Tag Archives: Peggy Lee

WELCOME, JESS KING!* (with Clint Baker’s New Orleans Jazz Band, Jazz Bash by the Bay, March 8, 2020) [*AGAIN!]

It’s presumptuous of me to welcome Jess King — a warm-hearted swinging singer and banjo-guitarist-percussionist — to the world, since she has been making music in the Bay Area most happily for a time.  But this is the first opportunity I have to post videos of her performance, so that could count as a welcome — to JAZZ LIVES, at least.  [On Facebook, she’s Jessica King Music.]

I knew of her work for some time with Clint Baker’s All-Stars at Cafe Borrone, performances documented by Rae Ann Berry, and a few other lovely videos of Jess with hero-friends Nick Rossi and Bill Reinhart, and Jeff Hamilton at Bird and Beckett, have appeared in the usual places. . . such as here, which is her own YouTube channel.  I am directing you there because there are — horrors! — other people with the same name on YouTube.  The impudence.

In researching this post, however, I found that my idea of “welcome” above was hilariously inaccurate, because I had posted videos of Jess singing with Clint’s band at a Wednesday Night Hop on January 8, 2014.  That’s a long time back, and I am not posting the videos here because she might think of them as juvenilia, but both she and I were in the same space and moment, which shows that a) she’s been singing well for longer than I remembered, and b) that it’s a good thing that I am wielding a video camera rather than something really dangerous, like a scissors.  I tell myself, “It was really dark there.  I apologize.”

But enough verbiage.

Jess herself is more than gracious, and when I asked her to say where she’d come from, she wrote, “I’d say I’m inspired by blues, traditional jazz, swing, Western swing, and r&b.  Vocally, Barbara Dane has been a big influence on me. I also really love Una Mae Carlisle, Peggy Lee, Nat Cole, Bessie Smith, Anita O’Day, and of course Ella Fitzgerald. I grew up listening to a lot of Nat Cole, Patsy Cline, Aretha Franklin, and Lauren Hill. Random enough for ya? 😂 Clint Baker and Isabelle Magidson have both been so good to me as mentors and dear friends. They’re a huge part of my musical growth in this community.”

Here’s Jess, with Clint Baker’s New Orleans Jazz Band, on March 8, 2020, at the Jazz Bash by the Bay (the four selections taken from two sets that day).  The NOJB is Clint, trumpet; Ryan Calloway, clarinet; Riley Baker, trombone; Bill Reinhart, banjo; Carl Sonny Leyland, piano; [Jeff Hamilton is on ROSETTA]; Katie Cavera, string bass; Hal Smith, drums.

ROSETTA:

SAN FRANCISCO BAY BLUES:

HESITATIN’ BLUES (or HESITATING or HESITATION, depending on which sect you belong to, Reform, Conservative, or Orthodox):

and her gentle, affectionate take on SUGAR:

She has IT — however you would define that pronoun — and the instrumentalists she works with speak of her with admiration and respect.  And when the world returns to its normal axis and rational behavior is once again possible, Jess has plans for her first CD under her own name.  I suggested that the title be THE KING OF SING, but I fear it was too immodest for her.  She makes good music: that is all I will say.

May your happiness increase!

THIRTY YEARS AGO, WHEN JAZZ CAME UP THE RIVER TO TIFFIN, OHIO: BANU GIBSON AND THE NEW ORLEANS HOT JAZZ ORCHESTRA: CHARLIE FARDELLA, TOM FISCHER, DAVID SAGER, DAVID BOEDDINGHAUS, JAMES SINGLETON, HAL SMITH (July 1989)

Now you know the truth — none of this New Orleans mythology.  Jazz came here to Tiffin (south of Toledo) as the performance below shows.

The exultant event you will see and hear took place thirty years ago, in July 1989, and was recorded by Bob and Ruth Byler — before digital video, but the music roars through, sweet, hot, and expert.  (Bob left us in April 2018 at 87; Ruth had died earlier.)  While I was still hiding a cassette recorder in an airline bag, hoping to go undetected at concerts, Bob was capturing hours and hours of live music on video.  Here is the 2016 post I wrote about Bob’s archive.

Banu Gibson and the New Orleans Hot Jazz Orchestra (properly titled) offer what I can only describe as a hustling lyricism — free-wheeling improvisations within carefully-worked-out routines, with a glorious sense of Show, even comedy (“Show ’em how it comes apart!”), as well as a marvelous intuitive synergy between the horns and the rhythm section.  And Banu is so full of lovely energy that she never seems to stand still: her voice a caress a la Connee Boswell or a roof-raising shout, as the song dictates — full of power but also exquisitely controlled.  Singers could learn so much from watching her perform, and the same is true for players.

This concert is a complete lesson in “how to put on a show,” and how to pace a program.  Although the repertoire was far from new in 1989, not a note seems tired or formulaic (and the arrangements are both lovely and exceptionally well-played, often suggesting a 1936 swing band).

In case the players are not familiar to you (and how could this be?): Banu sings, plays guitar or banjo on the instrumentals; Charlie Fardella, cornet; David Sager, trombone, vocal on SOME OF THESE DAYS and MAKIN’ FRIENDS; Tom Fischer, clarinet, tenor saxophone, vocal on I WOULD DO ANYTHING FOR YOU; David Boeddinghaus, piano; James Singleton, string bass; Hal Smith, drums.  They are perfectly splendid.

The songs are DOWN IN HONKY TONK TOWN / THE WANG WANG BLUES / MAHOGANY HALL STOMP (instrumental) / TIN ROOF BLUES / HELLO, LOLA (instrumental) / I’VE GOT WHAT IT TAKES / MUDDY WATER / SOME OF THESE DAYS (vocal Sager) / I’M GOING TO CHARLESTON BACK TO CHARLESTON / CAKE WALKIN’ BABIES FROM HOME / intermission / TRUCKIN’ / I MUST HAVE THAT MAN / I WOULD DO ANYTHING FOR  YOU (vocal Fischer) / MAKIN’ FRIENDS (vocal Sager) / WHAT A LITTLE MOONLIGHT CAN DO / WHY DON’T YOU DO RIGHT? / I GOT RHYTHM //

I haven’t explicated all the delightful surprises — you can find them for yourselves, such as Banu’s duets with Fardella, and the exuberant solo work — but so much of the energy of this performance comes from Ms. Gibson herself, with the vocal power of a young Merman and the joyous energies of, let us say, Gwen Verdon.  She captivated the audience then and does so now.

The video isn’t a sophisticated multi-camera shoot; the audio is occasionally slightly hard to hear; the video has the slight murkiness of digitally-recovered VHS tape — but this is precious.  And since I’ve had the pleasure of meeting and hearing in person every one of the stars on this stage with the exception of Charlie Fardella, whom I’ve only encountered on disc, I can say that this is a glorious record of the talent still at work in New Orleans and elsewhere.

I don’t know what the Tiffin audience members said when the powerful applause died down, perhaps, “That was a very nice show.  Let’s buy one of her records?” but now, thirty years later, this video record of a concert seems a precious gift to us all.  Thanks to everyone on the stage, to Bob and Ruth Byler, but especially to David Sager, who set this post in motion.

May your happiness increase!

A FEW PAGES FROM ROBERT BIERMAN, formerly of IRVINGTON, NEW YORK

Another eBay prowl (taking a long respite from grading student essays) with glorious results.

The seller is offering an amazing collection of autographs, some dating back to 1938.  Since a few items were inscribed to “Bob” or “Robert” Bierman, it was easy to trace these precious artifacts back to the man of the same name, a Krupa aficionado, now deceased (I believe his dates are 1922-2009) who lived for some time on Staten Island.

The jazz percussion scholar Bruce Klauber tells me: Bob passed several years ago. He had things you wouldn’t believe and was kind enough to share several audios with me. Anything he was connected with was rare and authentic.

My friend David Weiner recalls Bierman as quiet, reticent, with wonderful photographs and autographs.

I never met Mr. Bierman in my brief collectors’ period, but in 1938 he must have been a very energetic sixteen-year old who went to hear hot jazz and big bands, asking the drummers and sidemen for their autographs.  The collection is notable for the signatures of people not otherwise documented — as you will see.

Incidentally, the seller has listed the items as “Buy It Now,” which means that indeed the race is to the swift.

cless-brunis-alvin

Three heroes from what I presume is Art Hodes’ Forties band that recorded for his own JAZZ RECORD label: Rod Cless, Georg[e] Bruni[e]s, Danny Alvin.

bunny-postcard

Bunny and his Orchestra.

walter-page-buck-jo-tab-green-rushing

Basieites, circa 1940: Walter Page, Joe Jones, Buck Clayton, Tab Smith, Freddie Greene, and James Rushing.  The story is that John Hammond convinced Jo and Freddie to change the spelling of their names . . . perhaps to be more distinctive and memorable to the public?  I don’t know if this is verifiable.

gene-postcard

Gene!  But where and when?

wettling-1939-front

Wettling, promoting Ludwig drums — when he was with Paul Whiteman.

wettling-1939-back

And some advice to the young drummer.

teddy-1938

Teddy Wilson.  It’s so reassuring to see that there was actually letterhead for the School for Pianists.

bierman-bob-crosby-front

Some wonderful players from the Bob Crosby band: Jess Stacy, Eddie Miller, Bob Haggart, Matty Matlock, Hank D’Amico, Nappy Lamare.

bierman-bob-crosby-rear

Liz Tilton, Ray Bauduc.

bierman-gil-rodin

Gil Rodin from Ben Pollack and Crosby.

bierman-earle-warren

Earle Warren of Basie fame.

bierman-bunny-al-donahue

Al Donahue, and another Bunny signature.

bierman-hank-wayland-george-rose

To me, a page with the signatures of Hank Wayland, and George Rose — plus a caricature — is worth many thousand letters with a secretary’s “Bing” or “Benny” at the bottom.

bierman-ellington-venuti

You want famous?  Here’s famous: Duke Ellington, Joe Venuti.

bierman-mary-lou-williams

and Mary Lou Williams.

bierman-peggy-lee

Peggy Lee.

bierman-henderson-1939

Some fairly obscure Benny Goodman sidemen — Buff Estes, Toots Mondello, Arnold “Covey” — and the leader-turned-sideman Fletcher Henderson.

bierman-fats-waller-sidemen

Gentlemen from the reed section of Fats Waller’s big band: Jackie Fields and Bob Carroll.

bierman-gene-sedric

Fats’ “Honeybear,” Gene Sedric.

bierman-hodes-1947

A letter from Art Hodes!  (“Bob, there’s a letter for you!”)

bierman-hawkins-1943

Finally, the Hawk. 1943.

It makes me think, “What will happen to our precious stuff [see George Carlin] when we are dead?  eBay certainly is better than the dumpster, although these pages remind me that everything is in flux, and we are not our possessions. Beautiful to see, though, and to know that such things exist.  You, too, can have a piece of paper that Rod Cless touched — no small thing.

May your happiness increase!

MASTERY UNACKNOWLEDGED: THE ARTS OF RAY SIMS

zoot-the-swinger

Most people who have heard of Ray Sims (1921-2000), trombone and vocal, know him as Zoot’s brother, which is understandable.  On record, he was captured between 1945 and 1979, primarily as lead trombone or session player in the bands of Jerry Wald, Earle Spencer, Lyle Griffin, Bobby Sherwood, Benny Goodman, Les Brown, Anita O’Day, Dave Pell, Billy Eckstine, The Four Freshmen, Ray Anthony, Peggy Lee, Bill Holman, Harry James, Jackie and Roy, Lena Horne, Georgia Carr, Red Norvo, John Towner Williams, Jerry Gray and Maxwell Davis [supermarket recordings in tribute to Glenn Miller and Harry James] Ernie Andrews, Frank Capp, Corky Corcoran.  He stayed the longest with with Brown and James.  He never made a recording under his own name except for four tracks in a Capitol session called THE LES BROWN ALL STARS — available on CD — where he is featured, with strings, as one of Brown’s sidemen, and THE SWINGER (about which more below).

But I think trombonists who know him hold him in high regard.

Here is the only piece of Ray on film I have found, although I am sure he was captured on television many times, for both the Brown and James bands were very visible.  It is a ballad medley from the James band’s tour of Japan in 1964, and Ray is the middle soloist, between Joe Riggs, alto saxophone, and Corky Corcoran, tenor:

It would be easy to see Ray’s solo as simply “playing the melody,” but we know how difficult it is to accomplish that, and we can hear his huge gorgeous tone and his respectful, patient caress of Richard Rodgers’ lines.  Although it’s clear that he has the technique to sail over the horn, he is devotedly in the service of the song, with a tone reminiscent of Benny Morton.  Indeed, although he came of age as a musician in the middle Forties, when bebop had changed trombonists’ approach to their instrument, I hear not only Bill Harris but Tyree Glenn in his work.

And because I can’t go on without presenting more evidence of Ray’s beautiful playing, here is ON THE ALAMO, from the properly titled Pablo Records recording, THE SWINGER — with Zoot, Ray, Jimmy Rowles in spectacular form, John Heard, Shelly Manne, and one track with Michael Moore and John Clay:

But Ray Sims also sang.  I don’t know if he ever took voice lessons, but his warm heartfelt lyricism is very touching.  (The reason for this blog is my re-purchasing THE SWINGER on compact disc — the original record vanished in one seismic disorder or another — but I have remembered Ray’s singing for thirty-five years.)

I’ve found half a dozen vocals by Ray (found, not necessarily heard) from 1949 to his last session forty years later, with Brown, Pell, James, brother Zoot.  He seems to have been the musician-in-the-band who could put over a ballad or a love song without breaking into scat, someone who would be multi-talented and thus useful for the band payroll.  There’s IT ISN’T FAIR (a current pop hit), THEY SAY IT’S WONDERFUL, RED SAILS IN THE SUNSET, LET’S FALL IN LOVE, as well as a few possible vocals with Harry James, one with Corky Corcoran in 1973, and the final track on THE SWINGER from 1979.

Here is Ray’s vocal feature with Corcoran, IT NEVER ENTERED MY MIND. It’s not a polished performance, but it is warm naturalness is enchanting.  He means it, which is beautiful in itself:

Here is what I think of as a masterpiece of loose, feeling singing: Ray performing the Lunceford band’s hit DREAM OF YOU.  My guess is that Rowles suggested this: he had a deep affinity for that band — although there is extraordinary trombone playing on that Decca recording, which might have made a tremendous impression on young Ray:

And Ray Sims was obviously a wonderfully devoted parent.  Evidence here:

Here’s what Danielle herself had to say when posting this track in 2010:

Song written by Al Cohn by request of my dad (Ray Sims) and my uncle Zoot. it was recorded on Zoot Sims-The Swinger
Trombone Ray Sims (Zoot’s brother). Growing up I remember my dad playing this song to me and my mom would always say “he’s playing your song” it wasn’t until I was older that I realized that it really was “my song”. I am so blessed to have had such a wonderful family to love and so blessed to have such a wonderful man in my life to make such a beautiful video for me so I can share that love. Thank you.  Video made by JeeperG for Danielle

Jazz, like any other art, is full of people who create beauty without calling much attention to themselves.  Let us always remember their names, their creativity, and the results.

May your happiness increase!

The Second Part: OH, HOW GRAND! (GORDON AU, MATT MUSSELMAN, MATT KOZA, NICK RUSSO, ROB ADKINS: May 5, 2016)

Photograph by Jessica Keener

Photograph by Jessica Keener

Here’s the first part of a wonderful concert / dance created by Gordon Au’s Grand Street Stompers at Grand Central Station on May 5, 2016.  The Stompers are Gordon (of course), trumpet, compositions / arrangements, vocal; Matt Koza, clarinet / soprano; Matt Musselman, trombone; Nick Russo, banjo / guitar; Rob Adkins, string bass.

And the second part!

Grand Central diningI CRIED FOR YOU:

CRAZY:

YOU’RE NEVER FULLY DRESSED WITHOUT A SMILE:

RIVERBOAT SHUFFLE:

THE SOUND OF MUSIC:

LOUISIAN-I-A:

THE BALLAD OF BUS 38:

NAGASAKI:

And for the deep explication that Gordon only hints at, here’s his wonderfully elliptical blog, THAT OF LOWLY PWUTH.  Yes, you did read that correctly.

And to think — before this, I’d thought of Grand Central Station simply as the eastern terminus of the Forty-Second subway shuttle, the “S” — not as a secret mecca for lyrical hot jazz.  That’s New York City for you: one surprise tumbling in on another.

May your happiness increase!

OH, HOW GRAND! (GORDON AU, MATT MUSSELMAN, MATT KOZA, NICK RUSSO, ROB ADKINS: May 5, 2016)

Photograph by Jessica Keener

Photograph by Jessica Keener

On May 5, 2016, Gordon Au and the Grand Street Stompers played a free concert / swing dance session at the dining concourse of Grand Central Station in New York City. The Stompers are Gordon, trumpet, vocal, arrangements / compositions; Matt Musselman, trombone; Matt Koza, clarinet / soprano; Nick Russo, banjo / guitar; Rob Adkins, string bass.

But first, a relevant tale (impatient readers have already skipped to the videos, which is their privilege).  One of my literary heroes is the multi-faceted Irish writer “Frank O’Connor” — born Michael O’Donovan in Cork — who made a pilgrimage to James Joyce in Paris in the early Twenties.  In Joyce’s apartment, O’Connor noticed a beautiful antique print of Cork City in a frame whose material he could not recognize.  “What’s that?” he said to Joyce, pointing at the picture.  “Cork,” said Joyce.  “I know that,” said O’Connor.  “What’s the frame?” “Cork,” said Joyce.  “I had the greatest difficulty finding a French frame maker who would construct this.”

That story always amused me — although O’Connor also cited it as an example of Joyce’s peculiar associative mania — but it reverberated loudly in me when I had this rarest of opportunities to see and hear the Grand Street Stompers at Grand Central Station.  “Where are we?” “Grand.”  “Who’s playing?” “Grand,” and off into the darkness, although swinging mightily.

Grand Central dining

The Grand Street Stompers are a witty, light-hearted, versatile band.  The solos illuminate the room; the ensemble passages are charmed and charming; Gordon’s originals have the lilting energy of songs that you’re sure you’ve heard already.  At times, the GSS sounds like an ideal Louis Armstrong band — straddling 1925 and 1965 — in its sweet ebullience.  Gordon’s imagination is large and occasionally whimsical, so the band plays Fifties pop, Twenties hot tunes, Disney classics, Broadway melodies, and originals — all of them fresh yet instantly classic.

Here’s the first half of the doubly Grand Event:

Not just a twelve-bar blues, Louis’ MAHOGANY HALL STOMP has its own routines, which the GSS negotiates stylishly:

Gordon’s own hummable SUNSET SERENADE:

BELLA NOTTE, from LADY AND  THE TRAMP, music by Sonny Burke, lyrics by Peggy Lee — the image that comes to mind is two romantic canines delicately sharing a plate of spaghetti and meatballs:

Another Au hot tune, RIDGEWOOD STOMP:

WHAT A DIFFERENCE A DAY MADE, a song that everyone associates with Dinah Washington in the Fifties, but it is from 1934, originally in Spanish, by Maria Grever:

With Bechet in mind, Gordon’s SARATOGA SERENADE:

Frankie Valli’s CAN’T TAKE MY EYES OFF OF YOU:

BE OUR GUEST, from BEAUTY AND  THE BEAST:

The Stompers are a busy band — you can see and hear why — and they appear everywhere, but in New York, in May 2016, this appearance at a swing dance session in Bryant Park might truly be special.  Don’t miss a chance to hear them; as I write this, they will be lighting up the room at Radegast this very night.

And there’s a second eight performances from the Grand night of May 5, 2016, to come.

May your happiness increase!

CATS, MEET MOUSE

TEN CATS

I don’t know which of the whimsical geniuses at Capitol Records thought of the TEN CATS AND A MOUSE record date, but it’s not only a brilliant comic idea but a fine musical one.  Musicians have always taken a certain pleasure in picking up an instrument that wasn’t the one they were known for — whether at home, on the gig, or after it — and seeing how far their native expertise took them.  (I’m leaving aside those wonder-players who dazzle us on any instrument they touch: the blessed Benny Carter, and modern masters Scott Robinson and Clint Baker.)

But I imagine that someone at Capitol suggested that all the musicians on a session show up for a record date where they would play instruments that weren’t their first ones.  The results were recorded in Los Angeles on October 13, 1947.  Guitarist Dave Barbour played trumpet; trumpeters Billy May and Bobby Sherwood made up the trombone section; pianist / arranger Paul Weston played clarinet; Eddie Miller shifted from tenor sax to alto; Benny Carter, who had recorded on tenor, did the reverse; Dave Cavanaugh, usually playing tenor, turned to the baritone sax.  Red Norvo, who had recorded on piano as “Ken Kenny,” did it again here; singer and occasional guitarist (to quote an online source) Hal Derwin stayed right there; arranger / composer Frank DeVol — who’d played violin early on with Horace Heidt — took over the string bass.  And the Mouse?  Miss Peggy Lee, alternating between brushes on the snare and four-to-the bar bass drum; she’d been in the Goodman band at the same time as Sid Catlett, but she eschewed the Master’s rimshots.

JA-DA:

And a Basie blues, THREE O’CLOCK JUMP:

Very convincing — these players had a Db medium blues so completely absorbed that they could play it while sleeping — and now, when someone asks me who I emulate on cornet, I can say, “Why, Dave Barbour on THREE O’CLOCK JUMP, of course!”

It’s one thing to have all that fun in the recording studio, another to boldly go into the land of instrument-swapping in front of an audience (even if some of the audience members are slowly navigating from right to left during the performance).  June 6, 2015, taking place in real time at the Scott Joplin International Ragtime Festival in Sedalia, Missouri, with a totally engaging bilingual vocal performance by Yuko Eguchi Wright!

Yuko is accompanied by the Junkyard Band: Dave Majchrzak and Brian Holland, piano; David Reffkin, violin; Jeff Barnhart, trombone, traffic control; Paul Asaro, trumpet; Steve Standiford, tuba; Bill Edwards, string bass; Frank LiVolsi, clarinet; Jim Radloff, saxophone; Danny Coots, drums.

And Yuko’s no Mouse.  She’s one of the Cats.

As a great philosopher once said, “If it isn’t fun, why do it?”

May your happiness increase!

BECKY AND THE BOYS

BECKY MEN

The title of Rebecca Kilgore’s new CD for Arbors Records comes from a Peggy Lee song, I LIKE MEN — but the simple title belies the variety of expression the session offers. There’s delight that echoes the title (I’M JUST WILD ABOUT HARRY, HE’S MY GUY); yearning for the relationship that hasn’t happened (THE BOY NEXT DOOR, THE MAN I LOVE); sorrow over one that has ended (THE MAN THAT GOT AWAY); an admonition to a puppyish too-eager fellow (DOWN BOY); comments on the possibilities of monogamy and other variations (AN OCCASIONAL MAN, FOR EVERY MAN THERE’S A WOMAN, ONE MAN AIN’T QUITE ENOUGH).

And more! — sharp-eyed contemplation of the movement from romance to marriage (MARRY THE MAN TODAY); a song balanced between yearning and annoyance at the Love Object’s inability to see what’s in front of him (THE GENTLEMAN IS A DOPE); songs that characterize both the Man’s desirability and his flaws (HE’S A TRAMP, HE NEEDS ME); a few unclassifiables (GOLDFINGER and an instrumental version of BALLAD OF THE SAD YOUNG MEN).

The recital by Rebecca, Harry Allen, Rossano Sportiello, Joel Forbes, and Kevin Kanner is emotionally and artistically varied; the disc moves easily from uptempo swing to sorrowful ruminations to light-hearted wit.  And although the title seems one-sided, it is really an hour-plus trip through the Land of Relationships, with Rebecca offering commentary on the foibles, rewards, and terrors that are part of the journey. She and the instrumental foursome fit the mood of each song without strain or artifice.

Here’s a song you will hear on the new CD, although with a different instrumental contingent.  HE’S A TRAMP comes from LADY AND THE TRAMP — written by Peggy Lee, and sung sweetly by Becky with superb accompaniment from Duke Heitger, trumpet; Dan Barrett, trombone; Dan Block, tenor saxophone; Rossano Sportiello, piano; Paul Keller, string bass; Ed Metz, drums. This performance took place at the 2014 Atlanta Jazz Party, on April 25, 2014:

If you’re anywhere near Cleveland, Ohio, September 18-21, this year (coming soon!) you can catch Becky, Harry, Rossano, and other luminaries at the Allegheny Jazz Party.

Becky and the Boys (known more respectfully as the Harry Allen Quartet — Harry, Rossano, Joel, and Kevin) will be offering an urban and urbane I LIKE MEN to a New York City audience on Thursday, September 25, 2014, at 6-7:15 PM at Birdland (315 West 44th Street: doors open at 5 PM).

Wherever you find Ms. Kilgore, she and her friends — male or female — create great music. A friend of ours, staying for dinner tonight, said, “I don’t like most of the singers you have on your blog.  But that Becky Kilgore!  She flies when she sings.”  True story.

May your happiness increase!

WELCOME, HETTY KATE!

Hetty Kate and Gordon Webster

Hetty Kate and Gordon Webster

I am delighted to introduce the fine singer Hetty Kate. To those who already know her, let this be a repeat embrace and celebration.  Hetty does all the right things, without straining or undue drama.  Her voice is clear and penetrating; her diction beautiful without being “learned” (she has a conversational ease); she swings; she subtly but affectingly improvises; she understand the lyrics; she embellishes and ornaments but never obliterates the melody. She respects the great singers of the past and present but never climbs in to the tomb and closes the door.

I delight in the two new CDs she has presented to us, in her sweet light-hearted approach.  When she decides to snap out a lyric, the results are explosively good (hear her FROST ON THE MOON).  She sounds as if she is merely singing the song, but we know that such casualness is true art.

Hetty is international in the best way: based in Melbourne, Australia, she recorded one CD on a New York City trip — enjoying the company of fine local musicians including Gordon Webster, piano; Dan Levinson, reeds; Mike Davis, trumpet, Cassidy Holden, guitar (now of New Orleans, but I knew him first as a string bassist with the Cangelosi Cards), Kevin Congleton, drums; Rob Adkins, string bass; Joseph Wiggan, tap dancing (wonderfully on Shoo Fly Pie); Adrien Chevalier, violin (Besame Mucho); Adam Brisbin, guitar; Evan Arntzen, clarinet; and a quartet of additional horns on the final track to make a rocking big band, Nadje Noordhuis, Jay Rattman, Michael Webster, Mike Fahie.  The truly international trombonist Shannon Barnett (Australia / New York / Germany) also pays a call.  The result is irresistible, one of those CDs I wanted to play again right away as soon as it ended.

The CD is called GORDON WEBSTER MEETS HETTY KATE, and the equality of the title is mirrored in the music, with a nice balance between singer and band.  The soloists tell us stories; Gordon’s wonderfully off-center piano is always a deep pleasure, and the sound — thanks to Michael Perez-Cisneros — is rich, exquisite.

GORDON HETTY

Hetty told me, “I really let my imagination go a little with the song list, and love digging out tunes that aren’t played too much,” thus, Button Up Your Overcoat / Blitzkrieg Baby / Peek-a-boo / Shoo Fly Pie & Apple Pan Dowdy / How D’ya Like To Love Me? / Eight, Nine & Ten / There’s Frost On The Moon / Busy Line /  Sweet Lover No More / I Wanna Be Around / Hard Hearted Hannah / Bésame Mucho / I Lost My Sugar In Salt Lake City.

Two songs were unfamiliar charmers, so I asked her about their origins.  Here’s what Hetty wrote:

I first heard Peek-A-Boo on a .. wait for it.. Dove advertisement (probably on You Tube), where they’d used the song as the soundtrack to a story about how women are always so self conscious about their looks, and don’t like being photographed – but when they are children they have no shame about this and just dance and ham for the camera.. a little message about trying to be confident and see the beauty in us all! So the song was a cute one.. I fell immediately in love with it and with some research found the vocalist, Rose Murphy, the “chee chee girl” and also added her other famous song ‘Busy Line’ to the album. She was quite an extraordinary performer and pianist, and now I’m a big fan. 

There are so many wonderful singers who don’t get much of a ‘look in’ because of Ella / Billie / Peggy / Anita and so forth – I feel that not only am I getting a benefit from discovering these other singers, but their memory can be kept alive a little too! Audrey Morris sang ‘How D’Ya Like To Love Me’ and she was an extraordinary talent as well (Bob Hope also famously sang that song) Sweet Lover and I Wanna Be Around were given to me on a mix tape by a good friend with a Blossom Dearie obsession and her approach to two rather evil songs was of course cute as a button – at the time I was going through some romantic challenges of my own, and I love to sing about the darker side of love as well as its light and sparkling hopefulness!

There’s Frost On The Moon was also given to me — Chick Webb’s band with Ella Fitzgerald (very young) and I believe Louis Jordan – and again, the lyrics were an immediate drawcard as well as the melody. The band in the studio had a great time with this one! I think it’s our favourite!

A lot of my family are writers, and as well as being drawn to the melody of a tune, I am always entranced by a clever turn of phrase, and with this album being able to match clever songs with some great dance tempos and arrangements by Gordon I was in heaven!! 

Had Hetty recorded only this CD, I would be heralding her as a reassuringly professional new talent. But there’s more. DIM ALL THE LIGHTS is an entrancing collection of “vintage love songs” associated with Peggy Lee, June Christy, and Julie London: The Thrill Is Gone / In the Still of the Night / Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered / Answer Me, My Love / Why Don’t You Do Right? / Cry Me A River / Something Cool / Wives and Lovers / I Get Along Without You Very Well.  Hetty is accompanied by a spare but beautiful quartet of Sam Keevers, piano; James Sherlock, guitar; Ben Robertson, string bass; Danny Farugia, drums.

HETTY DIM ALL THE LIGHTS

The temptation for a singer, choosing these songs so strongly associated with these majestic artists, would be either to copy or to go in the other direction — vary the tempo, add odd rhythmic backgrounds, and the like. Hetty does neither: I am sure that the voices of the Great Foremothers are echoing in her head, but she treats each song as its own new script, and takes her time, inventing a new, lifelike way to sing it.  No maudlin swooning, no pounding drums, no melodramatic rubato.  Just effective singing: I’d put her version of BEWITCHED, BOTHERED, and BEWILDERED up against anyone’s. Understated, apparently cool, but with real passion coming through.

I believe Hetty has been singing professionally only since 2006, but she is a real treasure.  No fakery — no little-girl cute, no look-at-me-I’m-so-hip / punk / sexy here at all.  Just good music, intelligently interpreted and always swinging. And don’t let the gorgeous cover shot prejudice you against the elegant Ms. Kate: her CDs are about her voice, not her hair or her beautiful dress.

Here is Hetty’s Facebook page, and here is the website for the CD with Gordon.  Both discs are on iTunes.  Visit here and enjoy one-minute sound bites; visit the ABC site to purchase DIM ALL THE LIGHTS, and here to purchase the CD with Gordon — which is also available at CDBaby. (I know — life is complicated, especially for those of us used to dropping in at our local record stores and coming home with some new or old treasure.  But Hetty’s CDs are worth the digging.)

It’s a critical commonplace to welcome the new artist at the start of “a brilliant career” to come.  In Hetty Kate’s case, she is already singing brilliantly — a young artist with a mature, engaging sensibility.

May your happiness increase!

MUSIC FOR STRING ENSEMBLE, 1938

Bobby Sherwood (1914-81) isn’t well-known as a jazz guitarist today, but in the early Thirties he was so deeply respected that he was Bing Crosby’s accompanist on 1934 recordings (MOONBURN and SOMEDAY SWEETHEART); he recorded with the Boswell Sisters, Cleo Brown, and Joe Venuti.  (In 1940 he was guitarist and one of the arrangers for Artie Shaw.)

To me, this means he was viewed as a player equal to the late Eddie Lang, and his beautiful sonority and chordal subtleties — and swing — don’t disappoint.

A few years earlier, violinist Harry Bluestone (1907-92) was recording with hot dance studio bands, Connee Boswell, the Boswell Sisters, Lee Wiley, the Dorsey Brothers, Glenn Miller, Bill Challis, Casper Reardon, and again Artie Shaw . . . .

While Sherwood eventually led his own band (playing a variety of instruments, composing, and singing), Bluestone became the first-chair violinist and concertmaster for many many recordings with everyone from Peggy Lee to Quincy Jones.

But this Decca 78, recorded in November 1938, shows them quietly and wittily evoking Eddie Lang and Joe Venuti — to great effect — while sounding like themselves.

First, the punning KIDDIN’ ON THE STRINGS:

Then, a sweet AM I BLUE?:

The moral?  Great music is made by people you might not have heard of except as side-people on more famous people’s record date.

May your happiness increase!

EVERY DREAM GONE: WILLARD ROBISON AND JACK TEAGARDEN

DON'T SMOKE IN BED

I have been thinking about Willard Robison a good deal the past few days.  For good reason, mind you: I was asked to write some notes for a forthcoming release on the Nif Nuf label of trumpeter Bob Barnard and friends playing Robison.  Vocals of a most beautiful kind by Bob’s niece Rebecca; other musicians including Jo Stevenson and Andrew Swann.

I don’t know enough about Robison’s life to say much about it, but his beautiful intriguing music seems to divide into the Inspirational — WAKE UP CHILLUN, WAKE UP; ‘T’AIN’T SO, HONEY, ‘T’AIN’T SO; TRUTHFUL PARSON BROWN, the Affectionate — LITTLE HIGH CHAIRMAN, OLD FOLKS, and the Desolate / Lonely — ‘ROUND MY OLD DESERTED FARM, LONELY ACRES IN THE WEST, A COTTAGE FOR SALE, and his last great hit, DON’T SMOKE IN BED — circa 1948, and a success for Peggy Lee (whose version strikes me as too light-hearted for the song’s depths).

Matt Munisteri, who has made a deep study of Robison’s music as well as a beautiful CD of it, could add more titles to my list, but I am not intending to be comprehensive at the moment.  Details of his strikingly fine CD here.

I know nothing of Robison’s emotional or marital life.  I know he had great success in the Twenties and early Thirties, and he lived into his early seventies, but there is a deep strain of nearly hopeless melancholy in his work.

Where other writers were incessantly writing about the possibilities of Romance (think, for instance, of PENTHOUSE SERENADE), Robison is drawn to the emptied, the vacant, the mournfulness of a house when one’s partner has left.  (Yes, there was the non-Robison 1931 song IN A LITTLE SECOND-HAND STORE, where the singer sees the belongings (s)he and spouse have so cherished up for sale in a window — but that singer is able to say, “Let’s get back together again and we’ll reconstruct that dream.”)

Robison’s songs — at least these two — sound as if the shared hopes have been shattered.  I know that Larry Conley wrote the lyrics for COTTAGE, but I think the despair is not only Conley’s.

Here, although at a jaunty tempo, is Robison himself singing COTTAGE, with verse, in 1930.  Be it ever so humble, there’s no home any more:

“Our little dream castle / With everything gone” is a definite way to begin a song — no optimistic extenuation possible.  The tempo is far from dirgelike, and in 2013 we are long familiar with the beautiful ballad medley, but the lyrics remind us that what we are witnessing in the empty cottage is a death — not the death of a person, but the death of hope and love as embodied in a marriage.

Conley knew something either about domestic agriculture or had read a good deal of English poetry to draw on the images of lawns turned to hay, roses overrun by weeds — the untended garden as sign of a broken compact, an irreparable rip in the fabric of loving order. And the brief bridge presents a terrifying reality, where the singer can see the face of the absent spouse in every window but no such welcome is possible as the singer approaches the actual, desolate dwelling.

Robison was a light-voiced, gentle singer.  I leave it to his friend Jack Teagarden to record the absolutely definitive version of this song in 1962.  (I find the beautiful arrangements by Russ Case and Bob Brookmeyer slightly busy but so intuitively perceptive — although I would have liked to hear Jack backed only by Ellis Larkins or Jimmy Rowles):

And COTTAGE is emotionally less powerful than the song that has struck me at the center of my being ever since I heard Jack’s recording of it, DON’T SMOKE IN BED:

I do not know the circumstances that led up to the writing of that song.  With thoughts of a recent posting connected to Marion Harris on my mind, whose death echoed the song’s title — I am sure that more than one spouse / partner told the other, “For God’s sake, don’t do that!  You’ll kill yourself if you do that!”  But DON’T SMOKE IN BED is about so much more than fire safety.

Whether you hear the song as the expression of the woman who leaves the note or the man who tells us of the event, it is absolutely heart-stopping as a record of a long-time marriage that has failed so irrevocably that no recourse is possible except for one partner leaving while the other is asleep.

And what hits so hard is that the woman (let us say) who is telling her husband, “I am gone.  Do not try to follow me, look for me, find me.  I am leaving behind ‘my old wedding ring,’ a severing more decisive than any divorce proceeding — can speak to her obliviously sleeping spouse with colloquial rueful tenderness: “Remember, darling, don’t smoke in bed,” as if she were simultaneously concerned about his welfare while finding it impossible to live with him, look out for him, take care of him one day more.

The singer calls the sleeper, “old sleepy head,” which could be read as deeply affectionate at best, slightly mocking at worst — but it is a sobriquet more tender than many of us have heard in arguments. But what follows is — although casually stated — final: “I’m packing you in / Like I said,” which says that this is not a single marital argument that has escalated but the end of a long series of them, where the possibility of one partner leaving has often been discussed.

Did Robison know such an incident?  Did one of his friends, male or female, walk away from a relationship with such power and such regret, perhaps leaving a note and a ring?  Did some spouse — playfully or with great seriousness — say, “One day you’re going to wake up and I’ll be gone.  And when that happens, I hope you’ll stop smoking in bed.  I can’t stand you, but I don’t want you burned to death.”  Did someone wake up to find his / her partner gone?  Was it Robison himself?

I don’t know.

But I do not think anyone writes such a song without having personal experience — heard or lived-through — to base it on.

And I know that it is bad scholarship (even though I am thirty years’ out of graduate school) to ascribe biographical details to art.  But.  By 1962 Jack Teagarden was happily married — but with the wreckage of several marriages behind him.  Is it too much to hear world-weariness, despair, and knowledge in his voice?  I think not.

The way Teagarden arches his voice to deliver “Don’t look for me,” part cry, part croon, suggests a sorrowing song underneath this performance that the notes themselves cannot notate or contain — echoed by the way, glorious and anguished, that Don Goldie’s trumpet rises at the end of his solo.

Bless Jack Teagarden, trumpeter Don Goldie, Willard Robison, and Larry Conley for giving us such dramatic experiences — passages through sorrow and loss in the form of music that make us shiver with sadness and recognition.

“With these few goodbye-words . . . . the end of our story is told on the door.”

May your happiness increase. 

BECKY AND HARRY BRING WARMTH AND LIGHT: REBECCA KILGORE with HARRY ALLEN, EHUD ASHERIE, JOEL FORBES, KEVIN KANNER at THE METROPOLITAN ROOM (March 7, 2013)

Oh, the weather outside was frightful, but the music was delightful.

True enough for last night, March 7, in New York City.  It was a chilly mix of rain, snow, sleet — not enough to be dramatic, but it soaked into everyone.  But once I made it to The Metropolitan Room, that warm oasis on 34 West 22nd Street, it was summery inside.

Becky_Kilgore

Becky Kilgore doesn’t get to come to New York City as often as I would like (although there are signs that is changing) but this six-show gift (that’s Wednesday through Sunday — 9:30 each night BUT two shows, the early one at 7 on Sunday!)

Becky’s shows have been just that — not just “songs I always sing,” but beautifully-shaped thematic presentations.  Often they’ve paid tribute to specific singers: Judy, Billie, Marilyn, and Becky (a great researcher) has delved into the repertoire to find hidden, unknown gems as well as greatest hits.  Unlike other people’s thematic presentations, these shows are light-hearted, not weighty seminars full of “and then she sang” data.

This new show takes its cue from a Peggy Lee song, I LIKE MEN — and it’s not a formulaic tribute to the furry members of the species, but a varied look (in music and words) at us.  Becky pointed out early that except for two Lee compositions, all the songs she was singing were written by men for women to sing . . . and the variety of viewpoints was quite remarkable.  Becky veered away from the “he beats me but I love him” darkness of romantic masochism to offer twelve delights in seventy-five minutes . . . a compact, fast-paced, and satisfying evening.  I know she has a substantial song list for this run, so the set list is going to change somewhat from night to night.

Last night she and the band offered Sissle and Blake’s I’M JUST WILD ABOUT HARRY (perfectly apt, because all of us are!) complete with the verse . . . then on to two Harold Arlens — one familiar, the other a rarity; a Gershwin; Frank Loesser’s grimly comic MARRY THE MAN TODAY (where the Wise Woman sings that you should offer your fiance the hand today because once he is wed, it can then turn into the fist tomorrow); a Pearl Bailey-inflected MY HANDY MAN AIN’T HANDY ANY MORE (which suggests that old dogs can’t be taught new tricks); a wonderful Ralph Blaine-Hugh Martin wooer with the line, “I can be your passion fruit”; an unusual Hoagy Carmichael song where the overeager lover is treated rather like a poorly-trained puppy, without the rolled-up newspaper making an appearance.  For me, the great moving highlights of the evening — in addition to these bright sparks — were a tender THE BOY NEXT DOOR; a wistful rather than melodramatic THE MAN THAT GOT AWAY, and a sweet WHEN A WOMAN LOVES A MAN.  Miss Kilgore’s delightful genius was once again made evident in the way she sang these three songs, so strongly identified with Judy and Billie, and made them sound like Becky.

And all I will say about “sounding like Becky” is that it is a deep pleasure.  Miss Kilgore is full of feeling without ever resorting to Drama; she swings naturally; she is witty without being jokey, and the simple sound of her voice is a delight in itself.  As well, she is a great improviser in subtle, subversive ways: listening to her very lightly restretch the melody in ways that would have pleased its composers, listening to her handle the language in ways that make us hear the words anew . . . well, I always think I am in the presence of greatness, even though she is one of the more humble mortals I know.  And I have been listening to her, on CD and vinyl, in person and even over the telephone, for two decades.  Every time I am fortunate to hear her in person, I go away, quietly thinking, “How does she do it?  She’s a treasure, and she’s getting better!”

Her instrumental colleagues were simply wonderful, too.  Harry Allen has gotten a reputation, with some people, of being a gentle player, someone who can tenderly caress a ballad in the best Webster manner.  But don’t let that impression turn into a mask; Harry has a deeply raucous side, and he loves to race and holler, too.  Drummer Kevin Kanner was new to me, but he’s a listening fellow; his sticks caught all the nuances and his brushes made a swinging carpet. Ehud Asherie often stole the show — in the manner of Jess Stacy in the Goodman band — offering a witty harmonic variation or a phrase that started in a predictable place and went into other astral realms.  And Joel Forbes, quietly, darkly, reliable, swung from the first note: every note was in the right place at the right time.  The five people onstage were happy as the day is long — you could see it in their grins — and they shared their joys with us.

Even though the weather was indeed frightful (or almost), the room was full — Dan Morgenstern and Daryl Sherman and Michael Moore were there, as were Bill and Sonya Dunham, Beck Lee, Claiborne Ray, Gwen Calvier . . . and the people I hadn’t met yet were just as enthusiastic.  One fellow (Ezra?) sat with his head perhaps three feet from the bell of Harry’s saxophone, and he bobbed and weaved ecstatically with every phrase: the music was reflected in his happiness. I had never been to The Metropolitan Room before, but will come back again: Jean-Pierre made the instruments sound perfectly acoustic, which is the ideal goal of a “sound man”: he is certainly a sound man.  The lighting was perfectly in tune but never obtrusive, and everyone was genuinely friendly.

Becky and Harry, Ehud, Joel, and Kevin will be there for four more shows.  Find your waterproof shoes and make the trek: you won’t regret it.  Details  here.

May your happiness increase.

REBECCA and HARRY ARE COMING TO NEW YORK (March 6-10, 2013)

Becky_Kilgore

This is indeed good news.  Ms. Kilgore is not seen on the East Coast as often as we would prefer, and she will be appearing — and singing — with some favored musical friends: Harry Allen, tenor saxophone; Ehud Asherie, piano; Joel Forbes, string bass; Kevin Kanner, drums . . . in a show at New York City’s Metropolitan Room.  Click I LIKE MEN for details.

I have been sworn to secrecy about the song list — to give it here would be like telling what happens during Season Four of Downton Abbey — but I can offer these hints.  Songs associated with James Bond, Peggy Lee, and Billie Holiday will be part of the bill of fare.  Harold Arlen, Leo Robin, Truman Capote, Eubie Blake, Frank Loesser, Rodgers and Hammerstein, Hoagy Carmichael, and the Gershwin brothers will drop by.

Familiar songs (the ones where the audience goes “Aaaaaaahhhhh,” as Rebecca slides from verse to chorus) and delightfully obscure ones will be treated appropriately.  And those of us wise and fortunate enough to have experienced a Kilgore-Allen evening know that it unfolds beautifully with its own shape — a small fulfilling concert rather than a bunch of songs that everyone likes at the moment.

March 6-7-8-9-10 at 9:30 PM.  The Metropolitan Room is at 34 West 22nd Street, New York 10010 (MetropolitanRoom or 212.206.0440 for reservations.  Tickets $30.)  Don’t miss it: you don’t want to be thinking about THE EVENING THAT GOT AWAY on March 11.

May your happiness increase.

EXACTLY LIKE HIM: LOUIS AND FRIENDS on the SMALL SCREEN

In my childhood, I saw Louis Armstrong on television for more than a decade — with Danny Kaye, with Herb Alpert, with Johnny Carson, Merv Griffin, Ed Sullivan.  My memories of sitting too close to the screen, transfixed, are very powerful.  And my feelings were simultaneous and contradictory.  I would be trying to absorb every nuance, every glint off the bell of his shiny trumpet — exultant but mourning because I would never see this again!  But these performances — and ones new to me — have been appearing on YouTube, “the kindness of strangers” who must love Louis and his friends as much as I do.  [If you’re under the age of ____, here’s a new word: KINESCOPE — which refers to filmed versions of television shows, blessedly.]

The three videos that follow are irreplaceable although flawed, perhaps understandably.  In the first, everyone seems to handle the complex “witty” parody (a series of in-jokes) of a song from GIGI more comfortably than Mr. Strong, who might have come in at the last minute from an All-Stars gig in Sandusky, Ohio. Although he could handle lyrics much better than people assume, the words fly by him too quickly.  However, Sinatra seems joyous, not barely masking anger; Crosby sounds so urbanely happy; Peggy Lee glows.

Louis, then appearing in Pittsburgh with the All-Stars, has a lunchtime interview date with the sweetly earnest Florence Sando Manson.  My favorite moment, “I like to hear it too!” but to have him moved on to make way for “a model” is fairly sad at this distance.  Didn’t they know that Louis was a model even though he had never done the appropriate catwalk-strut?:

And — particularly endearing — a duet on OLD MAN TIME with Jimmy Durante on “Hollywood Palace”:

Thank you, Archivists and Collectors wherever you are.  Blessings on those of you who open-heartedly share your treasures!

And I would be reluctant to call one second of this “nostalgia.”  These people and their music are so alive.

May your happiness increase.

INCANDESCENCE: THE REBECCA KILGORE / JOHN SHERIDAN TRIO at JAZZ at CHAUTAUQUA (September 23, 2012)

It’s the middle of November, and the days are getting shorter.  Darkness comes before dinner, and the sky is a steel-gray when my alarm clock goes off.  Like many other people, I feel this darkness keenly, although I manage to get through it every year.

But two friends of ours — friends of the music, deep masters of its power to exalt without ever speaking in capital letters — offer us the cure for any darkness.  The music they make is bright, even at slow tempos; it illuminates the spirit long after they have left the stage.

Rebecca Kilgore and John Sheridan light the way as they always do . . . here on a quiet Sunday morning at Jazz at Chautauqua near the end of September 2012.

Even though this set began at around 10 AM, Becky and John embarked on the saucy, sly THE FIVE O’CLOCK WHISTLE — is it a tale of increased wartime productivity or a cautionary saga of the dangers of workplace romance?  All I know is that both Duke Ellington and Count Basie tried this one out in 1940.  Wait for Becky;s witty dramatic interpolation near the end:

Yes, ‘T’IS AUTUMN could have had more ambitious lyrics, but the song is a sweetly memorable hymn to the change of seasons:

WITH A SONG IN MY HEART is one of Richard Rodgers’ melodies with operatic yearnings and lyrics by Lorenz Hart without his usual edge.  Becky and John take it at a faster clip — it becomes the song of a deeply romantic wooer who also has things to do and places to get to — but the result still convinces us:

THERE AIN’T NO SWEET MAN (That’s Worth the Salt of My Tears) reminds us of Bix and Tram, Bing and the King of Jazz — an ebullient remembrance of high good times:

GET OUT AND GET UNDER THE MOON is from the same time period, with the lovely conceit that Romance under the night sky is easier than playing cards at home.  More rewarding, surely . . . but easier?  One wonders at such optimism, but it’s worth cherishing such illusions:

HE’S A TRAMP comes from the Peggy Lee score for the movie LADY AND THE TRAMP, and it’s a peerless casual love song:

I LOVE BEING HERE WITH YOU is another Peggy Lee affirmation, as well as the way we feel about John Sheridan and Becky Kilgore, our swing heroes:

We are immensely lucky to be in the light-hearted, generously illuminating company of Rebecca and John.  Long may they shine!ider

P.S.  And if my title poses a logical problem — where’s the trio? —  consider.  A trio here is made up of a singer, a pianist, a swing guitarist.  Anyone have a problem with that?

May your happiness increase,

THE SOUNDS OF MUSIC: PLEASING SHOCKS FROM PAPA JOE, LITTLE LOUIS, BIX, KID ORY, and THEIR FRIENDS

By the time I started listening seriously to jazz, King Oliver had been dead for almost thirty years, Bix nearly forty.  And every year that I delved deeper into the music, more of the original players died.  So recordings became the only way for me to encounter many players, singers, and bands.

I first heard King Oliver and his Creole Jazz Band on microgroove vinyl reissues on the Milestone and Epic labels; the Wolverine sessions likewise.  I had read about these records in books about jazz and the musicians had described them reverently (Louis speaking lovingly of his musical father to Richard Meryman and Larry L. King; Richard M. Sudhalter writing about Bix, and so on).

But the sounds that came through the phonograph speaker were disappointing.  Peggy Lee had not yet sung IS THAT ALL THERE IS? but her words would be appropriate.  I could distinguish cornets and clarinets,  banjos and pianos, but it was like putting my head underwater.  The sound could be made loud but it was impossible to make it clear.  Some of my reaction, of course, was the result of my own training in listening to live music and records of the Forties, Fifties, and Sixties — clear, electrically recorded, bright.

Eventually I got better at extracting the music from acoustic recordings, better at “filling in” what I imagined the original bands sounded like in the studio.  But the Creole Jazz Band and the Wolverines were always at a distance.  It was rather like hearing someone describe transcendent spiritual experiences I hadn’t had.

Until now.

I know I am coming late to this particular party, but five compact discs issued in the past few years have been astonishing musical experiences.  The first set, KING OLIVER: OFF THE RECORD, presents all the 1923 recordings by the Creole Jazz Band — originally issued on Gennett, OKeh, and Paramount.  37 tracks on two CDs, with all the alternate takes, everything in chronological order, with a beautifully detailed / scholarly set of liner notes.

(A word about the liner notes for these CDs — writer, scholar, trombonist David Sager deserves a round of applause with a hug after for his candor.  Most liner-note writers know that their job is to say every note is a masterpiece, but Sager praises the high points and also honestly notes when things are ever so slightly collapsing.  Hooray for objective listening, even to hallowed masterpieces!)  Beautiful rare photographs and newspaper clippings, too — pages to get lost in.

But all this wouldn’t mean much if the sound was murky or overly processed.  (Some issues of the Oliver band had been made into “stereo,” shrill on the left and thumpy on the right, a bad idea for sure.)

The sound that comes out of the speaker from these CDs is bright without being fraudulent.  One can hear the individual instruments in a way not previously possible.  I can actually HEAR the interweaving of Papa Joe and Louis on cornets; I can get an idea of how the ensemble parts twined around each other.  Without hyperbole, I hear the music — the band — for the first time.

The same is true for Off The Record’s CD devoted to the Wolverine Orchestra.

The Wolverine recordings, like the Olivers, were also seen and packaged, because of the star system in jazz, as showcases for one musician.  True, Bix stands out, across the decades, as THE player in that band.  But these new transfers allow us to hear him in the larger context — not simply as the loudest player in the group.  It is possible to appreciate the particular rhythmic swagger that these young fellows brought to the studio — “sock time,” intense yet relaxed, that strikes us as both new and familiar.  Sager makes a good case for the band being “modern,” which allows us a deeper understanding of what they were attempting and how they did (and didn’t) succeed.

Four tracks by post-Wolverine groups featuring Bix — the SIOUX CITY SIX and BIX AND HIS RHYTHM JUGGLERS — are here, as well as the two later Wolverine sides with Jimmy McPartland (1924) and four from 1927.  But a great pleasure of this CD comes at its close with two recordings from May 24, 1928, billed as THE ORIGINAL WOLVERINES — LIMEHOUSE BLUES and DEAR OLD SOUTHLAND, with a clarinetist / saxophonist who could only be Frank Teschemacher (Bud Freeman and Jess Stacy said they heard Tesch on these sides, and who would argue with that?)

The third set, although it initially doesn’t have the “star power” of the Oliver – Louis – Bix issues, is deliciously rewarding.

Most jazz fans of a certain age will have heard at least a few Creole Jazz Band or Wolverine tracks.  But perhaps only diligent musical archaeologists will have heard the music on CABARET ECHOES.

Again, the recordings are wonderfully bright (and I don’t mean harsh with an overemphasis on the treble).

Much of what we call “New Orleans jazz” was inevitably at a distance.  Musicians from that city recorded in Chicago and New York once they had migrated North; some returned home in the Forties and later.  This collection, although it begins with Ory’s Sunshine Orchestra, recorded in Santa Monica, California, offers twenty-four selections recorded in New Orleans by OKeh between March 1924 and January 1925.  I had read about Johnny DeDroit, Fate Marable (with a young Zutty Singleton), the Original Crescent City Jazzers (Stirling Bose, likewise), Johnny Bayersdorffer, the Half-Way House Orchestra (with Leon Roppolo), Anthony Parenti’s Famous Melody Boys, Billy and Mary Mack (with Punch Miller), Brownlee’s Orchestra, John Tobin’s Midnight Serenaders, and the Original Tuxedo Jazz Orchestra — but I’d heard perhaps three or four sides of this grouping.

It’s easy to hear — from the six sides by Ory’s Sunshine Orchestra — how powerfully energetic that band was in 1922.  And even earlier, there are enthusiastic sides by a 1918-1920 jazz band featuring one Jimmy Durante on piano.  A world of delights that most of us have never heard.

That would be enough for most listeners.  But a surprise awaits,  Between the discs themselves, this collection offers excerpts from oral histories, so that we can hear Kid Ory, his daughter Babette, Johnny DeDroit, Amos White, Yvonne Powers Gass (daughter of saxophonist Eddie Powers), Abbie Brunies, Joe Loyocano, Tony Parenti, Tony Sbarbaro, Billy Mack and Mary McBride, Norman Brownlee, “Baba” Ridgley, and Arnold Loyocano — an amazing set of first-hand narratives from the original sources . . . in their own voices.

Back to the Sound for a moment.  As “new technologies” come into view, many individuals have tried to make the old recordings “listenable.”  Some have seen their role as removing all extraneous noise — which, when done without subtlety, also removes much of the music.  Doug Benson, with help from generous collectors, has done a magnificent job of preserving the sound without reshaping it to a set of arbitrary aesthetics of what it “should” sound like in 2012.

This was accomplished through simple intelligent methods: get the best available copy of the original disc; play it with the stylus that offered the most sound; make sure that the disc was playing at the right speed (so that the music was in a recognizable key); judiciously apply the most subtle digital restoration.

It’s taken me this long to write this review because I’ve been entranced by the sound — and the sounds — and have gone back to the old paradigm of playing one track at a time rather than making the CDs into hot background music.  But each track is a powerful auditory experience.  The veils are lifted.

Click CREOLE  to read more about the Oliver CDs.  Click BIX to read more about the Wolverines CD.  And CABARET  will tell you all about CABARET ECHOES.  You can, when visiting these pages, click on a variety of links to hear brief audio samples, but hearing excerpts through earbuds or your computer’s speakers will give only a small fraction of the sonic pleasures that await.

I seriously suggest that any jazz fan who wants to hear — to know, to understand — what “those old records” really sounded like (and thus be transported) should consider these compact discs.

And — with equal seriousness — I suggest them as aids to a happy relationship: every partner who has ever walked through the room where the “old records” are being played and said, gently or scornfully, “How can you listen to those scratchy old records?  How can you hear anything?” might pick up the Off the Record CDs as a gift — not only for the jazz-loving partner, but to actually HEAR what (s)he loves so deeply.  (“Can these marriages be saved?”  “Yeah, man!”)

May your happiness increase.

BOB WILLOUGHBY’S REMARKABLE PORTRAITS

Because they give themselves to what they are creating, jazz musicians make splendid photographic subjects.

Bob Willoughby, who died in 2009, wasn’t the first to capture their intensity, lack of self-consciousness, and energy on camera.  But his beautiful volume of photographs and recollections, JAZZ: BODY AND SOUL, shows on every page that his work is superbly moving.  (Evans Mitchell, 2012, 192 pages, hardbound.)

Since musicians — in the act of creation — aren’t standing still, some photographs begin to look like versions of poses we have already seen a thousand times before: the horn player, face distended, sweating, looking like a runner just before crossing the finish line; the intimate relationship between the singer and the vertical microphone; the drummer, moving so quickly that the sticks blur.  Other photographs entrance us because they are the only visual evidence we have that an otherwise obscure musician was ever seen.

Willoughby’s work goes well beyond these formulas, although some of his images have been reproduced so widely that they are now the way that we mentally identify the subject.  But even his most famous pictures have something to offer us, a half-century after they were created.

The book is divided into two sections: one of Wlloughby’s West Coast photographs from 1950 to — Billie Holiday, Wardell Gray, Miles Davis, George Shearing, Ella Fitzgerald, Gene Krupa, Roy Eldridge, Coleman Hawkins, Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Ventura, Billy Eckstine, Louis Armstrong, the Stan Kenton Orchestra, Duke Ellington, Ray Nance, Paul Gonsalves, Johnny Hodges, Bing Crosby, Grace Kelly, Chet Baker, Gerry Mulligan, Paul Desmond, Dave Brubeck, Peggy Lee.  Particularly absorbing is a series of dramatic photographs catching the emotional interplay between saxophonist Big Jay McNeely and a crowd in hysterical rapture.  Willoughby photographed Benny Goodman, Teddy Wilson, Stan Getz, Buck Clayton, Martha Tilton and friends during the recording sessions for the soundtrack of THE BENNY GOODMAN STORY.  An extended photo-essay on Frank Sinatra tells us more than any biography.

The second section of the book offers photographs Willoughby created in Germany in 1992 and 1994 — fascinating portraits of Lee Konitz, Marcus Roberts, Jon Faddis, Art Farmer, Wynton Marsalis, Pat Metheny, John Lewis, Mulligan much transformed by the years, and many others.

Having purchased many volumes of photographs of jazz musicians, I tend to look at the book with fascination immediately after their purchase . . . but not often after.  Willoughby’s book has proven itself an exception.  In tne month that I have had a copy, I have come back to it over and over, drawn by what his eye captured — tantalizing wordless dramas that open deeper each time I stare into the pages.

And the appeal of the book is wider than the allure of the musicians portrayed there.  Without being precious or coy, Willoughby created small paintings full of feeling, emotion coming through the lovely blacks, greys, and whites.  He was a master of seeing, of shaping line and angle, shape and focus.  I look at these portraits and I can feel Louis’ happiness, imagine the words passing between Bing and Frank on the set of CAN-CAN, hear Billie’s voice.  In addition, Willoughby’s photos are idiosyncratic master classes for photographers: what to emphasize, what to leave out. . . all the more remarkable because he captured his subjects in the moment.

Marc Myers, of JAZZ WAX, knew and spoke with Willoughby, and the essays Marc has created about the man and his work are rewarding (with photographs that will astonish): read more here and here.   The book’s website — with even more beautiful pictures — can be found here.  Willoughby’s photographs reward the eye.

May your happiness increase.

REVERE THE DEAD, EMBRACE THE LIVING

From an English formal garden, 2010, a flower that is very much alive. Photograph by Michael Steinman

When does deep reverence become a self-created prison?

With my video camera, I attempt to capture what I think of as emotionally powerful performances by musicians playing and singing in 2012.  I don’t expect everyone to share my preferences.  But a comment posted on a YouTube video of an artist who isn’t yet forty took me by surprise.  Here it is, paraphrased:

Younger Artist’s performance is alright but isn’t distinct enough. Where are the Xs, Ys, and Zs (insert the names of Great Dead Musicians here)?

My first reaction was annoyance on behalf of the Younger Artist, someone whose work I admire, being made tiny in comparison with The Heroic Dead.

And then I felt sad for the commenter, whose ears were so full of the dead artists he loved that he didn’t have room in his consciousness for someone living who sounded different.

Many of us who love this music have spent a long time entranced by the sounds and images of those people who have “made the transition,” who are no longer on the planet.  Charlie Christian and Jimmie Blanton died before I was born, and that doesn’t obstruct my admiration for them.  So a historical perspective — something to be cultivated — has a good deal of reverence for the dead as its foundation.  Otherwise the reader / listener / viewer chases Novelty: this is the best band because it’s the newest, and Thursday’s child is fairer of face than Tuesday’s.  What was his name again?

But for some listeners, the dark shadow of NOT AS GOOD AS hangs over their experience of this lively art.  So that Kid J, a wonderful musician, is somehow unworthy when compared to Bix, Louis, Bunk, Coltrane, Jo, Billie . . .  And because we can so easily acquire almost every note that Lester Young or Peggy Lee (to pick names at random) recorded, we can fill our ears and iPods with the almost three-dimensional aural presence of our Gods and Goddesses from morning to night.  Very seductive!

What if that idolatry closes the door on our ability to appreciate the men and women who are creating it LIVE for us in clubs, concerts, dance halls, videos, discs, and the like?  The experience of being in the same place as musicians who are improvising is not the same as listening to a recording or even watching the video clip.

The improviser or improvisers creates something new and tangy, something that didn’t exist before, right in front of us.  And if there’s no one recording it with a video camera or an iPhone, it’s gone into memory.  The people on the bandstand giggle, take a deep breath, wipe their faces, take a swig of water, and prepare to create something vibrant on the next song.

This williingness to take risks in the name of music is very brave and very beautiful, and we should embrace the living people who are attempting to make a living by making art.  There will be time to sit on the couch and listen to records or mp3s.  There will be time to make critical judgments that the Living aren’t as good as the Dead.

In the recent past, I have heard tenor saxophonists who made me feel the same way Ben Webster does, pianists who make me as elated as Mel Powell does . . . and I could keep both perceptions in my mind, honoring the living and the dead.

I am not, by the way, saying that Everyone has to like Everything.  My own range is narrow by many people’s standards.  But when I hear an artist I’ve never encountered before, and (s)he elates me, it is a deep reward.  It doesn’t mean I am being disloyal to the dead if I applaud a living musician, does it?  But I think some people live in the land of Either / Or and thus, unwittingly, cut themselves off from possible pleasure.

I imagine someone, seventeen or so, walking past the Greenwich Village club called THE PIED PIPER or the RIVIERA (the latter stands, although without music) in 1944, looking at the sandwich sign on the street, advertising James P. Johnson, Max Kaminsky, Rod Cless, Frank Orchard . . . and thinking, “Nah.  He’s no Fats Waller; he’s no Bix; he’s no Tesch; he’s no Jimmy Harrison,” and choosing not to go in . . . and having the next fifty or sixty years to regret his choice.

Artists (and people) are perhaps only Different . . . not Better or Worse.

May your happiness increase.

A SWING TIME WAS HAD BY ALL (Part One): ROSSANO SPORTIELLO, STEPHANIE TRICK, NICKI PARROTT, HAL SMITH (Dominican University, San Rafael, California: July 28, 2012)

The pianist Rossano Sportiello is a consistent delight as a musician and as a gracious, witty person — someone I’ve admired since I first heard him play and met him in autumn 2004.  And he has good taste in musical friends / colleagues / accomplices: witness the first set of this concert from Saturday, July 28, 2012, at Dominican University in San Rafael, California, produced by Paul Blystone.

Rossano was joined by the expert drummer Hal Smith, the strong bassist and charming singer Nicki Parrott, and the young piano phenomenon Stephanie Trick.

The concert at Dominican University took place in the beautifully old-fashioned Angelico Hall — great acoustics — and these four players obviously took Jake Hanna’s advice: “Start swinging from the beginning.  If you’re not swinging, what are you there for?” to heart from the first note.

Every solo passage was beautifully shaped, but the generous interplay among the four musicians was even more rewarding.  Duo-piano concerts sometimes become an overwhelming tidal wave of notes, but Rossano, Stephanie, Nicki, and Hal were gracious swing conversationalists, politely leaving the other players (and the audience) room to breathe.

They began with a sentimental favorite (often used to end the dance!) that became a swing classic in the Thirties, I’LL SEE YOU IN MY DREAMS:

Since everyone except Nicki was already seated, it was perhaps logical to play I’M GONNA SIT RIGHT DOWN AND WRITE MYSELF A LETTER — and it honors Mister Waller, always a good idea:

I NEVER KNEW brings back the 1933 Benny Carter recording with Teddy Wilson as well as the irreplaceable Keynote session with Lester Young, Slam Stewart, Johnny Guarneri, and Sidney Catlett:

Stephanie took the stage for a leisurely AIN’T MISBEHAVIN’:

Here she rocks SHOUT FOR JOY:

Willie “the Lion” Smith’s early KEEP YOUR TEMPER:

Nicki turns romantic with a pretty EAST OF THE SUN:

Ms. Parrott raised the temperature in the hall considerably with her rendition of Peggy Lee’s FEVER:

And the foursome closed the first half with a dual homage — to the Benny Goodman small groups and the stride master James P. Johnson, who composed RUNNIN’ WILD:

More to come.

May your happiness increase.

LISA MAXWELL SINGS HAPPILY

The fine pianist, arranger, and scholar Keith Ingham left a message on my phone in July, saying that he had recorded a session with a singer who was very good and whom I would like.  Keith hasn’t been wrong yet.

Thanks to Keith, I had the pleasure of hearing Lisa Maxwell, and I hope you will share that pleasure.

Her brand-new CD, accurately called HAPPY,  is just out on CDBaby and will be on iTunes in a few days.  It will soon be available in the tangible form (disc plus notes plus jewel box) that some of us love so well.  Whatever form you find it in, it’s delightful.

Easy on the ear, as they used to say, but not Easy Listening.

The CDBaby link is http://www.cdbaby.com/cd/LisaMaxwell1

There, you can hear brief samples of each track — samples that should give you a clear idea of what a genuinely unaffected singer Lisa is.

Here are the notes I wrote for HAPPY, which will give some indication of how much I like the music she and her friends made:

When Keith Ingham says, “I have a singer I’d like you to hear,” you pay attention, because he has worked and recorded with Maxine Sullivan, Peggy Lee, Susannah McCorkle, and many more.

And then Lisa Maxwell’s voice comes out of the speakers and you bask in her exuberant confidence.

Lisa has all the virtues any singer could ask for. Her voice is appealing; her rhythm glides; her phrasing is all her own. She knows that each song is its own little playlet. Without dramatizing, she lets the song itself take center stage.

Unlike many singers who toy with or obliterate lyrics, Lisa deeply respects the words, “How I adore the brilliance of those writers, how their words form the picture! Then they’re intertwined with the notes that project the story into another dimension.” She sings with a deep intuitive awareness; the lyrics are not simply a series of syllables to get through. Her understanding of the music comes through in every bar: she isn’t tied to the notes, but she respects the composer’s intention while she rides the rhythm easily. Listen as she takes the twists and turns of I’LL TAKE ROMANCE, how nimbly she threads through SUNDAY IN NEW YORK.

Lisa’s gentle, floating approach creates vistas of sound and feeling. She doesn’t strain or emote, but gets inside each song and makes it glow. She sounds light-hearted, innocent, but the illusion of such artlessness can only be given us by a mature artist. Lisa has a sufficiently strong personality to simultaneously embrace the shade of Billie Holiday on YOU CAN’T LOSE A BROKEN HEART and to make her own way within the song.

She believes in the songs she chooses to sing, and a conversational candor animates MY HEART GOES WITH YOU and THIS IS ALWAYS. Throughout this disc, Lisa’s second choruses build on her first; she’s a low-key but effective improviser.

Much of the repertoire is familiar, but she gently makes these songs new, “I’ve done many of them many times, some less so, one (“My Heart Goes With You”) never. I loved the idea of being totally spontaneous in these sessions, along with Keith, and gave him complete freedom to arrange in any way he wanted. I wanted to be collaborative, to share in the purest sense, to go along for the ride. I want everyone to be “Happy” and everyone involved deserved their solos, their chances to shine. I love their work.”

And the playing is delightfully cohesive: Keith’s supportive lines, with never a superfluous note; Frank Tate’s deep woody sound and his splendid pulse; Al Gafa’s muted chimes, Steve Little’s padding brushwork; Ben Wittman’s just-right percussive seasonings.

Keith’s arrangements are full of irresistible pleasures: the interpolation of MANHATTAN in SUNDAY IN NEW YORK; the joyous swing of IT MIGHT AS WELL BE SPRING and BLUE MOON, the start of JUNE NIGHT that suggests that some JIVE AT FIVE at a campsite might have helped this summer evening be a memorable one.

SOMEONE TO WATCH OVER ME sounds so genuine in its sweet seriousness, with Keith’s piano underscoring every note. In Lisa’s unaffected delivery, the wistful message comes through with delicacy and strength.

Lisa says, “I have a long relationship with this song, going way back to my studying at HB Studios in the Eighties. Working on this song, I was torn to shreds by my teacher for “not feeling it.” I was never going to accept that. Keith and I did it in one take, at the end of our two day recording session.”

Another understated masterwork is her version of THE FOLKS WHO LIVE ON THE HILL. Hear how Lisa handles the bridge of that song, a passage many singers flatten. Her deep, gentle sincerity comes through – she’s smiling, not resigned, “This song is my personal “Over the Rainbow,” painting a picture of the most sublime, simple life. A perfect home, a perfect setting, a perfect relationship, involving children, and the acceptance of time passing, and things changing and remaining optimistic.”

The music from these sessions reminds me of a time, not so long ago, when jazz and “popular music” co-existed and drew strength from each other: when Joe Wilder and Milt Hinton and Barbra Streisand and Bobby Darin worked together – a golden time, taken for granted, but not forgotten. And we have Lisa Maxwell to thank for this happy marriage of classic American songs and swinging chamber music.

She refuses to show off, to be the Star. Rather, her singing takes us gently inside the lyrics and the melody, helping us hear afresh what they say and embody about our shared experiences. And by her very graceful approach to these songs, she wins our hearts.

It all comes back to Lisa’s title for this CD, “I think my approach is both happy in my delivery, which will, I hope, make people feel happy as they listen. Additionally, I am FINALLY happy with myself as a singer. It has been a long, determined road for me, all about wanting to get good, and “owning” my interpretations. I have been driven since I was eight years old, and I believe the voice, whether speaking or singing, is MY way to express my soul. Singing is a very physical experience for me, deep inside.”

To Lisa Maxwell, “Each tune is a story to me,” and HAPPY lets us hear and learn from a superb storyteller.

ANOTHER WONDROUS PIANIST SIGNS IN

Jimmy Rowles was a wizard of light and shade, of wit and deep feeling at the piano.  I momentarily fell into one of my eBay reveries and considered bidding on this artifact (which seems to be less mutable than the recent “Arthur Tatum” sighting) but then thought, “What would I do with it?”  Perhaps the wiser act is merely to post it here so that everyone can admire it — without succumbing to the costly need to HAVE it.

Rowles autograph

And if you haven’t listened to Rowles recently, I urge you to do so — joking around with Billie and Artie Shapiro at a Clef rehearsal, with Ben, Lester, BG, Zoot, or Peggy Lee — inimitable and wholly himself.

SONGBIRD IN THE MOONLIGHT

During the Swing Era, it seemed that swinging women singers (the trade magazines called them “chirps”) were everywhere: Billie Holiday, Mildred Bailey, Lee Wiley, Maxine Sullivan, Helen Ward, Peggy Lee, Anita O’Day, Connee Boswell, Ivie Anderson, Helen Humes, Teddy Grace, and two dozen others.  Now, many years later, the ranks have thinned to a very precious few.  Many of the more famous “jazz singers” veer unattractively into melodrama of one kind or another.  I won’t sully this blog by listing their names, but they have little relation to the art as we know it. 

What might jazz singing consist of — leaving aside the more colorful extremes exemplified by genuises such as Leo Watson and Betty Carter?  How about a neat yet undefinable mix of these qualities: feeling (strong yet controlled), understanding of the lyrics and their emotional potential, innately swinging time, a sense of humor, clear delivery, an ability to improvise on the same level as the best instrumentalists . . .

Molly Ryan, whose new CD I am celebrating here, SONGBIRD IN THE MOONLIGHT, knows the jazz tradition but isn’t trapped inside it.  She has a lovely pure voice, with an especially crystalline upper register, but she isn’t imprisoned by that either.   

cd-songbirdinthemoonlight  When I first heard Molly sing a few years ago, I thought she had good qualities in abundance: she swung, she was enthusiastic without overacting, she had fine time and clear diction, and she sang as if she knew what the words meant.  Her second choruses didn’t simply repeat her first, and she sounded greatly like Helen Ward.  Now, I’m not always in favor of what Barbara Lea called “Sounding Like” as an artistic goal, but Helen Ward was someone special, her vocal beauties not always recognized.  She was passionately earnest without being histrionic, and she had a sweet little cry in her voice — hard to explain but instantly recognizable. 

Molly’s CD shows that she has completely understood the lessons Ward taught on every record date.  Even better, Molly sounds very much like herself.  And what, you might ask, does that sound like?  The flip answer would be, “Buy the CD and find out for yourself,” but my readers deserve better.  Molly’s voice is sweet without being sticky, with a certain winsomeness.  She isn’t venturing into the dark land of High Tragedy on this CD, except for her evocation of “All the Sad Young Men”.  She swings easily and conveys feeling with great style.  A gentle tenderness imbues every track.  I particularly appreciated her warm approach to “I Was Lucky” and “Around the World,” although she drives “What A Little Moonlight Can Do” in fine style.   

The Twenties tradition was that there usually was a gap between the soloist and the accompaniment, or the singer and the band — Bessie Smith sang majestically but her colleagues were sometimes leaden.  Or we waited for Putney Dandridge to finish so that Chu Berry could play.  Here, Molly exists easily and comfortably on the same high level as the fine jazz players around her: Dan Levinson on clarinet and tenor; Mark Shane on piano; Kevin Dorn on drums; Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet, on three of the eighteen tracks. 

In Levinson’s graceful clarinet playing I hear a good deal of Mr. Goodman, but he isn’t merely copying the King’s pet phrases.  He is mobile without being ornate, always to the point.  His tenor playing, smooth and persuasive, reminds me of Eddie Miller (someone whose name you don’t hear often, which is a pity).  And his homespun singing in “By Myself” is quietly charming.  Kevin Dorn knows all there is to know about irresistibly swinging brushwork that urges the band forward without drmanding the spotlight.  I’d like everyone to pay much closer attention to Mark Shane — his solos dance and glitter; his accompaniment lifts and enlivens.  Shane’s four-bar introductions are wonderful compositions in themselves.  And Jon-Erik is in splendid empathic form on “It’s Wonderful,” “It’s A Sin To Tell A Lie,” and “What A Little Moonlight Can Do.”

This is a wonderfully-realized CD, with beautifully intimate recorded sound courtesy of Peter Karl, a rewardingly diversified repertoire, insightful and gracious liner notes . . . . I couldn’t ask for anything more except for a sequel in the immediate future.  For more information about Molly, visit her website at www.mollyryan.com.  To purchase this CD, email loupgarous@aol.com., or visit www.loupgarous.com.  Of course, both Molly and Dan will have copies at their gigs, which will afford you the double pleasure of hearing them live and taking home a jazz souvenir.