Tag Archives: Neal Miner

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!

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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!