Tag Archives: Mainstream jazz

“THE BOB CATS” (Part Two): YANK LAWSON, BOB HAGGART, NICK FATOOL, MARTY GROSZ, LOU STEIN, ABE MOST, EDDIE MILLER, BOB HAVENS (presented by PETER BUHR, with HANJU PAPE): Plochingen, Germany: October 21, 1985

Through the kindness of my friend, the fine drummer and jazz scholar Bernard Flegar, we have an extended performance by “The Bob Cats,” featuring musicians rarely captured on film at this length — who come together to form an expert band, engaged and expert.  In their hands, the most hackneyed tunes sound casual, intense, and fresh.  The band is presented as a subset of “The World’s Greatest Jazz Band,” but in truth only co-leaders Lawson and Haggart were founding members of the WGJB: the others were old friends who could be wooed into a European tour, people who knew the routines, sometimes because of fifty years of professional performance.

Bernard, swinging — a characteristic pose.

The performance began with a long introduction by Peter Buhr, who was, as Bernard tells me, “the MC and booker of the Bob Cats tour, and to this day leader of his band, the ‘Flat Foot Stompers.’ Peter was a personal friend to many of these legends.”

Here is the first part of this glorious concert, almost eighty minutes in four segments. . . . . and now the second part (all of this divided arbitrarily by YouTube, but not disastrously).

This segment continues the rocking SWEET GEORGIA BROWN that now includes (unobtrusively) the banjoist Hanju Pape and perhaps some of the young players at the rear of the stage, but the real delight is the way the Bob Cats trade phrases — the audience delights in it, also.  Peter Buhr then introduces Pape to sing and play NOBODY KNOWS YOU WHEN YOU’RE WHEN YOU’RE DOWN AND OUT, quite idiomatically.  Haggart quietly and effectively backs him up: friendship on the bandstand!  Fatool adds so much during Pape’s OH, SUSANNAH (is Haggart checking the chords?), then Stein joins in for S’WONDERFUL, and the Cats gentle reassemble behind and around Pape.  Havens begins a beautiful BASIN STREET BLUES — incomplete (in the middle of a Lawson phrase) but to be resumed in the next segment:

The band provides Havens superb stop-time backing (and someone says, fervently, “Yeah, Bobby!) and then the mood changes for the Haggart-Fatool duet, BIG NOISE FROM WINNETKA, a beautiful version: great visual and auditory theatre that pleases the audience immensely.  Lawson then begins SOMETIMES I’M HAPPY with Fatool, Haggart, and Stein — tightly muted and whispery, before playing the sound games of which he was a master: this quartet session is reminiscent of the Ruby Braff live gigs I saw, and makes me think it was a pity that Lawson never did a whole session as the only horn.  “We meet again,” says Marty Grosz, before beginning his solo segment with BREAKIN’ THE ICE (catch the descending phrase behind “I guess you know what it’s for”) then ALL GOD’S CHILLUN GOT RHYTHM, with a nod to Clappo Marx, in a truly swinging version, interrupted before the final words, but you know what they are:

“. . . .got swing.”  Then, SQUEEZE ME, at a leisurely tempo with beautiful expressive solos by Lawson, Havens, and Miller — followed by a rhapsodic MY FUNNY VALENTINE featuring Stein and masterful accompaniment from Haggart and Fatool.  Then what might have been a deplorable interlude — WHEN THE SAINTS GO MARCHING IN — plus Pape — is transformed by this band’s irresistible swing and quiet lyricism.  Mainstream jazz, my friends: consider Miller’s splendid solo before the applause, band introductions, and more applause.  The band goes off, but there must be an encore, and we know it, SOUTH RAMPART STREET PARADE, started off by Fatool, whose playing is a graduate seminar in itself:

and here it is! — with everyone knowing just how it should sound, splendidly, Most nodding to George Lewis once or twice, Miller soaring, and Lawson climbing above the ensemble in the best Blackhawk fashion:

“Drive carefully going home,” Lawson tells us, before Peter Buhr closes off the evening for us and we watch the pleasantly-dressed audience leave the hall.

But wait!  Here’s Eddie Miller playing SOPHISTICATED LADY with the same rhythm section at the Cork Jazz Festival, a year later.  Too good to ignore:

And a few words about labeling and categorization.  Dick Gibson named this band and its offshoots THE WORLD’S GREATEST JAZZ BAND as a marketing idea (it was more memorable than the TEN GREATS OF JAZZ on a marquee) and also because he believed it.  But at Gibson’s parties you’d also hear Carl Fontana, Sweets Edison, and Benny Carter.  However, many jazz fans — perhaps those who believe that the music began with KIND OF BLUE — sneered at the label and at the band.  To them, these musicians were elderly, repeating old routines.  I will leave the ageism to those who dote on such things.  But as you listen to “The Bob Cats,” even though some of their repertoire goes back to the ODJB, and a few routines are pre-war, the solos and ensembles are so lively, so timeless.  Mainstream jazz, not museum jazz.  All it requires is that listeners are open to the individualities, the sincerities, and the swing.

Heartfelt thanks again to Bernard, Peter, Yank, Bob, Eddie, Abe, Lou, Bob, Nick, Marty, Hanju, another Michael, and that pleasant audience . . . for making these hours of joy possible then and now.  And I can testify that this concert improves on repeated listening.

May your happiness increase!

HIDDEN TREASURE, NOW SHARED: JON-ERIK KELLSO, JOEL HELLENY, CHUCK WILSON, JOHNNY VARRO, PHIL FLANIGAN, JAKE HANNA (May 2007, Sacramento Jazz Jubilee)

I bought a video camera in 2006 but didn’t come to California until 2010 (except for that sojourn in utero, where the lighting was poor).  But there were people, bless them, recording jazz performances before I figured out how to do it.  Bob and Ruth Byler captured music at many festivals in California and Florida.  I wrote a piece about him here in 2016 while he was around to read it.

I don’t know whether Bob thought he would get to the documentation someday, or if he thought everyone knew who everyone was, but the many videos he left us are often mysterious.  I know it might sound ungrateful, but when I look at one of them, I have to think about who’s playing; he often combined footage from two festivals on one VHS tape, and, in the name of thrift, he often did not preserve those moments when the leader introduces the players.

Mister Kellso, still happily with us.

All this is prelude to say that, while roving around YouTube like a terrier in search of crumbs, I found a fifty-minute video from the 2007 Sacramento Jazz Jubilee, which was held over Memorial Day weekend when I attended later.

I knew I recognized most of the six “N.Y. All-Stars” in the second: Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Joel Helleny, trombone; Chuck Wilson, alto saxophone; Johnny Varro, piano; Phil Flanigan, string bass; Jake Hanna, drums (Jon-Erik identified two people I had mistaken).

For once, “All-Stars” was apt.

Having seen it, Jon-Erik was eager for me to share it, and with alchemical magic (thanks to Tom Hustad) — chalk symbols on the wood floor, chanting, and incense — I can present to you the music played by the New Yorkers.  I never had the good fortune to meet Joel Helleny, but I admire his work tremendously; this is a fine sample.

The exuberantly-talented and much-missed Joel Helleny.

A treasure!  And even though California festivals sometimes aim at more ostentatiously “trad” repertoire and performance practice, this is Mainstream of the highest order.  The songs are ROSETTA / WRAP YOUR TROUBLES IN DREAMS / THE JEEP IS JUMPIN’ (obviously not a title familiar to some patrons) / GEE, BABY, AIN’T I GOOD TO YOU? (Kellso’s feature, inexplicably truncated) / IF DREAMS COME TRUE // The video has all the characteristic limitations of the genre, including a restless, chatty audience (I told a friend years ago that I wanted to fund the Sit Still and Be Quiet Jazz Festival) but you won’t find me complaining.  I encourage you to celebrate this magical time-capsule.  And I bless all the participants.

May your happiness increase!

IN THE MAIN STREAM: THE MORGANVILLE FOUR (DAN LEVINSON, BRIA SKONBERG, NICKI PARROTT, GORDON WEBSTER)

You have to like a CD whose cover puts the players — at their ease — in a Rousseau painting.

Morganville Four

But the charms of this disc go deeper than the cover, because the music is stylish and lovely.  The CD appeals in so many ways.

For one, it is Mainstream jazz of a kind not always encountered in recordings and performances.  Although the four players are often spotted at “traditional” “jazz” events — whatever the words in quotation marks mean these days — this is a session that celebrates the music, affectionate, melodic, with rhythmic lilt.  No tricks, no gimmicks, just feeling and mastery.

For another, the cost-conscious almost-purchaser can know that (s)he is getting good value.  Although this is billed as a FOUR, it is one of those magician’s tricks — a quartet that seems infinitely expandable.

Consider: two men, two women; two singers, four instrumentalists, string bass, piano, trumpet, clarinet, C- melody sax, tenor sax (with friends stopping by to offer the appropriate percussion).  I grew weary just typing (or is it “keyboarding”?) all of that.

And the four players / singers are marvelously first-rate jazz stars who know how to blend, to be supportive, to create delicious ensemble traceries.  Dan Levinson plays all those reeds; Bria Skonberg the trumpet; Gordon Webster, the piano; Nicki Parrott, string bass — and Bria and Nicki sing, together and singly.

I couldn’t fit that foursome in my car, but their expansive music fills the room very sweetly.  And that music!  I call it “Mainstream,” thanks to Stanley Dance, and although I distrust all of those boxes and labels — the critical blurt we call  DixietradNewOrleansbigbandbeboprevivalisthardbopswingretrofreenewthing — “Mainstream” still has a good deal of validity.  You’ll know it when you hear it, and only obsessive classifiers will say, “Is this hot jazz or cool?”  “Is that modern or traditional?”  “Is that a terrifying be-bop phrase I just heard?”

What is immediately audible on this disc is a deep love of melodic improvisation over swinging rhythms, with lyricism allied to an unhackneyed harmonic awareness.  To put it another way, although there are Twenties tunes here — THE ONE I LOVE and I WISH I COULD SHIMMY LIKE MY SISTER KATE — the approach is free and friendly, detached from the shackles of convention and cliche, but not attempting to “freshen up the old stuff.”  No striped vests but nothing self-consciously esoteric, either.

The spirit I imagined most frequently as the spiritual overseer of this music was Ruby Braff: lyrical, surprising, imaginative, someone who made great creative use of “unorthodox” combinations.  (No drums, no trombone — just four pals floating along happily down the Main Stream of jazz.)  And there’s a certain witty lightness animating everything but we are always in touch with the deep feeling beneath the notes.

The CD has all the right elements: a variety of songs and approaches (essential to make it into a concert rather than a test of stoic endurance); lovely recorded sound, thanks to Peter Karl; nifty liner notes from Will Friedwald and Jon Hill.  The latter fellow deserves truckloads of credit: the M4 played at a private party of his in 2011, and he thought, “Wow, let’s make a record!”  And he did.  (You can find Jon to congratulate and thank him at Jazz_Rules@yahoo.com.)

I’d buy / play this CD for someone worried about THE DEATH OF JAZZ or THE VANISHING AUDIENCE.  I’d also be delighted to play it for someone who looks at me quizzically when I suggest that “my” music is not rooted in KIND OF BLUE.

You can check out the CD in all the usual places.  Hear samples here.

May your happiness increase.

KEITH INGHAM PLAYS BRUBECK, ARTHUR SCHWARTZ, STRAYHORN, and MORE (Jazz at Chautauqua 2011)

Many people know Keith Ingham as a wonderful accompanist to singers — never getting in the way, but always adding so much to their work.  Others have found him a fine band pianist — going back to Stacy and boogie-woogie, forward to a swinging empathy.  But the Ingham fewer people know about is the powerful Mainstream player — someone with strong lyrical tendencies, a poet of songs others don’t play.  But there’s nothing fussy in Keith’s approach, and whether he is tracing a tender love ballad or building an improvisation from clearly-constructed rhythms and harmonies, he’s always in control without losing any essential grace.

Here are two brief recitals from the 2011 Jazz at Chautauqua party.  The first finds Keith on his own, exploring songs and composers that some in the audience might have found surprising.  But everything gleams under his fingers, beginning with this leisurely exploration of some songs by Dave Brubeck:

The compositions are IN YOUR OWN SWEET WAY, IT’S A RAGGY WALTZ, and TAKE FIVE.  Like Dave McKenna, Keith often arranges songs whimsically by the themes implied in their titles — so here are HERE’S THAT RAINY DAY, A FOGGY DAY, and SOME OTHER SPRING (although the weather was perfectly pleasant at Chautauqua):

And Keith closed this recital with an Ellington / Strayhorn medley — of PASSION FLOWER, UPPER MANHATTAN MEDICAL GROUP, CHELSEA BRIDGE, and TAKE THE “A” TRAIN — energized, not formulaic:

The next day (Saturday, Sept. 17) Keith asked bassist Jon Burr and drummer Pete Siers to join him for a serious (but light-hearted) exploration of the songs of Arthur Schwartz, including I GUESS I’LL HAVE TO CHANGE MY PLAN, DANCING IN THE DARK, MAKE THE MAN LOVE ME, BY MYSELF, and more.  Here’s that delicious recital:

Craig Ventresco told me some years back that Keith was “a real musician,” and these performances testify to that.  I hope someone lets Jonathan Schwartz know about the recital of his father’s work: I am sure that JS would be very pleased.