Tag Archives: Raymond Scott

A PASTORAL DREAM: BRYAN WRIGHT PLAYS REGINALD FORESYTHE

I’ve known Bryan Wright (or Bryan S. Wright, if we are to be formal) as the wearer of many hats: musical scholar, record collector,  recording engineer, guiding genius of his own Rivermont Records.  That would be enough of a curriculum vitae for several people or several lifetimes.  But my list needs to be opened up to include Bryan as a sensitive, thoughtful pianist and composer.

I had some wonderful opportunities to hear Bryan in those roles at the Scott Joplin International Ragtime Festival (May 31-June 2) in Sedalia, Missouri.

I was particularly taken with one piece that Bryan not only played but offered to us as a kind of surprise gift: THROUGH THE TREES, by the imaginative composer and pianist Reginald Foresythe (1907-58).  Before I heard Bryan’s performance, I knew Foresythe as the composer of DEEP FOREST, and of several bouncy compositions with eccentric titles: SERENADE TO A WEALTHY WIDOW and DODGING A DIVORCEE.  Brief research reminded me that he had also composed the song I associate with Mister Strong, HE’S A SON OF THE SOUTH.  But the first two compositions seem to me to herald the unusual mood pieces that Raymond Scott and Alec Wilder created a few years later.  I was not prepared for THROUGH THE TREES.

Before I proceed, I must point out that our ability to hear this piece is also due to the generosity of the British scholar-collector-sound restorer Nick Dellow, who is a deep student of Foresythe and made the sheet music of this otherwise unknown and unrecorded piece available to Bryan — and Bryan’s wife Yuko made the excellent video of Bryan at play.

I told Bryan that I thought of this music as both embodying and bringing peace.

Isn’t that just lovely, as a composition and a performance?

Should you want to hear more of the tender, ruminative Foresythe, I offer this:

Both of these compositions are too large and spacious to fit into stylistic compartments, and for that I (and I think you) should be glad. Thank you, Bryan, Yuko, Nick, and Reginald Foresythe.

May your happiness increase!

 

xxxxx

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ARTHUR and ADRIAN

I’ve just finished reading the charming autobiography of saxophonist Arthur Rollini (1912- 93), THIRTY YEARS WITH THE BIG BANDS, and it gave me the opportunity to learn about his first recordings — music graciously provided by the estimable AtticusJazz on YouTube.  Here are his first two recorded sides (April 12, 1929, in London) — the first a head arrangement of NOBODY’S SWEETHEART, the second the full Fred Elizalde orchestra performing SINGAPORE SORROWS in an arrangement by Fud Livingston.  Arthur was seventeen (as was the brilliant trumpeter Norman Payne, heard briefly on the second side); his legendary brother Adrian was then not yet twenty-six.

Of the first side, Arthur writes, “Bobby Davis took the first half of a chorus and I picked him up for the second half.  Adrian played brilliantly.”  Recalling SINGAPORE SORROWS, he praises Norman Payne, “This little solo in Bix’s tradition still stands up today.”  Especially in SWEETHEART, I hear the influence of the contemporaneous Nichols recordings, and beautiful playing throughout.

The small band is Fred Elizalde, arranger / leader; Chelsea Quealey, trumpet; Bobby Davis, clarinet, alto and soprano saxophone; Max Farley, tenor saxophone; Adrian Rollini, bass saxophone; Billy Mason, piano;  Tiny Stock, brass bass; string bass; Ronnie Gubertini, drums; Al Bowlly, guitar.

The large band is Fred Elizalde; Chelsea Quealey, Norman Payne, Nobby Knight, trumpet; Frank Coughlan, trombone; Bobby Davis, Max Farley, Phil Cardew, Fud Livingston, Arthur Rollini, Adrian Rollini, reeds; George Hurley, Ben Frankel, Len Lees, violin; Billy Mason, Jack Hull, banjo; Al Bowlly, Tiny Stock, Ronnie Gubertini.

Before I was deep into this book, I already valued it because it explained the early death of Adrian. Arthur tells us just how seriously Adrian was accident-prone: “He inadvertently smashed cars, stepped into holes and, although he was not a clumsy person, frequently tripped.  It was so bad that insurance companies refused him coverage.  Eventually, even his death was the result of an accident. It happened in Florida when he fell down a flight of stairs into a pit of coral rock” (17).

Then, as I read on in this low-keyed, modest book, I encountered compelling anecdotes of Benny Goodman’s oblivious cruelty, Richard Himber’s aberrational behavior (intentionally aimed flatulence as his idea of comedy?!), brief portraits of Bunny Berigan, Dave Tough, Hank D’Amico . . . Paul Whiteman uttering Turk Murphy’s “three little words” to a society matron who had pushed him too far, the eccentric Raymond Scott, and more.

As the Swing Era ends, Arthur and others find comfortable jobs in network radio for a decade or more, but the book slowly records the end of an era in popular music.  He doesn’t moan or rant, but “thirty years with the big  bands” as a sideman have left him without a place to go.  Oh, there are gigs in Long Island clubs, but he doesn’t have the name recognition of, say, Buddy Tate, or the chameleon-like abilities of Al Klink. He and his wife try non-musical businesses, and they have a hard time, with all underscored by her eventually fatal illness.  So I felt much sorrow in the final pages of the book, and I was undecided if I would keep my copy or pass it on.

Then I saw this picture (which I have poorly reproduced with my phone) and said, “I’m keeping this!”: the 1938 Benny Goodman softball team with Dave Tough in the front row with a mitt (what kind would it be?) that seems too big for him.  The other players, in the back row, are Bud Freeman, Chris Griffin, Harry Goodman, Arthur, Harry James, Ziggy Elman, Vernon Brown, Noni Bernardi; in the front, Benny Heller, Pee Wee Monte, Dave, Red Ballard.  (And for the Lesterphiles in the audience, Arthur tells of the inside-the-park home run the Pres hit in one game.)  You can find a much better copy of this photograph here.

And here, courtesy of THE POP OF YESTERCENTURY, a superb blog — temporarily on vacation,

the Rollini brothers send their best — from 1937, but the sounds are eternal.

With thanks to A.J. Sammut, as always.

May your happiness increase!

FOUR FOR ARTIE: RICHARD PITE’S CHAMBER JAZZ at the MIKE DURHAM CLASSIC JAZZ PARTY (Nov. 7, 2015)

Shaw Granercy 5

When we think of the great small bands of the Swing Era, early and late, Artie Shaw’s Gramercy Five is both memorable and overshadowed . . . perhaps because (unlike the Goodman small groups, the Crosby Bobcats, and others I can’t call to mind) it was a studio aggregation, so we don’t have a large history of live performances in concert or recorded off the radio.  (I’ve seen a photograph of the 1945 group with Roy Eldridge and Dodo Marmarosa, apparently performing as part of the Shaw big band presentation, but I don’t think the 1941 group existed outside the Victor studios.)

It was a superb — and quirky — group, with an affectionate kinship to the Raymond Scott and Alec Wilder small bands.  Its instrumentation accounted for much of that — pianist Johnny Guarnieri on harpsichord — but its very tight arrangements were also remarkable.  Al Hendrickson was an excellent electric guitarist — in the dawn of that era; Billy Butterfield, Nick Fatool, and Jud deNaut were also brilliant.

I was delighted to see and capture this four-song evocation at the 2015. Mike Durham Classic Jazz Party, where such heartfelt expertise is the main dish.  Led by the masterful drummer Richard Pite, this new Gramercy 5 — what would that be on your smartphone? — soared and rocked.  The noble participants: the brilliant clarinetist Lars Frank, Martin Litton, harpsichord; Rico Tomasso, trumpet; Martin Wheatley, electric guitar; Henry Lemaire, string bass.  And they perform four classics: SUMMIT RIDGE DRIVE, KEEPIN’ MYSELF FOR YOU, SCUTTLEBUTT, and SPECIAL DELIVERY STOMP.  A quarter-hour of compact pleasure:

Hot modernism in its own way, and it hasn’t aged.  Try to make your way to the 2016 Mike Durham Classic Jazz Party — where such good surprises proliferate.

May your happiness increase!

ELEGANTLY IMAGINATIVE: ECHOES OF SWING, “BLUE PEPPER”

I begin somberly . . . but there are more cheerful rewards to follow.

As the jazz audience changes, I sense that many people who “love jazz” love it most when it is neatly packed in a stylistically restrictive box of their choosing. I hear statements of position, usually in annoyed tones, about banjos, ride cymbals, Charlie Parker, purity, authenticity, and “what jazz is.”

I find this phenomenon oppressive, yet I try to understand it as an expression of taste.  One stimulus makes us vibrate; another makes us look for the exit.  Many people fall in love with an art form at a particular stage of it and their development and remain faithful to it, resisting change as an enemy.

And the most tenaciously restrictive “jazz fans” I know seem frightened of music that seems to transgress boundaries they have created .  They shrink back, appalled, as if you’d served them a pizza with olives, wood screws, mushrooms, and pencils.  They say that one group is “too swingy” or “too modern” or they say, “I can’t listen to that old stuff,” as if it were a statement of religious belief.  “Our people don’t [insert profanation here] ever.”

But some of this categorization, unfortunately, is dictated by the marketplace: if a group can tell a fairly uninformed concert promoter, “We sound like X [insert name of known and welcomed musical expression],” they might get a booking. “We incorporate everyone from Scott Joplin to Ornette Coleman and beyond,” might scare off people who like little boxes.

Certain musical expressions are sacred to me: Louis.  The Basie rhythm section. And their living evocations.  But I deeply admire musicians and groups, living in the present, that display the imaginative spirit.  These artists understand that creative improvised music playfully tends to peek around corners to see what possibilities exist in the merging of NOW and THEN and WHAT MIGHT BE.

One of the most satisfying of these playful groups is ECHOES OF SWING. Their clever title says that they are animated by wit, and this cheerful playfulness comes out in their music — not in “comedy” but in an amused ingenuity, a lightness of heart.  They have been in action since 1997, and when I saw them in person (the only time, alas) in 2007, they were wonderfully enlivening.

This action photograph by Sascha Kletzsch suggests the same thing:

EchoesOfSwingInAction1 (Foto Sascha Kletzsch, v.l. Lhotzky, Hopkins, Dawson, Mewes)

They are Colin T. Dawson, trumpet / vocal;  Chris Hopkins, alto sax; Bernd Lhotzky, piano; Oliver Mewes, drums.  And they are that rarity in modern times, a working group — which means that they know their routines, and their ensemble work is beautiful, offering the best springboards into exhilarating improvisatory flights. They are also “a working group,” which means that they have gigs.  Yes, gigs!  Check out their schedule here.

Here  is a 2013 post featuring their hot rendition of DIGA DIGA DOO, and an earlier one about their previous CD, MESSAGE FROM MARS, with other videos — as well as my favorite childhood joke about a Martian in New York City here.  And while we’re in the video archives, here is a delicious eleven-minute offering from in November 2014:

and here they are on German television with a late-period Ellington blues, BLUE PEPPER:

All this is lengthy prelude to their new CD, aptly titled BLUE PEPPER:

EchoesOfSwing  - BluePepperCover

The fifteen songs on the disc are thematically connected by BLUE, but they are happily varied, with associations from Ellington to Brubeck and Nat Cole, composers including Gordon Jenkins, Rodgers, Bechet, Waller, Strayhorn — and a traditional Mexican song and several originals by members of the band: BLUE PEPPER / AZZURRO / BLUE PRELUDE / LA PALOMA AZUL / BLUE & NAUGHTY / BLUE MOON / BLACK STICK BLUES / BLUE RIVER / OUT OF THE BLUE / AOI SAMMYAKU [BLUE MOUNTAIN RANGE] / THE SMURF / BLUE GARDENIA / THE BLUE MEDICINE [RADOVAN’S REMEDY] / WILD CAT BLUES / AZURE.

What one hears immediately from this group is energy — not loud or fast unless the song needs either — a joyous leaping into the music.  Although this band is clearly well-rehearsed, there is no feeling of going through the motions. Everything is lively, precise, but it’s clear that as soloists and as an ensemble, they are happily ready to take risks. “Risks” doesn’t mean anarchy in swingtime, but it means a willingness to extend the boundaries: this group is dedicated to something more expansive than recreating already established music.

When I first heard the group (and was instantly smitten) they sounded, often, like a supercharged John Kirby group with Dizzy and Bird sitting in while at intervals the Lion shoved Al Haig off the piano stool.  I heard and liked their swinging intricacies, but now they seem even more adventurous.  And where some of the most endearing CDs can’t be listened to in one sitting because they offer seventy-five minutes of the same thing, this CD is alive, never boring.

A word about the four musicians.  Oliver Mewes loves the light-footed swing of Tough and Catlett, and he is a sly man with a rimshot in just the right place, but he isn’t tied hand and foot by the past.  Bernd Lhotzky is a divine solo pianist (he never rushes or drags) with a beautiful lucent orchestral conception, but he is also someone who is invaluable in an ensemble, providing with Oliver an oceanic swing that fifteen pieces could rest on.  I never listen to this group and say, “Oh, they would be so much better with a rhythm guitar or a string bassist.”

And the front line is just as eloquent.  Colin T. Dawson is a hot trumpet player with a searing edge to his phrases, but he knows where each note should land for the collective elegance of the group — and he’s a sweetly wooing singer in addition.  Chris Hopkins (quiet in person) is a blazing marvel on the alto saxophone — inventive and lyrical and unstoppable — in much the same way he plays the piano.

And here is what my wise friend Dave Gelly wrote: It’s hard to believe at first that there are only four instruments here. The arrangements are so ingenious, and the playing so nimble, that it could be at least twice that number. But listen closely and you will discover just a quartet of trumpet, alto saxophone, piano and drums – with absolutely no electronic tricks. The style is sophisticated small-band swing, the material a judicious mixture of originals and swing-era numbers and there is not a hint of whiskery nostalgia in any of it. It’s about time this idiom received some fresh attention and here’s the perfect curtain-raiser.

Here is their Facebook page, and their website.

We are fortunate that they exist and that they keep bringing us joyous surprises.

May your happiness increase!

CLIFF LEEMAN’S SOUND LIVES ON

Drummer Cliff Leeman had a completely personal and identifiable sound, a seriously exuberant approach to the music.  You can’t miss him, and it’s not because of volume.

He’s audible from the late Thirties on in the bands of Artie Shaw and Charlie Barnet, then most notably in Eddie Condon’s bands, later with the Lawson-Haggart Jazz Band, Bob Crosby reunions, Bobby Hackett and Vic Dickenson, Kenny Davern and Dick Wellstood, and Soprano Summit.  Cliff died in 1986, but his slashing attack and nearly violent exuberance are in my ears as I write this . . . including his trademark, the tiny splash cymbal he used as an auditory exclamation point.  He spoke briefly about his approach in this interview for MODERN DRUMMER magazine.

In case Cliff is someone new to you, here he is on a 1975 television program with Joe Venuti, Marian McPartland, and Major Holley, elevating CHINA BOY:

In spring 2008, Kevin Dorn and I paid a call on Irene (Renee) Leeman, his widow, then living comfortably in New Jersey.  I have very fond memories of that afternoon, hearing stories and laughing.  Until recently, I thought that those memories were all I had.  But a recent stint of domestic archaeology uncovered the small notebook in which I had written down what Mrs. Leeman told us.  Here are some of her comments and asides, shared with you with affection and reverence (and with her permission).

But first: Cliff on film in 1952 with Eddie Condon . . . the epitome of this driving music.  Also heard and seen, Edmond Hall, Wild Bill Davison, Cutty Cutshall, Gene Schroeder, Bob Casey:

Some words from Mrs. Leeman to go with all those good sounds:

I first met Clifford at Nick’s.  I didn’t go there by myself, but because of a friend who had a crush on Pee Wee Erwin.

Roger Kellaway always asked for Clifford.

He wore Capezios on the job.

He had a colorful vocabulary and didn’t repeat himself.  He thought Bing Crosby was the best, but Clifford was always very definite in his opinions.

He came from a Danish-Scandinavian family where the men didn’t hug one another.

Clifford once asked Joe Venuti, “How do you want me to play behind you?” and Venuti said, “Play as if I’m five brass.”

He worked on THE HIT PARADE with Raymond Scott, who timed everything with a stopwatch, “The hardest job I ever had.”

Clifford was the drummer on Bill Haley and the Comets’ Decca recording of ROCK AROUND THE CLOCK, and when the session ended, he said, “I think I just killed my career.”

Sidney Catlett was Clifford’s idol.  Jo Jones, Ben Webster, Charlie Shavers and Clifford loved each other.  They all hung out at Hurley’s Bar, Jim and Andy’s, and Charlie’s Tavern.

Clifford played piano — not jazz, but ROCK OF AGES and MOTHER MACHREE, as well as xylophone.  And he could read music.  He was always surprised that other musicians couldn’t, and would come home after a gig and say, “Do you know _____?  He can’t read!”

Clifford was left-handed but he played with a drum kit set up for right-handed drummers.

He thought the drummer was supposed to keep the time and drive the band and pull everything together.  Clifford listened. He was fascinated with rock drummers he saw on television, and would tell me how bad they were.

“Cliff is the best timekeeper,” Billy Butterfield said.  Billy was so cute.

He loved his cymbals.

He was hard on himself, and on other people, but he loved working with Yank Lawson and Bob Haggart.  They had a good time.  They respected each other. They thought that music should be fun. Yank and Bob used to rehearse the band in Lou Stein’s basement in Bayside, New York.

Kenny Davern!  Kenny was a challenge to the world and a thinker. He was an angry young man who became an angry old man.  He and Clifford were a comedy team wherever they went.

Clifford didn’t embrace the world, and he could be abrasive if people bothered him.

Clifford played with Bob Crosby and Louis Armstrong on one of those Timex television jazz shows.  He was so proud of working with Louis you couldn’t stand it.

I have always liked musicians as a group, and never had a 9 to 5 life. Because of Clifford, I got to meet Buddy Rich, Louis Bellson, Gene Krupa.  In those days, rhythm sections stuck together, so I knew a lot of bass players and their wives: Milt Hinton, Major Holley, George Duvivier, Jack Lesberg.  I was lucky to have known such things and such people.  How fortunate I was!

We are all fortunate to have lived in Clifford Leeman’s century, and his music lives on.  And I thank Mrs. Leeman for her enthusiastic loving candor.

May your happiness increase!

LITTLE WONDERS at AMOEBA MUSIC (The Next Chapter)

August 14, 2012.  Amoeba Music.  1855 Haight Street, San Francisco.

Flash!  Money can’t buy happiness, but money can buy the music that creates it.

Six vinyl records = $15.14.

JOE SULLIVAN: NEW SOLOS BY AN OLD MASTER (Riverside, 1953)

RAY SKJELBRED / HAL SMITH: STOMPIN’ EM DOWN (Stomp Off, 1985)

HARRY JAMES: DOUBLE DIXIE (MGM, 1962)

BUTCH THOMPSON / MIKE DUFFY / HAL SMITH: LITTLE WONDER (Triangle Jazz, 1987)

AL “JAZZBO” COLLINS: SWINGING AT THE OPERA (Everest, 1960)

THE SAINTS AND SINNERS “CATCH FIRE” (Seeco, 1960)

Explication du texte herewith.

The Sullivan is a famous record — I believe I had the music in poorer sound on a Classics CD, but the sentimental value of this disc in its crinkly wax-paper inner sleeve was something I chose not to resist.  And Sullivan’s sweet violence at the keyboard — filling A ROOM WITH A VIEW with ferocious right-hand splashes and mad Waller right-hand tinkling ornamentations — continues to astonish.  And if that weren’t enough, the disc is NON BREAKABLE, LONG PLAYING MICROGROOVE, HI FI.  What more could I ask for?

Ray Skjelbred deserves to be mentioned in the same breath, and Hal Smith’s intuitive empathy is splendid.  All I will say about STOMPIN’ ‘EM DOWN is that the duo’s performance of LOVE ME TONIGHT is another delightful version of sweet violence, honoring Bing Crosby and Earl Hines simultaneously.

I haven’t heard a note of DOUBLE DIXIE yet, but it is an intriguing experiment: the whole James band of the time, with Willie Smith and Buddy Rich, surrounding the “Dixie Five” of James, Dick Cathcart, Eddie Miller, Matty Matlock, Ray Sims.  How could I pass up a record that had TWO DEUCES on it, and all the arrangements by Matlock?

On my most recent trip to Amoeba Berkeley, I bought a Prairie Home Companion lp featuring the Butch Thompson Trio with Red Maddock on drums — and it has been giving a great deal of pleasure, both now in the present moment and reminding me of my 1981 self, listening to PHC live and waiting for those trio sessions.  This trio recording with Butch, Mike, and Hal is going to be a treat . . . a special little pleasure was in looking at the back-cover photograph of the trio, smiling . . . and reading that the photographer was none other than our friend and wondrous singer Becky Kilgore.

For me, a little “hipsterness” goes a long way, but Al “Jazzbo” Collins always had good taste.  What could be wrong with a big band recording of melodies from famous operas — when the band includes as soloists Harry Edison, Phil Woods, and Bob Brookmeyer . . . when the rhythm section is Hank Jones, Barry Galbraith, Joe Benjamin (Milt must have had a conflict that day), and Jo Jones?  Plus Harvey Phillips and Eddie Costa, arrangements by Fred Karlin, the whole thing supervised by Raymond Scott.  Can’t beat that!

Any record by the SAINTS AND SINNERS is rare these days — a compact group co-led by Red Richards and Vic Dickenson, it featured Norm Murphy or Herman Autrey, trumpet; Joe Barifaldi or Rudy Powell, reeds, and a solid rhythm section (this issue has Barrett Deems, drums).  I remember hearing Vic play TEACH ME TONIGHT from a program Ed Beach did on the S&S and so this was a superb find.  “My heart stood still,” to quote Larry Hart.

Now, there is no hidden ideology here about the goodness of vinyl over any other medium of sound reproduction; I amnot urging anyone to buy a turntable or to begin collecting more stuff, to quote George Carlin.  But there are Wonders out there for those who seek them!

P.S.  And as an added bonus, the cheerful young woman behind the counter had family that had grown up on Long Island and had gone to the high school I had graduated from when buying records was what you did.  The young woman had made it to San Francisco by way of Brooklyn, and she had wonderful instincts: when I said, in closing, “May your happiness increase,” she answered immediately, “Thank you very much!  You, too!”

May your happiness increase.

AUGUST IN NEW YORK: FOUR DAYS WITH JIM FRYER

Photograph by Lorna Sass, 2008

(This is trombonist / euphonist / vocalist Jim Fryer’s essay on life-as-a-hard-working-jazz-musician . . . as printed in the November 2010 edition of The American Rag and reprinted here with everyone’s permission)

ME & NYC

6 gigs in 4 days: a life of slice

August 15–18, 2010

This is a somewhat random “Report From NYC,” based on a few days of “feet on the sidewalk” activity. It’s certainly not an exhaustive accounting of the activity around here, although it was a bit exhausting. There is so much great music, great jazz, and great trad jazz around here. This is just a slice, my little slice, of the scene. I think it was Hemingway who said you should write about what you know, and what you know best is your own life. It is also true, in my experience, that narcissism is one of the few skills that can improve with age, and I’m definitely on that bandwagon. So here goes. I hope someone else may find this interesting. I know I do.

* * *

Following a big chunk of time and energy expended (along with Jeff & Anne Barnhart) in helping our 5 “International All Stars” from the UK have a swell time in Connecticut, New York, and California (including doing double duty at the Orange County Classic Jazz Festival with the Titan Hot 7, the band that most readers of this journal will know me from), I enjoyed a respite visiting my parents at their house in the Maine woods. A short time after my return to New York, I found myself back on the busy streets & subway trains: the Asphalt Jungle. A small flurry of local gigs helped reorient me to this place where I am trying to live the good – or at least, the interesting – life.

Sunday August 15: From our domicile in West Harlem, I drove south on the Henry Hudson Parkway and West Side Highway, down to the Fat Cat Café, just off Sheridan Square in the West Village. This is one of my favorite joints ever: down the stairs to a very large room that contains games such as ping pong, pool, scrabble, chess, and beer and wine drinking. And oh yes, a small music area off to the side, easy chairs and sofas, a grand piano and a sound system (with a sound engineer!). When I die, if I’m lucky enough to choose my personal heaven, it will look a lot like the Fat Cat. (Our younger daughter once came along to a gig there, and decided that was where she wanted to get married.)

The band at the Fat Cat was a classic: Terry Waldo leading his Gotham City Jazz Band from the piano, singing & striding along; Peter Ecklund (tpt), Chuck Wilson (clr/as), Brian Nelepka (sb), John Gill (dms),and me (with my euphonium along for the ride). Nice, relaxed, easy. Good IPA on tap. 2 sets, no muss, no fuss, just plain fun. Girls boogie to our music while playing foozball. I’m very thankful that there are bandleaders who hire me for such good times. John Gill sang a lovely rendition of Irving Berlin’s When The Midnight Choo-Choo Leaves For Alabam’. John continues vocalizing (accompanying himself on guitar) later on Sunday nights over at the National Underground, where he, Brian, & drummer Kevin Dorn play good old rock and roll & country/western.

Normally, after the Fat Cat, I have the option to sit in with the Dixie Creole Cooking Jazz Band (led by cornetist Lee Lorenz) at Arthur’s Tavern, right around the corner from the Fat Cat, on their weekly Sunday gig; and then travel a few blocks down to The Ear, New York’s oldest saloon, for another fantastic session with the Ear-Regulars (led by Jon-Erik Kellso and Matt Munisteri). But today, it’s back into the car and a scramble against heavy crosstown traffic and over the Williamsburg Bridge, to the Rose Café in Brooklyn. The gig thankfully started late anyhow! I played a duo set with Bliss Blood, the talented singer/songwriter/ukelele-ist from Texas via Brooklyn. We followed a young violinist/singer/synthesizer player who managed to sound like a rock band and symphony orchestra, all by herself. Playing old blues and Bliss’s original songs, our music sounded simple in comparison (one of my goals, actually), but the ‘elite’ (small) audience seemed to enjoy it.

Monday August 16: Every Monday brings me a steady musical diet. I play with a rehearsal big band in the afternoon. Working jazz musos the world over know what that means: get together for a few hours every week and ‘read’ (play) big band ‘charts’ (arrangements) for no commercial purpose whatsoever. The opportunity to sight read new material (often written by someone in the band) and schmooze with friends is sufficient compensation. If you hang out at the American Federation of Musicians Local 802 building on West 48th Street for a week, you’ll hear dozens of these bands, taking advantage of the very low room rental rates.

Next comes one of the musical highlights of my life for the last several years: Vince Giordano and The Nighthawks making their weekly Monday appearance at Club Cache, downstairs from Sofia’s Restaurant in the famed Edison Hotel on West 46th Street, just a few feet west of Times Square. I’m not enough of a wordsmith to adequately bring to life the excitement and dynamism that Vince Giordano brings to each & every gig he plays. He is a one man tornado, playing hot string bass, tuba, and bass sax, singing, performing mc duties, meeting & greeting each customer who comes down the stairs into our subterranean cabaret, and setting up & breaking down equipment for hours each week. A characteristic touch is added by our technician & ‘introducer,’ John Landry (aka Sir Scratchy), and we couldn’t do without our various ‘Mikes’ (Mike being the generic term to describe anyone who helps out on the gig, from moving equipment to playing music). Our steadiest Mike is Carol, Vince’s partner, who [wo]mans the door and seats patrons; we also are lucky to have Earl, who in addition to schlepping equipment, spends his ‘down’ time translating Vince’s antique arrangements into modern notation via Sibelius software – at an incredible clip (he will complete a full 13 piece arrangement during the course of the 3 hour gig, something that would take me weeks).

Vince’s Monday night gig has become enormously popular since its debut in May of 2008. A great dance floor brings in the rugcutters (including many athletic young lindy hoppers), and the room is typically full of customers from the world over. The legendary 88 year old clarinetist Sol Yaged is featured on a tune each set. Vince is the Toscanini of the evening, conducting our journey through the sublime world of Fletcher Henderson, Paul Whiteman, Louis Armstrong, Bix Beiderbecke, Jelly Roll Morton, and a plethora of songwriters & arrangers: Bill Challis, Raymond Scott, Fats Waller, Irving Berlin. From the downbeat at precisely 8pm to the closing at 11pm, it is truly a world of amazing music & delight. We often have quite well known folks ‘sitting in:’ singers like Michael Feinstein, Nellie McKay, and Daryl Sherman; instrumentalists from around the world; the comedian Micky Freeman; and famous audience members such as cartoonist R. Crumb, a big classic jazz fan.

This particular Monday included all members of what I call the “A Team;” that is, all the first call musicians. (The band hardly suffers when subs come in: John Allred in the trombone chair could not be described as bringing the level down!). Many of these players are quite well known in a variety of genres. Here they are:

Reeds: Dan Block, Dan Levinson, Mark Lopeman

Trumpets: Mike Ponella, Jon-Erik Kellso

Trombone: your humble (ahem!) reporter

Violin/Sax: Andy Stein

Piano: Peter Yarin

Banjo/Guitar: Ken Salvo

Percussion: Arnie Kinsella

Basses/Everything: Vince Giordano

Tuesday August 17: Tuesday daytime may bring a few trombone students to me (in the summer, a handful; during the school year, a full day – if I’m lucky); or an occasional concert in a Connecticut school, with a band called the Cool Cats; then comes a reprise of Monday night. Vince has been working hard since this past June to get a second night established. It’s still the quieter night, and I bet Vince is counting audience members as he’s counting off tunes; but it also can work more as a rehearsal, Vince handing out charts on stage from his vast collection (60,000 in the archives).

At 11:40pm, I’m back on the train from Grand Central Station (busy place, that) to Rye, 25 miles NE of the city, where my wife (sometimes described as “long suffering”) works at a private school, which offers on-campus housing as a benefit for her very hard work. I love the view walking east on 43rd Street, with the Chrysler Building looming over the majestic train terminal. By 12:30am I’m strolling down our very quiet and pretty suburban street, where Peter Cottontail may sometimes be seen munching lettuce in the garden. This particular night a local cop car slows to a stop as I’m walking up to our place. The cop looks me over (trombone, wheelie bag for mutes etc, garment bag with tux), and says, “Ya got everything?” Funny guy. It’s good to know they’re out on the beat. Sometimes I stay “in town,” at the apartment we have in West Harlem (currently also the abode of our eldest daughter, a fervent New Yorker).

Wednesday August 18: Wednesday brings another doubleheader (paydirt for us musos; even better, the rare tripleheader; many years ago I played 4 gigs on the Fourth of July). First the late afternoon session at Birdland, the world famous club on West 44th: David Ostwald’s Louis Armstrong Centennial Band. This long running (10+ years) weekly gig features a rotating roster of the finest trad players in town. Today, in addition to tuba player & leader Osti, I had the pleasure of being on stage with Jon-Erik Kellso (tpt), Anat Cohen (clr), Ehud Asherie (pn), & Marion Felder (dms). Yours truly was the old guy on stage. (I’m trying to get used to that.) David’s bands are some of the most ‘diverse’ in the biz, in terms of not only age but also gender and race. The general lack of diversity can be a slightly touchy issue in the trad jazz arena, so it’s nice to see Osti put together bands that ‘look like America’ – and also swing like crazy! This Wednesday session was a very special one: Dave Bennett, the young clarinet virtuoso from Michigan, sat in, along with a young also sax player (from Russia, I believe; I didn’t catch his name); and in the audience, 91 year old George Avakian, one of the most esteemed figures in jazz history (George has produced hundreds of classic jazz albums).

Then to Brooklyn (by subway), to play again with Bliss Blood, this time with the Moonlighters (20s/30s swing, with a Hawaiian flavor). Bliss’s vocals & uke are joined by Cindy Ball (guitar & impeccable vocal harmonies), Raphael McGregor (lap steel), Rus Wimbish (string bass), & the horn section: me! I love being the only horn player, it’s nice & quiet, with no temptation to engage in technical battles: who can play faster, higher, or more cleverly. As I get older, I feel pleasure in knowing how to add a bit of value to the music, no pyrotechnics, please. I’m trying to play better by playing less. It’s a thrill to learn brand new songs that Bliss and Cindy write. The art form continues to evolve. I also love this venue. The Radegast Beer Hall, a big open space, with fine beer (of course) and hearty German food, is in the heart of Williamsburg, a neighborhood that feels young and vibrant. It restores my faith in humanity when the band is fed so well on the gig! All kinds of bands play here, including several youthful units, such as Gordon Au’s Grand Street Stompers, and the Baby Soda band (which includes trombonist Emily Asher of Mighty Aphrodite Jazz Band fame). Several times folks got up and danced around the bar area, in most cases to our music. Finishing after midnight means arriving back in Harlem close to 2am – fortunately, not driving, which reduces the danger and risk (seriously, everyone who’s been in the music business knows musos who have fallen asleep at the wheel late at night); as long as I don’t sleep through my subway stop and end up in Riverdale (a nice neighborhood, but miles north of my pad).

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It was a great little run of gigs. I feel quite lucky to be able to work with so many interesting people. And if sometimes being the oldest on stage is a bit of a bittersweet experience (I guess I ought to get used to it as “As Time Goes By”), it is certainly encouraging for the future of the music. From long time residents (like drummer Kevin Dorn, born in Manhattan about 30 years ago – his band, the Traditional Jazz Collective, gigs all over town) to those newly arrived, NYC is still, as ever, a magnet for young, ambitious, and hardworking people. A few of the young “immigrants:” trombonist Emily Asher, transplanted from Washington state for a couple of years to get her Masters degree; trumpeter Gordon Au, from California (I should mention Gordon’s very musical family: brothers Justin and Brandon are fine players who have blown with the Titans in Pismo Beach CA, and Uncle Howard Miyata plays a mean tailgate trombone with High Sierra Jazz Band); young trombonist Matt Musselman from Maryland, a recent graduate of Manhattan School of Music, and one of my subs in the Nighthawks (his band is called Grandpa Musselman and His Syncopators); and trumpeter/vocalist Bria Skonberg, due to arrive any second now. There is most definitely a youth movement going on! I wouldn’t know how to advise these young people about putting together an actual living in NYC: this is one tough town to pay your bills in – but somehow they are doing it. Perhaps I should ask them for advice! The total take from my 6 gigs (minus the expenses) will buy a few bags of groceries, pay back the loan for a couple of textbooks for my younger daughter’s college degree, with about $1.13 left for my pension contribution. Guess I can’t retire yet. I’ll get up tomorrow and go off in search of more students and gigs. I know one musician who was heard to say: “Retire! How can I retire? I’ve never had a job!”

I would be remiss if I didn’t also tip my cap to the folks around here who have been promoting the classic jazz scene for many years, such as: Bruce McNichols, musician, impresario, and radio OKOM producer; Jack Kleinsinger, whose “Highlghts In Jazz” series has run for 37 years; the Sidney Bechet Society, which puts on fine concerts in Manhattan; New Jersey folks like Bruce Gast & the New Jersey Jazz Society; Connecticut jazzers who put together the Hot Steamed Festival and the Great Connecticut Traditional Jazz Festival; & radio hosts such as Rich Conaty on WFUV-FM and Phil Schaap on WKCR-FM. Youth combined with Experience will carry the day for the music we love!

Jim Fryer

August 2010

For more info:  www.jfryer.com, www.terrywaldo.com, www.blissblood.com, www.myspace.com/vincegiordanothenighthawks, http://www.ostwaldjazz.com/., www.coolcatjazz.info,