Tag Archives: Meredith Axelrod

SPLENDIDLY GENUINE: “MORE OF THAT,” JACOB ZIMMERMAN and his PALS

This is not really a post about shopping, but since shopping is one of the experiences held in common by so many of us, it works as metaphor.  A dozen years ago, if I thought I needed a new shirt, I would have headed to The Mall, where I could gaze at two dozen machine-made shirts, identical except for size and perhaps color.  The plenitude was a reassuring reminder that we live in the Land of Too Much, and often I bought more than I needed.

As my clothing style became more personal, the racks of identical product no longer charmed.  I began to go thrift-shopping for the quest for unique pleasures.  Surprise was the rule, even among the inexplicable proliferation of plaid shirts (why?). I would spot something thirty shirts away, move towards it as if magnetized, and might have a small breath-taking experience.  “That’s for me!  I could wear that!  That looks like it belongs to me!”

Illustration by Jesse Rimler

Such impassioned bonding happens with music also: I was two minutes into the first track of a new CD — its cover above — and my mental soundtrack alternated between, “Oh, my goodness, this is wonderful!” and the more defensive, “You’re not getting this CD away from me.”  And then,addressing the invisible JAZZ LIVES audience, “You need to hear this,” I thought.

“This” is the debut CD of Jacob Zimmerman and his Pals called MORE OF  THAT, and to use my own catchphrase, it has increased my happiness tremendously.

The cover drawing, which I love, by Jesse Rimler, says much about the cheerful light-heartedness of the enterprise.  Why has this twenty-first century Nipper got his head in a protective cone?  Has he been biting himself?  Is the cone a visual joke about the morning-glory horn?  Is this the canine version of cupping a hand behind your ear to hear your singing better?  All I know is that this dog is reverently attentive.  You’ll understand why.

Here is Jacob’s website, and you can read about his musical associations here.

I had heard Jacob’s name bandied about most admiringly a few years ago; he appeared in front of me in the Soho murk of The Ear Inn and was splendidly gracious.  He’d also received the equivalent of the Legion of Honor: he was gigging with Ray Skjelbred.  But even these brightly-colored bits of praise did not prepare me for how good this CD is.

The overall ambiance is deep Minton’s 1941, Keynote, and Savoy Records sessions, that wonderful period of music where “swing” and “bop” cuddled together, swinging but not harmonically or rhythmically constrained.  And although Jacob and Pals have the recorded evidence firmly in their ears and hearts, and under their fingers as well, this is not Cryogenic Jazz or Swing Taxidermy (with apologies to Nipper’s grandchild on the cover).

As a leader, Jacob is wonderfully imaginative without being self-consciously clever (“Didja hear what the band did there?  Didja?”)  Each performance has a nifty arrangement that enhances the song rather than drawing attention from it — you could start with the title tune, MORE OF THAT, which Jacob told me is based on MACK THE KNIFE, “MORITAT,” so you’ll get the joke — which begins from elements so simple, almost monochromatic, and then builds.  Each arrangement makes full use of dynamics (many passages on this CD are soft — what a thing!), there’s some dark Ellingtonia and some rocking neo-Basie.  And each song is full of delightful sensations: when I get through listening to BALLIN’ THE JACK (a song often unintentionally brutalized) I think, “That’s under three minutes? How fulfilling.”  So the Pals are a friendly egalitarian organization with everyone getting chances to shine.

A few words about the compositions.  SIR CHARLES is Ray’s homage to our hero Sir Charles Thompson; Jacob says RADIATOR “was composed as a feature for Ray and was inspired by the Earl Hines record “Piano Man.” It’s based on “Shine.”  SOMETIMES I’M HAPPY “is a feature for bassist Matt Weiner and pays homage to the record of that tune by Lester Young and Slam Stewart.”  “FIRST THURSDAY is based on”Sunday.” My monthly gig at the jazz club “Egan’s Ballard Jam House” has happened every first Thursday for over 5 years.” And SCULPT-A-SPHERE “is based on “Nice Work If You Can Get It”…I tried to imagine what it would be like if Thelonious Monk and Lester Young wrote a tune together.”

Before I get deeper into the whirlpool of praise, some data.  Jacob plays alto and clarinet (more about that in a minute), aided immeasurably by: Matt Weiner, string bass; Josh Roberts, guitar; Ray Skjelbred, piano; D’Vonne Lewis, drums; Cole Schuster, guitar; Christian Pincock, trombone; Meredith Axelrod brings voice and guitar to the final track.  And the compositions: RADIATOR / SOMETIMES I’M HAPPY / FIRST THURSDAY / SONG OF THE ISLANDS / BLUE GUAIAC BLUES / BLUES FOR SIR CHARLES / IN A SHANTY IN OLD SHANTY TOWN / MORE OF THAT / BALLIN’ THE JACK / BROTHER, CAN YOU SPARE A DIME? / SCULPT-A-SPHERE / I AIN’T GOT NOBODY.  All immensely tasty, none crowding its neighbor.

This being the twenty-first century, many saxophonists live in a post-Parker era, which works for some. But Jacob has deeply understood that there are other sounds one can draw upon while playing that bent metal tube: a mix of Pete Brown (without the over-emphatic pulse), Hilton Jefferson (rhapsodic but tempered), and Lee Konitz (dry but not puckering the palate).  On clarinet, he suggests Barney Bigard but with none of the Master’s reproducible swoops and dives: all pleasing to the ear.

Because I have strongly defined tastes, I often listen to music with an editor’s ear, “Well, they’re dragging a little there.”  “I would have picked a brighter tempo.”  “Why only one chorus?” and other mind-debris that may be a waste of energy.  I don’t do that with MORE OF THAT, and (imagine a drumroll and cymbal crash) I love this CD so fervently that I will launch the JAZZ LIVES GUARANTEE.  Buy the disc.  Keep the jiffybag it came in.  Play it twice.  If you’re not swept away, write to me at swingyoucats@gmail.com, send me the CD and I’ll refund your money and postage.  I don’t think I will be reeling from a tsunami of mail, and should some people (inexplicably) not warm to this disc, I’ll have extra copies to give away.

You heard it here first.

May your happiness increase!

A MEDITATION ON THE INACCESSIBLE: RAY SKJELBRED at the SAN DIEGO JAZZ FEST (Nov. 27, 2015)

Ray Skjelbred is a sculptor of sound and rhythm, transforming popular song and the blues in ways that surprise and delight. Here, he’s at the keyboard at the San Diego Jazz Fest, offering us magic that is both whimsical and deep.  The original text for his rumination is a bouncy Walter Donaldson song from 1929, REACHING FOR SOMEONE (AND NOT FINDING ANYONE THERE), a situation we’ve all encountered.  The song was a hit in 1929, and many will know the quicker-paced Whiteman and Trumbauer versions.

REACHING FOR SOMEONE

Thanks to the inventive singer-guitarist Meredith Axelrod, a friend of JAZZ LIVES, Ray was inspired to play this song at a much more melancholy tempo, appropriate to the situation the lyrics describe, and the result is lovely and haunting:

I hope that all that you desire is accessible, if not now, then someday soon.

May your happiness increase!

ARE YOU LOST?: CRAIG VENTRESCO and JOANNA STERNBERG TEACH THE LESSON (July 26, 2015)

NY map

I’ve known Deacon Craig Ventresco for more than a decade now, and learned a great deal from his moral teachings at Bar Tabac, the Cajun, and other pulpits on both coasts.

CRAIG

But I’d never heard him deliver such a serious sermon on the dangers of being destabilized in the cosmos as I did on Sunday, July 26, 2015, at Casa Mezcal on Orchard Street (that’s the Lower East Side of New York City).  In his stern peroration, he was supported nobly by another great teacher, Joanna Sternberg (to be precise, Craig plays guitar and sings; Joanna accompanies him on the string bass).  In their efforts to uplift the community, they are assisted by members of the congregation Tamar Korn and Meredith Axelrod.  Heed the words of Deacon Ventresco.  Take them to heart:

The song was a 1908 hit for Bert Williams, composed by Chris Smith and Cecil Mack:

RIGHT CHURCH BUT THE WRONG PEW 1908Given the ubiquity of the GPS and the smartphone, to say nothing of those antiquities, paper maps . . . don’t let this happen to you.  And — if a less serious moral statement of mine may be permitted — I think Craig should sing more often. He has noble stories to impart to us.

May your happiness increase!

A GLORIOUS EVENING, PART THREE: TAMAR KORN, DENNIS LICHTMAN, MATT MUNISTERI, CRAIG VENTRESCO, MEREDITH AXELROD, JERRON PAXTON, TAL RONEN (JALOPY THEATRE, September 28, 2014)

By the end of this utterly satisfying musical evening (September 28, 2014) at the Jalopy Theatre in Brooklyn, New York, the stage was filled with happy individualists — not a repeater pencil or copycat in sight. The cast of characters was Tamar Korn, vocal; Dennis Lichtman, clarinet; Matt Munisteri, guitar; Craig Ventresco, guitar; Meredith Axelrod, vocal and ukulele; Jerron Paxton, piano; Tal Ronen, string bass.  I think that’s an accurate census of the people, not all of them appearing on each number, and some of them audible rather than visible.

In retrospect, it feels like a combination jam session – hootenanny – revival meeting – improvisational theatre piece. . . . unique and fulfilling. And even though those of us who have followed Tamar for the past five years or more know these songs (the first three: NEW YORK is a new favorite) the stage was alight with fresh energies.

For those who missed this glorious constellation of musical comets and asteroids, whether live or on video, here are the first two parts of this evening.

SUGAR BLUES:

THERE’LL BE SOME CHANGES MADE:

WHEN YOU WORE A TULIP (Ms. Korn in bliss, announced freely):

DO THE NEW YORK:

Rarely do I use the word “unforgettable” about an event I’ve attended, but this evening solidly fits that description.  Blessings on the artists and the generous people at Jalopy who made this evening happen.

May your happiness increase!

A GLORIOUS EVENING, PART TWO: DENNIS LICHTMAN, MATT MUNISTERI, TAMAR KORN (JALOPY THEATRE, September 28, 2014)

This is the second portion of a Saturday night performance at the Jalopy Theatre, one of those musical evenings I don’t think I will ever forget, featuring Craig Ventresco, Meredith Axelrod, Dennis Lichtman, Tamar Korn, Matt Munisteri, Jerron Paxton, and Tal Ronen.

Here are some highlights of the first set.

And here are six more magical performances by Dennis, Tamar, and Matt in varying combinations.  No posturing, just deep feeling for the particular idiom of each song,great unaffected expertise, a sweet intensity.

Hoagy Carmichael’s SKYLARK:

Irving Berlin’s RUSSIAN LULLABY:

Willard Robison’s WE’LL HAVE A NEW HOME IN THE MORNING:

RISONHA (by Luperce Miranda, the Brazilian mandolinist and composer, 1904-1977):

TIME CHANGES EVERYTHING (from Bob Wills and his Texas Playboys):

SO BLUE (a gem by De Sylva, Brown, and Henderson 1927):

WHAT’S THE USE OF LIVING WITHOUT LOVE? (thanks to a late King Oliver record):

Part Three will be arriving soon.

May your happiness increase!

DOWN-HOME EBULLIENCE! THE FIRST SET: MEREDITH AXELROD, CRAIG VENTRESCO, TAMAR KORN, JERRON PAXTON, MATT MUNISTERI at JALOPY (Sept. 28, 2014)

One test of any artistic expression is how long it lingers in our selves after we’ve experienced it.  What follows has been my mental soundtrack for some time now, and its effect hasn’t diminished.

On September 28, 2014, Doug Pomeroy (my guide to uncharted Brooklyn) and I made the trek to the Jalopy Theatre ay 315 Columbia Street to see a double bill of Meredith Axelrod, vocal / guitar / ukulele; Craig Ventresco, guitar // the BRAIN CLOUD with Dennis Lichtman, clarinet; Tamar Korn, vocal; Matt Munisteri, guitar; special guests Jerron Paxton, vocal, piano, guitar; Tal Ronen, string bass.

It was a memorable evening, and revisiting these performances continues to make me immensely happy.  But Jalopy is a place where good things happen.  See their website for the schedule of events.  (And see this wonderful evidence from 2011, as well as this 2013 bouquet of sounds.)

Here are some highlights from the first set of September 28.

Craig and Meredith in duet on SILVER BELL — from darkness to light:

Meredith singing to Craig’s guitar — RED LIPS, KISS MY BLUES AWAY:

Tamar, Meredith, and Craig performing WHILE THEY WERE DANCING AROUND (a song brought back into twenty-first century repertoire by the intrepid Gordon Au, I believe):

An jubilant extravaganza on LONESOME AND SORRY, featuring Meredith, Craig, Tamar, Jerron, and Matt, and two verses:

The same players essayed SOME OF THESE DAYS although Matt was now seated in the audience — to my immediate right, which was friendly:

This joyous music — so playful — reminds me of what might happen in someone’s living room.  Wit is bubbling beneath the surface at all times. But you’d have to have the very best musical guests imaginable, people of this sensibility who can be absolutely full of good energy while performing the saddest songs.  (The lyrics of LONESOME AND SORRY are especially desolate, those of SOME OF THESE DAYS sorrowful with an angry undercurrent, but how delighted these performances are!)

The second set — with Dennis and Tal joining in — was unforgettable.  And it will be shared here as well.

May your happiness increase!

AN ALTERNATE UNIVERSE OF BEAUTY: CRAIG VENTRESCO at CAFE DIVINE (JULY 30, 2014)

If creativity received appropriate recognition, guitarist and musical scholar Craig Ventresco would have received a MacArthur genius grant for his work in American vernacular musics by now.

He isn’t as well known as he should be, but the people who know him value him for his singular devotion to art that would otherwise be lost, forgotten, discarded.

Craig doesn’t simply dream of vanished worlds, nor does he simply amass evidence of them. He brings them to life, playing rags, blues, stomps, hymns, marches, tangos, a slow drag or two — the melodic and rhythmic life force of an America gone by. You might find Craig in some small San Francisco eatery or more ambitious restaurant, making his way through the lovely popular music of a hundred years ago — often to people who wouldn’t know Will Marion Cook from William H. Tyers — but when the listeners pay attention, they are moved by the “old music” that sounds so good. (Sometimes he is joined by singer / guitarist Meredith Axelrod, who operates on the same principles.)

Here, Craig plays his own variations on James P. Johnson’s OLD-FASHIONED LOVE:

And a ragtime slow drag (circa 1901-3) called PEACEFUL HENRY:

These selections were recorded at Cafe Divine (1600 Stockton Street, North Beach, San Framcisco) on July 30, 2014, and they only hint at what Craig offers us so consistently with so little fanfare.

Thank you, Craig.

PEACEFUL HENRY

 May your happiness increase!

(CAFE) DIVINE MUSIC (Part Two): LEON OAKLEY and CRAIG VENTRESCO (with MISS MEREDITH AXELROD)

Just beautiful.  Leon, cornet; Craig, guitar; guest star Meredith, vocals — at Cafe Divine (a fine restaurant at 1600 Stockton Street in San Francisco). Leon Oakley and Craig Ventresco play there on the third Sunday of every month, and this session — in two parts — took place on May 18, 2014.

A caveat to start.  Leon and Craig play without amplification, and Cafe Divine is a restaurant, not a concert hall, so you will hear the conversation of the diners. I don’t think that the Savoy Ballroom was reverently still, or the dinners at which Bach and Mozart swung out with their latest compositions.

Their intoxicating music soars.  I told Craig after the first set that he and Leon had performed time-and-space-warping magic: they had made 2014 North Beach into 1928 Chicago, and he agreed: that was their intention!

Here is the second of two tasting menus offered for your delectation. (And here is the first, in case it passed you by.)

SEE SEE RIDER:

TOO BUSY (with Meredith evoking Lillie Delk Christian):

A sweet KEEPIN’ OUT OF MISCHIEF NOW at the most sweetly romantic tempo imaginable:

The rarely played CHERRY:

Meredith goes south with I’M COMIN’ VIRGINIA:
And I ask you.  Did you ever hear the story of WILLIE THE WEEPER?
I look forward to sessions in the months to come.
May your happiness increase!

(CAFE) DIVINE MUSIC (Part One): LEON OAKLEY and CRAIG VENTRESCO (with MISS MEREDITH AXELROD)

Just beautiful.  Leon, cornet; Craig, guitar; guest star Meredith, vocals — at Cafe Divine (a fine restaurant at 1600 Stockton Street in San Francisco). Leon Oakley and Craig Ventresco play there on the third Sunday of every month, and this session — in two parts — took place on May 18, 2014.

A caveat to start.  Leon and Craig play without amplification, and Cafe Divine is a restaurant, not a concert hall, so you will hear the conversation of the diners. I don’t think that the Savoy Ballroom was reverently still, or the dinners at which Bach and Mozart swung out with their latest compositions.

Their intoxicating music soars.  I told Craig after the first set that he and Leon had performed time-and-space-warping magic: they had made 2014 North Beach into 1928 Chicago, and he agreed: that was their intention!

Here is the first of two tasting menus offered for your delectation.

The Hot Five’s ONCE IN A WHILE:

A very moving MEMORIES OF YOU:

Robert Johnson’s HOT TAMALES (THEY’RE RED HOT) which at first I mistook for HOW’M I DOIN’? — being more familiar with Redman than Johnson:

A song I didn’t know, from Amanda Randoph’s repertoire, here sung by Meredith, HONEY, DON’T YOU TURN YOUR BACK ON ME:

A highlight: MABEL’S DREAM:

Meredith offers I’M A LITTLE BLACKBIRD from the Clarence Williams book:

And we close with a spicy MESSIN’ AROUND:

Other bands are playing these songs, and beautifully, too, but no one else is making music quite like this in 2014, I propose. I’ve marked my calendar for the Oakley-Ventresco magical appearances at Cafe Divine, a place that lives up to its name.

May your happiness increase!

May your happiness increase!

FROM EAST TO WEST, EMILY ASHER BRINGS GOOD SOUNDS (Cafe Divine, February 17, 2014)

Trombonist, singer, composer, arranger Emily Asher is so blissfully bicoastal that she makes the rest of us seem as if we’re glued to our recliners.  She flies from Hither to Yon, whisking back and forth from Seattle to Brooklyn, making friends for the music wherever she goes, a marathon runner for good music.

Here’s a very recent sample, from an intriguing gig at Cafe Divine in San Francisco — which began as a duo of trombone (Emily) and accordion (Rob Reich) but expanded in the most graceful way.  The first Special Guest was string bassist Daniel Fabricant, who joined in for a romping ROYAL GARDEN BLUES:

Daniel had to go off to make a gig with Gaucho (those spreaders of joy) so Emily and Rob asked the sweet but pointed question, WHY DON’T YOU GO DOWN TO NEW ORLEANS?:

I think Frank Loesser’s imagined ship would be too sluggish for our Ms. Asher, but she likes the tune ON A SLOW BOAT TO CHINA:

BLUE SKIES featured an Impromptu but Expert Girl Trio — An Historic Moment — Emily, Meredith Axelrod, and Kally Price, with Rob and the esteemed Craig Ventresco, guitar:

Meredith showed us the way to MY BLUE HEAVEN:

Now, if you’re reading this on the East Coast and feeling deprived, there is Good News Tonight.  On Saturday, March 1, Emily Asher’s Endangered Species Trio (yes!) will begin New Brunswick Jazz Project’s Women in Jazz month.  They will play at the Alfa Art Gallery in New Brunswick, New Jersey, immediately following a viewing of the very fine film THE GIRLS IN THE BAND.

Details here and here.  The event begins at 6:30; the film screening will be from about 7:20-8:45, and the band will play from 9-11 PM: with Emily, the EST is Tom Abbott, bass saxophone; Rob Reich, accordion.  I’d be there if I could.

May your happiness increase!

AT PLAY IN SONG: MEREDITH AXELROD and TAMAR KORN at CAFE ATLAS (August 10, 2013)

Generous and expert, they filled the air with song.

Here are the final five magical explorations by two brave sweet improvisers, Meredith Axelrod and Tamar Korn, at San Francisco’s Cafe Atlas on August 10, 2013.

LONESOME AND SORRY:

I’VE GOT A FEELING I’M FALLING:

I CAN’T BELIEVE THAT YOU’RE IN LOVE WITH ME:

WHILE THEY WERE DANCING AROUND:

WHEN YOU WORE A TULIP:

When I was finished watching and editing these videos for the blog, I kept thinking, “This isn’t the only kind of music I love, but it’s entirely real.  How lovely to see their pleasure, given freely to us.”

Two other notes.  The previous postings from this cheering afternoon of song can be found here and here.  The series of postings are, of course, for the Beloved, Confetta and Anatol, Louise and Jay.  They know why!

May your happiness increase!

FOUR MORE BEAUTIES BY MEREDITH AXELROD and TAMAR KORN at CAFE ATLAS (August 10, 2013)

Here are four more magical explorations into the deep heart of song by two wonderful singers and improvisers — Meredith Axelrod and Tamar Korn, flying free at San Francisco’s Cafe Atlas on August 10, 2013.

Not only did they use their voices to sing the lyrics and chart the melodies in most harmonious ways; they became a small orchestra of trumpets without brass or mouthpieces, a violin of the soul — needing no strings, rosin, or bow, and tweeting ensemble of airborne birdcalls.

I thought of the words that appeared on the label of the Mills Brothers’ early Decca records:  No musical instruments or mechanical devices used on this recording other than one guitar.

Who needs more?

And fittingly, here’s a song the Mills Brothers recorded early on — NOBODY’S SWEETHEART:

The 1920 classic, MARGIE, with a verse that explains it all:

For Bing and Louis and all the dreamers, WRAP YOUR TROUBLES IN DREAMS:

And Tamar lets us know it with JEALOUS HEARTED ME:

Thank you once more, Meredith and Tamar, for reminding us how light-hearted yet how deep beauty really is, and for encouraging us to be as free in our lives as you are in your song.

May your happiness increase!

MAKING NEW MEMORIES: TAMAR KORN and MEREDITH AXELROD at CAFE ATLAS, AUGUST 10, 2013

One of my favorite stories, not just in jazz, comes from Jess Stacy’s oral history — a book I’ve commended on this blog.  He is lost and unhappy.  He is sitting on the edge of his bed, weighing his miseries yet vowing that he will not drink himself to death.  Eventually, Stacy tires of the introspection and hauls himself upright, telling himself, “Come on, Stacy!  Time to make some new memories!”  And he does.

The story bubbled back to me because of the performance I will share with you.  In it, two young women, one with a guitar, sing and offer deep feelings in a San Francisco eatery on August 10, 2013.

The women?

Eloquently deep-voiced Meredith Axelrod, who also plays guitar in a charming early-twentieth-century manner: she is a strolling troubadour who doesn’t need to roam boulevards.  And Tamar Korn, mistress of soulful explorations.

The song?  Eubie Blake and Noble Sissle’s MEMORIES OF YOU.

Thank you so, Meredith and Tamar, Eubie and Noble, for a new memory I will not forget. My “rosary of tears” while listening and watching comes from joy and admiration.  Music should always come to us with such sweet, grave power.

May your happiness increase!

“PERFECT!”: THE EARREGULARS “COAST TO COAST” (May 1, 2011)

My title comes from a wonderful Bobby Hackett Capitol record date where Bobby (New York by profession, Massachusetts by birth) went out to California with one Jack Teagarden and played with the West Coast boys — COAST CONCERT or COAST TO COAST.  Years ago, such sessions were both novel and fashionable — one side of a Columbia lp devoted to Eddie Condon, the other to the Rampart Street Paraders, or “battles” between East and West Coast players.

No battle here, no head-cutting or manicuring, just beauty.

Last Sunday, the EarRegulars were having a wonderful time at The Ear Inn (326 Spring Street) — they were Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Matt Munisteri, guitar; Pete Martinez, clarinet; Frank Tate, bass.  They devoted their first set to GREAT JAZZ CITIES OF THE WORLD (without saying a word): thus, CALIFORNIA, HERE I COME; ‘WAY DOWN YONDER IN NEW ORLEANS; a slow-drag CHICAGO; ST. LOUIS BLUES; MEMPHIS BLUES, and a few others.  Exquisite soloing, interplay, and creativity.

But I had noticed two familiar faces who nearly surprised me off my barstool — the great San Francisco acoustic guitarist Craig Ventresco and the singer Meredith Axelrod.  They were in town for a flying unannounced family visit — celebrating Craig’s parents’ fiftieth anniversary (hooray for Mr. and Mrs. Ventresco of Maine, hooray!).

Matt Munisteri, bless him, had known Craig was coming . . . so he brought a second guitar for Craig to play.  And lovely things happened.  I knew Craig from my jazz rebirth in 2005 — he played with the Red Onion Jazz Band as well as other floating ensembles (often in the noble company of Kevin Dorn, Jesse Gelber, Barbara Rosene, Michael Bank): he is the poet of archaic music that should never be forgotten — waltzes, stomps, blues, rags, tangos, pop songs — but he also brings depth and richness to any ensemble he’s in.  And Meredith is an unusual combination of demure and passionate, as you’ll hear.

After the set break, everyone settled in for four long sweet performances, which I present here with great delight and pride.  You’ll hear musical jokes, echoes of Lonnie Johnson and Eddie Lang, the Mississippi Delta coming to Soho, and a great ocean-swell rocking swing . . . music to live for!

They began with the seductively rolling WABASH BLUES — its climbing and descending lines gaining momentum although never getting louder or faster.  Jon-Erik preached through his plunger mute (his sermons are secular but compelling); Pete Martinez showed himself a wonderful dramatic actor on the clarinet, alternating between the primitive and serene; Matt’s lines rang and chimed; Frank brought forth his own brand of casual eloquence.  And Craig played as if sitting on the porch, with all the time in the world:

“Perfect!” you can hear Terry Waldo say — the only thing anyone could say!

After some discussion, the quintet arrived at ROSE ROOM (was it a memory of Charlie Christian or just a good tune to jam on): I savor the conversation between Jon-Erik and Pete in the second chorus, followed by the string section and Pete.  Then there’s Mister Tate, the Abraham Lincoln of the string bass — every note resonating with joy and seriousness.  He knows how to do it, he does!  And then the band, led by Slidin’ Jon Kellso, eases into a rocking motion that would have made the Goodman Sextet of 1941 happy.  (I thought also of the way Ruby Braff slid and danced over his two guitars and bass viol in 1974-5, not a bad memory to have.)  Matt winds and sways in his own fashion — it’s like observing a championship skater improvising on the ice, isn’t it?  And those deliciously playful conversations between Pete and Jon-Erik, then Matt and Craig . . . then some powerful riffing and jiving.  Wow, as we say!

Charlie Levenson, patron saint of informal jazz, suggested SOMEDAY SWEETHEART, and although it was late and ordinary circumstances a closing hot tune would have been the only choice, it was clear that the EarRegulars were having such a good time that no one wanted to end the music a moment too soon.  The EarRegulars and Craig immediately settle into a kind of well-oiled glide that summons up Joe Venuti, Eddie Lang, Jack Teagarden, and Benny Goodman — or perhaps an imagined Vanguard Records session — swaying sweetly for a good long time.  Soulful is the word for this performance:

For the closing song, Jon-Erik brought Meredith up for MY BLUE HEAVEN — that pastoral / domestic celebration.  Only a very few singers are invited to sit in at The Ear, but Meredith stepped right into the role!  Celebration was what I felt, and I daresay that my joy was shared by many people at The Ear — with more to come because of these videos.  And — since I love cats — Pete’s solo reminds me so much of a kitten with a toy furry mouse, turning it over and batting it around.  He is at the very apex — ask another clarinetist, such as Dan Block!  While the fellows were playing, the political news was on the television above — and Jon-Erik wove DING, DONG, THE WITCH IS DEAD! and YOU RASCAL YOU into his solo — although JAZZ LIVES isn’t about politics but sharing beauty:

This is what Fifty-Second Street must have sounded like.  Only better!  And it exists here and now.  What blessings!

DOGGIN’ AROUND, or SOMETHING FOR EVERYONE

Melissa Collard pointed out this YouTube extravaganza.  It has something for everyone: lovers of custom-made guitars, dog fanciers, ukulele mavens, conoisseurs of SWEET GEORGIA BROWN.  Of course it comes from the dynamic duo of West Coast string music, Craig Ventresco and Meredith Axelrod:

Here’s Meredith’s commentary: “Craig Ventresco the Mad Scientist of the Strings (as I call him) plays Sweet Georgia Brown on ukulele. This feat is especially impressive because he has his dog sleeping in his lap the whole time.  He is one talented virtuoso!  (Craig’s not so bad either.  We almost had the dog play uke, but decided at the last minute to use Craig instead.)  I accompany him on a custom-made guitar build by Todd Cambio of Wisconsin.  The brand is Fraulini.  Dog is Mr. Woofles.  Mr. Woofles plays the ukulele about as well as Craig, and he also can perform operations in advanced algebra at the university level.”

I see a future for this trio!

CHARLESTON IS THE BEST DANCE AFTER ALL

A delicious interlude: Lynne Koehlinger and Peter Varshavsky do an inspired Charleston routine to  Jimmie Noone’s “Every Evening,” at the 2008 Gatsby Ball.   
 
Lynne and Peter defy the laws of physics.  At some points, they seem to be moving in slow motion, with every kick and turn clear, never blurred.  But you know that they’re really dancing at an exhausting pace.  Hard work made to seem effortless!  Their routine has a lovely shape: they begin as a couple in perfect physical harmony, then break out for inspired capers during Earl Hines’s solo and the stop-time chorus, and conclude as a pair.  It’s worthy of Olympic consideration.  Why there isn’t a category for Jazz Dance still mystifies me.  Let’s call it Hot Made Visible.
Thanks to SUN, the Singers’ Underground Network (I just made that up) of Meredith Axelrod and Melissa Collard, who passed this gem on to me.  And now, to you.   
Dramatis Personae:
Melissa Collard should be someone readers of this blog know and admire.  Her first CD, OLD FASHIONED LOVE, is a treasure.  Rumor has it that she and Hal Smith have completed a second one, which is great news. 
Meredith Axelrod, who often works with guitar genius Craig Ventresco, has thoroughly internalized the vocal styles of the early twentieth-century in a way both eerie and exhilirating.