Tag Archives: New York

MULTI-COLORED SOUNDS: EVAN ARNTZEN, BEN PATERSON, TAL RONEN, DARRIAN DOUGLAS, ALBANIE FALLETTA at CAFE BOHEMIA, January 23, 2020

Evan Arntzen, photograph by Tim Cheeney

Evan Arntzen, once the new fellow from out of town, continues to delight and amaze.  He and his gifted friends did it again last Thursday, January 23, at Cafe Bohemia, 15 Barrow Street, Greenwich Village, New York.  Those friends are Darrian Douglas, drums; Tal Ronen, string bass; Ben Paterson, Fender Rhodes; Albanie Falletta, guest vocal.

Here are four lovely highlights from that evening.

Harold Arlen’s BETWEEN THE DEVIL AND THE DEEP BLUE SEA:

Spencer Williams’ I FOUND A NEW BABY, with a nod to Lester:

Wingy Manone’s STRANGE BLUES (but come closer and don’t be afraid):

Arlen’s I GOTTA RIGHT TO SING THE BLUES, which Albanie does so well:

Suggestions for pleasure?  Come to Cafe Bohemia for more good sounds; follow these musicians for more of the same.

May your happiness increase!

UPTOWN DELIGHTS: MICHAEL BANK QUINTET at THE SHRINE (CHARLIE CARANICAS, JOHN LUDLOW, BEN RUBENS, STEVE LITTLE: October 29, 2019)

Shrine World Music Venue, on Adam Clayton Powell Boulevard (7th Avenue), just below 134th Street in Harlem, is a welcoming place, “a multimedia arts and culture venue, founded in 2007 by musicians and music lovers in the music capital of Harlem, USA. . . . dedicated to art and culture in all mediums: film, theater, dance, and live music. Shrine World Music Venue’s mission is to establish a positive creative atmosphere for both artists and audiences from all backgrounds.”

I haven’t been there often, but admire their commitment to independent artists.  Late last October, I read that the pianist / composer Michael Bank, someone I’ve followed for fifteen years now, would be leading a small group there, and I eagerly went “uptown” for a brief but memorable gig. Michael had with him the venerable drummer Steve Little (Steve would have me tell you that he, once again, was playing on a drum set not his own), bassist Ben Rubens, trumpeter Charlie Caranicas, and alto saxophonist John Ludlow.  Here are some of the highlights of their late afternoon swing exploration.

But first: Shrine is deceptive: its somewhat muted exterior conceals an interior mixing science-fiction and disco.  My phone pictures do not do it justice.  To their credit, the musicians ignored the lighting and just played — splendidly.

Michael and Charlie:

HAVE YOU MET MISS JONES?

WATCH WHAT HAPPENS:

DO YOU KNOW WHAT IT MEANS TO MISS NEW ORLEANS?

DEWEY SQUARE:

I wait for my next summons to the Shrine, where good music is allowed to grow, and does.

May your happiness increase!

IN PERFECT ALIGNMENT (Part Two): DANNY TOBIAS, DAN BLOCK, JOSH DUNN, TAL RONEN at CAFE BOHEMIA (11.21.19)

November 21, 2019 might have been an unremarkable day and night for some of us — leaving aside that it is Coleman Hawkins’ birthday — but at Cafe Bohemia, 15 Barrow Street, Greenwich Village, New York City, the stars were wonderfully in alignment when Danny Tobias, trumpet / Eb alto horn, Dan Block, clarinet / tenor, Josh Dunn, guitar, and Tal Ronen took the stage.

As James Chirillo says, “Music was made,” and we dare not underestimate the importance of that.

Not just formulaic “music,” but eloquent, swinging, lyrical playing in solo and ensemble, as you can hear in their BLUE AND SENTIMENTAL I’ve already posted here.

Those who take improvised music casually don’t realize the combination of skill, emotion, restraint, and individuality that is at its heart, where musicians create a model community for a few hours.

I hear an intelligent graciousness, where no one musician wants to be powerful at the expense of the others, where collective generosity is the goal, playing “for the comfort of the band,” as Baby Dodds described it — but when a solo opportunity comes along, each musician must be ready to speak their piece, share their distinct voice.  Too much ego and the band squabbles; too little ego and you have watery oatmeal for the ears.

That such music as you hear here and elsewhere on JAZZ LIVES exists is, to me, frankly miraculous.  Five glowing memorable examples of this holy art follow.  And if these sounds remind anyone of a small Count Basie group (you can add the sounds of Jo Jones in your head, if you care to) that would be fine also.

WRAP YOUR TROUBLES IN DREAMS:

DIGA DIGA DOO:

LADY BE GOOD:

THESE FOOLISH THINGS:

MY GAL SAL:

May your happiness increase!

MORE SWING BELOW STAIRS: TAL RONEN, ROSSANO SPORTIELLO, JAY RATTMAN, KEVIN DORN, and TAMAR KORN at FAT CAT (Sept. 30, 2015)

FAT CAT interior

Here‘s the first part of this posting — four delicious songs from a quartet gig held in the basement funhouse that we know as Fat Cat (75 Christopher Street, Greenwich Village, New York) on September 30, 2015: the music-makers are Tal Ronen, string bass; Rossano Sportiello, piano; Jay Rattman, saxophone and clarinet; Kevin Dorn, drums — and guest magician Tamar Korn offering two Irving Berlin classics at the end of this post.

Fat-Cat

The rarely played (but haunting) DEEP NIGHT:

LIZA:

And Miss Korn paid us a visit, in 3/4 time, with ALWAYS:

BLUE SKIES:

What a band.

May your happiness increase!

SWING BELOW STAIRS: TAL RONEN, ROSSANO SPORTIELLO, JAY RATTMAN, KEVIN DORN at FAT CAT (Sept. 30, 2015)

Fat-Cat

Fat Cat (75 Christopher Street, New York City) is a cavernous basement space notable for a bar, pool tables, chess sets, ping pong, other kinds of games, and an enthusiastic — often cheerfully vocal — young crowd.  Since it costs three dollars to enter and have your hand stamped with a feline silhouette (I always respectfully decline), it is happily frolicsome down there.  That is a gentle way of saying — for the members of the JAZZ LIVES audience who insist that music be played in reverent silence — that there is an audible background of human conversation and occasionally shouts and yelps of what I hope is pleasure.  Once the music begins, it is easy to concentrate on the jazz, so don’t quail and panic. Unless, of course, you’d rather.  Imagine yourself invited to a large party full of happy people where you can listen to a wonderful New York City jazz quartet for free.

FAT CAT interior

Generously, the kind and wise management also offers jazz of all kinds, from Terry Waldo’s happily loose Gotham City Jazz Band to much more modern experiments.

One of the happiest times I’ve had at Fat Cat was very recent — September 30, 2015 — and a delightful long set by the Tal Ronen Quartet.  Tal is a great string bassist but he’s also a fine catalyst: he puts together excellent groups of people who like and listen to one another.  This Quartet (with a special surprise guest at the end) was special: Jay Rattman, saxophone and clarinet; Rossano Sportiello, piano; Kevin Dorn, drums.  And here’s the first half of what they played.  And sung:

Frank Foster’s SHINY STOCKINGS:

A seasonal AUTUMN IN NEW YORK:

YOU’RE DRIVING ME CRAZY:

JUST IN TIME:

More to come.  And the Fat Cat music schedule is available here, with appearances by a wide variety of fine jazz players, from George Braith to Ehud Asherie to Billy Kaye and Harold Mabern . . .

May your happiness increase!

BACK IN NEW YORK / A CURE FOR SPIRITUAL JET-LAG

I arrived back in New York late last night. With no offense to my fellow urbanites and suburbanites, the word that would describe my return is RELUCTANTLY. Unfortunately, I couldn’t muster up the good cheer of this Hero as imagined in a beautiful drawing by Thomas B. Allen:

louis-back-in-new-york

Even in enhanced stereo (!) Louis looks young and healthy.

But it will take a while for me to look close to that. The Beloved is 3000 miles away. My apartment has serious water damage . . . precious objects became damp, musty — some can’t be repaired. I feel as if spiritual mildew is creeping up on me, which is not something that responds to ordinary curative methods. While I was slumping around the apartment, wondering what else had been ruined and whether I could ever find everything, I knew I needed serious help of a medical kind.

I called on my own medical group and they rushed to my aid. They are Doctors Warren, Dubin, Caparone, Barnhart, Barrett, Shaw, Cavera, Reynolds, and Reynolds:

I apologize for the swooping camerawork but I was trying to create closeups without a tripod, and I think I was so happy that my hand possibly couldn’t remain steady. Somewhere, Fats Waller and Bing Crosby smile approvingly, too.

This always makes me feel better, and I will now play it again while I do other domestic chores.

May your happiness increase!

PARADISE ON EARTH: VISITING THE LOUIS ARMSTRONG HOUSE MUSEUM

This past Monday I spent yet another pleasant afternoon at the Louis Armstrong House Museum in Corona, Queens.  The house is closed on Mondays, but it was a special occasion.  I was there to train as a volunteer docent, someone who would give guided tours of the house.  Being a volunteer in service to Louis Armstrong is the fulfillment of a lifelong dream for me, because I could never repay my debt to the man who has given me so much, not only his music but his attitude towards life*.

The LAHM needs volunteers, but they are precise in their requirements: there’s an application form to fill out, an interview (pleasant but serious), references to provide, and several training sessions.  The prospective volunteer is asked to make a six-month commitment and offer her / his services to the LAHM for one day a week, 10-5. You can fill out the application online: thatsforme.   Serious stuff, but they don’t let just anyone take care of holy places.

Yet it is absolutely uplifting to be allowed into Louis and Lucille’s house, to climb the stairs that they climbed, to see the mirrored bathroom and the dining room — with an Asian painting on the wall whose pictographs, translated, are PARADISE ON EARTH.

The extraordinarily shiny mid-century turquoise kitchen; the shiny mylar wallpaper (Lucille dug wallpaper and the insides of the closets are wallpapered in different patterns); the exhibit room with Louis’ gold-plated trumpet; the den where Louis spent much of his time listening to music, making his tape-recordings, talking on the telephone, practicing his trumpet, singing his songs.  A portrait of Louis by Calvin Bailey; another by some Italian fellow.

One of the most touching aspects of a visit to the LAHM is the soundscape.  (How could you have a tour of Louis’ world in silence?  Impossible.)  Moving from room to room, one hears excerpts from Louis’ homemade tape-recordings.  Early on, Louis was thrilled by getting it all down “for posterity.”  He knew his worth, and without immodesty, he knew that we would be listening to his life after he and Lucille were gone.

I heard, once again, the sweet story of how, when Louis and Lucille were newly married in 1942, she wearied quickly of “the road,” of living out of suitcases, and decided that the new couple should have a home.  She knew of a house in Corona, Queens, for sale — even then a comfortable blue-collar neighborhood, but one in which African-Americans were welcome  — and purchased it without Louis having seen it.  He was on the road perhaps 300 nights a year.

When he was going to be in New York, Lucille told him about the house and gave him the address.  Very early one morning in 1943, Louis caught a cab and had the driver take him to an 34-56 107th Street in Corona, Queens.

Because he hadn’t seen any photographs of the house and it seemed extremely grand to him, he asked the driver to wait there, in case there was some mistake.  He climbed the steps that I climbed on Monday, rang the doorbell, and there stood Lucille, in her dressing gown, as pretty as a woman could be, saying the words every man or woman longs to hear, “Welcome home, honey.”

Louis couldn’t believe this was his home at first, but he was convinced.  And he lived in this house with his wife until his death in 1971.

I write all this with a lump in my throat — for gladness, because Louis is my hero.  I told Michael Cogswell this (because I had the same feelings while in the House), “Louis is my saint and we try to be his apostles.”

You may not want to be a docent at the House — that’s fine.   Some of my readers will find the commute to Corona a bit taxing.  But if the idea appeals to you, click wonderfulworld.

But I encourage you to visit the Louis Armstrong House Museum and be in the spiritual presence of the man who changed and created so much of the music we love.  You might want to absorb the aura of his great humanity, his generosity, his love for the music and his fellow men and women (including miniature Schnauzers).  Or you might want to come and look at the wallpapers!  (Lucille loved wallpaper and the house is a marvelous specimen of the best mid-century modern American interior decor, and that’s no stage joke.)  Here’s the information you’ll need about the forty-minute tours:  louis.

The LAHM also needs your financial support . . . but you don’t need me to tell you this.  Become a member or make a contribution:  swisskriss.  These days, everyone’s bucket has a hole in it, but holes can be patched.

Just to get you in the mood, here is Louis performing that pretty song, HOME.

Louis and Lucille Armstrong loved their neighbors — the neighborhood kids ate ice-cream in the living room and watched Westerns on television.  If they were alive today, they would be inviting friends to the house for good times.

The House itself welcomes you.  Within its tidy rooms Louis and Lucille are alive.

Make a date with yourself and your Beloved to pay them a call in the most down-to-earth shrine you will ever visit.

*And here’s what I mean by Louis’ attitude toward life — I wrote about it some time ago: what-would-louis-do.

BETWEEN THE SHEETS (in Fayetteville, New York)

Some months back, my friend — jazz photographer John Herr — told me about an invaluable resource for people trying to track down sheet music. 

You remember sheet music, don’t you?

Sheet music (individual publications for specific songs, often with beautiful Art Deco cover illustrations and portraits of the artists — famous or obscure — who performed the songs) was once a predictable part of any even mildly musical household.  Before the iPod, when people relied on records and the radio for the hits of the day, they more than not played those hits on the piano, guitar, ukulele, or sang them together.  When the newest Astaire-Rogers film came out, or Bing Crosby sang something pretty on the radio, the sheet music was right there.

Those of us who love jazz and pop music are fascinated by these sheets, and readers have seen a good number of them here: James P. Johnson, Fud Livingston, Ben Pollack, Louis, and many others.  But sheet music was inexpensive and printed on fragile paper, so the years have often not treated the pages well. 

So if you have a deep need to find the sheet music (words, music for verse and chorus, ukulele chords) for NEVER SWAT A FLY or IT LOOKS LIKE RAIN IN CHERRY BLOSSOM LANE or even I’VE GOT ELGIN MOVEMENTS IN MY HIPS (WITH A TWENTY-YEAR GUARANTEE), you could go on eBay and you might find the sheet music for sale; some is even available at Amazon.  But here’s a better way — intelligent, reliable, and inexpensive. 

It’s the MOTTO COLLECTION at the FAYETTEVILLE FREE PUBLIC LIBRARY in Fayetteville, New York.  But please don’t panic at the unfamiliar name.  You don’t have to find Fayetteville on the map to get ready to make an automobile pilgrimage.  It’s easier than that. 

But first: the collection contains 35,000 sheets of popular American songs from the last 150 years.  It also includes 900 music and reference books which circulate.  The sheet music presents a chronological picture of American life and popular culture from the Civil War through the 1980s.

The Collection was donated to the library by the late Lucy Motto in memory of her husband, Vincent, who died in 1995.  Vincent was an amateur collector who pursued his interest for thirty years (he had sung with bands in Utica and Syracuse).  Rod Hampson, a long-time community volunteer, became the collection’s first curator in 1996.  It is now taken care of by Roberta Hampson (who won’t mind overmuch if you call her “Bobbi”: she is very friendly) who knows a great deal — she is a wonderful resource in herself.

To reach Mrs. Hampson, you may call the library at 315-637-6374 or leave a message for her at extension 328.  Or you may email her at mottomusic@fayettevillefreelibrary.org.

The collection is meticulously indexed with extensive cross-references; if you are searching for a particular song, for a theme, for personal entertainment or scholarship on a larger scale.  It continues to grow through donations and subscriptions.  About those donations: if you can’t sleep at night because you need the music for IF YOU’RE A VIPER, check with Bobbi Hampson to see if the collection has it.  The library requests a donation of at least $3.00 for a song, plus postage if it’s mailed to you — a pittance compared to eBay. 

And soon you can be playing and singing MAKE MY COT WHERE THE COT-COT-COTTON GROWS at home.  Amaze your friends and delight your neighbors!

COME AND JOIN THE JUBILEE!

I had the great pleasure of meeting the Louis Armstrong scholar Ricky Riccardi at the Armstrong Archives (they’re in the Queens College Library and they’re a marvel) so that we could have a brief chat about his new book, WHAT A WONDERFUL WORLD: THE MAGIC OF LOUIS ARMSTRONG’S LATER YEARS (Pantheon).  The book will be out on June 21 although you can pre-order it on Amazon.

It’s a wonderful book, and I’ll have more to say about that in a few weeks.  But here’s its young author — informed, sincere, down-to-earth and full of love for his subject.  And I’m not the only one who thinks so:

“The story of Louis Armstrong’s later years is the great untold tale of postwar jazz.  Now Ricky Riccardi has told it to perfection,” says Terry Teachout, author of Pops: A Life of Louis Armstrong

Now do you understand why Louis smiles while Ricky is speaking?

You’ll have another opportunity to meet Ricky, to buy an autographed copy of his book . . . and where better than at a summer garden party at the Louis Armstrong House Museum?     The book party will take place in the Armstrong Garden at the Louis Armstrong House Museum,  Sunday, June 26 from 2-4 PM.

Tickets are $35, which includes an autographed book, a guided tour of the Armstrong House and refreshments.  $25 for LAHM members.

Space is limited. Make your reservation today!   

Reservations can be made at:  reservations@louisarmstronghouse.org.

For further questions call the museum at  (718) 478-8274.

The LOUIS ARMSTRONG HOUSE MUSEUM is located at 34-56 107th Street, Corona, Queens, New York City 11368.  It’s easy to get there by car or by public transportation.

If you can’t come to the party, I hope you will buy a copy of Ricky’s book and consider becoming a member of the Louis Armstrong House Museum — a down-home shrine visited by people from every country on the globe.     Members support their mission — making sure the joy Louis spread is never forgotten — and receive exclusive benefits throughout the year, including: free admission for historic house tours, special member discount to all events, a subscription to Dippermouth News, a sneak peek of upcoming events, 10% discount in our museum store, pre-show parties with other members, and much more.

“GRAB YOUR AXE, MAX!” or A SPLENDID PRESENT

Oh, I absolutely have to start practicing!  Do I have enough time to become semi-amateurish by September 2011 . . . . ? 

Consider the following, very enticing for anyone who’s got rhythm:

CHAUTAUQUA INSTITUTION PRESENTS

THE CHAUTAUQUA TRADITIONAL JAZZ WORKSHOP

Dan Barrett, Music Director

September 11-15, 2011

Faculty:

Duke Heitger, Trumpet

Scott Robinson, Reeds

Dan Barrett, Trombone

Rossano Sportiello, Piano

Howard Alden, Guitar / Banjo

Kerry Lewis, Bass

Ricky Malachi, Drums

Rebecca Kilgore, Vocals

Chautauqua’s first ever Traditional Jazz Workshop will be held on the beautiful grounds of the Chautauqua Institution in western New York, with your home base at the historic Athenaeum Hotel.  The 4-day session will include ensemble workshops, coaching, jam sessions, and performance opportunities in student groups and with faculty members.  Students will focus on jazz standards and works from the American Songbook, with emphasis on improvisation and ensemble performance.  Enjoy social events with faculty and fellow students on beautiful Chautauqua Lake.  The workshop culminates in a performance opportunity at the opening session of the 14th Annual Jazz at Chautauqua traditional jazz party on Thursday evening. 

Tuition for the workshop will be $550 USD; the lodging and meal package at the Athenaeum Hotel will be $525 per student (single occupancy) or $775 (double occupancy) USD.  Stay on for the annual Jazz at Chautauqua party and receive a 20% discount on your food and lodging.  For reservations at the Athenaeum, call 1-800-521-1881 or email athenaeum1881@hotmail.com.  For information about the workshop, contact Nancy Griffith at 216-956-0378 or email her at nancylynngriffith@yahoo.com.

I wasn’t quite serious about practicing enough to be accepted into the workshop in time for September, but I meant “A Splendid Present” emphatically.  Many older jazz fans lament the impending demise of traditional jazz.  Why not give the art form we love a blood transfusion from young folks — that grandson of yours who has just discovered Teddy Bunn, or that niece who is trying to play Cootie Williams’ growls on BENNY’S BUGLE — being able to attend this workshop and learn from these genial masters could be a life-changing event.  And you don’t have to be a raw youth to come aboard, either . . . if you yourself would like to sound more like Benny Morton or Tricky Sam Nanton, this is a heavensent opportunity.  Maybe I should sign up for the singers’ workshop just to be taught breath control by Rebecca Kilgore . . . now there’s a thought.

See you in Chautauqua, and don’t be late! 

 

 

THE SECOND SET (THE EAR INN, April 25, 2010)

I have had a great deal of pleasure listening to jazz in many places, but the second set at The Ear Inn (326 Spring Street in New York City) on a Sunday night when The Ear Regulars are playing is a true oasis.  

After their set break, the musicians are content, relaxed.  Their tempos rock; their music is stirring.  And there are usually some sterling additions, surprise guests who bring their horns and their talents.

Last Sunday, April 25, 2010, the Ear Regulars were Jon-Erik Kellso, Matt Munisteri, Harry Allen, and Neal Miner.  “Some band!” as Charlotte would say. 

They played a stellar set, which I captured in a post here, logically called THE FIRST SET (https://jazzlives.wordpress.com/2010/04/26/the-first-set-the-ear-inn-april-25-2010/).

Even better, some official Ear Pals came in: Andy Farber with his tenor sax; Danny Tobias and his cornet; Chris Flory (without a guitar but ready to borrow Matt’s), and Jim Whitney (ditto for Neal’s bass). 

In another world, the combination of two tenors, two trumpets, and a rhythm section might have stirred up competition.  But not here.  High notes and long solos aren’t the rule at these sessions; no, they are much more like a group of friends having a good time. 

The original quartet started off the second set with a leisurely saunter through a Ben Webster line (a composition twice removed?), DID YOU CALL HER TODAY?  In the interests of full disclosure, I must say that Ben is supposed to have substituted another verb in the title.  CALL is based on the chords of IN A MELLOTONE, which is based on ROSE ROOM.  The source of ROSE ROOM is yet untraced:

Beginning with Neal, here’s the second part:

Continuing the Ellington-out-of-Riff mood, Jon-Erik called for THE JEEP IS JUMPIN’, a Johnny Hodges version of I GOT RHYTHM — and invited Andy and Danny to the bandstand:

Here’s the rocking last chorus:

Jon-Erik passed the scepter to Danny, who called one of his favorite songs, THIS CAN’T BE LOVE:

Keeping the amorous subtext going, someone (was it Chris Flory, now ready to play Matt’s guitar?) suggested COMES LOVE, a favorite of Kenny Davern and Bob Wilber’s.  Jim Whitney had taken over on bass for Neal:

Here’s the conclusion:

Finally, the group (with Chris on guitar but Neal back on bass) romped through LINGER AWHILE, a song that makes me think of a Dicky Wells record with Lester Young, Bill Coleman, Ellis Larkins, Freddie Green, Al Hall, and Jo Jones on board:

I couldn’t linger for too long, but I can’t wait until next Sunday.  You come, too!

43-30 46th STREET

I find this photograph of this commemorative plaque in Sunnyside, Queens (a New York City suburb) sad but also glorious: sad that Bix Beiderbecke lived so short a life, and that the plaque marks the building in which he died . . . but glorious in that his sound and spirit continue to inspire both listeners and musicians. 

BixPlaqueNYT25Oct2009

Thanks to Albert Haim, patriarch and guiding spirit of the Bixography Forum, for sharing this with us, and for Dan Saltzstein, who took the photograph of the plaque for the New York Times.  And if the Times can break away from its contemplation of the present day, its failing ad revenues, and rumors of the death of print journalism to celebrate Bix — even in death — that’s a good thing.

“HOTTER THAN THE DEVIL’S KITCHEN”

Simmer 2009 006jelly 14 july 1927 ad

The advertisement above comes from July 1927, and it speaks for itself, euphorically. 

Here are three photographs taken at Jelly Roll Morton’s 1939 Victor date.  Their source is an incomparable UK jazz site which offers more information about Morton than you would encounter elsewhere: http://www.doctorjazz.co.uk.

jelly1939 1

I see Sidney DeParis (trumpet), Zutty Singleton (drums), half of a trombonist (Claude Jones?), Morton at the piano, Bernard Addison (guitar), and a singularly wonderful reed section of Sidney Bechet (soprano), Albert Nicholas (clarinet), and Happy Caldwell (tenor).

jelly1939 2

Here’s one I hadn’t seen before — Jelly with two music lovers who would go on to create jazz treasures: young Harry Lim (left) who would begin the majestic series of Keynote recordings in a few years, and Steve Smith, whose HRS Records would feature Bechet, Muggsy Spanier, Joe Thomas, Johnny Hodges, and other bright lights.

In the photo below, I imagine Harry Lim thinking, “This looks like fun.  I could do this, too!”  As he did.   jelly1939 3

All of this pleasant rumination was sparked by a purchase I made yesterday in an antiques / collectables store on Warren Street in Hudson, New York, that has mountains of records for sale — mostly Fifties and Sixties rock and pop, but there are the vestiges of a large jazz vinyl collection.  Most of it appeals to me for sentimental reasons: “I had that record,” goes through my mind as I flip through the browsers.  But I encountered a half-dozen 78s — a Kenton Capitol, Ellington’s Victor I GOT IT BAD / THE CHOCOLATE SHAKE, two of the red-label Columbia Bessie Smith reissues, and this beauty, close to mint condition:

Tomatoes  Jelly Roll 003

“Dance Orchestra,” if you needed to be told.

Tomatoes  Jelly Roll 004

The records aren’t expensive, so there was never a question in my mind about taking this one home.  When I finished looking at the records (there are always more than I can bear to go through), I walked towards the friendly woman proprietor, who saw what she was dealing with — a happy man trying to keep his pleasure within bounds — and she grinned, “YOU’VE found a treasure, haven’t you?!”  I assume that my emotions showed on my face. 

And, just to show how everything connects, at the top of the page is a genuine Red Hot Pepper that the Beloved grew in her extraordinarily bountiful container garden.  “Hotter than the Devil’s kitchen” describes the experience of eating it most precisely.

LESLIE JOHNSON, JAZZ HERO

Jazz is full of people who burn brilliantly for only a short time.  Then there are heroic figures who keep on keeping on for decades, selflessly giving. 

Leslie Johnson has been the editor and publisher of THE MISSISSIPPI RAG since 1973.  Today I received an email from Leslie saying that she could no longer go on in those demanding roles because of her illness: she’s been fighting cancer for three and a half years.  You can read her farewell at www.mississippirag.com., but I just wanted to add a few words that perhaps Leslie herself would read. 

I started to write reviews for the RAG in 2000, and became the paper’s New York correspondent in 2007.  In the early days, I often picked up the phone and called Leslie when I had a question — because it was such a pleasure to talk to her, and because she worked such long hours putting out the paper that she didn’t always get to her hundreds of emails.  She was fervent, cheerful, determined, and genuine.  And I think she worked the longest hours of anyone I’ve ever encountered.  For thirty-five years, mind you.  It wasn’t for the money: operating a traditional jazz paper is not the Way to Wealth that Benjamin Franklin had in mind.  It was because she loved the music, believed in it, and believed in the people who played it, those who produced the CDs, put on festivals, and wrote about it. 

She believed in jazz in a practical way.  And this came through in the first conversation I had with her about the house style, or what she expected from reviewers.  I don’t remember exactly how she said it, but she made it clear that hers was not a paper that delighted in putting artists down.  To her, traditional jazz was having a hard enough time.  Her paper’s mission was to celebrate and praise rather than to carp about faults.  Fair enough, I remember saying, “But what if I think a CD is really an inferior piece of work?”  Well, she said, she would return it to the musicians and say that she didn’t think the CD was up to their usual standard and the RAG would rather not review it.  That was Leslie’s tough-minded kindness all out — and readers of the paper will note we reviewers were encouraged to tell the truth, but to check our razors at the door. 

Our phone conversations were also delightful for me — a born-and-bred New Yorker — because Leslie spoke what I think of as pure Minnesotan.  I remember (and I can hear her voice now) responding to some statement of mine that she seconded, “That’s for darn sure!”  It’s not a typical Manhattan form of agreement, and it gave and gives me great pleasure.

I said above that Leslie believed in jazz.  Many people I know would make the same statement of themselves, but their belief takes shape as pure enjoyment: “I believe in jazz, therefore I listen to _________ every night when I get home.”  Leslie’s belief went beyond a set of speakers out of which music came, although she loved to listen to the music.  It wasn’t an abstact reaction to jazz, either.  She worked for thirty-five years FOR jazz, and the RAG has been the result, month after month. 

It’s been a privilege, and honor, and an education to work with and for Leslie Johnson — a true jazz hero.

JAZZ IN THE AIR

 plane-seats1Getting from New York to Maui (with a brief stopover in Los Angeles) is not all that arduous, and we are lucky to have such travel plans.  But time spent in an airplane seat tends to drag (the recycled air, the shrinking space one is allowed, the stranger who wants ever so eagerly to talk about life in the plaster business) so the iPod is more and more a blessing.  (With noise-cancelling earbuds, of course.)

Here’s my entirely self-referential list of what I was listening to on this most recent trip, in no order of preference:

John Gill, LEARN TO CROON (from his upcoming CD of the same name for Stomp Off, honoring Bing Crosby)

Jeff Healey / Dick Sudhalter / John R.T. Davies, A CUP OF COFFEE, A SANDWICH AND YOU (from”Among Friends”)

Louis Armstrong and assorted Hawaiians including Lionel Hampton, TO YOU, SWEETHEART, ALOHA, and ON A COCONUT ISLAND (good psychic warmups for the islands)

the Norman Payne tracks from the two-CD set, “The Influence of Bix Beiderbecke” on Jass Masters

Jon-Erik Kellso / Scott Robinson / Mark Shane, ISN’T THIS A LOVELY DAY, from Jon-Erik’s “Remembering Ruby,” on Gen-Erik Records

Connee Boswell / Bunny Berigan, IN A LITTLE SECOND-HAND STORE, and ME MINUS YOU (Mosaic)

Jack Teagarden, THANK YOUR FATHER, “1930 Studio Sessions,” (Jazz Oracle)

The Blue Note Jazzmen, EVERYBODY LOVES MY BABY (both takes)

Ehud Asherie, A PORTER’S LOVE SONG TO A CHAMBERMAID, from “Swing Set,” on Posi-Tone Records

the four new CDs Anthony Barnett has released on his AB Fable label — devoted to Eddie South and a variety of improvising violinists and hot string ensembles

Melissa Collard, WHEN SOMEBODY THINKS YOU’RE WONDERFUL, from “Old Fashioned Love,” Melismatic Records

Becky Kilgore / Dave Frishberg, SAY IT, from “Why Fight the Feeling?” on Arbors Records 

There was more music, but I’m trying to save something for the return trip.  I bought a car kit for the iPod and have (by mutual consent) been playing the early Thirties recordings of the Mills Brothers.  And marveling, of course — although the back seat of the tiny rental car sometimes starts to feel crowded, even with only one guitar.

LONG ISLAND SOUND?

antique-map

Before my time, Long Island was a hotbed of jazz — Miff Mole was born in Freeport, and there were thriving colonies of jazz musicians in Queens: Louis, of course, in Corona; James P. Johnson, Fats Waller, Milt Hinton, Roy Eldridge and many others.  Red Allen had a steady gig at the Blue Spruce Inn in Roslyn.   

When I first became aware of jazz, like love, it was just around the corner.  Louis and the All-Stars came to the Island Garden in Hempstead in 1967; I saw Jimmy McPartland, Vic Dickenson, Joe Wilder, Milt Hinton, Dick Hyman, Buddy Tate, Jo Jones, Dill Jones, Budd Johnson, Connie Kay, and Teddy Wilson in concerts, usually free ones in the parks. Teddy, Roy Eldridge, Wilbur Little, and Joe Farrell played hour-long gigs in the shopping center Roosevelt Field in 1972.   The International Art of Jazz had wonderful concerts — I remember a quartet of Ruby Braff, Derek Smith, George Duvivier, and Bobby Rosengarden.  Ray Nance did a week in a club in Hicksville!   

Some years later, a traditional jazz society whose name now escapes me held concerts in Babylon, with Peter Ecklund, Dan Barrett, Joe Muranyi, Marty Grosz, and others.  Nancy Mullen told me of evenings when Ecklund would show up in a little Port Jefferson spot and play beautifully.  Sonny’s Place, in Seaford, had name jazz players for years.

Now, I know that most of the musicians I’ve listed above are dead.  Try as I might, I can’t make Red Allen come back to Roslyn.  But I wonder:  Is there any Mainstream jazz on Long Island?   Could it be that it has retreated utterly to safer urban refuges?  I would be grateful for any information on some place(s) where the band strikes up a familiar melody to improvise on.  It could even be  “Satin Doll,” although I would hope for better. 

Or has the region I live in given itself over completely to cellphone stores, nail salons, and highways?  Say it ain’t so, Jo (Jones, that is).

A JAZZ HOLIDAY — CHAUTAUQUA 2008

Jazz at Chautauqua, the cherished baby of Joe Boughton and the Allegheny Jazz Society, whirled around for yet the eleventh year — filling the hours of September 18 – 21 with hot jazz, rare songs, and sweet, swinging lyricism.  It was my fifth visit there, and the Beloved’s first.  We had a wonderful time, tearing ourselves away from the music at regular intervals to walk the Chautauqua grounds, with their elaborately done houses, the leaves already changing, and the glory of Lake Chautauqua.  We took a number of meals on the wide wooden porch of the Athenaeum Hotel, with high-level sitters-in who were carrying plates of food rather than horns and charts: Marty Grosz, Bob Reitmeier, Nina Favara . . . and we got to hang out with Jackie Kellso and Becky Kilgore, Ray Cerino and Carol Baer, David and Maxine Schacker (creators of BEING A BEAR).

By my count, there were about forty sets of music, starting at breakfast and going on until 1:30 AM.  When I was younger and more vigorous in 2004, I devoted myself with a pilgrim’s determination to hearing every last note, with Coffee as my friend and non-prescription ally.  Eventually, I couldn’t sit and listen to even the world’s best jazz for that long.  Everything, including the cerebral cortex, set up a protest.

So here are some highlights, admittedly a subjective list, but, as the narrator of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight says, “To tell all the tale would tax my five wits.”  I was too busy taking notes to take pictures, so readers who want visual stimuli should go to www.mississippirag.com for the October issue, which will be festooned with photographs by John Bitter.

I’ve written about the Thursday festivities (see WITH DISPATCH AND VIGOR) but Friday began to pop with two wonderful sets.  One was led by Jon-Erik Kellso, oddly, his only formal opportunity to do this all weekend, which I find mysterious. because he is an engaging, funny leader.  His set featured lively old songs at the front and back, “Alice Blue Gown” and a Louis-inflected “Some of These Days,” but the middle was even better — Dan Block and Jon-Erik on the 1933 romance “The Day You Came Along,” which managed to summon up both Bing and Hawkins, a neat trick.  Then Bob Havens, exploding all over the horn like a teenager, charged through Harry Warren’s “42nd Street,” a song neglected by jazz players, more’s the pity.  And a delicate, plaintive “Always” featured Block on bass clarinet and Bob Reitmeier on clarinet — not evoking Soprano Summit or the Apex Club Orchestra, but some otherworldly strain, Debussy with a beating Thirties heart.

Becky Kilgore’s set was too short but each song was a neat surprise.  Backed by the endearing Joe Wilder, who moved from bucket mute to his red-and-white metal derby to his fluegelhorn, Dan Barrett being himself, and the ever-thoughtful Rossano Sportiello, Becky offered a happy “Getting Some Fun Out of Life,” whose title seemed more true than ever, “But Not For Me” with a pensive verse, and a sly “Little White Lies,” dedicated to “the politicians.”  In an enlighted administration, our Becky could sing at the Inaugural Ball, but I don’t hold out great hopes for this.

A Saturday-morning Duke Heitger extravaganza was notable for a slow-dance “Whispering” which began with a lovely Ingham introduction, romantic and sweet.  Music to hug by!  Eventually the band decided they had had enough of good behavior and doubled the tempo (Duke turned into Bunny Berigan at points) moving on to a riotous Condon finale with earth-shaking breaks from Arnie Kinsella, unbridled even before lunchtime.

Rather like Becky’s cameo of the previous evening, a Joe Wilder – Rossano Sportiello duet seemed over before we had had time to accustom ourselves to the magical idea of hearing them together with no interference (and with Joe getting to pick the songs he wanted to play, which isn’t always the case).  Tender versions of “Embraceable You” and “Skylark” paved the way for a steadily moving “Idaho,” memorably energetic.  Joe’s glossy tone has become more a speaking utterance in recent years, which is even more personal, and Rossano is my idea of Jazz Ecumenism — getting Fats Waller and Bud Powell to shake hands whenever he plays.

A Marty Grosz set was devoted to the memory of the vocalist, comb-and-tissue paper virtuoso, and bandleader Red McKenzie, about whose music no one is lukewarm.  Typically, we enjoyed a long winding Marty-narrative, full of priceless jazz arcana and some wicked comedy, but it showed off his convincing crooning on “I’ve Got The World On A String.”  The group that backed him — Block, Andy Stein on violin, and the irreplaceable Vince Giordano, seemed the perfect modern embodiment of Joe Venuti’s Blue Four.  About enjoyment, incidentally: Joe Boughton introduced Marty and ended with the ritualistic crypto-command, “Enjoy.”  Marty, who can be as dangerous as a drawer full of scissors, replied, while he was settling in, “I don’t make music to be enjoyed,” as if the concept offended his fastidious self.  But we did, anyway.  So there!

The Wisconsin Bixians (Andy Schumm and Dave Bock) once again got to play with their heroes — Reitmeier, Stein, James Dapogny, Vince, Marty, and Arnie Kinsella — the all-star rhythm team of the weekend or perhaps of this century? — and proved themselves up to the challenge.  Except for a pretty “At Sundown,” they chose Bix-rompers from 1927-8, “Jazz Me Blues,” “Clarinet Marmalade,” and “Somebody Stole My Gal,” making me think of Bix and Miff Mole in some ideal alternate universe, backed by Tesch, Sullivan, Condon, Artie Bernstein, and Krupa.

Keeping the momentum and the mood, Vince Giordano’s Nighthawks showed themselves off as the Jazz Larks.  We”ve all heard the band parse early Pollack, Challis, Isham Jones, Ellington — but this was a leaping ensemble of veteran alumni, fully warmed up.  The Beloved turned to me and murmured, “Vince is in his glory,” and we all were.  Kellso, Block, and Havens sang out — no surprise!

That evening, a lovely set featured Duke Heitger, Havens, Bobby Gordon, the priceless rhythm section mentioned above, and Kellso.  After a casual “Tea for Two,” everyone cut loose (especially Gordon) on “Mahogany Hall Stomp.”  Jon-Erik and Duke are old Midwestern pals, and Kellso was Duke’s model and mentor when neither of them had a driver’s license.  It wasn’t a cutting contest but a friendly reunion, but the two of them gave me chills on “If We Never Meet Again.”  The rafters rang — not with volume, but with passion and a shouting tenderness, which is no oxymoron when you have players who have devoted their lives to it.

Later that night, a set led by Randy Reinhart again showed off two trumpets, as he and Jon exploded into “Struttin’ With Some Barbecue,” reminding me of Louis’s Decca big band version and a short passage from a film about Dick Gibson’s jazz parties where Ruby Braff and Clark Terry duetted on the sidewalk while fireworks went off around them.  Another touching Reitmeier-Block duet (clarinet and bass-clarinet) on “I Got It Bad” made me wish that every set had had two ballad performances.  (At parties, musicians get excited about playing with their friends, so tempos and volume sometimes rise.)

Sunday morning — at a pre-consciousness hour for most musicians — began with a solo set by Dapogny.  I haven’t said much about him in this post, but I was tremendously impressed with him as an ensemble pianist as well as a soloist.  I had gotten happily used to the idea of his stomping propulsion at previous Chautauquas, his forceful accuracy (think Sullivan, Hines, Fats) but time and again he surprised us all by going into unexpected harmonic corners, playing phrases that were the very opposite of formulas.  And how he swung the bands he was in!

Marty Grosz’s Sunday set honored mid-Thirties Red Allen.  In fairness, the musicians were sight-reading the charts, so there was an uncertain passage here and there . . . but who among us would do better?  I was nearly stunned by the band’s vehement “Jamaica Shout,” which I would assume refers to the Queens neighborhood rather than the Caribbean, but this may be mere speculation.

Finally, a marvelous quartet took the stand — Bob Wilber, his tone still glossy, his rhythmic intensity still intact at eighty, Jon-Erik, blinking slightly in the unaccustomed daylight, Marty and Vince — the best people to summon up the ferocious glories of the 1940 Bechet-Spanier Big Four recordings for the Hot Record Society.  (When I visited guitarist Craig Ventresco, he had the original 12″ 78s, which seemed holy relics — and they still sounded fine on his three-speed phonograph!)  A peerless quartet, deep in contrapuntal hot ensembles and soaring solos.

With regret, the Beloved and I left before it was all over to begin the day-long drive back to New York City, both exhausted and thrilled by the music.

The rewarding thing about Jazz at Chautauqua is that I began to write this post with the idea of including only a few highlights — but there were so many asterisks and exclamation points in my notebook that the idea of a “few” quickly became impossible.  For every set I mentioned, for every solo, there were two or three more of equal quality — a true jazz holiday!  The music rings in my ears as I sit at the keyboard.

THE MISSISSIPPI RAG ROLLS ON

The April issue of the online Mississippi Rag has just appeared, once more testifying to the energy and devotion of its editor, Leslie Johnson, who has celebrated traditional jazz and ragtime for more than three decades now. You can read it for free every month by simply clicking on www.mississippirag.com., and why wouldn’t you?

For a number of years, I’ve written CD and book reviews and profiles for the Rag, but this issue marks my first regular column covering the New York hot jazz scene — so I am especially proud to be there. I hope you’ll keep me informed on happenings in and around the five boroughs, and I know you’ll find something worth reading on every page. Onwards to May!