Tag Archives: ragtime

“AT LEAST A SUGGESTION OF MELODY”: DON EWELL and DICK WELLSTOOD (Manassas Jazz Festival, December 3, 1978 and December 1, 1979)

When Don Ewell came to New York in 1981 to play at Hanratty’s, the New York Times jazz critic John S. Wilson did a piece heralding Ewell’s “classical piano,” and Don had this to say: “A lot of jazz pianists look down on the old classic way of playing.  I’m not a reactionary, but I don’t want to go too far out on a limb. I like the trunk of the tree. Jazz is a people’s music and it should have at least a suggestion of melody.

You can always hear Ewell’s love of melody in his playing; he never treats any composition he is improvising on as a collection of chord changes, which is one of the most beautiful aspects of his playing.  His touch, his moderate tempos, giving each performance the feeling of a graceful steadiness, also are so rewarding.

Twice at the Manassas Jazz Festival, in 1979 and 1981, Don and Dick Wellstood — who admired each other greatly — had the chance, however briefly, to share a stage.

Because of their mutual respect, it wasn’t an exhibition: they were mature artists who knew that Faster and Louder have their place, but also have their limits.  The video I will present here begins with three solo performances of “ragtime,” loosely defined, by Dick, and then goes a year forward into four duet performances.  Yes, both the MC and the audience are slightly intrusive, and the pianos are not perfect, but I like to imagine that the slight informality made Don and Dick more at ease.  The music is peerless, and the video presents a rare summit meeting.  I thank our benefactor, Joe Shepherd, one of the music’s secular angels, for making it possible for me to share this with you.

Dick Wellstood, solo piano, December 3, 1978: FIG LEAF RAG / CAPRICE RAG / RUSSIAN RAG // Wellstood and Don Ewell, piano, December 1, 1979: ROSETTA (incomplete) / ROSETTA / AIN’T MISBEHAVIN’ / HONEYSUCKLE ROSE / HANDFUL OF KEYS //

When I was doing research for this post, I found I had offered one song from the Ewell-Wellstood duets of 1981, I WOULD DO MOST ANYTHING FOR YOU — again, thanks to Joe —  here it is again.  I wonder if more video of that session (six songs made it to record) exists.

Celestial dance music.

May your happiness increase!

A HOT AFTERNOON AT NEWPORT: EUBIE BLAKE, DONALD LAMBERT, WILLIE “THE LION” SMITH, DANNY BARKER, BERNARD ADDISON, AL HALL, RUDI BLESH (July 1, 1960)

Here is some delightfully rare music from a legendary concert — in videos, no less, although the visual quality is seriously limited.  I had heard about this music and these films decades ago and, years later, a copy, how many generations removed, I can’t say, made its way to me.  The videos are hard to watch, especially for eyes used to today’s brilliantly sharp images, but they are precious.  [They will be less eye-stressful for those who can sit far back from the screen.] All of the music performed that afternoon is now blessedly available for a pittance (see details at the end) but the videos add a remarkable dimension of “being there.”

July 1, 1960 was hot at the Newport Jazz Festival, perhaps especially in the afternoon for Rudi Blesh’s “Stride Piano Stars” program, a select group of “old-timers,” none of whom were particularly elderly in years or energy that day.

Here is Eubie’s BLACK KEYS ON PARADE and LOVEY JOE:

Now, the Danny Barker Trio (Danny, banjo and vocal; Al Hall, string bass; Bernard Addison, mandolin) with a feature for Danny on THE WORLD IS WAITING FOR THE SUNRISE:

More virtuosic showmanship on TIGER RAG:

Here’s Donald Lambert’s ANITRA’S DANCE:

Now, the Lamb plays LIZA as the restless camera-eye finds wiggling limbs:

Eubie and the Lamb play CHARLESTON, Eubie taking the star role:

Hat firmly in place, Willie “the Lion” Smith offers Walter E. Miles’ SPARKLETS:

Fats would have been 56: the Lion sings and plays AIN’T MSBEHAVIN’:

Two melancholy postscripts to all this joy.  On Saturday, July 2, a riot broke out, and the festival did not return until 1962.  Donald Lambert died less than two years later.

But the music remains.  Here, at Wolfgang’s Concert Vault, one can download the audio for the entire afternoon concert (slightly more than ninety minutes) for five dollars.  The performances are listed below.

Introductions by Willis Conover and Rudi Blesh / Stride Piano Demonstration (“Sweet Lorraine”)- Donald Lambert / Development of Ragtime and Stride Piano-Blesh / Early Hits from 1920’s-Eubie Blake / Black Keys On Parade / Lovey Joe // Take Me Out To The Ballgame- Danny Barker Trio / Muskrat Ramble / The World Is Waiting For the Sunrise // Anitra’s Dance-Lambert / Tea For Two / Liza // Polonaise- the Lion / “Shout” Defined / Carolina Shout / Ain’t Misbehavin’ // Fats Waller Medley-Lambert / James P. Johnson Medley // Old Fashioned Love-Eubie / Charleston / Charleston (Part 2) // My Gal Sal-Danny Barker / Tiger Rag // Sparklets-the Lion // I Know That You know-Lambert // Memories Of You-Eubie // Stars and Stripes Forever-Eubie, Lambert, the Lion //

This film or video is a wonder, even greenish and blurred.  With the audio, we can revel in vivid art.

May your happiness increase!

AND NOW, A WORD FROM OUR SPONSOR (1974)

In this 1974 short film, art and capitalism embrace fervently.  Actually, it’s a commercial for a “soft drink,” bubbly. brown, and sweet:

Completely refreshing, and it suggests something about the lovely arc of a unique man, his life and ours transformed by his brilliant musical imagination.

Curious about this phenomenon, I found this artifact — on ebay.com, of course.  The record contains Dr. Pepper commercials done by Eubie, Anita O’Day, Grandpa Jones, Doc Watson, Muddy Waters . . .

As a result, I now see in my mind’s eye the famous television commercial of a young man bounding down a city street with a cold bottle in his hand, asking all of us if we wouldn’t like to be “a Pepper, too.”

I only wish I had known this in 1971 and 1972 when I saw Eubie live: I would have been too shy to bring him a Dr. Pepper from the corner deli, but I wish I had made the connection.  And, yes, I believe him when he says he likes the taste. Get your own blog if you want to scoff at us.  I drink soda very rarely, and it is before breakfast, but I wouldn’t mind a glass of it now.

May your happiness increase!

REALLY, THEY COME OUT SWINGING! — Hal Smith’s ON THE LEVEE JAZZ BAND at SAN DIEGO (Part One: Nov. 30, 2019): BEN POLCER, RILEY BAKER, JOE GOLDBERG, KRIS TOKARSKI, JOSH GOUZY, HAL SMITH and JOHN GILL

One of the pleasures of the 2019 San Diego Jazz Fest was getting to hear and see Hal Smith’s gliding On the Levee Jazz Band.  Although they are devoted to the later music of Kid Ory and his California-based bands, they are a very subtle, swinging group whose music delights the dancers.  The personnel of this OTL incarnation is Ben Polcer, trumpet, vocal; Riley Baker, trombone; Joe Goldberg, clarinet; Kris Tokarski, piano; Josh Gouzy, string bass; Hal Smith, leader, drums. Ordinarily Alex Belhaj is the OTL guitarist, but Alex was home sick in New Orleans, so for this set his place was taken, splendidly, by John Gill, who also sang one for us.

A technical note (as one says): the band played in the large hall which had space for dancers in front, and the dancers happily took advantage of it.  But that would have made conventional filming difficult, so I took myself, camera, and tripod onto the stage, found a chair, made myself to home, and video-ed from there.  Yes, I lost a little volume on Joe Goldberg’s wonderful clarinet playing, but Joe is a forgiving sort, and I got to feature him in the last set of the festival with John Royen’s New Orleans Rhythm.  Ordinarily I don’t set up near the drums, but Hal is one of the handful of drummers I know who plays for the band, who understands dynamics.  So this was a delightful opportunity to capture exactly what he is doing, visually as well as audibly, and I hope you enjoy the results.

DOWN IN JUNGLE TOWN:

SUGAR BLUES, in honor of Joe Oliver’s glucose addictions:

Feeling low?  Feeling sore?  Consult DOCTOR JAZZ, who makes house calls:

ALL THE ‘GIRLS’ GO CRAZY, a hymn of appreciation:

A feature for Joe Goldberg, Ellington’s CREOLE LOVE CALL, which can be traced back to Joe Oliver:

A swinging treatment by Kris, Josh, and Hal of Jelly Roll Morton’s classic:

MUSKRAT RAMBLE, at a nice easy tempo which shows off all its beauties:

More Morton, WININ’ BOY BLUES, so soulfully sung by John Gill:

The On the Levee Jazz Band, you’ll hear, is playing a venerable repertoire, but their first priority is danceable swing.  You can read more about their CD here and the two CDs that Kris, Hal, and Josh (or Cassidy Holden) have made of delicious New-Orleans-flavored ragtime here.  “Check it OUT,” as they used to say in New York City forty-plus years ago.

 

May your happiness increase!

FREDERICK HODGES, HIMSELF, CHARMS US (Stomptime, April 27 – May 3, 2019)

Frederick Hodges, in a very serious moment

The singular pianist / singer / archivist / entertainer Frederick Hodges describes what he does as “Sophisticated and Jazzy Piano Stylings of the Great American Songbook,” and it is a reassuring example of truth in advertising.

I had not encountered him in person before last spring’s Stomptime cruise in the Eastern Caribbean, but he dazzled us all.  He is an elegant personage who likes to amuse as well as play music: there is nothing stuffy about him, and he has all the characteristics of a great entertainer, whether he is recounting a comic anecdote, whipping up and down the keyboard, singing in English (or occasionally in another tongue): he’s a complete show in himself.

His piano style is at once ornate and swinging — a window into 1936 pop music and jazz when they were comfortable bedfellows.  Those who don’t listen closely will hear only the ornamentation, impressive in itself: those who pay closer attention will hear a very precise artist who draws on varied inspirations for his own brightly shining result.  You can hear ragtime and stride and “cocktail piano” in his work — and the admiring shades of Fats Waller and Eubie Blake.  He also has listened closely to the duo-piano teams of the last century, and can make you believe there is another person on the piano bench.

Here, he makes KEEPIN’ OUT OF MISCHIEF NOW gleam:

With Steve Pikal, string bass, and Dick Maley, drums, he dances through LADY BE GOOD, a performance framed by characteristic puckishness:

another classic, PENNIES FROM HEAVEN:

Perhaps the most famous Gershwin tune, I GOT RHYTHM:

Some more Fats (in the daylight, hence the change of hue):

And a Eubie Blake extravaganza, properly titled:

Frederick also plays well with others: (Nate Ketner, reeds; Marc Caparone, trumpet; Clint Baker, trombone; Sam Rocha, string bass; Danny Coots, drums) on the TIN ROOF BLUES.  Slow-moving dancers (or are they ships docking?) impede our view of the band but the music comes through:

and the beloved ROYAL GARDEN BLUES by the same bunch:

He’s a singular musician, a remarkable personality.

May your happiness increase!

THE EASY WINNERS FILL THE AIR WITH LOVELY MELODIES

There are so many names for the music The Easy Winners create (is it string-band music, ragtime, roots music, Americana, or venerable popular song?) that I have given up the quest to name it.  But it’s light-hearted, sweet, sometimes hilarious, sentimental in the best ways, old-fashioned without being stuffy.

THE EASY WINNERS, photograph by Wendy Leyden.

Here’s RAGGED BUT RIGHT, swinging and comedic at once:

Who are these gifted and friendly people?  In the middle, that’s Nick Robinson, to his left is Zac Salem; for this appearance at the 2019 Historic Sutter Creek Ragtime Festival they are joined by Robert Armstrong — you’ll know which one he is because he sings with great subtle skill.  I’m also pleased to point out that the very fine videos are the product of Unigon Films: video and audio by Rob Thomas, edited by Lewis Motisher.
To me, this music is completely charming — what I envision people who lived some distance from cities playing and singing at home (ideally on the porch in summer), old songs, pop songs, swinging without trying hard to, joining their individual string sounds and vocal harmonies to entertain family, friends, neighbors.  They feel a million miles away from music funneled through the iPhone into earbuds or blasting from someone’s car speaker: they remind me of a time when people made music on their own and they were expert at it even when Ralph Peer didn’t offer them a record contract: a landscape full of wonderful sounds, people creating beautiful melodies for their own pleasure.
One of the additional pleasures of this group is their varied library, “ragtime era music of the Americas on mandolin and guitar . . . classic rags, waltzes, cakewalks, tangos, marches, and songs from the late 19th and early 20th centuries.”  For those whose little “is this jazz?” alarm bells are going off, calm down and remind yourself that Oliver, Henderson, Gioldkette, and other fabled bands (we celebrate them as hot ensembles) played tangos and waltzes because the crowd wanted them and expected them — as delights for the ears and intriguing dance music, variety over the course of an evening.
A little personal history: in 2013 I delighted in Nick’s former band, The Ragtime Skedaddlers, at the Cline Wine & Jazz Festival, and it was my pleasure to write about them and post video from their performance here.  Nick happily reminded me that I called the R.S. “old-fashioned melodists,” true then, true now, no matter what the band is called.
The R.S. gave way to The Easy Winners — an optimistic title with echoes of Joplin (and much easier to spell).  I wasn’t at the Sutter Festival, but 17 (!) beautiful videos have emerged and I am delighted to share a few with the JAZZ LIVES audience in hopes of introducing them to this beautiful expert unaffected group.  You can see them all
here or here (the first is Nick’s playlist; the second the filmmakers’ channel).
But here are two more that I particularly like because the songs have deep jazz connections for me and perhaps you as well:
DIANE always makes me think of Jack Teagarden, although the verse is new to me — as is Robert’s fine playing on that home-improvement item (he doesn’t sing “Did you see what I saw?” but perhaps he should):

BREEZE, which I associate with Clarence Williams and Jess Stacy:

I didn’t have the good fortune to grow up among people so talented (although my father played a round-back mandolin in his youth) but the Easy Winners are not only a musical delight but a kind of spiritual one.  Although we are listening to them digitally through our computers, they link us to a time and place where sweet music helped us to perceive the world as a benevolent place.  I hope they prosper.
If I had a house with a porch (my apartment complex has unyielding concrete benches) I would want to hire The Easy Winners for late-spring serenades.  There could be pie and lemonade, too.
May your happiness increase!

WHAT WOULD JELLY DO? “RAGTIME – NEW ORLEANS STYLE, VOLUME TWO”: KRIS TOKARSKI, JOSHUA GOUZY, HAL SMITH

Kris Tokarski has been one of my favorite solo and ensemble pianists for some years now.  It can’t be “many” years, because Kris is perhaps half my age, but my admiration is not limited by the length of our acquaintance.  He listens, he creates melodies, he swings, he sounds like himself, and he has a deep appreciation for the past without being chained by narrow historical definitions.

He’s recorded in a variety of settings, but here I draw your attention to two CDs of ragtime pieces done with delicacy and individuality: the first, issued in 2016 on Solo Art, paired him with drummer-scholar Hal Smith and string bassist Cassidy Holden, pleased me and others immensely: read more about it here.  KINKLETS from that disc:

The second disc by Kris and  Hal, now joined by bassist Joshua Gouzy, issued on Big Al Records, is called RAGTIME – NEW ORLEANS STYLE, VOLUME TWO, and it’s a real pleasure. Hear a sample for yourself here (scroll down the page through the evidence of how well Kris plays with others and on his own).

The premise is a collection of rags that Jelly Roll Morton planned to record — or would have known and played.  And it’s not a fanciful vision, as Hal Smith’s  solid annotations show — in 1939, Morton discussed with Roy Carew his plans to play Joplin and others in his own style, because, as he told Carew, “he didn’t know of anyone more qualified to do it than himself,” and he envisioned recording thirty or forty rags.  (Oh, had he lived for another decade!)

He didn’t live to accomplish this, but we have Tokarski, Gouzy, and Smith to make the fantasy real.

I am especially fond of projects that take a gently imaginative look at the past. Let those who feel drawn to such labors reproduce recordings: the results can be dazzling.  It takes decades of skill to play BIG FAT MA AND SKINNY PA and sound even remotely like the Hot Five.  But even more entrancing to me is the notion of “What might have happened . . . .?” going back to my early immersion in Golden Era science fiction.  An example that stays in my mind is a series of Stomp Off recordings devoted to the Johnny Dodds repertoire, with the brilliant Matthias Seuffert taking on the mantle.  But the most memorable track on those discs was Porter’s YOU DO SOMETHING TO ME, a pop tune from 1929 that Dodds might well have heard or even played — rendered convincingly and joyously in his idiom.  (It really does something to me.)

That same playful vision applies to this disc.  It merges, ever so gently, Jelly Roll Morton and an unhackneyed ragtime repertoire, mixing piano solos and piano trio.  That in itself is a delightful combination, and I replayed this disc several times in a row when I first acquired a copy.

Kris plays beautifully, with a precise yet flexible approach to the instrument and the materials.  He doesn’t undercut, satirize, or “modernize”; his approach is simultaneously loving and easy. It’s evident that he has heard and absorbed the lessons of James P. Johnson and Teddy Wilson — their particular balance of propulsion and relaxation — as well as being able to read the notes on the page. He doesn’t pretend to be Morton in the way that lesser musicians have done (with Bix, Louis, Monk, and others) — cramming in every possible Mortonism over and over.  What he does is imagine a Mortonian approach, but he allows himself freedom to move idiomatically, with grace and beauty, within it.  And he doesn’t, in the name of “authenticity,” make rags sound stiff because they were written before Joe Oliver and Little Louis took Chicago.  He’s steady, but he’s steadily gliding.  His approach to the rags is neither stuffy reverence nor near-hysterical display.

He’s in good company with Josh and Hal.  Many string bassists working in this idiom confuse percussiveness with strength, and they hit the fretboard violently: making the bass a victim of misplaced enthusiasm.  Not Joshua, who has power and melodic wisdom nicely combined: you can listen to his lines in the trio with the delight you’d take in a great horn soloist.  Every note sings, and he’s clearly there with the pulse.

As for the drummer?  To slightly alter a famous Teagarden line, “If Hal don’t get it, well, forget it right now,” which is to say that Hal’s playing on this disc is a beautifully subtle, completely “living” model of how to play ensemble drums: gracious yet encouraging, supportive.  He doesn’t just play the beat: he creates a responsive tapestry of luxuriant sounds.

The CD is beautifully recorded by Tim Stambaugh of Word of Mouth Studios, and the repertoire is a treat — rags I’d never heard (THE WATERMELON TRUST by Harry C. Thompson, and ROLLER SKATERS RAG by Samuel Gompers) as well as compositions by Joplin, Lamb, Scott, Turpin, Matthews, and May Aufderheide.  Nothing overfamiliar but all melodic and mobile.

Here’s another sample.  Kris, Joshua, and Hal are the rhythm section of Hal’s Kid Ory “On the Levee” band, and here they play May Aufderheide’s DUSTY RAG at the San Diego Jazz Fest in November 2018:

Hear what I mean?  They play with conviction but their seriousness is light-hearted.  Volume Two is a disc that won’t grow tired or stale.  Thank you, Kris, Josh, and Hal!  And Jelly, of course.

May your happiness increase!

“HOTTER THAN A FORTY-FIVE!”(PART TWO): CARL SONNY LEYLAND / MARC CAPARONE (Scott Joplin International Ragtime Festival, June 2, 2018)

Two hot poets.  Two brothers at play.  Two bold frolicking explorers.  Choose your metaphor: pianist-singer Carl Sonny Leyland and cornetist / trumpeter-singer Marc Caparone are friends and heroes, so it was an immense pleasure to see and hear them out in the open, joyously rambling all around.  Here is the first part of their duo set performed on July 31, 2018, at the Scott Joplin International Ragtime Festival in Sedalia, Missouri.

And here are four more beauties:

INDIANA BOOGIE WOOGIE:

DUSTY RAG:

MELANCHOLY:

SONG OF THE WANDERER:

I shared WANDERER with scholar-musician Richard Salvucci, whose verdict was “That is the way it is done,” and I concur thoroughly.  Carl and Marc will be reunited for our joy on the April-May 2019 STOMPTIME cruise: details here.

May your happiness increase! 

The ON THE LEVEE BAND at the SAN DIEGO JAZZ FEST (Part One: Nov. 24, 2018)

Official Jazz history, which tends to compress and simplify, has often portrayed Edward “Kid” Ory as both a limited trombonist and a man lodged in the earliest decades of the music.  Both of these suppositions are wrong; as far as the first, ask any trombonist how easy it is to play what Ory played, and for the second, Ory’s later groups played for dancers in the Forties and Fifties and thus he was very much aware of the subtleties of the Swing Era-and-beyond four-four rhythmic pulse, as his later recordings show.  Drummer / scholar Hal Smith’s ON THE LEVEE JAZZ BAND takes its name from a club Ory ran in California, and its musical inspiration from those later performances.

Unlike some quite respected traditional jazz bands, the OTL floats rather than pounds, and its horn soloists clearly enjoy the freedom of playing with and among such gliding pulsations.  It’s their secret, one that perceptive listeners enjoy, even if they are not aware of the swinging feel of the group.  At times, they remind me happily of the ad hoc groups of Swing Era veterans recruited to perform “Dixieland” tunes c. 1959-60: think of Buck Clayton, Vic Dickenson, and Buster Bailey over a grooving rhythm section — playing the opening ensembles correctly and respectfully but going for themselves in solos.

In addition to Hal, the band as it performed at the 39th San Diego jazz Fest featured Charlie Halloran, trombone, Ben Polcer, trumpet, Joe Goldberg, clarinet; Kris Tokarski, piano, Alex Belhaj, guitar, Josh Gouzy, string bass. These selections come from a set the band did on November 24, 2018.

AT A GEORGIA CAMP MEETING:

TISHOMINGO BLUES, with a vocal by Ben:

Joe Oliver’s SNAG IT:

SAN, named for a King:

DUSTY RAG, a feature for Kris, Josh, and Hal — reimagining classic ragtime in New Orleans — that means Morton — style:

SOMEBODY STOLE MY GAL:

HOW COME YOU DO ME LIKE YOU DO?:

HIGH SOCIETY / WITHOUT YOU FOR AN INSPIRATION:

What a pleasure this band is.  And here is their website, as well as news of their debut CD here . And here is my review.  I approve!  And the band also has the Gretchen Haugen Seal of Approval, which is not an accolade easily won.

Catch them at a gig; buy the CD.  Have a good time.

May your happiness increase!

JOPLIN, JOHNSON, JELLY, and MAX: MAX KEENLYSIDE PLAYS (Scott Joplin International Ragtime Festival, Sedalia, Missouri, May 31, 2018)

Max Keenlyside at the 2018 Scott Joplin International Ragtime Festival. Photograph by Stoptime Photo.

The young Canadian piano wizard Max Keenlyside is a fine player and composer, and we had a delightful brief meeting in person at the Scott Joplin International Ragtime Festival, where he played an untitled and incomplete Joplin piece that I’ve titled FRAGMENTS OF JOPLIN.  Music here:

I didn’t catch it all on video, but Max told me later that Joplin’s widow, Lottie, gave Brun Campbell a photo of Joplin at the piano, where there is visible part of an otherwise unknown Joplin composition, which Max transcribed, played, and amplified on.  (Max also told me that “the full story was written about at length, I think, by Chris Ware in an issue of The Ragtime Ephemeralist, which surely must now be as rare as hens’ teeth.”)

Max’s musical range is broad, as you will see and hear, and I think it’s splendid that he might allow audience members to pick the program from his list.  One he chose was James P. Johnson’s romp, RIFFS:

His next piece, Harold Arlen’s lovely IT’S ONLY A PAPER MOON, so captivated me that I posted it right after the Festival — but since I can’t be sure that everyone’s already enjoyed it, I post it here again.  Fats peeks in now and again, but it’s all Max:

Then, some Morton episodes, always welcome.  First, THE PEARLS, which encapsulates the Master at the piano:

and from the Library of Congress recordings, SPANISH SWAT

A properly vigorous TIGER RAG, complete with elbow:

To conclude the set, a new composition by Max, which he explains, THE RED MOON:

And not incidentally, the Scott Joplin International Ragtime Festival will take place next year from May 29 to June 1, 2019.  I’ll tell you more about it as I know . . . because I plan to be in Sedalia, Missouri, for that weekend of joy.

May your happiness increase!

JAZZ AFLOAT: STOMPTIME! (April 27 – May 4, 2019)

I try hard to make JAZZ LIVES not indiscriminately commercial: so, although you might not notice, I only advertise activities and products (concerts, festivals, CDs, gigs) that I am going to or have heard with pleasure.  Otherwise, this blog becomes a store, which is not its purpose.

But I am thrilled to remind you about the debut STOMPTIME adventure.

AND NEWS (as of September 2018): a note from Brian Holland, who not only plays piano and leads band but has ideas that result in our pleasure: “Cabins are selling well.  We’ve actually sold out of Interior and Oceanview classes, so only Verandah and Concierge classes remain.” 

I would direct you to the STOMPTIME site to translate all of that: what it suggests to me is that he, she, or it who hesitates will be whimpering at the dock next April.

To me, even though being afloat in something larger than my bathtub has not always been first priority, seven days in the Eastern Caribbean to a jazz and ragtime and blues soundtrack is much more alive than Spotify or a pair of earbuds.  Yes, it requires that you get out of your chair, but the physical therapists say this is a good thing.  And it requires funding, but the first three letters of that word carry their own not-hidden message.

What, I hear you asking, is STOMPTIME?  To give it its full name, it is Stomptime Musical Adventure’s 2019 Inaugural Jazz Cruise.  It will mosey around ports and islands in the Eastern Caribbean, on the Celebrity Equinox leaving from Miami.  Space is limited to 250 guests, so this cruise will not be one of those floating continents.

Here is the cruise itinerary.

With all deference to the beaches and vistas, the little towns and ethnic cuisines, I have signed up for this cruise because it will be a seriously romping jazz extravaganza, seven nights of music with several performances each day from these luminaries:

Evan Arntzen – reeds / vocals; Clint Baker – trumpet / trombone; Jeff Barnhart – piano / vocals; Pat Bergeson – guitar / harmonica; BIG B.A.D. Rhythm; Marc Caparone – cornet / vocals; Danny Coots – drums; Frederick Hodges – piano / vocals; Brian Holland – piano; Holland-Coots Jazz Quintet; Nate Ketner – reeds; Carl Sonny Leyland – piano / vocals; Dick Maley – drums; Steve Pikal – upright bass; Andy Reiss – guitar; Sam Rocha – upright bass / vocals
Stephanie Trick & Paolo Alderighi – piano duo.

Even though that list ends with the necessary phrase, “Performers subject to change,” it’s an impressive roster.  Of course you’d like to know how much a week of pleasure costs: details here.    My cruise-loving friends tell me that Celebrity is well-regarded — a cruise line catering to adults rather than children, with good food and reassuring amenities.  The great festivals of the past twenty years are finding it more difficult to survive: because they are beautiful panoplies of music, they are massive endeavors that require audience participation. When they vanish, they don’t return.  Enterprises need support to — shall we say — float?  I know many good-hearted practical people who say, “Wow, I’d love to do that.  Maybe in a few years,” and I can’t argue with the facts of income and expenses.  But we’ve seen that not everything can last until patrons of the arts are ready to support it.  Be bold.  Have an experience.

And here are Musical Offerings from Carl Sonny Leyland / Marc Caparone,

and the Holland-Coots Jazz Quintet:

I can’t promise that STOMPTIME will turn Blues into Dreams, but it’s better than other alternatives.

May your happiness increase!

 

STOMPTIME! A MUSICAL “CARPE DIEM” AT SEA (April 27 – May 4, 2019)

I’ve never been on a cruise, but I now have one to look forward to in 2019 with the promise of joy afloat on the debut STOMPTIME adventure.

I like things as much as the next person, but I am also a collector of experiences, which are much more durable even though often intangible.  And I believe strongly that we need to seize the day — life, as we know it, has that annoying finite quality — and, in this case, seven days in the Eastern Caribbean to a jazz and ragtime and blues soundtrack — much more alive than Spotify or a pair of earbuds.

A digression: I don’t advertise events or objects (discs, concerts, festivals) on this blog that I wouldn’t listen to or go to, and I pay my way unless some promoter begs me to keep my wallet shut or a musician sends me her CD.  So I am going to be on this cruise, and not for free in return for an endorsement.  Just in case you were wondering.

Here’s one soundtrack for you to enjoy as you read:

That’s not a well-known record, so here’s some data: Red Nichols, Tommy Thunen, Glenn Miller, Jimmy Dorsey, Babe Russin, Adrian Rollini, Jack Russin, Wes Vaughan, Gene Krupa, January 1930.

What, I hear you asking, is STOMPTIME?  To give it its full name, it is Stomptime Musical Adventure’s 2019 Inaugural Jazz Cruise.  It will mosey around ports and islands in the Eastern Caribbean, on the Celebrity Equinox leaving from Miami.  Space is limited to 250 guests, and special offers are available to those who (like me) book early.

Here is the cruise itinerary.

With all deference to the beaches and vistas, the little towns and ethnic cuisines, I have signed up for this cruise because it will be a seriously romping jazz extravaganza, seven nights of music with several performances each day.  Who’s playing and singing?

Evan Arntzen – reeds / vocals; Clint Baker – trumpet / trombone; Jeff Barnhart – piano / vocals; Pat Bergeson – guitar / harmonica; BIG B.A.D. Rhythm; Marc Caparone – cornet / vocals; Danny Coots – drums; Frederick Hodges – piano / vocals; Brian Holland – piano; Holland-Coots Jazz Quintet; Nate Ketner – reeds; Carl Sonny Leyland – piano / vocals; Dick Maley – drums; Steve Pikal – upright bass; Andy Reiss – guitar; Sam Rocha – upright bass / vocals
Stephanie Trick & Paolo Alderighi – piano duo.

Even though that list ends with the necessary phrase, “Performers subject to change,” it’s an impressive roster.

Here’s a six-minute romp for dancers by the Holland-Coots Jazz Quintet, whom I follow on dry land and on sea, that I recorded on June 1, 2018, at the Scott Joplin International Ragtime Festival:

Of course you’d like to know how much a week of pleasure costs: details here.  An interior cabin will cost $1548.13 per person, and there is an additional VIP package for $250.  If this seems a great deal of money, just start repeating to yourself: “A week of lodging, adventure, food, and music,” and do the math.  Feels better, doesn’t it?  My cruise-loving friends tell me that Celebrity is well-regarded — a cruise line catering to adults rather than children, with good food and reassuring amenities.

Amortize, you cats!” as Tricky Sam Nanton used to say.

Two other points that bear repeating.

The great festivals of the past twenty years are finding it more difficult to survive: because they are beautiful panoplies of music, they are massive endeavors that require audience participation. I am a newcomer to this world, having been part of a jazz weekend for the first time in 2004, but I could make myself sad by reciting the names of those that have gone away.  And they don’t return.

Enterprises need support to — shall we say — float?  I know many good-hearted practical people who say, “Wow, I’d love to do that.  Maybe in a few years,” and I can’t argue with the facts of income and expenses.  But we’ve seen that not everything can last until patrons of the arts are ready to support it.  Ultimately, not everything delightful is for free, and one must occasionally be prepared to get out of one’s chair and tell the nice person on the other end of the line one’s three-digit security number on the back of the card.  Be bold.  Have an experience.

I hope you can make this one.

Postscript, just in (July 23) from my nautical-maritime-jazz expert, Sir Robert Cox: “You have picked you ship well as Celebrity Equinox is a Solstice-class cruise ship built by Meyer Werft in Papenburg, Germany. Celebrity Equinox is the second of the five Solstice-class vessels, owned and operated by Celebrity Cruises.”

May your happiness increase!

PLAY HOT, BE SWEET: THE HOLLAND-COOTS JAZZ QUINTET at the SCOTT JOPLIN INTERNATIONAL RAGTIME FESTIVAL, June 1, 2018 (BRIAN HOLLAND, DANNY COOTS, MARC CAPARONE, EVAN ARNTZEN, STEVE PIKAL)

The Holland-Coots Jazz Quintet, Nashville, Summer 2017: From left, Marc Caparone, Steve Pikal, Danny Coots, Evan Arntzen, Brian Holland. Photograph by Amy Holland.

More from the delightful Holland-Coots Jazz Quintet, a band which sprang full-grown to public acclaim in 2017.  They are Brian Holland, piano; Danny Coots, drums; Steve Pikal, string bass; Marc Caparone, cornet, vocal; Evan Arntzen, clarinet, tenor saxophone, vocal.  They soar; they woo.

Here they are outdoors in the very nice Gazebo Park during the 2018 Scott Joplin International Ragtime Festival in Sedalia, Missouri.

Their band version of RUSSIAN RAG has some kinship with the Wilbur DeParis performance, but do you know that Fats Waller recorded it, solo, in 1935?

A late-period Waller love song, from the score of EARLY TO BED, 1943, here crooned by Evan:

A romp by the magnificently creative yet short-lived Alex Hill, BABY BROWN:

And a very endearing love ballad, recorded but not composed by Fats, LET’S PRETEND THERE’S A MOON:

The HCJQ has also made a CD — appropriately, the music of Fats Waller.  You can purchase it here and hear sound samples also.

This HCJQ will be playing the Evergreen Jazz Festival at the end of this month, and next spring they will be part of the Stomptime Musical Adventure Inauguaral Jazz Cruise, April 27 to May 4, 2019, “departing from Miami to the Eastern Caribbean (San Juan, Charlotte Amalie, Punta Cana, and Nassau) on the Celebrity Equinox for 7 nights of music and fun.”

May your happiness increase!

IN AND OUT OF TRADITIONS: JOEL FORRESTER at JULES (June 27, 2018)

I’ve been taking as many opportunities as I can to see, hear, and sometimes record pianist-composer-inventer Joel Forrester in this summer of 2018, because he and Mary will be in France for much of the next year, from September onward.  If you take that as an undisguised suggestion to go to one of his gigs, none of us will mind.

JOEL FORRESTER, photograph by Metin Oner

Joel is a remarkable explorer: not only does he follow his own whimsies, giving himself over to them as they blossom in sonic air, but he also is curious about forms.  He casually said at this gig (last Wednesday night at JULES (65 St. Marks Place) that one composition came about, decades earlier, when he was deciding to be a bebop pianist or a stride one.  I think the two “styles” coexist nicely in him to this day.  Here’s some evidence.  And if “traditionally-minded” listeners can’t hear and enjoy his wholly loving heretical embraces, more’s the pity.  Or pities.

Joel is also full of various comedies, and some of them come out in wordplay.  So this tune, which makes me think of Chicago, 1933,  is called THE SPERM OF THE MOMENT.  Imagine that:

Celebrating a tender domestic return (as Joel explains), BACK IN BED:

NATURAL DISASTER, which happily does not live up to its title:

GONE TOMORROW, a meditation on the passage of time, which makes me think of 11:57 PM on my wristwatch:

SHELLEY GETS DOWN, complete with siren, in honor of singer Shelley Hirsch:

An entire tradition of improvised music passes through Joel while he is busily making it his own.  We’d be poorer without him.

May your happiness increase!

TRIUMPHANT! (Part Two) THE HOLLAND-COOTS JAZZ QUINTET at the SCOTT JOPLIN INTERNATIONAL RAGTIME FESTIVAL in SEDALIA, MISSOURI (May 31-June 2, 2018): BRIAN HOLLAND, DANNY COOTS, MARC CAPARONE, EVAN ARNTZEN, STEVE PIKAL

We continue the further adventures of our Quintet of Superheroes at the 2018 Scott Joplin International Ragtime Festival: those real-life vanquishers of gloom and inertia being the Holland-Coots Jazz Quintet: Brian Holland, piano; Danny Coots, drums; Steve Pikal, string bass; Marc Caparone, cornet, vocal; Evan Arntzen, clarinet, tenor saxophone, vocal.

Here‘s Part One, and a little text of approval from Kerry Mills here.

And three more juicy and flavorful examples of this band’s versatility: a hot ballad (vocal by Marc), a Joplin classic, and a searing tribute to a dangerous animal or to Michigan (you can choose) by Jelly Roll Morton.

SOMEDAY, SWEETHEART (I prefer the comma, although you can’t hear it):

What some people think of as “the music from ‘The Sting,'” Scott Joplin’s THE ENTERTAINER, here in a version that owes something to Mutt Carey and Bunk Johnson, who loved to serve their ragtime hot:

Jelly Roll’s WOLVERINE BLUES, in a version that (once we get past Danny’s carnivorous introduction) blows the mercury out of the thermometer:

A Word to the Wise. Get used to these five multi-talented folks, singly and as a band.  (“These guys can do anything,” says Brian, and he’s right.)  They’re going to be around for a long time.  I’m going to be posting their music as long as I can find the right keys on the keyboard.

May your happiness increase!

KERRY MILLS LIKES IT: BRIAN HOLLAND, DANNY COOTS, STEVE PIKAL, MARC CAPARONE, EVAN ARNTZEN (Scott Joplin International Ragtime Festival, Sedalia, Missouri, May 31, 2018)

Because I am a Nassau County employee, my Verizon phone plan offers special features.  The most relevant one here is my phone’s abilities to receive texts from the dead, and they don’t even have to be Verizon subscribers.  I won’t bore you with previous instances of this, except to say that Sophie Tucker goes on and on.  One would think she’d never texted before.

This afternoon, my phone gave its special secret tone — somewhere between a canary in mating season and a pelican with its mouth full of fish — and there was a text from ragtime composer and publisher Kerry Mills.  I had never heard from Mr. Mills before, but saw that he does subscribe to JAZZ LIVES.  (People saying “But he’s been dead since 1948! can go in their room and play with their toys.  Or they can perhaps get better phones tomorrow.)

Mr. Mills’s text:

Michael u went to Joplin Festival did they play my rags Kerry Mills

I am writing this post to assure him that, indeed, his most famous cakewalk was played — by musicians who win the cake as far as I’m concerned: Brian Holland, piano; Danny Coots, drums; Steve Pikal, string bass; Marc Caparone, cornet; Evan Arntzen, clarinet.  Outdoors, too, and for free, for all the community to hear, which in my book gets them extra credit:

And while I was finishing this post, my phone made its noise again, and I saw these words:

v nice tx to band Kerry

Good enough for me.  See you at the meeting, or another location of your choice.  “Kerry sent me!” will open the door.

May your happiness increase!

TRIUMPHANT! (Part One) THE HOLLAND-COOTS JAZZ QUINTET at the SCOTT JOPLIN INTERNATIONAL RAGTIME FESTIVAL in SEDALIA, MISSOURI (May 31-June 2, 2018): BRIAN HOLLAND, DANNY COOTS, MARC CAPARONE, EVAN ARNTZEN, STEVE PIKAL

For me, one great thrill is being there for the birth of a band, fierce and subtle.  The Holland-Coots Jazz Quintet is just such a memorable band, co-led by Brian Holland, piano; Danny Coots, drums, with Steve Pikal, string bass; Marc Caparone, cornet and vocal; Evan Arntzen, clarinet, tenor saxophone, and vocal.

I didn’t get to see them at the Durango Ragtime Festival in 2017, but I delighted in Judy Muldawer’s YouTube videos.  I followed them to Nashville that summer, and did the same for the Scott Joplin International Ragtime Festival just a few days ago. I’m still vibrating with happiness — not a new disorder I have to tell my neurologist about.

The Holland-Coots Jazz Quintet, Nashville, Summer 2017: From left, Marc Caparone, Steve Pikal, Danny Coots, Evan Arntzen, Brian Holland. Photograph by Amy Holland.

So, here is the band’s first set of that festival: outdoors, before noon, making remarkable music.  You don’t need to know more.

MAPLE LEAF RAG:

YOU TELL ME YOUR DREAM (frankly, a highlight of my year: see if you agree):

KANSAS CITY STOMPS:

DOWN IN HONKY TONK TOWN:

I intentionally left out a few details when I wrote above, “You don’t need to know more.”

You just might.  One is that the band’s debut CD, THIS IS SO NICE IT MUST BE ILLEGAL, a tribute to Fats Waller and his musical associations, has been pleasing listeners for some time now.  You can get your copy here.  And to experience this band in person — you can see the joyous energy they generate — come to the Evergreen Jazz Festival — which will happen in Colorado on July 27-28-29.  I’ll be there, and there’s room for you as well.

In the interim, share this music with friends, with strangers you feel kindly to, relatives, concert and festival promoters . . . you can extend this list at your leisure.  Brighten the corner, guided by these five most excellent sages.

May your happiness increase!  

ON THE ROAD TO SEDALIA, MISSOURI (May 30 – June 2, 2018)

The Sages urge us to live in the moment, but I need something to look forward to — even if it’s nothing larger than that second cup of coffee.

But this post is about something far more expansive: the 37th Scott Joplin International Ragtime Festival that will take place in Sedalia, Missouri from May 30 – June 2, 2018.

The performers at the 2017 Festival, a welcoming bunch.

You can see the enticing list of the people who will be playing, singing, talking, and (if I guess correctly) being lively and funny at the 2018 Festival here.  I don’t know every one on the list, because I have never been immersed in ragtime, but those I do know are very exciting artists and good friends: Brian Holland, Danny Coots, Marc Caparone, Steve Pikal, Evan Arntzen (that’s the Holland-Coots Jazz Quintet), Carl Sonny Leyland, Jeff Barnhart, Marty Eggers, Virginia Tichenor, and Dalton Ridenhour.  There are just as many luminaries I haven’t mentioned here, and I hope they don’t take offense: look at the list to see what heroes and friends of yours will be there also.

The map suggests that the festival is neatly laid out, and it should be a pleasure to be trotting around in the late-Spring sun:

I expect to be dazzled by people I’ve never heard before (although I am no longer obsessed with Seeing and Hearing Everything — that’s for people with more energy) but here are two favorite groups / performers.  One is the Holland-Coots Jazz Quintet, the five brilliant planets that came together for a hot constellation last summer in Nashville.  I wrote about my visit here and about the CD that resulted here.

Incidentally, I don’t promote the CDs below as substitutes for the experience you will have in Sedalia — rather, as a way of making the time between now and May 30 seem easier to endure.

Here you can learn more and buy copies.

And if the thought of reading more words makes the room spin, try this:

As Eubie Blake would shout exultantly at the end of a performance, “That’s RAGTIME!”  And who would disagree?

The other group also has Brian Holland and Danny Coots at its center, but with the addition of the best chemical catalyst I know — the wonderful one-man orchestra, gutty and tender and rocking, Carl Sonny Leyland.  Here are more details.  And a few words from me.

OLD FASHIONED refers to two pleasures: music-making the way it used to be, and the cocktail . . . sometimes consumed in tandem.  Recordings of two pianos plus “traps” go back to 1941 or perhaps earlier — I am thinking of a Victor set called EIGHT TO THE BAR, featuring Albert Ammons, Pete Johnson, and Jimmy Hoskins, which was about twenty-five minutes of locomotion, no matter what the tempo.  Having the train come roaring down the track is a pure adrenaline jolt, but eighty minutes of high-intensity, high-speed music could soon pall.  So the three wise men have opted for sweet variety — slow drags and old pop tunes treated with affection, originals in different moods.  Thus the CD rocks its way to the end before you know it.  And the sound is lovely — it’s possible that Carl’s singing voice has never been captured so well on disc.

May your happiness increase!

CHARLIE JUDKINS: NEW OLD MUSIC, ONE FLIGHT DOWN (December 17, 2017)

That’s one view of Charlie Judkins, ragtime / stride / traditional jazz pianist (taken in 2015); here’s a more orthodox one:

At the end of last year, I ventured down the long staircase to the underground home of improvised music, surrealism, and (it cannot be ignored) noise from “screeching fratboys,” to quote a friend.  You know it, you love it: it’s Fat Cat at 75 Christopher Street.  Terry Wldo was holding one of his Sunday piano parties, with his special guest being Mike Lipskin.  I’ve posted Mike’s two beautiful performances here.

During the afternoon, Terry and Mike played, and also a number of Terry’s friends and students.  The one who impressed me most was a young man with dark hair who played beautifully — and, even more pleasing to the ear, ragtime pieces new to me.  That’s our man Charlie, seriously talented and seriously young.

“Mule Blues” by Milo Rega (pseud. for Fred Hager and Justin Ring) 1921:

“Le Bananier” by Louis Moreau Gottschalk, 1846:

“The Delmar Blues” by Charley Thompson, written but unpublished, c. 1910:

Charlie Judkins (b. 1991) is a practitioner of Ragtime, Traditional Jazz and Blues piano, as well as a lifelong Brooklyn native. He began playing piano in 1997 at age six. In 2007, he was introduced to the music of Jelly Roll Morton and immediately began studying traditional ragtime and blues piano. Shortly thereafter he came under the informal tutelage of several highly-regarded pianists including Terry Waldo, Mike Lipskin, Ehud Asherie and the late George Mesterhauze. He is currently studying classical piano technique and theory under Jeff Goldstein.

His piano playing has been in demand at various public and private events in the New York City area since debuting as a professional bar-room pianist in the Summer of 2010. He also works as a silent film accompanist at various theaters in the New York area, and also provides scores for silent animation archivist Tom Stathes’s series of DVD/Blu-Ray releases.

Charlie will be performing on Wednesday, January 31, at Dixon Place: “I’ll be accompanying my friend Lara Allen performing obscure ragtime/comedy songs from the early 1900s/late 1890s that were featured by pioneer female recording artists such as May Irwin, Marie Dressler and Clarice Vance.”  Details here: Dixon Place is at 161A Chrystie Street, and the show begins at 9.

I’m very pleased to know that Charlie Judkins exists.

May your happiness increase!

“SWINGIN’ FOR THE FENCES”: BRIAN HOLLAND AND DANNY COOTS (AND MORE)

Oh, no.  Another wonderful CD?  Will those musicians ever let us alone?  When the musicians are pianist Brian Holland and drummer Danny Coots, the answer is a joyous NO.

But first.  Let’s assume you’ve never heard Brian and Danny.  Nothing simpler than remedying this deficiency. From the 2017 Santa Cruz Ragtime Festival, here is their rendition of two Fats Waller compositions, JITTERBUG WALTZ and BACH UP TO ME:

and here are the two gentlemen, caught by a still camera:

Holland (left), Coots (right), for those who have never had the good fortune to see and hear them in person or in action or both.

Their new CD is a delightfully varied offering:

The songs:  Charleston Rag / Jimmy McHugh Medley (Spreadin’ Rhythm Around – I’ve Got My Fingers Crossed) / Memphis Blues / Doll Dance / Wolverine Blues / Black and Blue / Tico Tico – Besame Mucho / Root Beer Rag / Hymn to Freedom / Violet Wedding (A Song for Marcia) / Rubber Plant Rag / Ragtime Nightingale / Troublesome Ivories / Planxty.

Students of the music will notice some well-deserved homages to great composers and players: Eubie Blake, Fats Waller, W.C. Handy, Nacio Herb Brown, Jimmy McHugh, Joseph Lamb, and a few slightly less expected sources: Oscar Peterson, Glenn Jenks, Billy Joel, and an original by Brian.  Ragtime, stride, novelty piano, deep blues, venerable pop tunes, and more.

The title of the CD — even for those who shy away from professional sports, like me — would explicitly suggest that virtuosic larger-than-life musical athleticism is in store.  And in a few instances that impression is correct.  Brian and Danny romp with great grace and power, and they can show off in the most impressive musical ways.  You won’t find players who are more deft at fast tempos than these two, and their quickest skirmishes still make great artistic sense: the listener never feels pummeled with notes.  They work together splendidly as a telepathic team, hearing each other’s impulses and subtexts as well.

But leave aside the gorgeous rapid beauties of the up-tempo performances –CHARLESTON RAG, DOLL DANCE, RUBBER PLANT RAG, TROUBLESOME IVORIES, to consider BLACK AND BLUE, which Brian says he began, musingly, in an effort to get into the mind of Thomas Waller — whose affecting song about racial prejudice this is. It is the most quiet and searching show-stopper I can imagine, beginning with pensive suspended chords, an improvisation that hints at Beiderbecke and Gershwin, before gaining emotional power as it climbs to a moving end.  I call it a show-stopper because once it had concluded, I was overpowered and needed to pause before moving on to the next track.

In an entirely different way, HYMN TO FREEDOM begins as a solo human being’s prayer — for what and to whom I leave to you — and ends up as a jubilant prayer meeting.  PLANXTY starts as a small utterance of grief and ends up a funeral procession, without its volume increasing that much.

But lamenting is not always what Danny and Brian have in mind.  Some of these duets are seriously cinematic: listening more than once to TICO-TICO / BESAME MUCHO, I found myself imagining the brightly colored musical film for which they had invented a provocative soundtrack.  I see elegant, formally dressed dancers all through RAGTIME NIGHTINGALE as well.  I have to say a word about TROUBLESOME IVORIES — perhaps too much autobiography — but had I the ability to dance, and a willing partner, I would not be typing these words now, being otherwise occupied.

The disc is beautifully recorded and, even better, splendidly sequenced, so one never has the sense of listening to ten or twelve minutes of the same thing. Piano and drums — no gimmicks, no novelty vocals or sound effects.  Just lovely music.

You can purchase the CD here.  Or you can find it on Facebook.

And . . . speaking of pleasures that won’t grow old quickly, the Holland-Coots Quintet has just released a new disc, a tribute to Fats Waller, THIS IS SO NICE IT MUST BE ILLEGAL, with Marc Caparone, Evan Arntzen, Steve Pikal as the additional merry-makers.  I was at the sessions in Nashville in July 2017, and this band made thrilling music, which I wrote about here.  (Caution: HOT VIDEO ALERT.)

I will have more to say when the actual disc flutters into my mailbox.  And don’t let the title fool you: quantity purchases are not only legal, but medically-recommended.

May your happiness increase!

“MY HEART IS BEATING RAGTIME”: MAUD HIXSON and RICK CARLSON

For a minute, put aside any definitions of “jazz” and simply listen to this:

The singer is Maud Hixson; the pianist Rick Carlson.  And this new CD,  just released, is a singular pleasure.

Listening for your song

It is a sweet-natured yet swinging tribute to a series of children’s books, the Betsy-Tacy books (thirteen volumes, published 1940-55) set in Minnesota, and following two and three young women from childhood to marriage. All the books are set at the start of the twentieth century . . . the final one in the series has a young husband going off to serve in the Great War.

Over two hundred songs are mentioned in the series — some familiar, some that will be new to all but the deepest scholars of American vernacular music.

Here are Maud and Rick in the studio, with excerpts from three songs on the CD:

What Maud and Rick have created is an hour of delicately memorable music. But it’s not simply an immersion in the Dear Departed Days.  For one thing, the songs vary splendidly from track to track.  Yes, there are hymns in praise of the glorious summertime, of the beloved one the singer hopes to wed, sweet yearnings and romantic reveries in the best World War One manner.  But there are songs celebrating automobiles and airplanes, and a good dose of vaudeville — not only Irish comedy, but comic songs depicting what we now call “family dysfunction”: husbands who attempt to deceive their wives, or who avoid work as if it were the plague, others who imbibe.  Spooning and sparking in the dark are delightfully explicated, but there’s also a woman who loves the sounds of the cello much more than she loves the cellist.

And just to keep things in balance, the CD begins with a sweetly serious spoken introduction by Maud over THE MERRY WIDOW WALTZ as background, but just when the listener might think, “Oh, this is a documentary rather than a musical presentation,” Maud and singer Maria Jette offer a completely feline-on-the-fence reading of Rossini’s THE CAT DUET . . .

Maud and Rick have learned not only the familiar choruses, but the wonderfully theatrically essential verses and sometimes second and third choruses.  Each performance is an understated but fully realized dramatic presentation, completely satisfying.  The language is innocent — the lyrics call a phony tale “Same old load of peaches,” rather than “bullshit,” but I welcome the sweetness of the demotic — since we all know what’s meant.

Before I listened closely to this disc, I expected it to be formal presentation in the manner of Joan Morris and William Bolcom.  There is much of the same devotion to the song, respect for melody and lyrics in this duet — but Maud and Rick are fully themselves, and that is a wonderful thing.  Since the accompanist sometimes is pushed into the background, a few words about Rick Carlson first. The repertoire — presumably the popular song of ancient times — might lead a lesser artist into stiffness, the polite rigidities of someone convinced that swinging was heresy.  Rick does a lovely job of blending parlor piano with the sweet elasticity of ragtime and early stride.  It’s clear that he reveres the melody and the original harmonic turns . . . but Teddy Wilson isn’t his enemy, and James P. Johnson isn’t unknown to him.  His time is lovely, his touch inspiring.  No note or phrase is stiff, and his duetting with Maud is a wonderful supportive conversation.  Hear him on SAME OLD STORY and BY THE BEAUTIFUL SEA, where his frolicking stride figures would make Dick Hyman smile.

Maud Hixson is a delicious embodiment of the idea that the greatest art is in the subtle concealment of art.  It would be very easy and quite wrong to undervalue her singing.  She’s not Sarah Vaughan; she doesn’t have a four-octave range. (“What a relief!” I think.)  What she does have is a beautiful voice — whether speaking or singing — subtly modulated, wonderful diction . . . all the things that make for singing that falls like honey on our ears.  But her delivery is so easy that we might think less of it — “I could do that!” — as people felt when singing along with Bing on the radio.  Don’t believe it.  What Maud does is a special art, rooted in the deep desire to make singer and song interwoven and inseparable. She IS the song, and the song glows as a result.

At the end of this hour of music (and I’ve listened to this disc a dozen times) I feel as if I’ve been tenderly embraced by touching, hilarious, satisfying music. Try it for yourself.  LISTENING FOR YOUR SONG is a rare delight.

May your happiness increase!

TOKARSKI’S NIGHTINGALE (AND OTHER RARE SPECIES)

Although I’ve only met the young pianist / composer Kris Tokarski a few brief times in person, I admire him as a remarkable musician with great wit, warmth, flexibility, and swing.

Kris Tokarski. Photograph by Scott Myers.

Kris Tokarski. Photograph by Scott Myers.

About sixteen months ago, Kris made his first CD as a leader, DROP ME OFF IN HARLEM — a delightful musical collation with Kris among his friends and peers James Evans, Evan Christopher, and Benji Bohannon.  Here’s what I wrote about Kris (with music samples) in April 2014.

Although Kris’ musical and emotional range is substantial, he is a great subtle player of older music with the right feeling — without being hemmed in by written manuscript, older recordings, or restrictive stylistic conventions.  Here is a recent video-recording Kris did especially for JAZZ LIVES — at home and informally — of Joseph Lamb’s RAGTIME NIGHTINGALE:

Notice his lovely touch, his gentle approach.  Would you like to hear more? That is easily accomplished.

Kris, photographed by Don Keller, in front of Jelly's house, Frenchmen and Robertson Streets, New Orleans

Kris, photographed by Don Keller, in front of Jelly’s house, Frenchmen and Robertson Streets, New Orleans

In March of this year, Kris, Hal Smith, drums, and Cassidy Holden, string bass, went into the GHB Studios in New Orleans to create a CD that would consider classic rags from a Mortonian perspective, with performances modeled on Jelly’s own evocations as well as songs known to be familiar during his career but not recorded.  The compositions are Pastime Rag #3 / Heliotrope Bouquet / Kinklets / Peacherine Rag / Elite Syncopations / Ragtime Nightingale / Grace And Beauty / Please Say You Will / Sunflower Slow Drag / Swipesy / Magnetic Rag / The Easy Winners / Cataract Rag / St. Louis Rag.  If you understand the concept, the CD is a magnificent invention; if you’ve never heard the Morton Library of Congress recordings, the CD will please just as deeply.

I was delighted to be asked to write the liner notes.  Here’s what I said:

SOFT, SWEET, PLENTY RHYTHM

In 1972, I had several opportunities to marvel at Eubie Blake, then nearing ninety.  He would play MEMORIES OF YOU, TROUBLESOME IVORIES, STARS AND STRIPES FOREVER, or CHARLESTON RAG, but he always concluded with a virtuosic display and a triumphant shout, “That’s RAGTIME!” It certainly was, but the music was more than notes on the page; it was shaped by the personality and experiences of its creator. Jazz improvisation is never pure (thank goodness): it’s all subliminal osmosis and hybridization.  Eubie’s ragtime was broad-minded: it cuddled up with stride, eight-to-the-bar, orchestral flourishes owing as much to Rachmaninoff as Joplin. 

I’ve heard many musicians approach the ragtime repertoire according to their spirit animal.  Some storm through a rag as if preparing for a martial arts tournament.  Others play it with reverent rigidity, the way a child in an antique shop sits tensely on the chair to which he’s been affixed.  This CD presents one, two, and three musicians embodying a radical idea: “Let’s play the music with joy and attention to detail, and whatever happens, it will be good.”     

On this CD, Jelly Roll Morton’s proud, playful New Orleans spirit is strong, although Kris Tokarski wisely avoids the Morton caricature: lesser pianists turn Morton into a large papier-mache figure at the keyboard. 

Kris’s playing is, as always, warm and delicate but you know there is stomping power beneath the surface. I admire his beautiful touch, the logic of his phrases, but he’s never so precise as to be chilly.  Kris animates the rags, reminding us that ragtime is swinging syncopated dance music: pastoral but not effete.

Masterful playing by Cassidy Holden and Hal Smith makes this a genuine trio, democratic and empathic.  Hear the low woody propulsive sound Cassidy gets (the right notes, the right changes, a wonderful pulse) as well as his cellolike clarity.  Hal’s playing appears uncomplicated, but it takes decades of devoted playing to know what to leave out, what sounds to make, how and when to make them.  I thought occasionally of Minor Hall and Tommy Benford, but most often of Hal.

These performances aren’t “recreations” of some imagined past, but neither are they free-form improvisations on the harmonies.  I hear echoes of the jungle (ANIMULE BALL) in CATARACT RAG, the Spanish tinge in MAGNETIC RAG.  But each song sounds like a movement in a dance suite – with echoes of marches, quadrilles, and street parades. PLEASE SAY YOU WILL moves so deliciously from waltz to a gently swinging rhythm ballad with a few closing moments of stomp (as Morton did on MY GAL SAL).  ST. LOUIS RAG – in the words of Jake Hanna – starts swinging from the beginning.  GRACE AND BEAUTY shows off this trio’s many virtues: they don’t get louder or faster, but you know the train is moving on the right track and it will arrive on time. 

SUNFLOWER SLOW DRAG is a history of the first decades of jazz, as it progresses from a tender, almost shy start to a romp.

We owe this session to Hal Smith, not only a master percussionist but a jazz scholar and detective.  He had long been fascinated by Morton’s transformations of famous ragtime pieces, and wondered how other rags would sound if played in Jelly’s style.  He knew that Kris would be perfect for the project, making the performances vibrant, not dusty.  Hal put together a list of rags that might have been played in New Orleans between 1900 and 1917 – and after swapping music and recordings, this wonderful group was ready – not for the river, but for the studio.  Thank you, Kris, Hal, Cassidy, for opening the magic toybox and offering us so much joy.

I couldn’t have said it better myself.  Or perhaps I have.

To purchase the CD, visit here. Or if you encounter Kris at a gig, I am sure he will be happy to arrange a mutually satisfying transaction.

And I am looking for several chances to enjoy Kris and friends in the coming months.  His trio — with Hal Smith and Tim Laughlin (yes, you did read that correctly!) — is a highlight of the Evergreen Jazz Festival in Colorado at the end of July; the “Hot Classicism” trio of Kris, Hal, and Andy Schumm will also appear at the 2016 Steamboat Stomp in New Orleans.

May your happiness increase!

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