Tag Archives: Michael Kanan

TENDERLY SWINGING: GUILLEM ARNEDO, MICHAEL KANAN, CELESTE ALIAS, JAUME LLOMBART, JORGE ROSSY, DEE JAY FOSTER: “LET’S SING O. HAMMERSTEIN II”

Eighty years ago, jazz fans — that small ferocious bunch — were often parochial in the extreme: “How good could X could be if we’ve never heard of them before?” “How good could they be if they were born someplace that wasn’t New Orleans, New York, Chicago?”

But that attitude vanished, I hope, long before the internet made swinging international relations not only plausible but a fact of life.  (I admit that parochialism exists in 2018 in subtler forms: “How good could she be?  She doesn’t have any YouTube videos or a Facebook page!” but let us close our eyes and wait for that spasm to pass.)

I had not heard of drummer / bandleader Guillem Arnedo before 2017 — but since he came with the recommendation of pianist-hero Michael Kanan, I knew he would be more than OK.  Michael has splendid taste.

And when I heard the CD, LET’S SING OSCAR HAMMERSTEIN II, I was delighted.  But first, let me offer some of the delicate, sweetly energized music that Guillem and friends create.  And credit the musicians: Guillem, drums; Celeste Alias, vocals; Michael Kanan, piano; Jaume Llombart, guitar; Jorge Rossy, vibes / marimba; Dee Jay Foster, string bass.

PEOPLE WILL SAY WE’RE IN LOVE:

OUT OF MY DREAMS:

I think that is wonderful music: light-hearted and deeply felt all at once.  The songs are HAPPY TALK / THE SURREY WITH THE FRINGE ON TOP / MAKE BELIEVE / SOME ENCHANTED EVENING / WE KISS IN A SHADOW / MARCH OF THE SIAMESE CHILDREN / GETTING TO KNOW YOU / MY LORD AND MASTER / PEOPLE WILL SAY WE’RE IN LOVE / OUT OF MY DREAMS / BALI HAI / BILL / CAN’T HELP LOVIN’ DAT MAN / THIS NEARLY WAS MINE.

And here’s what I wrote.

The great theatre and film composers weren’t always happy when improvisers “took liberties” with their songs. Rodgers and Hart made their resentment known in “I Like to Recognize the Tune.” Jerome Kern’s estate sued Musicraft Records to stop them from issuing Dizzy (with strings) playing Kern. (Eventually, they relented.)

But the tradition of jazz musicians improvising on Broadway and film songs is almost a century old. Variations on new pop hits or familiar themes sold records and the results were sometimes more memorable than what was on the sheet music. Think of Paul Whiteman’s WHY DO I LOVE YOU? and Bix’s OL’ MAN RIVER; thirty years later, Vic Dickenson’s OH, WHAT A BEAUTIFUL MORNING, Emmett Berry’s PEOPLE WILL SAY WE’RE IN LOVE, all the way to the summit: of Louis’s YOU’LL NEVER WALK ALONE.

Here, leader / drummer / arranger Guillem Arnedo selected melodies he admires and everyone treats them tenderly. That approach might seem too traditional to some. But what sets this CD apart from a Fifties “A JAZZ VERSION OF [insert famous Broadway show or musical film title]” is a gentle pervasive originality, audible as a series of small sweet surprises.

Guillem told me, “I found out that a lot of tunes that I love have Hammerstein’s lyrics. So instead of doing a tribute to Hammerstein and Rodgers or Hammerstein and Kern (his two big associations) I found it more interesting to focus on Oscar and all the marvelous plays he co-wrote. Besides, my band focuses its attention a lot not only on melodies but also to lyrics, poetry. That’s something I learned from Michael Kanan, that to understand and get deep into a song you must know the lyrics. The arrangements and decisions about which tune is instrumental or to be sung were mine. Nevertheless, you can find the Kanan blend in some little arrangements he did spontaneously.”

Listeners will find pleasure wherever they turn, but I’d recommend PEOPLE WILL SAY WE’RE IN LOVE for a start – the quiet duet of Celeste and Michael quietly exploring the verse, then Michael’s irresistible transition into the chorus, with everyone rocking immediately (embodying Jake Hanna’s “Start swinging from the beginning!”)

The band sounds gorgeous (and is beautifully recorded) throughout. Celeste is capable of shy tenderness or determined energy, each shading with its own shimmer. Michael continues to honor Jimmie Rowles with intuitions that touch our hearts. Each stroke that Guillem creates – stick, cymbal, or brush – seems just the right impressionistic touch. D.J.’s bass playing – resonant, woody, trustworthy – is precisely our cup of tea. Jorge is lyrical, eloquent, yet terse, even when playing what sounds like the world’s largest marimba. Jaume creates delicate hymns or propulsive lines: hear his meditation for the SIAMESE CHILDREN.

On this disc we find the most familiar songs shining brightly, sounding as if they were composed yesterday. Listeners may begin to sing along, whether or not they planned to, because the melodic momentum is irresistible. Guillem and friends have created a wondrous aural landscape: delightfully varied, completely uplifting. I am sure that Oscar, Dick, and Jerry approve.

Rereading these notes while the disc is playing, I feel guilty of understatement, of atypical restraint.  The music on this CD is just splendid — all the instrumentalists in solo and ensemble, and Celeste’s touching yet tangy singing.  I hope this post makes up for my praise being more quiet than it should have been.  To buy the CD, please visit here.  I believe that downloads are also available from the usual suspects.

May your happiness increase!

THE MASTER’S ART: TED BROWN AT NINETY (December 2, 2017): AARON QUINN, KRIS MONSON, DERIC DICKENS

This post isn’t just a celebration of durability, steadfast endurance, and longevity.  Those are all virtues we love, but in the case of tenor saxophonist Ted Brown, who turned ninety in early December 2017, what we cheer is his wondrous commitment to creating beauty: not at top speed, not in a shout, but as if he were whispering tender secrets into our ears.

Ted’s birthday party took place at that shrine for music, the Drawing Room (aimed straight at the grail by Michael Kanan and Stephanie Greig) on December 2, 2017.  In this video — a touching exploration of THESE FOOLISH THINGS — Ted is lovingly accompanied by Aaron Quinn, guitar; Kris Monson, string bass; Deric Dickens, drums.  Also in the course of the evening Jeff Brown took over the drum throne and the gracious organizer of the party — someone we’re all indebted to, tenor saxophonist Brad Linde — played alongside Ted as well.  But this one, delicate, curious, and touching, is all Ted’s.  You could say that he navigates by the stars of Lester and Lennie, but his internal compass has long ago been his own.

And, afterwards, there was cake.  Of course!

Blessings on Ted Brown, a sweet inspiration.  And gratitude that lasts longer than twenty-four hours.

May your happiness increase!

MUSIC WITH FRIENDS (Part Two): MICHAEL KANAN, GREG RUGGIERO, NEAL MINER (The Drawing Room, January 8, 2018)

Michael Kanan

This is the first part of a sextet of delicious performances by Michael Kanan, piano; Greg Ruggiero, guitar; Neal Miner, string bass, recorded on January 8, 2018, at the Drawing Room in Brooklyn.

Neal Miner

In that first segment of this impromptu session, these three lyrical friends performed  YOU DO SOMETHING TO ME, TAKE THE “A” TRAIN (which is how one gets to Jay Street-MetroTech, among other possibilities), and I’M JUST A LUCKY SO-AND-SO.  Now, for the patient faithful, this intuitive, subtle trio plays Neal Miner’s BLUES OKURA, IT’S ONLY A PAPER MOON, and LULLABY OF THE LEAVES.

Greg Ruggiero

Neal’s BLUES OKURA.  Make sure your seat belt is low and tight across your hips:

And an exceedingly tender IT’S ONLY A PAPER MOON, honoring Arlen’s intent — and I hear Harburg’s lyrics all the way through:

then the classic LULLABY OF THE LEAVES:

Wonderful reassuring music to be sure.  Thank you so much, gentlemen, for this casual affecting interlude.

May your happiness increase!

MUSIC WITH FRIENDS (Part One): MICHAEL KANAN, GREG RUGGIERO, NEAL MINER (The Drawing Room, January 8, 2018)

Michael Kanan prizes friendship very highly, and not in some abstract way.  He is a true Embracer, and his deep love of community lasts longer than a simple hug.  He showed us this once again a few Mondays ago at a little gathering at his Brooklyn studio, The Drawing Room.

Michael Kanan

Michael’s colleagues in melodic exploration were his friends and ours, Greg Ruggiero, guitar; Neal Miner, string bass: each of them a thoughtful swinging intuitive orchestra in himself.

Greg Ruggiero

It was a jam session evening, so even though this trio played six songs (you’ll have the first three here) it wasn’t a mini-recital, more a gathering of friends who don’t get to play together often. They hadn’t played together in months, and after Michael had seen the videos, he called them “music in its raw natural state,” but it was an acknowledgment rather than a criticism.  I think of them as cherries picked from the tree, their stems still attached, as opposed to cherry pie filling from a can.

Neal Miner

Porter’s YOU DO SOMETHING TO ME:

Strayhorn’s TAKE THE A TRAIN:

Ellington’s I’M JUST A LUCKY SO-AND-SO:

When you’re invited to a party at Michael’s, you go home laden with gifts.

May your happiness increase!

SAM BRAYSHER – MICHAEL KANAN: “GOLDEN EARRINGS”

First, please watch this.  And since it’s less than two minutes, give it your complete attention.  I assure you that you will feel well-repaid:

I first began listening to GOLDEN EARRINGS, a series of duets between alto saxophonist Sam and pianist Michael, a few months ago.  I was entranced, yet I found it difficult to write about this delicately profound music, perhaps because I was trying to use the ordinary language of music criticism to describe phenomena that would be better analogized as moments in nature: the red-gold maple leaf I saw on the sidewalk, the blackbird eating a bit of fruit in the branches of the tree outside my window.

There’s nothing strange about GOLDEN EARRINGS: it’s just that the music these two create is air-borne, resonant, full of feeling and quiet splendors. Think of quietly heartfelt conversations without words between two great artists.

And this:

Coming down to earth, perhaps, here are Sam’s own words — excerpted from an article by Phil Hewitt:

I grew up in Dereham, Norfolk and played the saxophone in school and also in the Norwich Students’ Jazz Orchestra. I gradually became more interested in jazz through my teenage years and went to study jazz saxophone at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama when I was 18 in 2007. Since graduating I’ve been freelancing in London and doing a fairly wide range of jazz gigs. I met Michael on my first trip to New York in 2014 although I already knew his playing from a few records. I’m a big fan of his playing: he’s incredibly tasteful and has a beautiful touch. He is melodic, swinging and really plays what he hears. I think we like a lot of the same musicians: Lester Young, Charlie Parker, musicians from the Tristano school, Hank Jones, Ahmed Jamal, Thelonious Monk. Michael is also incredibly nice, generous and encouraging. We kept in touch and we played a bit informally when he was in London a few times in 2015 on tour with Jane Monheit. I then took part in a summer school run by Jorge Rossy near Barcelona, which Michael teaches on every year alongside people like Albert ‘Tootie’ Heath, Ben Street, Chris Cheek and Peter Bernstein. So after all that I felt like I knew him quite well, and decided to ask him to do a duo recording with me. I really like playing in small combos like duos and trios, and I know Michael does too: you can have a more focused, conversational musical interaction, and I enjoy the challenge of keeping the texture varied despite the limited instrumentation. The recording process itself was fairly old school: just a few microphones in a room with a nice acoustic and a nice piano (Michael’s own The Drawing Room in Brooklyn, New York), one quick rehearsal and no edits. The repertoire is mostly slightly lesser-known tunes from the Great American Songbook and jazz canon – including compositions by Duke Ellington, Jerome Kern, Victor Young, Nat King Cole and Irving Berlin – plus there’s one original composition by me. I really enjoy digging a bit deeper and trying to find tunes to interpret which are slightly off the beaten track, and Michael is a real expert on the American Songbook in particular, so it was great to utilise his knowledge in that respect. It was fantastic to play with someone of Michael’s calibre. He’s played with people like Jane Monheit, Jimmy Scott, Peter Bernstein, Kurt Rosenwinkel and Ted Brown . . . .

The music was both recorded and photographed by the eminently gifted Neal Miner — whom most of us knew as a superlative string bassist.  When I received a copy of the CD (released on Jordi Pujol’s FRESH SOUND NEW TALENT label) and wanted to let you all know about it, I asked Sam if he would share his notes on the music, because they were like the music: gentle, focused, and intuitive.

Like most jazz musicians of my generation, I have been introduced to this type of repertoire through listening to and playing jazz, rather than by growing up with it as pop music in the way that, say, Sonny Rollins would have done. However, I have become increasingly interested in the songs themselves. Rollins playing “If Ever I Would Leave You” is amazing, but it is also fascinating to hear the Lerner and Loewe song in its (very different) original form. (I am referring more to American Songbook songs here, rather than compositions by the likes of Charlie Parker and Duke Ellington, which have obviously always existed as jazz performances).

By listening to original recordings, learning lyrics and consulting published sheet music, I have tried to access the ‘composer’s intention’ – something that Michael Kanan, an expert in this area, talks about. We tried to use this as our starting point for interpretation and improvisation, rather than existing jazz versions.

I feel very fortunate to have recorded with Michael. His wonderful playing is plain to hear, but he was also incredibly generous and encouraging throughout the entire process of making this album.

Our approach to recording was fairly old fashioned: just three microphones in a room with a nice piano; no headphones and no edits. Neal Miner took care of all this, and his kind and positive presence in the studio made the whole thing a lot easier.

Thank you for listening to this music. I hope you enjoy it.

Dancing In The Dark: Michael takes the melody while I play a countermelody partly derived from the sheet music and the dramatic orchestral arrangement that Fred Astaire and Cyd Charisse dance to in the film The Band Wagon.

Cardboard: the melodies that Bird writes are incredible; he is perhaps undervalued as a composer. Michael and I solo together. Some of his lines here are so hip!

Irving Berlin Waltz Medley: three beautifully simple songs. Michael plays a moving solo rendition of “Always”, which Berlin wrote as a wedding present for his wife. Hank Mobley’s Soul Station contains the classic version of “Remember”. I love that recording but the song in its original form is almost an entirely different composition.

BSP: the one original composition here, this is a contrafact (a new melody written over an existing chord sequence) based on Cole Porter’s “Love For Sale”. It was written a few years ago when I was particularly interested in the music of Lennie Tristano, Lee Konitz and Warne Marsh. The melody is heard at the end.

All Too Soon: originally recorded as an instrumental by the classic Blanton-Webster edition of the Ellington band, this ballad was later given lyrics by Carl Sigman.

In Love In Vain: I love the original version from the film Centennial Summer. We begin with Kern’s verse and end with a coda that is sung in the film but does not appear in the sheet music I have for this. Perhaps it was added by the film’s orchestrators? So much for getting to the composer’s original intention!

The Scene Is Clean: there are a few mysterious corners in this tune from the pen of Tadd Dameron, the great bebop composer, and this is probably the most harmonically dense composition to feature here. The version on Clifford Brown & Max Roach at Basin Street is fantastic.

Beautiful Moons Ago: I don’t know many other Nat ‘King’ Cole originals, but this is a lovely, sad song by one of my favourite pianists and singers (co-written by Oscar Moore, the guitarist in his trio). I don’t think it is very well known.

Golden Earrings: another selection from a film, this mystical, haunting song was a hit for Peggy Lee. Victor Young’s harmony is quite classical at certain points.

Way Down Yonder In New Orleans: if this tune is played nowadays it tends to be by traditional jazz or Dixieland bands, but I’m a fan of it. The form is an unusual length and it contains a harmonic surprise towards the end. This take features more joint soloing and we finish by playing Lester Young’s masterful 1938 solo in unison.

Thanks:
Michael Kanan, Neal Miner, Jordi Pujol, Walter Fischbacher, John Rogers and Mariano Gil for their invaluable help and expertise. London friends who helped by playing through the material with me before the recording, lending their ears afterwards and by offering general advice: Helena Kay, Will Arnold-Forster, Gabriel Latchin, Matt Robinson, Nick Costley-White and Rob Barron. All my teachers over the years. Special thanks to Mum and Dad, Lois and Nana.

Sam Braysher, September 2016.

And here’s another aural delicacy:

I think the listeners’ temptation is to find a box into which the vibrations can conveniently fit.  Does the box say TRISTANO, KONITZ-MARSH, PRES, ROWLES-COHN?  But I think we should put such boxes out for the recycling people to pick up.

This music is a wonderful series of wise tender explorations by two artists so much in tune with each other and with the songs.  So plain, so elegantly simple, so deeply felt, it resists categorizations.  And that’s how it should be — but so rarely is.

My only objection — and I am only in part facetious — is that the format of the CD encourages us to continue at a medium tempo from performance to performance. I would have been happier if this disc had been issued on five 12″ 78 discs, so that at the close of a song I or any other listener would have to get up, turn the disc over, or put the needle back to the beginning.  The sounds are nearly translucent; they shimmer with feeling and intelligence.

Sam’s website is here; his Facebook page here.  New Yorkers have the immense privilege of seeing Michael on a fairly regular basis, and that’s one of the pleasures of living here.

May your happiness increase!

THEY’RE SWELL: MARIEL BILDSTEN and GREG RUGGIERO at TURNSTYLE, October 17, 2017

Wonderful synergy.  One . . .

Mariel Bildsten. Photograph by Jeff Drolette.

plus one . . . .

Greg Ruggiero

makes up a musical organization much more expansive than a duo.

But who knew that such glorious music flourished underground? Most Tuesdays, trombonist Mariel Bildsten leads a small group — quite compact, because it’s a duo: here she is with guitarist Greg Ruggiero, both playing splendidly in “Turnstyle,” a subway-mall attached to the “A” at Columbus Circle in New York City, on October 17, 2017.

Greg I’ve known and admired for some time because of his beautiful playing with, among others, Michael Kanan, Neal Miner, and Sam Taylor.  But I first encountered Mariel at Turnstyle this autumn, and was delighted.

A small digression: here you can learn about all the eateries at Turnstyle, and get some basic orientation about how to get there.  It’s easier the second time.

These are easy to listen to, right now.

THOU SWELL:

I SURRENDER, DEAR:

Here is Greg’s website, and here is Mariel’s.  And — for more up-to-date news — find them on Facebook here (Greg) and here (Mariel).

When Dostoevsky wrote NOTES FROM UNDERGROUND, he didn’t have anything quite so uplifting in mind.

May your happiness increase!

MARIANNE SOLIVAN’S EXUBERANCE (July 20, 2017)

MARIANNE SOLIVAN by Gulnara Khamatova

My current life is imperfect and (not “but”) I am deeply grateful for it.  One of the aspects of it that deeply warms me is living in a world where creative people are my friends. Even though we don’t see each other on a regular basis, one of the people I treasure is the extraordinary singer Marianne Solivan.  I was first introduced to her by the equally splendid Michael Kanan — this was in 2011 (!) and followed her around with a video camera a few years ago. We most recently encountered each other last September at an awards ceremony.  Hugging ensued.

Marianne has always had a powerful emotional connection with what she is singing: she doesn’t stand back and view the song with a cool postmodernist glance.  No, she’s IN it before she utters a syllable, and that’s entrancing.  It isn’t “acting”; rather it’s experiencing in the moment.  You can feel the music flow through her, as she embraces each note and syllable before passing it along to us.

But what I love most about Marianne’s performing is her willingness to take what someone else’s GPS says are wrong turns and make them inescapably right and rewarding.  Sometimes she even appears to be conversing with the song, “Song, what would you think if I emphasized this note, or held off on this phrase in an unexpected way?  How would you like that?”

She has a true playful spirit, she loves experimenting, and her internal compass never fails.  Drop her in strange surroundings, she makes friends; she sniffs out congenial places; she’s not afraid.  Ask her to sing in the wrong key, and she makes a banquet of it.

And so it is with the performance captured at Luca’s Jazz Corner — with Josh Richman, piano; Matthew Parrish, string bass — on July 20, 2017.

Watching and hearing this for the first of many times, I was laughing –Marianne is a great comedienne who hasn’t scripted a thing — while delighting in the music and the beauty she makes.  A courageous striving soul, a great spreader of joy.  I am honored to know her.  Seek her out here, on disc, and in person.

May your happiness increase!

OVER THE ROUGH ROAD TO THE STARS: ROBERTA PIKET and LENA BLOCH at THE DRAWING ROOM (May 20, 2017)

Here are two of my favorite explorers, captured in a marvelous series of duets.   My title may seem a touch fanciful: the only climb a session at The Drawing Room, Michael Kanan and Stephanie Greig’s serene studio, necessitates, is a few flights of stairs. But the music created the night of May 20, 2017, by Lena Bloch, tenor saxophone, and Roberta Piket, piano, makes me think of limitless vistas full of stars.  Listen and I think you will agree.

LENNIE’S PENNIES (Tristano’s minor-key improvisation on PENNIES FROM HEAVEN, first recorded with Konitz and Warne in 1952):

Lena’s ruminative composition, SHORTER NIGHTS:

Tristano’s line on the classic song — theoretically requested by drunks, but the drunks no longer know it.  You do, even when you are sober:

Improvsations on a lovely Fifties ballad, NEVER LET ME GO:

and, to close the recital, an explosively energized HOT HOUSE:

What beauty and what quiet courage.

May your happiness increase!

“MISTER GLOOM WON’T BE ABOUT”: JON-ERIK KELLSO, EVAN ARNTZEN, ROSSANO SPORTIELLO, FRANK TATE at LUCA’S JAZZ CORNER (Dec. 22, 2016)

luca-jazz-corner

Feeling lower than a snake’s belly?  Or perhaps is “fump” the objective correlative for now?  (Milt Hinton would be happy to explain.) Is the inside of your skull terribly dark these days?

This might help.  The elixir of life mixes the inspiring shades of Louis Armstrong and Hoagy Carmichael with the real-life inspirations offered us by Jon-Erik Kellso, Evan Arntzen, Rossano Sportiello, Frank Tate and someone holding a video camera — on December 22, 2016, at Luca’s Jazz Corner (1712 First Avenue, New York City).  There are no artistic or audible flaws in this video, but there are a few seconds where the focus blurs.  I wasn’t trying out new special effects, but the bright light from above confused the camera’s little brain.  However, blessedly, the sound is unaltered.  Hear for yourself:

Here is more evidence of the cosmic happiness that took place that night: RUNNIN’ WILD and FINE AND DANDY.  Incidentally, a young musician (I believe he plays trumpet) named Wynton Marsalis came in for the second set.  I am sure that he inspired the band, but I am even more sure that this delicious quartet inspired him as well.  As they did me.

Jon-Erik will be bringing a quartet back to Luca’s on March 23, 2017.  I plan and hope to be there.  You should come too.  (Other heroes — Gabrielle Stravelli, Michael Kanan, Pat O’Leary, and Ken Peplowski — have gigs coming up.)

May your happiness increase!

WHEN BEAUTY IS THE ONLY WAY: ABIGAIL RICCARDS and MICHAEL KANAN

When the soul needs solacing, anti-inflammatories from the bathroom medicine chest just won’t do.  I present two you two deep practitioners of the healing arts: Abigail Riccards and Michael Kanan. I’ve had the pleasure of seeing and hearing the two of them in duet only twice, but each time remains memorable.  Here are two songs from their recitals that are especially soulful: we need such balm.

Even though this performance begins whimsically — Abigail’s impromptu version of NAME THAT TUNE, with Michael as the sole contestant — it quickly becomes an unforgettable expression of quiet longing:

Abigail continues to make music of the most lovely kind in Chicago; Michael is simultaneously in New York and touring the world. Together or singly, they improve our world.

May your happiness increase!

TED BROWN AT 89: SIMPLY BEAUTIFUL

Through the kindness of pianist Michael Kanan, I’ve been introduced to the music of people I might not otherwise have met.  One of them is the soft-spoken and gently lyrical tenor saxophonist Ted Brown.

ted-party

And because of the inventive and much younger saxophonist Brad Linde, there have been celebrations of Ted’s birth: I’ve been at number 85, 88, and the most recent one, Ted’s 89th, on December 3, 2016.  The celebrants pictured above are Brad and Ted, Aaron Quinn, guitar; Frank Canino, string bass; Jeff Brown, drums. Other musicians in the house were Stephanie Greig, Nick Lyons, Jon De Lucia, Caroline Davis, and Elijah Shiffer — as well as some whom I haven’t met yet.

There was cake (also courtesy of Brad).

ted-cake

But more importantly, there was music.  Cake is eaten; music lasts.  And the approving shade of Lester Young was in the room.

LESTER LEAPS IN:

POUND CAKE:

YOU’D BE SO NICE TO COME HOME TO / FEATHER BED:

YARDBIRD SUITE:

Bless Ted Brown and his friends for making such beauty so generously available.

May your happiness increase!

MAKING MELODY COME ALIVE: TED BROWN, ETHAN IVERSON, PUTTER SMITH, HYLAND HARRIS (December 2, 2012)

Listening to Louis Armstrong, Bobby Hackett is reported as saying, “Do you know how hard it is to make melody come so alive?”  I don’t know if Bobby and tenor saxophonist / poet Ted Brown ever encountered each other, but my guess is that Hackett would have said or thought much the same thing.  And, somewhere, Lester Young approves.

The video below comes from a celebration of Ted’s eighty-fifth birthday party at Michael Kanan’s studio, The Drawing Room, then at 70 Willoughby Street in Brooklyn.  (It’s now at #56.)  The song, THESE FOOLISH THINGS; the performers, Ted, Ethan Iverson, piano; Putter Smith, string bass; Hyland Harris, drums.  Melody reigns here — but softly, with deep feeling, almost in whispers.  The heart never needs to shout its truths.

On Saturday, December 3, 2016, Ted will be celebrating his eighty-ninth birthday at The Drawing Room from 7-11 with friends including the fine saxophonist Brad Linde; guitarist Aaron Quinn; drummer Jeff Brown, and other surprises.  Here is the Facebook event page.

This will be special.  But please leave me a seat.

May your happiness increase!

“I RESEMBLE YOU”: The JON DE LUCIA OCTET FEATURING TED BROWN (October 22, 2016)

jon-de-luciated-brown-giuffre-concert-flyer

Thanks for the memory!  This delightful original by Jon De Lucia is based on the harmonies of a familiar song (hunt: the two titles are similar).  The Octet for this performance is Jon, alto saxophone, alto clarinet; John Ludlow, alto; Marc Schwartz, tenor; Jay Rattman, tenor, clarinet; Andrew Hadro, baritone, bass clarinet; Ted Brown, tenor saxophone; Ray Gallon, piano; Aidan O’Donnell, string bass; Steve Little, drums.

Yes, the Ted Brown!  And the Steve Little!

This is from Jon’s presentation of arrangements by Jimmy Giuffre, Ted, and himself, performed at The Drawing Room (56 Willoughby Street in Brooklyn, New York) on October 22, 2016.

The view on my video is something one can (or must?) adjust to; the sound is decent.  BUT Jon and Co. will be releasing some of the music performed on this glorious evening on an actual compact disc — and I suppose downloads.  I’ll let you know more as I find out the details.

For the moment, don’t forget to resemble.

May your happiness increase!

THE JOEL PRESS QUARTET at SMALLS: MICHAEL KANAN, LEE HUDSON, FUKUSHI TAINAKA (July 3, 2016): PART TWO

It’s been a true privilege to hear, converse with, and video-record the inventive and durable saxophonist Joel Press for the last five years (and since I met Michael Kanan through Joel, it has been a double blessing).  Of course, the person behind all of this was the irreplaceable Robert D. Rusch of CADENCE, a true benefactor.

Joel was most recently playing a gig in New York City on July 3, 2016, at Smalls — with a quartet of Michael, piano; Lee Hudson, string bass; Fukushi Tanaka, drums.

JOEL by Herb Snitzer

Here are five evocative performances from that evening: GONE WITH THE WIND, SOFTLY AS IN A MORNING SUNRISE, FOOLIN’ MYSELF, NOSTALGIA, and YOU DO SOMETHING TO ME.

And — by popular demand — four more delights: BLUES, WHAT IS THIS THING CALLED LOVE?. BODY AND SOUL, IT’S YOU OR NO ONE.  Please note that every note has substance and emotional meaning, and the quartet makes even the most familiar line or standard seem lively and poignant.

BLUES:

WHAT IS THIS THING CALLED LOVE?:

BODY AND SOUL:

IT’S YOU OR NO ONE:

Thank you, Joel, Michael, Lee, Fukushi, and Smalls.  We are in your debt.

May your happiness increase!

THE JOEL PRESS QUARTET at SMALLS: MICHAEL KANAN, LEE HUDSON, FUKUSHI TAINAKA (July 3, 2016): PART ONE

I’ve been fortunate enough to know, hear, and admire the Swing Explorer — saxophonist Joel Press — for a decade now.  It happened, as many good things do, utterly by surprise, but through the quiet guidance of a good friend.  The good friend is Robert D. Rusch, the creator of CADENCE, that rare thing, a candid jazz magazine.  In 2006, I was reviewing CDs for CADENCE, and one called HOW’S THE HORN TREATING YOU? arrived in the mail — with this cover portrait (by Herb Snitzer) of a man I’d not known:

JOEL by Herb SnitzerI was moved and delighted by Joel’s easy yet searching approach to melody and swing: new and yet affectionately connected to the great traditions.  To explore Joel’s many worlds, one place to start would be here.

A decade later, more or less, we found ourselves in friendly proximity: Joel on the bandstand at Smalls, me with a video camera as close as I could get without posing a fire hazard.  The other members of this compact inventive ensemble are Michael Kanan, piano; Lee Hudson, string bass; Fukushi Tainaka, drums.

Here’s a still photograph of that world, taken for us by Chihiro Tainaka, with the back of my head accurately and mercilessly rendered for posterity.  Two seats to my left is the warm and thoughtful Maya Press, beaming love at her father.JOEL PRESS Smalls 7 3 16 Chihiro Tainaka

But you can’t play a picture, any more than you can eat the recipe.  So — with Joel’s approval — I present five performances from that night at Smalls, with some more to follow.  His soft tone, love of melody, and caressing swing are still gloriously intact, and his colleagues on the bandstand are the most subtly intuitive conversationalists one could want.

GONE WITH THE WIND:

SOFTLY, AS IN A MORNING SUNRISE:

FOOLIN’ MYSELF:

NOSTALGIA:

YOU DO SOMETHING TO ME:

I wanted to call this blogpost PRESS ONE FOR SWING.  Now you know why. More to come.

May your happiness increase!

TO THE STARS WITH GABRIELLE and MICHAEL (Cornelia Street Cafe, July 11, 2016)

On Monday, July 11, at 8:30 PM, Gabrielle Stravelli and Michael Kanan will create one set of glorious music at the Cornelia Street Cafe in Greenwich Village, New York.  Here is the event page with all the necessary information.

GABRIELLE AND MICHAEL CD

This event is truly exciting, both as a celebration of the CD above, and as a pure expression of loving music.  Consider this:

That performance is something I marvel at, over and over.  And at the Cafe, Gabrielle and Michael will be performing songs from the CD as well as some that do not appear on it.

The CD can be purchased through iTunes and CDBaby.  (Of course, the best way to purchase it is directly from the artists, so a connection both personal and financial takes place, but you already knew that.)

I am thrilled that it exists, and perhaps excessively proud of my small part in it: the liner notes that I offer here:

Gabrielle Stravelli and Michael Kanan create rare beauty. Whenever I’ve heard them, singly or in duet, I’ve marveled. I feel as alive as I will ever be, with tears in my eyes and an astonished uncontrollable smile.

Their art is heartfelt and subtle. It takes devotion to be so at one with the music, to create drama without being dramatic. They serve the song, words and music. They make the most familiar song seem fresh, but never distort it in the name of innovation.

These performances were recorded in The Drawing Room, that gratifying yet unassuming Brooklyn shrine to music, on February 8, 2105. It was an honor to experience such music, to witness it being created.

The rapport between Michael and Gabrielle is intuitive. It is trust set to music. They travel the same path as dear friends, serious about their work but light-hearted in play. The results are quiet rather than showy yet always convincing, an love-offering of improvised nuances, not rehearsed gestures. Even when the material they choose is dark, tenderness shines through. They are at once serene and agile, poets who never insist on Being Poetic.

I don’t know what their religious beliefs are, and it would be impudent to inquire. But these performances seem fully realized secular hymns to music, to feeling. Gabrielle and Michael offer us hopeful visions of exalted possibilities.
My praise might make them seem too deeply serious, as if listening to their music was weighty spiritual homework. Not so. Doom is never one of the specials on their menu, and you can hear them smiling when the song calls for it. Their work is characterized by ease and wise patience. They don’t rush. They allow each moment to emerge as it will, to blossom and turn sunward. They delight in a rubato forward motion that never loses the pulse.

Gabrielle’s voice has many rooms, each one painted a different color. It can move from a hushed half-whisper to the insistent meow of a Siamese cat or the wry curl of a New York Italian adolescent, amused by what she’s just seen on the street, to an expressive, rangy open voice, dark and warm in its lower register, bright and soaring above. She has beautiful diction and she never obliterates the lyric; rather, her phrasing makes meaning deeper. Only she can make me accept the “idea” / “Maria” rhyme in SO RARE, which fact I offer as great tribute.

Michael’s touch is sensitive; his harmonies remarkable. He surprises but never shocks. He honors Jimmie Rowles by not imitating him. His phrases breathe in inspiring ways. His playing is spare yet rich, with a singing expressiveness. He knows that the piano has an entire orchestra within it, but his creations always sound translucent rather than insistent. His is an art where every detail matters and resonates long after the struck note has died away. As an accompanist he gives wondrously, wanting only that others sound even better than they thought they could.

With stories full of sweet truths, Gabrielle and Michael invite us to open the secret door in the attic, revealing the stairway to the stars. Through their music, we climb to a rare joy.

So I urge you earnestly to come to the Cornelia Street Cafe on Monday, July 11, 2016, for this blessing in music.  The music begins at 8:30.  The doors open at 8. There is a $10 cover and a $10 food/beverage minimum. Call (212) 989-9319 for reservations or reserve online at www.corneliastreetcafe.com.

A few postscripts.  I will be there, as close to the music as I can get, beaming at these two artists whom I admire so much.  But I will be there as a mere human being, which is to say someone without a camera.  And the Cafe has informed me that due to budgetary restrictions, they will not be able to provide each patron of the arts with a lazy daisy.  You’re on your own.

May your happiness increase!

MASTERY: JON DE LUCIA, GREG RUGGIERO, AIDAN O’DONNELL, STEVE LITTLE, RAY GALLON (CITY COLLEGE, APRIL 15, 2016)

I first met Jon De Lucia at a concert celebrating tenor legend Ted Brown’s birthday.  The concert was held at Michael Kanan and Stephanie Greig’s The Drawing Room, so I knew the very gracious young man traveled in the best company.

Photograph by Richard Daniel Bergeron

Photograph by Richard Daniel Bergeron

But I hadn’t heard him play.  It turns out that my ignorance of Jon — altoist, clarinetist, and imaginative composer / improviser — was a serious loss, which I remedied on April 15, 2016.  Slightly after noon on that day, Jon gave a graduate recital at City College of New York — a degree requirement so that he could receive his Master’s in Jazz Studies.  With him (and alongside him) were Greg Ruggiero, guitar; Aidan O’Donnell, string bass; Steve Little, drums.  Pianist Ray Gallon joined in for two performances.

Aidan, Jon, Steve, and Greg at City College

Aidan, Jon, Steve, and Greg at City College

A Master in Jazz Studies is what Jon De Lucia is, and as I write this he hasn’t even worn the robes or gotten his diploma.

Jon’s recital lasted about an hour, and he and his ensemble performed seven improvisations — most of them his own arrangements and reinventions over moderately familiar chord sequences (with one glorious ballad).  But this wasn’t an afternoon of thin contrefacts, so that the members of the audience could say in two bars, “Oh, that’s LADY BE GOOD.”  “Again.”  No, Jon showed off his craft, his subtle gift for creating luxurious melodies, actual songs.

As  you’ll hear, some of the music had a dreamlike serenity — elusive and lovely; at other points I thought of the dear seriousness of Fifties West Coast jazz, or dance movements from early modern classical yet with a strong pulse.  It was delicate yet pointed, light-hearted but never effete.

Jon’s music didn’t fit easily into stylistic boxes (which is delightful): his lines soared, his solos had their own internal logic; the music breathed and rang and glistened. Not only is he a wonderfully seductive altoist, his tone sweet and tart, avoiding avian flurries of notes or post-Parker harshness, he is a master of that unforgiving horn, the clarinet.

I was thrilled to be in the audience.  And once you’ve heard only a few minutes of this music, you will understand why.

PRELUDE TO PART FIRST:

CONFLAGRATION:

I’M GLAD THERE IS YOU (a breathtakingly gorgeous performance):

VALSE VIVIENNE:

RONDO A LA RUSSO, featuring Aidan O’Donnell:

THE Q 25 BLUES, inspired by a bus and its route:

LOST AND FOUND, by Hod O’Brien, its title a sly wink at its origin, as is the riff that sets up Steve’s solo passages:

Now I see that Jon and friends have gigs in Manhattan and Brooklyn — information you can find out here and there is more information at his website.

I salute him and his colleagues, and look forward to hearing more.

May your happiness increase!

PEARLS OF SOUND: MICHAEL KANAN at CARNEGIE HALL (March 30, 2016)

MICHAEL KANAN concert

When I first heard the pianist Michael Kanan play, I was astonished by his quiet lyricism, his gentle wit, his ability to construct something orchestral and memorable out of the simplest materials.  Like his heroes Jimmy Rowles and Hank Jones, he is a poetic player.  That doesn’t mean, in Michael’s case, that prettiness outweighs substance.  His playing has a stealthy power, an impressive integrity. But it does mean that he is one of the questers in search of beauty, believing that beauty can transform the world, making its sharp edges smooth, its harsh contours welcoming.

Michael and very eminent friends will be appearing at Carnegie Hall on Wednesday, March 30 (8-10 PM).  The friends are singer Jane Monheit, guitarist Greg Ruggiero, string bassist Neal Miner.  For those who like to have the route mapped out before they get in the car,  the format of the concert will be solo piano for several songs, then a duo set with Jane, intermission, a trio set with Neal and Greg, and at the end Jane will join the trio.

And the concert is another in a noble tradition, as Michael explained to me, “My teacher of 16 years, Sophia Rosoff, began the Abby Whiteside Foundation as a means of keeping alive the work of her teacher Abby Whiteside. Every year the foundation presents four concerts of pianists who have worked with Ms. Rosoff. This year’s series features two classical pianists and two jazz pianists (myself and Jacob Sacks). All four of us have studied extensively with Sophia and have taken her work in completely different directions. Past performers in the Whiteside Piano Series include Barry Harris, Fred Hersch, Ethan Iverson, and Pete Malinverni.”

Here’s some captivating musical evidence: Michael, Greg, and Neal, performing Michael’s THE PEARL (recorded at Mezzrow on March 23, 2015):

and Ellington’s THE MOOCHE:

Again, the necessary details.  Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall, 57th Street at 7th Avenue.  Wednesday, March 30, 8-10 PM.  Tickets: $35 ($15 for  students / seniors) — on sale now at Carnegie Hall box office, (212) 247-7800.  More information at www.abbywhiteside.org and www.carnegiehall.org.

I will be there, but obviously without a camera: so I’d encourage those who love subtle music to make a pilgrimage to Weill Recital Hall for that evening.

May your happiness increase!

“THROUGH THE EYES OF A DRUMMER: THE LIFE AND PHOTOGRAPHS OF JIMMY WORMWORTH”: A FILM BY NEAL MINER

Worm

The Neal Miner we admire is a superb jazz string bassist and composer:

The composition is Neal’s TIME LINE: his colleagues are Michael Kanan, piano; Greg Ruggiero, guitar.

Fewer people know Neal as a fine record producer, a splendid videographer (the evidence is here, now a gifted documentary-maker.

I was privileged to be in the audience last Thursday night when he showed his film about the engaged and engaging drummer / photographer Jimmy Wormworth to a very receptive audience.  Neal has put the film on YouTube for all of us to enjoy at our leisure, for free.

Although I tend to glance at my watch during documentaries, I sat rapt, and it wasn’t only because the stories were delightful.  Neal has not resorted to fancy film tricks (although you HAVE to wait for the coda); he has gently stayed out of the way of his subject.

And the stories!  Tales of Paul Chambers, Charlie Rouse, George Braith, Lou Donaldson, Dizzy Gillespie . . . all the way up to the present, with Tardo Hammer, Jon Hendricks, Annie Ross, Dwayne Clemons, and other friends. In the Fifties Jimmy bought a Brownie camera and began to take candid photographs of his heroes and colleagues, and they are priceless, as is the cheerful commentary.  The film is as close as we will get to sitting down with an amiable jazz legend who graciously unrolls fascinating anecdotes of his first-hand experience.  At the end of the documentary, the audience stood and cheered.

I said to someone on the way out, “Much better than a memorial service.”  Neal has done something beautiful and lasting by celebrating and chronicling a great artist while that person is alive.  I would like to see him get grant money to do more of these films, although I would hate to see him put the string bass in the closet.

Here’s Neal’s commentary:

For the past five years I have been experimenting with video and audio recording. After getting my feet wet with a few projects, I decided to undertake the challenge of documenting a person’s life, career and, in this case, some very unique photographs.

Since 2005 I have had the good fortune of playing regularly with master drummer, Jimmy Wormworth on a weekly show with the iconic Annie Ross. On one of our first gigs together Jimmy pulled an old snapshot out of his pocket, handed it to me with a playful grin and said, “Who’s that?” After examining the slightly tattered photograph I realized that it was none other than my bass hero, Paul Chambers, sipping from a bottle of Gordon’s gin backstage while standing next to the legendary pianist, Wynton Kelly. Every week thereafter, Jimmy showed me more shots that truly amazed me.

I then learned that when Jimmy was in his early twenties he was the drummer for the hot, new vocal group, Lambert, Hendricks and Ross. He was on tour with them from 1959 to 1961, sharing concert bills with all the top jazz groups of the day. Backstage Jimmy was not only rubbing elbows with the giants of jazz, he was also snapping photographs with his Brownie camera, documenting these legends in a very candid light.

I was immediately intrigued and inspired to do something to help Jimmy share these photos and his stories with the world. This documentary is strictly a labor of love and not for profit in any way. My only goal is to share Jimmy Wormworth’s fascinating life story and his beautiful photographs.

I hope you enjoy this film, the making of which was an amazing experience and opportunity for me to learn and grow. I am truly grateful for all of the many people who contributed to and helped out with this project.

Thank you for watching!
Neal Miner

P.S. Please spread the word and long live Jimmy Wormworth!

May your happiness increase!

TED BROWN’S BIRTHDAY, TWICE (December 1 and 6, 2015)

Photograph by Hiroi

Photograph by Hiroi

The lyrical — understated but eloquent — tenor saxophonist Ted Brown turns 88 today.  This Sunday, December 6, 2015, there will be a musical birthday party at The Drawing Room — 56 Willoughby Street in Brooklyn, New York, beginning at 7 PM, organized by Ted’s friend and colleague, tenorist Brad Linde. Details  — including a map — here.

The rhythm section, happily, will be Michael Kanan, piano; Murray Wall, string bass; Jeff Brown, drums.  If this weren’t enough, I am told there will also be cake.

Here are Ted and Michael in 2011 — singing sweetly and sadly on PRISONER OF LOVE:

Here are Ted, Brad, Michael, Murray, and Taro Okamoto in 2012, celebrating Ted’s eighty-fifth birthday with a romping BROADWAY:

An occasion you shouldn’t miss.

May your happiness increase!

BRIGHTENING THE CORNER: JOEL PRESS, MICHAEL KANAN, NEAL MINER at MEZZROW: PART TWO (July 26, 2015)

Joel Press

When I heard that Joel Press, tenor saxophone; Michael Kanan, piano; Neal Miner, string bass, were going to be playing a late-evening session at one of the two jazz shrines of West Tenth Street, Mezzrow, I got down there early to soak it all in — poems in music from three great lyrical poets.  Here are some highlights of the first part of the evening.

Joel, Michael, and Neal tell us, without words, that melody matters, that the old songs are memorable, and that one can sing beautifully through one’s instrument in a community of friends.

YOU’RE DRIVING ME CRAZY:

GONE WITH THE WIND:

HOW’S THE HORN TREATING YOU:

GHOST OF A CHANCE:

IT’S YOU OR NO ONE:

Joel has absorbed the whole tradition of jazz but stays current, exploring worlds while swinging, always sounding like himself.  Michael and Neal are the best guides to the opened universe of sounds that I know.

May your happiness increase!

TWO MORE CHANCES TO BE ENCHANTED

by Gabrielle Stravelli.

Gabrielle

Gabrielle Stravelli is one of the most moving and versatile singers I know, and I’ve been listening to hear for a few years now.

She is nearing the end of a run at Feinstein’s/54Below — with shows on October 13 and 20 — both at 9:30.  By the time I write about these shows on JAZZ LIVES, everyone will have moved into November, so I would simply urge you to come hear Gabrielle.

Here‘s what Stephen Holden wrote about Gabrielle just yesterday in the New York Times, having seen her show at Feinstein’s/54 Below.

I can’t follow that, so I will simply offer some beautiful evidence of how poignant and wise Gabrielle’s music is — two duets with pianist Michael Kanan, performed in February of this year:

SO RARE:

STAIRWAY TO THE STARS:

Glorious touching music — the kind Gabrielle always creates for us.

May your happiness increase!