Dan Morgenstern’s birthday celebration is too large to be contained in one twenty-four hour period, so this is the third day of posting interviews he did in front of my camera. I present this small tasting menu to remind people of Dan’s even-handed expansiveness: other jazz writers range across styles and decades, but few do it with the comfort and empathy he shows. And his first-hand experiences with his and our heroes are priceless.
How about Coleman Hawkins and Jack Purvis?
and Pops Foster?
and Sidney Catlett?
and Miles Davis, too:
Miles as friend and neighbor:
and it always comes back to Louis:
My informants in the Jazz Under-and-Overworld tell me that this Wednesday, at 5 PM (doors open at 4) David Ostwald and the Louis Armstrong Eternity Band will be paying loving tribute to Dan, who will be there (we hope!) at Birdland, in New York City. Birdland does not allow impromptu videography, so I hope you can join us. Or if you are far away, Dan is on Facebook and I am sure he could endure some more congratulations and greetings.
This three-disc set released by Fresh Sounds is a cornucopia of pleasures, both musical and scholarly.
Arv Garrison (1922-60) was a superb guitarist, swinging and inventive, who understood how the melodic and rhythmic inventions of Django Reinhardt and others could be expanded into “the new thing” of Forties bebop. Although his recorded legacy is compact, it’s impressive and diversified. In his prime, he was respected and sought-after, as the names below prove. But for most of us he was hidden in plain sight. Now we can applaud what we approved of subliminally.
Garrison was adaptable; he fit easily into any context while remaining true to himself. He would be a wonderful question for a jazz-trivia night: “What musician played with Charlie Parker, Leo Watson, and Frankie Laine?” Although the most recent recording in this set is from 1948, his work still sounds fresh, and he doesn’t have a small assortment of favorite licks that grow overfamiliar quickly: he is, in the phrase beloved of new audience members, “making it up as he goes along.”
Here’s one version of WHERE YOU AT? — reminiscent of Frishberg before Frishberg:
The new focus on previously known recordings this set encourages is indeed enlightening: “fresh sounds” indeed. I’ve known only a dozen of the sixty-plus performances on this set, but I confess I never paid Garrison proper attention. Listening to YARDBIRD SUITE or A NIGHT IN TUNISIA, for instance, I was captivated by Bird and Miles; laughing my way through the Leo Watson session with Vic Dickenson, I knew there was an excellent guitarist, but I was waiting for Leo and Vic to return. (I’m sorry, Arv.)
But now, listening to him with new attention, I admire the easy brilliance of his soloing — his long lines that surprise, his reliable swing, and what he adds to the tonal color of the whole enterprise. Garrison knew his Django deeply, but he also had absorbed some of Charlie Christian’s loping audacity, and he easily breathed the harmonically-complex air that was 1946-48 California and New York. I also hear a creativity that runs parallel with Les Paul and Oscar Moore — who could be unaware of the early Nat Cole Trio recordings? — but he isn’t copying anyone. Garrison is comfortable in early classic Dial Records bebop; he can play a ballad with grace and emotional intelligence; he can swing out in the best Forties fashion. He’s delightful alongside Frankie Laine; he romps on his own, and he has confidence: in an AFRS broadcast where he solos alongside Barney Kessel, Les Paul, and Irving Ashby, he stands out. If he was intimidated by such fast company, no one heard it.
The nimble string bassist and singer-composer Vivien Garry, who married and outlived Garrison, was more than an oddity, more than a protege. She was the leader on more than half of the performances here, and she is far more than Samuel Johnson’s lady preacher. In fact, had the world of record producing been different (if our world was also) this would have been properly a dual feature. Her recording career began earlier and ended later; she performed with Benny Carter, Shorty Rogers, Jimmy Giuffre, and was an integral part of two “all-girl” sessions. Garrison, a rather unworldly (or other-worldly?) young man, was no self-promoter, so we have to thank Garry for making a number of these record dates and radio appearances happen. Garrison was handsome, but Garry was that rarity — an attractive young woman jazz musician — and that helped a great deal in getting gigs, especially in the world of the late Forties where jazz and “entertainment” were friends. (Listen to Art Ford, on the WNEW broadcast — one that includes Charlie Ventura, Babs Gonzales, Kai Winding, and Lionel Hampton! — fuss over Arv and Vivien’s attractiveness, and you’ll understand.)
The musical content of this set is delightfully consistent; I listened to the three discs in two sittings, which is not my usual restless habit. Connoisseurs of the rare and obscure will also find much to delight them: private recordings, AFRS and commercial radio broadcasts, live remotes from a jazz club, and commercially issued 78s on the Sarco and Exclusive labels. Even scholars deep into this time and place will find surprises, and it’s easy to celebrate these three discs as musical anthropology of a world truly in flux.
The great surprise and pleasure is the nearly eighty-page book, with color illustrations (photographs and record labels, club ads) that accompanies this set. I’ve only read portions of it, because I wanted to listen to Arv and Vivien and friends without multi-tasking . . . but the book — to call it a “booklet” would be inaccurate — begins with twenty pages of intertwined portraiture by James A. Harrod and Bob Dietsche, the latter of who met and interviewed Vivien in the mid-Eighties, and it ends with Harrod’s detailed discography of the set.
In the middle is the real prize: nearly forty pages of beautifully detailed biographical-musical analysis by guitarist-scholar Nick Rossi, who has become one of my favorite jazz writers alongside Dan Morgenstern, Mark Miller, Loren Schoenberg, Dave Gelly, and Ricky Riccardi. Rossi does more than trace Garrison’s life from boyhood — staying up all hours playing along with Django in his room — to the sad end in a swimming accident before his 38th birthday. He has a fine awareness not only of guitar playing but of the art and history of jazz guitar and the contexts in which it became the jazz monolith it now is. Rossi’s writing is direct, evocative, clear, modest, and it welcomes the reader in, unlike other writers busy showing off how clever they are.
I’ve listened to the set with great pleasure, mingled with ruefulness that Garrison’s life and career ended as they did; now I plan to read Rossi’s essay with equal pleasure, and go back to the music. If that seems an expenditure of time and energy, I assure you that this set has already repaid me in excitement, discovery, and joys.
You can purchase the set at Amazon, no surprise, or directly from Fresh Sounds here, as I did (don’t let the price in euro scare you off if it’s not your native currency). Either way, it’s a lovely set.
Jazz is often dominated by our personal Star Systems: people like and listen to their particular favorites, and are suspicious of the New, but if you open the gate and look around, you will find pleasures. Those four names in the title and the four faces above may be new to you — even though I’ve profiled drummer-composer Doron Tirosh here — but they make beautiful music and they’ve created a CD: Ofer Shapira, clarinet, alto, flute; Ofer Landsberg, guitar; Ram Erez, string bass.
Jazz is sometimes joyously assertive. Having soundwaves rocking the room or the inside of your skull can be an experience you abandon yourself to. But there’s also a sweetly subversive music that woos and insinuates, quietly, music with pauses, air space, nearly translucent, but still paying homage to melody, harmony, rhythm, improvisational swing. To put it another way: this new CD adds oxygen to the room rather than removing it.
Here’s BIRD OF PARADISE (based on Charlie Parker’s improvisation on ALL THE THINGS YOU ARE):
and the Gil Evans – Miles Davis classic:
This music in itself doesn’t need explication, although I will say it’s melodic and thoughtful rather than “running changes”; this quartet walks into the songs rather than treating them as stereotypical “bebop and cool tunes that everyone has to know.” But Ofer’s note is valuable:
2020 has been a challenging year for everyone associated with the world of music and art, including myself, but it has also given me a chance to let go of the everyday activities and look deeply into myself and my art. This album – Lockdown, has been a product of this search within. After several intensive years of playing in different jazz bands, combos, teaching, etc. I had the welcome chance of playing with no special purpose, deciding what and how I wanted to practice, focusing on my sound and approach and trying to refine them and so I got the urge to record and capture this moment. The great Duke Ellington once said: “I don’t need time, what I need is a deadline,” and so I set myself a record date and started writing some new tunes – two of which I liked and will feature on this album. I also carefully handpicked some jazz standards that I really liked playing over the years and that I felt complemented the sound and feel of this album. I’m so grateful to the three wonderful musicians who agreed to join me on this project – Ofer, Ram, and Doron. They simply played magnificently and I’m sure anyone who listens to this album would agree. And so here is the album is in front of you – I hope you’ll enjoy the music and that the 2020 lockdown will have some positive memories for us all.
What else do you need to know? The CD contains a lovely mix of standards, jazz classics, and two melodic originals by the leader: BIRD OF PARADISE / SHALIACH / CELIA / LOCKDOWN / SUBCONSCIOUS-LEE / YOU ARE TOO BEAUTIFUL / SKYLARK / JITTERBUG WALTZ / BOPLICITY. It’s issued on Gut String Records (seehere) and it’s available on Spotify and iTunes as well. Your ears will tell you everything else about this unpretentious warm music.
Is it Sunday again? Covid-time defies ordinary physics: we experience it as rushing and dragging at once. But ordinary physics is dull and restrictive, so let me invite you this Sunday, January 10, 2021, to be with me in November 7, 2010, and wherever you are, to join me at The Ear Inn, 326 Spring Street, Greenwich Village, New York City.
I know an arm around the shoulders violates CDC guidelines about keeping proper distance, but I offer you mine, metaphysically, in swing friendship.
Here are two extended performances by a sextet, really the EarRegulars quartet of that moment expanded by three hero-pals with reed instruments: Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Matt Munisteri, guitar; Alex Hoffman, tenor saxophone; Neal Miner, string bass; and friends Andy Farber, tenor; Dan Block, alto.
Gene Ammons’ RED TOP (solos: Block, Kellso, Hoffman, Farber):
RED TOP (concluded — solos Munisteri, Miner):
Adding the brilliant clarinetist Pete Martinez, on a barstool to my left, with a lovely curious admirer as well, to asking the musical question, HOW AM I TO KNOW? — at a tempo slower than Miles’, faster than Billie’s:
HOW AM I TO KNOW? (concluded):
See you next week! I hope you can glide from this Sunday to the next.
Today, October 24, 2020, Dan Morgenstern celebrates his ninety-first birthday, and we celebrate him. He’s been an eager participant on the jazz scene since his mother took him to see Fats Waller and the Quintette of the Hot Club of France in 1939; he’s hung out with Louis, Billie, Duke, Lester, Bird, Miles, Stan, Rowles, and a hundred others; if there was a jazz event in New York, Boston, or Chicago in the last seventy years, chances are he was there and wrote about it. I could continue, but I’d rather let him speak for himself.
Since spring 2017, I’ve had the immense privilege of bringing my camera to Dan’s Upper West Side apartment and capturing his singular memories: you can find memorable ones on the blog. But for today, I offer two interview segments that have not been seen.
Dan talks about Ella:
Ella in 1936 with Teddy Wilson, Frank Newton, Bennie Morton, Jerry Blake, Teddy McRae, Leemie Stanfield, John Trueheart, and Cozy Cole:
and about Lena, Maxine, and Eva Taylor (I apologize for the ragged ending of the segment, but YouTube refused to let me be any neater):
Lena in 1941 with Teddy Wilson, Bennie Morton, Emmett Berry, Jimmy Hamilton, Johnny Williams, J.C. Heard:
Maxine in 1938 with Bobby Hackett, Bud Freeman, Chester Hazlett, and others:
Eva Taylor, 1926, with Clarence Williams and Charlie Irvis, others unidentified:
and fifty years later (!) with the Peruna Jazz Band:
We are so fortunate to have our Jazz Eminence, Mister Morgenstern, with us!
Yesterday I had a brief pleasant phone conversation with Dan Morgenstern, who to me is a Jazz Eminence, and it sent me back to my YouTube hoard of unseen video interviews. I have been saving them, even before the pandemic, like a squirrel worried about the winter (Dan and I talked about squirrels) but I apologize for keeping this one hidden for so long. It’s Dan’s affectionate melancholy remembrance of his “oldest American friend,” the jazz lover and writer Ira Gitler, who died at 90 on February 23, 2019.
Dan speaks of their first meeting in “the salad days” for jazz writers and the “Jewish Jazz Junkies” (Ira, Dan, David Himmelstein, Don Schlitten).
Dan recalls Ira’s entrance into jazz by way of Count Basie records, his development into a champion of bebop, then of Coltrane, and his early work for Prestige Records, his prose, his alto saxophone playing, sharply assessed by Joe Thomas, Ira’s well-meant rebuke of a young Miles Davis, and his hockey career. Ira was married to the painter Mary Jo Schwalbach, who survives him. The interview stops abruptly in the middle of Dan’s anecdote about WBAI (thanks to ambulances going by) but you can figure it out:
Dan’s comments (some of them light-hearted) about Ira’s memorial service, Jon Faddis, and Lew Soloff:
and a brief coda:
More interviews to come: Dan recalls and considers Tommy Flanagan, Benny Goodman, Tiny Grimes, Jack Purvis . . .
The inspiring and inspired Ms. Asher, in Oaxaca, Mexico.
Some new compact discs lend themselves to instant approving review; others, I love but have to take time to write about with proper appreciation. Their impact has to sink in.
Emily Asher‘s latest, IF I WERE A WINDOW, is one of the second kind. It’s not because I had to look under the bed to find the adjectives. Rather, it is like a slim volume of short stories with each story so full of flavor, so different from its neighbors, so that I couldn’t read them all in one sitting. The sensory offerings are so rich, each one its own multi-layered narrative, that I had to take my time and listen to at most two or three performances at a time.
If that has scared off prospective buyers (“Oh, no! This sounds like work!”) let me assure you that this recording is fun and lively and full of good surprises. You’ll be dancing in the kitchen as you carefully (with gloves) remove the seeds from the hot peppers that are going to be part of dinner.
I think I first encountered Emily a decade ago, sitting in at the Ear Inn — in itself a mark of achievement — and was delighted by this elegant young woman who got around the horn so nimbly but also understood the trombone’s less polite origins. Later, I saw her with her own Garden Party and other assemblages, and she was a charming mixture of earnestness, playfulness, and deep feeling: playing, singing, composing. As she is now.
You can read the names of the performers in the photograph below, but they are so admirable that I should write them again: Emily Asher, Mike Davis, Jay Rattman, James Chirillo, Dalton Ridenhour, Rob Adkins, Jay Lepley, Sam Hoyt. They are musical heroes to me, and if you’ve not made their acquaintance, be prepared to be impressed by them as soloists, as ensemble players, as thoughtful soulful artists.
Emily has described the CD as a mix of hot jazz and songs inspired by “the Southern Sun,” as she encountered it in her extended stay in Oaxaca, Mexico. Let us start with some Davenport-infused hot jazz:
Emily’s done a good deal to celebrate the music of Hoagy Carmichael, so I couldn’t neglect her SMALL FRY:
Those performances of venerable tunes are what I would call Old Time Modern. No dust on them but a frisky liveliness in the solos and Emily’s singing (how deftly she winks at us through the lyrics: her phrasing is a marvel) — music that says, “Come on in and make yourself comfortable.”
But Emily’s not content to sprawl on the couch and eat pistachios; she is a curious energized explorer. Here’s CHICO MEZCALERO, explication below:
This song, and several of her intriguing compositions, were inspired by her late-2019 trip to Oaxaca to learn Spanish, and they have the psychic depth of the short stories I mentioned above. CHICO MEZCALERO, “little boy mezcal maker,” came from her meeting just such a person at his family’s mezcal plant. She told Brian R. Sheridan in the August 2020 The Syncopated Times, “After I got back to New York, I was thinking about every step of how the mezcal is made — where the boy picks up pieces of the agave plant and throws them into a big smoking fire. I also thought about how his family makes their living, creating this spirit that is precious to the community there. I just sat and listened for the melody of that little boy . . . . ”
Few CDs that I know take listeners on a journey so evocatively.
Here’s Emily’s pensive hymnlike melody I find irresistible, as is its wistful title:
That melody and that performance remind me so beautifully of the Gil Evans – Miles Davis collaborations of the Fifties, and I’ve returned to this song several times in a row. I predict you will do the same with this CD and with the individual performances. They offer delightful evidence of the feathery breadth of Emily’s imaginations, the musical community she has nurtured, and the varied, rewarding results.
You can purchase the music — digitally or tangibly — here. This is a CD you won’t tire of.
And, in the name of self-indulgence, here are the Oaxaca Wanderers: I met them in 2008, and must ask Emily if she gigged with them. I hope they haven’t bought identical brightly-colored polo shirts (the band uniform with appropriate OW logo) since then.
In front, Bobby Hackett, Louis Armstrong, George Wein; behind them, Joe Newman, Dizzy Gillespie — at the July 1970 celebration of Louis at the Newport Jazz Festival.
I saw the pleasing news on Facebook — and in an online source called CELEBRITY ACCESS, which summed it all up with a video and these words (if the New York Times had a front-page story, it eluded me, alas):
NEWPORT, RI (CelebrityAccess) — George Wein, the legendary pianist, jazz and festival promoter, turned 95 on Saturday.
Wein, who founded the Newport Jazz Festival and co-founded the Newport Folk Festival, also played a key role in the creation of the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival.
Wein’s birthday was marked by tributes from the likes of James Taylor, Senator Jack Reed, Dianne Reeves, Jason Moran, Nate Smith, and Ben Jaffe.
George deserves a little more fuss.
The Newport Jazz Festival, which he founded in 1954 — and is still a going concern — featured everyone. The Preservation Hall Jazz Band to Archie Shepp. Duke, Louis, Miles, Trane, Dizzy, Monk, Hamp, Benny, Billie, Roy, Hawk, Pres, Ben. What other festival featured both Donald Lambert and Sonny Rollins? If you didn’t appear at Newport — in its now sixty-six year span — you had died before it began [Bessie Smith, Charlie Parker, Frank Newton, Hot Lips Page] or you had missed your set. George’s reach was extensive and his tastes heroically inclusive. Those who never got to Rhode Island were nourished by recordings and performance film footage; George created tours — Europe and Japan — that brought the music to eager audiences who would otherwise not have partaken of it first-hand.
Before Newport, George had clubs in Boston: Storyville and Mahogany Hall, where you could enjoy Sidney Catlett, Stan Getz, Sidney Bechet, Lee Konitz, Erroll Garner, and other deities. When the Newport Jazz Festival took a brief trip to New York, as the Kool Jazz Festival or the JVC Jazz Festival, I was able to see Benny Carter, Allen Eager, Charles Mingus, Lee Wiley, Gene Krupa and others who gladden my heart. In the early Fifties, George also had a record label — Storyville — where you could hear Milli Vernon and Beryl Booker, Ruby Braff, Teddi King, Ellis Larkins, Johnny Windhurst and Jo Jones. I’m also reasonably sure that George’s generosity — not publicized, but apparent — kept some musicians in gigs and dinner for long periods.
Incidentally, I am doing all of this delighted salute from memory: George’s 2004 autobiography, MYSELF AMONG OTHERS, is a much more detailed view at almost six hundred pages, so I know I have left out a great deal for which George deserves praise.
George also loves to play the piano and to sing, and although I think those activities have slowed down or ceased in recent years, his pleasure in these activities emerged most fully in the Newport All-Stars, a group that at various times featured Tal Farlow, Pee Wee Russell, Buzzy Drootin, Stephane Grappelli, Joe Venuti, Red Norvo, Norris Turney, Scott Hamilton, Warren Vache, Bud Freeman, Slam Stewart, and others: George’s discography begins in 1951 and its most recent entry is 2012.
I’d like to offer some swinging evidence of George as pianist: not at his own festival in Newport, but at the Grande Parade du Jazz in Nice, in July 1977: a nearly nineteen-minute jam on TAKE THE “A” TRAIN, nominally under the leadership of clarinet legend Barney Bigard — featuring Jimmy Maxwell, Joe Newman, trumpet; Clark Terry, trumpet and flugelhorn; Eddie Daniels, tenor saxophone; Slam Stewart, string bass; Bobby Rosengarden, drums. Notice the atypically expansive piano solo that George creates at the start: percussive, surprising, mobile . . . and watch Barney Bigard’s delighted face at the end.
Happy birthday, George! Our lives would be much poorer had you chosen another career.
Today, one of our great heroes and pathfinders turns 90 — the down-to earth jazz deity of the Upper west Side, Dan Morgenstern. (He’ll be celebrating with David Ostwald’s Louis Armstrong Eternity Band at Birdland this afternoon into evening.)
I’ve been reading Dan’s prose and absorbing his insights for more than fifty years now, and in the video interviews he’s graciously encouraged me to do since 2017, I know I have learned so much and I hope you all have as well. And some of what I’ve learned is about Dan’s generosity and the breadth of his interests.
During those interviews, he has often caught me by surprise. We were speaking about another musician who had played with pioneering string bassist George “Pops” Foster, and Dan said . . . hear and see for yourself:
I’ll return to the culinary subject at the end. Right now, some glimpses of Pops.
First, a trailer from a short documentary done by Mal Sharpe and Elizabeth Sher called ALMA’S JAZZY MARRIAGE:
I’d seen this documentary on a DVD and was thrilled to find it was still for sale — so Steve Pikal (a serious Pops devotee) and I will have copies in a short time. You can, too, here.
Here’s a 1945 interview Wynne Paris (in Boston) conducted with Pops:
and Roger Tilton’s astonishing 1954 film JAZZ DANCE, once vanished, now found, on YouTube (featuring Jimmy McPartland, Pee Wee Russell, Willie the Lion Smith, George Wettling, and Pops):
Those who want to understand the glory of Pops Foster — there are recordings with Luis Russell and Louis Armstrong, Earl Hines, Art Hodes, Sidney Bechet, and many more.
You’ll notice that I haven’t included more of the interviews I’ve done with Dan here. They are all on YouTube — stories about everyone from Fats Waller to Miles Davis onwards (with more to come) which you can find as part of my YouTube channel “swingyoucats”.
The tense shift in my title is intentional: it pleases me to think of Pops making dinner for friends in some eternal present. I just got through idly perusing a new book on the relationship between brain health and diet, where the ideal is greens, grains, wild salmon, and more. Now I wonder: are ham hocks the secret ingredient to health and longevity? Or do we have to have Pops Foster’s recipe?
To quote Lennie Kunstadt, we need “Research!” But whatever has kept Dan Morgenstern with us for ninety years, we bless that combination platter.
As we bless Dan. So let us say as one, “Happy birthday, most eminent Youngblood!”
P.S. The Birdland tribute was heartfelt and too short. David’s band had Will Anderson, Jared Engel, Arnt Arntzen, Bria Skonberg, Alex Raderman, and Jim Fryer — with guests Joe Boga, Ed Polcer, Evan Arntzen, and Lew Tabackin. Dan (with piano backing from Daryl Sherman) sang WHEN YOU’RE SMILING. And we were.
You might be walking along Barrow Street, on the Bleecker Street side of Seventh Avenue South (all this conjecture is taking place in Greenwich Village, New York City, New York, the United States); you could look up and see this sign.
You might just think, “Oh, another place to have an ale and perhaps a burger,” and you’d be correct, but in the most limited way.
Surprises await the curious, because down the stairs is the sacred ground where the jazz club Cafe Bohemia existed in the Fifties, where Miles, Lester, Ben, Coltrane, Cannonball, Blakey and the Jazz Messengers, and Pettiford played and live sessions were recorded.
Here’s the room as it is now. Notice the vertical sign?
This isn’t one of those Sic Transit Gloria Mundi posts lamenting the lost jazz shrines (and certainly there is reason enough to write such things) BECAUSE . . .
On Thursday, October 17, yes, this week, the new Cafe Bohemia will open officially. This is important news to me and I hope to you. So let me make it even more emphatic.
THURSDAY, OCTOBER 17, THE NEW CAFE BOHEMIA OPENS.
That is as emphatic as WordPress permits. I was there on September 26, for the club’s trial run (more about that below) and I was delighted to find very friendly staff, good food and drink, pleasing sight lines and a receptive crowd, so it was a nostalgic return to a place I’d never been.
But back to current events. On this coming Thursday, there will be two shows, an early show at 6:45 and a late one at 9:30. These shows will be, as they say in retail, “value-packed”! Each show will feature wonderfully entertaining and enlightening record-spinning of an exalted kind by Fat Cat Matthew Rivera, bringing his Hot Club to the Village on a regular basis, AND live jazz from the Evan Arntzen Quartet including guitarist Felix Lemerle, string bassist Alex Claffy, and drummer Andrew Millar. Although the Bohemia hasn’t yet posted its regular schedule, their concept is both ambitious and comforting: seven nights of live jazz and blues music of the best kind.
Buy tickets here for the early show, here for the late one. It’s a small room, so be prepared. (I am, and I’ll be there.) And here is the Eventbrite link for those “who don’t do Facebook.”
If you follow JAZZ LIVES, or for that matter, if you follow lyrical swinging jazz, I don’t have to introduce Evan Arntzen to you. And if, by some chance, his name is oddly new to you, come down anyway: you will be uplifted. I guarantee it.
But who is Matthew Rivera?
I first met Matt Rivera (to give him his full handle, “Fat Cat Matthew Rivera,” which he can explain to you if you like) as a disembodied voice coming through my speakers as he was broadcasting on WKCR-FM a particularly precious musical reality — the full spectrum of jazz from before 1917 up to the middle Fifties, as captured on 78 RPM disks.
It isn’t a dusty trek into antiquity: Matt plays Miles and Bird, Gene Ammons and Fats Navarro next to “older styles.” Here’s Matt in a characteristically devout pose, at Cafe Bohemia:
and the recording (you’ll hear it on this post) that is the Hot Club’s theme song:
About two weeks ago, I visited the Fat Cat in his Cafe Bohemia lair and we chatted for JAZZ LIVES. YouTube decided to edit my long video in the middle of a record Matt was spinning, but I created a video of the whole disk later. Here’s the nicely detailed friendly first part:
and the second part:
and some samples of the real thing. First, the complete WHO?
DEXTERITY, with Bird, Miles, and Max:
and finally, a Kansas City gem featuring tenor player Dick Wilson and Mary Lou Williams and guitarist Floyd Smith:
Cafe Bohemia isn’t just a record-spinning listening party site, although the Fat Cat will have a regular Hot Club on Monday nights. Oh, no. When I attended the club’s trial run on September 26, there was live jazz — a goodly helping — of the best, with Mara Kaye singing (acoustically) blues and Billie with the joyous accompaniment of that night’s Cafe Bohemia Jazz Band: Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Evan Arntzen, clarinet and tenor saxophone; Matt Munisteri, guitar; Brian Nalepka, string bass. Here’s their opening number, ST. LOUIS BLUES:
The first word Mara utters on that video is “Wow,” and I echo those sentiments. Immense thanks are due owner Mike Zieleniewski and the splendid Christine Santelli as well as the musicians and staff.
See you downstairs at Cafe Bohemia on Thursday night: come over and say hello as we welcome this birth and rebirth to New York City.
Now you know. But in all fairness to the graphic designer and the copywriter here, that advertisement might have made people who didn’t know Danny, George, Pat, Phil, or Joe leap to incorrect conclusions. “Pops to Bop” might have suggested a-history-of-jazz-trumpet, or an afternoon vacillating between WHAT A WONDERFUL WORLD and DIZZY ATMOSPHERE. But these musicians meet on common ground; they love one another, and the music was so warmly played and presented that there was not even a thirty-second note of the formulaic here. It wasn’t a battle of genres: quite the contrary, if you squinted in just the right way through the stained glass windows, you could see Buck, Louis, Sweets, Basie, and Dizzy grinning like mad.
And although the brass instruments displayed and played here are often quite assertive, there was none of that signifying stuff, no “I can play higher, I can play louder,” so the sound was resonant, glowing, and in its own way serene, even at faster tempos.
Introducing the second song, HALF NELSON, Danny talks about how George was and is his inspiration, and even if he hadn’t explained that, we could hear it in the air.
Let me share the first four performances with you.
Danny’s original (in the spirit of the season to come) PASS OVER:
Following that thread, I’M CONFESSIN’:
HALF NELSON, credited (I think) to Miles, but who can tell?
And to close off this segment, George’s lovely reading of BODY AND SOUL:
It was a nearly six-hour round trip by car from my place to Ewing: I’d do it every weekend ti hear this band. Aren’t they wonderful? Savor this quartet of beauties: there are ten more to come.
Dan Morgenstern is a discerning judge of people, but he makes friends wherever he goes — and they aren’t limited to one style of school: Louis Armstrong, Lester Young, Muhal Richard Abrams, James Baldwin, Hot Lips Page, Cecil Scott, and Miles Davis.
Some traditionally-minded jazz fans have fallen into the habit of grafting horns and a tail onto Miles, but Dan knew him as a warm presence as well as a musical innovator, which comes out in the three videos that follow: two vignettes and one portrait, recorded at Dan’s apartment (around the corner from Miles’) on December 15, 2017. In the first clip, Miles mentions a name that we might not expect to come to his lips:
and a longer remembrance of Miles as “quite outgoing,” as a neighbor, with Coleman Hawkins, responding to an over-eager fan, taking Richard Pryor’s wife to OH! CALCUTTA, Miles in his Lamborghini, Cicely Tyson, and more:
and an anecdote about Miles and Louis:
More to come: Dan pays tributes to people he loves and admires, and we honor him in the same way.
One of the consistently thrilling aspects of sitting across from Dan Morgenstern is the immediate knowledge that here is a man who is both here now and was there then, his perceptions gentle but also sharp-edged.
A word about “immediacy.” I have written at length about John Hammond, read his memoir, read the biography of him, seen him on television, heard him interviewed, and from that collection of facts, stories, impressions I’ve made my own complex portrait of a man who was both immensely generous and intuitive, the man to whom we owe so much good music, from Garland Wilson to the last Buck Clayton Jam Sessions. I also grapple with the man who could turn cruel when not obeyed, the man who grew tired of formerly-admired artists and worked against them. So my mental portrait is complex, ambiguous, and shifting.
But as valuable as I think my study of Hammond might be, it shrinks when I can sit in a room with a man who’s heard Hammond say, “Come on with me, get in my car. We’re going up to Harlem. There’s someone I want you to hear.”
What you will also hear in this single segment (and I hope it has been evident all along) is Dan’s embracing affection for all kinds of what we treasure as jazz and blues. In this conversation of September 29, 2017, Dan spoke with warmth, humor, and insight of Hammond and the people who surrounded him: Barney Josephson at The Cookery, Helen Humes, George Benson, Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, Hank O’Neal, Buddy Tate, Lester Young, Mildred Bailey, Booker Ervin, and Victoria Spivey. Too many people to fit in Dan’s living room, but he brings them to life:
I found Dan’s portrait of Booker Ervin — Texas tenor and Mingus-associate — particularly touching.
We met again just a few weeks ago in December 2017, and spoke of some famous “bebop and beyond” sages, including Bird, Tadd Dameron, and Dan’s rather famous neighbor and friend Miles Dewey Davis. More to come, and we bless Mr. Morgenstern for being himself so deeply.
Even though the snow is beginning to melt, the thought of going to Florida for some warm music is very attractive: Bob Merrill’s shows at the Kravis Center in West Palm Beach, to be exact.
The amiable and expert Bob — trumpet, vocals, original compositions — has put together a concert presentation, engaging, hot, and sweet, to warm up our winter. Here’s a sample from his 2011 presentation (with John Colianni, Jon Burr, and Vinny Raniolo):
For those who can’t hop a plane to Florida to see and hear Bob, he’s generously offered us another piece of Trumpet King memorabilia: the wonderful Herb Snitzer photograph of brass royalty (Louis was of course on the bus somewhere):
and since even I couldn’t identify everyone correctly without some notes, here’s the crib sheet:
and Herb autographed this wonderful photograph for Bob:
Another idea for those who can’t get themselves to the shows. Check out Bob’s CDs here and here. He’s got the right ideas.
On this wintry day — the blizzard outside my New York window looked like bits of ripped-up tissues falling from the skies — what could be more warming than thirty-five minutes with Dan Morgenstern telling tales of his Chicago days, including the story of Gene Ammons’ release from jail? And Dan reminds us that jazz “is a communal music,” and tells tales of King Kolax and jazz on television as well:
and here’s the second part where Dan talks about jazz on television — the wonderful show “JUST JAZZ,” produced by Robert Kaiser and featuring Erroll Garner, Don Byas, Dexter Gordon, Bobby Hackett and Vic Dickenson:
Thank you, Dan, for warming not only this day but any other day you’re on the scene.
On September 3, I had the immense pleasure of visiting Mezzrow, that shrine for fascinating rhythms and floating melodies, to hear two sets by tenor saxophonist Tad Shull, pianist Rob Schneiderman, and string bassist Paul Gill. Ted called the group his “Radical Swing Trio,” which to him means a return to the roots: strong melodies, logical emotive improvisations, lovely ballads. And, as I said the first time, don’t be put off by “Radical”: this trio would have been forward-looking but comfortable in the fabled New York jazz past, although they are far from being archaeologists. Listen, and be delighted.
Jazz from a Sunday night on West Tenth Street, but hardly as ordinary as those words would suggest, for the site was not just the Street, but Mezzrow, that wonderful jazz club now beginning its fourth year of sustaining the musical community:
The participants I enjoyed on September 3 were the “Radical Swing Trio”: Tad Shull, tenor saxophone; Rob Schneiderman, piano; Paul Gill, string bass. Here’s their first set.
If the word RADICAL scares you off, it’s merely (I think) a way of saying that this trio, although aware and respectful of the past, players and composers and idioms, is not tied to it: they create rather than replicate. And swing is not tied to any year: it flourished in 1960 as well as in 1940. Hear for yourself how beautifully Tad, Rob, and Paul make it blossom in 2017.
Tadd Dameron’s TADD’S DELIGHT:
Jackie McLean’s OMEGA:
THE NEARNESS OF YOU. “In D.”:
Eddie Harris’ FREEDOM JAZZ DANCE:
Monk’s WELL, YOU NEEDN’T:
and as a closer, Hank Mobley’s SOUL STATION:
Another set was just as exhilarating, with seriously focused, lyrical performances of music associated with Dizzy Gillespie, Dameron, Miles, Wayne Shorter, and a pair of lovely ballads. It, too, will appear here.
One of the first musicians I met when I returned to live jazz in New York (2004-2005) was the wonderful drummer Kevin Dorn, and through Kevin I met a number of musical individualists. One who made a powerful impression on me was saxophone master — no hyperbole here — Michael Hashim , whom I have heard over the years, memorably, on alto, tenor, and soprano. If you’ve been on the scene since the middle Seventies, you’ve run into Michael (sometimes “Mike”) playing with everyone from Jimmy Rowles, Benny Carter, Sammy Price, the Widespread Jazz Orchestra, and now with a variety of small groups and happily with the Microscopic Septet.
The saxophones of the Microscopic Septet: Phillip Johnston, Michael Hashim, Don Davis, Dave Sewelson, 2017
Michael is also singular because of his sharply focused memory for people and sounds and events (and, sometimes, absurdities) and his wide range of interests. I can talk with him about art, comix, photography, literature, and I will come away more deeply informed. You will also see in these video interviews his dazzling articulateness: none of this is scripted, but he’s never at a loss for words: he’s not affected but his speech is polished and balanced.
Earlier this summer, as another tributary to the interviews I’ve been doing with Dan Morgenstern (and there are more), I casually asked Michael if he’d be interested in sitting for my camera. He was, and so we spent a few hours on the afternoon of July 19, my admiring Michael’s insights and feeling terribly fortunate that I could record them for posterity. And, as you can see, he enjoyed himself.
Incidentally, since I called on Michael (in the words of that venerable magazine feature by Pete Martin in The Saturday Evening Post sixty years ago) to tell us stories, to be a spiritual tour guide to worlds that many of us never encountered, I have chosen photographs of his very expressive face — without the ubiquitous saxophone attached.
Here are two of the five segments I recorded: lose yourself in Michael’s tales. They are memorable and irreplaceable, full of surprises.
First, a wonderful collection of faces and places, including — in one breath — Miles Davis and the World’s Greatest Jazz Band, memories of the great jazz film collector David Chertok, ending with words of wisdom from patriarch Jon Hendricks:
Second, recollections of Jimmy Rowles and his world:
And since Michael is music as well as words, here is a 2012 duet performance with pianist Spike Wilner of a beautiful Ellington song:
There’s more to come. How reassuring it is to me to know that Michael Hashim exists and flourishes.
Most formulaic greeting cards you can buy in the chain pharmacies are now probably three or four dollars, and they are pleasant enough expressions of sentiment (or humor) that the sender hopes will make the patient feel better. Or, as a display on the side-table, they suggest, “I have friends who care about me!” which is an entirely understandable sentiment.
Hereis a singular jazz get-well card, from May 1949. It costs a bit more: ten thousand dollars. But you’ll see why.
and a closer look at the signatures:
The seller explains:
Unique, one of a kind, original vintage concert program for the Festival International de Jazz held at the Salle Pleyel in Paris [France] from 8th May – 15th May, 1949, featuring Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, Sidney Bechet, and many more. The program has been authentically signed and inscribed on the front cover by Charlie Parker (“Speedy Recovery Charlie Parker”), Miles Davis (“Best Wishes Miles Davis”), Tadd Dameron (“Get well quick Tadd Dameron”) and Max Roach (“Wishing A Speedy Recovery Max Roach”). Also signed inside the program by Don Byas (“Best regards Don Byas”). The original owner of the program was a young British jazz fan. He married in 1949 and he and his wife honeymooned on the continent and attended the Paris Jazz festival at this time. Judging from the various inscriptions we must assume he wasn’t feeling well the night he obtained the autographs. The festival, by the way, marked the first European appearances for both Charlie Parker and Miles Davis.
Moving inside the souvenir booklet:
the Don Byas signature as well as a photograph of Jimmy McPartland, the man no one associates with this festival:
finally, the back cover:
The souvenir booklet is, of course, incredibly rare. But what delights me as much as its existence is the untold short story of the young British fan and his new bride. He must have approached his heroes and told them, not only that he admired them and would like them to sign his program, but that he was ill. Were the Americans charmed by the young couple and their English accents? Were they feeling paternalistic to the ailing young man? (Notice that Don Byas either didn’t hear the young man’s tale or didn’t care much about it.) But he obviously made enough of an impression on the American jazz stars for them to write kind words to him.
I even wonder if he was ill in their hotel room after the concert and his young bride took the program to Bird, Miles, Tadd, Max, and Don, and prettily asked a favor of them, explaining that her husband was out of sorts. And we don’t know why he was sick. Was it the strange food that had made him ill? The crossing to France? We can only imagine these events, but it’s clear that someone prized this souvenir of his and his bride’s honeymoon. And now it’s on eBay. What that says about us I couldn’t begin to fathom.
This I can fathom, though — some music from that festival:
Late last year, I did one of my periodic eBay browsings, which have provided many images for this blog. The items below are no longer for sale, but the images are available for us to linger over.
In HERE AT THE NEW YORKER, Brendan Gill told a story of showing his friend, the writer William Maxwell, a Roman coin he had bought, and Maxwell thoughtfully saying, “The odds are on objects.” A cryptic utterance, but my time spent on eBay suggests that Maxwell was right. For one thing, objects are longer-lived than their owners, and they are put up for sale.
These thoughts are motivated by yet another visit to that site — in this case, to a “store” which has folded its tents as far as jazz and big band collectors are concerned. But they offered these four artifacts for sale. The seller knew their value: the prices ranged from $279.20 to $2,399.20. But looking is free.
Here is a postwar V-Disc, its talk and music taken from the April 26, 1947 WNEW Saturday Night Swing Session, hosted by Art Ford, featuring Louis, Jack Teagarden, Sidney Catlett, Roy Ross, accordion; Nicky Tagg, piano; an unidentified string bassist. Louis and Jack used the same pen:
That’s an authentic signature (to me) even if Louis didn’t have his pen, filled with green ink, on hand.
I coveted that disc intensely for a few minutes, then calmed myself down by thinking of the impossibility of displaying it properly — honoring Louis yet turning Jack’s “face” to the wall. And the price, of course. Here’s another piece of holy paper, even though this slip has been reproduced in a book on Bird (however, the seller has offered a note from the Parker collector Norman Saks, verifying the authenticity):
What I would like to know, of course, is the name of the person who advanced Bird the money — not a small sum in 1950. Whether Bird actually went to the doctor, and for what reasons, I leave to you.
From Bird to Miles — in 1957:
and a close-up of that somewhat faded ink signature:
Finally, a contract for Billie to perform at the Tiffany Club in 1952:
and a close-up of her signature and pianist / bandleader Buster Harding:
Since none of these objects is as durable as a coin, it’s marvelous that they have survived. Did their owners keep them safe for love of Louis, Jack, Miles, and Billie, or because of an awareness of their monetary value? Or both? I can’t surmise, but I am glad that these things exist for us to look at, and perhaps own.
No, this isn’t an early celebration of Saint Patrick, nor is it a lesson in North American vernacular dance. A week ago today, I had the delightful good fortune of being in the basement known as Fat Cat (75 Christopher Street) to hear Terry Waldo’s Gotham City Band — Terry, piano; Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Jim Fryer, trombone; Evan Arntzen, clarinet; John Gill, banjo; Brian Nalepka, string bass; Jay Lepley, drums. And one of the lively excursions into hot archaeology that they offered was Percy Venable’s novelty number, IRISH BLACK BOTTOM, premiered by Louis Armstrong and his Hot Five in Chicago in 1926. For the full history of this song and that performance, read on in Ricky Riccardi’s quite magnificent Louis blog.
And now, from 1926 to 2017, with a performance calculated to warm you more efficiently than heated seats in a new car:
The genial joyousness of that performance could win anyone over, even without the history. But I also post this musical episode to reiterate a point. Many “jazz critics” see the chronological advance of the music as one improvement succeeding another: Roy Eldridge was more “sophisticated” than Louis, Charlie Parker more than Roy, Miles and Trane and Ornette even more so. “Sophisticated” is a weighted word, especially when the appearance of complexity is taken as the highest good. But for those who look at “Dixieland” as simple, I’d suggest that even a tune as lightweight as IRISH BLACK BOTTOM has its own sophistication, its own complicated routine, and it is not something one could pick up at one hearing, the Real Book notwithstanding. Court adjourned.
Before you ask, “Who are they and if they’re any good, why haven’t I heard of them?” please listen to their version of BLUE GRASS BLUES:
Now, that’s seriously interesting to me because it sounds genuine — it’s not 1925 heard through the perspective of 2017 (no one inserts a favorite Real Book lick in where it doesn’t belong).
St. Louis jazz is not the subject of too much historical analysis: the attentive among us know about Charlie Creath and Clark Terry, Joe Thomas, Dewey Jackson, Trumbauer’s orchestra with Bix and Pee Wee, even the upstart son of Doctor Davis the affluent dentist. I knew the Mound City Blue Blowers, Gene Rodemich, the Arcadian Serenaders, and the Missourians, but I’d never heard of the Searcy Trio, Powell’s Jazz Monarchs, or Harry’s Happy Four.
Here’s a “live one,” wordplay intentional:
The players on this 2016 CD are TJ Miller, trumpet, comb, vocal; Chloe Feoranzo, clarinet, C-melody saxophone; Kellie Everett, bass saxophone, tenor saxophone, kazoo; Jacob Alspach, trombone, tenor banjo, vocal; Kyle Butz, trombone; Joe Park, plectrum banjo, guitar; Mary Ann Schulte, piano; Ryan Koenig, washboard, percussion, vocal; Matt Meyer, drums; Joey Glynn, upright bass. Our friend Mike Davis brings his cornet for A LITTLE BIT BAD.
Because the repertoire chosen by the SSS is often so obscure, it feels new. So it’s almost like discovering a new hot band playing authentic music that hasn’t had the shine rubbed off of it through overexposure. (JAZZ LIVES readers can compile their own — silent — list of famous although overplayed songs.) OZARK MOUNTAIN BLUES / THE DUCK’S YAS YAS YAS / SOAP SUDS / BLUE GRASS BLUES / RED HOT! / MARKET STREET STOMP / GO WON TO TOWN / SWINGING THE SWING / BLUE BLOOD BLUES / A LITTLE BIT BAD / AH! AH! ARCHIE / EAST ST. LOUIS STOMP / YOU AIN’T GOT NOTHIN’ I WANT / HOT STUFF / LAUGHING BLUES. (I consider myself knowledgeable about this period, but only a third of the titles immediately came to mind with connections to a particular band or recording.)
And it should be obvious that there’s beautiful energized hot music on this disc, the product of deep loving study to create artistic authenticity. This band has the Twenties in their bones, and no one — out of force of habit — brings a favorite Lee Morgan lick to a solo on a 1926 piece. Their playing feels real: no Dorothy Provine here, and the hot numbers romp and frolic, but without any over-respectful museum dustiness. I also note the total lack of condescension — some bands, when they go back before Basie or Bird, let a little hauteur be heard and felt in their work, as if saying, “Gee, these old guys were so primitive: no one would play with that vibrato today, but I will do it for this date” — not so the Shakers.
You should enjoy this one for yourself. The band’s Facebook page is here; the site for Big Muddy Records is here; you can download the session here.
You can fly to St. Louis very easily, but you can’t always visit the Twenties on your own: the Shakers are excellent tour guides.