By popular demand, the five remaining performances from a lovely evening of uplifting music at Ornithology (6 Suydam Street, Bushwick, Brooklyn), thanks to string bassist Dan Weisselberg, who brought with him Pat O’Leary, cello; Michael Kanan, piano; Felix Lemerle, guitar; Doron Tirosh, drums, and Gabrielle Stravelli, voice.
Portraits of the musical heroes follow – – – –
Pat and Doron:
Felix and Dan:
Dan and Gabrielle:
And now, the glorious sounds.
BEN’S WEB (a blues by Mr. Webster, c. 1961):
SYMPHONY (a Forties hit, played by Glenn and Benny, Stephane and Django, among others, but a rare call now):
To close off the evening, THE LATE LATE SHOW:
The ideal world and the real one are always a few stops apart (at least) in the cosmic transit system, but in the ideal world this would be a working group, gigging regularly. As Helen Humes sang, I can dream, can’t I?
I give thanks to the musicians and to Ornithology for making this all possible.
And for more delicious Brooklyn-based jazz, visit the MapacheSoundNYC YouTube channel.
An extraordinary evening of music among friends, with a warm creativity filling the room at Ornithology Jazz Club (6 Suydam Street, Bushwick, Brooklyn).
Ornithology is a cozy dark room, and in the darkness, Lester Young and Oscar Pettiford were smiling approvingly.
The group for that session was the Dan Weisselberg Quintet featuring Pat O’Leary: that’s Dan, string bass; Pat, cello, Michael Kanan, piano; Felix Lemerle, guitar; Doron Tirosh, drums; Gabrielle Stravelli, voice.
Yesterday I posted Gabrielle Stravelli’s touching THESE FOOLISH THINGS, and the response to it was so enthusiastic that here we are again with five more marvels from that evening. And if you missed Gabrielle, here’s your chance:
Joe Newman’s CORKY:
Eddie Durham’s TOPSY:
Willard Robison’s OLD FOLKS:
DID I REMEMBER? sung gloriously by Gabrielle Stravelli:
Let no one proclaim that lyrical, inventive jazz is not thriving. As you can see and hear, it is in bloom. And there’s more music to come from this April 23 gathering of friendly creators.
And for more delicious Brooklyn-based jazz, visit the MapacheSoundNYC YouTube channel.
Gabrielle Stravelli is a wondrous heartfelt storyteller. Hear the magic she creates with the venerable THESE FOOLISH THINGS, moving from heartbreak to strength. She did this with the Dan Weisselberg Quintet, featuring Pat O’Leary, on April 11, 2023, at Ornithology in Bushwick, Brooklyn.
That’s Dan, string bass; Pat O’Leary, cello; Michael Kanan, piano; Felix Lemerle, guitar; Doron Tirosh, drums. And I will be sharing more from this evening — a magical one of chamber music for moderns who know how to groove.
And for more delicious urban jazz, visit the Mapache Sound channel here.
Michael Kanan, Neal Miner, Cait Jones, November 2022.
Please take a few minutes to savor this interlude:
I find this performance, in its apparent simplicity — two vocal choruses with an introduction and coda — very impressive in its understated ways. There’s the way that Cait and Michael respond to each other, her conversational phrasing, his intuitive tapestry of shifting harmonies, their reverence for Rodgers’ melody, for Hart’s words.
As the song itself describes an experience both new and deeply, mysteriously familiar, so does this performance. We’ve heard WHERE OR WHEN many times, but Cait and Michael make it new, surprising: the questions the song asks are real, unanswered, perhaps unanswerable.
And they are real questions, both ethereal and plain, as Cait asks them in the lighthearted manner she might wonder aloud, “Where did I put my pinking shears?” “When were we supposed to go to dinner?”
Michael is serious at the keyboard, as is his wont: creating subtle orchestrations right at the moment requires concentration. But Cait seems at points almost ready to “bust out laughing,” as they say. I feel that her mirth is pure pleasure: what it must feel like to have such a voice, easily navigating a wonderful song, with the one, the only Michael Kanan playing piano.
Who knows where or when? Cait and Michael do. Their music is the roadmap and the timepiece for our hearts.
The saxophonist, teacher, and majestic figure Joel Press has left us. Joel wasn’t tall (neither am I) but he carried himself powerfully. My nickname for him — which I never told him, fearing he might be offended — was THE LITTLE LION. (Joel might have disliked being characterized as little in anything.)
Not aggressive, not arrogant, but a man who knew himself and was proud of what he knew.
I met Joel in sound before I met him in person. In 2004, I was reviewing CDs for CADENCE, the wide-ranging and deeply ethical magazine devoted to “creative improvised music,” The editor, Robert D. Rusch, a wonderful man, knew of my more traditional bent and often tossed me recordings slightly outside my known Paradise — “to make me stretch,” he said. I had not heard of Joel or his fellows, but the CD above convinced me that I had passed by a master. Here is some of what I wrote.
He is one of those musicians—and they are rarer than you might think—who has digested the history of the music and the instrumental tradition that has come before him without parading an assortment of favorite phrases from his five tenor idols. Yes, he has a purring, mellow approach reminiscent of Harold Ashby, but he is no easy-listening recreator: he knows Rollins and Lacy as well as Hawkins and Young. But Press sounds so much like himself that you cannot predict what his next phrase will be – and he is worth championing just because he does not think in four or eight-bar modules. To add to this, his melodic lines are logical, they are rhythmically intriguing, and he has a wonderful respect for songs, savoring their emotions. His version of “Lover Man,” for one example, will make it hard for me to listen to anyone else’s. And he is not harnessed by “Swing” conventions: the repertoire moves easily from classic Bebop to the much more abstract “Is What Is” (based on “What Is This Thing Called Love”). Even better—he plays soprano with fervor, accuracy, and beautiful intonation, no sourness, no intentional harshness. Although the repertoire is primarily standard material, the performances are original—not in some self-consciously radical way, but they encourage listeners to forget how well-worn they might have thought “Groovin’ High,” for instance.
Joel was pleased by the review and we began a correspondence. I no longer have my emails from 2004, but I know his were warm and gracious. And because he had “been there,” he sent me snippets of first-hand jazz history that delighted me. He had seen Sidney Catlett at Town Hall. He could tell me that the hamburgers at Julius’ in Greenwich Village were exceptional. he had seen Charlie Parker live; he had glimpsed obscure worthies: “One of my favorite musicians during the 60s was the alto saxophonist Dave Schildkraut, who played there in a small group led by Buddy Rich. Dave was the hero of all of the young New York saxophone players. Arnie Lawrence, with whom I often jammed after our gigs in the Catskill Mountains, probably switched from tenor to alto because of Dave. Schildkraut’s pianist and close friend, Bill Triglia was a mentor to Lawrence.” Joel had heard Steve Lacy sitting in at Arthur’s Tavern with Loumell Morgan at Arthur’s Tavern; he had played with Peter Ind.
He was a first-class hilarious memoirist: here is his portrait of Jo Jones.
In 1979 I played the Sunday brunch at “Lulu White’s” in Boston’s South End. The club was run by a young Ivy League fellow. Jo Jones had played there and discovered that said owner had an apartment across the street from the club. Jo made himself “guest in residence,” despite the lack of a formal invitation. On Sunday Jo would appear at lunchtime, handsome, elegant and charming. Despite our efforts to get him to sit in, he declined. Although he appeared to enjoy the group’s overall playing, we suspected that our mediocre bassist was not up to his standard.
During my residence in New York during the 60s, several of us were in the Colony Record Shop on Broadway, opposite Birdland when Jo entered. He was elated and told us with a big smile on his face that he had, to his great delight, added a tenor saxophonist to his group who sounded like Prez. It was Paul Quinichette.
On the dark side, Jo played at Sandy’s in Beverly, Massachusetts in the 80s. The band members , including Budd Johnson, altered the band’s name from “Jo Jones and Friends” to “Jo Jones and Enemies,” each member attempting to stay as distant from the drummer as the bandstand would allow.
When Warne Marsh played at Lulu white’s on a Sunday night, Jo, without being invited, sat down at the drums and started to play, angering the equally temperamental Sal Mosca. The confrontation was thankfully verbal, but no music ensued and Jo left the stand after a few hits on the snare drum.
And here he is on Coleman Hawkins:
Those Coleman Hawkins sides on Asch have always knocked me out. He is still the King. He was our Picasso, constantly changing and showing us the way over many decades. I am so happy to have heard him in many settings…first at The Apollo, when I absented myself from afternoon high school classes to dig a matinee. The band included both Monk and Dizzy…in the 6o’s at MOMA, in the sculpture court, with Roy….at Birdland with Milt Jackson, and alongside Fats Navarro at a JATP concert in Denver. In the 60s I attended a memorable concert at The Little Theater between Broadway and 8th Avenue, with Ben Webster, the pianist Paul Neves, Major Holley, and Eddie Locke. Hawk was on fire. Ben, smiled, obviously enraptured by Coleman, and played well, but didn’t even attempt to match Hawk’s passion. As is so often the case, the best music played goes out the window, unless, of course there is a happy man present with a video camera.
We met in person when Joel moved to New York in 2010 to play: the scene was so much more lively than the one outside of Boston. By then, I had both this blog and a video camera — and I was able to see and capture the magical rapport between Joel and his friend and student, the splendid pianist Michael Kanan.
Here is a splendidly touching example of Joel and Michael, at Smalls, on October 20, 2011:
Listeners with good ears will hear the jaunty approach that comes from Jimmie Rowles. Others, even if the Rowles current is not evident, will note the mix of tenderness and playfulness, the mutual respect for melody and its possibilities. Joel was fascinated with the purr of the tenor, its ability to glide between notes and phrases: songs were his friends, his ideals.
Joel was pleased to have me in evidence, “a happy man with a video camera,” and so, between 2010 and 2016, I captured him at a goodly number of New York City gigs — with Michael, Neal Miner, Spike Wilner, Tardo Hammer, Joe Hunt, Fukushi Tainaka, and others. Were you to look Joel up on YouTube, some eighty-plus videos there are my attempts to honor him and his music in perpetuity. And they are lovely, satisfying, multi-dimensional. I hope you visit and enjoy them.
Michael Kanan speaks beautifully of Joel:
Joel used to play with my first piano teacher, Harvey Diamond: they played a lot together. When I first heard Joel play I was probably a teenager, and I went to many gigs before I played with him. I don’t remember my first introduction to him but everyone in Boston at some point was at Joel’s sessions in his house in Newton. He had six or seven sessions a week, where people got together and played tunes. More experienced players were going there every week, young Berklee students – I don’t know how he would find them — young to old, sometimes his contemporaries. It would be one group, usually a quartet.
At some point I started going there to play. I was very young: looking back on it now, I enjoyed it but I really didn’t deeply understand what was so great about his playing. After I moved to New York in 1991 I lost touch with him. When my mother was in her declining years, I was spending more time in Boston – sometimes a week at a time. Then I went to Joel’s every day to play, and I really started understanding musically what he was doing. The most basic things: what does it mean to have a good rhythm, what does it mean to have a swing feel – the things the older generation knew naturally. Going to Joel’s that second time I was really stunned. Here was someone who was a great example of everything I was trying to do myself.
He had a real appreciation for Lennie Tristano and his whole approach to music. Initially, that’s what bonded me to Joel, because that way of playing was what I was interested in. But there was a lot more to him than that. He had heard Konitz and Marsh but there was also Ben and Hawk and Lester and everyone else, so when I was interested in things other than the Tristano tradition, it was a experience to talk and play with Joel, who had been at their gigs.
It wasn’t about building a huge repertoire, it was about getting deeper with the tunes you were playing. I appreciated that – I could play the tunes I loved over and over. You can get in deeper if you know the terrain.
Joel was a master of melody, he had a beautiful sound, and he also played with real fire and passion. He always taught by example – sometimes I would ask him questions. I asked him once how he developed his kind of rhythmic feel, and he told me when he was doing gigs as a young guy, it would be a horn, piano, and drums, and he figured out he had to play with real command because there was no bass player.
We had a mutual feeling. He told me once that he loved how I comped, that it must be because I had played with singers for so many years that I knew how to lay in a chord at the right moment.
Joel loved all the masters, Pres, Hawk, Ben, Warne, all the great players. He talked about getting to hear them in person. He knew how to get a big sound without it being a loud harsh sound. He had a huge sound but it wasn’t overwhelming – it was more of an inviting sound.
I had something to do with Joel’s moving to New York in 2010. I knew there would be players here who would get out of him what I got out of him, so I set up sessions with people just as he had done for me. It was a homecoming. He was so thrilled and energized by it that he moved here in his eighties – dragging that tenor saxophone on the subway to go to people’s sessions and gigs.
He lived the way he wanted to live. It was great to witness that. Once we were both here he talked a lot about the history of the city and places – the gigs he had attended and ones he had played. Joel was so enamored of the city. He and Steve Little had done sessions in the Sixties, so I arranged a jam session for the two of them, and they looked at each other and said, “Is that YOU? Is that YOU?” Getting to play with the two of them it was just amazing. And there was an excitement in the clubs when Joel played, you could feel that crackling electric atmosphere. I’m glad he got to experience that.
A life beautifully lived. I want to celebrate Joel.
The string bassist and jazz scholar Stu Zimny also learned from and played with Joel:
I was very surprised and and saddened to hear of the passing of Joel Press at age 92.Partly because I did not think he was much older than I. He was always youthful in demeanor, appearance and attitude.
I have not seen him for a long time but our association goes back to the 1980’s in the Boston area. I was an aspiring bassist and Joel would hold regular weekly sessions at his home in Newton, which was almost next door to where I lived.His was a rambling old house with many rooms. Downstairs was a spacious living room hosting a nice piano and, if I recall correctly, a drum set and amps.
Most of the attendees were skilled players so there was not the customary 27 choruses of “Donna Lee” by players who could barely carry off a single chorus with interest. Joel was also aware of “musical life outside the Berklee Real Book”. The home also served as a landing area for various touring jazz and classical players so one could be pleasantly surprised by unexpected guests.We would play for a while, retire to the kitchen for some high-octane Java, then return to playing. I suspect Joel kept going even after we left! Joel had a gig as a musical contractor I believe, among other pursuits. He introduced me to a great classical bassist (a laid-back Midwesterner, on the BSO sub-list, with a plethora of talent) with whom I studied intermittently for a few years.
Joel himself, judging by his style and and vinyl records being spun on his coveted stereo gear, preferred the older styles. One was more likely to hear Ben Webster than Hank Mobley. That was rare in those days and I appreciated it since it aligned with my own archeological musical interests. I suspect that he also appreciated that about me.Joel’s style placed an emphasis on tone and swing rather than proffering strings of eighth and sixteenth notes. He had “chops” but governed by a great deal of discernment and seemed more interested in hearing what others might be putting out there.We also shared an interest in high-end audio and, in particular, McIntosh electronics. There was a local Mac dealership which became an audiophile watering hole of sorts for both of us.
He was a sweetheart. His passing leaves a gap in the musical firmament.
Happy travels, my friend.
Let us honor this man, both durable and playful — a model of how to live a long creative life.
Thank you, Joel. In your honor, I forego the usual closing words and pictures.
Michael Kanan, piano; Neal Miner, string bass; Cait Jones, vocal. Fine and Rare, November 21, 2022.
I’m late to the party, because Cait Jones has been singing and leading small swinging bands in New York City and around the world for more than a half-dozen years; she has YouTube videos and several CDs as “Cait and the Critters.”
But what I heard in person last Monday night convinced me thoroughly that she has and is a rare talent.
In the course of a set-and-a-half, Cait sang a baker’s dozen classic songs: YOU TOOK ADVANTAGE OF ME / JUST IN TIME / WHERE OR WHEN / LULLABY OF THE LEAVES / FOOLIN’ MYSELF / ZING! WENT THE STRINGS OF MY HEART / I HADN’T ANYONE TILL YOU / BLUES IN THE NIGHT / THEM THERE EYES // NICE AND EASY / YOU BROUGHT A NEW KIND OF LOVE TO ME / ALL TOO SOON / WHEN LIGHTS ARE LOW //
(I noted with pleasure the absence of GOD BLESS THE CHILD, MY FUNNY VALENTINE, and WHAT A LITTLE MOONLIGHT CAN DO — marvelous songs done threadbare through repetition. And because this post is about Cait, I am not writing at length about the superb intuitive playing of Michael and Neal, two heroes of the art. But you know.)
Because Cait has a background in swing dancing and music for those agile people, each song had a pulse, which enabled her, Michael, and Neal to explore the endless variations in Medium Tempo. No “racetrack tempos” (to quote Jimmie Rowles) and no sentimental dirges. In another singer’s hands, a dozen vintage affection-themed songs might have sounded too similar. But Cait had a clear idea of what I will call the landscape of each song, or perhaps its interior decor. So the mood of each song was unique unto itself. I never thought to myself, “Well, we just heard that,” because each pearl was remarkable on its own terms.
Her approach is at once plain and filigreed.
Plain in that she respects the composers’ intentions without melodramatic ego-displays. The result is a friendly convincing understatement, where the song itself is the star. She has a lovely voice, splendid clear diction, admirable microphone technique (somewhat of a lost art) dead-on pitch, and subtle swing. Her first choruses honored the melody; her second choruses wandered in the meadow of possibilities, changing a pitch here and there in a manner that would have pleased Richard Rodgers or Ann Ronell.
The filigree entered in her small but moving variations on the melodic line, and — even better — her delightful way of handling the lyrics as if they were emotive speech, compressing a phrase into a few beats and elongating another over the rhythm — as if the words had just occurred to her as needing to be shared, said, sung. I felt that she had moved into each song, made herself comfortable, and delicately rearranged its moving parts so that we could hear it anew. To me that is an art both considerable and subtle, never in capital letters but affecting nonetheless.
As you can tell, I was impressed. And I don’t impress easily these days. A publicist recently sent me a CD by a well-advertised young singer, and I put it in the player with the best expectations. Midway through the first chorus, I thought, “This young woman is doing a superb job of impersonating Sarah Vaughan — a great feat — but I can listen to Sarah unadorned whenever I like.” Cait Jones sounds like herself, although it’s clear she’s heard the masters. But delightfully, I think her inspirations are also the great instrumentalists, more Ben Webster and Johnny Hodges than cloning singers.
Cait has two new CDs coming out. On one, she composes lyrics to the music of Mathieu Najean; on the other, she is accompanied by Michael Kanan, Neal Miner, and Greg Ruggiero . . . none better. I will keep you informed about both issues, which I am looking forward to.
Before we start, on Monday, August 22, 2022, there will be a celebration of Murray Wall’s life and music at the 11th Street Bar in New York City (510 East 11th Street, between Avenues A and B, where Murray and Richard Clements co-led a band for a long memorable time. The website says 7:00 to midnight; the bar does not take reservations, and I won’t be in New York, so any video documentation will be by someone else. (Will someone take that unadorned hint?)
But the best way to love Murray is not in memory but in actuality; I want to do that here.
Let’s go back to January 12, 2011, for the momentous occasion of tenor saxophonist Ted Brown’s first gig as a leader in forty years. It happened at the Kitano Hotel, and Ted was joined by Murray, string bass; Michael Kanan, piano; Taro Okamoto, drums.
FEATHER BED (Ted’s line on YOU’D BE SO NICE TO COME HOME TO):
and LULLABY OF THE LEAVES:
HOW DEEP IS THE OCEAN? — those loving questions answered in sound and feeling:
GONE WITH THE WIND:
and finally, a performance that Murray doesn’t play on — a duet between Ted and Michael on PRISONER OF LOVE — but you’ll permit me to imagine him at a table near the band, listening and admiring, as we all were:
And something lovely that only a few people who weren’t at 15 Barrow Street, New York, on January 30, 2020, have experienced — I’LL NEVER BE THE SAME, performed by Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Scott Robinson, tenor saxophone; Joe Cohn, guitar, and Murray:
Murray Wall improved the spiritual landscape for anyone who knew him, even casually, and his art continues to do so today. I will have more to share with you.
Every Tuesday night in June, the wonderful trio of Gabrielle Stravelli, voice; Michael Kanan, piano; Pat O’Leary, string bass, has an early-evening gig (5:30 to 7 PM, more or less) at the comfortable Birdland Theater, one flight down, at 315 West 44th Street, between Eighth and Ninth Avenues in midtown Manhattan.
The OAO and I were there for the first Tuesday and it was delightful and delightfully varied. I couldn’t bring back any video-evidence for you, but here are two previously unseen delights from the Dan Block Quartet’s gig at Swing 46, with Dan on tenor saxophone.
I can’t account for the meteorological theme, but since everyone talks about the weather, I hope that will hold true for these beautiful musicians and their art.
Here’s a rarity, WITH THE WIND AND THE RAIN IN YOUR HAIR, by Clara Edwards and Jack Lawrence — its first recordings from 1940. (Both Edwards and Lawrence are fascinating figures: she was a singer, pianist, composer of art songs as well as popular ones, and he is perhaps best known for the Ink Spots’ IF I DIDN’T CARE — but their biographies are intriguing.)
From the rare to the perhaps over-familiar . . . ON THE SUNNY SIDE OF THE STREET, like ALL OF ME, has been performed so many times that I often sigh when a band or singer calls it, but not with this band and this singer. It’s credited to Jimmy McHugh and Dorothy Fields, although the gossip says that the melody was first composed by one Thomas Waller. Whether that’s true or not, I am reminded of Jonathan Schwartz’s anecdote about his father, Arthur Schwartz, saying to his son when they were walking in the shade, “Let’s cross over to Dorothy’s side of the street.”
Here, we can do the same thing (looking all four ways) and find ourselves in creative happiness. Catch Gabrielle’s exultant second chorus and the wondrous playing by Dan, Pat, and Michael (the last slyly reminding us of the pitter-pat, as he should):
Don’t miss Gabrielle and her friends, no matter what your phone tells you about the weather. They improve the darkest day.
Words heard after last night’s performance in the Birdland Theater, May 31, 2022 — a performance by Gabrielle Stravelli, voice; Michael Kanan, piano; Pat O’Leary, string bass from 5:30 to close to 7 PM.
Gabrielle told us that each of the Tuesdays to come will have a new menu of songs, so what follows is just a list of musical blessings, but since I kept notes, you get to read them The trio started with a very affirmative ‘DEED I DO, then I WISHED ON THE MOON (tender, then swinging), a defiantly rocking A SLEEPIN’ BEE, usually taken at a slow tempo, THAT OLD DEVIL CALLED LOVE, WONDER WHY, an exultantly funky I’M JUST A LUCKY SO-AND-SO. Then, a swinging I NEVER KNEW (played so often as an instrumental but its sweet archaic lyrics completely convincing) and what was a highlight of the session, LET’S BEGIN, where I thought of Gabrielle both as most expert wooer and the host of a game show where delights waited behind the second door. GET OUT OF TOWN closed with her grinning, saying, “and STAY out!” which was hilarious, then she segued into I’LL BE AROUND, after the final notes dying away, saying, “I don’t always do ‘doormat songs,’ but that one is special.” As the set neared its close, it got even better, with TAKE THE “A” TRAIN, (an audience request that took on wings) a passionate BORN TO BE BLUE, and closing with a romping FOR YOU, FOR ME, FOREVERMORE.
I’d heard this trio (with Dan Block and Danny Tobias added) about two months ago at a party and thought, “They are touching my heart more each time I hear them,” but the Birdland session was the embodiment of heartfelt chamber jazz.
Gabrielle is in superb voice, with operatic strengths but also whispers, side-of-the-mouth secrets, and the occasional growl — all dramatically used to reveal a song’s center. Pat not only sustained the harmonies and the drive but reminded us all that a splendid bass solo is something too precious to talk through, and Michael swung, commented, brought sweetness, comedy, and warmth as needed, as prescribed. At times Pat and Michael reminded me of Ray Brown and Jimmie Rowles, even Hinton and Basie or Jimmy Jones. And the trio is clearly a telepathic band: Gabrielle called a tune, pointed out the key if it needed to be pointed out, and they were off, sharing one perfectly shaped performance after another.
Another lovely aspect: the Birdland Theater is clean and quiet; the piano is well-tuned; the sound system is transparent and unobtrusive. And the substantial audience was near-reverent, as they so often are not. A wonderful place for a pre-theater or escaping-rush-hour gig, and when we emerged, the sky was still bright. And the music rang in our ears.
I was too absorbed to take phone photographs and the management frowns on interlopers with video cameras, so you’ll just have to get there yourself. They’ll be one flight down at 315 West 44th Street, just west of Eighth Avenue in midtown Manhattan every Tuesday in June. Why deprive yourselves? Or, as the Sages say, “Support gigs, they blossom; stay home, they wither.”
It was the Sunday before Valentine’s Day . . . and properly, the OAO and I were at St. John’s in the Village on Eleventh Street to hear and capture another delightful recital by Yaala Ballin and Michael Kanan, two of my favorite song-explorers.
As is their playful habit, Yaala and Michael made their recital inclusive in the nicest ways. No, the audience was not invited to sing along, but they did shape the event by choosing the repertoire, on the spot and in advance. And wonders resulted.
Because of the holiday, love was the theme. But since the repertoire is not only celebratory, their were beautiful tributes to devotion, harder-edged rueful dialogues on love that got away as well as its glories. Here are six beauties, some as brief as one chorus, but how much music Yaala and Michael can create in thirty-two bars!
LONG AGO AND FAR AWAY:
I LET A SONG GO OUT OF MY HEART:
ALL TOO SOON:
FALLING IN LOVE WITH LOVE:
IT’S ALL RIGHT WITH ME:
MORE THAN YOU KNOW:
It was snowing that afternoon, but the music kept us warm for days, and it continues to do so now.
A WEAVER OF DREAMS, music by Victor Young, lyrics by Jack Elliott, published in 1951, is both notable and obscure. It’s been recorded by so many people (Lord’s discography lists 154 recordings): Carmen McRae, Nat King Cole, Billy Eckstine, John Coltrane, Kenny Burrell, Bing Crosby, Johnny Mathis, Cedar Walton, Lee Konitz, Tony Bennett come to mind, but I couldn’t remember hearing it performed on a gig until Gabrielle Stravelli sang it with Dan Block, tenor saxophone; Michael Kanan, piano; Pat O’Leary, string bass, at Swing 46, on December 14, 2021.
This version is pensive and lovely. I hope more people add this song to their repertoires, and, as always, I hope to expand the fan clubs of Gabrielle, Dan, Michael, and Pat — working band of four friends:
This band and these musicians are reasons I plan to stay in New York: they make what could be an urban desert bloom and keep blooming.
Yesterday, while many people were watching the Olympics or the pre-game Super Bowl show, the OAO and I were at a marvelous concert, “The Great American Songbook, Requested,” which Yaala Ballin and Michael Kanan have put on four years — with a brief interruption you might know about — at St. John’s in the Village, on Eleventh Street in Greenwich Village, Manhattan. As always, it was an extraordinary duet performance, delicate and intense at once. And what bliss to experience music in a quiet place with wonderful acoustics so that no amplification was needed.
If you’ve followed JAZZ LIVES for any length of time, you’ll know how I admire Michael Kanan — and of course I have company — his serious respect for the composer’s intentions, his steady but lightsome pace, the lovely voicings, his small sweet surprises. And his friendly embrace of any singer or horn player who works with him. No self-conscious “innovations,” but no cliches, no spattering-keyboard exhibitionism, just a tender swing, deeply intuitive.
Yaala is of course a wonderful singer — as opposed to someone “who sings” — and I marvel at her range of expression, from an under-the-breath conversational phrase, almost tossed away, to great sliding and bending of notes that lead into an almost operatic power and zeal without ever becoming too much. She is a grand teller of stories: better, she is a wonderful actress who writes new scripts within the familiar confines of lyrics and melodies.
Both of them are delighted to be performing this music, and their delight comes through to us: they are unabashedly joyous. And the audience — both in the church and online — couldn’t help but feel it.
Here are four love letters Yaala and Michael sent yesterday: love sent to us, to the song, to music itself.
To the lovely night sky:
To a city, home to the loved one:
To Love itself:
and to the person one thinks of constantly:
Better than roses, chocolates, candy hearts, or greeting cards: the emotions and sounds will still be fresh on February 15.
I don’t do well at games of chance, so I stay out of casinos, don’t buy scratch-off lottery tickets, and wouldn’t put down a dollar to bet where the pea would be under the walnut shell. But I am so happy to announce the return of my favorite musical game of chance, a duo-recital for voice (Yaala Ballin) and piano (Michael Kanan) that will take place this coming Sunday, February 13, at 3 PM, in the little Greenwich Village church, St. John’s in the Village, 218 West 11th Street (Google Maps points out that it is close to “Carrie Bradshaw’s Apartment,” which has obviously become a historical landmark).
Before I explain why someone might consider this concert a game of chance, let me offer some music from their most recent outing two years ago (!), Valentine’s Day 2020 . . . aeons ago, each song displaying the affectionate balance between puckish risk-taking and heart-on-sleeve emotions that Yaala and Michael create with such art.
Here they delicately unfurl the Paul Mertz – Jimmy Dorsey narrative of quiet adoration:
“We love schmaltz,” Yaala says — but this version of the Rodgers and Hart classic never gets schmaltzy. Rather, there is a sly tenderness that reminds us of what this song is all about, and how sweet those envisionings of togetherness are and will be:
A singer, a pianist, and the Great American Songbook might sound like a familiar formula. But wait! There’s more!
Most recitals have a fixed set of songs that will be performed, or as they say in Britain, “the programme.” In Carnegie Hall, it might be Haydn – Bartok – Dvorak (the audience knows this when they purchase their tickets). A jazz concert might not be announced in advance, but there is a “set list.”
Playfully but seriously, Yaala and Michael make sure the audience has a chance to choose what they will hear.
Whether the audience is there on the spot or enjoying the streaming performance, they will be asked to choose two songs they would like to hear (from a list provided beforehand — Berlin, Kern, Rodgers and Hart, Ellington, Gershwin, and more). Those “requests” go into a tangible-virtual basket and the program proceeds by intent happenstance, as Yaala picks the next slip of paper or the next virtual request. It adds whimsy and spontaneity to an already delightful duet.
Here you can purchase tickets (virtual and tangible), choose songs, and in general, involve yourselves in the afternoon’s pleasures with even greater enjoyment. Whether you are in front of your screen or on the benches at St. John’s in the Village, you will be charmed.
So much of life is a collective enterprise. My breakfast is the result of animals, farmers and truckers and grocers, even though I made the coffee and omelet myself.
This blog is my own little farm, and the produce wouldn’t exist without the musicians, and sharing it couldn’t happen without the help of friends and scholars, generous in so many ways. One such fellow is the tireless Franz Hoffmann, known for his work in documenting jazz in various media and extensive minute-by-minute research into, among others, Henry “Red” Allen and J. C. Higginbotham. Franz also reads this blog and saw my presentation of the performance done by Jimmie Rowles and Sir Roland Hanna — divided in two in the middle of a song and dark as could be. He, without my asking, sent brighter copies with the songs logically separated.
Watching this restored version, it was as if I’d never seen it before, so I invite you to this new pleasure also, with thanks and salutations to Franz. To Jimmie and Sir Roland, of course. And this post is in honor of someone who loves and evokes Jimmie, the pianist Michael Kanan, who celebrated a birthday earlier this month. Now to music.
Going slowly can be a true art, enabling musicians who understand to get behind the song and let light shine through, also. The four people in these two performances are masters of those subtle arts: Gabrielle Stravelli, voice; Dan Block, reeds; Michael Kanan, piano; Pat O’Leary, string bass. They don’t double the tempo; Gabrielle doesn’t reduce the beautiful lyrics to scat-rubble. What emerges, bar by bar, is magic.
First, the Hoagy Carmichael – Johnny Mercer SKYLARK, translucent, tender, intense:
Mercer again, this time with Victor Schertzinger, for I REMEMBER YOU, with the brief but touching verse:
This neat little band has been attracting fans and friends on early Tuesday evenings at Swing 46 (349 West 46th Street, New York City) for more than a few months . . . and it deserves to have its names up in lights. Leader Dan Block (tenor and alto saxophones, clarinet and bass clarinet) gives equal time to the wonderful Gabrielle Stravelli (vocals), Michael Kanan (piano), and Pat O’Leary (string bass). Here they are — about two months ago — tenderly moseying through the Waller-Razaf AIN’T MISBEHAVIN’ — which is truly a love song about fidelity and joyous discovery — at a tempo that makes it emotionally meaningful, rather than a race to the outchorus:
What lovely playful sounds! And in their three sets on a Tuesday night, this splendid quartet creates marvel after marvel. You mean to say you could have visited them at West 46th Street and haven’t . . . ?
The combination of Yaala Ballin, voice, and Michael Kanan, piano, is very special: a swirling-together of melody, joy, and wit in the most delightfully intuitive ways. And because they both know the way to our hearts through music, they can be brave. Each song is a delicately strong exercise in the taking of risks — risks that pay off.
Over the past few years, they have developed a concert “program” where the audience gets to choose the songs from a long list of classics (Porter, Berlin, Gershwin, Ellington, Rodgers and Hart and more) — each audience member picks two titles, and the slips of paper are placed in a basket, from which Yaala draws. It works wonderfully: a combination of surprise and pleasure.
I’m writing this just in time: Yaala and Michael will be performing one set together, tomorrow, November 17, 2 PM (New York time) on Facebook Live.
Here are four love songs from their Valentine’s Day 2020 concert, an occasion I recall well with great gratitude.
From OKLAHOMA! —
Berlin’s very touching THEY SAY IT’S WONDERFUL —
OUR LOVE IS HERE TO STAY (with the verse):
and a fitting close to this segment, AT LAST:
HEART AND SOUL for sure.
Don’t forget: Yaala and Michael will be performing tomorrow, November 17, at 2 PM (New York time). I know it’s only virtual — Facebook Live — but I look forward to the time when they can be experienced in person.
Oh, little things. The subtleties of melodic embellishment. Imbuing the familiar written notes with personality. Being witty without being heavy-handed. Creating light-hearted perpetual-motions of swing. Working as a community. Honoring the elders but understanding just how innovative those elders are.
In short, the very foundations of great enticing art that never shouts or insists on capital letters. A wooing art, genial and seductive. Humane and friendly — and graciously old-fashioned in its embrace of listeners, with no hauteur.
The music that exemplifies these assertions was performed and recorded at the cleverly titled Vegans N’ Roses in Spain, a month or so before the pandemic told us that the bar was closed indefinitely. How fortunate we are to have this evidence, which drummer Guillem has just posted on YouTube and which I happily share with you.
TEACH ME TONIGHT:
Children at play in a field, but with the wisdom of the Elders — that’s what I hear. If these musicians are new to you, write their names down on the back of a grocery receipt and carry it in your wallet . . . or note them on your phone, so you won’t forget them. They know how to light the way.
Art is all about passion: think of the great soprano arias, whether Puccini or Bechet; think of Louis or Bird — the heart on fire, so full of feelings to be shared with us. But there’s the counterbalance: passion without control might be noise. Anyone who’s tried to play or sing — seriously — knows how much exactitude is required to create the notes, the phrases, the pauses, that create that drama that didn’t exist five minutes before.
Gabrielle Stravelli and the instrumentalists surrounding her on the early-evening performances at Swing 46 not only know these truths but embody them: call it passion and control, abandonment and discipline: here are three soulful examples by Gabrielle, Dan Block, tenor saxophone, bass clarinet; Paul Bollenback, guitar; Pat O’Leary, string bass.
I WALK A LITTLE FASTER (Cy Coleman – Carolyn Leigh):
BORN TO BE BLUE (Mel Torme – Robert Wells):
BLAME IT ON MY YOUTH (Oscar Levant – Edward Heyman):
The closing notes of BLAME IT ON MY YOUTH say it all.
Gabrielle and her friends (most often the irreplaceable pianist Michael Kanan) have gigs all over town (hooray!) and you can find out more here or here. Even in the ruckus that is West 46th Street, sirens and chatter at no charge, their art aims straight at us. And sticks.
When you know, you know. I was at Swing 46 last night to see and hear and applaud Dan Block, alto and tenor saxophones; Gabrielle Stravelli, vocal; Michael Kanan, keyboard; Pat O’Leary, string bass. It threatened to rain all through the gig and the usual street theatre of that block was at its best (come visit and see for yourselves).
In the middle of the second set, Gabrielle called the Ellington LOVE YOU MADLY and they performed it with great enthusiastic beauty . . . at the end of the performance, Gabrielle said exultantly, as if she were Ida Lupino directing a film, “CUT! And PRINT!” looking at me, which I took as the sign of a small miracle, that an artist, completing a performance, is happy with it. I got permission from the other three, so you can enjoy this marvel, hot and fresh:
This wonderful quartet performs every Tuesday from 5:30 to 8:30. I’ve been there every week and have always come away full of joy. They’re loved . . . madly.
Sharp-eyed readers will notice that October 12 has not come yet, so before someone writes in to explain my error, I am announcing an event that will take place in slightly more than two weeks from this evening. And it concerns this man, seen in the photograph above, the wondrous tenor saxophonist Larry McKenna. Here’s what he sounds like:
Now, imagine that sound backed by a different (but equally splendid) jazz rhythm section, and a string ensemble of three cellos, one violin, one English horn doubling oboe, one flute, arrangements by Larry and by Jack Saint Clair, the latter of whom will also be conducting.
Yes, you don’t need to imagine, but you do need to attend the event in real time as it is taking place at World Cafe Live, 8:30 to 10:30 PM, Tuesday, October 12, 2021. The WCL is located at 3025 Walnut St. Philadelphia, PA 19104 — not far from the 30th Street station. (I’ve been there: it was a very welcoming place.)
The price is $35.00 per ticket, and it is general admission: you can buy tickets and read about Covid-19 protocols here. Yes, you will have to show proof of vaccination; yes, you will be expected to wear your mask except when eating or drinking.
Yes, I am attending. Yes, I will bring my video camera, but even I — who prides himself on the possibilities of video-recording — will say that a video is not the same as being there in person. And, no (the first no!) the event is not being streamed, nor is it a seven-night engagement, and the WCL is not the size of Carnegie Hall, so, to quote the oracle Patrick O’Leary, “You snooze, you lose.”
And: before the virus changed the landscape, there were always a thousand reasons to stay home, and we know them well. Given the virus, there are more reasons. But: to me, this is a once-in-a-lifetime event. Perhaps it is to you also. And, in case you want to know the source of the aphorism, “You have to get out of your chair sometime,” c’est moi. I hope to see you there — for beauty’s sake.
Here’s what I wrote about this superb quartet when I visited them on August 31:
Between 5:30 and 8:30 last night, beauty filled the air in front of Swing 46 (Forty-Sixth Street, west of Eighth Avenue, New York City) thanks to Gabrielle Stravelli (above), vocals; Dan Block, tenor saxophone and clarinet, Michael Kanan, keyboard; Pat O’Leary, string bass.
I don’t haveany video evidence for you, but with good reason: that’s a busy street, and occasionally the music was –– shall we say — intruded upon by clamor. But the music won out, of course, and it wasn’t a matter of volume, but of emotional intensity. I’ve admired Gabrielle for more than a decade now: her beautiful resonant voice, lovely at top and bottom, her wonderful vocal control. But more so, her candid expressive phrasing, matching the emotions of each song in subtle convincing ways. She’s always fully present in the musical story, eloquent and open. With witty lyrics, she sounds as if she’s just about to burst into giggles; on dark material, she can sound downright vengeful. In three sets last night, she offered a deep bouquet of ballads — and not only songs usually done slowly: FLY ME TO THE MOON; I CAN DREAM, CAN’T I?, I’LL WALK ALONE; YOU’VE CHANGED; I’LL BE AROUND. A few vengence-is-mine songs — GOODY GOODY and THE MAN THAT GOT AWAY — added spice, and her readings of the first title and the second song’s “Good riddance, good-bye,” suggested once again that she is a splendid friend and perhaps a fierce enemy. Many of the other standards — NIGHT AND DAY, JUST IN TIME, AS LONG AS I LIVE — are well-established landmarks in the repertoire, but Gabrielle made them shine. She embraces the song; her singing reaches out to us, fervently and gently.
Her delight in singing to us was matched by that of her colleagues. Dan Block is quietly memorable in any context, and his sound alone was delightful. But he and Gabrielle had flying conversations where their intuitive telepathy was a marvel. Other times, he played Lester to her Billie, “filling in the windows,” offering just the right counterpoint and loving commentary. He was matched by Michael Kanan, master of quiet touching subversions in the manner of our hero Jimmie Rowles; both he and the superb bassist Pat O’Leary not only kept the time and the harmonies beautifully in place but created their own songs throughout.
I visited Swing 46 again last night, and the four artists just outdid themselves. And although 46th Street is not ideal for video-recording, I have two to offer you. But first, some updates.
Dan brought his most magical bass clarinet to add to tenor saxophone and clarinet: he’s always astounded me on that possibly balky instrument since our first intersections in 2004. In the hustle and bustle of the street — in Gabrielle’s closing lines of AS LONG AS I LIVE, a song about how the singer wants to take good care of herself, an ambulance, lights and sirens blazing and blaring, went by — Michael and Pat created one quirky inquiring beautiful phrase after the other, supporting, encouraging, exploring, even trading musical witticisms. And Gabrielle touched our hearts in singular ways on song after song.
And this band has a splendidly expansive repertoire: two “all right” tunes — I WAS DOING ALL RIGHT and IT’S ALL RIGHT WITH ME, a seriously playful LOVE ME OR LEAVE ME and a brooding WARM VALLEY — to which Gabrielle has created very touching, simple but not cliched, lyrics; an EXACTLY LIKE YOU where it seemed as if the whole band was ready to break into laughter at something, an enthusiastic SOON, a LADY BE GOOD where Gabrielle and Dan did Lester’s 1936 solo line (!) — a few more classic love songs, FALLING IN LOVE WITH LOVE than became LET’S FALL IN LOVE (with the verse), ISN’T THIS A LOVELY DAY which perhaps subliminally led into NIGHT AND DAY. The other side of love had to be explored, and was, in LITTLE WHITE LIES and ILL WIND. There was Gabrielle’s jaunty tread through YOU’RE GETTING TO BE A HABIT WITH ME, love via meteorology with A FOGGY DAY and a few more. One I cannot forget is Gabrielle’s reading of BLAME IT ON MY YOUTH — heartbreaking yet controlled.
I heard whispers that this group is considering a CD with some deep slow songs. I hope these rumors are true.
And there’s video. Imperfect but there. But it requires a little prelude.
I had checked the weather report obsessively, hoping for enough rain to bring the band and audience inside but not enough to make the sometimes-leaky building a disaster. No such luck. So when I arrived early and was greeted by the kind, resourceful Michelle Collier (a fine singer herself) I had resigned myself to no video. But, I thought, I could set up the camera, put it on the table with the lens cap on, and have an auditory souvenir. If my video and audio capers documented in this blog haven’t made it clear, I delight in having evidence of joyous creativity — to make it last forever.
I’d resigned myself to creating the modern equivalent of radio (and the black-screen audios sound quite nice) but for the third song, when Dan put the bass clarinet together, I thought, “I HAVE to capture this,” and held the heavy camera-and-microphone in my hands for nearly six minutes (hence the mildly trembling unsteadiness . . . no time to unpack my tripod and no space for it anyway) and I am delighted I did, because this LOVE ME OR LEAVE ME is the most inspired conversation among a quartet:
I couldn’t hold the camera steady after that, but I found a place for it on the table, and I’m glad I did — for WARM VALLEY, with Gabrielle’s lyrics. Most lyrics added after the fact to Ellington songs seem out of place; hers do not:
I try to avoid hyperbole, but those are two masterpieces. I believe this quartet will appear at Swing 46 for the remaining two Tuesdays in September and the last two weeks in October. If you vibrate to the arts of this music, tender, solemn, hilarious, raucously swinging, you owe it to yourself to get to 349 West 46th Street, between Eight and Ninth Avenue (on the north side) on Tuesdays from 5:30 to 8:30. Gabrielle, Mchael, Dan, and Pat bestow blessings in every song.