Tag Archives: Miss Ida Blue

THE JOANNA STERNBERG TRIO with DAN BLOCK and JOE COHN: PART TWO (Sunny’s, Brooklyn, New York City, September 8, 2016)

joanna-sternberg-sept-8-2016-poster

The expression that comes to mind when I think of or hear this brand-new trio is an old-fashioned one, “Mighty nice.”  They are lyrical explorers, delving into old songs as if they were new, and Joanna’s new songs seem like old friends once we’re past the first chorus.

Here are the first four performances from that momentous debut at Sunny’s in far-off Red Hook.  Incidentally, Sunny’s is the second home of Miss Ida Blue, much beloved of JAZZ LIVES, and the Joanna Sternberg Trio — these three subtle shape-changers — will be back at Sunny’s on November 3, from 10 PM to 1 AM.  I can’t be there, because I’ll be at the Mike Durham Classic Jazz Party, so expect no videos — but it will give you more room to be there and savor the experience in person.

And here are four more beauties: two standards, two originals.  Delight in them, please.

The rollicking I GOT MINE by Frank Stokes:

THE TOUCH OF YOUR LIPS:

Joanna’s somber 3 / 4 opus, THE SONG:

HOW ABOUT YOU?

I like this trio a great deal.  How about you?

May your happiness increase!

GUILTY, WITH AN EXPLANATION (September 2016)

judges-gavel

I confess that I’ve let some days go by without blogging.  Unthinkable, I know, but I (gently) throw myself on the mercy of the JAZZ LIVES court of readers.

Permit me to explain.  From Thursday, September 15, to Sunday, the 18th, I was entranced by and at the Cleveland Classic Jazz Party.  Consider these — randomly chosen — delights.  Jim Dapogny playing IF I WERE YOU (twice) and some of his winsome original compositions.  Rossano Sportiello, Frank Tate, and Hal Smith swinging like no one’s business.  Rebecca Kilgore singing KEEP A SONG IN YOUR SOUL in the Andy Schumm-Hal Smith tribute to Alex Hill. Andy, on piano, with Paul Patterson and Marty Grosz — once on banjo! — in a hot chamber trio (a highlight being LOUISE).  Wesla Whitfield in wonderfully strong voice.  Dan Block and Scott Robinson romping through HOTTER THAN ‘ELL.  A Basie-styled small band led by Jon Burr, offering (among other pleasures) IN THE WEE SMALL HOURS OF THE MORNING.  A string bass trio — Burr, Tate, and Kerry Lewis — showing that no other instruments need apply.  Harry Allen and Jon-Erik Kellso playing ballads, and Dan Barrett, too.  Tributes to Nat Cole, Harry Warren, Isham Jones, and Bill Evans.  Many videos, too — although they take some time to emerge in public.

I came home late Sunday night and on Monday and Tuesday returned to normal (employed) life as Professor Steinman: John Updike, Tillie Olsen, William Faulkner.

Tomorrow, which is Wednesday, September 21, I get on a plane to New Orleans for Duke Heitger’s Steamboat Stomp.  Obviously I can’t report on delights experienced, but I can say I am looking forward to hearing, talking with, and cheering for the Yerba Buena Stompers, Miss Ida Blue, Banu Gibson, Tim Laughlin, Hal Smith, Kris Tokarski, Andy Schumm, Alex Belhaj, David Boeddinghaus, Ed Wise, Charlie Halloran, James Evans, Steve Pistorius, Orange Kellin, Tom Saunders, Debbie Fagnano, and many others.

So there you have it.  I could sit at home blogging, or I could be on the road, collecting gems, some of which I will be able to share.

My counsel in all this has been the most eminent solicitor, Thomas Langham, who will now offer his closing argument to the jury:

May your happiness increase!

A STEAMBOAT, HOT JAZZ, THE MISSISSIPPI RIVER, A STEAM CALLIOPE, STRIDE PIANO, THE BLUES, and FRIENDS (September 18-20, 2015)

My title is, to me, the best one-line description of the Steamboat Stomp — happening in New Orleans, on the Steamboat Natchez, from September 18-20, 2015.

640_steamboat-natchez-new-orleans-reviews

Some of the performers who will be on the boat are Duke Heitger’s Steamboat Stompers, Steve Pistorius, Evan Christopher, Banu Gibson, Tim Laughlin, Solid Harmony, Yerba Buena Stompers, Miss Ida Blue, New Orleans Classic Jazz Orchestra, Stephanie Trick, Paolo Alderighi, Debbie Fagnano on the steam calliope, and more.

The schedule is here, and I can see myself fretting over it on the plane ride.  “If I see X now, I can’t see Y.  But I can see Y the next day.”  Jazz fest calculus, or perhaps chess.  But it’s always delightful to have more than one can handle rather than having long stretches of time.  However, on the Natchez, it’s entirely delightful to cruise up and down the Mississippi.  If one ignores the oil rigs outside, one can think of Huckleberry Finn.  Or, better, Fate Marable.

Here  is another site (the Stomp’s Facebook page) that offers different perspectives.

Finally, the hard facts one needs to know: prices, tickets, packages, reservations.

But here’s the best evidence, taken from the 2013 Stomp.

The official Jelly Roll Morton anthem of this carnival of joy:

Yes, you’ll have to pay something to board the Natchez, but your dollars will feel like dimes:

The way you’ll feel as soon as the music begins:

As Justin Wilson used to say, “I guarantee it!”

May your happiness increase!

“WE’RE HERE FOR THE BLUES!”

For about seventy-five minutes last night, Ida Blue showed great passionate artistry once again.  The occasion was her evening of blues — riotous, carnal, spiritual, hushed — performed at Joe’s Pub:

Ida Blue Joe's Pub cover

and here’s Ben Guthrie’s photograph of the Blues Debut as it was actually happening:

Ida Blue Joe's Pub Ben Guthrie

Usually, when I attend a music event that I plan to write about, I make notes. You may have seen me writing: song titles, distinctive things that happened during a particular performance, my own critical shorthand of checks and question marks, of YES, NO, and WOW.

My notes from last night are a delighted mess, because I was having such a wildly good time that the idea of leaning forward attentively to catch when Ida identified the song title and the famous blues performer it was associated with soon became an idea whose time had not come.  Early on in the evening, I gave up the idea of being the careful archivist.  Instead I chose to write down phrases that struck my fancy — from the lyrics and from Ida’s interchanges with her audience.

I can tell you this: the exuberant young woman — The Lady in Red — who took the stage and told us all that she was sweating (out of emotional enthusiasm, for it wasn’t necessarily warm in Joe’s Pub) won us over time after time.  As did her band: a glorious quintet, the likes of which I’d never seen together: Kevin Dorn, drums; John Gill, National guitar; Dan Block, bass clarinet / baritone saxophone; Jay Rattman, bass saxophone; Evan Arntzen, clarinet / tenor saxophone.  That band rocked.  And it wasn’t a matter of volume or bar-walking. Rather, each of the musicians showed the finest subtlety — as soloist, and even more as an essential part of an ensemble, organically shape-shifting as the mood struck them.  So the saxophones hummed behind Ida or a guitar solo, or they took solos, or there were gloriously happy dialogues between two and three, phrases traded — in the best New Orleans / Memphis / New York City traditions, traditions being created on the spot in Joe’s Pub.

For her part, Ida was having a wonderful time and shared her joys with us.  No matter what she was singing — songs associated with Memphis Minnie, Robert Johnson, Sister Wynona Carr, Victoria Spivey — her delight came through even when the lyrics were grim.  (That’s what I think of as the Basie paradox: “Look! I’m having such a good time playing these sad, dark blues!  I can’t believe how good this misery makes me feel!”)

Ida’s voice was entirely at her command, and her improvisatory courage utterly commanded the audience.  She sang lyrics with the force of a cornet; growled and moaned, even offering a cantorial cadenza.  Sometimes she sounded on the edge of tears; sometimes she boldly told us something naughty with a great wink. Some lines, although the words weren’t necessarily funny in themselves, became small comedies; other times, she resorted to her own stutter-phrasing, repeating a word or a syllable five or six times for emphasis (as if Kevin was hitting the snare with pistol-shot force).

And, as always, she was in motion.  Hands held high above her head; dancing as wildly as she could on the small stage; ruffling her hair violently; grinning, laughing, having herself a fine time.  She looked out into the audience, saying with great pleasure, “I KNOW you!  I KNOW you too!” She wished her friend Sunny (of Sunny’s Bar in Brooklyn) a happy eighty-first birthday, and asked us all to raise our glasses.  We could refuse her nothing, and we followed suit.  She kicked off each song at a particularly groovy tempo, and although the repertoire was primarily twelve-bar blues, one song did not feel like its predecessor.

Although the mood was often lovelorn, Ida performed a few blues hymns — I’M A PILGRIM TRAVELER (which has “I’ll make it if He holds my hand” as a particularly moving affirmation).  And when she sang “It keeps me singing in my soul,” I felt as if she’d made 425 Lafayette Street into a pop-up revival meeting.

To give you a flavor of the evening, here are a few phrases from assorted lyrics:

I got those itty-bitty legs!

When you see me comin’, pull down your window blind.

Some cold rainy day.

Lord  have mercy on me.

I took his last nickel.

EVERY DAY!

My man’s done evil, and I’ve done evil too.

Buy me a shotgun.

I’m going to shoot my pistol.

Where did you stay last night?

I could make a case that all human experience could be encapsulated in those words — and others — that Ida delivered with such fervent honesty last night.

After the show, when photographer Ben Guthrie and I were standing outside the Public Theater, I said to Ben — fully aware that it was both the truth and a terrible cliche, “When PBS comes around, if we’re still here, we’ll be able to say, ‘We saw her when . . . ‘”

Some ecstatic evening, it was.

May your happiness increase!

DOUBLE YOUR PLEASURE: DENNIS LICHTMAN / MISS IDA BLUE (August 29, 2015)

Just hold on a moment.  Before you start packing the car to flee somewhere pastoral for the final weekend of August, may I inform you of two delightful reasons to stay in (or visit) New York City on Saturday, August 29, 2015?

The first concerns our friend Dennis Lichtman — virtuoso on clarinet, fiddle, and mandolin.  I first heard and met Dennis in 2009 when he was a member of the Cangelosi Cards, then heard him in other contexts around the city — always playing marvelously, with a bright sound and memorable creativity, whether sitting in with a hot band or leading his own group, the Brain Cloud.

Photograph by Bobby Bonsey

Photograph by Bobby Bonsey

At 2 PM on Saturday, Dennis will be celebrating his tenth year as a resident of the borough of Queens, New York — in music.  He and a great band will be offering a concert celebrating the history of jazz in Queens . . . the result of his first grant project, “Queens Jazz: A Living Tradition.”  Thanks to the Queens Council on the Arts, he will be presenting “original music inspired by this borough’s jazz heritage.” In addition, there will be classic songs associated with Queens jazz masters of the Twenties to the Forties. (Think of Clarence Williams and Fats Waller, among others.)

The concert — the FREE concert — will take place at the Louis Armstrong House Museum, 34-56 107th Street, Corona, New York, (718) 478-8274.  In case of rain, it will be held at the Queens Public Library, 40-20 Broadway, Queens, New York.

Lichtman Queens Jazz

Dennis has assembled a wonderful band: Gordon Au, trumpet; J. Walter Hawkes, trombone; Dalton Ridenhour, piano; Terry Wilson, vocal; Nathan Peck, string bass; Rob Garcia, drums.  You can keep up with Dennis here and here is the Facebook event page for the concert.

But that might leave you at liberty in mid-afternoon on a beautiful Saturday.  What to do?

I will be heading towards lower Manhattan for evening music of a most soulful kind: Miss Ida Blue and friends (including Dan Block, reeds, and John Gill, guitar) will be hosting an evening of the blues at Joe’s Pub.  The photograph below also shows Andrew Millar, drums, and a figure I assume to be the heroic Brian Nalepka — you hear his sound even when you can’t see him.

Photograph by Steve Singer

Photograph by Steve Singer

Here is the Facebook event page for this concert.  It’s a one-hour gig, starting at 9:30.  And Miss Ida and Joe’s Pub go together spectacularly, as I have written here about her triumphant May 15 gig.  I first heard her delivering the blues like a superb short-order cook — hot and ready — with the Yerba Buena Stompers, and I look forward to more of that spicy cuisine at this year’s Steamboat Stompwhich will begin in New Orleans a little more than a month from this posting.

Miss Ida Blue debut blues

I note with pleasure that Miss Ida has two pairs of dark glasses in this photograph.  Obviously the energy she unleashes is so powerful that wise listeners might want to bring extra protection — aural sunscreen.  But don’t be afraid: her power is a healing joyous experience.  And you might hear songs associated with blues monarchs Memphis Minnie, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Robert Johnson, Sister Wynona Carr, and others, all performed with conviction, invention, and ingenuity by our own Ida.  To purchase tickets ($15), click here.

Now you know it all, and can make plans.  For me, a suburban New Yorker who commutes to Manhattan and Brooklyn for pleasure, I can occupy my spare moments in the next two weeks with the philosophical calculus of transportation: drive to Corona in the morning, enjoy the concert, then choose — take my car into lower Manhattan on a Saturday night and attempt to find street parking, or go home after Corona, take the commuter railroad in . . . matters of time, finance, ease.  Such things should be my (or your) largest problems.  I hope to see friends at both concerts!

May your happiness increase!

IF YOU SLOW DOWN, THE PLEASURE LASTS LONGER

slow_signs

I think my title can be applied many ways, but right now we are talking about music.  One of my particular obsessions — and musicians I’ve talked to about this don’t always agree with me — is that tempos gradually increase, and most bands play music far too fast.  I hear I CAN’T BELIEVE THAT YOU’RE IN LOVE WITH ME as a ballad or a rhythm ballad; LOUISIANA as a sultry drag; MEAN TO ME as a lament rather than a romp.  (In this, I have noble precedent: think of Louis majestically proceeding through THAT’S FOR ME.  And I heard Ruby Braff play I GOT RHYTHM at ballad tempo with unforgettable results.)

Perhaps because of Henry “Red” Allen, many bands play ROSETTA (officially by Earl Hines but the real story is that it was written by Henri Woode) as an uptempo tune.  But there are two delightful exceptions to this.  One took place during a 1971 concert in upstate New York — led by Eddie Condon, a superb band featuring Bernie Privin, Lou McGarity, Kenny Davern, Dill Jones, Jack Lesberg, and Cliff Leeman.  (It’s been issued on Arbors Records under Davern’s name, as A Night With Eddie Condon, so you can hear it yourself.)  The band leaps in to the first tune, AT THE JAZZ BAND BALL, and does it with speed and energy.  Condon, I think, calls ROSETTA to follow, and Dill Jones, used to playing the song as an uptempo number, starts it off quickly — and Condon stops him, correcting the tempo with a “boom . . . . boom” to a slow, groovy sway. Instructive indeed.

The other example I can offer is more readily accessible, and it started with everyone in a delicious groove from the first notes.  I was there to witness, delight, and record it — on November 28, 2014, at the San Diego Jazz Fest.  The creators are Ray Skjelbred, piano (who set this fine tempo), Marc Caparone, cornet; Beau Sample, string bass; Hal Smith, drums:

And you might want to know that there is going to be a 2015 San Diego Jazz Fest, Thanksgiving weekend, November 25-29, 2015. I know Thanksgiving seems so far away, but time rushes on.

Find out more here and here. I know that Ray Skjelbred, Marc Caparone, Katie Cavera, Dawn Lambeth, Clint Baker, the Yerba Buena Stompers, Carl Sonny Leyland, Nicki Parrott, Rossano Sportiello, Stephanie Trick, Paolo Alderighi, Miss Ida Blue, Molly Ryan, Dan Levinson, Jonathan Stout, Bob Schulz, Chloe Feoranzo, and many others will be making music there.

May your happiness increase!

MAMA, SHE JUST UP AND LEFT: TIM LAUGHLIN, JIM BUCHMANN, CONNIE JONES, DOUG FINKE, CHRIS DAWSON, MARTY EGGERS, KATIE CAVERA, HAL SMITH (San Diego Jazz Fest, November 29, 2014)

The song?  Peter Bocage’s and Armand J. Piron’s MAMA’S GONE, GOODBYE. The band?  Tim Laughin’s New Orleans All-Stars: Tim, clarinet; Connie Jones, cornet; Doug Finke, trombone; Chris Dawson, piano; Katie Cavera, rhythm guitar; Marty Eggers, string bass; Hal Smith, drums; guest star Jim Buchmann, clarinet. Recorded on November 29, 2014, at the delicious San Diego Jazz Fest:

Swing lyricism at its finest, I think.

And the good news is that there is a 2015 San Diego Jazz Fest coming up this Thanksgiving weekend, November 25-19, 2015.  I know Thanksgiving seems so far away, but time rushes on.

Find out more here and here. I know that Ray Skjelbred, Marc Caparone, Katie Cavera, Dawn Lambeth, Clint Baker, the Yerba Buena Stompers, Carl Sonny Leyland, Nicki Parrott, Rossano Sportiello, Stephanie Trick, Paolo Alderighi, Miss Ida Blue, Molly Ryan, Dan Levinson, Jonathan Stout, Bob Schulz, Chloe Feoranzo, and many others will be making music there. I’ll be there. You should consider it!

May your happiness increase!

SOLAR POWER: RAY SKJELBRED, MARC CAPARONE, JIM BUCHMANN, HAL SMITH, KATIE CAVERA, BEAU SAMPLE (San Diego Jazz Fest, Nov. 30, 2014)

Sunrise

Beauty is all around us.

In this case, six creative musicians took the stand at the 2014 San Diego Jazz Fest to show us what Swing is, what Hot Music is.  Note my choice of tense: wholly the present.  And thanks to the magic of video, the future as well.

Before Benny Goodman and Les Paul got to this song, it was a 1919 waltz.  But I think of it as a Chicagoan hot classic, which is the way Ray Skjelbred, piano; Marc Caparone, cornet; Jim Buchmann, clarinet / saxello; Hal Smith, drums; Beau Sample, string bass; Katie Cavera, guitar, approach it here.  And please don’t turn away to look at Facebook before it’s all over — you’ll miss a two-chorus Rhythm Seminar conducted by Professors Hal Smith and Beau Sample: a graduate degree in Hot.

There are more performances to come from this wonderful sextet, but let me remind you of those I’ve already posted here, and here, and here, and even here.

Aren’t we lucky?  These wonderful manifestations of joy and solar power aren’t restricted to San Diego, but I will say that the 2015 San Diego Jazz Fest is going to happen this Thanksgiving weekend, November 25-29, 2015.

Find out more here and here.  I know that Ray, Marc, Katie, Dawn Lambeth, Clint Baker, the Yerba Buena Stompers, Carl Sonny Leyland, Nicki Parrott, Rossano Sportiello, Stephanie Trick, Paolo Alderighi, Miss Ida Blue, Molly Ryan, Dan Levinson, Jonathan Stout, Bob Schulz, Chloe Feoranzo, and many others will be making music there.  I’ll be there.  You should consider it!

May your happiness increase!

WHAT BETTER WAY TO CARPE THE DIEM? (September 18-20, 2015)

NATCHEZ

I am not sure that Ralph Waldo Emerson would have instantly taken to jazz, although its energy, self-reliant independent passion might have pleased him. But he did write these words in Nature, words I have tried to take to heart: “Life only avails, not the having lived.”  Put more simply, the experience of life is both intense and fleeting: it must be savored while it is here, not in retrospect, as if leafing through a photograph album.  Or, as Patrick Dennis’ Auntie Mame says [in the play of the same name], “Life is a banquet, and most poor sons-of-bitches are starving to death!”  (It became “suckers” in the film version, alas.)

What has all this to do with JAZZ LIVES?  It is my unsubtle way of saying that the Steamboat Stomp is once again happening in New Orleans, on the dates shown above and below, and that if you can be there, your happiness will measurably increase.  This is not an idle bit of press-agentry on my part: I was there two years ago and had a wonderful time.

STOMP 2015

The poster tells you all you need to know, with one emendation.  The Dukes of Dixieland won’t be performing at the Stomp; instead, there will be Jacques Gauthe’s New Orleans Classic Jazz Orchestra.  AND my brilliant friends and pianists Stephanie Trick and Paolo Alderighi will be there also.

The musical festivities will begin Friday night with performances “held at a local offisite location,” which means somewhere nearby, comfortable, and on land. (Incidentally, I do not like small boats and do tend to suffer from mal-de-mer . . .  I felt fine on the Natchez.)

The main Saturday evening concerts will take place aboard a special sailing of the Steamboat Natchez. The evening will include two stages of simultaneous music along with New Orleans-style food served by the Natchez‘s own renowned chef (food not included in price).  On Sunday, a New Orleans style gospel jazz brunch (food included) will conclude the musical festivities, followed by a reception for patrons and sponsors.

Now, with all good things, a little investigation on your part is required. Emerson talked mightily of self-reliance, so one must do some legwork — or some clicking in this modern technological age. Here is the Stomp’s Facebook page.  Here you can reserve tickets and learn more.  And because — as Lester Young said in a comment I will expurgate — seeing is believing, here are a few video posts from the inaugural Stomp.  Oh what fun it was.  And will be.

Duke Heitger’s Steamboat Stompers

The Yerba Buena Stompers and Vince Saunders

Banu Gibson’s Rhythmic Heart

New Orleans Joys With Ray, Tim, Steve, and Jeff

If that doesn’t work, we’ll have to double the dosage of Joy.

May your happiness increase!

SHE TAKES A STAND: MISS IDA BLUE and THE YERBA BUENA STOMPERS (June 27, 2015)

In a nice way, Miss Ida Blue is a strong-willed person.  Definite rather than ambivalent.  And it comes through in her singing, with this 1938 song a particularly fine example.

I’M GONNA LOCK MY HEART is firmly associated with Billie Holiday in her early golden period, and Billie made the song multi-layered.  The message of the lyrics is, if taken seriously, rather bleak: my heart has been broken and so I am never falling in love again.  But the song itself is curiously jaunty, in the best pop tradition: I will sing about my woes in a swinging way, because you and I really know that this is only a song.

I'M GONNA LOCK MY HEART clearer

I am delighted to have this video — thanks to the diligent generosity of Rae Ann Berry, the crowned Queen of West Coast Hot Jazz Video.  She recorded it on June 27, 2015, at the 25th Annual America’s Classic Jazz Festival in Lacey, Washington.

Miss Ida is accompanied by that spectacular hot band, the Yerba Buena Stompers: Kevin Dorn, drums, Clint Baker, tuba; John Gill, banjo; Conal Fowkes, piano; Orange Kellin, clarinet; Tom Bartlett, trombone; Leon Oakley, cornet; Jon-Erik Kellso (subbing for Duke Heitger), trumpet:

And Miss Ida’s deep love for Billie Holiday is nothing new, as you can read https://jazzlives.wordpress.com/2015/05/18/havin-herself-a-time-miss-ida-triumphs-joes-pub-may-15-2015/ — my frankly ecstatic report on her May 15 gig at Joe’s Pub.  Ida’s evocation of Billie is not a matter of learned gestures; Ida sounds like Ida, and we are terribly glad about that.  She has never locked her heart, and that quality of openness comes through in every note.

May your happiness increase!

HAVIN’ HERSELF A TIME: MISS IDA TRIUMPHS (Joe’s Pub, May 15, 2015)

Photographs by Kate Dulub

Photographs by Kate Dulub

Late last Friday night, I and an illustrious audience (including Terry Waldo, Mike Davis, and Mike Zirpolo) enjoyed a stirring evening of music at Joe’s Pub. Miss Ida Blue and a stunning band of New York jazzmen paid tribute to Billie Holiday in her centennial year.

Miss Ida has impressed me in her appearances with the Yerba Buena Stompers, as a delightfully personal interpreter of Twenties blues, but at Joe’s Pub she absolutely surpassed herself.  It wasn’t because she suddenly succeeded at imitating Billie or “channeling” her — but because the spirit of Thirties Billie animated her, making her even more joyously herself.  The sixteen songs she and the band delivered came from 1933 (YOUR MOTHER’S SON-IN-LAW) to 1944 (I COVER THE WATERFRONT).  Without offering a history lesson, she and the band happily evoked a singer, an era, and a world of heedless yet expert music.

MISS IDA TWO

A word about the superb band.  Like Miss Ida, they evoked rather than copied. Pianist Conal Fowkes had created arrangements that kept the contours of the original recordings without tying the musicians to the manuscript paper.  And he swung out in his own delicate yet ardent version of Teddy Wilson’s glowing style. Conal’s rhythm section mates are wonderful swingers as well, and they meshed gloriously: John Gill, guitar; Brian Nalepka, string bass; Kevin Dorn, drums.

Their pleasure was evident even when I couldn’t see their faces.  Their rhythmic rocking was a treat; they never faltered.  And the tempos were in themselves delightful and instructive: always slightly faster or slower than the original inspirations, which gave me a sense of looking at a newly cleaned masterpiece, or someone lovely who always wears black, turning up in mint green.  The most pleasing small shocks.

MISS IDA THREE

The horn soloists were uniformly eloquent: reed heroes Jay Rattman and Dan Block occasionally made me recall Buster Bailey and Lester Young, but they sounded so much like themselves that it was deeply authentic music; Block, especially, took on a  heavier tone and more definite attack than the floating Lester of that period, although his obbligatos behind Ida were touching clouds of sound.  Jon-Erik Kellso loves Buck Clayton, so occasionally he offered a ringing statement in the best Basie manner, but we wouldn’t know Jon without his plunger mute, so often there was a good deal of Cootie’s ferocity audible there. As always, his melody statements and ride-outs were lyrical, memorable.  The band sounded well-rehearsed but happily loose.

MISS IDA FOUR

Miss Ida, most appealingly, knows where she has come from, and has a sweet earnest reverence for her ancestors.  Not just Billie, but Miss Ida Cox [hence her chosen stage name] and it was very pleasing to hear her and the band do their soundcheck for us with a tough blues in honor of B.B. King, the monarch who just made the transition.  And she was so happy to be at Joe’s Pub, honored to sing for Billie and for us.  Early in the evening, she turned and waved happily at the rhythm section as if she just couldn’t believe her good fortune to be on the stand with her heroes.  Ours, too.  She told us how her hair had caught on fire at a gig (Kevin Dorn, the 007 of swingtime, rescued her); I wonder if she knows the story of Billie, the curling iron, and the gardenia — told to us by Sylvia Syms, whose recollection I trust completely.  A sign from the heavens of some destiny.

MISS IDA FIVE

Listening closely to Miss Ida (as well as the gorgeous band) I began to hear aspects of her style I’d not heard before.  For one thing — and I mean this as praise — she is a substantial stage personality.  One way this is expressed is in her nearly constant yet genuine motion, as if her energy is too strong for her to stand still.  It’s not just hair-tossing, but a continual series of dance moves that also look like yoga poses and warm-up stretches, even a jubilant marching-in-place.  Often she held her arms over her head, her hands open.  I think it was always exuberant emotion, but it was also her own expression of an ancient and honorable theatrical style . . . so that even the people in the most distant balcony of the Apollo Theatre could see you and join in with the person onstage.  And her voice matched her larger-than-life physical presence.  On a Twenties record label, she might have been billed as COMEDIENNE WITH ORCHESTRA, and that odd designation rang true.  The comedy bubbled up here and there in speech: she hails from Brooklyn, so that her sailboat in the moonlight was idling along in Sheepshead Bay.  But it also emerged delightfully in her voice: I heard echoes of Fanny Brice, of comic Eastern European melodies . . . it never sounded as if she was taking Billie or the music lightly, but as if she was having such a good time that she couldn’t help playing.  And the audience loved it.  It was SHOW in the best tradition — not caricature, but something Louis would have admired immensely.

For me, the two highlights of the evening were songs devoid of comedy but rich in feeling: the rarely-heard CARELESSLY and the more familiar I COVER THE WATERFRONT.  (A sweet sad I’LL NEVER BE THE SAME featuring Dan Block and Conal Fowkes was not far behind.)

Without a hint of self-conscious “acting,” Miss Ida let those melancholy narratives of heartbreak unfold eloquently for us.  Although I had known her almost exclusively as a blues singer, I saw her, in a blinding flash, as a deep ballad singer, someone who could break our hearts while singing of her own distress.

I could write more about the beauties of this evening, of I’M GOING TO LOCK MY HEART, of MY FIRST IMPRESSION OF YOU, and the other performances by Miss Ida and her band that impressed me so, but I will instead simply hope that she gets many more opportunities to create this wonderful evening in other places, for other audiences.

Early on in this performance, she turned to us, and grinning, said, “This is so so so exciting!”  It was and it is.

May your happiness increase! 

MISS IDA PROMISES SWING AND FEELING (Joe’s Pub, May 15, 2015)

Billie Holiday has been the victim of a good deal of dangerous adoration.  She was copied by other singers during her lifetime and it has only increased mightily since her death in 1959.  Emerson’s idea that “imitation is suicide” has never taken root with them.

So when a singer launches into FINE AND MELLOW, my usual reaction is to look for a hiding place, because in Billie’s case, what passes for homage is often toxic flattery.  Many of her admirers have often caught only the most superficial aspects of her style: the feline growl, the behind-the-beat phrasing that often sounds as if a battery needs charging.  Choosing the Doomed Heroin Madonna, they forget the joy she embodied.

But I am eagerly anticipating a performance of Billie’s music this coming Friday, May 15, 2015 — because I know the singer and the musicians are both respectful and true to their own essential selves.  The singer is Miss Ida Blue, someone I’ve come to admire and love for her heated work with the Yerba Buena Stompers, and a wonderful band of New Yorkers who know what swing is: Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Jay Rattman, Dan Block, reeds; Conal Fowkes, piano; John Gill, guitar; Brian Nalepka, string bass; Kevin Dorn, drums.  Billie and the Basie-ites, but here and now.  I can hear it now: a congenial group delivering their own thoughtful evocations of “such beautiful music.”

I suspect the theme for this evening will be less DON’T EXPLAIN and more GETTING SOME FUN OUT OF LIFE, and that suits me perfectly.

The show is at Joe’s Pub, and the doors open at 11 PM.  Details here.

And while you’re leisurely getting your way to Friday, let this ring in your ears:

May your happiness increase!

DON’T MISS THE BOAT! (September 18-20, 2015)

Good news!  Duke Heitger’s third Steamboat Stomp — a delightful effusion of music in New Orleans, often with the steamboat Natchez as a floating stage, is a certainty for September 2015.

Here’s Duke’s announcement:

It is my pleasure to announce that our 3rd annual Steamboat Stomp will take place in New Orleans from September 18-20, 2015.  For those of you unfamiliar with Steamboat Stomp, it is an intimate festival held in New Orleans, the birthplace of jazz, dedicated to the finest of classic jazz. The Steamboat Natchez, one of the last authentic steamboats still operating in the United States, will serve as the anchor for this three-day festival. Ticket sales are scheduled to begin March 18 at www.steamboatstompneworleans.com. I would, however, encourage you to secure your hotel room now. Please contact me at dukeheit@bellsouth.net for assistance if needed. Along with the announced artists, we continue to secure some of the top jazz musicians in the world.  As most of you know, these types of productions exist as a result of the generosity of jazz aficionados like yourselves. I hope you will consider attending and/or becoming a sponsor and play an active role in supporting this exciting event.  I have enclosed information about sponsorship levels and patron ticket packages for your consideration. Again, please let me know if you have any questions. And please pass along this message to anyone you think might be interested. I truly believe we are creating something special and hope you can join us. Thank you for your consideration.

The announced artists for the Stomp — and it’s six months in advance — include the Yerba Buena Stompers (Duke, Leon Oakley, Tom Bartlett, Orange Kellin, Conal Fowkes, Clint Baker, John Gill, Kevin Dorn, Miss Ida Blue); Topsy Chapman and Solid Harmony, the Dukes of Dixieland, Duke’s own Seamboat Stompers, the Tim Laughlin Trio, Banu Gibson and New Orleans Hot Jazz . . . and more, including calliope concerts by Debbie Fagnano.  All of this on an authentic Mississippi paddle-wheel steamboat.  Whether you want to envision yourself as one of the musicians in Fate Marable’s band or a Mark Twain character, it’s the best place.

And here are three videos from the 2013 Stomp:

Appropriately, STEAMBOAT STOMP by the Yerba Buena Stompers:

Banu Gibson’s declaration in song of what was readily apparent, I’VE GOT A HEART FULL OF RHYTHM:

And Steve Pistorius’ beautiful lament, I’D GIVE A DOLLAR FOR A DIME:

It takes dollars as well as dimes to keep enterprises like the Steamboat Stomp from vanishing.  So I hope you can join us.

May your happiness increase!

“OKAY, CATS. YOU READY?”: THE YERBA BUENA STOMPERS with MISS IDA BLUE at the SAN DIEGO JAZZ FEST (Nov. 27, 2014)

“That band makes honest music,” says a friend of mine about the Yerba Buena Stompers.

Here is a YBS offering from the 2014 San Diego Jazz Fest: John Gill, banjo / vocals; Conal Fowkes, piano; Clint Baker, tuba; Kevin Dorn, drums; Orange Kellin, clarinet; Tom Bartlett, trombone; Duke Heitger, trumpet; Leon Oakley, cornet; Miss Ida Blue, vocal.

That last name on the list might be new to some of you.  “What?  A girl singer with the Stompers?”  Be calm.  Miss Ida is not the usual appendage, an attractive woman who comes up to woo us with PENNIES FROM HEAVEN and SUNNY SIDE OF THE STREET.  No, she’s deep in the blues, offering songs many of us have heard but once on some ancient recording.  Miss Ida has deeply immersed herself in the repertoire, and she does more than present living copies of famous singers: there’s an energetic street-girl insouciance about her delivery that had the crowds at San Diego all excited.  See for yourself — on her Facebook page, her website, and in the videos below:

CREOLE BELLES (listen to John asking the band a question at the start):

MAMA’S GONE, GOODBYE:

SHIM-ME-SHA-WABBLE:

GOIN’ CRAZY WITH THE BLUES (Miss Ida Blue):

LITTLE DROPS OF WATER (Miss Ida Blue):

Hearing the Stompers, I know John’s question was sweetly rhetorical.  These cats were born ready.

May your happiness increase!