Tag Archives: Paul Asaro

GUESS WHO’S IN TOWN? THE CHICAGO CELLAR BOYS at the SAN DIEGO JAZZ FEST: ANDY SCHUMM, JOHN OTTO, PAUL ASARO, JOHNNY DONATOWICZ, DAVE BOCK (Nov. 24, 2018)

The Chicago Cellar Boys are a lovely band — not only the easy swing, the ringing solos, the choice of material, the consistent lyricism, the faith that melody, played with feeling, is essential — but they have an ensemble conception, so that something pleasing is always going on.  Five pieces make a wonderful portable orchestra, where sweet and hot balance and show each other off by contrast.  People unfamiliar with this group might think it landlocked — a quintet devoting itself to Twenties and very early-Thirties music — but they would be wrong, because this is one of the most versatile groups I know: tempo, approach, arrangements, instrument-switching, and more.  They give great value!

I suggest that any listener who is deeply involved in creative improvisation, not only solos but ensemble timbres, the possibilities of a small group that transcend soloist-plus-rhythm, and the beauty of imaginative arrangements could study any one of these performances with the attention normally given to a hallowed OKeh or Oriole disc and be both enthralled and enlightened.

I’ve posted other videos of them herehere, and (with Colin Hancock sitting in) here.

The individual heroes are Andy Schumm, cornet, tenor, clarinet, arrangements; John Otto, clarinet, alto; Paul Asaro, piano, vocal; Johnny Donatowicz, banjo, guitar; Dave Bock, tuba.  Here they are at the 29th San Diego Jazz Fest, in a set performed on November 24, 2018.  They began with one of the classic late-Twenties songs about the glory to be found below the Mason-Dixon line:

and from the Clarence Williams book, by Maceo Pinkard, PILE OF LOGS AND STONE, another song glorifying the joys of rustic home life:

Thanks to Irving Berlin, Bing, and Ethel Waters:

Bless Don Redman is what I say:

LET’S DO THINGS is one of those songs I’d never known before (typically, I go away from a CCB set with new discoveries).  I was unable to find the composers, but I did stumble into a 1931 Hal Roach comedy of the same name starring ZaSu Pitts and Thelma Todd, in which the then new song THEM THERE EYES figures happily and prominently.  Here is the link to the film.  Now, the ingenious song (is it a Schumm concoction? Youth wants to know):

Another song I associate with Clarence Williams, NOBODY BUT MY BABY (IS GETTING MY LOVE):

Finally, James P. Johnson’s GUESS WHO’S IN TOWN — beloved of Ethel Waters and Max Kaminsky on Commodore:

There are many CCB videos (about thirty — yes!) still for me to share with you: I think I missed at most one and one-half of their sets at this jazz weekend.  So watch this space for more good news.

May your happiness increase!

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LET’S HEAT IT UP: COLIN HANCOCK MEETS THE CHICAGO CELLAR BOYS (San Diego Jazz Fest, Nov. 25, 2018): COLIN HANCOCK, ANDY SCHUMM, PAUL ASARO, JOHN OTTO, JOHNNY DONATOWICZ, DAVE BOCK

It’s January, and the temperatures are, shall we say, brisk.  Let’s assume your house has drafts — air pours through windows and air-conditioners — or it’s simply not that warm inside.  You could buy this to solve the problem:

or, in honor of the King of Swing, you could put on a sweater (credit to CLEO of Kildare Street, Dublin, Ireland):

 

But I have a more immediate solution, one that won’t require you to wait several days for a product to be shipped.  That is, you could invite — through cyberspace — Colin Hancock and the Chicago Cellar Boys over for a visit.  You can learn more about Colin, a tremendously gifted multi-instrumentalist, arranger, vocalist, bandleader, and scholar here, or on this blog here.  Colin was at the 39th San Diego Jazz Fest this past November with the Original Cornell Syncopators, and you will see some videos from their performances shortly.  But the Chicago Cellar Boys were also there — Andy Schumm, cornet, clarinet, saxophone; John Otto, reeds; Paul Asaro, piano, vocal; Johnny Donatowicz, guitar, banjo; Dave Bock, tuba.  Learn more about them here or on the blog here also.

At the San Diego Jazz Fest, there were two bright shining moments — Hot Camelot, if you will — when Colin sat in with the Chicago Cellar Boys and magic ensued.  See if the room temperature doesn’t rise.

SHIM-ME-SHA-WABBLE, for the New Orleans Rhythm Kings and the Chicagoans (and https://jazzlives.wordpress.com/2016/05/26/the-latest-prance-words-and-music/ is the music and lyrics for that intoxicating 1917 melody):

WEARY BLUES, for Johnny Dodds and Louis and generations to come:

It feels like May now, thanks to these great hot spirits.

May your happiness increase!

BY POPULAR DEMAND: THE CHICAGO CELLAR BOYS at the SAN DIEGO JAZZ FEST: ANDY SCHUMM, JOHN OTTO, JOHNNY DONATOWICZ, DAVE BOCK, PAUL ASARO (November 24, 2018)

Here’s the good news.  I took as many opportunities as I could, without slighting other much-loved bands, to hear and video the Chicago Cellar Boys at the 2018 San Diego Jazz Fest.  Although I had some technical difficulties with my camera, I came home with over forty performances captured on video.  Here’s the second installment (the first offering is here).

There is no bad news.

LOVIN’ SAM FROM ALABAM’ (one of those songs particular to that decade that celebrates the amorous magic of a legendary figure — in some versions, Sam is also a Sheik, thus getting double credit):

THE THINGS THAT WERE MADE FOR LOVE:

WHO’S SIT? (originally recorded by the Hot Five, and some bright person suggested recently that the title we see here was missing a letter, but I propose that Mr. Fearn would not let that title be printed on an OKeh label):

APEX BLUES (for Messrs.  Noone and Poston):

BLUE BLACK BOTTOM (homage to Fats, piano solo by Paul Asaro):

SAXOPHONE SAM:

TIA JUANA (thinking of the Wolverines):

BEER GARDEN BLUES (a 1933 Clarence Williams song that I am sure celebrates the end of Prohibition, with a group vocal — later, Clarence, always industrious, gave it new lyrics as SWING, BROTHER, SWING, predating the Basie / Billie song of the same title, which had a different set of composers — one of them Walter Bishop Sr., whom my father worked with at Movietone News:

If you’ve listened closely to any of these performances, perhaps these words will be superfluous.  Although the CCB is (are?) young in terms of the calendar — born in 2017 — they are a glorious working band: yes, their solos are magnificently realized, sweet or hot; they are masters of Tonation and Phrasing — but they are a band, with gratifying ensemble telepathy.

Add to that their love of unusual repertoire, from the deeply sentimental to the searing, from love songs to dark blues; add to that the orchestrally-wise arrangements where something beautiful is always going on, the instrumental doubling that makes this quintet seem like a whole host of bands . . . may they go on and prosper for a long long time.  Each set was full of surprises, songs I’d never heard or heard of before, and songs I knew but heard for their first time — played with such conviction, intelligence, and joyous expertise.  Yes, there are homages to Noone, the Wolverines, and the Hot Five, but nothing’s hackneyed: this band loves later Clarence Williams and obscure territory bands, as well as songs possibly never recorded but still full of melodic substance.

They bring me (and others, of course) so much joy.

You can, as they say, find the CCB here on Facebook.  And two other bits of relevant information: the CCB is a smaller version of the delightful band, the Fat Babies, and the CCB has a steady Sunday-night gig here in Chicago’s Pilsen neighborhood.  I’ve never been, but Charles has promised to take me.  And I hear that a CD of the band is in the making.

For the historians among us — here is the Blessed Antecedent:

May your happiness increase!

WE SAVOR THE RITUALS (WITH A SMALL UPDATE): THANKSGIVING at THE SAN DIEGO JAZZ FEST (Nov. 21-25, 2018)

Even in the midst of darkness there are always reasons to be thankful.  Here is a detail from the classic Norman Rockwell portrait of a late-November American celebration, make of it and its assumptions (culinary, sociological, political) what you will.

But this post is about another ritual of communal gratitude, another place to give thanks: the thirty-ninth San Diego Jazz Fest, held this year from November 21 through the 25th. My update (as of late November 11) is to offer the flyer below, and to point out something I didn’t know when I’d written this blogpost — that the Saturday night Swing Extravaganza will also feature the wonderful band Michael Gamble and the Rhythm Serenaders with the wonderful singer Laura Windley. Add that piece of news into your computations.

I’m sitting here with the band schedule in front of me, and can narrate my own pleasure-map of delights for the weekend.  How about dance lessons, opportunities for “jammers” to play with others of their ilk, a Saturday night swing extravaganza?  Ongoing solo piano recitals featuring Kris Tokarski, Vinnie Armstrong, Stephanie Trick, Carl Sonny Leyland, Conal Fowkes, Paolo Alderighi, Paul Asaro, Marty Eggers, Virginia Tichenor?  Then sets by the Dawn Lambeth Trio featuring Marc Caparone, High Sierra, Grand Dominion, the Chicago Cellar Boys, the On the Levee Jazz Band, the Original Cornell Syncopators, the Heliotrope Ragtime Orchestra, Katie Cavera, Clint Baker, Hal Smith, Yerba Buena Stompers, Titanic, Colin Hancock, Charlie Halloran, Ben Polcer, Joe Goldberg, John Gill, Kevin Dorn, Andy Schumm, John Otto, Leon Oakley, Tom Bartlett, and more.

And more.  At any given moment at the fest, let us say on a Saturday, the music goes from breakfast to wooziness — 9 AM to near midnight — in six separate locations.  Using my right index finger (the highly-skilled instrument for such computations) I counted sixty-six sets of music on Saturday, sets either 45 minutes or an hour.

At other festivals, that would make for transportation difficulties (a euphemism for “How am I going to get to that other building before the band starts?) but since all the action is contained in one building, even people with limited mobility make it in before the music starts.

Did I mention that everyone I’ve ever dealt with at San Diego has been terribly nice, including such luminaries of cheer and comfort as Paul Daspit and Gretchen Haugen?  This is no small thing.

And for those of you who think you will be deprived of Thanksgiving edibles (which means “too much food”) as depicted by Mr. Rockwell above, take heart. There is a splendiferous buffet served on Thursday from 2 to 6 — you can reserve a place there, with a discount for those who do so before November 15: details here.  If you’re vegetarian or vegan, you’ll still totter out of there, quite stuffed.

I am a late adopter who hasn’t made all 38 festivals (to explain why would tax all your five wits) but when I did make my way to the Fest, of course it was video camera at the ready.  And here are three sets that pleased me greatly.  I have shot several hundred videos, and that’s no stage joke, but I don’t feel right about using videos of X if X isn’t at this year’s festival.  But the three sets below feature people who are alive and well for this year.  First, here are the Cornell Syncopators featuring Katie Cavera in 2017.  Then, here are the Yerba Buena Stompers in 2016, and here are Marc Caparone and Conal Fowkes paying tribute to Louism also in 2017.

Going back to 2009, I remember when I first started this blog, I used Rae Ann Berry’s videos as glimpses of the Promised Land.  Here, for example, is John Gill paying tribute, beautifully, to Mister Crosby, in 2009:

Why am I concluding this post with PENNIES FROM HEAVEN and John’s beautiful rendition?  It seems an obvious message as far as the San Diego Jazz Fest is concerned, this year or in years to come. Good things are coming, the lyrics say, but you can’t hide under a treeIf you bestir yourself on Monday, November 26, you’ll have to wait a whole year for this opportunity to be grateful amidst friends and lovely heated music.  Take a look here and you will be glad you did.  See you there.

May your happiness increase!

“MUSICALLY, IT WAS AN ECCENTRIC TIME IN AMERICA”: THE CHICAGO CELLAR BOYS at STUDIO 5 (Chicago, June 16, 2018)

Sometimes it feels lonely up here on the mountaintop — as if I’m the only one doing what I do, proselytizing and broadcasting heartfelt improvised music (modern-traditional-lyrical-Hot-call-it-whatever-you-like).  But I know that’s not true, and I am always getting reassuring surprises from the cyber-world.

It’s a long, beautifully video-ed and recorded live session by the Chicago Cellar Boys (the link is to their new website) — the more recent band-within-a-band of The Fat Babies, at Studio 5.  (They appear every Sunday night at the Honly Tonk BBQ in Chicago’s Pilsen neighborhood.)

The Chicago Cellar Boys take their name from a 1930 group that had Frank Melrose, Wingy Manone, Frank Teschemacher, Bud Freeman, George Wettling.  (Now Tom Lord says that the accordionist is Charles Magnante, which makes so much more sense than “Charles Melrose” — but I digress.)

The CCB are Andy Schumm, cornet, clarinet, tenor sax; John Otto, clarinet, alto sax; John Donatowicz, banjo, guitar; Paul Asaro, piano, vocals; Dave Bock, tuba.  And they are a wonderful mix of hot music, dance tunes, pop hilarity, arranged passages and “charts,” and delicious improvisations.

I won’t list the songs played — you can find the blisses and surprises for yourself — because I want to be sure to get this boon out to as many people as I can right now.  Thanks to the band, to Steve Rashid, and to Studio 5 for making such a wonderful explosion of art accessible to all of us:

The CCB will also be at this November’s San Diego Jazz Fest, so if I can fight my way to a seat in the front, there might be other videos.  And I understand they have made their first recording. “Wow wow wow!” as my friend and role model Anna Katsavos still says.

May your happiness increase!

BEAUTIFUL RARE SOUNDS: JAKE SANDERS, “ESTRELLAS DE RADIO”

I first encountered Jake Sanders almost a decade ago at Banjo Jim’s, when he was the leader of the Cangelosi Cards, the group that had Tamar Korn as its vocal improvising genius.  Later I followed him to other Cards gigs and an especially wonderful rainy evening in a dance studio where he swung like mad, Charlie Christian style, on electric guitar.  When he moved to Chicago, I saw and heard him with the Fat Babies in person, on record, and on video, and now he is blazing his own paths.  (Most recently for me, in a trio with Dennis Lichtman and Jared Engel which appeared at The Django in New York City — lovely eloquent music.)

His new CD is what we used to call a doozy, precisely because it follows no narrow formula.  Here’s a sample of the music Jake loves and plays with great feeling — captured at the February 2018 CD release party in Mexico City:

And here you can buy an actual disc or download the music (each for the low price of $10 USD) or hear four of the thirteen tracks, in case you need convincing.

and here is the prose (not by me) that accompanies the music:

Estrellas de Radio features the sounds of acoustic and electric guitar, mandolin, violin, piano, and upright bass. The songs and styles range across a broad spectrum of traditions, drawing from or expanding upon the roots of American jazz. The album features beautiful waltzes, rags, blues, and band arrangements of four guitar solos originally published in the 30’s which have never been previously recorded. Three of these rare and unique compositions are credited to guitar legend Nick Lucas.

Recorded over a two year period by Alex Hall at Reliable Records in Chicago, the album features a host of musicians from New York, Chicago and Detroit; these include: Jared Engel, Dalton Ridenhour, Dennis Lichtman, Aaron Jonah Lewis, Beau Sample, Paul Asaro, and Patrick Donley.

Three tracks feature the exceptional sounds of Fraulini Guitars hand-crafted by the esteemed luthier Todd Cambio. (Jake Sanders plays an Annunziata on Serate Primaverili, Speranze Perdute, and Flappers Trot; Patrick Donley plays an Angie on Speranze Perdute).

While the early Italian pioneers of the jazz guitar Nick Lucas and Eddie Lang made their mark on 20th century music, an earlier generation of Italian string virtuoso were also recording in America. Masters such as Giovanni Gioviale and Giovanni Vicari brought old world sounds to the new world. L’Ultimo and Serate Primaverili are adaptations of Giovale’s brilliant compositions originally conceived for mandolin. Speranze Perdute was inspired by a recording by Giovanni Vicari, as was the mazurka Mia Carina, which he recorded with The Continental Trio.

While Nick Lucas is famous amongst jazz aficionados both as a vocalist and for his early recorded guitar solos (Picking the Guitar and Teasing the Frets), he is also credited with composing numerous guitar solos which were never recorded, but appeared in folios and early flat-picking method books. Bootlegger’s Blues, Flappers Trot, and Gold Diggers are all examples of Lucas guitar solos which exist as sheet music, but have not been recorded until now.

The exquisite waltz, Margaret, that appears as a piece in The Nick Lucas Guitar Method Vol. 1, however, was composed by J. Nicomede. Sanders’ unique conception and arrangements of these songs are drawn from his nearly 20 years of playing roots music. (Flappers Trot, guitar and piano) (Bootlegger’s Blues, Gold Diggers, Margaret, guitar, violin, piano, bass).

Let Me Call You Sweetheart and Wang Wang Blues are classically-styled guitar and mandolin duets arranged in studio. Charleston Rag, known as a piano solo, is heard here uniquely arranged for piano, guitar, and upright bass. The Memphis Shakedown, made famous by the Memphis Jug band, is a common tune for old-time and jug bands performing today. However on Estrellas de Radio the tune becomes something altogether different, achieving new sounds in old music. The Sunset Blues is the album’s one original composition. Like any blues it borrows from the past, however its spare style, unusual form, and crafted melody give it a sound all its own.

ABOUT JAKE SANDERS:

Jake Sanders is a guitarist, bandleader, and arranger, whose musical career began in New York City at the end of the last century. After years as a street performer, playing jazz and American traditional music, Sanders formed the popular roots band, The Cangelosi Cards. They performed nightly in the back rooms and bars of the East Village, but soon traveled well beyond Manhattan, playing shows from Shanghai to Stockholm. After years with the Cards, Jake joined The Fat Babies, an acclaimed hot jazz band which continues to perform weekly at Chicago’s world famous Green Mill Cocktail Lounge. His last album with the group, Solid Gassuh (Delmark Records), made DownBeat Magazine’s “Best of 2017” list – a rare feat for a traditional jazz band in modern times.

A long time musical collaborator with vocalist and world-renowned Lindy hop champion, Naomi Uyama, Jake both plays guitar and arranges for her swing outfit, Naomi & Her Handsome Devils. Sanders has recorded with the great stride and ragtime piano player Paul Asaro, and has been featured on record and stage with the Jonathan Doyle Swingtet.

Jake Sanders has performed at The Chicago Jazz Festival, The Detroit Jazz Festival and The Brooklyn Folk Festival as well as countless clubs, dance halls and theaters throughout North America. Jake’s guitar playing has brought him across Europe and Asia and he is a regular performer in-residence at Cracovia 32, home of the emerging swing scene in Mexico City. As a solo performer or with the Handsome Devils, The Dotted Halves trio or with the quintet, The Lovestruck Balladeers, Jake Sanders is a consummate traveling musician who can be heard far and wide.

A few words from me, on behalf of JAZZ LIVES.  I trust Jake’s taste completely, so even though some of the compositions on this disc are not Hot Music in the established sense, I fell in love with the sounds here at first playing.  The only reason this post is written at the end of May rather than a few months earlier is because I wanted actual discs to play in the car.  I’ve amazed a number of unsuspecting passengers with ESTRELLAS DE RADIO, and one even said, “Michael, I didn’t know you liked beautiful music like this!”  I do, and you will.

May your happiness increase!

PLEASING TO THE EAR: KIM CUSACK and PAUL ASARO IN DUET (August 31, 2015)

It’s no doubt very archaic of me, but I like music to sound good: to paraphrase Eddie Condon, to come in the ear like honey rather than broken glass.  And this duet recital by Kim Cusack, clarinet, and Paul Asaro, piano and vocal, is just the thing.  I hadn’t known of it when it was new, so I hope it will be a pleasant surprise to others: recorded at the PianoForte studios in Chicago, introduced by Neil Tesser of the Chicago Jazz Institute.

Kim and Paul gently explore a dozen songs, with roots in Waller, Morton, James P. Johnson, Isham Jones, and Walter Donaldson, Maceo Pinkard.  It’s a set list that would have been perfectly apropos in 1940, but there’s nothing antiquarian about this hour-long session . . . just two colleagues and friends in tune with one another making music.

For those keeping score, that’s A MONDAY DATE; SUGAR; I’VE GOT A FEELING I’M FALLING; I’M CRAZY ‘BOUT MY BABY (vocal, Paul); OLD FASHIONED LOVE; RIFFS (Paul, solo); ON THE ALAMO; MISTER JELLY LORD (vocal, Paul); WOLVERINE BLUES; YOU’RE DRIVING ME CRAZY; BLUE, TURNING GREY OVER YOU; BLUES MY NAUGHTY SWEETIE GIVES TO ME.  All standards of “the repertoire,” but played and sung with subtlety, charm, and life.

Postscript: PianoForte Studios was also home to another wonderful duet recital, guitarist Andy Brown and pianist Jeremy Kahn in 2017, which you can enjoy here.

May your happiness increase!