Tag Archives: Michael McQuaid

SWEETLY UPLIFTING: The MICHAEL McQUAID SAXOPHONE QUARTET

I’ve been thinking about the saxophonist Chuck Wilson, who left us on October 16 (my post about him is here).  Chuck came from a tradition where the saxophone made beautiful melodic sounds and blended with other reeds — he was a consummate section leader.  It’s a tradition sometimes overlooked today, where it occasionally feels that everyone wants to be a soloist, at length.

But the tradition has been splendidly recalled and embodied by our friend, the brilliantly imaginative multi-instrumentalist, Michael McQuaid in his recent musical gift to us: four musical cameos inspired by the Merle Johnston Saxophone Quartet of 1929-30.  The arrangements by Michael — lovely translucencies, swinging and tender — were recorded “with minimal rehearsal” (I emphasize this to hail the professionalism of the players) in the UK on July 27, 2018.

I think of these performances as modern reworkings of classical string quartets, but with a particular harmonic delicacy applied to popular songs of the day, with hot solos implied, delightful counterpoint, and a compositional sense: each arrangement and performance has a wonderful logical shape, a light-hearted emotional resonance.  Each performance rewards repeated listening.  (I cannot play MY SIN just once.)

The remarkable players are Michael McQuaid (first alto); David Horniblow (second alto); Simon Marsh (tenor); Tom Law (baritone).

IT WAS ONLY A SUN SHOWER, which I associate with Annette Hanshaw, Barbara Rosene, and Tamar Korn:

OUT OF THE DAWN, by Walter Donaldson, from 1928, recorded by the Dorsey Brothers Orchestra:

WASHBOARD BLUES, whose arrangement is inspired by the 1926 recording by Hitch’s Happy Harmonists, with composer Hoagy Carmichael at the piano:

MY SIN, by DeSylva, Brown, and Henderson, also associated with Annette Hanshaw:

I wasn’t the only one astonished by the arrangements and the playing, and I wrote to Michael to ask, “When’s the CD coming out?  When’s the concert tour?”  No one else is making music like this anywhere.

Michael responded on Facebook:

Once again, this video features great playing from some of London’s best saxophone players. Their musicality is all the more remarkable when one considers this is closer to sight-reading than a fully-rehearsed ensemble.

A few of you have asked whether I’m going to release these recordings. Well, yes – they’re on YouTube anytime you want! But properly producing a full album of this material would require significant rehearsal followed by hours in the studio, and hence probably a wealthy philanthropic benefactor (please message me if that might be you!).

In the meantime, I’ll keep writing saxophone quartet arrangements until I have a whole concert’s/album’s worth. It’s been great reading your positive words on these videos, and I’m glad if I’ve been able to draw attention to the Merle Johnston Saxophone Quartet and their beautiful 1929 records. Our musical heritage is filled with many such neglected treasures, ready to leap into the present (and the future) with only a little of our time and attention.

Since some readers might not have heard the originals, here (courtesy of generous Enrico Borsetti) is the Merle Johnston Saxophone Quartet playing BABY, OH WHERE CAN YOU BE?:

I haven’t found out much about Merle, except that he played clarinet, alto, and tenor, was born in upstate New York, and lived from 1897 to 1978, and was a renowned saxophone teacher.  Michael told me that Merle’s students included Larry Teal and Joe Allard (each became a highly influential saxophone teacher in his own right), as well as famous players such as Buddy Collette and Frank Morgan. His legacy is probably more lasting as a teacher than as a player or bandleader!

Merle’s recording career — according to Tom Lord — ran from 1923 to 1930, with Sam Lanin (alongside Red Nichols), Isham Jones, Seger Ellis, the Ipana  Troubadours, Jack Miller, a young fellow named Crosby.  He was friends with Leo McConville, and he led his own band called the Ceco Couriers, which alludes to a radio program supported by a product: in this case, CeCo radio tubes, advertised in the October 1928 POPULAR SCIENCE (the tubes “cost no  more but last longer”).

Did Merle leave the New York City studio scene after the stock market crash for the security of a teaching career?  Can it be that no one interviewed him or one of his pupils?  Incidentally, when I do online research on someone obscure and find that one of the resources is this — a JAZZ LIVES post I wrote in 2011 — I am both amused and dismayed.

“Research!” to quote Lennie Kunstadt.  Calling David Fletcher!

And here’s another gorgeous quartet record, this one of DO SOMETHING:

I post the two Merle Johnston “originals” not to show their superiority to the modern evocations, but to celebrate Michael’s arranging and the playing of the Quartet: to my ears, fully the equal of the antecedents.

Listen once again, and be delighted.  I am sure that Chuck is pleased by these sounds also.

May your happiness increase!

Advertisements

“WHAT A DAY!”: JANICE DAY and MARTIN LITTON’S NEW YORK JAZZ BAND, LIVE IN LONDON (September 19, 2018)

I’ve admired the wonderful singer Janice Day and pianist Martin Litton for some years now, in person, CD, and video.  They are remarkable originals who evoke the jazz past while keeping their originalities intact.  Martin is a splendidly inventive improviser, able to summon up the Ancestors — Earl, Fats, Jelly, Teddy — without (as they say) breaking stride.  But he’s not merely copying four-bar modules; he’s so internalized the great swinging orchestral styles that he moves around freely in them.  Janice is deeply immersed in the tender sounds of the Twenties and Thirties — from Annette Hanshaw forwards — and she is such a crafty impersonator that it’s easy to forget that she, brightly shining, is in the midst of it all.

 

 

Janice and Martin had a splendid opportunity, on September 19, 2018, to appear — as Janice Day with Martin Litton’s New York Jazz Band — at The Spice of Life, Cambridge Circus, London. The band is Martin Litton, piano and arrangements, Martin Wheatley on guitar, Kit Massey on violin, David Horniblow on bass sax, Michael McQuaid on reeds and trumpet. And here are two quite entertaining performances from the Annette Hanshaw book.

Here’s MY SIN:

and LOVER, COME BACK TO ME:

Just the right mix of wistful and swinging.  Twenties authentic but not campy, and did I say swinging?  I wish Janice and Martin and their splendid band many more gigs (and more videos for us).

May your happiness increase!

LONDON’S HOTTEST RHYTHM JUGGLERS: THE VITALITY FIVE, “SYNCOPATION GONE MAD”

I’ve had an alarm clock / clock radio at the side of my bed for decades now, and its message is unvarying and irritating. Time to go to school!  Time to go to work! Time to move the car to avoid a ticket! 

But playing the new CD by The Vitality Five, its title noted above, I thought if I could rig up a musical machine that would, at first softly, play one of their glorious lively evocations of a vanished time, I would be much more willing to get out of bed and face the world.

The Vitality 5 is inherently not the same as many other bands performing Twenties hot repertoire.  For one thing, the 5’s reach is informed and deep: of the seventeen songs on this disc, perhaps four will be well-known to people who “like older jazz.”  Be assured that even the most “obscure” tunes are melodic and memorable.  More important to me is the 5’s perhaps unstated philosophy in action.  Many bands so worship the originals that they strive to create reverent copies of the original discs, and in performance this can be stunning.  But the 5 realizes something in their performances and arrangements that, to me, is immensely valuable: the people who made the original records were animated by joyous exuberance.

The players we venerate were “making it up as they went along,” as if their lives depended on it.  Theirs did, and perhaps ours do as well.

So these performances are splendidly animated by vivacious personality: they leap off the disc.  I don’t mean that the 5 is louder or faster, but they are energized.  You can’t help but hear and feel it.

Facts.  The band has been together since 2015, and it is that rare and wonderful entity — a working band.  Two of its members should be intimate pals to JAZZ LIVES readers: David Horniblow, reeds, and Andrew Oliver, piano — they are the one and only Complete Morton Project.  The other three members who complete the arithmetic are special heroes of mine, people I’ve admired at the Whitley Bay / Mike Durham jazz parties: Michael McQuaid, reeds and cornet; Martin Wheatley, banjo; Nicholas D. Ball, drums.

And they are superb players — not only star soloists, but wonderful in ensemble, making the 5 seem much more a flexible orchestra than the single digit would suggest.  They are, as Louis would say, Top Men On Their Instruments.  Each performance has its own rhythmic surge, the arrangements are varied without being “clever,” and the band is wise enough to choose material that has a deep melodic center — memorable lines that range in performance from sweetly lyrical to incendiary.  The back cover proclaims that there are “17 CERTAIN DANCE HITS!” and it’s true.

A final word about repertoire — a subject whose narrowing I find upsetting, as some “Twenties” groups play and replay the same dozen songs: this disc offers songs I’d either never heard before (JI-JI BOO) or not in decades (THE SPHINX) as well as classics that aren’t simply transcriptions from the OKeh (FIREWORKS, EVERY EVENING, COPENHAGEN) — across the spectrum from Nichols-Mole to Clarence Williams to McKinney’s Cotton Pickers and more.

I know it’s heresy to some, but the Vitality 5 performs at a level that is not only equal to the great recordings, but superior to them.  A substantial claim, but the disc supports it.

Visit here to hear their hot rendition of COPENHAGEN — also, here you can buy an actual disc or download their music.  Convinced?  I hope so.

And to the Gentlemen of the Ensemble: if you perfect the Vitality Five Rise-and-Shine machine, suitable for all electric currents, do let me know.  I’ll be your first purchaser.  Failing that, please prosper, have many gigs, and make many CDs!

May your happiness increase!

“STOMP IT RIGHT NOW!”: DAVID HORNIBLOW, ANDREW OLIVER, MICHAEL McQUAID, NICHOLAS BALL PLAY JELLY ROLL MORTON

The Complete Morton Project showers us with gifts musical and even zoological, once again.

I’M LOOKING FOR A LITTLE BLUEBIRD, which has the flavor of a late-Twenties pop song, which is a compliment:

An extraordinary romp through BLACK BOTTOM STOMP:

I have no idea who MISSISSIPPI MILDRED was, if she existed at all, and what Morton’s conception about the women’s names that became part of song titles, aside from ‘NITA and MABEL, sweet and fussy, respectively:

And now, properly credited, “Nicholas D Ball – Drums and goat / Michael McQuaid – Reeds, cornet, and beastliness / David Horniblow – Bass sax and caprine outbursts / Andrew Oliver – Piano, cornet, and vocables, show us “It’s beastly hot in here!”

And here is Andrew’s blogpost on these four selections.  Alas, no more information seems to have surfaced on Lew LeMarr, the wild laugher on HYENA STOMP and the goat on this:

May your happiness increase!

MORTONIC CAPERS: ANDREW OLIVER, DAVID HORNIBLOW, and SURPRISE GUESTS MICHAEL McQUAID and NICHOLAS D. BALL

Two kinds of surprise, one subtle and one cinematic-vaudevillian-theatrical from the Complete Morton Project.  More details here.

First, DIXIE KNOWS — a composition Morton never recorded — played beautifully by Andrew Oliver, piano; David Horniblow, clarinet:

Then, a party!  The Complete Morton Project invited two friends over, increasing the band by 200%: Michael McQuaid on reeds and Nicholas D. Ball on drums and hilarity — for HYENA STOMP:

Should you be tempted to dismiss HYENA STOMP as pure goofiness, listen to Morton’s Library of Congress solo rendition:

Anyone who thinks of Morton as a limited improviser who didn’t swing should be given a fifteen-minute immersion in that performance, which I marvel at.

But HYENA STOMP (in the 1927 Victor version) is elusive in one detail.  I tried to find out about Lew LeMar, who says, “That’s terrible, Jelly!” and then does the laughing — choose your own adjective.  I know there is a tradition of laughter being recorded as part of an act (consider the OKeh LAUGHING RECORD and later, LAUGHIN’ LOUIE) but I can find no information on the exuberant Mr. LeMar.  Even William Russell’s seven-hundred page Morton scrapbook has no entry for him in the index.

And thus I am free to imagine.  Did Jelly and Lew know each other from vaudeville?  Had they met at a theatre or bar, with Jelly saying, “I’ve got a record date in three days and I want you on it?”  Or was LeMar appearing on another Victor recording at the same time?  Was he the recording supervisor’s idea?  Was HYENA STOMP — very close to one strain of KING PORTER — created for LeMar?  What was union scale for vocal effects?  This unsolved mystery pleases me.  But it makes me smile, which is a good thing in itself.  Let us hope that we always have reasons to laugh.

May your happiness increase!

THEY KEEP KEEPIN’ ON: ANDREW OLIVER / DAVID HORNIBLOW PLAY MORTON

More from the Complete Morton Project, with never a letup: Andrew Oliver, piano, and David Horniblow, reeds.  They seem so supercharged that even I, who spend more time at the computer than my MD would like, lag behind.  Here’s a roundup of recent delights.

From Morton’s 1938 solo session, HONKY TONK MUSIC:

and Morton’s paean to his common-law wife, Anita Gonzales, SWEET ANITA MINE:

and the rather dark and somber, I HATE A MAN LIKE YOU, recorded by Morton and Lizzie Miles in 1929:

I wouldn’t feel right ending this blogpost on that particularly dark note, so Andrew and David romp for us through THE NAKED DANCE, which must have been exhausting as well as thrilling:

Not surprisingly, Andrew and David and their colleagues have to eat, pay utility bills and rent, do laundry — all things that require funding — so in addition to watching these free videos (that concept unhinges me a bit when I consider an economy for artists who offer us such beneficences for nothing) — I encourage you to support them in tangible ways.  If you live in England or thereabouts, go to gigs — the Dime Notes, the Vitality 5, and others; if you are not so close, you can support their efforts buy purchasing CDs, and get some fine music for yourself in this fashion, through a monthly series of e-78s (what a gentle oxymoron of epochs contained there).

David explains: “So this month’s Vitality Five e78 – available on Spotify, Itunes, Deezer etc etc, features a couple of things I did for the band. Firstly the spooky faux-exotic ‘Sphinx’ – originally recorded by the Original Dixieland Jazz Band in London, 1920. The ODJB prided themselves of their supposed roughness and musically illiteracy (although that was more hype than reality). As a contrast, ‘Deep Blue Sea Blues’ pays homage to two of the great sophisticates of 1920’s saxophone, alto player Bobby Davis – ably recreated by Michael McQuaid – and the high priest of the bass sax, Adrian Rollini. Follow the link if you fancy a listen https://vitalityfive.com/…/06/17/sphinx-deep-blue-sea-blues/.”

Here’s a sample of their May e-78 of EVERY EVENING:

Truly remarkable.  And generous in ways hard to imagine but glorious to receive.

May your happiness increase!

A BOWLFUL OF JELLY: DAVID HORNIBLOW and ANDREW OLIVER PLAY MORTON, and a new e-78 too!

Not ‘T’was the Night Before Christmas, but a visit to the land of Mortonia, reliably, gorgeously: the place where sweet, hot, plenty rhythm is the national anthem and the cosmic heartbeat. I mean the Complete Morton Project, with Andrew Oliver, piano, and David Horniblow, various reeds of assorted sizes and timbres.

BIG LIP BLUES, a sermon on the virtues of respectful taciturnity, here melancholy and mobile both in its instrumental form:

SHAKE IT, which seems a simple bounce but has its own remarkable surprises:

Early Jelly — his NEW ORLEANS BLUES, with that majestic bass saxophone:

For the senior citizen who has or does everything, a positively joyous GRANDPA’S SPELLS:

The Registrar has informed me that some of you have not subscribed. Remember the final exam is coming up!

An extra bonus for the faithful nomads in the Land of Hot: the Vitality Five’s latest e-78, a treat not to be missed:

The Vitality Five, if you’ve not met them, is David and Andrew, plus loyal souls and true Michael McQuaid, Nicholas D. Ball, and Martin Wheatley: the best in their line.

May your happiness increase!