Tag Archives: Neal Miner

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

Let’s start our journey to The Ear Inn earlier today.  It’s restorative, you know.  If you’re late to the party, here’s a link to the previous seven Sunday pilgrimages.

Ready?

From March 14, 2010, a session featuring Pete Martinez, clarinet; Harvey Tibbs, trombone; Matt Munisteri, guitar; Neal Miner, string bass, considering I COVER THE WATERFRONT (appropriate because it was a rainy night and the Ear is not all that far from the river);

and a musical assent in ‘DEED I DO:

Finding delight in JAZZ ME BLUES:

Virtual now, for real someday . . . join me in either realm.

May your happiness increase!

WHEN INTIMACY WAS NOT ONLY POSSIBLE BUT DEEPLY FELT: JON-ERIK KELLSO, EVAN ARNTZEN, CHRIS FLORY, NEAL MINER (Cafe Bohemia, November 14, 2019)

To start, JAZZ LIVES endorses social distancing, properly positioned mask-wearing (plain or patterned), hand-washing, hand sanitizer, vinyl gloves, intelligent caution, without reservation.  But I miss the intimacies that were part of the common culture only five months ago, give or take a hug.  When I watch any film or television show on YouTube these days, the casual peck on the cheek given and received causes me a real pang.  And hugging?  Unendurable.

But enough of sticking hatpins in myself while I try to write.

THE INTIMACY OF THE BLUES is a haunting piece.  When I first heard it, without liner notes, I would have wagered that it was composed by Horace Silver — a dark blues march, so stark and elusive.  I was startled to learn it was by Billy Strayhorn.  And it makes me think of other improvisations that march.  OH, DIDN’T HE RAMBLE? has a very clear shouting meaning: “We’re coming back from the cemetery, where we laid our dear friend Keith in the ground.  He had a good life, it’s over, but ours isn’t, so we are going to celebrate himself and ourselves.”  INTIMACY has no such clear direction: we are going somewhere, our feet are heavy, but where are we headed?

This performance has the same haunting quality, and I treasure it.  The players, perhaps looking in to the void or just exploring a medium-slow blues, are Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Evan Arntzen, clarinet; Neal Miner, string bass; Chris Flory, guitar.  It took place at Cafe Bohemia on Barrow Street in Greenwich Village, New York City, before Thanksgiving 2019.  Ironically or perhaps coincidentally, Cafe Bohemia was the site of the most recent live-jazz performance I was privileged to witness and record, on March 12, 2020.

May we all assemble there again, intimacies no longer forbidden.  Until then:

More than ever, I bless the courageous musicians who bare their souls to us. The most mournful song on the darkest stage is a statement of resilience.

May your happiness increase!

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

It’s Sunday again — and that means it’s time to go to The Ear Inn.  This will explain it all.

I know, perhaps better than you’d think, the difference between a live performance and a video, but I’d ask you to not scoff at the latter, because it is our century’s version of a phonograph record . . . and since I would guess that few people alive in 2020 heard Charlie Christian, we’ve contented ourselves with his “recorded legacy.”

Here’s my humble contribution to keeping The Ear Inn and The EarRegulars fresh and lively in our ears and hearts.

Thanks to the magic of technology, we can go there (or back or sideways) to hear music from November 8, 2009, featuring Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Matt Munisteri, guitar; Harry Allen, tenor saxophone; Neal Miner, string bass, unaffected Ministers of Magic.

Victor Herbert’s INDIAN SUMMER:

With nods to Whiteman and Horace Henderson, HAPPY FEET:

and Louis’s swinging anthem of reproach, SOMEDAY YOU’LL BE SORRY:

Blessings on the place, its inhabitants musical and non-musical.  Let us gather there soon in peace and safety, our hearts purged of fear.

May your happiness increase!

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

For the moment, it’s not possible to go down to the The Ear Inn and indulge in our Sunday-night joys — musical and otherwise — so I will do my part in bringing the experience to you.  My first offering of performance videos and loving personal history can be found here:

Here is another video from the earliest documentation of communal joy at 326 Spring Street (June 7, 2009) that I did, featuring Duke Heitger, trumpet; Harvey Tibbs, trombone; Dan Block, clarinet; Matt Munisteri, guitar; Neal Miner, string bass — Jon-Erik Kellso may have been collecting tips for the band — summoning Louis on SOME OF THESE DAYS, most evocatively in Duke’s final chorus:

and from two weeks later (the 21st), SUNDAY, featuring Jon-Erik, Harvey, Dan, Matt, and Jon Burr, string bass:

and from September 6, IF DREAMS COME TRUE, created by Danny Tobias, cornet; Michael Hashim, alto; James Chirillo, guitar; Frank Tate, string bass:

and a lovely Ellington medley by the same heroes:

and as this week’s sign-off, Irving Berlin’s isolation aria (although in a cheery Keynote Records mode) ALL BY MYSELF:

I have many more video performances to share with you, so I invite you to make JAZZ LIVES your regular Sunday-night companion (any other time will do, also).

May your happiness increase!

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!

WE LOVE LUCY YEGHIAZARYAN

I know my title must seem excessive, but what if it’s true? The young singer Lucy Yeghiazaryan has got it, and I’ve experienced it both on recording and in live performance. And if you think I am oddly subjective, you could also ask Greg Ruggiero or Michael Kanan, people whose opinion about singers is certainly trustworthy.  Here’s a sample, from recent performances with Greg, guitar; Neal Miner, string bass; Fukushi Tainaka, drums:

and another standard:

Admire how much music she and her three esteemed colleagues pack into such short spaces (each of these performances could fit on one side of a 78 rpm recording, for the readers who understand that yardstick).  She does everything well and with panache: she’s on pitch, her diction is splendid, she swings (!), her scat is not a series of formulaic ba-ba-ba‘s, her second choruses are not identical to her first, she lands on pitch, and . . . perhaps most important, she sends a message of ebullient joy.  Not only is she having a good time, but she wants us to have one as well, and I don’t mean attempting to reach us by eccentric vocalizing or tricks, but by singing.  Louis would say she has “more ingredients,” but they are subtly part of her recipe.

Here’s a soulful I WISH I KNEW (with Greg; Grant Stewart, tenor saxophone; Daniel Duke, string bass; Steve Williams, drums) where her voice has the quiet intensity of a great jazz soloist while she honors melody and lyrics:

Dramatic without dramatizing, as you hear.  Here’s something from Fats:

The first fourteen seconds of that performance are delicious and what follows is no letdown.  Lucy performs “old songs” with affection, not condescension; her phrasing is witty but gentle.  She knows what the lyrics mean — the emotional script beneath the words — and although she’s absorbed the Great Singers, she’s not selling us musical knock-offs from a folding table on the street.  (“Hey, gitcha Ella here!  I gotta new Sarah, and some Anita just came in.  No, all out of Billie.  Come back Thursday.”)

You don’t need many more words from me.  Her virtues are charming and consistently audible.  And the good thing — for New Yorkers and other fortunate denizens — is that she’s performing often in a variety of contexts. Follow her on Facebook here; on the Smalls website, read a brief biography — she comes from someplace more distant even than Red Hook — and see her in performance. 

But the best thing is to see her live (and buy the CD after).  At the end of 2019, my dear friend Matt Rivera got me in to meet and hear Lucy at a fund-raiser in New Jersey.  Her two brief sets were models of professional performance that wasn’t so rehearsed as to be stale.  She chose fitting tempos, interacted beautifully with the band, spoke to the audience with deft politeness, knew her material perfectly but improvised freely within it . . . in short, she was a delight.

So, even though I have retired from teaching, I can still assign homework, and yours is to go see Lucy, before the ticket prices become too high, and you can tell your provincial friends that you discovered her.  It can be our secret.

May your happiness increase!

A WELCOMING ART: The MICHAEL KANAN TRIO (GREG RUGGIERO, NEAL MINER)

Perhaps because I began my immersion in music in the last century with musicians who sent warmth through the speaker and in person, some “contemporary jazz” or “innovative music” seems forbidding, austere.  It looks at me suspiciously and asks, “Are you musically erudite enough to be allowed to listen to what is being created?” suggesting that I am metaphysically too short to ride the esoteric roller coaster.  But not the music Michael Kanan creates.

Pianist and composer Michael Kanan does not aim for the esoteric, although his art is consistently subtle.  He delights in song, in melodic improvisation, in swing.  His music says, “Let’s have a nice time.  Please come in!” and the most severe postmodernists gently thaw out after a chorus or two.  His playfulness is balanced by deep feeling, each note and chord carefully chosen but floating on emotion.  Jimmie Rowles stands in back of him, and Lester Young in back of both.  If you’ve been following this blog, Michael’s appeared often since 2010, when I first met him through his friend, the masterful reedman Joel Press.

Michael appears worldwide in many settings, but in New York City he is often happily onstage with Greg Ruggiero, guitar, and Neal Miner, string bass, his “brothers in rhythm.”  That splendid trio will be appearing at Mezzrow on West Tenth Street on December 27 and 28, sets at 7:30 and 9:00 PM.

But this post isn’t simply a gig advertisement.  In summer 2019, Michael, Greg, and Neal performed for an attentive audience at the now-vanished 75 Club, and those performances can now be savored here at Michael’s YouTube channel.  And here!

Ellington’s PIE EYE’S BLUES:

Michael’s own FOR JIMMY SCOTT:

His lovely THE PEARL DREAMS OF THE OCEAN:

The frisky POPCORN:

and a sweet MY IDEAL, where the trio sends Richard Whiting their love:

If you’re not close enough to Mezzrow to make this gig, you can have the trio at home with not much effort: they recorded their debut CD, IN THIS MOMENT, not long ago — also recorded live at that club.  The CD’s lovely art is by Anne Watkins, and you can read my review of the music here.

However you encounter Michael, Greg, and Neal, don’t deny yourself the pleasure.

May your happiness increase!

MODERN ROMANCES IN JAZZ, WITH A LEMON SLICE: “CHARLES RUGGIERO AND HILARY GARDNER PLAY THE MUSIC OF THE BIRD AND THE BEE”

I will begin at an oblique angle.  One of my heroes is trumpeter Spike Mackintosh, fiercely devoted to the music he embodied.  Spike believed that the only jazz to be listened to was recorded between 1928-34.  I admire that devotion, but confining oneself to a narrow — even though pearly — segment of art would be stifling.  So I commend a new CD (Smalls Live SLoo61) of songs I’d never heard before by a duo entirely new to me.

Hilary Gardner by Shervin Lainez

Singer Hilary Gardner adores Rodgers and Hart but also knows theirs is not the only love music we might vibrate to.  When she asked if I’d like to hear this CD, she cautioned that I might not like it.  True, I don’t “like” it: I embrace it.

And before I ask you to read one more word, here is a song from the CD:

Although I still grow weepy when I hear Charles La Vere’s 1935 I’D RATHER BE WITH YOU, this I find entrancing.  The song is a collection of half-sentences that coalesce into an emotional mosaic, a synergy larger than the apparent fragments.  And the other seven songs on this disc are small novellas in jazz.

When I first heard the CD, the image that kept recurring was “Warm heart and sharp elbows,” and I think it’s true.  Or a cake recipe where the expected sweetness is cut by a cup of lemon juice.  I may be older than the perceived audience for The Bird & The Bee, and I am usually very suspicious of new additions to the words-and-music I treasure, but I feel that this music not only sounds pleasantly surprising, but the lyrics express the modern world with snap, tenderness, and glee.  It could be the successor to all the songs I have taken to my heart from the Twenties onwards — intelligent additions and modifications to the world of love as seen by Porter and Hart and Gershwin, Wilder, Robison, and many others.

What strikes me now and did when I first listened to the CD is not the apparent “audacity” of the project — “My goodness, Mabel, jazz people recording non-jazz material!  Heavens!”  It’s neither incongruous nor is it a gambit to make money from bridging two disparate audiences (think: BASIE’S BEATLE BAG) but the delight is how seamless the result is, as if I and others had really been waiting for four wonderful creative improvisers to record this music.  And, by the way, the back of the sleeve has a gracious appreciative note from Inara George, one half of the musical duo, about this CD.

It is not only the original songs I admire, their mixtures of affection and wryness, their romance and realism, but the performances.  They are great songs not only to improvise on but to hear unadorned, even without lyrics.  I have admired Neal Miner for a long time, but the trio he forms with Charles Ruggiero, drums, and Jeremy Manasia, piano, is just superb: they mesh but remain distinctly individuals.  And Hilary comes through with great subtlety, gentleness, and wit: as if here she’d found the real nourishment to express herself afresh.  I should also add that the recording is lovely: the way we usually hear artists in a club, through amplifiers, microphones, and the club’s sound system is coarse by comparison.

The CD gleams in every way and will continue to do so.   And it’s available in all the usual places and ways.  (Hilariously, Amazon notes it is “Explicit” because the second song uses the F-word.  Oh, save me from such filth!  How very naughty.  But I digress.)  Buy it, I suggest.

May your happiness increase!

HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO LARRY McKENNA! (Part Two): LARRY McKENNA, SAM TAYLOR, STEVE ASH, NEAL MINER, FUKUSHI TAINAKA at SMALLS (June 23, 2019)

Larry McKenna got to the gig early, as did I and many others who knew what gorgeous music we were about to hear, created right in front of us.  He and Sam Taylor, both on tenor saxophone; Steve Ash, piano; Neal Miner, string bass; Fukushi Tainaka, drums, made castles of sound for us — two sets’ worth.  And for those who live by clocks and calendars, Larry turned 82 on July 21, 2019.  He’s not “spry”: he is in full flower right now.  Consider the blossoming evidence of the first set at Smalls here.

Before the gig. Photograph by Melissa Gilstrap.

(Incidentally, Larry and Danny Tobias have a little concert date on Sunday, September 21, at the 1867 Sanctuary in Ewing, New Jersey — details here.)

Now, for the second set at Smalls — beautiful playing by everyone!

SOMETHING’S GOTTA GIVE (as they used to say, “from the movie of the same name):

The lovely THERE’S NO YOU (hear a delighted woman in the audience say, “Oh, yeah!” once the melody registers):

The durable swing standard ROSETTA, which gives Sam a very touching opportunity to tell about his early and sustained connection with Larry:

MORE THAN YOU KNOW, a feature for Sam:

And to close, another song associated with Earl Hines [and Louis Armstrong and Lester Young!] its title a sweet reminder of the bonds we forge, YOU CAN DEPEND ON ME:

The sounds of this evening were completely gratifying, but what got to me — and you can see it in the videos — were the smiles on the musicians’ faces (echoed on the faces of people near me), expressions of  gratitude, joy, and pride — what an honor it was to be there and, to hear the artistry, to feel the delight.  How rare, how wonderful.

May your happiness increase!

YOUNGBLOODS FOR LOUIS: GUILLERMO PERATA, FERNANDO MONTARDIT, JON-ERIK KELLSO, SCOTT ROBINSON, NEAL MINER at THE EAR INN (August 4, 2019)

A piece of paper says that Louis Armstrong was born on August 4, 1901, instead of the July 4, 1900, he always claimed.  In this, I take the testimony of his mother, who called him her “firecracker baby,” as prime.  And I will argue this point until no more copies of WHAT A WONDERFUL WORLD can be found.  Of course, he deserves every birthday celebration one can imagine, ideally 365 of them every year. 

But just yesterday, at the Ear Inn, on 326 Spring Street, there was a little celebration in the proper spirit.  Louis loved the South — which he would have defined as his native Louisiana — but he would have been very happy to greet two musicians from that region, more or less (Mexico City and Buenos Aires): cornetist Guillermo Perata and guitarist Fernando Montardit, who sat in with the EarRegulars — Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Scott Robinson, reeds and F-trumpet, and Neal Miner, string bass — on a properly celebratory SWING THAT MUSIC.  And they all do:

Louis smiles his approval.  I hope you do, also.

May your happiness increase!

HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO LARRY McKENNA! (Part One): LARRY McKENNA, SAM TAYLOR, STEVE ASH, NEAL MINER, FUKUSHI TAINAKA at SMALLS (June 23, 2019)

Today, July 21, 2019, the wonderful tenor saxophonist Larry McKenna turns 82.  Pause, please, to consider that.

Here is music that Larry and friends created, at Smalls in New York City, when he was a mere 81.  The friends are Sam Taylor, tenor saxophone; Steve Ash, piano; Neal Miner, string bass; Fukushi Tainaka, drums.

This is the first set of two: savor the energetic singing quality Larry offers us and how it inspires not only the audience but the other players.

Before the gig. Photograph by Melissa Gilstrap.

YOU’RE IT (Larry’s original, based on IT’S YOU OR NO ONE):

a less-morose version of YOU’VE CHANGED:

and my request, THESE FOOLISH THINGS — with Steve’s lovely introduction:

FATS FLATS (or BARRY’S BOP) which closed the first set:

Thanks of course to Sam Taylor, whose idea this session was, and to Fukushi, Steve, and Neal.  Thanks also to Melissa Gilstrap, Liz Waytkus, Joe McDonough, and John Herr.

When we have music like this to be nourished by, who needs cake or wrapping paper?  Every note is a celebration of our collective lives.

May your happiness increase!

IN THIS MOMENT: MICHAEL KANAN, GREG RUGGIERO, NEAL MINER (live at Mezzrow, New York City)

Cover art by Anne Watkins

“The more I read the papers, the less I comprehend,” wrote Ira Gershwin, lines so poignant to me. But heartfelt creative music is an antidote to darkness. Some tell us that a postmodern world demands abstract sound, sharp-edged art. I prefer song, music that can dance as a response to sorrow, melodies rueful in the face of hard realities. Song never grows old, and the artists on this disc understand and enact this truth. Michael Kanan, piano; Greg Ruggiero, guitar;  Neal Miner, string bass, trust the melodies they create, and they respect the composers’ craft while making the most familiar material glisten.  Their music balances feeling and technique, and their collective energies embrace the listener.

I first met Michael Kanan in 2010 through the good offices of the Swing Lion of Boston, Joel Press, and I was immediately tickled and moved by Michael’s sly sweet approach to the piano and to song. Like a master Japanese brush-painter, he implies, he hints, he whispers thoughts we need to hear, his phrases nudging us into surprises that gratify, his pauses and silences eloquent breaths. A little later, I heard Neal and Greg, each a great swinging lyricist, each creating singular melodic epigraphs no matter the context. The trio is the embodiment of fraternal love and understanding; the laughter the three friends share before they begin to play bubbles through the night’s performances. Michael, Neal, and Greg are quietly compelling soloists but they play for the comfort of the band. They know that music doesn’t have to abrade to catch our attention, that a two-chorus solo might be all that’s needed. Their music is never immodest or coarse; it never says LOOK AT US. And they offer us an airy grace; rueful melodies never become maudlin or heavy. When I hear this trio play, I go home feeling as if I’d been dipped in some sweet elixir, not available online.

I began by noting — through Ira Gershwin’s praise of lasting love — that there are experiences, like candid graceful music, that go beyond comprehension, that move into our hearts and stay there.  This disc captures three masters of the art, offering all they feel and all they have learned to us.  It is in the moment and of a particular moment, but it becomes timeless.

Here is a sample of what this trio does so well:

And here one can buy or download or sample, then purchase the music.  Ideally, one could go where Michael is playing and press money into his hand, completing a circle of artist and grateful audience.  But however you find your way to these sounds, they will uplift.

May your happiness increase!

KIHONG JANG: “THEY BROUGHT A NEW KIND OF MUSIC TO ME”

This young man creates wonderful music, free and easy as goldfish in a pond.

He’s Kihong Jang, a guitarist with a quiet compelling lyricism.  This post is to celebrate the release of his debut CD, out on Gut String Records.

And it’s delightful.  Before you read another syllable, listen to this:

Isn’t that delicious?

The session was recorded in late October 2018 — how very fresh! — and it features Kihong on the guitar you see here, JinJoo Yoo on piano, Neal Miner on string bass, Jimmy Wormworth on drums, performing YOU BROUGHT A NEW KIND OF MUSIC TO ME / GOLDFISH, GOLDFISH! / FLAMINGO / LESLIE / GENEALOGY / GOLDFISH, GOLDFISH! in an alternate take.

FLAMINGO, LESLIE, and the title track are Kihong’s compositions; the others are by JinJoo, Kihong’s musical and life partner.  And for those who quail at a CD of “originals,” several of these compositions are clever improvisations on the harmonic and melodic structures of songs full of substance that don’t get explored that often, for instance HOME and YOU BROUGHT A NEW KIND OF LOVE TO ME.  (Had someone been listening to George Wettling’s New Yorkers, recording for Keynote in 1944?  Or coincidence?)

Kihong is a deep feeling melodist, and every phrase he creates is paradoxical in that it is simultaneously terse and tender.  He has a classicist’s restraint: there isn’t an extraneous note; there are no runs up and down the fretboard just because he has practiced for years.  He is closer to Elizabeth Kenny than to Jimi Hendrix, and his clarity of intent is a blessing.  He takes his time, and he gets where he’s going.  His phrases have a careful, considered essence that goes hand in hand (pun intended) with serious emotion.  And ebullient swing.

The session is marvelously old-fashioned in its cheerful reverence for lyricism, but it doesn’t need to be dusted: it doesn’t reek of the Library or the Museum.  At points, the music reminds me most reassuringly of a previously unheard Fifties Clef session, but the fact that it was played and recorded last autumn is so hopeful.

I’m always fascinated by the ways musicians do and don’t reflect their personalities in their music.  In person, Kihong is just like his playing: modest, quiet but full of serious understanding.  He chooses his words in the way he selects his notes and phrases: he listens intently, he values silence as well as speaking, and when he has something to say it comes out of his clearly deep perceptions.

Kihong is a great ensemble player (the disc, although he is leader, is a truly egalitarian walk through the meadow) and there is ample space given to JinJoo, Neal, and Jimmy, to make their own eloquent statements in solo as well as members of the quartet.  I’ve written about JinJoo here and here, Jimmy (celebrated on film by Neal) here.  I’ve been celebrating Neal here as musician and composer since January 2011 (he appears in 79 posts!) so that should convey something of my admiration.

I want to write only that Kihong and friends make music.  Not music that insists, “I am important music!” but music that gently says, “I have two clementines in my pocket.  Would you like one?”  Listen and you will feel it.

And a jovial postscript — to send you on your way grinning.  As does the CD.

I asked JinJoo how she came up with the title “GOLDFISH! GOLDFISH!” for one of her compositions, and she told me, “At first, I wanted to call it as “Nostalgia”, but there’s already a tune by Fats Navarro with that title.
So I (almost) decided to name it ‘My Nostalgia’. (Not Fats’)… 😉

I was in Korea when Kihong asked my about song titles.

One day, I was having lunch with my mom and she started talking about some funny stories of my father and my uncle (they are twins) when they were young.  She told me some stories that she heard from my grandmother.  This one really cracked me up and I fell in love with it.

When my father and uncle were young, maybe 10, they lived in this small town called Jeon-ju.  My grandparents saved some money at that time (my grandfather was a teacher, so had a very stable income) and some people would borrow money from them.

One day, my grandmother figured out that one lady that she lent money before totally RAN AWAY, A–W–A–Y not even taking stuff from her house.  My grandma was really pissed off (because she really trusted her) and told my dad and uncle to GO TO THAT LADY’S HOUSE AND BRING ANYTHING THAT LOOKS PRECIOUS. And guess what? They brought goldfish from the pond that were swimming beautifully. (Some old houses in Korea had small ponds).
When they came back home EXTREMELY THRILLED, “Mom!! Mom!!! Look!!!! We brought goldfish!!!!”

Actually, what they really wanted to bring home was the lady’s DOG, but it was barking furiously so they gave up.  Later, they found out that that lady’s family really went completely broke. I could picture how excited my dad and uncle must have been when they found goldfish in the pond.  “Oh man, look! Goldfish!!! Goldfish!!”

And that’s how I came up with that title.

May your happiness increase!

WHEN LOVE COMES IN THE EAR: JON-ERIK KELLSO, MATT MUNISTERI, SCOTT ROBINSON, NEAL MINER (The EarRegulars at The Ear Inn, Sunday, June 10, 2018)

Readers of JAZZ LIVES know how deeply I and others treasure the Sunday-evening gatherings of kindred enlightened souls that take place at The Ear Inn, 326 Spring Street, Soho, New York City.  Here is some joy from June 10, with the personnel listed above: Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet and special mutations; Matt Munisteri, guitar; Scott Robinson, reeds and brass cross-species permutations [translation: tenor saxophone, alto clarinet; miniature French horn]; Neal Miner, string bass.

The EarRegulars, June 10, 2018. Photograph by Neal Siegal.

Here are a few highlights, delights all.

Some Fats by way of Louis, BLUE, TURNING GREY OVER YOU:

YOU BROUGHT A NEW KIND OF LOVE TO ME (its beginning excised because of a collision between my camera and an eager patron):

Don Redman’s soulful plaint, GEE, BABY, AIN’T I  GOOD TO YOU?:

More Fats! I’VE GOT A FEELING I’M FALLING with Scott’s loping, tender solo reading of the verse:

See you at The Ear around 7 some sweet Sunday.  And save me a barstool.

May your happiness increase!

DORON TIROSH: COMPOSER, IMPROVISER, NEW YORKER: “I WOULDN’T BE ANY OTHER PLACE”

I first met the quietly soulful drummer Doron Tirosh in August 2016 at a gig with guitarist Felix Lemerle and string bassist Murray Wall at a now-closed Greenwich Village restaurant.  I admired him immediately as an inventive, thoughtful musician and congenial person.  I will say more about my first impressions of Doron at the end of this post.

Earlier this year, Doron was ready to release his debut CD, SIMPLY BECAUSE IT’S WINTER (Gut String Records) — featuring pianist Michael Kanan, string bassist Neal Miner, and Doron.  I looked forward to this disc because those three musicians form an ideal trio, but even more because three of the six compositions were Doron’s originals — the title track, WHY WOULD YOU TREAT ME THAT WAY?, and FOR W.B.  The three classics show a deep immersion in the best American songs: IT WAS WRITTEN IN THE STARS, I GOT PLENTY OF NUTTIN’, and THAT OLD BLACK MAGIC.

Here are the links to purchase, download, or listen to the music: AmazonCDBabyitunes, and Spotify.

Doron asked if I would write something for the CD, and this came very easily:

Many listeners eye even the gentlest-spirited drummer with suspicion, and we have reason. Drummers HIT things while the band is playing. But Doron is no musical bully-boy. His melodic lyricism is the equal of heroes Michael and Neal. If you want a gorgeous example of lyrical democracy in action, savor WRITTEN IN THE STARS.

Doron has a light touch — metaphorically as well as sonically. He varies the sounds he gets from his kit with a deep intuitive intelligence, and he swings irresistibly: hear his solo introductions to PLENTY and W.B. Like my percussive deities Jo Jones and Sidney Catlett, Doron dances in our heads. His playing is crisp but never mechanical, delicate but never timid. And his originals come from the same place: they are blossoming interludes, not just chord changes tied up with twine. In 2018, beauty is not always easy to find, but Doron, Michael, and Neal show us what it is, can be, and will continue to be.

The subtleties of Doron’s playing and his gentle approach to the life of a New York jazz musician fascinated me, so we did an informal interview by email, and I find his answers candidly intriguing.   (My questions are in italics.)

Where did Doron Tirosh, musician, come from?

I was born and raised in Israel. I have loved music since I can remember- I used to carry vinyl records to kindergarten (and drop them because they were bigger than I was) – their presence made me feel good. My brother hipped me to music – he played guitar, piano, sang, and had very musical ears, and still does today. He could have been a great musician if he had chosen to do that for a living. My father is very musical as well.

I started studying classical piano at the age of 6, but I didn’t take it seriously. Only when I started playing the drums at 14 I began practicing devoutly, when in high school I joined the jazz department and that was it – I knew I wanted do nothing else but playing music for a living. I met a lot of great musicians during my high school years.

The role of the drums in the jazz ensemble is constantly changing. What do you see as your role when you play?

First and foremost, I want to make the other musicians I play with FEEL good. I try to keep a steady time and groove, but I do not think my role is to “keep” anything, meaning, to play with a stiff beat in order to keep the tempo. I want to bounce and swing together. I am learning how to do that (which is a life-long process) from playing with people who have a good beat. They could be bass players or other kinds of instrumentalists. Let me say that grooving together is the most wonderful feeling in the world. It’s addictive, and that feeling I get when I play with those musicians is the reason I am still staying in New-York.

Nowadays, due to the obvious change the world has been through, although the role of the drums is endless, I still find that playing in 4/4 time with good groove and phrasing is becoming a unique art. Then I ask myself how it could be that not so long ago, playing in 4/4 time with a great feel and musical taste was only entry level for any instrumentalist, a drummer included. Now, I respect any good music no matter of genre. I am aware of how important it is to be a well-rounded musician and open to anything, but I must say it is becoming hard for me to enjoy a lot of the music labeled “jazz” I come across. The jazz musicians I love the most are not stars, although some of them do tour around the world constantly. My heroes are down to earth people who want to play and keep passing on the tradition and knowledge they got.

I try to play what feels good to me, what I hear, and not pay attention to the passing fancies in the so called jazz music. I believe that if I want to be worthy of the title ”jazz drummer” I have a lot of responsibility, so I personally can’t play Balkan music and be a DJ on the side while at the same time I have a gig and I have to play a Thelonious Monk or a Charlie Parker composition. Playing such music demands my full dedication. That is just how I feel; there are a few that can pull that off though.

What does it feel like to lead a group from the drums?

Basically it’s the same, but I would say the main difference is that I have to be very clear about the material and arrangements that are played. The person who helped me realize that small but crucial point was Michael Kanan. Besides being a true friend and always helping me in everything and anything, he let me know from the beginning of the project that I have to be clear in conveying what I want to him and Neal.

As a shy person, I hate to be in the front and I hate telling people what to do. Sometimes I think I should have played piano and not drums because of that reason – but too late now, I guess. Anyway, when Michael asked me “What are we going to play?”, I gave him my typical Doron answer, “Whatever you want – songs that you like to play.” That made me seem hesitant and unclear so I learned I have to actually lead the session. I was still trying to be considerate by choosing material that I believed would fit best, and I must say I am content with the result. It was a wonderful learning experience for me recording with those two giants.

Few drummers are also composers of lyrical melodies: where does your inspiration come from?

Studying classical composition in Tel-Aviv University had a huge impact on me as a musician. I concentrated 4 years, which is far from enough, on playing piano, studying counterpoint, harmony, reading and transposing music, ear-training, and composing music for classical performers. The individual composition lessons helped me the most because I got a chance to investigate a real composer’s world. I was bad at conducting and some other subjects, however. You see, every field is a world of its own, one can devote his or her whole life to it – music has no end to it.  My teachers influenced me a great deal; they are incredible musicians.

The other influence is unfortunately heartbreaks. Most of my tunes or compositions were a way for me to use the energy of those experiences into creating a melody, hopefully a beautiful one.

You told me, “I feel like a New Yorker!” What does that feel like? Have you adopted us or have we adopted you?

Well, both. Although I have no family here, I made some really great friends who I consider as family. When I am ill or when I am desperate, I know I have friends to look after me. I would do the same for them – we take care of each other.
The music and the musicians make me feel at home. There is a strong feeling of a jazz community. I feel as the music that I love the most is in its natural surroundings here, and it is a feeling I will never experience in my home town.

Living the life of a jazz musician seems possible here, more than anywhere else in the world. Where else can I go and hear jazz music every evening until the next morning played by my favorite musicians on the planet? Or even play with them? There is a feeling that anything can happen, that suddenly I could find myself sitting-in with the best musicians in the world, so I always should be on top of my game. I find that I practice more here, play more sessions and more gigs, and in general try to be at my best.

I am not saying living in New York is not hard. The loneliness and the emotional downs here can be frightening, but the music makes living here worthwhile for me, at least for now. I miss my family though, and the food.

Any good stories about being a working New York musician?

The thing in New-York is that anyone can show up at any given show at any given moment. It could be the worst gig with the worst musicians in the world in a dull bar with 2 people in it and then suddenly in walks a great musician and everything becomes exciting instantly. It happened to me numerous times when great musicians sat-in spontaneously, as well as me sitting-in as the band’s drummer for the gig within a few minutes notice. Only last week I came to hear Michael Kanan and Pat O’Leary at the 75 Club, and ended up playing the whole show with them. It was a special night, I will never forget it- playing trio with those gentlemen, not to mention when Gabrielle Stravelli came up to sing… I wouldn’t be any other place.

——————————————————————————————

Here’s what I wrote about Doron when I posted videos from that August 2016 gig, and I believe it even more so now: I had known nothing of Doron except for the few words of praise from [guitarist] Felix [Lemerle]. And I confess that youthful drummers new to me arouse anxiety. I become Worried Elder: “Young man, are you planning to strike that ride cymbal with those wooden sticks? Why, and how, and how often?” But Doron and I bonded over dehydration and exhaustion, and I knew he came in peace. When he began to play, my spirits rose even higher, because he is a melodic drummer in the great tradition of the Masters, of Dodds, Singleton, and Catlett. Before each number, Felix would tell Doron the name of the song, and I could see from their expressions that they knew the melody and the lyrics as well.

Seeing Doron on the street, you would be unaware of the creative talent he has in his young self.  But hear his compositions, see him lead a band from behind the drums, and you will know in four bars that you are in the presence of someone special: a melodic, creative gift to New York from Israel.

May your happiness increase!

WARM SOUNDS IN MOTION: JON DE LUCIA OCTET in RECITAL: JON DE LUCIA, ANDREW HADRO, DAN BLOCK, RICKY ALEXANDER, JAY RATTMAN, STEFAN VASNIER, AIDAN O’DONNELL, STEVE LITTLE (City College, May 3, 2018)

I abandoned my adult responsibilities last Thursday to hear the Jon De Lucia Octet at City College, and I am so glad: this performance was an oasis.

Jon’s group, in existence for slightly more than two years, is a flexible, swinging chamber group devoted to the music-for-saxophones of Gerry Mulligan, Lee Konitz, Jimmy Giuffre, Ted Brown, Bill Smith, Alec Wilder, the Dave Brubeck Octet, and Jon’s own arrangements and compositions.  I’ve been following Jon and the Octet around New York since their inception, and have always felt rewarded.  Here is a sample from March 2017.

Perhaps it no longer applies, but it used to be fashionable to characterize such music as “cerebral,” to some, a euphemism for chilly aural architecture, jazz drained of untidy emotions, art from the neck up.  Not true for the Octet, which is a warm, mobile band, always with a generous offering of improvised solos.  You’ll hear and see for yourself.

If you have an established prejudice against what is perceived by some as “cool,” please take a visit to PRESERVATION, DREAMILEE, DISC JOCKEY JUMP . . . . and then re-assess.

At this too-brief concert, the players were Jon, alto saxophone and clarinet; Stefan Vasnier, piano; Aidan O’Donnell, string bass; Steve Little, drums; Jay Rattman, tenor saxophone; Dan Block, alto saxophone and clarinet; Ricky Alexander, tenor saxophone; Andrew Hadro, baritone saxophone.

Gerry Mulligan’s DISC JOCKEY JUMP, originally composed by young Mr. Mulligan for the Gene Krupa ensemble, then arranged for saxophones a decade later by Bill Holman:

Jerome Kern’s PICK YOURSELF UP (I think of Fred Astaire pretending to be clumsy) arranged by Jon:

The Gershwins’ TREAT ME ROUGH, from GIRL CRAZY, arranged by Dick Hyman for a Trigger Alpert record date:

PRESERVATION, by Ted Brown, a sinuous improvisation on Lester Young’s TICKLE-TOE, arranged by Jon:

The gorgeous PRELUDE, by Dave Van Kriedt, originally for the Dave Brubeck Octet:

DREAMILEE, Lee Konitz’s solo / variations on I’LL SEE YOU IN MY DREAMS, arranged by Jon:

PRELUDE TO PART FIRST, a Baroque jazz fantasy by Jon, which I associate with his new  Bach Shapes book:

Cole Porter’s very pretty LOOKING AT YOU (I think of Lee Wiley’s 1940 recording with Bushkin and Berigan) arranged by Jon.  Dance music for very hip couples:

and a memory of a vanished New York City subway-system entrance machinery, TURNSTILE, again composed by Mulligan and arranged by Holman:

Jon’s Octet — with the splendid Ted Brown — will be releasing their debut recording, a live performance from their first recital — on Neal Miner’s noble Gut String Records — this summer.  Expect to hear more about it here.

May your happiness increase!

MS. YOO TO YOU! “I’M CURIOUS”: JINJOO YOO, NEAL MINER, JIMMY WORMWORTH (Gut String Records)

We know “curious” as being eager to learn or know something, but the less well-known definition is unusual, rare, unexpected.

Photograph by Jennie Karpadai

The inventive jazz pianist and composer Jinjoo Yoo is both of these things, qualities sweetly embodied in her debut CD, I’M CURIOUS, a trio session with Neal Miner and Jimmy Wormworth on Gut String Records.  And if you think you’ve heard and seen her before, you are correct: I wrote admiringly of her at the end of February 2018 here.

The disc offers six of Jinjoo’s originals, and although I ordinarily view “originals” with some trepidation, I welcomed hers and wish that a full-scale CD is coming soon.

Her music is unhackneyed, melodic, welcoming.  She spins out long graceful lines that aren’t four-bar modules copied from other pianists.  She has her own voice, or I should say, “voices.”  The performances often begin with a simple melodic motif set over a clear, swinging rhythmic foundation . . . and they transparently show off her curiosity.

I can hear her asking of the music, “Notes, chords, where will you take me?” And the results are gently playful, as if she were turning over brightly-colored bits of melody and harmony in the sunlight to see what reflections they cast on the while wall.  She can be tender, ruminative, but she can also create vivid joyous dances: songs that call out for lyrics.

Her playing is spare but I never felt it to be sparse, the sonic equivalent of a large room with one canvas chair against the wall.  No, her single notes seem just right — percussive commentary when needed, lyrical otherwise, and her harmonies are lovely, neither formulaic nor jarring.  Her voicings are subtle but right: the listener isn’t overpowered by force or volume, but welcomed in.  And she works wonderfully with the stellar members of this trio.  It’s music that will deeply reward those steeped in the modern piano tradition, but music one could play for someone outside the circle who would find it refreshing.  It’s clear that she has steeped herself in the jazz tradition — reaching far and wide to include bebop, Jimmy Rowles, Ellington, Monk, and American popular song at its best — but she is herself.  And she has an essential sense of humor: even her most pensive moments have an airy quality.

The titles are: BLULLABY, DIZZY BLOSSOM, I’M CURIOUS, AND I CALL IT HOME, TO BARRY WITH LOVE, BLULLABY (alternate take).

Jinjoo writes, “I owe my inspiration to the blue morning light sneaking in through my window (Track 1, 6), A bird singing, and flower petals floating in the air during springtime (Track 2), Fantasies created by desire and curiosity (Track 3), Teymur Hajiyev’s film about the reality of life in the slums of Azerbaijan <Shanghai, Baku> (Track 4), My hero, my teacher, the one and only Barry Harris (Track 5).”

I predict a bright future for this sensitive, intuitive artist — both as pianist and composer.  You can learn more about I’M CURIOUS and other Gut String Records releases here.  I encourage you to do so: these CDs don’t always get the press barrage their contents deserve, but they are rewarding in music and sound.

Here’s Neal’s video of BLULLABY, from the recording session:

and TO BARRY, WITH LOVE:

Welcome, Ms. Yoo!  Consider yourself invited to stay.  And thank you.

May your happiness increase!

 

 

MEET MS. YOO: SHE SWINGS. SHE’S LYRICAL.

Meet Jinjoo Yoo, jazz pianist:

Although she studied sociology and economics as a university student in South Korea, she came to New York City a few years ago and began devoting herself to the study of jazz piano, composition, and arranging.  You can find out more about her path — from Seoul to swing here.

Her 2017 performance / arrangement of HONEYSUCKLE ROSE will tell you more than her brief biography.  That’s Luca Rosenfeld, string bass, and Doron Tirosh, drums:

Here’s another side of her — lyrical, questing, pensive.  The song is Bud Powell’s DUSK IN SANDI, which Jinjoo came to make her own with some friendly assistance from Coach Barry Harris:

Jinjoo has recorded a trio EP, I’M CURIOUS (Gut String Records) which will be out at the end of February.  I’ll have more to say about it then, but it finds her playing her compositions — quirky and lively — with wonderful support from Neal Miner, string bass, and Jimmy Wormworth, drums.

Neal, Jimmy, Jinjoo

Until then, her website offers a good deal of music.  Although young, she has a true talent, as you will find out.  And here is her Facebook page for even more current information.

May your happiness increase!

MUSIC WITH FRIENDS (Part Two): MICHAEL KANAN, GREG RUGGIERO, NEAL MINER (The Drawing Room, January 8, 2018)

Michael Kanan

This is the first part of a sextet of delicious performances by Michael Kanan, piano; Greg Ruggiero, guitar; Neal Miner, string bass, recorded on January 8, 2018, at the Drawing Room in Brooklyn.

Neal Miner

In that first segment of this impromptu session, these three lyrical friends performed  YOU DO SOMETHING TO ME, TAKE THE “A” TRAIN (which is how one gets to Jay Street-MetroTech, among other possibilities), and I’M JUST A LUCKY SO-AND-SO.  Now, for the patient faithful, this intuitive, subtle trio plays Neal Miner’s BLUES OKURA, IT’S ONLY A PAPER MOON, and LULLABY OF THE LEAVES.

Greg Ruggiero

Neal’s BLUES OKURA.  Make sure your seat belt is low and tight across your hips:

And an exceedingly tender IT’S ONLY A PAPER MOON, honoring Arlen’s intent — and I hear Harburg’s lyrics all the way through:

then the classic LULLABY OF THE LEAVES:

Wonderful reassuring music to be sure.  Thank you so much, gentlemen, for this casual affecting interlude.

May your happiness increase!

MUSIC WITH FRIENDS (Part One): MICHAEL KANAN, GREG RUGGIERO, NEAL MINER (The Drawing Room, January 8, 2018)

Michael Kanan prizes friendship very highly, and not in some abstract way.  He is a true Embracer, and his deep love of community lasts longer than a simple hug.  He showed us this once again a few Mondays ago at a little gathering at his Brooklyn studio, The Drawing Room.

Michael Kanan

Michael’s colleagues in melodic exploration were his friends and ours, Greg Ruggiero, guitar; Neal Miner, string bass: each of them a thoughtful swinging intuitive orchestra in himself.

Greg Ruggiero

It was a jam session evening, so even though this trio played six songs (you’ll have the first three here) it wasn’t a mini-recital, more a gathering of friends who don’t get to play together often. They hadn’t played together in months, and after Michael had seen the videos, he called them “music in its raw natural state,” but it was an acknowledgment rather than a criticism.  I think of them as cherries picked from the tree, their stems still attached, as opposed to cherry pie filling from a can.

Neal Miner

Porter’s YOU DO SOMETHING TO ME:

Strayhorn’s TAKE THE A TRAIN:

Ellington’s I’M JUST A LUCKY SO-AND-SO:

When you’re invited to a party at Michael’s, you go home laden with gifts.

May your happiness increase!

FOR REAL: “ALONG THE WAY”: SAM TAYLOR QUARTET with guest LARRY McKENNA (JEB PATTON, NEAL MINER, PETE VAN NOSTRAND)

I alphabetize my CDs by artist (with shelves for the unclassifiable) so that young tenor saxophonist Sam Taylor’s two discs — one from 2015, MY FUTURE JUST PASSED, and the new one, ALONG THE WAY (both for the Cellar Live label) sit comfortably between Eva Taylor and Jack Teagarden.  And everyone’s happy, because those three musicians place great emphasis on clear, personal delivery of melodies, staying true to the composers’ intention, no matter how intriguing the harmony might become.

If you know the work of Sam, Larry, Jeb, Neal, and Pete, I need say no more: swinging lyricism, never formulaic.  But perhaps young Mr. Taylor is new to you. Prepare to be delighted.  Here’s a taste of ALONG THE WAY:

Sam Taylor is a young man according to the calendar, but already a mature artist with a deep feeling for his art.

A friend encouraged me to listen to his first CD, MY FUTURE JUST PASSED — even given the dark title (it’s a wonderful song from 1930) and I was fascinated — as I wrote here.  Sam is that rare player willing to take his time to sing his own song.  And songs meant more to him than dots on the page or the secret knowledge of harmonies, bent and stretched: they are narratives of feeling, even with their words unstated.  In 2015, I was fortunate enough to see and hear Sam live a few times — one of which I documented here.

I knew about the most respected Larry McKenna, now 80, the splendid player based in Philadelphia, so when Sam told me that his next project would be with Larry, I was excited.  And as you have heard from the clip above, it is not following any two-tenor formula.

No “En garde!” and certainly not “Gentlemen, start your engines!”  No cutting, no bloodletting — rather a deep dear brotherly conversation between two players who know the true center of their music.  It isn’t even the Young Man and the Venerable Sage: rather, it sounds as if Sam and Larry have transcended the clock and the decades to be fraternal, sweetly discoursing on common themes.

And those themes are memorable ones.  The asterisk indicates those selections on which Sam and Larry play: MAKE SOMEONE HAPPY* / FATS FLATS* / ON THE TRAIL / WHERE ARE YOU? / PEOPLE WILL SAY WE’RE IN LOVE / THE CLOSE  THINGS (a McKenna original)* / THERE’S NO YOU* / WILD IS LOVE* / I WANT MORE.  Although there are several uptempo performances, the overall mood is mellow — which is not to say dozy or “Easy Listening,” but a lovely pensive swing feel.

Listen to some excerpts here — about ninety seconds taken from each track, surely enough to whet a listener’s appetite.  Incidentally, if you wonder “Who’s playing now?” I confess with amusement that at first I didn’t know . . . even though I have heard both players, Sam live and Larry on record and video.  But as I thought of it, it seemed more evidence of musical brotherhood than anything else: two lyrical players in the same groove.  Sam plays the melody on MAKE SOMEONE HAPPY with Larry weaving beautiful lines behind him, and he solos first; on FATS FLATS Sam goes first; on THERE’S NO YOU,  Larry plays the bridge and solos first; Larry solos second on I WANT MORE.

And listeners who are truly listening will have delighted in this rhythm section AND in the beautiful recorded sound.  Sam’s notes are a wonderful heartfelt tribute to Larry and to Sam’s first teacher — who steered him towards Bird and McKenna, wise choices.

Some people with long memories and substantial record collections may be saying to themselves, “I hear Zoot and Al!  I hear Lucky Thompson!  I hear Sonny!”

Me, I hear Taylor and McKenna, and am thankful for them and for this CD.

Here is the best place to purchase a disc or download (at quite surprisingly low prices) and to support the Cellar Live label.  Buy some copies (note the plural!) so that we can have a Volume Two.

May your happiness increase!

SAM BRAYSHER – MICHAEL KANAN: “GOLDEN EARRINGS”

First, please watch this.  And since it’s less than two minutes, give it your complete attention.  I assure you that you will feel well-repaid:

I first began listening to GOLDEN EARRINGS, a series of duets between alto saxophonist Sam and pianist Michael, a few months ago.  I was entranced, yet I found it difficult to write about this delicately profound music, perhaps because I was trying to use the ordinary language of music criticism to describe phenomena that would be better analogized as moments in nature: the red-gold maple leaf I saw on the sidewalk, the blackbird eating a bit of fruit in the branches of the tree outside my window.

There’s nothing strange about GOLDEN EARRINGS: it’s just that the music these two create is air-borne, resonant, full of feeling and quiet splendors. Think of quietly heartfelt conversations without words between two great artists.

And this:

Coming down to earth, perhaps, here are Sam’s own words — excerpted from an article by Phil Hewitt:

I grew up in Dereham, Norfolk and played the saxophone in school and also in the Norwich Students’ Jazz Orchestra. I gradually became more interested in jazz through my teenage years and went to study jazz saxophone at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama when I was 18 in 2007. Since graduating I’ve been freelancing in London and doing a fairly wide range of jazz gigs. I met Michael on my first trip to New York in 2014 although I already knew his playing from a few records. I’m a big fan of his playing: he’s incredibly tasteful and has a beautiful touch. He is melodic, swinging and really plays what he hears. I think we like a lot of the same musicians: Lester Young, Charlie Parker, musicians from the Tristano school, Hank Jones, Ahmed Jamal, Thelonious Monk. Michael is also incredibly nice, generous and encouraging. We kept in touch and we played a bit informally when he was in London a few times in 2015 on tour with Jane Monheit. I then took part in a summer school run by Jorge Rossy near Barcelona, which Michael teaches on every year alongside people like Albert ‘Tootie’ Heath, Ben Street, Chris Cheek and Peter Bernstein. So after all that I felt like I knew him quite well, and decided to ask him to do a duo recording with me. I really like playing in small combos like duos and trios, and I know Michael does too: you can have a more focused, conversational musical interaction, and I enjoy the challenge of keeping the texture varied despite the limited instrumentation. The recording process itself was fairly old school: just a few microphones in a room with a nice acoustic and a nice piano (Michael’s own The Drawing Room in Brooklyn, New York), one quick rehearsal and no edits. The repertoire is mostly slightly lesser-known tunes from the Great American Songbook and jazz canon – including compositions by Duke Ellington, Jerome Kern, Victor Young, Nat King Cole and Irving Berlin – plus there’s one original composition by me. I really enjoy digging a bit deeper and trying to find tunes to interpret which are slightly off the beaten track, and Michael is a real expert on the American Songbook in particular, so it was great to utilise his knowledge in that respect. It was fantastic to play with someone of Michael’s calibre. He’s played with people like Jane Monheit, Jimmy Scott, Peter Bernstein, Kurt Rosenwinkel and Ted Brown . . . .

The music was both recorded and photographed by the eminently gifted Neal Miner — whom most of us knew as a superlative string bassist.  When I received a copy of the CD (released on Jordi Pujol’s FRESH SOUND NEW TALENT label) and wanted to let you all know about it, I asked Sam if he would share his notes on the music, because they were like the music: gentle, focused, and intuitive.

Like most jazz musicians of my generation, I have been introduced to this type of repertoire through listening to and playing jazz, rather than by growing up with it as pop music in the way that, say, Sonny Rollins would have done. However, I have become increasingly interested in the songs themselves. Rollins playing “If Ever I Would Leave You” is amazing, but it is also fascinating to hear the Lerner and Loewe song in its (very different) original form. (I am referring more to American Songbook songs here, rather than compositions by the likes of Charlie Parker and Duke Ellington, which have obviously always existed as jazz performances).

By listening to original recordings, learning lyrics and consulting published sheet music, I have tried to access the ‘composer’s intention’ – something that Michael Kanan, an expert in this area, talks about. We tried to use this as our starting point for interpretation and improvisation, rather than existing jazz versions.

I feel very fortunate to have recorded with Michael. His wonderful playing is plain to hear, but he was also incredibly generous and encouraging throughout the entire process of making this album.

Our approach to recording was fairly old fashioned: just three microphones in a room with a nice piano; no headphones and no edits. Neal Miner took care of all this, and his kind and positive presence in the studio made the whole thing a lot easier.

Thank you for listening to this music. I hope you enjoy it.

Dancing In The Dark: Michael takes the melody while I play a countermelody partly derived from the sheet music and the dramatic orchestral arrangement that Fred Astaire and Cyd Charisse dance to in the film The Band Wagon.

Cardboard: the melodies that Bird writes are incredible; he is perhaps undervalued as a composer. Michael and I solo together. Some of his lines here are so hip!

Irving Berlin Waltz Medley: three beautifully simple songs. Michael plays a moving solo rendition of “Always”, which Berlin wrote as a wedding present for his wife. Hank Mobley’s Soul Station contains the classic version of “Remember”. I love that recording but the song in its original form is almost an entirely different composition.

BSP: the one original composition here, this is a contrafact (a new melody written over an existing chord sequence) based on Cole Porter’s “Love For Sale”. It was written a few years ago when I was particularly interested in the music of Lennie Tristano, Lee Konitz and Warne Marsh. The melody is heard at the end.

All Too Soon: originally recorded as an instrumental by the classic Blanton-Webster edition of the Ellington band, this ballad was later given lyrics by Carl Sigman.

In Love In Vain: I love the original version from the film Centennial Summer. We begin with Kern’s verse and end with a coda that is sung in the film but does not appear in the sheet music I have for this. Perhaps it was added by the film’s orchestrators? So much for getting to the composer’s original intention!

The Scene Is Clean: there are a few mysterious corners in this tune from the pen of Tadd Dameron, the great bebop composer, and this is probably the most harmonically dense composition to feature here. The version on Clifford Brown & Max Roach at Basin Street is fantastic.

Beautiful Moons Ago: I don’t know many other Nat ‘King’ Cole originals, but this is a lovely, sad song by one of my favourite pianists and singers (co-written by Oscar Moore, the guitarist in his trio). I don’t think it is very well known.

Golden Earrings: another selection from a film, this mystical, haunting song was a hit for Peggy Lee. Victor Young’s harmony is quite classical at certain points.

Way Down Yonder In New Orleans: if this tune is played nowadays it tends to be by traditional jazz or Dixieland bands, but I’m a fan of it. The form is an unusual length and it contains a harmonic surprise towards the end. This take features more joint soloing and we finish by playing Lester Young’s masterful 1938 solo in unison.

Thanks:
Michael Kanan, Neal Miner, Jordi Pujol, Walter Fischbacher, John Rogers and Mariano Gil for their invaluable help and expertise. London friends who helped by playing through the material with me before the recording, lending their ears afterwards and by offering general advice: Helena Kay, Will Arnold-Forster, Gabriel Latchin, Matt Robinson, Nick Costley-White and Rob Barron. All my teachers over the years. Special thanks to Mum and Dad, Lois and Nana.

Sam Braysher, September 2016.

And here’s another aural delicacy:

I think the listeners’ temptation is to find a box into which the vibrations can conveniently fit.  Does the box say TRISTANO, KONITZ-MARSH, PRES, ROWLES-COHN?  But I think we should put such boxes out for the recycling people to pick up.

This music is a wonderful series of wise tender explorations by two artists so much in tune with each other and with the songs.  So plain, so elegantly simple, so deeply felt, it resists categorizations.  And that’s how it should be — but so rarely is.

My only objection — and I am only in part facetious — is that the format of the CD encourages us to continue at a medium tempo from performance to performance. I would have been happier if this disc had been issued on five 12″ 78 discs, so that at the close of a song I or any other listener would have to get up, turn the disc over, or put the needle back to the beginning.  The sounds are nearly translucent; they shimmer with feeling and intelligence.

Sam’s website is here; his Facebook page here.  New Yorkers have the immense privilege of seeing Michael on a fairly regular basis, and that’s one of the pleasures of living here.

May your happiness increase!