Tag Archives: Melissa Collard

DON’T GO WEST, YOUNG WOMAN

The bespectacled fellow was only a name in a discography to me until today.

Thanks to Tim Gracyk and his YouTube channel, I now have one more new-old-favorite-record, HOLLYWOOD, by Art Gillham, “The Whispering Pianist.”

According to the Discography of American Recordings entry here, this performance was recorded on November 25, 1929, in New York City.  The composers of this thin but irresistible song (with a rising chromatic motif and unadventurous lyrics) are Arnold Johnson (music) — who may have been the bandleader known to some for his associations with Jack Purvis and Harold Arlen — and Charles Newman (lyrics).  Newman is better known for the lyrics of SWEETHEARTS ON PARADE, I’LL NEVER HAVE TO DREAM AGAIN, WHAT’S THE USE, I WOULDN’T CHANGE YOU FOR THE WORLD, YOU’VE GOT ME CRYING AGAIN, I’M PAINTING THE TOWN RED, TAKE ANOTHER GUESS, WHY DON’T WE DO THIS MORE OFTEN? (a song I learned through the recording Melissa Collard and Eddie Erickson made of it) and the imperishable A HOT DOG, A BLANKET, AND YOU.  Apparently Newman took current conversational phrases and bent them into songs — songs more memorable for their performers.

Here’s the recording — moral message, free of charge:

The message first: another cautionary tale (think of GLAD RAG DOLL, NOBODY’S SWEETHEART, and a dozen others) about young women who go to the big city, get their hearts broken, their virtue damaged beyond repair.  “Mothers, tie your daughters to the sink so that nothing bad can happen to them!”  (Theodore Dreiser’s AN AMERICAN TRAGEDY, five years earlier, is a variation on this theme.)

A month and a day before this recording, the stock market had crashed: was that one of many reasons for this song?  The record of copyright notes that HOLLYWOOD is dated November 9 — slightly over two weeks after the crash, which may be even more significant.

Gillham is a pleasant singer, even with wobbly vibrato.  Radio audiences and song publishers must have loved him, because every word came through. But I am particularly interested in the little band: muted trumpet or cornet, bright and agile clarinet, sweet violin, Gillham’s own piano, perhaps someone at a drum set, although aside from one resonant thump at 1:25, it’s hard to tell. (Was it multi-tasking Eddie King or Justin Ring?)  I believe that “novelty” came from the presence of horns, rather than a more “legitimate” polite accompaniment by piano or piano and violin.

But this record has not been annotated or noticed by the official jazz scholars.  A selection from Gillham’s recordings makes its way into the discographies I have (Rust and Lord) — because those sessions feature Red Nichols, Miff Mole, Rube Bloom, Louis Hooper, Murray Kellner, Andy Sanella.  The three or four sides concluding either discography [thus defined as jazz recordings] have him accompanied by Alex Hill on piano, and Gillham performs Hill’s YOU WERE ONLY PASSING  TIME WITH ME.  The lack of documentation of HOLLYWOOD — which sounds like a certifiable “jazz record” — says much more about the “star system” in jazz than it does about the lightly swinging instrumental music heard here.  The players do not sound like those stars most featured and idolized: not Mannie Klein or Jack Purvis or Nichols, not Jimmy Dorsey or Tesch, Joe Venuti, or Stan King.  But the music is memorable, inventive and rhythmic, and I would rather have this record, offered as an anonymous effort, than a dozen others with more famous names that might have satisfied less.  Once again we encounter rewarding art that no one has designated as such.

May your happiness increase!

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WHY CAN’T WE DO THIS MORE OFTEN?

MelissaCDCoverWeb

When you encounter beauty, when you experience art, you know it. When my San Francisco jazz friend Barb Hauser visited New York for Christmas of 2004-5, she brought me the disc you see above.  She had been at some of the recording sessions and thought I would like the music.  Barb was only slightly incorrect in this: I loved the music.  I was then writing reviews for The Mississippi Rag and I believe I asked Leslie Johnson if I could review this.

Hearing Melissa Collard sing was a seriously life-enhancing experience. Melissa has an easy rock to her rhythm, where nothing is forced.  She doesn’t copy the records; her singing isn’t a series of learned gestures strung together, plastic beads on a string.  She doesn’t imitate anyone; her warm voice embraces the song and the listener.  She makes it sound easy, and we know that can’t be true.

Here’s a sample:

Hear what I mean?  Clear diction, an easy glide, and her second chorus is not a clone of her first: she respects the song but she improvises . . . offering light and shade while swinging.  The instrumentalists on this disc don’t do anyone any harm, either: Dan Barrett, Ray Skjelbred, Steven Strauss, Eddie Erickson, Richard Hadlock, Fiddle Ray Landsberg, Bobby Black, Bob Wilson, Bob Mielke, Bill Bardin (a collective personnel).

Let’s have another right away (with Eddie on banjo and the trombone choir of Barrett, Bardin, and Mielke, with a cornet-banjo duet in the middle for Dan and Eddie):

And one more (why not?) — with banter for Eddie and Melissa:

Now, the good news.  These three tracks are taken from Melissa’s debut CD, which contains eleven more delights.  The bad news is that the CD is seriously out of print — you’ll have to hunt for it — but it is one of the great delights of my listening experience.

A few years ago I came to Sacramento, where Melissa lives, and found her to be a truly endearing person — always reassuring when the art and the creator line up in the same pleasing ways.  She did not ask me to write this post, but I thought that everyone should hear one of my favorite singers.

And in 2010, Melissa created another CD — this one’s available — for the Audiophile label, called IN A MELLOW TONE.  Her accompanists there were Chris Dawson, Hal Smith, Richard Simon, and Bryan Shaw.

Here’s her gorgeously poignant reading of LOVE LOCKED OUT with Chris Dawson:

Here is Melissa’s Facebook page for those so inclined.  (I am.)

Now, I think — in my ideal world — I could walk over to my shelf of Melissa Collard CDs (issued and distributed by a major record label), I could turn on her weekly radio program, come to her concerts . . . and then I take a long drink of ice water and remind myself of the actual time and place I live in.  That we have two CDs by Melissa is marvelous, and that she is alive and well (and teaching guitar) equally so.  But I don’t think it’s unbalanced of me to think, WHY CAN’T WE DO THIS MORE OFTEN?

May your happiness increase!

“HIS TALE NEEDED TELLING”: THE ODD BRILLIANCE OF P.T. STANTON

PT STANTON

I am fascinated by those great artists whose stories don’t get told: Frank Chace, Spike Mackintosh, and George Finola among many.  I revere the heroes who have been celebrated in biographies, but where are the pages devoted to Quentin Jackson, George Stafford, Danny Alvin, Dave Schildkraut, Gene Ramey, Joe Smith, John Nesbit, Denzil Best, Vernon Brown, Shad Collins, Ivie Anderson, Walter Johnson, John Collins, Allan Reuss, and fifty others?

But there are people who understand.  One is Andrew Sammut, who’s written beautifully about Larry Binyon and others.  Another scholar who has a great love for the worthy obscure is Dave Radlauer.  Dave’s diligence and willingness to share audio evidence are remarkable.  He has done noble work on the multi-instrumentalist Frank “Big Boy” Goudie on his website JAZZ RHYTHM, an apparently bottomless offering, splendidly intimidating in its munificence — with webpages and audio programs devoted to many luminaries, well-known (Louis, Goodman, Shaw, Carter) as well as the obscure (Jerry Blumberg, Benny Strickler, Bill Dart, and three dozen others).  It’s not just music, but it’s cultural context and social history — close observation of vanished landscapes as well as loving portraits of characters in unwritten jazz novels.

Here’s a quick example.  For me, just to know that there was a San Francisco bar called BURP HOLLOW is satisfying enough.  To know that they had live hot jazz there is even better.  To hear tapes of it delights me immensely.

And listen to this, another mysterious delight: a quartet from the MONKEY INN, led by pianist Bill Erickson in 1961, with trombonist Bob Mielke and a glistening trumpeter or cornetist who had learned his Hackett well.  Was it Jerry Blumberg or Johnny Windhurst on a trip west?  I can’t say, but Unidentified is a joy to listen to.

But back to P.T. Stanton. I will wager that his name is known only to the most devoted students of West Coast jazz of a certain vintage. I first encountered him — and the Stone Age Jazz Band — through the gift of a Stomp Off record from my friend Melissa Collard.

STONE AGE JAZZ BAND

Radlauer has presented a rewarding study of the intriguingly nonconformist trumpeter, guitarist, occasional vocalist Stanton here.  But “here” in blue hyperlink doesn’t do his “The Odd Brilliance of P.T. Stanton” justice.  I can only warn the reader in a gentle way that (s)he should be willing to spend substantial time for a leisurely exploration of the treasure: nine pages of text, with rare photographs, and more than fifty otherwise unknown and unheard recordings.

Heard for the first time, Stanton sounds unusual.  That is a charitable adjective coined after much admiring attention.  A casual listener might criticize him as a flawed brassman. Judged by narrow orthodoxy, he isn’t loud enough; his tone isn’t a clarion shout. But one soon realizes that what we hear is not a matter of ineptitude but of a different conception of his role.  One hears a choked, variable — vocal — approach to the horn, and a conscious rejection of the trumpet’s usual majesty, as Stanton seems, even when officially in front of a three-horn ensemble, to be eschewing the traditional role in favor of weaving in and out of the ensemble, making comments, muttering to himself through his horn. It takes a few songs to accept Stanton as a great individualist, but the effort is worth it.

He was eccentric in many ways and brilliant at the same time — an alcoholic who could say that Bix Beiderbecke had the right idea about how to live one’s life, someone who understood both Bunk Johnson and Count Basie . . . enigmatic and fascinating.  And his music!

In the same way that JAZZ LIVES operates, Dave has been offering his research and musical treasures open-handedly.  But he has joined with Grammercy Records to create a series of CDs and downloads of remarkable music and sterling documentation. The first release will be devoted to the Monkey Inn tapes; the second will be a generous sampling of Stanton and friends 1954-76, featuring Frank “Big Boy” Goudie and Bunky Coleman (clarinets), Bob Mielke and Bill Bardin (trombones) and Dick Oxtot (banjo and vocals). Radlauer has plans for ten more CD sets to come in a series to be called Frisco Jazz Archival Rarities: unissued historic recordings of merit drawn from live performances, jam sessions and private tapes 1945-75.

I will let you know more about these discs when they are ready to see the light of day.  Until then, enjoy some odd brilliance — not just Stanton’s — thanks to Dave Radlauer.

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.

MELISSA COLLARD’S FRIDAY NIGHT in SACRAMENTO, CALIFORNIA

One of the best living singers I know (and a subtle guitarist) is providing yet another reason to wish I was in California right now.  She’s Melissa Collard — with two fine CDs to her name — and she has a steady Friday night gig.  Might I suggest in the sweetest possible way, GO SEE HER . . . !

Combine a sweet voice with wise dramatic understatement, a swinging guitar accompaniment and solo, and a wide range of songs . . . that’s our Melissa, elusive for far too long.

RAY SKJELBRED LIGHTS THE WAY

There’s electric power, wind-driven energy, solar power, and then there’s Ray Skjelbred.

I first heard this intelligently swinging pianist when my California friend and musical guide John L. Fell sent me cassettes of the Berkeley Rhythm band — a loosely floating jazz ensemble held together by goodwill, the desire to swing, and the gentle force of Mr. Skjelbred at the piano.

When you hear Ray improvise, you think of the great players: Stacy, Melrose, Hines, Sullivan . . . but his musical wisdom exhibits itself in the same way that Basie’s did — a gentle, understated reminder of The Way . . .

Since then, I’ve bought Ray’s CDs (solo and as a member of various ensembles, with everyone from Hal Smith and Becky Kilgore to Melissa Collard and Dawn Lambeth — most recently The First Thursday Jazz Band with Steve Wright) and always found myself uplifted.

Ray doesn’t have a collection of gestures and motifs, suitable for every time the band turns the corner from C7 to F at a medium-tempo.  Rather, he merges with the music and it pours through him: his energies becoming part of the band and vice versa.

For the past few years, people who don’t live close enough to Ray to see him in person have been able to do the next best thing through the generosity of Rae Ann Berry, who has been toting her video camera and tripod to festivals and jubilees where she knows Ray and his colleagues will be playing.

Most recently, Rae Ann drove from San Francisco to Oregon to capture Ray and his Cubs (named for his beloved Chicago Cubs) live at the 21st Annual Greater Olympia Dixieland Jazz Festival in Lacey WA.  Rae Ann is a woman of discernment and diligence, so she’s posted forty-two video performances by the Cubs, which to my way of thinking isn’t one too many.

The Cubs are Kim Cusack on reeds, Katie Cavera on guitar, Clint Baker on bass, and Jeff Hamilton on drums.  (Before you dive into the videos, you should also know that this band has made a wonderful CD, GREETINGS FROM CHICAGO, for the Jazzology label.)

Here’s some of the Good Stuff:

BREEZE (BLOW MY BABY BACK TO ME):

And for the Goldkettians in the audience (I know there are many) here’s a slow-drag IDOLIZING:

One of my favorite songs is SWEETHEARTS ON PARADE.  (I do, however have a logical problem with the lyrics as delivered by Kim Cusack.  Can you imagine an army of lovers that would push Kim aside?  for the life of me, I can’t):

I purposely chose the three videos above — not because they’re especially good — because they find Ray performing on a keyboard, not a full-size acoustic piano.  Did you notice?  He makes that electronic object sound like a baby grand.

Here he is on an instrument more suited to his talent, even though it’s a spinet — rocking through SHIM-ME-SHA-WABBLE:

The good news is that there are thirty-eight more videos of the Cubs to savor.  And the Cubs have gigs for 2011 and 2012.

The bad news?  I’ll let Ray tell you himself, concisely:

“I broke my hip July 2, had surgery later that day, must put no weight on it for six weeks. I sadly had to cancel all my work in July and August. I believe I will be able to get back to it in September, if everything heals as it should.”

It pains me to offer that news — but I hope that for Ray and for those of us who admire and love him, those six weeks pass in the space of a George Wettling four-bar interlude.

And I would like to ask JAZZ LIVES readers to do something — not for me, but for one of our musical heroes.  Send no money and no boxtops — but if you’ve drawn joy and delight from anything Ray has ever played, would you send him some healing vibrations in return?  I would like to imagine the esteemed Mr. Skjelbred surrounded by love and empathy from every corner of the musical globe.  Although he’s a modest man, someone seriously unconcerned with the weight of “Western ego,” I don’t think Ray would mind if we wrapped his troubles in healing dreams.  And if you prefer to send your affection in the form of an email, then there’s rayskjelbred@gmail.com.

Thank you, Ray, Kim, Katie, Clint, Jeff, and Rae Ann — our generous heroes!

“ON A COCONUT ISLAND” (March 26, 2011)

Here’s a delightful example of the multiculturalism that jazz embodies. 

What could be more expansive than a band of French musicians (with an American pianist sitting in) playing music created by a mixture of races and ethnicities in New Orleans? 

They’re playing a Hawaiian pop song (or at least its subject is Hawaii) recorded by an African-American trumpet player and singer — and my friend Melissa Collard, too.

And they’re playing it in Hungary. 

Call that narrow or insular at your own peril!

The facts:

The Night Owls, from Paris, play a leisurely ON A COCONUT ISLAND, at the 20th International Bohém Ragtime and Jazz Festival in Kecskemét, Hungary, March 26, 2011.  The Owls are Jerome Etcheberry, trumpet; Christophe Deret, trombone; Enzo Mucci, banjo; Sebastien Girardot, string bass; Guillaume Nouaux, drums.  And the meditative-looking fellow at the piano is none other than Butch Thompson!

The 2011 Bohém Festival DVD compilation can be obtained from order@bohemragtime.com.  See more at: www.bohemragtime.com.