Tag Archives: Neil Miner

“OH, SISTER! AIN’T THAT HOT?” (The Ear Inn, May 23, 2010)

Befire we begin our almost-weekly celebration of high incendiary art in the West Village (that’s The Ear Inn, 326 Spring Street in New York City, Sunday 8-11 PM), a little history.

The title I’ve chosen for this blog refers back to a spirited song first made famous in jazz circles through a 1928 recording by Jimmie Noone’s Apex Club Orchestra.  Later, Eddie Condon, who had an ear for good, nearly forgotten songs, brought it back through a 1940 Commodore recording that featured Pee Wee Russell and Fats Waller (transparently incognito as “Maurice,” his son’s given name).  Bob Wilber and Kenny Davern resuscitated it once more in performances as Soprano Summit and Summit Reunion.  Marty Grosz loves the song and has performed it at Chautauqua and with Frank Chace.  But it’s far from a part of the standard “traditional” repertoire, so I was delighted to hear the Ear Regulars begin their first set last Sunday, May 23, with it.

But here’s the history.  I searched for a copy of the sheet music online (wanting, among other things, to see how the cover artist handled this exuberant there) — with no success.  But the YouTube channel of “victrolaman” turned up something even better, perhaps more authentic: the 1923 Edison recording with vocal by Vernon Dalhart.  Some of the lyrics are slightly hard to follow, but the general idea is quite clear — a song celebrating just how good the music is!

History class concluded; everyone gets an A; have a wonderful summer!

Back to the present or at least the recent past.  Most ad hoc groups begin their first set of the night with something familiar, not too complicated — perhaps SUNDAY — but The Ear Regulars are more ambitious.  So even I, with nearly three years’ happy experience of watching them in action, can’t predict what Jon-Erik or Matt is going to pull out of their imaginary song-files.  I was thrilled to hear them launch into this song.  By the second chorus, this band was in overdrive or turbo-charged or whatever automotive metaphor might appeal:

And the answer to the title’s somewhat rhetorical question was, of course, “Yes!”

For contrast, the Regulars proceeded to make the very familiar ON THE SUNNY SIDE OF THE STREET seem new and lively:

Harking back to the Thirties (to Billie and Lester, perhaps even to James P. Johnson), they then explored IF DREAMS COME TRUE:

They were taking their time, thankfully, so here’s the conclusion:

One of the band’s friends, the most gifted guitarist Julian Lage, came in at the start, and the Ear Regulars are very well-schooled jazz hosts, so they invited Julian to join the fun, which he did on a slow, rocking WABASH BLUES.  Please pay special attention to the ringing dissonances with which Matt begins his solo: he has an IMAGINATION, he does:

And here’s the second part, just as groovy, beginning with Jon-Erik’s plunger-muted magic:

They decided to finish the set with STRUTTIN’ WITH SOME BARBECUE, a tune “all the musicians love to jam,” here in two parts:

And the conclusion:

I couldn’t stay for the second set, but was very pleased to have been there for this musicale.  Everyone was individually inspired, and inspired by their colleagues on the stand.  

If I haven’t gone on at length about Kellso’s intensity, Scott’s ability to play any instrument marvelously and his urging playing, Matt’s wise risk-taking, Neil’s lovely sound and solid tempo, Julian’s delving and swooping melody lines . . . it’s because I think all of that should be evident to anyone watching one of the performances above.

COME OUT FROM BEHIND THOSE WORDS!

I’m troubled by the code words that jazz listeners use to describe the varieties of music they prefer. 

Some who believe that jazz only reached fruition when Charlie Parker (or John Coltrane or Ornette Coleman) burst forth, say in print that they prefer jazz that is “forward-looking,” “adventurous,” “innovative.”  Others who think jazz reached the perfection of form sometime before 1945 or 1960 or 2000 and has been in decline ever since, then your music of choice is “authentic,” “the real thing,” “pure,” “uncorrupted.”  Of course, “modern,” “contemporary,” “timeless” get a workout as well.   “Adventurous,” too. 

Veiled in code words, these ideological positions seek to validate a false premise: that Art progresses or declines.  Did Louis “improve” on King Oliver?  Did Clifford Brown “improve” on Roy Eldridge?  Was “Swing” more innovative than “New Orleans” or “Chicago”; did “Bebop” sweep all that come before it away, only to be rumped by “Hard Bop” and “Free Jazz”? 

Seriously, it makes jazz seem like a parade of the years: if you thought 1944 was great, wait till you hear 1945 — or one box of detergent replacing the last one because the NEW box is IMPROVED (and orange with blue stripes, too).

We all have very particular — sometimes idiosyncratic — preferences in our music as well as in everything else. 

But when those preferences are expressed as statements of critical truth, they may do the music a disservice.  I prefer Ellington’s analogy of the diner in a restaurant who likes his fish cooked the way Pierre does it.  So if your definition of the ideal way to play the alto saxophone is Hilton Jefferson or Benny Carter or Phil Woods, say so.  Those who see jazz as a progress year by year, with each new stylistic change an inevitable improvement on the old-fashioned music of the dusty past are missing out on many hot choruses, now and on record.  And the listeners who are so committed to banjo-and-tuba rhythm sections and find anything else oppressively “modern” may deprive themselves of the joy of Andy Brown, Neil Miner, and Jeff Hamilton. 

So let us abandon the ideological structures for an hour or a day.  Say, rather, “I like the way _________ sings, the way ________ plays trumpet,” rather than suggesting that either of these players has somehow made all others superfluous.  “Better” and “greater” might well be dispensable.  Let us be open about our admittedly subjective likes and dislikes (I have boxes of them to share) — to be cherished as personal expressions, but not made into statements of value. 

And perhaps it’s time for listeners and critics, too, to go back to the Blindfold Test — or what CADENCE calls “Flying Blind.”  Let us not be swayed by the famous name (or the absolutely unknown name) on the CD: what does the music sound like? 

A few unsolicited ruminations to begin 2010 . . . .