Tag Archives: Mark Lopeman

MORE HOT JAZZ IN THE GARDEN OF EDEN (Part Three): THE NEW WONDERS (MIKE DAVIS, JOE McDONOUGH, RICKY ALEXANDER, JARED ENGEL, JAY RATTMAN, JAY LEPLEY): AUGUST 20, 2017

The days are getting shorter, darker, and cooler.  There’s little that I can do to combat this, but I offer this third part of a glorious August afternoon as a palliative for the descent into winter.

Thanks to the energetic Brice Moss, I was able to attend and record a lovely outdoor session featuring The New Wonders — Mike Davis, cornet, vocal, arrangements; Jay Lepley, drums; Jay Rattman, bass saxophone and miscellaneous instrument; Joe McDonough, trombone, Ricky Alexander, reeds; Jared Engel, plectrum banjo.  There’s group singing here and there, which is its own idiomatic delight.  This is the third of three posts: here is part one, and here is part two — both segments full of wondrous hot music.

And now . . . . a Hot one in Hot slow-motion, no less steamy — NOBODY’S SWEETHEART:

Did someone say “The Chicago Loopers”?  Here’s CLORINDA, with vocal quartet:

A serious question for sure, ARE YOU SORRY?

Another paean to the South from songwriters who may have gone no deeper than Battery Park, THAT’S THE GOOD OLD SUNNY SOUTH:

We’d like it to be a valid economic policy — THE BEST THINGS IN LIFE ARE FREE:

DEEP BLUE SEA BLUES, with a surprising double for Jay Rattman:

Who needs an umbrella?  I’M WALKING BETWEEN THE RAINDROPS:

and an emotional choice, I’D RATHER CRY OVER YOU:

Deep thanks, as before, to Brice, family, friends, and to these splendid musicians, for making an Edenic idea come to life.

And I don’t have the delicious artifact yet, but The New Wonders did and have finished their debut CD.  I am willing to wager that it will live up to the band name.  Details as I know them.

May your happiness increase!

HOT JAZZ IN THE GARDEN OF EDEN (Part One): THE NEW WONDERS (MIKE DAVIS, JOE McDONOUGH, RICKY ALEXANDER, JARED ENGEL, JAY RATTMAN, JAY LEPLEY): AUGUST 20, 2017

Some people make great art happen without ever picking up an instrument, and Brice Moss is one of them.  I first met him at a concert of Mike Davis’ band, The New Wonders, in downtown Manhattan, about eighteen months ago.

Brice is very friendly and articulate, tall and beautifully dressed, but what’s more important is that he is a card-carrying Enthusiast for Twenties hot jazz.  And although he loves the recordings and lives to go see and hear the best hot bands, he does more than that.  Evidence below.

A Brice Moss lawn party, a few years back, with Vince Giordano, Andy Stein, Evan Arntzen, Jon-Erik Kellso, Harvey Tibbs, and Ken Salvo.

Brice gives yearly lawn parties where his favorite bands play.  I asked him to say something about his generosity-in-action, and he wrote, “I work in social service, in the not-for profit sector, so even with saving up, I can only do these every year or so.  I can think of no more joy-inducing way to spend my meager dough than by hiring the world class musicians we are lucky to have in our vicinity.  As does everyone else, I love the Nighthawks, whom my parents saw weekly since the seventies.

I am smitten by Mike Davis and his guys too.  Mike always sings the lyrics, often including introductory verses I had never heard before.  They do wonderful vocal harmonies.  They are intimate, understated, true to the period and despite differences of instrumentation, very true to the original recordings of the tunes. Pure delight!  This is the fourth time I’ve been lucky enough to be able to bring a band up.  Last year was Mike and The New Wonders as well. The summer before that was a subset of the Nighthawks.  I have also, a couple of years back, had a New Year’s Eve party where I was fortunate to have Vince, Peter Mintun, Mark Lopeman, Bill Crow, and Andy Stein.”

So this summer, when Brice invited me to come up to his lawn party (at a location alternatively identified as Croton-on-Hudson, Yorktown Heights, or Ossining — depending on the whims of your GPS) I was eager, especially when he said the band would not object if I brought my camera.  I thus had the odd and splendid experience of being able to hear and see hot jazz out-of-doors in the most gorgeous pastoral setting.  I also got to meet Brice’s quite delightful family: his mother Anne; son Odysseus; his daughter Aubrey; his sister Liana.  In addition, I got to chat again with Ana Quintana, and petted the New Wonders’ mascot, Chester.

And there was glorious music by Mike Davis, cornet and vocal; Jay Lepley, drums; Jared Engel, banjo; Jay Rattman, bass sax and miscellaneous instrument; Ricky Alexander, reeds; Joe McDonough, trombone.  (Mike also sings splendidly — earnestly but loosely — on many tracks, and there’s also band vocals and band banter.)

The band takes its name from a particular line of instruments manufactured by the Conn people in the Twenties, and Mike plays a Conn New Wonder cornet.  The New Wonders stay pretty seriously in the Twenties, offering pop songs of the day, jazz classics — both transcribed and improvised on — and homages to Bix and Tram, Paul Whiteman, Cliff Edwards, the California Ramblers, Red Nichols and Miff Mole, and more.

A great deal of beautifully-played hot jazz was offered to us that August afternoon.  Here are the first seven tunes, one for each day of the week.

I GET THE BLUES WHEN IT RAINS (fortunately, this song title did not come true at Brice’s party):

THAT’S MY WEAKNESS NOW (with the verse and a second chorus and a third — how much music the New Wonders can, like their ancestors, pack into three minutes):

MY GAL SAL (thinking of the pride of Ogden, Utah):

CHICAGO:

ONE LITTLE KISS (their homage to Cliff Edwards and the Eton Boys, nobly done):

TAKE YOUR TOMORROW (thinking of Bix and Tram):

POOR PAPA:

There are two more lavishly Edenic segments to come.  Not blasphemous, just paradisical.

May your happiness increase!

“VINCE GIORDANO: THERE’S A FUTURE IN THE PAST”

vincegirodano_poster

About seventy-five minutes into this gratifying portrait of Vince Giordano and the Nighthawks, trombonist and keen observer Jim Fryer describes its subject as “an intense man . . . a driven man . . . consumed” by the ideals he’s devoted the last forty years to.  And his goal?  As Vince says in the film, it is “to get the great music out there for the people.”

From his early introduction to the music — the hot jazz 78s on his grandmother’s Victrola — to the present moment, where he is the inspired creator of a ten-piece Jazz Age big band possibly without equal, Vince’s ideal has been complex. Reproduce live the sound, accuracy, and vitality of the music he heard on the records, and add to that repertoire by playing, vividly and authentically, music that never got recorded. His quest has been to have a working band, the contemporary equivalent of the great working bands, sweet and hot, of the Twenties and Thirties, visiting the Forties on occasion. Add to this the constant schlepping (you could look it up) of the equipment for that band; finding a new home after Sofia’s could no longer stay open; finding gigs; keeping this organization running against the odds.  The film wholly captures how difficult Vince’s consuming obsession is to accomplish, and to keep afloat day after day.

Many readers of JAZZ LIVES are fervent Giordanians or perhaps Vinceites, and we crossed paths for years in the darkness of Sofia’s, at the Christmas teas.  I have a long history with this band, going back to a Nighthawks gig in the preceding century, in the eastern part of Long Island, New York, where the night sky darkened, the thunder rumbled louder than Arnie Kinsella’s drum set, lightning flashed, but the band kept playing until the last possible minute before the deluge.  So I’ve experienced Vince’s dedication firsthand.

Here’s the film’s trailer — a delightful encapsulation that doesn’t give away all the surprises:

The narrative follows Vince and the band over two years and more, from Sofia’s to Wolf Trap for PRAIRIE HOME COMPANION with Garrison Keillor, to Aeolian Hall with Maurice Peress for a recreation of Paul Whiteman’s presentation RHAPSODY IN BLUE — the opening clarinet solo brilliantly played by Dan Block — to the Nighthawks’ search for a new home, which they found at Iguana.  The film brings us up in to the present with the New York Hot Jazz Festival and a band led by Nighthawk Dan Levinson (his “Gotham Sophisticats”) as well as a new generation of musicians inspired by Vince, who has shown that it is possible to play hot music at the highest level with accuracy and spirit.

So much credit for this beautifully-realized film, must, of course, go to its intensely-charged subject, the Nighthawks, and their music. But filmmakers Dave Davidson and Amber Edwards are expert visionaries.

Even given this vibrant multi-sensory material, formulaic filmmakers could have created something dull.  They might have been satisfied to simply document performance: aim cameras at the Nighthawks and record what they play, as videographers like myself have done, which would have been accurate but limiting as cinema. Or, given the many people willing to talk about Vince and the Nighthawks, Edwards and Davidson could have given us a pageant of New York’s most erudite talking heads, some of whom would have been happy to lecture us.

Instead, by beautifully combining both elements and adding some surprises, they have created a wholly engaging, fast-moving portrait of Vince, the Nighthawks, and their world.  THERE’S A FUTURE IN THE PAST never seems to stand still, and the cameras take us places that even the most devoted fans have never gone.  We get to peek in at Terry Gross’s interview of Vince, to travel downtown for a Nighthawk-flavored session of the EarRegulars at The Ear Inn and a recording session for BOARDWALK EMPIRE.

One of the film’s most pleasing aspects is candid, often witty commentary from people who know — the musicians themselves. Edwards and Davidson have fine instincts for the telling anecdote, the revealing insight.  We see and hear Jon-Erik Kellso, Dan Levinson, Mike Ponella, Mark Lopeman, Peter Yarin, Andy Stein, Cynthia Sayer, Jim Fryer, and others, people who have worked with Vince for twenty-five years and more, and their stories are as essential to the film as is the music.

Edwards and Davidson quietly capture telling details, visual and otherwise: the box of doughnuts brought on the bus; the rivets on Vince’s aluminum double bass; Jon-Erik Kellso’s hand gestures — contrapuntal choreography — during SHAKE THAT THING; the voices of the Nighthawks joking about being fired as they head into a band meeting.  The film is admiring without being obsequious, so we also see a short, revealing episode of Vince losing his temper. But the details ever seem excessive.  In this era of fidgety multi-camera over-editing, the film’s charged rhythm — appropriately, a peppy dance tempo — is energetic but never overdone, never cleverly calling attention to itself.

There’s vivid photographic evidence of the spectacle at Sofia’s and the Iguana: the tuxedo-clad Nighthawks not only playing hot but enacting it; the dancers jubilantly embodying what they hear in ecstatic motion.  A documentary about Vince would be empty without the music.  I noted SUGAR FOOT STOMP, THE MOON AND YOU, PUBLIC MELODY NUMBER ONE featuring Catherine Russell, WHITE HEAT, SWEET MAN, Kellso burning up the cosmos on SINGING PRETTY SONGS, THE STAMPEDE, ONE MORE TIME, YOU’VE BEEN A GOOD OLD WAGON, even BESAME MUCHO at a rainy Midsummer Night Swing at Lincoln Center.  And the sound recording is just splendid.

One of the secret pleasures of this film, for the true believers, is in spotting friends and colleagues: Matt Musselman, Will Friedwald, Tina Micic, Jim Balantic, John Landry, Molly Ryan, Sam Huang, Chuck Wilson, and a dozen others.  (I know I’ve missed someone, so I apologize in advance.)

In every way, this film is delightful, a deep yet light-hearted portrait of a man and an evocation of a time and place, a casual yet compelling documentary that invites us in.  First Run Features is presenting its New York theatrical premiere at Cinema Village on January 13, 2017, and I believe that Vince and the filmmakers will be present at a number of showings.

May your happiness increase!

“IT WAS THE SWEETEST MELODY”: TAL RONEN, MARK LOPEMAN, JAMES CHIRILLO at CASA MEZCAL (March 29, 2015)

Here are six lovely performances from a Sunday afternoon session at Casa Mezcal, March 29, 2015.  The three glorious understated melodists are Tal Ronen, string bass; Mark Lopeman, tenor saxophone; James Chirillo, guitar.  To describe or anatomize this music, either by tracing the historical paths that got everyone to this point, or to analyze it as a musicologist would (someone’s surprising use of pedal ninths in bars 11-14) would be both silly and blasphemous. What we have here is beauty, and beauty needs no explanation for those ready to receive it.

One caveat: the room was rather crowded with happy people, so at the start of a few of the videos there is an apparent roar of conversation.  It quiets down as this exalted trio begins to work its magic.

IT MIGHT AS WELL BE SPRING (appropriately):

WHO CARES?:

THESE FOOLISH THINGS:

WARM VALLEY:

I LET A SONG GO OUT OF MY HEART:

SOME OF THESE DAYS:


May your happiness increase!

SAD SONGS SWUNG: TAMAR KORN, MARK LOPEMAN, JON WEBER at CASA MEZCAL (January 25, 2015)

When asked why his writing was so melancholy, Philip Larkin quoted the French dramatist Montherlant — “Happiness writes white” — which I take to mean that bliss is not an enthralling subject for fiction or drama.

Montherlant’s aphorism has been embodied in what we call the Great American Songbook, where (on a rough guess) songs of desolation outnumber those of elation by 2 or 3 to 1.  But from the early Thirties onwards, jazz improvisers — vocal and instrumental — figured out that what a musician friend calls “draggy ballads” were not always restorative . . . so they kept the sad words and lifted the tempo.

Here are three examples of this wonderful melding — as enacted on the spot in this century by the brave explorer Tamar Korn, with the assistance of the multi-talented reedman Mark Lopeman (one of the secret heroes of the New York jazz scene) and the adventurous pianist Jon Weber.  All of this happened last Sunday, January 25, 2015, at my Sunday oasis on 86 Orchard Street, Casa Mezcal.

If you studied the words deeply for themselves, could you keep from weeping? But these musical dramas blend sorrow and swing.

A homage to Bing, the lovely JUST ONE MORE CHANCE:

Desolation indeed, in WHEN YOUR LOVER HAS GONE:

That yearning, returning, in WHEN DAY IS DONE:

I especially admire Tamar’s elasticity of phrasing — how she stretches the lyric and melodic line into new shapes without ever obliterating their sense or emotional impact.

I hope you have only short bursts of sadness, if at all, and that they can be made to swing. And if you haven’t seen it, here is the sweetly brave Korn-Lopeman improvisation on MOOD INDIGO that concluded this January 25 session.

May your happiness increase!

IMPROMPTU FOR VOICE AND CLARINET: “MOOD INDIGO,” TAMAR KORN / MARK LOPEMAN at CASA MEZCAL (January 25, 2015)

At the conclusion of last Sunday’s brunch at my new musical oasis Casa Mezcal (86 Orchard Street, New York) pianist Jon Weber had to rush off to another gig.  But the other members of the ad lib trio, Tamar Korn and Mark Lopeman, still had music bubbling up inside of them, so they launched into this lovely impromptu duet:

Creating such beauty is a brave and wonderful act.

I imagine an intimate concert, perhaps in someone’s house, devoted to Tamar and friends — an evening of duets with a changing cast of characters.

Until that day, we have MOOD INDIGO.  Magic.

May your happiness increase!

CATHERINE RUSSELL BRINGS IT BACK, INDEED

We’re glad that there is a Catherine Russell, and she’s generously offered us another delicious helping of the heartfelt swing she and her colleagues create — in a new CD, called BRING IT BACK:

CATHERINE RUSSELL: BRING IT BACK (Jazz Village JVS 97001) Bring it Back; I’m Shooting High; I Let A Song Go out of My Heart; You Got To Swing and Sway; Aged and Mellow; the Darktown Strutters’ Ball; Lucille; You’ve Got Me Under Your Thumb; After the Lights Go Down Low; I’m Sticking With You Baby; Strange As It Seems; Public Melody Number One; I Cover The Waterfront.

Catherine Russell is a marvel: a great star and entertainer who gives herself utterly to the music, the rhythm, the words, and the emotions. She could have been a true rival for any of the great singers of the past, but she sounds utterly like herself.

She doesn’t have a gravelly voice or carry a handkerchief, but she embodies the warm, vibrant spirit of Louis Armstrong. That isn’t surprising, because her parents were Armstrong’s long-time pianist and musical director Luis Russell and singer / bassist Carline Ray.

BRING IT BACK continues her series of energized yet subtle CDs that draw on little-known tunes from an earlier era (composers from her father to Fats Waller, Harold Arlen, Jimmy McHugh, and Ida Cox) and blues-based material associated with Esther Phillips, Al Hibbler, Wynonie Harris and Little Willie John. The disc is emotionally satisfying, because Russell proves herself an adult who brings a consistent understanding to the emotions of each song. When the CD is over, it seems as if it’s just begun — and that’s not a matter of timing but of our pleasure: we want to hear more!

Russell’s voice is a pleasure in itself, with a high clear cornet-like attack when she chooses to croon an optimistic love song or romp through a swing fiesta such as SWING AND SWAY or PUBLIC MELODY. (At times she sounds like Ray Nance. Is there a higher compliment?) She takes on the dark rasp of a tenor saxophone when she sings the blues: Ben Webster, feeling low-down and grouchy, awakened too early.

Whatever the material or tempo, her intonation and time are splendid; no faux-Holiday lingering behind the beat for her. Russell’s energy comes through whole on BRING IT BACK, just as audiences worldwide have seen her dancing around the stage, a woman giving herself to rhythm.

On this disc, she is surrounded by a limber medium-sized band of New York swing stars: Mark Shane, piano; Matt Munisteri, guitar; Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; John Allred, trombone; Andy Farber, Dan Block, Mark Lopeman, reeds; Lee Hudson, string bass; Mark McLean, drums; Brian Pareschi, trumpet; Nicki Parrott, string bass; Glenn Patscha, Hammond B-3 organ. The band evokes but doesn’t copy swing and rhythm and blues from the last century, encouraging Russell to be inspired, never derivative. The CD moves from jitterbug extravaganzas to dark midnight blues without a letup. I found myself playing my favorite tracks over and over.

Louis would be proud.

May your happiness increase!

WHEN SPRING STREET IS SWING STREET: JON-ERIK KELLSO, MARK LOPEMAN, JOE COHN, TAL RONEN, BJÖRN INGELSTAM (SEPT. 1, 2013)

The block between Fifth and Sixth Avenues on Fifty-Second Street is “Swing Street” in name only: it’s been many decades since it was lined with small clubs featuring hot jazz.

But Spring Street can claim the name on Sunday nights — at least in one reassuring spot, The Ear Inn, 326 Spring Street, where the EarRegulars play between 8-11 PM: inspiring music in memorable surroundings.

The EarRegulars, as assembled on Sunday, September 1, 2013, were a noble crew: Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Mark Lopeman, tenor, soprano sax, clarinet; Joe Cohn, guitar; Tal Ronen, string bass.  And the first appearance by Scandinavian trumpeter — now a New York resident —   Björn Ingelstam on the closing song of this series.

Romberg in swing! LOVER, COME BACK TO ME:

MAKIN’ WHOOPEE, fine material for a groovy improvisation:

For Hawkins, perhaps? THE MAN I LOVE:

For Louis, Roy, Mildred, and of course Hoagy, ROCKIN’ CHAIR:

WASHINGTON AND LEE SWING (the fight song of Jon-Erik’s high school):

PLEASE DON’T TALK ABOUT ME WHEN I’M GONE:

May your happiness increase!

CHERISH THE LADIES*: SPEND MOTHER’S DAY 2013 with The EarRegulars!

On Sunday May 12th, The EarRegulars move north for a few hours for a Mother’s Day Brunch at The Stage at Rockwells American Restaurant, 105 Wolfs Lane, Pelham, New York 10803.  There are three seatings, 11:30am-2:30pm. Reservations (914) 738-5881.

If you’ve been following JAZZ LIVES for more than thirty-two bars, you know how valuable The EarRegulars are to Western Civilization.  They hold regular EarRegular seances at The Ear Inn, 326 Spring Street, Soho, New York — but for those north of the border, those with a Monday-morning 6 AM alarm clock, those who want to make sure that Mother is feted in the best style . . . hie yourself northward for swing!

And if you don’t know them, or you need a Serious Jazz Authority, how’s this:

“There’s nothing regular or ordinary about this group of dazzling, swinging, world class New Orleans traditional jazz phenoms who we’ve coaxed up to ‘burbs from Spring Street’s beloved watering hole to complete our Mother’s Day / Brunch / Jazz triple play celebration on May 12th. Maybe whatever short-circuited parts of the Ear Inn’s neon sign out front also sent a charge through the place, catapulting the musicians, wedged in a corner, back half a century, then down to the Spotted Cat on Frenchman Street in New Orleans, and on this occasion, to your neighborhood, at the Stage at Rockwells. Discover one of the City’s best kept musical secret, “Old time jazz swing with a modern metabolism.” – Nate Chinen, NY Times.

This splendid quartet will be Jon-Erik Kellso (trumpet), Matt Munisteri (guitar), Mark Lopeman (clarinet and tenor saxophone), and Pat O’Leary (bass).

About the asterisk in my title.  CHERISH THE L ADIES is, I hope, appropriate to Mother’s Day — but I know that male accompanists are encouraged.  It had been suggested to me by a colleague that I title this post I HEAR YOUR MOTHER LOVES TO SWING, but the JAZZ LIVES Legal Department said that such a statement could lead to legal action of a prolonged and costly sort.

So — eschew the usual box of candy or bouquet of f lowers this year, and make your Mother a true EarRegular!

May your happiness increase.

THEY’LL BRING BACK THE POWER TO NEW YORK: MARK LOPEMAN, JON-ERIK KELLSO, MATT MUNISTERI, ROB ADKINS AT THE EAR INN (326 Spring Street, Soho, New York)

I originally wrote this blog before Hurricane Sandy . . . and called it WHERE BEAUTY GOES ON SUNDAY.  This is still appropriate — but in view of New York being rainy and windy and with many of my friends being without electrical power, I thought I should change the title.  The EarRegulars can reset the cosmic balance — making the world EarRegular, as it were.

And (on a personal note) I write this from London, where my dear jazz friend JSA has offered shelter, good music, and solicitude — nothing new!

Last Sunday, October 21, 2012,  was dark, gray, and rainy.  The beautiful October we have been having — INDIAN SUMMER with or without Coleman Hawkins — isn’t permanent.

But the music inside The Ear Inn, created by The EarRegulars, was warming in every way.  The original co-leaders were there, beaming: Matt Munisteri, guitar; Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet . . . and they were joined by Rob Adkins, string bass; Mark Lopeman, reeds.

Pay attention! — to quote the late Jake Hanna.

Here are two beauties from that evening.

A sinuous IF I HAD YOU:

A romping MILENBERG JOYS:

Thank you, dear Gentlemen, for making the warm weather stay around for a few hours more.

May your happiness increase.

OUR IDEAL: THE EARREGULARS at THE EAR INN (January 29, 2012)

Very simple, no flourishes, nothing fancy: just four of the best musicians you’ll ever hear honoring the melodies, improvising at lightning speed, making a wonderfully cohesive little band right there in the corner at The Ear Inn (326 Spring Street, Soho, New York City) last Sunday night from 8-11 PM.  By the summer of 2012 the EarRegulars will have pulled off such secular miracles for five years, which stands as an amazing record for creative consistency.

Last Sunday’s Peerless Quartet was Matt Munisteri, guitar; Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Alex Hoffman, tenor saxophone; Neal Miner, string bass.  Here are five varied and luminous performances from that evening:

The Claude Hopkins-Alex Hill declaration of gracious acquiescence, I WOULD DO [MOST] ANYTHING FOR YOU, which also became the Hopkins theme song.  I always wonder whether it reflects the leader’s mood if the MOST is included or left out.  Scholarly research, anyone?

Then a leisurely exposition of the 1922 Youmans SOMETIMES I’M HAPPY, at a tempo that recalls Lester Young and his gorgeous Keynote session:

So many “traditional” and “Dixieland” bands have claimed THE SHEIK OF ARABY for their own that one is in danger of forgetting what an effective swing tune it is.  Here, Matt and Jon-Erik launch into the appropriately Middle-Eastern verse in a manner that recalls the eternally memorable Hot Lips Page session for V-Disc:

A lovely tune, not often played by jazz improvisers, is the Irving Berlin CHANGE PARTNERS — of course associated with Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers:

And a sweet, musing version of Walter Donaldson’s MY IDEAL, recalling both Coleman Hawkins and Billie Holiday:

I was thrilled to be there . . . and I had very good company — new young friends, Travis and Jillian, who were digging the music in the most heartfelt way.  Shazam, you cats!

The EarRegulars will be taking Sunday, February 5, 2012, off, because of the Super Bowl — but they will be back on the 12th with Matt, Jon-Erik, Mark Lopeman, and Nicki Parrott — prepare to swing!

JAZZ WORTH READING: AN INTERVIEW WITH MARK LOPEMAN

Although the fine saxophonist and musician Mark Lopeman is articulate in person, I don’t think he has been interviewed much if at all.  Now there’s a particularly good reason: his first CD as a leader, NICE WORK IF YOU CAN GET IT, which I have written about in JAZZ LIVES here.

This brief interview of Mark in ALL ABOUT JAZZ does what the best ones do: provides a tangible sense of its subject, his voice, and his ideas in a compact uncluttered way.

http://www.allaboutjazz.com/php/news.php?id=92300

So, if you’ve already purchased the CD, the interview will add more to your understanding of this gifted, modest man and musician.  If all of this is new to you, I propose a visit to Mark’s site (http://www.marklopeman.com) to hear some of the music from the CD, then to the interview, and back to get your own copy of the CD. Trust me on this.

QUIETLY SPECTACULAR: “NICE WORK IF YOU CAN GET IT”: MARK LOPEMAN’S DEBUT CD

If you’ve been following the New York City jazz scene, you’ll know Mark Lopeman — a master saxophonist who’s been an invaluable addition to many bands for the past few decades.  Mark has just released his first CD under his own name, and it’s wonderful.

You can skip the prose and go right to the heart of things here

But if you’ve never heard or heard of Mark Lopeman (which I could understand) a few words might be in order.  Mark is another one of those people who proved F. Scott Fitzgerald wrong — not only are there second acts in American lives, but the plays we write and act in go seamlessly on without intermissions or other arbitrary divisions.  Mark is now in his early fifties, but this is no middle-aged man’s self-indulgent effort.  Rather it is beautiful music throughout — no pretenses, nothing antiquarian or postmodernist.  It is lively and fresh (locally sourced and organic, too), yet not a familiar running-through-an-hour-of-tried-and-true.  Readers of a certain age will know what I mean when I say it reminds me very happily of an imagined session for the Prestige-Swingville label, in better sound.  Mark and his colleagues know how to hit a variety of grooves, but the music never pokes a listener in the ribs and says, “Gee, look at how funky we are!”

Rather than retell Mark’s biography, I would direct you to his site — where the tale, involving the circus, a traffic ticket, Gerry Mulligan, and other notables, can be found here

I would offer my own narrow version of the Mark Lopeman saga.  When I first began to haunt New York jazz clubs, I heard Mark as a member of Vince Giordano’s Nighthawks, someone who could work his way through the reeds without fear.  He swung hard, never missed a turn, and when it came to his feature number — a transcription of the 1939 Hawkins BODY AND SOUL — he played it with accuracy and fervor, but I could hear his personality peeking out through the transcribed notes.  Then I had the good fortune to hear him as a guest EarRegular at The Ear Inn with Jon-Erik Kellso and Matt Munisteri.  To use the ancient locution, I flipped.  He swung, he soared; he was lyrical, witty, and to the point.  Ruby Braff had originally wanted to play the tenor saxophone; had he gotten his wish, he would have sounded like Mark Lopeman: wearing his heart on his sleeve but never getting in anyone’s way.

Mark is also one of those players who has thoroughly absorbed the tradition but has managed to bob along on the waves, remaining true to himself.  So a tenor aficionado will hear affectionate side-glances of Charlie Rouse and Al Cohn, Lucky Thompson and Stan Getz, but Mark is not one of those Real Book / play-along creations who coast from one learned phrase to another.  He is himself, and what a good thing that is!

Back to our story.  When I meet an artist I admire, I am not subtle or restrained in saying so.  After the first EarRegulars experience, I think I buttonholed Mark and said, “Wow, you play beautifully!  Have you got a CD of your own?”  And he looked a bit shy and said he hadn’t.  Later on, either at Sofia’s or The Ear Inn, I met his wife, the artist Susan Manley, and said (once again subtly), “Damnit, he plays so well.  When the hell is he going to make a CD of his own?”  And she agreed with me.  I can’t take any credit for helping NICE WORK IF YOU CAN GET IT see the light of day, but I would like to think that my nagging had a point: if there were enough annoying people hanging around the Lopemans making this pesky request, perhaps the CD emerged in some small part to get us to be quiet.  Maybe?

Would you like to hear some of the music?  I thought so.  Here are a whole raft of thirty-second snippets, enough to give you a sense of the CD’s candor and variety.  Click here

You can read all about the genesis of the music in Bill Kirschner’s perceptive, concise liner notes, but I would add a few things.  Mark is joined in his lyrical efforts by a splendid rhythm section of Ted Rosenthal, piano; Nicki Parrott, string bass; Tim Horner, drums.  He plays not only tenor saxophone but soprano and clarinet, and about half of the CD is illuminated by the presence of Brandon Lee on trumpet and fluegelhorn and Noah Bless on trombone — both players who know their stuff without cliche.  The repertoire is deliciously varied — from a trotting I’M ALWAYS CHASING RAINBOWS that begins and ends with a hilariously swinging Rosenthal-plays-Chopin, to the title tune, with hints of Charlie Rouse and Monk, a hip-swinging MY KIND OF GIRL (several selections have their roots in Mr. Sinatra’s repertoire), and two very intriguing Lopeman originals, WORLD ECONOMY BLUES (a collaboration with saxophonist Chris Byars) and INTENTIONS — which also feature fascinating scoring by their composer.  My absolute favorites on this disc are two Lopeman – Rosenthal duets, EVERYTHING HAPPENS TO ME (which keeps its yearning quality without any of the self-conscious pathos this song often encourages) and the heartbreaking I’M A FOOL TO WANT YOU.  (Jonathan Schwartz would love them: I hope he gets his own copy.)

I worry that JAZZ LIVES readers will think I am always tugging at their collective sleeves (and credit cards) saying “Buy this!  Buy this!”  But this CD is quietly spectacular.  Nice work indeed, Mark — and how lucky we are that we can indeed get it.

P.S.  The cover portrait is a family affair — a watercolor done with wit and affection by Rosie Lopeman . . . another artist in the house!

THE NIGHTHAWKS, ELI GOODHOE, AND “THE MOOCHE”

Here (as promised) is the debut performance of sixteen-year old Eli Goodhoe, on banjo, with Vince Giordano and the Nighthawks — playing Ellington’s THE MOOCHE on February 15, 2011 at Club Cache in the Hotel Edison (211 West 46th Street).

Vince is enthusiastic, and with good reason, about the jazz orchestra that trumpeter Kevin Blancq shepherds at LaGuardia High School — an orchestra that is full of budding talent like Eli’s.  In future, I hope to bring you more from Kevin, his young musicians, and the LaGuardia jazz orchestra.

Right now, listen to THE MOOCHE — a piece reaching back to 1927 — and consider that it is also the seedbed for a new generation of inventive hot jazz players who will, with luck, carry on the grand tradition for decades to come.

The other members of the Nighthawks are Mike Ponella, Jon-Erik Kellso, Harvey Tibbs, Dan Levinson, Peter Anderson, Mark Lopeman, Alan Grubner, Peter Yarin, Ken Salvo (stepping aside for Eli on this number), Vince, and Arnie Kinsella.  

Where the past and the present meet and make room for the future!

HONOR THE LIVING MUSICIANS: CLICK HERE! 

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WHERE THE PAST AND THE FUTURE MEET

“Heaven on Earth, they call it 211 West 46th Street.”

Last Tuesday, Feb. 15, 2011,  at Club Cache in the Hotel Edison, Vince Giordano and the Nighthawks did what they’ve been doing every Monday and Tuesday night for many weeks: they made the past come alive.  But last night they also peeked around the corner of the present into the future. 

The future didn’t announce itself melodramatically: it wasn’t a larger-than-life baby wearing nothing but a sash.  It was a young man, sixteen years old, who plays the banjo in the jazz band led by trumpeter Kevin Blancq at New York’s LaGuardia High School.  The young man’s name is ELI GREENHOE, and he sat in with the Nighthawks to play one of the tunes he loves and has learned from his time in the LaGuardia Jazz Orchestra — Duke Ellington’s growly THE MOOCHE.  I’ll have that performance for all of you to see and hear in a future posting. 

To hear about Kevin’s band — rehearsing in a room with pictures of Benny, Hawkins, and Carter on the walls — is exciting.  JAZZ LIVES hopes to pay them a visit, so stay tuned.

And the Nighthawks always excite!  Here’s some of the hot music the boys offered last night — that’s Vince on vocals, bass sax, tuba, and string bass; Ken Salvo on banjo; Peter Yarin on piano; Arnie Kinsella on drums; Mike Ponella and Jon-Erik Kellso on trumpets; Harvey Tibbs on tronbone; Alan Grubner on violin; Dan Levinson, Mark Lopeman, and Peter Anderson on reeds.

You can’t go wrong with Benny Carter, who remains the King.  Here’s his 1934 EVERYBODY SHUFFLE (which bears some relationship to KING PORTER STOMP, I believe): the original recording drew on Fletcher Henderson’s men and I recall a typically slippery Benny Morton trombone solo:

The nightly jam session — always a rouser — was BLUES MY NAUGHTY SWEETIE GIVES (or GAVE, if you’re lucky) TO ME:

Something for Bix and Jean Goldkette and Joe Venuti and a very young Jule Styne, SUNDAY:

Who knew that Ellington had written two compositions called COTTON CLUB STOMP?  This is the later one, from 1930:

In honor of the Bennie Moten band (with Hot Lips Page, Eddie Durham, Count Basie, and Jimmy Rushing), OH, EDDIE!:

And since Vince and JAZZ LIVES always try to bring you something old, new, and futuristic all at once, here’s a Nighthawks premiere of arranger / composer / reedman Fud Livingston’s IMAGINATION (from 1927).  Readers with excellent memories will recall that I posted the piano sheet music for this advanced composition on this site some time back at https://jazzlives.wordpress.com/2009/08/21/imagine-this/.  If you can open two windows at once on your computer, why not play along on your piano!

More to come!

DROP A NICKEL IN THE SLOT TO HEAR THE MUSIC PLAY! ALL MONEY GOES TO THE MUSICIANS:

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SPREADING JOY at THE EAR INN (Jan. 16, 2011)

It’s wonderful to spread joy.  To me, the concept doesn’t mean acting silly or buying someone a greeting card to send good cheer: it means something larger, creating beauty and sharing it so that other people become deeper and more enlightened.

Readers of JAZZ LIVES won’t be surprised when I say that the EarRegulars and friends spread joy splendidly on the evening of Sunday, Jan. 16, 2011 (from 8-11 PM).  As always, they did it at The Ear Inn, 326 Spring Street, Soho, New York City. 

The regular EarRegulars (what pleasure it is to write that!) were Jon-Erik Kellso, trying out a Thirties Conn trumpet; Matt Munisteri, guitar and vocalizations, both singular.  Then we had Mark Lopeman on tenor sax and clarinet and Neal Miner on string bass — both quietly eloquent, nimble individualists.  Later, the heroic Pete Martinez brought his clarinet!  (In a prior post, I’ve offered the three vocal performances at the end of the evening — by Tamar Korn and Jerron Paxton, with the addition of yet another clarinetist, Bob Curtis.)

But here is some genuine Hot Jazz to warm you up, spiritually and any other way.

WAY DOWN YONDER IN NEW ORLEANS is one of those songs that works wonderfully at a number of tempos, from the yearning Bix-and-Tram version (and even slower when performed by Peter Ecklund) to the jogging Kansas City Six (1938) version with Buck Clayton, Lester Young, Eddie Durham or Charlie Christian, Freddie Green, Walter Page, and Jo Jones.  I didn’t bring my metronome, so I can’t tell where the EarRegulars romp fits in, but it nearly lifted me out of my seat.  Hear the four players cascade, each one in his own way:

I associate BALLIN’ THE JACK with the Blue Note Jazzmen — also, oddly, with a vocal version done in the late Forties by Danny Kaye, someone who could swing in his own fashion when he decided to put the clowning aside.  The song — an ancient let’s-learn-to-do-this-dance by Chris Smith — has one of the most seductive verses I know of, and it was a thrill to hear the EarRegulars wend their way through it.  Hear how Jon-Erik balls the jack into his first solo chorus:

Mark, Matt, and Neal took time to consider OLD FOLKS, that loving Willard Robison meditation on a much-loved elder member of the family:

Because Mark Lopeman’s band director was in the house and TIGER RAG was the school fight song (what a hip place indeed!) Jon-Erik suggested it.  This version is compact (four players rather than thirteen) but it growls and frolics just as energetically.  Listen to Lopeman (when is someone going to offer him a chance to do a CD under his own name, please?): he rocks!

James P. Johnson’s OLD-FASHIONED LOVE is, to me a combination of a secular hymn to sweet fidelity given a down-home flavor.  I first heard it on the Vic Dickenson Showcase, so many years ago, and it’s never left me.  And I like the old-fashioned kind, I do, I do — as do the monogamous fellows of the ensemble.  You can hear it in their playing!  (It occurs to me that Matt’s tangy twang evokes not only the Mississippi Delta but also George Barnes, whose single-note lines consisted of notes that snapped and crackled.  And those wonderful exchanges between Jon-Erik and Neal — a bassist whose solos have strength and resonance.)

The irreplaceable Chris Flory (just returning to action after an accident — we’re so glad he’s back, intact!) took Matt’s place for HAPPY FEET, a song that has the distinction of being connected with Bing Crosby, Paul Whiteman, THE KING OF JAZZ, Fletcher and Horace Henderson, Red Allen, Dicky Wells, Fred Astaire — quite a pedigree (as opposed to “pedicure,” although witty Jon-Erik ends his solo with a kick at TICKLE-TOE!):

And I end this posting with the universal expression of desire (the second movement of the EarRegulars Happiness Suite), I WANT TO BE HAPPY, its delight intensified by a visit from Pete Martinez, who is beyond compare.  And the “Flory touch” at the start is completely remarkable; the riffs behind Pete are pure Louis, always a good thing:

I call that joy, don’t you?

THREE ARIAS, THREE MOODS at THE EAR INN (Jan. 16, 2011)

Despairing.

Optimistic.

Sly.

If you thought that arias were sung only in opera houses and on PBS; if you thought that Puccini and Mozart had cornered the market on passionate vocal expression . . . then I would ask you to consider the three performances below.

Recorded at my favorite Sunday-night hangout of all time, The Ear Inn (326 Spring Street, Soho, New York City), these three vocal – dramatic expressions are emotionally powerful.  They capture two singers: Tamar Korn and Jerron Paxton, alongside Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Matt Munisteri, guitar; Neal Miner, bass; Mark Lopeman, tenor sax and clarinet, and Pete Martinez, clarinet (far left) — on the final number, clarinetist Bob Curtis can be seen and heard even more to the left. 

The three songs couldn’t be more familiar landmarks of twentieth-century American popular song, but listen to what these singers and players make of them! 

I had heard Tamar perform BODY AND SOUL once before (with the Cangelosi Cards at the Shambhala Meditation Center, on Feb. 27, 2010 — you can see that performance on this blog) but I do not think I have ever heard her or anyone else sing this song with such despairing power and intensity.  And, yes, I know it has been sung beautifully and strongly by Louis, Billie, Frank, and many others.  But listen — listen! — to Tamar and the band here, the musicians giving her their full love and support, as she stretches notes in some phrases, stating some plainly.  And her second chorus, where she suggests by her singing that some things are too deep for mere words: 

I am not alone in having some awkward feelings about this song: its somewhat syntactically-tortured lyrics; its inescapably masochistic air (much more self-immolating than UNTIL THE REAL THING COMES ALONG); it is more a song of voluntary indeiture than of simple fidelity.  And Tamar enters so wholly into the spirit of it that I hear her moving closer and closer to the flame, to the brink, in the manner of Piaf.  But a strange thing happens here.  You realize that as much as Tamar is apparently performing open-heart surgery in front of the crowd, saying, sobbing, “You want my heart?  Here!  Here it is!  Take it!” she is simultaneously the artist in full control, creating a dramatic (but not melodramatic) statement about love and art and passion.  In appearing to throw herself into the song, she is also the artist knowing how to create that spectacle which is so unsettling, so seismic.  And the gentlemen of the ensemble evoke Roy Eldridge, Lester Young, Ed Hall, Charlie Christian, and Oscar Pettiford in the most singular ways!  Perhaps they’ve all been prisoners of love, too?

After that performance, I felt utterly satisfied and drained: in some way, I thought, “That’s it for me!  I don’t have to hear anything else tonight, tomorrow, next week . . . ”  But it was early — perhaps twenty minutes before the EarRegulars would call it a night — and they conferred on another song that Tamar might sing with them.  It took some time — choices were suggested and rejected — and since I am a born meddler and enjoy the friendly tolerance of everyone in that band, I leaned forward and said, “Sorry to intrude!  But what about WRAP YOUR TROUBLES IN DREAMS”?  And — my goodness! — Tamar and the Regulars thought it a good idea, and they took it up at a brisk tempo, everyone playing around with the written harmony to spark it up a bit (what I’ve heard called “the Crosby changes”) which you’ll notice.  Here, the mood was properly restorative, hopeful.  Yes, you sold my heart to the junkman, but I can always barter something and get it back in decent shape.  The clouds will soon roll by.  Your troubles can, in fact, be wrapped up in dreams and made to disappear.  Hokey Depression-era thoughts, not supported by evidence?  Perhaps.  But if I woke up in a gloomy mood every morning, which I fortunately do not, I would want to play this video — more than once — until I felt better.  See if it works for you, too:

The heroic Jerron Paxton had come in to The Ear Inn between the first and second sets, and I had hopes that he would sing.  When he shows up at a club, music happens!  And for the final performance of the night, he and the EarRegulars settled on a rocking SOME OF THESE DAYS, that anthem of “You left me and won’t you be sorry!” but sung with a grin rather than finger-waggling or real rancor.  Jerron is a sly poet, singing some phrases, elongating others, speaking some . . . and he gets his message across when he seems to be most casually leaning against the wall, just floating along: a true improvising dramatist:

Thank you, gentlemen and lady, for your passionate candor, your eloquence.

AUGUST IN NEW YORK: FOUR DAYS WITH JIM FRYER

Photograph by Lorna Sass, 2008

(This is trombonist / euphonist / vocalist Jim Fryer’s essay on life-as-a-hard-working-jazz-musician . . . as printed in the November 2010 edition of The American Rag and reprinted here with everyone’s permission)

ME & NYC

6 gigs in 4 days: a life of slice

August 15–18, 2010

This is a somewhat random “Report From NYC,” based on a few days of “feet on the sidewalk” activity. It’s certainly not an exhaustive accounting of the activity around here, although it was a bit exhausting. There is so much great music, great jazz, and great trad jazz around here. This is just a slice, my little slice, of the scene. I think it was Hemingway who said you should write about what you know, and what you know best is your own life. It is also true, in my experience, that narcissism is one of the few skills that can improve with age, and I’m definitely on that bandwagon. So here goes. I hope someone else may find this interesting. I know I do.

* * *

Following a big chunk of time and energy expended (along with Jeff & Anne Barnhart) in helping our 5 “International All Stars” from the UK have a swell time in Connecticut, New York, and California (including doing double duty at the Orange County Classic Jazz Festival with the Titan Hot 7, the band that most readers of this journal will know me from), I enjoyed a respite visiting my parents at their house in the Maine woods. A short time after my return to New York, I found myself back on the busy streets & subway trains: the Asphalt Jungle. A small flurry of local gigs helped reorient me to this place where I am trying to live the good – or at least, the interesting – life.

Sunday August 15: From our domicile in West Harlem, I drove south on the Henry Hudson Parkway and West Side Highway, down to the Fat Cat Café, just off Sheridan Square in the West Village. This is one of my favorite joints ever: down the stairs to a very large room that contains games such as ping pong, pool, scrabble, chess, and beer and wine drinking. And oh yes, a small music area off to the side, easy chairs and sofas, a grand piano and a sound system (with a sound engineer!). When I die, if I’m lucky enough to choose my personal heaven, it will look a lot like the Fat Cat. (Our younger daughter once came along to a gig there, and decided that was where she wanted to get married.)

The band at the Fat Cat was a classic: Terry Waldo leading his Gotham City Jazz Band from the piano, singing & striding along; Peter Ecklund (tpt), Chuck Wilson (clr/as), Brian Nelepka (sb), John Gill (dms),and me (with my euphonium along for the ride). Nice, relaxed, easy. Good IPA on tap. 2 sets, no muss, no fuss, just plain fun. Girls boogie to our music while playing foozball. I’m very thankful that there are bandleaders who hire me for such good times. John Gill sang a lovely rendition of Irving Berlin’s When The Midnight Choo-Choo Leaves For Alabam’. John continues vocalizing (accompanying himself on guitar) later on Sunday nights over at the National Underground, where he, Brian, & drummer Kevin Dorn play good old rock and roll & country/western.

Normally, after the Fat Cat, I have the option to sit in with the Dixie Creole Cooking Jazz Band (led by cornetist Lee Lorenz) at Arthur’s Tavern, right around the corner from the Fat Cat, on their weekly Sunday gig; and then travel a few blocks down to The Ear, New York’s oldest saloon, for another fantastic session with the Ear-Regulars (led by Jon-Erik Kellso and Matt Munisteri). But today, it’s back into the car and a scramble against heavy crosstown traffic and over the Williamsburg Bridge, to the Rose Café in Brooklyn. The gig thankfully started late anyhow! I played a duo set with Bliss Blood, the talented singer/songwriter/ukelele-ist from Texas via Brooklyn. We followed a young violinist/singer/synthesizer player who managed to sound like a rock band and symphony orchestra, all by herself. Playing old blues and Bliss’s original songs, our music sounded simple in comparison (one of my goals, actually), but the ‘elite’ (small) audience seemed to enjoy it.

Monday August 16: Every Monday brings me a steady musical diet. I play with a rehearsal big band in the afternoon. Working jazz musos the world over know what that means: get together for a few hours every week and ‘read’ (play) big band ‘charts’ (arrangements) for no commercial purpose whatsoever. The opportunity to sight read new material (often written by someone in the band) and schmooze with friends is sufficient compensation. If you hang out at the American Federation of Musicians Local 802 building on West 48th Street for a week, you’ll hear dozens of these bands, taking advantage of the very low room rental rates.

Next comes one of the musical highlights of my life for the last several years: Vince Giordano and The Nighthawks making their weekly Monday appearance at Club Cache, downstairs from Sofia’s Restaurant in the famed Edison Hotel on West 46th Street, just a few feet west of Times Square. I’m not enough of a wordsmith to adequately bring to life the excitement and dynamism that Vince Giordano brings to each & every gig he plays. He is a one man tornado, playing hot string bass, tuba, and bass sax, singing, performing mc duties, meeting & greeting each customer who comes down the stairs into our subterranean cabaret, and setting up & breaking down equipment for hours each week. A characteristic touch is added by our technician & ‘introducer,’ John Landry (aka Sir Scratchy), and we couldn’t do without our various ‘Mikes’ (Mike being the generic term to describe anyone who helps out on the gig, from moving equipment to playing music). Our steadiest Mike is Carol, Vince’s partner, who [wo]mans the door and seats patrons; we also are lucky to have Earl, who in addition to schlepping equipment, spends his ‘down’ time translating Vince’s antique arrangements into modern notation via Sibelius software – at an incredible clip (he will complete a full 13 piece arrangement during the course of the 3 hour gig, something that would take me weeks).

Vince’s Monday night gig has become enormously popular since its debut in May of 2008. A great dance floor brings in the rugcutters (including many athletic young lindy hoppers), and the room is typically full of customers from the world over. The legendary 88 year old clarinetist Sol Yaged is featured on a tune each set. Vince is the Toscanini of the evening, conducting our journey through the sublime world of Fletcher Henderson, Paul Whiteman, Louis Armstrong, Bix Beiderbecke, Jelly Roll Morton, and a plethora of songwriters & arrangers: Bill Challis, Raymond Scott, Fats Waller, Irving Berlin. From the downbeat at precisely 8pm to the closing at 11pm, it is truly a world of amazing music & delight. We often have quite well known folks ‘sitting in:’ singers like Michael Feinstein, Nellie McKay, and Daryl Sherman; instrumentalists from around the world; the comedian Micky Freeman; and famous audience members such as cartoonist R. Crumb, a big classic jazz fan.

This particular Monday included all members of what I call the “A Team;” that is, all the first call musicians. (The band hardly suffers when subs come in: John Allred in the trombone chair could not be described as bringing the level down!). Many of these players are quite well known in a variety of genres. Here they are:

Reeds: Dan Block, Dan Levinson, Mark Lopeman

Trumpets: Mike Ponella, Jon-Erik Kellso

Trombone: your humble (ahem!) reporter

Violin/Sax: Andy Stein

Piano: Peter Yarin

Banjo/Guitar: Ken Salvo

Percussion: Arnie Kinsella

Basses/Everything: Vince Giordano

Tuesday August 17: Tuesday daytime may bring a few trombone students to me (in the summer, a handful; during the school year, a full day – if I’m lucky); or an occasional concert in a Connecticut school, with a band called the Cool Cats; then comes a reprise of Monday night. Vince has been working hard since this past June to get a second night established. It’s still the quieter night, and I bet Vince is counting audience members as he’s counting off tunes; but it also can work more as a rehearsal, Vince handing out charts on stage from his vast collection (60,000 in the archives).

At 11:40pm, I’m back on the train from Grand Central Station (busy place, that) to Rye, 25 miles NE of the city, where my wife (sometimes described as “long suffering”) works at a private school, which offers on-campus housing as a benefit for her very hard work. I love the view walking east on 43rd Street, with the Chrysler Building looming over the majestic train terminal. By 12:30am I’m strolling down our very quiet and pretty suburban street, where Peter Cottontail may sometimes be seen munching lettuce in the garden. This particular night a local cop car slows to a stop as I’m walking up to our place. The cop looks me over (trombone, wheelie bag for mutes etc, garment bag with tux), and says, “Ya got everything?” Funny guy. It’s good to know they’re out on the beat. Sometimes I stay “in town,” at the apartment we have in West Harlem (currently also the abode of our eldest daughter, a fervent New Yorker).

Wednesday August 18: Wednesday brings another doubleheader (paydirt for us musos; even better, the rare tripleheader; many years ago I played 4 gigs on the Fourth of July). First the late afternoon session at Birdland, the world famous club on West 44th: David Ostwald’s Louis Armstrong Centennial Band. This long running (10+ years) weekly gig features a rotating roster of the finest trad players in town. Today, in addition to tuba player & leader Osti, I had the pleasure of being on stage with Jon-Erik Kellso (tpt), Anat Cohen (clr), Ehud Asherie (pn), & Marion Felder (dms). Yours truly was the old guy on stage. (I’m trying to get used to that.) David’s bands are some of the most ‘diverse’ in the biz, in terms of not only age but also gender and race. The general lack of diversity can be a slightly touchy issue in the trad jazz arena, so it’s nice to see Osti put together bands that ‘look like America’ – and also swing like crazy! This Wednesday session was a very special one: Dave Bennett, the young clarinet virtuoso from Michigan, sat in, along with a young also sax player (from Russia, I believe; I didn’t catch his name); and in the audience, 91 year old George Avakian, one of the most esteemed figures in jazz history (George has produced hundreds of classic jazz albums).

Then to Brooklyn (by subway), to play again with Bliss Blood, this time with the Moonlighters (20s/30s swing, with a Hawaiian flavor). Bliss’s vocals & uke are joined by Cindy Ball (guitar & impeccable vocal harmonies), Raphael McGregor (lap steel), Rus Wimbish (string bass), & the horn section: me! I love being the only horn player, it’s nice & quiet, with no temptation to engage in technical battles: who can play faster, higher, or more cleverly. As I get older, I feel pleasure in knowing how to add a bit of value to the music, no pyrotechnics, please. I’m trying to play better by playing less. It’s a thrill to learn brand new songs that Bliss and Cindy write. The art form continues to evolve. I also love this venue. The Radegast Beer Hall, a big open space, with fine beer (of course) and hearty German food, is in the heart of Williamsburg, a neighborhood that feels young and vibrant. It restores my faith in humanity when the band is fed so well on the gig! All kinds of bands play here, including several youthful units, such as Gordon Au’s Grand Street Stompers, and the Baby Soda band (which includes trombonist Emily Asher of Mighty Aphrodite Jazz Band fame). Several times folks got up and danced around the bar area, in most cases to our music. Finishing after midnight means arriving back in Harlem close to 2am – fortunately, not driving, which reduces the danger and risk (seriously, everyone who’s been in the music business knows musos who have fallen asleep at the wheel late at night); as long as I don’t sleep through my subway stop and end up in Riverdale (a nice neighborhood, but miles north of my pad).

* * *

It was a great little run of gigs. I feel quite lucky to be able to work with so many interesting people. And if sometimes being the oldest on stage is a bit of a bittersweet experience (I guess I ought to get used to it as “As Time Goes By”), it is certainly encouraging for the future of the music. From long time residents (like drummer Kevin Dorn, born in Manhattan about 30 years ago – his band, the Traditional Jazz Collective, gigs all over town) to those newly arrived, NYC is still, as ever, a magnet for young, ambitious, and hardworking people. A few of the young “immigrants:” trombonist Emily Asher, transplanted from Washington state for a couple of years to get her Masters degree; trumpeter Gordon Au, from California (I should mention Gordon’s very musical family: brothers Justin and Brandon are fine players who have blown with the Titans in Pismo Beach CA, and Uncle Howard Miyata plays a mean tailgate trombone with High Sierra Jazz Band); young trombonist Matt Musselman from Maryland, a recent graduate of Manhattan School of Music, and one of my subs in the Nighthawks (his band is called Grandpa Musselman and His Syncopators); and trumpeter/vocalist Bria Skonberg, due to arrive any second now. There is most definitely a youth movement going on! I wouldn’t know how to advise these young people about putting together an actual living in NYC: this is one tough town to pay your bills in – but somehow they are doing it. Perhaps I should ask them for advice! The total take from my 6 gigs (minus the expenses) will buy a few bags of groceries, pay back the loan for a couple of textbooks for my younger daughter’s college degree, with about $1.13 left for my pension contribution. Guess I can’t retire yet. I’ll get up tomorrow and go off in search of more students and gigs. I know one musician who was heard to say: “Retire! How can I retire? I’ve never had a job!”

I would be remiss if I didn’t also tip my cap to the folks around here who have been promoting the classic jazz scene for many years, such as: Bruce McNichols, musician, impresario, and radio OKOM producer; Jack Kleinsinger, whose “Highlghts In Jazz” series has run for 37 years; the Sidney Bechet Society, which puts on fine concerts in Manhattan; New Jersey folks like Bruce Gast & the New Jersey Jazz Society; Connecticut jazzers who put together the Hot Steamed Festival and the Great Connecticut Traditional Jazz Festival; & radio hosts such as Rich Conaty on WFUV-FM and Phil Schaap on WKCR-FM. Youth combined with Experience will carry the day for the music we love!

Jim Fryer

August 2010

For more info:  www.jfryer.com, www.terrywaldo.com, www.blissblood.com, www.myspace.com/vincegiordanothenighthawks, http://www.ostwaldjazz.com/., www.coolcatjazz.info,

“IT’S GLORY”: THE EAR INN (September 5, 2010)

Last Sunday I made my way down to The Ear Inn with great eagerness.  Jon-Erik Kellso and Neal Miner were going to be there along with two players making their debuts at 326 Spring Street: altoist Dmitry Baevsky, whom I’d admired on a duet gig with Ehud Asherie at Smalls, and the remarkable guitarist Ray Macchiarola.

I wasn’t disappointed for a moment, as you shall see and hear.  And the guests in the house made the music even more delightful: Mark Lopeman brought his alto sax and sat in for part of the first set, and cornet master Danny Tobias lit up the room for one number in the second set.  I’m using the Ellington original as a title for this blogpost simply because the music at The Ear was indeed glorious.  Here are a few notable examples in a session of timelesss Mainstream jazz, full of wit, energy, and feeling: 

A leisurely I CAN’T BELIEVE THAT YOU’RE IN LOVE WITH ME brought back Billie and Lester and their Basie-ite friends:

SLOW BOAT TO CHINA, music for two friendly alto saxophones:

AFTER YOU’VE GONE:

And a delicious little scrap too good to erase:

WHEN I GROW TOO OLD TO DREAM:

And the conclusion, which ends with a hilarious little conversation between Dmitry and Jon-Erik before they head for home:

LADY BE GOOD (which I called DANNY DROPS BY on YouTube — features courtly interplay between the two brassmen, the very soul of politeness):

BLUES (a tempo and mood reminiscent of Parker’s):

BLUES Part Two:

TEA FOR TWO:

What delicious music!

FOUR MORE FROM SOFIA’S (June 1, 2010)

For your listening and dancing pleasure, JAZZ LIVES is delighted to present another four performances by Vince Giordano and the Nighthawks from their inaugural Tuesday night appearance at “Club Cache” in Sofia’s on the lower level of the Hotel Edison (221 West 46th Street) in New York City.

The heroic (and victorious) creators are Vince himself, Arnie Kinsella, Ken Salvo, Peter Yarin, Andy Stein, Dennis Joseph, Dan Block, Andy Farber, Jim Fryer, Mike Ponella, and Jon-Erik Kellso.  They honor the great tradition of twentieth-century American pop / jazz / dance music, staying true to the original intent of the composers and arrangers while creating something new and fresh in every bar.

Bandleaders please note: everyone gets a chance to speak his piece in the course of a set: this is a happily democratic band.

DON’T BE LIKE THAT, a Sammy Fain tune designed to coax a reluctant love object into happy erotic compliance:

SINGIN’ THE BLUES, Mark Lopeman’s transcription of the irreplaceable Bix Beiderbecke – Frank Trumbauer – Eddie Lang classic:

PEGGY, from the book of McKinney’s Cotton Pickers, courtesy of Don Redman, John Nesbitt, and our own John Wriggle:

A hot dance extravaganza: WHEN I TAKE MY SUGAR TO TEA, featuring beautiful work by Andy Farber:

As I write this, it’s truly hot in New York City.  I prescribe a proven homeopathic cure — Hot jazz and hot dance music at Sofia’s, now twice a week.

VINCE, GREAT NEWS, HOT MUSIC, SWING DANCERS! (May 24, 2010)

Last night, Monday, May 24, 2010, I went to Club Cache, which is part of Sofia’s Ristorante, in the lower level of the Hotel Edison, 221 West 46th Street, New York City — to hear Vince Giordano and the Nighthawks, who play there every Monday from 8-11. 

The GREAT NEWS is that beginning June 1, Vince and the boys will be playing at Sofia’s not only Monday but TUESDAYS . . . giving us two chances to hear their wide repertoire.  Double your pleasure, double your fun . . .

The HOT MUSIC and SWING DANCERS follow below.  The first was provided, lavishly, by Vince himself, Jon-Erik Kellso, Mike Ponella (trumpets), Harvey Tibbs (trombone), Dan Levinson, Mark Lopeman, Andy Farber (reeds), Andy Stein (violin), Pater Yarin (piano and celeste), Ken Salvo (banjo and guitar), and Arnie Kinsella (drums).  And the accompanying dancing was made possible by Scott McNabb and Cheryll Lynn; Eric Schlesinger and Joan Leibowitz; Ruthanne Geraghty and James Lake — as well as other stylish sliders whose names I didn’t get.  I was in the back of the room amidst Jackie Kellso and Molly Ryan; other notables scattered around included Rich Conaty, Lloyd Moss, Joan Peyser, Frank Driggs, Sandy Jaffe, Barbara and Dick Dreiwitz.

Here are four performances, recorded from the back of the room to capture the entire ambiance, both frisky and musically immensely rewarding:

SAY YES TODAY is an even more obscure song — circa 1928, summoning up the sound of the Roger Wolfe Kahn band in an Arthur Schutt arrangement:

What would a jazz evening be without a little Morton?  Here’s LITTLE LAWRENCE, one of Jelly Roll’s later Victor efforts, transcribed by Jim Dapogny, a peerless Morton scholar and pianist himself:

LAZY RIVER, written by Hoagy Carmichael and Sidney Arodin, is an opportunity for some hot small-band improvisation by Jon-Erik, Harvey, Dan, and the rhythm section:

And I HEARD (a mock-stern sermon about the wickedness of gossip) is taken twice as fast as the original Don Redman chart:

Irreplaceable, wouldn’t you say?  (And on Tuesdays, too, Toto!)

THE NIGHTHAWKS ARE FLYING! (April 19, 2010)

Here are two wonderfully acrobatic performances by Vince Giordano and the Nighthawks that I recorded at Sofia’s in the Hotel Edison one week ago.  My nomination for Olympian here is trombonist Jim Fryer, but he has stiff competition!  On that Monday night, the Hawks were Vince (vocal, bass sax, tuba, string bass); Kenny Salvo (banjo, guitar); Peter Yarin (piano); Arnie Kinsella (drums); Jon-Erik Kellso, Mike Ponella (trumpets); Dan Levinson, Dan Block, Mark Lopeman (reeds); Andy Stein (violin / baritone sax). 

The Nighthawks pay tribute to a 1930 West Coast band, Paul Howard’s Quality Serenaders, with a TIGER RAG variant called CHARLIE’S IDEA that originally featured Lawrence Brown and Lionel Hampton.  You’ll see what I mean about a leaping Jim Fryer as well as the dancers on the floor and Jon-Erik’s version of HOTTER THAN THAT, another ragged tiger:

And here’s a hot jam session on EVERYBODY LOVES MY BABY, with a pair of slow-motion dancers and a positively demonic solo from Arnie Kinsella (and some calmer excursions from Dan Levinson, Andy Stein on the Stroh phono-violin, among others):

And this virtuosity takes place every Monday from 8-11 PM at 211 West 46th Street!