Tag Archives: Richard Rodgers

FIVE BY FIVE (Part Two): JOE PLOWMAN and his PHILADELPHIANS at the 1867 SANCTUARY: JOE PLOWMAN, DANNY TOBIAS, JOE McDONOUGH, SILAS IRVINE, DAVE SANDERS (February 8, 2020)

This is the second half of a wonderful afternoon concert that took place at the 1867 Sanctuary in Ewing, New Jersey — Joe Plowman and his Philadelphians, featuring Joe on string bass; Danny Tobias on trumpet, flugelhorn, and Eb alto horn; Joe McDonough on trombone; Silas Irvine on piano; Dave Sanders on guitar.

You can enjoy the first half here — the songs performed are COTTON TAIL, WHO CARES?, JUST ONE OF THOSE THINGS, SUNNY SIDE OF THE STREET, and THE SONG IS ENDED.

And below you can hear and see performances of MY FUNNY VALENTINE, WHY DO I LOVE YOU?, THE FRUIT, WHAT’LL I DO?, and I NEVER KNEW.

When everything is once again calm, you might make a trip to the Sanctuary (101 Scotch Road in Ewing) for their multi-musical concert series: it is a lovely place.  But the vibrations in that room were particularly lovely on February 8, 2020.

Since it was less than a week before Valentine’s Day, Richard Rodgers’ MY FUNNY VALENTINE was not only appropriate but imperative: Danny offered it (with the seldom-played verse) on flugelhorn:

Jerome Kern’s WHY DO I LOVE YOU? — following the amorous thread — was another feature for the melodic Joe McDonough  — with beautiful support from Messrs. Sanders and Irvine in addition to the leader:

Joe (Plowman, that is) explored Bud Powell’s twisting THE FRUIT with Silas right alongside him at every turn:

Irving Berlin’s mournful elegy, WHAT’LL I DO? reassembled the quintet:

And a final jam on I NEVER KNEW — a song musicians have loved to play since the early Thirties — closed the program:

Beautiful, inspiring music: thanks to this quintet and Bob and Helen Kull of the     1867 Sanctuary.

May your happiness increase!

“I’M WISE TO ALL THOSE TRICKS YOU PLAYED ON ME”: LUCY YEGHIAZARYAN SINGS AT MEZZROW (Stefan Vasnier, Vincent Dupont, Greg Ruggiero: January 28, 2020)

I admire the art of Lucy Yeghiazaryan — learn more here — and I am not alone.

Here are two more wonderful performances by Lucy, with pianist Stefan Vasnier, string bassist Vincent Dupont, and guitarist Greg Ruggiero — created at Mezzrow on her late-Tuesday set, January 28, 2020.  (If you missed her passionate PRISONER OF LOVE, here is that remarkable experience.)

“Happiness writes in white ink on a white page,” says Henry de Montherlant, and the ache of failed love has been a fertile subject for songwriters — much more than the Twenties’ optimism of “My baby and me are getting married in June.”

In PRISONER OF LOVE, the singer speaks of being “too weak to break the chains that bind me,” where the jail term sounds like a life sentence.  THE GENTLEMAN IS A DOPE, lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II, music by Richard Rodgers, from the 1947 show ALLEGRO, has a much more arch premise, mixing yearning and derision: the one I adore is too stupid to notice my love:

That lover is still stuck in mid-passion, but the protagonist of I’M GONNA LOCK MY HEART (AND THROW AWAY THE KEY) aims a declaration of independence right at the faithless, treacherous partner, in this 1938 Jimmy Eaton-Terry Shand song associated with Billie Holiday:

Thankfully, Lucy and friends are gigging here and there (“follow her on Facebook,” as they say) but the next Mezzrow appearance will be Tuesday, February 25.  I plan to be there, perhaps at that same second table on the left.

May your happiness increase!

“LOVE SAID ‘HELLO!'”: YAALA BALLIN and MICHAEL KANAN at MEZZROW (December 11, 2019)

Yaala Ballin and Michael Kanan at Mezzrow, by Naama Gheber.

My friends and musical heroes, Yaala Ballin and Michael Kanan, returned to Mezzrow on December 11, 2019, for another evening of glorious songs, selected by the audience, as Yaala explains in the second video.  They call this “show of surprises” “The Great American Songbook, Requested,” and it is a consistent offering of joys.

But first, the Gershwins’ LOVE WALKED IN:

and for those new to Yaala and Michael’s playful plan-and-not-plan for their evening, Yaala explains it all while Michael quietly explores I’VE GOT THE WORLD ON A STRING:

THE MAN I LOVE has been performed so often that when someone launches into it I feel a little world-weary, “Oh, not that again.”  But I find this version completely compelling and emotionally plausible.  It is their teamwork, Michael’s palette of colors and textures, Yaala’s playful but deep speech-cadences.  Their performance has emotional ardor but is never “dramatic” for the sake of drama:

On with the dance, the dance of affection shared– Berlin’s CHEEK TO CHEEK, so beautifully begun and continued.  But first, Yaala tells a tale:

STAIRWAY TO THE STARS, Matty Malneck and Frank Signorelli, full of hope.  Please savor Michael’s solo chorus, his light and shadows:

The Gershwins’ OUR LOVE IS HERE TO STAY:

and Ellington’s I LET A SONG GO OUT OF MY HEART:

This is only the first part of a completely satisfying evening — with fourteen more songs delicately and ardently reinvented for us.  If you missed this December tasting menu, don’t despair: Yaala and Michael will be performing again for Valentine’s Day at St. John’s in the Village on Eleventh Street: details to come.

May your happiness increase!

LIGHT-HEARTED MELODIC DANCES: ALEX LEVIN TRIO, “A SUNDAY KIND OF LOVE” (ALEX LEVIN, PHIL ROWAN, BEN CLINESS)

I gravitate towards music that welcomes me in.  I approve of melodies.  I even love them, and I love those that I remember.  There!  I’ve said it.

And the pianist Alex Levin has the same affectionate relations with song: he’s not a prisoner of the written notes, but he respects what the composer has created, and his own original compositions have the gamboling pleasure of the great songs that some of us still hum in the car or in the grocery-store line.

I first heard (and heard of) Alex almost a decade ago, when he released his first CD, which I liked a great deal: you can read my review here.

And I like Alex’s new CD even more.

Here’s what I wrote, offhandedly, after hearing only two or three tracks through my computer’s speakers.

Some ninety years ago, jazz began to position itself as the delinquent of music.  In opposition to all those sweet bands with violins, playing the melody in harmony, tied to the notes in front of them, jazz took a puff on its Marlboro, abruptly stood up from its seat (frightening the kittens) and made unpredictable sounds.  That was HOT, a spiritual barrage against the apparent dullness of SWEET.  And jazz listeners followed the narrow often unmarked ideological path: think of all those 78s whose grooves remain black, shiny, unplayed except for the eight bars of Bix or Purvis or Jack.  Sweet was for Aunt Martha; hot was for rebellious enlightened  outsiders.  It created a pervasive false dichotomy: if you could hear the melody, was it true improvisation? 

And — to oversimplify (because Bird and Trane could play melodically with great art) jazz aimed at abstraction, sharp edges and magical paths into the labyrinth.  Thus, so many listeners tell themselves and others that they don’t understand jazz, as if  it became a subject one had to study for to pass the final.

But the great players and singers knew and still know that melody is at the heart of any musical expression, and that “sweetness” was, in itself, a goal rather than a trap.  Think of Lester Young, “I don’t like a whole lot of noise — trumpets and trombones…I’m looking for something soft. It’s got to be sweetness, man, you dig?”

It is in this spirit of an apparent conservatism that becomes radical that I commend to you Alex Levin’s new trio CD, A SUNDAY KIND OF LOVE, where the trio does more than glue themselves to the written notes, but they treat melodies with love and respect . . . the result being quietly affecting swing playing of the highest order.  Some might not be able to hear the lights and shadows, preferring instead the sounds of the piano dropped to the street below, but that would be their loss.

Because readers are sometimes hurried, you can hear samples, download the music, or purchase a CD here.  And I caution the unwary listener to not jump to conclusions: “It sounds too easy,” for as that great master of contemporary jazz, Ovid, was fond of saying, ars est celare artem [he recorded it for Clef], which Monk transposed into “Simple ain’t easy.”

Now back to our regularly scheduled basket of prose.

I left off there, because Life (the hussy) interfered, with her racket of parking tickets, laundry, dinner, recycling, and more — make your own list.  But I came back and listened to the CD in a sitting, my enthusiasm just as strong.

Some facts.  Alex, who has a light touch on a well-recorded piano, is accompanied — in the truest sense of the word — by the fine string bassist Phil Rowan and drummer Ben Cliness.  And they have the ease, intuitive comfort, and wit one would expect from a working band: they catch each other’s signals without having to be told to turn the page.  incidentally, I’ve seen a review of this CD calling it “modern” and “clever.”  I can’t argue with those terms, but to me it seems “heartfelt” and “playful,” which qualities are audible.

Alex has divided the repertoire on this disc between standards that, for the most part, got their greatest exposure in the Fifties: the title track (which, for those of us over fifty, has a yearning nostalgia — rather like THE THINGS WE DID LAST SUMMER — even though my adolescence came later), SURREY WITH THE FRINGE ON TOP, THE BEST THING FOR YOU (Would Be Me), WHAT IS THIS THING CALLED LOVE? and I’VE TOLD EV’RY LITTLE STAR — which, for the purists in the audience, is a much older composition, but I would guess most memorably allied with jazz because of Sonny Rollins (although Annie Ross, Marian McPartland, and others returned to it).

And of course one could say, “There are a million piano trio recordings that draw on Rodgers, Berlin, Porter, and Kern,” but the other five tracks — all Levin originals — SWEETS, THE JETSETTERS, BLUES FOR WYNTON K., AT LEAST WE’RE TOGETHER, STROLLING THROUGH YONKERS — are strong jazz compositions on their own, with one foot delicately poised in the past, Alex not trying to hide that his heart belongs to 1956 Prestige, but moving around happily in this century.  His songs ARE songs rather than lines over slightly modified chord progressions; they have the breath of life rather than the aroma of the Xerox machine.

Convinced?  It’s music that befriends the listener, which is sometimes rare.  Hear for yourself here, and then download or purchase, as the spirit moves you.

May your happiness increase!

WELCOMING SOUNDS: “STRIKE UP THE BAND”: RICKY ALEXANDER (with MARTINA DaSILVA, JAMES CHIRILLO, ROB ADKINS, ANDREW MILLAR)

Ricky Alexander, saxophonist and clarinetist, holding up his debut CD, July 2019. Photograph by Nina Galicheva.

This Youngblood can play — but he doesn’t wallop us over our heads with his talent.  To quote Billie Holiday, recommending a young Jimmie Rowles to a skeptical Lester Young, “Boy can blow!”

Ricky Alexander is an impressive and subtle musician, someone I’ve admired at a variety of gigs, fitting in beautifully whatever the band is (Jon DeLucia’s Octet, Gordon Au’s Grand Street Stompers, The New Wonders, at The Ear Inn, and more) — swing dances, big bands, jam sessions.

I particularly cherish his sweetly understated approach: he loves melody and swing, which is rarer than you might think: youthful musicians in this century are sometimes prisoners of their technique, with the need to show off the chord extensions and substitutions they’ve learned in dutiful hours in the woodshed, even if the woodshed is a room in a Brooklyn walk-up.  The analogy for me is the novice cook who loves paprika and then ruins a recipe by adding tablespoons of it.  In jazz terms, Ricky’s opposite is the young saxophonist whose debut self-produced CD is a suite of his own original compositions on the theme of Chernobyl, each a solo of more than ten minutes.  Perhaps noble but certainly a different approach to this art form.

Ricky tenderly embraces a song and its guiding emotions.  He has his own gentle sound and identity.  Hear his version of Porter’s AFTER YOU, WHO?:

If readers turn away from this music as insufficiently “innovative,” or thinks it doesn’t challenge the listener enough, I would ask them to listen again, deeply: the art of making melody sing is deeper and more difficult than playing many notes at a rapid tempo.  And youthful Mr. Alexander has a real imagination (and a sly wit: the lovers in this Porter song are on the edge of finding a small hotel — run by Dick and Larry — to increase their bliss, in case you didn’t notice).

His music is sweet but not trivial or shallow: hear his sensitive reading of I’VE GOT A RIGHT TO SING THE BLUES for one example.  And he quietly shows off a real talent at composition: on first hearing, I thought his I KNEW I LOVED YOU was perhaps an obscure Harry Warren song.

Ricky’s also commendably egalitarian: he shares the space with guitarist James Chirillo, string bassist Rob Adkins, drummer Andrew Millar, and the colorful singer Martina DaSilva, who improvises on several selections to great effect.  As well as those I’ve commented on above, the repertoire is mainly songs with deep melodic cores: WHERE OR WHEN, A KISS TO BUILD A DREAM ON, I CAN’T GET STARTED, SKYLARK (as a light-hearted bossa nova), STRIKE UP THE BAND, with several now fairly-obscure delights: THE LADY’S IN LOVE WITH YOU, AND THE ANGELS SING, and a particular favorite from the 1935 hit parade, YOU HIT THE SPOT by Gordon and Revel.

STRIKE UP THE BAND is a model of how artists might represent themselves on disc.  Like Ricky, this effort is gracious, welcoming, friendly: listeners are encouraged to make themselves at home, given the best seat on the couch.  It’s smooth without being “smooth jazz”; it has no post-modern rough edges on which listeners will lacerate themselves.  And although Ricky often gigs with groups dedicated to older styles, this is no trip to the museum: rather, it’s warm living music.

I’m told that it can be streamed and downloaded in all the usual places, and that an lp record is in the works.  For those who wish to learn more and purchase STRIKE UP THE BAND, visit here.  If you know Ricky, the gently lovely character of this CD will be no surprise; if he’s new to you, you have made a rewarding musical friend, who has songs to sing to us.

May your happiness increase!

ONE ROOM, BRIGHT AND NEAT

It doesn’t have to be Valentine’s Day for you to consider a brief vacation.  With luck, the holiday bills have settled and since it’s still some time until Spring, JAZZ LIVES proposes a weekend getaway to those readers who can do it.  The soundtrack is by Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart, and the sweet rendition is by Bobby Hackett from a 1944-5 Eddie Condon concert:

Since it would be a nearly criminal omission to share a purely instrumental version, all respects to Bobby and Dick Cary (although I think the pianist is Gene Schroeder), here is a recording when the song was new:

The wishing well isn’t mandatory: one can have a weekend getaway at home simply by shutting down one’s smartphone and sleeping later, ideally next to someone friendly.  That part you will have to improvise for yourselves.  And if you are solitary by choice, remember that Hart’s lyrics say very clearly, “Who wants people?”  But having a Bobby Hackett soundtrack can convert the most banal place into a sweet hotel room with a distant steeple.

May your happiness increase!

TENDERLY SWINGING: GUILLEM ARNEDO, MICHAEL KANAN, CELESTE ALIAS, JAUME LLOMBART, JORGE ROSSY, DEE JAY FOSTER: “LET’S SING O. HAMMERSTEIN II”

Eighty years ago, jazz fans — that small ferocious bunch — were often parochial in the extreme: “How good could X could be if we’ve never heard of them before?” “How good could they be if they were born someplace that wasn’t New Orleans, New York, Chicago?”

But that attitude vanished, I hope, long before the internet made swinging international relations not only plausible but a fact of life.  (I admit that parochialism exists in 2018 in subtler forms: “How good could she be?  She doesn’t have any YouTube videos or a Facebook page!” but let us close our eyes and wait for that spasm to pass.)

I had not heard of drummer / bandleader Guillem Arnedo before 2017 — but since he came with the recommendation of pianist-hero Michael Kanan, I knew he would be more than OK.  Michael has splendid taste.

And when I heard the CD, LET’S SING OSCAR HAMMERSTEIN II, I was delighted.  But first, let me offer some of the delicate, sweetly energized music that Guillem and friends create.  And credit the musicians: Guillem, drums; Celeste Alias, vocals; Michael Kanan, piano; Jaume Llombart, guitar; Jorge Rossy, vibes / marimba; Dee Jay Foster, string bass.

PEOPLE WILL SAY WE’RE IN LOVE:

OUT OF MY DREAMS:

I think that is wonderful music: light-hearted and deeply felt all at once.  The songs are HAPPY TALK / THE SURREY WITH THE FRINGE ON TOP / MAKE BELIEVE / SOME ENCHANTED EVENING / WE KISS IN A SHADOW / MARCH OF THE SIAMESE CHILDREN / GETTING TO KNOW YOU / MY LORD AND MASTER / PEOPLE WILL SAY WE’RE IN LOVE / OUT OF MY DREAMS / BALI HAI / BILL / CAN’T HELP LOVIN’ DAT MAN / THIS NEARLY WAS MINE.

And here’s what I wrote.

The great theatre and film composers weren’t always happy when improvisers “took liberties” with their songs. Rodgers and Hart made their resentment known in “I Like to Recognize the Tune.” Jerome Kern’s estate sued Musicraft Records to stop them from issuing Dizzy (with strings) playing Kern. (Eventually, they relented.)

But the tradition of jazz musicians improvising on Broadway and film songs is almost a century old. Variations on new pop hits or familiar themes sold records and the results were sometimes more memorable than what was on the sheet music. Think of Paul Whiteman’s WHY DO I LOVE YOU? and Bix’s OL’ MAN RIVER; thirty years later, Vic Dickenson’s OH, WHAT A BEAUTIFUL MORNING, Emmett Berry’s PEOPLE WILL SAY WE’RE IN LOVE, all the way to the summit: of Louis’s YOU’LL NEVER WALK ALONE.

Here, leader / drummer / arranger Guillem Arnedo selected melodies he admires and everyone treats them tenderly. That approach might seem too traditional to some. But what sets this CD apart from a Fifties “A JAZZ VERSION OF [insert famous Broadway show or musical film title]” is a gentle pervasive originality, audible as a series of small sweet surprises.

Guillem told me, “I found out that a lot of tunes that I love have Hammerstein’s lyrics. So instead of doing a tribute to Hammerstein and Rodgers or Hammerstein and Kern (his two big associations) I found it more interesting to focus on Oscar and all the marvelous plays he co-wrote. Besides, my band focuses its attention a lot not only on melodies but also to lyrics, poetry. That’s something I learned from Michael Kanan, that to understand and get deep into a song you must know the lyrics. The arrangements and decisions about which tune is instrumental or to be sung were mine. Nevertheless, you can find the Kanan blend in some little arrangements he did spontaneously.”

Listeners will find pleasure wherever they turn, but I’d recommend PEOPLE WILL SAY WE’RE IN LOVE for a start – the quiet duet of Celeste and Michael quietly exploring the verse, then Michael’s irresistible transition into the chorus, with everyone rocking immediately (embodying Jake Hanna’s “Start swinging from the beginning!”)

The band sounds gorgeous (and is beautifully recorded) throughout. Celeste is capable of shy tenderness or determined energy, each shading with its own shimmer. Michael continues to honor Jimmie Rowles with intuitions that touch our hearts. Each stroke that Guillem creates – stick, cymbal, or brush – seems just the right impressionistic touch. D.J.’s bass playing – resonant, woody, trustworthy – is precisely our cup of tea. Jorge is lyrical, eloquent, yet terse, even when playing what sounds like the world’s largest marimba. Jaume creates delicate hymns or propulsive lines: hear his meditation for the SIAMESE CHILDREN.

On this disc we find the most familiar songs shining brightly, sounding as if they were composed yesterday. Listeners may begin to sing along, whether or not they planned to, because the melodic momentum is irresistible. Guillem and friends have created a wondrous aural landscape: delightfully varied, completely uplifting. I am sure that Oscar, Dick, and Jerry approve.

Rereading these notes while the disc is playing, I feel guilty of understatement, of atypical restraint.  The music on this CD is just splendid — all the instrumentalists in solo and ensemble, and Celeste’s touching yet tangy singing.  I hope this post makes up for my praise being more quiet than it should have been.  To buy the CD, please visit here.  I believe that downloads are also available from the usual suspects.

May your happiness increase!

A SANCTUARY FOR MUSIC: DANNY TOBIAS, JOE HOLT, and MAX DONALDSON (Ewing, New Jersey: June 11, 2017)

Beautiful music doesn’t always get a suitable place to grow and shine, but on June 11, 2017, it did, for a few hours.

The place is the  1867 Sanctuary at Ewing at 101 Scotch Road in Ewing, New Jersey, and the lovely music was created by Danny Tobias (trumpet, Eb alto horn), Joe Holt (piano), and guest Max Donaldson (tenor saxophone).  Here are several of the highlights of that most rewarding concert.

Think of Fred and Ginger, or of Ella and Louis — but let us all bow low to Irving Berlin, without whom we’d have no CHEEK TO CHEEK:

For ALL THE THINGS YOU ARE, Danny invited up young Mister Max Donaldson, who certainly played splendidly.  Max told me, “I am a 17 year old junior in high school and have been playing saxophone since the 5th grade. I discovered jazz in the 7th grade and found my passion. Some of my favorite jazz greats to listen to are Dexter Gordon, Benny Golson, and Sonny Rollins, though I listen to and appreciate all types of jazz.”  Watch out for this young man: I predict a creative future for him.

For his first feature, Joe chose to improvise on Beethoven’s Minuet in G Major, WoO 10, No. 2.  To which I could only say (under my breath, politely), “WoO!”:

Here’s Danny’s own romping variations on a jazz classic, which he has titled HOW’S IT GO?:

Danny has picked up another brass horn, the neglected but beautiful Eb alto horn — think of Dick Cary and Scott Robinson — and here the duo improvises a BLUES FOR MAX in honor of their tenorman:

Holt meets Joplin, with happiness, for MAPLE LEAF RAG:

And finally, Richard Rodgers – Lorenz Hart’s moody SPRING IS HERE, a song Joe hadn’t known before — how beautifully he finds his way:

Gorgeous music in a serenely beautiful place.  Thanks to Danny, Joe, Max, Lynn Redmile, and to Bob Kull for making this all happy and possible.

May your happiness increase!

DANNY TOBIAS MAKES BEAUTIFUL MUSIC: “COMPLETE ABANDON”

Photograph by Lynn Redmile

Photograph by Lynn Redmile

One of the quietest of my heroes, lyrical brassman Danny Tobias, has a new CD.  It’s called COMPLETE ABANDON — but don’t panic, for it’s not a free-jazz bacchanal.  It could have been called COMPLETE WARMTH just as well. And it’s new in several ways: recorded before a live audience — although a very serene one — just last September, in the 1867 Sanctuary in Ewing, New Jersey.

dannytobiasquintetThe CD presents a small group, captured with beautiful sound (thanks to Robert Bullington) “playing tunes,” always lyrical and always swinging.  The cover photograph here is small, but the music is endearingly expansive.  (Lynn Redmile, Danny’s very talented wife, took the photo of Mister T. at the top and designed the whole CD’s artwork.)

Danny is heard not only on trumpet, but also on the Eb alto horn (think of Dick Cary) and a light-hearted vocal on LOVE IS JUST AROUND THE CORNER.  He’s joined by his New Jersey friends, the very pleasing fellows Joe Holt, piano; Paul Midiri, vibraphone; Joe Plowman, string bass; Jim Lawlor, drums.  And both in conception and recorded sound, this disc is that rarity — an accurate reflection of what musicians in a comfortable setting sound like.  The tunes are I WANT TO BE HAPPY; DANCING ON THE CEILING; MY ROMANCE; LOTUS BLOSSOM; COMPLETE ABANDON; THE VERY THOUGHT OF YOU; THIS CAN’T BE LOVE; LOVE IS JUST AROUND THE CORNER; I’M CONFESSIN’; EVERYBODY LOVES MY BABY; GIVE ME HE SIMPLE LIFE; THESE FOOLISH THINGS; PICK YOURSELF UP.

You can tell something about Danny’s musical orientations through the song titles: a fondness for melodies, a delight in compositions.  He isn’t someone who needs to put out a CD of “originals”; rather, he trusts Vincent Youmans, Billy Strayhorn, Richard Rodgers.  He believes in Count Basie, Bing Crosby, and Louis Armstrong, whether they are being joyous or melancholy.  Danny has traveled long and happily in the sacred land of Medium Tempo, and he knows its most beautiful spots.

When I first met Danny — hearing and seeing him on the stand without having had the opportunity to talk with him (this was a decade ago, thanks to Kevin Dorn and the Traditional Jazz Collective at the Cajun) I delighted in the first set, and when he came off the stand, I introduced myself, and said, “Young man, you’ve been listening to Ruby Braff and Buck Clayton,” and young Mister Tobias heard and was gracious about the compliment.

Since then, I’ve understood that Danny has internalized the great swing players in his own fashion — I’m not the only one to hear Joe Thomas in his work — without fuss and without self-indulgence.  He doesn’t call attention to himself by volume or technique.  Rather, to use the cliche that is true, “He sings on that horn,” which is not at all easy.

Danny’s colleagues are, as I wrote above, his pals, so the CD has the easy communal feel of a group of long-time friends getting together: no competition, no vying for space, but the pleased kindness of musicians who are more interested in the band than in their own solos.  The vibraphone on this disc, expertly and calmly played by Paul Midiri, at times lends the session a George Shearing Quintet feel, reminding me of some Bobby Hackett or Ruby Braff sessions with a similar personnel.  And Messrs. Lawlor, Plowman, and Holt are generous swinging folks — catch Joe Holt’s feature on GIVE ME THE SIMPLE LIFE.

To purchase the CD and hear sound samples, visit here.  Or you can go directly to Danny’s website — where you can also enjoy videos of Danny in a variety of contexts.

CDBaby, not always the most accurate guide to musical aesthetics, offers this assessment: “Recommended if you like Bobby Hackett, Louis Armstrong, Warren Vache.”  I couldn’t agree more.  And I’m grateful that the forces of time, place, economics, and art came together to make this disc possible.  It is seriously rewarding, and it doesn’t get stale after one playing.

May your happiness increase!

A BLUE-EYED PAIR and A WEE HEAD

Small painful ironies emerge even in the midst of listening to and thinking about beautiful music. Ivie Anderson and the Duke Ellington Orchestra recorded the Edgar Leslie-Joe Burke song AT A DIXIE ROADSIDE DINER in July 1940 and played it on a broadcast:

The elaborate video production is the work of Tim Gracyk. But what concerns me is that these African-American musicians were singing and playing a love song in praise of a specific locale “in the heart of Caroline,” a favorite of New York City / Hollywood songwriters — where a blue-eyed pair fall in love.  However, when the Ellington band toured the American South, the roadside diners wouldn’t allow them inside or sell them food. Did it hurt to sing and play this song?

On that same emotional path . . . Lorenz Hart was a gay man at a time when his love had to be concealed.  (And he thought himself physically unattractive.)  But he spent his career turning out one song after another in praise of heterosexual bliss, or at least bliss that a heterosexual listening public could identify as their kind of attachment.  “With your wee head upon me knee,” in BLUE ROOM, is the first example that comes to mind, and there are many more.  It’s very clearly a he-and-she marriage with a trousseau, the prospect of children, and more, in this sweet performance from 1926 by the Revelers.

Did that wound him with each new song? We can’t know, but merely considering these hurts is in itself painful.

May your happiness increase!

SO GOOD IN SOHO, or THE EARREGULARS PLAY RICHARD RODGERS: JON-ERIK KELLSO, HARVEY TIBBS, JOE COHN, PAT O’LEARY at THE EAR INN (May 29, 2016)

ear-inn-5

It’s delightful to know that great yet understated expressions of musical creativity are happening all around us, if we know where to look.  One place I keep returning to is The Ear Inn (326 Spring Street, Soho, New York City) around eight o’clock on a Sunday night.  There, the EarRegulars create beautiful playful on-the-spot architectural conversations in sound.  At the end of May, they were Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Harvey Tibbs, trombone; Joe Cohn, guitar; Pat O’Leary, string bass.

The theme chosen for that interlude was Richard Rodgers’ THIS CAN’T BE LOVE ) also notable for the tenderly acidic lyrics by Lorenz Hart, which won’t be heard here:

Rodgers hated when improvisers abandoned his melody, when they “buried the tune,” but I think there’s more than enough melodic sweetness to keep even a notoriously irritable composer happy.  Or if he was complaining, no one I know heard him.)

Come to The Ear Inn on a Sunday evening . . . where magic happens.

May your happiness increase!

The Second Part: OH, HOW GRAND! (GORDON AU, MATT MUSSELMAN, MATT KOZA, NICK RUSSO, ROB ADKINS: May 5, 2016)

Photograph by Jessica Keener

Photograph by Jessica Keener

Here’s the first part of a wonderful concert / dance created by Gordon Au’s Grand Street Stompers at Grand Central Station on May 5, 2016.  The Stompers are Gordon (of course), trumpet, compositions / arrangements, vocal; Matt Koza, clarinet / soprano; Matt Musselman, trombone; Nick Russo, banjo / guitar; Rob Adkins, string bass.

And the second part!

Grand Central diningI CRIED FOR YOU:

CRAZY:

YOU’RE NEVER FULLY DRESSED WITHOUT A SMILE:

RIVERBOAT SHUFFLE:

THE SOUND OF MUSIC:

LOUISIAN-I-A:

THE BALLAD OF BUS 38:

NAGASAKI:

And for the deep explication that Gordon only hints at, here’s his wonderfully elliptical blog, THAT OF LOWLY PWUTH.  Yes, you did read that correctly.

And to think — before this, I’d thought of Grand Central Station simply as the eastern terminus of the Forty-Second subway shuttle, the “S” — not as a secret mecca for lyrical hot jazz.  That’s New York City for you: one surprise tumbling in on another.

May your happiness increase!

“WHEN LOUIS MET BIX”: ANDY SCHUMM, ENRICO TOMASSO, MATTHIAS SEUFFERT, ALISTAIR ALLAN, SPATS LANGHAM, MORTEN GUNNAR LARSEN, MALCOLM SKED, NICK BALL (LAKE RECORDS)

A wise philosopher — Gladys Bentley or Blanche Calloway — once said, “There are a thousand ways to do something wrong, but only four or five ways to do it right.”  One of the most eagerly-awaited CDs of recent memory, WHEN LOUIS MET BIX,  on Lake Records, is a shining example of beautiful imaginations at work.

WHEN LOUIS MET BIX two

The assertive cover photograph is slightly misleading, suggesting that we might be getting ready for one of those Battle of the Valves scenes so beloved of film directors.  I offer as evidence one of the most musical (having seen this scene from THE FIVE PENNIES when I was perhaps eleven, it made a deep impression):

Beautiful as it is, that scene is all about mastery and power: the unknown challenger coming out of the shadows (the club dramatically silenced) to claim territory for himself, and being accepted by the gracious King, who makes space for him on the regal bandstand.  It might be satisfying but we know it’s not the way things happen.

And this myth isn’t the story of WHEN LOUIS MET BIX, either historically or in this evocative CD.  Consider this fraternal conversation, instead:

Immediately, the ear understands that this CD succeeds at being more than a recreation of a 1927 or 1928 after-hours jam session or cutting contest.  The music on this disc, even when it is searing hot, is carried along by a fundamental gentleness of spirit, an aura of brotherly love and deep admiration.  No skirmishes, no high notes except as they would logically occur.

As I mentioned at the start, there would have been many ways to make this noble idea turn into a leaden result.  One would have been to hew strictly to factoids: to use only songs that we knew Bix and Louis played or recorded, and perhaps narrow the repertoire to a choking narrowness by sticking to compositions both of them had done.  (By this time, certain well-played songs are reassuring to the audience but must feel like too-tight clothing to the musicians, restricting free movement.)  Another would have been to envision the music as competitive: the Bix of BARNACLE BILL pitted against the Louis of POTATO HEAD BLUES.  Nay, nay, to quote the Sage of Corona.

Instead, the repertoire is spacious — Louis and Bix loved melodies — and it offers Broadway show music by Rodgers and Blake next to pop classics of the time, alongside “jazz standards” and obscurities by Morton, Chris Smith, Fats Waller — and one evocative original by Andy Schumm.  And rather than simply say to the noble players in the studio, “All right.  MILENBERG JOYS, and find your own way home,” or “Meet you at the end,” the performances on this disc are delicately yet effectively shaped so that each seems a complete musical expression.  There are small arrangements on each track, and rather than that being an impiety (affront to the Goddess of Hot, who supposedly loathes anything worked out — although we know better) these little sketches make the performances even more satisfying.  Split choruses, four-bar trades, modulations, duet interludes, balanced conversations where X plays the melody and Y improvises around it, stop-time choruses . . . the wonders that musicians had and have accessible to them instead of the possible monotony of ensemble-solo-ensemble.

On that score, one of the reasons it has taken me longer than usual to review this worthy disc is that I kept falling in love with one track so that I wanted to play it all the way to work and all the way home.  By definition, CDs are economy-sized packages of music, and I think I would have been happier (although weighed down) if this Lake Records CD could have been sold as eight 12″ 78 discs in a heavy cardboard binder, to be listened to deeply one at a time, on and on.  But longing for the past, although understandable, has its limits.  And the imagined 78s would have warped in my car.

For the record, and what a record! –the songs are OL’ MAN RIVER / MILENBERG JOYS / CHLOE / MANDY, MAKE UP YOUR MIND / WHO’S IT / PUT ‘EM DOWN BLUES / WHISPERING / MANHATTAN / SKID-DAT-DE-DAT / BESSIE COULDN’T HELP IT (the one Louis-Bix recording overlap) / COME ON AND STOMP, STOMP, STOMP / MY MELANCHOLY BABY / WHEN SHE CAME TO ME/ I’M JUST WILD ABOUT HARRY / THE BALTIMORE.

And the players.  Rico (Louis) and Andy (Bix) are joined by absolutely stellar folk.  And since neither Bix nor Louis tried to take up all the space on a recording, democracy prevails; thus we hear beautiful work from Alistair Allan, trombone; Matthias Seuffert, reeds; Morten Gunnar Larsen, piano; Spats Langham, banjo and guitar; Malcolm Sked, string bass; Nicholas D. Ball, drums.

More evidence:

Through this CD, we are able to travel to an alternate universe, where glorious improvised music evokes and summons up the Great Departed.  And unlike actually attending the after-hour jam session at the Sunset Cafe or the Savoy Ballroom and thinking, “Where is all this beauty going?” we can have this dramatic evocation to visit over and over again (without our clothes smelling of smoke, spilled whiskey, or beer).

Incidentally, may I urge you to do the most venerable thing and purchase the actual physical disc (from Amazon US or UK or elsewhere).  Not only does the glorious sound Paul Adams got through his vintage microphones deserve to be reproduced in the highest fidelity (as opposed to mp3s played through earbuds on a noisy train in the common fashion) but you’ll miss out on wonderfully detailed but light-hearted liner notes by scholar-producer Julio Schwarz Andrade and many wonderful photographs that convey the joy that reigned at this session.

My hope is that Lake Records will continue this series of mystical voyages that make an imagined past into tangible present reality.  I’m sure that Julio, Paul, and the fellows have even more thrilling ideas for us in future.  And I hope that there is an on-the-spot Louis / Bix meeting at the 2016 Mike Durham Classic Jazz Party so that we can marvel again.

Thanks to all the participants for making a visit to the alternate universe possible and so joyous. . . . a world where lyricism, abandon, passion, and expertise shape the music.

May your happiness increase!

MASTERS OF LIGHTNESS: MISTER CARTER, MISTER WILSON, MISTER JONES (and MISTER CROSBY) 1954, 1934

Benny-Carter-3-4-5

I remember being astonished by this session when it came out — not that many years ago — on CD.  Presumably Norman Granz had some reason for not issuing it at the time (it is hard to see why) or someone was less than pleased with the results.  But it is a trio session: Benny Carter, alto saxophone; Teddy Wilson, piano; Jo Jones, drums, recorded in New York City, September 20, 1954.  Did the bassist not make the session or was this an updated version of the Goodman Trio?  Whatever the reason, this is beautifully deep but translucent music.  Here Benny, Teddy, and Jo take the usually sad Rodgers and Hart LITTLE GIRL BLUE and swing it in true mid-Thirties fashion:

and here’s a tender rendition of JUNE IN JANUARY, by Ralph Rainger and Leo Robin, irrevocably associated with Bing in 1934*:

How to play the melody, how to improvise with great delicacy and precision without ever seeming cold — the lessons of these Masters.

*I couldn’t leave Bing out, so here is the precious, witty, and romantic sequence devoted to JUNE IN JANUARY in the 1934 film HERE IS MY HEART:

May your happiness increase!

“PENSIVE AND SWEET AND WISE”: HILARY GARDNER and EHUD ASHERIE HONOR RODGERS and HART at MEZZROW (March 17, 2015)

Here are two more beautiful songs from the Rodgers and Hart evening that Hilary Gardner and Ehud Asherie created for us on March 17, 2015, at Mezzrow on West Tenth Street, my new basement shrine to lyricism. The tender duets Hilary and Ehud create for us are tremendously moving celebrations of love.  Love is in the lyrics, in the melody, and of course in the performances.

WAIT TILL YOU SEE HIM, a paean in three-quarter time to the lover who is announced but not yet tangible, frankly beyond the singer’s powers to describe adequately.  (If you haven’t felt this way, have you truly been in love?) Hilary’s second chorus is both vulnerable and triumphant, a marvel:

I DIDN’T KNOW WHAT TIME IT WAS is a song of revelation: I was wandering the universe, my internal chronograph not working . . . until I met you.  And now all feels right. It’s a song of delight in that moment when emotion and evidence come together, through love, to create a new aware being:

What a lovely time it was.  And sublime it was, too.  I’ve posted other performances from that night here — and I hope for more.  Singly or in tandem, Hilary and Ehud never fail to move me.

Hilary and Ehud wouldn’t mind my closing with a recording from January 12, 1956: Lester Young, Vic Dickenson, Roy Eldridge, Teddy Wilson, Freddie Green, Gene Ramey, Jo Jones — doing TIME, a little faster.  Even the slightly untuned piano can’t make this any less of a masterpiece:

THIS JUST IN: Hilary and Ehud will be returning to Mezzrow on May 18, 2015.  Whether you’re in love or out, you owe it to yourself to hear and see this divine pair.

May your happiness increase!

A SONG FOR THE SEASON: HILARY GARDNER and EHUD ASHERIE at MEZZROW (March 17, 2015)

At the end  of their gorgeous Rodgers and Hart mini-concert at Mezzrow on March 17, 2015, Hilary Gardner and Ehud Asherie, those rebels, decided to “go rogue,” and do a song outside the R&H canon.  Luckily for us, their choice was the lovely THEY SAY IT’S SPRING, by Bob Haymes and Marty Clarke, made famous by the ethereal Blossom Dearie.

The snow in New York seems at last to have melted. Warmer weather makes everyone a little more amorous.  Being able to put one’s snow shovel and heavy boots away is positively erotic.  One thinks of lighter clothing with eagerness, and the possibility of being warm in the breeze . . . I’ll stop before I levitate.

The song is just right for the times, and it’s such a lovely performance too:

It’s a performance I want to hear over and over, which for me is the only real endorsement: art that doesn’t grow stale or give up all its secrets at once.

If you’ve missed the two songs I’ve posted from their Rodgers and Hart portion, here and here they are.  I will have more from Hilary and Ehud and Larry and Dick for you in future.

May your happiness increase!

A DIME A THROW: HILARY GARDNER and EHUD ASHERIE HONOR RODGERS AND HART at MEZZROW (March 17, 2015)

In my recollection, organized oppression is rarely the subject of American popular song.  Of course, it is a deep subject in folk song, but in popular music I can think of only OL’  MAN RIVER, BLACK AND BLUE, and BROTHER, CAN YOU SPARE A DIME?  (STRANGE FRUIT is in its own class.)

Most of the songs beloved in the canon are personal and smaller in scale, depicting the joy of new love, the sorrows of love disintegrating, the emptiness when it has gone.

A deeply moving exception is the 1930 TEN CENTS A DANCE, by Lorenz Hart and Richard Rodgers (I am reversing the order intentionally) — to me, is a poem about the debilitating and demeaning labor of lower-class women who cannot escape their fate in any dreamy romantic way.  Much of its intensity comes from the first-person narrative, unlike the later SHOE SHINE BOY, where the victim of economic circumstances is both optimistic and viewed tenderly by someone else.

Ten Cents A Dance

Hart’s gritty painful lyrics equal any poem about working in the sweatshops (think of “The Song of the Shirt”) or any anthropological study of human trafficking. And although the drama is intentionally narrow, with one exhausted woman telling us her story of grueling labor, dashed hopes, and no exit, it presents an excruciating to experience, Hart’s casual diction notwithstanding.

Heaven no longer cared to protect the working girl.

Here are the lyrics, taken from www.lorenzhart.com:

 

VERSE

I work at the Palace Ballroom,
but, gee that Palace is cheap;
when I get back to my chilly hall room
I’m much too tired to sleep.
I’m one of those lady teachers,
a beautiful hostess, you know,
the kind the Palace features
for only a dime a throw.

REFRAIN

Ten cents a dance
that’s what they pay me,
gosh, how they weigh me down!
Ten cents a dance
pansies and rough guys
tough guys who tear my gown!
Seven to midnight I hear drums.
Loudly the saxophone blows.
Trumpets are tearing my eardrums.
Customers crush my toes.
Sometime I think
I’ve found my hero,
but it’s a queer romance.
All that you need is a ticket
Come on, big boy, ten cents a dance.

PATTER

Fighters and sailors and bowlegged tailors
can pay for their ticket and rent me!
Butchers and barbers and rats from the harbors
are sweethearts my good luck has send me.
Though I’ve a chorus of elderly beaux,
stockings are porous with holes at the toes.
I’m here till closing time.
Dance and be merry, it’s only a dime.

TAG

Sometime I think
I’ve found my hero,
but it’s a queer romance.
All that you need is a ticket
Come on, big boy, ten cents a dance.

That’s a fully articulated dramatic statement — a novella in three minutes, worthy of Stephen Crane. And Hart’s word choice is so telling — the “gee” and “gosh” suggest a certain sweet naivete that has not yet been crushed utterly. Was our imagined “lady teacher” a young woman who came from the Midwest to the big city in search of love?  Or fame?  The patter, as well — part of a theatrical presentation — contrasts the woes of the woman drained of energy with the mad rush of the city, the headlong press of men eager to get their dime’s worth of sensation from her.

(As an aside, I worry about those later cultural analysts who crow over “queer” as evidence of homosexual code-speak.  Perhaps it was, but the beautiful meshing of sounds in “hero” and “queer ro” would have delighted Hart as well as the half-hidden surprise, I would wager.)

I’m not the only person to be captivated by this song: it became the basis for a film in 1931, and Reginald Marsh painted his version of it in 1933 — although his imagining is much more lurid than the song, whose narrator sounds like someone who remembers what it was to be innocent and hopeful. Marsh’s hostesses suggest by their dress and posture that dancing is merely the surface of their real intent and profession:

Reginald Marsh 1933

The song itself has been memorably sung and recorded by Ruth Etting, later Doris Day, Ella, and many others.

But I think the performance I witnessed just a week ago at Mezzrow — by Hilary Gardner and Ehud Asherie — is the equal of any more famous rendition. Ehud suggests the bounce of a dance-band (with greater harmonic ingenuity and rhythmic variety than any 1930 outfit) and Hilary shows herself a great understated dramatic actress.  Hear her reading of the lines — so rich, so quiet, so varied and convincing.

I invite you to listen to this afresh.  To me this performance is a triumph of despair, quiet resignation, and deep lyricism. Great art can make pain beautiful but it never attempts to pretend the pain is not there.

For a more cheerful evocation of Rodgers and Hart by Hilary and Ehud, listen to this.

There will be more of Hilary and Ehud doing honor to Dick and Larry — something I delight in.

May your happiness increase!

AND FAIR CANARSIE’S LAKE WE’LL VIEW: HILARY GARDNER and EHUD ASHERIE HONOR RODGERS AND HART at MEZZROW (March 17, 2015)

The combination of Hilary Gardner’s creamy voice — floating, multi-textured, full of feeling — and Ehud Asherie’s rollicking piano — sure-footed, playful, surprising — is intoxicating.  They go to my head: I feel elated and happy.

They did it again just a few days ago — on St. Patrick’s Day in Manhattan — when they presented a gorgeous concert of Rodgers and Hart at Mezzrow, that belowstairs oasis of fine music at 163 West Tenth Street.

A word about the video: viewers may at first think Ehud is getting visually slighted, which would be unjust.  But if you look in the mirror, you will see him fine profile — reversed? — moving in rhythm.  And his sound rings, which is the point.

There will be a few more videos from this evening.  And even better news — Hilary and Ehud are not finished exploring Mr. Rodgers and Mr. Hart.

Key change.

There have been so many recordings and performances of MANHATTAN that I have no intention of tracing its history.  But this one is both odd and special:

This clip — Allan Gould and Ruth Tester in the 1929 short devoted to Rodgers and Hart, MAKERS OF MELODY, is a fascinating window into what some might call early performance practice, and it reminds me that MANHATTAN was meant as a comic song for a UK couple marveling at this new landscape, where balmy breezes blow / to and fro.

The modern analogue, for me, is walking through Central Park and seeing visitors from other countries absolutely delighted and agog by the squirrels, snapping picture after picture of our furry friends to show to the folks back home, who will marvel.

Feel free to sing along, all through the day, no matter what borough you are in:

Summer journeys
To Niag’ra
And to other places
Aggravate all our cares.
We’ll save our fares.
I’ve a cozy little flat
In what is known as old Manhattan.
We’ll settle down
Right here in town.

We’ll have Manhattan,
The Bronx and Staten
Island too.
It’s lovely going through
The zoo.
It’s very fancy
On old Delancey
Street, you know.
The subway charms us so
When balmy breezes blow
To and fro.
And tell me what street
Compares with Mott Street
In July?
Sweet pushcarts gently gliding by.
The great big city’s a wondrous toy
Just made for a girl and boy.
We’ll turn Manhattan
Into an isle of joy.

We’ll go to Greenwich,
Where modern men itch
To be free;
And Bowling Green you’ll see
With me.
We’ll bathe at Brighton
The fish you’ll frighten
When you’re in.
Your bathing suit so thin
Will make the shellfish grin
Fin to fin.
I’d like to take a
Sail on Jamaica
Bay with you.
And fair Canarsie’s lake
We’ll view.
The city’s bustle cannot destroy
The dreams of a girl and boy.
We’ll turn Manhattan
Into an isle of joy.

We’ll go to Yonkers
Where true love conquers
In the wilds.
And starve together, dear,
In Childs’.
We’ll go to Coney
And eat baloney
On a roll.
In Central Park we’ll stroll,
Where our first kiss we stole,
Soul to soul.
Our future babies
We’ll take to “Abie’s
Irish Rose.”
I hope they’ll live to see
It close.
The city’s clamor can never spoil
The dreams of a boy and goil.
We’ll turn Manhattan
Into an isle of joy.

We’ll have Manhattan,
The Bronx and Staten
Island too.
We’ll try to cross
Fifth Avenue.
As black as onyx
We’ll find the Bronnix
Park Express.
Our Flatbush flat, I guess,
Will be a great success,
More or less.
A short vacation
On Inspiration Point
We’ll spend,
And in the station house we’ll end,
But Civic Virtue cannot destroy
The dreams of a girl and boy.
We’ll turn Manhattan
Into an isle of joy!

(I love beyond all that’s reasonable one turn of the lyrics — that “fin to fin” anticipates “soul to soul,” rather than the more predictable reverse.)

If Manhattan was indeed an isle of joy on the 17th, I think credit belongs to Dick, Larry, Hilary, and Ehud — let the green-garbed roisterers take a back seat.

May your happiness increase!

DAN BLOCK AND FRIENDS at THE ALLEGHENY JAZZ PARTY (Sept. 18, 2014): DAN BLOCK, HARRY ALLEN, DAN BARRETT, ROSSANO SPORTIELLO, JON BURR, PETE SIERS

What follows is a glowing sample of what the masters of any art do, communally and individually: assembling without fanfare for a common purpose, speaking their piece in turn, collaborating to create something beautiful that never existed before.

The inspiring Dan Block (reed master, here playing tenor saxophone) got together with friends and peers at the informal Thursday night session at the 2014 Allegheny Jazz Party and showed us — without being didactic — how it is done.

The friends are Harry Allen, tenor saxophone; Dan Barrett, trombone; Rossano Sportiello, piano; Jon Burr, string bass; Pete Siers, drums. The text for their sweet explorations was FALLING IN LOVE WITH LOVE — by Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart, but presented without Hart’s rather dark lyrics, and moved into a lilting swing rhythm for us:

I think music-making at this level is an absolute gift, given freely and generously by the finest artists. Happily, they were performing for an attentive, hushed audience who were, in every sense of the phrase, “getting it.”  Gifts like these come back to the givers.  See the contented smiles on the faces of the musicians as they bask in the warmth of their own creations.  Not immodestly, but joyously, congratulating each other on creating such an uplifting community.

This beauty — in varied hues — sprang to life often during the Allegheny Jazz Party.  I am certain such beauty will flourish again in September 2015.

But that’s a long way away, so let me point you to something closer (if you live in New York or environs).  I will be away, so you have to see and hear for yourself.

The Dan Block Quintet will offer a program he calls “Mary Lou Williams and Benny Carter Meet Hard Bop” at Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola (that’s Broadway and 60th Street) on Wednesday, October 8th.  Sets are at 7:30 and 9:30 PM.  The Quintet is Dan, saxophone; Adam Birnbaum, piano; Godwin Louis, alto saxophone; Jennifer Vincent, string bass; Alvester Garnett, drums.  One may reserve by phone (212-258-9595) or in person after 6P.M. daily at the club.  It’s a $30 cover, $20 for students.

Block, Allen, Barrett, Sportiello, Burr, Siers — all masters.  Follow them and be uplifted.

May your happiness increase!

“I HEAR THE MUSIC NOW”: REBECCA KILGORE and RANDY PORTER at the PIEDMONT PIANO COMPANY (Oakland, California: Jan. 31, 2014)

A few nights ago, Rebecca Kilgore and pianist Randy Porter gave a delightful duo-concert at the Piedmont Piano Company in Oakland, California.  Randy was performing on a brand-new Yamaha CPX piano, and Rebecca brought her own beautiful instruments: her creamy voice, her wise, light-hearted interpretations.  And although Becky is always heralded as “an interpreter of the Great American Songbook,” she has a very expansive repertoire, going back seventy-five years and forward to contemporary music by Nellie McKay.

Here are some highlights of that evening.

Sammy Fain’s I HEAR THE MUSIC NOW:

Nellie McKay’s I WANNA GET MARRIED:

The Rodgers and Hammerstein edgy declaration of thwarted love, THE GENTLEMAN IS A DOPE:

Dave Frishberg’s ZANZIBAR:

Johnny Mercer’s JAMBOREE JONES, with its roller-coaster tongue-twisting lyrics:

and the lovely hip lullaby, thanks to Mercer and Harold Arlen, HIT THE ROAD TO DREAMLAND:

My ears, as always, were focused on the Kilgore magic — gently gliding through the lyrics, making them even more meaningful, gently improvising, making the melodies shine . . . but our Mr. Porter is astonishing: his command of the piano, his touch, his harmonic depths and always-surprising but beautiful inventions.  And what a beautiful place Piedmont is . . . wonderful-sounding instruments everywhere.  And they have regular concert performances from a wide variety of artists: click here.

Don’t you wish your local piano emporium had a Kilgore recital on the calendar?

May your happiness increase!

MOLLY RYAN: “SWING FOR YOUR SUPPER”

When I first heard Molly Ryan sing, I thought, “That girl has such a beautiful voice!”  But she has more that that — innate connections to the music, to feeling, and to swing.  She knows what the records sound like, but she doesn’t imitate them: the music comes out of her essential self.

All of these lovely tendencies, fully realized, reverberate through her new CD, SWING FOR YOUR SUPPER! (with its very apropos exclamation point).

MOLLY RYAN

But first.  Something lovely for the ears: SAY IT WITH A KISS, sung so prettily by Molly, accompanied by husband Dan Levinson, clarinet; Mark Shane, piano; Connie Jones, cornet — recorded Sept. 4, 2011, at the Sweet and Hot Music Festival:

The good news about SWING FOR YOUR SUPPER! is that it is a new Molly Ryan – and Friends of the First Rank – CD.  That should be enough for anyone.

The even better news is that it is carefully thought out in every possible way, from the cheerful photos that adorn it, to the exuberant liner notes by Will Friedwald, to the varied and rewarding song choices, to the hot band and the Lady Friends who join in.

If there’s a way it could have been improved, it is beyond me to imagine it.

And all the careful planning hasn’t constricted the result — some CDs are so precise, so cautious, that they are audibly lifeless: morgue-music.  SWING FOR YOUR SUPPER! is beautifully planned but all the planning gives the musicians room to swing out, to do what they do so beautifully, to be their own precious selves as individuals and as a supportive community of swing pals.

The pals are — from the top — husband Dan Levinson, reeds, arrangements, and a vocal; Dan Barrett, trombone, arrangements; Randy Reinhart, cornet; Chris Flory and Bucky Pizzarelli, guitar; Mark Shane, piano; Vince Giordano, bass; Kevin Dorn, drums.  And Molly is joined by vocal swing stars Banu Gibson and Maude Maggart for one third of the eighteen tracks, more than once forming a divinely varied and subtle vocal trio.

And where some well-meant CDs bog down in a narrow or restrictive repertoire (seventy-five minutes of the same thing can get tiring quickly) this one bounces from surprise to surprise, evidence of Molly’s deep knowledge of and enthusiasm for the best music from all kinds of corners.  Here are a few of the composers: Harry Warren, Richard Whiting, Cole Porter, J. Russel Robinson, Ben Oakland, Richard Rodgers, Bronislaw Kaper, Eubie Blake, B.G. DeSylva, Jerome Kern, Victor Young — and HUSHABYE MOUNTAIN from the Sherman brothers’ 1968 film CHITTY CHITTY BANG BANG, no less.

You can purchase SWING FOR YOUR SUPPER here, or (better yet) you can find Molly at a live gig and ask her to sign one for you, which she will do gladly. To keep up with her musical adventures, click here.

She’s the real thing.  But you knew that already.

May your happiness increase!

ROBERTA AND BILLY GO EXPLORING: “SIDES, COLORS”: ROBERTA PIKET / BILLY MINTZ

Anyone who’s ever been in the same room with pianist / singer / composer Roberta Piket and drummer / percussionist / composer Billy Mintz would sense the deep emotional connection between them — a good thing, since they are married, quite happily.  But the connection is also musical.  I’ve seen it in performances in the last two years, and their 2011 CD, SIDES, COLORS, is deep proof of how well-suited they are for each other, and for us.

robertapiket

Wisely, this CD is structured as a traditional vinyl record was — two sides with six songs apiece.  And although the listener doesn’t have to get up and flip the disc, the sense of two complementary musical worlds is strong.

The disc begins sweetly and serenely with Roberta gently presenting the melody of Bill Evans’ LAURIE for us.  Soon, bass (eloquently played by Johannes Weidenmueller) and quiet drums join in — but a surprise awaits as with the gentle stirrings of a string quartet and several purring horns.  (Real musicians, I might add — not conjured up on a synthesizer keyboard.)  Is it jazz, or modern classical, Third Stream, or evocative dance music?  I gave up wondering about categories early on in the CD and simply allowed myself to be swept along by the shadings and timbres.

Billy’s brushes — quietly symphonic — bring on the Broadway standard MAKE SOMEONE HAPPY, then Roberta adds her single-note piano lines.  (I was already happy, mind you.)  Clear, contemporary music, harmonically sophisticated, but firmly rooted in Basie, Pettiford, Jo Jones.  And it subtly builds — not just in volume, but in densities, as the three lines intertwine, before settling back down to earth in a taciturn yet swinging final chorus, with a few witty small dissonances in — like spices — to remind us that we are in the land of surprises.

Roberta begins BILLY’S BALLAD in the most pensive way — letting the music speak its piece in its own time — a most leisurely yet searching exploration.  Then, a pause, and she begins the theme again, but with the most tender support and counterpoint from the string and horn ensemble.  I didn’t think, “Oh, this is jazz-piano-with-strings”; rather, I thought of Dvorak — deep yet translucent beauty.  Roberta is responsible for all the string and horn arrangements — but this one, wine-rich, is Billy’s.

MY FRIENDS AND NEIGHBORS (dedicated to Sam Rivers) opens with dark woody sounds from Johannes . . . and then the gorgeous strings come on.  Neither sentimental nor abrasive, carefully delineating the traditional melody but with edges and depths.  Roberta’s solo improvisation follows; Billy adds his own voices as the piano’s exploration goes onwards . . . with strings and horns making what had been simple lines multi-dimensional, powerful, assertive, no longer serene.  But the performance has a compositional arc — coming back to a hymnlike reading of the melody for piano and strings after a dramatic climax in sound.

The venerable IF I LOVED YOU — from CAROUSEL — is revealed to us from new angles; the tempo is elastic rather than held down by the waltz (as Billy’s brushes make their own quiet patterns behind Roberta’s reverent melody and revamped harmonies).  What was reverent becomes more free, even abstract, as the horns add their own commentary and Roberta brings her pure, focused voice to the lyrics — honoring the intent of the lyrics while elongating and recomposing phrases.  She is at once girlish and adventurous: a model improvising singer . . . then taking fragments of melody and holding them to the light.

Tapping cymbals and stern piano chords begin EMPTY HOUSE.  A pause, then the horns outline a melody line, as if delineating a space through serious strokes of a brush, before Roberta joins them.  I sense that this is a meditation on two minor chords, but the spare material never seems thin.  And the four-and-a-half minutes is over too soon.

The imagined SIDE TWO begins with Billy’s SHMEAR — the emotional opposite of the pensive, spacious EMPTY HOUSE.  Not simply the musical evocation of an area of cream cheese, it vacillates between a nearly violent piano trio and a meditative piano solo passage . . . with the roles switching around among the three players.  Quiet gives way to conversation and back to quiet again.

IDY’S SONG AND DANCE (in two parts) begins with a solo meditation by Roberta on electric piano — simple but with its own searching groove . . . then moves to the longer DANCE in 5/4.  (You can see the video for the second track — a boisterous dance piece — with its own little domestic comedy — below.)

Billy’s RELENT changes the timbre of the trio — with Roberta exploring on organ over rapid-fire lines from Billy and Johannes.  UGLY BEAUTIFUL (again by Billy) returns to piano – string bass – drums, with improvisations that work off the song’s stark contours.  And the CD closes with Roberta’s DEGREE ABSOLUTE — her evocation of the famed television series THE PRISONER, where escape is impossible and rebellion thwarted — but, happily, the music isn’t as bleak as the inspiration for it.  In fact, the serene solo that begins the final track leads us back to LAURIE, which is another testimony to SIDES, COLORS being a work larger than the individual tracks.

Here let me credit the musicians by name — besides Roberta and Billy and bassist Johannes Weidenmueller; string players Fung Chern Hwei, Mikyung Kim, Charisa Rouse, Jeremy Harman; horn / reed players David Smith, Charles Pillow, Anders Bostrom, Sam Sadigursky.  The cover art is by Billy; graphic design by Roberta — and the whole effort is beautifully recorded by Michael Marciano.

Rather than being formulaic — solos / head / solos or some variation, or “free-form,” this CD is exemplary in its compositional intelligence.  The music never seems “written down,” yet each performance has its own larger shape — one that relates to the other compositions.  And the music is given many chances to breathe.  Hear, for example, the pauses on EMPTY HOUSE — music for a film not yet completed, I think.  The listener becomes part of the exploration, wondering, anticipating, delighting.

Here you can hear samples and purchase the CD (it’s also available for download on iTunes).  And here you can watch Roberta and Billy in action — recording this CD.  Here, they improvise in time and space.  And don’t despair: love conquers all!  (As it should.)

May your happiness increase.