Tag Archives: Nick Russo

DENNIS LICHTMAN and THE QUEENSBORO SIX: “JUST CROSS THE RIVER”

Slightly less than three years ago, the superbly gifted multi-instrumentalist / composer Dennis Lichtman assembled his Queensboro Six and gave a concert at the Louis Armstrong House Museum in Corona, Queens.  Here is the first half, and here is the second.  The music was multi-colored and seriously rewarding: Dennis’ tribute to the true jazz borough, Queens County, New York, home of so many jazz figures — from Clarence Williams and Basie to Louis and Dizzy, Milt Hinton and James P. Johnson — and currently home to so many more of the musicians we love.  Dennis assembled his Queensboro Six for a truly delightful new CD, its title above, its theme song below:

This disc is a model of how to do it — musicians and composers take note.  For one thing, the band has an immense rhythmic and melodic energy, but the pieces are compact — sometimes explosions of twenty-first century Hot, sometimes evocative mood pieces, but none of them sounding just like the preceding track.  Dennis is a real composer, so that even an exploration of Rhythm changes sounds lively and fresh.  His arrangements also make for refreshing variety, so that one doesn’t hear him as the featured soloist to the exclusion of the other luminaries, and the performances are multi-textured, harking back to the later Buck Clayton, to Charlie Shavers’ work for the John Kirby Sextet, Raymond Scott, to sensitive elegies and musings that hint at the work of Sidney Bechet and Django Reinhardt.  You’ll also notice compositions by and associated with those Queens denizens Louis, Fats, Clarence Williams.  As that borough boasts some of the finest ethnic restaurants, this disc offers one savory musical dish after another.   As they used to say, “For listening and dancing”!  Peter Karl is responsible for the lovely recorded sound and Ricky Riccardi for the fine liner notes.

Here are some details.  The musicians are Dennis, clarinet; Dalton Ridenhour, piano; Gordon Au, trumpet; J. Walter Hawkes, trombone; Rob Garcia, drums; Nathan Peck, string bass — with guest appearances by Jerron “Blind Boy” Paxton, vocal , guitar; Mazz Swift, violin, vocal; Terry Wilson, vocal; Nick Russo, guitar.  If you know even a few of those performers, you will want this disc, because they seem especially inspired by Dennis’ compositions, arrangements, and playing.  And no one imitates any of the Ancestors.

The songs are 7 EXPRESS / FOR BIX / MIDNIGHT AT THE PIERS / ROAD STREET COURT PLACE AVENUE DRIVE / SOMEDAY YOU’LL BE SORRY / WALTZ FOR CAMILA / L.I.C. STRUT / JUST CROSS THE RIVER FROM QUEENS / BLUE TURNING GREY OVER YOU / 23rd BETWEEN 23rd AND 23rd / SQUEEZE ME / THE POWER OF NOT THEN / I’D REMEMBER HAVING MET YOU / CAKE WALKING BABIES FROM HOME.

You may order a download or a disc here at very reasonable prices.

But perhaps more important than the disc itself, on August 1, the Queensboro Six will play two sets at Dizzy’s Club Coca Cola.  Tickets and details here.  Get yours today:

May your happiness increase!

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“GET HOT, CAMPERS!”: NEW YORK HOT JAZZ CAMP (May 15-21, 2017)

I’m writing this on March 14, 2017, which on the East Coast of the United States was supposed to be “the blizzard of the century,” and although the forecast was more than a little hyperbolic, when I look out of my window, I can see my car covered with snow below me.  It might lead anyone to dream of warmer weather and appropriate musical pleasures.

Imagine a Cozy Cole drum roll here, as I present to you . . .

Now, if the words “ADULT CAMP” summon up visions of skinny-dipping in the woods, I think you might have the wrong venue.  I’m sorry.  My guess is that the campers might be too busy working through the strains of WOLVERINE BLUES for such aerobics, but I could be wrong.  At least I can promise you that no one will get carsick on the bus.

Some details:

ADULTS –18 and up. All Skill levels. “A great participatory learning experience with some of New York’s most respected trad-jazz musicians, recording artists, and mentors.  Related guest lectures, master classes, and exclusive music & history field excursions.  Evening jams at notable historic jazz venues.
Informal, non-intimidating active small ensemble and improvisation work with a select, encouraging network of like-minded musicians.  Space and sectional openings limited: of course, first come, first served.  Visit here to sign up or to learn more.”

That’s from the press release.  This is from Michael: everyone on that list really knows how to play and sing; you can find them on this blog and in my videos. They are good-hearted people, so if you mess up the introduction to WEST END BLUES you won’t get snapped at.  I’m told that fifty percent of last year’s campers are returning this year, which is a good indication that people enjoyed themselves, learned a good deal, and thought it was worth the price.  Check it out while space remains.

May your happiness increase!

THE GRAND ST. STOMPERS: “DO THE NEW YORK”

do-the-new-york

Late last year, Gordon Au, — trumpeter, arranger, composer, bandleader, writer, thinker, scientist, satirist, linguist — sent me the digital files for the second CD by the Grand Street Stompers, DO THE NEW YORK, and I wrote back to him, “I am listening to DTNY (three tracks in, so far) and I love the mad exuberance and deep precision of the first track — a Silly Symphony, urban and hilarious and wonderfully executed. It’s a pity that the mobs no longer have transistor radios anymore, because each track could be an AM hit.”

Having listened to the disc several times by now, I stand by my initial enthusiasms.  But I wouldn’t want anyone to think that zaniness overrides music.  The compositions and performances are a lavish banquet of sounds and emotions: you won’t look at the CD player and think, “How many tracks are left?” at any point.

If you know Gordon Au, Tamar Korn, Molly Ryan, Kevin Dorn, Dennis Lichtman, Matt Koza, Matt Musselman, Nick Russo, Rob Adkins (and not incidentally Peter Karl, Kelsey Ballance, Kevin McEvoy, Barbara Epstein) you won’t need to spend a moment more on what I say.  Scroll down to the bottom of this long post and read Gordon’s notes, purchase, download: let joy be unconfined.

But I shall tell a story here.  Jon-Erik Kellso has been a very good guide to new talent: through him, for instance, I heard about Ehud Asherie.  In 2009, I arrived at The Ear Inn for a night of musical pleasure, and Jon-Erik told me he’d just finished “giving a lesson” to a young, seriously gifted trumpeter named Gordon who had wanted to study some fine points of traditional jazz performance practice from an acknowledged Master.  This young man would be at The Ear later.  And the prophesy came to pass.

Gordon’s trumpet playing was deliciously singular: he wasn’t a clone of one player or seven.  Climbing phrases started unpredictably and went unusual places; a solid historical awareness was wedded beautifully to a sophisticated harmonic sense, and everything made sense, melodically and emotionally.  He showed himself a fine ensemble player, not timid, oblivious, or narcissistic. When the set was over, we spoke, and he was genuinely gracious (later, in California, when I met his extended family, I understood why) yet with a quite delightfully sharp-edged wit, although he wasn’t flashing blades at me.

I began to follow Gordon — as best I could — to gigs: he appeared with Tamar Korn and vice versa; he took Jon-Erik’s place with the Nighthawks; he played with David Ostwald at Birdland . . . and soon formed his own group, the Grand Street Stompers.

(Gordon abbreviates “St.”; I spell it out.  My perversity, not his.)

Often I saw, and sometimes I videoed them at Radegast, then elsewhere — as recently as last year, when they did a remarkable session at Grand Central Station, surely their place on the planet.  Thus, as “swingyoucats” on YouTube, I’ve captured the band (releasing them, of course) on video for six years.

They are uniquely rewarding — a pianoless group that expresses its leader’s expansive, often whimsical personality beautifully.  Even when approaching traditional “traditional” repertoire, Gordon will take his own way, neatly avoiding piles of cliche in his path.  Yes, MUSKRAT RAMBLE — but with a Carbbean / Latin rhythm; yes, a Twenties tune, but one reasonably obscure, SHE’S A GREAT GREAT GIRL. Gordon’s compositions and arrangements always sound fresh — and they aren’t pastiches or thin lines over familiar chords — even if I’ve heard the GSS perform them for years.  And there are other wonderful quirky tangents: his love of Disney songs, the deeply refreshing ones, and his devotion to good yet neglected songs — the title track of this CD as well as WHILE THEY WERE DANCING AROUND on the group’s first CD.  And, I think this a remarkable achievement, with Gordon’s soaring lead and a beautifully-played banjo in the rhythm section, the GSS often summons up an early Sixties Armstrong All-Stars, all joyous energy.

A few more words about this CD.  Although one can’t underestimate the added frisson of hearing this band live — perhaps surrounded by dancers or dancing oneself, in a club, perhaps stimulated by ambiance, food, or drink . . . I think the experience of this disc is equal to or superior to anything that might happen on the spot.

Owing to circumstances, the GSS might be a quintet on the job; here it is a septet: trumpet / cornet; clarinet; soprano saxophone; trombone; banjo / guitar; string bass; drums; two singers.  This expansive array of individualists allows Gordon to get a more delightfully orchestral sound.  Even as a quintet, on the job, the GSS is a band and a working band at that: their performances are more than a series of horn solos, for Gordon has created twists and turns within his arrangements: riffs, backgrounds, trades, suets between instruments, different instruments taking the melodic lead — all making for a great deal of variety. Each chorus of a GSS performance feels satisfyingly full (not overstuffed) and delightfully varied.

And now I come to the possibly tactless part of the comparison between studio recording and live performance. With some bands, the studio has a chilling effect: everything is splendid, but the patient has lost a good deal of blood.  And the impolite truth is the a group like the GSS performs in places where alcohol is consumed, so the collective volume rises after the first twenty minutes.  Buy this disc to actually hear the beautiful layering and subtleties of the group that you might not hear on the job.  Or just check it out for the sheer pleasure of it all.

Sound samples, ways to purchase a physical disc or download one (complete or individual performances) here — and Gordon’s very eloquent and sometimes hilarious liner notes here.

Listen, read, enjoy, savor, download, purchase.  As Aime Gauvin, “Doctor Jazz,” used to say on the radio, “Good for what ails you!”

May your happiness increase!

The Second Part: OH, HOW GRAND! (GORDON AU, MATT MUSSELMAN, MATT KOZA, NICK RUSSO, ROB ADKINS: May 5, 2016)

Photograph by Jessica Keener

Photograph by Jessica Keener

Here’s the first part of a wonderful concert / dance created by Gordon Au’s Grand Street Stompers at Grand Central Station on May 5, 2016.  The Stompers are Gordon (of course), trumpet, compositions / arrangements, vocal; Matt Koza, clarinet / soprano; Matt Musselman, trombone; Nick Russo, banjo / guitar; Rob Adkins, string bass.

And the second part!

Grand Central diningI CRIED FOR YOU:

CRAZY:

YOU’RE NEVER FULLY DRESSED WITHOUT A SMILE:

RIVERBOAT SHUFFLE:

THE SOUND OF MUSIC:

LOUISIAN-I-A:

THE BALLAD OF BUS 38:

NAGASAKI:

And for the deep explication that Gordon only hints at, here’s his wonderfully elliptical blog, THAT OF LOWLY PWUTH.  Yes, you did read that correctly.

And to think — before this, I’d thought of Grand Central Station simply as the eastern terminus of the Forty-Second subway shuttle, the “S” — not as a secret mecca for lyrical hot jazz.  That’s New York City for you: one surprise tumbling in on another.

May your happiness increase!

OH, HOW GRAND! (GORDON AU, MATT MUSSELMAN, MATT KOZA, NICK RUSSO, ROB ADKINS: May 5, 2016)

Photograph by Jessica Keener

Photograph by Jessica Keener

On May 5, 2016, Gordon Au and the Grand Street Stompers played a free concert / swing dance session at the dining concourse of Grand Central Station in New York City. The Stompers are Gordon, trumpet, vocal, arrangements / compositions; Matt Musselman, trombone; Matt Koza, clarinet / soprano; Nick Russo, banjo / guitar; Rob Adkins, string bass.

But first, a relevant tale (impatient readers have already skipped to the videos, which is their privilege).  One of my literary heroes is the multi-faceted Irish writer “Frank O’Connor” — born Michael O’Donovan in Cork — who made a pilgrimage to James Joyce in Paris in the early Twenties.  In Joyce’s apartment, O’Connor noticed a beautiful antique print of Cork City in a frame whose material he could not recognize.  “What’s that?” he said to Joyce, pointing at the picture.  “Cork,” said Joyce.  “I know that,” said O’Connor.  “What’s the frame?” “Cork,” said Joyce.  “I had the greatest difficulty finding a French frame maker who would construct this.”

That story always amused me — although O’Connor also cited it as an example of Joyce’s peculiar associative mania — but it reverberated loudly in me when I had this rarest of opportunities to see and hear the Grand Street Stompers at Grand Central Station.  “Where are we?” “Grand.”  “Who’s playing?” “Grand,” and off into the darkness, although swinging mightily.

Grand Central dining

The Grand Street Stompers are a witty, light-hearted, versatile band.  The solos illuminate the room; the ensemble passages are charmed and charming; Gordon’s originals have the lilting energy of songs that you’re sure you’ve heard already.  At times, the GSS sounds like an ideal Louis Armstrong band — straddling 1925 and 1965 — in its sweet ebullience.  Gordon’s imagination is large and occasionally whimsical, so the band plays Fifties pop, Twenties hot tunes, Disney classics, Broadway melodies, and originals — all of them fresh yet instantly classic.

Here’s the first half of the doubly Grand Event:

Not just a twelve-bar blues, Louis’ MAHOGANY HALL STOMP has its own routines, which the GSS negotiates stylishly:

Gordon’s own hummable SUNSET SERENADE:

BELLA NOTTE, from LADY AND  THE TRAMP, music by Sonny Burke, lyrics by Peggy Lee — the image that comes to mind is two romantic canines delicately sharing a plate of spaghetti and meatballs:

Another Au hot tune, RIDGEWOOD STOMP:

WHAT A DIFFERENCE A DAY MADE, a song that everyone associates with Dinah Washington in the Fifties, but it is from 1934, originally in Spanish, by Maria Grever:

With Bechet in mind, Gordon’s SARATOGA SERENADE:

Frankie Valli’s CAN’T TAKE MY EYES OFF OF YOU:

BE OUR GUEST, from BEAUTY AND  THE BEAST:

The Stompers are a busy band — you can see and hear why — and they appear everywhere, but in New York, in May 2016, this appearance at a swing dance session in Bryant Park might truly be special.  Don’t miss a chance to hear them; as I write this, they will be lighting up the room at Radegast this very night.

And there’s a second eight performances from the Grand night of May 5, 2016, to come.

May your happiness increase!

SHE KNOWS HOW TO THROW A PARTY! EMILY ASHER’S GARDEN PARTY AT JOE’S PUB (PART TWO: JUNE 7, 2015): EMILY ASHER, MIKE DAVIS, EVAN ARNTZEN, DALTON RIDENHOUR, NICK RUSSO, ROB ADKINS, JAY LEPLEY

You can find the first part of this delicious evening here.

Mike Davis, Emily Asher, Jay Lepley. Photo by Lynn Redmile

Mike Davis, Emily Asher, Jay Lepley. Photo by Lynn Redmile

And some words:

I’m honored to count Emily Asher as a friend and musical colleague, and I was thrilled to be at her swinging concert at Joe’s Pub on June 7, 2015.  To the uninitiated, Emily’s band — Garden Party — might seem just another retro-swing outfit, offering variations on familiar music.  That would be a deep misconception, because as the videos below will show, Emily and her musical pals have musical integrity — that is, they play honest music from their hearts — and expansive visions — so that any gig she’s on is going to be wide-ranging, each selection both improvised on the spot and well-thought out.  This is not a band devoted to copying the predictable, but its innovations don’t jostle or hurt.

Here is the second part of that very gratifying night at Joe’s Pub. Emily is our trusted trombonist, singer, composer, arranger; with her are Mike Davis, trumpet, vocal; Evan Arntzen, clarinet, alto sax; Dalton Ridenhour, piano; Nick Russo, guitar, banjo; Rob Adkins, string bass; Jay Lepley, drums, vocal.

Hoagy goes to the Pacific Northwest in Emily’s brooding, lovely PACIFIC LULLABY:

Hoagy, himself — LAZY BONES:

Percy Venable, not for the lactose-intolerant — BIG BUTTER AND EGG MAN:

Emily’s own evocation of country angst, MEET ME IN THE MORNING:

A gospel-on-wry sort-of-love-song, MY LIFE WOULD BE EASY:

And Emily’s loving tribute to her very adorable niece, SWEET PEA:

Now that you’ve heard and seen this band in their 2015 selves, please consider. This isn’t a repertory orchestra, tied to the old records; this isn’t a band with a stylistic set of restrictions (“We don’t play anything that the Golden Leaf Mendicants wouldn’t have played on American Music Records”).  What distinguishes this band is a delicious freedom for everyone to follow those evanescent yet memorable impulses . . . so there are tinges of gospel, country, “Dixieland,” Forties rhythm and blues, soul, “modern jazz,” and more — no one’s hemmed in and there is a wonderful energetic lyricism permeating every aspect of every performance.

Someone should take notice.  A residency for the Garden Party, anyone?

May your happiness increase!

SHE KNOWS HOW TO THROW A PARTY! EMILY ASHER’S GARDEN PARTY AT JOE’S PUB (PART ONE: JUNE 7, 2015): EMILY ASHER, MIKE DAVIS, EVAN ARNTZEN, DALTON RIDENHOUR, NICK RUSSO, ROB ADKINS, JAY LEPLEY

Mike Davis, Emily Asher, Jay Lepley. Photo by Lynn Redmile

Mike Davis, Emily Asher, Jay Lepley. Photo by Lynn Redmile

Perhaps when you think of a party you envision fascinating forbidden foods — in small or large portions — and many cheerful people mingling.  That’s not a bad image at all.  When I went to Google Images to find something suitable for this blog, most of the photographs were of athletic-looking women in brightly-colored swimwear, arms extended on high.  Nice, but I don’t remember being invited to those parties, so I chose something more appropriate.

I’m honored to count Emily Asher as a friend and musical colleague, and I was thrilled to be at her swinging concert at Joe’s Pub on June 7, 2015.  To the uninitiated, Emily’s band — Garden Party — might seem just another retro-swing outfit, offering variations on familiar music.  That would be a deep misconception, because as the videos below will show, Emily and her musical pals have musical integrity — that is, they play honest music from their hearts — and expansive visions — so that any gig she’s on is going to be wide-ranging, each selection both improvised on the spot and well-thought out.  This is not a band devoted to copying the predictable, but its innovations don’t jostle or hurt.

Here are the first six selections from that very gratifying night at Joe’s Pub. Emily is our trusted trombonist, singer, composer, arranger; with her are Mike Davis, trumpet, vocal; Evan Arntzen, clarinet, alto sax; Dalton Ridenhour, piano; Nick Russo, guitar, banjo; Rob Adkins, string bass; Jay Lepley, drums, vocal.

WHEN YOU WORE A TULIP (a bright yellow tulip, no less) to start things rocking, with a delicious New Orleans parade beat from Jay:

I’VE GOT A FEELING I’M FALLING (a little romance from Tom and Andy — Waller and Razaf, that is — sung by Emily and Mike):

A rousing suggestion for increased personal happiness, WALK IT OFF, sung by Jay — and the band rocks in good middle-Forties style:

GARDEN PARTY PARTY, evoking Kid Ory’s SAVOY BLUES, but with no copying implicit or explicit:

A gorgeous evocation of Hoagy’s MEMPHIS IN JUNE thanks to Rob and Evan:

Music heals, we hope.  Listen to Emily’s joyously defiant AN OPEN INVITATION TO A RAINSTORM:

A swell party, indeed — full of musical energy, much more sustaining than bacon-wrapped shrimp and mojitos.  And there are more performances to come.

May your happiness increase!