Tag Archives: Nick Russo

REMIX WELL! (Part Two): GORDON AU’S GRAND STREET STOMPERS at SWING REMIX (April 13, 2019)

Here’s the second part of a glorious evening of music and dance at Swing Remix, music provided and created by Gordon Au’s Grand Street Stompers — who were, for this gig, expanded: Gordon, trumpet, arrangements, compositions; Joe McDonough, trombone; Ricky Alexander, Matt Koza, reeds; Nick Russo, guitar and banjo; Rob Adkins, string bass; Rob Garcia, drums.  (R1 was there, stepping, twirling, and dipping, although my camera did not catch her in flight.)  It added up to great dance music, delightful small-band jazz, splendidly played, with inventive arrangements that make familiar songs seem new.

Here’s Part One.

Bechet’s SI TU VOIS MA MERE, featuring Matt Koza, in honor of Earl McKee:

From an elegy to an original by Gordon, dedicated to a wayward feline:

A classic from the time when people still carried nickels for the pay phone:

The lovely Harry Ruby – Rube Bloom paean to simplicity:

A nocturnal horror in Swing:

Let’s!

and an encore, from GUYS AND DOLLS:

May your happiness increase!

AT THE BALL, THAT’S ALL (Part One): GORDON AU’S GRAND STREET STOMPERS at SWING REMIX (April 13, 2019)

Dance off both your shoes!  Who could do otherwise when Gordon Au’s Grand Street Stompers play for dancers?  This took place at Swing Remix on April 13, 2019. That’s Gordon, trumpet, compositions and arrangements; Joe McDonough, trombone; Ricky Alexander and Matt Koza, reeds; Nick Russo, guitar; Rob Adkins, string bass; Rob Garcia, drums; Molly Ryan, vocals.  R1 was there, too, which meant that the universe was properly aligned.

The usual caveats apply (not at all to the music!): I can’t shoot videos from the dance floor because of the eager traffic, people who have a right to be there and swing out.  So these videos were recorded from an upstairs balcony, and as a result the sound is somewhat distant . . . but it is what you would have heard if you weren’t fortunate enough to be dancing close to the wonderful band.  I also confess to some technical difficulties (a recalcitrant camera) so the sound is stronger in one channel than the other: no need for you to get a hearing test.  But it’s there. . . .

Here are seven bursts of instrumental pleasure from early in the evening:

Gordon’s own JUMP OUT AND GETCHA (perhaps because he is a connoisseur of things that go bump in the night?):

BLUE ROOM, with verse and clever arrangement:

Half of a new pair, PST (PACIFIC SWING TIME):

And a Grand Street Stompers’ classic, SWANG THANG:

The second half, EST (for EASTERN SWING TIME), a composition John Kirby would admire:

Gordon’s swinging and surprising  take on early bebop, GROOVIN’ HIGH:

and the attractive original NADINE:

There are more videos to come from this delightful evening.  But even better . . . see, hear, and dance to the Grand Street Stompers in person: follow them here.  See you on the dance floor (vertically, not horizontally).

May your happiness increase!

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!

“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!

EXPANSIVE, EXUBERANT: “THE VERY NEXT THING,” THE HOT JAZZ JUMPERS

Let me begin with a public service announcement.  If you prefer your jazz safe, timid, predictable; if you like it to be categorizable, neatly cut into half-inch dice, please read no farther.  The CD/DVD package I am about to announce and praise, THE  VERY NEXT THING,  is anything but formulaic.  It is, as leader Nick Russo says in the video below, an “eclectic mix of music.”

HJJ cover larger

The beautiful art is by Roy Kinzer.

Here’s some footage of the band — and a few pointed words from some of the musicians:

and here’s another view of Nick — with great insights from the musicians:

Now, I first met Nick a number of years ago as a member of Gordon Au’s Grand Street Stompers, Emily Asher’s Garden Party, and other groups.  I knew, when I came in the door and saw Nick that there were going to be engaging — sometimes surprising — melodies created, that the rhythm would be bountiful and imaginative.  I could relax and anticipate great things.  But I’d never heard Nick’s Hot Jazz Jumpers until now, when they are celebrating the pre-release of their new CD/DVD, and they make fine unfettered spacious music.

Most compact discs by one musical organization that come my way — and this is not surprising — offer similar musical experiences all the way through, sometimes seventy-five minutes’ worth.  And for many listeners, this is consoling, rather like buying a chunk of Manchego at the cheese counter. But the HJJ (if I may be so informal) are too large, energetic, and unruly to be confined to one stylistic box.  So the new disc — with seventeen performances — offers the beautifully idiomatic “traditional jazz” of WHEN THE RED, RED ROBIN COMES BOB, BOB, BOBBIN’ ALONG featuring trusted New York swing stars Gordon Au and Dennis Lichtman among others . . . three tracks later, one hears a free improvisation for Nick, guitar, and Miles Griffith, voice.  The range of repertoire is delightful broad, brave, and the results are compelling: CARAVAN, YOU ARE MY SUNSHINE, NOBODY BUT MY BABY IS GETTING MY LOVE (when was the last time you heard that Clarence Williams song performed?), IN A MELLOTONE, SWEET GEORGIA BROWN, MANHA DE CARNAVAL, AIN’T MISBEHAVIN’, I’VE GOT MY MOJO WORKING, and THIS LITTLE LIGHT OF MINE.  Then there are originals and less familiar numbers: two versions of the New Orleans JOCK-A-MO, the bluegrass FREIGHT TRAIN, JAM FOR LENNY, DIRTY40.

Listening to the CD, I was delighted by its expansive conceptions: the Hot Jazz Jumpers offered what their name promised, but I also heard more contemporary New Orleans music, echoes of Motown, of classic rhythm ‘n’ blues,  and less familiar forms that I learned were Gullah Geechee rhythms, North Indian classical music, and world music.  I heard subtle and bold percussion and rhythms, and two powerful voices: Bettina Hershey’s, vibrant, folk-inflected, eloquent, and the quite remarkable Miles Griffith, who — singing or scatting — roams freely in his own universe, whose monarchs are Leo Watson and Leon Thomas.

On the CD, you’ll hear Nick, guitar, tenor banjo, resonator, baritone resonator; Bettina Hershey, voice, guitar; Miles Griffith, voice / scats; David Pleasant, drums, harmonica, voice; Essiet Essiet, bass; Mamadou Ba, bass; Gordon Au. trumpet; Josh Holcomb, trombone; Dennis Lichtman, clarinet; Mike Russo, guitar.  The accompanying DVD has Eleven more songs, including video presentations of CARAVAN (with a delightful impromptu beginning), INDIANA, NOBODY BUT MY BABY, RED RED ROBIN, FIVE FOOT TWO, and some other surprises.

Now, I hope I’ve enticed the bold and tantalized the lively.  The best way to experience Nick Russo’s music is in person, although the two videos give strong evidence.

On Friday, July 24, 2015, you can hear and see the Nick Russo Trio featuring: Nick Russo, guitar/banjo;  Nathan Peck, string bass; Harvey Wirht, drums; with special guests Miles Griffith & Betina Hershey — at Bar Next Door (http://lalanternacaffe.com/) 129 MacDougal St, New York, NY 10012 (212) 529-5945 — three sets, at 7:30, 9:30, and 11:30.  Here is the Facebook event page.

On Saturday, July 25, 2015, Hot Jazz Jumpers New York City CD/DVD Release at WhyNot Jazz Room, 14 Christopher St. @ Gay St. NYC.  Tickets – $12
Doors 10:30pm // Showtime 11pm: Miles Griffith, voice/scats; Betina Hershey, voice/guitar;  Nick Russo, guitar/banjo/voice; David Pleasant, drums/harmonica/voice. Here is the Facebook event page for the 25th.

HOT JAZZ JUMPERS

Photo by Lynn Redmille

At these gigs, the CD/DVD will be available for sale — but the official national release of it is not until later in the year, so you will be well ahead of the pack. (Eventually, it will be available on CDBaby and iTunes, but right now you can have the delightful experience of purchasing it from the musicians who made it.)

Want to know more?  Here is the band’s website.  Nick is so versatile that he has two Facebook pages: here and here.

And for those who might be visiting Massachusetts in August, the HJJ have a mini-concert tour there in Woods Hole, August 3  – 5:  DVD/CD pre-release concerts at Quicks Hole Tavern in Woods Hole, 29 Railroad Ave, Woods Hole, MA 02543. Each concert goes from 9-11:30.  Details here.  At any of these concerts or gigs, I know you will hear honest, lively, stirring music. And purchasing the CD/DVD will enable you to take the Hot Jazz Jumpers home with you as well.  They’ve assured me they won’t mind.

May your happiness increase!

“IF LOVE IS A TRANSACTION, CAN IT BE GIVEN FREELY?”: WHERE ALL THE RIVERS GO TO SLEEP (NYMF, July 18-19, 2015)

I first met jazz pianist / composer / singer Jesse Gelber in the early part of 2005, when he was playing a Sunday brunch gig deep in Park Slope, Brooklyn, and was impressed by his music, his wit, and his imagination.  Soon after I met his wife, Kate Manning, and heard her beautiful focused singing.  We’ve crossed paths infrequently in the last decade, but I am pleased to be able to tell you about their musical — set in the early part of the last century, in New Orleans, in Storyville. Kate has written the book and lyrics; Jesse, the music and story.  I didn’t know when I first met Jesse that he was a “serious” composer, but since then he has won an ASCAP Foundation’s Morton Gould Young Composer Award for his opera, and has arranged music for Itzhak Perelman and PBS.  And here I thought he was simply an inventive musician — praised by Kevin Dorn, Craig Ventresco, and Tamar Korn.

RIVERS Gelber Manning

You can learn more about this project here — and, if you are so inclined, support it.  To quote Sammy Cahn and Saul Chaplin, every nickel helps a lot. And this is the production’s website, where you can hear such enticing songs as MID-COITAL MUSINGS (MONEY ON THE TABLE); WE HAD TODAY; IF IT FEELS GOOD, IT’S GOOD.  You see a general trend, I hope: this is an officially hedonistic musical, and we could use more of those.

The story — in brief — is this: the musical follows Cora Covington, a young prostitute in Storyville, the fabled New Orleans red-light district, who falls in love with Apolline Albert, a beautiful Creole woman. Cora draws Apolline into a life of prostitution at one of the district’s most extravagant brothels, servicing the city’s wealthiest and most powerful men, and run by the notoriously cold Madame and voodoo priestess Marie Snow. When Apolline’s husband Joe returns from up North and wants her back, a desperate Cora will do anything to keep her from leaving. She commits a terrible crime, for which she then seeks redemption.  In a world where love is a transaction, can it ever be given freely?

Ordinarily I have to be lassoed to a musical newer than 1936, but I trust Gelber and Manning’s artistic instincts, so I will be at the July 18 performance of WHERE ALL THE RIVERS GO TO SLEEP at the New York Musical Theatre Festival.  It’s a concert performance, with a twelve-person cast and twelve-person orchestra.

Since this is JAZZ LIVES, let’s start with the orchestra: Peter Yarin, piano; Andrew Hall, string bass; David Langlois, washboard; Nick Russo, guitar and  banjo; Benjamin Ickies, accordion; Charlie Caranicas, trumpet; Matthew Koza, clarinet; Jake Handelman, trombone; Josh Henderson, Eddie Fin, violin; Sarah Haines, viola; Emily Hope Price, cello.

And the cast, under the direction of Tony nominee Randal Myler and the musical direction of Dan Lipton (The Last Ship): Carole J. Bufford (Broadway By The Year, speak easy, Body and Soul) as Cora, and Ann McCormack (West Side Story 50th Anniversary World Tour) as Apolline, with Jacqueline Antaramian (Dr. Zhivago, Coram Boy, Julius Caesar), Kenny Brawner (Kenny Brawner is Ray Charles), Damian Norfleet (Show Boat, Ragtime), Brynn Williams (In My Life, 13), Amanda Castaños (Spring Awakening), Mariah MacFarlane (Nice Work If You Can Get It, American Idiot), Ryan Clardy, David Lajoie, Michael Lanning, and Erika Peterson.

Here is the link to buy tickets for the Saturday, July 18 performance at 8 PM and the Sunday, July 19 one at noon. Performances will take place at PTC Performance Space, 555 West 42nd Street, New York City.  I’m told that tickets are going quickly, and since this is not a huge space, I know it’s true.

See you there.

May your happiness increase!

ALIVE AND SWINGING: EMILY ASHER’S GARDEN PARTY: “MEET ME IN THE MORNING”

EMILY ASHER MORNING

It’s taken me a few months to write anything about Emily Asher’s Garden Party’s first full-length CD, but it’s taken me that long to wrest the disc out of the CD players — car, home, and office.  The cover artwork by Jocelyn Curry is a lovely evocative introduction to the music within — full of beautiful surprises that quickly seem friendly and welcoming.

I’ve admired Emily as a trombonist / singer / arranger / composer for some time.  I first encountered her as an eager and skilled young player who came by for the second set at The Ear Inn to happily swell the ranks — and I first captured her on video at the very start of 2011 — a joyous jam session here. I wouldn’t call myself an early adopter of new technology, but I caught a young version of Emily’s band, the Garden Party, at Radegast Bierhalle in September 2011: the energetic experience comes through here.  When the Party released a mini-CD Hoagy Carmichael tribute, CARNIVAL OF JOY, the disc was aptly titled.

More recently, I caught the band at a January 2014 San Francisco house party here and here.  I know this barrage of hyperlinks may seem to some a prelude to Emily’s retirement dinner (which is far off in the future) but I simply want to suggest — as they say in certain urban areas, “We go ‘way back.  We have history.”

History, however, is not always the only offering of the Garden Party.  Yes, they can swing out on WHEN YOU WORE A TULIP in fine New Orleans style, and the band’s knowledge of traditional and swing genres includes not only the familiar (ROYAL GARDEN BLUES) but the by-now-slightly-exotic (EMPEROR NORTON’S HUNCH).  The Garden Party, however, is more than a band of youngbloods playing old favorites.  And their new disc does have TULIP, BIG BUTTER AND EGG MAN, I’VE GOT A FEELIN’ I’M FALLING, MEMPHIS IN JUNE, and the little-known WALK IT OFF (recorded by Carmichael in 1946) — but the remaining five titles are originals by Emily or by the band.

Ordinarily, “originals” make me slightly nervous, because some of the greatest improvisers do their improvising on frameworks written by others.  But these originals have substance; they aren’t endless musings on existential dread, nor are they contrefacts, thin creations over someone else’s chord changes.  In the first minutes of this disc (the opening track is called OPEN INVITATION TO A RAINSTORM, which should suggest something about Emily’s generous and quirky imagination): we hear Emily’s solo voice backed by a sympathetic rubato rhythm section; the song moves into time with a calypso exposition of the chorus, alternating with a rocking 4 / 4 time — then the band plays an instrumental chorus (beautifully arranged) punctuated with drum-break comments . . . a piano modulation takes us into a group vocal chorus alternating with Emily sweet exuberant / thoughtful voice, and the performance ends with a joyous “last eight bars.”

I won’t delineate the other nine tracks in this fashion, but MEET ME IN THE MORNING is a delightful tonic as well as a delightful corrective to some more tired (although “modern”) jazz conventions — the apparently endless string of solos over a rhythm section, the idea that modernity means turning one’s back on sentiment and swing.  The music heard on this disc (or on live gigs) benefits from a deep study of what has come before, but it is not weighed down by pure intellectualism.

Rather, the Garden Party knows and embodies what it is like to have fun with music — to Play without being goofy, to entertain a crowd, real or imagined.  They do not disdain their audience, and their pleasure at making melody and swing comes through the little plastic artifact. And they are not jazz snobs — there’s a country waltz on this disc, and Emily’s version of a Fifties soul hit (that starts with a scratchy-78 version of the verse) . . . amusing and convincing evocations of a wide range of fulfilling music — each track a small pleasing present to unwrap more than once.

Emily’s bands have always had first-rate players and singers who seemed to blossom because of the warmth and light she herself brings to the music, but this version of her Garden Party is special.  I will leave the adjectives to you, but here are the facts: Emily, trombone, vocals, composition, arrangements; Mike Davis, trumpet, fluegelhorn, cornet, arrangements, vocals; Tom Abbott, clarinet, alto saxophone; Dalton Ridenhour, piano; Nick Russo, banjo, guitar; Sean Cronin, string bass, composition, arrangements; Rob Adkins, string bass, arrangements; Jay Lepley, drums, arrangements, vocals.  Nice recorded sound and fine notes from the Dipper himself, Ricky Riccardi.

If you follow the Garden Party (on either coast and sometimes in the middle), you’ve already purchased a copy of this CD.  If not, it’s an open invitation to joy. Details here.

May your happiness increase!

“NEW YORK CITY HAS A RHYTHM ALL ITS OWN”: GORDON AU’S GRAND STREET STOMPERS’ DEBUT AT DIZZY’S CLUB COCA COLA / JAZZ AT LINCOLN CENTER (October 22, 2014)

I was there, and I saw it for myself — five floors up, against a glorious dark Manhattan skyline, closer to the stars than any jazz club I know.

On Wednesday night, October 22, 2014, courtesy of the New York Hot Jazz Festival (thank you, Misha Katsobashvili!) and Jazz at Lincoln Center, Gordon Au and the Grand Street Stompers made their debut appearance — two sets, two sold-out crowds — and thrilled everyone.

Those who have been following the GSS weren’t surprised, but I think some of the international visitors in the room went away with a new appreciation for New York hot.

Here are two highlights: Gordon’s own RIDGEWOOD STOMP, and Tamar Korn’s ecstatic performance of DO THE NEW YORK.* The band was Gordon, trumpet, arrangements, compositions; Josh Holcomb, trombone; Matt Koza, clarinet / soprano saxophone (subbing for the temporarily under-the-weather Dennis Lichtman); Nick Russo, banjo / guitar; Andrew Hall, string bass; Rob Garcia, drums, with vocals by Tamar and by Molly Ryan.

Thanks also to Danielle Bias of JALC and Desmond Prass (a jazz scholar who recognized Big Sid Catlett!) of Dizzy’s for making it possible for me to video and share these with you. (Among friends, too — Neal, Kevin and Barbara, Kelsey, and a number of new converts.)

What next, O Stompers?

*There is a singularly unsubtle edit in this video, linking one song to another. You’ll know it when you stumble over it.

May your happiness increase!

DOIN’ THE MIDTOWN LOWDOWN: GORDON AU’S GRAND STREET STOMPERS ASCEND (October 22, 2014)

I don’t believe that the venue in itself makes the music — the 1938 Goodman band was spectacular before it had its date at Carnegie Hall — but certain meetings of music and place seem more than significant. Here’s one: Gordon Au’s Grand Street Stompers will be making their debut appearance at Dizzy’s Club Coca Cola this coming Wednesday, October 22, 2014, for two sets — at 7:30 and 9:30 PM.

One edition of the Stompers, uncharacteristically outdoors in sunlight: Kevin Dorn, Nick Russo, Rob Adkins,Matt Musselman, Dennis Lichtman, Gordon Au, Molly Ryan, Tamar Korn

One edition of the Stompers, uncharacteristically outdoors in sunlight: Kevin Dorn, Nick Russo, Rob Adkins,Matt Musselman, Dennis Lichtman, Gordon Au, Molly Ryan, Tamar Korn

For this occasion, the Stompers are Gordon, trumpet, compositions, arrangements; Tamar Korn and Molly Ryan, vocals; Dennis Lichtman, clarinet; Josh Holcomb, trombone; Nick Russo, guitar/banjo; Andrew Hall, bass; and Rob Garcia, drums.

I’ve been following the Stompers as often as I could for the last three years, and have enjoyed (and sometimes video-recorded) them in a variety of settings, from Cafe Carlyle to a Columbia University swing dance, downtown at the Cupping Room and at the Brooklyn mecca Radegast, even a vintage subway car.

But thanks to our friend and friend of hot music Misha Katsobashvili (who runs the New York  Hot Jazz Festival), the Stompers are now in even higher society — in terms of the jazz hierarchy.

The Stompers’ music is wide-ranging and quirky (both adjectives are meant as compliments) — from deepest “traditional jazz” repertoire to obscure pre-1945 pop tunes going all the way back to Gordon’s quizzical and gratifying originals, and unusual arrangements of familiar material, including forays into classical and light classical.  Because of this band, a number of singers have now taken WHILE THEY WERE DANCING AROUND into their repertoires, and who else offers SHE’S A GREAT, GREAT GIRL?  Gordon is also deeply involved in revered Disney songs, which emerge out fresh and lively. Always surprising, never routine.

Here is the site to buy tickets for the October 22 shows.

Why not let yourself go . . . up to Dizzy’s Club Coca Cola this Wednesday?

May your happiness increase!

WHILE IT’S HOT: TWO CONCERTS, COMING SOON

I revere the jazz Past: the recordings, the actual men and women, their stories, their holy artifacts.

But I would not want this art form to become a museum, where we can only hear the Great Dead People.

So I encourage my friends to seek out occasions where we can live in the present moment: hearing living men and women play and sing their own versions of this lovely music right in front of us. It’s an experience different and deeper than listening to the Electrobeam Gennett you just got on eBay, although I am not making fun of that pleasure, not at all.

Enjoying the present makes me think of fish and chips, which I will explain below.  Trust me, it’s relevant.

The two concerts I am reminding you all about are put on by the Sidney Bechet Society in New York City. Were I there, I would be there. They take place on Monday, at 7:15 (a nice serene early hour) at Symphony Space at 2537 Broadway at 95th Street.

Monday, April 21, is the second “Jam Session of the Millenium,” led by our own Dan Levinson:

SBS.April.Show.Flier.V6 (Neal Siegal)

If you’re one of those Jazz Lovers who wonders, “Who are these kids and are they any good?” you and your skepticism are in luck — because someone (thank you, Anonymous Person) recorded the first Jam Session of the Millennium in its entirety.  Consider this!

Monday, May 19, is a tribute concert in honor of Mat Domber, who made so much good music possible for all of us (along with his wonderful wife Rachel, still with us) on Arbors Records from the late Eighties onwards.  The audience of jazz listeners thanks him as do the musicians — and some of them gather onstage to say it with music: Randy Sandke, Wycliffe Gordon, Anat Cohen, Dick Hyman, Bucky Pizzarelli, Warren Vache, Joel Forbes, Rebecca Kilgore, Ed Metz, Rossano Sportiello, Harry Allen, John Allred, Rajiv Jayaweera, and Bob Wilber!

Tickets are $35 (students $10) ahttp://youtu.be/TfKz2nIok-Qnd the Symphony Space contact information is 212.864.5400 / www.symphonyspace.org.

Fish and chips, Michael?”

Yes.  In one of my favorite Irish novels of the last few decades, THE VAN, by Roddy Doyle, two fellows open a mobile fish and chips “cooker” out of an old van — a very funny and touching novel.  But one of their selling points is a sign that says TODAY’S CHIPS TODAY. Get this music while it’s HOT.

May your happiness increase!

DOUBLE DIGGING THE PERENNIALS: EMILY ASHER’S GARDEN PARTY LIVE IN SAN FRANCISCO, JANUARY 16, 2014: PART TWO

“A good time was had by all” continued to be true for the second half of this delightful evening.  (Here is the first half, for anyone who missed it.)

I present again Emily Asher’s Garden Party — captured here nearing the end of their 2014 West Coast Tour (historians take note).  Here they are at a very rewarding house concert in San Francisco, hosted by Daniel Fabricant and Vic Wong, offering a good-old-good one and three Hoagy Carmichael classics.

The GP in these videos is Emily, trombone, vocals, arrangements / compositions; Mike Davis, trumpet, vocal; Tom Abbott, reeds; Nick Russo, banjo, guitar; Rob Adkins, string bass; Jay Lepley, drums. (My videos are a little dark but the music blazes brightly.)

DARDANELLA, featuring Tom Abbott and the rhythm:

GEORGIA ON MY MIND, with a soulful vocal from Mike Davis:

LAZY BONES, with preaching by Ms. Emily after a wonderfully surprising introduction:

RIVERBOAT SHUFFLE, for the ensemble, a happily free-wheeling bunch:

May your happiness increase!

DOIN’ THE HORTICULTURAL: EMILY ASHER’S GARDEN PARTY LIVE IN SAN FRANCISCO, JANUARY 16, 2014: PART ONE

A good time was had by all.

Emily Asher’s Garden Party — captured here nearing the end of their 2014 West Coast Tour (historians take note).  Here they are at a very rewarding house concert in San Francisco, hosted by Daniel Fabricant and Vic Wong, offering good-old-good ones, Hoagy Carmichael, music associated with Louis Armstrong, and a few locally-sourced originals.

The GP in these videos is Emily, trombone, vocals, arrangements / compositions; Mike Davis, trumpet, vocal; Tom Abbott, reeds; Nick Russo, banjo, guitar; Rob Adkins, string bass; Jay Lepley, drums. (My videos are a little dark but the music blazes brightly.)

For Ella, the Mills Brothers, Sammy Cahn, Saul Chaplin, and the elusive Hy Zaret, DEDICATED TO YOU:

Emily’s original, dedicated to a clamorous stretch of road in her home town, EAST MERIDIAN:

TWO SLEEPY PEOPLE, a sweet bit of Carmichael voiced for Asher and Davis, soft-shoe tempo provided by that nimble rhythm section:

Appropriate for a Garden Party, WHEN YOU WORE A TULIP:

Thinking again of Ella and Chick, the band shouts HALLELUJAH!:

A small Louis-Jack trilogy (catch Mr. Davis’ beautiful sound here) STARS FELL ON ALABAMA:

From ‘way out West, BIG BUTTER AND EGG MAN:

At a nice tempo, MUSKRAT RAMBLE:

Emily’s original, for her flowering niece, SWEET PEA:

Music in blossom, with more to come!

May your happiness increase!

EAST SIDE STOMP: GORDON AU’S GRAND STREET STOMPERS at the CAFE CARLYLE (Part Two), DECEMBER 19, 2013: GORDON AU, TAMAR KORN, DENNIS LICHTMAN, MATT MUSSELMAN, NICK RUSSO, ROB ADKINS, KEVIN DORN

I’ll say it again.

It was an event in contemporary New York swing history, a memorable group making its debut at a famous nightspot. On Thursday, December 19, 2013, the Grand Street Stompers made the Cafe Carlyle their own, and an enthusiastic audience responded. Here’s the second part of what they saw and heard (the first part is here):

GRAND STREET STOMPERS CARLYLE

Thanks to the Stompers and to event host Michael Katsobashvili, it was a true event, featuring the extraordinary vocal improviser Tamar Korn, trumpeter / composer Gordon Au, clarinetist Dennis Lichtman, trombonist Matt Musselman, guitarist/banjoist Nick Russo, bassist Rob Adkins, percussionist Kevin Dorn.  (The JAZZ LIVES cinematographer apologizes to the rhythm section for leaving them out of the picture, but we know they are there and we are grateful for it.)

WALTZ OF THE FLOWERS:

WILD MAN BLUES:

ALL THE OTHER CHRISTMAS SONGS:

SOMEHOW THE WORLD HAS TURNED UPSIDE-DOWN:

and as an encore, LET YOURSELF GO:

 

May your happiness increase!

EAST SIDE STOMP: GORDON AU’S GRAND STREET STOMPERS at the CAFE CARLYLE (Part One), DECEMBER 19, 2013: GORDON AU, TAMAR KORN, DENNIS LICHTMAN, MATT MUSSELMAN, NICK RUSSO, ROB ADKINS, KEVIN DORN

It was an event in contemporary New York swing history, a memorable group making its debut at a famous nightspot. On Thursday, December 19, 2013, the Grand Street Stompers made the Cafe Carlyle their own, and an enthusiastic audience responded. Here’s the first part of what they saw and heard:

GRAND STREET STOMPERS CARLYLE

Thanks to the Stompers and to event host Michael Katsobashvili, it was a true event, featuring the extraordinary vocal improviser Tamar Korn, trumpeter / composer Gordon Au, clarinetist Dennis Lichtman, trombonist Matt Musselman, guitarist/banjoist Nick Russo, bassist Rob Adkins, percussionist Kevin Dorn.  (The JAZZ LIVES cinematographer apologizes to the rhythm section for leaving them out of the picture, but we know they are there and we are grateful for it.)

WHILE THEY WERE DANCING AROUND:

CRAZY EYES:

MUSKRAT RAMBLE:

SARATOGA SERENADE:

I’VE GOT MY LOVE TO KEEP ME WARM:

‘ZAT YOU, SANTA CLAUS?:

More to come.

May your happiness increase!

IN HIGH SOCIETY: GORDON AU’S GRAND STREET STOMPERS at THE CAFE CARLYLE (Thursday, December 19, 2013)

GRAND STREET STOMPERS CARLYLE

I’m delighted by this swinging manifestation of upward social mobility!  Usually, the Grand Street Stompers — the tidy yet exuberant small band led by Gordon Au — has been glimpsed downtown, at small clubs and beerhalls, at dance extravaganzas.

Here you can see many videos that I and other enthusiasts have created.

Yes, there have been marvelous occasions north of Forty-Second Street (two delightful holiday stomps at Columbia University) but the GSS are breaking new ground, migrating north for an evening.

On Thursday, December 19, 2014, The Grand St. Stompers will be playing at the Cafe Carlyle (35 East 76th Street), beginning at 10:45 PM.  $25 + minimum. Reserve your seat online or at 212-744-1600.  Here is the Facebook event page. Thanks to event host Michael Katsobashvili, it’s the beginning of another chapter in GSS history, so biographers and cultural theorists take note.

The evening will feature the extraordinary vocal improviser Tamar Korn, trumpeter / composer Gordon Au, clarinetist Dennis Lichtman, trombonist Matt Musselman, guitarist/banjoist Nick Russo, bassist Rob Adkins, percussionist Kevin Dorn.  A gathering of superheroes worthy of Marvel Comics.

I’ll be there, and I hope you are too.

May your happiness increase!

EMILY ASHER’S JOYOUS CARNIVAL CONTINUES

Some months back, I wrote an eager announcement of a new compact disc by Emily Asher’s Garden Party — a six-song tribute to Hoagy Carmichael, called CARNIVAL OF JOY.  Truth in advertising!  The disc is one of those creative efforts that grows deeper with each visit, and it balances exuberance, intelligence, and subtle understanding.

CARNIVAL OF JOY

The facts.  The personnel (are they Partiers or Gardeners or Garden Partiers?) are Emily Asher, trombone / vocals / arrangements; Mike Davis, trumpet / cornet / vocal; Tom Abbott, clarinet / alto saxophone; Dalton Ridenhour, piano; Nick Russo, guitar / banjo; Sean Cronin, string bass (2, 4) / arrangement and vocal (6); Rob Adkins, string bass, 1, 3, 5, 6); Jay Lepley, drums.  The songs: RIVERBOAT SHUFFLE / LAZY BONES / JUBILEE / TWO SLEEPY PEOPLE / BALTIMORE ORIOLE / ROCKIN’ CHAIR.

Click here to hear LAZY BONES from the CD — and, not incidentally, learn more about the many swinging exploits of our Ms. Asher.

I said above, “exuberance, intelligence, and deep understanding.”  High praise and, for some, difficult to live up to.  But not for Emily and her colleagues.

The exuberance comes through from the start of the disc.  It’s not loud music (although there is the delightful possibility of good-humored raucousness on several of the tracks) but to me it felt very much like young Judy and Mickey with his father’s barn — the quality of “Let’s put on a show!” And the glee is authentic: it’s not the stagy “enthusiasm,” part of the act, we sometimes see.

What I perceive as “intelligence” and “deep understanding” come through in the thought-processes behind this disc.  Tributes are sometimes easy ways for artists who haven’t decided who they are to masquerade as more remarkable ones — the more enlightened artists come to understand that wearing a gardenia in your hair may be an absolute impediment to understanding Billie Holiday or becoming one’s self.

But CARNIVAL OF JOY is not an attempt to copy hallowed recordings or performances.  Of course I hear sly touches of Louis and Fats and Hoagy himself in these performances, but they are admiring glances rather than full-dress impersonations.  Emily and her friends have understood something deep about the delicate balance between honoring the originals and creating something new, so each of the six songs here is a small, casual drama in itself — joyous or somber, wild or pensive (and in the case of ROCKIN’ CHAIR, nearly ominous) — with singing and playing that adeptly honor the song and carry its many messages straight to us.

I’ve been playing CARNIVAL OF JOY often, and my only reservation about the disc is that it contains six songs . . . not eighteen or more.  Listen and see if you don’t agree.  Thank you, Emily, Mike, Sean, Tom, Dalton, Nick, Rob, Jay, and of course Hoagy.

May your happiness increase!

JAZZ COMES UP TOMS RIVER (Wednesdays at 8)

To survive and prosper, jazz needs musicians — wise and heartfelt — and audiences who have the same qualities.  But it also needs venues and promoters who will make it possible for musicians to improvise where people can hear them. We’ve had Norman Granz; George Wein is still with us.  But a new face has entered the scene, with characteristic enthusiasm.  Ricky Riccardi, whom we know and love as Louis Armstrong scholar and archivist, writer and blogger, pianist and enthusiast — has begun producing a series of concerts in Toms River, New Jersey, that begins this Wednesday at 8 with a concert by Mona’s Hot Four: Dennis Lichtman, Jared Engel, Gordon Webster, Nick Russo — AND — Tamar Korn.  Future concerts will present Dan Levinson, Mike Davis, Kevin Dorn, Molly Ryan, and others.  For information, click here.  For video evidence of just how wonderful Mona’s Hot Four (this time with guests) is, try here.

Toms River, New Jersey, isn’t noted reverently in the jazz histories as the Cradle or even the Bassinet of Jazz.  But things will change!

May your happiness increase!