It was a sunny afternoon in Sausalito, California, Sunday, June 15, but I and enlightened souls chose the semi-darkness of the No Name Bar (757 Bridgeway) from 3-6 PM for the good hot music and sweet ballads and occasional hijinks of trombonist / philosophical wanderer Mal Sharpe and the Big Money in Jazz Band. It was fun, and often even more memorable than that.
Incidentally, yelp.com lists the No Name Bar as a “dive bar,” but as one of the patrons said, “I know dive bars, and this is no dive bar.” The No Name is rather too clean and congenial to qualify . . . sorry!
Mal had with him Paul Smith, string bass; Carmen Cansino, drums; Si Perkoff, keyboard and vocals; Tom Schmidt, clarinet, alto, and vocal; Andrew Storar, trumpet and vocals: a very cohesive group, as you will shortly find out.
People who might only know Mal from his many public lives might be unaware of his work as a jazz trombonist and singer. In the first of those roles, he is a fine ensemble player — simple, uncluttered, propulsive; as a soloist he emulates Vic Dickenson and Dicky Wells, happily! Paul Smith is a subtle bassist whose time and taste are delightful; his solos are concise and tasty, and the band rests easily on his foundation. Drummer Carmen Cansino was new to me, but she’s a wonderfully attentive drummer who catches every musical cue and never gets in the way: her solos have the snap of Wettling or Leeman — a series of well-placed epigrams. Si Perkoff’s harmonies are supportive, his improvisations eager but never garrulous: he’s a witty, relaxed player with Monkish edges.
The clarinet, by its very nature, inspires some of the most experienced players into unedited exuberance. Tom Schmidt’s phrases are neat constructions; his sweet / hot alto playing would make Charlie Holmes very happy. I knew Andrew Storar as the lead trumpet in Don Neely’s Royal Society Jazz Orchestra, but was unprepared for how fine a small-band soloist he is — with a graceful, stepping approach and a burnished tone reminiscent of Doc Cheatham.
Andrew, Sy, and Tom are also first-rate singers . . . with markedly different styles. These six players blend marvelously as a unit — the band rocked through three sets without a letup.
Mal is a sharp-edged improvisatory comedian (he doesn’t tell jokes; he invents situations and then builds them into wonderfully unbalanced edifices) who plays with and off of the crowd.
Here are some of the highlights of another Sunday in the bar with Mal.
A strolling ROYAL GARDEN BLUES, with a vocal that emphasizes the importance of proper refuse recycling:
Mal had created an extended comedy about one Randy Mancini, and other unrelated Mancinis were in the house (that’s Virgina having her photo taken with the band) so MOON RIVER, with a sweet vocal from Andrew, was just the ticket:
Take you down to New Orleans! BOURBON STREET PARADE:
And Si reminds us that most everyone Wants A Little Girl. Or boy. Or someone to share popcorn with:
Keeping the romantic mood, Mal offers SWEET LORRAINE in honor of Nat and Maria Cole:
More New Orleans cuisine — although not for the lactose-intolerant — ICE CREAM:
A hot version of DINAH:
Andrew Storar favors the singing of Dean Martin, and honors him without copying, on EVERYBODY LOVES SOMEBODY:
Turning the No Name Bar into Rick’s wasn’t easy — the carpenters had to work feverishly — but Si delivers AS TIME GOES BY in a more jocular fashion than the last Dooley Wilson:
And to send everyone out into the sun with just a tinge of harmless malice (Lorna in the audience jumped when Mal said those dark words to her . . . ) here’s YOU RASCAL YOU, sung by Tom and Mal:
I know where the GPS will be pointing me next Sunday. In fact, I think I already know how to get to 757 Bridgeway without the GPS, and given my directional skills, that is the highest tribute I can pay Mal and the Big Money in Jazz All-Star Orchestra. And don’t forget to say GOOD NIGHT, PROVINCETOWN. We are, after all, on the air.
May your happiness increase.