Tag Archives: Paul Dresser

“MY GAL SAL”: KRIS TOKARSKI, JONATHAN DOYLE, HAL SMITH, LARRY SCALA, NOBU OZAKI, MARC CAPARONE at SAN DIEGO (Nov. 26, 2017)

Imagine a small band, perfectly balanced, without excess in any way, that honors the Basie rhythm section, the Goodman Sextet with Charlie Christian, Fifty-Second Street, steadiness, great lyricism, allying Teddy Wilson and Al Capone for a few minutes.  What if you didn’t have to imagine this marvel?  Yes, they existed for more than five sets — outside the recording studio — and you can enjoy them here.

The generous benefactors of small-band swing are Kris Tokarski, piano; Jonathan Doyle, tenor saxophone; Hal Smith, drums; Larry Scala, guitar; Nobu Ozaki, string bass; Marc Caparone, trumpet.  All of this took place on Sunday, November 26, 2017, at the San Diego Jazz Fest.

The song they chose was the venerable MY GAL SAL, from 1905, music and lyrics by Paul Dresser, whose older brother Theodore Dreiser — the original family name — is more famous, although Theodore could never restrict himself to thirty-two bars.  Paul’s story is fascinating and sad: read about it here.

Hal Smith reminded us that SAL was Al Capone’s favorite song.

It’s one of those harmonically simple compositions that can be played at a number of tempos, but Kris wisely starts it off at an easy bounce.

A digression.  I am a relentless armchair critic.  Even though my own musicianship is at best faded, I sit in front of the speaker or the musicians or the video and say (thank goodness, silently) “That tempo is too fast.  He missed a chord in the bridge.  She could have taken a third chorus!” and so on.  But in this performance I wouldn’t change a note, a tone, an inflection, from intro to riffs to the ending.  It’s “in the pocket” deeply and splendidly, a Keynote session realized in front of our eyes in 2017.

During this set, someone’s phone in the audience rang and rang, and Marc Caparone, dangerously witty, said to us, “Teddy Wilson’s calling. He wants his rhythm section back.”

I will post more videos by this band, because I followed Kris, Jonathan, Larry, Hal, and Nobu for five hour-long sets at San Diego.  And if you haven’t seen the other performance I’ve posted — an absolute masterpiece — check it out here.

What a blessing to see and hear these musicians, and a greater blessing to be able to share their work with you.

P.S.  (Pro tip for aspiring videographers: we in the trade ask the musicians for their permission to shoot video before the music starts, and we clear it with the musicians before posting.  That’s what makes us different from the amateur with the iPhone at the back of the room.)

May your happiness increase!

“IS IT HOT IN HERE?” “NO, IT’S THE BAND”: HOT CLASSICISM ON THE RIVER (KRIS TOKARSKI, ANDY SCHUMM, HAL SMITH) SEPT. 23, 2016, PART TWO

HOT CLASSICISM is the name adopted by Kris Tokarski, piano; Andy Schumm, cornet and clarinet; Hal Smith, drums.  I am proud to know them and happy to hear them.  This is the second part of their set on the Steamboat Natchez during the 2016 Steamboat Stomp; here is the first.

What follows is another lively tour of all the shadings of hot, inspired by the heroes of Chicago, New Orleans, New York, and elsewhere — precision without stuffiness, eagerness without chaos.  The repertoire is classic but not exhausted, and the performances are vibrant.

NOBODY’S SWEETHEART NOW:

MISTER JOE:

JUST GONE:

MY GAL SAL:

TOM CAT BLUES (a duet for Andy and Kris):

STOMP OFF, LET’S GO!:

Wonderful cohesive inspired music.  Follow Kris, Hal, and Andy on Facebook to track down their next gigs.

May your happiness increase!

STEVE PISTORIUS: “NEW ORLEANS SHUFFLE”

I feel as if I’ve been listening to recorded music all my life, and the discs and tapes I’ve managed to acquire certainly testify to this.  

Long-time listeners like myself are also involuntary editors, revisers, and critics. Put on a new CD and we want to enjoy it wholly, but often the small whirring section of the brain that points out details comes in to play.  “I’m so glad they are playing that song, but why at that tempo?”  “Great band, but adding a trombone would have been even nicer.”  “Did that soloist have to stop after one chorus?”  You get the idea.  

We can’t help ourselves, and the Ideal Sound we hold in our heads — imagined, rarely heard — can be an awful burden.

Thus, it’s a real pleasure to alert you to a new CD, so special that I could instantly tell the critical cortex to take a nap.  It’s that good.

PISTORIUS

I had heard and admired Steve for some years through recordings, but when I heard him in person for the first time last October at Duke Heitger’s Steamboat Stomp, I was even more impressed with his depth of feeling and immersion in the music.

He doesn’t offer anything formulaic; he creates wonderful melodies and generous, leafy counterpoint; his pulse is always irresistible, even on a slow blues. Many capable players build little stylistic boxes and settle in for the duration: it could be their planned approach to the material, their choice of songs, the way they envision their bands.

Steve is more a free-floating spirit, with his goal being to inhabit every song fully as its own musical performance.  No artifice, nothing but a kind of light-hearted yet inense candor, which makes his work sing . . . even when he isn’t.  What he creates isn’t “traditional” or “New Orleans” or “Dixieland” jazz — but swinging dance music with a new rhythm for every track.

All of that would sound as if this were another Pistorius solo recital: rocking piano that bridges old traditions and new energies, and witty yet heartfelt singing of ballads, blues, naughty songs, and stomps.

But there’s much more on NEW ORLEANS SHUFFLE, because it’s a quartet with Orange Kellin, clarinet; James Evans, clarinet and alto saxophone; Tyler Thomson, string bass.  To the purists, that might seem like an incomplete band, but this quartet is richly fulfilling. They don’t strive to offer contemporary copies of anyone from the Apex Club Orchestra to Soprano Summit: they sound like four generous fellows having a wonderful time in an informal setting. Not the clamor of angry stellar jays fighting for primacy in a nearby tree; nothing shrill or loud, just communal fun in sweet exploration.

The quartet neatly and surprisingly balances the rough, even raw possibilities of the clarinet with the elegance of the alto, and it’s all supported by Steve’s left hand and the buoyant playing of Thomson, a gifted player in the school of Pops Foster and Milt Hinton.  I’ve always admired the fierce honesty of Orange Kellin’s playing: he plays like a man speaking his inmost thoughts — but those thoughts swing as they tumble out of him.  James Evans is new to me, and he is also a fine clarinetist, but I was even more impressed by his honeyed alto playing — the way people who weren’t wooed away by Bird stuck to their original impulses about saxophone playing.

The quartet is a model small community, where something engaging is always going on, players trading melody and improvisation, lead and counterpoint.  And the beat goes on from the first note to the last.  The repertoire is immensely delightful — songs by Bechet, Dodds, Tony Jackson, Jelly, Natty Dominique, Bill Whitmore, Joe Oliver, but also by Berlin, Carmichael, Lorenzo Barcelata, Albert Howard, and Paul Dresser — a far cry from the done-to-death songs that characterize “traditional” playing: NEW ORLEANS SHUFFLE / BABY, I’D LOVE TO STEAL YOU / DANS LES RUE D’ANTIBES / BECHET’S FANTASY / BULL FIDDLE BLUES ? WAITING AT THE END OF THE ROAD / WORKING MAN BLUES / MARIA ELENA / LADY LOVE / BLUE BLOOD BLUES / JUBILEE / AS TU LE CAFARD / TUCK ME TO SLEEP IN MY OLD ‘TUCKY HOME / GEORGIA CABIN / MY GAL SAL.  Nicely recorded in several 2013 sessions.  Honest, lively, feeling music.

I wish this were a working and touring band, and that I had a whole sheaf of videos of it to share with you.  But I don’t.  You’ll have to trust me about just how good this disc is.

To purchase a copy, please send $20 to the Man Himself (no rolls of quarters, please — check or IMO): Steve Pistorius, 306 Florida Boulevard, New Orleans, Louisiana 70124.  And something better than the usual bills will soon be in your mailbox.  “I guarantee it,” as Justin Wilson used to say.

May your happiness increase!

“THIS BAND PLAYS WITH A PASSION”: RAY SKJELBRED and HIS CUBS (Feb. 10, 2012

Many jazz bands — hoping to please their audiences — specialize in Fast and Loud.  The team of F&L has their place, for sure, but they grow wearisome quickly.

A band that shows what can be done within the infinite variety of “medium tempo” and with remarkable dynamics is one led by pianist / singer / composer Ray Skjelbred — his CUBS.  For this occasion, the Cubs are Kim Cusack, clarinet; Katie Cavera, guitar; Clint Baker, string bass; Hal Smith, drums.

Sweet, soft, plenty rhythm!

And it seems to me that everyone in this band grows more lyrical each time I hear them — in solos and in their cohesive ensemble playing.

A lovely Thirties song immortalized by Billie, Lester, Teddy, Buck, and the Basie rhythm section without the Count, A SAILBOAT IN THE MOONLIGHT:

Memories of Ethel Waters and Jack Teagarden in I JUST COULDN’T TAKE IT, BABY — sung casually and with heart by Hal Smith:

Paul Dresser’s MY GAL SAL, with a conversational vocal chorus by Mr. Skjelbred (this performance is the source of my title):

BLUES FOR SIR CHARLES — that’s the still-active (at 93) swing master Sir Charles Thompson; in this performance the Cubs evoke the lovely glide that Charles and friends created on the Buck Clayton Jam Sessions:

Thanks to the peripatetic Rae Ann Berry for recording these videos for us, and the Fresno Dixieland Society for creating their “Sounds of Mardi Gras,” presented Feb. 9-12 in Fresno, California.  If you visit Rae Ann’s YouTube channel, SFRaeAnn,  you’ll see many more performances by the Cubs, by the Grand Dominion Jazz Band, and the Climax Jazz Band — beautifully captured for your listening and dancing pleasure.

Tasty!

GRATITUDE IN 4/4 (Part Four): THE YERBA BUENA STOMPERS at the 2011 SAN DIEGO THANKSGIVING DIXIELAND JAZZ FESTIVAL (thanks to Rae Ann Berry)

Good for stompin’, to quote Oran Page.  Here’s some truly heartfelt hot jazz from the 2011 San Diego Thanksgiving Dixieland Jazz Festival — thanks to Paul Daspit, who brought these glorious musicians together and made sure everyone on and off the stand was beaming, and more of the same to our own “SFRaeAnn,” Rae Ann Berry, whose devotion to the music sends it around the world in the very best ways: her up-to-date list of hot jazz gigs in the area on www.sfraeann.com and her YouTube channel here.

The Yerba Buena Stompers, led by banjoist / singer John Gill, improve the air whenever they play.  In this incarnation, recorded on November 24 and 25, 2011, in two sets, the YBS took its repertoire in part from the songs that Alan Adams — the late trombonist and San Diego festival director — loved to play.  Alan had good taste, and this is the way to be remembered!

In addition to Mister Gill, the band sported Kevin Dorn, drums; Conal Fowkes, piano; Clint Baker, tuba; Tom Bartlett, trombone; Orange Kellin, clarinet, and the brass superheroes Leon Oakley and Duke Heitger on cornet and trumpet, respectively.

Here’s MUSK(R)AT RAMBLE, played at the nice tempo it began its life at:

And that rocking lament, SOMEBODY STOLE MY GAL, explicated by Duke:

Another GAL, who stayed where she was, was Paul Dresser’s loyal MY GAL SAL:

A brisk exploration of WABASH BLUES:

One of the great early hit songs of the last century, ROSES OF PICARDY (again taken at such a sweet tempo — balancing Hot and Sentimental perfectly). The trumpet conversation after Orange’s solo is priceless:

Something for Johnny Dodds — circa 1926, Chicago — FLAT FOOT:

A less-known invitation to the dance from the Hot Five repertoire, with an inviting vocal by John — and dig the trumpet / cornet sound on the verse, and their colloquy after the vocal:

Finally, an evocation of Louis and Papa Joe, RIVERSIDE BLUES:

Come on and Stomp!

THE SECOND WHITLEY BAY JAM SESSION (July 10, 2010)

Jam sessions don’t always work out.  But the one that took place in the Victory Pub on Saturday, July 10, 2010, during the Whitley Bay International Jazz Festival, succeeded nobly.  And I stopped finding the television screens distracting as soon as the music began. 

The core group, “Doc’s Night Owls,” remained — and grew.  Michel Bastide, cornet; Matthias Seuffert, reeds; Jacob Ullberger, banjo; Christian LeFevre, brass bass, Martin Seck, washboard, were joined by Mike Durham, trumpet and master organizer; Andy Schumm, cornet; Ian Smith, cornet; Jean-Francois Bonnel, reeds; Attila Korb, trombone; Nicolas Montier, alto sax . . . and various gifted enthusiastic players.  I apologize to anyone I haven’t identified above: it’s not discourtesy, but having my hands full (thus taking poor notes).  And the players at a jam session don’t always introduce themselves.  So I will add identifications if and when they are supplied!

Perhaps owing to the previous set, the repertoire had a deep Twenties feel.  They began with the Dodds classic, FORTY AND TIGHT.  A prize to the reader(s) who can unravel the etymology of that slang praise.  “Tight,” I can certainly guess at, but “forty” as an accolade?  Research! — while the music is playing, please:

The next song was again associated with Johnny Dodds (and in more recent times, Soprano Summit), OH, DADDY (with or without comma or exclamation point, the meaning is clear):

In memory of Clarence Williams, Alberta Hunter, Sidney Bechet, and Louis Armstrong, someone suggested CAKE WALKING BABIES FROM HOME (although there were no titanic solo duels here — the atmosphere was more friendly than combative):

With Andy Schumm in evidence, there is always the possibility that the Twenties will include that young fellow from Davenport, Iowa, whose shade surfaced most pleasingly for SAN.  How nice that this band knew the verse as well:

And the last song I captured was (and is) a good old good one from the Midwest, full of sweet sentiment, MY GAL SAL (by Paul Dresser, brother of the more celebrated novelist Theodore Dreiser — I prefer Paul’s works to his brother’s, but that’s a purely personal statement — they get to the point more quickly and with greater effectiveness):

The collective ensemble began AT THE JAZZ BAND BALL — which, in retrospect, I regret having missed — but my video-taping arm had begun to quiver and I feared the rest of me would shortly follow suit.  But I hope that these videos suggest some of the delicious enthusiasm and deep artistry that ruled this evening.  Victory indeed!

BIX FEST 2010: GALS and RIVERS and MONDAY

These videos were taken by the multi-talented Jamaica Knauer at Phil Pospychala’s “Tribute to Bix,” the most recent celebration of Bix Beiderbecke’s life and art.  Cornetist Andy Schumm and his Gang — that’s Dave Bock (trombone), John Otto (reeds), Leah Bezin (banjo / guitar), David Boeddinghaus (piano), Vince Giordano (bass sax, string bass, tuba, vocals), and Josh Duffee (drums) performed a number of selections either recorded by Bix or evoking him.  Appropriately, the music was played on Bix’s birthday — at the Bavarian Inn in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. 

There are perhaps unintentional thematic connections here, easy to find.

MY GAL SAL (written by Paul Dresser, brother of novelist Theodore Dreiser):

SOMEBODY STOLE MY GAL (was it a pal of Sal or another gal?):

SLOW RIVER (harking back to the Goldkette band):

RIVERBOAT SHUFFLE (for the Wolverines and the 1927 recording with Frank Trumbauer):

Finally, because it’s Thursday, here’s the very antidote to Blue Monday, a cheerful FROM MONDAY ON:

Anyone who’s paying attention won’t need me to point to the special pleasures — the ringing playing of the front line, relaxed and hot; the rocking rhythm section, and the wonderfully steady tempos — but these performances will please over and over.  This band knows the records and the idiom inside-out but no one feels compelled to copy the famous solos.  And the smile on Josh Duffee’s face sums it all up for me.