A few night ago, I was witness to a glorious expression of personalities and an explosion of sounds. The “Cafe Bohemia Jazz Quartet,” which appears regularly on Thursdays at Cafe Bohemia, 15 Barrow Street, Greenwich Village, New York, was that night led by Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet (as usual), with Scott Robinson, magic man, playing tenor saxophone, taragoto, and a new find from his basement, an “adorable” little Eb cornet. With them were Joe Cohn, guitar, and Murray Wall, string bass.
The evening’s music was characteristically rewarding and varied: a first set of SONG OF THE WANDERER, SUGAR, INDIANA, ROCKIN’ CHAIR, THERE’LL BE SOME CHANGES MADE, I’LL NEVER BE THE SAME, I FOUND A NEW BABY, and CREOLE LOVE CALL. In the Bohemia audience, appropriately, were members of the Pilsner Jazz Band, who had just appeared at the Kennedy Center (more about that below) and were enthusiastically responding to the band. I don’t recall if Jon-Erik asked them what they’d like to hear (the act of a brave person) but someone suggested ROYAL GARDEN BLUES and that began the second set.
A word about ROYAL GARDEN BLUES — which has a lovely pedigree, because the song (with lyrics) by Clarence and Spencer Williams, possibly just by Spencer, refers to the place King Oliver played, later the Lincoln Gardens. It’s a century old, if we take as its starting point the unissued recordings pioneering bandleader George Morrison made of the tune.
We all have our favorite versions, from Bix to the Goodman Sextet to Tatum to Louis, and as I write this, another’s being created. But since it was taken up from the Forties onward by “trad” groups — define them as you will — it’s one of the three songs played nearly to a crisp (the others are MUSKRAT RAMBLE and STRUTTIN’ WITH SOME BARBECUE). Too many formulaic renditions in my history have caused me slight flutters of ennui when someone suggests it. But not with this quartet. After a gentle ensemble start (I missed a bit due to camera rebellion) this performance escalates into a wonderfully friendly joust between Jon-Erik and Scott. Quite uplifting, with every tub securely on its own botom, seriously cheering
I felt like cheering then, and I do now. See what happens when you leave your house to confront the music face to face? More about the notion of leaving-your-house, at least temporarily, here.
Beauty awaits us, if we just look for it.
And just because this title was the first thing that came to mind when I thought of this post, here’s an evocative jazz artifact:
Postscript: here’s the Pilsner Jazz Band at the Kennedy Center, Jan. 27, 2020:
May your happiness increase!