Tag Archives: Mal Sharpe

JUST A LITTLE WHILE TO STAY HERE

Mal Sharpe and the “Big Money in Jazz” band

Mal Sharpe moved to another neighborhood on March 10, 2020.  He refuses to go away, so it is both an obligation and a privilege to honor him here.  His official obituary depicts him as a comedian:  

Mal Sharpe, ‘The Man on the Street’ radio gag man, dies at 83

That’s one way to see Mal, but between 2011 and 2014,  I knew him well as the leader of a band of idiosyncratic individualists, playing traditional jazz and standards, and as a friend.  I brought my camera and videoed him and his band, “Big Money in Jazz,” at the No Name in Sausalito, at the Savoy Tivoli and Fior d’Italia in San Francisco, at an outdoor concert in North Beach, and once in Armando’s in Martinez.  You can find my videos on YouTube, of course. 

Even though I celebrate Mal as musician and friend, this demands to be included, with all respect to Larry Scala, who told Mal the joke and was never credited:

You know.”

I checked my email files and found that I first met him through my friend Jeff Hamilton in 2011: I’d written to Mal for permission to video his gig at Armando’s, and he was very gracious, telling me that he had seen my blog many times.  Later, I came to his regular gigs, chatted with him, and took pleasure in the band.  He was physically large — tall and broad-shouldered, even though he slumped down in his chair while playing — well dressed in an intentionally casual way.

In those years I was commuting-for-romance from New York, and although I loved being in California, I missed the banquet of music at home.  I was sustained by Clint Baker’s Cafe Borrone All-Stars and the occasional swing dance gig, but initially found driving to and parking in San Francisco terrifying.  Going to Sausalito was easier — I clearly recall parking my car on Bridgeway and walking past a vertical bank of nasturtiums, which I ate liberally, much to the horror of my companion: I compromised by eating only those above dog-height.  I digress, of course.

The No Name Bar in Sausalito was quite awful, and since I had not been a bar-goer in my youth, I recoiled from its most remarkable features: the broken toilet in the men’s room, the bill of fare that was microwaved popcorn in paper bags, local beer, ordinary spirits, an odd clientele, Nancy, behind the bar, gracious in a rough-hewn way, the band assembled on a narrow stand parallel to the bar.  I remember coming outside after the gig and feeling that the world was strange because it was so clean and bright.  

I never knew in advance who was going to be on the stand with Mal — sometimes superb players, sometimes those who had once been superb, and some others — but the music was always interesting, if only because it was precarious: would X know the chords to the bridge? would Y accelerate his usual glacial pace to get to the end of the chorus when everyone else did?  And there was always Mal, who had his routines, but delivered them with that combination of “I know this by heart” and “I just made this up” that I found charming.  Hearing and watching him do something as mundane as gently hector the crowd to put tips in the jar was worth the drive. 

Mal also had regular improvisations.  One of them was that he would go to a local thrift store (was it in Berkeley or in Oakland?) and buy nearly-useless trinkets — little plastic toys or medical items of no value but much strangeness — and set up mock-contests whose winners would receive some bizarre prize.  I don’t think I am making this up, but once it was the empty case in which one could carry an enema bag.  The takers were few. 

Here is Mal’s New-England based improvisation with which he closed the afternoon’s music:

He played trombone and sang.  As a singer he could be marvelously affecting, and one of the delights of the band was that it was not a stereotypical Bourbon Street band.  If they played the SAINTS, I don’t recall.  And — in the fashion of the great postwar ensembles of Boston (where Mal had grown up (he’d been to George Wein’s Mahogany Hall) and New York, where I had, the band explored standards.  You were much more likely to hear PENNIES FROM HEAVEN than BOURBON STREET PARADE, although they did perform ICE CREAM and Mal liked women singers who favored Billie and Ella, so the band had a less-raucous air to it.  Here’s an example I found moving at the time and still do:

That’s classic Mal — singing with sly tenderness, but also with new lyrics he probably made up on the drive from Berkeley to the gig.

Mal and I bonded because he saw that I was going to use the blog and camera to celebrate him — not embarrass him — and he once said to me, after a post, “Michael, you made us sound so good!” which pleased me.  He knew he was an amateur trombonist, and he said as much, but he stayed within his limitations and thus did no harm. 

We also drifted into a sideways friendship over delicatessen sandwiches at Saul’s, and talked of our mutual hero Vic Dickenson.  I gave him copies of recordings I’d made of Vic, and sometimes our phone conversation would start with his commenting about what Vic had done on the second chorus of SONNY BOY on the CDs I’d made for him.  When I visited him at home once or twice, he invited me into his den, which had photographs of his and my heroes on the wall, a barber’s chair that he sat in to practice, and other oddments. 

I emailed him often, mostly propelled by my finding a new picture or video that I knew he would like, and his brief responses had a telling comical snap.  Face to face, Mal and I spoke of recordings we were listening to; I brought him jazz gossip from New York and he talked about chance meetings with great people and odd ones, taking perhaps more delight in the latter than the other. 

As noted in the newspaper obituary, he was a great on-the-spot improviser of nearly-surreal sketch comedies, and once that I recall I felt (years after the fact) that I had become a character in a Sharpe sketch.  We both knew someone on the New York scene — a fan, amateur musician, and schnorrer (Mal loved Yiddish) who was always on the lookout for some apparently-altruistic scheme that would benefit no one but himself.  He came into the conversation and Mal and I took turns enthusiastically narrating his small-time thieveries.  The next time we met I brought him up with vengeful glee and told of his latest feats while Mal sat silent, listening.  When I ran out of energy, Mal looked at me after a long pause and said that he had decided to speak of this person no more, that it was not what he should be doing, and so on.  At the time, I felt as if Mal had let me walk blindfolded into a hole he had just dug, and said, “Hey, you could have stopped me at the start of blackening this person’s character,” and I don’t recall what he said.  Years later I understood that he had let me go on for the pleasure of the punchline, and I appreciated it as much as I could.

I am not sure if I discerned it or Mal himself told me, but he was a classic paradox — a shy man who sought the limelight as long as he could control it.  I think he needed to be onstage, to make people laugh and applaud, but (with the tuna or turkey sandwich he had Nancy get for him) he needed even more to drive home in silence, then be at home with no one bothering him.  Later on he told me that it wasn’t just shyness, it was anxiety, and I felt very sorrowful, but it also helped me understand him better: as if someone afraid of drowning forced himself to take swimming lessons, even though they scared him terribly and he never got any better.  

When I came back to New York in January 2015, I was happy to be home but I missed Mal greatly, and I would pick up the phone and call him.  I think the last time we spoke was in 2017, and I sensed that he had retreated from the world more than a little.  He stopped responding to emails as well.  But that is too sad a note to end my recollections on.  

How could you not love a man whose email signature (edited by me) was . . . .

MAL SHARPE
Host of KCSM’s Back on Basin Street 91.1
Man On The Street Productions & Big Money in Jazz
Home phone xxx xxx xxxx cell xxx xxx xxxx
Teenage Home phone in Newton, Ma. Bi-4-9509 (If my mother answers, hang up)

DON’T LOOK AT THE TROMBONES, IT ONLY ENCOURAGES THEM—RICHARD STRAUSS

and then there’s this song and performance.  Larry told me today, as we spoke of Mal, that it was Mal’s opening song for gigs:

I think Mal would be embarrassed by having more than fifteen hundred words written about him, but when he could be by himself in his barber chair, he would be secretly pleased.  Perhaps he would have emailed me to say he never ate turkey.

My condolences to Sandra and Jennifer Sharpe.  And my gratitude to Mal for letting me be one of the band in my own way

.

May your happiness increase!

DAN MORGENSTERN TURNS 90 (October 24, 2019) and POPS FOSTER COOKS DINNER

Today, one of our great heroes and pathfinders turns 90 — the down-to earth jazz deity of the Upper west Side, Dan Morgenstern.  (He’ll be celebrating with David Ostwald’s Louis Armstrong Eternity Band at Birdland this afternoon into evening.)

I’ve been reading Dan’s prose and absorbing his insights for more than fifty years now, and in the video interviews he’s graciously encouraged me to do since 2017, I know I have learned so much and I hope you all have as well.  And some of what I’ve learned is about Dan’s generosity and the breadth of his interests.

During those interviews, he has often caught me by surprise.  We were speaking about another musician who had played with pioneering string bassist George “Pops” Foster, and Dan said . . . hear and see for yourself:

I’ll return to the culinary subject at the end.  Right now, some glimpses of Pops.
First, a trailer from a short documentary done by Mal Sharpe and Elizabeth Sher called ALMA’S JAZZY MARRIAGE:

I’d seen this documentary on a DVD and was thrilled to find it was still for sale — so Steve Pikal (a serious Pops devotee) and I will have copies in a short time.  You can, too, here.

Here’s a 1945 interview Wynne Paris (in Boston) conducted with Pops:

and Roger Tilton’s astonishing 1954 film JAZZ DANCE, once vanished, now found, on YouTube (featuring Jimmy McPartland, Pee Wee Russell, Willie the Lion Smith, George Wettling, and Pops):

Those who want to understand the glory of Pops Foster — there are recordings with Luis Russell and Louis Armstrong, Earl Hines, Art Hodes, Sidney Bechet, and many more.

You’ll notice that I haven’t included more of the interviews I’ve done with Dan here.  They are all on YouTube — stories about everyone from Fats Waller to Miles Davis onwards (with more to come) which you can find as part of my YouTube channel  “swingyoucats”.

The tense shift in my title is intentional: it pleases me to think of Pops making dinner for friends in some eternal present.  I just got through idly perusing a new book on the relationship between brain health and diet, where the ideal is greens, grains, wild salmon, and more.  Now I wonder: are ham hocks the secret ingredient to health and longevity?  Or do we have to have Pops Foster’s recipe?

To quote Lennie Kunstadt, we need “Research!”  But whatever has kept Dan Morgenstern with us for ninety years, we bless that combination platter.

As we bless Dan.  So let us say as one, “Happy birthday, most eminent Youngblood!”

P.S.  The Birdland tribute was heartfelt and too short.  David’s band had Will Anderson, Jared Engel, Arnt Arntzen, Bria Skonberg, Alex Raderman, and Jim Fryer — with guests Joe Boga, Ed Polcer, Evan Arntzen, and Lew Tabackin.  Dan (with piano backing from Daryl Sherman) sang WHEN YOU’RE SMILING.  And we were.

May your happiness increase!

A VIVID MAN: CHARLES “DUFF” CAMPBELL (1915-2014)

Charles “Duff” Campbell — jazz aficionado and art dealer and close friend of the famous — was born on January 9, 1915.  He died on October 3, 2014, peacefully, at his home in San Francisco. Even if he had never become friends with Jelly Roll Morton, Nat Cole, Mary Lou Williams, and many others, he would have been a remarkable man: a childhood in Vladivostok and Shanghai before he returned to California to stay.

Here is an official obituary — but Duff led such a richly varied life this summary cannot begin to tell more than the smallest bit of his tale.

Through the good offices of his dear friend, cornetist Leon Oakley, I was invited to Duff’s house on the afternoon of April 16, 2014, and I brought my video camera.  Duff’s memory was not perfect, and occasionally it took a few questions from Leon to start a story going, but we knew we were in the presence of a true Elder.

He recalled seeing the Ellington band in California in the late Thirties (“They were so damned good”) and hanging out with Mary Lou Williams when she took a solo piano job at a hotel.  “I went to hear everybody,” he said.  “Everybody” meant the Basie  band on an early trip west; Louis and Jack Teagarden in the first All-Stars; Joe Sullivan, Earl Hines, Don Ewell, Darnell Howard, Muggsy Spanier. Duff remembered sitting near Sullivan at Doc Daugherty’s Club Hangover and Sullivan turning to him and saying, “Well, what would you like to hear?”

For me — a born hero-worshipper — Duff was the most real link with the past imaginable.  He sat in a car with Jelly Roll Morton; he drove Art Tatum to and from the gig; he had listening parties with Nat Cole as a guest.

Before anyone turns to the video, a few caveats.  Duff had lost his sight but could still get around his house without assistance, and he had some involuntary muscle movements — so the unsuspecting viewer might think he was terribly comfortable, but he wanted to talk about the days he recalled, and when the afternoon was over he was intent on having us come back soon for more.  It was a warm day and he had dressed formally for his guests, so he was perspiring, but a gentleman didn’t strip down while company was there.  Here are some excerpts from that long interview, with Leon asking Duff questions:

on his encounters with Jelly Roll Morton:

and with Nat King Cole:

a brush with the law:

memories of Art Tatum:

Everyone I’ve ever mentioned Duff to, before and after his passing, has had the same reaction.  We knew and and know now we were in the presence of an Original: quirky, independent, someone who knew what was good and supported it no matter what the crowd liked. I’ve mentioned elsewhere that I first met him at one of Mal Sharpe’s Big Money in Jazz afternoons at the Savoy Tivoli in North Beach San Francisco.  I saw an older gentleman sitting in front of the band, as close as he could get, a drink on the table.  He was dancing in his chair, his body replicating every wave of the music.  When I found out who he was and introduced myself (we had a dear mutual friend, Liadain O’Donovan) he was as enthusiastic in speech as he had been in dance.  And I suspect that enthusiasm, that deep curiosity and energy, sustained him for nearly a century.

Goodbye, Duff.  And thank you. It was an honor to be in your presence.

May your happiness increase! 

A NEWTONIAN UNIVERSE

Trumpeter Frank Newton should have been celebrated more in his lifetime, loved and understood more. I have written elsewhere about his glorious music and his difficult times. And even if you see him as a free spirit, too large to be held down or restrained by “the music business,” a more just world would have been kinder.

But I treasure every glimpse of him. These three are more cheerful than melancholy. The first is from the September 1939 issue of DOWN BEAT, a gift from Mal Sharpe, who also knows the value of such artifacts.

CALIFORNIA 2014 048 (1)

The second and third come from Newton’s final years (he died all too young in 1954) in Boston.  My source here is drummer Walt Gifford: his scrapbook passed through my hands thanks to the kindness of Duncan Schiedt, and I share two priceless artifacts with you.

Walt obviously took part in Frank’s birthday party; this was the trumpeter’s sincere gratitude in a few words:

NEWTON LETTER

The final artifact is a candid snapshot taken in July 1951, when Frank was working as a counselor at Kiddie Kamp in Sharon, Massachusetts:

NEWTON 7 51

Look at those smiling faces! One or more of those children is with us still, although it might be too much to expect that these grown men and women, in their late sixties, would be reading JAZZ LIVES.

Here is an audible reminder of the beauty Newton created — the 1939 recording (with Tab Smith, soprano saxophone), TAB’S BLUES:

Frank Newton touched people’s hearts with or without his horn.

May your happiness increase!

BAND ON THE STREET: MAL SHARPE and BIG MONEY IN JAZZ PLAY IN NORTH BEACH (May 10, 2014)

Saturday, May 10, our friend Mal Sharpe took his band, Big Money in Jazz, to play in celebration of the grand re-opening of the North Beach Public Library at Columbus and Lombard in San Francisco. Not only was the library worth celebrating, but the renovation included a new rectangular asphalt playground with plantings around it, the Joe DiMaggio Playground.

The music was celebratory as well, with Mal on trombone and vocals; Leon Oakley, cornet; Jeff Sanford, clarinet and soprano saxophone; Bill De Kuiper, guitar; Paul Smith, string bass.

Mal loves North Beach, “You could be in Greece,” he said, gesturing at the long vista of bright sky and mountains off in the distance.  Here are three performances from that afternoon, with cinema verite of picture-taking spectators looking to see where the music was coming from.

During SONG OF THE WANDERER, both a sight-seeing bus and a cable car pass by, behind the band.  Jazz has that effect on the universe: everything coalesces all of a sudden.

ON THE SUNNY SIDE OF THE STREET, perfectly apt:

MAKE ME A PALLET ON THE FLOOR:

SONG OF THE WANDERER (an excerpted version, for the outchorus had to compete with local clamor):

Mal and friends have a variety of regular gigs in the city: once a month at the Savoy Tivoli, weekly at Fior d’Italia, Original Joes, and at Tupelo.  Email him at malsharpe@gmail.com, and ask to be added to his weekly email announcements — whimsical, just like their creator.

May your happiness increase!

JAZZ ARCHAEOLOGY, or A NEW TROVE

After my most recent venture into unexpected hot music (finding Lester Young and Charlie Parker 78s) Mal Sharpe told me I was a “jazz archaeologist,” which I take as a great compliment.

I have emerged from another rich unexpected dig, brushed the dust off of my khakis, taken my pith helmet off, and put down my shovels.  Here is my tale.

Yesterday afternoon, while much of the world was engaged in its own pursuits, the Beloved and I were meandering around Sebastopol, California: a paradise of nurseries and antique shops.  We arrived at one of our favorites, FOOD FOR THOUGHT ANTIQUES (2701 Gravenstein Highway South), a non-profit enterprise which gives the proceeds from its sales to the local food bank.  In the past, I’ve found some sheet music there and the odd record or two.  Nothing could have prepared me for the treasure that had arrived there four or five days ago. See for yourself:

Photograph by Lorna Sass

Photograph by Lorna Sass

Yes, perhaps eight hundred ten-inch 78 RPM records in their original paper sleeves. I thought the hoard had some connection to a record store, since many of the discs were blue-label Bing Crosby from 1936 onwards, but I was told that this wasn’t the case: a woman brought them to the store, explained that they were her much-loved collection, and that she now felt it was time to pass them on. I wish I could find out her name to send her thanks, but that might never happen.

And since you’d want to know, the records were one dollar each.

The first afternoon I went through about one-half of the collection: it was a good omen that the first record I picked up was the Victor ST. JAMES INFIRMARY BLUES by Artie Shaw featuring Hot Lips Page. Yes, there were many red-label Columbias by the early-Forties Harry James band, but that’s not a terrible phenomenon.

I gravitated towards the more unusual: KING JOE by Count Basie and Paul Robeson; a Bluebird coupling by Freddy Martin of MILENBERG JOYS and WOLVERINE BLUES; several Fats Waller and his Rhythm sides; a Bob Howard Decca; many Dick Robertson sides featuring a dewy Bobby Hackett; INKA DINKA DOO by Guy Lombardo on Brunswick; BLUE PRELUDE and WE’RE A COUPLE OF SOLDIERS by Bing Crosby on the same label; Johnny Hamp and Arnold Johnson; OLD MAN MOSE by Willie Farmer; a Meade Lux Lewis album set on Disc; Joe Sullivan and his Cafe Society Orchestra on OKeh; WHEN MY BABY SMILES AT ME by Ted Weems on Victor; a blue wax Columbia by Ted Lewis of TEN THOUSAND YEARS AGO — with his special label; a Johnny Marvin Victor solo and duet; THE LADY WHO SWINGS THE BAND (that’s Mary Lou Williams) by Andy Kirk on Decca; Bunny Berigan’s SWANEE RIVER; a Gene Kardos Melotone; the Rhythm Wreckers’ TWELFTH STREET RAG on Vocalion; the Bluebird BODY AND SOUL by Coleman Hawkins; JEEPERS  CREEPERS by Ethel Waters; Deccas by Lennie Hayton and Edgar Hayes.

(Who can tell me more about Willie Farmer?)

I returned this afternoon, and found the little flowered stool Valerie had offered me in the same place, so I resumed my inspection — many records but with far fewer surprises.  Wingy, BG, Fats, Jack Leonard, Ginny Simms, Bob Howard, Dick Robertson, Milt Herth (with Teddy Bunn and the Lion) and a few oddities. FOOTBALL FREDDY and FRATERNITY BLUES by “Ted Wallace and his Campus Boys” on Columbia (with, yes, Jack Purvis as the sole trumpet); the Mills Brothers singing lyrics to Pete Johnson’s 627 STOMP.  Les Brown performing two James P. Johnson songs from his 1939 POLICY KINGS: YOU, YOU, YOU and HARLEM WOOGIE. Jean Sablon singing TWO SLEEPY PEOPLE . . . and a few more.

I passed up a few country records, Julia Sanderson solos, Nat Shilkret and Charles Dornberger waltzes . . . but the collection was a rich cross-section of good popular music of the Thirties and middle Forties, with a few detours into the late Twenties. No specialist jazz labels, no country blues rarities — but the middle-of-the-road pop music of that period was rich and honest.

I feel honored to be partaking of this experience — this voyage into a time when Freddy Martin and Coleman Hawkins occupied the same space in the collective consciousness. . . . and when a purchase of a thirty-five cent Decca or Bluebird was a real commitment to art, both economic and emotional.

On the way home yesterday, the Beloved (after congratulating me on this find and rejoicing with me — she’s like that!) asked me pensively, “What do you get out of those records?”

I thought for a minute and said, “First, the music. I am trying not to buy everything just because it’s there, so I am buying discs I don’t have on CD or on my iPod. Second, there’s a kind of delight in handling artifacts from a lost time, relics that were well-loved, and imagining their original owners. Third, and perhaps it’s peculiar to me, these records are a way of visiting childhood and adolescence once again, going back to a leisurely time where I could sit next to a phonograph, listen to the music, and absorb joy in three-minute portions. I know that I won’t keep these records forever, and I hope — maybe in twenty years? — to pass them on to someone who will delight in them as I do now.”

And delight is at the heart of the experience.

To find out more about the Food For Thought antiques store and the food bank the proceeds go to (the staff is not paid; they volunteer their time and friendship) see here. The store — which has other surprises for those immune to “old records” — is at  2701 Gravenstein Highway South, Sebastopol. Lovely people, and cookies at the cash register for the low-blood-sugar crowd (like myself: record-hunting is draining work).

May your happiness increase!

LISTEN TO VIC DICKENSON

Vic Dickenson, trombonist, singer, composer.  Photograph by Robert Parent (circa 1951).  Inscribed to drummer Walt Gifford.  From Gifford’s scrapbook, courtesy of Duncan Schiedt.

VIC by ROBERT PARENT

I dream of a jazz-world where everyone gets the credit they deserve, where Vic is as celebrated — and as listened to — as his contemporaries and friends Roy Eldridge, Lester Young, Benny Carter, Bobby Hackett, Teddy Wilson, Buck Clayton, Sidney Bechet, Mary Lou Williams, Frank Newton, and many more.

I’d like writers to pay attention to his delicate lyricism, his melodic improvisations, his way of illuminating a song from within.  This would require new language and new hearing: no longer putting Vic into the familiar compartments of “sly,” “witty,” “naughty,” and so on.

It would also require some writers and listeners to put aside their barely-concealed disdain for jazz as it was played before Charlie Parker came to town.  No disrespect to Bird, mind you, who jammed happily with Vic and Doc Cheatham and knew that they were masters. But Vic was more than a “Dixieland” trombonist, more than someone chained to TIN ROOF BLUES and SLOW BOAT TO CHINA.

Would Vic have been taken more seriously had he played trumpet? The trombone blends so well, so often, that it (like the string bass) is taken for granted. And Vic was one of the more reticent of jazz players: someone who wanted to play rather than chat or announce. But the musicians knew how special he was, and is.  (Some people celebrated Vic during his lifetime and still do: I think of Dan Morgenstern, George Wein, John Hammond, Dan Barrett, Mal Sharpe, Manfred Selchow, and others.)

We could begin to truly hear Vic, I think.  Perhaps the beginning of the campaign would be if we asked everyone we knew to listen — and listen with all their perception and love — to music like this:

It is indeed true that having Shad Collins, Ed Hall, Sir Charles Thompson, Steve Jordan, Walter Page, and Jo Jones along — in gorgeous sound — did no one any harm.  But I ask my listeners to do the difficult task of putting Vic first: his sonority, open and muted.  His time, his phrasing, the vocal quality of his sounds (plural).  His love for the melody and for the melodies that the original suggested.  His delicate concise force: what he could say in four quarter notes, or eight bars.  There was and is no one like him.

May your happiness increase!

“DINNER MUSIC” FROM MAL SHARPE and THE BIG MONEY IN JAZZ at FIOR D’ITALIA (March

Mos people know Mal Sharpe (with one of his current bands, the Big Money in Jazz) as someone who inspires audiences with exuberant music. But he and his musicians can create very subtle music as well, Jelly Roll Morton’s “sweet, soft, plenty rhythm.” It’s music to dine by. Of course, with Mal in charge, it will be colorful, lively, witty — quiet but never dull.

Mal’s smaller version of his classic band floats along without piano or drums, and with Mal’s playing and singing; Jim Gammon, cornet; Dwayne Ramsey, clarinet, tenor saxophone, vocal; Bill DeKuiper, guitar; Paul Smith, string bass and wordless vocal. . . .evoking New Orleans grit and the Kansas City Six.

This band plays every Wednesday night from 6 to 9 at the well-known Italian restaurant, Fior d’Italia (2237 Mason Street) in North Beach, San Francisco, and we came by for a meal and a serenade on March 19, 2014. Here are some of the musical highlights. You’ll have to invent the culinary ones for yourself: here are the menus.

JUST A LITTLE WHILE TO STAY HERE (the band’s theme and Mal’s offhanded sermon on carpe diem and tempus fugit, too):

MEAN TO ME (a rhetorical statement only):

SHINE (that splendid, misinterpreted song):

STRUTTIN’ WITH SOME BARBECUE (appropriate to a restaurant with various grilled meats, no?):

JUST A CLOSER WALK WITH THEE (soulfully sung by Dwayne):

And for an effervescent dessert, on the last number of the second set, San Francisco’s irrepressible jazz singer Kellye Gray was compelled to join the band with a rare whistling solo on DINAH:

Fior d’Italia is a North Beach classic, known for a varied menu, a comfortable ambiance, a sweet-natured staff . . . and the best dinner music you can think of on Wednesday evenings.

May your happiness increase!

WITH THIS BOOK (AND A FUNCTIONING PEN) THE BAY AREA JAZZ FAN IS ALL READY FOR MEMORABLE EXPERIENCES

Photographer / jazz fan Jessica Levant has been enjoying her twin pleasures for years now — as she says, “idly” taking pictures of her jazz and blues heroes and heroines in the Bay Area (that’s the area in and around San Francisco, California).  She’s now collected those photographs — no posing, all taken in performance — into a charming book, SAN FRANCISCO BAY AREA JAZZ & BLUSICIANS.

jabcover

The book is sweet testimony to the wide variety of musical styles and performers working in this area — women and men, youths and veterans, singers and instrumentalists, leaders and side-people. By offering these photographs in pure alphabetical order, Jessica has wisely avoided the question of categorizing or of valuing these musicians. I am pleased to see portraits and biographies of people I know and have heard: Clint Baker, Danny Brown, Waldo Carter, Mike Greensill, Jeff Hamilton, Paul Mehling, Si Perkoff, Rob Reich, Dave Ricketts, Mal Sharpe, John Wiitala . . . as well as people I know by reputation . . . and the larger group of people I look forward to hearing and meeting.  Jessica’s color portraits are informal and lively; no stiff poses against a studio backdrop here, and her biographies combine material provided by the artist and her own perceptions.

It’s an entertaining book, and I predict it could start a social trend. Jazz and blues fans like (we’re all fans at heart) to go home with an autograph from our favorite musician, and I can see Bay Area fans competing with one another to collect ALL the autographs in this book.  Better hurry: I’ve spotted Jessica at jazz clubs, busily photographing — I hear rumors of a second volume to come.

You can learn more about Jessica and her book here. And when you see a quietly enthusiastic woman with a camera (tactfully not getting in anyone’s way) I encourage you to approach her and ask, “Are you Jessica Levant?  May I have your autograph?”  I’m fairly sure she will oblige, graciously.

Thanks to Barb Hauser for making the connection, as she always does!

May your happiness increase!

UNDER WESTERN SKIES, JAZZ HORIZONS

Long-Beach-California-Sunrise

With great pleasure, I have transplanted myself from one coast to the other, from suburban New York to Marin County in California, where I will be for the next eight months.  So what follows is a brief and selective listing of musical events the Beloved and I might show up at . . . feel free to join us!

Clint Baker and his New Orleans Jazz Band will be playing for the Wednesday Night Hop in San Mateo on January 8: details and directions here.

Emily Asher’s Garden Party will be touring this side of the continent in mid-January, with Emily’s Hoagy Carmichael program.  On January 16, she, friends, and sitters-in will make merry at a San Francisco house concert: details here.  On the 17th, the Garden Party will reappear, bright and perky, at the Red Poppy Art House, to offer another helping of subtle, lyrical, hot music: details to come here.

Clint and Friends (I don’t know the official band title, so am inventing the simplest) will be playing for the Central Coast Hot Jazz Society in Pismo Beach on January 26.  Details are not yet available on the website, but I have it on good authority that the band will include Marc Caparone, Dawn Lambeth, Mike Baird, Carl Sonny Leyland, and Katie Cavera.

A moment of self-advertisement: I will be giving a Sunday afternoon workshop at Berkeley’s The Jazz School  — on February 9, called LOUIS ARMSTRONG SPEAKS TO US.  Details here.’

And, from February 21-23, the Beloved and I will be happily in attendance at the San Diego Jazz Party — details here — to be held at the Del Mar Hilton, honoring guitar legend Mundell Lowe and featuring Harry Allen, John Allred, Dan Barrett, John Cocuzzi, John Eaton, Eddie Erickson, Rebecca Kilgore, Ed Metz, Butch Miles, Nicki Parrott, Houston Person, Bucky Pizzarelli, Ed Polcer, Chuck Redd, Antti Sarpila, Richard Simon, Bria Skonberg, Rossano Sportiello, Dave Stone, Johnny Varro, Jason Wanner.  The sessions will offer solo piano all the way up to nonets, with amiable cross-generational jazz at every turn.  In a triumph of organization, you can even see here who’s playing with whom and when, from Friday afternoon to Sunday farewell.

In March, the Jazz Bash by the Bay in Monterey . . . make your plans here!

And — a little closer to the here and now — if you don’t have plans for a New Year’s Eve gala, check out ZUT! in Berkeley.  Good food — and Mal Sharpe and the Big Money in Jazz (with singer Kallye Gray) will be giving 2013 a gentle push at the stroke of midnight.  Details here.

We hope to see our friends at these events!

May your happiness increase!

ON MY CAR — OR YOURS

After I had posted this set of ruminations about certain kinds of prejudice, a posting which used Jimmy Rushing as a noble example, the Esteemed Mal Sharpe wrote in.  I’m always glad to encounter Mal — he has original ideas!  This time, he suggested a bumper sticker he would like to display:

HONK IF YOU MISS JIMMY RUSHING

I feel it is a wonderful idea, mixing celebration and regret.

I was sufficiently moved to spend half an hour on a site that lets you design your own bumper sticker in quest of this idea, but calmed down when I saw what my impulse might cost.  I imagined having a boxful of stickers and pressing them on people I thought might share the same impulse.  Would I ever see one on someone’s car?

But Mal’s idea wouldn’t stay quiet, so I came up with other possibilities, of course reflecting my personal leanings.  See if any of them appeal to you, or perhaps you have ones you like better.

I BRAKE FOR LEE WILEY

JOHNNY WIGGS WAS MY TEACHER

HEALED BY LOUIS 

SIDNEY CATLETT IS STILL BIG

FORTY-SEVEN WEST THIRD STREET

“YEAH, MAN!”

I also think my closing line would do well . . .

May your happiness increase!

WHEN LOVE GETS HOT, SPECIAL INSTRUMENTS ARE REQUIRED

ROSES OF PICARDY was a famous ballad of the First World War, composed by Frederic Weatherly (lyrics) and Haydn Wood (music), gracefully describing the lasting love of an Englishman and a Frenchwoman . . .

Verse: She is watching by the poplars, / Colinette with the sea-blue eyes, / She is watching and longing, and waiting / Where the long white roadway lies, / And a song stirs in the silence, / As the wind in the boughs above, / She listens and starts and trembles, / ‘Tis the first little song of love.

Chorus: Roses are shining in Picardy, / In the hush of the silver dew, / Roses are flow’ring in Picardy, / But there’s never a rose like you! / And the roses will die with the summertime, / And our roads may be far apart, / But there’s one rose that dies not in Picardy, / ‘Tis the rose that I keep in my heart.

Verse: And the years fly on forever, / Till the shadows veil their skies, / But he loves to hold her little hands, / And look into her sea-blue eyes, / And she sees the road by the poplars, / Where they met in the bygone years, / For the first little song of the roses, / Is the last little song she hears:

Chorus: Roses are shining in Picardy, / In the hush of the silver dew, / Roses are flow’ring in Picardy, / But there’s never a rose like you! / And the roses will die with the summertime, / And our roads may be far apart, / But there’s one rose that dies not in Picardy, / ‘Tis the rose that I keep in my heart.

For the full effect, here is a glorious reading of the song by Ben Heppner:

But my subject is a recording of PICARDY by Red Nichols — full of surprises.  I first encountered the Nichols records of this period when I was young; I was especially intrigued by them because of my childhood affection for the film THE FIVE PENNIES.  My local suburban librarian was hip: the library’s holdings included Vic Dickenson, Jimmy Rushing, THE SOUND OF JAZZ, Ellington, and a Brunswick reissue of Nichols circa 1927-30, where I first heard IDA, AVALON, CHINA BOY, THE SHEIK, and others.

I hadn’t heard ROSES OF PICARDY until my recent purchase of the very gratifying sets of the Nichols Brunswicks (1926-32) on the Jazz Oracle label.  It became one of those essential recordings for me — one that I could play ten times in a row on the way to work.

I haven’t found a good explanation for Nichols’ fondness for what might be called “chestnuts” or “good old good ones” — solidly established classic pop hits of ten or more years earlier: IDA, MY GAL SAL, JAPANESE SANDMAN, WHISPERING, LIMEHOUSE BLUES, MARGIE, ALICE BLUE GOWN, INDIANA, SMILES, DINAH, WHO.  In this, he wasn’t so different from other jazz players, then and now, who knew that familiar favorites would both attract an audience and be part of the common knowledge.  (if the leader suggests SWEET SUE — in 1929 or 2013 — few musicians look puzzled or uncomfortable.)

But ROSES OF PICARDY had a sentimental identification, and I wonder if Nichols’ “jazzing” it struck some older listeners as heretical: “That’s not the way to play that pretty song!”  It might serve as a reminder that improvisation, no matter how established and safe it seems to our ears now, always sounds radical to some listeners.

This version was recorded on February 16, 1929, as the fifth performance of a date where the musicians had already completed two takes apiece of ALICE BLUE GOWN and ALLAH’S HOLIDAY.  I wonder if they had some time left at the conclusion and decided to create a head arrangement — somewhat less complex than the Glenn Miller charts for the preceding songs.  The personnel for the first four songs was Nichols, Mannie Klein, Miller, Dudley Fosdick, Jimmy Dorsey, Fud Livingston, Adrian Rollini, Arthur Schutt, Carl Kress, and an unidentified drummer.  I hear a smaller group on PICARDY and we know for sure that Miller was not present, but whether there was a second trumpet is not certain.

The band charges into the song, Nichols presenting the melody in a clear, assertive way — more like a wonderfully adept cornetist at a band concert than a hot jazz player leaving the melody behind.  One hears the dry slap of the drummer’s wire brushes, the sound of the bass saxophone (could it be anyone except Rollini?).  Apparently there is a high-pitched trombone playing staccato phrases and a thin but graceful clarinet line.  I take it on faith that there is a pianist (I do not hear a guitar) but the former is simply laying down the plain harmonies in support.

I also notice that the band — in subtle opposition to Nichols’ chosen tempo or perhaps simply finding a better groove — gently slows down as it proceeds through the two minutes and thirty-one seconds.  (The piano-drum duet in the first half of the final chorus is especially leisurely.)  I would not have noticed this so much had I not played the recording over and over and heard that the opening chorus was taken at a much brighter tempo than the closing.  The first chorus is very satisfying: one could use it is a compact example of simple melodic embellishment (in terms of ornamented melody) and neat ensemble playing.

Just as a listener might be settling into complacency, Rollini leaps in with a break, a marvel in itself.  One could point to its simplicity — arpeggios and repeated notes — but the combination of grace and ferocity is delightful.  It also suggests the small devices that Nichols and his contemporaries set up for variety, so that a recording was more than four or five choruses of ensemble – solo – ensemble.

The first half of the second chorus is given over to another embellished improvisation on the theme — by a brass player over a slightly ornate piano, bass saxophone, and drums.  On first hearing, one automatically assumes “trombone in the Miff Mole style, staccato yet elegant,” but the range is somewhat higher, the tone lighter.  The player’s approach is close to Nichols’ opening exposition, yet the second solo is slightly more fluid, punctuated by the pianist’s upward arpeggios.

In the second half of this chorus, we hear Jimmy Dorsey on alto saxophone over an even lighter background.  For some reason, there is no bass saxophone, so the texture is much lighter — and, listening closely, one has the delightful sensation of expectations being reversed.  Instead of textures becoming more rich, volume and density increasing, we are hearing the instruments of the orchestra — Papa Haydn in Hot — taking a break, leaving the stand.  The Incredible Shrinking Orchestra!

And then someone takes another break — with key change — to lead us into a world of even more playful marvels.  We’ve just heard the sonorities of Dorsey’s alto (the rich yet light sound that other players delighted in) — what is this squeaky thing that follows?

It might be a clarinet — Nichols often employed Pee Wee Russell and Fud Livingston, both of whom departed from orthodox clarinet sound in favor of explorations — but it sounds stranger than strange, even a bit elementary.  Did someone’s kid brother or sister bring a student model clarinet into the session to sit in for a chorus?

The ear is first mystified, then delighted.

And for a moment it seems as if all the other musicians have fled, leaving only the unusual reed player and the pianist, chiming behind perfectly, the drummer, hitting a cymbal (this has been worked out, one senses in retrospect) in front of the microphones.  Bass saxophone, alto, possibly other reeds, cornet and other brass — everyone’s in the alley next to the Brunswick studios taking a break, trading gossip or lighting up.

But no.  The third chorus is given over to a duet for two instruments that sound almost familiar — trombone and clarinet, we assume — for sixteen bars. For forty seconds — a short interlude in anyone’s lifespan but a substantial part of this 78 RPM recording — these two instruments cavort deliciously.  The “trombone” continues an ornamented exploration of PICARDY — in case listeners might have been led so far astray by the uncontrollable impulses of Reckless Jazz to forget where land is — as the “clarinet” dances overhead.  That “clarinet” has an oddly choked sound and a small range, so the player contents himself with deeply swinging emphases, rather like a speaker who has a small vocabulary but is vigorously concerned that the audience miss the point: here it is, and here it is again — getting somewhat more adventurous as the chorus continues, even venturing a series of upward plaintive phrases, the “trombone” sounded muffled but still agile beneath.

On my first hearing, driving to work as I was, I couldn’t check the personnel listings, but I played this exuberantly odd interlude over and over, thinking, “Is that Fud on clarinet and Miff on trombone?”  But I felt as if something otherworldly was taking place: had I been transported to an alternative realm, or was this soundtrack music for a pre-FANTASIA fantasia, where an animated lemur hopped around with a giraffe?

What has happened — bewitching and mystifying the ear for forty seconds — is so weirdly distant from what we might expect to hear (rather like the first appearance of Herschel Evans on clarinet on a Basie recording) that the piano half-chorus that follows seems theatrical, even stagy by comparison — with the drummer’s flourishes matching the pianist.  Again, we might wonder, “Where did everyone go?  Did these musicians have some urgent need to leave the studio at intervals?  Was there food poisoning from the previous night’s chili at Plunkett’s?”)

Before we have sufficient time to consider all these mysteries, the opening ensemble reasserts itself for a closing sixteen bars.  No tags, no flourishes, everything is as it was.  We awake from young Robin Molyneux’s dream — did those forty seconds happen?  Are we back in a Red Nichols session at the Brunswick studios?

Happily, the mystery I have encouraged here has tangible answers, and they take the shape of the ever-inventive Adrian Rollini and his “hot fountain pen,” the forgotten Dudley Fosdick and his mellophone.  Thanks to Albert Haim for the Melody Maker pages below — now it can be told!

HotFountainPen

and here is more gossip about the hot fountain pen:

MMHfpnewsitem1

And even more here about the hot fountain pen from Sandy Brown’s website.

A fine explanation of the mellophone can be found here.  But the most engrossing reading on the subject can be found in the Nichols Jazz Oracle notes — a three-page essay by Phil Melick, witty and informed, on Dudley Fosdick (whose first recorded solo on the instrument is on the 1924 Ted Weems record of BIG BOY) and the mellophone itself.

Incidentally, the Incredible Shrinking Orchestra and the piano-drum duet make sense in retrospect as brief interludes enabling Rollini to leave his bass saxophone and approach the microphone alongside Fosdick.  And unlike the 1928 recording of BASIN STREET BLUES featuring Louis, Earl, and Zutty, no one stumbles audibly on the way.

This record of ROSES OF PICARDY is a joy.  Perhaps the musicians thought of it as an end-of-session romp: “We have a little time.  Let’s jam PICARDY, and do a whole chorus on your pen and your ‘phone.  OK?”  But that forty-second conversation between two unexpected jazz horns, played by two masters, resonates long after the performance is over.  Woe and alas that there wasn’t a Rollini-Fosdick Quintet under contract to Brunswick.  But I could live comfortably in the universe of those forty seconds.  ‘Tis the chorus that I keep in my heart.

(A digression: Fosdick recorded actively with Weems, Nichols, “the All Star Orchestra,” and Roger Wolfe Kahn for a ten-year period ending in December 1933, according to Tom Lord’s discography.  Then, he worked in Henry King’s orchestra and Guy Lombardo’s Royal Canadians, eventually migrating into studio work and teaching before his death in 1957.  It would be lovely if someone had interviewed him.)

And for my friend and mentor Reb Malcolm, a small offering — Frankie Laine with Buck Clayton, Ray Copeland, Lawrence Brown, J.J. Johnson, Kai Winding, Hilton Jefferson, Budd Johnson, “Big Nick” Nicholas, Dave McRae, Al Lerner, Skeeter Best, Milt Hinton, Bobby Donaldson.  I see the inspired hand of George Avakian in this, although Laine had been working with jazz players for years, as Jess Stacy remembered:

Thanks also to Messrs. Riccardi and Sammut, whose posts provide the inspiration for this one.

May your happiness increase!

APRIL IS THE COOLEST MONTH, or NEW YORK JOYS (2013)

Every time I get ready to declare, “OK, I will spend the rest of my life happily in California,” New York crooks a dainty finger at me and whispers, “Not so fast, fellow.  I have something for you.”

ny skyline

These are some of the musicians I was able to see, hear, and video during April 2013 — an incomplete list, in chronological order:

Svetlana Shmulyian, Tom Dempsey, Rob Garcia, Asako Takasaki, Michael Kanan, Michael Petrosino, Joel Press, Sean Smith, Tardo Hammer, Steve Little, Hilary Gardner, Ehud Asherie, Randy Reinhart, Mark Shane, Kevin Dorn, James Chirillo, Brian Nalepka, Dan Block, Danny Tobias, Matt Munisteri, Neal Miner, Catherine Russell, Jon-Erik Kellso, Lee Hudson, Lena Bloch, Frank Carlberg, Dave Miller, Billy Mintz, Daryl Sherman, Scott Robinson, Harvie S, Jeff Barnhart, Gordon Au, John Gill, Ian Frenkel, Lew Green, Marianne Solivan, Mark McLean, Dennis Lichtman, Tamar Korn, Raphael McGregor, Skip Krevens, Andrew Hall, Rebecca Kilgore, Dan Barrett, Scott Robinson, Pat O’Leary, Andy Brown, Giancarlo Massu, Luciano Troja, Rossano Sportiello, Randy Sandke, Harry Allen, Dennis Mackrel, Joel Forbes.

And I saw them at the Back Room Speakeasy, the Metropolitan Room, Smalls, the Bickford Theatre, the Ear Inn, Symphony Space, the Finaldn Center, Jazz at Kitano, Jeff and Joel’s House Party, Dizzy’s Club Coca Cola, Jalopy Theatre, Casa Italiana, and Zankel Recital Hall.

T.S. Eliot had it wrong.  Just another average jazz-month in New York.

P.S.  This isn’t to slight my California heroes, nay nay — among them Marc Caparone, Dawn Lambeth, Carl Sonny Leyland, Clint Baker, Jeff Hamilton, Chris Dawson, Marty Eggers, Katie Cavera, Kally Price, Leon Oakley, Mal Sharpe, Tom Schmidt, John Reynolds, Melissa Collard, Ari Munkres, GAUCHO, PANIQUE, Bill Carter, Jim Klippert, JasonVanderford, Bill Reinhart, Dan Barrett . . . .

May your happiness increase.

ON THE JAZZ TRAIN, MIRACULOUSLY, WITH GEORGE WEIN’S NEWPORT JAZZ ALL-STARS (April 17-19, 1961): RUBY BRAFF, VIC DICKENSON, PEE WEE RUSSELL, JIMMY WOODE, BUZZY DROOTIN

Thanks to the indefatigable Franz Hoffmann, this treasure!  Twenty-four minutes and thirty-five seconds of live music (and rare conversation) recorded between April 17 and 19, 1961, in Baden-Baden, Germany — by the Newport Jazz All Stars: Ruby Braff, cornet; Vic Dickenson, trombone; Pee Wee Russell, clarinet; George Wein, piano; Jimmy Woode, string bass; Buzzy Drootin, drums.  The program is produced and narrated by the jazz scholar Joachim E. Berendt:

WAY DOWN YONDER IN NEW ORLEANS / CONVERSATIONS / C JAM BLUES:

SUGAR (Pee Wee) / LOVER, COME BACK TO ME:

JAZZ TRAIN BLUES / WHEN YOUR LOVER HAS GONE (Ruby):

I know that we have a million reasons to thank George Wein — going all the way back to Forties Boston and up to this very moment — but I propose that this band and his continued stewardship of NJF All-Star bands is something that hasn’t been sufficiently applauded.  At a time when most of these musicians would have been under-employed or under-paid, George had the foresight to get them gigs all around the world, to encourage them to play a loose personal version of the Mainstream jazz they created so beautifully (having an awfully good time at the piano, too).  Here we have a very vivid reminder of a beautiful band, fueled in equal parts by fun and generosity.

This post is dedicated with gratitude to all the musicians and to Franz Hoffmann, and it is especially for Mal Sharpe, Austin Casey, Destini Sneath, and anyone else who understands hot lyricism.  (And you can read more about this band in Tom Hustad’s monumental Ruby Braff discography, BORN TO PLAY.)

May your happiness increase.

WE RETURN TO OUR REGULARLY SCHEDULED PROGRAMMING (February 24, 2013)

Yesterday, your grateful / intrepid videographer took his new knapsack, camera, tripod, and microphone to a live jazz event, set up, and recorded. . . . after a month’s hiatus in the schedule.

The event was the Sunday afternoon gig of Mal Sharpe and the Big Money in Jazz Band — that entertaining group no longer at the No Name Bar in Sausalito, but now taking up a serious weekend residence (Saturday and Sunday, 3-6 PM) at the Savoy Tivoli in North Beach, 1434 Grant Avenue, San Francisco, California.

Mal’s colleagues were Leon Oakley, cornet; Jeff Sanford, reeds; Si Perkoff, keyboard; Paul Smith, string bass; Carmen Cansino, drums; guest Waldo Carter, trumpet on JOE LOUIS STOMP.

I chose two selections from the afternoon’s performances not only because they felt so fulfilling, but also because I had not captured either song on video for JAZZ LIVES.  The first, a mixture of wistfulness and comedy (that’s the Mal Sharpe way!) is the song Billie Holiday and Lester Young made immortal in 1937 — FOOLIN’ MYSELF:

And the second, a walloping tribute to the Brown Bomber, Joe Louis (with a side-glance at Bill Coleman, having a good time in Paris) is JOE LOUIS STOMP:

I’m ready! — for the Jazz Bash by the Bay / Dixieland Monterey 2013 . . .  Hope to see you there.

May your happiness increase.

“SQUEEZE AND RELEASE,” or “THE MAL SHARPE SHOWCASE”: ANOTHER SUNDAY IN SAUSALITO with MAL SHARPE, DWAYNE RAMSEY, CLINT BAKER, SI PERKOFF, PAUL SMITH, and CARMEN CANSINO (Dec. 23. 2012)

I don’t quite remember how we found out about Mal Sharpe’s regular sessions (his Big Money in Jazz Band) at the No Name Bar in Sausalito (Sunday), the Savoy Tivoli in North Beach (Saturday), and Armando’s in Martinez (one Thursday a month), but these anything-can-happen festivities have been a continuing pleasure.

Mal is not only an engaging trombonist / singer; he also enjoys the possibilities of improvising in front of — and with — an audience.  So at the same time the Beloved and I have enjoyed the down-home sounds, we’ve also been delighted by the chances Mal takes . . . quizzing the audience, muttering philosophically just loud enough to be heard, having a good time.  And Mal surrounds himself with some of the best musicians, who drive the band and provide subtle moments for an attentive crowd.

My title — somewhat mysterious in itself, perhaps — can be untangled or interpreted for readers too impatient to watch all the videos at the start of SUNNY SIDE below.

Here are five slices-of-life from December 23, courtesy of Mal, Clint Baker, trumpet; Paul Smith, string bass; Dwayne Ramsey, reeds; Carmen Cansino, drums; Si Perkoff, piano.

Mal becomes more anatomical than we might expect on his vocal rendition of ROSETTA:

IF I HAD YOU (with the bridge given over to Carmen, our heroine):

Clint stomps off SUNNY SIDE OF THE STREET at the 1938 Louis-Fats jam session tempo:

Need spiritual counseling?  The Reverend Dwayne lays it out for us with soul on JUST A CLOSER WALK WITH THEE:

And I know they heard this musical trilogy all the way over in Provincetown — I FOUND A NEW BABY / THE SONG IS ENDED / Closing Ceremonies:

Something different . . . unpredictable . . . hot jazz and hilarity intertwined.

May your happiness increase.

MY KIND OF VIC

In my Ideal Jazz World — which exists only in my mind and those of a few people who share my leanings (Dan and Mal and Clint among them)  — Vic Dickenson is one of the greatest creators.

But Vic’s art was very subtle.  People found it easy to see only its broad outlines and thus minimized it as a matter of low-toned naughty growls filling in the gaps in a Dixieland ensemble.  Vic often worked with bands where he was alone on the mountaintop, making his way through BASIN STREET BLUES or IN A SENTIMENTAL MOOD for the ninth time that week.

In addition, trombones tend to get less attention than they and their players deserve, especially if the men and women behind the mouthpiece and slide are reliable.  Reliable players — think of Bennie Morton, Al Hall, Buck Clayton, Ray Nance, Milt Hinton among fifty others — get less attention than dramatic ones.

Vic seems to have come from nowhere — blossoming fully on the 1943-44 Blue Notes, or (for those whose historical perspective starts later) on the Vanguards and Columbias of the Fifties.  But he had been working his magic for a long time.  There’s his marvelous solo on Benny Carter’s MY FAVORITE BLUES, his work on a few 1940 Basie Columbias . . . and earlier — I’ve posted Blanche Calloway’s I NEED LOVIN’, which I think would amaze and terrify any contemporary trombonist — marvelous tumbling epigrams no matter what the context or the tempo.

That garden of delights, YouTube, offers us another aural glimpse of the Vic the musicians knew and admired.  His solo on this little-known record is only sixteen bars, and it comes late in the performance, but it is a marvel.

The original recording was made for Decca in 1937 by the Claude Hopkins band.  MY KINDA LOVE was perhaps best known through Ben Pollack’s recording of it with Jack Teagarden a half-decade earlier.  The Hopkins record is taken up with Hopkins’ pleasant piano and Beverly White’s singing.  Nothing is less than expert — the rhythm section rocks along nicely under Hopkins — but it is music for dancers.  Beverly White sounds close to Midge Williams and even Ella Logan: all the notes are in the right places, her enunciation is precise; she sings clearly and rhythmically, but the overall affect is well-behaved rather than memorable.  This band could play a senior prom in 1937 and not upset the chaperones overmuch.

Beverly was known as “Baby,” and she has her own place in the Jazz Pantheon because Teddy Wilson said he preferred her singing to Billie Holiday’s.  What that statement really means is hard to say: there is so much mythology around the luminous 1935-41 recordings Billie and Teddy made that his words seem heretical.  Perhaps Baby White was easier to work with; she didn’t smoke pot in the hall; she was more professional?  It could be that Teddy simply liked the sound of her voice more.  I wonder if in the years after those recordings were made, there was a slight tinge of rancor that Billie had become BILLIE HOLIDAY and other singers hadn’t.  (Michael Brooks wrote that Henry “Red” Allen told him vehemently that Anna Robinson was also much better than Billie.)

For me, the first two-thirds of MY KINDA LOVE are amiably dull — politely swinging without calling attention to itself — an almost faceless “dance record,” perhaps insisted upon by Jack Kapp.

But when Vic leaps in, for about thirty seconds, my musical world changes.

He begins with a break that owes something to Louis, something that might have come from a Hot Seven record, reinvented through Vic’s own prism of sound.  It’s a witty solo, glancing at Swing phrases that were already conventions in 1937 . . . but Vic’s staccato phrasing and sound are his own.  He doesn’t dramatize; his solo is in the middle register and he doesn’t demand that we admire his pyrotechnics, but the solo amazes as evidence of what he could do in sixteen bars.  A writer of musical epigrams, a painter of miniatures, eight bars here or sixteen bars there with their own logical, funny, shapes.

The thought that I can no longer see Vic on the stand at the last Eddie Condon’s or Your Father’s Mustache or an outdoor concert in Suffolk County makes me sad.  Had I been able to tell him how many people had their lives uplifted by his music, I think it would probably have embarrassed him.  But as I get older and I hear more jazz; as I understand more how difficult it is to create something when the rhythm is moving along inexorably underneath you, the more I prize Vic Dickenson.  It was a miracle that he was with us.  And he still is.

May your happiness increase.

CALIFORNIA DREAMIN’: MAL SHARPE and BIG MONEY IN JAZZ at the SAVOY TIVOLI (Aug. 25, 2012)

New York has so much to recommend it, but I miss Mal Sharpe’s jazz soirees in Sausalito, in Martinez, and at the Savoy Tivoli in North Beach, San Francisco.  Here are three pertinent pieces of evidence, recorded on August 25, 2012: Leon Oakley, cornet; Mal, trombone and spiritual guidance; Dwayne Ramsey, clarinet, soprano saxophone, vocal; Si Perkoff, keyboard; Paul Smith, string bass, Carmen Cansino, drums.  And seated right in front of us was jazz legend / art legend Charles Campbell, having a good time — a model for us all!

A nice yearning AIN’T MISBEHAVIN’, its tempo true to the lyrics:

Mister Morton’s WOLVERINE BLUES:

Rarely do I post an incomplete performance — this one is cut short because of my miscalculation of battery strength — but Dwayne’s vocal on BLUE, TURNING GREY is so powerfully emotional that I couldn’t consign it to the unseen archives.  Prepare yourself for incompleteness but also for great feeling:

May your happiness increase.

A CHANGE IN PLANS: MAL SHARPE MAKES US BELIEVE IT (August 26, 2012)

One of the great pleasures of my California summer was being able to see and hear Mal Sharpe and his Big Money in Jazz Band every Sunday afternoon at the No Name Bar in Sausalito, California.  Mal has so many talents that not all of them get to emerge at once: there’s the comic improviser, the surrealistic jester, the gutty trombonist, the head-arrangements-while-you-wait bandleader . . . as well as the creator of contests and quizzes with prizes of spectacular insignificance.

But one of Mal’s talents often overlooked is his singing — and I don’t mean the exuberant JUST A LITTLE WHILE TO STAY HERE that begins most sessions or the almost as joyous THE SONG IS ENDED.  He says, “I just like to sing,” and that’s clear.  But a recent performance of the Dietz-Schwartz I GUESS I’LL HAVE TO CHANGE MY PLAN continues to be bittersweet without being maudlin, memorable without being overdramatic.

The song has a lovely melody (think of the instrumental version by Bobby Hackett and Jack Teagarden) but a singer has to get inside the mixture of emotions — rueful surprise that admits to self-pity and self-blame without saying so.  Call it jaunty despair.  Mal conveys all of this beautifully, mixing wit and delicate sadness.  He does summon up some of the lightness of Astaire, the sorrow of Rushing and Louis — and there’s even a joke in the lyrics — but he so completely gives himself to the song that when I return to California I am sure that I will ask him to sing more songs like this.  He could be the next sensation as a rhythm balladeer, don’t you think?

Here’s I GUESS I’LL HAVE TO CHANGE MY PLAN, recorded on the spot on Sunday, August 26, 2012 — with the assistance of Leon Oakley, trumpet; Richard Hadlock, soprano saxophone; Si Perkoff, keyboard; Harley White, string bass (who told us about Earl Hines and his many toupees); Carmen Cansino, drums.  And the band manages to summon up the great ones, too — Si’s quirky piano hints at Basie and Monk; Richard hints at late, late Lester; Leon tells us that Bunny and Wild Bill would have loved to play this; Carmen punches it home with the vigor of Thirties Wettling . . .

If anyone in California reads this and then goes to one of Mal’s haunts — the No Name on Sundays; the Savoy Tivoli (in North Beach SF) on Saturdays; Armando’s in Martinez . . . tell him, “I saw you on JAZZ LIVES!”  Maybe he’ll give you a zipper or a letter-B sticker.  And we’ll all be pleased.

May your happiness increase.

NOT ONCE, BUT FOUR OR FIVE TIMES: MAL DOES MARTINEZ (August 23, 2012)

One of the great pleasures of this summer stay in California has been the opportunity to hear / enjoy / talk with / delight in the remarkable Mal Sharpe, larger than life and I don’t mean in height or girth.  His music, his wildly improvised deadpan comedies, his stage presence . . . a remarkable fellow indeed.

Once a month, on a Thursday, Mal brings his Big Money in Jazz Band to Armando’s in Martinez — a very pleasant place (more a social club than a nightspot) run by the amiable Roy Jeans.  August 23 was Mal’s “Dixieland” immersion — for our benefit.

He played trombone and sang; Dwayne Rambey played clarinet, tenor saxophone, and soprano, and also sang; Clint Baker sat in the back and directed jazz traffic while playing the banjo or the guitar; youngblood / swing star Sam Rocha gave his all on tuba; fiery Jim Gammon poured his heart into his trumpet; swinging Roy Blumenfeld, drums.  (Notice that a few performances begin with an impromptu Gammon – Baker duet, reminding me of 1928 Louis and Johnny St. Cyr, very happily).

Here are four musical treats and one avian interlude.  For your dining and dancing pleasure, of course.

HINDUSTAN (where there are still a few parking spaces for caravans and no meters):

A magnificent piece of musical architecture — FOUR OR FIVE TIMES — our delight, doin’ things right:

THE SHEIK OF ARABY, clothed or not:

An ancient folktale about a member of the avian family.  Caution!  It contains a naughty word:

And a beautifully earnest reading of JUST A CLOSER WALK WITH THEE:

Wasn’t that nice?

May your happiness increase.

SIX SURPRISES: MAL SHARPE and BIG MONEY IN JAZZ at the NO NAME BAR in SAUSALITO (August 19, 2012)

Since the school year will soon be upon us, here is a one-question jazz quiz on the recent content of JAZZ LIVES.  Please turn your phones off — the answer won’t be found there — and those of you who have been paying close attention have nothing to worry about.

1.  On a Sunday afternoon at the No Name Bar in Sausalito (extra credit if you can accurately recall the street address and the hours that the band plays), when Mal Sharpe and the Big Money in Jazz Band take center stage, the results can best be described as:

a.     swinging

b.     hilarious

c.     unpredictable

d.     all of the above.

Make sure you’ve written your name at the top, and please hand them in.  The correct answer is D, although I will give partial credit for A, B, or C.  Extra credit?  757 Bridgeway, 3-6 PM.  I’ll see you all next week.

Mal and his Colleagues in Swing had a good time last Sunday and they shared the pleasure with us.  Mal offered some Dickensonian trombone asides, loose-limbed singing and comic commentaries; trumpeter John Dodgshon was mellow, on the horn and in his vocals; Tom Schmidt continues to delight and surprise on clarinet and Hodges-inspired alto (I think of Charlie Holmes, a real compliment) — he sang memorably,  too.  The rhythm section worked together splendidly, with Our Lady of the Trap Kit, sweetly pungent Carmen Cansino, tersely rocking Bill De Kuiper on guitar, and quietly eloquent Paul Smith (another videographer!) on string bass.

Here are six movements from the monumental Big Money in Jazz Suite, Opus 8.19.12.

Mal is the most generous of men, but this Sunday his resources might have been low, for he chose I CAN’T GIVE YOU ANYTHING BUT LOVE:

August 21 is a national holiday, although you didn’t see the appropriate sales in mattress stores — it’s Count Basie’s birthday.  Here’s a version of LADY BE GOOD that starts with a Kansas City Six rhythm section chorus:

John Dodgshon seemed entirely trustworthy, reliable to the end, when I spoke with him at the start.  Thus I believed him utterly when he sang YOU CAN DEPEND ON ME:

For Louis and Benny and Bing, SHINE, with special cadenzas for Carmen near the end.  And if you still think of that song as having deplorably racist lyrics, please read this:

I have noticed how most requests from audience members make the players sigh behind their affable smiles, so I try to restrain myself.  But when asked (as I was here) I will often propose SWEETHEARTS ON PARADE, perhaps because I’ve been so transformed by hearing Louis, Ruby Braff, and Doc Cheatham play it.  And Perry Como stayed quietly in the back room (the fans tend to mob him when he comes to the No Name Bar, so Nancy and Scarlet make him comfortable there):

There was a large and enthusiastic Texas contingent in the No Name Bar that Sunday, so perhaps this edged John Dodgshon away from the TIN ROOF BLUES to the 1918 DALLAS BLUES.  I didn’t know the verses that Tom Schmidt sang with such easy fervor. . . .thank you, Tom!  And pay special attention to Bill De Kuiper, the Troubadour of the Silver Subaru, as he takes an inspiring off-the-harmonies solo, immensely refreshing:

Now, don’t you wish you had been there?

May your happiness increase.

SOME FUN! MAL SHARPE and BIG MONEY IN JAZZ at THE NO NAME BAR IN SAUSALITO (August 12, 2012)

I love having one or more steady weekly jazz gig to rely on for pleasure.  In New York, the week leans towards The Ear Inn (326 Spring Street, Soho) where the EarRegulars play every Sunday night from 8-11.

In California, where we are at the moment, it’s the No Name Bar in Sausalito (757 Bridgeway) where Mal Sharpe and the Big Money in Jazz Band play and cavort every Sunday from 3-6 PM.

Last Sunday, August 12, 2012, the Masters of Melody and Mirth were Mal himself, trombone, vocal, and improvisatory wanderings; Andrew Storar, trumpet, vocal; Don Neely, metal clarinet, soprano saxophone, vocal; Si Perkoff, keyboard, vocal; Sam Rocha, string bass; Carmen Cansino, drums.

IN the video highlights, that follow, while you’re admiring the front line: Andrew’s shining, understated leaps and rolls, Mal’s gutty melodic underpinnings, Don’s soaring lines, don’t forget the rhythm section.  Si makes that old keyboard sound better than anyone else with his cheerfully surprising chords and rustles; Sam could support a huge band with his rocking foundation, and Carmen would make Jo Jones break into a large grin because her time is splendid and she gets the punchline of every musical joke.  (You don’t always see Carmen in my shots but you hear her, and the band knows she’s there.)

Here are some highlights from the afternoon’s festivities.

Let’s begin with an intriguing pairing.  JAR is an otherwise unrecorded piece of folk poetry, a collaboration between Horace Gerlach and Lawrence Ferlinghetti; when Andrew sings the Claude Hopkins – Alex Hill song, it has no hesitation, no “WOULD” in the title, because Andrew is a very earnest fellow who WILL do anything for you.

SWING THAT JAR / I WOULD DO ANYTHING FOR YOU:

The Forties Ellington favorite, whose title has been bent into a variety of shapes by witty jazz musicians, DON’T GET AROUND MUCH ANYMORE:

Don Neely is a very candid fellow with a deep affection for Fats Waller, so IT’S A SIN TO TELL A LIE was a natural choice:

A romping TIN ROOF BLUES (with some socio-political commentary from Mal):

Not only does Don want everyone to be totally honest, he also encourages marital fidelity in MAKIN’ WHOOPEE:

Although Irving Berlin’s song is somewhat sad, the atmosphere at the No Name Bar is reassuringly cheerful, as evidenced in THE SONG IS ENDED / CLOSING CEREMONIES:

Our Sunday pleasure!

May your happiness increase.