Tag Archives: Michael Kanan

LEE KONITZ AT CLOSE RANGE: TED BROWN, BRAD LINDE, JUDY NIEMACK, MICHAEL KANAN, MURRAY WALL, JEFF BROWN (The Drawing Room, Brooklyn, December 6, 2015)

Others who knew him well have written with great eloquence about Lee Konitz, who moved into spirit a few days ago, having shared his gifts with us for 92 years. So I will simply share a video-recording of the one performance I was privileged to attend and record, and the story around it.  I am sharing this performance at the request of several of the participating musicians, to honor Lee Konitz as he was in life, moving from WHAT IS  THIS THING CALLED LOVE? into SUBCONSCIOUS-LEE (a title given the line by string bassist Arnold Fishkind).

The performance took place on December 6, 2015, at a session celebrating Ted Brown, held at the Drawing Room, Michael Kanan and Stephanie Greig’s strudio in Brooklyn: the late Lee Konitz is far right, Brad Linde, tenor, in the center, Ted Brown, tenor, to the left, Judy Niemack, vocal; Michael Kanan, piano; Murray Wall, string bass; Jeff Brown, drums.

Before I tell my tale, I am grateful to Brad Linde for writing about that night:

Birthday party performances with and for Ted Brown were perennial favorites for me to host at the Drawing Room in Brooklyn. Over the years, there has been a cast of characters from the Tristano School family and adjacent musicians that frequently play with Ted and myself.

This particular night I drove up from DC, returning Aaron Quinn, Miho Hazama, and Jon Irabagon to the city after a gig at the Kennedy Center. I picked up Ted’s cake and made it to the venue with less than the usual time to spare. Two big surprises awaited me. The first was that my tenor has suffered damage in transit and was leaking in the middle of the horn – a devastating discovery. The second was the improbable appearance of Lee Konitz in Brooklyn!

For years, I had dreamed of situating myself in a performance alongside Ted and Lee. And here the dream came true at the worst possible time for my Conn 10M. We started off with “All The Things You Are” and after my stuttering improvisation on a out-of-balance horn, Lee said to me “Nobody’s perfect,” and smiled.

Lena Bloch arrived and graciously loaned me her horn while she diligently worked to repair mine. The night became a family affair with Judy, Lena, Aaron, Murray, Joe Solomon, Jeff, Michael, Ted, and Lee playing familiar standards with unfamiliar results. Lee, at the time known for scatting as much or more than playing, was on fire, playing long choruses and revisiting the sinewy lines.

A big, fun night with heroes and friends. The sounds of surprise.

My perspective on the evening is possibly more humanly embarrassing than Brad’s leaking tenor saxophone.  I met Michael Kanan in 2010 through Joel Press, and Michael impressed me immediately as musician and person, so when I could I came to his gigs and often brought my video camera, about which he was both gracious and scrupulous.  I think it was through Michael that I met Ted Brown and Brad Linde, both of whom extended the same welcome to me.  Thus I attended a number of sessions at The Drawing Room, the upstairs studio on Willoughby Street, Brooklyn, that Michael and Stephanie Greig maintained.

When I heard of this December 2015 session in celebration of Ted, I immediately bought a ticket and came with my camera, as I had done before.  The studio was a long narrow room, and I took up the best position I could, a chair to the far right in the first row, set up my tripod, and waited for the music to begin.  As you can see on the video, the chairs in the front row were not far from the front line.  When Brad and Ted arrived, bringing Lee with them, the room was not wide enough to accommodate all the horn-players in one straight line, so Lee ended up sitting right in front of me.  Reluctantly and with hesitation, I might add. I chose the large photograph for this blogpost because his expression carries some of the same unspoken emotions.

Lee did not speak to me, but he was clearly discomfited to find someone he did not know seated almost at his elbow with an (admittedly small) camera aimed at him and the rest of the front line.  I did not hear precisely what he said to Brad, but motioning to me, his face turned away, I could see his face in a grimace of inquiry.  Other musicians have said of me, speaking to someone in the band whom they knew, “What [not who!] is that?” and I believe Lee asked Brad something similar, and I think Brad replied, “That’s Michael.  He’s OK.  I asked him to come here,” which mollified Lee so that he didn’t turn to me and tell me to leave, but whenever he did notice me, his facial expression was shocked and stern.  But he was a professional, with decades of blocking out nuisances, and the evening proceeded. I spent the evening in anxiety, waiting for him to decide he had had enough of my proximity, but perhaps he lost himself in the joy of playing and singing among friends.  You can see the results for yourself.  

All I can hope for myself is that Lee’s spirit forgives me interloper who was much too close and, without asking  permission or begging his pardon, gobbled up a piece of his art and has given it to the public.  And all I can hope for us is that we crate what we are meant to with such prolific energy, and that we, too, leave such a large hole in the universe when we move into spirit.

May your happiness increase!

LOVE SONGS ARE JUST AROUND THE CORNER — VALENTINE’S DAY 2020 with YAALA BALLIN and MICHAEL KANAN

You can figure out from the banner above what I’m suggesting as a way to spend a Friday evening with someone you’re fond of.  To borrow from James Chirillo, music will be made: Yaala and Michael have a wonderful playful sensibility; they are a special musical pair. 

Their most recent engagement was at Mezzrow last December, and here is some delicious evidence.  I present the remainder of their Mezzrow performance for your delectation, amorous or simply aesthetic.

MORE THAN YOU KNOW:

YESTERDAYS:

After the JEOPARDY theme, an Alec Wilder classic:

I LOVE PARIS:

I WAS DOING ALL RIGHT:

The closing medley: AUTUMN IN NEW YORK, I COULD WRITE A BOOK, and FALLING IN LOVE WITH LOVE:

I hope your February 14th plans include this emotionally lively music by Yaala and Michael.

May your happiness increase!

MUSIC FOR FEBRUARY FOURTEENTH! –YAALA BALLIN and MICHAEL KANAN PERFORM LOVE SONGS FOR US

This post, Janus-like, looks forward and backward.

Forward?  I want to alert you to a Valentine’s Day love-offering that’s special, a way to be bathed in the sounds of love.  Yaala Ballin, voice, and Michael Kanan, piano, will present songs of love on February 14, 7-9 PM, at St. John’s in the Village (Eleventh Street) with tickets a very loving $10.

It’s a gently interactive event as well.  No, not a sing-along.  But when ticket-buyers enter, they will be handed a list of perhaps fifty songs, classic ones, given a slip of paper and asked to mark down the titles or numbers of two songs they would like to hear.  And these little papers, selected at random, will be the music performed that evening.  I’ve seen this in action (more about that below) and it’s fun.  Details — if you need more — are here, and you can buy tickets through Eventbrite or take your chances that this won’t be sold out (which would be unromantic for you and your Ideal, wouldn’t it?).

Backward?  Yaala and Michael have already performed “the Great American Songbook, Requested,” at St. John’s in the Village last October, and I captured their performances here.  In December, they took their little show — sweet and impish — to Mezzrow, and here  are some delights from that evening.  I have left in Yaala’s inspired introductions because they are so very charming.

Yaala Ballin and Michael Kanan at Mezzrow, Dec.11, 2019, by Naama Gheber.

IT’S ALL RIGHT WITH ME:

MANHATTAN:

BUT NOT FOR ME:

SO IN LOVE:

CAN’T HELP LOVIN’ THAT MAN:

ALL THE THINGS YOU ARE:

IN A SENTIMENTAL MOOD:

LOOK FOR THE SILVER LINING (one of my requests that night):

BLUE SKIES:

I should point out that although both Yaala and Michael treat their material tenderly, they are improvisers, so I could not get tired of their explorations of these deep songs.  I will follow them “while breath lasts,” as a friend used to say.

Here are more auditory blossoms from Mezzrow.  Listen and be glad, and make plans for Valentine’s Day . . . in the name of love.  And if you don’t have a partner for that evening, buy a ticket as an act of self-love, an activity that many people scant themselves in.  And when I was at St. John’s for the October concert, I noticed some elegantly-dressed people by themselves . . . so who knows what could happen?  Be brave and join us.

May your happiness increase!

WE LOVE LUCY YEGHIAZARYAN

I know my title must seem excessive, but what if it’s true? The young singer Lucy Yeghiazaryan has got it, and I’ve experienced it both on recording and in live performance. And if you think I am oddly subjective, you could also ask Greg Ruggiero or Michael Kanan, people whose opinion about singers is certainly trustworthy.  Here’s a sample, from recent performances with Greg, guitar; Neal Miner, string bass; Fukushi Tainaka, drums:

and another standard:

Admire how much music she and her three esteemed colleagues pack into such short spaces (each of these performances could fit on one side of a 78 rpm recording, for the readers who understand that yardstick).  She does everything well and with panache: she’s on pitch, her diction is splendid, she swings (!), her scat is not a series of formulaic ba-ba-ba‘s, her second choruses are not identical to her first, she lands on pitch, and . . . perhaps most important, she sends a message of ebullient joy.  Not only is she having a good time, but she wants us to have one as well, and I don’t mean attempting to reach us by eccentric vocalizing or tricks, but by singing.  Louis would say she has “more ingredients,” but they are subtly part of her recipe.

Here’s a soulful I WISH I KNEW (with Greg; Grant Stewart, tenor saxophone; Daniel Duke, string bass; Steve Williams, drums) where her voice has the quiet intensity of a great jazz soloist while she honors melody and lyrics:

Dramatic without dramatizing, as you hear.  Here’s something from Fats:

The first fourteen seconds of that performance are delicious and what follows is no letdown.  Lucy performs “old songs” with affection, not condescension; her phrasing is witty but gentle.  She knows what the lyrics mean — the emotional script beneath the words — and although she’s absorbed the Great Singers, she’s not selling us musical knock-offs from a folding table on the street.  (“Hey, gitcha Ella here!  I gotta new Sarah, and some Anita just came in.  No, all out of Billie.  Come back Thursday.”)

You don’t need many more words from me.  Her virtues are charming and consistently audible.  And the good thing — for New Yorkers and other fortunate denizens — is that she’s performing often in a variety of contexts. Follow her on Facebook here; on the Smalls website, read a brief biography — she comes from someplace more distant even than Red Hook — and see her in performance. 

But the best thing is to see her live (and buy the CD after).  At the end of 2019, my dear friend Matt Rivera got me in to meet and hear Lucy at a fund-raiser in New Jersey.  Her two brief sets were models of professional performance that wasn’t so rehearsed as to be stale.  She chose fitting tempos, interacted beautifully with the band, spoke to the audience with deft politeness, knew her material perfectly but improvised freely within it . . . in short, she was a delight.

So, even though I have retired from teaching, I can still assign homework, and yours is to go see Lucy, before the ticket prices become too high, and you can tell your provincial friends that you discovered her.  It can be our secret.

May your happiness increase!

“LOVE SAID ‘HELLO!'”: YAALA BALLIN and MICHAEL KANAN at MEZZROW (December 11, 2019)

Yaala Ballin and Michael Kanan at Mezzrow, by Naama Gheber.

My friends and musical heroes, Yaala Ballin and Michael Kanan, returned to Mezzrow on December 11, 2019, for another evening of glorious songs, selected by the audience, as Yaala explains in the second video.  They call this “show of surprises” “The Great American Songbook, Requested,” and it is a consistent offering of joys.

But first, the Gershwins’ LOVE WALKED IN:

and for those new to Yaala and Michael’s playful plan-and-not-plan for their evening, Yaala explains it all while Michael quietly explores I’VE GOT THE WORLD ON A STRING:

THE MAN I LOVE has been performed so often that when someone launches into it I feel a little world-weary, “Oh, not that again.”  But I find this version completely compelling and emotionally plausible.  It is their teamwork, Michael’s palette of colors and textures, Yaala’s playful but deep speech-cadences.  Their performance has emotional ardor but is never “dramatic” for the sake of drama:

On with the dance, the dance of affection shared– Berlin’s CHEEK TO CHEEK, so beautifully begun and continued.  But first, Yaala tells a tale:

STAIRWAY TO THE STARS, Matty Malneck and Frank Signorelli, full of hope.  Please savor Michael’s solo chorus, his light and shadows:

The Gershwins’ OUR LOVE IS HERE TO STAY:

and Ellington’s I LET A SONG GO OUT OF MY HEART:

This is only the first part of a completely satisfying evening — with fourteen more songs delicately and ardently reinvented for us.  If you missed this December tasting menu, don’t despair: Yaala and Michael will be performing again for Valentine’s Day at St. John’s in the Village on Eleventh Street: details to come.

May your happiness increase!

A WELCOMING ART: The MICHAEL KANAN TRIO (GREG RUGGIERO, NEAL MINER)

Perhaps because I began my immersion in music in the last century with musicians who sent warmth through the speaker and in person, some “contemporary jazz” or “innovative music” seems forbidding, austere.  It looks at me suspiciously and asks, “Are you musically erudite enough to be allowed to listen to what is being created?” suggesting that I am metaphysically too short to ride the esoteric roller coaster.  But not the music Michael Kanan creates.

Pianist and composer Michael Kanan does not aim for the esoteric, although his art is consistently subtle.  He delights in song, in melodic improvisation, in swing.  His music says, “Let’s have a nice time.  Please come in!” and the most severe postmodernists gently thaw out after a chorus or two.  His playfulness is balanced by deep feeling, each note and chord carefully chosen but floating on emotion.  Jimmie Rowles stands in back of him, and Lester Young in back of both.  If you’ve been following this blog, Michael’s appeared often since 2010, when I first met him through his friend, the masterful reedman Joel Press.

Michael appears worldwide in many settings, but in New York City he is often happily onstage with Greg Ruggiero, guitar, and Neal Miner, string bass, his “brothers in rhythm.”  That splendid trio will be appearing at Mezzrow on West Tenth Street on December 27 and 28, sets at 7:30 and 9:00 PM.

But this post isn’t simply a gig advertisement.  In summer 2019, Michael, Greg, and Neal performed for an attentive audience at the now-vanished 75 Club, and those performances can now be savored here at Michael’s YouTube channel.  And here!

Ellington’s PIE EYE’S BLUES:

Michael’s own FOR JIMMY SCOTT:

His lovely THE PEARL DREAMS OF THE OCEAN:

The frisky POPCORN:

and a sweet MY IDEAL, where the trio sends Richard Whiting their love:

If you’re not close enough to Mezzrow to make this gig, you can have the trio at home with not much effort: they recorded their debut CD, IN THIS MOMENT, not long ago — also recorded live at that club.  The CD’s lovely art is by Anne Watkins, and you can read my review of the music here.

However you encounter Michael, Greg, and Neal, don’t deny yourself the pleasure.

May your happiness increase!

GUILTY, AS CHARGED

This morning, Connor Cole, a young Facebook friend, someone with good taste, casually asked me to list the recordings that had impressed me in the past year.  I’ve stopped composing “ten best” lists because I know that I will hurt the feelings of someone I’ve left off.  (I once applied for a job where there were openings for five people, and was told afterwards that I was number six, a memory which still, perhaps absurdly, stings.)  But Connor’s request pleased me, so I began thinking of the recordings of 2019.

Perhaps it was that I wasn’t fully awake, but I came up with almost nothing, which troubled me.  So I began searching through blogposts and came up with these reassuring entities (new issues only) in approximate chronological order, with apologies to those I’ve omitted, those discs which I will write about in 2020:

IN THIS MOMENT, Michael Kanan, Greg Ruggiero, Neal Miner

NEW ORLEANS PEARLS  Benny Amon

UNSTUCK IN TIME  Candy Jacket Jazz Band

NO ONE ELSE BUT YOU  Danny Tobias, Mark Shane

RAGTIME — NEW ORLEANS STYLE, Volume 2  Kris Tokarski, Hal Smith

PICK IT AND PLAY IT  Jonathan Stout

BUSY TIL’ ELEVEN  Chicago Cellar Boys

TENORMORE  Scott Robinson

UPTOWN  The Fat Babies

COMPLETE MORTON PROJECT  Andrew Oliver, David Horniblow

A SUNDAY KIND OF LOVE, Alex Levin

DREAM CITY  David Lukacs

THE MUSIC OF THE BIRD AND THE BEE  Charles Ruggiero, Hilary Gardner

LESTER’S BLUES  Tom Callens

WINTER DAYS  Rebecca Kilgore, Echoes of Swing

The majority of those discs are musician-produced, funded, and released — which is yet another blogpost about “record companies” and their understandable attrition.  Economics, technology, and a changing audience.

But that list made me go back in time, decades of trading money for musical joy.

In late childhood, I would have walked or bicycled the mile to Times Square Stores and bought Louis’ Decca JAZZ CLASSICS for $2.79 plus tax.  A few years later, Monk cutouts on Riverside at Pergament or Mays. E.J. Korvette. Lester Young and Art Tatum Verves at Sam Goody’s.  A British enterprise, Tony’s, for exotic foreign discs.  In New York City, new Chiaroscuro issues at Dayton’s, Queen-Discs at Happy Tunes.

In the CD era, I would have stopped off after work at Borders or the nearby Tower Records for new releases on Arbors, Concord, Pablo, and import labels.  Again in the city, J&R near City Hall for Kenneth, French CBS, and more.  But record stores gave way to purchasing by mail, and eventually online.  Mosaic Records was born, as was Amazon, eventually eBay.

So today the times I actually visit “a record store,” it is to browse, to feel nostalgic, to walk away with a disc that I had once coveted — often with a deceased collector’s address sticker on the back — but I am much more likely to click on BUY IT NOW in front of this computer, or, even better, to give the artist twenty dollars for a copy of her new CD.

What happened?  I offer one simple explanation.  A musician I respect, who’s been recordings since 1991, can be relied upon to write me, politely but urgently and at length, how I and people like me have ruined (or “cut into”) his CD sales by using video cameras and broadcasting the product for free to large audiences.

So it’s my fault.  I killed Decca, Columbia, and Victor — Verve, Prestige, and Riverside, too.  Glad to have that question answered, that matter settled.  Now I’m off to do more damage elsewhere.

May your happiness increase!

“SPIRITUAL REFRESHMENT = LIVE MUSIC” (Part Two): YAALA BALLIN and MICHAEL KANAN, “The Great American Songbook, Requested” (St. John’s in the Village, New York City, October 19, 2019)

Yes, these two magicians: Yaala Ballin, singing; Michael Kanan, playing.

About four weeks ago, they did their subtle transformations here:

They made music blossom.  The sign is perfectly apt.

Never let it be said that JAZZ LIVES omits any relevant detail:

And here‘s the first part, the songs being I COULD WRITE A BOOK; SO IN LOVE; EASY TO LOVE; THE WAY YOU LOOK TONIGHT; BEWITCHED, BOTHERED, AND BEWILDERED; HOW DEEP IS THE OCEAN?

And if that weren’t enough, here is the second part.

S’WONDERFUL:

IN A SENTIMENTAL MOOD:

I LOVE PARIS:

IT’S ALL RIGHT WITH ME:

MANHATTAN:

I’LL BE AROUND:

CHEEK TO CHEEK:

It was delightful to be there, which my videos may not convey wholly.  But if you missed it, and I am sure some New York readers did, be glad: Michael and Yaala will be doing another box-of-surprises program at Mezzrow on December 11 of this year.  Details here.

Yaala told us, during the concert, that she, Michael, Ari Roland, and Chris Flory are recording a CD devoted to her near-namesake, Israel Baline, whom we know as Irving Berlin.  That will be a treat — but do come out for the music as it is performed in real time, in front of people who appreciate it.

May your happiness increase!

“SPIRITUAL REFRESHMENT = LIVE MUSIC”: YAALA BALLIN and MICHAEL KANAN, “The Great American Songbook, Requested” (St. John’s in the Village, New York City, October 19, 2019)

Last Saturday, I was on my way along West 11th Street in Greenwich Village to the church above for a musical event that turned out to be more memorable than I could have imagined.  Ambling along, I had my video equipment; the musicians are friends of mine as well as heroes, and I was imagining the blogpost that might come of it.  Then I saw this banner from another church and the top two phrases struck me as completely apropos to the event to come — and they are, in the ideal world, the same thing:

Back to St. John’s for the event poster, which depicts Yaala Ballin:

“The Great American Songbook, Requested” presented Yaala Ballin, vocal, and Michael Kanan, piano, in a duo-recital drawing on Rodgers and Hart, Irving Berlin, Cole Porter, Jerome Kern and Dorothy Fields, George and Ira Gershwin, Duke Ellington, and Alec Wilder.

The songs were treated lovingly, but as old friends — which is to say that both Yaala and Michael have a reverence for their melodies and harmonies as printed on the contemporaneous sheet music, and a depth of knowledge about the best performances, but that they felt free to improvise, to express their own personalities without obscuring the music.

“Requested” was a sly and endearingly playful idea.  When we entered the church, we were given a list of songs, more than forty, organized by composer, and asked to write down two on a small slip of paper — a favorite first, another second — that we wanted to hear.  It gave the afternoon the slight flavor of a children’s party (or the office grab bag, without the terrors that can inspire).  The thirteen selections Yaala and Michael performed were drawn at random from a basket that Yaala — for that brief time, the Red Riding Hood of the West Village — had brought with her.  Of course, they knew the songs on the list, but it was a small adventure, the very opposite of a tightly-planned program.  And it worked sweetly, as you will see and hear.

I COULD WRITE A BOOK (Richard Rodgers, Lorenz Hart, Pal Joey):

SO IN LOVE (Cole Porter, Kiss Me Kate):

EASY TO LOVE (Porter, Born to Dance):

THE WAY YOU LOOK TONIGHT (Jerome Kern, Dorothy Fields, Swing Time):

BEWITCHED, BOTHERED, AND BEWILDERED (Rodgers and Hart, Pal Joey):

HOW DEEP IS THE OCEAN? (Irving Berlin):

I don’t think this playful, light-hearted but emotional musical partnership displayed this afternoon, could have been better.  I could go on about Michael’s deeply musical approach to the piano, and the chances Yaala takes and how they pay off, but the evidence is all here.  And seven more performances will be shared soon.

Yaala and Michael will be performing another version of this concert at Mezzrow on December 11.  And (as if that would not be enough), Yaala, Michael, Ari Roland, and Chris Flory are going in to the studio to record a CD of Israel Baline’s music (he wrote the preceding song and a few others).

May your happiness increase!

TWO BOUQUETS OF NOTES, TONES, ELEGANT SILENCES, MELODY, ARCHITECTURE, SWING, AND EMOTION: TED BROWN, BRAD LINDE, AARON QUINN, DAN PAPPALARDO, DERIC DICKENS

Ted Brown, Japan, 2009

I shall be simple.  There are two new CDs out, both recorded November 2018, with Ted Brown, tenor saxophone; Brad Linde, tenor saxophone; Aaron Quinn, guitar; Don Pappalardo, string bass; Deric Dickens, drums.  One is called JAZZ OF NEW CITIES; the other, ALL ABOUT LENNIE (wordplay on venerable jazz classics).  Both CDs are greatly rewarding and people who love this particular music will want to acquire them.

Brad Linde

You can listen to JAZZ OF NEW CITIES here and purchase a digital copy for $15; you can do the same for ALL ABOUT LENNIE here, same price tag.  Downloads or discs are available at CD Baby here and here.  And, as Brad writes here, “some streaming services.”  I also know that both Brad and Ted will have a few physical copies at gigs, about which more below*.

Or, simply, immerse yourself in STAR DUST:

Hearing that performance, I must say again that those who call the music made by Lennie Tristano, colleagues, and acolytes “cold” are listening with some other part of their anatomy than their ears.  I hear a direct line to Lester or Pee Wee Russell and of course Louis at their most soulful.

These CDs are immediately memorable to me in their deep intricate simplicities — like watching a master Japanese brush painter do with five strokes what a lesser painter would take weeks of canvas-covering to attempt and then not convince us at all.  I hear quiet tenderness in STAR DUST, and the meeting of souls — not only the five players on this disc, but this music reaches out of the speaker and hugs us.

As gentle a creator and person as Ted is, it will surprise no one that these CDs are egalitarian affairs: he might solo first for a few choruses, then the beautifully nimble Aaron Quinn might follow, then an eloquent solo by Brad, then some wonderfully twining counterpoint for two tenors.  That rhythm section, not incidentally, is propulsive but kind: Dickens, Pappalardo, and Quinn deserve their own CD, which I would buy: they make beautiful sounds and propel the band without being aggressive about it.

And for something more assertive, here’s LOVER, COME BACK TO ME:

I won’t offer a track-by-track summary, for this music doesn’t need such a thing if hearts and ears are open to it: it is based on aural breezes, uplifting without being self-conscious.  I haven’t listened to all the tracks because it seemed both urgent and hopeful for me to inform you about these discs now.

*Moving from “now” to “soon,” Ted Brown — born December 1, 1927 — please do the calculations — has a New York City gig in a few weeks: Wednesday, October 16 at Jazz at Kitano from 8 to 11 PM.  Ted will be joined by Michael Kanan, piano; Murray Wall, string bass; Taro Okamoto, drums.  Details and tickets here.  I’m sure Ted would autograph copies of the discs for you.

Right now, I am going to return to the pleasure of discovering this music, one track at a time, lovingly, the spirit in which it was created.  To quote Robert Frost, “You come, too.”  It would make all of us — the band and me — happy to see many people at the Kitano gig, either bearing CDs or the money to purchase them.

May your happiness increase!

JIMMIE ROWLES, CARSON SMITH, SHELLY MANNE, CHET BAKER, CHARLIE PARKER (November 5, 1953)

Jimmie Rowles is one of my most exalted musical heroes — unpredictable, witty, full of feeling, unpredictable yet always right in ways that no one could expect.

This is a particularly rare Rowles-hearing, and one that people haveci,  sought after for some time (my fellow Rowlesians Michael Kanan, Jacob Zimmerman, and Richard Salvucci, this is for you).  Many jazz fans will be excited by this because it pairs Charlie Parker and Chet Baker for one of the few times they were captured together, but for me the attraction is Rowles.

The Stash record with this rare music; background by Tommy Bahama.

The occasion: a concert at the University of Oregon. These three songs or excepts from songs appeared on a Stash lp sometime before 1988: as far as I know this music, recorded on tape, has not appeared on compact disc.  Typically for that time, the unnamed recordist was thrifty: recording tape was costly, so (s)he concentrated on Bird.  Thus the recordings are excerpted — COOL BLUES less so — so we have to wait until eleven minutes in to hear Rowles out in the open, and he sounds so delightful.

Sonic caveats here: I decided a long time ago that I would rather present imperfect videos than spend time learning how to perfect the technology, so what follows is the original Stash lp, played through speakers, recorded by my camera.  Thus the sharp-eared may hear rustlings of cars outside, my refrigerator singing its own songs, and the pre-school brother-and-sister upstairs who live to chase one another.  I apologize for all this, but the music is the gift.

Bless Jimmie Rowles.

May your happiness increase!

WORDS, WIND, OLD-FASHIONED, THEME: GABRIELE DONATI, MICHAEL KANAN, DORON TIROSH, FUKUSHI TAINAKA at the 75 CLUB (March 14, 2019)

Four more souvenirs of a wonderful musical evening at the 75 Club on 75 Murray Street, New York City.  The first two selections feature Gabriele Donati, string bass; Michael Kanan, piano; Doron Tirosh, drums; on the closing two, Fukushi Tainaka sits in on drums.  All of this goodness took place on March 14, 2019.

THREE LITTLE WORDS (the song tells us that this triplet is “I love you,” although jesters have invented alternatives):

GONE WITH THE WIND (which the informed among us know was written two years before the film):

I’M OLD FASHIONED (with the verse!):

and, to close, THE THEME:

Two postscripts.  Here and here are other musical treasures from Gabriele, Michael, and Doron, recorded on the 14th.  And on the 23rd, I had the immense good fortune of seeing and recording Ted Brown (at 91), Tardo Hammer, Paul Gill, and Jeff Brown at the same welcoming spot.  Unless I am very wrong, there will be video evidence of that rewarding evening as well.  But don’t wait for me — if you can, visit the 75 Club promptly.  You will feel the same good vibrations I did and do.

May your happiness increase!

MORE DELIGHTS FROM THE 75 CLUB: GABRIELE DONATI, MICHAEL KANAN, DORON TIROSH (March 14, 2019)

Back by popular demand (the first beautiful performance by Gabriele Donati, string bass; Michael Kanan, piano; Doron Tirosh, drums — at the 75 Club,  located at 75 Murray Street — here).  Three masters of the music at a most convivial place.

 

 

 

Bobby Troup’s blues in C, which I knew from a Frankie Laine record, BABY, BABY, ALL THE TIME:

a little Monk, LET’S COOL ONE:

and the beautiful Rodgers and Hart classic, HAVE YOU MET MISS JONES?:

I hope you’ve met Messrs. Donati, Kanan, and Tirosh, as well as making the acquaintance of the lovely 75 Club.

May your happiness increase!

AND TO THINK THAT I SAW IT AT 75 MURRAY STREET: GABRIELE DONATI, MICHAEL KANAN, and DORON TIROSH at CLUB 75 (March 14, 2019)

There’s good news.

Gabriele Donati and Doron Tirosh at Club 75

Although this hasn’t been the most severe winter in New York, I’ve been in semi-hibernation for a few months, so it was delightful to get back to hearing live jazz in Manhattan, and to remember why I live about fifty minutes away.

My recent visit — Thursday, March 14 — to Club 75 (or “The 75 Club” for the more formal among us) — was such a pleasure that I have already started to plan future visits.  (In the picture below, you can see or sense Richard Wyands, Lisle Atkinson, and Leroy Williams, so you know that this is not Amateur Night somewhere.)

It’s just exquisite. A spacious, beautifully appointed room in a venerable mansion: great sight lines, lovely service (hello, Constantine!), nifty snacks and drinks, and wonderful music.

Last Thursday, I saw Gabriele Donati, Michael Kanan, Doron Tirosh, and Fukushi Tanaka, and I am returning on the 23rd to admire Ted Brown, Tardo Hammer, Paul Gill, and Jeff Brown. And because I am an aging suburbanite, the thrill of having the A, C, E, 1, 2, and 3 a block away AND a huge parking garage across the street is considerable.  No cover, although I think making reservations is always a good idea.  More information at their website (above) or their Facebook page.

What could be better than a welcoming jazz club?  (And I mean “welcoming” very seriously.)  Hearing beautiful music there.

I have a new hero: the soft-spoken, modest (in temperament, not talent) string bassist Gabriele Donati.  I’d seen his name in the best company — Greg Ruggiero, Harry Allen, and others — but never heard him in person.  That omission I remedied last Thursday.  He’s an acoustic player with a fine centered tone and lovely intonation — he hits the center of the note.  His time is lovely; he isn’t too modern to walk the bass, and he quietly, consistently swings.  When you don’t hear him, you feel him.

It’s appropriate that our first conversation had Milt Hinton at the center, and he planned to play one of Milt’s tunes, dedicated to Mona Hinton, who might have spent a few hours at home by herself.  This performance sums up what I admire about Gabriele: his subtle melodic expertise, always at the service of the music.  His empathic musical partners, Michael and Doron, have been hero-friends of mine for some time as well.

Make room for beauty is what I say.

People of a certain generation might recognize my title as Seussian:

“And that is a story that no one can beat,
When I say that I saw it on Mulberry Street.”

For me, my pilgrimage to Club 75, the first of many, is a story that no one can beat.  Thanks to George Aprile for his kindnesses, and to Gabriele, Michael, Doron for the beauty they create.  And to Milt and Mona Hinton.

May your happiness increase!

IN THIS MOMENT: MICHAEL KANAN, GREG RUGGIERO, NEAL MINER (live at Mezzrow, New York City)

Cover art by Anne Watkins

“The more I read the papers, the less I comprehend,” wrote Ira Gershwin, lines so poignant to me. But heartfelt creative music is an antidote to darkness. Some tell us that a postmodern world demands abstract sound, sharp-edged art. I prefer song, music that can dance as a response to sorrow, melodies rueful in the face of hard realities. Song never grows old, and the artists on this disc understand and enact this truth. Michael Kanan, piano; Greg Ruggiero, guitar;  Neal Miner, string bass, trust the melodies they create, and they respect the composers’ craft while making the most familiar material glisten.  Their music balances feeling and technique, and their collective energies embrace the listener.

I first met Michael Kanan in 2010 through the good offices of the Swing Lion of Boston, Joel Press, and I was immediately tickled and moved by Michael’s sly sweet approach to the piano and to song. Like a master Japanese brush-painter, he implies, he hints, he whispers thoughts we need to hear, his phrases nudging us into surprises that gratify, his pauses and silences eloquent breaths. A little later, I heard Neal and Greg, each a great swinging lyricist, each creating singular melodic epigraphs no matter the context. The trio is the embodiment of fraternal love and understanding; the laughter the three friends share before they begin to play bubbles through the night’s performances. Michael, Neal, and Greg are quietly compelling soloists but they play for the comfort of the band. They know that music doesn’t have to abrade to catch our attention, that a two-chorus solo might be all that’s needed. Their music is never immodest or coarse; it never says LOOK AT US. And they offer us an airy grace; rueful melodies never become maudlin or heavy. When I hear this trio play, I go home feeling as if I’d been dipped in some sweet elixir, not available online.

I began by noting — through Ira Gershwin’s praise of lasting love — that there are experiences, like candid graceful music, that go beyond comprehension, that move into our hearts and stay there.  This disc captures three masters of the art, offering all they feel and all they have learned to us.  It is in the moment and of a particular moment, but it becomes timeless.

Here is a sample of what this trio does so well:

And here one can buy or download or sample, then purchase the music.  Ideally, one could go where Michael is playing and press money into his hand, completing a circle of artist and grateful audience.  But however you find your way to these sounds, they will uplift.

May your happiness increase!

FOR PRES (Part Three): MICHAEL KANAN, LARRY McKENNA, MURRAY WALL, DORON TIROSH (Sept. 1, 2018, University of Scranton, PA)

Michael Kanan, Larry McKenna, Murray Wall, Doron Tirosh at the University of Scranton, Sept. 1, 2018. Photograph by John Herr.

 

Here are the closing three selections from a wondrous evening of music devoted to the sacred memory of Lester Young.  By “sacred memory” I mean the living presence of that great man, so ebullient, so tender.  And in proper Lester-fashion, everyone in the quartet sang his own song.

Here you will find Parts One and Two of this concert, which delighted me then and uplift me now.

The concert was, to me and others in the enthusiastic audience, a series of highlights, one quietly dazzling gem after another.  I have a special love for the blues in G, POUND CAKE, that appears in Part Two.  And the version of ALL OF ME that follows is tremendously touching.  Billie and Lester recorded it as a sweet ballad — in opposition to the bouncy versions that got faster and faster after its initial appearance a decade earlier.  This performance is like a caress:

LOVE ME OR LEAVE ME, happily inspired by the 1956 quartet session of Lester, Teddy Wilson, Gene Ramey, and Jo Jones (originally issued as PRES AND TEDDY on Verve):

Finally, Lester’s TICKLE-TOE, which is sheer fun, an audible evocation of joy:

You don’t need me to tell you that this concert was a transcendent experience.  Blessings on these four players and on the people who made it possible.

And a few words about Larry McKenna, whose circle of admirers is expanding rapidly.  Larry and fellow Philadelphia tenorist Bootsie Barnes have made a CD, called THE MORE I SEE YOU.  One set of tantalizing little sound samples can be found here, and here’s a brief rewarding video:

And rather my praising this CD, I offer the notes written by Sam Taylor — a deep admirer of Larry’s and also a wonderful tenor player:

What defines the sound of a city? Ask three Philadelphians and get four opinions, as the joke goes. The people, their collective spirit both past and present, is a good place to start. Philadelphia, a city overflowing with history, is home to a proud, passionate, willful, and fiercely loyal people. The city’s jazz legacy is no different and has always been a leading voice. Shirley Scott, McCoy Tyner, Benny Golson, Trudy Pitts, Lee Morgan, the Heath Brothers, Stan Getz, Philly Joe Jones and countless other Philadelphia jazz masters are bound together by the same thread. These giants played in their own way, without concern for style or labels. They had an attitude; an intention to their playing that gave the music a feeling, a rhythm, a deep pocket. In Philadelphia today, there is no question who preserves that tradition, embodies that spirit and who defines the “Philadelphia sound”: Bootsie Barnes and Larry McKenna.

Now elder statesmen of the Philadelphia jazz community, Bootsie Barnes and Larry McKenna were born just a few months apart in 1937. The times in which they lived often dictated their career paths, but no matter where their music took them Philadelphia was always home.

Bootsie Barnes credits his musical family as the spark that began his life in music. His father was an accomplished trumpet player and his cousin, Jimmy Hamilton, was a member of Duke Ellington’s band for nearly three decades. “Palling around with my stablemates, Tootie Heath, Lee Morgan, Lex Humphries” as he tells it, Barnes began on piano and drums. At age nineteen he was given a saxophone by his grandmother and “knew he had found his niche.” Over the course of his decades long career, Barnes has performed and toured with Philly Joe Jones, Jimmy Smith, Trudy Pitts and countless others, with five recordings under his own name and dozens as a sideman.

Mostly self-taught, Larry McKenna was deeply inspired by his older brother’s LP collection. It was a side of Jazz at The Philharmonic 1947 featuring Illinois Jacquet and Flip Phillips that opened his ears to jazz. “When I heard that I immediately said: ‘That’s what I want to play, the saxophone,’” McKenna recalls. Completing high school, McKenna worked around Philadelphia and along the East Coast until the age of twenty-one, when his first big break came with Woody Herman’s Big Band. McKenna has played and recorded with Clark Terry, Frank Sinatra, Rosemary Clooney, Tony Bennett and countless others. He has four recordings under his own name, with extensive credits as a sideman.

Their resumes are only a shadow of who these men are. To really know the true Larry McKenna and Bootsie Barnes, you have to meet them. They are as men just as their music sounds: giving, open, genuine and deeply funny. Working nearly every night, Barnes and McKenna are consistent, positive forces on the scene. Deeply admired by younger generations of musicians, they show us that a life in music should be led with grace, joy and honesty.

The first time I heard Barnes and McKenna together was at Ortlieb’s Jazz Haus in the mid 1990s. As an eager but shy young musician of about fourteen, I somehow found my way to the storied club on Third and Poplar Streets. A sign out front proudly stated “Jazz Seven Days” – the only place in the city boasting such a schedule. The bouncer working that night took one look at me and with what I can only imagine was a mix of pity and amusement, hurriedly waved me in. Eyes down and hugging the wall, I made my way along the long bar, past the mounted bison head’s blank stare, towards the music. My go-to spot was an alcove next to the bathroom: a place just far enough from the bartender’s gaze so as not to be noticed, (did I mention I was fourteen?) but close enough to the stage to watch and listen. The house band was the late Sid Simmons on piano, bassist Mike Boone, and drummer Byron Landham. (Anyone who was there will tell you: this was an unstoppable trio.) Barnes and McKenna were setting the pace, dealing on a level only the true masters can. The whole room magically snapped into focus: the band shifted to high gear, the swing intensified and the crowd had no choice but to be swept up in the music. They had a story too incredible to ignore. I sat there in disbelief at the power and beauty of what they were doing. It is a feeling that has never left me.

How they played that night at Ortlieb’s those many years ago is exactly the way they play today. In fact, they are probably playing better than ever. The track Three Miles Out is a shining example. Barnes solos first, hitting you with that buttery, round tenor tone with a little edge as he gets going. His ideas are steeped in the hard-bop tradition delivered with a clear voice all his own. There is no ambiguity, no hesitation, just pure, joyful, hard-swinging tenor playing. McKenna follows, with his trademark tenor tone, both beautiful and singing, strong and powerful. He swings with natural ease, a wide beat and always makes the music dance. He has what I can only describe as a deep melodic awareness thanks largely to his mastery of the American Songbook. McKenna is unhurried and speaks fluid bebop language. This is classic Barnes and McKenna.

The most challenging thing to describe is the way someone’s music touches your heart. I hope my fellow native Philadelphians will allow me to speak for them when I say we are all forever in the debt of Bootsie and Larry. May we live and create in a way that continues to honor them and their music.

I can’t wait to hear what they play next.

Sam Taylor
New York City, July 2018

May your happiness increase!

FOR PRES (Part Two): MICHAEL KANAN, LARRY McKENNA, MURRAY WALL, DORON TIROSH (Sept. 1, 2018, University of Scranton, PA)

I hope you saw and savored Part One of this magical concert in honor of Lester Young, featuring Michael Kanan, piano; Larry McKenna, tenor saxophone; Murray Wall, string bass; Doron Tirosh, drums — a concert made possible through the good efforts of Loren Schoenberg, the National Jazz Museum in Harlem, and Cheryl Y. Boga of the University of Scranton.  This evening is one of the high points of my live jazz experience.

Michael Kanan, Larry McKenna, Murray Wall, Doron Tirosh at the University of Scranton, Sept. 1, 2018. Photograph by John Herr.

Now, let’s proceed to another trio of delights — whose collective and individual virtues do not need explication: heroically gentle swing.

THESE FOOLISH THINGS:

POUND CAKE, Lester’s blues in G for the Basie band (your “pound cake” was your Squeeze) — both Michael and Larry hark back to Lester’s solo, delightfully, and the wonderful swing everyone generates makes this one of the highlights among highlights:

LESTER LEAPS IN:

Magic.  And there will be a Part Three.

May your happiness increase!

FOR PRES (Part One): MICHAEL KANAN, LARRY McKENNA, MURRAY WALL, DORON TIROSH (Sept. 1, 2018, University of Scranton, PA)

Michael Kanan, Larry McKenna, Murray Wall, Doron Tirosh at the University of Scranton, Sept. 1, 2018. Photograph by John Herr.

I extol the virtues of life in New York, but beautiful things are created when bold explorers like myself cross into other states, too.  On Saturday, September 1, at the University of Scranton, PA, Loren Schoenberg and The National Jazz Museum in Harlem presented “Tribute to Prez: The Life and Music of Lester Young” featuring The Michael Kanan Quartet, with saxophonist Larry McKenna, string bassist Murray Wall, and drummer Doron Tirosh. Loren wasn’t able to make it, but his perception and generosity made a wonderful musical event take place.  Thanks are also due Cheryl Y. Boga, Tom Cipriano, and photographer John Herr.

JUST YOU, JUST ME:

BLUE LESTER:

LADY BE GOOD:

I had the honor of being there, getting to say a few words about Lester alongside Michael and  Larry (to a hip audience) and recording the concert, nine extended beautifully floating performances which captured Lester’s spirit while enabling everyone to “go for himself.”  Here are the first three, which require only open-hearted appreciation . . . no explication needed.  Just sweetness everywhere.

May your happiness increase!

“LOVE THEM MADLY”: KANAN, FOSTER, & ARNEDO TRIO PLAYS ELLINGTON AND STRAYHORN

Some music you have to work hard to embrace, and many listeners relish the labor.  But other music, no less subtle or rewarding, opens its arms to you in the first four bars.  A new CD by Michael Kanan, piano; Dee Jay Foster, string bass; Guillem Arnedo, drums, is a wonderful example of love made audible.

If these names are new to you, please put down whatever you’re attempting to multi-task (on or with) and listen to this leisurely reading of ALL THE THINGS YOU ARE from a live performance in 2017:

This trio also knows how to relax, thus, that rarity, a picture of jazz musicians taking their ease outdoors:

You might know that Michael Kanan is one of JAZZ LIVES’ heroes, not only in this country, but internationally.  And the lineage is very pleasing: the saxophone master Joel Press introduced me to Michael, and (aurally) Michael introduced me to Guillem and Dee Jay.  For the past decade, Michael spends part of each summer as artist-in-residence at the Begues Jazz Camp, where he’s forged deep musical relationships with these two musical intuitives.  The CD came out of a series of concerts the trio did.  As Michael says, “There is space, swing, surprises and lots of love. We have tried to capture the spontaneity of the moment in time – a good conversation between the three of us.”

Instead of the usual liner notes, the CD offers splendid artwork by Maria Pichel, who combines bright colors and delicacy to mirror the music within.  So here are a few (unsolicited) lines from me.

The late Roswell Rudd told me in 2012, “Playing your personality is what this music is all about. . . . You know, this is a music where you are playing off other people, and you really have to be listening and responding and respecting and complementing what’s going on around you.”

The personalities that come through so clearly here are gentle and intense at once: musicians inspired by the originals but aware that reverent innovation is the only tribute.  The magnificent Ellington and Strayhorn compositions are an indelible offering.  They aren’t obscure or at least they shouldn’t be, and that asks contemporary artists the question, “All right — what are you going to say about these pieces?”

One approach is reverence taken all the way: a 2018 piano trio could do its best to replicate Ellington, Blanton, Greer, or Strayhorn, Wendell Marshall, Woodyard.  Conversely, the improvisers could take the originals and, after one reasonably polite chorus, jump into outer space, perhaps never to return.  The Kanan, Foster, Arnedo trio modifies these extremes by creating statements showing their affection for the strong melodies, harmonies, rhythms — but they know that “playing their personalities” is what Ellington and Strayhorn did, and would approve of.  So the CD is a series of sweet variations on themes, where (to borrow from Teddy Wilson), “it’s the little things that mean so much.”

In the quiet world of this CD, even a slight tempo change means that listeners have found themselves in a new space, as if you’d come home to find that your partner had repainted the light-gray living room walls a gray with a blue undertone.

What I hear on this disc is the confident playful assurance of musicians who know each other well, are respectful but also relaxed and brave.  Michael, Dee Jay, and Guillem are melodists who work together in kind fraternal fashion, so the lead gets passed around, one player moves into the spotlight and the others are happy for him to shine.  No cliches; no showboating; no tedious quoting; no formulaic playing or threadbare trademarks; the total absence of post-modern irony; no sense that swing is out of date.

The result is a series of sustained explorations that are full of sweet surprises: the wonderful swinging assertiveness with which C JAM BLUES starts; the touching coda to ISFAHAN; the slightly faster tempo for I LET A SONG that neatly contradicts the self-pitying lyrics; the exposition of LOTUS BLOSSOM would make anyone want to listen with bowed head, and the slightly altered rhythmic pulse that follows made me hear it as if for the first time; JOHNNY COME LATELY is perfect dance music — I defy anyone to stay motionless, even if the dance is happy nodding one’s head in time; Michael’s solo ALL TOO SOON is half-lullaby, half question yearning to be answered; the faster-than-expected I’M BEGINNING TO SEE THE LIGHT reminds me happily of Fifties Jo Jones with Ray and Tommy Bryant, for the trio’s swing is light yet insistent, and the rocking mood continues on through LOVE YOU MADLY; DAY DREAM, the concluding track, also seems a series of questions, some of them with answers.

I would tell any listener, “Play the disc over again, after you’ve let it settle in your mind, take up a comfortable space in your heart.  Play it for people who have ears.  Let them share the pleasure, the loving inquisitiveness.”

Because I have admired Michael’s playing for some time, I might have over-emphasized his contribution, but Dee Jay and Guillem are the equal of anyone with a more famous name, whether Elder or Youngblood: they play their instruments with honor and grace, avoiding the excesses that lesser players fall into.  Forget the snide jokes about bass solos; Dee Jay’s phrases are deft and logical, his time and intonation superb; Guillem, for his part, has such a swinging variety of sounds throughout his kit that he is marvelously orchestral without ever being overwhelming. The beautiful recorded sound, thanks to David Cassamitjana, is reassuringly warm and clear, putting us there, which is where we want to be.

You can hear the music here, on Spotify or iTunes, or purchase that endearing archaic object, an actual physical disc by clicking on “TIENDA” at the same site.

Even if you have as complete an Ellington-Strayhorn collection as possible, this is an essential disc: warm, candid, and gratifying.

And if you’d like to hear more from Michael, Dee Jay, and Guillem in a different but quite uplifting context, visit here also.

May your happiness increase!

HIP LYRICISM: AI MURAKAMI Quartet live at Smalls (August 26, 2018): AI MURAKAMI, GRANT STEWART, MICHAEL KANAN, PAUL GILL

I first encountered the splendid drummer Ai Murakami when a copy of her debut CD came into my hands.  Her playing impressed me deeply — not only the sounds she created at the drum set, but the ways in which her melodic impulses shaped the quartet’s performance.  And I wrote about the CD here.

When Ai and friends they take the stage at Smalls on Sundays, they are characterized as “bebop” players.  But for me, bebop is a music of sharp turns and occasional hard edges.  Ai’s imagination makes bebop a little softer, more cushiony.  I don’t mean limp, but she created an encouraging space for lyrical, arching melodic lines from any or all of the players.  And she adores melodic material, whether it’s by Jerome Kern or it’s a racing late-Forties line.

Here are some delightful performances from the Sunday afternoon at Smalls, August 26, 2018 — where Ai is joined by Paul Gill, string bass; Grant Stewart, tenor saxophone; Michael Kanan, piano.  Four melodic, exploring heroes.

Richard Rodgers’ FALLING IN LOVE WITH LOVE (who can hear this without hearing Larry Hart’s vingary lyrics?):

Irving Berlin’s wonderful THE BEST THING FOR YOU:

I’LL NEVER BE THE SAME (once known as LITTLE BUTTERCUP) so tenderly introduced by Michael:

Tadd Dameron’s THE SCENE IS CLEAN:

Jerome Kern’s I’M OLD-FASHIONED, beginning with a lovely piano solo:

Finally, Bud Powell’s WAIL:

I think that the people who watch, savor, and learn from these videos understand the principles on which I operate, but I would like to make one explicit.  My gratitude to these and other musicians for allowing me to video their performances and share the results — for free — with a larger audience.  A great gracious kindness on their part.

May your happiness increase!

JON DE LUCIA OCTET and TED BROWN: “LIVE AT THE DRAWING ROOM” (October 22, 2016)

Although this CD is rather unobtrusive, no fuss or ornamentation, it captures a truly uplifting musical event, and I do not write those words lightly: music from tenor saxophonist Ted Brown, a mere 88 at the time of this gig, and a splendidly unified, inventive ensemble.

I’ve only known Jon De Lucia for a few years, but I trust his taste completely, and his performances always reward me.  Now, if I know that one of Jon’s groups is going to perform, I head to the gig with determination (and my camera). He asked me to write a few lines about this disc, and I was delighted to:

Some jazz listeners disdain “West Coast jazz,” “cool jazz,” or any music in the neighborhood of Lennie Tristano (not just East 32nd Street) as so cerebral that it’s barely defrosted. Jon De Lucia’s Octet shows how wrong that perception is: this music is warm, witty, embracing, not Rubik’s Cube scored for saxophones. Rather, the playful, tender spirit of Lester Young dances through everyone’s heart. This impassioned group swings, even when the players are intently looking at the score. For this gig, the Octet had a great spiritual asset in the gently fervent playing of Ted Brown, a Sage of melodic invention. Also, this session was recorded at one of New York City’s now-lost shrines, Michael Kanan and Stephanie Greig’s “The Drawing Room,” a sacred home for all kinds of music. I am grateful that Jon De Lucia has created this group: so delightful in whatever they play. You’ll hear it too.

Here’s what Jon had to say:

Saxophonist Jon De Lucia met the great tenorist Ted Brown in 2014, and got to play with him soon after. He was and is struck by the pure lyricism and honesty in his improvising. One of the original students of forward thinking pianist Lennie Tristano in the 1940s, Brown, along with Lee Konitz, is among the last of this great school of players. Later, when De Lucia discovered some of Jimmy Giuffre’s original scores from the Lee Konitz meets Jimmy Giuffre session of 1959, which Brown and Konitz both participated in, he knew he wanted to put a band together to play this music with Ted.

Thus the Jon De Lucia Octet was formed. A five saxophone and rhythm lineup with unique arrangements by the great clarinetist/saxophonist Jimmy Giuffre. The original charts featured Lee Konitz on every track, and the first step in 2016 was to put a session together reuniting Brown and Konitz on these tunes. An open rehearsal was held at the City College of New York, Lee took the lead and played beautifully while Ted took over the late Warne Marsh’s part. This then led to the concert you have here before you.

De Lucia steps into Lee’s shoes, while the features have been reworked to focus on Brown, including new arrangements of his tunes by De Lucia and daughter Anita Brown. The rest of the band includes a formidable set of young saxophonists, including John Ludlow, who incidentally was a protege of the late Hal McCusick, who also played on the original recording session of Lee Konitz meets Jimmy Giuffre, and plays the alto saxophone, now inherited, used in the session. Jay Rattman and Marc Schwartz round out the tenors, and Andrew Hadro, who can be heard to great effect on “Venus De Milo,” plays the baritone. In the rhythm section, Ray Gallon, one of NYC’s most swinging veterans on the piano, Aidan O’Donnell on the bass and the other legend in the room, the great Steve Little on the drums. Little was in Duke Ellington’s band in 1968, recording on the now classic Strayhorn tribute …and His Mother Called Him Bill, before going on to record all of the original Sesame Street music and much more as a studio musician.

The show was sold out at Brooklyn’s now defunct Drawing Room, operated by Michael Kanan and Stephanie Greig. Along with the music previously mentioned, De Lucia had recently acquired some of the original parts from Gerry Mulligan’s Songbook session, which featured Konitz, Al Cohn, Zoot Sims, and Allen Eager in another great sax section recording, this time arranged by Bill Holman. Here the band plays “Sextet,” and “Venus De Milo” from that session. Brown, here making the band a Nonet, plays beautifully and takes part in every tune, reading parts even when not soloing. Not included in this CD is an extended take of Konitz’s “Cork n’ Bib” and Giuffre’s piece for three clarinets, “Sheepherders.” Possible bonus releases down the line!

Since this concert, the Octet has taken on a life of its own, covering the repertoire of the original Dave Brubeck Octet, more of the Mulligan material, Alec Wilder, and increasingly De Lucia’s own material. De Lucia continues searching for rare and underperformed material, rehearsing regularly in NYC and performing less regularly. 

Earlier in this post, I wrote about my nearly-obsessive desire to bring my camera to gigs, and this session was no exception.  However, I must preface the video below with a caveat: imperfect sight lines and even more imperfect sound.  The CD was recorded by the superb pianist Tony Melone — someone I didn’t know as a wonderful live-recording engineer, and the sound he obtained makes me embarrassed to post this . . . but I hope it acts as an inducement for people to hear more, in delightfully clear sound:

If you gravitate towards expert warm ensemble playing, soloing in the spirit of Lester, a mixture of romping swing and tender introspection, you will applaud this CD as I do.

You can buy it here, with digital downloads available in the usual places.

May your happiness increase!

DORON TIROSH: COMPOSER, IMPROVISER, NEW YORKER: “I WOULDN’T BE ANY OTHER PLACE”

I first met the quietly soulful drummer Doron Tirosh in August 2016 at a gig with guitarist Felix Lemerle and string bassist Murray Wall at a now-closed Greenwich Village restaurant.  I admired him immediately as an inventive, thoughtful musician and congenial person.  I will say more about my first impressions of Doron at the end of this post.

Earlier this year, Doron was ready to release his debut CD, SIMPLY BECAUSE IT’S WINTER (Gut String Records) — featuring pianist Michael Kanan, string bassist Neal Miner, and Doron.  I looked forward to this disc because those three musicians form an ideal trio, but even more because three of the six compositions were Doron’s originals — the title track, WHY WOULD YOU TREAT ME THAT WAY?, and FOR W.B.  The three classics show a deep immersion in the best American songs: IT WAS WRITTEN IN THE STARS, I GOT PLENTY OF NUTTIN’, and THAT OLD BLACK MAGIC.

Here are the links to purchase, download, or listen to the music: AmazonCDBabyitunes, and Spotify.

Doron asked if I would write something for the CD, and this came very easily:

Many listeners eye even the gentlest-spirited drummer with suspicion, and we have reason. Drummers HIT things while the band is playing. But Doron is no musical bully-boy. His melodic lyricism is the equal of heroes Michael and Neal. If you want a gorgeous example of lyrical democracy in action, savor WRITTEN IN THE STARS.

Doron has a light touch — metaphorically as well as sonically. He varies the sounds he gets from his kit with a deep intuitive intelligence, and he swings irresistibly: hear his solo introductions to PLENTY and W.B. Like my percussive deities Jo Jones and Sidney Catlett, Doron dances in our heads. His playing is crisp but never mechanical, delicate but never timid. And his originals come from the same place: they are blossoming interludes, not just chord changes tied up with twine. In 2018, beauty is not always easy to find, but Doron, Michael, and Neal show us what it is, can be, and will continue to be.

The subtleties of Doron’s playing and his gentle approach to the life of a New York jazz musician fascinated me, so we did an informal interview by email, and I find his answers candidly intriguing.   (My questions are in italics.)

Where did Doron Tirosh, musician, come from?

I was born and raised in Israel. I have loved music since I can remember- I used to carry vinyl records to kindergarten (and drop them because they were bigger than I was) – their presence made me feel good. My brother hipped me to music – he played guitar, piano, sang, and had very musical ears, and still does today. He could have been a great musician if he had chosen to do that for a living. My father is very musical as well.

I started studying classical piano at the age of 6, but I didn’t take it seriously. Only when I started playing the drums at 14 I began practicing devoutly, when in high school I joined the jazz department and that was it – I knew I wanted do nothing else but playing music for a living. I met a lot of great musicians during my high school years.

The role of the drums in the jazz ensemble is constantly changing. What do you see as your role when you play?

First and foremost, I want to make the other musicians I play with FEEL good. I try to keep a steady time and groove, but I do not think my role is to “keep” anything, meaning, to play with a stiff beat in order to keep the tempo. I want to bounce and swing together. I am learning how to do that (which is a life-long process) from playing with people who have a good beat. They could be bass players or other kinds of instrumentalists. Let me say that grooving together is the most wonderful feeling in the world. It’s addictive, and that feeling I get when I play with those musicians is the reason I am still staying in New-York.

Nowadays, due to the obvious change the world has been through, although the role of the drums is endless, I still find that playing in 4/4 time with good groove and phrasing is becoming a unique art. Then I ask myself how it could be that not so long ago, playing in 4/4 time with a great feel and musical taste was only entry level for any instrumentalist, a drummer included. Now, I respect any good music no matter of genre. I am aware of how important it is to be a well-rounded musician and open to anything, but I must say it is becoming hard for me to enjoy a lot of the music labeled “jazz” I come across. The jazz musicians I love the most are not stars, although some of them do tour around the world constantly. My heroes are down to earth people who want to play and keep passing on the tradition and knowledge they got.

I try to play what feels good to me, what I hear, and not pay attention to the passing fancies in the so called jazz music. I believe that if I want to be worthy of the title ”jazz drummer” I have a lot of responsibility, so I personally can’t play Balkan music and be a DJ on the side while at the same time I have a gig and I have to play a Thelonious Monk or a Charlie Parker composition. Playing such music demands my full dedication. That is just how I feel; there are a few that can pull that off though.

What does it feel like to lead a group from the drums?

Basically it’s the same, but I would say the main difference is that I have to be very clear about the material and arrangements that are played. The person who helped me realize that small but crucial point was Michael Kanan. Besides being a true friend and always helping me in everything and anything, he let me know from the beginning of the project that I have to be clear in conveying what I want to him and Neal.

As a shy person, I hate to be in the front and I hate telling people what to do. Sometimes I think I should have played piano and not drums because of that reason – but too late now, I guess. Anyway, when Michael asked me “What are we going to play?”, I gave him my typical Doron answer, “Whatever you want – songs that you like to play.” That made me seem hesitant and unclear so I learned I have to actually lead the session. I was still trying to be considerate by choosing material that I believed would fit best, and I must say I am content with the result. It was a wonderful learning experience for me recording with those two giants.

Few drummers are also composers of lyrical melodies: where does your inspiration come from?

Studying classical composition in Tel-Aviv University had a huge impact on me as a musician. I concentrated 4 years, which is far from enough, on playing piano, studying counterpoint, harmony, reading and transposing music, ear-training, and composing music for classical performers. The individual composition lessons helped me the most because I got a chance to investigate a real composer’s world. I was bad at conducting and some other subjects, however. You see, every field is a world of its own, one can devote his or her whole life to it – music has no end to it.  My teachers influenced me a great deal; they are incredible musicians.

The other influence is unfortunately heartbreaks. Most of my tunes or compositions were a way for me to use the energy of those experiences into creating a melody, hopefully a beautiful one.

You told me, “I feel like a New Yorker!” What does that feel like? Have you adopted us or have we adopted you?

Well, both. Although I have no family here, I made some really great friends who I consider as family. When I am ill or when I am desperate, I know I have friends to look after me. I would do the same for them – we take care of each other.
The music and the musicians make me feel at home. There is a strong feeling of a jazz community. I feel as the music that I love the most is in its natural surroundings here, and it is a feeling I will never experience in my home town.

Living the life of a jazz musician seems possible here, more than anywhere else in the world. Where else can I go and hear jazz music every evening until the next morning played by my favorite musicians on the planet? Or even play with them? There is a feeling that anything can happen, that suddenly I could find myself sitting-in with the best musicians in the world, so I always should be on top of my game. I find that I practice more here, play more sessions and more gigs, and in general try to be at my best.

I am not saying living in New York is not hard. The loneliness and the emotional downs here can be frightening, but the music makes living here worthwhile for me, at least for now. I miss my family though, and the food.

Any good stories about being a working New York musician?

The thing in New-York is that anyone can show up at any given show at any given moment. It could be the worst gig with the worst musicians in the world in a dull bar with 2 people in it and then suddenly in walks a great musician and everything becomes exciting instantly. It happened to me numerous times when great musicians sat-in spontaneously, as well as me sitting-in as the band’s drummer for the gig within a few minutes notice. Only last week I came to hear Michael Kanan and Pat O’Leary at the 75 Club, and ended up playing the whole show with them. It was a special night, I will never forget it- playing trio with those gentlemen, not to mention when Gabrielle Stravelli came up to sing… I wouldn’t be any other place.

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Here’s what I wrote about Doron when I posted videos from that August 2016 gig, and I believe it even more so now: I had known nothing of Doron except for the few words of praise from [guitarist] Felix [Lemerle]. And I confess that youthful drummers new to me arouse anxiety. I become Worried Elder: “Young man, are you planning to strike that ride cymbal with those wooden sticks? Why, and how, and how often?” But Doron and I bonded over dehydration and exhaustion, and I knew he came in peace. When he began to play, my spirits rose even higher, because he is a melodic drummer in the great tradition of the Masters, of Dodds, Singleton, and Catlett. Before each number, Felix would tell Doron the name of the song, and I could see from their expressions that they knew the melody and the lyrics as well.

Seeing Doron on the street, you would be unaware of the creative talent he has in his young self.  But hear his compositions, see him lead a band from behind the drums, and you will know in four bars that you are in the presence of someone special: a melodic, creative gift to New York from Israel.

May your happiness increase!