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!

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.

MARK IT DOWN: MICHAEL KANAN and PETER BERNSTEIN in DUET (February 12, 2012)

I don’t know if 2.12.2012 has special numerological significance, but it promises to be a remarkable date in creative improvised music . . .

A large claim, you say.

But when pianist Michael Kanan and guitarist Peter Bernstein announce that they will be creating music in Michael’s quiet new Drawing Room studio in Brooklyn, that’s special — an event to make people change their original plans, as I did.

The studio, called “The Drawing Room,” is located at 70 Willoughby Street #2A, Brooklyn, New York

Michael writes, “This will be our third duo performance.  We’ll improvise together on standards and jazz tunes.  The Drawing Room (with its exceptional Steinway grand) is the perfect listening room to hear an intimate performance like this.”

$10 admission

The Drawing Room is easily accessible by the A, C, F, B, Q, R, 2, 3, 4, and 5 trains: less than 30 minutes from midtown Manhattan.   For information/directions, contact Michael Kanan on Facebook, or at mpkanan@earthlink.net

For those who have never heard Michael and Peter improvise, I offer one performance captured by my camera at Smalls Jazz Club on March 31, 2011 — LULLABY OF THE LEAVES:

WELCOME BACK, RAY SKJELBRED!

Some JAZZ LIVES readers might wonder why my title warrants an exclamation point.  The music, I think, will speak for itself — but the singular pianist Ray Skjelbred had suffered a broken hip earlier this summer . . .  and he is now back playing and sounding like himself.

Here are four video performances (thanks to Candace Brown) recorded at the monthly gig of the First Thursday Jazz Band, with guest Craig Flory on reeds,  at the New Orleans Creole Restaurant in Seattle’s Pioneer Square, Seattle.  Along with Ray, you’ll hear and see Dave Brown, bass, and Mike Daugherty, on drums.

Here’s I NEVER KNEW, where the sound of the band is reflected in the swinging dancing of Natalie Bangs and Kevin Buster:

And a quartet like this can swing as fiercely as a Thirties big band — hear how on BLUE LOU:

A fast blues (situated between Count Basie and Albert Ammons), named for the championship racehorse, WHIRLAWAY:

Finally (for now), here’s a bit of pretty New Orleans gutbucket — an exploration of the 1919 hit JADA:

So happy you’re back on the bench, Mister Ray!  And thanks to Craig, Dave, Mike, Natalie, Kevin, and especially Candace (without her, this would all be hearsay).

I have it on the best authority that Ray and his Cubs (the Chicago kind) will be performing for the Sacramento Traditional Jazz Society this Sunday, September 11, 2011, at The Dante Club, 2330 Fair Oaks Blvd., Sacramento, CA 95825, from noon to 5 PM.  For more information visit: http://www.sacjazz.org/calendar.html.  I know that my friend and colleague RaeAnn Berry will be there: join her in the fun!

JUST SAY YES: JOEL PRESS and SPIKE WILNER at SMALLS (July 7, 2011)

Joel Press (tenor and soprano saxophone) and Spike Wilner (piano) created life-affirming music at Smalls (138 West 10th Street, New York City) on July 7, 2011.  Joel and Spike had played together once before, but this was their first official performance — and we hope it’s the first of many. 

Both Joel and Spike love to create energetically rollicking melodies — theirs is true playfulness.  And the ideas that come from one are heard and bounced back by the other.  Although Joel says he’s only a Boston boy, I hear a true Southwestern depth of feeling in his playing, with Herschel Evans sitting alongside Lester Young and Charlie Parker . . . although what comes out is unmistakably Joel, from those mobile knees on up.  I first heard Spike six yers ago and admired his playing — orchestral but incisive, making space for Cliff Jackson and Bud Powell.  Now, in 2011, he has grown so much more into himself, with a joyous inventiveness that inspires both Joel and hearers from the first note. 

See and hear for yourself!

IT’S YOU OR NO ONE:

For Bing Crosby, Louis Armstrong, and Lester Young, PENNIES FROM HEAVEN:

A SLOW BOAT TO CHINA taken at a hilariously brisk tempo — are we in Beijing already, Captain?

A GHOST OF A CHANCE, explicitly for Lester:

Charlie Parker’s DEWEY SQUARE, complete with geo-historical commentary by Joel:

I REMEMBER YOU, with a lovely rubato beginning:

BLUES IN B FLAT:

THREE LITTLE WORDS:

Fats Navarro’s line on OUT OF NOWHERE changes, NOSTALGIA:

Finally, YOU STEPPED OUT OF A DREAM:

Thanks to Joel and Spike for such joyous surprises, and to Doug Panero and Louise Farrell for just the right kind of moral support!

JESSICA ROEMISCHER’S GENEROUS IMAGINATION

The imagination of pianist Jessica Roemischer is roomy and ranging.

At the keyboard, she creates cathedrals of sound: visible, tangible, not just audible.  Improvising on familiar themes — the blues, traditional melodies, folk songs, hymns — she may begin with plain-spoken melodic lines, simple chords.

She doesn’t rush; she doesn’t intimdate the listener by jumping into complexities before the music is ready for them.  She takes her time.  A murmuring, rumbling bass becomes more turbulent water.  Blue notes make themselves felt in surprising places.  Her harmonies deepen; her chords grow more dense, each sonority given its own space to echo before a new cluster tumbles in.  Single-note lines give way to arpeggios, creating impressionistic washes of sound and timbre.  Clouds and rippling pools emerge from treble and bass; simple lines and chords become a conversation, then an orchestra.

The listener sees something three-dimensional ascend towards the sky, its base solid, its foundation broad, its spires reaching upwards, large but never imposing.  And her improvisations settle and become more quiet; then, the listener is back on the ground, enriched and delighted.

I have heard and seen this in performance: she wove together the strains of SHENANDOAH and WALTZING MATILDA, slowing down the latter to match its American cousin, making the intertwined melodies both mournfully yearning and hopeful.  AMAZING GRACE moved from quiet simplicity to great cloud-rhapsodies of sound and back to an eloquent plainness.

Here is one version of AMAZING GRACE — but it is only one set of variations on a theme.  Roemischer is a true improviser, bravely venturing, her vistas unrestricted, but always honoring the melody and its harmonic richness.

Roemischer has a new solo CD, called HAVEN, which mixes traditional material, Sixties pop, Bruce Springsteen, and her own lilting originals.  It’s a rewarding series of journeys, inward and outward.  Visit her at http://www.pianobeautiful.com.

MARK SHANE at THE PIANO: THE TICKLIN’S TERRIFIC

Mark Shane is one of the finest jazz pianists alive.  Don’t take my word for it — ask the musicians who have played alongside him, whose music he has enlivened and uplifted.  Or ask any other jazz pianist who knows how to swing.

He can swing in a way that is deeply reminiscent of Fats, Teddy, James P. — but he is no archaeologist, no copyist perfecting what he’s memorized from the manuscript.  (He’s no museum piece, either — having learned a great deal from Hank Jones and Tommy Flanagan, too.)  A long apprenticeship as an improvising player — with Bob Wilber and Ruby Braff, among others — made him a fully mature player.

In his work, you’ll hear great subtleties — his harmonies, his intertwining lines — but he never shows off his technique.  Rather, he is both eloquent and plain, serving the song and its emotions.  Shane is instantly recognizable (his four-bar introductions are lovely compositions on their own) and he is his own man.

His music is delicate — because of his beautifully executed ideas and his touch (there’s classical training in his background and it shows) but he is a powerful player and his rhythm engine is always well-tuned, his swinging time impeccable.

What is the reason for all this praise?

Shane has issued another self-produced solo CD — TICKLIN’ — its title in honor of the great Harlem piano virtuosi, the “ticklers” of the last century.  It took me a long time to listen to it all the way through because I kept playing tracks over and over, returning to a certain passage to marvel at its own kind of luminescence, its joyous forward motion.  Under his fingers, Newton’s laws seem to be modified in the happiest of ways — you find yourself delighting in his intensity, his moving things forward in a delightful fashion, while at the same time there is the utmost relaxation, the absence of hurry, of rush.  Mark doesn’t like what he calls “draggy ballads,” so most of the CD takes place at a variety of nimble medium tempos . . . music to pat your foot by, but also lovely music to meditate by.

And to practical matters: the piano sounds lovely; the repertoire is varied, offering both the familiar — BODY AND SOUL — and the less so — CRYIN’ FOR THE CAROLINES and James P.’s FASCINATION.  No tricks, nothing fancy, just one glorious improvisation after another.

To learn more, visit his site (the CD is $15 including shipping):

http://www.shanepianojazz.com/pages/media.php

Shane’s music is a wonderful cure for whatever darkness may pass through your days.

And just in case his name is new to you, here’s a performance I captured from 2009 — Mark Shane exploring the old sweet nonsense tune JADA in a solo outing at Birdland:

FRANKLY RESTORATIVE

While looking for something else, I stumbled onto the YouTube channel of “blindleroygarnett,” which features a good many rare 78s from the Twenties and Thirties — the focus here is on rollicking blues piano. 

The site is full of wonders, but the treasure for today is TRANSATLANTIC STOMP, by E.C. Cobb and his Corn Eaters, recorded for Victor on December 10, 1928. 

I will assume that the title has something to do with the nation’s delight at Lindbergh’s accomplishment the previous year, but will leave speculation beyond that to the cultural historians.

The Red Hot Jazz site lists the personnel as Junie Cobb, clarinet and tenor saxophone; Jimmy Bertrand, drums and xylophone, Frank Melrose, piano, and possibly Punch Miller or Jimmy Cobb, cornets.   

For me the great attraction of this record is its ebullience, its unflagging bounce — much of it due to Melrose’s sparkling piano in the ensembles.  Melrose, who died young in mysterious circumstances, has been a legendary figure in jazz for some time, but a few years ago two CDs were issued (one on Delmark, one on Solo Art) that do as much as anything could to illuminate the life and music of this joyous improviser.*   

That’s Frank Melrose, hat tipped at the proper angle, in the tinted portrait. 

The recording of TRANSATLANTIC STOMP has a place in medical triage: the patient who doesn’t respond it needs emergency room care immediately.

The Melrose CDs are JELLY ROLL STOMP (Black Swan BSCD-35, available through www.jazzology.com).  It’s produced by the drummer and jazz scholar Hal Smith — with liner notes by Hal and by Frank’s daughter Ida — both of whom read this blog! 

The second half of the Melrose bonanza is contained on a CD called BLUESIANA (Delmark DE 245), available through www.delmark.com.  And there’s more of Frank to be heard on other sessions with a variety of hot Chicagoans — but these two CDs are a good start, including solo, duo, trio recordings, most of the Bud Jacobson Jungle Kings rarities, and the previously unissued recordings with cornetist Pete Dailey from 1940. 

DELICATE FORCE: HANK JONES (1918-2010)

Hank Jones, 2005

It’s unrealistic, but I thought that Hank Jones would be around forever: so I was unreasonably shocked to hear of his death at age 91.  The obituaries speak of the musicians he played with so gloriously — from brothers Elvin and Thad to Charlie Rouse and Joe Lovano . . . to Ella Fitzgerald, Benny Goodman, Artie Shaw, Hot Lips Page, Charlie Parker, Coleman Hawkins, Lester Young, Joe Wilder, and Ruby Braff.  He had fine taste: the “New York Rhythm Section” that flourished in the Fifties included Hank, Milt Hinton, Barry Galbraith, and Osie Johnson. 

Modestly, he didn’t want the spotlight for himself (although he recorded prolifically as a leader for forty years and more); nor did he say that his sound on the piano, his touch, was exceptional.  But anyone hearing even four bars of his playing could identify Hank — he had a singular way of hitting notes on the piano, of phrasing a line of notes, of voicing a chord . . . so that it could be no one else.  I don’t know enough about piano technique to say whether it was a matter of touch, of pedaling — but he could make the simplest (even the most cliched) phrase sound pearly.  Next to him, many other pianists (with monumental reputations) sound over-elaborate or uncouth.  (The player closest to Hank in this was Ellis Larkins.)  Hank’s phrases seem to float above the piano, transcending the mechanics of hands pressing down wood, the wood hitting strings, and so on.  And he had a particularly steady rhythmic sense: his beat was also unmistakable, apparently decorous.  But the elegant surface veneer of his playing, its sheen and gloss, could not mask his swinging force beneath.  Like Bobby Hackett, he was never loud.  He didn’t have to be.   

And he’s gone.  But we had sixty-five years to hear him: what a generous life!

“The Official Hank Jones Website” can be found here: http://www.officialhankjones.com/.  It’s rather outdated, but it will do to remind us of the glorious playing of Hank Jones.

IT’S HOW YOU PLAY THE GAME

Two scenes from contemporary life in and around jazz, April 9 and 10, 2010:

Last night I made a pilgrimage to the Knickerbocker Bar and Grill on University Place in New York City to hear the remarkable banjoist / singer Cynthia Sayer and the noble pianist Mark Shane.  The two large rooms that house the Knickerbocker were crowded, although I found a table near the piano. 

Cynthia and Mark played beautifully — mostly up-tempo romps: LINGER AWHILE, WOLVERINE BLUES, YOU ALWAYS HURT THE ONE YOU LOVE, CALIFORNIA HERE I COME, and a sweet stroll through APRIL SHOWERS and a funky boogie-inflected YELLOW DOG BLUES.  Cynthia’s single notes hit like gunshots; she slid up and down the fingerboard in chordal glissandos; she kept the rhythm going.  Mark, a peerless accompanist and soloist, evoked Wilson and Waller and Flanagan and Hines, all splendidly woven together into Shane. 

The volume of conversation was so high that I had to strain to hear the music.  At the end of the set, Cynthia said to me, “Gee, I had a hard time hearing myself!” and Mark noted, “The noise level in this room is worse for your ears than gunfire.”  People walked so close to Cynthia while she was playing that she had to bend the neck of her banjo back to avoid getting knocked over.  Someone accosted her while she was soloing to request a tune; she kept playing and spoke to the inquirer politely. 

But it was apparent that almost no one was listening.  Perhaps eight people applauded.  Perhaps ninety-five percent of the diners didn’t keep quiet, didn’t know that there were live musicians (people!) creating music in front of them, or didn’t care.

I applaud the courage of Cynthia and Mark and their colleagues who keep creating in the face of indifference and noise.  I couldn’t do it — when I’m teaching, I ask my students to stop talking and to pay attention.  Jazz musicians, cast as “entertainers” at best or an odd version of a large iPod at worst, rarely say, “Would you all have the decency to keep it down a bit?” and I admire their heroism and restraint.  I don’t expect a restaurant to become a concert hall, and I do think that people have a right to eat their dinner and talk to their friends.  But I wonder who won or lost during that hour of combat between art versus loud self-absorbed talk at the Knickerbocker. 

On a more personal note: a writer’s voice is much like his or her speaking voice — individualistic, perhaps idiosyncratic.  I saw today’s batch of Google Alerts — one of them for Jo Jones — and began to read a memorial essay on Jake Hanna published on someone else’s blog (call it JAZZ IS FOREVER, not its name).  I saw that someone I don’t know had “written” a piece on Jake Hanna, most of which was one I had written, word for word without credit. 

I commented on this post politely, pointing out to the blog’s creator that it was not good manners to take someone else’s prose without crediting the writer.  I appealed to his courtesy while being courteous; I signed my name, appended my blog information and email address.  About eight hours later I returned to my computer and, out of curiosity, clicked on this site.  Had the gentleman printed my comment?  Had he ignored the whole thing?  Had he credited me?  None of the above: he had removed my words silently.  

Did I win a victory for intellectual property, against online plagiarism, or did I lose the opportunity to have my thoughts on Jake Hanna spread to even more readers — without my name, which frankly means less than honoring Jake?

I know that it matters not if you win or lose; it’s how you play the game.  But Cynthia, Mark, and I are trying to play by the rules.  It’s not always easy. We keep trying.