Tag Archives: Mike Davis

“LARKIN’S LAW” AND ITS DISCONTENTS, or “WHO’S SORRY NOW?”

When I first read poet / jazz-lover / jazz-essayist Philip Larkin’s “law,” some forty years ago, I thought it sardonically amusing, as was Groucho’s “I wouldn’t want to belong to any club that would have me as a member.”  Now, I find it and its effects quite sad:

“If I were to frame Larkin’s Law of Reissues, it would say that anything you haven’t got already probably isn’t worth bothering about.  In other words, if someone tries to persuade you to buy a limited edition of the 1924-25 sessions by Paraffin Joe and his Nitelites, keep your pockets buttoned up: if they were any good, you’d have heard of them at school, as you did King Oliver, and have laid out your earliest pocket money on them.”

I’ve always had an odd admiration for Larkin, while making the necessary effort to ignore much of what he wrote: he is the embarrassing relative at the holiday dinner table who shares his racist, misogynistic views.  I am also certain that had we met, he would have satirized me in his diary that evening.  But his vigorous parochialism ran parallel to some of my taste: he thought the 1932 Rhythmakers sessions the height of Western civilization, a sentiment I can understand.

Larkin’s Law would seem valid to many in “the jazz audience” I know, a credo in support of Their Kind of Music.  Caveat immediately: there are so many jazzes and thus so many audiences that I can only speak of the small slice I experience, in person, in correspondence, and through social media.

With JAZZ LIVES as my creation for over a decade, I continue to be thrilled by the music yet often puzzled by the provincialism of the response it receives.  Of course this blog is an expression of my own tastes, which have been shaped by experience(s).  I prefer X to Y even if received wisdom says I shouldn’t.  And although my response may be simply “That band doesn’t move me,” I stand by my aesthetics.

However, even though jazz was once a radical music, an art form relegated to the basement where it wouldn’t upset the pets, the audience can be aesthetically conservative, defining itself in opposition.

As Sammut of Malta writes, people view art as a box rather than as a spectrum.

I think many of the jazz-consumers have decided What They Like and it is often What They Have Always Liked.  Their loyalty is fierce, even in the face of unsettling evidence.  My analogy is the restaurant at which one has a brilliant meal, then a good meal, then a dreadful meal — but one keeps returning, because one always eats there.  Familiarity wins out over the courage to experiment.  “I love this band.  I first heard them in 1978!”

As an aside: I’ve watched audience members at jazz festivals who race to see Their Favorite Band and then talk through the set, applauding loudly what they could not have heard, convinced that they are having the time of their lives.  (This phenomenon is a subject for another blog: it worked its way in here and it deserves its few words.)

Loyalty is a lovely thing, and audience members certainly may gravitate to what pleases them.  If you tell me that Taco Bell is the best Mexican food that ever was, I can protest, I can meet you after lunch, I can invite you to the taqueria down the street, but changing your mind is difficult.  You like what you like for a complex network of reasons, many of them unexamined.

What does worry me is when affection becomes rigidity and turns into a rejection of anything a few degrees away from the Ideal.  It happens on both ends of the aesthetic continuum.  One of my Facebook fans used to dismiss music she found too modern as “Too swingy.”  I suggested to her that jazz of the kind she preferred also swung, but it was clear that some music I embraced seemed heretical to her.  Conversely, “I don’t like banjos and tubas” is a less-heard but prevalent response, to which I want to say, “Have you heard A play the banjo or B play the tuba?  Perhaps your condemnation needs to be refined to ‘I prefer rhythm guitar and string bass in rhythm sections, but other ways to swing can be pleasing as well’.”  I can even say, “Have you heard Bernard Addison and John Kirby in 1933?” but does everyone recognize those names?

In practical terms, Larkin’s Law means that many people reject as unworthy what they do not immediately recognize.  Closing the door on anything even slightly different will not help those who want the music they love to go on.  And it will deny the listener pleasurable surprises.

I, too, know jazz parochialism.  When I was 14, I could have told you that I liked jazz.  Pressed for a definition of what I liked, I would have said Louis Armstrong, Jack Teagarden, Benny Goodman small groups, and not much else.  Soon I added the Billie Holiday small groups, 1940 Ellington, 1938 Basie, and so on.  It took a long time before I could “hear” Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie with pleasure and understanding, but I knew there was something worth investigating.  I have not gotten beyond early Ornette or Wilbur Sweatman, but I keep listening and attending live jazz performances.

I know some JAZZ LIVES readers and friends have more open ears than what I describe.  And some of them, whom I celebrate happily, have written to say, “Thank you, Michael, for introducing me to _____ and _________, whom I wouldn’t have heard without your blog.”  Reading this, I think gleefully, “My work on the planet is done,” and go to do the dishes with a big grin.  But I wonder how many listeners have seriously considered, let us say, both Mike Davis and Lena Bloch, Kim Cusack and Ted Brown, Paul Asaro and Joel Forrester, the Chicago Cellar Boys and the Microscopic Septet, Kirk Knuffke and Danny Tobias — to pick a few vivid examples.

My apparent ecumenicism does not mean I like everything.  And I receive a good number of solicitations from music publicists and even CDs: I listen before saying, “No, that’s not for me.”  Rarely do I think, “Wow, that’s bad music!”; rather, I say, “What that artist is doing is not pleasing to me, but that says much about me as well as what it says about the art.”

We all, I believe, fell in love with certain varieties of this art because they made us feel excited, joyous, alive, exuberant — a WOW moment.  For some, the Love Object may be Oliver’s ROOM RENT BLUES or the closing chorus of the Hot Seven’s WEARY BLUES, or a Decca Lunceford, the Jones-Smith session, Hawkins’ SIRIUS . . . .  And no one would propose to say to an enraptured listener, “You really shouldn’t listen to that,” unless one wants to argue.  But what if some musician or band offered a serious WOW moment and the listener had refused to try it out, because, “I don’t listen to anything that isn’t . . . . “?  Should we be so in love with what we love that we keep our ears closed, as if it would be fatal for us to spend two or three minutes with a music that didn’t instantly please us?

Our preferences are strong.  But occasionally those preferences are so negative that they make me envision my fellow jazz-lovers as irritable toddlers.  “Honey, we have A through L for lunch.  What would you like?” The response, in a howl, “No!  No!  No!  Want R!”

There is another manifestation of this calcified reaction, one I perceive regularly through JAZZ LIVES.  Certain artists have powerful magnetism: call it star quality, so whatever they play or sing attracts an audience.  (It is reminiscent of the imagined book with the widest audience, called LINCOLN’S DOCTOR’S DOG.)  I have often thought that the most-desired video I could offer would have technically dazzling music at a fast tempo, performed by young people, women and men both.  A little sexuality, a drum solo, novelty but not too much, evocations of this or the other jazz Deity . . . it’s a hit!

But it also should be music made by Famous Names.  You can compile your own list of stars who often play and sing beautifully.  But when I offer a video without Famous Names, without the visual novelty, fewer people go to it, enacting Larkin’s Law.  “I don’t know who that is.  How could (s)he be any good?”

Do we listen with our ears or our eyes or with our memory for names?

Could listeners, for instance, make serious judgments about music they knew nothing about — the Blindfold Test?  I admire Hot Lips Page above most mortals, but I have learned to be courageous enough to say, “I love Lips, but he seems bored here — he’s going through the motions.”  Whether I am right or not matters less, but making the critical judgment is, I think, crucial.

These thoughts are provoked by Larkin’s Law as an indication of historical allegiance rather than expansive taste, of a narrowness of reaction rather than a curiosity about the art form.

What I conceive as the ideal may seem paradoxical, but I applaud both a willingness to listen outside one’s tightly-defended parameters and, at the same time, to be seriously aware in one’s appreciation and not turn habit into advocacy.  Let us love the music and let us also hear it.

And, in honor of Philip Larkin, who may have stubbornly denied himself pleasure by hewing to his own asphyxiating principles, here are some of his artistic touchstones:

A personal postscript: JAZZ LIVES gives me great joy, and I am not fishing for praise.  Many people have told me in person how much they appreciate my efforts.  But I perceive provincialism creeping up the limbs of the jazz body as sure as rigor mortis, and I would like this music to continue, vigorous, when I am no longer around to video it.

May your happiness increase!

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“LOVE WILL FIND A WAY”: A NOBLE + WYLIE SHOWCASE (Part One): THE NEW WONDERS at the RUTGERS PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH: MIKE DAVIS, JOSH HOLCOMB, RICKY ALEXANDER, DALTON RIDENHOUR, PETER CHO, JAY RATTMAN, JAY LEPLEY (January 7, 2019)

Here are some wonderful highlights from my first concert of 2019, a showcase for several bands under the brightly colored banner of Noble + Wylie, a musician-run enterprise that fills a real need, representing splendid traditional jazz performers, offering the best services to the artists and their audiences.  The co-founders are musicians Emily Asher and Katie Lee, who know the business from many angles.  You can read more about this promising company at the link above, but a few sentences from Emily give a taste of their forthright approach: “I see Noble + Wylie as an agency which elevates and celebrates excellence. By focusing on honesty and quality over chaos and hype, I look forward to fostering long-term positive relationships with diverse music venues, festivals, schools, and private clients in order to provide distinctive and creative music to audiences world-wide.”

(If you search for Noble & Wylie — connected by an ampersand — you’ll find only UK shoes, no music at all.  Caveat emptor.)

At the January 9 showcase, we had the opportunity to hear three groups represented by Noble + Wylie: The Ladybugs, the New Wonders, and Emily Asher’s Garden Party — and I brought back some tasty video evidence.  Here is the first set by the New Wonders, the remarkable band making the hot and sweet music of the Twenties alive again.  For this occasion, they are Mike Davis, cornet; Josh Holcomb, trombone; Ricky Alexander, reeds; Dalton Ridenhour, piano; Peter Cho, banjo; Jay Rattman, bass sax; Jay Lepley, with incidental singing by members of the band.  My videos came from an odd angle, but I hope all can be forgiven.

The New Wonders, photograph by Renée Toplansky.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mike’s introductions are delightful history lessons in themselves, so you need no more from me.

RHYTHM KING, for Bix:

I’M MORE THAN SATISFIED, for the Chicago Loopers:

OSTRICH WALK, for Bix and Tram:

CLORINDA, for the Loopers:

This one’s a particular favorite of mine, Eubie Blake and Noble Sissle’s sweet ballad, LOVE WILL FIND A WAY, in the style of Bix and his Gang:

Finally, a romping CLARINET MARMALADE — hot and spreadable:

Once again, you can learn more about Noble + Wylie here.  (The name that Asher and Lee have chosen for their enterprise is a fascinating story in itself.)  And their Facebook page is  here.

May your happiness increase!

WONDER-FULL: THE NEW WONDERS’ NEW CD

There are many ways to honor the tradition, in jazz as well as the other arts.  Let us say you are a young musician who falls in love with an artifact — the OKeh record of TIGHT LIKE THIS by Louis Armstrong and his Hot Five in 1928.  You can use the recorded music as an inspiration to go your own way, to play something that honors Louis but is your own creation.  Or, equally honorable, you can transcribe the recorded evidence, and offer to a new audience a live performance that comes as close to the original as possible, or one that allows for individual variation within the hallowed architecture of the original.

Vince Giordano and the Nighthawks — the great progenitor — and the newer groups such as the Original Cornell Syncopators and the New Wonders follow the latter path gloriously, sometimes recreating and re-enacting, sometimes honoring the original architecture while painting the interior windowsills periwinkle.

From left, Jared Engel, banjo; Joe McDonough, trombone; Jay Lepley, drums; Ricky Alexander, reeds; Mike Davis, cornet, leader; Jay Rattman, bass saxophone; Dalton Ridenhour, piano. Photograph by Jane Kratochvil

There are many ways in which the New Wonders are special.  For one thing, they offer repertoire that has not been overdone — no SINGIN’ THE BLUES, no STRUTTIN’ WITH SOME BARBECUE.  They draw from recordings made by the California Ramblers, the Chicago Loopers, Tiny Parham, Red Nichols, the Goofus Five, and others — wonderful pop tunes that haven’t been played in ages. And they are a great paradox, for their approach is exact (reproducing pieces of arrangements, both instrumental and vocal, that are not easy to do) but loose.  They are not museum curators, but they are not only playing the songs and moving on . . . and there is a spirit of great fun and ebullience without the least mockery or condescension.  A performance or a recording by the New Wonders is a convincing bit of theatre: as if this group of beautifully-dressed young men had come to your house with the sweet notion of bringing 1927 back for a few hours.  And they do it with love: the music can be precise and tender, or hot and bumptious — all in the space of a few songs.

I saw them create such wonders last August in Brice Moss’ pastoralia, and it was memorable, as you can observe here.  But there were limitations to the sound my microphone could capture, and this was the pianoless New Wonders.  So I am delighted to announce their debut CD, titled THE NEW WONDERS, so that no one can mistake it for anything else.  It’s a delightful banquet of sounds from Messrs. Davis, McDonough, Alexander, Rattman, Engel, Lepley, and Ridenhour, as they playfully work their way through FLAMIN’ MAMIE; REACHING FOR SOMEONE; I’M MORE THAN SATISFIED; BONEYARD SHUFFLE; POOR PAPA; I GET THE BLUES WHEN IT RAINS; I’D RATHER CRY OVER YOU; PERSIAN RUG; CLORINDA; I NEED LOVIN’; SMILE, DARN YA, SMILE; JUNGLE CRAWL; I’M WALKING BETWEEN THE RAINDROPS; SHE’S FUNNY THAT WAY; THE BALTIMORE.

I may be accused of ageism, but there is something particularly pleasing to hear these reasonably young (at least to me) musicians immerse themselves in music made by young musicians — an enthusiastic freshness.  And there’s another delightful oddity in the New Wonders’ presentation: the vocal choruses.  In my youth, we made fun of Wes Vaughan, we lifted the needle over Irving Kaufman (unless there was a hot obbligato) and in general, we waited for Bing to come along and make everything all right.  Four members of The New Wonders sing (Lepley, Rattman, Alexander, and leader Davis) and they do it splendidly, not only in solo — verse as well as chorus — but in reproducing the intricate vocal parts from the Chicago Loopers date, CLORINDA and I’M MORE THAN SATISFIED — with great style, earnest without being stiff.  Replaying this disc, I found myself looking forward to those beautifully-executed vocal outpourings, and I think you might share my pleasure.

Al fresco, August 2017

Here you can find out more about Mike and the band, and here is the band’s Facebook page.  And . . . . here is the CDBaby page for the new CD.

But the best way to buy a band CD is at the gig — maybe you’ll get it signed, and you have the direct economic transfer of giving money to the musicians who have just played for you, so here is the event page for the New Wonders’ CD release party — Tuesday, March 13, 2018, from 8-10 PM at Norwood, 241 W 14th St, New York, New York 10011.  Mike points out, “Norwood is a members-only club. In order to attend this event all tickets must be purchased in advance. NO tickets will be sold on the premises.”  And I won’t be able to make this gig, so those of you who are waiting for more videos might have to be in attendance, if possible.  It will be Wonderful.

May your happiness increase!

GIBSON, STRAIGHT UP: BANU CHARMS US ONCE AGAIN (Jeff and Joel’s House Party, October 13-15, 2017)

Banu Gibson is someone I admire greatly — not only for her expressive, swinging singing, but for her quick-witted stage presence and her deep affectionate knowledge of the songs and their composers.  So it was a great pleasure to see and hear her at the October 2017 party co-led by Jeff Barnhart and Joel Schiavone.  She was accompanied by Jeff, piano; Vince Giordano, string bass, bass saxophone, tuba; Kevin Dorn, drums; Dan Levinson, reeds; Jim Fryer, trombone; Mike Davis, trumpet.

Thanks to Eric Devine, kind-hearted and efficient man of many cameras, we now have some video of Banu in performance to share.  (Eric’s YouTube channel is CineDevine and his videos from many festivals and performances are just superb.)

Here, Banu confesses that there are some things she might not know — hard to believe, but necessary for the sake of the song:

and here, a song for your board-certified ophthalmologist (with Dalton Ridenhour at the piano):

Banu is based in New Orleans, so it was a real treat to have her in the tri-state area for even this short visit.

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!

PARTY FAVORS (from Jeff and Joel’s 2017 House Party)

I had a fine time at Jeff (Barnhart) and Joel (Schiavone)’s House Party, which I described here.  Modern technology has made it so that we never have to say “The song is ended.”  Here are a few delicious souvenirs.

First, I decided to bring my still camera: thus . . . .

Vince Giordano, Dan Levinson, Mike Davis

and the new two-trumpet team:

Fred Vigorito, Jim Fryer, ablaze.

But those pictures are still and silent.  Comes Eric Devine, videographer par excellence and the CEO of CineDevine, to fill in the gaps.

Here Comes The Band:

and some more piano for two, or four:

Did you miss this Party?  Well, make plans to be available in Guilford, Connecticut, October 12-14, 2018.  Details to come here — not just yet, but I’ll let you know.

May your happiness increase!