Tag Archives: Phil Flanigan

HIDDEN TREASURE, NOW SHARED: JON-ERIK KELLSO, JOEL HELLENY, CHUCK WILSON, JOHNNY VARRO, PHIL FLANIGAN, JAKE HANNA (May 2007, Sacramento Jazz Jubilee)

I bought a video camera in 2006 but didn’t come to California until 2010 (except for that sojourn in utero, where the lighting was poor).  But there were people, bless them, recording jazz performances before I figured out how to do it.  Bob and Ruth Byler captured music at many festivals in California and Florida.  I wrote a piece about him here in 2016 while he was around to read it.

I don’t know whether Bob thought he would get to the documentation someday, or if he thought everyone knew who everyone was, but the many videos he left us are often mysterious.  I know it might sound ungrateful, but when I look at one of them, I have to think about who’s playing; he often combined footage from two festivals on one VHS tape, and, in the name of thrift, he often did not preserve those moments when the leader introduces the players.

Mister Kellso, still happily with us.

All this is prelude to say that, while roving around YouTube like a terrier in search of crumbs, I found a fifty-minute video from the 2007 Sacramento Jazz Jubilee, which was held over Memorial Day weekend when I attended later.

I knew I recognized most of the six “N.Y. All-Stars” in the second: Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Joel Helleny, trombone; Chuck Wilson, alto saxophone; Johnny Varro, piano; Phil Flanigan, string bass; Jake Hanna, drums (Jon-Erik identified two people I had mistaken).

For once, “All-Stars” was apt.

Having seen it, Jon-Erik was eager for me to share it, and with alchemical magic (thanks to Tom Hustad) — chalk symbols on the wood floor, chanting, and incense — I can present to you the music played by the New Yorkers.  I never had the good fortune to meet Joel Helleny, but I admire his work tremendously; this is a fine sample.

The exuberantly-talented and much-missed Joel Helleny.

A treasure!  And even though California festivals sometimes aim at more ostentatiously “trad” repertoire and performance practice, this is Mainstream of the highest order.  The songs are ROSETTA / WRAP YOUR TROUBLES IN DREAMS / THE JEEP IS JUMPIN’ (obviously not a title familiar to some patrons) / GEE, BABY, AIN’T I GOOD TO YOU? (Kellso’s feature, inexplicably truncated) / IF DREAMS COME TRUE // The video has all the characteristic limitations of the genre, including a restless, chatty audience (I told a friend years ago that I wanted to fund the Sit Still and Be Quiet Jazz Festival) but you won’t find me complaining.  I encourage you to celebrate this magical time-capsule.  And I bless all the participants.

May your happiness increase!

MONTEREY DELIGHTS! (Jazz Bash By the Bay, 40th Anniversary Edition, March 5-8, 2020)

It’s never too early to get prepared for joy, especially the varieties that the Jazz Bash by the Bay delivers so generously.  (An All-Events badge is available at a discount before December 31, so if thrift makes your eyes gleam, check here.) Now.

I’ve been attending this March festival every year since 2011 (I missed 2018) and have fond memories.  I could write a good deal about the pleasures of this grouping of musicians and fans, and the pleasures of being able to walk around a truly charming town center . . . or the pleasure of being a guest at the Portola Hotel and Spa, with the music just a trot away, but I will simply direct you to the Bash’s website, where you can find out such useful information as the dates (March 6-8), the band schedule (not available yet), ticket prices, and the bands themselves.

For me, the bands and guest stars are the reason to come to a particular festival, so I will list them here (as of January 2020) so you can see the delights to be had.  First, the Musician of the Year is my hero Marc Caparone, so even though I doubt there will be a parasol-laden coronation, I want to be there to see the rites and praises.  Then, guest stars Bob Draga, Brian Holland, Danny Coots, Dawn Lambeth, Eddie Erickson, Gary Ryan, Jeff Barnhart, Jerry Krahn, and Katie Cavera.  The bands: Blue Street Jazz Band, Bye Bye Blues Boys Band, Carl Sonny Leyland Trio, Clint Baker’s New Orleans Jazz Band, Cornet Chop Suey, Crescent Katz, Don Neely’s Royal Society Jazz Orchestra, Fast Mama Excitement, Holland-Coots Jazz Quintet, Ivory&Gold, Le Jazz Hot, Midiri Brothers, Sierra Seven, Tom Rigney and Flambeau, We Three (Thursday only), Yve Evans and Company, and the Zydeco Flames.

Looking at the 2019 schedule, the Bash offered four simultaneous sessions for full twelve-hour days on Friday and Saturday, and a half day on Sunday . . . one hundred and fifty sessions, including full bands, singers, solo and duo pianos, youth bands, sets for amateur jammers, and more.  Even someone like myself, who doesn’t fell compelled to see and hear everything, finds it a delightfully exhausting experience.  There’s a separate Thursday-night dance and an appearance by We Three, and I quote: “Kick off Jazz Bash by the Bay on Thursday, March 5, 2020, with a big band dance party featuring Clicktrax Jazz Orchestra. Attendees will enjoy danceable swing and traditional jazz at the Portola Hotel and Spa from 7:30 to 11 pm. Admission is $25.00. Also, in a Special One-Night-Only appearance, the hit trio We3 featuring Bob Draga, Jeff Barnhart, and Danny Coots will be playing from 7 to 8:30 pm. Admission is $30.00. Add the dance for $20 more. All tickets can be purchased by phone, mail, online or at the door.”

Did you notice that there is an Early Bird All-Events Badge at a discount if you order before December 31, 2019?  Yes, I repeat myself: details here.

For me, a post advertising a particular festival is not effective unless some musical evidence can be included.  I broke one of my rules — that is, there are musicians in the 2011-19 videos below who do not appear at this year’s Bash, and I apologize to them if anyone’s feelings are bruised.  But I started to go through the 200+ videos I’d posted of various Monterey Bashes, and some of them were do fine that I couldn’t leave them out.  You’ll get a panoramic sense of the wide variety of good, lively, inventive music that happens here.  And each video has a detailed description of who’s playing and singing, and when it happened.

an old song, swung, 2019:

for Django:

Becky and the blues:

the late Westy Westenhofer:

Ivory&Gold (Jeff and Anne Barnhart):

Paolo Alderighi, Phil Flanigan, Jeff Hamilton:

Katie Cavera and the Au Brothers:

Bob Schulz and the Frisco Jazz Band:

Allan Vache, John Sheridan, John Cocuzzi, Paul Keller, Ed Metz:

High Sierra:

Hot Strings at Monterey 2011:

a jam session with Bryan Shaw, Jeff Barnhart, Dan Barrett, Marc Caparone, John Reynolds, Katie Cavera, Ralf Reynolds:

Carl Sonny Leyland, Marty Eggers, Jeff Hamilton, performing Sonny’s composition that insures that no rodents visit the Portola during the Bash:

It might seem a long way away, but it isn’t.  And it’s a truly enjoyable event.

May your happiness increase!

A FEW WORDS FOR OUR FRIEND RON HOCKETT

I only had the good fortune to meet Ron Hockett in person once — at a John Sheridan Dream Band session for Arbors Records at Nola Studios in Manhattan. Of course I’d heard him play before, so it was a pleasure to speak to him, but even more than his playing, I was impressed by his easy kindness, the quiet spirituality he brought in to the room, even when he was sitting silently, listening to a playback.

In case his sweet lucid sound isn’t familiar, here he is (with John Sheridan, James Chirillo, Phil Flanigan, Jake Hanna) on IF DREAMS COME TRUE:

Dreams coming true — and needing to come true — are the subject of this post.  Recently, Ron’s friend and mine, Sonny McGown, contacted me to say that Ron’s health was deteriorating.  Here’s the news from Alex, Ron’s stepdaughter:

In February, Ron received a diagnosis of idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, which is a chronic and progressive scarring of the lungs which eventually leads to respiratory failure. There is no cure, the only real treatment is a lung transplant. He is now a patient at Duke . . . and if all of the testing/evaluations/pulmonary rehab goes well, he will be listed for transplant. He has a five day evaluation in August. He is on supplemental oxygen with exertion but he can still play the clarinet thus far! It is our biggest hope that all of this will happen and that he will be healthy, will once again be able to travel and play larger gigs, see his friends, and of course be able to breathe! As you can imagine, the cost is enormous and he and my mom will be forced to relocate for a year or so.  I’ve just started a fundraising campaign on GoFundMe.

Here‘s the link.

And here’s some lovely music that I hope will evoke generous feelings and actions.  Let us do a friend a favor.

May your happiness increase!

HAIL AND FAREWELL: SACRAMENTO MUSIC FESTIVAL (a/k/a SACRAMENTO JAZZ JUBILEE) TO CLOSE AFTER 44 YEARS

More bad news for people who like their jazz in profusion over one weekend: the Sacramento Music Festival, once known as the Sacramento Jazz Jubilee, will not continue on next year. Here is the whole story.

An observant person could tell the reasons for this decision, and they are primarily financial: festivals are terribly expensive to run, and the ratio between costs and audience was not always encouraging.  I am sad to read this, because in the past six months a number of festivals have said goodbye.  I won’t mount the soapbox and harangue readers who had said, “Oh, I’ll go next year,” but the moral — carpe diem over a swinging 4/4 — is clear.

My videos — about one hundred and fifty — show that I attended the SJJ in 2011, 12, and 14.  It was an unusual event.  I seem to remember racing from one side of the causeway (if that is what it was called) to the other for sets, and scurrying (that’s not true — I don’t really scurry) from one venue to another.  There was an astonishing amount of good music in the years I attended, and some very lovely performances took place in the oddest venues.

Here are more than a half-dozen splendid performances, so we can grieve for the loss of a festival while at the same time smiling and swinging.

From 2011, TRUCKIN’ by Hal Smith’s International Sextet:

and one of my favorite 1926 songs, HE’S THE LAST WORD:

The Jubilee also made room for pretty ballads like this one, featuring John Cocuzzi, Jennifer Leitham, and Johnny Varro:

A year later, Rebecca Kilgore was HUMMIN’ TO HERSELF:

Marc Caparone doffs his handmade cap to Louis for HE’S A SON OF THE SOUTH:

Another pretty one — MORE THAN YOU KNOW — featuring Allan Vache:

and some Orientalia out of doors — SAN by the Reynolds Brothers and Clint Baker:

A nice medium blues by Dan Barrett and Rossano Sportiello:

THE BOB AND RAY SHOW in 2014 — Schulz and Skjelbred, performing SHOE SHINE BOY:

CAN’T WE BE FRIENDS, featuring Dave Stone and Russ Phillips with Vince Bartels and Johnny Varro:

and an extended performance by Ray Skjelbred and his Cubs from 2014:

One of my favorite stories — a Louise Hay affirmation of sorts — comes from the Sacramento Jazz Jubilee.  It was held over Memorial Day weekend, and there was riotous excitement on the days preceding Monday — but Sacramento on Memorial Day was one of the most deserted urban centers I’ve ever encountered. The nice Vietnamese restaurant I had hopes of returning to was shuttered for the holiday, the streets were quiet with only the intermittent homeless person taking his ease.  Since I have been a New Yorker all my life, the criminal offense termed “jaywalking” does not terrify me.  On one such Monday, the light was red against me but there were no cars in sight.  Full of assurance, I strolled across the street and made eye contact with a young woman standing — a law-abiding citizen — on the opposite curb.  When I reached her and grinned at her legal timidity, she looked disapprovingly at me and said, “Rule-breaker!”  I grinned some more and replied, “Free spirit!”

At its best, the Sacramento Jazz Jubilee inspired such free-spirited behavior, musical and otherwise — among dear friends.  Adieu, adieu!

May your happiness increase!

STILL SPARKLING: JOE BUSHKIN AT 100

joe-bushkin-on-piano

I suspect that everyone who reads JAZZ LIVES has heard the magical sounds of Joe Bushkin‘s piano, songs, voice, and trumpet.  My birthday celebration for him is a bit early — he was born on November 7, 1916, but I didn’t want to miss the occasion.  (There will also be birthday cake in this post — at least a photograph of one.)

He moved on in late 2004, but as the evidence proves, it was merely a transformation, not an exit.

I marvel not only at the spare, poignant introduction but Bushkin’s sensitive support and countermelodies throughout.

“Oh, he was a Dixieland player?” Then there’s this:

and this, Joe’s great melody:

A list of the people who called Joe a friend and colleague would include Billie Holiday, Benny Goodman, Bunny Berigan, Sidney Bechet, Eddie Condon, Lee Wiley, Joe Marsala, Bing Crosby, Fred Astaire, Louis Armstrong, Jack Teagarden, Bobby Hackett,Tommy Dorsey, Frank Sinatra, Bunny Berigan, Fats Waller, Buck Clayton, Milt Hinton, Zoot Sims, Bill Harris, Buddy Rich, Hot Lips Page, Sidney Catlett, Judy Garland, Jimmy Rushing, Rosemary Clooney, Tony Spargo, Red McKenzie, Ella Fitzgerald, Dave Tough, Brad Gowans, Benny Goodman, Joe Rushton, Roy Eldridge, Willie “the Lion” Smith, Ruth Brown, June Christy, Barney Kessel, Pearl Bailey, Gene Krupa, Stuff Smith, Chuck Wayne, Jake Hanna . . .

Here’s a sweet swinging tribute to Irving Berlin in 1951 that segues into Joe’s own homage to Miss Bankhead, PORTRAIT OF TALLULAH:

He’s on Billie’s SUMMERTIME and Bunny’s first I CAN’T GET STARTED; he’s glistening in the big bands of Bunny, Tommy, and Benny.  He records with Frank Newton in 1936 and plays with Kenny Davern, Phil Flanigan, Howard Alden, and Jake Hanna here, sixty-one years later:

But I’m not speaking about Joe simply because of longevity and versatility.  He had an individual voice — full of energy and wit — and he made everyone else sound better.

A short, perhaps dark interlude.  Watching and listening to these performances, a reader might ask, “Why don’t we hear more about this wonderful pianist who is so alive?”  It’s a splendid question.  In the Thirties, when Joe achieved his first fame, it was as a sideman on Fifty-Second Street and as a big band pianist.

Parallel to Joe, for instance, is Jess Stacy — another irreplaceable talent who is not well celebrated today.  The erudite Swing fans knew Bushkin, and record producers — think of John Hammond and Milt Gabler — wanted him on as many record dates as he could make.  He was a professional who knew how the music should sound and offered it without melodrama.  But I suspect his professionalism made him less dramatic to the people who chronicle jazz.  He kept active; his life wasn’t tragic or brief; from all I can tell, he didn’t suffer in public.  So he never became mythic or a martyr.  Too, the jazz critics then and now tend to celebrate a few stars at a time — so Joe, brilliant and versatile, was standing behind Teddy Wilson and Art Tatum, then and now.  He was also entertaining — someone who could act, who could do a television skit with Bing and Fred, someone who could fill a club by making music, even for people who wouldn’t have bought a Commodore 78.  Popularity is suspect to some people who write about art.

But if you do as I did, some months back, and play a Bushkin record for a jazz musician who hasn’t heard him before, you might get the following reactions or their cousins: “WHO is that?  He can cover the keyboard.  And he swings.  His time is beautiful, and you wouldn’t mistake him for anyone else.”

One of the memorable moments of my twentieth century is the ten-minute YOU’RE DRIVING ME CRAZY /  MOTEN SWING that Joe, Ruby Braff, Milt Hinton, Wayne Wright, and Jo Jones improvised — about four feet in front of me — at the last Eddie Condon’s in 1976.  “Memorable” doesn’t even begin to describe it.

Consider this: Joe and his marvelous quartet (Buck Clayton, Milt Hinton or Sid Weiss, and Jo Jones) that held down a long-running gig at the Embers in 1951-2:

Something pretty and ruminative — Joe’s version of BLUE AND SENTIMENTAL:

And for me, and I suspect everyone else, the piece de resistance:

For the future: Joe’s son-in-law, the trumpeter / singer / composer Bob Merrill — whom we have to thank for the wire recording (!) of SOMEDAY YOU’LL BE SORRY —  has organized what will be a stellar concert to celebrate his father-in-law’s centennial.  Mark your calendars: May 4, 2017.  Jack Kleinsinger’s “Highlights in Jazz” at the Tribeca Performing Arts Center. Ted Rosenthal, John Colianni, Eric Comstock, Spike Wilner, piano; Nicki Parrott, string bass; Steve Johns, drums; Harry Allen, tenor saxophone; Adrian Cunningham, clarinet; Bob Merrill, trumpet; Warren Vache, cornet; Wycliffe Gordon, trombone; and of course a surprise guest.

Here’s the promised photograph of a birthday cake.  Perculate on THIS:

louis-birthday-cake

Thank you, Joseephus.  We haven’t forgotten you.

May your happiness increase!

MISSION TO MONTEREY (March 6-7-8, 2015), or BECKY GOES TO THE WISE WOMAN

This post is meant as a coda to my recent love letter to the Jazz Bash by the Bay, coming soon to Monterey, California.

Please consider this, recorded slightly more than a year ago (March 8, 2014) at the very same Jazz Bash:

For the detail-oriented, that’s Rebecca Kilgore, vocal; Paolo Alderighi, piano; Dan Barrett, trombone and vocal; Phil Flanigan, string bass; Jeff Hamilton, drums.  Sometimes the musicians’ smiles are part of the act.  Not here.  And Madame Ruth isn’t the only Wise Woman around.

Such marvels happen all the time at the Jazz Bash by the Bay.

See you there, I hope.

May your happiness increase!

BECKY’S SWING LULLABY: REBECCA KILGORE, DAN BARRETT, PAOLO ALDERIGHI, PHIL FLANIGAN, JEFF HAMILTON (March 8, 2014)

Don’t let the title fool you: this song and performance are meant to lead us to swing, not slumberland. At the 2014 Jazz Bash by the Bay, our Rebecca Kilgore offers this buoyant song (music by Benny Carter, lyrics by Paul Vandervoort II) with noble assistance from Paolo Alderighi, piano; Dan Barrett, trombone; Phil Flanigan, string bass; Jeff Hamilton, drums.   What a singer, and what a band!

Share this video with someone who needs a little sustained burst of joy, would you?

May your happiness increase!

“WHO’S SORRY NOW?” “NOT ME.” PAOLO ALDERIGHI, PHIL FLANIGAN, JEFF HAMILTON at MONTEREY (March 8, 2014)

May I humbly suggest that you put everything down (yes, leave the pretense of multi-tasking alone) and enjoy yourself for six minutes’ plus.

I present three modern swing masters exploring WHO’S SORRY NOW? at the 2014 Jazz Bash by the Bay: Paolo Alderighi, piano; Phil Flanigan, string bass; Jeff Hamilton, drums.

You’ll find your own delights in this performance: there’s the heartbeat sound of Phil’s bass, his time so “right” and his solo voice so sweetly deep; Jeff’s variety of sounds, his dancing wire-brush playing on the cymbals and drumheads; his witty conversation with Paolo — who here reminds me a little of his hero Erroll Garner, but much more of a pianist who’s rarely celebrated, Sir Charles Thompson (still active in his early nineties!) — with a beautiful blend of light-hearted swing and subtle harmonic explorations, offering us the sacred past and his own 2014 variations on theme, sound, voicing, melodic embellishment, dynamics.

I’d offer this performance to any rhythm-section players as a model of communal gracefulness: in it, the soloists speak for themselves but build lovely creations that are far more than three players proceeding down familiar roads together.  Thanks to Rebecca Kilgore for getting these three fellows together, and for creating an atmosphere where such things happen naturally.

This performance is a lesson in beautiful PLAY.

May your happiness increase!

MAY WE? THE SACRAMENTO MUSIC FESTIVAL IS COMING (May 23-26, 2014)

Although I’ve been coming to California on a regular basis only since summer 2010 (which hardly makes me a native plant) I’ve been attending the Memorial Day jazz weekend at Sacramento every year I could.

In fact, I seem to have brought my video camera and notebook with me in 2011 and 2012, too.  Evidence below.

But before any reader gets engrossed in Recent Glories, may I direct your attention — as the attorneys always say in courtroom dramas — to what is happening in May 2014?

Here is the Festival’s site.

Jazz purists, please don’t be alarmed if you don’t recognize all of the headliners: the SMF has taken a broader view of “Americana” and “roots music” than it did in earlier years, but there is a wide variety of pleasing sound for all.  The complete list of artists is available here.

I’ll simply note a few JAZZ LIVES’ favorites (in an ecumenical alphabetical order): the Au Brothers, Gordon Au, Bob Schulz Frisco Jazz Band, Clint Baker, Dave Bennett and the Memphis Boys, Eddie Erickson, the Freebadge Serenaders, Grand Dominion, High Sierra, Katie Cavera, Kim Cusack, Meschiya Lake and the Lil Big Horns, Marc Caparone, Midiri Brothers, Mike Daugherty, Pat Yankee, Ray Skjelbred and his Cubs, Red Skunk Gipzee Swing, Royal Society Jazz Orchestra, Stephanie Trick, Vaud and the Villains, Vince Bartels All-Stars . . . and more.

The thought of all that, even spread out over multiple venues from Friday through Monday, is both elating and exhausting.  While I lie down, perhaps you’d like to peruse Years Gone By . . .

Hal Smith’s International Sextet

 
 
 
 
 
Come celebrate at the Sacramento Music Festival with us this year.
May your happiness increase!

SHE MADE A MAGIC SIGN

Not Madame Ruth, but our Rebecca Kilgore, jazz alchemist, making the 1959 Lieber-Stoller pop hit LOVE POTION NUMBER NINE into a sultry jazz classic (as she did on the recording called BLUE SWING).

Here Becky is assisted in her tale of palmistry, the dark arts, and erotic redemption by master magicians Dan Barrett, trombone; Paolo Alderighi, piano; Phil Flanigan, string bass; Jeff Hamilton, drums:

All of this good-natured magic took place at JazzAge Monterey’s yearly music fiesta, the Jazz Bash by the Bay — to be exact, March 8, 2014. Even if you weren’t there, the magic is still powerful — new potions will be available in March 2015, says Madame Ruth.

May your happiness increase!

“YOU HEAR THE RHYTHM ROMPING?”

The question I pose in my title becomes rhetorical as soon as Rebecca Kilgore, Paolo Alderighi, piano; Dan Barrett, trombone; Phil Flanigan, string bass, and Jeff Hamilton, drums, begin to play Gene Krupa’s DRUM BOOGIE at the 2014 Monterey Jazz Bash by the Bay —

During this set, a musician I know casually sat down behind me, tapped me on the shoulder while Jeff was elevating the proceedings even higher, and said with a grin, “Big Sid’s in the house.”  Jeff Hamilton doesn’t imitate anyone, but he has Catlett’s beautiful sense of sound and space.  And that’s not to ignore Becky, Dan, Paolo, and Phil — who make the rhythm romp as a matter of course.  As for me, I’m still floating.

May your happiness increase!

ON THE ROAD TO MONTEREY (March 2014)

I am not readjusting Kipling’s famous lines for the twenty-first century, simply reminding everyone that the Jazz Bash by the Bay (a/k/a Dixieland Monterey) is almost here.  Think of this blogpost as a public service announcement, more exciting but just as necessary as those reminders to change the battery in your smoke detector.

Here is the schedule of sets for Friday / Saturday / Sunday (that’s March 7-8-9) . . . very good news indeed, with music from Rebecca Kilgore, Marc Caparone, Carl Sonny Leyland, Jeff Barnhart, Dan Barrett, High Sierra, Dawn Lambeth, Jeff Hamilton, Marty Eggers, Paolo Alderighi, Stephanie Trick, Bob Draga, Gordon Au, his brothers and uncle How, the Ellis Island Boys, Katie Cavera, Le Jazz Hot, Paul Mehling, Sam Rocha, Bob Schulz, Ray Skjelbred, Jason Wanner, Bob Draga, Danny Coots, Yve Evans, Frederick Hodges, Sue Kroninger, Virginia Tichenor, Steve Apple, Chris Calabrese, Don Neely, Eddie Erickson, Ed Metz, Phil Flanigan . . . . and I know I am leaving out a multitude here. But the music starts on Thursday night, so be sure to get there early!

Here is information on ticket pricing, ordering, and all that intriguing data.

I think JAZZ LIVES readers who live in California know all about the Jazz Bash by the Bay, for it has been generously offering hot music of all kinds for three decades.  If the festival is new to you, and you can consider being there, you should: it has been a consistent pleasure for me since the first deliriously good one I attended in March 2010. I won’t belabor the subject, but if you search this blog for “Monterey” you will find enough wonderful improvisatory evidence; if you go to YouTube and type in “Dixieland Monterey” or “Jazz Bash by the Bay” the same thing will happen.  A powerful series of advertisements for those who can carpe the diem while the diem is still hot, or something like that.

May your happiness increase!

MIGHTY GOOD at MONTEREY 2013 / THE CASE OF THE YEARNING DAMSELS

I am back home and back at the computer one day after the 2013 Jazz Bash by the Bay (or Dixieland Monterey for those who like alternatives): it was quite fine on many levels.  I didn’t video quite as much as I have done in past years, but this was because I had made a conscious decision to behave with greater rationality . . . rather than seeing how many sets I could cram into the weekend and arriving home with a cold or a cough that would take two weeks to shake off.  But there will be videos, I promise.

I heard splendid music from Carl Sonny Leyland in a solo set full of his originals; I encountered Ivory and Gold for the first time, although I have known Jeff and Anne Barnhart — wonderful variety of sounds; their characteristic wit; a great presentation.  The Allan Vache – John Cocuzzi – John Sheridan – Paul Keller – Ed Metz group rocked (a highlight was an extended IN A MELLOTONE); the splendid singer Dawn Lambeth appeared with a number of bands and made us feel better and better as she sang; Marc Caparone appeared as a guest star with High Sierra — his teamwork with Bryan Shaw is astonishing; Jim Fryer had a rare and delightful solo set; the Reynolds Brothers with Clint Baker caused seismic shifts of the most rewarding kind.  Howard Miyata was crowned Musician of the Year 2013 in a ceremony both goofy and touching, and his nephews Gordon, Justin, and Brandon swung out with the noble help of Katie Cavera and Danny Coots.

And I know other attendees had their own version of an exquisite weekend while listening to all the other bands and soloists on the program.

Did you miss it?  Were you being wisely frugal?  Did it pass you by? Don’t despair: a 2014 Jazz Bash by the Bay is solidly in the works, with these artists and more — Becky Kilgore, Dan Barrett, Paolo Alderighi, the Reynolds Brothers, Eddie Erickson, Bob Draga, the Au Brothers, High Sierra, Bob Schulz’ Frisco Jazz Band, Danny Coots, Phil Flanigan, Stephanie Trick, Sue Kroninger, Carl Sonny Leyland, High Sierra, Crown Syncopators, and more.  (And without being too didactic, I will point out that these enterprises rely on your tangible support — financial / physical — or they evaporate.  Look around for the sad evidence.)

It will be held March 7-8-9, 2014.  You may call 831.675.0298 or visit here for more information.  I will provide updates as I know them.

On to a related subject.  You are encountering JAZZ LIVES through a computer, an iPad, a phone or some other electronic gizmo.  And probably you think nothing of it.  But for other members of the jazz community, this is a terrifying kind of esoterica.

I met several charming ladies of a certain age (one doesn’t ask) at the Bash who told me that they were pining away for want of gallant male swains with whom to dance.  In each case, the ladies had been happily married for a long time; their husbands had died.  And unattached men seem not only fragile but in short supply.  So — if you are a single fellow out there, with or without two-tone shoes, and you can dance, there are willing partners a-plenty at these festivals.

The second part of my thinking goes back to our easy reliance on technology.  Since I have had a life-changing experience on Craigslist (of the best sort), I said to each of the damsels, “Do you have a computer?”  No.  One had a computer but her son used it and she had no idea how to on her own.  In each case, it was as if I had asked, “Do you know how to speak Sanskrit?”  I was all ready to say, “I know there are music-loving men of your generation who would be happy to dance with you — you could go to STRICTLY PLATONIC or ACTIVITY PARTNERS (whatever it is now called) on Craigslist — and gratifying things would happen.” But no.

So, I propose this as a generous act for a segment of the JAZZ LIVES readership. If you know someone, Auntie or Grandma or the Lady Two Houses Down, and she loves to dance . . . either help her out on your computer OR show her how to operate one.  I think this would be an act of deep swinging charity.  I know that people say, “Oh, no!  I don’t go on the computer!  I could get killed!  I could get my identity stolen!”  These fears have some basis in reality, I admit . . . but going to your grave without a partner is, to me, a sorrowful idea.

May your happiness increase.

DON’T JUST SIT THERE . . . SWING SOMETHING! (Hanna Richardson, Phil Flanigan, Randy Reinhart, Stefan Vasnier, Jared Mulcahy: DO SOMETHING)

I’ve been waiting for this CD for a long time . . . and it satisfies!  Not only does it have a sweetly spiky Modernist cover; inside the paper sleeve is some of the best swinging music you’ll hear.  No hyperbole; no jokes.

“What could cause Michael to make such extravagant claims?” one might ask.  Well, some history.  In the beginning of this century, I was reviewing CDs for The Mississippi Rag, a periodical I miss almost as much as I miss its editor, the sainted and funny and sharp Leslie Johnson.  A new CD came to me featuring a singer I’d never heard of, Hanna Richardson, and a bassist I knew, Phil Flanigan.  I put it on and was immediately happy: they swung without pretense, they improvised sweetly; they made fine melodies sound better, turning them this way and that to the light.  Warmth without sentimentality was their goal, and they accomplished it on every track — often leavened with sly wit.

Eventually I got to meet Hanna and Phil, to see them in the recording studio and to delight in their live performance.  Then, through the Jazz Grapevine, news leaked out from a secret spot in upstate New York.  Hanna and Phil had picked up electrified tenor guitars (four strings, no waiting) and had added them to the Richardson-Flanigan entourage.  And videos started to appear on YouTube of a group they called — with tongue-in-cheek (but not so seriously that Hanna’s sterling enunciation was hampered) TENOR MADNESS.

Your Honor, Exhibit A, WRAP YOUR TROUBLES IN DREAMS (Hanna, Phil, Tom Bronzetti):

EXHIBIT B, WHAT HAVE YOU GOT THAT GETS ME? (Hanna, Phil, Stefan Vasnier):

I rest my case.  Ain’t they something?

And now, Hanna, Phil (alternating between string bass and tenor guitar), Randy Reinhart (cornet), Stefan Vasnier (piano), Jared Mulcahy (string bass) have made what they used to call AN ALBUM . . . with the provocative title DO SOMETHING.  The songs are THREE LITTLE WORDS (with the sweet verse) / FOOLIN’ MYSELF (where Hanna goes her own wistful way, not copying Billie) / WHAT HAVE YOU GOT THAT GETS ME? / THE VERY THOUGHT OF YOU / A PORTER’S LOVE SONG TO A CHAMBERMAID (where housework is the way to Romance) / THE LADY’S IN LOVE WITH YOU / ME MINUS YOU (with great wit — remembering Miss Connee Boswell!) / ROMANCE WITHOUT FINANCE (for the shade of Tiny Grimes) / TALK TO ME BABY (a twentieth-century realistic love ditty) / DO SOMETHING (a call to arms!) / I DOUBLE DARE YOU / SHOW YOUR LINEN, MISS RICHARDSON (where Johnny Mercer has never sounded so good).

Not only does our Miss Richardson sound better than ever, but the band, the band . . . is a marvel — rhythm that you could use to walk to Florida, and Randy’s glowing cornet, suggesting Sweets Edison here and Bobby Hackett there.

It is possible that my readers need this CD.  Birthdays, Christmas, Hanukah, Thanksgiving, no occasion at all.  It’s a beauty.  Learn more (as we say) here.

May your happiness increase.

INSPIRED JAZZ MISCHIEF AFTER HOURS IN SACRAMENTO: DAN BARRETT, PHIL FLANIGAN, ROSSANO SPORTIELLO, STEPHANIE TRICK (May 27, 2012)

Are you one of these people secretly convinced that the best things happen when you aren’t there?  Do you suspect that the most superb music is played by musicians for their own pleasure — after the concert, in their hotel rooms, in empty ballrooms?  This may not be paranoid imagining.  I think the videos below — taken at the 2012 Sacramento Music Festival — are compelling evidence.

This session took place after the Sunday evening concert had ended . . . and the musicians didn’t want to go back to their hotels (Rossano Sportiello and Dan Barrett being prime instigators).  While the cheerful people surrounding the stage were putting everything away, packing up, doing their jobs . . . the music started — or kept going.

First a hip RUSSIAN LULLABY with Dan at the piano and Phil Flanigan at the bass.  Then — with some musical chairs and giggling, Rossano and Stephanie Trick shared the piano bench while Phil kept the beat going and (eventually) Dan joined in on muted cornet for RUNNIN’ WILD:

No one wanted to call a halt to this fun (even though Phil had to catch a plane) so they took their time for an inspired KEEPIN’ OUT OF MISCHIEF NOW with Dan, Rossano, Stephanie:

And an old-fashioned rocking BLUES to close, created by Dan and Rossano:

“See you next year!”  “Beautiful!”  How true on both counts.

I am so grateful to the musicians here — people whom I count as friends — for not saying, “For goodness’ sake, Michael, put that video camera down.  You’re not going to shoot this, are you?”  They knew I was there — circling around — but they tacitly let me stay . . . what a privilege!

May your happiness increase.

“WELL, THIS’LL BE FUN”: MEMORIES OF JAZZ AT CHAUTAUQUA, 2004

I have a special place in my heart for Jazz at Chautauqua: it was the first jazz party I’d ever attended, an uplifting experience in every way.

The 2011 Jazz at Chautauqua is taking place this year — September 15-18.  Details to follow.

This is the piece I wrote after my first experience of Jazz at Chautauqua.  Joe Boughton is no longer with us, but the elation remains the same.

Well, This’ll Be Fun

On a Thursday evening in September 2004, two jazz musicians decided on Eubie Blake’s “You’re Lucky To Me” to begin their performance, set an affable, conversational tempo, and started – moving from embellished melody to more adventurous improvisations before coming back down to earth.  They stood at one end of a small rectangular mint-green hotel dining room elaborately decorated with nineteenth-century chandeliers and moldings.  The tall young trumpet player, apparently a college fullback, wore jeans and an untucked striped dress shirt; the pianist resembled a senior account executive for a firm that knew nothing of casual Fridays.  As the applause slowly diminished, Duke Heitger, trumpet held loosely at his side, looked slyly at John Sheridan, the other half of his orchestra, grinned, and said, “Well, this’ll be fun.”  They had just played the opening notes of the seventh annual Jazz at Chautauqua, a four-day jazz party held at the Athenaeum, the upstate New York site of the Chautauqua Institution – now a hotel unused for nine months of the year (no heating system).  Appropriately, the site reflected something of the Chautauqua ideal of entertaining self-enrichment, now given over to a weekend’s immersion in the music once our common colloquial language.

The imaginary map of American culture might seem a homogenous cultural landscape of Outkast, Diet Coke, press-on nails, and Paris Hilton.  But there are millions of smaller, secret cultural nations pulsing all at once: people subversively playing Brahms at home, wearing hemp clothing, and making sure that what commercialism has consigned to the past is kept alive.  One of those underground institutions is the jazz party – an idea quietly subsisting for forty years, now one of the only venues for this music.

If a newcomer assumed that a “jazz party” is nothing more than two or three semi-professional musicians playing background music for a roomful of people, perhaps a singer seated atop a piano, Jazz at Chautauqua would be staggering.  It featured nearly thirty-three hours of nonstop music played to two hundred and fifty people between Thursday evening and Sunday afternoon by twenty-six musicians: Bob Barnard, Heitger, Jon-Erik Kellso, Randy Reinhart, and Joe Wilder (trumpet, cornet, and flugelhorn); Dan Barrett and Bob Havens (trombone); Harry Allen, Dan Block, Bobby Gordon, Bob Reitmeier, Scott Robinson (reeds); Johnny Frigo (violin); Jim Dapogny, Larry Eanet, Keith Ingham, and John Sheridan (piano); Howard Alden and Marty Grosz (guitar); Vince Giordano, Nicki Parott, and Phil Flanigan (bass); Arnie Kinsella, Eddie Metz, Jr., and John Von Ohlen (drums); Grosz, Rebecca Kilgore, and Parrott (vocals).  These players are unknown to a general audience but are both remarkable and sought after.  Except for Wilder, the musicians were white, (which didn’t bother him: he was delighted to be playing among friends) and many hailed from the tri-state area, with a few startling exceptions:  Barrett and Reitmeier flew from California, Kilgore from Oregon, and the winner for distance, Barnard, from New South Wales.  Most of them were middle-aged (although Parrott and Heitger are not yet forty), looking oddly youthful (I think that joy transforms), but jazz musicians, if fortunate, live long: Frigo is 87, Wilder, 82.

A listener, fortified by food at regular intervals and consistently available drinks (for me, an excess of caffeine for medicinal purposes – a jam session started while I was asleep on Thursday night, and I was anxious that I miss nothing else) may sit in a comfortable chair and listen to eight hours of jazz in short sets, from fifteen minutes for duets to an hour for a larger band.  It was overwhelming, as though someone who had only read about model trains or Morris dancing had wandered into a convention of enthusiasts where everything in the ballroom focused on the chosen subject, non-stop.  But Chautauqua was more than a museum: it offered the art itself in action, unfettered and created on the spot.

All this is due to its creator and director, Joe Boughton, who feels a moral compulsion to preserve the music he first heard in the Boston area in the late 1940s.  Boughton is a solidly packed man who in profile resembles a Roman general, but his more characteristic expression is pleasure when his musicians are playing well and his audience is reverent.  He is the enemy of needless chatter unless it comes from the bandstand, and printed cards decorated each table, reading, “Afford our artists the respect they deserve and be considerate to those at your table and surrounding tables who have come from long distances and paid a lot of money to hear the music and not be annoyed by talking.”  That contains Boughton’s voice – low-key but impatient with nonsense.  He is also a one-man campaign to rescue jazz from the deadening effects of a limited repertoire.  Jazz musicians who are thrown together on the stand choose familiar songs: variations on the blues, on “I Got Rhythm,” “Sweet Georgia Brown,” as well as crowd-pleasers “Take the ‘A’ Train” and “Satin Doll,” which Boughton calls “Satin Dull.”  At Chautauqua, now-rare melodies filled the air — jazz standards ranging from King Oliver’s “Canal Street Blues,” circa 1923, to the Parker-Gillespie “Groovin’ High” of 1945 and John Lewis’s “Skating In Central Park,” but rare once-popular surprises, including “I’m Sittin’ On Top of the World,” “Smiles,” “Ida,” “Aren’t You Glad You’re You” and “Moon Song.”  Although the songs might seem antique, the approach is not self-consciously historical: the young tenor saxophonist Harry Allen (to cite only one example) who delivers eloquent solos while standing motionless, once leaning against the bar, would fit in well with the bebop legend Clifford Brown or the Harlem stride master James P. Johnson.

Each of the four days was full of highlights, rarely loud or at a high pitch, but emotionally exhilarating all the same, from the first set on Thursday, as the Heitger-Sheridan duet became a trio with the addition of drummer John Von Ohlen (who resembles Ben Franklin in coiffure but Franklin, from eighteenth-century reports, tended to drag at fast tempos – something that Von Ohlen, sharp and attentive, never does) on a Benny Goodman Trio –tempoed “Liza” that blossomed into a quintet in mid-performance with tenor saxophonist Dan Block and bassist Phil Flanigan joining in because they couldn’t wait until it concluded.  Block looks as though he had slipped off from his professorship at an esteemed university, but has (unlike Allen) all the archetypical tenor saxophonist’s violent physical gestures, moving his horn ecstatically as his phrases tumble out, adopting a hymnlike tone on a ballad or floating at a fast tempo in the best Lester Young manner.  Flanigan hoisted this band (and others) on his shoulders with his elastic, supple time and when it came to his solo, no one succumbed to bass ennui, for his choruses had the logic and emotion of Jack Teagarden’s architectural statements.  (Flanigan is married to the eloquent singer Hanna Richardson, who had been at Chautauqua in 2003 and was much missed this year.)

Thus, Thursday night, an hour along, had become 52nd Street or Minton’s again, with no cigarette smoke or watered drinks in sight.  No one got up and danced, a pity, but no one clapped to an imagined beat while the musicians played – an immense relief.  What made the music memorable might have escaped a casual listener who expected jazz performances to be lengthy, virtuosic solos.  The players were concise, saying what they had to say in two or three choruses, and the technical brilliance was usually in making the difficult seem easy, whether on a racing hot performance or a tender ballad (although perfectly placed high notes did ornament solos).  What distinguished the performances was a joyous, irresistible forward motion – listeners’ heads steadily marked the beat, and everyone had their own sound: I could tell who was taking a solo with my eyes closed.  And there was an affectionate empathy on the stand: although musicians in a club chatter during others’ solos, these players listened intently, created uplifting background figures, and smiled at the good parts.  Off-duty players stayed to admire.  And when the last set of the night ended, the players gathered around the bar to talk about music – but not predictably.  Rather, they swapped stories about symphonic conductors: Joe Wilder sharing Pierre Boulez anecdotes, Dan Block giving us Fritz Reiner gossip.  The general bonhomie also turned into friendly banter with their colleagues and the audience: most musicians like to talk, and most are naturally witty.  The unstoppable Marty Grosz, beginning to explicate the singing group the Ink Spots for a late-evening tribute, said, “I’ll make this short, because I already hear the sounds of chins hitting breastbones.”  (He was wrong: the crowd followed every note.)

Some stereotypes are truer than not, however: I overheard this conversation between a musician I’ll call “M” and a solicitous member of the Chautauqua staff:

“M, would you like a drink?”

“Yes, thank you!  Gin.”

“A martini?  With ice?  Olives?  An onion?  Some tonic?”

“No.  [Emphatically.]  Gin.

Gin in its naked state was then provided.

On Thursday evening, I had talked with Phil Flanigan about the paying guests.  I had brought with me gloomy doubts about the aging, shrinking, and exclusively white audience, and the question of what happens to a popular art when its supporters die off, envisioning nothing but empty chairs in ten years.   I had expected to find a kindred pessimism in Flanigan, earnestly facing his buffet dinner, but it didn’t bother him that the audience that had once danced to Benny Goodman had thinned out.  Flanigan told me, emphatically, how he treasured these people.  “They’re dedicated fans.  They come to listen.”  “What about their age?” I asked.  “Lots of age,” he said.  “This is a good thing.  Think of the accumulated wisdom, the combined experience.  These are the folks who supported the music when it was young.  When they were young!  What do you know? They just happened to be loyal and long-lived.”  (Flanigan’s optimism, however, would have been tested to the limit by the affluent, fiftyish couple who shared our table and seemed to ignore the music in favor of the New York Times, barely looking up.)

Flanigan’s commentary was not the only surprise – especially for those who consider jazz musicians as inarticulate, concerned more about reeds than realities.  The next day, I had attached myself to Joe Wilder for lunch.  The conversation, steered by Wilder, weaved around memories of his friends, famous and not – but he really wanted to talk about Iraq and eco-devastation, and his perspective was anything but accepting.

Friday began with rain, and the hotel corridors were ornamented by white plastic buckets; from one room I heard an alto player practicing; behind another door trumpeter Jon-Erik Kellso was turning a phrase this way and that in the fashion of a poet accenting one word and then another while reciting the line half-aloud.  I spent some costly time entranced by the displays of compact discs, buying and considering.

Later, the party began officially in the main ballroom with fourteen musicians (six brass, four reeds, four rhythm), stretched from left to right, jostling for position on the stage of the main ballroom, played “Way Down Yonder in New Orleans,” at its original, yearning tempo, with the trumpeter Randy Reinhart directing traffic, the musicians creating simple chordal backgrounds of organ tones played in whole notes (called “footballs” for the way they look on music paper) and the brilliant anachronism Vince Giordano switching from his bass saxophone (an instrument out of fashion by 1935) to the only aluminum double bass I have ever seen, as the spirit took him, the convocation suggesting Eddie Condon meeting Count Basie in 1939.

The set that followed was a masterpiece of small-band friendship, featuring Allen, Wilder, Block (on alto), the underrated Washington, D.C., pianist Larry Eanet, Howard Alden, Flanigan, and Von Ohlen.  In forty minutes, they offered a strolling “If Dreams Come True,” with Flanigan beginning his solo with a quote from the verse to “Love in Bloom,” a speedy “Time After Time,” usually taken lugubriously, with the melody handed off among all the horns and Alden in eight-bar segments, an even brisker “This Can’t Be Love,” notable for Eanet, who offered his own version of Hank Jones’s pearls at top speed and for Wilder – who now plays in a posture that would horrify brass teachers, his horn nearly parallel to his body, pointing down at the floor.  His radiant tone, heard on so many recordings of the Fifties, is burnished now into a speaking, conversational one – Wilder will take a simple, rhythmic phrase and repeat it a number of times, toying with it as the chords beneath him go flying by, a Louis Armstrong experiment, something fledgling players shouldn’t try at home, and he enjoys witty musical jokes: quoting “Ciribiribin” and, later, “Mona Lisa,” in a solo on “Flyin’ Home.”  Often he brought out a bright green plastic cup and waggled it close to and away from the bell of his horn, creating growly, subterranean sounds Cootie Williams would have liked.  (“From the five and ten,” he said, when I asked him about the cup.)  Wilder’s ballad feature, “I Cover the Waterfront,” was a cathedral of quiet climbing phrases.  And the set closed with a trotting version of “The Jeep is Jumpin’,” a Johnny Hodges riff on “I Got Rhythm” changes, played the way it was in 1941, before musicians believed that audiences needed to hear everything faster and louder.

A series of beautifully shaped impromptu performances followed, including a Bobby Gordon – John Sheridan duet full of Gordon’s breathy chalumeau register, and a Rebecca Kilgore set.  Kilgore has a serious, no-nonsense prettiness and doesn’t drape herself over the microphone to woo an audience, but she is an affecting, sly actress, who uses her face, her posture, and her hands to support or play off of what her beautiful voice is offering.  She is especially convincing when she is acting herself and her twin at once: on “Close Your Eyes,” a song full of serious assurance that the hearer will be safe forever in the arms of the true love, Kilgore managed to suggest that the lyrics were absolutely true while she audibly winked at the audience, as if to say, “Do you believe this sweet, silly stuff I’m singing?”

Friday closed with Vince Giordano’s Nighthawks, an explosive ten-piece band, replicating late Twenties and early Thirties jazz and dance orchestras.  Giordano, who resembles a movie idol who could have partnered Joan Blondell, is remarkable – an eloquent melodist and improviser on his unwieldy bass saxophone, where he gets a room-filling tone both sinewy and caressing; his aluminum string bass, ferociously propulsive tuba, and boyishly energetic vocals.  The Nighthawks reunion band featured whizzing tempos, bright solos, and on-target ensemble passages on a for-dancers-only repertoire, circa 1931, Savoy Ballroom.  Most listeners have never heard a band like the Nighthawks live – they shout to the heavens without being extraordinarily loud, and their ensemble momentum is thrilling.  Hoarse and dizzy, we climbed the stairs to our rooms at 1:30 AM.

Saturday morning began sedately, with solo piano, some pastoral duos and trios, and then caught fire with a Kilgore-James Dapogny duet.  Dapogny is a rolling, rumbling pianist in the style that used to be called “Chicagoan”: right-hand single note melody lines, flashing Earl Hines octaves, stride-piano ornamentations supported by a full, mobile left hand, and he and Kilgore had never played together before.  Kilgore let herself go on the nineteenth-century parlor favorite “Martha,” subtitled “Ah! So Pure!” which Connee Boswell took for a more raucous ride with the Bob Crosby band sixty-five years ago.  Kilgore’s approach was gliding and swinging, with hand gestures that would not have disgraced a Victorian songstress or a melodramatic 1936 band singer (a raised index finger for emphasis, a gentle clasp of her own throat), but the sly glint in her eye and the sweetly ironic quotation marks in her delivery suggested that Martha’s purity was open to question.  Then came a trio of Dan Barrett and Bob Havens on trombones, backed only Marty Grosz, someone his Chicago comrade Frank Chace has called “a one-man rhythm gang,” in a short set notable for fraternal improvising and Barrett’s interpolating one vocal stanza of a lewd blues, “The Duck’s Yas Yas” into “Basin Street Blues.”  More brass ecstasy followed in a trumpet extravaganza, ending with a six-trumpet plus Barrett version of Bunny Berigan’s famous “I Can’t get Started” solo, by now a piece of Americana, with the ballroom’s walls undulating with the collective passion.  The Nighthawks played an afternoon session, full of exuberance and wit: Giordano, calling a difficult tune for the band, smiled at his players and said, “Good luck, boys,” in the manner of Knute Rockne encouraging Notre Dame, before they leapt in to the forests of notes.  And it wasn’t all simply hot music: where else in America, I wondered, could you hear someone sing “Okay, Baby,” with its deathless, funny lyrics about the romantic couple: “The wedding ring I’ve bought for you / Fifty-two more payments and it’s yours, dear”?  Grosz followed with a set devoted to those musicians who would have turned 100 this year – Coleman Hawkins, James P. Johnson, Jimmy Dorsey, and Fats Waller, where Grosz (who knows these things, having come here from Berlin as a child in 1930) commented, “America is the land of easy come, easy go,” before singing a Waller ballad, “If It Ain’t Love,” as tenderly as if he were stroking the Beloved’s cheek.

Sunday morning began with a solo recital by guitarist Howard Alden, which itself began with a rueful “Blame It On My Youth” – Alden also had elevated all the rhythm sections of the bands he had been in, as well as being a careful, lyrical banjo soloist with the Nighthawks – but the temperature of the room soon rose appreciably.  A nearly violent “It’s All Right With Me” featured three storming choruses of four-bar trades among Harry Allen, Wilder, Barrett, and Dan Block; Duke Heitger closed his set with an extravagant “You’re Driving Me Crazy,” with its seldom-played stomping verse, here played twice before the ensemble strode into the chorus; the band supported by Grosz, constructing chordal filigrees at a very fast tempo; Giordano, slapping his aluminum bass for dear life, and Ed Metz, Jr., recalling Zutty Singleton, Armstrong’s drumming pal of the late Twenties, if Singleton had gone to the gym regularly.

Then it was time to go, to close with another Boughton extravaganza – a ballad medley lifted up greatly by Scott Robinson’s “Moonlight Becomes You” on bass flute, Jon-Erik Kellso’s “Willow Weep For Me,” growled as if he had become one of Ellington’s brass in 1929, and the clarinetist Bob Reitmeier’s soft “Deep Purple.”  These heartfelt moments gave way to the true closing “After You’ve Gone,” which featured impromptu piano duets among the many pianists, and an uproarious enthusiasm – greeted with the cheers it deserved.

I wasn’t surprised that on Sunday afternoon, driving back through Erie, Pennsylvania (where Lloyd’s Fireworks advertised “pepper spray, stun guns, sale on Lord of the Rings tape”) that my thoughts drifted back to Heitger’s Thursday-evening prediction.  Yes, there had been too much white and blue hair to make me feel confident about the future of the audience, Flanigan notwithstanding; there had even seemed to be too much music, pushing me to the brink of satiety, and it had all been evanescent – but Heitger had been right: it had been fun.

And just so my readers don’t forget the present and future while celebrating past glories: this year’s Jazz at Chautauqua will include (in egalitarian alphabetical order) Alden, Allen, Barrett, Block, Jon Burr, Dapogny, the Fauz Frenchmen, Grosz, Havens, Heitger, Glenn Holmes, Ingham, Kellso, Kinsella, Kilgore, Dan Levinson, Bill Ransom, Reinhart, Robinson, Sandke, Andy Schumm, Sheridan, Pete Siers, Rossano Sportiello, Andy Stein, Lynn Stein, Frank Tate, Von Ohlen, and Chuck Wilson.  That should provide sufficient music for a weekend!

HANNA, PHIL, AND STEFAN: “TENOR MADNESS” (Feb. 2010)

Singer Hanna Richardson is understated yet compelling (and a swinger on the electric tenor guitar); her husband, bassist Phil Flanigan, is a player Whitney Balliett thought had some of Jimmy Blanton’s “Listen!” quality about him.  Here they are joined in concert by the nimble French pianist Stefan Vasnier, who has a good deal of Nat Cole’s precise gaiety in his work:

Here’s an intent but easy-rocking THE VERY THOUGHT OF YOU:

And a little-known song (the only version I know is Mildred Bailey’s) about that intriguing creature, the intoxicating nerd — WHAT HAVE YOU GOT THAT GETS ME?:

And as a finale (Hanna says she couldn’t resist it) the late-Thirties epic with lyrics by Johnny Mercer, SHOW YOUR LINEN, MISS RICHARDSON:

These three performances come from the folkswaggoner channel on YouTube: well worth a second and third look!  (I see that they’ve just posted a swinging, witty HE AIN’T GOT RHYTHM . . . perhaps there’ll be even more to come.)

THE SWEET POISE OF “TENOR MADNESS”

Here are four more performances from one of the best chamber-jazz groups you’ll ever hear — TENOR MADNESS — not a nod to Sonny Rollins’ famous session, but an acknowledgment of the two electric tenor guitars (four-string marvels) in this trio.  Hanna Richardson, that fine singer, is in charge of one; Tom Bronzetti masterfully handles the other; the eloquent bassist Phil Flanigan holds it all together.  Here they are at a cozy concert recorded in November 2009.  Note their gently propulsive rocking motion, their delicacy, the speaking voices of the three instruments, and Hanna’s casual, sly, feeling way with lyrics and melody.  And their quotes from other songs are nimbly hilarious, their harmionies deep (hear what they do on WRAP YOUR TROUBLES IN DREAMS, for one):

And how nicely they handle the sly twists (melody and lyrics) of the imperishable James P. Johnson – Andy Razaf A PORTER’S LOVE SONG TO A CHAMBERMAID, which expresses truest devotion in down-to-earth domestic terms:

(The group apologizes for a few missing measures about three minutes in, due to a camera malfunction . . . I hardly noticed.)

Three variations on the subject of Amour — first, HOW’D YOU LIKE TO LOVE ME?:

Then, an even more insistent Twenties summons, on the theme of “Shut up and kiss me!” — DO SOMETHING (updated in this performance to an eager rock reminiscent of the Nat Cole trio):

And finally, there’s fulfillment in THE LADY’S IN LOVE WITH YOU:

See and hear more about Tenor Madness at http://www.myspace.com/tenorguitarmadness.  Wow!

COPYRIGHT, MICHAEL STEINMAN AND JAZZ LIVES, 2010
Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.  Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Michael Steinman and Jazz Lives with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

TENOR MADNESS (Hanna, Phil, and Tom)

If you saw the title and assumed that this was a Sonny Rollins tribute band, get that thought right out of your head.  As much as I admire Rollins, the tenor saxophone is sufficiently well-established in jazz so that it doesn’t need the extra publicity.

No, TENOR MADNESS looks like this:TENOR MADNESS

I’m only sorry that the picture is bite-sized, for it captures Phil Flanigan, heroic bassist, his wife Hanna Richardson, a wonderfully unaffected yet hip singer (and tenor guitarist), and Tom Bronzetti (also on tenor guitar).  Oh, say can they swing! 

They have a MySpace page, where you can hear them and see where they are playing next: http://www.myspace.com/tenorguitarmadness

I’ve been an admirer of Hanna and Phil’s for some years now, ever since I was asked to review their first CD (on the LaLa label) for the late lamented Mississippi Rag — I became a fan as well as a convert to their insouciant swing.  Jazz party producers, are you paying attention?  This trio is compact yet their swinging music pours out generously.  And they don’t care if the piano in your living room is out of tune.  I predict great things!

HOORAY FOR HANNA!

The singer Hanna Richardson is one of our hidden treasures — lightly swinging, earnest without being over-serious, matching her mood to the song.  I’ve most often heard her alongside bassist Phil Flanigan (her husband), guitarist Chris Flory, and others of equal stature.  Here she is, cheerfully sweeping away the potential angst of Billie Holiday’s FOOLIN’ MYSELF, accompanying herself adroitly on the tenor guitar, with the nifty piano playing of Patti Wicks to keep things slyly rocking.  A treat!  And I was informed of this YouTube clip by another rare and splendid singer, Melissa Collard.

As the waitperson says when (s)he sets your salad down in front of you, “Enjoy!”