Tag Archives: Miff Mole

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!

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FROM THEIR HEARTS (Part One): JON-ERIK KELLSO, CHARLIE HALLORAN, BRIAN NALEPKA, JOHN GILL (The EarRegulars at The Ear Inn, July 8, 2018)

After the last tune had been played on Sunday, July 8, at The Ear Inn (326 Spring Street, Soho, New York City), Brian Nalepka — string bass, vocals, wit — caught my eye and smiled, “That was a GOOD night, Michael!” and he didn’t have to say anything more.  What the EarRegulars created that night, as they have done for eleven years of Sundays, was magical.  They demonstrated, for a few hours, how music is the best medicine for all kinds of woes.

The genuine heartfelt practitioners that night were Brian; John Gill, banjo, National guitar, vocal; Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet, leader; New Orleans luminary Charlie Halloran, in New York for a few days, trombone, or as he likes to call it, “trampagne.”  When you play as beautifully as Charlie does, you have wide-open linguistic license.

A few more words about him: I’d heard his recordings and they bring great joy: I’m thinking of his QUALITY SIX and CE BIGUINE, both celebrated on this blog (as well as wonderful work with half-a-dozen other bands) — but the closest we’d ever come to a real conversation was that we waved to each other across a fence at one of the Steamboat Stomps. So I was delighted to hear him in person, doing the thing at close range, and to find out that he is as gracious a person as he is a fine musician.  And I don’t overstate.

The Fellows, that very night. Photograph by Neal Siegal.

Here are some highlights from early in the evening.  The band just glowed, and so did we.

A rocking BOGALUSA STRUT:

A tender but groovy SOMEDAY SWEETHEART — a version that seems to need no comma in the middle:

Asking the musical question, WHO’S SORRY NOW? — here, it’s not fashionable to invoke the name of Miff Mole, but Charlie brings him to life in this century, exuberant and precise.  And we’re so lucky to have this band sharing its love every Sunday:

And to close this segment, a down-home TISHOMINGO BLUES, wonderfully sung by John Gill:

I will have more joyous evidence — inspired and inspiring — to share with you after a brief interval.

May your happiness increase!

NAT HAD GOOD TASTE AND A CAMERA, 1949-55

OPEN PANDORA’S BOX, by Sofia Wellman

The eBay treasure chest is overflowing with delights, and occasionally the treasures are startling.  I’ve come to expect autographed records and photographs and concert programs, as well as little scraps of paper cut from someone’s autograph book.  There’s been a recent flurry of checks — bearing the signature of an otherwise obscure musician on the back as the necessary endorsement.  And more, some of it dross.

I am always slightly ambivalent about the rarities coming to light.  On one hand, what a joy to see relics and artifacts that one never knew existed.  On the other, I feel melancholy that these offerings are (plausibly) because collectors age and die, need money, and their heirs are understandably eager to convert the fan’s collection into something more useful at the mall.  But it’s all just objects, and they go from one hand to another: better this than the recycling bin.

To get to the point: I found on eBay this morning a trove of one-of-a-kind color slides of jazz musicians in performance, captured between 1949 and 1955 in Cleveland and Chicago, possibly elsewhere.  Each is offered for $50 or the best offer, and here is the link.  An explanation is here: the slides were from the collection of photographer Nat Singerman.  (As a caveat: I have no idea of the process by which these items came to be offered for sale, so if the provenance is murky, I plead ignorance.)

The musicians Nat photographed are (in no order of merit): Miff Mole, Buddy Rich, Earl Hines, Oscar Peterson, Patti Page, Art Hodes, Jonah Jones, Louis Jordan, Jim Robinson, J.C. Higginbotham, Eddie Heywood, Darnell Howard, Lee Collins, Louis Prima, Flip Phillips, Oscar Pettiford, Freddie Moore, Red Norvo, Tal Farlow, Charles Mingus, Pee Wee Hunt, Juanita Hall.  They were caught in action at clubs, the State Theatre in Cleveland, a rib restaurant, and elsewhere.  (Flip, Rich, and others may have been on a JATP tour.)  It’s a powerful reminder of just how much live music there was in this country.  Here are a few samples, but go see for yourselves before they are all purchased.  As some anonymous pitchman once said, “When they’re gone, they’re gone!”  I am not involved in this beyond this blogpost: I spent the February budget for such things on photographs of Vic Dickenson and Sidney Catlett.

J.C. Higginbotham and “Chuck” at the Pinwheel Cafe, 1949, as Nat’s careful label shows:

Darnell Howard, with Lee Collins in the background, presumably at the BeeHive in 1949:

and a shot of the full front line, with Miff Mole (the rhythm section may have had Don Ewell on piano):

Flip Phillips, at Cleveland’s State Theatre in 1949:

Jonah Jones, posing outside the Cab Calloway band bus, parked at the Circle Theatre in Cleveland, October 1951:

Tal Farlow, Red Norvo, Charles Mingus, Chicago, July 1951:

Oscar Pettiford, Loop Lounge, Cleveland, September 1955.  Thanks to Loren Schoenberg, we have a winner — that’s Ben Webster to the right:

The rest you’ll have to find for yourselves.  But what a cache of marvels, and the treasure chest seems bottomless.  And the imagined soundtracks reverberate gloriously.

May your happiness increase!

CHRISTMAS GREETINGS FROM EDDIE and the GANG

Eddie Condon may not have manifested holiday cheer to the utmost in this staged photograph, but he certainly made joy palpable through music.

condon-christmas

Thanks to Scott Black — keeper of treasures — for this.  In color, too!

A post about Eddie would be incomplete without a solid helping of Americondon music, so here is an AFRS transcription of the May 30, 1944 Town Hall concert, the fourth in the series, this half-hour portion broadcast over the Blue Network.  You’ll hear SWEET GEORGIA BROWN, PEG O’MY HEART, a conversation with novelist John O’Hara that takes a while to get airborne but is ultimately rewarding, CAROLINA SHOUT, WHEREVER THERE’S LOVE, UNCLE SAM BLUES, SOMEONE TO WATCH OVER ME, and the closing IMPROMPTU ENSEMBLE, featuring Max Kaminsky, Pee Wee Russell, Miff Mole, Gene Schroeder, Bob Casey, Joe Grauso, James P. Johnson, Billy Butterfield, Hot Lips Page, Liza Morrow, and Bobby Hackett.

Caveat: it is introduced (in this YouTube version) by dark ominous music and an announcer who has rather unusual opinions about music: unless you have a taste for the bizarre, you may want to skip forward eighty seconds . . . and there is a closing announcement by the presenter as well, which caught me by surprise:

In the name of holiday largesse, all of the Condon broadcasts (with extras) have been issued on a series of two-CD sets on the Jazzology label, in better sound.  But in whatever form, the music Eddie played and made possible is a true, lasting gift to us.

May your happiness increase!

MORE HOT JAZZ IN THE GARDEN OF EDEN (Part Three): THE NEW WONDERS (MIKE DAVIS, JOE McDONOUGH, RICKY ALEXANDER, JARED ENGEL, JAY RATTMAN, JAY LEPLEY): AUGUST 20, 2017

The days are getting shorter, darker, and cooler.  There’s little that I can do to combat this, but I offer this third part of a glorious August afternoon as a palliative for the descent into winter.

Thanks to the energetic Brice Moss, I was able to attend and record a lovely outdoor session featuring The New Wonders — Mike Davis, cornet, vocal, arrangements; Jay Lepley, drums; Jay Rattman, bass saxophone and miscellaneous instrument; Joe McDonough, trombone, Ricky Alexander, reeds; Jared Engel, plectrum banjo.  There’s group singing here and there, which is its own idiomatic delight.  This is the third of three posts: here is part one, and here is part two — both segments full of wondrous hot music.

And now . . . . a Hot one in Hot slow-motion, no less steamy — NOBODY’S SWEETHEART:

Did someone say “The Chicago Loopers”?  Here’s CLORINDA, with vocal quartet:

A serious question for sure, ARE YOU SORRY?

Another paean to the South from songwriters who may have gone no deeper than Battery Park, THAT’S THE GOOD OLD SUNNY SOUTH:

We’d like it to be a valid economic policy — THE BEST THINGS IN LIFE ARE FREE:

DEEP BLUE SEA BLUES, with a surprising double for Jay Rattman:

Who needs an umbrella?  I’M WALKING BETWEEN THE RAINDROPS:

and an emotional choice, I’D RATHER CRY OVER YOU:

Deep thanks, as before, to Brice, family, friends, and to these splendid musicians, for making an Edenic idea come to life.

And I don’t have the delicious artifact yet, but The New Wonders did and have finished their debut CD.  I am willing to wager that it will live up to the band name.  Details as I know them.

May your happiness increase!

MORE HOT JAZZ IN THE GARDEN OF EDEN (Part Two): THE NEW WONDERS (MIKE DAVIS, JOE McDONOUGH, RICKY ALEXANDER, JARED ENGEL, JAY RATTMAN, JAY LEPLEY): AUGUST 20, 2017

On August 20, 2017, there was a return to Eden.  It didn’t make the papers, possibly because social media wasn’t attuned to hot jazz in bucolic settings (Brice Moss’s backyard in Croton-on-Hudson) but it still felt Edenic, thanks to the New Wonders (Mike Davis, Jared Engel, Jay Lepley, Joe McDonough, Ricky Alexander, and Jay Rattman) and thanks to generous fervent Brice, of course, and Anne, Aubrey, Odysseus, Liana, Ana, and Chester.

This is the second part of the great revelation: the first part is here.  I urge you to visit that first part — not only to hear more splendid music in the most welcoming surroundings, but to read the enthusiastic words Brice has written about this band.  And the proof is in every performance by the New Wonders.

AIN’T THAT A GRAND AND GLORIOUS FEELING, courtesy of Annette Hanshaw:

Tiny Parham’s JUNGLE CRAWL:

A very successful experiment.  The pretty LOVE WILL FIND A WAY, by Noble Sissle and Eubie Blake (from SHUFFLE ALONG) reimagined as if Bix and His Gang had performed it:

Not a suggestion, but a command: SMILE, DARN YA, SMILE:

And a serious request: I NEED LOVIN’:

For Red, Miff, and Fud: HURRICANE:

What they used to call Orientalia, PERSIAN RUG, with a completely charming vocal from Mike:

There will be a Part Three, joyously.  Have no fear.  And soon, I am told, the New Wonders’ debut CD will appear.

May your happiness increase!

HOT JAZZ IN THE GARDEN OF EDEN (Part One): THE NEW WONDERS (MIKE DAVIS, JOE McDONOUGH, RICKY ALEXANDER, JARED ENGEL, JAY RATTMAN, JAY LEPLEY): AUGUST 20, 2017

Some people make great art happen without ever picking up an instrument, and Brice Moss is one of them.  I first met him at a concert of Mike Davis’ band, The New Wonders, in downtown Manhattan, about eighteen months ago.

Brice is very friendly and articulate, tall and beautifully dressed, but what’s more important is that he is a card-carrying Enthusiast for Twenties hot jazz.  And although he loves the recordings and lives to go see and hear the best hot bands, he does more than that.  Evidence below.

A Brice Moss lawn party, a few years back, with Vince Giordano, Andy Stein, Evan Arntzen, Jon-Erik Kellso, Harvey Tibbs, and Ken Salvo.

Brice gives yearly lawn parties where his favorite bands play.  I asked him to say something about his generosity-in-action, and he wrote, “I work in social service, in the not-for profit sector, so even with saving up, I can only do these every year or so.  I can think of no more joy-inducing way to spend my meager dough than by hiring the world class musicians we are lucky to have in our vicinity.  As does everyone else, I love the Nighthawks, whom my parents saw weekly since the seventies.

I am smitten by Mike Davis and his guys too.  Mike always sings the lyrics, often including introductory verses I had never heard before.  They do wonderful vocal harmonies.  They are intimate, understated, true to the period and despite differences of instrumentation, very true to the original recordings of the tunes. Pure delight!  This is the fourth time I’ve been lucky enough to be able to bring a band up.  Last year was Mike and The New Wonders as well. The summer before that was a subset of the Nighthawks.  I have also, a couple of years back, had a New Year’s Eve party where I was fortunate to have Vince, Peter Mintun, Mark Lopeman, Bill Crow, and Andy Stein.”

So this summer, when Brice invited me to come up to his lawn party (at a location alternatively identified as Croton-on-Hudson, Yorktown Heights, or Ossining — depending on the whims of your GPS) I was eager, especially when he said the band would not object if I brought my camera.  I thus had the odd and splendid experience of being able to hear and see hot jazz out-of-doors in the most gorgeous pastoral setting.  I also got to meet Brice’s quite delightful family: his mother Anne; son Odysseus; his daughter Aubrey; his sister Liana.  In addition, I got to chat again with Ana Quintana, and petted the New Wonders’ mascot, Chester.

And there was glorious music by Mike Davis, cornet and vocal; Jay Lepley, drums; Jared Engel, banjo; Jay Rattman, bass sax and miscellaneous instrument; Ricky Alexander, reeds; Joe McDonough, trombone.  (Mike also sings splendidly — earnestly but loosely — on many tracks, and there’s also band vocals and band banter.)

The band takes its name from a particular line of instruments manufactured by the Conn people in the Twenties, and Mike plays a Conn New Wonder cornet.  The New Wonders stay pretty seriously in the Twenties, offering pop songs of the day, jazz classics — both transcribed and improvised on — and homages to Bix and Tram, Paul Whiteman, Cliff Edwards, the California Ramblers, Red Nichols and Miff Mole, and more.

A great deal of beautifully-played hot jazz was offered to us that August afternoon.  Here are the first seven tunes, one for each day of the week.

I GET THE BLUES WHEN IT RAINS (fortunately, this song title did not come true at Brice’s party):

THAT’S MY WEAKNESS NOW (with the verse and a second chorus and a third — how much music the New Wonders can, like their ancestors, pack into three minutes):

MY GAL SAL (thinking of the pride of Ogden, Utah):

CHICAGO:

ONE LITTLE KISS (their homage to Cliff Edwards and the Eton Boys, nobly done):

TAKE YOUR TOMORROW (thinking of Bix and Tram):

POOR PAPA:

There are two more lavishly Edenic segments to come.  Not blasphemous, just paradisical.

May your happiness increase!