Tag Archives: Ma Rainey

SWINGING FOR THE KID: HAL SMITH’S “ON THE LEVEE JAZZ BAND”

Edward Ory — that’s the Kid to those of us who admire and keep his name and music alive — is a fabled figure.  His 1925-28 Chicago recordings with Louis Armstrong, King Oliver, Luis Russell, Johnny Dodds, Lil Hardin, George Mitchell, Jelly Roll Morton, Ma Rainey, even Tiny Parham are bedrock masterpieces of the pre-World War Two jazz canon, and many bands celebrate them.

But the California climate — whether you consider the ground-breaking 1922 recordings or the evidence of Ory’s second career — must have agreed with him, because the music he made from 1943 on, while less celebrated, is as gratifying, to some even more so.  In the middle Forties, Ory’s band was not a formulaic “trad” group; like Bunk Johnson, he played popular songs.  Rather than have a two-beat rhythm section with banjo, tuba, and a pianist playing their impressions of an older style, the Ory band carried a rhythm guitarist, a string bassist who mized 2/4 and 4/4,  and often had the elegantly down-home pianist Don Ewell keeping things light, bright, and swinging.  At its most gliding, the Ory band suggested a fraternal meeting of New Orleanians still in beautiful form and a swing rhythm section with hints of Basie’s . . . quite a lovely blend.

Ory’s music of the Forties and Fifties  has been well-documented on disc, because the band was caught live on radio broadcasts, and, later, for Norman Granz, but I think many lovers of “traditional jazz” associated him with a rough-hewn trombone style over their idea of “traditional” rhythms.  That is, until the superb drummer and jazz scholar Hal Smith assembled a group of congenial players for his new “On the Levee” Jazz Band, its title referring to a San Francisco club owned by Ory, where he and his band played from 1957-61.

I asked Hal about his first awareness of this period of Ory’s music, and he told me, Back when I bought my first Lu Watters record, the owner of the record store handed me the Watters LP, looked at the label and said “Oh — ‘Good Time Jazz.’ I have another Good Time Jazz record here that someone ordered, but never came in to pick up.” The LP she offered me was “Kid Ory’s Creole Jazz Band, 1954.” I gladly accepted it, and from the first hearing the combination of Ory’s tailgate trombone and the swinging rhythm section (Minor Hall, Ed Garland and Don Ewell in particular) became some of my favorite sounds in Jazz.

Hal later told me, Based on our performances in New Orleans and Pensacola, I think the On The Levee group most closely resembles the GOOD TIME JAZZ ensembles, circa 1953 – 1955. A lot of that is due to Kris’ admiration for Ewell, and Josh Gouzy’s Ed Garland-inspired bass. (Ory’s sound changed considerably after Ewell and Garland left, and even more in the late ’50s and early ’60s).

The band has already played gigs in New Orleans and in Pensacola, Florida, with Clint Baker nobly filling the Ory role; Ben Polcer, trumpet; Joe Goldberg, clarinet; Kris Tokarski, piano; Alex Belhaj, guitar; Joshua Gouzy, string bass; Hal Smith, drums.  And early in 2018 they will again play in New Orleans . . . and will appear at the San Diego Jazz Fest in November.  I am sure that there will be many other opportunities to hail this group in between.

For now, here is the band’s website, and here are a few videos.  Many more are on YouTube, and the site has a whole cloud of audio-only performances, more than enough to roll up the rugs (if anyone does that) and invite the neighbors over for swinging cheer.

WEARY BLUES:

DOWN HOME RAG:

CARELESS LOVE:

PANAMA:

Many bands are playing this repertoire, but few are doing it in this fervent;y swinging way.  And since the club no longer exists on the Embarcadero — 987 would be part of the Ferry Plaza Maketplace — we should embrace this new band, so nicely keeping a jazz legacy vibrantly alive.

May your happiness increase!

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“HAVE YOU TRIED THE ELEPHANT BEER?”: INSPIRED STORIES: “JAZZ TALES FROM JAZZ LEGENDS,” by MONK ROWE with ROMY BRITELL

Marian McPartland and Monk Rowe, photo by Val DeVisser

Marian McPartland and Monk Rowe, photo by Val DeVisser

Monk Rowe is a jazz musician — saxophonist, pianist, composer, arranger — and he has a day gig at Hamilton College in Clinton, New York, as the  Joe Williams Director of the Filius Jazz Archive there.  The Archive will be twenty-one in 2016, and it is indeed remarkably adult.

So far, Monk has conducted video interviews with more than 325 musicians, ranging from the great forbears (Doc Cheatham, Eddie Bert, Kenny Davern, Jerry Jerome, Ray Conniff, Joe Williams, Milt Hinton) to the living legends of the present and future (Nicki Parrott, Kidd Jordan, Sherrie Maricle, Bill Charlap, Holly Hofmann, Maria Schneider).  And excerpts from those interviews, thematically and intelligently arranged, now form a compact yet impressive book (with a brief foreword by jazz eminence Dan Morgenstern) whose title is above.

JazzTalesCover

A friend at Hamilton sent me a copy of the book some weeks back, and I have been slow to write about it — for two reasons.  One, the semester got in the way, unforgivably, and two, I was often making notes and laughing so hard that I couldn’t read much at a sitting.  But my instant recommendation is BUY IT.  So those of you who want to skip the evidence can zoom to the bottom of this post. Others can linger.

A brief prelude.  I am immensely in favor of oral history although it cannot replace the best analysis or aesthetic criticism.  I wouldn’t give up Whitney Balliett, Martin Williams, Gary Giddins, Anthony Barnett, Frank Buchmann-Moller, Manfred Selchow, or John Chilton . . . the list goes on and I know I am leaving two dozen worthy writers out.  But what wouldn’t we give for a ten-minute interview with Tony Fruscella, Frank Teschemacher, Jimmy Harrison, Herschel Evans, Eddie Lang, Jimmy Blanton, or Buster Bailey?  True, some musicians were and are shy or not always able to articulate much about the music, but others — as we know — are born raconteurs, sharp observers, comedians, anthropologists.  Their stories, no matter how brief, are precious.  Two pages by Clark Terry where he speaks of being beaten by Caucasians because he was a “Nigerian” while in Mississippi — and then being rescued by another group of Caucasians — say more about race relations in the United States than twenty hours of PBS footage could ever do.

The material is organized thematically, enabling the reader to hear, for instance, stories of life on the road from Kenny Davern, Lanny Morgan, and Phil Woods. Then there are sharp observations — one can almost hear the rimshot that follows.  Dave Pell calls Stan Getz “the greatest dressing room player that ever lived.”  Stan Kenton stops his band from swinging too much and says, “This is not Basie.  This is Stan Kenton.”  Bobby Rosengarden talks about Toscanini, Joe Wilder about punctuality, Dick Hyman and Bucky Pizzarelli about life in the recording studio.  Keter Betts, as a high-school student, is bought lunch by Milt Hinton; Jean Bach explains the Ellington habit of “seagulling”; Sherrie Maricle recalls her metal clarinet.  Dan Barrett gives advice to young musicians.  Randy Sandke talks about the perils of thinking.  Karl Berger talks about his conducting; Kidd Jordan deconstructs a song’s title.  And there’s a historical perspective covering nearly a century: we hear Doc Cheatham talk about Ma Rainey, then Jerry Jerome describe the first Glenn Miller band — all the way up to the present.

It’s an enthralling book.  And since Monk Rowe is a professional musician, his interludes and commentary are more than useful; his questions are on the mark. Other writers put themselves into the dialogue merely to say, “Well, Dizzy always used to say to me,” but Monk is a gracious interpreter rather than a narcissist.

To find out the story of the elephant beer and the priceless answer, visit Monk’s JAZZ BACKSTORY blog here  and scroll down to the bottom of the page.  Then you can read the rest of Phil Woods’ words and — by the way — find out exactly what Dizzy Gillespie said when presented with the key to the city of Syracuse, New York.

JAZZ TALES FROM JAZZ LEGENDS is available here through Amazon.  And the proceeds from the book support the Archives.

NEWS FLASH: Monk is going to be teaching a free online course on jazz, starting February 2, 2016: details here.

May your happiness increase!

SARAH SPENCER STOMPS IT DOWN (June 7, 2015)

SARAH SPENCER

I feel so fortunate to have met the delightfully authentic Sarah Spencer about 72 hours ago.

Although Sarah didn’t bring her tenor saxophone to Tamar Korn’s Sunday afternoon soiree at Casa Mezcal, she did sit in and sing a 1928 Ma Rainey blues, HEAR ME TALKIN’ TO YOU.  Her singing initially hits with the force of a phenomenon that should be reported on the Weather Channel, but those who listen closely will hear an entreaty, a tenderness beneath the seriously forthright power.  She’s accompanied by Andy Stein, baritone saxophone; Ehud Asherie, piano (the latter bringing some Ellington and Hines down to New Orleans):

If you weren’t at Casa Mezcal, you have another chance right away to immerse yourself in Sarah’s swinging world — a Saturday-night gig on June 20 from 8 to midnight.  It’s at the Windmill Tavern at 400 Hollister Street, Stratford, Connecticut.  The phone number for reservations is 203-378-6886.  No cover, no minimum.

Sarah explains, “The band is Sarah Spencer’s Transatlantic Band and we play New Orleans Music – from Piron to Professor Longhair (and always hot and dirty!)  People can check out my website here.  The personnel for the gig is Sarah Spencer, tenor sax and vocal; Fred Vigorito, cornet; Bill Sinclair, piano; Art Hovey, tuba and string bass; Molly Sayles, drums.  It looks like there is a load of room to dance so people should come with their dancing shoes and be prepared to shake it in good New Orleans fashion (or any other way they see fit)!”

You know what to do.  And obviously so does Sarah.

P.S.  I told Sarah that her photograph was terrifying, and she grinned and said, “That’s my best butt-kicking, hard-blowing, get outta ma way cos I’m comin’ through photo — my cutting contest face.  But I’m a big squishy inside.”  She is both of those people, and I hope you get a chance to find out for yourself.

May your happiness increase!

SOULFUL SURVIVOR: BARBARA DANE SINGS AT KCSM’S “JAZZ ON THE HILL” (JUNE 8, 2014)

Barbara Dane turned 87 in May, but her heart, her voice, and her energy are still very powerful.  She brought her many selves to San Mateo last Sunday for a set during Bay Area jazz radio station KCSM‘s JAZZ ON THE HILL.

Here are some of the highlights of that performance, where Barbara is supported by Clint Baker, trombone and guitar; Marc Caparone, cornet; Richard Hadlock, soprano saxophone; Tammy Hall, piano; India Cooke, violin (apologies to India for not including her in most visual shots; Dean Reilly, string bass; Bill Maginnis, drums.

If you are unfamiliar with Barbara — someone who looks deep into the darkness and comes out with beautiful music —here is a good place to begin.

But her music speaks much louder than any words.

Barbara’s own THANK YOU, KCSM!:

A new version of Ma Rainey’s YONDER COMES THE BLUES:

Memphis Minnie’s I’M SELLIN’ MY PORK CHOPS:

SUMMERTIME (featuring Richard Hadlock paying tribute to Sidney Bechet, his teacher):

UNEMPLOYMENT COMPENSATION BLUES:

WHAT YOU GONNA DO WHEN THERE AIN’T NO JAZZ?:

As long as Barbara Dane and her friends are on the planet, the question posed by that last song is nothing we have to worry about.

Thanks to Alisa Clancy and all the heartfelt people at jazz radio KCSM for making this free event a glorious gift to the community — not only the people in their seats, but listeners all over the world. You can hear their music broadcast live right now by clicking on the link above. We are grateful they are here.

May your happiness increase! 

ESCAPING THE BOX

William Carlos Williams: “Forcing twentieth-century America into a sonnet—gosh, how I hate sonnets—is like putting a crab into a square box. You’ve got to cut his legs off to make him fit. When you get through, you don’t have a crab any more.”

Robert Frost: “Writing free verse is like playing tennis with the net down.”

Younger, I would have sided with Frost: too much freedom leads to chaos. But I celebrate Williams’ position (even though his metaphor makes me wince) more as I age, feel, and listen.  Tidiness is a wonderful thing in the kitchen cabinets, but it might lead to the slow death of creative improvising.

In that spirit, I present the latest works of saxophonist / composer / historian / scholar / seeker Allen Lowe, a four-CD set of original compositions with one exception, a spoken-word piece by the novelist Rick Moody.

field recordings cover bc

JAZZ LIVES readers will be familiar with many of the names on that cover; others will provide engaging and sometimes quizzical surprises in listening and emotion.

Lowe’s works don’t seek to present snapshots of particular eras; they don’t offer “styles or schools.” Rather, his imaginations are intense, deep, yet unfettered. FIELD RECORDINGS, Lowe says in his liner notes, grew out of an argument he had with Wnton Marsalis — during Lowe’s attempt to interview Marsalis.  Disagreeing about “minstrelsy,” Marsalis characterized Lowe — in Lowe’s words — as “merely another in a long line of deluded white academics.”

Lowe spent the next six years immersing himself in “early entertainments of every racial persuasion,” which led him to compositions — song forms — that reflected what he had heard and experienced.  He also plays and improvises on many of these performances heard in this CD set.  More details here.

Lowe writes, “There is a tradition in certain kinds of writing in which the writer takes past works and puts them to his own use for very specific philosophical and artistic reasons. Brecht called this copien, as in the use of older texts as a means to something new and different, as a method from which to challenge prior ideas and forms. This project was done in exactly this spirit, as a way of altering certain received ideas of popular and jazz song. It is also a challenge to certain formal and intellectual assumptions.”

I haven’t heard more than one quarter of the set, but found the music so inspiring that I wanted to spread the word about it.   The performances weren’t always easy to listen to — Lowe, as composer and player, doesn’t shy away from improvisation’s rough edges, but he doesn’t run into harshness for its own sake.

What I appreciate most about the music — I was listening both with and without the benefit of Lowe’s commentaries — was its depth of feeling and innate ability to surprise.  The surprises weren’t ones I could predict (I know that sounds like an illogical paradox, but listening to many of the great musicians, I feel I know “where (s)he might be going” in the next chorus).

Rather, I felt the ground shifting under me in the best sense of the metaphor. Over and over, I felt beautifully startled, gently lifted out of my expectations and planted somewhere else, experiencing the sounds from a different perspective.  Each voyage was a fascinating series of what Emerson calls “zig-zag tacks.”  I heard echoes of New Orleans polyphony and street parade, dark unrequited blues, ensemble questing that echoed Mingus and freer improvsations, with searching, winding melodic lines, unpredictable harmonies that felt good as soon as they found my ears.

Language has a hard time describing music in the best of circumstances, and words are particularly inadequate here. One must be a creative listener to feel Lowe’s many musics, but they are well worth the investigation.  He is honest, inquiring, and sly — as is his work on these four CDs.  But beware!  This set is not ear-cushioning, to be listened to in conjunction with household chores, nor is it meant to be heard as one hears some discs: seventy-five minutes of supple protection from the world.  I predict that the listener wise and brave enough to purchase the FIELD RECORDINGS will approach the music as one does a new book of poems: a poem or two at a time, rather than as an artistic devouring of it all.

As a measure of the breadth and often witty depths of Lowe’s imagination, I would list some of the names he calls in his notes and compositions: Bunk Johnson, Tony Jackson, Roswell Rudd, Ernest Hogan, Mantan Moreland, Willie “the Lion” Smith, Lennie Tristano, James Reese Europe, Wilbur Sweatman, Thelonious Monk, Zora Neale Hurston, Jelly Roll Morton, Blind Lemon Jefferson, Varese, Dave Schildkraut, Bud Powell, W.E.B. DuBois, Frank Melrose, Paul Whiteman, Bill Challis, Harry Barris, George Bacquet, Harriet Beecher Stowe, James P. Johnson, Albert Ayler, Ran Blake, Henry Mancini, Sun Ra, Mezz Mezzrow, Pete Daily, Allen Tate, Robert Lowell, Bill Triglia, George Gershwin, Frank Teschemacher, Jess Stacy, Bix Beiderbecke, Arizona Dranes, Bert Williams, George Wheeler, Barbara Payne, Clyde Bernhardt, Ma Rainey, Anthony Braxton, Joe Jordan, Jaki Byard, Fess Manetta, Lester Young, Duke Ellington . . . and more.

The curious — and I hope there are many — will listen to samples here and then plunge in — this set costs less than two CDs and is wonderfully lively. You can also learn more at Allen’s website and blog (called EVERYTHING ELSE IS POST MODERNISM) — where Frankie “Half-Pint” Jaxon and Norman Mailer, compelled to share a subway seat, eye each other with suspicion.

I admire Allen Lowe’s courage, range, and audacities. The music is often, on first hearing, “weird,” but that’s a compliment. A little weirdness is like good seasoning: so much missed in the music we are sold, so richly enhancing in the right proportions.

And to return to the austere Robert Frost.  My letter to him, unsent and unread, is as follows:Dear Mr. Frost. If you removed the net, you might not have tennis, but you certainly would have an engaging dance.”

May your happiness increase!

WELCOME, NICOLE HEITGER!

I had the pleasure of hearing Nicole Heitger for the first time at the 2013 Jazz at Chautauqua (now the Allegheny Jazz Festival: read more here) — and I was devastated, in a good way.  What a voice!  And her unaffected stage presence.  Marvelous.  Yes, she comes from a noble lineage: her father, clarinetist Ray Heitger, founded the Cakewalkin’ Jass Band; her brother, trumpeter / singer Duke Heitger, is well known to JAZZ LIVES.

The players here are Ray, Jon-Erik Kellso, James Dapogny, Kerry Lewis, and John Von Ohlen.  And I’ve intentionally left more than two minutes of preliminary chat and setting-up because I think it’s witty and sweetly candid:

TROUBLE IN MIND:

WHAT A LITTLE MOONLIGHT CAN DO:

I asked Nicole to tell us a little about herself:

My life is simple.

I started singing at 16 with the “Cake Walkin’ Jass Band” (my father’s band) and became a full time member around six years later. I sing with the “Easy Street Jazz Band” in Ann Arbor once a month and have recorded with them recently. This band includes Paul Klinger, Jim Dapogny, Paul Keller, Pete Siers, and more. I have also recorded with a local band “New Orleans Party Asylum” (NOPA) on 2 of their CD’s.  

Growing up with the music was fabulous.

The highlight of my early years was going to “Tony Packo’s Café” with my dad every weekend. This is where the CJB played for over 30 years. I listened to Bessie, Ma Rainey, and Billie in the beginning. As I got older, Ella Fitzgerald became one of my favorites.

I have a Bachelor’s degree in Sociology and have been working at the East Toledo Family Center for 16 years now. I supervised several grant funded programs. I am married to Aaron Shetterly and we have two amazing children, Elijah and Ella.

I feel honored to have been in that room to hear and record Nicole, and to share her music with you on JAZZ LIVES.  She’s got it — the real thing.

May your happiness increase!

THE JAZZ BOOKSHELF: CANNONBALL, MINGUS, and DOCTOR JAZZ

The jazz library expands in rewarding ways: three different kinds of reading matter, each one an unusual experience.

Walk-Tall-cover

Cary Ginell’s WALK TALL: THE MUSIC AND LIFE OF CANNONBALL ADDERLEY (Hal Leonard) is a refreshing book.  Reading it, I wondered why Cannonball had had to wait so long for a full-length portrait, but was glad that Ginell had done the job.

Even though Adderley was seriously influential in his brief lifetime — and the influence continues, although usually uncredited — his life was more businesslike than melodramatic.  WALK TALL is not a recounting of Cannonball’s encounters with the law, or self-destructive behavior.  It is a swift-paced, admiring narrative of Julian Adderley’s life and times, from his beginnings in Florida to his “discovery” at the Cafe Bohemia in New York in 1955 to stardom and a his death only twenty years later.

Ginell has had the cooperation of Adderley’s widow Olga, who contributes several personal narratives to the book, as does Capitol Records producer David Axelrod.  But the biography is compact (slightly more than 150 pages of text) with introductions by Dan Morgenstern and Quincy Jones — and its briskness is part of its charm, as the book and its subject roll from one recording session to the next, from Miles to Nancy Wilson to the famous Quintet.

Adderley himself comes through as an admirable character as well as a marvelous improviser and bandleader, and Ginell avoids pathobiography, so the book is not a gloating examination of its subject’s failings.  (Aside from keeping candy bars in his suitcase, Adderley seems to have been a good-natured man, husband, and musician.)

WALK TALL is also properly focused on Adderley, rather than on his biographer’s perceptions of his subject.  Ginell is at work on another book — a biography of Billy Eckstine — and I hope he continues to profile these “known” but underdocumented figures in jazz.  (I knew and admired Ginell’s work because of HOT JAZZ FOR SALE, his delightful book on the Jazz Man Record Shop, the music and personalities around it — read more here.)

MINGUS SPEAKS

MINGUS SPEAKS, taken from 1972-74 interviews conducted by John F. Goodman, is an invaluable book.  But the experience of reading it is entirely different from what one encounters in WALK TALL.

Reading MINGUS SPEAKS is rather like being dropped into hours of uninhibited monologue by Mingus on every subject that appeals to him, including race, the Mafia, Charlie Parker, sex, his own music, contemporary social politics, the avante-garde movement in jazz, Mingus’ colleagues on the bandstand and off, his emotional relations with Sue Mingus, theology, philosophy, his own fictionalized selves, and more.

It is as close as any of us will get to spending hours in the company of an artist we admire — and once again we are reminded of the distance between the artist and his / her creations.  Mingus comes across as a maelstrom of ideas, words, and theories, which is only apt, whether that was his reality or a self he inhabited for Goodman’s benefit.  (The book is, however, much more lucid and less fragmentary than RIFFTIDE, the transcription of Jo Jones’ swirling recollections published a year or so ago.)

Interspersed between the lengthy interview sections are commentaries by Sy Johnson, who orchestrated Mingus’ later music (he also provided some beautiful photographs), Dan Morgenstern, George Wein, Max Gordon, Paul Jeffrey, Teo Macero, editor Regina Ryan (who worked with Mingus on BENEATH THE UNDERDOG), documentary filmmaker Tom Reichman, and others.   The book has its own website, which is illuminating; here is the publisher’s website as well.

Journalist Goodman has done jazz history an immense service; would that there had been people with tape recorders following other heroes around with such energy and devotion.  I find it odd, however, that he is credited as the book’s author, not its editor: he asked the questions and recorded the responses, had Mingus’ words transcribed . . . but this is a book by Mingus, even posthumously.

DOCTOR JAZZI had not heard of the Dutch jazz magazine DOCTOR JAZZ, which I regret — it has been publishing for a half-century — but it is not too late to make up for the omission.  What might put some monolingual readers off is that more than half of the prose in the magazine is in Dutch, but its reach is wide, both in genres and in musical styles.

There most recent issue contains wonderful photographs of modern groups (Les Red Hot Reedwarmers) and heroic figures (a drawing of Ma Rainey and her gold-coin necklace, taken from a Paramount Records advertisement), reviews of CDs on the Lake, Rivermont, and Retrieval labels, as well as DVDs.  DOCTOR JAZZ reaches back to the “Oriental” roots of ragtime at the end of the nineteenth century and forward to pianist Joe Alterman, with side-glances at Dan Block’s latest CD, DUALITY, and the late singer Ann Burton.

Particularly enlightening are the profiles of musicians who don’t always receive the attention they deserve, from trumpeter Avery “Kid” Howard to gospel pioneer Herbert L. “Pee Wee” Pickard, as well as musicians new to me — guitarists Robby Pauwels and Cor Baan and string bassist Henny Frohwein.  There’s also the fourth part of a historical series on jazz in India.  Because my Dutch is poor, I haven’t made my way through the whole issue, guessing at cognates and intuiting meaning through context, but DOCTOR JAZZ appears to be well worth investigating: thorough, well-researched, and informative.  And it’s from the people who brought us the very satisfying DINNERTIME FOR HUNGRY COLLECTORS, so I can vouch for their good instincts.  More information here.

May your happiness increase!