These four shining performances, and the context in which they were created, made me think of Samuel Beckett, “After all, when you are in the last bloody ditch, there is nothing left but to sing.” Beckett was talking about the Irish, beset by enemies, but his words so well depict these musicians playing as if everyone’s life depended on it in the face of death.
Michael McQuaid with the Vitality Five, February 2019, photo by Michel Piedallu.
The pandemic doesn’t need any explication. Michael McQuaid’s Melodians do, an all-star group . . . and I do not use that term lightly . . . playing Chicago jazz — three performances that nod to 1927-28 recordings with Muggsy Spanier, Frank Teschemacher, Gene Krupa, Eddie Condon, Joe Sullivan, and Bud Freeman, and one (I MUST BE DREAMING) as homage to the Wolverines. The participants: Michael McQuaid, clarinet and arrangements; Enrico Tomasso, trumpet; David Horniblow, tenor sax; Andrew Oliver, piano; Thomas ‘Spats’ Langham, banjo; Louis Thomas, string bass; Nicholas D. Ball, drums.
Please note that these performances, so nicely captured for us by Stephen Paget, follow the outline of the recordings (in three cases) but the soloists go for themselves, most gloriously. The original players were innovative; these heroic descendants are also.
SUGAR (echoing McKenzie and Condon’s Chicagoans):
THERE’LL BE SOME CHANGES MADE (shades of the Chicago Rhythm Kings):
BABY WON’T YOU PLEASE COME HOME (thinking of everyone!):
I MUST BE DREAMING (new to me, a homage to the Wolverines, but recorded by the All Star Orchestra, Seger Ellis, Joe Venuti, and Bob Haring):
Bless these expert generous players, who give so much. They can be part of the collective soundtrack while we dream of a more spacious future.
I’ve enjoyed hearing and meeting the great drummer and drum scholar Nicholas D. Ball, thanks to the Whitley Bay jazz parties that I attended 2009-2016. Nick not only understands vintage drum artistry in academic ways but embodies them: he swings the hell out of a very — by modern standards — constricted authentic set, while combining complete seriousness and wicked glee. You can see him in action (just one example of many)hereand also delve into his absorbing site, “Drums in the Twenties,” here.
But this post isn’t about Nick. He’s a gateway to the real subject.
He asked me if I’d like to hear solo drum recordings by someone I think of as an unknown master, Bob Matthews. Would I? Indeed I would. And you can also.
I listened, was entranced, and asked Nick to tell all:
I was first contacted by Bob in 2018, he having stumbled across my Drums In The Twenties website. He explained who he was and recounted some of his memories of personal encounters with our mutual drumming heroes when he was a young man, during the 1940s and 50s in New York and New Orleans. We began a semi-regular correspondence, during which I got to know all about his jazz career, learning at the feet of Sidney Bechet, Bunk Johnson and Baby Dodds, his recordings with Raymond Burke and Johnny St. Cyr and his travels across America. Also I learned about his current life, then aged 90 and more or less alone, in retirement in a remote rural town in North Carolina. Despite the great distances between us in both age and geography, over the months we became regular pen pals, to the extent that Bob entrusted to me (by international mail), the one extant copy of the EP he recorded for the great historian Bill Russell’s ever-hungry tape recorder, in New Orleans in October 1955: DRUM SOLOS.
Bob was born in Atlanta, Georgia in 1928. Throughout his childhood he was bewitched by music, beginning on drums at the age of nine and also studying mallet percussion and piano to a high level.
As a jazz-mad high-school student, Bob became an avid record collector and attended concerts whenever his heroes visited Atlanta on tour, managing to slip backstage to meet many of the top drummers of the era including Dave Tough and Jo Jones. Aged 18, he travelled to New York, where he befriended and played with several resident jazz greats including Sidney Bechet, Bunk Johnson and Baby Dodds; he then moved to New Orleans where he became a fixture on the traditional jazz scene for over a decade. He then served three years playing with three different US Army bands during the early 1950s, and in 1957 relocated to San Francisco, working in a trio with pianist Don Ewell and clarinettist Ellis Horne, both of whom became close friends.
On the solo session in 1955 that yielded DRUM SOLOS, Bob’s playing, whilst clearly inspired by Dodds (as whose protégé he was proudly known) and firmly within the New Orleans drum tradition, has a distinct character and quality of its own.
‘When we started the session I just couldn’t get it together. We then took a break & had a meal at a nearby cafeteria I always ate at. After we returned it started to fall into place. I don’t know how, but it did. I recorded a variety of things: Morton’s New Orleans Joys, Scott’s Climax Rag, 2 Improvisations (full set and soft mallets on tom toms), and 3 others. I don’t remember how I thought of using complex rags & melodies to inspire me to try & follow. I could have done even better, but I never had the chance again. I had to choose the repertoire from memory at that moment. No time to plan or practice for.’
Whilst Matthews did perform on sessions with several notable bands during the 1940s and 50s, his DRUM SOLOS record was never commercially released, and has never before been made available to the public – until today, 66 years later. When Bob suggested he mail me some of his most treasured possessions, including the one copy of DRUM SOLOS (which had been dubbed onto a 10” vinyl disc some time in the 1950s) I was wary of the responsibility, but excited that perhaps I might be able to at last make this hitherto-unheard artifact from jazz drumming history available to the public after 66 years. With Bob’s blessing and co-operation, I’m really proud and delighted to at last be able to present the record for release via VEAC Vaults; as a set of downloadable audio files accompanied by a 7-page PDF document tracing Bob’s story and illuminated with his memoirs and photographs.
The solo drum recordings are unbelievably interesting: hear a sample here.
They aren’t what Whitney Balliett called “fountains of noise.” They feel like measured yet passionate melodic explorations. Bob looks into the sonic treasure-chest and pulls out gems (in a nice steady 4/4) to show us.
Some of you, deep in the tradition, will say, “Ah, these are just like the Baby Dodds drum improvisations,” and you will have created the nicest pocket to place the music into. That will be an inducement to go to Bandcamp — the link right above this paragraph — and buy a copy. Others, more quick to judge, will say, “I already know what this sounds like,” and, without listening, ready yourself for another diversion. But I suggest that you listen first.
Preconceptions shape reality. Tell someone, “This is the funniest joke in the world,” and almost whatever follows falls flat. Or, “This soup is so spicy, you’ll need gallons of water,” and we brace ourselves. Thus it is with naming music: if we allow ourselves, we create a concept and are unable to hear beyond it.
If a jazz broadcaster presented this release, “We have a new set of experimental, innovative Sonatas for Solo Percussion by T. Vasile, the young Romanian percussion star (she just turned 30) that combine ‘free’ playing with traditional New Orleans convention, down to the antique sound quality of the recordings,” some of us would turn up the volume to hear the marvels.
And — as couples say in “discussions,” one other thing. As you’ll read in the notes, Bill Russell recorded this on his tape machine, and some time later, Bob Matthews paid a local engineer to make a disc copy. A disc copy. One. So I feel in the presence of a weird greatness, facing a singular object (think of the Jerry Newman acetates, for the easiest instance) rather as I did when reading TRISTRAM SHANDY and Laurence Sterne tells the reader he is drawing on a manuscript that only he possesses the sole copy. In this case, it’s not a whimsy, but it’s true. Even if this it’s-the-only-one-in-the-universe fact does not win you over, I hope the music does.
In the darkness, there are gratifying rays of light. You can define that sentence in your own ways, but I have the pleasure of introducing you to a new band, the Forest Hill Owls.
I assume that the avian part of the name is homage both to the swinging New Orleans band who decided that would be a good animal to model themselves on, and the owls’ reputation for wisdom, inscrutability, and nocturnal energies. (I could be completely wrong, and one of the Owls I know will write in to correct me: it could simply be that there are owls in Forest Hill.)
Chris Lowe, trombonist and leader, tells me that Forest Hill is a part of London where several members of the band live. Nothing elusive about that. They are, from the back, Nicholas D. Ball on drums, David Horniblow on bass saxophone, Martin Wheatley on guitar and banjo, Michael McQuaid on alto saxophone and clarinet, and Tom Dennis on trumpet. I feel very fraternal about this band, since I have met, chatted with, and admired in person Messrs. Nick, Martin, and Michael; I know and admire David from recordings. Chris and Tom are new to me, but I salute them also.
Here’s what they look like:
and here’s what they sound like. Prepare yourself for exuberance that clearly knows the way.
First, ALICE BLUE GOWN:
and POOR PAPA, one of those Twenties sagas of marriage imbalance, at least in financial terms, sung by Chris:
Subscribe to their YouTube channel here: I did, not wanting to miss a note.
The virtues of the band are immediately and joyously evident: their merging of respect for past traditions (as manifested by Miff Mole and his Molers and the Goofus Five in these two videos) but their delight in going for themselves. They are not afraid to swing; their solo voices are so distinctive, as is the synergy of the band.
I look forward to more video-performances and I hope, when life returns to some semblance of what we know and love, live gigs, audiences, prosperity. Until then, I’ll keep watching these two videos: better than coffee for reminding the nervous system about the joys of being fully awake — which is what the Forest Hill Owls truly are.
Our subjects today are the overlap of “madness” and “pleasure.” Please be prepared to take notes.
“But first, this,” as they used to say on public radio.
PLEASURE MAD, a Sidney Bechet composition, was recorded in 1924 but the vocal versions weren’t issued, except for this one. Did the record company find it too direct to be acceptable? Here’s Ethel Waters’ version, clear as a bell:
Perhaps the song continued to be performed with those lyrics, but I don’t have any evidence. However, it resurfaced in 1938 as VIPER MAD, new lyrics, as sung — memorably — by O’Neil Spencer:
There might be other ways to pose the rhetorical question, but at what moment in those fourteen years did sexual pleasure become a less interesting subject in popular song than smoking reefers?
While you consider that intriguing philosophical question, I have a new double-CD set (36 tracks! 12 pounds!) to share with you. A little personal history: I attended the Whitley Bay Classic Jazz Party, then renamed Mike Durham’s International Classic Jazz Party, from 2009 to 2016, and had a fine time: the best American, European, Australian, and occasionally South American musicians turned loose for a long weekend of hot and sweet jazz, its spiritual center the late Twenties and early Thirties.
Here are three samples, videoed by me, songs and personnels named:
I ended with GOT BUTTER ON IT so that JAZZ LIVES readers can — as they say — get a flavor of the experience. The Party continues to do its special magic splendidly, a magic that videos only partially convey. This year it’s November 1-3, and details can be found here. And if you search JAZZ LIVES for “Whitley Bay” or “Durham,” you will find a deluge of posts and videos.
But this post isn’t exactly about the Party as such, nor is it about my videos. Its subject — now, pay attention — is a 2-CD set of live performances from the 2018 Party, which is just thrilling. It’s called PLEASURE MAD: ‘LIVE RECORDINGS FROM MIKE DURHAM’S INTERNATIONAL CLASSIC JAZZ PARTY 2017 (WVR RECORDS WVR1007). As I wrote above, 36 live performances in beautiful sound.
And the sound is worth noting, with delight. At the Party, some fans record the music from the audience with everything from ancient cassette recorders to digital ones; when I was there, I videoed as much as I could. But this CD issue has the benefit of superb sound, because of the young Norwegian trumpeter and recording engineer Torstein Kubban, who has recorded every session for the past six years. Torstein is a phenomenal player, so I may be permitted this digression:
He’s got it, for sure. And his recordings are wonderful.
Here are the songs performed — referencing Duke Ellington, Ben Pollack, Bennie Moten, the Halfway House Orchestra, Alex Hill, Rube Bloom, Jabbo Smith, Louis Armstrong,Eddie Condon, Willie “the Lion” Smith, Clarence Williams, Luis Russell, King Oliver, James P. Johnson, and more:
And the musicians: Mike Davis, Andy Schumm, Duke Heitger, Jamie Brownfield, Malo Mazurie, Kristoffer Kompen, Jim Fryer, Graham Hughes, Ewan Bleach, Michael McQuaid, Richard Exall, Claus Jacobi, Matthias Seuffert, Lars Frank, Jean-Francois Bonnel, Emma Fisk, David Boeddinghaus, Martin Litton, Keith Nichols, Morten Gunnar Larsen, Martin Wheatley, Spats Langham, Peter Beyerer, Henry Lemaire, Jacob Ullberger, Phil Rutherford, Elise Sut, Malcolm Sked, Josh Duffee, Richard Pite, Nick Ward, Nick Ball, Joan Viskant, Nicolle Rochelle. If I’ve left anyone out, let me know and I will impale myself on a cactus needle as penance, and video the event.
I think it’s taken me so long to write this post because every time I wanted to take the CDs into the house to write about them, I would start them up on the car player and there they would stay. A few highlights, deeply subjective: Martin Litton’s sensitive and tender solo LAURA; the riotous hot polyphony of CHATTANOOGA STOMP (which I recently played six times in the car, non-stop); the exuberant GIVE ME YOUR TELEPHONE NUMBER; Spats Langham’s NEW ORLEANS SHUFFLE; a completely headlong RAILROAD MAN; a version of THE CHARLESTON that starts with Louis’ WEST END BLUES cadenza; SHIM-ME-SHA-WABBLE that rocks tremendously; I FOUND A NEW BABY that sounds as if Hines (in the guise of Boeddinghaus) visited a Condon jam session in 1933; SOBBIN’ BLUES with layers and textures as rich as great architecture. You will find your own favorites; those are mine of the moment.
My advice? If you can, get thee to the Party, where seats are going fast. Once there, buy several copies of this set — for yourself, national holidays, the birthdays of hip relatives — and enjoy for decades. If you can’t get to the UK, you can still purchase the set, which I urge you to do.
And when the authorities knock on your door to ask about the ecstatic sounds coming from within, you can simply show them this CD and say, “Well, Officers, I’m PLEASURE MAD! Would you like to come in?” And all will be well.
What blessings these nimble deep fellows are giving us! Two live duet performances of Jelly Roll Morton’s music every Tuesday: David Horniblow, reeds, and Andrew Oliver, piano: the Complete Morton Project. And they show no signs of becoming weary.
I have to catch up, so here are four lovely offerings. With a surprise at the end.
One of my favorite Morton compositions. Even though I miss the vocal, the song itself has such sweet energy. It’s MISTER JELLY LORD:
And another classic that I love — whether it’s FROG-I-MORE or FROGGIE MOORE (the contortionist?):
Here’s a rollicking performance of a Morton composition that I think few know, EACH DAY:
And what is for me the real prize, MILENBERG JOYS (home of variant spellings) performed at the most luxuriant dance tempo, sinuous and lyrical:
When I go to my computer in the morning — a twenty-first century act as natural to us as making a fire in the stove for breakfast must have been years ago — and I see that the Complete Morton Project (a/k/a Andrew Oliver at the piano and David Horniblow at the clarinet, bass clarinet, or alto saxophone) has been at it again while I have been sleeping or attempting to grade student essays, my first feeling is pride — pride that I am living in a world where such beauty is being regularly given to us for free. Of course, my second thought is, “Oh, no! I’m falling behind!” But David and Andrew have been very forgiving, and I have received no lowered grades for tardiness. And they offer their creations open-handedly and open-heartedly.
Here is the aptly named PEP:
and the NEW ORLEANS BUMP, which should induce dancing everywhere.
I especially like David’s growly evocation of Cecil Scott and other “dirty” clarinetists — the world as it was before Benny smoothed everything out:
There’s more information and music here on Andrew’s blog — which also shows off the considerable talents of the Vitality Five and the Dime Notes — and you can subscribe to these weekly YouTube bouquets of sound here. And (while I was tidying up the kitchen) the Vitality Five issued their February 2018 e-78: details here.
How will I keep up? I don’t know. But it’s a delightful struggle for sure.
Anointed by Louis in 1968, Enrico Tomasso is a glowing force of nature: he never lets us down. I’ve been able to hear and admire him a few times in Newcastle, England — which is the source of the performance below — but Rico and his charming family (that’s Debbie, his wife, and Analucia, their daughter) also visited New York City for a few delightful days earlier this month. Thanks to Ricky Riccardi, I was able to be on the scene. Yes, I had my camera. More about that soon.
At the 2016 Mike Durham Classic Jazz Party, Rico was one of the stars of a set of orchestral jazz devoted to what was happening in Los Angeles. And Louis visited the West Coast in 1930, so we had the immense privilege of hearing and seeing Rico play and sing a few of Louis’ great specialties, SHINE, I’M A DING DONG DADDY, and ONE HOUR. I’d posted the first and last songs already, but thought it wouldn’t bother anyone if they were all here, at once, in their passionate finery. The band is Keith Nichols, piano; Andy Schumm, trumpet; Alistair Allan, trombone; Claus Jacobi, Richard Exall, Jean-Francois Bonnel, reeds; Emma Fisk, violin; Martin Wheatley, banjo and guitar; Phil Rutherford, bass; Nick Ball, drums.
I’M A DING DONG DADDY:
And should you fall into the trap of reflexively assuming that any song called SHINE must be racist, please read this and learn the truth.
Thanks again to Eric Devine for invaluable technical expertise!
The Mike Durham Classic Jazz Party will take place October 27-29 this year. I can’t be there and Rico has other commitments, but it will still be great fun.
Some phenomena are so strong or so evident that they make commentary superfluous. You don’t need The Weather Channel to tell you when it’s snowing, and you don’t need me to explain the next three brief video performances. However, if you plan to watch them on your phone, beware, because the energy contained here might blow your SIM card across the room.
For those who desire explication, there are credits at the end of each video. (The videos themselves are gorgeous: usually I find most multi-camera shoots more jumpy than required, but here, all praise to the videographers.)
THAT’S NO BARGAIN:
Not that there isn’t a place for loose and long renditions of ROYAL GARDEN BLUES in my world, but this band and these performances are very cheering alternatives to much of what is offered as pre-World War Two hot music.
For those who thrive on data, here is the relevant YouTube channel, and here is the band’s website (in all its permutations). This is the band’s gig schedule for July and August — unfortunately for me, somewhat distant from New York, but perhaps we shall rendez-vous sometime. And here is what I wrote about the band’s debut CD.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to bundle up my computer and take it to Byron and Henry, my very trusted repair-wizards. It began to tremble during the final video, and that worries me.
A few nights ago, I was sitting in my apartment, entertaining friends (one of them the fine guitarist Larry Scala) and I was playing 78s for them. After a particularly delightful performance, which may have been the Keynote I WANT TO BE HAPPY with Roy, Emmett Berry, and Joe Thomas, or 46 WEST 52 with Chu Berry, Roy, and Sidney Catlett, I turned to them and quietly said, “Music like this is why some bands that everyone else goes wild about do not appeal to me. I’ve been spoiled by the best.”
But there are glorious exceptions to my assessment of the present. One of the shining musicians of this century is Michael McQuaid— heard on a variety of reeds and cornet, even possibly breaking in to song when it seems right. I first heard him live in 2010 and admired him powerfully, and although our paths don’t cross often (we meet every few years, not only in Newcastle but also in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, and in New York City) he remains a model to me of what can be created within and without those venerable musics. (Full disclosure: he quotes from JAZZ LIVES on his blog, but I simply take that as evidence of his good taste in literature.)
If you’d like to read a brief biography of Michael, you can do just that here, but I will offer three salient facts: he is Australian by birth; he has been playing professionally for twenty years even though he is a mere 35; he and the lovely Ms. Anna Lyttle will take up residence in London in November 2017.
Michael, feeling the spirit
His newest CD, DIASPORA, is an exceptional pleasure. It’s a trio CD — Michael’s first as a leader in this format — where he is nobly paired with pianist Andrew Oliver and percussionist Nicholas D. Ball. When you click on the title above, you can hear selections from the disc, and if so moved, then purchase it from Bandcampor CDBaby.
But enough commerce. I’ve found it daunting to review this CD in a hurry, not, I assure you, because I had to dig for adjectives, but because each performance — none of them longer than a 12″ 78 — is so dense with sensation, feeling, and music, that I feel gloriously full and satisfied after each track. I couldn’t compel myself to listen to this disc, stuffing in track after track at one sitting: too much glorious stuff was going on. So I promise you that it will not only appeal at the first listening but for many more to come. Michael, Andrew, and Nicholas D. are strong personalities but willing to merge their egos into a band, which in itself is a deep reward for us.
The music here is nicely contradictory: comforting but full of surprises, aesthetically familiar but never rote. “Clarinet, piano, and traps,” as they would have written in 1928, lends itself to all sorts of formulae: the Goodman / Dodds / Noone “tribute” album. Or, more loosely, “Chicago jazz.” DIASPORA, it is true, nods affectionately to early Benny, Wingy, Leon, the Halfway House boys, Fats, Bud Jacobsen, Charles LaVere, and others, but it is not a series of copies: it’s as if Michael, Andrew, and Nicholas D. have made themselves so familiar with the individual songs and the idioms they came from that they are at ease and can thus speak for themselves. There is so much shining energy in their playing: nothing seems forced or tense. And although this would be marketed as “hot jazz,” some of the finest moments in this recital are sweet, rueful, tender: Fats’ CHELSEA, for one.
I asked Michael for his thoughts about the CD, especially because there are no liner notes, and he told me that he wanted to let the music speak for itself, and that DIASPORA has been on his mind for some time: “I wanted to do a project featuring my OWN playing rather than a larger group with a more democratic purpose. I also wanted to record in a very good studio, because I think the clarinet is rarely recorded well . . . it’s just me and my Albert system clarinet! And my colleagues, of course.” [Note from Michael: the recorded sound is superbly natural.]
The songs Michael chose are admiring homages to various clarinetists without imitating them. “For instance, ‘Do Something’ was imagined as a hypothetical Don Murray/Arthur Schutt/Vic Berton collaboration; ‘Tiger Rag’ asks ‘what if Rappolo and Jelly Roll made a trio side?’.”
I’d asked Michael about his original compositions. “‘Black Spur’ takes its name from a treacherous mountain road to the north east of Melbourne, while ‘Diaspora’ is a Beguine/Jazz mix, paying tribute to the musical styles (and peoples) scattered widely throughout the world by the time of the 1920s/30s. Of course, there’s a link there to the album title as well; an Australian, playing music of American origin (broadly speaking) with an American and a Briton, recorded and mixed in London and mastered in Helsinki!”
I hope all my readers take the opportunity to hear DIASPORA: it’s music that travels well.
Today is the day after Valentine’s Day, but we know that romance does not stop when February 14 ends. Call it what you will, the light of love or the light of Louis or both, but they shine through Enrico Tomasso. Here, Rico plays and sings his own version of Louis’ 1930 classic at the Mike Durham Classic Jazz Party (on November 5, 2016) accompanied by Keith Nichols, Andy Schumm, Alistair Allan, Claus Jacobi, Jean-Francois Bonnel, Richard Exall, Emma Fisk, Martin Wheatley, Phil Rutherford, Nick Ball.
I suppose it took and takes a particularly sensitized listener to understand the depths of Louis’ romantic passion, playing or singing. Even Mezz Mezzrow, Louis’ great champion, said in his autobiography that the jukebox owners in Harlem had their machines full of Louis’ records, but that they had to have a few others because not everyone heard Louis so deeply. But Rico does, and conveys that enthusiastic passionate energy, both singing and playing. The only thing missing here is Vic Dickenson’s visual joke — holding up TWO fingers while singing about “one hour tonight.” Sixty minutes is just too brief an interval to love someone effectively.
As is often the case, many thanks to Eric Devine for invaluable technical expertise — Eric is “CineDevine,” an expert videographer and a good fellow.
I don’t think there’s such a thing as too much Morton, especially when it’s played as expertly as this — and from some unusual corners of the canon. Here are Duke Heitger, trumpet; Graham Hughes, trombone, Jean-Francois Bonnel, Robert Fowler, reeds; Martin Litton, piano, transcriptions, arrangements; Martin Wheatley, banjo, guitar; Malcolm Sked, bass; Nick Ball, drums, at the Mike Durham Classic Jazz Party on November 4, 2016. “Sweet, soft, plenty rhythm” is at the foundation — these performances never rush or shout — but there is a good deal of rollicking energy here. No doubt.
No disrespect to the other musicians, but my focus is on the name at top left: ENRICO TOMASSO: majestic, determined, hilarious, tender, indefatigable, joyous.
And here’s The Man Himself, in two performances from the November 2016 Mike Durham Classic Jazz Party, one hot, the other sweet and hot.
EVERYBODY LOVES MY BABY:
From November 4, 2016, a tribute to Mike Durham, the much-missed founder of what is now the Mike Durham Classic Jazz Party, the venerable EVERYBODY LOVES MY BABY, performed by Rico with Keith Nichols, piano / vocal; Spats Langham, banjo / vocal; Phil Rutherford, sousaphone; Richard Pite, drums; Thomas Winteler, soprano saxophone; Alistair Allan, trombone. And here is Rico’s SWEET GEORGIA BROWN from the same set.
And a day later, Enrico honoring Louis, singing and playing IF I COULD BE WITH YOU ONE HOUR TONIGHT:
Here, Rico is accompanied by Keith Nichols, Andy Schumm, Alistair Allan, Claus Jacobi, Jean-Francois Bonnel, Richard Exall, Emma Fisk, Martin Wheatley, Phil Rutherford, Nick Ball. And for those hoboes who missed the train, here is Rico’s SHINE from the same set.
Mr. Tomasso is our hero.
This post would not have been possible without Eric Devine’s generous technical expertise. (Eric is “Cine Devine” on Facebook and a world-class videographer.)
When I first met the trumpeter / vocalist Enrico Tomasso at the Mike Durham Classic Jazz Party a few years ago, I was stunned by the warmth and energy of the man and the beauty of his music. I rather timidly came up to him in the pub and introduced myself, received a big grin, and said, “The light of Louis shines right through you,” which pleased him. Rico proved that once again at the 2016 Party.
But first, a bit of history: Rico, at seven, having played trumpet for Louis at the Leeds airport in 1968. Note Louis’s inscription: THE KISS OF JOY.
The sounds of joy were in the air at the Party on Saturday, November 5, 2016, when Rico performed several Louis features from 1930 . . . miraculously, in front of us, with fine support from Keith Nichols, Andy Schumm, Alistair Allan, Claus Jacobi, Jean-Francois Bonnel, Richard Exall, Emma Fisk, Martin Wheatley, Phil Rutherford, Nick Ball.
Extraordinary, no? And it’s not simply the virtuosity. Rico sends a glowing message of loving exuberance to everyone.
And should you fall into the trap of reflexively assuming that any song called SHINE must be racist, please visit this 2012 shine-reconsidered and learn the truth.
Many thanks to Eric Devine (“CineDevine”) for kind and invaluable technical expertise.
The VITALITY FIVE (and its band-within-a-band, the VITALITY THREE) are the real thing, and the quintet has released its debut CD, which is a complete delight. They are a hot jazz band; their performances marry ferocious energy and precise delicacy.
Drum roll, please?
THE FAMOUS “VITALITY FIVE” JAZZ BAND of London. Featuring internationally-renowned Syncopators from three corners of the globe :
Mr. MICHAEL McQUAID : Clarinet, Alto Saxophone & Trumpet. Mr. DAVID HORNIBLOW : Bass Saxophone & Clarinet. Mr. MARTIN WHEATLEY : Banjo & Guitar. Mr. ANDREW OLIVER : Pianoforte. Mr. NICHOLAS D. BALL : Drums & Percussion.
I know three of these Syncopators in person and will vouch for their Credentials of Hot. Their biographies can be found here.
But mere words have their limitations, so here is audio-visual evidence:
and a Morton trio:
and some Nichols-Mole-Livingston-Berton modernism:
The repertoire on this CD says a great deal about the players and their overall conception. Familiar hot tunes: EAST COAST TROT, MOJO STRUT, SMOKE-HOUSE BLUES, SHE’S CRYING FOR ME, WA WA WA — and the less familiar MOTEN STOMP, KANSAS CITY BREAKDOWN (both early Bennie Moten), CLARINETITIS (another Benny), STEAMBOAT STOMP (Boyd Senter), DIXIE (Adrian Rollini, for his wife), the pop tune IF YOU WANT THE RAINBOW, and the never-played DESDEMONA, BLACK RAG, REVERIE, RETOUR AU PAYS, suggesting a deep immersion and erudition about this period of music. Although the credits say “transcriptions,” it’s easy to see that when you “transcribe” WA WA WA or SMOKE-HOUSE BLUES for this singular ensemble, it is much more a transformation. And it’s thus a lively reimagining. JAZZ LIVES viewers with memories will know Michael McQuaid, Nicholas Ball, and Martin Wheatley as peerless musicians; I assure that David Horniblow and Andrew Oliver are nothing short of spectacular. In fact, the entire ensemble has an appealing looseness precisely because they are honoring the originals and the originators without striving to provide copies of the records. So this is hot jazz of the middle Twenties that is also aware that it is no longer 1926, which is fine with me.
All I know is that it took an act of will to pry the disc out of the player. The band’s website is here. To purchase the CD, visit here. I can assure you that this quintet superbly lives up to the band’s name.
SWING indeed. It gets very hot in Newcastle during the long weekend when the Mike Durham Classic Jazz Partygently but firmly occupies the Village Hotel in Newcastle, England.
This year, the Party begins with a jam session on Thursday, November 3 . . . and runs almost without a letup until late Sunday (really, early Monday morning) — either November 6 or 7, depending on what your watch or smartphone tells you.
I’ve posted links to the Party site below, but before you venture into the land of Clicks, how about some hot music? This rousing performance (from November 8, 2015) was part of a set led by Thomas Winteler paying tribute to the 1938-41 recordings Bechet made for Victor Records.
The heroes onstage are Thomas Winteler, soprano saxophone; Bent Persson, trumpet; Graham Hughes, trombone; Morten Gunnar Larsen, piano; Jacob Ullberger, guitar; Henry Lemaire, string bass; Nicholas Ball, drums.
To see who’s playing, click here. And to book your seat, click here.
The Party’s webpage has a number of delightful videos, so prepare to spend some happy (hot) minutes. I’ve posted a substantial number myself from 2009 on, on this site, too. Maybe we’ll see each other there this November.
Several audience members and a musician-friend wrote in after yesterday’s postfeaturing Keith Nichols and the Seagoon Serenaders, asking if I would post more. Happy to oblige!
Here you can find out more about Keith’s inspiration, THE GOON SHOW, a radio series from 1951-60.
The Serenaders are Keith, piano; Emma Fisk, violin; Frans Sjostrom, bass saxophone; Spats Langham, guitar; Nick Ball, drums; Malcolm Sked, bass; Lars Frank, Thomas Winteler, Michael McQuaid, reeds (Michael doubling cornet). Dance music of the highest order.
The first song of the set is the old Chicago standard, SOMEDAY SWEETHEART, with an explanation of the group’s inspiration by Keith as well as a vocal:
IF I GIVE UP THE SAXOPHONE (WILL YOU COME BACK TO ME?) was a hit for Eddie Cantor in the 1929 film WHOOPEE — written by Irving Kahal, Sammy Fain, and Willie Raskin. I suspect that the song is an outgrowth of the instrument’s popularity early in the decade and the large number of amateur players:
I don’t know how much Goonery there will be at the 2016 Mike Durham Classic Jazz Party(November 3-6) but there will be some. Musicians are often great comic improvisers, and they honor the guiding spirit of the party: Mike was both witty, sometimes dangerously so, and he had a stockpile of jokes that was astonishing.
What happens when vestiges of THE GOON SHOW meet early jazz, under the benignly unsettling leadership of Keith Nichols? I present a brilliant example below. Keith’s presentation, mixing satire and Hot, was called THE SEAGOON SERENADERS, and it came alive at the Mike Durham Classic Jazz Partyon November 8, 2015:
Once when we get past the hilarity, the Serenaders launch into a very delightful performance of Ellington’s THE MOOCHE (named, I am told, for a contemporary dance), complete with clarinet trio and hot cornet chorus. That’s Keith, piano; Emma Fisk, violin; Frans Sjostrom, bass saxophone; Spats Langham, guitar; Nick Ball, drums; Malcolm Sked, bass; Lars Frank, Thomas Winteler, Michael McQuaid, reeds (Michael doubling cornet on this performance). Dance music of the highest order.
A nice mixture of hot jazz, occasionally leavened with comedy, can be found this November 3-6. Details here.
A wise philosopher — Gladys Bentley or Blanche Calloway — once said, “There are a thousand ways to do something wrong, but only four or five ways to do it right.” One of the most eagerly-awaited CDs of recent memory, WHEN LOUIS MET BIX, on Lake Records, is a shining example of beautiful imaginations at work.
The assertive cover photograph is slightly misleading, suggesting that we might be getting ready for one of those Battle of the Valves scenes so beloved of film directors. I offer as evidence one of the most musical (having seen this scene from THE FIVE PENNIES when I was perhaps eleven, it made a deep impression):
Beautiful as it is, that scene is all about mastery and power: the unknown challenger coming out of the shadows (the club dramatically silenced) to claim territory for himself, and being accepted by the gracious King, who makes space for him on the regal bandstand. It might be satisfying but we know it’s not the way things happen.
And this myth isn’t the story of WHEN LOUIS MET BIX, either historically or in this evocative CD. Consider this fraternal conversation, instead:
Immediately, the ear understands that this CD succeeds at being more than a recreation of a 1927 or 1928 after-hours jam session or cutting contest. The music on this disc, even when it is searing hot, is carried along by a fundamental gentleness of spirit, an aura of brotherly love and deep admiration. No skirmishes, no high notes except as they would logically occur.
As I mentioned at the start, there would have been many ways to make this noble idea turn into a leaden result. One would have been to hew strictly to factoids: to use only songs that we knew Bix and Louis played or recorded, and perhaps narrow the repertoire to a choking narrowness by sticking to compositions both of them had done. (By this time, certain well-played songs are reassuring to the audience but must feel like too-tight clothing to the musicians, restricting free movement.) Another would have been to envision the music as competitive: the Bix of BARNACLE BILL pitted against the Louis of POTATO HEAD BLUES. Nay, nay, to quote the Sage of Corona.
Instead, the repertoire is spacious — Louis and Bix loved melodies — and it offers Broadway show music by Rodgers and Blake next to pop classics of the time, alongside “jazz standards” and obscurities by Morton, Chris Smith, Fats Waller — and one evocative original by Andy Schumm. And rather than simply say to the noble players in the studio, “All right. MILENBERG JOYS, and find your own way home,” or “Meet you at the end,” the performances on this disc are delicately yet effectively shaped so that each seems a complete musical expression. There are small arrangements on each track, and rather than that being an impiety (affront to the Goddess of Hot, who supposedly loathes anything worked out — although we know better) these little sketches make the performances even more satisfying. Split choruses, four-bar trades, modulations, duet interludes, balanced conversations where X plays the melody and Y improvises around it, stop-time choruses . . . the wonders that musicians had and have accessible to them instead of the possible monotony of ensemble-solo-ensemble.
On that score, one of the reasons it has taken me longer than usual to review this worthy disc is that I kept falling in love with one track so that I wanted to play it all the way to work and all the way home. By definition, CDs are economy-sized packages of music, and I think I would have been happier (although weighed down) if this Lake Records CD could have been sold as eight 12″ 78 discs in a heavy cardboard binder, to be listened to deeply one at a time, on and on. But longing for the past, although understandable, has its limits. And the imagined 78s would have warped in my car.
For the record, and what a record! –the songs are OL’ MAN RIVER / MILENBERG JOYS / CHLOE / MANDY, MAKE UP YOUR MIND / WHO’S IT / PUT ‘EM DOWN BLUES / WHISPERING / MANHATTAN / SKID-DAT-DE-DAT / BESSIE COULDN’T HELP IT (the one Louis-Bix recording overlap) / COME ON AND STOMP, STOMP, STOMP / MY MELANCHOLY BABY / WHEN SHE CAME TO ME/ I’M JUST WILD ABOUT HARRY / THE BALTIMORE.
And the players. Rico (Louis) and Andy (Bix) are joined by absolutely stellar folk. And since neither Bix nor Louis tried to take up all the space on a recording, democracy prevails; thus we hear beautiful work from Alistair Allan, trombone; Matthias Seuffert, reeds; Morten Gunnar Larsen, piano; Spats Langham, banjo and guitar; Malcolm Sked, string bass; Nicholas D. Ball, drums.
Through this CD, we are able to travel to an alternate universe, where glorious improvised music evokes and summons up the Great Departed. And unlike actually attending the after-hour jam session at the Sunset Cafe or the Savoy Ballroom and thinking, “Where is all this beauty going?” we can have this dramatic evocation to visit over and over again (without our clothes smelling of smoke, spilled whiskey, or beer).
Incidentally, may I urge you to do the most venerable thing and purchase the actual physical disc (from Amazon US or UK or elsewhere). Not only does the glorious sound Paul Adamsgot through his vintage microphones deserve to be reproduced in the highest fidelity (as opposed to mp3s played through earbuds on a noisy train in the common fashion) but you’ll miss out on wonderfully detailed but light-hearted liner notes by scholar-producerJulio Schwarz Andrade and many wonderful photographs that convey the joy that reigned at this session.
My hope is that Lake Records will continue this series of mystical voyages that make an imagined past into tangible present reality. I’m sure that Julio, Paul, and the fellows have even more thrilling ideas for us in future. And I hope that there is an on-the-spot Louis / Bix meeting at the 2016 Mike Durham Classic Jazz Party so that we can marvel again.
Thanks to all the participants for making a visit to the alternate universe possible and so joyous. . . . a world where lyricism, abandon, passion, and expertise shape the music.
I SURRENDER, DEAR, is truly a forlorn love song. Not “You left me: where did you go?” but “Without you I can’t make my way,” which is a more abject surrender to love unfulfilled.
And here’s Bing, both in 1931 and 1939 — so you can hear the intense yearning in the words and music:
A very mature version (with John Scott Trotter):
(There are several more Bing-versions of this song, for those willing to immerse themselves in YouTube, including a 1971 performance on the Flip Wilson Show where one line of the lyrics is . . . altered.)
But now to Mister Strong.
On November 6, 2015, this glorious group of musicians — Bent Persson, Rico Tomasso, Menno Daams, Kristoffer Kompen, Lars Frank, Robert Fowler, Michael McQuaid, Morten Gunnar Larsen, Malcolm Sked, Nick Ball, Spats Langham did the holy work of evoking Louis Armstrong at the 2015 Mike Durham Classic Jazz Party. Here’s my video of this wonderful song — sung and played by the heroic Bent Persson:
Here, for the cinematographers in the viewing audience, is Flemming Thorbye’s video of the same performance — which is much better than mine!
And about two months earlier, Duke Heitger, trumpet; Rossano Sportiello, piano; Nicki Parrott, string bass; Ricky Malichi, drums, gave this beautiful song a treatment that reminds me a little of Benny Carter and Teddy Wilson, not bad antecedents at all:
We associate surrender with defeat, with failure. If love requires the surrender of the armored ego, that’s a triumph. And the creation of beauty out of painful yearning, another triumph. Incidentally, the Cleveland Classic Jazz Partytakes place in September; the Mike Durham Classic Jazz Partyin November. So no reason for conflict.
The Union Rhythm Kings at the 2013 Whitley Bay Classic Jazz Party
The debut CD of this wonderful hot band,A HOT REUNION, on Herman Records, came out in 2009. So the second one is long overdue, and I am happy to report that it is here, and as delightful as its predecessor. (I am grateful to Trygve Hernaes, the band’s enthusiastic guide and supporter, for enabling me to hear them on disc before I’d met them all in person.)
The band, the Union Rhythm Kings, is a wonderful hot hybrid of Norwegian and Swedish musicians — Kristoffer Kompen, trombone; Bent Persson, trumpet; Lars Frank, reeds; Morten Gunnar Larsen, piano, Frans Sjostrom, bass saxophone; Jacob Ullberger, banjo / guitar. For the geographers keeping score, Kris, Lars, and Morten are from Norway; Bent, Frans, and Jacob from Sweden. The band even has its own Wikipedia page.
What sets the URK apart (and above) many other “traditional” jazz bands is the excellence of their solo and ensemble work, expert and impassioned, and free from cliche. They are inspired by the original recordings and arrangements, but they bring their own energy to the repertoire. They’ve broken free of the Jazz Museum.
On this disc, much of that repertoire is comfortable Morton, Ellington, Armstrong, Luis Russell, and Beiderbecke — but the URK takes pleasure in Jack Purvis and obscure Morton. Thus, CLARINET MARMALADE, CROCODILE CRADLE, DAVENPORT BLUES, SARATOGA SHOUT, HUMPTY DUMPTY, WHEN YOU’RE FEELING BLUE, I DIDN’T KNOW, I AIN’T GOT NOBODY, MILENBERG JOYS, RIVERBOAT SHUFFLE, WHAT’S THE USE OF CRYIN’, BABY, SANTA CLAUS BLUES, BLUES OF THE VAGABOND, SOMEBODY STOLE MY GAL, DUSKY STEVEDORE.
I’ve listened to them with great pleasure at their recent annual appearances at the Mike Durham Classic Jazz Party, and I have some performance video from November 5-8 to share with you — which will embody the band’s virtues better than paragraphs of enthusiastic prose. The great young drummer Nick Ball helps out on all these performances.
Here are four from their Sunday-evening concert:
BLUES OF THE VAGABOND:
and four from the Thursday-night pub session:
In honor of the Luis Russell band, SARATOGA SHOUT:
For solitaries everywhere, I AIN’T GOT NOBODY:
and these last two (with Bix in mind), with Thomas Winteler sitting in for Lars:
JAZZ ME BLUES:
The URK discs (beautifully recorded), can be obtained from Sonor Records AS,
Postboks 4275, NO 7436 Trondheim, Norway. Information at email: email@example.com. Price: NOK 200 or USD 25, packing and postage included. Payment via Paypal, to the email address above.
I’ve been back in New York for eleven months now, and it does move at a fast pace now and again. I still don’t walk at a proper Manhattanite tempo, but I’m getting back into tempo. So when I was at the Mike Durham Classic Jazz Party on November 7 of this year and heard Thomas Winteler announce the next song as EAST COAST TROT, I thought, “They’re playing my song.”
Originally, it was an etude for two clarinets (Johnny Dodds and Junie Cobb), piano (Tiny Parham) and the irreplaceable Eustern Woodfork, banjo. This session offers a splendidly enhanced ensemble: Thomas Winteler and Matthias Seuffert, clarinet; Duke Heitger, trumpet; Keith Nichols, piano; Jacob Ullberger, banjo; Phil Rutherford, brass bass; Nicholas D. Ball, washboard.
And just to show the phenomenal emotional range of this group, I would point readers to the performance that took place just before the TROT — an immensely soulful reading of BLUES IN THIRDS.
Great things happen at the Mike Durham Classic Jazz Party, and will happen again in November 2016 . . . from the 4th to the 6th. Details to come.