Tag Archives: Nina Favara

AWFUL SAD . . .

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I didn’t have to go to graduate school to learn that things come to an end, including the summer, the bag of potato chips, and the cup of Earl Grey tea.  Of course we know that change may be the only constant.  But I was saddened to find that Jon-Erik Kellso’s Sunday gig at Sweet Rhythm is no more.

The reasons surely weren’t musical, and the audience had grown exponentially from the first Sunday to the fourth, which was November 16.  No, the gig ended for economic reasons, understandable but sorrowful nonetheless.  I envision this blog as a place to celebrate, so I will not embark on dark ruminations.

What I prefer to do here is thank the musicians who played so beautifully: Jon-Erik, Chuck Wilson, Will Anderson, Peter Reardon-Anderson, John Allred, Ehud Asherie, Rossano Sportiello, Kelly Friesen, Andrew Swann, and a host of gifted sitters-in including Lisa Hearns and Adrian Cunningham.  And the Friends of Jazz who filled the room: the Beloved, of course; Jackie, Lala, and Nina Favara; Bill and Sonya Dunham; Dick Dreiwitz; Jim and Grace Balantic; Marianne Mangan and Robert Levin.  And thanks to the people I didn’t get to meet who grinned and clapped and were moved along with us.

The music lives on in our memories and on YouTube.  You can visit my “swingyoucats” account and Jim’s “recquilt” for clips on this band in action.  But even the best live video isn’t the same thing.

AWFUL SAD, to quote Ellington.

OUR OWN FOUR-DAY NYC JAZZ FESTIVAL

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This remarkable weekend began on Friday night (November 7) at the New York Historical Society on Central Park West, with a free one-hour concert featuring bassist-singer-composer Jay Leonhart, amidst what the MC introduced, somewhat oddly, as “rising stars” Wycliffe Gordon, trombone and vocals, Ted Rosenthal, piano, and Alvin Atkinson, drums. The program mixed several Richard Rodgers classics, “Shall We Dance,” “The Surrey With the Fringe On Top,” Bernstein’s “Cool,” with two Leonhart originals and a closing romp through “Lester Leaps In.”  Rosenthal sparkled; Atkinson swung.

But the high point of the evening was an exploration of what Leonhart called “a jazz prayer,” “Body and Soul.”  That 1930 song can be a problem for musicians, as it has been played so nobly by so many: Coleman Hawkins, Louis, Bird in his first flights, Duke and Blanton, Ben Webster, Lester Young, Lucky Thompson, Sonny Rollins, Billie Holiday, the Benny Goodman Trio, etc.   This performance began with Leonhart’s arco solo and then reached heights with Wycliffe’s plunger-muted, stately exploration of the theme.  Wycliffe knows full well how to honor a melody rather than simply leaping into variations on chord changes).  Waggling his plunger in and out, he mixed growls and moans, naughty comedy and deep sighs, as if Tricky Sam Nanton or Vic Dickenson was playing a hymn.  The solo ended all too soon.

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Not only was the concert free, but the museum was open to all, so the Beloved and I wandered through lovely landscape paintings.  Future Fridays at the NYHS (all beginning at 6:30 PM) will feature The Western Wind (a contemporary classical vocal sextet) on November 14, on the 21, guitarists from the Manhattan School of Music (teachers and proteges); Cheryl B. Engelhardt and Oscar Rodriguez (guitar) on December 5, jazz again on December 12, with Jeb Patton, David Wong, and Tootie Heath, and ending with Latin music on the 19th from the Samuel Torres Group.

We rested on Saturday to prepare ourselves for the exuberances to come.

Sunday afternoon found us at Sweet Rhythm on Seventh Avenue South for the third gathering of Jon-Erik Kellso and Friends: this time bassist Kelly Friesen, drummer Andrew Swann, pianist Rossano Sportiello, and reedman Peter Reardon-Anderson, doubling tenor and clarinet.  Hyperbole is a dangerous thing, but I came away from these two sets thinking that I had heard the most exciting jazz in years.

I so admire Jon-Erik’s ability to shape an ad hoc ensemble into a cohesive one, and he did it through the two sets, creating jazz that was of this time and place, looking back to New Orleans and collective improvisation, forward to contemporary “Mainstream” solos.  If I kept thinking of Keynote Records 1943-46, perhaps that’s because those jubilant performances kept being evoked on the stand at Sweet Rhythm.  Rossano strode and glided, sometimes in a Basie mood (appropriately) on “Doggin’ Around” and “Topsy”; Kelly took the glories of Milt Hinton (powerful rhythm, a huge tone, beautiful arco work on “All Too Soon”) and made them his own, and Andrew Swann, slyly grinning, added Sidney Catlett and Cliff Leeman to his swinging progenitors.  Anderson, twenty-one years old, is someone we can greet at the beginning of a brilliant career (to quote Emerson on Whitman): Zoot Sims and Ed Hall stand in back of his graceful, energetic playing.  Basie got honored, but so did Bing and Louis in “I Surrender, Dear,” and Kellso reminded us that not only is he playing marvelously but he is a first-rate composer: his line on “Linger Awhile” was a memorable hide-and-seek creation.  We cheered this band, and with good reason.

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And the room was full of Jazz Friends who didn’t get up on the bandstand: Bill and Sonya Dunham, Jim and Grace Balantic, Nina Favara, Lawri Moore, Marianne Mangan and Robert Levin.  A righteous congregation!

And the five portraits you see here — from the top, Jon-Erik, Rossano, Kelly, Andrew, and Peter — come from this gig, courtesy of Lorna Sass, jazz photographer.

Perhaps I am a jazz glutton, but those two sets weren’t enough: I walked downtown to the Ear Inn to soak up one more set by the EarRegulars: Jon-Erik, Chris Flory on guitar, Greg Cohen on bass, and Michael Blake on tenor, someone entirely new to me.  (He and Jon-Erik go ‘way back, although they hadn’t played together in years.)  Blake is exceedingly amiable, so we found ourselves chatting at the bar — about small towns near Victoria (Souk for one) and Pee Wee Russell, about the odd and gratifying ways people come to jazz, about Lucky Thompson and jazz clarinet.  Then it was time for the EarRegulars to hit, and they surely did — from a “Blue Skies” that became “In Walked Bud,” to Blake’s feature on (what else?) “Body and Soul.”  Here, backed by the wonderfully sensitive duo of Chris and Greg, he broke the theme into fragments, speculating on their possibilities, becoming harmonically bolder with a tone that ranged from purring to rasping (some echoes of Lacy), exploring the range of his instrument in a delicate, earnest, probing way.  It was a masterful performance, and I am particularly delighted to encounter such brave creativity from a player I didn’t know before.

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Of course, the near-collisions of beauty and contemporary weirdness never fail to amaze.  I was sitting at the bar at the Ear, welcomed there by Victor, who knows more jazz than most critics.  At the bar, to my left, three and sometimes four people were facing away from the band, hunched over their Black Berry or Black Berries, their iPhones, what have you.  Electronically glowing tiny screens, blue and white, shone throughout the club.  I too am a techno-addict — but why go to a bar to check your BlackBerry and ignore the live art being created not five feet away?  To treat Kellso, Blake, Flory, and Cohen as background music seems oblivious or rude.

Monday there was work — but that is always a finite obligation, even when it looms inescapably — but soon I was back in Manhattan, drawn inexorably with the Beloved to Banjo Jim’s (Avenue C and Ninth Street) to hear two groups in one night.  Banjo Jim’s seems ideal — small, congenial, a private neighborhood bar full of young people listening to the music, a real blessing.

The first group was full of old friends — Kevin Dorn’s Traditional Jazz Collective.  This incarnation included Charlie Caranicas on cornet, Michael Hashim on alto sax, J. Walter Hawkes on trombone and vocal, Jesse Gelber on piano, Kevin on drums.  Kevin kicked things off with a romping “I Want To Be Happy,” explicitly summoning up the 1972 New School concert where Gene Krupa, Wild Bill Davison, Kenny Davern, and Dick Wellstood — someone named Eddie Condon in charge — showed what could be done with that simple line.  (I was at that concert, too.)  J. Walter Hawkes, one of my favorite unsung singers, did his wonderful, yearning “Rose Room.”  Barbara Rosene sat in for a thoughtful “Pennies From Heaven,” complete with the fairy-tale verse, and the proceedings closed with a hot “China Boy.”

And then — as if it that hadn’t been enough — the Cangelosi Cards took the stand.  They are the stuff of local legend and they deserve every accolade.  A loosely-arranged ensemble: Jake Sanders on acoustic guitar, Marcus Milius on harmonica, Dennis Lichtman on clarinet, Gordon Webster on piano, Karl Meyer on violin, Cassidy Holden on bass.  They are all fine players, better than many with larger reputations.  I thought I heard a drummer but saw no one at the trap set: later I found out that their singer, Tamar Korn, has a remarkable vocabulary of clicks, hisses, and swishes — she fooled me and she swung.  The group has a Django-and-Stephane flavor, but they are not prisoners of that sound, that chugging rhythm, that repertoire.  They began with “Douce Ambiance,” moved to Harry Barris’s “It Was So Beautiful,” and then Eddie Durham’s “Topsy.”

Early on in the set, it became clear that this band has a devoted following — not just of listeners, but of dancers, who threw themselves into making the music physically three-dimensional in a limited space.  Wonderful inspired on-the-spot choreography added to the occasion, an exultant Happening.

Then Tamar Korn got up to sing — she is so petite that I hadn’t quite seen her, because I was seated at the back of the small square room.  But I heard her, and her five songs are still vibrating in my mind as I write this.  Without attempting to be mysterious in any way (she is friendly and open) she is someone unusual.  Rumor has it that she hails from California, but I secretly believe she is not from our planetary system.  When I’ve suggested this to her, she laughs . . . but doesn’t deny it.

Tamar’s singing is focused, experimental, powerful.  In her performance of “Avalon,” she began by singing the lyrics clearly, with emotion but not ever “acting,” then shifted into a wordless line, high long held notes in harmony with the horns, as if she were Adelaide Hall or a soprano saxophone, then did two choruses of the most evocative scat-singing I’ve ever heard (it went beyond Leo Watson into pure sound) and then came back to the lyrics.

Her voice is small but not narrow, her range impressive.  What I find most exhilirating is the freedom of her approach: I hear old-time country music (not, I must add, “country and western,” but real roots music), blues and bluegrass, the parlor soprano essaying light classics, opera, yodeling, swing — and pure sound.  She never appears to be singing a song in any formulaic way.  Rather, she is a vessel through whom the force of music passes: she is embraced by the emotions, the notes, the words.

And when the Cards invited their friends — that is, Charlie Caranicas, Michael Hashim, and Jesse Gelber — to join them for “Milenberg Joys,” “I’m Confessin’,” and “Avalon,” it was as close to soul-stirring ritual in a New York club as I can remember.  The room vibrated; the dancers threw their hands in the air, people stood up to see better, the music expressed intense joy.  I don’t know whether Margaret Mead had rhythm in her feet, but she would have recognized what went on at Banjo Jim’s.

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I hope to have video, thanks to Flip, to post shortly.  Tune in again!  (And another weekend is coming soon . . . tempus fugit isn’t so terrifying when there are glories like this to look forward to.)

Only in New York, I am sure.

All photographs by Lorna Sass, copyright 2008.

A JAZZ HOLIDAY — CHAUTAUQUA 2008

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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