Tag Archives: Oscar Hammerstein II

TENDERLY SWINGING: GUILLEM ARNEDO, MICHAEL KANAN, CELESTE ALIAS, JAUME LLOMBART, JORGE ROSSY, DEE JAY FOSTER: “LET’S SING O. HAMMERSTEIN II”

Eighty years ago, jazz fans — that small ferocious bunch — were often parochial in the extreme: “How good could X could be if we’ve never heard of them before?” “How good could they be if they were born someplace that wasn’t New Orleans, New York, Chicago?”

But that attitude vanished, I hope, long before the internet made swinging international relations not only plausible but a fact of life.  (I admit that parochialism exists in 2018 in subtler forms: “How good could she be?  She doesn’t have any YouTube videos or a Facebook page!” but let us close our eyes and wait for that spasm to pass.)

I had not heard of drummer / bandleader Guillem Arnedo before 2017 — but since he came with the recommendation of pianist-hero Michael Kanan, I knew he would be more than OK.  Michael has splendid taste.

And when I heard the CD, LET’S SING OSCAR HAMMERSTEIN II, I was delighted.  But first, let me offer some of the delicate, sweetly energized music that Guillem and friends create.  And credit the musicians: Guillem, drums; Celeste Alias, vocals; Michael Kanan, piano; Jaume Llombart, guitar; Jorge Rossy, vibes / marimba; Dee Jay Foster, string bass.

PEOPLE WILL SAY WE’RE IN LOVE:

OUT OF MY DREAMS:

I think that is wonderful music: light-hearted and deeply felt all at once.  The songs are HAPPY TALK / THE SURREY WITH THE FRINGE ON TOP / MAKE BELIEVE / SOME ENCHANTED EVENING / WE KISS IN A SHADOW / MARCH OF THE SIAMESE CHILDREN / GETTING TO KNOW YOU / MY LORD AND MASTER / PEOPLE WILL SAY WE’RE IN LOVE / OUT OF MY DREAMS / BALI HAI / BILL / CAN’T HELP LOVIN’ DAT MAN / THIS NEARLY WAS MINE.

And here’s what I wrote.

The great theatre and film composers weren’t always happy when improvisers “took liberties” with their songs. Rodgers and Hart made their resentment known in “I Like to Recognize the Tune.” Jerome Kern’s estate sued Musicraft Records to stop them from issuing Dizzy (with strings) playing Kern. (Eventually, they relented.)

But the tradition of jazz musicians improvising on Broadway and film songs is almost a century old. Variations on new pop hits or familiar themes sold records and the results were sometimes more memorable than what was on the sheet music. Think of Paul Whiteman’s WHY DO I LOVE YOU? and Bix’s OL’ MAN RIVER; thirty years later, Vic Dickenson’s OH, WHAT A BEAUTIFUL MORNING, Emmett Berry’s PEOPLE WILL SAY WE’RE IN LOVE, all the way to the summit: of Louis’s YOU’LL NEVER WALK ALONE.

Here, leader / drummer / arranger Guillem Arnedo selected melodies he admires and everyone treats them tenderly. That approach might seem too traditional to some. But what sets this CD apart from a Fifties “A JAZZ VERSION OF [insert famous Broadway show or musical film title]” is a gentle pervasive originality, audible as a series of small sweet surprises.

Guillem told me, “I found out that a lot of tunes that I love have Hammerstein’s lyrics. So instead of doing a tribute to Hammerstein and Rodgers or Hammerstein and Kern (his two big associations) I found it more interesting to focus on Oscar and all the marvelous plays he co-wrote. Besides, my band focuses its attention a lot not only on melodies but also to lyrics, poetry. That’s something I learned from Michael Kanan, that to understand and get deep into a song you must know the lyrics. The arrangements and decisions about which tune is instrumental or to be sung were mine. Nevertheless, you can find the Kanan blend in some little arrangements he did spontaneously.”

Listeners will find pleasure wherever they turn, but I’d recommend PEOPLE WILL SAY WE’RE IN LOVE for a start – the quiet duet of Celeste and Michael quietly exploring the verse, then Michael’s irresistible transition into the chorus, with everyone rocking immediately (embodying Jake Hanna’s “Start swinging from the beginning!”)

The band sounds gorgeous (and is beautifully recorded) throughout. Celeste is capable of shy tenderness or determined energy, each shading with its own shimmer. Michael continues to honor Jimmie Rowles with intuitions that touch our hearts. Each stroke that Guillem creates – stick, cymbal, or brush – seems just the right impressionistic touch. D.J.’s bass playing – resonant, woody, trustworthy – is precisely our cup of tea. Jorge is lyrical, eloquent, yet terse, even when playing what sounds like the world’s largest marimba. Jaume creates delicate hymns or propulsive lines: hear his meditation for the SIAMESE CHILDREN.

On this disc we find the most familiar songs shining brightly, sounding as if they were composed yesterday. Listeners may begin to sing along, whether or not they planned to, because the melodic momentum is irresistible. Guillem and friends have created a wondrous aural landscape: delightfully varied, completely uplifting. I am sure that Oscar, Dick, and Jerry approve.

Rereading these notes while the disc is playing, I feel guilty of understatement, of atypical restraint.  The music on this CD is just splendid — all the instrumentalists in solo and ensemble, and Celeste’s touching yet tangy singing.  I hope this post makes up for my praise being more quiet than it should have been.  To buy the CD, please visit here.  I believe that downloads are also available from the usual suspects.

May your happiness increase!

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SIMPLY WARM AND SWINGING: DAWN GIBLIN, JAMES DAPOGNY, MIKE KAROUB, LAURA WYMAN (May 7, 2017)

The late Leroy “Sam” Parkins used to say of very special music that it got him “right in the gizzard.”  Since I am not a chicken, I have serious doubts that I have a gizzard or where it might be located, but I know when music “gets” me, because I want to hear and see it over and over.

Here are three wonderful performances by the singer Dawn Giblin, pianist James Dapogny, and cellist Mike Karoub — recorded splendidly by JAZZ LIVES’ Michigan bureau chief Laura Wyman of Wyman Video on May 7, 2017.  I don’t have the requisite adjectives — all exuberant — to describe the sounds of the Dawn Giblin Trio at Cliff Bell’s . . . but this is a gorgeously intuitive and swinging chamber trio that gets to the heart of the music from the first note.  Professor Dapogny and Maestro Karoub are masters of swing and feeling: warmth and swing invented on the spot, and Dawn both reassures and surprises with each phrase.

Experience these wonders for yourself.  Your gizzard will thank you.

First, the Harry Ruby – Rube Bloom GIVE ME THE SIMPLE LIFE, a song that many people have taken to heart, and rightly so.  But if one listens closely, the bare bones of the melody are one simple rhythmic phrase, moved around for 24 of the song’s 32 bars. . . . so it needs a very subtle singer to vary the emphasis on that phrase so the song doesn’t seem mechanical.  I encourage you, on your second or third listening, to pay close admiring attention to how Dawn shades and varies her phrasing so that her delivery is both conversationally familiar and full of small delightful shocks.  Hear the climbing way she approaches the final bridge!  (More about the song’s provenance below.)

And here’s the cheerful song — but not too fast:

The shifting densities of Dawn’s voice — emphasis without overkill, hints of gospel, blues, and folk — are delicious.

Here’s a song that makes everyone who sings or plays it comfortable: I think of Ella Fitzgerald in her girlhood, Marty Grosz, Fats Waller, Helen Ward, Rebecca Kilgore, Taft Jordan with Willie Bryant and many others. . . . Sam Stept and Sidney Mitchell’s ALL MY LIFE:

A beautiful tempo and small homages to Teddy Wilson from Professor Dapogny and that most beautiful sound, Maestro Karoub’s singing cello.

Finally, the Romberg – Hammerstein classic LOVER, COME BACK TO ME — a performance that would make indoor plants shoot up in rhythmic joy.

and now the question of provenance, although it’s not something to cause nation-wide insomnia.  Consider these two pieces of evidence:

 

and

While you’re musing over this, consider how we can have many CDs by the Dawn Giblin Trio in exactly this formulation.  It’s a dream of mine.  And gratitude a-plenty not only to the musicians, but to Laura Wyman for her very fine video work.

May your happiness increase!

ROMBERG IN RHYTHM: A SWING INTERLUDE FROM THE 2014 ATLANTA JAZZ PARTY (April 27, 2014): DANNY COOTS, ED POLCER, BRIA SKONBERG, DAN BARRETT, BOB HAVENS, ALLAN VACHE, DAN BLOCK, ROSSANO SPORTIELLO, JOHN COCUZZI, RANDY NAPOLEON, PAUL KELLER

I am still smiling because of the music I heard and the good feelings it engendered at the 2014 Atlanta Jazz Party.

If you were there, you need no convincing; if you weren’t able to attend, here is a soul-stirring example of the great jazz created consistently over the weekend.

This song (as explained by witty leader, drummer Danny Coots) is WHEN I GROW TOO OLD TO DREAM.  Danny was in front of a group of serious individualists: Ed Polcer, cornet; Bria Skonberg, trumpet; Dan Barrett, Bob Havens, trombone; Dan Block, tenor saxophone; Allan Vache, clarinet; Rossano Sportiello, piano; John Cocuzzi, vibraphone; Paul Keller, string bass.

Now, that lineup glistens all by itself. But some JAZZ LIVES readers, veterans of jazz parties now and then, might expect what a musician I know calls, sadly, “jazz party jazz”: a session that features everyone taking two choruses after a single-chorus ensemble.  Competent playing, always, but long, formulaic solos.

The musicians at the AJP seemed exceedingly happy to be there, and their improvisations were delightfully on target, cheerful, inspiring. Listen for that often-forgotten device, the split chorus, where A plays the first half and B the second, or A plays everything but the bridge, leaving those harmonically fast-moving eight bars to B. Here, you’ll also note the musicians happily creating impromptu duets and conversations: lively and enlightening.

Some of the credit for this goes to our Mister Coots, but much of it comes from the musicians’ ingenuity and pleasure at being onstage at the AJP.

See and hear for yourself:

With deferential apologies to lyricist Oscar Hammerstein II, you never grow too old to dream when music like that is being made! What a wonderful time we had!

The 26th Atlanta Jazz Party will take place on April 17-19, 2015. Thanks to Pualani and Philip Carroll for such a great party.

May your happiness increase!

BISHOP BERKELEY SWINGS IT, or WHEN JAZZ MIRACLES HAPPEN BEHIND CLOSED DOORS: BENT PERSSON, JENS LINDGREN, RENE HAGMANN, GAVIN LEE, THOMAS WINTELER, MARTIN SECK, FRANS SJOSTROM, MALCOLM SKED, MARTIN WHEATLEY, JOSH DUFFEE (Whitley Bay Classic Jazz Party 2012)

George Berkeley, Bishop of Cloyne, by John Smibert

George Berkeley, Bishop of Cloyne, by John Smibert

I was thinking about the Anglo-Irish philosopher George Berkeley (1685-1753), Bishop of Cloyne, the other day: I had read about him in W. B. Yeats’ celebration of the intellectual and powerful figures of the Irish past.  What appealed to me was the notion that objects have to be perceived to exist: in whimsical form, the question is “How do you know that your books exist once you leave your house and can no longer see them?”  Is a table “there” if we are not perceiving it?

I’m not about to propose that the jazz fans’ Vocalions and Brunswicks vanish as soon as the collectors leave the music room; I don’t want to face the possible responses, nor do I want to start massive panic.  But for jazz devotees, the Bishop’s ruminations take on an intriguing shape: the subject being the music we know exists or once existed which is inaccessible to us.  When we read somewhere in a Whitney Balliett profile (I believe his subject was Illinois Jacquet speaking) of a 1941 West Coast jam session where the rhythm section was Nat Cole, Charlie Christian, Jimmie Blanton, and Sidney Catlett, we know on the basis of all the evidence of individual recorded performances that this would have been beyond our wildest dreams.  But it is made all the more extraordinary is that we weren’t there.  It thus takes on the magical quality of the Arabian Nights.

Another manifestation of this idealizing of what we can’t reach (a larger human principle, perhaps) is the idea that musicians are playing magically when we are not in the room — when the concert is over, when the club is closed.

It may not always be true, but here is some evidence — recorded with permission at the 2012 Whitley Bay Classic Jazz Party — that miracles happen when no one except the musicians (and someone with a video camera) is around: two performances from one of the rehearsals that took place before the Party officially started — on Thursday, October 25, 2012.

This session was devoted to the Louis Armstrong Hot Choruses (and Breaks).

LOUIS HOT CHORUSES

If you’ve never heard of them, they are perhaps another illustration of what would have pleased the Bishop so.  In the middle Twenties, music publishers were beginning to notice that amateurs would buy music books that proposed to help them play as their idols did.  I believe that the first jazz musician so honored by having his solos transcribed for other players to emulate and copy was the often-maligned Red Nichols.  Walter Melrose, head of a Chicago music publishing firm, engaged Louis Armstrong to create hot choruses on popular songs — most often from the Melrose catalogue — and hot breaks.  Louis was given a cylinder machine and blank cylinders; he played solos and breaks, which were then transcribed by pianist / composer Elmer Schoebel.  The cylinders?  Alas, to quote Shelley, “Nothing beside remains.”

But my hero Bent Persson has  been considering, playing, exploring those choruses and breaks for thirty years and more — in the same way that Pablo Casals kept returning to the Bach cello suites.  The transcribed solos and breaks, in themselves, seem almost holographic: yes, this is Louis; no, this is only a representation.  But Bent has done superhuman creative work in blowing the breath of life into those notes.

Here are two musical rewards for your patient reading.  I first met Bent in person at the 2009 Whitley Bay jazz extravaganza, after having listened to his recordings since the middle Seventies, and he has grown to accept my shadowing him with a video camera — the results, I tell him, are for the feature-length documentary.

I positioned myself in the center of the room while my shirt-sleeved heroes worked their way through a selection of the Louis Hot Chorus material.  They were, in addition to Bent, Jens Lindgren, trombone; Gavin Lee, Thomas Winteler, Rene Hagmann, reeds (with the astonishing M. Hagmann doubling trumpet); and a rhythm section of Martin Wheatley, banjo; Malcom Sked, sousaphone; Martin Seck, piano; Frans Sjostrom, bass saxophone; Josh Duffee, drums.

These are two of my favorite things, to paraphrase Oscar Hammerstein II.

Here is CAFE CAPERS — and if you need any evidence of how the band is enjoying itself, watch Thomas, Jens, and pay special attention to the moving sneakers of M. Hagmann — and that’s even before Bent becomes our superhero with rocking support from Josh:

Then, SPANISH SHAWL, with the band rocking from the start — with wonderful reed playing, blazing outings from Jens, Rene, and Thomas, Josh, Henri, Frans and Gavin, before the key changes and the band romps home.  “Very good!”:

To me, “Very good!” is rather like the Blessed Eddie Condon muttering, “That didn’t bother me.”  Not at all.  May your sneakers always be as happy as those of Rene Hagmann.

P.S.  Magic like this happens very frequently at the Whitley Bay Classic Jazz Party — click here to learn how you, too, can get in on the fun in November 2013.  Aurelie Tropez and Jean-Francois Bonnel will be there.  Jeff Barnhart and Daryl Sherman, too.  And Bent and his Buddies.

May your happiness increase.

LANCELOT TAKES MANHATTAN

Last Monday, the French stride wizard Olivier Lancelot flew in from Paris for ten days of tri-state jazz immersion — a duet gig at Smalls with Dan Levinson, and appearances at the Hot Steamed Jazz Festival in Essex, Connecticut, with serendipitious sitting-in here and there. 

Photograph by Lorna Sass.  Coptright 2008.

When Olivier sat down at the keyboard at Roth’s Westside Steakhouse (680 Columbus Avenue at 93rd Street) only five hours after his plane had landed, he looked serene and cheerful.  And he approached his four-hour gig with enthusiasm, playing nearly fifty songs in the course of the night, drawing on a huge repertoire.  His musical standrads are high: thus, no “Feelings,” no “The Way We Were,” no “New York, New York.”  Rather, he explored “Body and Soul,” “Smoke Gets In Your Eyes,” “That Old Feeling,” “Stompin’ at the Savoy,” “Darn That Dream,” “Blue Moon,” all at a gentle jog reminiscent of middle-period Teddy Wilson.  True to his reputation, he gave out with a few stride showpieces, most memorably “Handful of Keys” and a blazing “Song of the Vagabonds.”  A very pretty “La Vie En Rose” reminded us of Piaf and Louis at once, a neat accomplishment. 

But the unfamiliar material was even more intriguing: a song neither I nor the Beloved could place turned out to be “Somethin’ Stupid,” a Sixties AM radio hit for Frank and daughter Nancy Sinatra.  Late in the evening, driven by some private whimsy, Olivier went into “I Wanna Be Loved By You,” once the tradmark song of Helen Kane, reprised by Marilyn Monroe in SOME LIKE IT HOT.  Following that line of thought, he leapt into a jaunty “Diamonds Are A Girl’s Best Friend,” a song James P. Johnson would have loved — although who, besides Olivier, ever thought of it as worthy material?  “Do-Re-Mi,” from Rodgers and Hammerstein, became a Donald Lambert fantasy.  

Lancelot’s understanding of the music goes beyond his admirable facility at the keyboard.    Many players who identify themselves as stride (or Stride) piano specialists narrow the style as a double handful of composed pieces: here’s “Carolina Shout,” here’s “Russian Fantasy,” here’s “Keep Your Temper.”  Dick Wellstood, ever questing, extended this approach by playing Coltrane’s “Giant Steps” and “Rubber Duckie” (from SESAME STREET) as they would have been done uptown circa 1934.  Olivier has the technique and stamina to play ten or twelve choruses of violently athletic stride without strain, even though he pantomimed exhaustion (a giant wiping-of-the-forehead gesture) after his extravaganzas.  But he didn’t restrict himself to such fireworks: as he told me during the evening, playing these pieces too often in a set blurs the effect quickly.  Rather, he played stride patterns, casually and as a matter of course, remembering a time when that was the accepted way to play, at a variety of tempos — whether the song was an easy “Darn That Dream” or even “As Time Goes By,” suggesting Bogart and Bacall at Monroe’s Uptown House.  His rhythm was impeccable, his time steady, his bass lines varied (not just a metronomic oom-pah).  Combined with a light touch, he made it seem as if we had been invited into Fats’s living room to hear him play some tunes — informal and delightful.           

The last word belongs to our waiter Chad, a gracious import from the South.  “You know our regular pianist Ehud?  He sent this guy in for tonight — he’s from Paris.  Oh, this one’s great!” 

Yes, indeed.