Tag Archives: Nick Rossi

“LEAP, AND THE NET WILL APPEAR”: NIRAV SANGHANI and the PACIFIC SIX and GUESTS: NIRAV SANGHANI, ALBERT ALVA, SEAN KRAZIT, JUSTIN AU, RILEY BAKER, VIRGINIA TICHENOR, NICK ROSSI, MIKIYA MATSUDA, CLINT BAKER (June 16, 2019)

That serious young man and his friends have done it again, healthfully  rising the planet’s Swing levels.  He’s Nirav Sanghani, leading his flexible band, the Pacific Six, whose new CD I praised just last month here.

Here’s a jazz classic from the recent Bootleggers’ Ball, on Jun 16: the Six plus guests Justin Au, trumpet, and Nick Rossi, electric guitar (wearing tuxedoes).  The rest of the band, Virginia Tichenor, piano; Albert Alva, tenor sax; Mikiya Matsuda, bass; Sean Krazit, tenor sax; Clint Baker, drums; Riley Baker, trombone; Nirav Sanghani, rhythm guitar, bandleader.  The nice floating videography is by Jessica King, vocalist, percussionist, and cinematographer:

So many things in this life are uncertain.  The saying that I’ve chosen for my title is attributed to John Burroughs, Julia Margaret Cameron, and anonymous Zen masters.

LESTER LEAPS IN was most assuredly John Hammond’s title, not Lester’s — for that line on I GOT RHYTHM.  But attributions and minutiae matter less than the effect such things —  those words, that music, that band — have on our hearts.

May your happiness increase!

A DELICIOUS TASTING MENU OF MELODIES: JONATHAN STOUT, “PICK IT AND PLAY IT”

Here, taste this:

I can think of no one (except the Venerable Marty Grosz) who is doing what Jonathan Stout does.  But the truly important thing is that he IS doing it, and beautifully.  And the evidence is all through his lovely solo CD, PICK IT AND PLAY IT.

The guitar has a long history, and what we call “jazz guitar” does also.  Before amplification, guitarists — solo or in ensemble — had the same complicated orchestral responsibilities as pianists: keep a melody line going, play the harmonies (implied or stated), do all this while offering a solid rhythmic pulse.  If you couldn’t do all three as easily as breathing, talking, and walking, you didn’t get the gig — whether the gig was playing rocking blues in a Mississippi juke joint or supporting a small hot band in Harlem.  The masters of this genre — more than two dozen — did it as a matter of course.  Anyone who has ever picked up a guitar can learn in under a minute just how complex and intimidatingly difficult their art is.  I write this from experience.

Jonathan has mastered the subtle mystical arts of such swing deities as Allan Reuss and George Van Eps, and PICK IT AND PLAY IT presents fifteen delicious sound-paintings that come from the acoustic past but sound fresh, personal, and lively.  More than once, while listening, I found myself thinking, “If Dick McDonough had lived, he might have made a session like this.”  If you understand my reference, you either already have this disc or you owe it to yourself to have several copies, in case rationing comes back.

If I remember correctly, Van Eps — whose gracious presence is vividly audible here — called this style of guitar playing “lap piano,” and it balances sharply-realized single lines with an overall orchestral approach.  Not only does the listener not miss string bass and drums on this CD, but they would be positively intrusive.  Stout doesn’t need them: he is his own resonant orchestra, full of shadings and colors, with a nearly relentless quiet swing.

And unlike many guitarists who are entranced by Django and post-Django, he does not seek to impress us by velocity, endurance, or flash.  His approach is stately, leisurely, full of melodic and harmonic subtlety: although these performances have the breath of improvisatory life, they are not “Hey, let’s do four choruses on [familiar tune] and go home.”  Rather, Stout has a deep compositional sense, so that I arose from each performance refreshed and fulfilled.  The CD is dense with music, but it never gets dull.  And the sense one comes away with of both Stout and his approach to the genre is not “Hey, look at me!  I spent a thousand hours on this piece!” but “How beautiful the guitar is, and listen to what memorable sounds can come from it.”

This CD offers “fifteen arrangements for solo guitar,” with a repertoire that mixes familiar pop classics with rare compositions for the instrument.  The latter are wonderful and I think they will be new to all except the most ardent student of this arcane art: Frank Victor’s PICK IT AND PLAY IT; Roy Smeck’s ITCHING FINGERS; and Allan Reuss’s APARTMENT G and PET SHOP.  (Many listeners, if they know Reuss at all, know him as the steady sweet resonant pulse in the Benny Goodman orchestra and later small-group sessions, but his compositions are a revelation.  And Reuss is Stout’s model, which says a great deal about Jonathan himself.)  Stout’s originals — dedicated to his son, not to Charlie Christian — PICKIN’ FOR CHARLIE and CHARLIE’S LULLABYE — are particularly delightful, the latter tender but never soporific.

To the casual listener, the remaining songs might seem familiar, even too much so (although in this century, the people who have heard, say, PENNIES FROM HEAVEN too often are an increasingly smaller group): STOMPIN’ AT THE SAVOY, MOONGLOW, CHEEK TO CHEEK, IT’S ONLY A PAPER MOON, SUNDAY, GEORGIA ON MY MIND, AIN’T MISBEHAVIN’, SOMEBODY LOVES ME, OVER THE RAINBOW.  But this assumption would be completely wrong.

I came to CHEEK TO CHEEK, for one example, with a half-century of associations, expectations, and prized performances in my head.  But in the first minute of hearing Stout’s playing, I thought, “Wow, I’ve really never heard that song before.”  And it wasn’t that he was being consciously or self-consciously innovative, but his performance had the integrity and wonder that the best musicians bring to even the simplest series of chord changes or melodies.

Two more delights add to the overall pleasure, both provided by people who themselves make splendid music.  One is the too-brief but delicious essay by guitarist Nick Rossi: what a pleasure to read uncliched prose that rests on a deep knowledge of the art.  The other is the gorgeous recorded sound created by master engineer Bryan Shaw: the guitar sounds like itself, with no “natural flavors” synthesized in the laboratory, with a minimum of string noise that is often distracting on recordings of acoustic guitar.

PICK IT AND PLAY IT is a series of small fulfilling delights — and “small” is not a criticism but a compliment.  Even if you’ve never heard of Frank Victor, or perhaps especially if you’ve never heard of Frank Victor, you will be thrilled by Jonathan Stout’s masterful subtle art.  Hear and purchase here and here.  And Jonathan is also quite a teacher: visit here to learn more — not only about his solo guitar folios and transcriptions, but about his swinging bands.

May your happiness increase!

“JUST A BLUE-EYED BLONDE”!

As my friend Nick Rossi would say, I fell down the rabbit-hole — comfortable, not claustrophic.  And I’m grateful to Dustin Wittmann for pointing out where the entrance was located, by posting this anonymous-but-delightful dance band side on Facebook.

Forty years ago, I wouldn’t have paid much attention to this recording, disdaining the tune as nothing much — not Hart, Rodgers, Porter, Kern — and I would have been waiting for the hot solo and been disappointed that the side wasn’t full of episodes by known players.

Now, I think, “What lovely music!  How well-played! How charming this is!”  And the tune, with its descending chromatic hook, might not be the high point of twentieth-century composition, but it certainly lingers in the ear:

It must have been a staple of the 1931 dance-band repertoire, I assume in a stock arrangement.  And I am posting variant versions of it so that you can muse over how a variety of bands brought their own flavors to it — voicings, tempo, vocal, ensemble work, rhythmic approach, and solos.

Incidentally, it’s hard to clear my mind of the 1931 Tin Pan Alley scenario: Kahn and Fio Rito, in shirtsleeves but with ties and suspenders, perhaps with cigars.  “Awright.  BLONDE.  What the hell can we do with that?  POND?  FROND?  No, none of those tropical songs.  Hey!  FOND!” And they were off.

I think comparative study like this is so enlightening, but it’s also fun.  If there’s a blue-eyed blonde nearby, listening seriously but joyously, so much the better, but it’s the spirit that counts, not the genetics.

Debroy Somers and Dan Donovan, a very bright approach, a clarinet trio, and assertive cymbal work.  If you couldn’t move your body to this, something was wrong:

The Phillips version has a slightly more prominent banjo part and a wonderful alto saxophone explosion.  One of the things close listeners will also note is how the various sections sound on each recording, and the recording balance itself:

This American version has a slightly looser rhythmic feel, perhaps because the drummer is relying less on his cymbals.  The tempo seems a touch slower: a fox-trot more than a one-step?  I don’t know.  It just sounds good:

and back to the UK for no reason at all except the delight in hearing another approach as well as Sam Browne’s tidy, affectionate vocal.  The Blue Lyres were perhaps twelve musicians, but this recording shows off soloists throughout in obbligato as well as improvised passages, as if the leader or arranger had chosen to treat it as rich material for individual players as well as keeping the skeleton of the stock arrangement intact.  To me, this recording suggests most clearly how a free-spirited swing / hot dance orchestra might handle this material in 2018.  Any takers?:

and, finally, this delight (a Gene Gifford arrangement?) with a new introduction and a stylishly individualistic vocal by Pee Wee Hunt before an unusual transition into the final chorus, where Clarence Hutchenrider takes the bridge.  A recording beautifully anchored by tuba, and note the sweetly decelerating ending:

There are several subtexts here, but only one for the moment that deserves a few sentences.  It’s about what I’d call JAZZ POLITICS, or “What’s worthy?”  Tom Lord, whose work I rely on, lists only the final side in his massive jazz discography.  Does that mean the others aren’t jazz?  Does that mean they aren’t worth our attention?  They sound like beautiful elastic hot music to me.  But then again, I could be someone who’s grown out of his earliest rigid adolescent definitions of what’s rewarding to the ears and heart.  In this, as always, I owe much to the not-didactic guidance of my mentor, Sammut of Malta.

May your happiness increase!

FOUR FOR THE HAWK: DAN BARRETT, HOWARD ALDEN, RANDY REINHART, SCOTT ROBINSON, EHUD ASHERIE, JOEL FORBES, RICKY MALICHI (Cleveland Classic Jazz Party, September 16, 2017)

I started this post on November 21, which is Coleman Hawkins’ birthday — to the sounds of his music played by WKCR-FM in New York City.  And then the jazz guitarist- archaeologist Nick Rossi unearthed this photograph on Google: Hawkins in Amsterdam, spring 1938, with Maurice van Kleef, drums; Freddy Johnson, piano — a trio that recorded a dozen sides:

Hawk moved to another neighborhood in 1969, but he certainly hasn’t been forgotten.  Here are a group of artists — I think few if any of them were playing in 1969 — paying their own energetic loving tribute at the Cleveland Classic Jazz Party.  Dan Barrett, trombone / leader; Howard Alden, guitar; Randy Reinhart, cornet; Scott Robinson, tenor saxophone; Joel Forbes, string bass; Ehud Asherie, piano; Ricky Malichi, drums.

MY BLUE HEAVEN (with an affectionate backwards glance to the Victor All-Star Octet of 1940, featuring, among others, Benny Carter, J. C. Higginbotham, and Walter Johnson):

SOMEDAY SWEETHEART (with thoughts of the 1933 Allen-Hawkins Orchestra, whose first two test recordings — this and SISTER KATE — were not issued at the time but were saved for future generations):

BEAN AND THE BOYS (a line on LOVER, COME BACK TO ME from 1946, the middle of an especially fertile decade for Hawk):

IF I COULD BE WITH YOU (harking back to the cosmically-important 1929 Mound City Blue Blowers session):

Beautiful music.  The Cleveland Classic Jazz Party (nee Jazz at Chautauqua) is no more, which is cause for woe — but these artists are still filling the air with beauty, for which I and others bless them.

May your happiness increase!

 

BASIE PRINCIPLES

Paradise, 1940: Count Basie, Freddie Green, Walter Page, Jo Jones, Charlie Christian, Lester Young, Buck Clayton, Benny Goodman at Columbia Records

I am not Miniver Cheevy, nor do I long for pay phones, Donna Reed, and the nickel subway ride.  If you offered me time-travel to 1940, I would insist on a round-trip ticket, because I’d miss my friends too much. But this century seems hard, for all its vaunted technological strides.  Modern “edginess” and self-absorption make me cringe.

Two examples from the main street in suburban New York on which I live.

One is that as I drive slowly and attentively through congested areas, people with earbuds on, staring into their screens, looking down, walk directly in front of my car.  Of course I slow down, I do not roll down my window and shout at them.  But I think, in the words of Big Joe Turner, “You so beautiful, but you got to die someday,” or in my own words, “Your arrogance is horrible, and your defiance of common sense is stupid.  Will having the iPhone 93 make you immortal, or the fact that you have just had a perfect ‘mani and pedi’ protect you from my very slow-moving car?”  Their behavior is the complete expression of “ME, only ME,” and I think it sad.

Yesterday I was walking to the local train station to go to New York City to dine with friends.  Ahead of me was a man some years my senior who had an aluminum cane and moved with some difficulty.  He, his wife, and I arrived at a section of recently laid cement — like a small rivulet — that we had to step over.  His wife went first, then the construction workers looked at him, as he was slightly hesitant, and said, laughing, “JUMP!”  Jumping was not in this gentleman’s repertoire, but he managed to extend himself across the cement and make it to the other side, hailed by mocking laughter from the workers.  (I got across without disaster.)  That’s another kind of ME: “I am in good physical shape, so if you’re not, I have the right or perhaps the obligation to mock you.”

So, self-absorption, selfishness, small cruelties, unkindness, the absence of generosity, the individual held above the community.

What does all this have to do with Count Basie?

I owe these ruminations to my admired friend Nick Rossi, who posted this music on Facebook in honor of Count Basie’s birthday, August 21:

and I, having the two experiences above in my head, wrote this:

I wish this century allowed us to live our lives the way that rhythm section played — joyously, gently, precisely, modestly making room for everyone else, graciously creating beautiful spaces. LIVE THE BASIE WAY is a motto I imagine, although perhaps too much explaining would be needed.

The Basie rhythm section was a loving, spiritually aligned community, where even though Basie got his name on the music stands, he and everyone else knew that he was merely the figurehead who had the deep wisdom to let everyone hear Walter Page, Freddie Green, and Jo Jones.  Basie modestly let his “sidemen” shine; although he could have played solo forever and been his own orchestra, he created a little republic of generous interdependence.  Kindness and equalities rather than ego and mastery, generosity rather than selfishness.  And ease.

Even though 1942 was not an easy year for the world, Basie seemed to know, without making much of it, that we could mesh with the cosmos, keep it afloat and have it keep us afloat, if we picked the right medium-tempo.  Thus, love with open arms enacted in swinging 4/4.  Brother-and-sisterhood rather than a parade of egos in the spotlight, jostling for attention.

Taking it easy, stepping on no one’s feelings, finding the gracious way, without strain.  Cooperation rather than isolation, an unstated understanding that we are all aimed in the same direction and will reach the happy goal only if we help each other get there.

Imagine a world that moved this way, an irresistible perpetual motion machine:

Basie would have been embarrassed or aghast to read this philosophical praise.  When Whitney Balliett asked him where his piano style came from, his response was, “Honest truth, I don’t know.”  So he might have been very leery of being celebrated as someone whose laconic perfections were a spiritual path to follow.  But Basie’s is an honest truth, one we could all live and live by.

And a postscript: as I write this, there is a small jazz group called the New Blue Devils working towards playing the Basie way.  You could check them out.

May your Basie-ness increase!

JAMES BIRKETT AND EMMA FISK PLAY VENUTI AND LANG, WITH GREAT AFFECTION AND EXPERTISE

The back covers of the long-playing records of my youth often were adorned with thumbnail photographs of other record covers, and this solicitation, “If you’ve enjoyed this LONG PLAY record, you’ll be sure to enjoy . . . .”

If you savor beautifully recorded chamber jazz, swinging yet leisurely, you’ll be sure to enjoy the new CD by guitarist James Birkett and violinist Emma Fisk, devoted to the music of Joe Venuti and Eddie Lang.

Since Eddie’s death in 1933, there have been many attempts to recreate the magic the two Italian boys from Philadelphia created: Venuti himself always looked for guitarists who could come close to Eddie’s splendors: Dick McDonough, Frank Victor, Tony Romano, Bucky Pizzarelli, Carl Kress, Perry Botkin, Bobby Sherwood, George Barnes, Tony Gottuso, Danny Perri, Barney Kessel, Lino Patruno attempted to fill that role on record dates and more.

As I write this, Nick Rossi, Kris Tokarski, and Glenn Crytzer are involved in similar small group projects, and I know I am leaving someone out.  Matt Munisteri does a peerless Lang behind John Gill’s Bing.  Martin Wheatley and Spats Langham both understand him deeply.

Venuti was a hard act to follow — I am leaving aside the sometimes cruel practical jokes — but he was often in love with speed and execution, and many violinists have tried to out-Joe Joe, playing his intricate originals faster and faster.  (Performance speeds have been inching up for decades: consider the Django-phenomenon.)  And for most instrumentalists, not just string players, tone gets sacrificed to speed.

Emma Fisk, a romantic at heart, doesn’t turn Joe into unicorns-and-rainbows on this CD, but she does remind us of Joe’s affectionate side, the part of his character that would linger over long tones and leisurely phrases.  She doesn’t slow everything down, but she does change the mood from headlong briskness to a kinder, easier embrace.  In this she is partnered splendidly by the elegant guitarist James Birkett, who is lyrical beyond everything else.  He is new to me, but he is kind to the ears at every turn, without being overly sentimental.  So even the faster numbers on this disc — RAGGIN’ and MY HONEY’S — are sweet saunters instead of being mad sprints.  The music breathes comfortably and well.

Here you can witness Emma and James making music — video and audio — through the media of Vimeo, Soundcloud, and YouTube.  And here you can celebrate the Spring, reward yourself for good behavior, or warm someone’s heart — by buying one or more of these life-enhancing discs.

A delightfully mournful sample, James’ EDDIE’S LAMENT:

May your happiness increase!

DAN MORGENSTERN REMEMBERS CHARLIE PARKER (December 15, 2017)

I think what follows is just amazing, and it’s not inflated pride at having been the one who brought the camera and clipped the microphone to Dan’s shirt.  The first-hand sources in any field are few and precious.  Of course, there are many borrowers and interpreters, capable people who weren’t on the scene but are ready to theorize.  “Nay nay,” to quote Louis.

Jazz, so long viewed as “entertainment,” did not get the serious coverage it deserved for its first decades.  Thus we could search in vain for an interview with Bubber Miley or A.G. Godley.  And few people wrote their memoirs of involvement with Jimmie Blanton or Don Murray or Larry Binyon . . . but we have Dan, who was there and has a good memory.  And he has a novelist’s gift for arranging those memories in pleasing and revealing shapes.

When the subject is Charlie Parker, so many recollections of Bird veer between adulation for the musician and a superior attitude towards a man often portrayed as suffering from borderline personality disorder.  Thus Dan’s gentle affectionate inquiring attitude is honest and delightful.  His memories of Bird go back to the Three Deuces, the Royal Roost, Cafe Society, Bob Reisner’s Open Door, with strings at Birdland with Dizzy’s unsolicited clowning, his “last stand” at Birdland where Bud Powell could not accomplish what was needed, and a “miraculous” one on one encounter late in Bird’s life, balanced by a kind of exploitative incident in which Dan’s friend Nat Lorber was the victim, as well as a sad story of Bird’s late attitude towards life, and a portrait of the Baroness Nica.

Since Dan’s first-hand involvement with Bird was in the latter’s last years, I offer a very early Bird as a counterbalance — the recordings Parker made in Kansas City c. 1943 with the legendary guitarist Efferge Ware and drummer “Little Phil” Phillips, the latter celebrated by Bob Brookmeyer in his memories of K.C.  Thanks to Nick Rossi for reminding me of this.

Thank you, Dan.  And thank you.  Once is insufficient.

May your happiness increase!