Tag Archives: Phil Schaap

“TAL FARLOW: A LIFE IN JAZZ GUITAR / AN ILLUSTRATED BIOGRAPHY,” JEAN-LUC KATCHOURA and MICHELE HYK-FARLOW

Tal Farlow, photograph by Francis Wolff, 1953

Once again, I am in the odd position of writing a review of a book I have not finished.  I am a very quick reader of fiction, but books full of new information are imposing.  The good news is that I feel compelled to write about this book now because it is expansive and delightful: a gorgeous large-format 340-plus page book about Tal Farlow, in English and French, illustrated with many rare photographs and at the end, “Gifts from Tal,” a CD of rare music.  Unlike many substantial research volumes, it is splendidly designed and visually appealing, with so many color photographs, magazine covers, and priceless ephemera that one could spend several days, entranced, without ever looking at the text.

Here is the link to purchase this delightful volume.

Recently, I finally decided to take the more timid way into the book, and started by playing the CD — rare performances with Red Mitchell, Jimmy Raney, Gene Bertoncini, and Jack Wilkins, some recorded at Tal’s home in Sea Bright.  Interspersed with those performances, quietly amazing in their fleet ease, are excerpts from interviews with Tal done by Phil Schaap, edited so that we hear only Tal, talking about Bird, about technique, about his childhood.  I think the CD itself would be worth the price of the book, which is not to ignore the book at all.  (It is playing as I write this blogpost.)

And a digression that might not be digressive: here is the author speaking (in French) about his book and about working with Tal and Tal’s wife to create it:

and a small musical sample (Neal Hefti’s classic, here titled very formally) for those who might be unfamiliar with Tal’s particular magic: he was entirely self-taught and could not read music:

The book brims with first-hand anecdotes about Tal in the company of (or being influenced by) Charlie Christian, Art Tatum, Charlie Parker, Billy Kretchmer, Dardanelle, Red Norvo (whose extended recollections are a  highlight), Charles Mingus, Mary Osborne, Eddie Costa, Norman Granz, Oscar Pettiford, and Tal’s brothers of the guitar, including Herb Ellis, Jimmy Raney, Barney Kessel.

It’s a dangerously seductive book: I began revisiting it for this blog and two hours went by, as I visited text and photographs from Tal’s childhood to his death.  For guitar fanciers, there are pages devoted to his Gibsons as well.

This book deserves a more comprehensive review, but I know JAZZ LIVES readers will happily write their own.  And I have my entrancing jazz reading for the winter to come.

May your happiness increase!

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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!

I CALL ON MICHAEL HASHIM, PART TWO (July 19, 2017)

Because he is justifiably one of the most busy musicians I know, it was hard to find a time when saxophone master and master raconteur Michael Hashim and I could sit down and talk at leisure.  And because Michael is so busy gigging, it was hard to find a photograph of him without a horn attached to him, but I did.  (I love the dashing color palette here.)

Michael and I had a long afternoon’s conversation last July, the first two segments of which I posted here.

Now, throwing caution to the winds — or another apt cliche — I offer the four remaining segments of our talk.  And, as you’ll hear, Michael is one of those rare creatures who can speak beautifully, extemporaneously, without hesitation: lovely long sentences, full of information, feeling, and wit, come tumbling out.  A master of improvised prose as well as one of improvised music.

Three.  In which Michael speaks so well and affectionately of Jimmy Rowles — the pianist, the man, and the artist — with side-glances at Robert Mitchum, Henry Mancini, and The Fifth Dimension, Tommy Flanagan, Phyllis Diller, Benny Carter, Michael’s own recording with Rowles, Ray Brown, and some comments on race:

Four.  In which Michael tells anecdotes of encounters with heroes in New York, saxophonist Pony Poindexter, trombonist Benny Morton, as well as jazz clubs Eddie Condon’s and Jimmy Ryan’s, with memories of Red Balaban, Jo Jones, Bobby Pratt, Tony Bennett, Joe Muranyi, Artie Baker, Roy Eldridge, Scott Hamilton, Lou Donaldson, Freddie Freeloader, and others:

Five.  In which Michael remembers not only individual musicians but the feeling and understanding of their art that they embodied, including Cab Calloway, the Widespread Depression Orchestra, Eddie Barefield, Sammy Price, Jerry Potter, Earle Warren, Phil Schaap,Toots Mondello, Percy France, Doc Cheatham, Scott Robinson, Roy Eldridge, Ornette Coleman, Cecil Taylor, Lester Bowie, Haywood Henry:

Six. In which Michael lovingly speaks of the importance of the drums and remembers memorable percussionists and the players surrounding them, including Buddy Rich, Philly Joe Jones, Eddie Locke, Ray Mosca, Oliver Jackson, with a special pause for the master Jo Jones, for Sonny Greer, Johnny Blowers, Brooks Kerr, Russell Procope, Harold Ashby, Aaron Bell, Sidney Bechet, Charlie Irvis, Bubber Miley, Elmer Snowden, Freddie Moore, Eddy Davis, Kenny Washington, Billy Higgins, Wynton Marsalis, Branford Marsalis, George Butler, Jazz at Lincoln Center, Joe Henderson:

What an afternoon it was, and what a person Michael Hashim is.

May your happiness increase!

“ALOHA.”

rich-conaty-portrait

RICH CONATY 1954-2016

In the history of jazz, people who do not play instruments do as much, in different ways, to sustain the art without getting equal credit. Think of Milt Gabler, George Avakian, Henry Sklow, Norman Granz, George Wein, Whitney Balliett, Nat Hentoff, and other catalysts. Then there are broadcasters. “Broadcasting” meant something even before radio and television: spreading something widely, effectively: a newsboy shouting the headlines or a farmer distributing seed over a field. Jazz radio broadcasters — in previous decades Martin Block, Art Ford, Fred Robbins, Sid Torin; in our time Ed Beach, John S. Wilson, Phil Schaap, Dan Morgenstern, Alisa Clancy, Linda Yohn and many others – do more than play records. They become our friends, teachers, and benefactors. We look forward to their voices, personalities, and insights. Before there was streaming radio, we arranged our schedules around them; we tape-recorded their programs, which became sweet swinging libraries, introducing us to new artists or rare records.

Rich Conaty, who died of cancer on December 30, 2016, gave his energy and ultimately his life in the reverent and delighted service of the music he loved: the pop and jazz of the teens, Twenties, and Thirties, roughly 1911-1939. For forty-four years, he shared that music on a Sunday-night broadcast on Fordham University’s radio station, WFUV-FM (90.7). Rich’s THE BIG BROADCAST, named in homage to the 1932 film with Bing Crosby, Eddie Lang, the Boswell Sisters, Arthur Tracy, Cab Calloway, and others, was a consistent pleasure.

Rich was enchanted by this music when he was thirteen or fourteen, began broadcasting as a high school student on New York’s Hofstra College radio station. When he had to choose a college, he picked Fordham University because of its radio station, and beginning in January 1973, was on the air every Sunday night, live perhaps fifty weeks every year, taping shows in advance when he went away, perhaps to visit his mother in Florida.

Early on, Rich formed an alliance with Vince Giordano, leader of the Nighthawks, and these two did more to introduce this music to a wider, younger audience than perhaps anyone. Rich said that his program was “for the old and the old at heart,” for his humor was sharply wry (occasionally painfully self-deprecating) but he was most happy to learn that some seventeen-year old was now collecting Chick Bullock 78s or had fallen in love with Lee Wiley. He had other interests – vintage Nash automobiles, cats, and other kinds of vintage pop culture – but was devoted to the music and musicians above all.

Listening to Rich for decades, I was able to trace the subtle development of a scholarly intelligence.  Years ago, his library of recordings was small (as was mine) so he played the Mills Brothers’ TIGER RAG frequently.  As he became the person and the scholar he was meant to become, his awareness, knowledge, and collection deepened.

We’ve heard earnest but ignorant radio announcers – those who call the Ellington clarinetist “Barney Biggered,” or the King of Jazz “Paul White Man,” but Rich knew his music, his musicians, and his history. Every show, he created tributes to musicians, songwriters, and other figures whose birthday he would celebrate: not just Bix, Bing, Louis, Jolson, Annette; his enthusiasm for songwriters and figures, once renowned, now obscure, was astonishing. He had interviewed Bob Effros, Edward Eliscu, Ben Selvin, and Vet Boswell on the air; he was friends with Dolly Dawn, had gotten drunk with Cab Calloway. Connee Boswell sang HAPPY BIRTHDAY to him over the phone; Arthur Tracy performed at his wedding to Mary Hayes (“Manhattan Mary,” who also died too young of cancer).

Rich expanded our knowledge and our joy by playing an astonishing range of music from his own collection of vintage records. Every Sunday that I heard the program, I would say several times, “What is that? I never heard that record before!” and this was true in 2015 and 2016, where it seems as if everything is accessible on CD, download, or YouTube. He spent his life surrounded by 78s – those he had acquired at auction, those he was selling at record shows. Because the idea of THE BIG BROADCAST was not just famous, documented recordings, he would often play a record about which little was known. But he could offer an educated guess about the true band behind the Crown label pseudonym, whether the singer was Irving or Jack Kaufman, when the song had been premiered – much more than statistics gleaned from books. He took requests from his devoted audience, gave away tickets to jazz concerts, and with Bryan Wright, created a series of BIG BROADCAST CDs — I have more than a few — which are wonderful cross-sections of the period.

I should say that his taste was admirable.  He didn’t play every 78 he had found — no sermons, no organ recitals of light classics, no comedy records — but within the “pop and jazz” area I could trust him to play the good stuff, the music that would otherwise be forgotten.  He left IN THE MOOD to others, but he played Henry Burr, Bill Coleman, Jane Green, Johnny Marvin, Fred Rich, Ben Selvin, Annette Hanshaw, Lee Morse, Emmett Miller, Eddie Lang, Jack Purvis, Luis Russell, The Sunshine Boys, Kate Smith, Ted Weems, early Ellington, Jean Goldkette, and on and on.

And part of the pleasure of his expertise and of radio in general (at its best, when the programmer is subtle and wise) is not just the delighted shock of one record, but of the juxtapositions Rich created in three-sides-in-a-row.  THE BIG BROADCAST was rather like being invited to an evening at Jeff Healey’s house, where you knew the music would be embracing, uplifting, and educational in the best way.  (I should also say that Rich did talk — digressing into his own brand of stand-up comedy, with little bits of slightly off-key a cappella singing — but music made up the bulk of the program.  He wouldn’t tell you the personnel of the thirteen-piece big band, by choice, I am sure, because it would mean he could play fewer recordings.)

On a personal note: I, like many others, made cassettes of the program and played them in the car.  I fell asleep to the program on hundreds of Sunday nights.  When I was young and diligent, I graded student essays to it. Although Rich and I had much of the same focused obsession with the music, we met in person only a few times (I think always at Sofia’s when the Nighthawks were playing) and THE BIG BROADCAST was his world — and by extension the health and welfare of WFUV.  So our conversations were brief, before the band started or in between sets.  But my debt to him is immeasurable, and it would not have increased had our conversations been lengthy.

rich-conaty-at-wfuv

I do not know what will happen to Rich’s recorded legacy – more than eight thousand hours of radio. Some shows have been archived and can be heard through wfuv.org, but whether the station will share others as a tribute is not yet decided. More information can be found on the Facebook page devoted to Fans of the WFUV Big Broadcast.

I think of Wild Bill Davison’s puzzled question about Frank Teschemacher, dead in an auto accident in Bill’s car, “Where are we going to get another sax player like Tesch?” Paraphrase the question to apply to Rich Conaty, and the answer is, “We never will.” But his generosity will live on.

Aloha.  And Mahalo.

May your happiness increase!

LUCY’S SECRETS

If you saw this young woman on the street, you would think, “She has a nice smile,” but you might not know that she has several secret lives.

All will be revealed about Lucy Weinman in this post.  She doesn’t have multiple-personality disorder, her own lingerie business, nor a quiz show with Garry Moore.  Her Columbia University transcript would show that she is majoring in biology, is a research fellow at the Kelley Lab — far beyond the high school biology I knew.  You might also encounter her as an enthusiastic swing dancer at a number of venues or a delighted audience member at jazz concerts by people like Dennis Lichtman and Gordon Au.

But this is how I first encountered Lucy.  In full flight and in good company — with Dennis Lichtman and Chloe Feoranzo, Kevin Dorn and other notable souls:

Notice the trumpet attached to our Miss Weinman.  To quote Eddie Condon, she owns it and she plays it.  In fact, Lucy is a really impressive hot trumpeter with a large sound, a truly swinging conception, and a good deal of spice.  She, Jeff Weinman (guitarist / pianist / and also Lucy’s father) and Miss Cherry Delight (vocals) make up the Big Tent Jazz Band with a variety of ringers and sitters-in.  Their Facebook page is http://www.facebook.com/pages/Miss-Cherry-Delight-and-The-Big-Tent-Jazz-Band/343542389217?v=info&sk=info.

That should be enough.  BIO WHIZ GIRL ALSO HOT TRUMPETER would be a nifty headline on an imagined newspaper in a Thirties movie.  But Lucy has more surprises for us.

One is the Columbia University Semi-Formal Swing Dance — coming up on December 9, 2011.  Here (in excited prose I didn’t dare edit) are the details:

CU Swing Dance – This Joint is Jumpin’
: a stompin’ swing dance fiesta featuring New York’s own Grand Street Stompers. Feel-good New Orleans jazz, lovely dancing, lovelier company, and good times will abound. Show up in your semi-finest attire and stretch out those hamstrings cause THIS JOINT’S GONNA BE JUMPIN’!
How it’s gonna go down:
8:30- 9pm – A beginner swing dance lesson provided by CU Swing Dance (No prior experience or partner necessary, ya dig? You got no excuse!)
9pm-12am – The band JUMPS and so do we. It’s that simple.
CUID holders: $8
Non-CUID: $10
*The Grand St. Stompers is a swinging-hot traditional jazz band led by rising young trumpeter Gordon Au and featuring the evocative and joyous vocals of Tamar Korn. With one foot stomping in vintage tradition and the other in modern style, they’ll throw down everything from Louis Armstrong hits and New Orleans standards to Gordon’s exciting originals to surprisingly swinging adaptations of classical pieces and Disney tunes. The bottom line is this: whenever they play, it’s a helluva show.
**Directions: Take the 1 train to 116th St. Walk north on Broadway to Barnard’s Gates at 119th St. Enter campus, turn right, and look for the orange building (The Diana Center). Go down one floor to LL1. Give money to the smiling Columbia students, get your hand stamped, and dance to your heart’s content!

But wait!  There’s more.  WKCR-FM (the radio station of Columbia University, also accessible streaming live on the web at http://www.wkcr.org) is known for seventy years of jazz programming.  One of its long-standing programs — I remember listening to it as far back as the early Seventies — is OUT TO LUNCH, a weekday jazz show from 12-3.  This radio station plays the whole range of recorded jazz from 1917 to the present, from the ODJB to the world of free.  Splendid!  But often — not surprisingly — what’s known as “traditional jazz,” loosely defined as New Orleans, Chicago, early Swing — is left to the very scholarly divagations of the Dean of New York Jazz Radio, Phil Schaap.

Some weeks ago, I was driving home in the early afternoon on a Tuesday, and I turned on my car radio, whose first preset is 89.9, WKCR.  I forget what exactly was coming out of the speaker — was it I MUST HAVE IT by King Oliver or was it FAREWELL BLUES by the New Orleans Rhythm Kings? — but it was a delicious jolt.  The “disc jockey,” the archaic term for the person choosing what records to play, stayed out of the way of the music for a good long time.  Then she announced herself as “Lucy,” and the veils dropped from my eyes.  I am not embarrassed to say that I called the station and said, mock-ominously, “WHAT are you doing playing all that good hot jazz?  What’s the matter with you?” or words to that effect.  Then I introduced myself — Lucy and I know each other from Radegast and The Ear Inn — and we both started laughing happily.

Lucy Weinman is on the air every other Tuesday — her next show is December 13.  She has a clear voice, can pronounce the musicians’ names correctly, and her love for the music comes right through the speaker.  Today, when she was through playing a nice long set of Louis and Earl from 1928, including KNEE DROPS, she began her commentary with a hushed, “Oh, my God.  Louis Armstrong and Earl Hines,” which is proper reverence.

She has at least three or four brilliant careers in front of her, and JAZZ LIVES salutes her varied endeavors — while unmasking her secrets, which is the privilege of Hot Jazz Journalism.  Find out more about her lives at http://www.facebook.com/Lucy.Rae.W.  And if you’re lucky, she’ll bring her horn to a gig.  Pleasant surprises await!

RIFFTIDE: FRAGMENTS FROM A DRAMATIC MONOLOGUE BY JO JONES

I’ve never before seen a YouTube video promoting a book, but if any book deserved one, it would be RIFFTIDE: THE LIFE AND OPINIONS OF PAPA JO JONES (University of Minnesota Press, 2011), edited and compiled by Paul Devlin from taped conversations that drummer and raconteur Jo Jones had with writer Albert Murray:

Like its subject, RIFFTIDE is simultaneously enthralling, elusive, irritating, and unsettling.  Jones (1910-85) was a great innovator and an equally great synthesizer of percussion technique, someone who understood that the drummer could liberate both himself and the band by rethinking jazz rhythm, by creating a flow rather than a series of demarcations.  Although Henderson drummer Walter Johnson was working towards similar goals, Jones’ great sound was that of the floating, whispering hi-hat cymbal, carrying any band forward and upwards — but most especially the Count Basie band in its most glorious years.  Behind the drums, at his best, he was both Loki and Dionysus — unpredictable, boyish, shape-changing, his sound always right.  Away from the drums he was someone else, a monologist who rarely let his listeners know the plot of his play.

Jo Jones would have been furious if described as “normal.”  That condescending description was for the “nine-to-fivers.”  A self-described “nut,” he was a cosmos unto himself: elliptical, often enraged in conversation, given to diatribes that served to push most listeners away, the result seeming at best irritating, at worst irrational.  (On that score, many have theorized that Jones’ behavior was the result of syphilis contracted early and not entirely cured.)

In the Seventies and early Eighties, Jones was eager to get his stories on paper, and he spoke to (rarely “with”) the African-American scholar Albert Murray, while Murray was working on another “as told to” book, the unsuccessful autobiography of Count Basie, GOOD MORNING BLUES.  (Either Basie was too modest or he didn’t entirely trust Murray; the real stories went with Basie to the grave.)  The tapes of Jones’s “autobiography” came to Devlin when Murray was too ill to edit and transcribe them, although the two men discussed what Devlin had come up with.

RIFFTIDE is made up of several short parts: an informal essay by Devlin, part reminiscence, part explanation of his editorial method, part graduate-school essay on Jones.  What closes the book is a more effective (although cliché-ridden) twenty-two page essay by Phil Schaap, who knew Jones for the last thirty years of Jones’ life.  Those two sections contain some fascinating information: Devlin’s comments on editing the tapes reveal much about Jones, although I wished Devlin had been willing to incorporate the stories Jones categorized as “private stock” to Murray.  Schaap’s section is characteristically windy, he was a first-hand observer and participant: for example, musicians as mild-mannered as Buddy Tate and Doc Cheatham refused to ride in cars with Jones; Cheatham going so far as to purchase a small car because it would make it impossible to have Jo as a passenger.  The book closes with useful footnotes and rare photographs.

The center of this paperback is, of course, Jones’ recollections, rants, enthusiasms, stories, anecdotes, score-settling . . . fervent yet digressive.  I’m not sure if Jo was at this stage unable or unwilling to narrate a conventional autobiography in chronological sequence.  I think his mind went in violently associative ways, so that everything reminded him of something or someone else he couldn’t bear to leave out.  Early on in RIFFTIDE I felt as if I had signed on for an often airless monologue by someone with great energies and purposes known only to himself.

That, however, is the beauty of RIFFTIDE: Jo spoke at me several times in this period, when I met him at Frank Ippolito’s drum shop or asked for an autograph or the like, and the book captures those experiences.  One listened while he spoke; one did not converse or attempt to direct the flow of conversation.   The book is most readable in Jones’ brief portraits of people he knew, liked, or detested as fraudulent. He praises Ralph Ellison, Duke Ellington, the Harlem Globetrotters, Louis Bellson, his colleagues in the Basie band, the jockey Isaac Murphy, Bill Robinson, violinist Claude Williams, Basie’s manager Maceo Birch; scorns James Baldwin and John Hammond (the latter is a “R.P.P.,” a “Racist Prejudiced Prick”), is ambivalent about Count Basie in the present.

Here is a brief sample of his voice, digressive, oratorical: “Take me forty-something years to earn my keep.  I’m fifty-six years in show business.  I have earned my keep.  There won’t be but two people in the United States can tell you.  Now ask the president of France.  I got my picture with the president of France.  You know what I’m saying?  But I’m into something heavy.  Like when I go down with Grace Kelly; she’s got Josephine Baker’s thirteen children!  I’m with the policeman that held the umbrella overhead when they’re dispossessing her.  See, I’m kinda odd out here.  I sleep with my door unlocked: me and my Bible.  My friend comes in, she locks the door.  I’ve never locked my door in fifty-six years.  Everybody understands how I play: I play free.  I’m not afraid of a living person. I fear God: I got four hundred religions and five hundred cults. There are two people that give me strength: Billie Holiday and Lester Young.”

These excerpts and portraits are both elusive and invaluable: as close to hearing Jo Jones as most will ever come.  If at times I thought I had wandered into a Beckett play or reborn into a Browning dramatic monologue, that was the feeling that an encounter with Jo in the flesh created.

We are lucky to have RIFFTIDE, although its fragmentary nature makes me wish that a more comprehensive oral history had been taken and made accessible while Jones was eager and able to tell his stories.

For those who wish to read about my own encounters with the great man, here is SMILING JO JONES: https://jazzlives.wordpress.com/2009/06/17/smiling-jo-jones/ — complete with the photograph I took of Papa Jo in action at the West End Cafe in New York City, circa 1981.

AUGUST IN NEW YORK: FOUR DAYS WITH JIM FRYER

Photograph by Lorna Sass, 2008

(This is trombonist / euphonist / vocalist Jim Fryer’s essay on life-as-a-hard-working-jazz-musician . . . as printed in the November 2010 edition of The American Rag and reprinted here with everyone’s permission)

ME & NYC

6 gigs in 4 days: a life of slice

August 15–18, 2010

This is a somewhat random “Report From NYC,” based on a few days of “feet on the sidewalk” activity. It’s certainly not an exhaustive accounting of the activity around here, although it was a bit exhausting. There is so much great music, great jazz, and great trad jazz around here. This is just a slice, my little slice, of the scene. I think it was Hemingway who said you should write about what you know, and what you know best is your own life. It is also true, in my experience, that narcissism is one of the few skills that can improve with age, and I’m definitely on that bandwagon. So here goes. I hope someone else may find this interesting. I know I do.

* * *

Following a big chunk of time and energy expended (along with Jeff & Anne Barnhart) in helping our 5 “International All Stars” from the UK have a swell time in Connecticut, New York, and California (including doing double duty at the Orange County Classic Jazz Festival with the Titan Hot 7, the band that most readers of this journal will know me from), I enjoyed a respite visiting my parents at their house in the Maine woods. A short time after my return to New York, I found myself back on the busy streets & subway trains: the Asphalt Jungle. A small flurry of local gigs helped reorient me to this place where I am trying to live the good – or at least, the interesting – life.

Sunday August 15: From our domicile in West Harlem, I drove south on the Henry Hudson Parkway and West Side Highway, down to the Fat Cat Café, just off Sheridan Square in the West Village. This is one of my favorite joints ever: down the stairs to a very large room that contains games such as ping pong, pool, scrabble, chess, and beer and wine drinking. And oh yes, a small music area off to the side, easy chairs and sofas, a grand piano and a sound system (with a sound engineer!). When I die, if I’m lucky enough to choose my personal heaven, it will look a lot like the Fat Cat. (Our younger daughter once came along to a gig there, and decided that was where she wanted to get married.)

The band at the Fat Cat was a classic: Terry Waldo leading his Gotham City Jazz Band from the piano, singing & striding along; Peter Ecklund (tpt), Chuck Wilson (clr/as), Brian Nelepka (sb), John Gill (dms),and me (with my euphonium along for the ride). Nice, relaxed, easy. Good IPA on tap. 2 sets, no muss, no fuss, just plain fun. Girls boogie to our music while playing foozball. I’m very thankful that there are bandleaders who hire me for such good times. John Gill sang a lovely rendition of Irving Berlin’s When The Midnight Choo-Choo Leaves For Alabam’. John continues vocalizing (accompanying himself on guitar) later on Sunday nights over at the National Underground, where he, Brian, & drummer Kevin Dorn play good old rock and roll & country/western.

Normally, after the Fat Cat, I have the option to sit in with the Dixie Creole Cooking Jazz Band (led by cornetist Lee Lorenz) at Arthur’s Tavern, right around the corner from the Fat Cat, on their weekly Sunday gig; and then travel a few blocks down to The Ear, New York’s oldest saloon, for another fantastic session with the Ear-Regulars (led by Jon-Erik Kellso and Matt Munisteri). But today, it’s back into the car and a scramble against heavy crosstown traffic and over the Williamsburg Bridge, to the Rose Café in Brooklyn. The gig thankfully started late anyhow! I played a duo set with Bliss Blood, the talented singer/songwriter/ukelele-ist from Texas via Brooklyn. We followed a young violinist/singer/synthesizer player who managed to sound like a rock band and symphony orchestra, all by herself. Playing old blues and Bliss’s original songs, our music sounded simple in comparison (one of my goals, actually), but the ‘elite’ (small) audience seemed to enjoy it.

Monday August 16: Every Monday brings me a steady musical diet. I play with a rehearsal big band in the afternoon. Working jazz musos the world over know what that means: get together for a few hours every week and ‘read’ (play) big band ‘charts’ (arrangements) for no commercial purpose whatsoever. The opportunity to sight read new material (often written by someone in the band) and schmooze with friends is sufficient compensation. If you hang out at the American Federation of Musicians Local 802 building on West 48th Street for a week, you’ll hear dozens of these bands, taking advantage of the very low room rental rates.

Next comes one of the musical highlights of my life for the last several years: Vince Giordano and The Nighthawks making their weekly Monday appearance at Club Cache, downstairs from Sofia’s Restaurant in the famed Edison Hotel on West 46th Street, just a few feet west of Times Square. I’m not enough of a wordsmith to adequately bring to life the excitement and dynamism that Vince Giordano brings to each & every gig he plays. He is a one man tornado, playing hot string bass, tuba, and bass sax, singing, performing mc duties, meeting & greeting each customer who comes down the stairs into our subterranean cabaret, and setting up & breaking down equipment for hours each week. A characteristic touch is added by our technician & ‘introducer,’ John Landry (aka Sir Scratchy), and we couldn’t do without our various ‘Mikes’ (Mike being the generic term to describe anyone who helps out on the gig, from moving equipment to playing music). Our steadiest Mike is Carol, Vince’s partner, who [wo]mans the door and seats patrons; we also are lucky to have Earl, who in addition to schlepping equipment, spends his ‘down’ time translating Vince’s antique arrangements into modern notation via Sibelius software – at an incredible clip (he will complete a full 13 piece arrangement during the course of the 3 hour gig, something that would take me weeks).

Vince’s Monday night gig has become enormously popular since its debut in May of 2008. A great dance floor brings in the rugcutters (including many athletic young lindy hoppers), and the room is typically full of customers from the world over. The legendary 88 year old clarinetist Sol Yaged is featured on a tune each set. Vince is the Toscanini of the evening, conducting our journey through the sublime world of Fletcher Henderson, Paul Whiteman, Louis Armstrong, Bix Beiderbecke, Jelly Roll Morton, and a plethora of songwriters & arrangers: Bill Challis, Raymond Scott, Fats Waller, Irving Berlin. From the downbeat at precisely 8pm to the closing at 11pm, it is truly a world of amazing music & delight. We often have quite well known folks ‘sitting in:’ singers like Michael Feinstein, Nellie McKay, and Daryl Sherman; instrumentalists from around the world; the comedian Micky Freeman; and famous audience members such as cartoonist R. Crumb, a big classic jazz fan.

This particular Monday included all members of what I call the “A Team;” that is, all the first call musicians. (The band hardly suffers when subs come in: John Allred in the trombone chair could not be described as bringing the level down!). Many of these players are quite well known in a variety of genres. Here they are:

Reeds: Dan Block, Dan Levinson, Mark Lopeman

Trumpets: Mike Ponella, Jon-Erik Kellso

Trombone: your humble (ahem!) reporter

Violin/Sax: Andy Stein

Piano: Peter Yarin

Banjo/Guitar: Ken Salvo

Percussion: Arnie Kinsella

Basses/Everything: Vince Giordano

Tuesday August 17: Tuesday daytime may bring a few trombone students to me (in the summer, a handful; during the school year, a full day – if I’m lucky); or an occasional concert in a Connecticut school, with a band called the Cool Cats; then comes a reprise of Monday night. Vince has been working hard since this past June to get a second night established. It’s still the quieter night, and I bet Vince is counting audience members as he’s counting off tunes; but it also can work more as a rehearsal, Vince handing out charts on stage from his vast collection (60,000 in the archives).

At 11:40pm, I’m back on the train from Grand Central Station (busy place, that) to Rye, 25 miles NE of the city, where my wife (sometimes described as “long suffering”) works at a private school, which offers on-campus housing as a benefit for her very hard work. I love the view walking east on 43rd Street, with the Chrysler Building looming over the majestic train terminal. By 12:30am I’m strolling down our very quiet and pretty suburban street, where Peter Cottontail may sometimes be seen munching lettuce in the garden. This particular night a local cop car slows to a stop as I’m walking up to our place. The cop looks me over (trombone, wheelie bag for mutes etc, garment bag with tux), and says, “Ya got everything?” Funny guy. It’s good to know they’re out on the beat. Sometimes I stay “in town,” at the apartment we have in West Harlem (currently also the abode of our eldest daughter, a fervent New Yorker).

Wednesday August 18: Wednesday brings another doubleheader (paydirt for us musos; even better, the rare tripleheader; many years ago I played 4 gigs on the Fourth of July). First the late afternoon session at Birdland, the world famous club on West 44th: David Ostwald’s Louis Armstrong Centennial Band. This long running (10+ years) weekly gig features a rotating roster of the finest trad players in town. Today, in addition to tuba player & leader Osti, I had the pleasure of being on stage with Jon-Erik Kellso (tpt), Anat Cohen (clr), Ehud Asherie (pn), & Marion Felder (dms). Yours truly was the old guy on stage. (I’m trying to get used to that.) David’s bands are some of the most ‘diverse’ in the biz, in terms of not only age but also gender and race. The general lack of diversity can be a slightly touchy issue in the trad jazz arena, so it’s nice to see Osti put together bands that ‘look like America’ – and also swing like crazy! This Wednesday session was a very special one: Dave Bennett, the young clarinet virtuoso from Michigan, sat in, along with a young also sax player (from Russia, I believe; I didn’t catch his name); and in the audience, 91 year old George Avakian, one of the most esteemed figures in jazz history (George has produced hundreds of classic jazz albums).

Then to Brooklyn (by subway), to play again with Bliss Blood, this time with the Moonlighters (20s/30s swing, with a Hawaiian flavor). Bliss’s vocals & uke are joined by Cindy Ball (guitar & impeccable vocal harmonies), Raphael McGregor (lap steel), Rus Wimbish (string bass), & the horn section: me! I love being the only horn player, it’s nice & quiet, with no temptation to engage in technical battles: who can play faster, higher, or more cleverly. As I get older, I feel pleasure in knowing how to add a bit of value to the music, no pyrotechnics, please. I’m trying to play better by playing less. It’s a thrill to learn brand new songs that Bliss and Cindy write. The art form continues to evolve. I also love this venue. The Radegast Beer Hall, a big open space, with fine beer (of course) and hearty German food, is in the heart of Williamsburg, a neighborhood that feels young and vibrant. It restores my faith in humanity when the band is fed so well on the gig! All kinds of bands play here, including several youthful units, such as Gordon Au’s Grand Street Stompers, and the Baby Soda band (which includes trombonist Emily Asher of Mighty Aphrodite Jazz Band fame). Several times folks got up and danced around the bar area, in most cases to our music. Finishing after midnight means arriving back in Harlem close to 2am – fortunately, not driving, which reduces the danger and risk (seriously, everyone who’s been in the music business knows musos who have fallen asleep at the wheel late at night); as long as I don’t sleep through my subway stop and end up in Riverdale (a nice neighborhood, but miles north of my pad).

* * *

It was a great little run of gigs. I feel quite lucky to be able to work with so many interesting people. And if sometimes being the oldest on stage is a bit of a bittersweet experience (I guess I ought to get used to it as “As Time Goes By”), it is certainly encouraging for the future of the music. From long time residents (like drummer Kevin Dorn, born in Manhattan about 30 years ago – his band, the Traditional Jazz Collective, gigs all over town) to those newly arrived, NYC is still, as ever, a magnet for young, ambitious, and hardworking people. A few of the young “immigrants:” trombonist Emily Asher, transplanted from Washington state for a couple of years to get her Masters degree; trumpeter Gordon Au, from California (I should mention Gordon’s very musical family: brothers Justin and Brandon are fine players who have blown with the Titans in Pismo Beach CA, and Uncle Howard Miyata plays a mean tailgate trombone with High Sierra Jazz Band); young trombonist Matt Musselman from Maryland, a recent graduate of Manhattan School of Music, and one of my subs in the Nighthawks (his band is called Grandpa Musselman and His Syncopators); and trumpeter/vocalist Bria Skonberg, due to arrive any second now. There is most definitely a youth movement going on! I wouldn’t know how to advise these young people about putting together an actual living in NYC: this is one tough town to pay your bills in – but somehow they are doing it. Perhaps I should ask them for advice! The total take from my 6 gigs (minus the expenses) will buy a few bags of groceries, pay back the loan for a couple of textbooks for my younger daughter’s college degree, with about $1.13 left for my pension contribution. Guess I can’t retire yet. I’ll get up tomorrow and go off in search of more students and gigs. I know one musician who was heard to say: “Retire! How can I retire? I’ve never had a job!”

I would be remiss if I didn’t also tip my cap to the folks around here who have been promoting the classic jazz scene for many years, such as: Bruce McNichols, musician, impresario, and radio OKOM producer; Jack Kleinsinger, whose “Highlghts In Jazz” series has run for 37 years; the Sidney Bechet Society, which puts on fine concerts in Manhattan; New Jersey folks like Bruce Gast & the New Jersey Jazz Society; Connecticut jazzers who put together the Hot Steamed Festival and the Great Connecticut Traditional Jazz Festival; & radio hosts such as Rich Conaty on WFUV-FM and Phil Schaap on WKCR-FM. Youth combined with Experience will carry the day for the music we love!

Jim Fryer

August 2010

For more info:  www.jfryer.com, www.terrywaldo.com, www.blissblood.com, www.myspace.com/vincegiordanothenighthawks, http://www.ostwaldjazz.com/., www.coolcatjazz.info,