Tag Archives: Ray Cerino

SWING IS JUST AROUND THE CORNER: DAN LEVINSON, MARK SHANE, MOLLY RYAN, BANU GIBSON, JOHN REYNOLDS at SWEET AND HOT 2011

Although I had heard them on record for some years, I first encountered reedman Dan Levinson and pianist Mark Shane in 2004 at the tenorist / jazz maven Ray Cerino’s birthday party.  Not surprisingly, they were even better in person than on records.  Levinson could and can execute anything he thought of (and that was plenty) with a true swing phrasing and melodic shapeliness.  Shane was and is a subtle master of swing piano — not a thumping Strider but someone who’s made the influences of everyone from Teddy Wilson to Mel Powell and Tommy Flanagan into his own quietly intense style.

I had to wait a few years more before having the pleasure of hearing Molly Ryan sing — her voice so earnest yet so supple, her delivery unaffected and warm.  She’a a straightforward, easy rhythm guitarist as well.  Readers of JAZZ LIVES know how I revere the guitarist / singer / whistler John Reynolds, and Banu Gibson can’t say “Good morning!” without turning it into a lilting expression.

Dan, Molly, and Mark played a set at the 2011 Sweet and Hot Music Festival on September 3, 2011, which I present here in all its sweet and hot glories.  And later on, John and Banu dropped by — not for tea, but for swing.  See and hear for yourself.

They began with that simple declaration of intent, I WANT TO BE HAPPY — the overall effect combining Noone and Goodman in the best modern way:

After years of being played and sung by everyone, I CAN’T GIVE YOU ANYTHING BUT LOVE has often seemed blunted — but Molly brings it into sharp relief, with light-hearted playing from Mark and Dan:

Dan is on a Jimmie Noone kick — immersing himself into the repertoire and approach of the great Chicago clarinetist, which produced this lilting performance of the rarely-played CHICAGO RHYTHM (with an especially true-to-life second chorus):

Here Molly tenderly swirls through an Artie Shaw song — (WOULD YOU LIKE TO BE THE) LOVE OF MY LIFE — how believably romantic she is!

With all its noble Billie Holiday – Teddy Wilson – Roy Eldridge antecedents, WHAT A LITTLE MOONLIGHT CAN DO is troublesome for singers (how to handle the “Oo, oo, oo,” without sounding ridiculous?) and for musicians, because the original recording is so strongly imprinted on everyone — but this trio makes their own version seem newly-minted:

Molly passed her guitar to John Reynolds: he and Dan played a pretty tune that Dan’s father (in the audience, celebrating his birthday) wanted to hear — as we all did — THESE FOOLISH THINGS.  A very sweet Lestorian tribute:

I was very happy to have John Reynolds call PARDON ME, PRETTY BABY — one of my favorite songs in any version.  (Don’t I look familiar to you?)  If Bing had done this whimsical sweet song, it would have sounded much like this:

One of the nicest things about the Sweet and Hot Music Festival is that players drop in on each other’s gigs — as did John — and here came the sweetly witty Banu Gibson to offer Fats Waller’s I’VE GOT A FEELIN’ I’M FALLING (with the verse).  Banu had fun and the feeling was mutual.  I love John’s whistled half-chorus — he’s got such courage:

Molly came back for the closing song, that rocking sermon on candor in romance, IT’S A SIN TO TELL A LIE:

Who needs more people on the stand when you’ve got such empathic players and singers?

REMEMBERING LARRY WEISS by RAY CERINO

Larry Weiss, the New Jersey-based cornetist and pianist, has died at 83, after a long illness.  His friend and mine, the jazz aficionado, popular music scholar, and amateur tenor saxophonist Ray Cerino, sent these lines at my request:

Larry Weiss, a good friend of mine, and an extraordinary musician, died over a week ago. Because I had played with Larry for several years in a pro-bono quartet at a life-care facility, the writer of this blog asked me to provide my thoughts on Larry the musician.

The first thought that comes to mind is a word in the title of a book by his friend, Warren Vache called “The Unsung Songwriters”. Although Larry was well-known and respected by all the famous musicians he played with, the majority of jazz concert-goers never heard of him. In that regard, Larry was unsung, and his special, musical ability went largely unrecognized.

The way I like to describe Larry is as a self-taught, natural, supremely gifted musician. When Larry soloed on a song, he did not simply play the notes of the chords underlying the melody, nor did he play the scales in the modal form of the harmony, as is frequently offered as an improvised chorus by younger players today. Larry created a new, beautiful variation, under which the original melody could always be heard. And often he would substitute an altered chord of his own devising, especially audible on the piano, which would introduce a new, intense feeling to the music. He did this all without ever referring to a printed note. The music came from his heart, to his ear, to his hands, seamlessly. And the music that emerged contained original, surprising passages that could move the astute listener deeply.

As a friend of Larry’s for over twenty years, we spent a lot of time together at my house, playing and listening to music. Larry was always gracious in offering to play piano accompaniment to my pedestrian tenor sax solo efforts, never making harshly critical remarks about my playing. He had a good many live recordings on cassette tape that he had acquired over the years, and we would play and listen to these on my stereo system. I recall how he would listen intently to a particular passage of which he was proud, and point to the speakers to underline his high regard for the music. When I asked him how he created so noteworthy a phrase of music, he would just shrug, and say “that’s what I heard”. Like I said, a gift.

As I mentioned above, other well-known and knowing musicians were well aware of the quality of Larry’s musicianship. Larry told me once that he was on the stand with Bob Haggart, bassist and composer of “What’s New”. Larry had just finished a solo of that tune when he felt a tap on the shoulder. He turned around and saw Bob smiling and giving him a big “thumbs up”. Many times as we listened to other famous musicians, Larry would say “I played with him”. He was never boastful: in fact he was modest to a fault. In talking about his solos, he would often say “I’m not claiming this is great, but I am rather proud of it. (And if Larry was proud, you know if it had to be good).

Unfortunately there are only a few commercial recordings of Larry’s work on cornet available, two with a group led by his friend, Warren Vache,and one CD, on piano, with Joe Licari.

That’s Larry, the unsung musician. I was lucky to have been his friend, and to have spent time discussing and listening to the music we both love.

A few words from Michael Steinman:

I am glad that Jim Balantic had uploaded to YouTube two duo selections by the fine clarinetist Joe Licari and Larry on piano — HAUNTING MELODY and MOONLIGHT BECOMES YOU, where Larry plays subtle Teddy Wilson-style piano with great delicacy:

That CD, and others, can be obtained on Joe’s site: http://www.joelicari.com/

I never met Larry Weiss, but I knew his work as a cornetist and admired it greatly.  He shared my admiration for Bobby Hackett’s beautiful tapestries of melody.  And Larry was more than a copyist — not that it would have been easy to copy Hackett — he was someone who had so thoroughly internalized the Master’s style in broad outlines that he could then invent his own personalized utterances at a moment’s notice. 

I heard Larry play cornet in many rather vigorous traditional ensembles, and his voice was a clarion one.  “Luminous” is an overused adjective these days, but it applies.  He was modest; he didn’t shout; his tone glowed.

I have one example alone of Larry’s gentle mastery for the JAZZ LIVES audience.  I have shared this video clip — from the 1983 Manassas Jazz Festival — before, as an aching tribute to the much-beloved Vic Dickenson, in memory of the astonishing band he and Bobby Hackett led at the Roosevelt Grill in 1969 (its rhythm section usually Dave McKenna, Jack Lesberg or Milt Hinton, and Cliff Leeman). 

But this time I would ask my readers to do what is nearly impossible — to tear themselves away from Vic and from Dill Jones and Steve Jordan — and listen to Larry Weiss.  Modest and unassuming, using his mute, sometimes creating obbligatos that one has to strain to hear, he makes great beauty, great empathy, lasting music. 

In the world of jazz, the night sky is full of stars.  There’s Louis, blazing bright; Jack, Lester, Bird, Ben, the two Sidneys . . . and more.  Galaxies, in fact.  But there are also stars not often seen.  You might need a telescope to find them.  But their light is just as memorable: that’s how I think of Larry Weiss.

DAN BARRETT and THE EarRegulars (Oct. 17, 2010)

Sadly, Dan Barrett is flying back to California as I write this.  I know he’ll be happy to be reunited with Laura and Andy, but we’ll miss him here terribly.

In the past ten days, he’s done a number of club gigs, a concert, a private party, and maybe some other playing I missed.  I couldn’t follow him around as much as I would have liked, but I did catch him on video on three occasions — twice at The Ear Inn and once at Arthur’s Tavern with Bill Dunham’s Grove Street Stompers. 

Highlights of those three glorious nights are a-coming! 

I don’t know when Dan touched down in New York City, but after a triumphant jazz afternoon playing alongside Dan Levinson, Dan Tobias, Keith Ingham, and Kevin Dorn in celebration of Ray Cerino’s ninety-first birthday party, a joyous event, Dan (after a nap) made his way downtown to that Soho salon of swing, The Ear Inn (326 Spring Street) for another Sunday extravaganza with The EarRegulars. 

Here are several performances, featuring the charter co-leaders Jon-Erik Kellso (trumpet) and Matt Munisteri (guitar), with Joel Forbes (bass) and several esteemed joiners-in.

How about a paean to the power of love to keep superstition at bay that isn’t YOU’RE LUCKY TO ME?  Rather, I’VE GOT MY FINGERS CROSSED, memorably done by Louis and Fats in their respective recording studios in 1935:

Someone requested DONNA LEE, perhaps knowing what a delicious meal the EarRegulars could make of this variation on INDIANA:

Jon-Erik gave the trumpet chair to his friend and ours Danny Tobias, and the two Dans lingered deliciously in a wistful IF I HAD YOU:

Jon-Erik came back to make a three-man brass frontline.  They did a beautiful job on that old favorite, LET ME CALL YOU SWEETHEART, with the innocently tender lyrics.  And the instrumental trades near the end are worth their weight in Vocalion test pressings:

And the second-set jam session called in Dan Block (clarinet) and Simon Wettenhall (on Eb alto horn rather than trumpet) for a lively ROYAL GARDEN BLUES:

When I dream about the moonlight on the Wabash, I hope it’s Sunday night at The Ear Inn!  (Incidentally, many more marvelous things happened . . . but you’d have to be there to share the experience.  There’s nothing like seeing this music live!)

TWO JAZZ NIGHTS (APRIL 2010)

My jazz friend Stompy Jones wrote to see if I was feeling well . . . he noted that blogging had slowed for a few days.  Never fear: I was on the prowl with a new video camera — whose fancy innards are still mysterious — to capture some Hot jazz.

On Wednesday, April 28, the Beloved and I went to that midtown oasis, Birdland, to catch the early evening set led by David Ostwald — his band being the Louis Armstrong Centennial Band, a group that will be celebrating its tenth anniversary in May.  This edition of the LACB had, in addition to David, Kevin Dorn, Ehud Asherie, Dan Block (on alto as well as clarinet), Wycliffe Gordon, and Gordon Au.  Here they perform a stately version of Fats Waller’s BLUE TURNING GREY OVER YOU, homage to Louis’s mid-Fifties tribute, SATCH PLAYS FATS:

And here’s a song no one sings anymore, for good reason — but Louis, Bing Crosby, Benny Goodman and others found it good material to improvise on — SHINE or S-H-I-N-E, take your pick:

The next night, I went to Shanghai Jazz, David Niu’s cozy restaurant-with-music in Madison, New Jersey, to hear Dan Levinson’s Palomar Trio.  It was supposed to be Dan, pianist Mark Shane, and Kevin Dorn, but Kevin (rare for him) fell ill — with an able replacement found in young vibes wizard Matt Hoffmann, who began his career as a drummer.  Here’s the trio on A SAILBOAT IN THE MOONLIGHT, recorded by both Billie Holiday and Johnny Hodges:

And a jaunty version of I CAN’T BELIEVE THAT YOU’RE IN LOVE WITH ME:

I offer two postscripts as evidence that sometimes the real fun happens off the bandstand with people who don’t play instruments or sing for a living. 

There was a time-honored tradition of musicians walking around the room, playing or singing softly at each table (for tips or for pleasure).  I was telling someone recently about hearing the trumpeter Louis Metcalfe do just this at Jimmy Ryan’s, moving from table to table, playing a medium-tempo soft ROSETTA, putting his Harmon-muted horn almost in my ear — a brief unforgettable experience. 

Birdland isn’t set up for “strolling violins,” but the Jazz Acupuncturist, Marcia Salter, paid us a visit between sets on Wednesday.  When the conversation turned for a moment away from music, I told Marcia that the Beloved’s back was hurting her.  Without so much as a “May I see your insurance card?” Marcia was showing both of us acupressure points to relieve pain.  It was a characteristically generous display (Marcia, of course, operates on the principle of “What would Louis do?”) and it’s the only time I’ve ever seen a medical house call in a jazz club.  Marcia’s hours, for the moment, are Wednesday from 5:30 – 7:15, but you can catch her at other venues. 

The next night, at Shanghai Jazz, I was seated next to the jazz enthusiast and amateur tenor saxophonist Ray Cerino, someone I haven’t seen in some time.  Midway during the evening, Dan asked the audience for requests, and Ray suggested MY FOOLISH HEART.  (Aside from being an all-around Good Fellow, he is also a Deep Romantic.)  Dan played it beautifully, and then Ray delivered a brief impromptu disquistion on the lyrics, the only man I’ve ever heard use the literary term “conceit” in a jazz club.  And Ray knew what he  meant!

Reasons to be thankful!

SHE CAME, SHE SANG, SHE SWUNG!

I know that it’s not an exact translation from the Latin axiom — but it sums up what Dawn Lambeth accomplished with the Boilermaker Jazz Band last night at an Upper West Side swing dance. 

For finicky viewers, I must offer a caveat (that’s an even better tidbit of Latin): the video in this post is imperfect.  There’s a good deal of noise from the dancers.  But I think that’s a delightful thing.  It did my heart good to see so many young people who wanted to swing.  Their bodies reflected the music in three dimensions, and I didn’t hear anyone say a word about Jazz Being Dead.  It isn’t and it wasn’t for them. 

Next time (when Dawn and the Boilermakers are in New York during the third week of April — mark it down!) Flip will try harder to get better videos.  But he was distracted by the dancers, and I couldn’t blame him.  Anyway, the Beloved was busy giving me a crash course in the basic Lindy Hop — slow slow quick quick.  I’m good on 1 and 2 although 3 and 4 tend to become a blur.  I do apologize to the three people whose toes I stepped on while going backward.  I hope I caused no permanent damage.  But I learned enough of the dance, to an uncritical eye, to get up on the floor several times at a medium tempo.  All credit goes to the Beloved: a far better dance instructor that the long-suffering woman I tried to learn from for ten Firday nights in a row.  If you’ve taken up another line of work because of me, Robin — something like munitions — I’m so sorry.      

My model in terpsichorean endeavors is one of my readers, a noble fellow named Ray Cerino, who’s a really fine dancer.  He’s also one of those generous people who believes in sharing pleasures, and it was at his birthday party in 2004 tha I met, face to face, Kevin Dorn, Jon-Erik Kellso, Mark Shane, Vince GIordano, and Dan Levinson.  What a band, and what a constellation of people to meet!  Thank you, Ray!   

But back to Dawn Lambeth.  To hear Dawn at her best, check out one of her CDs — details available at her website (www.usoniajazz.com); the same goes for the Boilermaker crew (www.boilermakerjazzband.com).

But here they are in person.  The song is one everyone associates with Billie Holiday, I’M GONNA LOCK MY HEART (AND THROW AWAY THE KEY).  But bless Dawn — she doesn’t try to be Lady Day.  Rather she approaches the song as a new text, on its own terms, and sings it for herself, which is what the great artists do.  Notice her unaffected, conversational delivery, her mellow voice, her easy glide over the rhythm. 

If you don’t know her work, you should . . . .

A JAZZ HOLIDAY — CHAUTAUQUA 2008

Jazz at Chautauqua, the cherished baby of Joe Boughton and the Allegheny Jazz Society, whirled around for yet the eleventh year — filling the hours of September 18 – 21 with hot jazz, rare songs, and sweet, swinging lyricism.  It was my fifth visit there, and the Beloved’s first.  We had a wonderful time, tearing ourselves away from the music at regular intervals to walk the Chautauqua grounds, with their elaborately done houses, the leaves already changing, and the glory of Lake Chautauqua.  We took a number of meals on the wide wooden porch of the Athenaeum Hotel, with high-level sitters-in who were carrying plates of food rather than horns and charts: Marty Grosz, Bob Reitmeier, Nina Favara . . . and we got to hang out with Jackie Kellso and Becky Kilgore, Ray Cerino and Carol Baer, David and Maxine Schacker (creators of BEING A BEAR).

By my count, there were about forty sets of music, starting at breakfast and going on until 1:30 AM.  When I was younger and more vigorous in 2004, I devoted myself with a pilgrim’s determination to hearing every last note, with Coffee as my friend and non-prescription ally.  Eventually, I couldn’t sit and listen to even the world’s best jazz for that long.  Everything, including the cerebral cortex, set up a protest.

So here are some highlights, admittedly a subjective list, but, as the narrator of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight says, “To tell all the tale would tax my five wits.”  I was too busy taking notes to take pictures, so readers who want visual stimuli should go to www.mississippirag.com for the October issue, which will be festooned with photographs by John Bitter.

I’ve written about the Thursday festivities (see WITH DISPATCH AND VIGOR) but Friday began to pop with two wonderful sets.  One was led by Jon-Erik Kellso, oddly, his only formal opportunity to do this all weekend, which I find mysterious. because he is an engaging, funny leader.  His set featured lively old songs at the front and back, “Alice Blue Gown” and a Louis-inflected “Some of These Days,” but the middle was even better — Dan Block and Jon-Erik on the 1933 romance “The Day You Came Along,” which managed to summon up both Bing and Hawkins, a neat trick.  Then Bob Havens, exploding all over the horn like a teenager, charged through Harry Warren’s “42nd Street,” a song neglected by jazz players, more’s the pity.  And a delicate, plaintive “Always” featured Block on bass clarinet and Bob Reitmeier on clarinet — not evoking Soprano Summit or the Apex Club Orchestra, but some otherworldly strain, Debussy with a beating Thirties heart.

Becky Kilgore’s set was too short but each song was a neat surprise.  Backed by the endearing Joe Wilder, who moved from bucket mute to his red-and-white metal derby to his fluegelhorn, Dan Barrett being himself, and the ever-thoughtful Rossano Sportiello, Becky offered a happy “Getting Some Fun Out of Life,” whose title seemed more true than ever, “But Not For Me” with a pensive verse, and a sly “Little White Lies,” dedicated to “the politicians.”  In an enlighted administration, our Becky could sing at the Inaugural Ball, but I don’t hold out great hopes for this.

A Saturday-morning Duke Heitger extravaganza was notable for a slow-dance “Whispering” which began with a lovely Ingham introduction, romantic and sweet.  Music to hug by!  Eventually the band decided they had had enough of good behavior and doubled the tempo (Duke turned into Bunny Berigan at points) moving on to a riotous Condon finale with earth-shaking breaks from Arnie Kinsella, unbridled even before lunchtime.

Rather like Becky’s cameo of the previous evening, a Joe Wilder – Rossano Sportiello duet seemed over before we had had time to accustom ourselves to the magical idea of hearing them together with no interference (and with Joe getting to pick the songs he wanted to play, which isn’t always the case).  Tender versions of “Embraceable You” and “Skylark” paved the way for a steadily moving “Idaho,” memorably energetic.  Joe’s glossy tone has become more a speaking utterance in recent years, which is even more personal, and Rossano is my idea of Jazz Ecumenism — getting Fats Waller and Bud Powell to shake hands whenever he plays.

A Marty Grosz set was devoted to the memory of the vocalist, comb-and-tissue paper virtuoso, and bandleader Red McKenzie, about whose music no one is lukewarm.  Typically, we enjoyed a long winding Marty-narrative, full of priceless jazz arcana and some wicked comedy, but it showed off his convincing crooning on “I’ve Got The World On A String.”  The group that backed him — Block, Andy Stein on violin, and the irreplaceable Vince Giordano, seemed the perfect modern embodiment of Joe Venuti’s Blue Four.  About enjoyment, incidentally: Joe Boughton introduced Marty and ended with the ritualistic crypto-command, “Enjoy.”  Marty, who can be as dangerous as a drawer full of scissors, replied, while he was settling in, “I don’t make music to be enjoyed,” as if the concept offended his fastidious self.  But we did, anyway.  So there!

The Wisconsin Bixians (Andy Schumm and Dave Bock) once again got to play with their heroes — Reitmeier, Stein, James Dapogny, Vince, Marty, and Arnie Kinsella — the all-star rhythm team of the weekend or perhaps of this century? — and proved themselves up to the challenge.  Except for a pretty “At Sundown,” they chose Bix-rompers from 1927-8, “Jazz Me Blues,” “Clarinet Marmalade,” and “Somebody Stole My Gal,” making me think of Bix and Miff Mole in some ideal alternate universe, backed by Tesch, Sullivan, Condon, Artie Bernstein, and Krupa.

Keeping the momentum and the mood, Vince Giordano’s Nighthawks showed themselves off as the Jazz Larks.  We”ve all heard the band parse early Pollack, Challis, Isham Jones, Ellington — but this was a leaping ensemble of veteran alumni, fully warmed up.  The Beloved turned to me and murmured, “Vince is in his glory,” and we all were.  Kellso, Block, and Havens sang out — no surprise!

That evening, a lovely set featured Duke Heitger, Havens, Bobby Gordon, the priceless rhythm section mentioned above, and Kellso.  After a casual “Tea for Two,” everyone cut loose (especially Gordon) on “Mahogany Hall Stomp.”  Jon-Erik and Duke are old Midwestern pals, and Kellso was Duke’s model and mentor when neither of them had a driver’s license.  It wasn’t a cutting contest but a friendly reunion, but the two of them gave me chills on “If We Never Meet Again.”  The rafters rang — not with volume, but with passion and a shouting tenderness, which is no oxymoron when you have players who have devoted their lives to it.

Later that night, a set led by Randy Reinhart again showed off two trumpets, as he and Jon exploded into “Struttin’ With Some Barbecue,” reminding me of Louis’s Decca big band version and a short passage from a film about Dick Gibson’s jazz parties where Ruby Braff and Clark Terry duetted on the sidewalk while fireworks went off around them.  Another touching Reitmeier-Block duet (clarinet and bass-clarinet) on “I Got It Bad” made me wish that every set had had two ballad performances.  (At parties, musicians get excited about playing with their friends, so tempos and volume sometimes rise.)

Sunday morning — at a pre-consciousness hour for most musicians — began with a solo set by Dapogny.  I haven’t said much about him in this post, but I was tremendously impressed with him as an ensemble pianist as well as a soloist.  I had gotten happily used to the idea of his stomping propulsion at previous Chautauquas, his forceful accuracy (think Sullivan, Hines, Fats) but time and again he surprised us all by going into unexpected harmonic corners, playing phrases that were the very opposite of formulas.  And how he swung the bands he was in!

Marty Grosz’s Sunday set honored mid-Thirties Red Allen.  In fairness, the musicians were sight-reading the charts, so there was an uncertain passage here and there . . . but who among us would do better?  I was nearly stunned by the band’s vehement “Jamaica Shout,” which I would assume refers to the Queens neighborhood rather than the Caribbean, but this may be mere speculation.

Finally, a marvelous quartet took the stand — Bob Wilber, his tone still glossy, his rhythmic intensity still intact at eighty, Jon-Erik, blinking slightly in the unaccustomed daylight, Marty and Vince — the best people to summon up the ferocious glories of the 1940 Bechet-Spanier Big Four recordings for the Hot Record Society.  (When I visited guitarist Craig Ventresco, he had the original 12″ 78s, which seemed holy relics — and they still sounded fine on his three-speed phonograph!)  A peerless quartet, deep in contrapuntal hot ensembles and soaring solos.

With regret, the Beloved and I left before it was all over to begin the day-long drive back to New York City, both exhausted and thrilled by the music.

The rewarding thing about Jazz at Chautauqua is that I began to write this post with the idea of including only a few highlights — but there were so many asterisks and exclamation points in my notebook that the idea of a “few” quickly became impossible.  For every set I mentioned, for every solo, there were two or three more of equal quality — a true jazz holiday!  The music rings in my ears as I sit at the keyboard.