Tag Archives: Mike Lipskin

CHARLIE JUDKINS: NEW OLD MUSIC, ONE FLIGHT DOWN (December 17, 2017)

That’s one view of Charlie Judkins, ragtime / stride / traditional jazz pianist (taken in 2015); here’s a more orthodox one:

At the end of last year, I ventured down the long staircase to the underground home of improvised music, surrealism, and (it cannot be ignored) noise from “screeching fratboys,” to quote a friend.  You know it, you love it: it’s Fat Cat at 75 Christopher Street.  Terry Wldo was holding one of his Sunday piano parties, with his special guest being Mike Lipskin.  I’ve posted Mike’s two beautiful performances here.

During the afternoon, Terry and Mike played, and also a number of Terry’s friends and students.  The one who impressed me most was a young man with dark hair who played beautifully — and, even more pleasing to the ear, ragtime pieces new to me.  That’s our man Charlie, seriously talented and seriously young.

“Mule Blues” by Milo Rega (pseud. for Fred Hager and Justin Ring) 1921:

“Le Bananier” by Louis Moreau Gottschalk, 1846:

“The Delmar Blues” by Charley Thompson, written but unpublished, c. 1910:

Charlie Judkins (b. 1991) is a practitioner of Ragtime, Traditional Jazz and Blues piano, as well as a lifelong Brooklyn native. He began playing piano in 1997 at age six. In 2007, he was introduced to the music of Jelly Roll Morton and immediately began studying traditional ragtime and blues piano. Shortly thereafter he came under the informal tutelage of several highly-regarded pianists including Terry Waldo, Mike Lipskin, Ehud Asherie and the late George Mesterhauze. He is currently studying classical piano technique and theory under Jeff Goldstein.

His piano playing has been in demand at various public and private events in the New York City area since debuting as a professional bar-room pianist in the Summer of 2010. He also works as a silent film accompanist at various theaters in the New York area, and also provides scores for silent animation archivist Tom Stathes’s series of DVD/Blu-Ray releases.

Charlie will be performing on Wednesday, January 31, at Dixon Place: “I’ll be accompanying my friend Lara Allen performing obscure ragtime/comedy songs from the early 1900s/late 1890s that were featured by pioneer female recording artists such as May Irwin, Marie Dressler and Clarice Vance.”  Details here: Dixon Place is at 161A Chrystie Street, and the show begins at 9.

I’m very pleased to know that Charlie Judkins exists.

May your happiness increase!

HE STRIDES RIGHT IN: MIKE LIPSKIN at FAT CAT (December 17, 2017)

These performances make me think of Emerson’s words: “It is easy in the world to live after the world’s opinion; it is easy in solitude to live after our own; but the great man is he who in the midst of the crowd keeps with perfect sweetness the independence of solitude.”

The music I refer to is that of the great improviser Mike Lipskin — spiritual heir of Willie “the Lion” Smith — and two songs he reimagined on Sunday, December 17, 2017, at that downtown and below-ground secret shrine for improvised music, Fat Cat.  I applaud Fat Cat for its eccentricities: it is truly A Scene, but one of the ubiquitous elements there is the roar of the young crowd, playing ping-pong, billiards, and other games.  Exuberant youth isn’t silent, except perhaps when sleeping or texting, so Mike had unsolicited and unmusical accompaniment, which he brilliantly triumphed over.  And please note that Mike isn’t just someone lining up one Waller module after the next: his playing is harmonically sophisticated, swinging along in its frisky gentle ways no matter what the tempo.  He’s a class act at the keyboard.

Here’s Mike’s delightful musings on SWEET AND LOVELY, aptly named:

And here’s Vincent Youmans’ spiritual exhortation, much loved by Fats and other Harlem cosmic magicians:

Thank you, Mike.  Come back soon and play some more!

May your happiness increase!

MISTER LIPSKIN PAYS A VISIT BELOWSTAIRS (Dec. 18, 2016): MIKE LIPSKIN, JON-ERIK KELLSO, JIM FRYER, EVAN ARNTZEN, JOHN GILL, BRIAN NALEPKA, JAY LEPLEY (a/k/a TERRY WALDO’S GOTHAM CITY BAND at FAT CAT)

Pianist / vocalist / scholar / composer Terry Waldo leads his Gotham City Band several Sunday afternoons every month (from about 5:45 to 8) at Fat Cat, 75 Christopher Street in Greenwich Village, New York City.

fatcat-2__large

Fat Cat is an unusual jazz club, even considering that it is roughly parallel to two other basement shrines, Smalls and Mezzrow: Greenwich Village’s answer to the long-gone Swing Street.  A large sprawling room, it is filled with the furniture one would expect from a college student union: ping pong tables, pool tables, and the like.  One may play these games for $6 / hour and many young people do.  The bar also offers homemade pomegranate soda for $3, a remarkable boon.  Another distinctive feature of this establishment is the singular adhesiveness of their low couches: once I sit down, I drop below sea level, and know I will arise only at the end of the last set after embarrassing flailing.)

On this Sunday, Terry’s band was particularly noble: Jay Lepley, drums; John Gill, banjo; Brian Nalepka, string bass; Evan Arntzen, clarinet and soprano; Jim Fryer, trombone; Jon-Erik Kellso, cornet instead of his usual horn.  Terry had been leading the group in his usual cheerful egalitarian fashion.  Then I saw a distinctly recognizable fellow — musician and friend — appear to my left.  It was the Sage of several states (California and Arizona), friend and protege of Willie the Lion Smith . . . Mister Michael Lipskin, known to himself and us as Mike.  He asked Terry if he could play a few . . . and he did, shifting the repertoire to two numbers rarely called in such ensembles (by Ray Noble and by Ellington) with splendid results.  And here they are:

THE VERY THOUGHT OF  YOU (at a very Thirties rhythm-ballad tempo, entirely charming):

I’M BEGINNING TO SEE THE LIGHT:

The latter title may be slightly ironic given the intense belowstairs darkness of Fat Cat, but the music shines brightly.

May your happiness increase!

MIKE LIPSKIN and EVAN ARNTZEN at SMALLS, PART TWO (December 8, 2015)

Mike Lipskin

Here are the first five videos from that evening.

Photograph by Tim Cheeney

Photograph by Tim Cheeney

and here’s what I said about the music from that night:

There’s so much lyrical life in the melodies of the twentieth century, when they are explored by masters of improvisation. This was proven throughout a delightful evening at Smalls (West Tenth Street, Greenwich Village, New York City) by piano master Mike Lipskin and reed master Evan Arntzen. Here are five masterful performances from that night, December 8, 2015. And I believe that this was the first time Mike and Evan had played together in duet: talk about deep swing empathy. It’s easy to hear and admire such lyricism and their wise exploration of the varied ways to improvise melodically at medium tempos.

And a second portion of lyrical swing:

ALL THE THINGS YOU ARE:

AIN’T MISBEHAVIN’:

BLUE SKIES:

WHERE ARE YOU?:

I’M CRAZY ‘BOUT MY BABY:

We’re crazy ’bout this duo’s music.  Come back, come back.

May your happiness increase!

MIKE LIPSKIN and EVAN ARNTZEN at SMALLS, PART ONE (December 8, 2015)

Mike Lipskin

There’s so much lyrical life in the melodies of the twentieth century, when they are explored by masters of improvisation.  This was proven throughout a delightful evening at Smalls (West Tenth Street, Greenwich Village, New York City) by piano master Mike Lipskin and reed master Evan Arntzen.  Here are five masterful performances from that night, December 8, 2015.  And I believe that this was the first time Mike and Evan had played together in duet: talk about deep swing empathy.  It’s easy to hear and admire such lyricism and their wise exploration of the varied ways to improvise melodically at medium tempos.

Photograph by Tim Cheeney

Photograph by Tim Cheeney

EAST OF THE SUN:

BLUE ROOM:

OUT OF NOWHERE:

LINGER AWHILE:

SNOWY MORNING BLUES (Mike’s solo exploration of James P. Johnson’s piece while Evan listens intently):

Five more casual yet expert masterpieces will appear soon.  Thank you, gentlemen.

May your happiness increase!

THE RETURN of MIKE and MIKE (LIPSKIN and HASHIM, Smalls, April 28, 2015)

Jazz thrives on individuality.  The Ancestors always emphasized that a musician’s sound had to be as personal as a voice, instantly recognizable. Ben Webster spent the early part of his career trying to sound like Coleman Hawkins — a necessary stage in the development — then he realized it was time to be Ben Webster.

Two staunch individualists, happily thriving and playing, are swing piano master / singer / composer Mike Lipskin and saxophone master (here on alto and soprano) Mike Hashim.  And here are five beauties from their most recent New York City duo-recital, performed for an attentive international audience at Smalls on West Tenth Street in Greenwich Village.

I could have called this post THREE SLOW, TWO ROMPING, but you’ll discern such qualities for yourself as you watch and listen.

James P. Johnson’s wistful love poem, ONE HOUR:

Billy Strayhorn’s reverie, DAY DREAM:

I DON’T STAND A GHOST OF A CHANCE WITH YOU, that lovely ballad, has nearly vanished from the jazz repertoire.  I’m glad that Mike and Mike have good memories:

For Bix and the Louisiana Sugar Babes, an affirmation, THOU SWELL:

And for Fats.  The history’s inaccurate but the music is on course. CHRISTOPHER COLUMBUS:

Thank you, gentlemen!  Come back soon.

May your happiness increase!

BEAUTY, DOWNSTAIRS: MIKE LIPSKIN and MICHAEL HASHIM at MEZZROW (November 17, 2014)

Most people know pianist / singer / composer Mike Lipskin as a direct link to the great tradition of stride piano — a student of Willie “the Lion” Smith, and an exuberant improviser, someone eager to experiment with key changes, offering “a trick a minute.”  The master saxophonist Michael Hashim also offers us dazzling buoyancies whenever he plays, an inexhaustible flow of ideas, wonderfully executed.  But both of these players also shine in more pensive modes — sweet balladry, introspective explorations of Ellington and Strayhorn: music to dream by (with a few bouncing swing showpieces for good measure).

An appreciative audience heard them in duet on November 17, 2014, downstairs at Mezzrow (163 West Tenth Street, New York City) and we delighted in their deep improvisations and affection for the songs themselves.

SOLITUDE:

AVALON:
OLD FOLKS:
LULLABY OF THE LEAVES:
DO NOTHIN’ TILL YOU HEAR FROM ME:
THREE LITTLE WORDS:
DAY DREAM:
GONE WITH THE WIND:
I GOT IT BAD (And That Ain’t Good):
They are a rare pair.
May your happiness increase!

HONEY IN THE GARDEN: CHRIS DAWSON, MIKE LIPSKIN, ROBERT YOUNG, PAUL MEHLING at FILOLI (August 10, 2014)

Sweet, hot, romantic, and vernal: another delicious performance from Mike Lipskin’s Stride Summit at Jazz at Filoli on August 10, 2014, featuring Chris Dawson, piano; Mike, piano; Robert Young, soprano saxophone; Paul Mehling, guitar.  The song is MY HONEY’S LOVIN’ ARMS, which I first heard on Bing Crosby’s recording (“A cozy Morris chair / Oh, what a happy pair!”) and later in various Eddie Condon joy-fests (trombonist Cutty Cutshall called it MAHONEY for short, I have heard).

But here’s some honey-love in the garden for all of you:

For more performances from this wonderful concert (some featuring Dick Hyman) and more information about Jazz at Filoli, click here.

May your happiness increase!

IN THE GARDEN OF SWING: MIKE LIPSKIN, DICK HYMAN, PAUL MEHLING at FILOLI (August 10, 2014)

Take a contemporary evocation of Eden, add some inspired jazz in front of an enthusiastic, attentive audience . . . and you have the 2014 Stride Summit at Jazz at Filoli, featuring Mike Lipskin and Dick Hyman, guitarist Paul Mehling, and a few other like-minded friends.  Here are a few more highlights from that wonderful afternoon, where the swinging music honors the present artists’ originality while casting affectionate glances back to Fats Waller, Art Tatum, Al Casey, and Django Reinhardt.

HANDFUL OF KEYS (Mike and Dick):

COULD IT BE YOU’RE FALLING IN LOVE? (Mike and Paul):

CARAVAN (Dick):

WILLOW WEEP FOR ME (Dick):

JUST YOU, JUST ME (Mike and Dick):

AFRICAN RIPPLES (Mike):

Thanks to the inspired gentlemen of the ensemble for such glowing pastoral music, and special thanks to Merrilee Trost for making Jazz at Filoli a happy, memorable gathering year after year.

May your happiness increase! 

THREE SOLO MASTERPIECES BY DICK HYMAN (PIEDMONT PIANO COMPANY, August 9, 2014)

Dick Hyman was born on March 8, 1927, which makes him just shy of 87 1/2 years of age on August 9, 2014 performances at Piedmont Piano Company in Oakland, California — part of Mike Lipskin’s Stride Summit, a generous tradition.  Mr. Hyman remains a marvel of consistently surprising creative joy.

A little cosmology, with HOW HIGH THE MOON:

Jerome Kern’s YESTERDAYS:

For Mister Waller, YACHT CLUB SWING:

May your happiness increase!

ELEGANT SWING: CHRIS DAWSON / DICK HYMAN: “ROSETTA” (August 9, 2014)

Stride pianist / composer / singer Mike Lipskin has generously staged stride piano concerts for some years now, to display the many personal styles that come under that heading.  In 2014, he put on three such concerts: two at Oakland’s Piedmont Piano Company, and one in gorgeous Filoli the next day.

I’ve posted some of the music from this series here and here already.  As Forties radio announcers used to say, here is more “by popular demand.”

Messrs. Dawson (right) and Hyman (left) honor Teddy Wilson with this lovely series of improvisations on Earl Hines’ ROSETTA — but they simultaneously show off their own personalities while honoring the tradition.  A small swing masterpiece:

Dick Hyman was 87 at the time of this performance, his gleaming accuracy and fertile imagination still brilliant.  Chris Dawson, someone I’ve been following on recording and in person for a decade, is younger, but equally delightful as a delicately compelling improviser.  (He will be at the San Diego Jazz Fest with Tim Laughlin and Connie Jones this Thanksgiving — a real reason for gratitude.)

May your happiness increase!

PASTORAL ELEGANCE: CHRIS DAWSON at FILOLI (August 8, 2014)

Last August, I was privileged to watch another of Mike Lipskin’s Stride Summits, this one at the gorgeously pastoral Filoli in California, part of their jazz series.

Here are four performances from that afternoon, featuring the remarkable Chris Dawson.  (I will be sharing other performances by Mike and by Dick Hyman — now 87 — in future postings.)

Honoring Teddy Wilson, Chris offers a lightly orchestral style — always mobile, always swinging, but with an elegant classical restraint balanced against an essential gaiety. The music is dense but appears crystalline.  The astute listener will also hear he is not bound by older harmonic conventions (as in the coda Chris creates for IT HAD TO BE YOU).  I hear subtle hints of Waller, Hines, Tatum, Nat Cole — but the sound Chris gets from a piano is singular and recognizable.  And the result is floating melodies in a wonderful pastoral setting.

IF I HAD YOU:

Another sweet Twenties classic, IT HAD TO BE YOU:

A taste of SUGAR:

Visit here to learn more about Chris.  Thanks to Merrilee Trost for making Jazz at Filoli a continuing pleasure — memorable music in the most welcoming surroundings. More videos to come.

May your happiness increase!

IN FULL STRIDE: DICK HYMAN and MIKE LIPSKIN at PIEDMONT PIANO (August 9, 2014)

Here are two masters of swing and stride piano with impeccable credentials — Dick Hyman and Mike Lipskin.  Together they’ve learned from and played with everyone from Teddy Wilson to Willie “the Lion” Smith to Willie Gant, Cliff Jackson . . . not forgetting Charlie Parker, Ruby Braff, Joe Wilder, and many others.  They played beautifully on wonderful instruments supplied by Piedmont Piano in Oakland, California, on August 9, 2014.  And the buoyant tune is LINGER AWHILE — which we did:

“Sweet, soft, plenty rhythm,” said Mister Morton.

And for the scholars in the audience, LINGER AWHILE — a favorite of pianists and  bands even today — was written in 1923 by Vincent Rose and Harry Owens:

LINGER AWHILEMay your happiness increase!

SWING STUFF: THE IVORY CLUB BOYS ARE COMING! (May 31, 2014)

The Ivory Club Boys, a small hot band loosely based on Stuff Smith and his Onyx Club Boys of hallowed memory, will be playing a rare date at Armando’s in Martinez, California, on Satirday, May 31, 2014.  Admission will be $15; the gig will last two hours; the doors open at 7:30.  More information about Armando’s (a small cheerful room where I’ve heard Mal Sharpe and friends in the recent past) can be found here. Getting there isn’t difficult; I’ve accomplished this several times when California was entirely new to me: here is a map.

The Ivory Club Boys are a spinoff of the Hot Club of San Francisco and Le Jazz Hot — which only means they swing and guitarist Paul Mehling is at the helm, along with Evan Price (electric violin), Marc Caparone (cornet), Isabelle Fontaine (guitar and vocal), Sam Rocha (string bass). They aren’t a repertory band — or what this generation would call a “cover band” — which means they might perform songs outside the Smithian recorded canon, but that makes for an evening full of surprises.  And Paul’s announcement on Facebook mentions that we can expect surprise guests.

Let’s assume the Ivory Club Boys are a new entity to you, or that Martinez is off your radar, or even that you are a stubborn sort (Missouri-born or not) with folded arms, muttering “Show me.” Here’s some evidence: I’ve recorded the Ivory Club Boys twice: once at Rancho Nicasio, with Mehling, Price, Rocha, Clint Baker, and guest Mike Lipskin:

and more recently at Le Colonial SF with Mehling, Price, Baker, Rocha, and Fontaine:

Now do you see why I might encourage you to make the pilgrimage? I thought so.

May your happiness increase!

SWING SYNERGY: MIKE LIPSKIN, LEON OAKLEY, PAUL MEHLING at RANCHO NICASIO (March 24, 2014)

Some groups sound larger than their numbers.  Whether the reason is experience, community, or intuition, they blossom on the stand, emerging as an entity more gratifying and complete than their individual personalities, instruments, and sounds.

Here’s a trio of piano, cornet, and guitar.  Close your eyes and you could think you are listening to a six or seven-piece band.  Open your eyes, and you wouldn’t miss a clarinet, trombone, string bass, or drums.

Such magical synergy doesn’t happen as a matter of course — but it did last Sunday, March 24, 2014, when Mike Lipskin (piano), Leon Oakley (cornet), and Paul Mehling (guitar) delighted us.

Here are eight performances from that evening — cheerful music imbued with the sweet spirit of Fats Waller and his Rhythm. Mike, Leon, and Paul don’t copy people or records, but their buoyant joy in playing evoked the swing Masters.

James P. Johnson’s OLD FASHIONED LOVE:

BABY BROWN, for and by Alex Hill:

UNDECIDED, for Charlie Shavers:

SPREADIN’ RHYTHM AROUND, that 1935 anthem:

James P.’s SNOWY MORNING BLUES, a solo for Mike:

Hoagy Carmichael’s OLD MAN HARLEM:

A romp on AVALON:

YESTERDAY (the Lennon-McCartney soundtrack of the late Sixties, but watch out for the later choruses):

Messrs. Lipskin, Oakley, and Mehling play a variety of gigs with a variety of ensembles, from solo piano to gypsy jazz to a stomping two-trumpet band . . . catch them while you can!  (They are, singly and collectively, the real thing.)

May your happiness increase!

SWING STREET COMES TO NICASIO (Part Two): THE IVORY CLUB BOYS: PAUL MEHLING, EVAN PRICE, CLINT BAKER, SAM ROCHA, and MIKE LIPSKIN (March 2, 2014)

A second helping of The Ivory Club Boys, a hot band that satisfies. (Here is the first helping, for those who’d rather listen than read.)

On Sunday, March 2, 2014, while the rest of America was watching the Oscars, the Beloved and I were having a wonderful time with the Ivory Club Boys (presented by the Hot Club of San Francisco) paying tribute to violinist Stuff Smith and his Onyx Club Boys, at Rancho Nicasio in Nicasio, California.

The Ivories were (for this occasion) Paul Mehling, guitar and vocal; Evan Price, violin; Clint Baker, trumpet, euphonium, clarinet, and vocal; Sam Rocha, string bass, and guest star Mike Lipskin, piano.

And before we proceed: the Ivories aren’t a repertory band devoted to reproducing Stuff and Jonah’s hot sounds right off the record — so the scholars may find a certain liberty in their improvisations.  (Whisper this: the Ivories even perform songs Stuff never recorded.)  But they don’t want to make history; they just want to swing. Four-four, if you don’t mind. Charlie Christian and Teddy Bunn are at the bar, too.

Here are more rocking numbers from their second set:

ROSETTA (vocal Sam Rocha):

Stuff’s own IT’S WONDERFUL:

SOME OF THESE DAYS:

I COVER THE WATERFRONT:

‘S’WONDERFUL:

MOONGLOW:

SOLID OLD MAN:

MOTEN SWING:

This band was so rewarding.  I’m looking forward to their next gig, their CD, their DVD, the world tour, the t-shirts, keychains, their own Facebook page. Until the Ivory Club Boys come to your town, enjoy this set.

May your happiness increase!

SWING STREET COMES TO NICASIO (Part One): THE IVORY CLUB BOYS: PAUL MEHLING, EVAN PRICE, CLINT BAKER, SAM ROCHA, and MIKE LIPSKIN (March 2, 2014)

On Sunday, March 2, 2014, while the rest of America was watching the Oscars, the Beloved and I were muggin’ lightly with the Ivory Club Boys (presented by the Hot Club of San Francisco) paying tribute to Stuff Smith and his Onyx Club Boys, at Rancho Nicasio in Nicasio, California.

The Ivories were (for this occasion) Paul Mehling, guitar and vocal; Evan Price, violin; Clint Baker, trumpet, euphonium, clarinet, and vocal; Sam Rocha, string bass, and guest star Mike Lipskin, piano.

And before we proceed: the Ivories aren’t a repertory band devoted to reproducing Stuff and Jonah’s hot ecstasies right off the record — so the scholars among us may find a certain liberty in their improvisations.  My goodness, they even perform songs Stuff never recorded!  But they don’t want to make history; they just want to swing. Four-four, if you don’t mind. Charlie Christian and Teddy Bunn are at the bar, too.

Here are eight rocking numbers from their first set:

CRAZY RHYTHM:

SARATOGA SWING:

I’M CRAZY ‘BOUT MY BABY (vocal by Paul Mehling):

DESERT SANDS (a Stuff original, very atmospheric):

CHINA BOY (Mike strides in):

I’M CONFESSIN’ (with commentary by Mister Lipskin at the start):

JEEPERS CREEPERS (ditto and likewise — hear the band shift into tempo after the verse!):

ONE HOUR (vocal by Clint Baker after Mike’s lovely exposition of the verse):

We were with them two hours that night, and the band was so very rewarding.  I’m looking forward to their next gig, their CD, their DVD, the world tour, the t-shirts, keychains, their own Facebook page. Until the real thing comes along, enjoy this set — and there’s more to come.

May your happiness increase!

THE SOUNDS FROM JOHN HAMMOND’S CAR RADIO: “MOTEN SWING”: THE IVORY CLUB BOYS (Presented by THE HOT CLUB OF SAN FRANCISCO): PAUL MEHLING, EVAN PRICE, CLINT BAKER, SAM ROCHA, and MIKE LIPSKIN: March 2, 2014

THE IVORY CLUB BOYS (presented by the Hot Club of San Francisco) played wonderful music on Sunday, March 2, 2014, at Rancho Nicasio in Nicasio, California.  They are Paul Mehling, guitar / vocal; Evan Price, violin; Sam Rocha, string bass / vocal; Clint Baker, trumpet, euphonium / vocal.  And for this session, stride master Mike Lipskin joined them with delicious results.  The band is dedicated to the hot music of violinist Stuff Smith and his Onyx Club Boys — but it’s not a tribute band or a jazz repertory ensemble: they live to swing, and swing they did.

The closing performance of that evening was MOTEN SWING, that Kansas City streamlining of Walter Donaldson’s YOU’RE DRIVING ME CRAZY.

For me, the most memorable improvisations deeply evoke an Elysian past while standing comfortably in the present.  MOTEN SWING does just that. A small bit of history.  Count Basie and his fellow musicians changed the world as we know it, with their approach to improvisation.  But perhaps the course of history would have been so much different had John Hammond not been a child of privilege with a very expensive radio in his car in 1935.  Bands broadcast live on the radio all over the United States, and a powerful AM radio could pick up these sounds from far away (there were fewer stations on the dial and the time zones made it possible to hear a band broadcasting hundreds of miles away, in another state).  Hammond heard the nine-piece Basie unit broadcasting from the Reno Club in Kansas City, and — properly inspired — went to meet them in person.

I imagine that MOTEN SWING is an evocation of what Hammond heard — sweetly swinging music that makes me impossibly happy, because if I am not watching the video I can imagine the small Basie band signing off one of those 1935 broadcasts that John Hammond heard on his car radio.  Listen!  That’s Hot Lips Page on mellophone and trumpet, Bill Basie himself on the rickety piano taking us to NAGASAKI, Fiddler Claude Williams, guitarist Eddie Durham, and bassist (spiritual father) Walter Page.

Close your eyes and come to the Reno Club with the Ivory Club Boys:

I’m not a demanding person (you could ask the Beloved) but I want this band to have a regular gig where I can visit them.  You will hear more from and about them, and it won’t only be from JAZZ LIVES. Thank you, Evan, Clint, Paul, Sam, and Mike, for this lovely trip to joy.

May your happiness increase!  

GOODBYE, RED BALABAN. FAREWELL, BOB GREENE

I’ve written very sparingly about the deaths of jazz musicians in JAZZ LIVES — for one reason, thinking that turning this blog into an ongoing necrological record was at odds with its title. But without saying that one musician is more important than another (Bobby Gordon, Frank Wess, Al Porcino, Jim Hall, Chico Hamilton, Sam Ulano, and a dozen others I am not mentioning here) I want to write and share a few words about two deaths of late 2013.

One was the bassist / guitarist / singer / impresario Leonard “Red” Balaban, the other, pianist Bob Greene.  Both of them were ardent workers in the jazz vineyards, and both (in their own subtle ways) did as much to advance the music as more-heralded musicians.

I had occasion to observe and interact with Red Balaban many times in 1972-5, again in 1975-the early Eighties, and once in 2013. In the summer of 1972, I learned from reading the listings in THE NEW YORKER that Sunday-afternoon jazz sessions were being held at Your Father’s Mustache (once Nick’s, now a Gourmet Garage — sic transit gloria mundi) on Seventh Avenue and Tenth Street.  I and several friends made pilgrimages there.  The Mustache was a huge hall with sawdust on the floor, creaking long tables and wobbly chairs.  But for a nominal admission charge and the purchase of food and drink of dubious quality, we could sit as close to the bandstand as possible and (often) illicitly record the music.  The house band — Balaban and Cats — harking back to Red’s heritage in show business with the Chicago movie theatre chain created by Balaban and Katz — was usually a sextet, with Red playing string bass and singing, occasionally guitar or banjo, rarely tuba.  He called the tunes in consultation with the guest star, chose tempos, and led the session.  The Cats I remember were Marquis Foster, Buzzy Drootin, Dick Wellstood, Bobby Pratt, Chuck Folds, Red Richards, Sal Pace, Kenny Davern, Joe Muranyi, Dick Rath, Herb Gardner, Ed Polcer, Doc Cheatham, and I am sure there were others.  The guest stars, stopping in from Olympus or Valhalla, were Bobby Hackett, Ruby Braff, Buddy Tate, Jo Jones, Dicky Wells, Vic Dickenson, Benny Morton, Bob Wilber — enough stiumlation for a lifetime.  I was a college student with limited funds, so I didn’t see every session: missing Gene Krupa, Al Cohn, Lou McGarity, and others.  But I did see Eddie Condon in the audience, which would make the Sunday sessions memorable even if no music had been played.  And his daughter Liza was there now and again, photographing the musicians.

A few years later, I saw Red occasionally as a member of Mike Burgevin’s little band at Brew’s, playing alongside Vic Dickenson and other luminaries.  Eventually, Red and Ed Polcer created the “last” Eddie Condon’s, on 54th Street, and I went there when I could — the house band, as I recall it, included Ed, Vic, Herb Hall, Jimmy Andrews, John Bunch, Connie, Kay, Ronnie Cole, and another galaxy of visitors, including Helen Humes, Al Hall, Jimmy Rowles, Brooks Kerr, Marty Grosz, Bob Sparkman, Ruby Braff, Joe Bushkin, Milt Hinton, Jo Jones.  At Condon’s one could also see Billy Butterfield, Dan Barrett, Soprano Summit, Zoot and Al — a midtown oasis, now gone.

Finally, I got to meet Red once again, after a lapse of decades, at the October 2012 house party created by Joel Schiavone and Jeff Barnhart. I introduced myself as someone who had good reason to be grateful to him for those Sunday sessions, and we chatted a bit.

Thanks to CineDevine, we have two samples of Red, late in his career, gently entertaining the room, with assistance from Jim Fryer, Jeff Barnhart, and others.  In a Waller-Razaf mood:

and something pretty from Rodgers and Hart:

A musician I respect, someone around in those New York years, had this to say about Red: “Not only did he love the music, but thousands upon thousands of dollars went through his hands and into the hands of musicians.  What he did with Condon’s # 3 is part of New York City jazz history.  He was a kind man who came from a very interesting family.  He wasn’t Ray Brown or Bob Haggart, but he kept jazz alive.”

Without Red Balaban, I doubt that I — and many others — would have heard as much memorable music as we did in those New York years.  So we owe him a great deal.  And he will be missed.  Another view of Red can be found here.

Pianist Bob Greene also left us late in 2013.

Bob devoted his life to celebrating Jelly Roll Morton and his music. He wasn’t the only pianist who has done so, but his emulation was fervent. I saw him summon up the Master at Alice Tully Hall in 1974 with a lovely little band (Pee Wee Erwin, Ephie Resnick, Herb Hall, Alan Cary, Milt Hinton, Tommy Benford).  They couldn’t quite turn that austere space into a Storyville bordello or the Jungle Inn (it would have required an architectural reconstruction taking years) but the music floated and rocked.  Across the distance of the decades, I think of Bob as a brilliant actor, committed with all his heart and energy to one role and to the perfection of that role — not a bad life-goal.

Bob was respected by his peers.  Mike Lipskin said, “Bob was a fine performer of Jelly Roll Morton compositions, and devoted much of his life to keeping the memory of this giant early jazz pioneer alive. I had the pleasure of seeing him in concert many years ago.”  And a man we just lost, Bobby Gordon, told me, “I have fond memories of Bob for 40 years. He was always enthusiastic about music. I recorded with him 40 years ago and most recently for Jazzology. It was wonderful to record with him again, and a joy to be with such a remarkable talent. I will miss him……..a dear friend.”

Here’s a beautiful expansive piece by Hank O’Neal, a very lively evocation of Bob:

The first time I saw Bob Greene, he was playing a poor electric piano with a fairly loose ensemble, on the back of a flat bed truck. The band on the truck was trying, unsuccessfully, to recreate the feeling generated by old time bands on wagons in New Orleans. It is a long way from New Orleans to Manassas, Virginia, and 1967 was a half a century removed from those heady days in the Crescent City. I don’t remember the enterprise stirring up much support for the first Manassas Jazz Festival, but Bob was on board because his old friend, Edmund “Doc” Souchon was also there, and Doc had probably asked him to come along. I know it happened because I have a snapshot to prove it. In another snapshot from the same day he’s playing cornet.

You had to look pretty hard to find out anything about Bob. He’s not well-known today, rarely mentioned in any of the standard jazz reference books, and you have to dig pretty deep to come up with any information at all, but the bits and pieces are there if you look for them. And the story and the music he’s made along the way are both wonderful.

Bob’s first love was Benny Goodman, Jess Stacy and the swing guys who were all over the place when he was a teenager. He could still, when asked, do the best imitation of Stacy I’ve ever heard, but at some point he heard Jelly Roll Morton, and was hooked. Until his death in 2013, he remained one of the foremost exponent of Jelly’s music in the land. There are other guys who could play more notes, play King Porter Stomp louder or Fingerbuster faster, but when it came to really delivering the goods, with just the right mix of technique, exuberance and sentiment, nobody else even came close.

There are other guys who play Morton’s compositions well, in the style, often with more sheer technique, but, for the most part, this is just a portion, usually a small portion, of their repertory. The music of Jelly Roll Morton and some of his circa 1900 contemporaries, made up about 90 percent of Bob’s playbook, and the telephone doesn’t ring very often these days, or any other days for the past few decades, for someone to play a recital of Morton’s music. Which was just fine for Bob. He never had any intention of being a full time musician. The world was just full of too many other things to try.

Bob made his first recordings in 1950 with Conrad Janis (Circle) and in 1951 with Sidney DeParis (Blue Note) and recorded intermittently for the next sixty years, whenever it was convenient. His performance schedule was about the same. He played in and around New York City in the 1950s and Washington D.C. in the 1960s because he was writing some pretty fancy stuff for assorted notables to read on radio or in political speeches. Goodness knows what else he may have been up to. When he wrote a book about the OSS exploits of his cousin, Paul Blum, he had no difficulty gaining access to the highest levels of the intelligence community. But back to the music.

After Bob climbed down off the back of the truck during the ill-fated parade in Manassas, I discovered he could also play a real piano and when he played Morton it was special. As I’ve suggested, he made up in spirit and authenticity what he may lacked in a formidable technique. Not that he made mistakes, he didn’t, but to this particular pianist, passion was the point, not technique. He had all he needed to get his point across. Much in the same as Thelonoius Monk. Other people played Just A Gigolo better than Monk, but nobody played it with more quirky feeling.

The first time I really heard Bob was when I was asked to round up the gear to record a band to be led by the then legendary, now largely forgotten drummer, Zutty Singleton. The gear came from Squirrel Ashcraft, the recorder, microphones, even the take-up reels. It was February 12, 1967, I remember the date with great affection because it was the very first commercially released record I ever worked on. It was also my first encounter with Zutty, still a marvelous drummer, and the only person I ever heard in person who could almost simulate a melody on the drums.

Bob Greene was a strong presence among many exceptional players that day and the highlight of the recording, to me at least, was a duo, just Zutty and Bob, on Cake Walking Babies From Home. I don’t know if Jelly ever played the tune, but if he did, he would have played it like Bob played it that day, and maybe Zutty would have been around to make sure. This was Johnson McRee’s first record for his Fat Cat’s Jazz label, and except for a solo outing by Don Ewell, perhaps the best record he ever produced.

In the 1970s, I asked Bob to record for Chiaroscuro on many occasions, but he always declined. There was always a semi-legitimate excuse. He was the only person I asked to record in those years who didn’t jump at the chance, including Bob’s first idol, Jess Stacy. In the late 1970’s Bob assembled his World of Jelly Roll Morton band, made a fine record for RCA, played Carnegie Hall a few years and toured successfully with the group. But most of the time he was in between New Orleans, Paris, Tokyo and New York, rarely in any place for very long. He slowed down long enough to record all the Jelly Roll Morton tracks for Louis Malle’s fine film, Pretty Baby and he enthralled audiences with his Jelly Roll show at numerous Floating Jazz Festivals. I recorded one of these shows in the late 1980s. Maybe I’ll listen to it one day and see if it should be released.

In 1994 we produced an event for Cunard on Queen Elizabeth 2, a 12-day survey of the music of New Orleans, and Bob was on board, as both Jelly Roll Morton and as the pianist with the Preservation Hall Jazz Band. The New Yorker’s noted critic, Whitney Balliett, was also on board, in disguise as Baby Dodds, tastefully accompanying Bob on a snare and cymbal. Romantic that he was, Bob fell in love with the ship and was heartbroken when he learned that much of the furniture in the ship’s Theater Bar, where he held forth nightly with Whitney, was to be taken off QE2 when it reached New York, and given to the Salvation Army. He decided he had to have a table and four leather chairs and set about finding a way to work it out.

When we docked, I left via the crew gangway, and saw Bob at the other end of the pier in heated conversation with a man in a Salvation Army uniform. Longshoreman were hauling the furniture and putting it inside a truck. I later learned that Bob got his furniture. The deal was for a table and four leather chairs, in the best condition possible, delivered to his home on 92nd Street. In exchange, Bob promised to assemble a band, including Whitney, to play for a Salvation Army Christmas party. A decade or so later Bob moved out to the end of Long island and that old Theater Bar furniture moved with him, a few miles closer to Southampton. This is the kind of thing that appealed to Bob.

If Bob had worked at a career in music half as hard as he worked at getting that furniture, who knows what might have happened? But perhaps nothing would have happened, which is the case with most people who try to have a career in jazz, and he wouldn’t have had nearly as good a time as he had for the past 91 years. He was one of a handful of pianists I’d go out of my way to hear because he always made me happy. He had the same effect on others.

In November 2006 he toured Japan and a lot of other people went out of their way to hear him. After that he began working on a project to present a Jelly Roll Morton show at Jazz At Lincoln Center but it didn’t work out. A year or so after that he asked what I thought of getting him together with Joshua Bell for some duets. I thought it sound like a good idea, that Bell could do a lot worse. That didn’t work out either but an awful lot did and the music that resulted with simply wonderful.

Bob and friends:

MAMIE’S BLUES (2006):

I THOUGHT I HEARD BUDDY BOLDEN SAY (2010):

TIGER RAG (2011):

Thinking about these men, all I can say is this.

Not everyone is a Star, but everyone counts.  And fortunate are those who can follow their life’s calling and share their passions with us.

May your happiness increase!

“SWEETIE DEAR”: MIKE LIPSKIN AT THE PIANO (August 15, 2013)

Authenticity is immediately recognizable, no matter where one finds it.

Hearing Mike Lipskin at the piano, it’s immediately evident that he didn’t learn his stride from a DVD or a book of transcriptions.  No, he lived and breathed it as a young man — studying with Willie “the Lion” Smith, learning from Cliff Jackson, Willie Gant, and by playing alongside such modern masters as Dick Hyman (their friendship goes back 45 years and continues to this day).  Experience and improvisation rather than copying gestures and figures.

Although Mike is seriously influenced by the great players who were the Lion’s contemporaries — James P. Johnson, Fats Waller, Don Lambert — and later generations, his style is much more than pastiche: he has his own sound, a steady yet flexible pace, delicious voicings, a nimble tread at the keyboard.

In addition, Mike is a humorist at play: in any performance, there will be playful surprises — modulations up a step or down, key changes for a few bars, and more.  Anything to keep the terrain from becoming too level and too predictable.

The Beloved and I had the great good fortune to hear a mini-recital by Mike, happily at his own piano in his Nicasio home (with the very loving audience including his wife, the swinging Dinah Lee).  Here’s one of the highlights: Mike’s solo rendition of SWEETIE DEAR, composed by Joe Jordan, most well-known for the quick one-step recording from 1932 by Sidney Bechet, Tommy Ladnier, and Hank Duncan (as the New Orleans Feetwarmers) — riffing seriously all the way through:

Mike’s version is calmer, although subtly propulsive.  In the great piano tradition, his sweet improvisation begins in affectionate rubato mode (love can’t be rushed), moves into a strolling tempo, and then to a jaunt before settling down for a conclusion.

On the West Coast, Mike can be found at Bix Restaurant and Pier 23 in San Francisco, and there will be another Stride Summit in Filoli in 2014.  You can keep up with him on his Facebook page or website.

He brings joy, and young players should be coming to study him.  He has much to share with us — not only about music but about joy.

And if you missed the Stride Summits of August 2013, or the resulting videos, you have only to click here to admire Mike amidst his friends Dick Hyman, Stephanie Trick, Clint Baker, and Paul Mehling.  Swing, you cats!

May your happiness increase!

AT THE VERY PEAK: MUSIC FROM THE STRIDE SUMMITS (DICK HYMAN, MIKE LIPSKIN, STEPHANIE TRICK, CLINT BAKER, PAUL MEHLING: Lesher Arts Center, August 24, 2013)

Stride piano, beautifully performed, is amazing.  For one, there is the simple athleticism required.  Try keeping your left hand moving (on a table) at a typical Waller tempo for three minutes without letting the tempo drop or accelerate. And movement in itself isn’t enough; the keyboard is more than a snare-drum head.
But it’s not simply a matter of pounding out single notes and chords (widely-spaced) in the left hand.  The best stride players understand that the form has within it the potential to become mechanical, so they create rhythmic tension between bass and treble; they vary dynamics; they add shade and light through chord voicings.
It’s rather like writing a sonnet: that iambic pentameter, those fourteen lines, that set rhyme scheme can be a prison or its apparent limitations can inspire the most dazzling creativity.
And stride duets are even more intense, more precarious: when they come off splendidly, it is beyond remarkable art and precision.
We are fortunate that even after the great stride triumvirate — Waller, James P., and the Lion — left us, there were many successors (think of Wellstood, Ewell, Sutton in the recent past) and there is a wonderfully creative gang of striders, here and globally, who continue to delight.
The form stretches across the generations.  In the Stride Summits held in Walnut Creek and San Francisco at the end of August 2013, concerts invented and sustained by Mike Lipskin, we had Stephanie Trick and Dick Hyman, separated by six decades . . . with Mike, Clint Baker, and Paul Mehling, nestled happily in the chronological middle.
Mike Lipskin — known to most as someone who learned from the Lion, from Eubie Blake, and many other elders, a fine pianist, singer, composer, and wit  — is also a diligent musical thinker, so his concerts don’t degenerate into Fast and Loud.  These three concerts were beautifully planned and the music was varied throughout.
The Beloved and I saw all three concerts (August 24-25) and enjoyed every note.  I was able to bring my camera to the Lesher Arts Center and although I recorded them from one side of the stage, then the other, “waiting in the wings” has never been such a pleasure.
Here is a handful of keys (and, yes, that is the first song) from these happy stride nights that didn’t take place uptown in Harlem some time in 1936 — but in our century.
Fats’s early showpiece, HANDFUL OF KEYS, by Dick and Mike:
Eubie Blake’s TROUBLESOME IVORIES, by Stephanie, who tames the keyboard with grace:
Rocking the house in a different way with BOOGIE WOOGIE STOMP by Stephanie and friends (who couldn’t stop themselves from joining in):
Serene and mystical — the early Gershwin theme, LULLABY, by Dick:
Pastoral ruminations in 3 / 4, with Fats’ JITTERBUG WALTZ, by Dick:
A tribute to James P. Johnson, the worthy patriarch, with OLD-FASHIONED LOVE / KEEP OFF THE GRASS, by Stephanie and Mike:
Pete Johnson’s DEATH RAY BOOGIE (inspired by early science fiction, films, or comic books, I wonder?), by Stephanie:
And something truly “ancient,” Cole Porter’s IT’S ALL RIGHT WITH ME, by Mike and Dick:
It was all right — and more — with three audiences, I assure you.
Did you miss these concerts?  You might have, since they were sold out very quickly.
But there’s good news.  “Mark it down,” as Billie said on MISS BROWN TO YOU.
There will be another Stride Summit at the positively gorgeous Filoli on August 10, 2014.  It is not too early to plan for this ecstatic happening.
P.S.  Dinah Lee also sang beautifully at the three concerts.  Sadly, the technical limitations of my camera prevented her from being shown off as she should be.  But there will be videos of Dinah to come!
May your happiness increase!

STRIDE PARADISE FOUND: DICK HYMAN, MIKE LIPSKIN, STEPHANIE TRICK, DINAH LEE, CLINT BAKER, PAUL MEHLING, and SURPRISE GUEST PAOLO ALDERIGHI

Last Saturday and Sunday, the Beloved and I were privileged to see and hear three wonderful concerts — Stride Piano Summits — at the Lesher Arts Center in Walnut Creek, California, and the new SFJAZZ Center in San Francisco.  The eminent players and singers are as shown in my title.  If you were there, I think you are still smiling; if you weren’t, you will feel forlorn when reading about the performances you missed.

A very brief summary follows: Dick and Mike began with a duet on Fats’ HANDFUL OF KEYS; Stephanie frolicked through Eubie’s TROUBLESOME IVORIES; Stephanie and Mike paid tribute to James P. with OLD FASHIONED LOVE and KEEP OFF THE GRASS; Dick and Mike offered SNOWY MORNING BLUES and Porter’s IT’S ALL RIGHT WITH ME; Mike created delicious variations on LOVER; Dinah Lee sang her way right into our hearts with Fats’ THERE’S A MAN IN MY LIFE and the pretty (but rarely heard) ZING WENT THE STRINGS OF MY HEART.  Stephanie began to rock the house with Pete Johnson’s DEATH RAY BOOGIE but Dick, Clint, and Paul crept onstage to join in; Dick offered a solo piano interlude that (depending on the concert) covered AIN’T MISBEHAVIN’ – JITTERBUG WALTZ – STEALIN’ APPLES, or James P.’s ECCENTRICITY and Hyman’s own SCRABBLE.  Mike became both Fats and Andy Razaf for one of his own evocative, funny compositions, COULD IT BE YOU’RE FALLING IN LOVE?  Mike and Dick again joined forces for an evocation of the Louisiana Sugar Babes’ THOU SWELL; a seismic I’LL SEE YOU IN MY DREAMS by Dick and Stephanie followed; a wildly creative Hyman solo set — LULLABY (early Gershwin, from his first string quartet), I GOT PLENTY OF NUTTIN’, and HONEYCUKLE ROSE, had us cheering; Dinah returned for a beautifully focused HARLEM BUTTERFLY and SUGAR (with two verses, no less); Mike transformed the Beatles’ YESTERDAY into something worthy of Don Lambert; a trio jam on SWEET GEORGIA BROWN by Clint, Paul, and Dick was followed by a real delight, a duet on RUNNIN’ WILD by Stephanie Trick and a young man very close to her heart, Paolo Alderighi.  This gave way to a more expansive jam session — complete with bench-swapping and musical hijinks from everyone on I NEVER KNEW; the encore, I’M GONNA SIT RIGHT DOWN AND WRITE MYSELF A LETTER, brought Dinah back, tender and witty.

Are you breathless yet?  (And I might have missed a song or two.)

A few words.  The well-paced and remarkably-paced evenings are thanks to Maestro Lipskin, who has a very good idea of what is needed to keep an audience happy.  (Some stride events are all Allegretto — solo, duo, or all-hands-on-deck — and the pace is quickly wearying.) He’s also a wonderfully authentic player on his own: you could close your eyes and feel transported to Fats Waller’s house in St. Albans, Queens, for an afternoon: no rush, no fuss, nothing out of place.

Stephanie Trick has continued to blossom as an artist who not only can duplicate the leaps and entrechats needed for this style, but can invent her own caprices.  Her TROUBLESOME IVORIES was anything but, and she kept Eubie’s spirit alive while swinging out in her own terms.  Her pianistic partner, Paolo Alderighi, has been justly praised in this blog, and he didn’t disappoint in person: his amazing technique is matched by a swooping but right-on-target improvisatory sense, no matter what end of the keyboard he is at.

Dinah Lee was warm, funny, sweet, and salty — all in good time and with a large honeyed voice that honored the songs.  Clint Baker swung out on string bass, clarinet, and cornet (as he always does), and Paul Mehling’s rhythmic swing and single-string solos were a treat.

That leaves the Patriarch, Dick Hyman — who is somewhere in his eighth decade, playing astonishing music: inventive, startling, rangy, energized . . . the art of a great musical thinker, athlete, and instant composer who can imagine other musical worlds and gently transport us there.

Individually, these musicians held us rapt: in combinations, they created new synergies that left us open-mouthed or grinning widely.  I only hope that the Lesher Arts Center and SFJAZZ understood what marvels had taken place, and invite these magicians back in 2014 to amaze us again.

May your happiness increase!