Tag Archives: Memphis Minnie

ROCKING THE COSMOS: MARA KAYE SINGS THE BLUES AT JOE’S PUB, PART ONE (with JOHN GILL, KEVIN DORN, EVAN ARNTZEN, DAN BLOCK, JAY RATTMAN: August 29, 2015)

IDA BLUE. Photograph by Philip Schnell

MARA KAYE. Photograph by Philip Schnell

A little poem: She / and they / just blew me away.

I’m speaking of Mara Kaye’s recent appearance at Joe’s Pub, which was a phenomenon rather like the Aurora Borealis as redesigned by Robert Johnson, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, and a dozen others.  With Mara at the helm: she is not simply someone who is producing microwave renditions of old records.

And then there was the band: Kevin Dorn, driving it all with subtlety and ferocity mixed, drums; John Gill, National steel resonator guitar, played as only he can; three reed virtuosi: Dan Block, baritone sax, bass clarinet; Evan Arntzen, clarinet, tenor sax; Jay Rattman, bass sax.  Dan Block said of this band, after the fact, “We were like three 747’s!” — no collisions, but much delightful polyphony and energy.  Here’s what I wrote about the evening when it happened.

And here are highlights from the first half of this delightfully seismic event:

LITTLE DROPS OF WATER (originally recorded by
Edith North Johnson):

Memphis Minnie’s I’M NOT A BAD GAL:

W.C. Handy’s YELLOW DOG BLUES:

SKINNY LEG BLUES (by the elusive Geeshie Wiley):

Something different but entirely apropos, Mitchell’s Christian Singers’ YOU GOT TO MAKE A CHANGE:

Chippie Hill’s SOME COLD RAINY DAY:

What joy — even in sadness — and what beautifully focused, expertly powerful emotional intensity.  A second half of this program will arrive soon.  Until then, feel the oceanic surges.

May your happiness increase!

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“WE’RE HERE FOR THE BLUES!”

For about seventy-five minutes last night, Ida Blue showed great passionate artistry once again.  The occasion was her evening of blues — riotous, carnal, spiritual, hushed — performed at Joe’s Pub:

Ida Blue Joe's Pub cover

and here’s Ben Guthrie’s photograph of the Blues Debut as it was actually happening:

Ida Blue Joe's Pub Ben Guthrie

Usually, when I attend a music event that I plan to write about, I make notes. You may have seen me writing: song titles, distinctive things that happened during a particular performance, my own critical shorthand of checks and question marks, of YES, NO, and WOW.

My notes from last night are a delighted mess, because I was having such a wildly good time that the idea of leaning forward attentively to catch when Ida identified the song title and the famous blues performer it was associated with soon became an idea whose time had not come.  Early on in the evening, I gave up the idea of being the careful archivist.  Instead I chose to write down phrases that struck my fancy — from the lyrics and from Ida’s interchanges with her audience.

I can tell you this: the exuberant young woman — The Lady in Red — who took the stage and told us all that she was sweating (out of emotional enthusiasm, for it wasn’t necessarily warm in Joe’s Pub) won us over time after time.  As did her band: a glorious quintet, the likes of which I’d never seen together: Kevin Dorn, drums; John Gill, National guitar; Dan Block, bass clarinet / baritone saxophone; Jay Rattman, bass saxophone; Evan Arntzen, clarinet / tenor saxophone.  That band rocked.  And it wasn’t a matter of volume or bar-walking. Rather, each of the musicians showed the finest subtlety — as soloist, and even more as an essential part of an ensemble, organically shape-shifting as the mood struck them.  So the saxophones hummed behind Ida or a guitar solo, or they took solos, or there were gloriously happy dialogues between two and three, phrases traded — in the best New Orleans / Memphis / New York City traditions, traditions being created on the spot in Joe’s Pub.

For her part, Ida was having a wonderful time and shared her joys with us.  No matter what she was singing — songs associated with Memphis Minnie, Robert Johnson, Sister Wynona Carr, Victoria Spivey — her delight came through even when the lyrics were grim.  (That’s what I think of as the Basie paradox: “Look! I’m having such a good time playing these sad, dark blues!  I can’t believe how good this misery makes me feel!”)

Ida’s voice was entirely at her command, and her improvisatory courage utterly commanded the audience.  She sang lyrics with the force of a cornet; growled and moaned, even offering a cantorial cadenza.  Sometimes she sounded on the edge of tears; sometimes she boldly told us something naughty with a great wink. Some lines, although the words weren’t necessarily funny in themselves, became small comedies; other times, she resorted to her own stutter-phrasing, repeating a word or a syllable five or six times for emphasis (as if Kevin was hitting the snare with pistol-shot force).

And, as always, she was in motion.  Hands held high above her head; dancing as wildly as she could on the small stage; ruffling her hair violently; grinning, laughing, having herself a fine time.  She looked out into the audience, saying with great pleasure, “I KNOW you!  I KNOW you too!” She wished her friend Sunny (of Sunny’s Bar in Brooklyn) a happy eighty-first birthday, and asked us all to raise our glasses.  We could refuse her nothing, and we followed suit.  She kicked off each song at a particularly groovy tempo, and although the repertoire was primarily twelve-bar blues, one song did not feel like its predecessor.

Although the mood was often lovelorn, Ida performed a few blues hymns — I’M A PILGRIM TRAVELER (which has “I’ll make it if He holds my hand” as a particularly moving affirmation).  And when she sang “It keeps me singing in my soul,” I felt as if she’d made 425 Lafayette Street into a pop-up revival meeting.

To give you a flavor of the evening, here are a few phrases from assorted lyrics:

I got those itty-bitty legs!

When you see me comin’, pull down your window blind.

Some cold rainy day.

Lord  have mercy on me.

I took his last nickel.

EVERY DAY!

My man’s done evil, and I’ve done evil too.

Buy me a shotgun.

I’m going to shoot my pistol.

Where did you stay last night?

I could make a case that all human experience could be encapsulated in those words — and others — that Ida delivered with such fervent honesty last night.

After the show, when photographer Ben Guthrie and I were standing outside the Public Theater, I said to Ben — fully aware that it was both the truth and a terrible cliche, “When PBS comes around, if we’re still here, we’ll be able to say, ‘We saw her when . . . ‘”

Some ecstatic evening, it was.

May your happiness increase!

DOUBLE YOUR PLEASURE: DENNIS LICHTMAN / MISS IDA BLUE (August 29, 2015)

Just hold on a moment.  Before you start packing the car to flee somewhere pastoral for the final weekend of August, may I inform you of two delightful reasons to stay in (or visit) New York City on Saturday, August 29, 2015?

The first concerns our friend Dennis Lichtman — virtuoso on clarinet, fiddle, and mandolin.  I first heard and met Dennis in 2009 when he was a member of the Cangelosi Cards, then heard him in other contexts around the city — always playing marvelously, with a bright sound and memorable creativity, whether sitting in with a hot band or leading his own group, the Brain Cloud.

Photograph by Bobby Bonsey

Photograph by Bobby Bonsey

At 2 PM on Saturday, Dennis will be celebrating his tenth year as a resident of the borough of Queens, New York — in music.  He and a great band will be offering a concert celebrating the history of jazz in Queens . . . the result of his first grant project, “Queens Jazz: A Living Tradition.”  Thanks to the Queens Council on the Arts, he will be presenting “original music inspired by this borough’s jazz heritage.” In addition, there will be classic songs associated with Queens jazz masters of the Twenties to the Forties. (Think of Clarence Williams and Fats Waller, among others.)

The concert — the FREE concert — will take place at the Louis Armstrong House Museum, 34-56 107th Street, Corona, New York, (718) 478-8274.  In case of rain, it will be held at the Queens Public Library, 40-20 Broadway, Queens, New York.

Lichtman Queens Jazz

Dennis has assembled a wonderful band: Gordon Au, trumpet; J. Walter Hawkes, trombone; Dalton Ridenhour, piano; Terry Wilson, vocal; Nathan Peck, string bass; Rob Garcia, drums.  You can keep up with Dennis here and here is the Facebook event page for the concert.

But that might leave you at liberty in mid-afternoon on a beautiful Saturday.  What to do?

I will be heading towards lower Manhattan for evening music of a most soulful kind: Miss Ida Blue and friends (including Dan Block, reeds, and John Gill, guitar) will be hosting an evening of the blues at Joe’s Pub.  The photograph below also shows Andrew Millar, drums, and a figure I assume to be the heroic Brian Nalepka — you hear his sound even when you can’t see him.

Photograph by Steve Singer

Photograph by Steve Singer

Here is the Facebook event page for this concert.  It’s a one-hour gig, starting at 9:30.  And Miss Ida and Joe’s Pub go together spectacularly, as I have written here about her triumphant May 15 gig.  I first heard her delivering the blues like a superb short-order cook — hot and ready — with the Yerba Buena Stompers, and I look forward to more of that spicy cuisine at this year’s Steamboat Stompwhich will begin in New Orleans a little more than a month from this posting.

Miss Ida Blue debut blues

I note with pleasure that Miss Ida has two pairs of dark glasses in this photograph.  Obviously the energy she unleashes is so powerful that wise listeners might want to bring extra protection — aural sunscreen.  But don’t be afraid: her power is a healing joyous experience.  And you might hear songs associated with blues monarchs Memphis Minnie, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Robert Johnson, Sister Wynona Carr, and others, all performed with conviction, invention, and ingenuity by our own Ida.  To purchase tickets ($15), click here.

Now you know it all, and can make plans.  For me, a suburban New Yorker who commutes to Manhattan and Brooklyn for pleasure, I can occupy my spare moments in the next two weeks with the philosophical calculus of transportation: drive to Corona in the morning, enjoy the concert, then choose — take my car into lower Manhattan on a Saturday night and attempt to find street parking, or go home after Corona, take the commuter railroad in . . . matters of time, finance, ease.  Such things should be my (or your) largest problems.  I hope to see friends at both concerts!

May your happiness increase!

BARBARA DANE’S HOUSE RENT PARTY (Part One): RICHARD HADLOCK, TAMMY HALL, ANGELA WELLMAN, RUTH DAVIES, BILL MAGINNIS (Bothwell Arts Center, July 19, 2014)

Still full of fire at 87, Barbara Dane gave a joyous concert with her Golden Gate Hot Five at the Bothwell Arts Center in Livermore, California, on July 19, 2014. With Barbara are Tammy Hall, piano; Richard Hadlock, soprano saxophone; Angela Wellman, trombone; Ruth Davies, string bass; Bill Maginnis, drums.

BLUES / GOOD MORNING BLUES:

THE WORLD’S JAZZ CRAZY (AND SO AM I):

SUMMERTIME (featuring Richard Hadlock):

I’M SELLIN’ MY PORK CHOPS:

YONDER COMES THE BLUES:

ROSETTA:

WHAT YOU GONNA DO WHEN THERE AIN’T NO JAZZ?:

More to come — and Barbara will be honored in September and October of this year, I am told: details will emerge here. And thanks to Duane Gordon and a dozen other people for making the Bothwell Arts Center rent party a reality and for allowing me to be there to capture it for you.

May your happiness increase!

SOULFUL SURVIVOR: BARBARA DANE SINGS AT KCSM’S “JAZZ ON THE HILL” (JUNE 8, 2014)

Barbara Dane turned 87 in May, but her heart, her voice, and her energy are still very powerful.  She brought her many selves to San Mateo last Sunday for a set during Bay Area jazz radio station KCSM‘s JAZZ ON THE HILL.

Here are some of the highlights of that performance, where Barbara is supported by Clint Baker, trombone and guitar; Marc Caparone, cornet; Richard Hadlock, soprano saxophone; Tammy Hall, piano; India Cooke, violin (apologies to India for not including her in most visual shots; Dean Reilly, string bass; Bill Maginnis, drums.

If you are unfamiliar with Barbara — someone who looks deep into the darkness and comes out with beautiful music —here is a good place to begin.

But her music speaks much louder than any words.

Barbara’s own THANK YOU, KCSM!:

A new version of Ma Rainey’s YONDER COMES THE BLUES:

Memphis Minnie’s I’M SELLIN’ MY PORK CHOPS:

SUMMERTIME (featuring Richard Hadlock paying tribute to Sidney Bechet, his teacher):

UNEMPLOYMENT COMPENSATION BLUES:

WHAT YOU GONNA DO WHEN THERE AIN’T NO JAZZ?:

As long as Barbara Dane and her friends are on the planet, the question posed by that last song is nothing we have to worry about.

Thanks to Alisa Clancy and all the heartfelt people at jazz radio KCSM for making this free event a glorious gift to the community — not only the people in their seats, but listeners all over the world. You can hear their music broadcast live right now by clicking on the link above. We are grateful they are here.

May your happiness increase!