Tag Archives: Moonglow

SUNDAY NIGHTS AT 326 SPRING STREET (Part One) — WE NEED TO HAVE SOMETHING TO LOOK FORWARD TO: SESSIONS AT THE EAR INN, featuring THE EarRegulars (2007 – the Future)

I am a relentless optimist — otherwise I wouldn’t be typing now — but there’s not much even I can muster up about the recent past and the continuing present.  My arms get tired.  But “we need to have something to look forward to,” wise words said by a friend.  So even though my hope for the future might be built on something more delicate than empirical evidence, I offer it to you.

This journey into the future starts in the summer of 2007.  It is not a lamentation, an elegy for what was lost.  Rather it is a celebration of joys experienced and joys to come.  With music, of course.

The Ear Inn, 2012 Photograph by Alexandra Marks

My involvement with this place — which looks like a bar but is really a shrine — goes back to the summer of 2007, before JAZZ LIVES existed.  Jon-Erik Kellso (friend-hero) whom I’d first met at Chautauqua in September 2004, and later at The Cajun in 2005-6, told me about a new Sunday-night gig at The Ear Inn, a legendary place I’d never been to.  I think I made the second Sunday, where he, Howard Alden, and Frank Tate played two very satisfying sets.

Incidentally, 326 Spring Street is a minute’s walk from the corner of Spring and Hudson, where the Half Note once stood.  There, in 1972, I saw Ruby Braff, Jimmy Rushing, and Jake Hanna one night.  Finest karma, I would say.

The band at The Ear Inn (not yet named The EarRegulars) — a collection of friends, eventually Jon and another horn, two rhythm, most often Matt Munisteri, guitar, and someone equally noble on string bass, held forth from around 8 to 11 PM.  Because I knew the musicians (or could introduce myself to them as Friend, not Exploiter) I could bring my Sony digital recorder, smaller than a sandwich, place it on a shelf to the rear of the band, record the sets and transfer the music to CDs which I would then give to the musicians when I saw them next.  The food was inexpensive, the waitstaff friendly, and I could find a table near the band.  It was also no small thing that the Ear was a short walk from the C or the 1; if I drove, I could park for free.  These things matter.

I thought it then and still do the closest thing to a modern Fifty-Second Street I had ever encountered.  Musical friends would come in with their instruments and the trio or quartet would grow larger and more wonderful.  Although I was still teaching and went to my Monday-morning classes in exhausted grumpiness (“This job is interfering with The Ear Inn!”) these Sunday-night sessions were more gratifying than any other jazz-club experience.  The emphasis was on lyrical swing, Old Time Modern — a world bounded by Louis, Duke, Basie, Django, and others — where the Fellas (as Nan Irwin calls them) came to trade ideas, where musicians hinted at Bix, the ODJB, Bird, and Motown.

When this blog came to be, I started writing about nights at The Ear — rhapsodical chronicles.  I’m proud that only the second post I wrote, DOWNTOWN UPROAR, was devoted to the seven months of happy Sundays at 326 Spring Street.  Again, I wrote about it EVERY SUNDAY AFTERNOON, WE FORGET ABOUT OUR CARES — a musical reference you’ll figure out.  In late April 2008, I could depict in words the session where a lovely graceful couple danced balboa in between the tables (the Ear, as you will see, got many people into a small space) and was my first chance to hear Tamar Korn, that wonder — FEELING THE SPIRIT.  And in all this, I had the consistent help and encouragement of Lorna Sass, who has not been forgotten.

Those who know me will find it puzzling, perhaps, that there has been no mention of my ubiquitous video camera, which I had been using to capture live jazz as far back as 2006.  For one thing, the Ear’s tables were close together, so there was little or no room to set up a tripod (videographers must know how to blend in with the scenery and not become nuisances: hear me, children!)  Darkness was an even more serious problem.  I had shot video in places that were well-lit, and YouTube allowed people to adjust the color and lighting of videos shot in low light.  The results might be grainy and orange, but they were more visible.  Early on, YouTube would permit nothing longer than ten minutes to be posted, so the lengthy jams at the Ear — some running for thirteen minutes or more — had to be presented in two segments, divided by me, on the spot.  But I am getting ahead of myself.

Rereading my descriptions I am amazed: “I was there?  That happened?” as in the presence of miracle, but something that I didn’t do and can’t take credit for changed my life — a video of the closing ten minutes of an October 2008 YOU’RE DRIVING ME CRAZY posted by Howard Alden, who was playing rather than holding a camera, alongside Jon-Erik Kellso, Danny Tobias, Harvey Tibbs, Evan Christopher, Dan Block, Sebastien Giradot, Chuck Redd:

Obviously The Ear Inn would never double as a Hollywood soundstage, but I posted this video on JAZZ LIVES.  I thought, “Let me see if I can do this also.”  But it took until June 7, 2009, for me to put my Great Plan into action, finding a camera (with the help of Jerome Raim) that would penetrate the darkness.  Here are the first two results, the first, featuring Jon-Erik and Duke Heitger, trumpets; Matt Munisteri, guitar; Neal Miner, string bass:

That is my definition of stirring music, and so is this — MOONGLOW, with Tamar Korn, voice; Dan Block, clarinet, Harvey Tibbs, trombone, sitting in, all creating a galaxy of sounds:

That’s slightly more than a decade ago.  There are currently no Sunday-night sessions at The Ear Inn.  But this post is not to mourn their absence.

I write these words and post these videos in hope for a future that will come again.  I have no date to mark on my kitchen calendar, but, as I wrote at the start, I am an optimist.  And I think regular Sunday-postings of music from the Ear will remind those of us who were there and enlighten those who were not.  Between June 2009 and late 2019, I compiled around 400 videos, and I plan to create regular Sunday experiential parties to which you are all invited.  It is not precisely the same thing as being there, saying hello to Victor or Barry or Eric, hugging and being hugged, ordering dinner and ale, waiting, nearly trembling with anticipation for irreplaceable joyous music . . . but I offer it to you in love, in hope that we will all be ready when the great day comes:

It is nearly three o’clock on a sunny Sunday afternoon.  In the ideal world, which can return, I would be putting my camera, batteries, and notebook into my knapsack, ready — too early, as is my habit — for a night at The Ear Inn.  I’m ready.

May your happiness increase!

THE SUPERMOON IS GONE. THE GLOW REMAINS.

In the middle of November 2016, we were closer to the moon than we had been since 1948 . . . and we won’t be this close again for a long time, making that huge orb in the sky something to remember.  I hope my readers were able to glance up, whether through their windows or, better, being out in the mystical moist night air, to see this wonder for themselves.  Here is a shot of a Supermoon over Rio de Janeiro.

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The Supermoon made me think of all the music and poetry associated with lunar ecstasies, all the love songs: GET OUT AND GET UNDER THE MOON, MOON SONG, WHEN THE MOON COMES OVER THE MOUNTAIN, MOONLIGHT BECOMES YOU — a very long list.  We love the moon because she is mutable, that is, ever changing, and she reminds us to cling to what brings us joy, because we know that it’s all rapidly moving towards us and away and towards us again. And a phenomenon like the Supermoon reminds us, I hope, of the possibility of joy in our lives.

Of course this post is based in a memorable performance of a memorable song. But first, a four-bar prelude.

Video fetishists, with long lenses and wide-open apertures, will find what follows visually inferior to my best work. I bought my first video camera (a treacherous Sony with many whims) in 2008, and started bringing it to gigs soon after. That camera was not the most sophisticated, so both image and sound are slightly dull.

But not the music, which has an on-the-spot compositional beauty.

Sunday night at The Ear Inn — where the great lunar worshippers gather — with The EarRegulars: Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Matt Munisteri, guitar; Neal Miner, string bass; Duke Heitger, trumpet; guests Tamar Korn, vocal; Dan Block, clarinet; Harvey Tibbs, trombone.

“I’ll always remember / That Moonglow gave me you.”  What could be nicer?

May your happiness increase!

CANGELOSI CARDS: SWEET SATORI!

bamjo-jims

Because of a much-appreciated friendly email nudge from Jim Balantic, the Beloved and I (with Flip tagging along) wended our way down to Banjo Jim’s last Monday night.

Banjo Jim’s sits at the corner of Ninth Street and Avenue C.  The area feels much like the mysterious East but it was worth the trip.  The club is a small squarish room with tables, stools, and a bar (the latter presided over by the cheerfully expert “Banjo” Lisa).  Banjo Jim’s is a neighborhood hangout, and it offers a dazzling variety of groups who play for the tip basket.

The crowd is mostly younger people, which I find encouraging, and even when the chat level gets high, they get reverently quiet when the band begins a ballad or they sense something unusual is happening.  (And, when feelings run high, there’s a good deal of fervent jitterbugging and even slow-motion tangoing in front of the band.)

Of course the club has a website: www.banjojims.com., and a MySpace page:  www.myspace.com/banjojims — everyone seems to have a MySpace page except the Beloved and myself.  (Flip isn’t telling.)

We were there because of the regular Monday night gig of the Cangelosi Cards, that musical cornucopia, and Jim’s news that their splendid singer Tamar Korn had been working on Boswell Sisters-inspired repertoire with two other harmonizing women.

And — this is no small matter — Tamar had graciously agreed to do some of the new trio material in the band’s first set (their gig ordinarily runs from 9 PM to 2:30 AM) so that the nine-to-fivers could hear some of it before their ancient eyelids began to sag.  I was especially grateful to her for this kindness, because my clock radio makes itself known four mornings a week at 5:45 AM.

When we arrived, we were met on the sidewalk by Jim and his wife Grace and a beaming Tamar; Tamar and I talked happily until our faces began to grow numb from the cold.  We spoke of the Boswell Sisters, and how their vocal arrangements seemed to have the same intense purity of chamber music — to be revered, but also to be improvised on in a personal style.  Tamar said that she and her two friends — Mimi Terris and Naomi Uyama — found that they could do instant improvisation in the style they loved on songs the Boswells had never recorded, which suggests that they have moved well beyond imitative groups, and there have been a few.  (Copying the Boswell Sisters, incidentally, is not at all easy to do.)

Inside, a young band, calling itself “The Scandinavian Half Breeds,” no fooling, was plunking away.  That foursome, offered surrealistic gypsy swing, some Thirties songs, and some lopsided yet earnest singing. The Scandinavians have a CD for sale — a mere five dollars — and they also have a MySpace page with audio samples: www.myspace.com/scandinavianhalfbreeds.

But they were what my people call a forshpeits — an appetizer, an amuse-bouche before the entree.

The Cards were at full strength: in addition to Tamar, they had Marcus Millius on harmonica, Karl Meyer on violin, Dennis Lichtman on clarinet, Jake Sanders on guitar (he set tempos and routines as well), Cassidy Holden on string bass, Matt Musselman on trombone, and Gordon Webster on piano.

Here’s some of what Flip, that tidy little fellow, captured.  I have to point out that Banjo Jim’s isn’t a movie set, so that people walk in front of Flip (he’s used to it) and there were couples gyrating in front of the lens.  These clips offer atmospheric cinema verite of a particularly unbuttoned sort, but I think it’s in keeping with the spirit of the club and the Cards, who are more like an ecstatic travelling ceremony than a formal orchestra.  And that’s high praise.

Here’s a wonderful rocking version of “I Ain’t Got Nobody”:

In the name of accuracy, I have to say it begins in darkness — but soon your eyes make out the nimble fingers of Jake Sanders playing his National steel guitar in the wonderful manner I associate with the West Coast genius Craig Ventresco.  Then it starts to rock, and rock hard.  This is the kind of music that great improvisers of any kind make when no one is paying attention, when they are blissfully playing for themselves.  And the dancers!  Tamar couldn’t keep still at the beginning, and the whole room was swaying, although Flip couldn’t take his little monocular self away from the band.  (He’s a fan.  Now it can be told.)

The Cards decided to slow the tempo down — and Tamar explored a truly lovely ballad, “It’s Like Reaching For the Moon,”  which most people know, if at all, through Billie’s version.  Examined closely, the song is a rather simple motif, repeated, and the lyrics aren’t exactly Larry Hart.  (Charlie Levenson, jazz man-about-town, was sitting next to me, and he kept muttering ecstatically, “I love this song.  This is my favorite song!” so perhaps I am being too harsh.)  But what lifts it above the ordinary is Tamar’s singing — full of genuine yearning.  We believe her, as do the Cards.

After two songs about unfulfilled love, even at different tempos, it was time to explore another dramatic situation, and the Cards turned to Irving Berlin’s satiric Socialism (like “Slummin’ On Park Avenue,” it has a sharp political subtext).  Catch the weaving, seductive tempo they choose, and admire Matt’s wicked trombone playing:

Then it was time for what Jim had promised: Tamar, Mimi Terris, and Naomi Uyama got together on the tiny bandstand (this is one of those clubs where nothing delineates the end of the Audience and the beginning of the Stage, which is a truly good thing in this case) for “Moonglow,” which was properly ethereal.  These girls have it:

We were glowing!  The set ended with another loving consideration of meteorological phenomena, “Stardust,” which Tamar said she “learned from the music,” but clearly she, Naomi, and Mimi are well beyond the notes on the page, into some beautifully mystical realm:

When the Cards’ set was over, it was around 11:30 — time for the aging wage-slaves to find their cars and drive home.  But there was more!

As we were getting ready to go, Tamar said there was one more Boswell Sisters piece that she, Mimi, and Naomi had been working on.  They planned to perform it much later on but knew we would want to hear it.  Would we mind waiting for them?  Jim, Grace, and I looked at each other, grinned, wrapped our coats a little tighter, and waited on Avenue C.  In a few minutes, the Girl Trio came out (as an unrequested surrogate parent, I checked that their coats were properly buttoned up).

The trio positioned themselves in front of us on Ninth Street, and began a most unearthly beautiful a cappella rendition of the Sisters’ radio theme, “Shout, Sister, Shout.”  As you may remember, that’s a moody slow-drag, all about how singing the right way has Satan on the run.  (Would that this were the case.)  Their voices were pure and low-down at the same time, soulful and intense.  I listened, transfixed.

In an odd way, it was as close to being a royal patron of the arts as I will ever be — with Mozart playing his new piece near the dinner table to give the guests a little night music.  It was eerie, lovely, and awe-inspiring. . . as if Beauty had slipped her arms around me while I stood out in the cold.

Listening to live jazz is, with luck, a series of special moments when a listener feels that Something Rare is taking place, and it often is.  But it’s even rarer for a musician or musicians to create such tender intimacy that the listener feels, “They are playing this song just for me.”

Even though I knew it was an illusion, I felt that way while Lee Wiley sang in her 1972 farewell concert in Carnegie Hall, and I remember a much more personal example.  Once, Stu Zimny and I went to hear Roy Eldridge at Jimmy Ryan’s — this would have been the same year.  Ryan’s was an inhospitable place for college kids who wanted to make their bottle of Miller High Life (awful beer even at $2.50 a bottle) last for hours.  Roy must have been playing another gig, so his place was taken by the veteran Louis Metcalf, who had played with King Oliver and Duke Ellington in the Twenties.  He was a far less electrifying player than Roy, but one moment cannot be erased.  On a medium-tempo “Rosetta,” Metcalf put his Harmon mute (the stem still attached) in his horn and went from table to table, playing a half-chorus here and there, six inches from our ears.  I can no longer remember the shape of his solo or the contours of the melodic paraphrase, but the experience — jazz at the closest possible range — gave me delighted chills then and I can see it now.

This version of “Shout, Sister,Shout,” girlish and earnest, graceful and disembodied — their three voices harmonizing as if in the middle of the darkness — was even more electrifying.  As I drove home, shaken and levitated, I thought, “I might have died and never heard this.  My God, I am lucky!”

To experience something of the same repertoire — although I can’t promise that you will have a private serenade on the sidewalk — be sure to follow the Cards wherever they go.  If you judge musicians by the quality of their formal wear, the Cards seem loose and casual, but the musical experiences they offer you won’t encounter elsewhere.  Blazing enlightenment is possible if you’re listening closely.