Tag Archives: opera

JAMES, CHARLES, SALVATORE: FROM THE McCONVILLE ARCHIVES (Part Nine)

Say that my glory was I had such friends,” writes W.B. Yeats.  If we’d never heard a note of Leo McConville’s playing, never seen him in the Walt Roemer and his Capitolians short film . . . we would know him as a man admired and respected by the finest creators in his field.

See for yourself.

JAMES MELTON is hardly a Jack Purvis man of mystery, but he had more than a handful of careers — as the “hot” alto player in Francis Craig’s 1926 band, as a radio personality beginning in the next year, then an opera star.  Melton was a lyric tenor with a light, high voice — and all the formal hallmarks of that style: the exact enunciation, the rolled R — a style that became less popular when the crooners of the late Twenties came to prominence.

Melton is also known, oddly, to jazz fans, as having led a 1929 session of sacred songs that featured Benny Goodman on clarinet and alto, even though a measure of his jazz fame might be that my edition of Brian Rust’s discography has a Melton entry in the index that lacks a page number.  Did Leo meet him on the radio in the late Twenties?

CHARLES MARGULIS has much more presence to jazz listeners for his trumpet work with Jean Goldkette and with Paul Whiteman — but he continued on as an impressive soloist into the Sixties, and he can be heard on recordings with pop artists (Eartha Kitt, Harry Belafonte) as well as his own trumpet showcases.  John Chilton notes that Margulis had a chicken farm in the Thirties: I imagine Charles and Leo discussing the intricacies of the best feed, which breeds gave the most reliable output, and so on.  But here he is, completely urbane:

And the prize, as far as I am concerned — EDDIE LANG (born SALVATORE MASSARO) — one of the most distinctive instrumental voices of his era, in ensemble or solo.

The career that Lang might have had if he had not died on the operating table in 1933 is hinted at in these two film appearances.  The first finds him in the BIG BROADCAST with Bing Crosby, performing DINAH (off-screen) and PLEASE (very much a part of the scene).  And from the less-known A REGULAR TROUPER, he accompanies Ruth Etting on WITHOUT THAT MAN!

Although Lang would not be alive today, I can imagine him accompanying a pop or jazz singer on the ED SULLIVAN SHOW or the HOLLYWOOD PALACE.

More to come . . . !

Two postscripts about Charles Margulis: the Bixography Forum (a treasure-house of information, occasionally a hotbed of controversy) offers a 1962 conversation with the trumpeter:

http://bixography.com/MargulisHolbrook/A%20Conversation%20With%20Charles%20Margulis.html

And just to show that Margulis had great fame into the second half of the last century, here is a picture of one of his long-playing recordings:

Advertisements

ESSENTIAL LISTENING: CLINT BAKER’S NEW ORLEANS JAZZ BAND “TEARS”

Some time ago on JAZZ LIVES, I had some fun posting two Desert Island Disc lists of my own — one of the Great Dead, one of the Happily Living.

Now, it’s time to revise those lists — because TEARS, by Clint Baker’s New Orleans Jazz Band, is an absolute delight.

It’s not a respectful museum-piece, but a lively, surprising evocation of many jazz eras — one of those CDs you will listen to all the way through and then want to play again.

Clint Baker is one of those blessed players who can swing the band no matter what instrument he picks up.  On Rae Ann Berry’s YouTube videos (and some of mine), the exciting evidence is there: Clint on trumpet, cornet, trombone, clarinet, guitar, banjo, drums, vocal — all superbly.  On this CD, he plays trombone — moving around stylistically from the hot roughness of the late Twenties to the smoothness of mid-Thirties Benny Morton, all with conviction and wit.  In the front line, he has Marc Caparone (punching out that fine lead in the best Mutt Carey manner or looping around in the sky a la Buck Clayton) and Mike Baird (think Johnny Dodds or Prince Robinson).

But the best front line imaginable sinks without a cohesive, friendly rhythm section — like the one on this CD: Dawn Lambeth on piano (more about Dawn in a minute), Katie Cavera on swinging guitar and banjo (ditto); Mike Fay (did someone say “Wellman Braud”?) and the wonderful Hal Smith, propulsive but always deeply sensitive to the band as a whole.

Katie delivers one of her delicious sweet-tart, almost-innocent vocals on SWEET MAN, which is a treat.  And Clint convinces us of the earnest message of WHEN I GROW TOO OLD TO DREAM.  But this CD also has a vocal masterpiece: Dawn Lambeth’s pure, yearning I CAN DREAM, CAN’T I?  And Dawn illuminates four more selections — jazz singing at its best.

Clint favors what he calls “musical whiplash,” which has a rather ominous ring to it — but it’s not what happens when you’re driving, engrossed in a new CD.  No, what he means is a wide-ranging repertoire, a band comfortable with playing music from the ODJB, King Oliver, operetta and opera (Saint-Saens!), Twenties pop and novelty tunes . . . all with precision and abandon, intensity and relaxation.

The CD runs 73;34, and the songs are OSTRICH WALK / I CAN DREAM, CAN’T I? / TEARS / SWEET MAN / ONE HOUR / YOU MADE ME LOVE YOU (the Hot Five song, not Jolson’s) / LOVING YOU THE WAY I DO / MY HEART AT THY SWEET VOICE / WHAT A DIFFERENCE A DAY MADE / ORIENTAL STRUT / BLUES IN THIRDS / IT’S A SIN TO TELL A LIE / WHEN I GROW TOO OLD TO DREAM.

Need more information?  It’s all here: http://www.katiecavera.net/ctb_tears.html

THREE ARIAS, THREE MOODS at THE EAR INN (Jan. 16, 2011)

Despairing.

Optimistic.

Sly.

If you thought that arias were sung only in opera houses and on PBS; if you thought that Puccini and Mozart had cornered the market on passionate vocal expression . . . then I would ask you to consider the three performances below.

Recorded at my favorite Sunday-night hangout of all time, The Ear Inn (326 Spring Street, Soho, New York City), these three vocal – dramatic expressions are emotionally powerful.  They capture two singers: Tamar Korn and Jerron Paxton, alongside Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Matt Munisteri, guitar; Neal Miner, bass; Mark Lopeman, tenor sax and clarinet, and Pete Martinez, clarinet (far left) — on the final number, clarinetist Bob Curtis can be seen and heard even more to the left. 

The three songs couldn’t be more familiar landmarks of twentieth-century American popular song, but listen to what these singers and players make of them! 

I had heard Tamar perform BODY AND SOUL once before (with the Cangelosi Cards at the Shambhala Meditation Center, on Feb. 27, 2010 — you can see that performance on this blog) but I do not think I have ever heard her or anyone else sing this song with such despairing power and intensity.  And, yes, I know it has been sung beautifully and strongly by Louis, Billie, Frank, and many others.  But listen — listen! — to Tamar and the band here, the musicians giving her their full love and support, as she stretches notes in some phrases, stating some plainly.  And her second chorus, where she suggests by her singing that some things are too deep for mere words: 

I am not alone in having some awkward feelings about this song: its somewhat syntactically-tortured lyrics; its inescapably masochistic air (much more self-immolating than UNTIL THE REAL THING COMES ALONG); it is more a song of voluntary indeiture than of simple fidelity.  And Tamar enters so wholly into the spirit of it that I hear her moving closer and closer to the flame, to the brink, in the manner of Piaf.  But a strange thing happens here.  You realize that as much as Tamar is apparently performing open-heart surgery in front of the crowd, saying, sobbing, “You want my heart?  Here!  Here it is!  Take it!” she is simultaneously the artist in full control, creating a dramatic (but not melodramatic) statement about love and art and passion.  In appearing to throw herself into the song, she is also the artist knowing how to create that spectacle which is so unsettling, so seismic.  And the gentlemen of the ensemble evoke Roy Eldridge, Lester Young, Ed Hall, Charlie Christian, and Oscar Pettiford in the most singular ways!  Perhaps they’ve all been prisoners of love, too?

After that performance, I felt utterly satisfied and drained: in some way, I thought, “That’s it for me!  I don’t have to hear anything else tonight, tomorrow, next week . . . ”  But it was early — perhaps twenty minutes before the EarRegulars would call it a night — and they conferred on another song that Tamar might sing with them.  It took some time — choices were suggested and rejected — and since I am a born meddler and enjoy the friendly tolerance of everyone in that band, I leaned forward and said, “Sorry to intrude!  But what about WRAP YOUR TROUBLES IN DREAMS”?  And — my goodness! — Tamar and the Regulars thought it a good idea, and they took it up at a brisk tempo, everyone playing around with the written harmony to spark it up a bit (what I’ve heard called “the Crosby changes”) which you’ll notice.  Here, the mood was properly restorative, hopeful.  Yes, you sold my heart to the junkman, but I can always barter something and get it back in decent shape.  The clouds will soon roll by.  Your troubles can, in fact, be wrapped up in dreams and made to disappear.  Hokey Depression-era thoughts, not supported by evidence?  Perhaps.  But if I woke up in a gloomy mood every morning, which I fortunately do not, I would want to play this video — more than once — until I felt better.  See if it works for you, too:

The heroic Jerron Paxton had come in to The Ear Inn between the first and second sets, and I had hopes that he would sing.  When he shows up at a club, music happens!  And for the final performance of the night, he and the EarRegulars settled on a rocking SOME OF THESE DAYS, that anthem of “You left me and won’t you be sorry!” but sung with a grin rather than finger-waggling or real rancor.  Jerron is a sly poet, singing some phrases, elongating others, speaking some . . . and he gets his message across when he seems to be most casually leaning against the wall, just floating along: a true improvising dramatist:

Thank you, gentlemen and lady, for your passionate candor, your eloquence.

WHAT BEN RATLIFF WON’T SAY

The posting below found its way into the JAZZ LIVES mailbox, thanks to John Herr:

ben-ratliff

January 12, 2009
Talk to the Newsroom:
Ben Ratliff, Jazz and Pop Critic
Ben Ratliff, music critic, is answering questions from readers Jan. 12-16, 2009. Questions may be e-mailed to askthetimes@nytimes.com.
Mr. Ratliff has been a jazz and pop critic at the New York Times since 1996.
Born in New York City in 1968, he grew up in London and Rockland County, N.Y., and studied Classics at Columbia University. He is the author of “Jazz: A Critic’s Guide to the 100 Most Important Recordings” (2002), “Coltrane: The Story of a Sound” (2007) and “The Jazz Ear: Conversations Over Music” (2008).
Among hundreds of reviews, reported stories and obituaries in these pages, he has written about Duke Ellington, Slick Rick, Shirley Caesar, Dorival Caymmi, Miles Davis, Tony Bennett, Johnny Paycheck, Cat Power, Slayer, Donald Lambert, the Stooges, Tito Puente, Miley Cyrus, Prince, Gal Costa, Bo Diddley, Bebo Valdes, the Texas A&M University Marching Storm, community singing in East Lansing, Mich., the praise-rock house bands at the High Desert Church in Victorville, Calif., and much else.

Why Isn’t Jazz Audience Bigger?

Q. Why isn’t there more of an audience for “straight-ahead” jazz? Or put in a different way, how come established jazz artists who have been active since the ’50s or early ’60s are given only niche status (or no visibility at all) by the media? Do you feel the media plays a role/responsibiltiy regarding the public awareness of such artists as Freddie Hubbard, Barry Harris, Cedar Walton, for example? Why is it that the general (U.S.) public have no awareness or appreciation of this genre?
— Paul Loubriel

A. Paul: This is a big question. I’ll try to hit some parts of it but I probably won’t answer it to your satisfaction.
In the last 60 years, people almost completely stopped dancing to jazz, and far fewer people grew up with pianos in the house. I think that has a lot to do with why jazz is no longer the popular vernacular art it used to be. When you dance to music (in all ways — partner dancing, stepping, headbanging — just reacting to music with your body) or when you play it, then you own it. A lot of people born since 1960 don’t feel that they own jazz.
Absolutely, the media plays a role in why the average person doesn’t know who Cedar Walton is. But I think the mainstream media — obviously we’re not talking about jazz magazines like Downbeat, which has Benny Golson on the cover this month (a good example of the kind of artist you’re talking about) — doesn’t, by definition, deal with the kind of art that post-bop mainstream jazz has become, which is an art of tradition and very slow refinements.
Mainstream publications, generally, want to run music stories about what’s new or radically different, or about trends. (This could get into a larger issue about the shallowness of the general perception of “news.”) With classical music, they put a lot of stock in premieres or big, notable new compositions. In jazz there are few premieres and few big, notable new compositions. One has to sniff out what’s interesting, however it presents itself: it could be a one-night gig attended by 15 people or a sold-out run.
As for the general public, they’re not buying albums as much anymore, and as much as jazz is a recordings medium at all, it’s still an album art.
I believe that jazz needs more jazz clubs (with small cover charges), because it’s still a social music. The way to know about Cedar Walton in 2009 is to go see him at the Village Vanguard.
By the way, I see that The Times has mentioned Cedar Walton 247 times, in reviews and articles and listings, since 1980. Not too bad.
*****************************************************************************************
Here’s the email I sent to Mr. Ratliff:

I’m happy that the Times has mentioned Cedar Walton 247 times.  But there’s a wide range of creative improvisation going on not too far from the Times’s offices that never gets mentioned: consider Jon-Erik Kellso and Matt Munisteri at the Ear Inn on Sunday nights (8-11), where the regulars and visitors include Michael Blake, Scott Robinson, Steven Bernstein, and others.  If “the media” define Jazz as no longer newsworthy, then people who love Jazz come to reject “mainstream” media and turn to smaller magazines and weblogs. 
Sincerely,
Michael Steinman

P.S.  Come down to The Ear Inn on a Sunday night and I’ll buy you a drink.

 (I didn’t mean this facetiously: I would stand Mr. Ratliff a second drink or even a Cobb salad if he showed proper appreciation of the music . . . and wrote about it.)

I don’t mean to demonize the media or Mr. Ratliff, but his apparently candid answer has some large omissions in it. 

The standard argument has a good deal to do with the aging of the jazz audience.  Newspapers and magazines rely on advertisting to support themselves, and their research has shown, on whatever evidence, that the 18-35 group spends the most money.  That group has little or no knowledge of jazz, so it stands to reason.

But that argument isn’t entirely true.  Jazz clubs in New York are often full of people who have years to go before they apply for Social Security. 

When anyone goes to the opera, there are many white-haired people in the audience, the house is full, and the Times provides full coverage of, say, a Renee Fleming performance. 

The answer, for better or worse, is money.

Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center take out substantial advertising in the paper (with full-color glossy advertising supplements) and run weekly ads in the Arts section — so there’s a substantial amount of money changing hands.  In addition, when Ms. Fleming has a new CD, Decca or EMI or London takes out a full-page ad in the Sunday Arts section.  

The Ear Inn or Smalls doesn’t have that kind of advertising budget, so I am not surprised that Times critics don’t make their way down to those clubs to hear Kellso or Ehud Asherie. When I was trying to get more publicity for the Cajun jazz club, now demolished, I wrote directly to Nate Chinen, asking him to come down and hear the music — Kellso, John Gill, Kevin Dorn, Eddy Davis among others — and he never responded. 

I said above that I am not surprised.  But I am disappointed in the lack of candor displayed by Mr. Ratliff and others.  When I read a “jazz magazine” and see an ad for Victoria Vocalist on page 8 and a glowing review of Victoria’s new CD on page 9, my innate skepticism springs to life.  Whether the ad came first or the review is not entirely the question, but their proximity removes the possibility of objectivity.  (Only those jazz magazines that either have no advertising or, like Cadence, keep the two entities separate, can aspire to honest objectivity.)

So all I would like someone from the Times to do — it doesn’t have to be Mr. Ratliff — is to say, candidly, “Look.  We don’t review jazz of the type you admire because we haven’t found a way to make sufficient income from it.  We used to be able to make money from it — in the Seventies, when the Newport Jazz Festival concerts took place in New York, they took out ads in the paper, and they were reviewed.  Now we can’t.  Rather than say that we need to review ONLY those artistic performances that pay for themselves, we’ll just say that the audience has changed, people no longer have pianos in their house, and so on.  It sounds so much nicer.”

In the Fifties, when record company executives used to pay disc jockeys to spin their new records on the radio, it was called “payola” and it created a scandal.  The word fell out of use some time ago, but the concept, I fear, is still thriving.  A pretense of journalistic objectivity is not the same thing as objectivity.