Tag Archives: rhythm ballad

A FEW WORDS ABOUT ART METRANO, THEN THREE CHORUSES OF BEAUTY: JAMES DAPOGNY at the PIANO (Cleveland Classic Jazz Party, Sept. 16, 2016)

James Dapogny at Jazz at Chautauqua, September 2014. Photograph by Michael Steinman.

Jim Dapogny’s absence in my world is a tangible thing, as solid as any object I might stumble over or into on my path through my hours.  But his presence is even more solid: his voice, his gestures, his puckish surprising off-handed self.  And the sounds he created at the piano, a simple phrase articulated so memorably that the notes sound like a joke for us.  I bless recording equipment: imagine if Jim had been Buddy Petit, someone recalled but never heard.

At fast tempos, Jim’s playing was raucous, exact, and astonishing: here comes the band!  I knew it would take a lifetime of concentrated practice to come close to a bad imitation of what he could do, so my reaction was always, “Did you hear what he just did there?”  On a slow blues or a rhythm ballad, he created the momentary illusion: I would think, “I could do that if I really worked at it,” which of course was a delusion, but Jim was, in his own way, strolling along in the way Bing sang.  As Fats told Joe Bushkin, “It’s so easy when you know how.”

Jim knew how.

Here he is, very relaxed, at the piano at one of the short solo interludes that were a delight at the Cleveland Classic Jazz Party: the piano situated informally in a large open area, a small attentive quiet audience.  I knew I was in the presence of something and someone magical: I hope everyone felt as I did.  And do.

This video begins with the tail of Jim’s previous performance of musings on FINE AND DANDY, rather like a glimpse of a cat going in to another room.  (I hope to be able to share those musings someday.)  And what follows is playing that sounds like relaxed speech or song, but is anything but easy.  It’s a 1938 rhythm ballad, IF I WERE YOU, which Billie and others sang, and I think of it as a Brill Building song coming from a familiar phrase, as so many did.

The first sixteen bars might seem only a straight exposition of the melody, stated clearly in bright colors.  But listen to the sound, Jim’s definite but never abrupt attack, his touch, and then, as he begins to explore the bridge, even more shadings emerge. His distinctive harmonic flavorings, the elasticity of his time (the way his left hand is steadily keeping the danceable tempo while the rhythmic placements of his single notes and chords is not locked in to four-beats to the bar), the very slight grace-note dissonances that are here and gone.  There’s enough in that “straight” first chorus to keep me happy for years.

The second chorus is freer, more expansive, although the melodic thread isn’t lost in the suspensions, the hesitations between chords, the sweet emphases.  In the manner of the greatest players (think Morton, Louis, Sullivan, Hodges) Jim plays a phrase, considers it, plays a variation on that phrase, and then another, before moving on to the next idea — we see the structures being sketched in the air before the artist’s hand moves on.  In real life, as I wrote above, I would be thinking, “WHAT was that?”  Thank goodness for video: I can return, and you can too, to examine a particular aural jewel.  The bridge of the second chorus, for example — four-dimensional tap dancing.

The third chorus seems more abstract, with dancing single-note lines, but Jim tenderly returns to melodic cadences as if embracing an old friend once again.  Catch the rocking-rowboat phrase with which he ends the bridge, and the gentle tag with which the whole performance closes.

A quiet marvel, and he performed like this for more than fifty years.  How fortunate we are that we shared the planet with Professor Dapogny:

I imagine a reverent pause here.  You will have to create one for yourselves, or perhaps play this video over again.

A conversation with Jim was always animated by reminiscences of some fairly obscure comedian’s bit, a theatrical world rather than “a joke” — re-enacted at the table, over the lamb vindaloo, so here are two brief videos devoted to the remarkable Art Metrano, whom Jim delights in at the start of his performance:

Moving Art closer to current times — he is still with us, at 83:

This posting is for Jim, the complex marvel whom some of us got to know and others simply can hear, and for those of us who miss him deeply.  You know who you are.

May your happiness increase!

THE ART OF THE RHYTHM BALLAD: MARTY GROSZ, DAN BARRETT, ROSSANO SPORTIELLO, HOWARD ALDEN, DAN BLOCK, KERRY LEWIS, PETE SIERS (Jazz at Chautauqua, September 21, 2012)

We all know what a ballad is — a rhapsodic experience, possibly melancholy, played or sung slowly.  But a “rhythm ballad” is something created in the Thirties: a sweet ballad played at a danceable tempo, so that you and your honey could swoon while doing those steps you had practiced at home.  Even when the lyrics described heartbreak, those performances had a distinct pulse, or as Marty Grosz says below, “I gotta wake up.”  Here are some moving examples of the form, performed during the closing ballad medley at Jazz at Chautauqua in September 2012.  First, Marty evokes 1931 Bing Crosby, then Rossano Sportiello honors Hoagy Carmichael, and Dan Barrett tenderly expresses a wish for gentle romantic possession:

Howard Alden’s melodic exposition of an early-Fifties pop hit:

Finally, Dan Block — incapable of playing dull notes — woos us in a Johnny Hodges reverie over imagined real estate:

It’s appropriate that this post begins with THANKS — words cannot convey my gratitude to these artists who continue to enrich our lives.  And I am particularly grateful to those who allowed me to aim a camera at them . . . so that we can all enjoy the results.

May your happiness increase!

GROOVIN’ NOBLY: HOWARD ALDEN, DAN BARRETT, HARRY ALLEN, FRANK TATE, RICKY MALICHI (Sept. 11, 2015)

I think we might need to know more about the wonderfully talented Ray Noble — not only as bandleader, arranger, radio comedian, actor, occasional pianist — but as a composer: think of CHEROKEE, HANDS ACROSS THE TABLE, THE VERY THOUGHT OF YOU, and many others written and co-written by this rather elegantly sedate-looking man:

Ray Noble

One of his evocative songs is THE TOUCH OF YOUR LIPS, which lends itself to many treatments — vocally and instrumentally:

Touch of Your Lips

But here I can offer you a sweetly swaying treatment of the song as a “rhythm ballad,” where sentiment and swing co-exist very pleasingly.  This performance took place at the Allegheny Jazz Party on September 11, 2015: the magical strollers are Howard Alden, guitar; Dan Barrett, trombone; Harry Allen, tenor saxophone; Frank Tate, string bass; Ricky Malichi, drums:

And here is this band’s version of Coleman Hawkins’ STUFFY, which preceded TOUCH in the same set.  Perhaps we’ll meet at this year’s Cleveland Classic Jazz Party (September 15-18) where such good music is created so easily.

And a linguistic after-dinner mint of the highest order.  My dear friend Sarah Spencer presented me with this little verbal gift some months ago, that she learned from the gracious and generous musician (piano and reeds) Gene Riordan: that Louis retitled this song THE LOP OF YOUR CHOPS.  After that, nothing more need be said.

May your happiness increase!

MAGICALLY EVOCATIVE: GLENN CRYTZER’S SAVOY SEVEN: “UPTOWN JUMP”

Crytzer 5 15

Guitarist / singer / composer / arranger Glenn Crytzer has done something remarkable on his latest CD, UPTOWN JUMP.  Rather than simply offer effective copies of known jazz recordings, he has created eighteen convincing evocations of a vanished time and place.  So convincing are they, I believe, that if I were to play a track from another room to erudite hearers, they would believe they were hearing an unissued recording from 1943-46.

GC UPTOWN JUMP

New York’s finest: Glenn, guitar, arranger, composer, vocals; Mike Davis, trumpet; Dan Levinson, soprano, alto, tenor saxophone; Evan Arntzen, clarinet, tenor saxophone; Jesse Gelber, piano; Andrew Hall, string bass; Kevin Dorn, drums.  Recorded this year at Peter Karl Studios (thanks, Peter, for the lively sound!)

Here’s one of Glenn’s originals on the CD, MISSOURI LOVES COMPANY, in performance — video by Voon Chew:

Of course there is explosively fine soloing on the CD — given this cast of characters, I’d expect nothing less.  But what particularly impressed me is Glenn’s ability to evoke the subtleties of the period.  I hear evocations of a particular time and place: let’s call it a Savoy Records session from 1944, with Emmett Berry, two or three saxophones (Ike Quebec, Eddie Barefield, Foots Thomas); a rocking rhythm section with allegiances to Basie, Pete Johnson, Tiny Grimes, Bass Robinson, Eddie Dougherty, Specs Powell.  Then there’s his evocation of the incendiary blues playing that closes JAMMIN’ THE BLUES. And a whimsical post-1943 Fats Waller love song (WHAT DID I DO?) complete with the leader’s wry vocal.

A few more random and delighted listening notes.

UPTOWN JUMP begins with a wild clarinet – drum duet that I would have expected to hear on a V-Disc; NOT FAR TO FARGO has the grit of an Ike Quebec Blue Note side; IT’S ABOUT TIME (which begins with Kevin Dorn ticking off the eroding seconds) would be a perfect dance number for a Soundie, with a hilariously hip vocal by the composer.  Mike Davis has been studying his Cootie (he gets an A+) on THE ROAD TO TALLAHASSEE, which has a delightful easy glide.  SMOKIN’ THAT WEED is the reefer song — with falsetto vocal chorus effects — that every idiomatic CD or party needs.  And Mike’s solo is full of those “modern” chords that were beginning to be part of the vocabulary in wartime.  MRAH! shows Glenn’s affection for the possibilities of the John Kirby sound, which I celebrate.  THAT ZOMBIE MUSIC depicts the illicit union of Kirby and Spike Jones.  COULD THIS BE LOVE? is a winning hybrid — a rhythm ballad with winsome lyrics, voiced as if for a Johnny Guarneri session, with some of that Gillespie “Chinese music” stealing in.  THE LENOX would get the dancers rocking at The Track.  GOOD NIGHT, GOOD LUCK is that antique cameo: the song to send the audience home with sweet memories.

If it sounds as if I had a wonderful time listening to this CD, you have been reading closely and wisely.

More reliable than time-travel; more trustworthy than visits to an alternate universe.

The nicest way to buy an artist’s CD is to put money in his / her hand at the gig, so here is the link to Glenn’s calendar . . . to catch up with him.  But if you’re far away, this makes purchasing or downloading the music easy.

May your happiness increase!

ROMANTIC SWING: TIM LAUGHLIN, CONNIE JONES, DOUG FINKE, CHRIS DAWSON, KATIE CAVERA, MARTY EGGERS, HAL SMITH (San Diego Jazz Fest, Nov. 30, 2014)

Here is an endearing  favorite — and a rare song, a beautiful “rhythm ballad” in the best style, a superb band, echoing Louis . . . I don’t want anything more than this.

The song,to give it its full title, is WAS I TO BLAME FOR FALLING IN LOVE WITH YOU?  But — rather like WHAT CAN I SAY, DEAR, AFTER I SAY I’M SORRY — the title gets split in two.  When Louis recorded it in 1935, very early in his Decca contract, it was called FALLING IN LOVE WITH YOU — and the composers are Victor Young, Newman or Neuman, and Gus Kahn. An online source says the song goes back to 1932, and “M. Neuman” is really a pseudonym for Chester Conn.  I leave such matters to better researchers, and say only that I’ve never seen a copy of the sheet music.  But my hypothesis is that if Louis was handed a song with this title, written by Victor Young and Gus Kahn, he would have been interested in it.  Or perhaps he heard it on the radio and his deep romanticism was stirred.  We don’t know, but his performance is inspiring.  (You can search it out on YouTube at your leisure, as well as a a later homage by Ruby Braff.)

But my delight is to offer you this twenty-first century version by some Masters of Romantic Swing, recorded on November 30, 2014, at the San Diego Jazz Fest — Tim Laughlin, clarinet; Connie Jones, cornet; Doug Finke, trombone; Chris Dawson, piano; Katie Cavera, guitar; Marty Eggers, string bass; Hal Smith, drums:

I could write at length about the beauties of this performance, but I will point out only the deep love of melody, the subtle flow of the rhythm section, the individual sounds of each soloist, the use of space, the new melodies created. All delicate and purposeful at the same time.  Bless these artists.  They so generously bless us.

May your happiness increase!

DEEP FEELING WITHOUT WORDS: JAMES DAPOGNY WITH STRINGS (Ann Arbor, January 10, 2015)

Here’s another gem — the rueful Thirties novella of love, that although ended, is undying — THAT OLD FEELING.  This performance, which I find so moving, comes from the appearance of the James Dapogny Quartet at the Kerrytown Concert House in Ann Arbor, Michigan, on January 10, 2015 — captured for us by Laura Beth Wyman.

The Quartet is, for this occasion, Professor Dapogny on piano, arrangements, and moral guidance; Mike Karoub, cello; Rod McDonald, guitar; Kurt Krahnke, string bass.

I love this performance for many reasons — not the least of which is the opportunity to hear Mister Karoub, unequalled in swing lyricism, play at length. There’s also the sweet but practical exchange of whispered instructions and commentary at the beginning, as the Professor kindly shows the way.  But what pleases me most is the emotional complexity of the performance.  In other hands, THAT OLD FEELING might be merely sad or wistful.

That emotion isn’t neglected in this rendition, but the Quartet beautifully evokes the Thirties tradition of playing ballads just a bit faster — perhaps to distinguish them from sweetly gelatinous readings by more staid orchestras, or perhaps to give the players an extra chorus for improvising.  I think of Billie’s TRAV’LIN’ ALL ALONE and Mildred’s WHEN DAY IS DONE as two vocal exemplars — but even though no words are uttered, listeners of a certain age will hear the story of the lyrics unfold as the band plays.

Old feelings made new:

Two other delights from this session can be found here.  And there is the promise of more from this concert.

May your happiness increase!

MEET ME AT THE CORNER OF SWING AND LOVE: DUKE HEITGER and DAN BLOCK PLAY RHYTHM BALLADS (Jazz at Chautauqua, Sept. 23, 2012)

Before the tempos in jazz became so severely divided into Very Fast and Less Fast, there was a beautiful land known as Medium Tempo — a Canaan of Swing.  In this land, there were infinite shadings and subtleties, and one of the most rewarding emotional expressions was something called — by those who knew — the Rhythm Ballad.  It wasn’t BODY AND SOUL played at the speed of maple syrup and then double-timed; it was a slow medium with a real pulse, the best way to play love songs that the dancers could still move to.  Rhythm ballads are often neglected these days, but here are two very touching examples taken from the last session of the 2012 Jazz at Chautauqua.  The rhythm section is Pete Siers, drums; Kerry Lewis, string bass; Marty Grosz, guitar; Rossano Sportiello, piano . . . which for me would be enough delight.  But then we have two poets — Duke Heitger creating beautiful visions out of WHEN DAY IS DONE (a song of sweet longing for one who is missed), followed by Dan Block, building the most ethereal castles-in-the-air for PENTHOUSE SERENADE, which is subtitled WHEN WE’RE ALONE, and celebrates sweet intimacy — something that can’t be rushed, either.

I imagine — or I hope — that some readers of JAZZ LIVES will turn away from the computer and say, “Honey?  Come over here right now.  Put down that screwdriver / iPhone / spatula and let’s dance.”

This one’s for Louis and Johnny Hodges, for my Beloved, and for yours, too.

May your happiness increase.

SWING MASTERS: BECKY KILGORE and FRIENDS at DIXIELAND MONTEREY (March 5, 2011)

I’ve admired Becky Kilgore’s singing and grace for some years now: her creamy voice, her understated, convincing dramatic sense, her innate swing.  And although she is poised, she is also a great chance-taking improviser, someone able to abandon herself to the song, shining her light through it, letting it reveal its beauties to us.

At Dixieland Monterey, she was most often joined by the noble members of her Quartet: Dan Barrett on trombone, vocals, and piano; Eddie Erickson on banjo, guitar, and vocals; Joel Forbes on string bass.

But there came a time when a few more pals — old and new — crept onto the stage to create a lovely little jazz party within the jazz party: Carl Sonny Leyland, rocking piano man; Bryan Shaw, trumpet wizard; Jeff Hamilton, drum stylist.

I am thrilled to be able to share some of the music created that evening with my readers.  It is a special pleasure — everyone was so happy and relaxed, witty and swinging.  Propulsive and gentle, masterful and casual: the great art that is a matter of skill, practice, nonchalance, and relaxation.

Let’s begin with I’M GOING TO SIT RIGHT DOWN AND WRITE MYSELF A LETTER that swings so persuasively from the first note — and Becky gets herself up on the streamline train without spilling her coffee!  Hear the horns and that rhythm section — eloquent and easy.

I would like my friends to use this clip as a Blindfold Test.  Say, for instance, you have friends who “don’t like jazz,” or “don’t get that old jazz,” or find “Dixieland” boring.  Let them hear this — without naming anyone’s name or explaining a thing.  Then ask, “Does that make you feel good?”  Let them get into the absolutely impromptu Kilgore – Hamilton discussion: it makes everyone on stage feel BETTER!

(Musicians’ in-joke: this song is sometimes called I’M GOING TO  SIT RIGHT DOWN AND KNIT MYSELF A SWEATER, but the weather is warming up rapidly, even in Farmer City, Illinois, so a letter might be all that was needed.)

HARD-HEARTED HANNAH comes from the intersection of vaudeville, pop music, and hot improvisation.  Once she’s been properly attired in Guitar, she treats the hyperbolic lyrics with just the right mixture of amusement and seriousness.  And, dear viewers, look how happy everyone on that stand is!  That isn’t always the case, and it is meaningful — a tribute to the easy grace of all concerned.  The interplay between Dan and Bryan is priceless (think of Teagarden and Davison, please?) over that splendidly-swinging Vanguard Records rhythm section (could someone direct me to the Reno Club or the Famous Door, 1938?).  Eddie digs deep into his stash of bent notes and witty banjo run before Dan decides to let us know all about the verse — in his upper register, but we get the point!  And Becky rocks us out through the rather gruesome lyrics (she is a stellar musical comedienne, isn’t she, in the great tradition?):

Although both Eddie Erickson and Thomas Waller are usually associated with hi-jinks and romping jazz, both of them shared a deep yearning tenderness.  (Hear Fats’ late recording of I’LL NEVER SMILE AGAIN if you need proof.)  Eddie is often asked to make people laugh, but his first vocal chorus is a sweet, feeling masterpiece in miniature — followed by Dan’s Dickensonian ruminations on the theme and Carl’s special mixture of Fats, Pete Johnson, and Jess Stacy, to great effect.  After Joel’s deep-down chorus, the key changes so that Becky can come in and float over the band.  She’s more than believable: the embodiment of tender commitment!

Even if you had left all your mischief behind, you might have to take a fast train to see your Beloved — and Carl Sonny Leyland, Joel Forbes, and Jeff Hamilton show us how with an easy but intense HONKY TONK TRAIN BLUES, with its own deep swinging pulse:

Less expert musicians would have tried to top the HONKY TONK TRAIN with something faster and louder — but not this group.  Becky chooses ALL OF ME, which (since 1931) has been turned into a jaunty offering.  But it’s really a song of near-romantic immolation: let me take myself apart to offer the pieces and the totality to you, as complete tribute to you and love.

She never sounds soggy or self-pitying, but she offers the imagined hearer and the audience her entire being.  Eddie’s chiming guitar solo doesn’t lose the mood (and Jeff’s cymbals are just-right commentary); Dan plays around wtih the opening phrase of the song in the best singing Benny Morton tradition, handing off to Carl (who is ornate without a superfluous note).  Becky, soaring and crooning, improvising without smudging a note or a word, is absolutely compelling without seeming to strain even the smallest muscle.  A perfect rhythm ballad and dramatic utterance:

I think it was an honor to be in that audience, a stroke of good fortune to have my video camera, and a privilege to be able to share this music with the readers of JAZZ LIVES.

These video performances were made possible by the editorial stewardship and support of the Shuzzit Charitable Trust.  JAZZ LIVES thanks to the SCT and to all the artists for performing as they did and do!

OH, SHAKE THAT THING!  CLICK HERE TO GIVE SOMETHING BACK TO THE MUSICIANS YOU SEE IN THESE VIDEOS (ALL MONEY COLLECTED GOES TO THEM):

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MICHAEL KANAN / JOEL PRESS: “THESE FOOLISH THINGS” (June 29, 2010)

I’m very moved by the performance you are about to see, and I feel fortunate to have been there to capture it: this comes from tenor saxophonist Joel Press’s gig at Smalls (138 West 10th Street) as a member of the Michael Kanan Quartet — with bassist Pat O’Leary and drummer Joe Hunt. 

For seven-and-a-half minutes, they explore THESE FOOLISH THINGS in the most gently questing way.  In the late Twenties (perhaps beginning with Bix and Tram) jazz players invented the “rhythm ballad,” a sweet melody taken at a slowly pulsing tempo.  (This song carries with it memories of Billie and Lester and Nat Cole, of course.) 

Michael, Joel, Pat, and Joe carry on the tradition here.  They honor the essential thread of emotion — this is, after all, a song about remembering love gone away — but they never get bogged down in it.  Michael’s introduction, delicately evoking players like Ellis Larkins, prepares us for an inquisitive duet, where he and Joel state the melody, exchange thoughtful comments on it, test it out, and then are joined by the quartet.  Joel, as always, speaks within and beyond the melody, with a casual seeming-simplicity that one does not grow into quickly.  Michael’s solo, never frivolous, smbodies the pleasure of a mature improviser who knows what it is to play.   Pat and Joe, listening as always, keep everything beautifully moving forward. 

Art like this doesn’t grow stale: