Tag Archives: piano

AT THE END OF A COLORADO RAINBOW: CARL SONNY LEYLAND, CLINT BAKER, JEFF HAMILTON (2011, 2016)

I report with glee and trepidation that I am going to be in Colorado for the 2016 Evergreen Jazz Festival on Friday. The trepidation has nothing to do with music, but arises because of the details that emerge in even the least complicated travel.  But the rewards at the end of the rainbow — a Colorado double rainbow — are even more immense.

Double rainbow, Evergreen, Colorado, 2014. Photograph by Michael Steinman

Double rainbow, Evergreen, Colorado, 2014. Photograph by Michael Steinman

One such reward is multiple opportunities to hear three of my favorite musicians: Carl Sonny Leyland, piano / vocal; Clint Baker, string bass and perhaps other instruments of mass pleasure; Jeff Hamilton, drums.

They will be appearing throughout the Festival, but before it starts they will be creating seismic happiness at a barn concert on Thursday night: details here. At this concert there will be dancing.  I will bring back videos, I promise . . . but just to get you in the mood, here are several I shot at a California swing dance on August 20, 2011, a Wednesday Night Hop in Mountain View.

I knew less about videoing then, so it took me a while to get courageous at the start of LADY BE GOOD, but the music is always there:

and . . .

and . . . .

These three heroes have the rollicking force of the Thirties Basie band in full cry.  And they use their powers for good.

I know that some of you can’t get up to Colorado on this short notice, and I understand.  However, I see that Carl’s trio is booked for the 2017 Evergreen Jazz Festival . . . so that gives everyone time to make arrangements.

May your happiness increase!

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THERE’S A PARTY AT CARL’S!

Relaxing at Pier 23, San Francisco

Relaxing at Pier 23, San Francisco

I present to you one of the finest CDs I’ve ever heard.  But it’s also one of the least-known.

It is a House Party.  And Carl is pianist / singer / composer Carl Sonny Leyland. He invites all of us to share the joys with Marc Caparone, trumpet / string bass; Jeff Hamilton, drums; Clint Baker, string bass / clarinet.

CSL cover

This exact group has not been videoed, but you can hear a good deal of the exuberant spirit Carl, Marc, and Jeff bring to the music — with the help of Butch Smith, alto saxophone, and Mike Fay, string bass:

Now, I know that some listeners pigeonhole Father Leyland as an eight-to-the bar wizard, a boogie-woogie marvel.  And in this they would be correct.  But he is a musician and a fine jazz improviser whose talent is not constricted by a label, so he goes where the music takes him, most often to the land of Swing.  The sounds you’ll hear on this CD make me think of Kansas City — the small-band music made by Hot Lips Page, Pete Johnson, Walter Page, Jo Jones and their friends.  And when Carl starts to sing the blues . . . we could be back at the Reno Club in 1935.  (The original premise was, I think, a contemporary evocation of Pete Johnson’s 1944 add-an-instrument “Housewarming” records — a good lively model to have.)

Many jazz recordings hew to a certain stylistic definition (I think of the pigeonholes in which one inserts mail) and that’s fine if that is what you’re in the mood for.  Here’s the reproduction of Fly and his Swatters; here’s the tribute to “Unknown White Teenager”; here’s the solo xylophone recital of early Sondheim.  (My examples are satirical but not too far from CDs now on my kitchen counter.)

Carl and his friends have a different end in view, which is why this CD is a House Party — recorded in Marc Caparone’s living room in Paso Robles, California. Carl explains, “Armed with good faith and plenty of liquor, the four of us got together and made the music you are hearing now.  There was no rehearsing, and in most cases I just launched directly into whatever came into my head at that moment.  Spontaneous creativity is what really turns me on in music and I will gladly take it over ‘tight,’ ‘clever,’ and ‘refined,’ every time.  I believe the results we attained that day combined spontaneous creativity with honest emotion.  Unrestricted by notions of trying to please anyone than ourselves, we played without inhibition.  Chances were taken, nothing was held back, and in addition to being artistically gratifying, it was a heck of a lot of fun.” 

I find the music that Carl, Marc, Clint, and Jeff make on this disc wholly life-affirming, whether it’s a groovy slow blues with a dark theme or a romp on a time-honored standard . . . but I also support the philosophy stated above.  This is honest music, aimed at our hearts.  So in my ideal world, this band would be headlining at festivals and concert halls, appearing at schools across the world. Until that happens, I urge you to invite yourselves to Carl’s House Party.

To buy the CD (and to hear and see much more of Carl), visit his website.

May your happiness increase!

MOON DREAMS AND MORE: ROSSANO SPORTIELLO / FRANK TATE at the ALLEGHENY JAZZ PARTY (Sept. 19, 2014)

Forest Blue moonlight Pianist Rossano Sportiello and string bassist Frank Tate are lyrical poets who understand the power of music to create emotional and spiritual landscapes we can roam in.  They did this at the 2014 Allegheny Jazz Party in a late-evening set of September 19, 2014, which began with a sweet extended medley — more a series of musings on cosmological matters — and then went afield.  Notice that the first video begins with a well-deserved round of applause for Frank Tate!

blue dark forest

MISTY / BLUE MOON / MOONLIGHT IN VERMONT / HOW HIGH THE MOON:

AFTER YOU’VE GONE (sprinting, no doubt):

Chopin’s NOCTURNE in Eb Major (which some of us recall from the film LOVE STORY) / DEEP PURPLE / EV’RY TIME WE SAY GOOD-BYE / JUST ONE OF THOSE THINGS:

Lovely and expansive, never superficial.  Rossano and Frank will once again be working their magic at this year’s Allegheny Jazz Party in Cleveland, Ohio, September 13-15, 2015.  Won’t you join us?  Information here.

May your happiness increase!

MICHAEL KANAN and NEAL MINER at MEZZROW (Part One): SEPTEMBER 16, 2014

Wonderful music is being made at the new jazz club at 163 West Tenth Street in New York City, Mezzrow,  and I was there to witness some of the beauty on September 16, 2014.  The creators were pianist Michael Kanan and bassist / composer Neal Miner, and the result was glorious sounds in an inviting place. Here is the first half of their sweetly inspiring recital. The videos are dark but the music gleams.

IT’S YOU OR NO ONE:

GONE WITH THE WIND:

LULLABY OF THE LEAVES:

WRAP YOUR TROUBLES IN DREAMS:

AUTUMN IN NEW YORK:

I will share the second half with JAZZ LIVES soon, but I’d like this one to sink in. Michael and Neal know that there is deep emotional life in “these old songs,” which have not grown old and will not as long as they are handled with intelligent tenderness.  As they are here.

May your happiness increase!

THE REAL THING: WELCOME, KRIS TOKARSKI!

If you’ve been paying attention on the New Orleans jazz scene, you will already know the brilliant pianist Kris Tokarski, and the news of his debut CD, DROP ME OFF IN HARLEM, will be a pleasure but not a surprise.

If Kris is new to you, listen to these two selections here before moving on.

The first is the Hoagy Carmichael treasure (eternally associated with Billie) APRIL IN MY HEART; the second is Berlin’s ALL BY MYSELF.  You can also hear him play CAROLINA SHOUT and QUASIMODO if you are even the slightest bit diligent.  On the first three tracks, his cohorts are the splendid Evan Christopher or James Evans, and fine drummer Benji Bohannon.

cover

But today our focus is properly on Kris.  Yes, there are echoes of Teddy Wilson in his work, and I celebrate that, but he is on his own paths.

Kris has a strong but never overbearing reverence for the melody; his touch is lovely; he knows how to breathe through a phrase, when to leave notes out, how to create subtle carpets of harmony and oceanic swells of rhythm.  Although he is not interested in making the beauties of the past “modern” (whatever that might mean) he has a wide harmonic range; he’s heard the music that was played after 1936 and is being played now. He is a delightfully clear yet ringing orchestral pianist, someone who doesn’t lag or rush, push or pound.

He’s there when you need him, and his delicate playing isn’t effete but full of restrained wit and emotional empathy.  He knows how to swing and stride — with both hands — and his playing is fluid, supple — never stiff.  His accompaniment is the very definition of sweet teamwork, and his solos are full of surprises: you can’t tell where he is about to land, but it’s graceful and satisfying when he does.

Did I mention that this young man is 25 years old?  Allow that fact to settle in for a bit.  What graceful mastery for someone so young — let me correct myself here — gracious mastery for anyone!

His debut disc is consistently delightful.  Kris loves melodies and brings new light and shade to ones I thought had been done to a crisp by now.  He understands that the role of a jazz pianist is also to float alongside great players.  The first eight tracks are very lively homage to the piano-clarinet-drums trio so beloved of Goodman and Morton — with the clarinet offerings shared by Evan Christopher (LOVE WILL FIND A WAY, CAROLINA SHOUT, and APRIL IN MY HEART) and James Evans (DROP ME OFF IN HARLEM, IF DREAMS COME TRUE, PLEASE BE KIND, ALL BY MYSELF).  Two tracks that follow are duets for Kris and tenor saxophonist James Partridge (PRISONER OF LOVE, SWEET LORRAINE), and the closing WHAT’S NEW? is a piano solo.

The trio and duo selections honor but do not imitate any of the great recordings; rather they say implicitly, “Here we are together.  We know the tradition, but we trust ourselves to make our own lovely music.  What shall we do together as a friendly community with this song to delight ourselves and our future hearers?”

Thus a gently swinging lyricism permeates every note on the CD.  At times, I thought of PRES AND TEDDY; once or twice, of HEAVY LOVE (if you don’t know the references, they bear investigating); at other times I could find no objective correlative but simply basked in the sounds these people were so generously offering.

And where some young musicians feel the need to show off their skills — “Look how fast I can play this!  Look how many new chord changes I can put into this song!  Look how I can transform this standard into a ________!” Kris is serene and secure in his trust in melodic improvisation over swinging backgrounds.

He is also — and I admire this greatly — a deep romantic.  The disc is full of affection for the music and what it can give to us.  It’s not about egotistic display; it’s about affection.  Why else would someone begin a CD with the rhapsodic and optimistic and eternally hopeful LOVE WILL FIND A WAY?  And the closing WHAT’S NEW? is — while rueful — not bleak in its melancholy. I suspect that Kris has in his heart a deep knowledge of “love’s sweet amen.”  It comes through in his music.

I encourage you to follow this young man, to buy his CD, to cheer him on.  To buy the disc, follow the trail of breadcrumbs here.  Or if you are within range of the Louisiana Music Factory, lucky you! — click here.  The nicest thing to do, of course, would be to find Kris at a gig — his itinerary is posted on his site — and say, “Mr. Tokarski, could I buy a box of your CDs?  I heard about you and about it on JAZZ LIVES.” And then everyone would be beaming.

To know that Kris Tokarski exists, that he creates such lovely music, is very heartening news.

May your happiness increase!

SWINGING QUIETLY: NINETY SECONDS WITH DANIEL P. BARRETT at the BOSENDORFER (December 2, 2013)

In Olaf Stapledon’s science-fiction novel about a super-intelligent canine, SIRIUS, the narrator says that we would never believe the things that people do when only the dog is in the room.

When no one else is in the room, or at least no one intrusive, the best jazz musicians swing wonderfully — free of the pressure of the audience, the lights, the microphones. Dan Barrett (trombone, cornet, vocal, composer – arranger AND swing pianist) is a fine example. Here he is, just playing for his own delight and the pleasure of sitting at a well-tuned Bosendorfer.  Ninety seconds of I’LL ALWAYS BE IN LOVE WITH YOU — a performance, that although Dan makes little of it, ambles and floats and reminds us of how the Basieties, vocally and instrumentally, loved this song in the glory days of 1937 and beyond:

Thank you, Dan, for making this corner of a dark room into a Hot Spot of Rhythm — in sixty-four bars, no more, and for letting me share this Interlude with the world.

May your happiness increase!

“DU HOLDE KUNST”: MICHAEL KANAN and PETER BERNSTEIN at THE DRAWING ROOM (Feb. 12, 2012)

Last Sunday, February 12, 2012, I was privileged to be one of a hushed audience witnessing deeply moving improvisations.  The explorations were created by pianist Michael Kanan and guitarist Peter Bernstein, and these duets took place at Michael’s new venue, “The Drawing Room,” 70 Willoughby Street, Brooklyn, New York.*

I don’t use “Du holde Kunst” — a phrase by Franz von Schober that begins Schubert’s “An die Musik” — “To (the Art) of Music” — lightly.  I knew “holde” as “holy,” although others translate it as “lovely,” “gracious,” “hallowed.”  The source material for the duo improvisations was clearly secular — themes by Van Heusen, Gershwin, Arlen, and others.  But it was clear from the first notes played by either man that we were in the presence of something far from the ordinary.  The audience heard it; you will too.

The music enacted a wonderful paradox: two individualists, each going his own way but intuitively connecting, commenting — creating a synergy that was more than simply adding one instrumental voice to another.  Peter and Michael both spun out clear, translucent lines — but their combination had an orchestral density, although never loud or overly assertive.

Although their approach was serious, even reverent, they are truly playful musicians — you will hear many in-jokes and commentaries, puckish exchanges that made audience members around me smile.

Hear, savor, admire.

IT COULD HAPPEN TO YOU

COME RAIN OR COME SHINE

EMBRACEABLE YOU

YOU STEPPED OUT OF A DREAM

SOFTLY, AS IN A MORNING SUNRISE

WHAT IS THIS THING CALLED LOVE?

*The Drawing Room is a large quiet airy room with a fine piano and breathing space.  Michael plans to have events like this one several times a month; the admission price was only $10; I found parking, and the subway stop is just a few hundred feet away.