Tag Archives: Nan Irwin

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 EARREGULARS TAKE ROCA, or LET ME OFF UPSTATE: JON-ERIK KELLSO, MATT MUNISTERI, PETE MARTINEZ, NEAL MINER (Dec. 9, 2012)

If you read JAZZ LIVES, you know who The EarRegulars are — a compact group of highly inspired improvising musicians who invariably bring joy, most often found on Sunday nights (8-11 PM) at The Ear Inn, 326 Spring Street, Soho, New York — co-founders Matt Munisteri (guitar, vocal); Jon-Erik Kellso (trumpet).  But ROCA may be new to you — see here and find out more about the Rockland Center for the Arts, a quiet space in West Nyack, New York, lovingly watched over by our friend Lynn Stein, the Center’s Artistic Director.

The EarRegulars came uptown to West Nyack one Sunday afternoon about two months ago — December 9, 2012 — and played their own brand of beautiful music, serene and intense.  I was fortunate to be right in front of the band so that I could bring the sounds to you.  From the first note, it was a splendid affair — with clarinetist Pete Martinez and bassist Neal Miner joining in the fun.  See and hear for  yourself:

A famous set-cloer used as the opening, AFTER YOU’VE GONE:

Feeling optimistic, here’s WRAP YOUR TROUBLES IN DREAMS:

A Dixieland classic, FIDGETY FEET:

Neal’s feature on LULLABY OF THE LEAVES:

HAPPY FEET (no longer FIDGETY — with a few words about The Ear Inn from Skip Hayman):

THE NEARNESS OF YOU — for our very own Pete:

‘S’POSIN’ with a wry yet sweet vocal from Matt:

A wistful reading of AM I BLUE?:

And a rousing SOME OF THESE DAYS:

“The Fellas” (as regular Nan Irwin calls them) outdid themselves — but they do that Regularly.  Thank you, Matt, Jon, Neal, Pete, and Lynn!  (And without acting as anyone’s unsolicited press agent or manager, it does suggest to me that The EarRegulars could be hired for all sorts of concerts, affairs, private and public occasions.  Just a thought.)

May your happiness increase.

HANDS-FREE IN JAZZLAND (Jan. 27, 2013)

Yesterday, Sunday, January 27, was my first venture back into live jazz — since I lost my video equipment (a saga chronicled elsewhere on this blog) — and I was mildly worried.  About me, I mean.

How would it be to come back to my this very familiar situation without a camera in my hands?  (Someone at the first gig who knows me well asked me how I was feeling, and I said — without thinking — “denuded,” a telling choice of words.)

But I managed to keep my composure and enjoy myself, not thinking too much that the music was vanishing into the ether without passing through me, JAZZ LIVES, and cyberspace to you.

The first session — held at the  Music Conservatory of Westchester — was very sweet and to the point, a celebration by trumpeter Bob Arthurs and guitarist Steve LaMattina of their new CD, JAZZ FOR SVETLANA (also chronicled on this blog).

Bob and Steve kept up a glorious yet understated musical conversation, switching roles — when Steve soloed, Bob gave him plenty of space for a few choruses, and then would begin to play encouraging backgrounds and riffs, his hand half over the bell of his trumpet.  At times I thought I was listening to some version of the Basie band distilled down to its essences.  They began with a medium-tempo BLUES FOR LONNIE, a trotting I THOUGHT ABOUT YOU (on which Bob sang in his husky unaffected way), I REMEMBER YOU (fast), and HOW DEEP IS THE OCEAN (introspective).  Then Svetlana Gorokhovich and Irena Portenko took the stage — at two pianos! — to perform a tribute to the late Dave Brubeck, POINTS ON JAZZ, which began in plain-spoken elegiac simplicity and escalated in intensity before settling back down again.  Bob and Steve returned for NIGHT IN TUNISIA, a “nostalgic,” slow reading of BACK HOME AGAIN IN INDIANA, with Bob’s vocal, and what was for me the highlight of the session — a beautiful one-chorus reading of Jackie Gleason’s MELANCHOLY SERENADE.  Quite a lot of music packed into a small space!

The second gig was a return to old beloved haunts — The Ear Inn — to hear Jon-Erik Kellso, John Allred, Howard Alden, and Pat O’Leary — this week’s version of The EarRegulars — swing out.  They began with a fast SUNDAY, then moved forwards in time for an even more vigorous FROM MONDAY ON, and secretly kept the theme going with a much more leisurely THE MAN I LOVE, which refers to Tuesday in the lyrics, a deep inside joke.  Two classics of the ER repertoire concluded the set — WHEN I GROW TOO OLD TO DREAM and a key-changing HINDUSTAN.  The four EarRegulars are great conversationalists — chatty fellows, you know — so the two horns kept exchanging comments (“passing notes,” if you will) on each other’s playing — with Allred providing the punchline or topper to a Kellso musical witticism.  Alden and O’Leary kept up a sweet flow of rhythm that reminded me so much of the Braff-Barnes Quartet of 1974 with noble forbears Michael Moore and Wayne Wright floating the planet.

It helped me a good deal that I was among friends — Will and Pete Anderson, Emily Asher, Dan Block, Mike Gilroy, Michael Waterhouse, the talented J.P., and others . . . and many of them sweetly tendered heartfelt camera-condolences, which mean a lot.  My pal Nan said, “You know, you’re much more fun without a video camera,” which I took as a compliment — I was at play more than at work, and it was a pleasure to be able to applaud freely — but I pointed out that I felt somewhat rudderless without the ability to make sure these good sounds were captured for posterity.

All of this once again posed the philosophical question, “If a band is swinging like mad or playing melodies sweetly and Michael is not recording it with a videocamera, does the music still enthrall and elate?”  You know the answer to that one.

May your happiness increase.

WHERE BLISS BLOSSOMS: THE EARREGULARS and FRIENDS at THE EAR INN (September 16, 2012): JON-ERIK KELLSO, HARRY ALLEN, NEAL MINER, CHRIS FLORY, DOUG FINKE, DAN BLOCK, DANNY TOBIAS, ALEX HOFFMAN, ELI PREMINGER, PETE ANDERSON, WILL ANDERSON

The Ear Inn, as I have been pointing out for a number of years, is the place to be on a Sunday night in New York City.  When you come to 326 Spring Street in Soho, sometime between 8 and 11, you will hear wondrous music, subtle and exuberant.

A few Sundays ago, on September 16, 2012, the EarRegulars were Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Harry Allen, tenor saxophone; Neal Miner, string bass; Chris Flory, guitar.  That group in itself deserves a WOW!

Doug Finke joined the original quartet for ROSETTA.  And it was never too close for comfort:

(A word about Doug, who isn’t as well known as he should be in East Coast circles.  I knew his work from three CDs by the Independence Hall Jazz Band — spectacular sessions featuring Jon-Erik, Duke Heitger, Paul Asaro, Dan Barrett, Orange Kellin, Vince Giordano, Scott Anthony, Chris Tyle — and I met Doug in person last March at Dixieland Monterey (the Jazz Bash by the Bay) where he appeared with Bob Schulz, Ray Skjelbred, Kim Cusack, and Hal Smith . . . a man is known by the company he keeps!  But with Doug it is more than being able to travel in fast musical company: notice the easy way he has his own luxuriant style, having absorbed all kinds of jazz to sound entirely and happily like himself.)

The Fantastic Five did their own variations on Romberg’s lament, LOVER, COME BACK TO ME:

After a brief break for nourishment, the Original Four took the stand (a figure of speech at The Ear Inn) for a leisurely, I might even say “lingering” version of LINGER AWHILE.  Savor the beautiful solos and the way each solo leads into the next — this is a band of individualists who know all there is to know about Swing Synergy.  This performance is a living lesson in craft, courage, and heart.

I think it takes a lifetime to learn how to play music like this; aren’t we lucky that these players and their friends share their masteries with us?

I would have been very happy to listen to what you’ve heard far into Monday morning . . . but my friends who play instruments wanted to add their voices to this swing splendor.  Jon-Erik invited Dan Tobias (cornet) and Dan Block (tenor saxophone) to join the party for IF DREAMS COME TRUE, and they did.  The dreams, I mean:

Jon-Erik is a witty observer of the lives around him — so in honor of the Jewish New Year (where families dip apple slices in honey at Rosh Hashonah dinner for a sweet new year to come), he called for the Woody Herman line, APPLE HONEY — with amused reverence for customs and how they can be honored in swing.  The soloists are Harry; Will Anderson (alto); Dan Tobias; Pete Anderson (tenor); Jon-Erik; Alex Hoffman (tenor); Dan Block (tenor); Chris Flory (guitar, remembering Tiny Grimes at the start);   Neal Miner (string bass) — backed by hilariously appropriate riffs:

Jon-Erik temporarily retired from the field and turned matters over to Eli Preminger, the hot trumpet man from Israel . . . and Doug Finke returned for I FOUND A NEW BABY, with Dan Block and Harry Allen in conversation, Will and Pete Anderson showing brotherly love, Dan Tobias and Eli having a swing chat before Alex and Chris speak up.  Then it’s every tub on its own bottom (with Neal being epigrammatic on the bridge):

And if that wasn’t enough, some blues to close out the night — the YELLOW DOG BLUES, thirteen minutes and fifteen seconds of hot bliss:

“My goodness!” to quote Dan Barrett.

I don’t know of another place on the planet where such collective exultation takes place on a weekly basis . . . . thank you, gentlemen, for making this joy possible (and for allowing me to spread the healing vibrations to people who live far away).

P.S.  I must also say that what and how a band plays is in some small measure determined by their audience.  It is entirely possible, and sometimes necessary, for musicians to ignore the loud or distracting people in front of them . . . in fact, if musicians got distracted from their life-purpose by the couple at the table near the window, they wouldn’t last very long in this business.  But I digress.  At the Ear Inn that night, there were many musicians and deep listeners in the audience, and I am sure this made the atmosphere even more special: Gary Foster, Frank Basile, Ben Flood [players!] and Lynn Redmile, Shelley Finke, Nan Irwin, Claiborne Ray, Marcia Salter [listeners!].

P.P.S.  After five years of fairly steady attendance at The Ear, I feel that it is a beautifully special place in my world.  It’s where I go to wash away the dust of everyday life, to get my aesthetic vitamins, to get my batteries charged.

This may be too personal for some of my readers, but I write openly that 326 Spring Street on Sundays from 8-11 is my synagogue, my church, my mosque, my sacred space, my place of worship.  I go there to get uplifted, to witness and participate once again in individual and collective Joy.  I go there to learn so much about beauty and generosity.

I wish that everyone who vibrates as I do could go there and be inspired.

And I do not overstate a word here.

May your happiness increase.

THE EARREGULARS AT “THE FAMOUS EAR” (June 12, 2011)

I had a minor jazz-history epiphany last Sunday at The Ear Inn (326 Spring Street, Soho, New York City) early in the second set, when past and present coincided.

The Ear Inn, for those who have never been there, isn’t a huge space (it is New York real estate) but everyone gets comfortable. 

The second set at the Ear began with that Sunday’s edition of the EarRegulars: charter members and co-founders Jon-Erik Kellso and Matt Munisteri on trumpet and guitar, respectively; Greg Cohen on string bass; Michael Blake (a risk-embracer who loves Lester Young) on tenor saxophone. 

Here, they embark on RIFFTIDE, a variation on LADY BE GOOD chord changes that began with Coleman Hawkins and ended up in the hands of Thelonious Monk as HACKENSACK:

For good reasons, musicians often come to the Ear — not only to sit in, but to enjoy the sounds.  Last Sunday the musicians were bassist Jon Burr and singer Lynn Stein, reed master Dan Block, then (slightly later) tenorist Nick Hempton and drummer Dan Aran (toting a snare drum).  The observant Nan Irwin was there, also, keeping everyone reasonably honest. 

Michael Blake thought aloud about a great tune whose title he couldn’t quite remember — one of those riffy Basie things connected (like so many jazz classics) to trains — and Jon-Erik or Matt remembered it, 9:20 SPECIAL.  They invited Dan Block to join them, and the two tenors had much pleasing interplay:

Then, Jon-Erik invited Nick and Dan to join in, and what marvels ensued!

The first was a long, swaying WABASH BLUES — with Jon-Erik using both his metal mute and an empty beer glass to make growling, hallooing, far-away Cootie Williams musings.  That interlude (Beery or Hoppy?) lasted only a minute, but it was remarkable and remains so now.  And the ensemble swelled and reinvented itself throughout:

And that nifty swing tune of Edgar Sampson’s, beloved by stride pianists and bands, by James P. and Billie, Lester and Dick Wellstood, a masterpiece of quiet optimism, IF DREAMS COME TRUE:

For a finale — JUMPIN’ AT THE WOODSIDE — where Jon-Erik, for a moment, becomes a hilarious three-man Basie trombone section:

At some point during those final three performances, I looked at the bandstand, saw the musicians and their instruments — trumpet, guitar, bass, drum, and three tenor saxophones jammed in (my choice of words is no accident) shoulder to shoulder, having a good time.  

I thought, “Where have I seen this before?”  And — as my UK friends might say — the penny dropped. 

Basie.  1938.  The Famous Door.

Some will know the story of that Fifty-Second Street paradise.  A small club with a low ceiling, it had been host to a variety of bands in the middle Thirties but — with no air-conditioning — had always closed in the summer.  John Hammond, always full of ideas, paid for the installation of an air-conditioning system so that his favorite band, led by one Bill Basie from New Jersey, could play there in the summer.  The Basieties had to play softly at first, but it’s clear from the radio airshots that exist — not enough for my taste! — that they had a wonderful time and made irreplaceable music.

Here’s a photo essay from the Institute of Jazz Studies at Rutgers University(photographs from the Frank Driggs Collection) of that musical splendor.  Look for Herschel Evans, short-lived and insufficiently-photographed:

http://newarkwww.rutgers.edu/ijs/cb/famousDoor.htm

Yes, the physical resemblance between The Famous Door and The Ear Inn is not exact, but the two places share the same ebullient spirit, with brilliant musicians improvising at the peak of their powers in a small space. 

Henceforth, I dub 326 Spring Street THE FAMOUS EAR.  It well deserves the new name!

And to finish the thought: the EarRegulars continue to swing as beautifully and as joyously as the 1938 Basie band.  No doubt about it!

P.S.  If you’re reading this in real time (however you wish to define it) you might want to know that The EarRegulars will be celebrating their fourth anniversary of steady Sunday-night gigs at The Famous Ear this Sunday, June 19, 2011.  Gifts, please!  (I meant their gifts — not that people have to show up with trinkets, although trinkets might be pleasant, too.)

P.P.S.  On June 12, I was able to savor Abigail Riccards and Michael Kanan, creating music with delicacy and strength — then I drove from Brooklyn to Soho to capture these five performances, hilariously creative.  This, to me, says only one thing:  JAZZ (emphatic pause) LIVES (exultant exclamation point)!