELD, MIKE GREENSILL, RANDY REINHART, HARRY ALLEN, JON BURR, PETE SIERS (September 22, 2013)

Here is a deliciously-shaded set of music from Wesla Whitfield and Mike Greensill, with the noble assistance of Randy Reinhart, cornet; Harry Allen, tenor saxophone; Jon Burr, string bass; Pete Siers, drums. Everyone from Cole Porter to Jean Goldkette to Al Cohn makes an approving, empathic appearance. Wesla and Mike offer deep emotions without ever dramatizing a note:

I THOUGHT ABOUT YOU:

GOODBYE, LITTLE DREAM, GOODBYE:

SUNDAY:

MORNING GLORIES:

I’M AN ERRAND GIRL FOR RHYTHM:

DREAMS Medley:

This set was recorded on September 22, 2013, at what was once called”Jazz at Chautauqua.” That jazz party has packed its tents and moved west — to Cleveland, where it will be flourishing as the Allegheny Jazz Party, this September 2014.  I hope you will follow me there.  Details at the AJP website and Facebook page and even here.

May your happiness increase!

JUST RIGHT: TIM LAUGHLIN: “THE TRIO COLLECTION, VOLUME ONE”

We all know those delicious moments in live performance when the band hits A Groove and we feel the tension dissipate. We know we can trust these musicians to wrap us in their music and carry us away with them. We feel a warmth embracing us.

Our cherished recordings can also produce this wonderful comfort. Play Benny Goodman’s SUGAR, or Vic Dickenson’s WHEN YOU AND I WERE YOUNG, MAGGIE (or a few hundred others) and I become relaxed, elated, so happy.

It isn’t Easy Listening. I listen intently, but I know that no astringent surprises or sudden drops in aesthetic cabin pressure are coming.

A new CD by Tim Laughlin, clarinet; David Boeddinghaus, piano; Hal Smith, drums, provides the same exhilaration and solace from the very first note.  It is called THE TRIO COLLECTION, VOLUME ONE.

Seeing these names, you may be — as I was — immediately convinced, with no need to read on.  Should you be in New Orleans, the CD is available at one of my favorite places in that city, the Louisiana Music Factory, or you can order an autographed copy from Tim at his website. And here you can hear excerpts from four songs.

TIM LAUGHLIN Trio 1

These three players are experienced and empathic, and Tim had the fine idea of recording the session in his home: inviting two expert friends, having his 1922 piano tuned . . . and playing songs that bring pleasure.  No recording studio with microphones, baffles, barriers; no club with chatter and clatter.  Just serenely beautiful jazz for us.

Here are the songs: Jabbo Smith’s sweet MUST BE RIGHT, CAN’T BE WRONG; Tim’s own ESPLANADE; a whole host of durable classics with associations ranging from Jack Teagarden to Mr. Goodman to George Lewis and Frank Sinatra: AS LONG AS I LIVE / YOU’RE LUCKY TO ME / IF I COULD BE WITH YOU / MY BABY JUST CARES FOR ME / NEW ORLEANS (with the verse) / OH DADDY BLUES / IT’S A LOVELY DAY TODAY / OLD RUGGED CROSS / LULLABY OF THE LEAVES / THE ONE I LOVE BELONGS TO SOMEBODY ELSE (a song Tim says, deadpan, that he likes to play when hired for a wedding gig) / I GOTTA RIGHT TO SING THE BLUES / NICE WORK IF YOU CAN GET IT / IT’S THE TALK OF THE TOWN / SATURDAY NIGHT IS THE LONELIEST NIGHT OF THE WEEK.

The recording is that it acknowledges the tradition — not only the records — but what the three players have played, heard, and lived. It is not a “repertory” effort, where three gifted individualists in this century tamp down their personalities and work hard to reproduce the sounds of a Benny Goodman Trio airshot from 1938 for us in modern sound.  Messrs. Laughlin, Boeddinghaus, and Smith play their own life-experiences. They know the preceding century of jazz deeply, but they joyously choose to follow their own impulses.  (Those who know artistic history are not compelled to repeat it.)

So the “scholarly” types will — like beagles sniffing for crumbs after Thanksgiving dinner — hear echoes of Goodman, Fazola, Davern, Wilson, Hines, Morton, Wettling, Catlett, Jones — but our hearts respond to Tim, David, and Hal, three mature players having a fine time.

I could write more about Tim’s tone (glorious), his singing melodic lines and use of space (younger musicians, take note), of Hal’s sound on his snare drum, hi-hat, and bass drum (luxuriant and hilariously apt), of David’s generosity to the trio (providing the richest orchestral carpet of two-handed delicacy and strength but not getting in anyone’s way) . . . as well as the perfect recorded sound, but I would rather go and play the CD again.  I predict that you will, too.  I hope there will be a second and a third volume and more of this trio . . . .

And — to repeat the details again for those lost in bliss: In New Orleans, the CD is now available at one of my favorite places in that city, the Louisiana Music Factory, or you can order an autographed copy from Tim at his website. And here you can hear excerpts from four songs. Other corners of Tim’s site are neatly packed with rewarding information: sound samples from other CDs, his gig schedule, and more.

To quote Jelly Roll Morton, “That’s like it ought to be.”

May your happiness increase!

ONE SOUNDTRACK FOR MY IDEAL WORLD

THAT’S MY WEAKNESS NOW was a very popular song in the late Twenties: in my memory, it is connected to Whiteman, Bix, and the Rhythm Boys; Helen Kane; Cliff Edwards, and I am sure two dozen others.

If you’ve never heard it, here is Miss Kane’s 1927 version (with the verse and at a sweet tempo):

Its bouncy melody and amorous conceit –“[S]he loves these [apparently difficult] acts, so I am compelled to perform them also — pity poor me who has to suffer billing and cooing [but not really]” — made both singers and audiences float along in amusement.

THAT-S-MY-WEAKNESS-NOW

But between 1929 and 1939 no one recorded it in a jazz context (according to Tom Lord’s discography) and it’s understandable: its bouncy two-beat melody line and rhythms didn’t lend themselves all that easily to a smoother Swing Era treatment, and it may have seemed to contemporary audiences a relic of their parents’ now-ancient flapper / sheik past.  (The song re-emerged in later decades — with recordings by George Lewis and Humphrey Lyttelton — as a sweet homage to the late Twenties, and that is how modern bands play it today.)

I don’t know who thought of the song for this July 1944 record date, but it’s a wonderful choice.  This was one of Harry Lim’s Keynote dates, so he might have been the inspiration — or leader Pete Brown might have liked the song as a perfect match for his own jaunty, accented, ebullient playing.

As a record producer, Harry Lim had a thousand virtues: good taste in musicians, a liking for medium tempos and melodic improvisation, and the courage to have players who weren’t household names lead sessions.  His 12″ 78 recordings are a body of work that remains its freshness.  (I am only sad that when I was a young record-buyer at one branch of the New York City Sam Goody’s, I didn’t recognize him, wring his hand embarrassingly and tell him how much his fine musical taste had enriched my life.)

Here is THAT’S MY WEAKNESS NOW, performed by Brown, alto saxophone; Joe Thomas, trumpet; Kenny Kersey, piano; Milt Hinton, string bass; J.C. Heard, drums.

I think the beauties of this recording are self-evident to anyone willing to listen closely for just over four minutes — perhaps a seeming-lifetime in our restless century.

The disc starts with an unaccompanied introduction by the under-celebrated Kenny Kersey, who had absorbed Teddy Wilson and Earl Hines but also was very much aware of what the jazz critics like to call, retrospectively, “advanced harmonies,” but which musicians of the time might have called “funny chords.” Kersey had played with Andy Kirk as well as with Red Allen’s Cafe Society band, and (for me) his accompaniment nearly steals the show during the first chorus, where the melody is played in a neat, clipped way by the horns.  And as for bass and drums: they provide a swing heartbeat.

The horns offer very individual sounds.  I don’t think an experienced listener would mistake Brown for any other altoist: the way he pushes the beat, as if his notes and phrases were impetuous, his solos impatient to get out of the horn where they could be heard.  And his tone!  Lemony, bittersweet, tart?  One would need a truly subtle food writer to describe the sound of his alto.  Joe Thomas, ah, Joe Thomas — glowing and spare but deeply emotive without playing one more note than needed . . . a true lesson in storytelling, full of nuance but never over-elaborated.  In the melding of the horns, they are synchronous (you hear the professionalism of musicians used to working in sections, in big bands, where blending was essential) but their individual voices are audible, their sounds so personal.

Even on longer-playing discs, the idea of splitting a chorus (the horns play the first sixteen bars of a thirty-two bar chorus; another instrument takes the eight-bar “bridge,” then the horns return or let the other players have the second half) was nothing new, but Kersey’s piano, spare and elegant, is refreshing.  But while Kersey is exploring, so — in the most sympathetic way — is Milt, climbing higher on his instrument without ever seeming to solo.  Heard’s emphatic brushwork (out of Sidney Catlett) never falters, wavers, or becomes mechanical.  The following sixteen bars are equally calm — they are riffing this evening! — with an emphatic flare on the last notes of the chorus, where the horns seem especially determined to repeat the title in song.

Brown was either a  generous or wise leader — I think both — content to build a performance architecturally rather than saying THIS IS MY RECORD and playing all through it, so if we are waiting for the leader to solo, it doesn’t happen for some time.

So the next chorus is apparently a Kersey solo, and what an elegantly swinging pianist — great musical intelligence and no cliches — he was.  But just as Kersey stole the show behind the horns, the horns (with their simple little pushing riff) might easily distract us from his gleam.  Horn backgrounds to a piano solo used to be commonplace — in the departed ideal world — but one does not hear them in this century, with some exceptions.  The way the whole band — is it only a quintet? — sounds, with such sweet subtle variety — is gratifying.  Kersey has some of the same quiet energy of Johnny Guarneri (someone Lim also loved and featured) but he is his own man, steering his own course between Fats and Bud Powell.

With a push from Heard, Thomas is on.  And how beautiful his tone is — dark, clear, not “sweet” but not harsh, brassy.  All his trademarks are in place: the careful repeated notes, the breath-like phrasing, the upward arpeggios, the pace (no matter how fast the tempo gets, at his best, Thomas mastered the Louis trick of relaxing, of “playing whole notes,” of letting everyone else seem hurried while he takes his time, admires the scenery, adjusts the knot on his tie just so.  His bridge is especially luxurious.  If, perhaps, you think, “Oh, that’s just Louis-influenced Swing Era trumpet playing, and everyone was doing that,” may I respectfully suggest that a deep immersion in the period will prove revelatory. No one sounded like Joe.  Ask a trumpet player you know to listen to that solo, closely, and see if it’s easy to create such a sound, such an effect.

Behind Thomas, Brown has been nudging the band along (there are no dead spots on this record) as it shifts into a higher gear, with Heard and everyone else deciding — to use the Thirties expression — “to put the pots and pans on,” to get seriously playful.

And then comes our leader — Mister Brown to you.  What a remarkable sound!  At first, it makes me think of someone with laryngitis who insists on speaking although his voice croaks and cracks, but one quickly gets accustomed to the sound because Brown’s pulse is so warm and enthusiastic.  He doesn’t rush, but he intently gives each phrase its own shape and a rocking momentum.  And his solo is made up of small gems, a phrase turned round and round over the harmonies, without pressure or monotony.  (I am not usually fond of quotations — some musicians overindulge — but Brown’s reference to FUNKY BUTT at 3:12 is hilarious. I hope that there is no particular connection between that subject and what the imagined lover prefers, but more likely it was just a witty idea, floating by, that laid nicely over the chords.)

And that last chorus is a marvel of tidy architecture, of generosity, of variety: sixteen glorious bars for the Judge, Milt Hinton — no one ever talked through his solos! — with the band riffing around and through his sonorous notes, then a “modern” bridge featuring Kersey, four more bars for Milt (how many people understand what Milt understood about the string bass, parallel to Jimmy Blanton?) then four bars where the band says in a politely declamatory ensemble, “THAT’S MY WEAKNESS NOW!” and the record is over.

Yes, I have heard recordings like this in our century, and, better yet, bands actually doing these glorious acts of solo brilliance and communal swing on the bandstand, in person, but this 12″ 78 is imperishable.  There are a million ways for an improvising jazz group to sound, and I wouldn’t be such a bully to insist that this is the only one, or the best one, but it moves me every time I hear it.

May your happiness increase!