Tag Archives: Oak Room

FEED THE KITTY

I feel bicoastal gloom at the cancelling of the Sweet and Hot Music Festival, the closing of the Oak Room in the Algonquin Hotel.  Both of these sad events can be understood in economic terms, but these news stories are not new. 

I was speaking to a jazz musician two nights ago about his arrival in new York City in the mid-Eighties, and invariably our conversation became a litany of jazz clubs and restaurants that featured live music — all gone now.  Another musician reminded me of the magical decade of Fifty-Second Street: a block full of jazz clubs and nightspots that are now office buildings and chain pharmacies.  A few months ago I asked a young musician how she was faring and she told me of taking a job in Whole Foods to be able to get by.   

I understand that the “hospitality” business — restaurants, clubs, and other sites providing entertainment, food, and drink in return for profit — cannot be philanthropic.  When a club owner hires musicians, (s)he will want to see more money in the cash register (archaic terms these days) to offset the expense of the music.  In an era when bar patrons turn to their iPhones and to the multiple television screens for their entertainment, does live music, creative improvised music, stand a chance? 

The other factor is the machine we are all utilizing at the moment, and I acknowledge my responsibility in the problem.  “Why get dressed up in the cold to travel to a jazz club when there is so much to see and hear online?  Who needs to leave the monitor?  Besides, there’s that wall of CDs my spouse says I hardly ever listen to.” 

But I am talking about art and individuals that have more depth — and more fragility — than the moving images on the computer.  Jazz musicians are more than mp3s. 

One can find true community from listening to living people create art for other living people: like minds assembled to share joy.   

But too often, jazz listeners think they are supporting the music by having a bumper sticker or a seat cushion that proclaims their allegiance to jazz.  Writing BIRD LIVES on a wall won’t bring him back, and wearing a sparkly hat that says I LOVE DIXIELAND doesn’t help any player to pay the rent.  Buying another CD is always a good thing, but ask any musician how much money (s)he has received from the sale. 

Jazz Studies Programs have their place, as do vast online collections of “free” music, but do any of these activities benefit the musicians and their families?     

So I propose, not for the first time, an individual, active commitment to the art form.  If you are financially able and physically healthy, why not pay your debt to jazz by visiting a place where live jazz musicians are playing?  Buy a drink or a meal.  Listen attentively.  Put something in the tip jar.  Tell the manager / owner that you have made a special trip to this restaurant or club to hear ______ and her Hooligans (invent your own appropriate name).

Yes, I know that (in my father’s words) things are tough all over.  Sometimes the situation seems so bleak that one wants to retreat from those people — real and figurative — who have their hands outstretched to us.  What I am proposing costs money, takes time, is occasionally inconvenient.  But offering support to the people and music we love is a better use of our energies than mourning the losses after the sad news has registered.  And being generous to jazz may help insure that we can hear and see it, live, in the future.       

The generous people I know write checks to worthy charities, institutions that do good.   

What have you done for jazz this month?  It has done so much for you.

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“WHERE’D YOU GET THOSE EYES?”

Daryl Sherman knows the answer to that question, and so much more.  Here she is, having the time of everyone’s life, on June 8, 2009, at the Oak Room of the Algonquin Hotel, paying tribute to Johnny Mercer — with the able help of Wycliffe Gordon, who also seems to be enjoying himself. 

The song (music by Harry Warren) comes from an otherwise frail movie, GOING PLACES, where Louis Armstrong sang it to a horse, conveniently named “Jeepers Creepers.”  This must have been one of those films where Faulkner, Huxley, or Fitzgerald had nothing to do with the screenplay.  But the equine clamor Wycliffe invents late in his solo is obviously a tribute to Louis, the film, and — dare I say it? — his own brand of horseplay.

If you’d like to hear more of Miss Sherman and Mister Gordon paying tribute to Mister Mercer, check out Daryl’s new Arbors CD — it’s a beauty!

OUR NEW YORK JAZZ HOLIDAY (June 7-10, 2009)

It wasn’t really a holiday.  I still had to get up and go to work, which I proudly did, even when mildly wobbly.  The Beloved had her deadlines to meet, too. 

But last Sunday – Wednesday were a jazz feast in New York City, and (remembering my loyal readers who don’t always get to the same gigs we do) I brought my trusty video camera.* 

I won’t rhapsodize about the music.  As Charlie Parker told the terminally unhip Earl Wilson, “Music speaks louder than words.” 

The week began on Sunday (that’s The Ear Inn calendar rather than the Julian or the Georgian) at 8 PM, when New Orleanian Duke Heitger joined Jon-Erik Kellso, Matt Munisteri, and Neal Miner for hot, soulful jazz.  Here, from the first set, is a rollicking yet serious WEARY BLUES:

Those who know their Hot History will already be aware that Duke comes from a musical family (his father, Ray, is a splendid clarinetist) but that Duke himself was inspired to dig deeper and soar higher by his exposure to another Michigander, Maestro Kellso.  So this was a playing reunion of two friends, brotherly improvisers. 

The second set at the Ear usually brings surprises.  Trombonist Harvey Tibbs had joined the band at the end of the first set, and he was joined by Dan Block on clarinet and the truly divine Tamar Korn, who sings with the Cangelosi Cards. 

Tamar’s final song (of three) was a genuinely ethereal MOONGLOW — and even the rocking head of the woman in front of me couldn’t distract me from the beauty Tamar and the band created.  Not only did Tamar become one lonely Mills Brother; she became Eddie South; she sang most touchingly.  And, in the middle, Jon-Erik and Duke growled, moaned, and plunged; then Harvey and Dan summoned up the ghosts of Lawrence Brown and Barney Bigard.  When it was all over, Jackie Kellso turned to me and reverently said, “That has to be the most beautiful thing I’ve ever heard,” and I wasn’t about to argue with her. 

Monday found the Beloved and myself dressed up for a visit to the Oak Room of the Algonquin Hotel — where singer / pianist Daryl Sherman was performing a centennial tribute to Johnny Mercer with the help of Wycliffe Gordon, James Chirillo, and Boots Maleson.  Daryl, bless her, gave my favorite unknown Mercer song its “live premiere,” as a sweet duet with Wycliffe.  THE BATHTUB RAN OVER AGAIN, for that’s its name, has never been performed much — but its classic debut was on a 1934 Decca session where Mercer himself sang it (he was a wonderfully wry singer) with the help of Jack Teagarden, Sterling Bose, and Dick McDonough.  The recording’s hard to find but it is a prize, as is this performance, impish and sweet at the same time.  (Matilda, the Algonquin’s resident cat, now thirteen, was snooty as always to us, but beauty is its own burden, even if you’re a Ragdoll.  Perhaps especially so?)

Tuesday found us uptown at Roth’s Westside Steakhouse for a duet session by Duke and pianist Ehud Asherie.  They began with a dreamily romantic YOU TOOK ADVANTAGE OF ME at a slow tempo, which suggested to me that the advantage-taking was something sought after.  Without imitating anyone, Duke evoked Ruby Braff and Bobby Hackett; Ehud’s stroll had the leisurely pace of great slow-motion stride playing. 

Then, the duo performed one of my favorite 1939-40 Basie classics, Lester Young’s dancing TICKLE-TOE, with true gliding style.

Duke and Ehud then decided to explore ALL THE THINGS YOU ARE (thought by some to be the sole property of “modern” jazzmen — how wrong such narrow thinking is!) — complete with its lovely verse.

Trombonist John Allred, who had been waiting for his steak to arrive, decided to jump forward to dessert, so he joined Duke and Ehud for a rousing TEA FOR TWO:

Duke and Ehud then created a sprinting version of James P. Johnson’s RUNNIN’ WILD:

After dinner, John came back for a jubilant THEM THERE EYES:

 On Wednesday, I met the Beloved at Birdland (which could be the title of a good Thirties pop song) for a special assemblage — David Ostwald’s Louis Armstrong Centennial Band (David, Anat Cohen, Dion Tucker, Kevin Dorn) plus guests Duke Heitger and Dick Hyman.  Here they are for a beautiful, hymnlike reading of Ellington’s SOLITUDE.  Duke’s Louis-lyricism and Hyman’s chiming chords are specially moving here:

Clarinetist and prankster Ken Peplowski had been in the club (before the music began) for an informal photo shoot, and he came onstage to join them for a frisky version of Don Redman’s HEAH ME TALKIN’ TO YA (or YOU, for the formal):

 

More to come!  Watch this space! 

*The asterisk is to remind any cinematic auteurs that my cinematography is at best functional: the music’s the thing, no matter how many people walk through my shot or sit in front of my lens.  I haven’t managed to make any dark, cluttered, noisy club into an ideal set, but I keep trying.