Tag Archives: Petra van Nuis

CLASSICS MADE NEW: DAWN LAMBETH, KRIS TOKARSKI, JONATHAN DOYLE, LARRY SCALA, MARC CAPARONE, NOBU OZAKI, HAL SMITH (San Diego Jazz Fest, November 26, 2017)

Dawn Lambeth, Kris Tokarski, Larry Scala, Nobu Ozaki, Hal Smith, Jonathan Doyle, Marc Caparone at the San Diego Jazz Fest

What Phil Schaap calls “the swing-song tradition” — a nimble swinging singer accompanied by an equally swinging group — is epitomized for most people by the 1933-42 recordings Billie Holiday made with Teddy Wilson, Lester Young, and other luminaries.  However, it was going on before Billie entered the studio (Connie Boswell, Lee Wiley, Mildred Bailey) and it continues to this day (Rebecca Kilgore, Daryl Sherman, Barbara Rosene, Petra van Nuis, and others).  Dawn Lambeth shines in this setting, and the three performances captured here at the San Diego Jazz Fest both reflect the great tradition and show what joy and art these musicians bring to it.  (I was reminded often, as well, of the late-life recordings Maxine Sullivan made in Sweden, which are very dear to me.)

I know that the tradition wasn’t exclusively female — think of Henry “Red” Allen among others — but I am holding back from making a list of all the swingers.  You’ll understand.

If you more evidence of Dawn’s magic — and the band’s — before proceeding, I invite you to visit here and here.  She sounds wonderful, and there’s fine riffin’ that evening.

Here are three beauties from that same set.  First, Irving Berlin’s ALL BY MYSELF (which is really quite a lament — but not when swung this way):

Then, the tender ONE HOUR — someone is sure to write in and say that it is really called IF I COULD BE WITH YOU ONE HOUR TONIGHT.  Yes, Sir (there are no Female Corrections Officers in jazz-blog-land!) — by James P. Johnson and Henry Creamer:

And finally, Mr. Berlin’s I’M PUTTING ALL MY EGGS IN ONE BASKET, with thanks to Fred Astaire, as always:

To quote Chubby Jackson, but without a touch of irony, “Wasn’t that swell?”  I certainly think so.

May your happiness increase!

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“LESSONS LYRICAL”: PETRA VAN NUIS and ANDY BROWN

This is a clangorous world where people have trouble getting their message across, so something gentle is more than welcome.  That quality of intelligent gentleness lifts the new CD, LESSONS LYRICAL, by singer Petra van Nuis and guitarist Andy Brown, above the ordinary.  By “gentle,” though, I don’t mean soporific — this is not aural Valium — but it comes in the ear like honey.

Don’t let LESSONS make you take a step back, however.  There’s not a hint of the classroom or the ashram here, just songs selected because their melodies and lyrics contain the gentlest of life-lessons to be absorbed, remembered, enjoyed.  The title refers to the lessons both Petra and Andy acknowledge with gratitude from their heroes and mentors, the musicians and elders who gave of their life experiences.  And you can hear that loving wisdom throughout this CD.

Before you read another word, visit Petra’s site to hear song samples from this new CD.  And you should also notice that you can purchase copies of it right below the listing of songs.  (The holidays — whatever they are — are coming.)

Petra and Andy are a wonderful musical team (they’re also married, and they don’t bicker, either in words or notes): they’ve worked together so well and so kindly that their unity is delightful.  Petra’s singing is perfectly aimed at the listener: her sweet voice, clear diction, and individualistic phrasing set her apart from many other singers.  She values the lyric message without pounding it into our ears, but it’s clear the words mean everything to her.  And she improvises in her quietly swinging way: compare her first and second choruses on WHO CARES? for a vivid but soft-spoken example.  She can be tender, rueful, wistful, but she can also romp: her summons to DOCTOR JAZZ is a pager that no medical professional could ignore.  For his part, Andy is a portable orchestra, a wonderful soloist — hear his opening soliloquy on YOU’RE BLASÉ and his solo choruses on this disc, and admire his splendid accompaniment.  The overall effect is spare but rich, making this a disc to be savored rather than gobbled down in a sitting.

While you are waiting for your copies of LESSONS LYRICAL to arrive, I can offer you an hour’s present: Petra and Andy in concert at the Jazz Showcase in October — nearly an hour of music full of quiet ardor:

In person, Andy and Petra are anything but professorial or somber.  They don’t lecture or pontificate.  But it’s clear they have the most dear and lasting lessons for anyone who can hear and feel.

May your happiness increase!

“HAVIN’ MYSELF A TIME”: PETRA VAN NUIS, ANDY SCHUMM, DAN BARRETT, ANDY BROWN, SCOTT ROBINSON, FRANK TATE, RICKY MALICHI (Cleveland Classic Jazz Party, Sept. 16, 2017)

Photograph by Bill Klewitz

My title comes from a wonderful, lesser-known song by Ralph Rainger and Leo Robin, from a minor Paramount Pictures comedy, TROPICAL HOLIDAY — with Ray Milland, Dorothy Lamour, Martha Raye (possibly playing a matador) and Bob Burns.

We know the song because it was recorded by Billie Holiday in 1938.

And it was performed anew by Petra van Nuis and Friends at the 2017 Cleveland Classic Jazz Party.

Petra had herself a time with some of the best players I know: Ricky Malichi, drums; Frank Tate, string bass; Andy Brown, guitar; Andy Schumm, cornet; Dan Barrett, trombone; Scott Robinson, reeds; Noah Won, piano.

Petra, if you are new to her or her work, can also be seen having a wonderful swinging time at Cleveland here on Sunday morning with an entirely different cast of luminaries: John Di Martino, Nicki Parrott, and Hal Smith.

Rather like our swing ideal Rebecca Kilgore, Petra doesn’t choose to drown herself in melancholy on the bandstand: even when she sings EVENIN’, the brisk tempo reminds us that the grim lyrics are only half the story.  Her outlook is optimistic, as you will see and hear in these four wonderful performances.

She began with an upbeat song, almost a century old, SAVE YOUR SORROW:

After that encouraging beginning, Petra moved to “an old Billie Holiday song,” but you’ll notice she doesn’t attempt to be the Lady — no meow, no rasp:

Another song identified with Billie and Basie (built on DIGA DIGA DOO, I now know by hearsay), SWING, BROTHER, SWING — also a policy statement from the van Nuis camp:

And finally, a real pleasure.  Petra is tall and svelte, but here she extends an affectionate embrace to those who, like me, ruefully are neither.  It’s Fats’ SQUEEZE ME, with the shade of Mildred Bailey in the wings, grinning:

It is so dreadfully unpopular these days to suggest that jazz of any kind is “happy music”; to some it conjures up nightmarish visions of striped jackets and straw boaters.  But Petra and a first-class band create joy.

And here is her website, where you can see other videos, learn all about her and the Recession Seven, and find out where she’ll be appearing next.

May your happiness increase!

BOTH “FINE” AND “DANDY”: PETRA VAN NUIS, JOHN DI MARTINO, NICKI PARROTT, HAL SMITH at the Cleveland Classic Jazz Party (September 17, 2017)

Photograph by Bill Klewitz

One of the many pleasures of the recent Cleveland Classic Jazz Party was the opportunity to hear the wonderful singer Petra van Nuis, someone who has been pleasing Chicago audiences for the past decade and more.  She can sing is the simplest way to put it.  Although she has a fine sense of humor — catch her introductions to songs in this set — it bubbles out of her rather than being a rehearsed routine.  She has her own sound and phrasing — conversational, occasionally surprising, but it always honors the lyrics and comes out of her deep respect for words as well as melodies.  She improvises but does not obliterate the composers’ intent, and I came away from this quietly glowing set feeling that I had heard the songs in emotionally satisfying ways.  This delicious interlude is the result of Petra’s sensibility: her nice mix of delicate yet intense feeling and buoyant swing.  I could delineate the pleasures of each chorus she sings, but I’d rather leave those sweet surprises to you as you watch and listen.

Petra’s instrumental colleagues have the same spirit: a sweet focused attentiveness that delights in small details without losing sight of the songs themselves.  Nicki and Hal are long-time friends, people I admire for many reasons: their generous spirits, their melodic inventiveness.  John Di Martino was new to me, and he’s a wonder: his beautiful touch, his wise harmonies, and his willingness to put himself in the service of the music: he is secure enough in his self to do just those things that make his colleagues shine so brightly.  It’s only after you get accustomed to his selfless creativity that you realize just how wonderful his playing is.

If it seems as if I admire this group and the music they make, that impression would be correct.  Here, “without further ado,” is a glorious Sunday-afternoon interlude.  And, as Hal said to me afterwards, “You could see a lot of smiles and laughs, and none of them were forced!”  I’m still grinning.

DAY IN, DAY OUT:

On MY OLD FLAME, hear how Petra delicately yet meaningfully offers the first two phrases — the mark of very great exposition of lyrics and melody:

MY HEART BELONGS TO DADDY has lent itself (in lesser hands) to caricature, but not here:

Let us honor Irving Berlin once again.  How beautiful I GOT LOST IN HIS ARMS is — its apparently plain melody allied to simple words, the whole being so moving when Petra explores it:

Both FINE AND DANDY here!  And blessings on the rhythm team for a fine 1944 Johnny Guarnieri groove to start:

I’M JUST A LUCKY SO-AND-SO:

After this set, we all felt just as fortunate.  And grateful.

May your happiness increase!

PETRA’S RECESSION SEVEN LIVE AT THE JAZZ SHOWCASE (July 31, 2017)

Make yourself comfortable.

Andy Brown, Petra van Nuis, Eric Schneider

What follows is rare and worth celebration.  On the face of it, it might seem unremarkable: a young singer leading a jazz septet through seven songs, several of them venerable but sounding fresh.  However, this performance by Petra van Nuis — leading “Petra’s Recession Seven” at Chicago’s Jazz Showcase on July 31, 2017 — is delightful simply because it is traditional without being dusty, original without being abrasive, simultaneously expert and free-floating.

The smiles on everyone’s face tell you that they know Music is being made.  Petra and her Seven exude the joyous confidence of people who know how to get inside the music in genuine ways.

The Seven is (are?) Andy Brown, guitar; Bob Ojeda, trumpet; Russ Phillips, trombone; Eric Schneider, reeds; Dan DeLorenzo, string bass; Bob Rummage, drums.  Before you venture into the delightful forty-eight minutes and twenty-four seconds of this video (accuracy is always desirable), the songs Petra and her band have chosen say a great deal about a deep immersion in music that has feeling, intelligence, and buoyancy — songs that deserve to be heard but are neither esoteric nor “chestnuts” too long in the fire.

Since women are still paid a serious percentage less than men, I applaud Petra’s taking on the Tiny Grimes – Charlie Parker opus, ROMANCE WITHOUT FINANCE, for her own, making it both straightforward and witty.  I don’t know if there’s a causal link to Morton’s SWEET SUBSTITUTE, which portrays the ideally devoted male partner: deciphering is up to you.  A jubilant EVERYBODY LOVES ME BABY is an even more solid affirmation, with Petra and the band essaying this Twenties romp with no condescension, no faux-Prohibition gestures.  IF YOU WERE MINE is just so tender (what a fine song it is!) but Petra’s approach is her own, deeply sinking into the lyrics without a hint of “homage” to Lady Day.  From Lady Day to O’Day — more pleasure in the trip UPTOWN.  SUGAR used to be a true standard, performed by everyone from Louis to Lee Wiley, but it’s now slightly neglected, a situation that I hope will soon be remedied. And an absolute highlight for me, Harry White’s EVENIN’ — again, a song that rewards us in many ways.  (And what a set closer!)

I haven’t said much about Petra’s singing: its virtues are evident from the first phrase: an irresistible swing, clear diction that isn’t obtrusively “correct,” a willingness to descend into the song rather than to make the song a showpiece for her, phrasing that sounds conversational but is full of small sweet improvisatory surprises, and a joyous confidence.  Like Petra, the Recession Seven never falters but it never sounds over-rehearsed and reheated.  The gratifying results come from devotion and earnest study, with musicians so expert that they thrive on risks and are happily loose.

Petra and Andy also have a new duet CD, LYRICAL LESSONS, which is an intimate, warm delight.

And you can click here to hear samples from it.

I will see Petra and Andy at the Cleveland Classic Jazz Party — September 14-18 — another reason to be there!  But if you can’t, you can hear and see them in all their unashamed glory on disc, on video, and in person.

May your happiness increase!

AUTUMN SERENADE: CLEVELAND CLASSIC JAZZ PARTY (Sept. 14-17, 2017)

I attended my first version of this party (it was then held in upstate New York and called JAZZ AT CHAUTAUQUA) in September 2004, and I wandered around in a dream-state, astonished by the music and the musicians, many of whom I’d heard for years but hadn’t been able to speak to in person.  And as a journalistic aside, the very first blogpost I wrote here — in early 2008 — was called GOIN’ TO CHAUTAUQUA — so this party and this blog have had a long cozy relationship.

A few years ago the party moved itself to Cleveland, Ohio, and reinvented itself — thanks to Nancy Griffith and Kathy Hancock — as the CLEVELAND CLASSIC JAZZ PARTY. Here is the event’s Facebook page.

In a world where jazz festivals get bigger and bigger and then sink without a trace, the CCJP is going strong.  From Thursday, September 14, to Sunday, September 17, 2017, music will be joyous and triumphant in comfortable surroundings among friends.  And the music is solid Mainstream, with no gimmicks — which you could expect, given the roster of performers.  The flyer I am looking at has, in small type, “Roster and Schedule subject to change,” but I think the players are fairly certain, barring attack by androids or arachnids.

On cornet / trumpet, Duke Heitger, Randy Reinhart, Andy Schumm; on trombone, Dan Barrett; on reeds, Dan Block, Ken Peplowski, Scott Robinson; on guitar / banjo, Howard Alden, Andy Brown; on piano, Ehud Asherie, James Dapogny, John Di Martino, Rossano Sportiello; on string bass, Joel Forbes, Nicki Parrott, Frank Tate; on drums, Ricky Malichi, Pete Siers, Hal Smith; on vocal, Petra van Nuis; gypsy swing quartet, the Faux Frenchmen; historian (giving a presentation on Ella’s centennial) Phil Atteberry.

On Thursday night, there’s an informal session (for donors and weekend patrons only) that begins at 7:30.  Friday begins with Phil Atteberry’s presentation on Ella (10:30-11:30) and then there are piano solos from 2-4 and an evening set from 5:30-11 and an hour’s set — anything goes — in the “Jazz Club.”  Saturday, music from 10-2 and again from 5:30-11 and 11-12.  Sunday, 9-1:30.  My math won’t stand the strain, but that is a great deal of music.  And as someone who feels morally committed to seeing and often recording everything, I appreciate the breaks, which give me and others time to sit and talk in tranquility.

For details — the name of the hotel, prices for individual sessions or the whole weekend, student scholarships, meals, and more, check here.

Should you go?  I think you should, if you can:

If that swinging jazz (from left, Hal Smith, Frank Tate, Rossano Sportiello) doesn’t in some ways motivate you, I don’t know what to suggest.

May your happiness increase!

“POPS!”: JOE POLICASTRO TRIO (DAVE MILLER, MIKEL AVERY, with guests ANDY BROWN, ANDY PRATT)

I am seriously out of touch with the pop culture of my generation.  Wake me at 4 AM, ask me for ten facts about Lester Young, and I can do it.  But Neil Young? Sorry.  There’s only so much space left on my internal hard drive, and if I choose to devote it to alternate takes of Sally Gooding with Teddy Wilson, go ahead and laugh.

When I received a copy of the fine Chicago bassist Joe Policastro’s new CD, below, I immediately thought that it would be related to Louis Armstrong.

JOE POLICASTRO 2016_pops cover

But once I started to listen, I was happy to have been wrong, since the music here is wonderful, an antidote to crabby narrowness.  Hear for yourself — the trio of Joe, the fine guitarist Dave Miller (whom I’ve admired — alongside Lena Bloch — in a variety of New York City surroundings), and the listening drummer Mikel Avery — working on the Sixties pop classic WIVES AND LOVERS here.  (I had that 45 single — by Jack Jones — in 1963 0r 4.)

Here’s Joe.  The music he creates is not as somber as this portrait:

JOE POLICASTRO

And Joe’s website.

I would like to see this CD in wide circulation, because the improvisations are so delightful.  Many of us have an unshakable fondness for certain songs — whether on their own terms, or because of sentimental associations — and we often want to hear jazz musicians improvise on just those songs.  I won’t enter into the needless argument whether Strayhorn is better than Porter or whether either of them is better than “those kids” Stevie Wonder and Prince.  Truly, once we brush away our associations, a strong melody is appealing, no matter who wrote it or when.  Think of Clark Terry and friends jamming on the FLINTSTONES theme.

So I dream of being in a car with a few Official Jazz Fans whose allegiances are clearly defined — let us say early Basie, 1960 Duke, Norvo-Farlow-Mingus, and so on, and playing this CD without identifying it.  And when the quibbling breaks out from the back, “Hey, Michael, that sounds good!  Who is it?  Let me have the CD sleeve so I can stop listening closely to the music and make judgments based on my reactions to people’s names, players and composers both!  I’ve got a little conceptual box right here!” I could politely say, “Please.  Just listen to the music and tell me what you think.  Life is only a Blindfold Test for people who want to be Blindfolded.”

I think they would come to the consensus that the music was superb, as I already have.  And then we could discuss players.  “That’s Joe Policastro!  What a fine bassist he is — I’ve seen and heard him with Andy Brown and Petra van Nuis.  He sings on his instrument.  And Dave Miller, full of surprise: I admired his work with Lena Bloch some time back.  That drummer Mikel is really swinging and paying attention.  And Andy twice — Brown and Pratt.  Where can I get this disc?”

Of course, some of the imaginary jazz fans in my car might recognize a few of the pop classics.  I know they would admire the gleeful, heartfelt transformations that Joe’s trio creates.

This disc would be an absolute hit with people who knew the pop originals but were ready to say how they didn’t like jazz, couldn’t listen to it, didn’t understand what “those people” were doing up there without any music stands.

For the record, the songs are WIVES AND LOVERS (Bachrach) / HARVEST MOON (Neil Young) / CREEPIN’ (Stevie Wonder) / WAVE OF MUTILATION (The Pixies) / MORE THAN A WOMAN (Bee Gees) / PRINCE MEDLEY: CONDITION OF THE HEART and DIAMONDS AND PEARLS / ME AND MRS. JONES (Billy Paul) / US AND THEM (Pink Floyd) / TAKE IT WITH ME (Tom Waits) / DRIVE (The Cars).

This session isn’t rock-pop played by jazz people in safe ways — for old folks who don’t want to be disturbed (i.e., wedding band music for those with delicate sensibilities).  There’s a good deal of inspired exploration, guitar sounds that made me think of TWIN PEAKS, energetic percussion.  No one would snooze through this disc: it’s not the twenty-first century version of THE HOLLYRIDGE STRINGS PLAY THE BEATLES.

POPS! is engaging inventive music.  And we’ll never have too much of that.

May your happiness increase!