Tag Archives: Molly Ryan

AT THE BALL, THAT’S ALL (Part One): GORDON AU’S GRAND STREET STOMPERS at SWING REMIX (April 13, 2019)

Dance off both your shoes!  Who could do otherwise when Gordon Au’s Grand Street Stompers play for dancers?  This took place at Swing Remix on April 13, 2019. That’s Gordon, trumpet, compositions and arrangements; Joe McDonough, trombone; Ricky Alexander and Matt Koza, reeds; Nick Russo, guitar; Rob Adkins, string bass; Rob Garcia, drums; Molly Ryan, vocals.  R1 was there, too, which meant that the universe was properly aligned.

The usual caveats apply (not at all to the music!): I can’t shoot videos from the dance floor because of the eager traffic, people who have a right to be there and swing out.  So these videos were recorded from an upstairs balcony, and as a result the sound is somewhat distant . . . but it is what you would have heard if you weren’t fortunate enough to be dancing close to the wonderful band.  I also confess to some technical difficulties (a recalcitrant camera) so the sound is stronger in one channel than the other: no need for you to get a hearing test.  But it’s there. . . .

Here are seven bursts of instrumental pleasure from early in the evening:

Gordon’s own JUMP OUT AND GETCHA (perhaps because he is a connoisseur of things that go bump in the night?):

BLUE ROOM, with verse and clever arrangement:

Half of a new pair, PST (PACIFIC SWING TIME):

And a Grand Street Stompers’ classic, SWANG THANG:

The second half, EST (for EASTERN SWING TIME), a composition John Kirby would admire:

Gordon’s swinging and surprising  take on early bebop, GROOVIN’ HIGH:

and the attractive original NADINE:

There are more videos to come from this delightful evening.  But even better . . . see, hear, and dance to the Grand Street Stompers in person: follow them here.  See you on the dance floor (vertically, not horizontally).

May your happiness increase!

BECKY MAILS IT! (BRYAN SHAW, DAN BARRETT, CARL SONNY LEYLAND, JOEL FORBES, EDDIE ERICKSON, JEFF HAMILTON)

Rebecca Kilgore is coming to New York in April 2019 to sing, uplift, and to teach.  In case you need to be reminded of her magic and the music she engenders in her fellow musicians, here’s a sunny example — with Jeff Hamilton, drums; Joel Forbes, string bass; Eddie Erickson, guitar; Carl Sonny Leyland, piano; Dan Barrett, trombone; Bryan Shaw, trumpet.  This swing miracle took place some years back (March 5, 2011) at Dixieland Monterey:

Communication is essential, even when you’re writing the letter to yourself in lieu of one you’re hoping to get.  And everyone on that stand knows how to send a heartfelt message Express Mail right to our hearts.

The dear Ms. Kilgore is coming east for the best reasons.  Hark!

Here is the link to the Facebook page, and you can see the website listed in the advertisement above.  April seems a long time away, but enterprises such as this fill up early, so don’t wait for the crocuses to burst through the ground.  Rather than sending yourself a letter, make yourself a gift of enrolling.

May your happiness increase!

“GET HOT, CAMPERS!”: NEW YORK HOT JAZZ CAMP (May 15-21, 2017)

I’m writing this on March 14, 2017, which on the East Coast of the United States was supposed to be “the blizzard of the century,” and although the forecast was more than a little hyperbolic, when I look out of my window, I can see my car covered with snow below me.  It might lead anyone to dream of warmer weather and appropriate musical pleasures.

Imagine a Cozy Cole drum roll here, as I present to you . . .

Now, if the words “ADULT CAMP” summon up visions of skinny-dipping in the woods, I think you might have the wrong venue.  I’m sorry.  My guess is that the campers might be too busy working through the strains of WOLVERINE BLUES for such aerobics, but I could be wrong.  At least I can promise you that no one will get carsick on the bus.

Some details:

ADULTS –18 and up. All Skill levels. “A great participatory learning experience with some of New York’s most respected trad-jazz musicians, recording artists, and mentors.  Related guest lectures, master classes, and exclusive music & history field excursions.  Evening jams at notable historic jazz venues.
Informal, non-intimidating active small ensemble and improvisation work with a select, encouraging network of like-minded musicians.  Space and sectional openings limited: of course, first come, first served.  Visit here to sign up or to learn more.”

That’s from the press release.  This is from Michael: everyone on that list really knows how to play and sing; you can find them on this blog and in my videos. They are good-hearted people, so if you mess up the introduction to WEST END BLUES you won’t get snapped at.  I’m told that fifty percent of last year’s campers are returning this year, which is a good indication that people enjoyed themselves, learned a good deal, and thought it was worth the price.  Check it out while space remains.

May your happiness increase!

THE GRAND ST. STOMPERS: “DO THE NEW YORK”

do-the-new-york

Late last year, Gordon Au, — trumpeter, arranger, composer, bandleader, writer, thinker, scientist, satirist, linguist — sent me the digital files for the second CD by the Grand Street Stompers, DO THE NEW YORK, and I wrote back to him, “I am listening to DTNY (three tracks in, so far) and I love the mad exuberance and deep precision of the first track — a Silly Symphony, urban and hilarious and wonderfully executed. It’s a pity that the mobs no longer have transistor radios anymore, because each track could be an AM hit.”

Having listened to the disc several times by now, I stand by my initial enthusiasms.  But I wouldn’t want anyone to think that zaniness overrides music.  The compositions and performances are a lavish banquet of sounds and emotions: you won’t look at the CD player and think, “How many tracks are left?” at any point.

If you know Gordon Au, Tamar Korn, Molly Ryan, Kevin Dorn, Dennis Lichtman, Matt Koza, Matt Musselman, Nick Russo, Rob Adkins (and not incidentally Peter Karl, Kelsey Ballance, Kevin McEvoy, Barbara Epstein) you won’t need to spend a moment more on what I say.  Scroll down to the bottom of this long post and read Gordon’s notes, purchase, download: let joy be unconfined.

But I shall tell a story here.  Jon-Erik Kellso has been a very good guide to new talent: through him, for instance, I heard about Ehud Asherie.  In 2009, I arrived at The Ear Inn for a night of musical pleasure, and Jon-Erik told me he’d just finished “giving a lesson” to a young, seriously gifted trumpeter named Gordon who had wanted to study some fine points of traditional jazz performance practice from an acknowledged Master.  This young man would be at The Ear later.  And the prophesy came to pass.

Gordon’s trumpet playing was deliciously singular: he wasn’t a clone of one player or seven.  Climbing phrases started unpredictably and went unusual places; a solid historical awareness was wedded beautifully to a sophisticated harmonic sense, and everything made sense, melodically and emotionally.  He showed himself a fine ensemble player, not timid, oblivious, or narcissistic. When the set was over, we spoke, and he was genuinely gracious (later, in California, when I met his extended family, I understood why) yet with a quite delightfully sharp-edged wit, although he wasn’t flashing blades at me.

I began to follow Gordon — as best I could — to gigs: he appeared with Tamar Korn and vice versa; he took Jon-Erik’s place with the Nighthawks; he played with David Ostwald at Birdland . . . and soon formed his own group, the Grand Street Stompers.

(Gordon abbreviates “St.”; I spell it out.  My perversity, not his.)

Often I saw, and sometimes I videoed them at Radegast, then elsewhere — as recently as last year, when they did a remarkable session at Grand Central Station, surely their place on the planet.  Thus, as “swingyoucats” on YouTube, I’ve captured the band (releasing them, of course) on video for six years.

They are uniquely rewarding — a pianoless group that expresses its leader’s expansive, often whimsical personality beautifully.  Even when approaching traditional “traditional” repertoire, Gordon will take his own way, neatly avoiding piles of cliche in his path.  Yes, MUSKRAT RAMBLE — but with a Carbbean / Latin rhythm; yes, a Twenties tune, but one reasonably obscure, SHE’S A GREAT GREAT GIRL. Gordon’s compositions and arrangements always sound fresh — and they aren’t pastiches or thin lines over familiar chords — even if I’ve heard the GSS perform them for years.  And there are other wonderful quirky tangents: his love of Disney songs, the deeply refreshing ones, and his devotion to good yet neglected songs — the title track of this CD as well as WHILE THEY WERE DANCING AROUND on the group’s first CD.  And, I think this a remarkable achievement, with Gordon’s soaring lead and a beautifully-played banjo in the rhythm section, the GSS often summons up an early Sixties Armstrong All-Stars, all joyous energy.

A few more words about this CD.  Although one can’t underestimate the added frisson of hearing this band live — perhaps surrounded by dancers or dancing oneself, in a club, perhaps stimulated by ambiance, food, or drink . . . I think the experience of this disc is equal to or superior to anything that might happen on the spot.

Owing to circumstances, the GSS might be a quintet on the job; here it is a septet: trumpet / cornet; clarinet; soprano saxophone; trombone; banjo / guitar; string bass; drums; two singers.  This expansive array of individualists allows Gordon to get a more delightfully orchestral sound.  Even as a quintet, on the job, the GSS is a band and a working band at that: their performances are more than a series of horn solos, for Gordon has created twists and turns within his arrangements: riffs, backgrounds, trades, suets between instruments, different instruments taking the melodic lead — all making for a great deal of variety. Each chorus of a GSS performance feels satisfyingly full (not overstuffed) and delightfully varied.

And now I come to the possibly tactless part of the comparison between studio recording and live performance. With some bands, the studio has a chilling effect: everything is splendid, but the patient has lost a good deal of blood.  And the impolite truth is the a group like the GSS performs in places where alcohol is consumed, so the collective volume rises after the first twenty minutes.  Buy this disc to actually hear the beautiful layering and subtleties of the group that you might not hear on the job.  Or just check it out for the sheer pleasure of it all.

Sound samples, ways to purchase a physical disc or download one (complete or individual performances) here — and Gordon’s very eloquent and sometimes hilarious liner notes here.

Listen, read, enjoy, savor, download, purchase.  As Aime Gauvin, “Doctor Jazz,” used to say on the radio, “Good for what ails you!”

May your happiness increase!

“VINCE GIORDANO: THERE’S A FUTURE IN THE PAST”

vincegirodano_poster

About seventy-five minutes into this gratifying portrait of Vince Giordano and the Nighthawks, trombonist and keen observer Jim Fryer describes its subject as “an intense man . . . a driven man . . . consumed” by the ideals he’s devoted the last forty years to.  And his goal?  As Vince says in the film, it is “to get the great music out there for the people.”

From his early introduction to the music — the hot jazz 78s on his grandmother’s Victrola — to the present moment, where he is the inspired creator of a ten-piece Jazz Age big band possibly without equal, Vince’s ideal has been complex. Reproduce live the sound, accuracy, and vitality of the music he heard on the records, and add to that repertoire by playing, vividly and authentically, music that never got recorded. His quest has been to have a working band, the contemporary equivalent of the great working bands, sweet and hot, of the Twenties and Thirties, visiting the Forties on occasion. Add to this the constant schlepping (you could look it up) of the equipment for that band; finding a new home after Sofia’s could no longer stay open; finding gigs; keeping this organization running against the odds.  The film wholly captures how difficult Vince’s consuming obsession is to accomplish, and to keep afloat day after day.

Many readers of JAZZ LIVES are fervent Giordanians or perhaps Vinceites, and we crossed paths for years in the darkness of Sofia’s, at the Christmas teas.  I have a long history with this band, going back to a Nighthawks gig in the preceding century, in the eastern part of Long Island, New York, where the night sky darkened, the thunder rumbled louder than Arnie Kinsella’s drum set, lightning flashed, but the band kept playing until the last possible minute before the deluge.  So I’ve experienced Vince’s dedication firsthand.

Here’s the film’s trailer — a delightful encapsulation that doesn’t give away all the surprises:

The narrative follows Vince and the band over two years and more, from Sofia’s to Wolf Trap for PRAIRIE HOME COMPANION with Garrison Keillor, to Aeolian Hall with Maurice Peress for a recreation of Paul Whiteman’s presentation RHAPSODY IN BLUE — the opening clarinet solo brilliantly played by Dan Block — to the Nighthawks’ search for a new home, which they found at Iguana.  The film brings us up in to the present with the New York Hot Jazz Festival and a band led by Nighthawk Dan Levinson (his “Gotham Sophisticats”) as well as a new generation of musicians inspired by Vince, who has shown that it is possible to play hot music at the highest level with accuracy and spirit.

So much credit for this beautifully-realized film, must, of course, go to its intensely-charged subject, the Nighthawks, and their music. But filmmakers Dave Davidson and Amber Edwards are expert visionaries.

Even given this vibrant multi-sensory material, formulaic filmmakers could have created something dull.  They might have been satisfied to simply document performance: aim cameras at the Nighthawks and record what they play, as videographers like myself have done, which would have been accurate but limiting as cinema. Or, given the many people willing to talk about Vince and the Nighthawks, Edwards and Davidson could have given us a pageant of New York’s most erudite talking heads, some of whom would have been happy to lecture us.

Instead, by beautifully combining both elements and adding some surprises, they have created a wholly engaging, fast-moving portrait of Vince, the Nighthawks, and their world.  THERE’S A FUTURE IN THE PAST never seems to stand still, and the cameras take us places that even the most devoted fans have never gone.  We get to peek in at Terry Gross’s interview of Vince, to travel downtown for a Nighthawk-flavored session of the EarRegulars at The Ear Inn and a recording session for BOARDWALK EMPIRE.

One of the film’s most pleasing aspects is candid, often witty commentary from people who know — the musicians themselves. Edwards and Davidson have fine instincts for the telling anecdote, the revealing insight.  We see and hear Jon-Erik Kellso, Dan Levinson, Mike Ponella, Mark Lopeman, Peter Yarin, Andy Stein, Cynthia Sayer, Jim Fryer, and others, people who have worked with Vince for twenty-five years and more, and their stories are as essential to the film as is the music.

Edwards and Davidson quietly capture telling details, visual and otherwise: the box of doughnuts brought on the bus; the rivets on Vince’s aluminum double bass; Jon-Erik Kellso’s hand gestures — contrapuntal choreography — during SHAKE THAT THING; the voices of the Nighthawks joking about being fired as they head into a band meeting.  The film is admiring without being obsequious, so we also see a short, revealing episode of Vince losing his temper. But the details ever seem excessive.  In this era of fidgety multi-camera over-editing, the film’s charged rhythm — appropriately, a peppy dance tempo — is energetic but never overdone, never cleverly calling attention to itself.

There’s vivid photographic evidence of the spectacle at Sofia’s and the Iguana: the tuxedo-clad Nighthawks not only playing hot but enacting it; the dancers jubilantly embodying what they hear in ecstatic motion.  A documentary about Vince would be empty without the music.  I noted SUGAR FOOT STOMP, THE MOON AND YOU, PUBLIC MELODY NUMBER ONE featuring Catherine Russell, WHITE HEAT, SWEET MAN, Kellso burning up the cosmos on SINGING PRETTY SONGS, THE STAMPEDE, ONE MORE TIME, YOU’VE BEEN A GOOD OLD WAGON, even BESAME MUCHO at a rainy Midsummer Night Swing at Lincoln Center.  And the sound recording is just splendid.

One of the secret pleasures of this film, for the true believers, is in spotting friends and colleagues: Matt Musselman, Will Friedwald, Tina Micic, Jim Balantic, John Landry, Molly Ryan, Sam Huang, Chuck Wilson, and a dozen others.  (I know I’ve missed someone, so I apologize in advance.)

In every way, this film is delightful, a deep yet light-hearted portrait of a man and an evocation of a time and place, a casual yet compelling documentary that invites us in.  First Run Features is presenting its New York theatrical premiere at Cinema Village on January 13, 2017, and I believe that Vince and the filmmakers will be present at a number of showings.

May your happiness increase!

“IT IS TRULY WONDERFUL HOW JOY CAN OPEN THE THROAT”: THE TRIUMPHANT RETURN OF RENA JEAN MIDDOUGH, a/k/a “RINK LESLIE” (November 28, 2015)

I should have known something important was about to happen when Dan Levinson approached me on Saturday, November 28, 2015, at the San Diego Jazz Fest and asked if I would video-record his next set.  Dan believes (if I may coarsely paraphrase him) that the beautiful evanescent creations of jazz musicians should remain so; that they can be made subject to eternal scrutiny is not something he prefers.  (I take it as a mark of great respect and friendship that he has humored me and my little camera for years now.)

But once Dan was a quarter of the way through his explanation, I said, “That’s great.  I’ll be there,” and I was.

POSIES TWO

But before this narrative gets too convoluted, too much about myself and the philosophy of video-recording, let me introduce you to Rena Jean Middough. First, through a photograph taken in 1952.  The man on her right is multi-instrumentalist / singer / bandleader / inspiring teacher Rosy McHargue:

Rink-Leslie-and-Rosy-McHargue-in-1952-688x1024

Then, in her own words, a reminiscence she has titled THE JOY OF PLANETARY ASPECTS:

Astrologers think aspects to the planet Uranus trigger unexpected human events.  Some events may be good, some may be not so good, but all will be unexpected.  Three years ago, something moved my son to order a CD of Rosy McHargue’s Ragtimers.  Rosy McHargue was a Dixieland musician who dedicated himself to preserving American music from the early 1900’s.

I had met Rosy because my husband was the director of a TV show in which Rosy appeared, “Dixie Showboat,” and Rosy invited us to his home. Somehow, he asked me to sing two songs while he recorded them on acetate.

In 1952, Rosy made a recording of all the songs the Ragtimers played, and he asked me to record a vocal.  When I got to the recording studio in Hollywood, all Rosy said was, “Hello, sing two choruses.”  The musicians began to play.  I sang two choruses and sat down.  Rosy asked why I was still there.  I replied, “I’m waiting to rehearse.”  “No, no,” he said.  “It was fine.  Go home.”  And that was my great recording career.  Only my kids remembered.

POSIES ONE

Sixty-two years later, Uranus unexpectedly made New York musician Dan Levinson very happy.  Young Dan Levinson was taught to play clarinet and saxophone and to be a full-time musician by Rosy McHargue.  The two were best friends, and when Rosy died, he left all his music and arrangements to Dan.  Dan, who has mde his career playing music from the first half of the twentieth century just as Rosy did, took the old recordings and made them into a modern CD.  He wrote loving biography notes on all Rosy’s musicians, but someone was missing. Who was the girl who sang “Posies”?  When my son ordered the CD, Dan sat down in the subway, opened his laptop, and mailed the good news to everyone he knew.  He had found the girl who had sung two choruses of “Don’t Bring Me Posies.”  He had searched for her for ten years.  My son, when he placed the order for the CD, had written that his mom had sung “Posies” and his dad was the barking dog on “You Gotta Quit Kickin’ My Dawg Around.”

Once my son had solved the mystery of the girl singer, Dan and his wife Molly quickly arranged an afternoon for us in New York.  We met at Penn Station under the arrival sign for New Jersey trains.  Dan, at six foot five, had to bend down to be kissed as I thanked him for calling me a National Treasure.  It was a wonderful feeling to be treasured.  During that afternoon in New York, I felt acceptable to the universe.

This summer, Uranus and that silly song merged again.  Once a year, Dan and Molly play the Coffee Gallery in Altadena, and all their Southern California friends swarm to see them.  I persuaded a lady who can drive at night to drive me to Altadena to enjoy the wonderful jazz.  I grabbed the best seat in the house. The show began.  Dan played clarinet and sax, and Molly sang the vocals.  They were backed by a fine bass player and a superb jazz guitarist.  After a while, Dan began to invite fellow musicians he knew in the audience to come up on the stage and sit in with them.  One by one, the friends borrowed saxophones and trombones and performed. After the fourth guest musician, Dan informed the audience that Rosy McHargue’s favorite vocalist was in the audience, and would she like to come up and sing?  Would I?  I rose like the sunrise, shoved out of my seat by my hubris.  Uranus, the unexpected, took my hand and helped me up on that stage.  I surveyed the packed house and announced I was working on my ninetieth year.  Then I, who can no longer sing much higher than Middle C, plucked a good note out of the air, and with the musicians behind me, loudly and enthusiastically rendered verse and two choruses of “Don’t Bring Me Posies, When It’s Shoesies That I Need.”  Breath control, which has forsaken me for a decade, reappeared, and I held the last note strongly for a count of four.  It is truly wonderful how joy can open the throat.

It must have sounded all right.  Uranus and I stepped down to enthusiastic applause.  One lady with a tin ear asked me where else I was singing.  People bought Rosy’s Ragtimers CD to take home.  The bass player demanded that I stay and take a picture with him.  Somebody in the audience had taken my picture and sent it to Facebook as I was singing.  (My niece Laura saw me on Facebook before dawn the next day.)  Dan wrote his review of the evening and posted it on Facebook at 2 a.m.  The bass played posted our picture at 4 a.m. Within 24 hours all my nieces and their myriad cousins had seen me on stage.

A week later, I wrote Dan and Molly a thank you letter.  I said that when we met in New York they had made me feel acceptable to the universe.  Now that they had placed me center stage, I was infamous on Facebook.

Bless  Uranus.  I can’t wait for next year.  Maybe they will unexpectedly let me sing again.

POSIES THREE

So here is “Rink Leslie” (a pseudonym made up because “Rena Jean Middough” would have been too long for a record label: “Rink” came from a classmate’s nickname for Rena; “Leslie” was Rena’s father’s name) appearing with Dan Levinson, reeds; Chris Dawson, piano; Katie Cavera, guitar; Marty Eggers, string bass; Danny Coots, drums, and guests from the Titanic Jazz Band, Keith Elliott, trombone; Dan Comins, trumpet — at the 2015 San Diego Jazz Fest — to recreate the Middough – McHargue recording of DON’T BRING ME POSIES (WHEN IT’S SHOESIES THAT I NEED):

That’s splendid fun.  And it would be splendid fun even if the singing ingenue were not 89.  When Rena Jean came off the bandstand, I rose to congratulate her, and she sweetly told me what she’s written above, “When Dan discovered me, he made me feel as if I was acceptable to the universe, someone wonderful.” And I — speaking from my heart or shooting from the hip — said, “My dear Ms. Leslie (for at the time I don’t think I had taken in her lovely elaborate name), you have been acceptable to the universe your whole life, and more!” and she grinned at me but with old-fashioned very becoming modesty.

I, too, look forward to a return appearance of Rena Jean Middough and / or Rink Leslie at the 2016 San Diego Jazz Fest.  I will, in future, post the lovely music that preceded her . . . but for the moment I would like you to admire her poise, her joy, her ebullience. (Incidentally, when she and I spoke on the telephone some weeks after this event, she told me that she had been an excellent dancer and a good singer in college — but that her inspiration for the delighted energy she offered in the original recording and at the end of November 2015, right here, was Danny Kaye in the 1941 film LET’S FACE IT. Another reason to thank Mr. Kaminski, don’t you think?)

And let us not forget the indefatigably devoted Dan Levinson, solver of mysteries, tracer of lost persons, someone who makes wonderful musical entanglements happen even when he is not playing or singing.

May your happiness increase!

“HOTTER THAN THAT”! (on January 15 – 16, 2016)

It’s getting colder, which is both appropriate and reassuring because it is January.  But if the descending temperatures oppress you, here’s a wonderful chance to become HOTTER THAN THAT in the New York winter.  I don’t refer to new down parkas or thermoses full of the preferred hot dram . . . but to the New York Hot Jazz Festival. . . . the continuing creation of the indefatigable Michael Katsobashvili:

Art by Cecile MLorin Salvant

Art by Cecile MLorin Salvant

Here’s the Facebook event page.  And the Festival’s website.

Details?  How about a schedule of artists and times.  (And there are seats — first come, first served, as well as room to dance.)

FRIDAY (doors at 5:45 pm)

6:20 – Tom McDermott (New Orleans piano explorer)

7:20 – Bumper Jacksons

8:40 – Evan Christopher’s Clarinet Road with Hilary Gardner

10:00 – Jon-Erik Kellso and the EarRegulars with Kat Edmonson

11:20 – Mike Davis’ New Wonders

SATURDAY (doors at 5:45 pm)

6:20 – Christian Sands (solo stride)

7:20 – Michael Mwenso & Brianna Thomas: Ella and Louis Duets – 60 Years

8:40 – Rhythm Future Quartet

10:00 – Tatiana Eva-Marie & The Avalon Jazz Band

with special guest Oran Etkin

11:20 – Gordon Au’s Grand Street Stompers

with Molly Ryan & Tamar Korn

That’s a wonderful mix of music — solo piano, small band, gypsy jazz, singers — all of the highest caliber.  And although some New Yorkers might note local favorites, consider what it would cost to see them all in one evening, even if you could work out the transportation and timing.  New Orleanians McDermott and Evan Christopher will bring their own special rhythmic tang to the New York winter.

If you need more evidence, here are videos of the artists above.

Here‘s the way to buy tickets.  It’s an absolute bargain, and New Yorkers love nothing better.

The place?  The Ballroom at Greenwich House Music School, 46 Barrow Street (West of 7th Ave South), New York, New York.

And for inspiration, here’s a 1949 version of HOTTER THAN THAT, performed live on the Eddie Condon Floor Show — Eddie was the first jazz musician to have his own television show — featuring Wild Bill Davison, Cutty Cutshall, Peanuts Hucko, Ernie Caceres, Gene Schroeder, Eddie, Jack Lesberg, and Sidney Catlett.

May your happiness increase!

WHEN BLISS HAPPENS! AT THE SAN DIEGO JAZZ FEST: RAY SKJELBRED, MARC CAPARONE, JIM BUCHMANN, KATIE CAVERA, HAL SMITH, BEAU SAMPLE (Nov. 30, 2014)

SAN DIEGO 2015 flyer 2

One of my friends recently asked me what I was doing for Thanksgiving, and I said, “I’m flying to San Diego for a wonderful jazz festival,” and this is why: the San Diego Jazz Fest (all schedules subject to change, but this is a filling menu indeed).

The names you don’t see on the flyer above are Marc Caparone, Kim Cusack, Chris Dawson, Carl Sonny Leyland, Conal Fowkes, Kevin Dorn, Orange Kellin, Tom Bartlett, Duke Heitger, Leon Oakley, Clint Baker, Dawn Lambeth, and many others.  I know that some of you will say, with good reason, “That’s too far away,” and I understand that.  But if you say, “Oh, that’s just another California trad festival,” I hope you are not within swatting range, for it isn’t.  But rather than take this uncharacteristic vehemence as merely the expression of the writer’s personality, look below.

Evidence from November 30, 2014: a small-group session led by Ray Skjelbred, piano and vocal; Hal Smith, drums; Beau Sample, string bass; Katie Cavera, guitar; Jim Buchmann, clarinet and saxello, Marc Caparone, trumpet.  I’ve posted other videos from this session, but here are the two that closed it.  One lyrical, one steaming.

The first song, ANYTIME, ANY DAY, ANYWHERE, which I associate with Lee Wiley — who recorded it a half-dozen times between 1950 and 1972.  Wiley wrote the lyrics; Ned Washington and Victor Young the melody.  I suspect that Ray knew it first from the Mills Brothers recording, but perhaps from the Chick Bullock, Ellington, Hackett, or Nat Cole sides, too.

It is one of those rare love songs that isn’t I WISH I HAD YOU or YOU BROKE MY HEART, but a seriously intent paean to fidelity (rather like I’LL FOLLOW YOU, I WOULD DO ANYTHING FOR YOU, or I’D CLIMB THE HIGHEST MOUNTAIN).  Yet unlike those two songs, it doesn’t stress super-heroic behavior as testimony of diligent indefatigable fidelity.  There are no caveats: “I have to check my calendar.  I can’t be devoted to you this Tuesday.  How about Wednesday?” There aren’t any mighty distances, rivers, or mountains.  The singer simply says, “Ask for me and I’ll be there,” which I find touching. And Ray’s spare, whispered declaration of the lyrics makes it even more so.  I don’t hear his singing as evidence of a limited vocal range; rather, he sounds like someone uttering his deepest heart-truths about devotion in the form of a vow. A Thirties pop song about love — what could be more common — that suddenly seems a sacred offering:

From a sacred offering delivered in hushed tones to another song-of-relationships, the critical / satirical NOBODY’S SWEETHEART NOW, which — with lyrics — details the small-town girl who has come to the big city and quickly become unrecognizable.  Perhaps she’d come to the South Side of Chicago and started hanging around the Lincoln Gardens?  If so, I’d assess her transformation as an improvement.  Note the easy hot tempo — that’s no oxymoron — and how Marc Caparone sounds a bit like a holy ancestor from Corsicana, Texas.  To quote Ring Lardner, you could look it up.  Or you could simply immerse yourself in the video:

Here’s the festival’s home page and the relevant Facebook page.  I hope you’ll heed the siren call of Good Music and join us there.  Festivals need more than enthusiastic watchers-of-videos to survive.

I hope I will be forgiven for ending on an autobiographical note.  Five years ago, I had some cardiac excitement that was repaired by the best kind of Western medicine: open the patient up and put a little machine in.  It works; I’m fine.  Ask my electrocardiologist.  But when I watch and listen to music at this level — music that I experienced then and have revisited often — I think, “Goodness, I could have died and never seen / heard this,” in a state of astonished gratitude. Not a bad place to be. Rather like the San Diego Jazz Fest.

May your happiness increase!

TRAVELS WITH MOLLY: “LET’S FLY AWAY”

Molly Ryan by Don Spiro

Molly Ryan by Don Spiro

I’ve been admiring Molly Ryan’s singing — and her instrumental bandmates — for almost a decade now.  Her latest CD, her third, LET’S FLY AWAY, is a beautifully elaborate production, consistently aloft.

Molly Ryan CD cover

Here are the details.  The CD features a theme (hooray!) — the delights of travel, with some ingenious choices of repertoire:  WANDERER / BEYOND THE BLUE HORIZON / FAR AWAY PLACES / LET’S FLY AWAY / FLYING DOWN TO RIO / A RAINY NIGHT IN RIO / SOUTH SEA ISLAND MAGIC / THE GYPSY IN MY SOUL / THE ROAD TO MOROCCO / UNDER PARIS SKIES / TRAV’LIN’ ALL ALONE / IT’S NICE TO GO TRAV’LIN’ / ANYWHERE I WANDER . . .

and alongside Molly (vocal and guitar) some of the finest jazz players on the planet:  Bria Skonberg, Randy Reinhart, Dan Barrett, Dan Levinson, Adrien Chevalier, John Reynolds, Joel Forbes, Mike Weatherly, Mark Shane, Dick Hyman, Kevin Dorn, Scott Kettner, Raphael McGregor, with arrangements by the two Dans, Levinson and Barrett.

When I first heard Molly — we were all much younger — I was immediately charmed by her voice, which in its youthful warmth and tenderness summoned up the beautiful Helen Ward.  But Molly, then and now, does more than imitate. She has a gorgeous sound but she also knows a good deal about unaffected swing, and in the years she’s been singing, her lyrical deftness has increased, and without dramatizing, she has become a fine singing actress, giving each song its proper emotional context.  She can be a blazing trumpet (evidence below) or a wistful yearner, on the edge of tears, or someone tart and wry.

The band, as you’d expect, is full of great soloists — everyone gets a taste, as they deserve, and I won’t spoil the surprises.  But what’s most notable is the care given to the arrangements.  Many CDs sound as if the fellows and gals are on a live club date — “Whaddaya want to play next, Marty?” “I don’t know.  How about X?” and those informal sessions often produce unbuttoned memorable sounds.  But a production like LET’S FLY AWAY is a happy throwback to the glory days of long-playing records of the Fifties and Sixties, where a singer — Teddi King, Lena Horne, Doris Day, Carmen McRae — was taken very good care of by Neal Hefti or Frank DeVol or Ralph Burns, creating a musical tapestry of rich sensations.

Now, below on this very same page, you can visit the page where LET’S FLY AWAY is for sale, and hear samples.  But Molly and friends have cooked up something far more hilariously gratifying — a short film with an oddly off-center plot, dancers, visual effects, hard to describe but a pleasure to experience:

Yes, it does make me think of Mildred Bailey’s WEEK-END OF A PRIVATE SECRETARY, but perhaps that association is my own personal problem.

And tomorrow — yes, tomorrow, Thursday, September 3, at 9:30 PM — Molly and friends are having a CD release show at Joe’s Pub, with Dan Levinson, Mike Davis, Vincent Gardner, Dalton Ridenhour, Brandi Disterheft, Kevin Dorn.  You may purchase tickets (they’re quite inexpensive) here.  Details about the show here, and Molly’s Facebook page.

Purchase a digital download of the CD (with two hidden tracks) OR the physical disc itself (with twenty pages of liner notes and wonderful art / photographs) OR hear sound samples here.

Airborne, delightful swing.  Why not FLY AWAY?  Let’s.

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!

COMING RIGHT UP! NEW YORK HOT JAZZ STAGE at NEW YORK WINTER JAZZFEST (Friday /Saturday, January 9 – 10, 2015)

I can’t be there.  But this is one sure way to combat post-holiday ennui and January chills: a compact yet intense hot jazz fiesta with some of the best contemporary traditional (that’s not an oxymoron) players and singers.

MISHA

It will take place at the Greenwich House Music School, 46 Barrow Street, New York City, which has “excellent acoustics and uninterrupted hardwood floors” for dancing, which is encouraged. Here are the details:

“Note that passes are available only for the entire festival, which gives each “marathon” ticketholder access to all the acts throughout the neighborhood, if you care to venue-hop. Or stay with us and enjoy 5 hot jazz bands per night, from roughly 6 PM – midnight. (Detailed schedule below.) $35 per night, or $55 for the full weekend.

Friday, Jan 9:

6:15 – Cynthia Sayer’s Joyride Band
7:30 – Jon Weber – ragtime and stride piano
8:45 – Frank Vignola and Vinny Raniolo with Jason Anick
10:00 – Gordon Webster Sextet with Brianna Thomas

Note: at 12:45am, Bria Skonberg Quintet will be at Zinc Bar, 82 West 3rd St., and this set is included in your pass.

Saturday, Jan. 10:

6:15 – The Ladybugs
7:30 – Dan Levinson’s Gotham SophistiCats w/ Molly Ryan & Blind Boy Paxton
8:45 – Stephane Wrembel
10:00 – Catherine Russell
11:05 – David Ostwald’s Louis Armstrong Eternity Band

Ticket options and general info here.

PLEASE READ CAREFULLY:

*This is a general admission, standing- (and dancing-) room event.

*Tickets are NOT available solely for the NY Hot Jazz Stage. There are only full-festival passes for the day/weekend/combo Winter Jazzfest. A festival pass grants admission to all Jazzfest venues. Each venue is subject to space limitations and admittance is granted on a first-come, first-served basis.

*The festival check-in is at Judson Church, which is several blocks away from Greenwich House Music School.”

For more information, you may also visit and browse here.

I understand that some enthusiasts’ budgets might be strained with holiday expenses.  But $35 for one night or $55 for two will seem less daunting when one considers — simple math — that if you wanted to see / hear any of these artists perform live for sixty to seventy-five minutes, it would cost more than the prices here (about six dollars a set for one night, less than five dollars a set for the whole package).  It’s cheaper than a new winter coat, and the glow should take you all the way to spring.

May your happiness increase!

 

“NEW YORK CITY HAS A RHYTHM ALL ITS OWN”: GORDON AU’S GRAND STREET STOMPERS’ DEBUT AT DIZZY’S CLUB COCA COLA / JAZZ AT LINCOLN CENTER (October 22, 2014)

I was there, and I saw it for myself — five floors up, against a glorious dark Manhattan skyline, closer to the stars than any jazz club I know.

On Wednesday night, October 22, 2014, courtesy of the New York Hot Jazz Festival (thank you, Misha Katsobashvili!) and Jazz at Lincoln Center, Gordon Au and the Grand Street Stompers made their debut appearance — two sets, two sold-out crowds — and thrilled everyone.

Those who have been following the GSS weren’t surprised, but I think some of the international visitors in the room went away with a new appreciation for New York hot.

Here are two highlights: Gordon’s own RIDGEWOOD STOMP, and Tamar Korn’s ecstatic performance of DO THE NEW YORK.* The band was Gordon, trumpet, arrangements, compositions; Josh Holcomb, trombone; Matt Koza, clarinet / soprano saxophone (subbing for the temporarily under-the-weather Dennis Lichtman); Nick Russo, banjo / guitar; Andrew Hall, string bass; Rob Garcia, drums, with vocals by Tamar and by Molly Ryan.

Thanks also to Danielle Bias of JALC and Desmond Prass (a jazz scholar who recognized Big Sid Catlett!) of Dizzy’s for making it possible for me to video and share these with you. (Among friends, too — Neal, Kevin and Barbara, Kelsey, and a number of new converts.)

What next, O Stompers?

*There is a singularly unsubtle edit in this video, linking one song to another. You’ll know it when you stumble over it.

May your happiness increase!

DOIN’ THE MIDTOWN LOWDOWN: GORDON AU’S GRAND STREET STOMPERS ASCEND (October 22, 2014)

I don’t believe that the venue in itself makes the music — the 1938 Goodman band was spectacular before it had its date at Carnegie Hall — but certain meetings of music and place seem more than significant. Here’s one: Gordon Au’s Grand Street Stompers will be making their debut appearance at Dizzy’s Club Coca Cola this coming Wednesday, October 22, 2014, for two sets — at 7:30 and 9:30 PM.

One edition of the Stompers, uncharacteristically outdoors in sunlight: Kevin Dorn, Nick Russo, Rob Adkins,Matt Musselman, Dennis Lichtman, Gordon Au, Molly Ryan, Tamar Korn

One edition of the Stompers, uncharacteristically outdoors in sunlight: Kevin Dorn, Nick Russo, Rob Adkins,Matt Musselman, Dennis Lichtman, Gordon Au, Molly Ryan, Tamar Korn

For this occasion, the Stompers are Gordon, trumpet, compositions, arrangements; Tamar Korn and Molly Ryan, vocals; Dennis Lichtman, clarinet; Josh Holcomb, trombone; Nick Russo, guitar/banjo; Andrew Hall, bass; and Rob Garcia, drums.

I’ve been following the Stompers as often as I could for the last three years, and have enjoyed (and sometimes video-recorded) them in a variety of settings, from Cafe Carlyle to a Columbia University swing dance, downtown at the Cupping Room and at the Brooklyn mecca Radegast, even a vintage subway car.

But thanks to our friend and friend of hot music Misha Katsobashvili (who runs the New York  Hot Jazz Festival), the Stompers are now in even higher society — in terms of the jazz hierarchy.

The Stompers’ music is wide-ranging and quirky (both adjectives are meant as compliments) — from deepest “traditional jazz” repertoire to obscure pre-1945 pop tunes going all the way back to Gordon’s quizzical and gratifying originals, and unusual arrangements of familiar material, including forays into classical and light classical.  Because of this band, a number of singers have now taken WHILE THEY WERE DANCING AROUND into their repertoires, and who else offers SHE’S A GREAT, GREAT GIRL?  Gordon is also deeply involved in revered Disney songs, which emerge out fresh and lively. Always surprising, never routine.

Here is the site to buy tickets for the October 22 shows.

Why not let yourself go . . . up to Dizzy’s Club Coca Cola this Wednesday?

May your happiness increase!

“KEEPING TRADITIONAL JAZZ ALIVE”: JEFF AND JOEL’S HOUSE PARTY (October 10-11-12, 2014)

As an antidote to the recurring journalistic “Jazz is dead,” “Jazz is irrelevant,” “Jazz no longer has an audience,” I offer cheering evidence to the contrary: Jeff and Joel’s House Party (October 10-12, Guilford, Connecticut).

I’ve been to two of the House Parties thrown by Jeff Barnhart and Joel Schiavone in Connecticut and they were wonderful weekends: friendly, full of fun, with easy opportunities to hear an abundance of hot music in cozy surroundings. Rather than hearing music at a distance while sitting in a hotel ballroom, people who attend the House Party actually have it at close range, and find themselves surrounded by friends who are there because they, too, enjoy the sounds.

Most of us aren’t actually going to throw a rent party — hire a dozen or more professional musicians and have them play long sets over a weekend — so this is as close as we will get to that experience.  And when you look at the listing of musicians, stars of the traditional jazz scene in the Northeast, you know that “professional” is both accurate and an understatement here.

Only eighty seats are available for each session over this weekend, so I encourage you to investigate soon: previous House Parties have sold out. (I checked the site today, and more than half of the seating is already taken.)

My friend Eric Devine — a brilliant jazz cinematographer — has been on hand to capture some of the highlights of past House Parties for us all.  (His YouTube channel is CineDevine and he takes his camera to surprising places.) Here are a few samples of the wonderful music to be experienced there. From April 2013, John Gill singing SALOON:

Jeff Barnhart tenderly singing and playing Fats Waller’s THERE’S A GAL IN MY LIFE in October 2013:

I’ve chosen more restrained examples of the hot music offered at the House Party, but there’s plenty of AVALON and THAT’S A PLENTY. Here’s one such seismic expression from October 2012, AFTER YOU’VE GONE:

This year, there will be a special Friday night (October 10) concert featuring Dan Levinson and Molly Ryan: 7-9 PM, tickets $30 / person. And the three sessions to follow (Saturday afternoon and evening, Sunday afternoon) will feature Jeff Barnhart, Joel Schiavone, Vince Giordano, Dan Levinson, Molly Ryan, Herb Gardner, Lew Green, Tom Palinko, Fred Vigorito, Genevieve Rose, Bill Reynolds, Bob Ferguson, Peter Anderson, Will Anderson, Herb Roselle — everything from solo piano, duos and trios, to full-ensemble traditional jazz and banjo-led sing-alongs. You can purchase tickets for individual sessions or for all three, plus Friday’s concert: the tickets for the weekend sessions include food and non-alcoholic beverages.

Find out more at the event’s Facebook page, or at the Jeff and Joel’s House Party page. Or call Maureen Cunningham at (203)208-1481 — Maureen will return your call in the evening.

May your happiness increase!

MISS RYAN RECORDS!

I’ve been a fan of the sweet-voiced singer Molly Ryan since I first heard her, live and on recording, and she has only become more subtle and more affecting with each year.  Her natural warmth, her easy swing, and her friendly approach to the song are inspiring. Molly’s made two CDs with friends — SONGBIRD IN THE MOONLIGHT and SWING FOR YOUR SUPPER, both refreshing reminders of what swing singing was and can still be.

Now, she’s poised to make a third one, which is good news. But a self-produced recording is an expensive business. I’ve been reluctant to write fund-raising appeals here, lest JAZZ LIVES turn into JAZZ ASKS, but I make an exception in this case, since I look forward to the CD and to supporting Molly and her friends in making the world safe for music.

Those friends?  Dan Barrett, Adrien Chevalier, Kevin Dorn, Joel Forbes, Dick Hyman, Dan Levinson, Randy Reinhart, John Reynolds, Mark Shane, Bria Skonberg. And the sounds will be captured by the noted recording engineer Stewart Lerman.

Here you can find details of amounts one can pledge and the appropriate rewards; you can see Molly’s direct appeal in her own music video, and you can come away with the feeling that you have done something direct to support the music and musicians we admire so.

May your happiness increase!

THE JAZZ BOOKSHELF: “JAZZ BEAT: NOTES ON CLASSIC JAZZ” and “MR. B”

A quarter-century ago, in actual bookstores, I could find shelves devoted to books on jazz.  That reassuring sight still exists (I saw it in the Strand in New York last week) but the great era of print publishing is, understandably, over. Thus it’s always a pleasure to encounter new books on jazz, and the two below are quite different but will both reward readers.

Jazz-Beat-review--195x300

JAZZ BEAT: NOTES ON CLASSIC JAZZ, by Lew Shaw (AZtold Publishing) is a very amiable collection of profiles written by an admiring, long-time fan and former sportswriter.

What makes these brief affectionate portraits different from the norm is that all (except one) the musicians in this book are living.  Not all of them are stars, but they have devoted followings — from the youthful Jonathan “Jazz” Russell, Pete and Will Anderson, Josh Duffee, Michael Kaeshammer, Ben Polcer, Molly Ryan, Bria Skonberg, Andy Schumm, Stephanie Trick, to the veterans Bill Allred, Jim Cullum, Bob Draga, Yve Evans, Chet Jeager, Flip Oakes, Bucky Pizzarelli, Richard Simon, Mike Vax, Pat Yankee, and Ed Polcer — the book’s inspiration, whose picture is on the cover.

Shaw also profiles other regulars on the festival circuit, Tom Rigney, the Uptown Lowdown Jazz Band, the Natural Gas Jazz Band, the New Black Eagles, Igor’s Jazz Cowboys.

His emphasis is on musicians exploring older jazz forms and repertoire, but the book is happily free from ideological bickering (with one exception, and the words aren’t the author’s*.  The book is comfortable and easy: I sense that the musicians are delighted to find someone sympathetic, interested, willing to get the facts right for publication.

I was pleased to find a number of my jazz friends and heroes profiled, among them Clint Baker, Kevin Dorn, Banu Gibson, Nicki Parrott, Carl Sonny Leyland, Randy Reinhart, Hal Smith, Rossano Sportiello, and the late Mat Domber.  I know I’ve left several people off this list, but readers will have fun seeing some of their favorites here.

Shaw’s method is simple: he establishes the musician’s place in the world of contemporary traditional jazz, constructs a brief biography — a story rather than a collection of dates and a listing of names and places.  Some comments from a writer or blogger offer different insights (I’m even quoted here a few times) and the musician speaks for him or herself.  The result is a fast-moving collection of short pieces (somewhere between journalistic features and extensive liner notes) that capture their subjects’ personalities in only a few pages.

Shaw is frankly admiring — from a literate fan’s perspective.  For instance (I picked this at random), the opening of his piece on Bob Draga: “Clarinetist Bob Draga is considered the consummate entertainer, having mastered the art of pleasing an audience with musical talent, classy appearance and entertaining repartee.”  That’s Bob, to the life.

One particularly moving episode in this book is the profile of drummer Joe Ascione — and his life with multiple sclerosis since 1997.  If Shaw had done nothing but allow Joe to speak for himself, JAZZ BEAT would still be well worth reading. Many fans come up to musicians at gigs, concerts, and festivals, and ask questions; it is reassuring to see that Lew Shaw has willingly shared his energies and research with us.  The 211-page book is nicely produced with many black-and-white photographs, and copies can be ordered here.

*Chet Jaeger, of the Night Blooming Jazzmen, told Shaw about playing in a Disneyland marching band when Dizzy Gillespie was also performing there, and his reaction: “I decided I would attend and try to learn something about modern jazz, but I gave up after a few numbers.  I always say that when I hit a bad note, everyone knows it’s a bad note. When Miles Davis hits a bad note, people will say, ‘Isn’t that creative.'”

MISTER B

Cary Ginell, author of a fine book on the Jazz Man Record Shop (reviewed here) and a rewarding biography of Cannonball Adderley (here) has produced another first-rate book in the same series: MR. B: THE LIFE AND MUSIC OF BILLY ECKSTINE (Hal Leonard, 228+ pages).  Ginell may turn out to be this generation’s model for jazz biography, for he doesn’t indulge in pathobiography (chronicling every time his subject is supposed to have left no tip for a waitperson or some other example of bad behavior) and he isn’t a secret Destroyer (appearing to write admiringly of the subject then deflating the Hero(ine) chapter after chapter).

His books are tidy, graceful, compact affairs — full of stories but never digressive, sticking to chronology but never mechanical.

Eckstine has been treated gingerly by the jazz community: yes, he was Earl Hines’ band vocalist, bringing the blues to a larger audience with JELLY, JELLY, then someone given credit for his “legendary” band featuring Dizzy, Bird, Fats Navarro, Art Blakey, and others . . . but once Eckstine comes to even greater prominence as an African-American balladeer (think of I APOLOGIZE), the jazz audience loses interest and the naughty word “commercialism” enters the dialogue.

Ginell doesn’t over-compensate, and he — unlike Mister B — doesn’t apologize, but he makes a serious case for Eckstine being one of the important figures in the slow struggle for White Americans to respect people of color.

One of Eckstine’s sons remembered, “Until the day he died, whenever he ordered a sandwich, he always separated the two pieces of bread and gently ran his fingers over the meat, because on a number of occasions while touring the South, they would send the band boy. . . to pick up food from a white restaurant. When they got the sandwiches, they would discover finely ground glass, or vermin feces mixed in with the tuna, chicken, egg, or potato salad.”  We also learn about the repercussions of a LIFE magazine photograph where Eckstine was captured amidst young White female fans — a horrifying example of racist attitudes in 1950. Stories such as that are invaluable, and make a book both readable and memorable, no matter who its subject might be.

The band business was difficult even when the enemy wasn’t trying to poison you so directly; Ed Eckstein also recalled that the critic Leonard Feather subtly attacked his father’s band because Eckstine refused to record Feather’s compositions.  Eckstine and Dizzy Gillespie created a parody — sung to the tune STORMY WEATHER, with these lyrics:

I know why, we can’t get a gig on Friday night, / Leonard Feather / Keeps on makin’ it hard for me to keep this band together, / Talkin’ shit about us all the time . . .  

We learn about the relationship between June Eckstine and the promising young Swedish clarinetist Stan Hasselgard; we learn of Eckstine’s close friendship with Dr. King, his devotion to his fans, his generosities.  And as for Eckstine’s apparent “selling-out,” he had this to say, “Some creeps said I ‘forsook’ jazz in order to be commercial. So I saw one of these creeps, a jazz critic, and I said, ‘What are you, mad at me because I want to take care of my family?  Is that what pisses you off? You want me to end up in a goddamn hotel room with a bottle of gin in my pocket and a needle in my arm, and let them discover me laying there? Then I’ll be immortal, I guess, to you . . . It ain’t going to work that way with me, man. I want to take care of my family and give them the things that I think they deserve.'”

And we learn that Eckstine’s last word was “Basie,” which should go some distance in supporting his deep feeling for jazz.

It’s an admirable book.  Although nearly everyone who worked with Eckstine is dead, Ginell has had the cooperation of the singer’s family and friends; he has done thorough research without allowing minutiae to overwhelm the narrative, and the book moves along at a fine 4 / 4 pace.  With rare photographs, as well.

Ginell’s work — and this series in general — is very fine, and these books fill needed spaces in jazz history.  Who’s next?

May your happiness increase!

JAZZ COMES UP TOMS RIVER (Wednesdays at 8)

To survive and prosper, jazz needs musicians — wise and heartfelt — and audiences who have the same qualities.  But it also needs venues and promoters who will make it possible for musicians to improvise where people can hear them. We’ve had Norman Granz; George Wein is still with us.  But a new face has entered the scene, with characteristic enthusiasm.  Ricky Riccardi, whom we know and love as Louis Armstrong scholar and archivist, writer and blogger, pianist and enthusiast — has begun producing a series of concerts in Toms River, New Jersey, that begins this Wednesday at 8 with a concert by Mona’s Hot Four: Dennis Lichtman, Jared Engel, Gordon Webster, Nick Russo — AND — Tamar Korn.  Future concerts will present Dan Levinson, Mike Davis, Kevin Dorn, Molly Ryan, and others.  For information, click here.  For video evidence of just how wonderful Mona’s Hot Four (this time with guests) is, try here.

Toms River, New Jersey, isn’t noted reverently in the jazz histories as the Cradle or even the Bassinet of Jazz.  But things will change!

May your happiness increase!

MOLLY RYAN: “SWING FOR YOUR SUPPER”

When I first heard Molly Ryan sing, I thought, “That girl has such a beautiful voice!”  But she has more that that — innate connections to the music, to feeling, and to swing.  She knows what the records sound like, but she doesn’t imitate them: the music comes out of her essential self.

All of these lovely tendencies, fully realized, reverberate through her new CD, SWING FOR YOUR SUPPER! (with its very apropos exclamation point).

MOLLY RYAN

But first.  Something lovely for the ears: SAY IT WITH A KISS, sung so prettily by Molly, accompanied by husband Dan Levinson, clarinet; Mark Shane, piano; Connie Jones, cornet — recorded Sept. 4, 2011, at the Sweet and Hot Music Festival:

The good news about SWING FOR YOUR SUPPER! is that it is a new Molly Ryan – and Friends of the First Rank – CD.  That should be enough for anyone.

The even better news is that it is carefully thought out in every possible way, from the cheerful photos that adorn it, to the exuberant liner notes by Will Friedwald, to the varied and rewarding song choices, to the hot band and the Lady Friends who join in.

If there’s a way it could have been improved, it is beyond me to imagine it.

And all the careful planning hasn’t constricted the result — some CDs are so precise, so cautious, that they are audibly lifeless: morgue-music.  SWING FOR YOUR SUPPER! is beautifully planned but all the planning gives the musicians room to swing out, to do what they do so beautifully, to be their own precious selves as individuals and as a supportive community of swing pals.

The pals are — from the top — husband Dan Levinson, reeds, arrangements, and a vocal; Dan Barrett, trombone, arrangements; Randy Reinhart, cornet; Chris Flory and Bucky Pizzarelli, guitar; Mark Shane, piano; Vince Giordano, bass; Kevin Dorn, drums.  And Molly is joined by vocal swing stars Banu Gibson and Maude Maggart for one third of the eighteen tracks, more than once forming a divinely varied and subtle vocal trio.

And where some well-meant CDs bog down in a narrow or restrictive repertoire (seventy-five minutes of the same thing can get tiring quickly) this one bounces from surprise to surprise, evidence of Molly’s deep knowledge of and enthusiasm for the best music from all kinds of corners.  Here are a few of the composers: Harry Warren, Richard Whiting, Cole Porter, J. Russel Robinson, Ben Oakland, Richard Rodgers, Bronislaw Kaper, Eubie Blake, B.G. DeSylva, Jerome Kern, Victor Young — and HUSHABYE MOUNTAIN from the Sherman brothers’ 1968 film CHITTY CHITTY BANG BANG, no less.

You can purchase SWING FOR YOUR SUPPER here, or (better yet) you can find Molly at a live gig and ask her to sign one for you, which she will do gladly. To keep up with her musical adventures, click here.

She’s the real thing.  But you knew that already.

May your happiness increase!

OUR BECKY, HER NEW YORK: REBECCA KILGORE, DAN BARRETT, EHUD ASHERIE at SMALLS, April 28, 2013

Everyone in the know was excited that Rebecca Kilgore, our Becky, Miz Roo, was coming to New York and New Jersey for a short stop at the end of April 2013.  Before heading off to the UK for the Norwich Jazz Party, she and Dan Barrett had one gig at Smalls, one glorious evening with Rossano Sportiello and friends at Carnegie Hall (!), and another intimate evening at Shanghai Jazz.

The Beloved and I attended the first two . . . and I brought my camera to Smalls (183 West Tenth Street, Greenwich Village, New York).  I’ve adjusted the videos so that Becky, pianist Ehud Asherie, and trombonist Dan appear to be performing in a light-hearted version of film noir . . . but the music shines brightly in a rainbow of colors!

Here, incidentally, is what I wrote in anticipation of Miss Becky’s visit.

And here are five glorious performances from that Smalls triumph in swing . . . with a few more to come!  Our Becky swings sweetly, offers nuances and shadings that surprise, move, and enlighten.  She makes us smile — under a baking spotlight, in the middle of two great jazz extroverts, in front of a portrait of Louis, smiling for good reason.

The Beloved and I weren’t the only ones paying close delighted attention: the room was full of singers: Marianne Solivan, Hilary Gardner, Molly Ryan, Yaala Ballin, Petra van Nuis — as well as friends of the Jazz Bears: Justin, Danny, and Kristin; Jeanie Wilson beamed at us; Bill and Sonya Dunham made sure everyone behaved well; Stompy Jones and Maxine were there in spirit, too.

THOU SWELL:

I HEAR MUSIC:

I DON’T STAND A GHOST OF A CHANCE WITH YOU:

TEA FOR TWO:

GONE WITH THE WIND:

What extraordinary music!

May your happiness increase.

GO WEST (into NEW JERSEY) FOR JAZZ!

New Jersey

Even with my much-used GPS glued to the windshield, I get lost easily while driving; certain neurons must not be speaking kindly to one another.  So for several years, the thought of “driving to Brooklyn” was stressful.  But I have gotten more brave.  Now. . . to the next summit . . . conquering New Jersey!

But what is life without live jazz?

A few days ago, I had the opportunity to hear Mark Shane — Prince of Pianists — sit down at a baby grand piano and saunter through four choruses of IF I COULD BE WITH YOU.  I am going to see Mark and Catherine Russell (and Matt Munisteri, Jon-Erik Kellso, Dan Block, and some rhythmic gents) on Monday, April 15 at Symphony Space . . . but that concert, one I am looking forward to with eagerness, seemed a long way off.  Here are the details.

I had to do something!

Full of jazz-flavored courage, I made the necessary arrangements, checked in with my cardiologist, informed the authorities.  I will be driving from Long Island to the Bickford Theatre in Morristown, New Jersey, this coming Monday, April 8, to see and hear cornetist / trombonist Randy Reinhart lead a small band (small in numbers only): Mark, piano; James Chirillo, guitar; Brian Nalepka (back in the saddle again!) on string bass; Kevin Dorn, drums.

Here’s the needed information:

The Bickford Theatre/Morris Museum: On Columbia Turnpike/Road (County Road 510) at the corner of Normandy Heights Road, east of downtown Morristown. Near Interstate 287 and the Route 24 expressway. This is a 300-seat hall with generous parking on site. Wheelchair access. Weeknight concerts are one long set (8 to 9:30 PM). Tickets are generally $15 in advance, but $18 at the door. Tickets may be purchased via credit card over the phone by calling the box office at (973) 971-3706. The box office can also provide information, directions or a simple “jazz map.”

To keep up with future events, email Jazzevents@aol.com and let them know you’d like to be in the loop — for concerts featuring the Midiri Brothers, Danny Tobias, Bria Skonberg, Dennis Lichtman, Dan Levinson, Molly Ryan, Neville Dickie, Emily Asher, Bucky PIzzarelli, Frank Vignola, Vinny Raniolo, Jon-Erik Kellso, Ehud Asherie, Peter and Will Anderson, Gordon Webster, the DIVA Jazz Orchestra and more.

May your happiness increase.