Tag Archives: New York City

WHEN SPRING STREET IS SWING STREET: JON-ERIK KELLSO, MARK LOPEMAN, JOE COHN, TAL RONEN, BJÖRN INGELSTAM (SEPT. 1, 2013)

The block between Fifth and Sixth Avenues on Fifty-Second Street is “Swing Street” in name only: it’s been many decades since it was lined with small clubs featuring hot jazz.

But Spring Street can claim the name on Sunday nights — at least in one reassuring spot, The Ear Inn, 326 Spring Street, where the EarRegulars play between 8-11 PM: inspiring music in memorable surroundings.

The EarRegulars, as assembled on Sunday, September 1, 2013, were a noble crew: Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Mark Lopeman, tenor, soprano sax, clarinet; Joe Cohn, guitar; Tal Ronen, string bass.  And the first appearance by Scandinavian trumpeter — now a New York resident —   Björn Ingelstam on the closing song of this series.

Romberg in swing! LOVER, COME BACK TO ME:

MAKIN’ WHOOPEE, fine material for a groovy improvisation:

For Hawkins, perhaps? THE MAN I LOVE:

For Louis, Roy, Mildred, and of course Hoagy, ROCKIN’ CHAIR:

WASHINGTON AND LEE SWING (the fight song of Jon-Erik’s high school):

PLEASE DON’T TALK ABOUT ME WHEN I’M GONE:

May your happiness increase!

URBANELY, WITH FEELING: HILARY GARDNER SINGS OF CITY LIVES (with EHUD ASHERIE) at SMALLS, April 7, 2013

Hilary Gardner is not only a fine singer but she has an original turn of mind.  She wouldn’t have been the first singer to create a mini-concert around the theme of THE GREAT CITY — which, not incidentally, is the name of her bracingly fine new CD.  Details here.

Another singer might choose nostalgia and celebrate New York in formulaic terms of bygone neighborhoods and landmarks, the musical world of the double-decker bus and a pocketful of nickels for the Automat.  Hilary has her eyes open to this century as well as to its predecessor.  Her world didn’t begin in 1990, but she knows that intriguing songs keep being written about the city that so fascinates her.

The ten songs that follow — glorious evidence of the swinging, witty rapport between her and pianist Ehud Asherie — stretch back to Vernon Duke and Leonard Bernstein, but forward to Nellie McKay and Dan Hicks.  Hilary has a beautiful voice and a clear, focused delivery — you can hear she’s thought about the lyrics and how they ring most effectively — and a natural swing, a keen ebullience.  Her “contemporary” perceptions aren’t hard or ironic, though; she isn’t a postmodernist smirking at the audience through her songs.  No, she balances her sharp observations with a tender romanticism, both evident here.

WHEELERS AND DEALERS:

YOU CAME A LONG WAY FROM ST. LOUIS:

BROOKLYN BRIDGE:

THAT’S NO JOKE:

MANHATTAN AVENUE:

A NEW TOWN IS A BLUE TOWN:

THE GREAT CITY:

AUTUMN IN NEW YORK:

SWEETHEART / WAITRESS IN A DONUT SHOP:

THIS LITTLE TOWN IS PARIS:

And even those who think that singers should stay in the nicely fenced corral of “The Great American Songbook” should listen closely to both Hilary and Ehud — models of swinging, inventive solo and interplay, music with deep intelligence and deep feeling.  And any program of songs she offers us has its own artistic logic: she creates mosaics full of sharp but deeply felt juxtapositions and resonances.

May your happiness increase!

HILARY GARDNER SINGS: “THE GREAT CITY”

The-Great-City

In a city full of stirring, individualistic jazz singers, I invite you to welcome Hilary Gardner to the great stage.

This isn’t to presume her a new discovery — hardly!  But her debut CD is powerful, vivid, and emotionally varied.

She can sing, in short.

If you go immediately here (her homepage), two things will catch your attention.  One is the praise of Hilary written by Twyla Tharp — someone who knows music deeply.  The other is the sound of Hilary singing AUTUMN IN NEW YORK.

Delve a little deeper into her homepage (click on “music”) and you can hear more.

What I hear in THE GREAT CITY is a singer in full command of her lovely vocal instrument.  Hilary has a mature awareness of the bonding and bending that goes on between singer, melody, and words.  She offers us no melodrama, no vocal acrobatics; she honors the notes and the syllables, but she is not constrained by them.

She has chosen to retell the stories that the songs embody, each song a different story.  I hear an elegant restraint lit from within by feeling and understanding.  Hilary is wise enough to let the song carry her, wise enough to have absorbed great singers and instrumentalists, but especially wise enough to be herself.  No Billie, no Betty, no Sarah, no . . . .

The CD is a ripe pleasure — each track its own vignette, so the listener never feels bored by sameness or startled by rough jumps of subject and mood.  Hilary’s range is broad: there are the beautiful AUTUMN IN NEW YORK (verse and two choruses), WHEN THE WORLD WAS YOUNG, a jaunty BROOKLYN BRIDGE, and a swaying YOU CAME A LONG WAY FROM ST. LOUIS.

But her imagination doesn’t limit itself to “the Classics of the Great American Songbook,” and she reaches for Leonard Cohen, Nellie McKay, Tom Waits, and Joni Mitchell, making this CD an appealing anthology of short tales.

Hilary also has a deep awareness of the music’s foundations — without turning the disc into a repertory project.  So her accompanists (and I mean that in the best sense of the word) include Tatum Greenblatt, trumpet; Jason Marshall, tenor saxophone, Jon Cowherd, organ; Randy Napoleon, guitar; Elias Bailey, string bass; Jerome Jennings, drums, and the invaluable Ehud Asherie, piano.  Often the prevailing mood is neo-Basie.  Could that be wrong?

It’s a wonderful debut from an artist who offers us a great deal.  And I predict she will continue to delight us.

If you live in the tri-state area, the news is even more exciting.  Hilary and Ehud will be performing in duet at Smalls (183 West 10th Street, Greenwich Village, New York) on Sunday, April 7, beginning at 7:30.  Details here.  I am looking forward to it . . . please leave a few seats for me in the front row!

May your happiness increase.

CLEAR YOUR CALENDARS: BECKY, HARRY, and FRIENDS in NEW YORK CITY (TWICE!) October 2012

Miss Kilgore (who answers to Becky or Rebecca) and Mister Allen (Harry to one and all) will be performing in New York City in the very near future . . . don’t miss these rare appearances!

On Friday, October 5, beginning at 7 PM, Rebecca and the Harry Allen Quintet will be having a good time with their tribute to the music of Marilyn Monroe, SOME LIKE IT HOT, at the New York Historical Society (170 Central Park West at Richard Gilder Way [77th Street], New York, NY 10024.  Phone (212) 873-3400.)  As I understand, this program is free with admission to the museum, and admission is by donation.  Details here.

On Monday, October 8, Harry will be creating another of his Monday night music parties at Feinstein’s at Loew’s Regency — featuring our Becky and singers Lynn Roberts, Nicki Parrott, pianist Mike Renzi, bassist Joel Forbes, drummer Zach Campbell.  There is, I believe, a $20 music charge and a minimum: the Regency is located at 540 Park Avenue (at 61st Street), New York, NY 10021.  Phone: 212-339-4095.  Details here.

Since Miss Kilgore and Mister Allen make wonderful music together, and since our Rebecca lives on the other side of the continent in Portland, Oregon, might I suggest most gently that you see these musicians in action?

May your happiness increase.

HARRY ALLEN AND FRIENDS SWING OUT: The Fourth Set at Feinstein’s (June 10, 2012)

For the closing set at Feinstein’s at the Regency on Sunday, June 10, 2012, Harry Allen and his noble friends chose some easy-to-love jazz classics with an Ellingtonian flavor.  The only sad thing about this music and this posting is that it is the last one from that glorious evening . . . but we can get ready in our heads and on our calendars for the Autumn series of happy nights.

For now, here’s Harry, tenor; Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Joe Temperley, baritone sax; Rossano Sportiello, piano; Joel Forbes, string bass; Chuck Riggs, drums: jazz aristocrats who are never too proud to swing, to play the blues, to roll up their sleeves and venture into I GOT RHYTHM.

Here’s that classic, circa 1925, SWEET GEORGIA BROWN:

THESE FOOLISH THINGS:

Ben Webster’s line on IN A MELLOTONE (based on ROSE ROOM), titled DID YOU CALL HER TODAY? — which builds and builds:

And finally — a rousing romp with that Rhythmic rabbit, COTTONTAIL:

And here’s the Autumn 2012 schedule — all Monday nights. Mark them down!

September 10th: (Harry and the young saxophone masters!) Luigi Grasso, Jesse Davis, Harry Allen, Rossano Sportiello, Joel Forbes, Chuck Riggs.

October 8th: (Harry and splendid singers!) Lynn Roberts, Rebecca Kilgore, Nicki Parrott, Mike Renzi, Harry Allen, Joel Forbes, Chuck Riggs.

November 5th: (Harry and the jazz masters!) Bucky Pizzarelli, Ken Peplowski, John Allred, Bill Allred, Rossano Sportiello, Joel Forbes, Chuck Riggs.

December 2nd: (Harry and the jazz masters, continued!) George Wein and the Newport All Stars

Learn more about the musical bill of fare offered at Feinstein’s by visiting http://www.fesinsteinsattheregency.com.

May your happiness increase.

NOTES FROM UNDERGROUND

My friend Rich Liebman asked me about this now-departed piece of New York archaeology: a record shop in the Forty-Second Street subway station.  He remembers going there in 1959 or 1960 and that the store had a great selection of jazz records.

I couldn’t remember the name, but I have a strong visual memory of being there almost fifteen years later, and purchasing one record only — ROY’S GOT RHYTHM, an Emarcy compilation of Roy Eldridge sides recorded in Scandinavia in 1951.  I also remember that it was dark, predictably, and that all the plastic sleeves covering the records were dirty . . . my hands were unsavory after a good long browse.

Can any JAZZ LIVES reader supply more definite details?  Was the stand (long and narrow, in the fashion of record stores with browsers) called SUBWAY RECORDS or am I, once again, making things up?  Or RECORD MART?

Research!  (I couldn’t find an online image that was sufficiently subterranean to fit: you will have to imagine . . . and then go scrub your hands vigorously.)

May your happiness increase.

BRIGHT SHADOWS: SPIKE AND MIKE at SMALLS (April 19, 2012)

“Spike and Mike” isn’t a new buddy film, a cable sitcom about two pets on the run, or a box of candy.  It’s the colloquial title that pianist Spike Wilner and saxophonist Michael Hashim accept as their own . . . also the title of a song Mike wrote to play in duet with Spike.  I learned all of this from the front row of Smalls, that congenial jazz club at 183 West Tenth Street, on April 19, 2012.

I’ve heard and admired both players for seven or eight years now: Spike in solo, duo, and with his own PLANET JAZZ; Mike in bands as superficially different as Kevin Dorn’s The Big 72 (once known as the Traditional Jazz Collective) and the Microscopic Septet.  To my ears, they are splendidly united in their playful idiosyncracies; each is a master of his instrument who closes his eyes and steps off into the unknown, trusting himself and listening to his colleague.  And they are friends, which comes through.  When I was at Smalls the week before this duet and asked Spike if I could come and record his duets with Mike, his instant response was, “Oh, I love that guy!”  And if you watch the videos closely, you’ll see Hashim grinning back at Wilner every time the saxophone is out of his mouth.  As a duo, they listen intently — making for the most gratifying play, where Earl Bostic and Nat Cole go off to interstellar space.

The program (mostly chosen by Mike) steered away from twice-baked chestnuts, leaning seriously — and beautifully — on Billy Strayhorn.  You’ll hear and see his explanatory introductions, so eloquent as to make my explanations superfluous.  But I have to point out that this program began with not one, but two romance-influenced questions.

WHAT IS THIS THING CALLED LOVE?

DON’T YOU KNOW I CARE (OR DON’T YOU CARE TO KNOW?):

SPIKE AND MIKE (an improvisation on the changes of TOPSY):

FLAMINGO:

Kurt Weill’s THIS IS NEW (which I had known only from the Lee Wiley recording on RCA Victor):

A Strayhorn duo — first, the very rare LAMENT FOR AN ORCHID (Absinthe) :

and the slightly more familiar JOHNNY COME LATELY:

BROTHER, CAN YOU SPARE A DIME? (sadly, almost as relevant in 2012 as 1932):

LONG AGO AND FAR AWAY:

MOON MIST:

THE LATE, LATE SHOW (courtesy of Dakota Staton):

Jobim’s very soulful DINDI:

As Mike says, “It’s a waltz.  It’s our biggest hit!”  What else but LOTUS BLOSSOM:

Romping on RHYTHM changes: STEEPLECHASE:

May your happiness increase.

TAKE ME TO THE LANDS OF JAZZ — 1948 and 1949

These postcards (being sold on eBay) have a certain poignancy for me — not only because I can’t get to these occasions by any means short of the paranormal — but because when I go down to Greenwich Village in New York to hear jazz at Smalls, for instance, I could walk to these fabled sites.

Read the postcard, close your eyes, and imagine the band!

I can hear Benny Morton and that rhythm section . . . and I’ll bet there were some serious blues played that night.  Worth $1.25.

Three of the finest cornetists / trumpeters one could imagine — with Gowans and Marsala, James P., and that Bechet fellow.  Have mercy.

Well, it is reassuring to know — even at this distance — that such things happened — not once but often.

May your happiness increase.

OUR IDEAL: THE EARREGULARS at THE EAR INN (January 29, 2012)

Very simple, no flourishes, nothing fancy: just four of the best musicians you’ll ever hear honoring the melodies, improvising at lightning speed, making a wonderfully cohesive little band right there in the corner at The Ear Inn (326 Spring Street, Soho, New York City) last Sunday night from 8-11 PM.  By the summer of 2012 the EarRegulars will have pulled off such secular miracles for five years, which stands as an amazing record for creative consistency.

Last Sunday’s Peerless Quartet was Matt Munisteri, guitar; Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Alex Hoffman, tenor saxophone; Neal Miner, string bass.  Here are five varied and luminous performances from that evening:

The Claude Hopkins-Alex Hill declaration of gracious acquiescence, I WOULD DO [MOST] ANYTHING FOR YOU, which also became the Hopkins theme song.  I always wonder whether it reflects the leader’s mood if the MOST is included or left out.  Scholarly research, anyone?

Then a leisurely exposition of the 1922 Youmans SOMETIMES I’M HAPPY, at a tempo that recalls Lester Young and his gorgeous Keynote session:

So many “traditional” and “Dixieland” bands have claimed THE SHEIK OF ARABY for their own that one is in danger of forgetting what an effective swing tune it is.  Here, Matt and Jon-Erik launch into the appropriately Middle-Eastern verse in a manner that recalls the eternally memorable Hot Lips Page session for V-Disc:

A lovely tune, not often played by jazz improvisers, is the Irving Berlin CHANGE PARTNERS — of course associated with Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers:

And a sweet, musing version of Walter Donaldson’s MY IDEAL, recalling both Coleman Hawkins and Billie Holiday:

I was thrilled to be there . . . and I had very good company — new young friends, Travis and Jillian, who were digging the music in the most heartfelt way.  Shazam, you cats!

The EarRegulars will be taking Sunday, February 5, 2012, off, because of the Super Bowl — but they will be back on the 12th with Matt, Jon-Erik, Mark Lopeman, and Nicki Parrott — prepare to swing!

TWO WAYS OF LOOKING AT PAUL MOTIAN

Fred Settenberg’s piece on Paul Motian intrigues me.  Although I don’t always enjoy writing so powerfully aware of its own power, Settenberg’s piece — just posted a day ago — moves me.  It feels candid, adult, a little wry: and the love for Motian’s music and what it implied, the dreams that great art leads us into, is fully realized.

It’s worth reading for sure: Motian

But I know that Paul Motian was — in his own quiet, amused, compelling way — a man too large to be encompassed by just one piece of writing.  So here is the photographer John Rogers’ tribute to Motian as loving mentor and guide to the big city — a piece I haven’t been able to get out of my system since I first read it:

Dinners and Drum Music

I wish I could require my students to read these two beautiful evocations side-by-side: Settenberg imagining an ideal future in the sound of recorded jazz; Rogers finding his way with Motian at his side.  How very different, how moving, and how true!

LOCAL NEWS: “A FREAKISH STORM” (Oct. 29, 2011)

It was snowing today in New York City — earlier in the year than ever recorded, and records go back to 1879.  More than a million people in the area lost power; tree limbs fell . . . more details here:

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/10/30/us/northeast-snow-storm.html?partner=rss&emc=rss&src=igw

The Beloved and I were out on the street (on our way to a fascinating documentary called URBANIZED) and she started to sing this song (it seems to some who know us a theme-song-in-the-making), so I thought I would provide the musical soundtrack, even if the JAZZ LIVES audience is far from snow and slush.

You’ll recognize the eminent participants: Clint Baker on banjo and trumpet; Marc Caparone on string bass; Katie Cavera on banjo; Ralf Reynolds on washboard; Paul Mehling on banjo; John Reynolds on banjo . . . all recorded at the 2011 Jazz Bash by the Bay in Monterey, California:

If that performance doesn’t make the temperature rise, I give up.

EASY TO LOVE: MARIANNE SOLIVAN, MICHAEL KANAN, BARAK MORI, DAN ARAN at SMALLS (Sept.13, 2011)

Jazz isn’t meant to be timidly conventional music: the jazz that moves us has an essential sweetness but takes risks.  

The September 13, 2o11 performance at Smalls by singer Marianne Solivan, pianist Michael Kanan, bassist Barak Mori, and drummer Dan Aran is a living example.  The quartet’s repertoire wasn’t ostentatiously “experimental”: no odd time signatures or eccentric tempos, nothing self-consciously cerebral. 

But in every song these four musicians were doing their best to take the material on its own terms, as if no one had ever sung or played these songs before.  The chances they took came off — their daring and expertise was subtle improvisation of the highest order.  

If you haven’t heard Marianne Solivan sing before, prepare yourself for brave beauty — an open-hearted approach to each song, supported nobly by Michael Kanan, Barak Mori, and Dan Aran.

By now, I THOUGHT ABOUT YOU is familiar territory.  Without distorting its emotional center, Marianne and the trio made it new, bending phrases around bar lines, testing the waters:

The quartet performs the same levitation on THE MORE I SEE YOU:

GONE WITH THE WIND (a song I love) reached hew heights:

DAY IN, DAY OUT had a lovely bounce:

I’d never heard IF YOU GO (written by a French composer, the lyrics translated) but it held us transfixed:

A more hopeful approach to the eternal passions, LOVE WALKED IN:

Marianne told us that THE LONELY ONES was an Ellington song — a new discovery:

Cole Porter’s AFTER YOU, WHO? was full of emotion but without melodrama:

I’LL NEVER BE THE SAME is more than eighty years old, but its bittersweet message has never aged:

EASY TO LOVE — the best title for this music, this impassioned performance:

JOEL PRESS COMES TO NEW YORK! (July 2011)

Short notice: the splendid saxophonist Joel Press is paying a brief visit to New York City.  As always, he will be creating bouncing riffs and casually eloquent, speaking melodic lines.  I think of his metaphysical street address as the corner of Swing and Lyricism.

Joel has three performances planned — with fine musical friends, as always.  Joel will be playing duets with the wonderful pianist Spike Wilner at SMALLS, 183 W 10th Street @ 7th Avenue South on Thursday, July 7th.  Their set begins at 7:30.  They will be followed by the Jeff Williams Quintet.

Sunday, July 3rd, 1:30 AM (if you’re awake) Joel, the cherished pianist Michael Kanan, bassist Tal Ronen, drummer Steve Little, will be playing at FAT CAT, 75 Chistopher Street @ 7th Avenue.

Tuesday, July 5th, at 7PM,  the same quartet will be at FAT CAT, 75 Chistopher Street @ 7th Avenue.

Carpe Press, JAZZ LIVES readers!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Basie.  1938.  The Famous Door.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A ROBOTIC REMINDER, or DON’T MISS THESE GIGS!

If the mechanical men know about Michael Kanan, Joel Press, Joe Hunt, Lee Hudson, Sean Smith, and the wonderful jazz they will be creating this weekend at Smalls (138 West 10th Street, New York City, Friday night, May 13) and at Sofia’s (211 West 46th Street, NYC, Saturday night, May 14), shouldn’t you?

There will be room for everyone — interplanetary and terrestrial — I guarantee.  Bring your Beloved!

INSPIRATIONS at THE EAR INN (April 17, 2011)

While Jon-Erik Kellso and Matt Munisteri were finishing up what I hope was a rewarding weekend at the 2011 Atlanta Jazz Festival, the EarRegulars kept swinging happily in their absence — at The Ear Inn last night (Sunday, April 17, 2011 — at 326 Spring Street, Soho, New York City).

The quartet was made up of old friends and musical colleagues — people who had a lot to say to each other on their instruments: Danny Tobias, cornet; Dan Block, clarinet and tenor saxophone; Chris Flory, guitar; Frank Tate, bass.

The music was playful and conversational: the band evoked the past (the 1938 Basie band, an imagined 1944 Keynote session, a Vanguard record date) while reminding us at every turn that there were four living musicians creating beauty in the here and now.  In each of these performances, you’ll see and hear casual splendor: the inventive lines and big sound of Frank Tate, who plays the string bass as it wants to be played (no manic guitar runs for him); the irresistible rhythmic surge of Chris Flory, his lines chiming; Danny Tobias’s subtle mastery — he never plays a superfluous note, and although he’s deeply grounded in the tradition of Buck Clayton and Ruby Braff, you’d lose all your bets trying to predict where his next phrase will land; the fierce lyricism of Dan Block, lemony on clarinet, yearning on tenor — a man inseparable from the phrases he creates.

Melodies everywhere!

Pay attention! as Jake Hanna used to say — especially to the conversations between Danny and Dan, uplifting interludes in several performances.

LINGER AWHILE isn’t played that much by contemporary bands, but Bill Coleman, Dicky Wells, and Lester Young had a good time with it some decades back:

Some cautious optimism with SOMETIMES I’M HAPPY at an easy rocking tempo:

A good old good one, EVERYBODY LOVES MY BABY:

Happiness is on everyone’s mind on a Sunday night at The Ear Inn, so why not play I WANT TO BE HAPPY:

And to cool the room down, a swinging JADA:

Cherish these sessions!  They’ve been going on for nearly four years . . . come visit while this music is in the air . . . .

THEY’RE STILL EAR! (April 10, 2010)

My title is an unconscionable pun on Sondheim’s famous affirmation from FOLLIES.

It’s my way of writing how glad I am that the Sunday night sessions (from 8 to 11 PM, more or less) at The Ear Inn (326 Spring Street, Soho, New York City) are happily afloat.  This summer The EarRegulars will celebrate their fourth anniversary!

I had missed a number of Ear sessions, so I was delighted to return on April 10, 2011 to find that nothing had been changed in my absence.  Jon-Erik Kellso and Matt Munisteri, on trumpet and guitar, respectively, still offered benign swinging guidance (catch Jon-Erik’s plunger work on HAPPY FEET and Matt’s ringing, chiming solos and fierce rhythm!).  The other members were the eloquent bassist Neal Miner and the always surprising Alex Hoffman on tenor sax.  Here are three delightful performances from that night.

The first of these is a novelty song with goofy lyrics (about women who wicky-wacky-woo) which used to be a jazz / jam session favorite . . . less so in this century, but NAGASAKI is still a delight:

Then, an EarRegular favorite — bringing together the late Paul Whiteman band and the early-Thirties Henderson orchestra — HAPPY FEET:

These Sunday night music-parties are one of the best things about New York City: long may they continue!

“STILL A BROOKLYN KID”

Photograph by Helen Levitt

A friend sent along a link to this brand-new blog, which promises to be evocative, tender, and witty.  The first post is on Henry “Red” Allen; the second has a priceless picture of two little girls on a Brooklyn street in 1915.  What more does anyone need?  (Even if you don’t hail from Brooklyn).  

STILL A BROOKLYN KID can be found here:

http://stillabrooklynkid.blogspot.com/

AUGUST IN NEW YORK: FOUR DAYS WITH JIM FRYER

Photograph by Lorna Sass, 2008

(This is trombonist / euphonist / vocalist Jim Fryer’s essay on life-as-a-hard-working-jazz-musician . . . as printed in the November 2010 edition of The American Rag and reprinted here with everyone’s permission)

ME & NYC

6 gigs in 4 days: a life of slice

August 15–18, 2010

This is a somewhat random “Report From NYC,” based on a few days of “feet on the sidewalk” activity. It’s certainly not an exhaustive accounting of the activity around here, although it was a bit exhausting. There is so much great music, great jazz, and great trad jazz around here. This is just a slice, my little slice, of the scene. I think it was Hemingway who said you should write about what you know, and what you know best is your own life. It is also true, in my experience, that narcissism is one of the few skills that can improve with age, and I’m definitely on that bandwagon. So here goes. I hope someone else may find this interesting. I know I do.

* * *

Following a big chunk of time and energy expended (along with Jeff & Anne Barnhart) in helping our 5 “International All Stars” from the UK have a swell time in Connecticut, New York, and California (including doing double duty at the Orange County Classic Jazz Festival with the Titan Hot 7, the band that most readers of this journal will know me from), I enjoyed a respite visiting my parents at their house in the Maine woods. A short time after my return to New York, I found myself back on the busy streets & subway trains: the Asphalt Jungle. A small flurry of local gigs helped reorient me to this place where I am trying to live the good – or at least, the interesting – life.

Sunday August 15: From our domicile in West Harlem, I drove south on the Henry Hudson Parkway and West Side Highway, down to the Fat Cat Café, just off Sheridan Square in the West Village. This is one of my favorite joints ever: down the stairs to a very large room that contains games such as ping pong, pool, scrabble, chess, and beer and wine drinking. And oh yes, a small music area off to the side, easy chairs and sofas, a grand piano and a sound system (with a sound engineer!). When I die, if I’m lucky enough to choose my personal heaven, it will look a lot like the Fat Cat. (Our younger daughter once came along to a gig there, and decided that was where she wanted to get married.)

The band at the Fat Cat was a classic: Terry Waldo leading his Gotham City Jazz Band from the piano, singing & striding along; Peter Ecklund (tpt), Chuck Wilson (clr/as), Brian Nelepka (sb), John Gill (dms),and me (with my euphonium along for the ride). Nice, relaxed, easy. Good IPA on tap. 2 sets, no muss, no fuss, just plain fun. Girls boogie to our music while playing foozball. I’m very thankful that there are bandleaders who hire me for such good times. John Gill sang a lovely rendition of Irving Berlin’s When The Midnight Choo-Choo Leaves For Alabam’. John continues vocalizing (accompanying himself on guitar) later on Sunday nights over at the National Underground, where he, Brian, & drummer Kevin Dorn play good old rock and roll & country/western.

Normally, after the Fat Cat, I have the option to sit in with the Dixie Creole Cooking Jazz Band (led by cornetist Lee Lorenz) at Arthur’s Tavern, right around the corner from the Fat Cat, on their weekly Sunday gig; and then travel a few blocks down to The Ear, New York’s oldest saloon, for another fantastic session with the Ear-Regulars (led by Jon-Erik Kellso and Matt Munisteri). But today, it’s back into the car and a scramble against heavy crosstown traffic and over the Williamsburg Bridge, to the Rose Café in Brooklyn. The gig thankfully started late anyhow! I played a duo set with Bliss Blood, the talented singer/songwriter/ukelele-ist from Texas via Brooklyn. We followed a young violinist/singer/synthesizer player who managed to sound like a rock band and symphony orchestra, all by herself. Playing old blues and Bliss’s original songs, our music sounded simple in comparison (one of my goals, actually), but the ‘elite’ (small) audience seemed to enjoy it.

Monday August 16: Every Monday brings me a steady musical diet. I play with a rehearsal big band in the afternoon. Working jazz musos the world over know what that means: get together for a few hours every week and ‘read’ (play) big band ‘charts’ (arrangements) for no commercial purpose whatsoever. The opportunity to sight read new material (often written by someone in the band) and schmooze with friends is sufficient compensation. If you hang out at the American Federation of Musicians Local 802 building on West 48th Street for a week, you’ll hear dozens of these bands, taking advantage of the very low room rental rates.

Next comes one of the musical highlights of my life for the last several years: Vince Giordano and The Nighthawks making their weekly Monday appearance at Club Cache, downstairs from Sofia’s Restaurant in the famed Edison Hotel on West 46th Street, just a few feet west of Times Square. I’m not enough of a wordsmith to adequately bring to life the excitement and dynamism that Vince Giordano brings to each & every gig he plays. He is a one man tornado, playing hot string bass, tuba, and bass sax, singing, performing mc duties, meeting & greeting each customer who comes down the stairs into our subterranean cabaret, and setting up & breaking down equipment for hours each week. A characteristic touch is added by our technician & ‘introducer,’ John Landry (aka Sir Scratchy), and we couldn’t do without our various ‘Mikes’ (Mike being the generic term to describe anyone who helps out on the gig, from moving equipment to playing music). Our steadiest Mike is Carol, Vince’s partner, who [wo]mans the door and seats patrons; we also are lucky to have Earl, who in addition to schlepping equipment, spends his ‘down’ time translating Vince’s antique arrangements into modern notation via Sibelius software – at an incredible clip (he will complete a full 13 piece arrangement during the course of the 3 hour gig, something that would take me weeks).

Vince’s Monday night gig has become enormously popular since its debut in May of 2008. A great dance floor brings in the rugcutters (including many athletic young lindy hoppers), and the room is typically full of customers from the world over. The legendary 88 year old clarinetist Sol Yaged is featured on a tune each set. Vince is the Toscanini of the evening, conducting our journey through the sublime world of Fletcher Henderson, Paul Whiteman, Louis Armstrong, Bix Beiderbecke, Jelly Roll Morton, and a plethora of songwriters & arrangers: Bill Challis, Raymond Scott, Fats Waller, Irving Berlin. From the downbeat at precisely 8pm to the closing at 11pm, it is truly a world of amazing music & delight. We often have quite well known folks ‘sitting in:’ singers like Michael Feinstein, Nellie McKay, and Daryl Sherman; instrumentalists from around the world; the comedian Micky Freeman; and famous audience members such as cartoonist R. Crumb, a big classic jazz fan.

This particular Monday included all members of what I call the “A Team;” that is, all the first call musicians. (The band hardly suffers when subs come in: John Allred in the trombone chair could not be described as bringing the level down!). Many of these players are quite well known in a variety of genres. Here they are:

Reeds: Dan Block, Dan Levinson, Mark Lopeman

Trumpets: Mike Ponella, Jon-Erik Kellso

Trombone: your humble (ahem!) reporter

Violin/Sax: Andy Stein

Piano: Peter Yarin

Banjo/Guitar: Ken Salvo

Percussion: Arnie Kinsella

Basses/Everything: Vince Giordano

Tuesday August 17: Tuesday daytime may bring a few trombone students to me (in the summer, a handful; during the school year, a full day – if I’m lucky); or an occasional concert in a Connecticut school, with a band called the Cool Cats; then comes a reprise of Monday night. Vince has been working hard since this past June to get a second night established. It’s still the quieter night, and I bet Vince is counting audience members as he’s counting off tunes; but it also can work more as a rehearsal, Vince handing out charts on stage from his vast collection (60,000 in the archives).

At 11:40pm, I’m back on the train from Grand Central Station (busy place, that) to Rye, 25 miles NE of the city, where my wife (sometimes described as “long suffering”) works at a private school, which offers on-campus housing as a benefit for her very hard work. I love the view walking east on 43rd Street, with the Chrysler Building looming over the majestic train terminal. By 12:30am I’m strolling down our very quiet and pretty suburban street, where Peter Cottontail may sometimes be seen munching lettuce in the garden. This particular night a local cop car slows to a stop as I’m walking up to our place. The cop looks me over (trombone, wheelie bag for mutes etc, garment bag with tux), and says, “Ya got everything?” Funny guy. It’s good to know they’re out on the beat. Sometimes I stay “in town,” at the apartment we have in West Harlem (currently also the abode of our eldest daughter, a fervent New Yorker).

Wednesday August 18: Wednesday brings another doubleheader (paydirt for us musos; even better, the rare tripleheader; many years ago I played 4 gigs on the Fourth of July). First the late afternoon session at Birdland, the world famous club on West 44th: David Ostwald’s Louis Armstrong Centennial Band. This long running (10+ years) weekly gig features a rotating roster of the finest trad players in town. Today, in addition to tuba player & leader Osti, I had the pleasure of being on stage with Jon-Erik Kellso (tpt), Anat Cohen (clr), Ehud Asherie (pn), & Marion Felder (dms). Yours truly was the old guy on stage. (I’m trying to get used to that.) David’s bands are some of the most ‘diverse’ in the biz, in terms of not only age but also gender and race. The general lack of diversity can be a slightly touchy issue in the trad jazz arena, so it’s nice to see Osti put together bands that ‘look like America’ – and also swing like crazy! This Wednesday session was a very special one: Dave Bennett, the young clarinet virtuoso from Michigan, sat in, along with a young also sax player (from Russia, I believe; I didn’t catch his name); and in the audience, 91 year old George Avakian, one of the most esteemed figures in jazz history (George has produced hundreds of classic jazz albums).

Then to Brooklyn (by subway), to play again with Bliss Blood, this time with the Moonlighters (20s/30s swing, with a Hawaiian flavor). Bliss’s vocals & uke are joined by Cindy Ball (guitar & impeccable vocal harmonies), Raphael McGregor (lap steel), Rus Wimbish (string bass), & the horn section: me! I love being the only horn player, it’s nice & quiet, with no temptation to engage in technical battles: who can play faster, higher, or more cleverly. As I get older, I feel pleasure in knowing how to add a bit of value to the music, no pyrotechnics, please. I’m trying to play better by playing less. It’s a thrill to learn brand new songs that Bliss and Cindy write. The art form continues to evolve. I also love this venue. The Radegast Beer Hall, a big open space, with fine beer (of course) and hearty German food, is in the heart of Williamsburg, a neighborhood that feels young and vibrant. It restores my faith in humanity when the band is fed so well on the gig! All kinds of bands play here, including several youthful units, such as Gordon Au’s Grand Street Stompers, and the Baby Soda band (which includes trombonist Emily Asher of Mighty Aphrodite Jazz Band fame). Several times folks got up and danced around the bar area, in most cases to our music. Finishing after midnight means arriving back in Harlem close to 2am – fortunately, not driving, which reduces the danger and risk (seriously, everyone who’s been in the music business knows musos who have fallen asleep at the wheel late at night); as long as I don’t sleep through my subway stop and end up in Riverdale (a nice neighborhood, but miles north of my pad).

* * *

It was a great little run of gigs. I feel quite lucky to be able to work with so many interesting people. And if sometimes being the oldest on stage is a bit of a bittersweet experience (I guess I ought to get used to it as “As Time Goes By”), it is certainly encouraging for the future of the music. From long time residents (like drummer Kevin Dorn, born in Manhattan about 30 years ago – his band, the Traditional Jazz Collective, gigs all over town) to those newly arrived, NYC is still, as ever, a magnet for young, ambitious, and hardworking people. A few of the young “immigrants:” trombonist Emily Asher, transplanted from Washington state for a couple of years to get her Masters degree; trumpeter Gordon Au, from California (I should mention Gordon’s very musical family: brothers Justin and Brandon are fine players who have blown with the Titans in Pismo Beach CA, and Uncle Howard Miyata plays a mean tailgate trombone with High Sierra Jazz Band); young trombonist Matt Musselman from Maryland, a recent graduate of Manhattan School of Music, and one of my subs in the Nighthawks (his band is called Grandpa Musselman and His Syncopators); and trumpeter/vocalist Bria Skonberg, due to arrive any second now. There is most definitely a youth movement going on! I wouldn’t know how to advise these young people about putting together an actual living in NYC: this is one tough town to pay your bills in – but somehow they are doing it. Perhaps I should ask them for advice! The total take from my 6 gigs (minus the expenses) will buy a few bags of groceries, pay back the loan for a couple of textbooks for my younger daughter’s college degree, with about $1.13 left for my pension contribution. Guess I can’t retire yet. I’ll get up tomorrow and go off in search of more students and gigs. I know one musician who was heard to say: “Retire! How can I retire? I’ve never had a job!”

I would be remiss if I didn’t also tip my cap to the folks around here who have been promoting the classic jazz scene for many years, such as: Bruce McNichols, musician, impresario, and radio OKOM producer; Jack Kleinsinger, whose “Highlghts In Jazz” series has run for 37 years; the Sidney Bechet Society, which puts on fine concerts in Manhattan; New Jersey folks like Bruce Gast & the New Jersey Jazz Society; Connecticut jazzers who put together the Hot Steamed Festival and the Great Connecticut Traditional Jazz Festival; & radio hosts such as Rich Conaty on WFUV-FM and Phil Schaap on WKCR-FM. Youth combined with Experience will carry the day for the music we love!

Jim Fryer

August 2010

For more info:  www.jfryer.com, www.terrywaldo.com, www.blissblood.com, www.myspace.com/vincegiordanothenighthawks, http://www.ostwaldjazz.com/., www.coolcatjazz.info,

ROSWELL RUDD: INSPIRED BY LOUIS

The “avant-garde” trombonist and composer had this to say to Thomas Pena in an October 2008 interview, printed at http://www.jazz.com/features-and-interviews/2008/10/11/in-conversation-with-roswell-rudd

Getting back to the moment when you were inspired to become a musician. . .

When I first heard Louis Armstrong. I went to a private school in upstate New York where most of the kids were New Yorkers who were farmed out to private schools.  They used to bring me down to these clubs and concerts in New York. One day a school buddy took me to hear Louis Armstrong at a movie theater just off Times Square.  At the time Louis performed between films, so I had to sit through the film, The Crimson Pirate, three times to see him again!  It was a commercial thing but Louis radiated so much warmth, creativity and inspiration that I just melted.  I shook his hand and he said some beautiful things to encourage me. I believe it all started with him.

How old were you at the time?

I was probably fifteen.  There was another time in 1948.  The first live jazz band I ever heard was a pick up band from New York City; they were handsome, spectacular guys.  There was James P. Johnson on the piano and a bass player named Pops Foster.  These guys stomped!  I think I was about 12 years old at the time, but it was Louis Armstrong that really compelled me.  After I met him I thought to myself, “I want to do for someone what Louis did for me.”

Note: The Crimson Pirate, starring Burt Lancaster, was playing in New York City in late August 1952 — so Rudd surely saw the All-Stars.  His understanding of the music and growth was phenomenal: perhaps seven years later, Rudd was gigging with an Eddie Condon sextet in Chicago — alongside Pee Wee Russell and Johnny Windhurst, and the broadcasts show him to be a fully-developed player.

NOTES FROM UNDERGROUND (Dec. 19, 2010)

This isn’t about Dostoevsky or his grim-pre-existential narrator.

No, the subject is much happier and equally profound. 

I had learned from trumpeter Gordon Au that there would be a below-ground wingding on Sunday, Dec. 19, 2010: he and the Grand Street Stompers would play an hour’s gig down on the subway platform, the F train at Second Avenue for those taking notes.  Even better, they would be joined by New York City swing dancers in vintage attire.  Then, everyone would board an antique subway train (circa 1960 with yellow / blue rattan seats), do a round-trip out to Queens and make way for a second train trip. 

I could only take the vintage subway a few stops uptown, but I did capture the vivid action on the platform.  The Grand Street Stompers began as a trio — Gordon, Pete Anderson on clarinet, Rob Adkins on bass — but soon became a quartet when guitarist Mikey Freedom Hart arrived.

Their first number was a nicely rocking / sentimental BACK HOME AGAIN IN INDIANA, perhaps a homage to Louis, who began his concerts with this sweet old song for nearly twenty-five years:

Then, in the first acknowledgment of the season, IT’S BEGINNING TO LOOK A LOT LIKE CHRISTMAS in two tempos, the dancers dipping and whirling even in the confined space (everyone was fully aware that overdramatic dancing would take them and us too close to the edges of the platform):

An unusual (and brave) choice for the context, Hoagy Carmichael’s NEW ORLEANS, with Gordon growling passionately, Rob bowing in the best old-New-Orleans manner:

SANTA CLAUS IS COMING TO TOWN (the song that made J. Fred Coots financially secure forever) here sounds as if BLUE MONK was not far in the background — it’s really a good, simplistic Thirties song:

I don’t know if Fats Waller ever took the subway, but he would have been pleased by this pretty — although brief — version of his 1929 hit AIN’T MISBEHAVIN’:

Finally, the pop lexicon’s version of the primal scene — Freudian or out of PEYTON PLACE? — I SAW MOMMY KISSING SANTA CLAUS.  Let’s hope it was Daddy in the red suit, shall we?

I delighted in the lovely playing of the quartet, the delicious incongruity of the music and the setting — but the real pleasure was in watching the dancers reflect the music in their bodies, singly and in pairs, switching off, having a fine time.  Lynn Redmile, who appears in the beginning of the last video (to the right), promised she would tell me the names of the spirited and agile dancers we so admire here.  

The Home of Happy Feet for the price of a Metrocard swipe — !

CHARLESTON MAD! (The SCANDINAVIAN RHYTHM BOYS)

The Scandinavian Rhythm Boys are a deeply rewarding hot band, and they’ve just come out with a new CD, CHARLESTON MAD.  I’ve been excited by the band for a few years now.  And I was delighted to be able to write a short liner note for this new release, which I’ve reprinted below.

I first encountered the SRB on YouTube and was astonished and delighted by their skill and feeling, their wit and casual intensity. I didn’t feel the need for a pianist, a trombonist, a drummer. They swung; they were complete; they lived within the jazz tradition without imitating its recorded artifacts. Even better, they had solved the problem common to musical groups and larger communities (world leaders take note): how to gather individuals with strong personalities and blend them into a cohesive whole without trampling on anyone’s identity.

Who are the Scandinavian Rhythm Boys? I’ll start with the one musician I’ve been privileged to meet: reed master Frans Sjostrom. (I’m especially happy that I’ve learned how to pronounce his name correctly.) Frans’ rhythm is irresistible; his solos are haunting songs. The easy assessment on hearing Frans play the bass sax is to compare him to Adrian Rollini, but why define his creativity in such a narrow way? When I hear Frans play any saxophone I think of Coleman Hawkins; I think of Pablo Casals.

Then there’s Ole Olsen, whose clarinet playing has the deep feeling and down-home ease of Louis Cottrell and the New Orleans masters. On string bass, he supports and guides the group with his simple, neat lines, his woody sound, his strong pulse. His partner is the splendid Michael Boving, whose banjo rings and whispers – never a threat to communal serenity. Ole and Michael could rock a seventeen-piece band and have energy left over after the gig. Michael is also an astonishing singer whose vocals come from his heart. When he sings, “How long will I have to wait?” it has the mournful shouting force of a soul in torment; when he tells you he’s “Charleston mad,” we know it’s true.

Robert Hansson must have daredevils and acrobats in his genetic makeup, because he knows no fear: his spinning, shining lines, light as air, leap and dance high above the crowd. I think of early Bill Coleman, of Doc Cheatham, of Bob Barnard when I hear Robert – and of bright traceries in the twilight sky.

These four players combine to make lovely music, an art that doesn’t show off how difficult its achievements are. Whether they’re playing the classic jazz repertoire of Joe Oliver, Clarence Williams, Lovie Austin, or the ODJB, or Scandinavian pop classics – they spread joy and inspire us to smile, to dance, to exult. What a delicious accomplishment this CD is!

The website for the SRB is http://www.srbjazz.com.  There you can hear two performances from the CD, HESITATING BLUES and CLARINET MARMALADE, and there you can buy the CD.  Or, as Michael Boving suggested, “JAZZCLUB Copenhagen is our best jazz record shop in town.  They have
got the CD and it can be ordered now – your readers can find Jazzclub Copenhagen on Google and it’s there.”

Here are two video clips recorded by our mutual friend Flemming Thorbye — of the Scandinavian Rhythm Boys on a harbor cruise in Copenhagen.  One of the sweetest things about this CD, by the way, is that the SRB create swinging versions of Scandinavian classic pop tunes — giving listeners like myself something new to hum (something new that we can’t get out of our heads no matter how hard we try)!

Here’s TRUBBLE:

And here’s the title tune, with a thrilling, rough-cut vocal by Michael Boving, CHARLESTON MAD:

There are many video clips of the SRB on YouTube, including a few with the esteemed Joe Muranyi, but none of them will substitute for the pleasure of this CD — which I’ve been playing while driving through Central Park, for instance, with my window rolled down and the volume up to respectable (I hope not annoying) levels, sending this Good Hot Music out into the world.  It deserves to be heard!  (One of the best vignettes on this disc is the Richard M. Jones song — I associate it with the Oliver band — I AIN’T GONNA TELL NOBODY — which I’ve never heard with lyrics.  That is the very opposite of the way I feel about this music.)