Tag Archives: New Orleans jazz

“BENNY AMÓN’S NEW ORLEANS PEARLS” WINS THE COVETED JAZZ LIVES “GFP”* AWARD: BENNY AMÓN, WENDELL BRUNIOUS, STEVE PISTORIUS, FREDDIE LONZO, ALEX BELHAJ, TOM FISCHER, TYLER THOMSON, JOE GOLDBERG, TIM LAUGHLIN

Let us start with the glorious evidence.

That’s the opening track of Benny’s new CD, and when the band shifts into tempo after Benny’s interlude I find myself in tears of joy.

Benny Amón is one of my heroes  And hero Benny can also write.

Often I’ve felt complete awe and incredulity for my experiences playing music in the city of New Orleans. I have been incredibly fortunate to gain mentors, many of whom are featured on this recording session, who have taught me to play New Orleans traditional music with the right feeling and spirit while also encouraging me to find my own voice as a musician.

This recording session is snapshot of that journey after spending most of my 20’s living in this beautiful city. The session is comprised of some of the most treasured musicians to come from this city and some of the greatest to have moved here. This exchange of generations, of cultures, of perspectives of music and life is what has helped make this recording session so successful.

My most important mentor and collaborator over the past several years, Steve Pistorius is featured prominently on this record whether it be ragtime duets, trios with horn players, or in the 7 piece ensemble. As Wendell Brunious likes to say, Steve is the #1 interpreter of the Jelly Roll Morton style of piano. Steve contributed much by writing out good melodies and chords as well.

Speaking of Wendell Brunious, we have worked together often at Preservation Hall over the past few years. Wendell is one of the best trumpet players and entertainers in the whole world and comes from one of the most important musical families of New Orleans. He is a gem that we cannot take for granted.

Freddie Lonzo is another of the New Orleans born and raised musicians who I have been working with over the past years at Preservation Hall and also at the Palm Court Jazz Cafe. He is one of the few trombone players left who understands how to play New Orleans style tailgate trombone. His positive energy and humor is infectious, as is his singing.

Tom Fischer has been in New Orleans for longer than I have been alive and his dedication to excellence on both clarinet and alto saxophone is evident on this record.

New Orleans’ own clarinetist Tim Laughlin recorded two songs on this cd that turned out beautifully. He is one of the my first and most important mentors in New Orleans.

Tyler Thomson also known as “Twerk” by many, is absolutely on fire on this record. Bringing incredible power and solidity to the bands he plays with. He would make Pops Foster, Chester Zardis, and Alcide Louis “Slow Drag” Pavageau proud.

Alex Belhaj is a dear friend of mine who moved to New Orleans a few years ago and he is a frequent collaborator with the Riverside Jazz Collective. His fine banjo and guitar playing is featured in the 7 piece band.

Joe Goldberg is another transplant to New Orleans who has earned the respect of all the top players in both the traditional and modern jazz scenes. His clarinet and soprano saxophone playing as well as his singing is featured on a couple of songs.

As a final note I would like to add a reflection on the actual site of the recording session. George Blackmon, an old friend and excellent studio engineer moved his entire set up to the Scandinavian Jazz Church (Formerly known as the Norwegian Seamen’s Church) to record the bands. The sound he got in that beautiful old church is reminiscent of old New Orleans dance halls where the New Orleans Jazz Revival bands led by such luminaries as Bunk Johnson and George Lewis used to play and record. The Jazz Church unfortunately was sold and since has been closed down after over a 100 years of service to the New Orleans community. The Church hosted jazz concerts and jazz prayer services for decades. The Church generously allowed us to record and use their facilities free of charge. This recording, and the accompanying videos produced, will stand as a last testament to this beautiful and historically important New Orleans institution.

Most importantly, the music on this record is an authentic and timeless account of the New Orleans Jazz scene as I experienced it at this time of my life; full of life, and joy. I am proud to release this music and hope that you enjoy it!

You  might think that Benny has said everything that needs to be said, but I want to add some perceptions he might be too modest to write himself.  Although he turns 30 this year, he is a mature artist with large heartfelt visions and sensitivity.  He is a spectacularly fine drummer.  He makes beautiful sounds, he plays for “the comfort of the band,” he knows dynamics and timbres, and he swings no matter what the tempo.  But he’s more than a wonderful percussionist.

Much of what is marketed as jazz these days — although it says it is inclusive — is a matter of boundaries and barriers, enacted in terms of repertoire and colleagues.  “Ourselves alone,” as the Irish used to say. Benny understands the music as spacious, its boundaries easy and flexible.  That doesn’t mean the new CD takes an iconoclastic approach for novelty’s sake, but it does mean that his vision of New Orleans jazz is easy and loose.  There are echoes on this disc of Bunk Johnson, King Oliver, Louis Armstrong, Jelly Roll Morton, Johnny Dodds, Jimmy Blythe, and Zutty Singleton — but also Eddie Condon, Billie Holiday, James P. Johnson.  Sidney Bechet is in town, but it is the later rhapsodic French Bechet; the Bunk echoes are of the “Last Testament” session.  I am tempted to write a track-by-track guided tour, but why spoil your surprises?

Benny’s gracious understanding also extends to the musicians he chose for this disc.  He has opened his musical house to friends who can really play and sing, people who are individualists.  And the welcome includes Elders and Youngbloods, which makes the session particularly earthy, fresh, and sweetly -surprising — it has some of the feel of a cross-generational down-home jam session where everyone is grinning their faces off at what they are hearing and what they are part of creatively.  It isn’t trad-by-the-numbers; it isn’t busker-stomp; it isn’t formulaic in any way.  And the repertoire is splendidly unhackneyed without being consciously esoteric.

Many CDs offer a huge plateful of The Same Thing, the musical equivalent of an eight-pound plateful of shrimp with lobster sauce.  But I have played this disc half a dozen times from first to last, enraptured.  There are full-ensemble pieces, one-horn, piano-drums trios, a gorgeous drum solo (BENNY FACE, as melodic as any orchestral piece), piano and drums, a few vocals (Goldberg on MY BABY; Brunious on BACKYARD; Lonzo on CALIFORNIA) — and speaking of BACKYARD . . .

How fresh and heartfelt that is!

Now I must explain the “GFP Award.”  I’d asked Benny to send me a copy of the disc when it was ready (handsome art direction there, too) and when I got it in the mail, drawn by whatever magnetism, I played it that night and wrote him immediately that it was, and I quote, a GIANT FUCKING PLEASURE (I use the vernacular when possible) and he asked me to please use that language in my blog.  I am too restrained to make it the heading . . . but the disc makes me happy.  You can buy the physical disc or a digital download here.  Don’t miss an opportunity to be uplifted.

Bless Benny and his friends.  They bring such joy.

May your happiness increase!

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AN ALL-YOU-CAN-HEAR BUFFET: THE REDWOOD COAST MUSIC FESTIVAL (May 9-12, 2019)

When I used to teach college, I would sometimes harangue my students about the money they spent, and ask them to consider before their next purchase, how many hours of work this item cost them, but more importantly, how much lasting happiness it would bring.  I made a conscious decision to invest in jazz.  Good music, improvised on the spot, pays immense emotional dividends that (let us say) new kitchen counters or other indulgences would not.

There’s also the Carpe Diem factor.  I hear so many fellow enthusiasts saying, “Wow.  I’ll certainly have to go there next year,” and then the “there” evaporates like a drop of water in a hot iron skillet because the jazz party costs too much to run year after year.  So a listener’s willingness to invest in jazz, to tear themselves away from the computer means that the festival goes on or the club stays open.

Carpe Diem is also personal — if you’re twenty-seven, please skip this passage.  This music has been one of the centers of my life for more than fifty years now, and since I know I don’t have another fifty, I am determined to experience as much of it as possible, while it’s here, while I have some income, and while my body cooperates.

Thus it delights me to invite you along to what is obviously a Humdinger and a Lollapalooza of a music festival:

and a listing of bands that, for me, induces a sweet vertigo:

JAZZ LIVES readers will see that a whole host of my West Coast secular deities are here, and this listing doesn’t include all the sidemen and women.  I encourage you all to do several things.  The first, and it’s not idle, is to create a mental space that includes a visit to this festival on May 9-12.  You have to envision something before it becomes a possibility, then a reality.  How you deal with the tangible obligations is your choice and it would be impudent for me to suggest borrowing from Hendrik and Melisandre’s college funds, but you can think of something.

Enough urging.  Please visit the RCMF website — with videos and biographies of musicians.  And here is the RCMF Facebook page.

It’s too soon for a complete schedule of performances to be posted, but I know that it will be.  I have heard — among other delights — words about a Charlie Christian tribute, a Walter Donaldson performance, an evocation of the Louis Armstrong All-Stars . . . . Those aren’t the usual festival fare, and I cherish them.  Dance competitions, also.  Let that sink in.

And for those who realize there is life away from the stage, the RCMF takes place in one of the most beautiful landscapes in the world — the Humboldt County redwood forest: details here.

But you’d like to hear some music, correct?  For once, I won’t easily gratify that desire for free through the computer.  Heaven knows there’s enough to be had.  For a change, consider leaving your chair, shutting your phone off in favor of a jaunt into the redwoods.  And an amazing cornucopia of musical experiences.

May your happiness increase!

“FROM THEIR HEARTS (Part Three): JON-ERIK KELLSO, CHARLIE HALLORAN, BRIAN NALEPKA, JOHN GILL, and JON DE LUCIA, JORDAN HIRSCH (The EarRegulars at The Ear Inn, July 8, 2018)

The EarRegulars, plus catsup. Photograph by Neal Siegal.

Here is the link to Parts One and Two, containing ten radiant performances from that very gratifying evening at 326 Spring Street, Soho, New York City.

And here are a few of the closing performances.

BEALE STREET BLUES:

IF YOU WERE THE ONLY GIRL IN THE WORLD (Mr. Nalepka sings of romance):

‘WAY DOWN YONDER IN NEW ORLEANS, with guest Jon De Lucia, clarinet:

THE CURSE OF AN ACHING HEART, with Jordan Hirsch, trumpet, and added soundtrack from the Wolf Cubs to my right, or, as Louis says, “Somebody must have been putting alcohol in our liquor”:

A wonderful evening, hugely restorative.  You’ve never been to The Ear Inn?  Get thee hence on a Sunday evening — early to grab a barstool or table — and live life fully.

May your happiness increase!

FROM THEIR HEARTS (Part Two): JON-ERIK KELLSO, CHARLIE HALLORAN, BRIAN NALEPKA, JOHN GILL (The EarRegulars at The Ear Inn, July 8, 2018)

From left, Brian, John, Jon-Erik, Charlie, that very night. Photograph by Neal Siegal.

Another serving of musical splendor: expertise and passion in equal measure.  Visit here for the first four performances (BOGALUSA STRUT, SOMEDAY SWEETHEART, WHO’S SORRY NOW, TISHOMINGO BLUES) and for details.

Music does indeed speak louder than words, so here’s more, the best kind.

WEARY BLUES:

YOU TELL ME YOUR DREAM (swing out, Brian!):

FIDGETY FEET:

PRETTY BABY:

DO YOU EVER THINK OF ME?:

OLD FASHIONED LOVE:

Even in darkness, joy is all around us, and these performances — so generous! — are powerful reminders.

May your happiness increase!

FROM THEIR HEARTS (Part One): JON-ERIK KELLSO, CHARLIE HALLORAN, BRIAN NALEPKA, JOHN GILL (The EarRegulars at The Ear Inn, July 8, 2018)

After the last tune had been played on Sunday, July 8, at The Ear Inn (326 Spring Street, Soho, New York City), Brian Nalepka — string bass, vocals, wit — caught my eye and smiled, “That was a GOOD night, Michael!” and he didn’t have to say anything more.  What the EarRegulars created that night, as they have done for eleven years of Sundays, was magical.  They demonstrated, for a few hours, how music is the best medicine for all kinds of woes.

The genuine heartfelt practitioners that night were Brian; John Gill, banjo, National guitar, vocal; Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet, leader; New Orleans luminary Charlie Halloran, in New York for a few days, trombone, or as he likes to call it, “trampagne.”  When you play as beautifully as Charlie does, you have wide-open linguistic license.

A few more words about him: I’d heard his recordings and they bring great joy: I’m thinking of his QUALITY SIX and CE BIGUINE, both celebrated on this blog (as well as wonderful work with half-a-dozen other bands) — but the closest we’d ever come to a real conversation was that we waved to each other across a fence at one of the Steamboat Stomps. So I was delighted to hear him in person, doing the thing at close range, and to find out that he is as gracious a person as he is a fine musician.  And I don’t overstate.

The Fellows, that very night. Photograph by Neal Siegal.

Here are some highlights from early in the evening.  The band just glowed, and so did we.

A rocking BOGALUSA STRUT:

A tender but groovy SOMEDAY SWEETHEART — a version that seems to need no comma in the middle:

Asking the musical question, WHO’S SORRY NOW? — here, it’s not fashionable to invoke the name of Miff Mole, but Charlie brings him to life in this century, exuberant and precise.  And we’re so lucky to have this band sharing its love every Sunday:

And to close this segment, a down-home TISHOMINGO BLUES, wonderfully sung by John Gill:

I will have more joyous evidence — inspired and inspiring — to share with you after a brief interval.

May your happiness increase!

ART IS NOT THE BOX IT COMES IN

 

Have you heard this recently, this ecstatic sustained outpouring of wise joys?

You can read the names off the record label before the music starts, so I don’t have to name the divine figures.

I nearly drowned in an online discussion this morning — what is the difference between “New Orleans jazz” and “Dixieland”?  That dangerous question quickly branched off into definitions of “Chicago jazz” and “true traditional jazz,” with small mutterings about “two-beat” and “four-beat.”

Gentlemen (for they were all male), these names were not invented by musicians.  From what I’ve seen in practice, the Ancestors did not go on the job or into the record studio and say, “Well, fellows, now we are about to create three minutes — or ten minutes — of Authentic _____________ (insert divisive name here).”

They might have said, “Here’s a song we love.  Here’s a good old good one,” but usually they referred to what they were doing as “playing music,” or — when things got too divisive — as “our music.”

(At this point, someone will expect me to repeat what Eddie Condon or Duke Ellington said about music.  I won’t.  My audience already knows those quotations by heart.)

I backed away from the online discussion because my GP is trying to get my blood pressure down, and such conversations are not good for me.  But I think of it this way: if your birthday present comes in a box wrapped with newspaper, and the present pleases you, do you need to obsess on the newspaper?

The nomenclature was invented by clubowners, record companies, journalists — to sell a product.  Music might be made into a product, but it is essentially a heartfelt personal creation, and arguing about the names for it ultimately has little to do with the art.  And such arguments fragment what is already a small audience.

So . . . call it what you will, if you must.  But realize that names are not the reality of what we cherish when we hear or play it.  And perhaps you might want to listen to that sainted recording once again.

P.S.  For once, I am going to exert imperial privilege — my blog is like my house, and if guests behave badly, I point them to the door.  So negative comments will not see the light.  And now, I am going into Manhattan — below Fourteenth Street — to savor some music.

May your happiness increase!

“A WORKING BAND”: WELCOME THE RIVERSIDE JAZZ COLLECTIVE!

Some New Orleanians will glower at me for writing these words, but all the music marketed as “New Orleans jazz” is not equally satisfying or expert.  The proof is on the city’s streets or on YouTube.  All that’s apparently steaming is not Hot, to coin a new cliché.

But this post is to welcome a new band — the Riverside Jazz Collective — and their debut CD, which is a delight. It’s the brainchild of pianist / arranger Kris Tokarski (whom I admire greatly) and his congenial friends: Benny Amon, drums; Alex Belhaj, guitar, vocal; Tyler Thomson or Andy Reid, string bass; Ben Polcer, trumpet, vocal, or Alex Owen, cornet and vocal; Charlie Halloran, trombone; Chloe Feoranzo, clarinet, vocal.

If you don’t know those names, you need a refresher course in Old Time Modern.

And the repertoire is lively and — even when venerable — fresh and joyous:
STOMP OFF, LET’S GO / IT BELONGS TO YOU/ JUST GONE / HERE COMES THE HOT TAMALE MAN / WABASH BLUES / READY FOR THE RIVER / RIVERSIDE BLUES / DON’T LEAVE ME IN THE ICE AND SNOW / SWIPSEY CAKEWALK / BLUES MY NAUGHTY SWEETIE GIVES  TO ME / ONE SWEET LETTER FROM YOU / SEE SEE RIDER / MELANCHOLY BLUES / SOCIETY BLUES / WHENEVER YOU’RE LONESOME.

That’s a wholly “traditional” repertoire, with nods to Louis Armstrong, Erskine Tate, Kid Ory, Jelly Roll Morton, Bunk Johnson, King Oliver, Freddie Keppard, Jimmie Noone, Tony Jackson, and more — but happily it isn’t DO YOU KNOW WHAT IT MEANS TO MISS NEW ORLEANS?  Nothing’s routine or stale here.

Here is the band’s Facebook page — where you can learn about their next gigs.

I’d asked Kris if he needed a liner-note writer, by which I meant myself, and I was delighted when he said yes.  Here’s what I wrote, in a very short time, because the music hit me hard in the nicest ways:

In the old days, when one could see the liner notes on the back of the “record,” or the “lp,” those paragraphs served a commercial purpose: to make the undecided purchaser head to the cash register at a trot, clutching the record. Today, the purchaser might read the notes after buying the CD (or perhaps not at all): so I write to share my enthusiasm. And there’s a lot to be enthusiastic about the Riverside Jazz Collective.

Musicians I know speak of “playing tunes,” as in “Oh, we played some tunes,” which suggests that on those occasions there is little written music but much collective joy that comes out of well-earned knowledge of the music. The RJC knows the original records and they may have “roadmaps” as in “Second chorus is stop-time for cornet and piano only,” but they aren’t trying to create imitations of the classics in the best sound. And they have the comfortable ease and friendliness – to us, to each other – of A Working Band, something delicious and rare.

The RJC is interested in “old” songs that are melodically and emotionally durable – from joyous stomps to love songs to one Chicago lament that says, “You know what? I’m going to kill myself,” even if the lyrics are too witty for that to be a real threat. Their repertoire is often “New Orleans jazz,” however you might define it, as it surfaced in other cities, notably Chicago. And one can point to a good number of Ancestors here, from Tony Jackson to Louis Armstrong to Oliver, Morton, Keppard, Bunk, and Ory.

This band also enacts a neat balance between collective improvisation and solos, but they bring a little twenty-first century energy, elegance, and intelligence to their hot reverence. Enthusiasm is the driving force here, not cautious antiquarianism. This band has also heard jazz created after 1927, and that awareness gives these performances a happy elasticity, an optimistic bounce. Hear HERE COMES THE TAMALE MAN for a brilliant example of sonic joy-spreading. I could explain more, but it would cost extra.

It feels good, and it feels real. You know there are mountains of what I’d call “tofu music” being marketed as genuine, but your ears, your feet, and your heart tell you when the jazz has been manufactured in a lab by chemists. I greet the Riverside Jazz Collective at the start of what I hope is their brilliant career. My words are written in a time of ice and snow, but the music warms and embraces. And now IT BELONGS TO YOU.

Visit here — and these compact versions of spiritual uplift can belong to you, either as download or disc; you can hear samples of the music as well.

Welcome to the Riverside Jazz Collective.  They spread joy: I hope they find prosperity and appreciative audiences.

May your happiness increase!