Tag Archives: Petra van Nuis

“THE MYSTICAL MOIST NIGHT AIR”: PETRA van NUIS, ANDY BROWN, CHUCK WILSON, DAN BLOCK, KEITH INGHAM, ARNIE KINSELLA, VINCE GIORDANO (Jazz at Chautauqua, September 20, 2009)

With the frightening turmoil on land occupying my thought, the night sky seems a peaceful refuge, and Whitman’s WHEN I HEARD THE LEARN’D ASTRONOMER comes to mind:

When I heard the learn’d astronomer,
When the proofs, the figures, were ranged in columns before me,
When I was shown the charts and diagrams, to add, divide, and measure them,
When I sitting heard the astronomer where he lectured with much applause in the lecture-room,
How soon unaccountable I became tired and sick,
Till rising and gliding out I wander’d off by myself,
In the mystical moist night-air, and from time to time,
Look’d up in perfect silence at the stars.

Whitman approved of song — hence the title of his greatest work: I don’t think he would have turned away from the melodies I present here, delicious treasures from a vanished — but sweetly remembered — time and place.  And the poem speaks of savoring experience deeply, which is what the musicians we love both accomplish and share with us.

Here are two lovely musical vignettes from Sunday morning at Jazz at Chautauqua.  The first, Petra van Nuis and Andy Brown, dear friends, musing through the Burke-Van Heusen MOONLIGHT BECOMES YOU:

Then, Dan Block, tenor saxophone; Chuck Wilson, so deeply missed, alto saxophone; Keith Ingham, piano; Arnie Kinsella, drums; Vince Giordano, looking up at the meteor shower that gave birth to STARS FELL ON ALABAMA:

Tonight, immerse yourself in the night sky if you can.  Such vistas heal.

May your happiness increase!

FOR NOONE IN PARTICULAR: The CHICAGO CELLAR BOYS at the JUVAE JAZZ SOCIETY MINI-FEST: ANDY SCHUMM, DAVE BOCK, JOHNNY DONATOWICZ, JOHN OTTO, PAUL ASARO (Decatur, Illinois: March 30, 2019)

I had a wonderful time last weekend at the one-day jazz festival — the little party thrown by the Juvae Jazz Society in Decatur, Illinois.  Friendly kind people, hot music, sweet sounds, and good feelings in the Flatland.

The two bands I made the trek to hear are Petra van Nuis’ Recession Seven (more about them soon) and the Chicago Cellar Boys: Andy Schumm, cornet, clarinet, tenor saxophone, arrangements; John Otto, clarinet, alto saxophone; Paul Asaro, piano, vocals; Dave Bock, tuba; Johnny Donatowicz, banjo, guitar.

Andy made his name with most jazz audiences (I saw him, with Dave Bock, first in 2007, alongside Dan Barrett at Jazz at Chautauqua) as a hot cornetist, the closest thing to “the dear boy” possible.  But in the intervening years, he’s branched out to embody a whole variety of cornet styles, and he’s also shown himself to be a fine tenor player in the Jack Pettis mold, and a spectacular  clarinetist, evoking Tesch, Mezz, and Jimmie.  That’s Teschemacher, Mezzrow, and Noone for the newcomers.

The last fellow on that list — facetiously called “Jimmie No-One” by Kenny Davern, who loved his playing, is our subject today.  Noone’s little Apex Club band featured himself on clarinet, Doc Poston on alto, Earl Hines on piano, Bud Scott on banjo, Johnny Wells on drums, and Lawson Buford or Bill Newton on tuba.  This little band’s most remarkable trademark was the interplay between Noone and Poston, who had worked with Freddie Keppard and Doc Cook earlier.  Incidentally, I’m told that the Apex Club was at 330 East 35th Street on the South Side of Chicago.  Here is a current view of that address, not inspiring.  Sic transit gloria mundi.

Even though the architecture is obliterated, the music remains, so here are the Chicago Cellar Boys becoming the Apex Club Orchestra on two selections — one unrelated to Noone, the other a direct hit.

EL RADO SCUFFLE was in the band’s book, and I read somewhere that the club Noone’s group was working at was the El Dorado, but some letters were missing from the sign or some lights didn’t function.  If that was the Scuffle or something larger I can’t know: create your own stories to this soundtrack:

I associate KEEP SMILING AT TROUBLE with Bunny Berigan, Bud Freeman, Joe Marsala, Vic Lewis, Eddie Condon, Jim Goodwin and Ray Skjelbred, Marty Grosz, Bobby Gordon, Dan Levinson — so it is a song with a wonderful pedigree. Here the Cellar Boys are already grinning, and Trouble has left the building — Trouble don’t like verses:

Delicious.  And more to come.

May your happiness increase!

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

They’re back!  And below I’ll have news of their appearance at a one-day Midwest festival on March 30, 2019.

The Chicago Cellar Boys made beautiful music at the 2018 San Diego Jazz Fest, and I caught as much of it as I could.  (Type in CELLAR on the search bar and see for yourself.)

Here is part of a set that I recorded on November 24.  The CCB are Andy Schumm, cornet, tenor saxophone, clarinet; John Otto, alto saxophone, clarinet; Paul Asaro, piano, vocal; Johnny Donatowicz, guitar, banjo; Dave Bock, tuba.  Dee-lightful.

INDIAN CRADLE SONG (in honor of the Dorsey Brothers and, faintly, Louis Armstrong).  Andy told me that he had hidden another song in the “chorale” section, but he’s too smart for me.  Maybe you’ll recognize it?:

BOSTON SKUFFLE (something for and by Jabbo Smith):

HOME, CRADLE OF HAPPINESS (a song popular in the early Twenties, recorded by a Sam Lanin group and by Ethel Waters):

FIDGETY FEET (a tribute to Bix and the Wolverines):

KING PORTER STOMP (the CCB’s homage to the 1924 Autograph duet session by King Oliver and Jelly Roll Morton — also the band-within-the-band):

Aside from their inspiring playing and singing, hot and sweet, there are the marvelous arrangements that make this two-horn quintet sound like a large group, and the positively exciting repertoire.  I know the music of this period fairly well, but I always go away from even one CCB set saying to myself, “I’ve never heard that wonderful tune before.”

And here — because listeners need to get away from their computers now and again (it’s good for us!) — is the festival they will be illuminating at the end of this month, along with Petra’s Recession Seven (featuring Petra van Nuis, Andy Brown, Russ Phillips, and other luminaries):

May your happiness increase!

MARK IT DOWN! THE CENTRAL ILLINOIS JAZZ FESTIVAL (March 30, 2019: Decatur, Illinois)

Here’s something for the intellectual puzzle-solvers in the JAZZ LIVES audience.

One.

 

Two.

 

 

 

 

Three.

Kenny Davern, Yank Lawson, Connie Jones, Pee Wee Erwin, Doc Cheatham, Chuck Folds, George Masso, Don Goldie, Johnny Varro, Jon-Erik Kellso, Paul Keller, Ed Polcer, Eddie Higgins, Marty Grosz, Bill Allred, Bob Schulz, Bobby Rosengarden, Milt Hinton, Brian Torff, Johnny Frigo, Peter Ecklund, John Sheridan, Brian Holland, Rebecca Kilgore, Dan Barrett, Eddie Erickson, Ken Peplowski, Vince Giordano and the Nighthawks, the Fat Babies, and more.

Figured it out?  The answers, although indirect, are below, and they relate to the Juvae Jazz Society and the Central Illinois Jazz Festival: the story of their inception is here.

I confess that Decatur, Illinois has really never loomed large in my vision of bucket-list places.  But I have been terribly myopic about this for the past quarter-century.  Consider the poster below, please:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Juvae Jazz Society is celebrating its twenty-fifth anniversary, and rather than expecting people to bring them silver plates and candelabra, they are throwing a one-day jazz party, which you might have understood from the poster above.  (The list of musicians is just some of the notables who have played and sung for them in the last quarter-century.)

Although I admire Petra van Nuis and Andy Brown immensely, I’ve never had a chance to hear Petra and the Recession Seven live.  The Chicago Cellar Boys are one of my favorite bands and would even be so if Dave Bock wore a more sedate bow tie.  Other surprises are possible as well.

Some groovy evidence for you:

and those Boys:

So I’m going to be there.  Care to join me?

May your happiness increase!

COUNTING OUR BLESSINGS: PETRA VAN NUIS and DENNIS LUXION, “BECAUSE WE’RE NIGHT PEOPLE”

Photograph by Bill Klewitz

Hearing the fine singer Petra van Nuis make music is always a pleasure: her delicate, incisive way inside the songs reveals new shadings and gleams.  For those of us who don’t get to Chicago, here’s good news — a new CD by Petra and the splendidly subtle pianist Dennis Luxion, BECAUSE WE’RE NIGHT PEOPLE.

I had the good fortune to write notes for the CD, which you can read below.  But first . . . as they say . . . here is a video of six songs from the session, so you have the evidence generously offered to you:

BECAUSE WE’RE NIGHT PEOPLE Petra van Nuis and Dennis Luxion
The first thing you’ll notice about this CD, even before you start the music, is that its title is a sideways assertion, responding to a question that we weren’t able to hear but must assume was asked. That’s so appropriate, because the music Petra and Dennis create subtly answers some questions but raises others. Their lovely interplay will stay with you long after the disc is over. They are two very different artists, but their individualities never clash.

I was surprised by the title, because I’ve seen Petra functioning nicely in daylight. Another reason to admire her. She says, “By nature and work requirements Dennis and I are bona fide night people — thus, this collection. We love the slower tempos. The dreamy, moody material inspires us. We chose these songs to portray the varied emotions that occur in that magical suspended time after midnight and before the early bird’s chirp asks why you’re still awake. The bird can’t know if you’re up because you want to be or because you can’t sleep. Night can be a lonely time of reflection, rumination, and worry. But seductive night breezes bring creative insights, romance, and freedom!”

And Dennis takes his own solo, “Some night people are attracted to the activity, social scene, and music of bars and nightclubs. But others are attracted to the relative quiet, solitude, and intimacy that can be found at night, a time of introspection. As a musician, I often find myself amid the first type of night people, whereas personally of the second type. Hopefully both are represented on this recording.”

Incidentally, these words should not lead you to think that this CD is musical Ambien, over the counter. Yes, the tempos are often dreamy, but this CD is full of quiet surprises that will keep your ears awake: consider the perky MOONLIGHT SAVING TIME. On every track, Petra dances over the rhythm, playing with the line, directing her own small-scale but intense dramas. Her singing is ever so sweetly based on speech patterns – her phrasing isn’t constrained by the beats on the printed page. Rather, the arcs of melody and emotion shape her idea of the lyric line.

And Dennis is gracious and musically wise: his accompaniment is the Master’s Art, his introductions and solos beautiful translucent fabric hangings (hear him on YOU AND THE NIGHT).

When I started the CD for the very first listening, I didn’t think of Sinatra’s gloomy “It’s quarter to three”; rather, the analogue was the sessions Ruby Braff and Ellis Larkins made. Like them, Dennis and Petra are two singular souls allied by a deep purpose, to make us feel, to make us remember our nocturnal lives in their songs. Notice the references to “conversation” in the notes below: they generously support each other but don’t interrupt each other’s utterances. You can hear them grinning at particularly felicitous turns of phrase. Petra points out, “Dennis is a perfect duo partner because of his desire to listen and his ability to focus. Playing with him is akin to having a meaningful conversation where the other person not only hears you, but gets you. A sensitive instrumentalist who cares about lyrics, Dennis is a co-storyteller complimenting the mood of each song in his expressive, thoughtful way.” And he’s subversively hilarious: he begins NO MOON AT ALL with a wink at IN WALKED BUD.

Dennis isn’t about to be outdone in courtesy, “I love working with Petra. She always has a clear idea of what she wants to do with a song, but is flexible and adapts to what is happening around her so the music can be organic and breathe. She finds songs that are way off the beaten path but well worth hearing.”

Speaking of song choices, for those radicals who don’t start at the first track and follow obediently to the end, I’d urge you to begin with WHILE MY LOVER SLEEPS, a wonderful song that Petra first heard on a Chet Baker recording. In the early Eighties, Dennis spent several years in Europe performing with Chet Baker, although Chet had stopped doing the song by then. When I heard it for the first time, I wanted only to hear it again, right away.

Very few of the songs on this disc are predictable (read: “overdone”) choices, but they all become memorable quickly. Three are particularly remarkable, and Petra notes, “The song that folks have most likely never heard is ‘The Piano Player (A Thousand and One Saloons).’ The music was written by the exquisite singer/pianist Meredith Ambrosio after she was given the lyric by a fan, Bob Dowd. The song captures the desperate loneliness and monotony of playing nightly in venues where the situation can quickly devolve as the drinks flow and the air thickens with smoke (thankfully not since the smoking ban!). The lyric also mentions the ‘little glow’ that comes from fulfilling musical experiences and sympathetic listeners who make it all worthwhile. Another tune that may be unfamiliar is ‘Night People’ from the short lived Broadway musical about the Beat Generation, ‘The Nervous Set.’ I adore Dennis’ treatment: he gets a real Bill Evans feel on his solo. I think the lyrics inspire him, and he can certainly relate when he co-leads the weekly jam session at Chicago’s famed Green Mill every Friday night/Saturday morning, from 1-3:40 am! One final obscurity is Mancini’s ‘Shadows of Paris’ which plays during the opening credits of the Pink Panther flick ‘A Shot In The Dark.’ The waltz time, minor key, and mysterious lyrics drew me in.”

How did this CD come to be? Petra says, “Dennis asked if I’d be interested in recording together! He didn’t care which tunes I chose; his only stipulation was that it would be duo. Dennis adds, “Since Petra and I mostly perform as a duo, it seemed natural and logical to use that format and to work out our take on the repertoire gradually on the bandstand. Petra chose all the songs and, while a few of them were new to her, most of them were already part of her repertoire. I didn’t want to play them in the way she already knew them, but rather to put them through the filter of my own sensibilities. All the songs, therefore, underwent some amount of transformation in adapting them for this project, some more than others, and these versions developed little by little, organically.”

Repertoire and arrangements took shape on countless gigs, but concrete recording plans didn’t coalesce for over a year until, as Petra explains, “we were discussing an upcoming ‘night- themed’ performance at PianoForte, a conducive space with a fantastic piano, and Dennis suggested we record that concert live. I agreed, but as a safety net, I insisted we record two nights to guarantee more options for ‘takes.’ Wouldn’t you know it, every song ultimately chosen came from night two!”

You’ll notice that this is a “live” recording – although the sound is so beautiful that I was at first startled by the applause. (“Where did those people come from?” I thought.) Dennis adds, “In the recording studio, one is tempted to play it safe and strive for a controlled perfection that lacks the spontaneity of a live performance: a scripted dialogue, not an intimate conversation. I prefer the latter.”

Petra insisted on BLESSINGS as the closing song. What a gift this performance is. It sends the listener off – whether to bed or just into another phase of nocturnal experience – wrapped in gratitude. That’s how I feel, not only about that Berlin song, but about this whole disc, which captures the best efforts of two inventive explorers who do their best work after the sun goes down. 

I believe the CD will be available in September, which is only a few days away.  You can pre-order copies here — as well as Petra’s other recordings, several with the luminous guitarist Andy Brown . . . and see her gig schedule.  And more.

May your happiness increase!

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!

“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!

PETRA VAN NUIS, ANDY BROWN, and JOE POLICASTRO MAKE MUSIC

Photograph by Bill Klewitz

Photograph by Bill Klewitz

It’s true.

Music first, words second.

More.

And, this year, part of Petra’s Blossom Dearie tribute (with bassist Joe Policastro), MAY I COME IN?:

These performances were created at the Whiskey Lounge in Evanston, Illinois, in 2014 and this year.

Petra has a wonderfully intimate style, paying serious atttention to the words as well as the melody floating alongside.  For those accustomed to high drama, to singers who show off years of voice lessons, she may at first sound quietly conversational.  But that’s a wonderful secret: listening to her, we are encouraged to lean forward, to focus on the secrets she has to share. To me, she embodies Whitman’s words in SONG OF MYSELF: “I might not tell everybody, but I will tell you.”  In these performances, Petra is given loving comradeship (too rich to be “accompaniment”) by guitarist Andy Brown, by string bassist Joe POlicastro — quietly eloquent tellers of truths who don’t say a word.

Judy Roberts, who knows the mystical art of jazz singing, says of Petra: As a jazz singer, Petra’s unique and expressive phrasing gives her an instantly identifiable sound, and sets her happily apart from the crowd. Within one bar, you know it’s her, and you want to hear more! Much of Petra’s “own voice” comes from her intrinsically pure vision of how to sing lyrics – how to “speak” them, while choosing the perfect notes and length of phrase to convey meaning and musicality. Her improvisational excursions on the melody are born of a true jazz stylist, one with sophisticated taste and a genuine respect for the material. Petra lets us in on a candid and intimate view of her emotions, while always maintaining a sense of vivacious hopefulness. Sensuous, winsome and adorably hip, Petra’s delectable delivery of songs brings us the tantalizing flavors of Astrud Gilberto and Blossom Dearie in a young and appealing new voice.

Here’s Petra’s webpage, and her YouTube channel with more performance videos, including more from her tribute to Blossom.

May your happiness increase!

MICHIGAN MUSICAL MERRIMENT: PETRA van NUIS, ANDY BROWN, JAMES DAPOGNY, PAUL KELLER, PETE SIERS (thanks to WYMAN VIDEO)

Petra Andy Dapogny

On October 17, 2015, my friend and fellow videographer Laura Beth Wyman took her nimble camera to the Kerrytown Concert House in Ann Arbor, Michigan, to record a rewarding constellation of musicians.  (They all happen to be people I like as well as admire, which makes these videos a pleasure doubled and tripled).  Laura, if her name is new to you, is sole proprietor of Wyman Video.

The participants?  The delightful singer Petra van Nuis (enjoy her singular phrasing!); her husband, the eloquent guitarist Andy Brown; the wondrous James Dapogny, piano; the nifty string bassist Paul Keller; the irrepressible Pete Siers, drums.

I NEVER KNEW (Andy, Jim, Paul, Pete):

I GO FOR THAT (Petra, Andy, Jim, Paul, Pete) — remembering Mildred Bailey, but somehow I think the verse is new . . . courtesy of Petra:

I CAN’T BELIEVE THAT YOU’RE IN LOVE WITH ME (Petra, Andy, Jim, Paul, Pete):

COME IN OUT OF THE RAIN (Petra, Andy):

IF YOU WERE MINE (Petra, Jim):

SEPTEMBER SONG (Petra, Paul):

FOOLIN’ MYSELF:

How nice to have all my friends —  now, I hope, yours too! — making light-hearted yet deep music in the same place, with the invaluable work of Laura Wyman to preserve it all for us.  Bravo!  Encore!

May your happiness increase!

WARM TRANSLUCENCE: ANDY BROWN, SOLO JAZZ GUITAR

Andy Brown Soloist

Andy Brown knows and embodies the simple truth.  It’s not how many notes you can play: it’s how you convey feeling with those notes.

For some time, the guitar has been the most popular instrument on the planet. Many guitarists aspire to blazing technique that causes the fretboard to burst into flames.  If you like to blame people, you can blame Hendrix, Bird, or even Django, masters who suggested to the unwary that the way to be even better was to be faster, more densely aggressive.

I come from a different school, having heard Charlie Christian, Teddy Bunn, Herb Ellis, Barney Kessel, Mary Osborne, George Barnes, George Van Eps and others early in my development. I cherish deep simplicities, not fireworks. That is why I have delighted in the playing of Andy Brown and am especially entranced by his most recent CD, plainly named SOLOIST (Delmark Records).

Andy Brown makes music, first and always.  His music woos the ear and the brain but lodges deep in the heart.  You shouldn’t get the wrong idea about him from my somewhat reactionary description: he is no primitive, rejecting technique because he has none.  On the contrary, he can play quickly, elaborately, and dramatically when the music calls for it.  The most mature players know that the greatest displays of technique involve restraint, subtlety, and breathing space.  Andy understands this, and what you hear is a relaxed lyricism where every note counts.  He is a melodic improviser, someone in love with beautiful warm sounds, not trying to impress listeners with outlandish dramatic spectacle.

Andy sounds like himself, but if I were pressed to say what ancestral heroes his playing suggests, they wouldn’t be guitarists.  Rather, I think this CD would have made Bobby Hackett, Ruby Braff, and Count Basie grin, for its understated singing grace, its beaming pleasure in music-making.

Time for a sample? Make yourself comfortable and savor these varied performances — beginning with luminous solos, then moving to collaborations with Howard Alden, Petra van Nuis, Jeannie Lambert, the cats at the Chautauqua Jazz Party, and even Barbra Streisand.  (Don’t be disconcerted that on the Streisand video — taken from a television appearance — the words “INSIDE DEATH ROW” appear bottom right.  No hidden messages here.)

Here you can hear brief audio samples from the CD.

Andy’s idols are many — he explains all that in his delightfully understated liner notes — but this isn’t a homage to any one guitarist.  It isn’t a disc where the artist reproduces and then elaborates on an influential album or set of recordings.

SOLOIST is a love letter to beautiful songs played with affection and swing, and it is easy to listen to without being Easy Listening.  It would impress any harmonically-astute guitar whiz but it could also embrace someone who knew nothing about substitute chords.  And although most of the songs are “standards,” they are played as if they were just written. Their melodies shine through; they swing.

And — unlike many solo guitar recordings I’ve heard — the sound is plain, unaltered, but gorgeously warm.  I see that the engineer is Scott Steinman — we are no relation — and he has done a lovely job.  And all I can say is that when I began listening to this disc, I delighted in it from first to last and then it seemed the most natural thing to start it up again.  You will feel similarly.

SOLOIST is a lovely recording, and an accurate record of the music of someone I admire, having heard him in person.

Andy writes in his notes that he simply began to play in the recording studio as he would on a gig. That should give any motivated person in the Chicago area a good idea: see Mr. Brown live and buy several copies of the CD from him.

May your happiness increase!

OUR BECKY, HER NEW YORK: REBECCA KILGORE, DAN BARRETT, EHUD ASHERIE at SMALLS, April 28, 2013

Everyone in the know was excited that Rebecca Kilgore, our Becky, Miz Roo, was coming to New York and New Jersey for a short stop at the end of April 2013.  Before heading off to the UK for the Norwich Jazz Party, she and Dan Barrett had one gig at Smalls, one glorious evening with Rossano Sportiello and friends at Carnegie Hall (!), and another intimate evening at Shanghai Jazz.

The Beloved and I attended the first two . . . and I brought my camera to Smalls (183 West Tenth Street, Greenwich Village, New York).  I’ve adjusted the videos so that Becky, pianist Ehud Asherie, and trombonist Dan appear to be performing in a light-hearted version of film noir . . . but the music shines brightly in a rainbow of colors!

Here, incidentally, is what I wrote in anticipation of Miss Becky’s visit.

And here are five glorious performances from that Smalls triumph in swing . . . with a few more to come!  Our Becky swings sweetly, offers nuances and shadings that surprise, move, and enlighten.  She makes us smile — under a baking spotlight, in the middle of two great jazz extroverts, in front of a portrait of Louis, smiling for good reason.

The Beloved and I weren’t the only ones paying close delighted attention: the room was full of singers: Marianne Solivan, Hilary Gardner, Molly Ryan, Yaala Ballin, Petra van Nuis — as well as friends of the Jazz Bears: Justin, Danny, and Kristin; Jeanie Wilson beamed at us; Bill and Sonya Dunham made sure everyone behaved well; Stompy Jones and Maxine were there in spirit, too.

THOU SWELL:

I HEAR MUSIC:

I DON’T STAND A GHOST OF A CHANCE WITH YOU:

TEA FOR TWO:

GONE WITH THE WIND:

What extraordinary music!

May your happiness increase.

SWINGING OUT WITH PETRA’S RECESSION SEVEN: “LIVE IN CHICAGO”

I knew the fine singer Petra van Nuis and her husband, the splendid guitarist, Andy Brown, from their appearance at Jazz at Chautauqua a few years ago — and they’ve been favorites of mine: musicians who know what it is to let the music flow through them to us — whether on a sweet ballad or a hot uptempo number.  I’ve written here about their duet CD, FAR AWAY PLACES, but now there’s even more good news.  Petra’s been “the girl singer” with a swinging Chicago-based small band, whimsically yet candidly calling itself Petra’s Recession Seven, and they’ve been playing gigs regularly.  That in itself is excellent news for people who can get to Chicago.  For those of us who don’t get to make the trip, Petra’s Recession Seven has issued its new CD, LIVE IN CHICAGO.

The musicians who surround Petra are well-known players: Art Davis, trumpet; Kim Cusack, clarinet; Russ Phillips, trombone; Andy Brown, guitar; Joe Policastro, bass; Bob Rummage, drums.

“But how do they sound?” I would be asking at this point.

Here’s the opening track of the new CD — RUNNIN’ WILD — accompanied by photographs of the band by veteran jazz photographer Bill Klewitz.

Convinced?  To purchase the new disc, or Petra’s other recordings, click here.

All art thrives on the balance between contrast and restatement.  Petra’s Recession Seven is always moving in t the same direction, no matter what the tempo, with lovely melodic embellishments and admirable team playing over a rocking rhythm section.  Their ballads have their own rhythmic energy, and the fast tunes romp.  And even though the band is characterized as “trad/early swing,” there’s not a striped vest within ten miles of their bandstand.  Rather, their jazz is a kind of hot Mainstream that looks back to the great Thirties recordings of Billie and Mildred (and the later incarnations by Barbara Lea) but their musical cosmos is large enough to encompass the wider harmonies that made their way into the jazz vocabulary in the Forties.  In short, this is timeless music, where the songs themselves are honored and the improvisations are concise and memorable.

Having Petra as part of the band only enhances the collective pleasure.  She’s not a coloratura or Broadway belter who has come to jazz as a sideline; she feels the music in her bones and her delight in the pulse and the repertoire is obvious.  Her voice is lovely on its own, but I take special delight in her handling of lyrics.  Without dramatizing, she makes it clear that the words in the lyrics have something to tell us, and her phrasing subtly reveals their meaning.  Some singers, performing I’LL NEVER BE THE SAME, follow the notes, so that “I’ll never be the same / There is such an ache in my heart,” bounces along as if someone were ordering Thai takeout over the phone.  Petra has spent time, it’s clear, choosing songs that mean something to her and considering what the words and the notes have to tell us in 2012.  She and the band make familiar songs seem fresh; we hear their depth and spontaneity.

And the recording itself is beautifully done — with fine notes by jazz scholar and enthusiast Perry Huntoon.

About the band title (and here I quote): “Many have asked Petra, ‘What will you do when the recession is over?  The band’s name is cute, but it is quite topical and we surely hope the band continues long after the recession ends.’  This is when Petra smiles and reminds them that whatever happens to the economy in general, the jazz recession continues! And they play on….”

I don’t know.  I think of “recession” in the older sense of returning — the way the grade school orchestra plays a Recessional so that all the sixth-graders can file out of the gymnasium at the end of the ceremony.  Petra’s Recession Seven is, for me, a glorious return to the great principles of swinging jazz: “sweet, soft, plenty rhythm,” and “play yourself, “tell your story.”

Wonderful music.

May your happiness increase.

LET PETRA AND ANDY ARRANGE YOUR VOYAGES

I occasionally think that I, like many other jazz fans / collectors, am half in love with novelty: the latest CD by one of my heroes / heroines, the concert or gig next Thursday.  So as a corrective, I make it a point to go back to my CD shelves and immerse myself in some music I have loved.

Yesterday I took great pleasure from a serene, deep, swinging duet session by singer Petra Van Nuis and guitarist Andy Brown: their FAR AWAY PLACES.  What good, sweet music!  And since I had written about this disc, I will point you in that direction.

I found myself smiling all through their music.  And I think my readers could enjoy the same reaction.

May your happiness increase.

“COME AND GET IT”: PETRA’S RECESSION SEVEN at THE JAZZ SHOWCASE, CHICAGO

Not everyone knows the wonderful singer Petra van Nuis — but they’re missing out on a rare pleasure.  The same sentiments apply to guitarist Andy Brown: both are subtle, winning improvisers much admired by Chicagoans.  Petra and Andy know the rare art of becoming the songs they sing and play rather than standing at a distance from the material.

They’ve been performing with a swinging ensemble candidly titled PETRA’S RECESSION SEVEN, which features superb musicians: clarinetist Kim Cusack; trombonist Russ Phillips; trumpeter Art Davis; bassist Joe Policastro; drummer Bob Rummage — everyone in lyrical, rocking form.  Here, Petra and the band woo us with DO IT AGAIN:

Another invitation — of another sort — to join the band on a trip to BASIN STREET.  I always think this song could be given a brief vacation (it’s been done so often) but this version makes it new:

Wonderful music — and perhaps someday the band name will appropriately be PETRA’S PROSPERITY PLAYERS?  Until that day . . . we can savor the charming sounds here.  And to find out more about Petra and Andy, please visit here.

May your happiness increase.

SO SWEET: “PETER HAD A WOLF”: PETRA VAN NUIS and JUDY ROBERTS

Some performances announce themselves in capital letters as soon as they start.  Others sneak into your heart, deeply and sweetly, with every note and inflection.  I hadn’t heard the song PETER HAD A WOLF before, but when I found out about this video performance of the fine singer Petra van Nuis and pianist Judy Roberts (a great singer herself) performing it, I began to watch and was entranced before the first four bars were over.

Children’s stories for adults — speaking to the yearning that is in all our hearts!

And after you’ve watched it once, amused and touched by the song’s simple power, watch it again to admire Petra’s charm, her tenderness, and Judy’s masterfully generous accompaniment.

And then — like a chain letter from the heart — send it to someone you love.  Or several people you love . . .

SOMETHING TENDER: CHRIS MADSEN, JOE POLICASTRO, ANDY BROWN

We all need beauty in our lives. 

Here’s a wonderfully singing example of it — saxophonist Chris Madsen, string bassist Joe Policastro, and guitarist Andy Brown taking their time through STARDUST — recorded June 12, 2011, at an event for the Brookfield Jazz Society. 

Chris purrs; Andy chimes; Joe supports.  Each one has a story to tell, of stardust, of love, of hope and yearning.

And since we also need community and communities, let us enjoy this trio as a living example: how Joe so lovingly plays those deep resonant notes throughout, commenting, adding, urging, without saying “Pay attention to me!”  How Chris rumbles and sings harmonies behind Andy’s ringing lines; how the trio works as a gathering of generous individuals who have chosen to make something much larger than three.  What a serene world they create, on the stand, in the mirror, in our ears!

And let me praise Cheryl Fort, who created the video: I applaud her as a kindred soul who wants to present a moving picture of what the players created.  By her restraint, her seeming reluctance to interfere through “modern” actions that draw our attention from the music to the video, she is a collaborative creator.

I don’t think this could be improved on.  A deep admiring bow and thank-you to the four of you!  (And to those fellows, Hoagy and Ben and Blanton, off in space.)

You can hear more beautiful music, including the subtle singing of Petra Van Nuis — at Andy’s YouTube channel, http://www.youtube.com/user/stringdamper.

FINEST FIG JAM

fig jam

Some history might be needed here.  “A fig,” “a Moldy Fig,” even “a Mouldy Figge,” is now-archaic language invented during the Forties, when jazz found itself divided into warring factions called Dixieland and Bebop.  This divisiveness may have splintered the music and its audiences irrevocably.  Much of the noisy conflict was fomented by journalists and publicists seeking to attract audiences through controversy.  At this distance, we know that GROOVIN’ HIGH is only WHISPERING with a new blouse, but people allowed themselves to ignore this.  I find the poet Philip Larkin very endearing in his art and his vinegary energies, but his jazz prose embodies this point of view, where the world had reached an artistic peak in 1932 with the Rhythmakers recordings and had gone steadily downhill.  I agree with the first part of this formulation but not the second. 

I began my devotional listening as a Fig, so it took a long gradual period of contemplative immersion before I could understand that, say, John Coltrane wasn’t The Enemy out to destroy the music I loved.  In truth, I was never an extremist but I had strong, narrow likes and dislikes.  I remember having a brief conversation with another student in a middle-school Music Appreciation class who was deeply immersed in the New Thing — this was forty-plus years ago and the new thing was Archie Shepp, and the conversation went like this:

“Alan,” which might not be his name, but is a good guess: “I hear you like jazz.”

Me (brightening at having found a fellow subversive): “Oh, yes, I do!”

“Alan”: “Do you listen to Archie Shepp?”

Me (horrified that he hadn’t mentioned Louis, and coming up with a wise-acre New Yorker rejoinder): “Archie Shepp?! I say it’s spinach, and I say to hell with it!”

“Alan”: “Well, the hell with you!”

So goes critical discourse at its finest! 

I would like to boast that I’ve seen the light and the scales have dropped from my eyes, but if you told me I had to choose only one jazz recording to spend eternity with, it still might be AFTER YOU’VE GONE by the Blue Note Jazzmen, even though I can understand and appreciate music that would have perplexed and repelled me in my youth.  And the music was always there, I just didn’t get it. 

This self-scrutiny is provoked by a phone conversation I had yesterday with Bob Rusch (or RDR), editor and chief spiritual guide of the quarterly journal devoted to Creative Improvised Music, CADENCE.  Full disclosure requires me to say that I write reviews for CADENCE, and I continue to admire the journal’s honesty.  And working with Bob has always been a pleasurable lesson in Emersonian candor: when I have felt an inexplicable need to tactfully cloak the truth in polite words, he has always asked, “Why?” 

If you’ve never read CADENCE, you have been missing something special and rare.  See for yourself (www.cadencebuilding.com).

In the course of our conversation — we speak infrequently, but over the past five years it has always been both bracing and affectionate — Bob said gently that he thought I was “getting more figgish,” and I agreed.  But it made me think, and perhaps my experience will ring true with my readers. 

There used to be “the jazz record industry,” and I am not talking about sixty-five years ago, the Commodore Music Shop, and listening booths.  Ten years ago, perhaps, there were many more active companies producing compact discs.  (If you want to have a sobering experience, casually inspect the spines of any fifty CDs in your library and note how many of those labels no longer exist.)  This, of course, has to do with the economy, an aging audience, and more. 

It has had an double-edged result.  On one hand, no more new issues from Chiaroscuro, no more Pablo, fewer ways for musicians to be encouraged by a label.  But because labels no longer exist, many energetic musicians have gone into business for themselves and produce their own discs.  

This can be a boon: musicians can record what they want, have it sound the way they want, without the interference of recording engineers or the heads of record companies . . . and splendid personal statements emerge.  But this asks musicians to be both courageous and affluent (or at least credit-worthy): a self-produced CD might require a $10,000 investment that the artist might get back over ten years of selling the discs one at a time on the gig.  We should all live and be well! 

(Musician joke: “My latest CD is a million-seller.  I’ve got a million in my cellar.”)

Many players I know have made a virtue of necessity, but I think many of them look back nostalgically to the dear dead days when they got a call to go to a studio at noon to make a date, they played their hearts out, they got paid, and eight months later they knew that the disc they had appeared on was being sold all over the world.  Yes, their control over the music was compromised, their pay was a percentage of the profit, but someone else was handling all the annoying business.  

What this means for someone like myself, reviewing CDs, is that a good deal of what I am asked to listen to is by artists new to me (a good thing) who are offering their own music (potentially a good thing).  And occasionally it leads me to sit up in my chair and say, “By God, (s)he’s got it!”  Melissa Collard was new to me when I first heard her OLD-FASHIONED LOVE, and she is one of those singers whose work I most treasure.  Mark Shane, Kevin Dorn, Dawn Lambeth, Marc Caparone, Danny Tobias, Lyle Ritz, Andy Brown, Petra van Nuis, and more.  

But much of what I hear is both competent yet entirely forgettable.  I know that Lips Page said, “The material is immaterial,” but hand me a CD full of original compositions by a player and I wonder, “Gee, you’ve already decided that there’s nothing new for you to say on the blues or on I’VE TOLD EV’RY LITTLE STAR?”  Funny, that hasn’t occurred to Sonny Rollins.

And it is sad to receive a CD by a singer or musician, male or female, where great effort has gone into burnishing the exterior at the expense of other things.  When the artist credits his or her hair stylist and wardrobe person first, I think, “Oh no.  Repertoire, not manicure.  No one listens to the cover.” 

So my “figgishness” or “figitude” (both my own coinings) is a way to get back to what music means to me — a spiritual / intellectual / experience that makes me want to grin foolishly and shout exultantly.  I would indeed rather hear a wonderful performance of an original composition by musicians I don’t know than a tired rendition of OUR BUNGALOW OF DREAMS, but I need to hear jazz that makes me remember why I began to listen to the music in the first place: joy, inventiveness, clear delight in being alive in the face of death.  If your listening is purely an intellectual exercise and you find that gratifying, fine, but mine is tied up with the emotions.  Is the music beautiful?  Does it make me feel some strong emotion, preferably happiness?  Can I admire the players?            

So I close this post with a new example of FINEST FIG JAM — pure, organic, and locally sourced.  It’s another YouTube clip from the lucky and generous SFRaeAnn of the Eldorado Serenaders, whose front line is Don Neely on reeds, Robert Young on reeds, trumpet, and vocal, Dave Frey, plectrum banjo, Jim Young, tenor banjo, Steven Rose, sousaphone, Stan Greenberg, percussion.  This performance of BALTIMORE (one of those delightful songs-about-a-new-dance-craze) honors Bix and Wingy and Red, and I think this band is terribly, admirably brave to be shouting it out in a bookstore.  “Fit audience, though few,” said Milton, but he never had to worry about the tip jar.  It was recorded on October 25, 2009 at North Light Books in Cotati, California.