Tag Archives: Marcus Milius

“I GIVE UP!” TIMES TEN

surrender1

Is surrender capitulating to an enemy, saying “I give up.  You are stronger.” or is it an enlightened act, a realization that there are powers we can’t conquer and that the idea of conquering anything is futile?

I SURRENDER DEAR

I’ve always found I SURRENDER, DEAR — so powerfully connected to Bing Crosby — both touching and mysterious.  As Gordon Clifford’s lyrics tell us, the singer is saying, in effect, “Take me back. Here is my heart.  I give up all pretense of being distant.  I need you,” which is deeply moving, a surrender of all ego-barriers and pretense.  But I’ve never been able to figure out whether “Here, take my heart,” is  greeted with “I’d love to welcome you back,” or “No thanks, I’m full.”  Other songs hold out the possibility of reconciliation (consider IN A LITTLE SECOND-HAND STORE or WE JUST COULDN’T SAY GOODBYE) but this one ends unresolved.  It’s also one of those songs that lends itself to a variety of interpretations: both Bing and Louis in the same year, then a proliferation of tenor saxophonists, and pianists from Monk to Garner to Teddy. And (before the music starts) probably thanks to Roy Eldridge, there’s also an honored tradition of slipping into double-time.

I_Surrender_Dear_(1931_film)_advert

Here, however, are ten versions that move me.

January 1931: Bing Crosby with the Gus Arnheim Orchestra.  Note the orchestral flourishes:

Later that same year: Victor Young and the Brunswick Concert Orchestra, featuring Frank Munn, not enough of the Boswell Sisters (acting as their own concert orchestra) and a few seconds of Tommy Dorsey.  I think this was an effort to show that Paul Whiteman didn’t have a monopoly on musical extravagance, and I’ve never seen a label credit “Paraphrased by . . . “.  I also note the vocal bridge turns to 3/4, and Munn sings “are doing” rather than “were doing,” but we wait patiently for the Sisters to appear, and they do:

Imagine anyone better than Ben Webster?  Here, in 1944, with our hero Hot Lips Page:

Forward several decades: Joe Venuti, Zoot Sims, John Bunch, Milt Hinton, Bobby Rosengarden 1975:

1978 — a duet of Earl Hines and Harry Edison:

Raymond Burke, Butch Thompson, Cie Frazier in New Orleans, 1979:

and something I was privileged to witness and record, flapping fan blades and all, from February 2010 (Tamar Korn, Gordon Au, Dennis Lichtman, Marcus Milius, Debbie Kennedy):

Ray Skjelbred, Marc Caparone, Jim Buchmann, Katie Cavera, Beau Sample, Hal Smith, at the San Diego Jazz Fest in November 2014:

Nobody follows Louis.  1931:

and the majestic version from 1956:

A little tale of the powers of Surrender.  In years past, I would drive into Manhattan, my car full of perishables, and search for a parking spot.  Of course there were none.  I could feel the gelato melting; I could feel my blood pressure rising contrapuntally.  Frustrated beyond belief, I would roll down my window and ask the Parking Goddess for her help.  “I do not ask for your assistance that often, and I admit that I cannot do this on my own.  I am powerless without your help.  Will you be merciful to me?”  And I would then circle the block again and a spot would have opened up.  My theory is that such supplication works only if one is willing to surrender the ego, the facade of one’s own power.  Of course it has also been known to work for other goals, but that is an essay beyond the scope of JAZZ LIVES.

For now, surrender whole-heartedly and see what happens.

May your happiness increase!

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NAOMI AND HER HANDSOME DEVILS

I first met Naomi Uyama in a downtown New York music club five years ago. Soon, we adjourned to the sidewalk.

It’s less melodramatic or noir than it appears.  The club was Banjo Jim’s — ‘way down yonder on Avenue C — where a variety of jazz-folk-dance groups appeared in 2009. The most famous was the Cangelosi Cards, in their original manifestation, featuring among others Tamar Korn, Jake Sanders, Marcus Milius, Cassidy Holden, Gordon Webster, Kevin Dorn. Tamar, who has always admired the Boswell Sisters, got together with singers Naomi and Mimi Terris to perform some Boswell numbers as “The Three Diamonds.” On one cold night, the three singers joined forces on the sidewalk to serenade myself, Jim and Grace Balantic, and unaware passers-by with a Boswell hot chorus of EVERYBODY LOVES MY BABY. Tamar has recorded on her own, as has Mimi, but I and others have been waiting for Naomi to record, to share her sweet swing with the world. And the disc is delightful.

NAOMI

The first thing one notices about the disc is its authentic swing feel courtesy of players who have a deep affection for a late-Basie rhythmic surge and melodic ingenuity: Jake Sanders, guitar; Dalton Ridenhour, piano; Jared Engel, string bass; Jeremy Noller, drums, and a two-person frontline of Adrian Cunningham, tenor saxophone and clarinet; Matt Musselman, trombone.  The band is neither over-rehearsed or overly casual; they provoke regular movements of the listener’s head, torso, and limbs.  (I can attest to this.)  They aren’t busily copying the sound of classic recordings; they are swinging out in fine style. I heard echoes of Illinois Jacquet and Al Grey, of a Buddy Tate band uptown or a Forties Jay McShann small group, of Tiny Grimes and Sir Charles Thompson — those players who swung as reliably as breathing. The band never gets in Naomi’s way, and they make happy music for dancers, riffing as if to the manner born.

But this might seem to ignore Naomi, which would be unthinkable. She came to jazz through lindy hop, which means her rhythm has a cheerful bounce to it, even on slower numbers. But she knows well that making music is more than beating a solid 4/4 so that the dancers know where one is. Naomi is an effective melodist, not tied to the paper but eminently respectful of the melodies we know. Her improvisations tend to be subtle, but when she breaks loose (trading scat phrases with the horns on MARIE) she never puts a foot wrong. (MARIE, incidentally, is the fastest track on the disc — 223 beats per minute — and it never seems rushed. I approve that Naomi and her Handsome Devils understand the beautiful shadings possible within medium-tempo rocking music.)

Naomi’s voice is a pleasure in itself — no rough edges, with a wide palette of timbres, but perfectly focused and with an effective phrase-ending vibrato. She doesn’t sound like someone who has spent her life memorizing Ella, Billie, or a dozen others; she sounds, rather, like someone who has fallen in love with the repertoire and decided to sing it, as if she were a bird bursting into song. In swingtime, of course. On Lil Johnson’s seductive encouragement, TAKE IT EASY, GREASY, she does her own version of a Mae West meow, but she doesn’t go in for effects and tricks. Her phrases fall in the right places, and she sounds natural — not always the case among musicians offering milkless milk and silkless silk in the name of Swing.

And I had a small epiphany while listening to this CD. A front-line of trombone and reed (mostly tenor) is hardly unusual, and it became even less so from the middle Forties onwards, but it makes complete aesthetic sense here, because the spare instrumentation (two horns, powerful yet light rhythm section) gives Naomi the room she needs to be the graceful and memorable trumpet player of this little band. Think, perhaps, of Buck Clayton: sweet, inventive, bluesy, creating wonderful phrases on the simplest material, and the place Naomi has made for herself in the band seems clear and inevitable.

The songs also suggest a wider knowledge of the Swing repertoire than is usual: Basie is represented not with a Joe Williams blues, but with the 1938 GLORIANNA, and the Dorsey MARIE is an evocation rather than a small-band copy. There are blues — I KNOW HOW TO DO IT and the aforementioned TAKE IT EASY, GREASY — as well as classic pop standards that feel fresh: I CAN’T GIVE YOU ANYTHING BUT LOVE, ONE HOUR, LOVER, COME BACK TO ME, AFTER I SAY I’M SORRY, GOODY GOODY, IS YOU IS OR IS YOU AIN’T MY BABY, WHAM, and THIS CAN’T BE LOVE.

The disc offers nothing but good music, never ironic or post-modern, neither copying nor satirizing, just beautifully crafted melodic Swing.  Welcome, Naomi — with your Handsome Devils alongside. On with the dance!

Now, some bits of information. You can find Naomi on Facebook here; the band has its own page here. To buy the disc (or a download), visit here, where you also can hear samples of the songs. To hear complete songs, visit here. Naomi and a version of her Devils can be found on YouTube, and here is her channel. Enough data for anyone: listen to the music and you’ll be convinced.

May your happiness increase!

YES! NEW MUSIC FROM THE CANGELOSI CARDS

The Cangelosi Cards provoke enthusiastic affirmations wherever they go. 

And recently they’ve gone as far as I can imagine — to the House of Blues and Jazz in Shanghai, China for a three-month residency.  They’re returning for gigs between October 22 and November 4, including a stint at the Nanjing Jazz Festival,  October 22nd-28th. The group will also make a four-city tour including Nanjing, Suzhou, Shanghai, and Beijing. 

I am cheered by their widening circle of friends.  But for those of us who can’t drop everything and follow the Cards to China, there’s new musical evidence to savor.

When I first heard the Cards at Banjo Jim’s some years ago, I was moved by their swinging momentum and deep feeling — unaffected sentiment with a rocking pulse.  The singular instrumental voices always sounded like a conversation — intimate yet fervent — that I was privileged to eavesdrop on.  When Tamar Korn began to sing, the experience became otherworldly, music coming from what Yeats called “the deep heart’s core.” 

Tamar and the band loved the music of the Boswell Sisters — not only the beautiful repertoire and hot solos but the vocal harmonies and sophisticated arrangements.  I saw Tamar and her sweetly singing friends Naomi Uyama and Mimi Terris create their own variations on the Boswell repertoire.  I remember their acapella rendition of MOONGLOW performed on the sidewalk outside Banjo Jim’s brought me to tears. 

Now that experience has taken tangible shape, for Tamar, Mimi, and Naomi,  as “The Three Diamonds,” have recorded a mini-CD of three selections backed by the Cards (Gordon Webster, Dennis Lichtman, Jake Sanders, Matt Musselman, Cassidy Holden, and Marcus Milius). 

It’s extraordinary music — connected by a celestial theme: STARDUST, MOONGLOW, and the lesser-known WHEN MY BLUE MOON TURNS TO GOLD AGAIN.  The EP will be available at the Cards’ shows and can be purchased online at www.losmusicosviajeros.net for $3 plus shipping.

And since the Cards are back in New York City for a moment, they can be experienced at Harefield Road, where, to quote Jake, they’re “inviting a bunch of folks out this Sunday, some good friends-fine players from other groups.”  Harefield Road is on Metropolitan between Graham and Humboldt in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, the third stop on the L.  The Cards will play from 5 to 9. 

Members of the band will also be playing at MOTO (http://www.cafe-moto.com) on Friday nights from 9 to midnight. 

And they will also be presented in concert by the New Jersey Jazz Society — at the Bickford Theatre in Morristown, New Jersey, on October 11.  The concert begins at 8 PM: tickets are $15 in advance and $18 at the door.  The Bickford Theatre/Morris Museum: On Columbia Turnpike/Road (County Road 510) at the corner of Normandy Heights Road, east of downtown Morristown.    The hall is near Interstate 287 and the Route 24 Expressway.  It seats 300 and there’s ample on-site parking and wheelchair access.  Weeknight concerts are one long set (8 to 9:30 PM).  Tickets may be purchased via credit card over the phone by calling the box office at (973) 971-3706.  The box office can also provide information and directions, or email Jazzevents@aol.com.

ENCORE! THE CANGELOSI CARDS (2-27-10)

The performance the Cangelosi Cards put on, casually but with great skill, at the Shambhala Meditation Center, stands out as one of the great sustained musical evenings of my life. 

The Cards are delighting audiences in Shanghai, China, as I write this — and here, for those of us who miss them badly (and for those who have not yet experienced them) I present the four songs remaining from that evening.  I’ve been hoarding these videos, but it’s time to open the treasure chest one last time.  The Cards here are Tamar Korn, Jake Sanders, Gordon Au, Dennis Lichtman, Marcus Milius, and Debbie Kennedy:

They began the evening with the song I associate with the Boswell Sisters (and, later, with Marty Grosz) — another song that celebrates love and caffeine (or tea), a good combination — WHEN I TAKE MY SUGAR TO TEA:

Then, that sweet celebration of the love that one has found at last — EXACTLY LIKE YOU.  I read in Mezz Mezzrow’s brightly colored autobiography that the Harlem hep cats who knew the inside story called this tune ‘ZACKLY, which stuck in my mind:

Tamar sat one out — Jelly Roll Morton’s mournful, mysterious WININ’ BOY BLUES (or WINDING BALL BLUES, you pick):

And every jazz performance needs a Fats Waller song to be complete, so here’s the swing masterpiece HONEYSUCKLE ROSE, which we have to remember is more than just a well-known set of chord changes with an intriguing bridge: let’s hear it for Andy Razaf’s sly lyrics:

Jake assured me that the Cards will be coming back to us!

HEAVENLY! (THE CARDS AND ANDREW NEMR, Feb. 27, 2010)

Here are four more performances from the Cangelosi Cards’ Feb. 27, 2010 evening at the Shambhala Meditation Center in New York.

Everyone knows or should know by now who the Cards are, but if you’ve come late to this particular version of swing enlightenment, they are Tamar Korn, vocals; Jake Sanders, banjo; Dennis Lichtman, clarinet and electric mandolin; Marcus Milius, harmonica; Gordon Au, trumpet; Debbie Kennedy, string bass.  Thanks to Paul Wegener for booking the Cards at Shambhala for what I hope is a long series of memorable evenings.

I first saw the Cards perform amidst dancers, who reflected the music in their ecstatic, sometimes homegrown spins and dips.  At the Shambhala, however, they turned the stage over to Andrew Nemr — someone I hadn’t known — a divinely inspired tap dancer who brought his own tiny wooden stage.  Here’s Andrew working out on a Charles Mingus blues, MY JELLY ROLL SOUL:

And what could be more traditional than the Cards jamming on I GOT RHYTHM around Andrew:

Then, Tamar resumed her place onstage to sing YOU’RE DRIVING ME CRAZY, complete with two sets of lyrics to the verse.  There’s a subtext here: Tamar said, with a hint of wicked glee in her eye, that Jake always gets a little worried when she calls this song, wondering if Tamar means him in particular.  Watch Tamar’s face when she gets to the title of the song: if that isn’t great comic acting, I don’t know:

Finally, a wistful but swinging reading of Walter Donaldson’s paean to domestic bliss and home ownership — MY BLUE HEAVEN.  I know this was one of the songs the Cards performed when I first saw them, and I delight in their reading, including the verse: 

Heavenly!

MORE FROM THE CARDS! (Feb. 27, 2010)

Thanks to Paul Wegener, Jake Sanders, Tamar Korn,Gordon Au, Debbie Kennedy, Marcus Milius, and Dennis Lichtman.

Here’s a romp on that 1929 tongue-twister by Walter Donaldson, ‘T’AIN’T NO SIN:

And an energetic excursion through James P. Johnson’s OLD-FASHIONED LOVE, one of those songs that sits well at a number of tempos:

Finally, a poignant reading of BODY AND SOUL, with sorrowful work by Marcus and Tamar:

More to come!

Part Three: THE CARDS OUTDO THEMSELVES (February 27, 2010)

I’ve been parcelling out these delicious performances by the Cangelosi Cards, being reluctant to come to the end of the music I recorded.  And my reluctance is especially strong because I’ve learned that the Cards now have an extended gig (two months?) in Shanghai.  If they can’t fix US-Sino relations, who could? 

So here are two more from the video cookie jar —  I don’t want my viewers to spoil their appetites!

The first is a song I find so touching — and always have, even when the lyrics were more optimistic than I could afford to be at the time: WRAP YOUR TROUBLES IN DREAMS.  Thanks to Harry Barris and his one-time colleague, Mister Crosby:

The other side of hope might not be love-jealousy, but here’s an old Carter Family blues — JEALOUS HEARTED ME — which has an extra bar at the end of each chorus, ready to trip up any musicians on auto-pilot.  Which the Cards never are:

Thank you, Tamar, Jake, Dennis, Gordon, Marcus, and Debbie!

And if all of this is new to some viewers, they need only go back a few blogposts to read and experience the whole story — the best homework assignment any academic could impose.  More to come!