My title comes from a wonderful Bobby Hackett Capitol record date where Bobby (New York by profession, Massachusetts by birth) went out to California with one Jack Teagarden and played with the West Coast boys — COAST CONCERT or COAST TO COAST. Years ago, such sessions were both novel and fashionable — one side of a Columbia lp devoted to Eddie Condon, the other to the Rampart Street Paraders, or “battles” between East and West Coast players.
No battle here, no head-cutting or manicuring, just beauty.
Last Sunday, the EarRegulars were having a wonderful time at The Ear Inn (326 Spring Street) — they were Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Matt Munisteri, guitar; Pete Martinez, clarinet; Frank Tate, bass. They devoted their first set to GREAT JAZZ CITIES OF THE WORLD (without saying a word): thus, CALIFORNIA, HERE I COME; ‘WAY DOWN YONDER IN NEW ORLEANS; a slow-drag CHICAGO; ST. LOUIS BLUES; MEMPHIS BLUES, and a few others. Exquisite soloing, interplay, and creativity.
But I had noticed two familiar faces who nearly surprised me off my barstool — the great San Francisco acoustic guitarist Craig Ventresco and the singer Meredith Axelrod. They were in town for a flying unannounced family visit — celebrating Craig’s parents’ fiftieth anniversary (hooray for Mr. and Mrs. Ventresco of Maine, hooray!).
Matt Munisteri, bless him, had known Craig was coming . . . so he brought a second guitar for Craig to play. And lovely things happened. I knew Craig from my jazz rebirth in 2005 — he played with the Red Onion Jazz Band as well as other floating ensembles (often in the noble company of Kevin Dorn, Jesse Gelber, Barbara Rosene, Michael Bank): he is the poet of archaic music that should never be forgotten — waltzes, stomps, blues, rags, tangos, pop songs — but he also brings depth and richness to any ensemble he’s in. And Meredith is an unusual combination of demure and passionate, as you’ll hear.
After the set break, everyone settled in for four long sweet performances, which I present here with great delight and pride. You’ll hear musical jokes, echoes of Lonnie Johnson and Eddie Lang, the Mississippi Delta coming to Soho, and a great ocean-swell rocking swing . . . music to live for!
They began with the seductively rolling WABASH BLUES — its climbing and descending lines gaining momentum although never getting louder or faster. Jon-Erik preached through his plunger mute (his sermons are secular but compelling); Pete Martinez showed himself a wonderful dramatic actor on the clarinet, alternating between the primitive and serene; Matt’s lines rang and chimed; Frank brought forth his own brand of casual eloquence. And Craig played as if sitting on the porch, with all the time in the world:
“Perfect!” you can hear Terry Waldo say — the only thing anyone could say!
After some discussion, the quintet arrived at ROSE ROOM (was it a memory of Charlie Christian or just a good tune to jam on): I savor the conversation between Jon-Erik and Pete in the second chorus, followed by the string section and Pete. Then there’s Mister Tate, the Abraham Lincoln of the string bass — every note resonating with joy and seriousness. He knows how to do it, he does! And then the band, led by Slidin’ Jon Kellso, eases into a rocking motion that would have made the Goodman Sextet of 1941 happy. (I thought also of the way Ruby Braff slid and danced over his two guitars and bass viol in 1974-5, not a bad memory to have.) Matt winds and sways in his own fashion — it’s like observing a championship skater improvising on the ice, isn’t it? And those deliciously playful conversations between Pete and Jon-Erik, then Matt and Craig . . . then some powerful riffing and jiving. Wow, as we say!
Charlie Levenson, patron saint of informal jazz, suggested SOMEDAY SWEETHEART, and although it was late and ordinary circumstances a closing hot tune would have been the only choice, it was clear that the EarRegulars were having such a good time that no one wanted to end the music a moment too soon. The EarRegulars and Craig immediately settle into a kind of well-oiled glide that summons up Joe Venuti, Eddie Lang, Jack Teagarden, and Benny Goodman — or perhaps an imagined Vanguard Records session — swaying sweetly for a good long time. Soulful is the word for this performance:
For the closing song, Jon-Erik brought Meredith up for MY BLUE HEAVEN — that pastoral / domestic celebration. Only a very few singers are invited to sit in at The Ear, but Meredith stepped right into the role! Celebration was what I felt, and I daresay that my joy was shared by many people at The Ear — with more to come because of these videos. And — since I love cats — Pete’s solo reminds me so much of a kitten with a toy furry mouse, turning it over and batting it around. He is at the very apex — ask another clarinetist, such as Dan Block! While the fellows were playing, the political news was on the television above — and Jon-Erik wove DING, DONG, THE WITCH IS DEAD! and YOU RASCAL YOU into his solo — although JAZZ LIVES isn’t about politics but sharing beauty:
This is what Fifty-Second Street must have sounded like. Only better! And it exists here and now. What blessings!