Tag Archives: Ralph Waldo Emerson

THE DIVINE SPIRIT: BILLIE, 1938

New York City, January 27, 1938.  A song of no special merit with undistinguished lyrics, but what Billie and her colleagues do with it is beyond remarkable.  We are in danger of forgetting the music in favor of salacious personal archeology, so I offer two explorations of beauty for your consideration.

“If I may,” in the words of Joe Thomas, to celebrate Billie on April 7.

and another take (the YouTube source is at much lower volume for seven silly reasons).  Incidentally, if these videos are not accessible in your part of the world, a little searching will solve the problem, for there are multiple versions posted:

In “Self-Reliance,” Emerson writes, “The relations of the soul to the divine spirit are so pure, that it is profane to seek to interpose helps.”  He was speaking about those who would presume to explain God to the congregation, but I take it as encouragement to let Billie Holiday, Jo Jones, Walter Page, Teddy Wilson, Freddie Green, Buck Clayton, Lester Young, Benny Morton sing their own songs to you without any explication from me.  All the answers, and all the joy are there for those willing to listen seriously.

May your happiness increase!

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LIVING, BREATHING HISTORY: DUKE HEITGER, TOM FISCHER, ROSSANO SPORTIELLO, PAUL KELLER, CHUCK REDD: ATLANTA JAZZ PARTY, April 18, 2015

rwe_big_portrait

Some wish to honor the past by attempting to reproduce it exactly.  An honorable effort, but I much prefer those bold tightrope walkers who know that the only way to honor the glories of, say, 1929, is to make them alive in this century by adding personal innovative sparks to the outlines of the revered masterpieces.  (I know that this is a controversial position, but I also have enough evidence that the great masters didn’t approve of imitation; they preferred homage through individuality.  Ask Lester; ask Bix.  And I’ve done scholarly work for decades, but I also reverberate to Emerson’s tart words that Shakespeare was not made by the study of Shakespeare.)

So I present to you a too-short set by a vibrant jazz band onstage at the Atlanta Jazz Party (April 18, 2015) led by the eloquent Duke Heitger, trumpet, with Tom Fischer, clarinet / tenor; Rossano Sportiello, piano; Paul Keller, string bass; Chuck Redd, drums.

What they had to tell us was plenty — and it had no connections to the Wax Museum of Hot, although one could see and hear easily that the Ancestors were being honored: Buck Clayton, Lester Young, Count Basie, Benny Carter, Louis Armstrong, Bix Beiderbecke, Jelly Roll Morton, and their worthy colleagues. No academia, no didacticism, no laser pointer or Power Point.  Just wonderful hot music.

I NEVER KNEW:

IF WE NEVER MEET AGAIN:

I’M COMIN’ VIRGINIA:

BLACK BOTTOM STOMP (which begins with the time-honored invocation, “Meet you at the end”):

Five noblemen of jazz, honoring the past by being fully alive in Now.

May your happiness increase!

WHAT BETTER WAY TO CARPE THE DIEM? (September 18-20, 2015)

NATCHEZ

I am not sure that Ralph Waldo Emerson would have instantly taken to jazz, although its energy, self-reliant independent passion might have pleased him. But he did write these words in Nature, words I have tried to take to heart: “Life only avails, not the having lived.”  Put more simply, the experience of life is both intense and fleeting: it must be savored while it is here, not in retrospect, as if leafing through a photograph album.  Or, as Patrick Dennis’ Auntie Mame says [in the play of the same name], “Life is a banquet, and most poor sons-of-bitches are starving to death!”  (It became “suckers” in the film version, alas.)

What has all this to do with JAZZ LIVES?  It is my unsubtle way of saying that the Steamboat Stomp is once again happening in New Orleans, on the dates shown above and below, and that if you can be there, your happiness will measurably increase.  This is not an idle bit of press-agentry on my part: I was there two years ago and had a wonderful time.

STOMP 2015

The poster tells you all you need to know, with one emendation.  The Dukes of Dixieland won’t be performing at the Stomp; instead, there will be Jacques Gauthe’s New Orleans Classic Jazz Orchestra.  AND my brilliant friends and pianists Stephanie Trick and Paolo Alderighi will be there also.

The musical festivities will begin Friday night with performances “held at a local offisite location,” which means somewhere nearby, comfortable, and on land. (Incidentally, I do not like small boats and do tend to suffer from mal-de-mer . . .  I felt fine on the Natchez.)

The main Saturday evening concerts will take place aboard a special sailing of the Steamboat Natchez. The evening will include two stages of simultaneous music along with New Orleans-style food served by the Natchez‘s own renowned chef (food not included in price).  On Sunday, a New Orleans style gospel jazz brunch (food included) will conclude the musical festivities, followed by a reception for patrons and sponsors.

Now, with all good things, a little investigation on your part is required. Emerson talked mightily of self-reliance, so one must do some legwork — or some clicking in this modern technological age. Here is the Stomp’s Facebook page.  Here you can reserve tickets and learn more.  And because — as Lester Young said in a comment I will expurgate — seeing is believing, here are a few video posts from the inaugural Stomp.  Oh what fun it was.  And will be.

Duke Heitger’s Steamboat Stompers

The Yerba Buena Stompers and Vince Saunders

Banu Gibson’s Rhythmic Heart

New Orleans Joys With Ray, Tim, Steve, and Jeff

If that doesn’t work, we’ll have to double the dosage of Joy.

May your happiness increase!

IN THE MOMENT WITH THE SPIRIT OF LOUIS

Here are four delicious performances from a concert at the Aneby Konserthus in Sweden — last month, March 2015, by the JAZZ CLASSICS, honoring Louis — with the special guest Duke Heitger, trumpet; Jens ”Jesse” Lindgren, trombone; Klas Lindquist, clarinet / alto; Holger Gross, banjo, guitar; Göran Lind, dtring bass.  Recorded for us by Claes Jansson, to whom we are most grateful.

These are four songs are taken for granted as overworked within the “Dixieland” repertoire.  But three of them (I am leaving aside DOLLY as a sentimentally affecting but not terribly dense composition) are complicated, full of small twists and turns to waylay the musician who’s forgotten an interlude. They are dance-like, elegant and hot at once.

And this band — the JAZZ CLASSICS with guest Duke Heitger — does them justice.  Pay attention to the ensemble interlude in the middle of MUSKRAT, where Duke picks up his plunger mute, and admire the way everyone so neatly takes those racing turns in BARBECUE and CORNET as well.  Louis and Jelly Roll Morton didn’t get along, but these often-delicate performances make me think of “Sweet, soft, plenty rhythm” as the highest aesthetic goal.

STRUTTIN’ WITH SOME BARBECUE:

MUSKRAT RAMBLE:

CORNET CHOP SUEY:

HELLO, DOLLY!:

Emerson writes in Nature that everything, closely observed, is beautiful. These performances are transcendental embodiments of that.  The most overplayed song can be made fresh and lively when it’s visited again with heartfelt expertise. The lessons of Louis, of course.

There is a wonderful concert CD of this band from 2013, which goes beyond the Twenties in the most delightful fashion: Holger Gross would be happy to tell you more about it.

May your happiness increase!

KILGORE SWINGS EMERSON

In SELF-RELIANCE, Ralph Waldo Emerson writes, “The soul is no traveller; the wise man stays at home.” BACK IN YOUR OWN BACKYARD, written by Dave Dreyer, Billy Rose, and Al Jolson in 1928 (I would give almost all of the credit to Mr. Dreyer) makes the same claim in a different way. It proposes that home is so lovely that it makes travel unnecessary, and that those who roam find their greatest happiness when they return — nostalgia more than transcendentalism, perhaps, but the effect is the same.

Rebecca Kilgore doesn’t present herself as a philosopher, although she does hail from Massachusetts, home of Emerson, Thoreau, and the Alcotts, but she makes this philosophical statement exultant in its hopefulness and its swing.

This performance was recorded at the 26th San Diego Jazz Party, on February 22, 2014.  The other philosophers on the stand are Chuck Redd, drums; Nicki Parrott, string bass; Eddie Erickson, guitar; Johnny Varro, piano; Bria Skonberg, trumpet; Antti Sarpila, clarinet.

Home is where such music is.

May your happiness increase!

PREACHERS OF BEAUTY: “SATCHMO AT SYMPHONY HALL,” COMPLETE and HEARD ANEW

“If the stars should appear one night in a thousand years, men would believe & adore & for a few generations preserve the remembrance of the city of God which had been shown. But every night come out these preachers of beauty, & light the Universe with their admonishing smile.”  — Emerson

It is a substantial irony that some may regard a new recording — or a new complete issue of an already beloved Louis Armstrong recording — as we do the stars: beautiful but to be taken for granted, because they are and will always be there.

I am listening to the new complete issue of SATCHMO AT SYMPHONY HALL (the sixty-fifth anniversary issue) with my own kind of Emersonian delight.  And my pleasure isn’t primarily because of the extra half-hour of music and speech I had never heard before, although thirty minutes of this band, this evening, is more than any ordinary half-hour on the clock.  Permit me to call the roll — not only Louis in magnificent form, playing and singing, but also Jack Teagarden, Sidney Catlett, Arvell Shaw, Dick Cary, Barney Bigard, and Velma Middleton.  Some of my joy comes from hearing music once again that has been dear to me for thirty years — the sweet ON THE SUNNY SIDE OF THE STREET, the charging MAHOGANY HALL STOMP, Teagarden’s tender, delicate STARS FELL ON ALABAMA, the serious BLACK AND BLUE, the electrifying STEAK FACE and MOP MOP (formerly titled BOFF BOFF).

What strikes me once again is the beautiful cohesion of this band.  I know that others see this period of Louis’ artistic life as a gentle downhill slide into “popularity” and “showmanship”; these views, I think, could be blown away with an intent hearing of HIGH SOCIETY.  This edition of the All-Stars (with or without hyphen) is uniformly superb, happy, and focused.

Teagarden’s playing is simply awe-inspiring (ask any trombonist about it) and his singing delicious, with none of the near-fatigue that occasionally colored his later work.  Arvell Shaw never got the credit he deserved as a string bassist, but his time and tone couldn’t be better, providing a deep, rocking rhythmic foundation for the band.  Dick Cary, nearly forgotten, is once again an ideal pianist — never setting a foot wrong in ensembles and offering shining, individualistic solos that sound like no one else.  Barney Bigard is sometimes off-mike but his work is splendidly energized, his tone full and luscious.  Velma Middleton fit this band beautifully — emotional and exuberant, clearly inspiring both audiences and the All-Stars.  And readers of JAZZ LIVES should know how I revere Sidney Catlett, at one of his many peaks that night in Symphony Hall.  Much has been made of the ideal partnerships in jazz — Bird and Dizzy, Duke and Blanton, Pres and Basie . . . but Louis and Sidney deserve to be in that number, with Sid not only supporting but lifting every member of the band throughout the evening.  The little percussive flourishes with which Sid accents the end of a performance are worthy of deep study.  But this band is more than a group of soloists — they work together with affection and enthusiasm.

Louis himself is sublimely in charge.  Consider the variety of tempos — almost a lost art today — and the pacing of a two-hour show, not only so that he wouldn’t tire himself out (there is much more playing here, even on the “features” for other musicians, than one would expect) but so that the audience would be charged with the same emotional energy for two hours.  And his playing!  There are a few happy imperfections, reminding us that he was human and that trumpet playing at this level is not for amateurs.  But overall I feel his mastery, subtly expressed.  I hear a leisurely power.  Yes, there were piles of handkerchiefs inside the piano (playing the trumpet is physically arduous) but one senses in Louis the dramatized image of a jungle cat who knows he has only to stretch out a huge paw to accomplish what he wants.

Inside this package are the original notes (Armstrongians of a certain vintage can quote sections of Ernie Anderson’s text at will) and a new appreciation by our man Ricky Riccardi.  Beautiful photographs, too — several of them including the only shot known of the band at Symphony Hall for this concert — new to me.

Some discussions of this set, weighing the merits of its purchase, have focused on the question of “How much more is there that we haven’t heard?” surely a valid question — although it came to sound as if music could be weighed like apples or peanuts.  Briefly, there are a good number of “new” spoken introductions by Louis and others, short versions of SLEEPY TIME DOWN SOUTH and I’VE GOT A RIGHT TO SING THE BLUES, complete versions of previously edited performances — BLACK AND BLUE, ROYAL GARDEN BLUES, TEA FOR TWO, and performances wholly “new”: a seven-minute VELMA’S BLUES with plenty of Louis and Sidney, a somber ST. JAMES INFIRMARY, a mock-serious BACK O’TOWN BLUES, and a vigorous JACK-ARMSTRONG BLUES.  For some readers, that will not be enough to warrant a purchase, which I couldn’t argue with.  However, this is a limited edition of 3000 copies . . . so those who wait might find themselves regretting their delay.

For me, it’s a “Good deal,” to quote both Louis and Sidney — we can’t go back to November 30, 1947, but this set is the closest thing possible to spending an evening in the company of the immortals.  Thanks and blessings are due to Ricky Riccardi, the late Gosta Hagglof, and Harry Weingar . . . each making this wonderful set possible.)

And if you can’t afford the purchase, make sure to look up at the stars whenever you can.

May your happiness increase.

ALLEN LOWE’S NEWEST [BLUES] CORNUCOPIA

Musician, composer, and scholar Allen Lowe doesn’t hold back — either in generosity, scope, or opinions.  And he has perhaps the widest range of any musician I know: from Louis, Eubie, and Doc Cheatham (as well as the shade of Jack Purvis) reaching forward to Julius Hemphill, Matthew Shipp, and Marc Ribot. 

His book and CD set, THAT DEVILIN’ TUNE, was a re-presentation of the history of recorded jazz, and it did so with audacious delight across thirty-six discs, from the eighteen-nineties to the nineteen-fifties.  Lowe’s criteria for inclusion (and exclusion) excited some listeners and irritated others, but no one could ignore the heroic sweep of music presented in those four neat boxes.  

Some music scholars operate by exclusion and create their own criteria for artistic purity: if a performance doesn’t fit in the box they’ve made, it can’t be considered valid.  (Think of the airlines’ measurements for carry-on luggage and you get the idea.)  Like Whitman, Lowe is fascinated by elasticities, by stretching rather than closing-off. 

Lowe wants us to hear as if for the first time — in much the same way that Conrad said the novelist wanted to make us see.  He arranges his music, delighting in pushing aside the limiting constructs of race, gender, or “genre.”  So the expected nestles in beside the surprising, and this collage-approach encourages or forces the listener to hear just how explosive a Bert Williams, a Jelly Roll Morton, a Ma Rainey, was — as well as the artists we’ve not yet heard. 

The other parallel motion of a Lowe set is to say to us, “Listen to this!  You have large music collections, but I’ll bet you haven’t heard this.”  And few of us will be able to say, “I know all of the music presented here.” 

The question mark says a good deal about Lowe’s inquiring approach to this or any other musical subject. 

When I initially heard that he had completed one of his astonishing cornucopias on the loosely-defined subject of the blues, I was fascinated and more that a bit worried.  How would anyone endure thirty-six compact discs (nearly a thousand tracks) trapped within the twelve-bar blues form, with the occasional detour for the eight-bar and sixteen-bar varieties.  “My man’s gone,” “My woman’s gone,” “My old daddy’s got a brand new way to love,” “It hurts so good,” “Money all gone,” “Flood washed my house away,” “Why am I poor?” and variations on those tropes . . .

I needn’t have worried.  Always relying on his own imoulses, Lowe trusts himself, so his collection isn’t restricted to “official” blues performances using three chords only.  And the juxtapositions are thrilling — consider this sequence of four recordings from 1922 and 1923: Society Blues (Kid Ory and Mutt Carey); Teasin’ the Frets (Nick Lucas); I Ain’t Got Nobody (Marion Harris); Midnight Blues (Ethel Waters).  Although perhaps it is not something most jazz / blues listeners would like to admit, they would privilege some names above others as “authentic” (Ory and Waters) and others as “popular,” “derivative,” “vaudevillian.”  For many listeners, race would enter into their assessment.  There’s no question that Waters bursts upon the ear with a great soulful immediacy, but then again so does Harris.  And Nick Lucas has just as much fervor as Ory’s Sunshne Orchestra.  The surprises come thick and fast: I saw Sophie Tucker as a huge elderly Hot Mama on television some forty-five years ago: her 1922 AGGRAVATIN’ PAPA is fresh and lively, belying its age, her race, and the musical associations Ms. Tucker is saddled with.  So does Eddie Cantor in 1924. 

And since many listeners tend to burrow deeply but narrowly into their chosen loves, I wonder how many jazz / blues fanciers will know the music of The Pebbles, The Two of Spades, the Old Pal Smoke Shop Four, and others (I am leaving aside the early gospel recordings as an area many have never ventured into.)

The juxtapositions — both theoretical and actual — are vivid and fascinating.  Consider this list of thirteen recordings — all except one from the second half of 1927:  PENN BEACH BLUES (Venuti – Lang ) / BLACK HEARSE BLUES (Sarah Martin – Sylvester Weaver) / COLD PENITENTIARY BLUES (E.F. Shelton) / SHAKIN’ THE BLUES AWAY (Ruth Etting) / THE CROWING ROOSTER (Walter Rhodes) / CREOLE LOVE CALL (Ellington) / GOD’S GOING TO SEPARATE THE WHEAT FROM THE TARES (Blind Joe Taggart) / JAZZ ME BLUES / ROYAL GARDEN BLUES (Bix and his Gang) / CHATTANOOGA BLUES (Allen Bros.) / NEW ORLEANS LOWDOWN (Ellington) / BARRELHOUSE MAN (Will Ezell) / I AM BORN TO PREACH THE GOSPEL (Washington Phillips). 

It is rather like coming to stay with the world’s most avid and generous collector of music who throws his or her shelves open to the listener, offering treasures, “common” recordings, and rarities, without a pre-set ideology or value system.  Lowe doesn’t say that everything is equal or important, but that it all means something in the larger picture of a culture, of shifting musical landscapes.  This is the first leg of a thrilling journey, and (to carry the metaphor to its logical conclusion) we couldn’t have a better guide. 

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a lot of deep listening and reconsidering to do!  (So do you, if I may be so bold.) 

You can order the first volume of four at http://www.allenlowe.com

Here’s the link to the complete track list for the entire 36-CD set (in four volumes):

http://www.allenlowe.com/alpress/wp-content/uploads/2011/01/Really-The-Blues-Song-List.pdf

WHILE YOU’RE UP, CLICK HERE: ALL MONEY GOES TO THE MUSICIANS!

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