Tag Archives: Richard Simon

WHY CAN’T WE DO THIS MORE OFTEN?

MelissaCDCoverWeb

When you encounter beauty, when you experience art, you know it. When my San Francisco jazz friend Barb Hauser visited New York for Christmas of 2004-5, she brought me the disc you see above.  She had been at some of the recording sessions and thought I would like the music.  Barb was only slightly incorrect in this: I loved the music.  I was then writing reviews for The Mississippi Rag and I believe I asked Leslie Johnson if I could review this.

Hearing Melissa Collard sing was a seriously life-enhancing experience. Melissa has an easy rock to her rhythm, where nothing is forced.  She doesn’t copy the records; her singing isn’t a series of learned gestures strung together, plastic beads on a string.  She doesn’t imitate anyone; her warm voice embraces the song and the listener.  She makes it sound easy, and we know that can’t be true.

Here’s a sample:

Hear what I mean?  Clear diction, an easy glide, and her second chorus is not a clone of her first: she respects the song but she improvises . . . offering light and shade while swinging.  The instrumentalists on this disc don’t do anyone any harm, either: Dan Barrett, Ray Skjelbred, Steven Strauss, Eddie Erickson, Richard Hadlock, Fiddle Ray Landsberg, Bobby Black, Bob Wilson, Bob Mielke, Bill Bardin (a collective personnel).

Let’s have another right away (with Eddie on banjo and the trombone choir of Barrett, Bardin, and Mielke, with a cornet-banjo duet in the middle for Dan and Eddie):

And one more (why not?) — with banter for Eddie and Melissa:

Now, the good news.  These three tracks are taken from Melissa’s debut CD, which contains eleven more delights.  The bad news is that the CD is seriously out of print — you’ll have to hunt for it — but it is one of the great delights of my listening experience.

A few years ago I came to Sacramento, where Melissa lives, and found her to be a truly endearing person — always reassuring when the art and the creator line up in the same pleasing ways.  She did not ask me to write this post, but I thought that everyone should hear one of my favorite singers.

And in 2010, Melissa created another CD — this one’s available — for the Audiophile label, called IN A MELLOW TONE.  Her accompanists there were Chris Dawson, Hal Smith, Richard Simon, and Bryan Shaw.

Here’s her gorgeously poignant reading of LOVE LOCKED OUT with Chris Dawson:

Here is Melissa’s Facebook page for those so inclined.  (I am.)

Now, I think — in my ideal world — I could walk over to my shelf of Melissa Collard CDs (issued and distributed by a major record label), I could turn on her weekly radio program, come to her concerts . . . and then I take a long drink of ice water and remind myself of the actual time and place I live in.  That we have two CDs by Melissa is marvelous, and that she is alive and well (and teaching guitar) equally so.  But I don’t think it’s unbalanced of me to think, WHY CAN’T WE DO THIS MORE OFTEN?

May your happiness increase!

MUSIC TO LOVE BY: DAN BARRETT, JOHN ALLRED, JASON WANNER, EDDIE ERICKSON, RICHARD SIMON, BUTCH MILES (2014 San Diego Jazz Party)

We’re not always aware of all the beauty surrounding us, so I post this video as a spiritual-public service: an old love song played with the utmost tender mastery in a swinging 4 / 4. (“Basie tempo,” the scientists tell us, is a proven aphrodisiac. Ask anyone.)

It’s IF I HAD YOU, performed with great style by trombonists Dan Barrett and John Allred, with Jason Wanner, piano; Eddie Erickson, guitar; Richard Simon, string bass; Butch Miles, drums:

This was recorded on February 22, 2014 at the very happy jazz weekend known as the San Diego Jazz Party, where sweet swing is the main dish on the very welcoming menu.

May your happiness increase!

JUST PEACHY: THE 2014 ATLANTA JAZZ PARTY

I’m in the mood for the Atlanta Jazz Party, and it’s coming up — April 25 through 27, 2014.  Here’s the appropriate song from the 2012 Party (played by Harry Allen, Rossano Sportiello, Richard Simon, and Ed Metz):

The Atlanta Jazz Party promises — and delivers — delightful music over the course of a weekend.  I’ll name the esteemed musicians in a few lines, but I want to say something about what goes on above and beyond.

A jazz party is more than a series of performances: for the party to satisfy, the patrons and musicians must be happy and comfortable.  The patrons need variety, comfortable seating, a well-lit room, good sound, good sight lines, easy access to high-quality food and drink in a clean, hospitable hotel.  The AJP provides all of this with great style. And as for the music: the musicians are not tied down by restrictions; each player or singer gets to lead at least one set, and the stylistic range goes back to CHIMES BLUES or KEEP OFF THE GRASS up to ANTHROPOLOGY or SENTIMENTAL JOURNEY, with surprising digressions along the way.

This is the AJP’s twenty-fifth anniversary, so you know they understand the fine arts of pleasing both patrons and musicians.

I’ve joined the Party twice and found it a banquet each time, supervised with generosity and common sense by Pualani and Philip Carroll.

Details! Here is  the Facebook site for the AJP.

The musicians at this year’s Party (as always) are professionals, enthusiastic, swinging, and surprising: Ed Polcer, Duke Heitger, Bria Skonberg, cornet / trumpet and an occasional vocal; Allan Vaché, Dan Block, reeds; Dan Barrett, Bob Havens, trombone; Rossano Sportiello, piano; John Cocuzzi, vibes, piano, vocal; Freddy Cole, vocal, piano; Randy Napoleon, Bucky Pizzarelli, guitar; Frank Tate, Paul Keller, string bass; Ed Metz Jr., Danny Coots, drums; Rebecca Kilgore, vocal.

I anticipate thirty sets of beautifully-conceived jazz: ballads, New Orleans, mainstream, small-band swing, offered in four sessions: Friday night, Saturday afternoon and evening, Sunday afternoon. Guarantors and Patrons get to attend all four sessions plus the exclusive Saturday morning jazz brunch just for patrons, guarantors and musicians.

More details can be found at the AJP site. You can sign up for a single session or for all four.  The hotel (the Westin Atlanta Perimeter North*) is exceedingly comfortable.

*The hotel is located at 7 Concourse Pkwy. NE, Sandy Springs, Georgia, 30328 — about thirty minutes from downtown Atlanta. Be sure to mention the Party for the best room rate! Click here to reserve rooms.

Here are two examples of uplifting jazz I recorded at the 2012 AJP.

STEALIN’ APPLES, performed by Allan Vache, John Cocuzzi, Rossano Sportiello, Bucky Pizzarelli, Richard Simon, Chuck Redd:

Bucky, solo, tenderly considering TRES PALABRAS:

As I;ve said before, if you need tres palabras from me, they could be “Mark your calendars,” or “Make your reservations,” or “Don’t miss this.”

May your happiness increase!

FABULOUS FRIDAY at the SAN DIEGO JAZZ PARTY (Part One): FEBRUARY 21, 2014

A week ago (that would be February 21) I was ready to have fun at my first-ever San Diego Jazz Party.  And I certainly did.  The music below will speak — and play and sing — for itself, but the SDJP was a real pleasure . . . comfort all around, the details managed gently and wisely, the musicians smiling.  As were we.

Here are a few shining examples of how fine the music was, how comfortable the musicians were . . . couldn’t ask for more!

If you need more words — data, information, facts —   here is what I wrote about the party as it was in progress.  But I think you’ll want to hear and see some of the joyousness first.

WABASH BLUES (Ed Polcer, cornet; Dan Barrett, trombone; Antti Sarpila, soprano saxophone; Bucky Pizzarelli, guitar; John Cocuzzi, piano; Richard Simon, string bass; Ed Metz, drums):

ROBBINS’ NEST (John Allred, trombone; Harry Allen, tenor saxophone; Chuck Redd, vibes; Jason Wanner, piano; Dave Stone, string bass; Butch Miles, drums):

THE FIVE O’CLOCK WHISTLE (Rebecca Kilgore, vocal; Eddie Erickson, guitar; Dan Barrett, trombone; Rossano Sportiello, piano; Nicki Parrott, string bass; Ed Metz, percussion and miscellaneous instruments):

That, dear friends, is just a sample of how delicious the whole weekend was.  And my videos — which I am proud of — can’t convey the whole experience.  You’ll just have to be there in 2014.

May your happiness increase!

GOOD, BETTER, BEST: SWEET NOTES FROM THE 26th SAN DIEGO JAZZ PARTY

The musicians are taking a break; it’s too early for another meal; what should I do?  I can share my joy at being at the San Diego Jazz Party, that’s what.

It’s only about twenty percent through (there’s still a full day-and-a-half of music to come) but it has been splendid.  Nicely organized, humanely planned — all the things that make a jazz weekend comfortable as well as gratifying — and the music last night was often spectacular.  You can find out the complete list of players here but I just want to speak of a few delicious moments that happened last night so you, too, can get a taste . . .

Even before the official festivities began, there was wonderful music during the cocktail hour: Harry Allen, Dan Barrett, Eddie Erickson, Jason Wanner, and Dave Stone started slow and easy and then romped through a closing IDAHO; Antti Sarpila, Chuck Redd, Bria Skonberg, Rossano Sportiello, and Nicki Parrott followed with a passionate NEW ORLEANS and an old-school SOMEBODY STOLE MY GAL.

(During the soundcheck that followed, Sarpilla sat down at the piano and quietly — as if no one had been listening — played a sweet, streamlined DROP ME OFF IN HARLEM, which was a private treat.)

A ten-minute swaggering WABASH BLUES was offered to us by Ed Polcer, Bria, Antti, Bucky Pizzarelli, John Cocuzzi, Richard Simon, Ed Metz.  A smaller group — John Allred, Harry Allen, Chuck Redd, Jason Wanner, Dave Stone, and Butch Miles — showed us what Groovy and Sweet meant in less than half an hour, with a coasting ROBBINS’ NEST, a from-the-heart SOLITUDE, and an exuberant CHEROKEE.  Becky Kilgore, looking mighty glamorous, took the stage with old pals Barrett and Erickson, Rossano Sportiello, Nicki Parrott, and Ed Metz for a set that culminated in the best FIVE O’CLOCK WHISTLE since Ivie Anderson, and a Romany duo: Becky’s own THE GYPSY (which began with a tender Sportiello-Barrett duet) followed by Eddie’s narrative of finding love and caffeine, IN A LITLE GYPSY TEAROOM.

And four more sets followed!  How about a duo of Venerables Bucky Pizzarelli and Mundell Lowe (the latter now 91) for — among other beauties — I REMEMBER YOU and an Oscar Pettiford blues?  Bria Skonberg told us all about Ruth Etting and then sang and played — with real ardor — LOVE ME OR LEAVE ME.  Houston Person wooed the crowd with medium-tempo ballads and Ellington; Anti Sarpilla took out his curved soprano for SUMMERTIME and his clarinet for RUNNIN’ WILD, and a band of Harry Allen, Bria, and Dan Barrett, Rossano, Richard Simon, and Butch Miles created a hot THEM THERE EYES, which made many pairs shine and gleam.

If you were in the audience, you know I am understating what we all saw and heard.  More to come.  Save your quarters, make your plans for 2105.

May your happiness increase! 

FEBRUARY COULD BE THE WARMEST MONTH, IF YOU’RE PROPERLY SITUATED: THE SAN DIEGO JAZZ PARTY (February 21-23, 2014)

Although it is the shortest month, February has a well-deserved reputation for unpleasantness.  But this February could change all the bad press, if you can make it to the San Diego Jazz Party.

The Party begins Friday, February 21 and continues at a leisurely pace to Sunday, February 24, 2014, at the Hilton San Diego / Del Mar (15575 Jimmy Durante Blvd., Del Mar, CA 92014-1901 — (800) 833-7904 (toll-free) / (858) 792-5200 (local) / (858) 792-9538 (fax).

Here is the Party’s site.

They’ve been doing a fine job of presenting classic mainstream jazz since 1988, when these musicians who appeared at the first Party, a list that makes me very nostalgic:

John Clayton, Jr. (b); Bob Haggart (b); Milt Hinton (b); Kenny Davern (cl); Peanuts Hucko (cl); Bob Wilber (cl); Jake Hanna (d); Gus Johnson, Jr. (d); Butch Miles (d); Herb Ellis (g); Bucky Pizzarelli (g); Dick Hyman (p); Paul Smith (p); Ralph Sutton (p); Scott Hamilton (ts); Flip Phillips (ts); Marshal Royal (as); Buddy Tate (ts); Al Grey (tb); George Masso (tb); Bill Watrous (tb); Ed Polcer (co); Warren Vaché (co); Snooky Young (t).

The 2014 list of players and singers is just as inspiring: Harry Allen, John Allred, Dan Barrett, John Cocuzzi, John Eaton, Eddie Erickson, Rebecca Kilgore, Mundell Lowe, Ed Metz Jr., Butch Miles, Nicki Parrott, Houston Person Jr., Bucky Pizzarelli, Ed Polcer, Chuck Redd, Antti Sarpilla, Richard Simon, Bria Skonberg, Rossano Sportiello, Dave Stone, Johnny Varro, Jason Wanner.

On that list, players born in 1922 and 1926: will we have decades to see their like again? And — to balance it all out — there are Youngbloods born in 1978 and only a little earlier. Men and women, American and European, a lovely diversified mix — but with one common goal, to swing memorably and melodically.

And when you look here, at how the sets have been planned — you can see how intelligently this Party has been laid out. All the music is in one ballroom of a comfortable hotel (so no rushing from room to room); the music runs from late afternoon Friday to late afternoon Sunday with breaks for meals, and the layout of who-plays-when is wise and sensible. There’s a comforting awareness of an audience’s need for dynamics, for variety, so solo piano sets and duos for piano, for guitar, alternate with quartets and quintets.  There is one eleven-person blowout and that is appropriately on Saturday night.

As to those important questions, “Can I / we get there?” “Can I / we afford it?” you’re on your own and only by visiting the site will you find answers to these questions. I do think that a weekend like this is worth its weight in YouTube videos and CDs, but that’s me.

Worth repeating, I think: many jazz fans spend much energy lamenting What Was. “Were you there at the sessions when Kitty Katz and the Persian Hairballs would play MY LITTLE BIMBO or C JAM BLUES for weeks at a time? That club / festival / party is now gone and I miss it so.”  I miss it too. But I know why it’s no longer here, and so do you.

As Eleanor Roosevelt or perhaps Scatman Crothers said, “It is better to Do Something than to Lament in your den.  The things you love will evaporate if you aren’t participating in them.”

See you at San Diego on February 21st! Details here. And if you want to tell them, “I only did it to stop that pesky JAZZ LIVES from tugging at my cyber-clothes and hissing “Carpe diem!” in my ear, I will accept the stigma and the guilt.

May your happiness increase!

GOIN’ TO SAN DIEGO (and YOU CAN COME, TOO)

I’ve been listening to a bootleg Jimmy Rushing lp where he sings GOIN’ TO CHICAGO, with the famous lines, “Goin’ to Chicago / Sorry, but I can’t take you.”

Thus my title: the Beloved and I are thrilled to be making our debut voyage to the 2014 San Diego Jazz Party, and we can — in a manner of speaking — take you. And even if you don’t want to be Our New Pals, you owe it to yourself to check out what the SDJP is offering from Friday, February 21 to Sunday, February 24, 2014, at the Hilton San Diego / Del Mar (15575 Jimmy Durante Blvd., Del Mar, CA 92014-1901 — (800) 833-7904 (toll-free) / (858) 792-5200 (local) / (858) 792-9538 (fax).

Here is the Party’s site.

They’ve been doing a wonderful job of presenting classic mainstream jazz since their first party in 1988: I looked at their archives and found these musicians who appeared at the first Party, a list that makes me very nostalgic.  It’s also proof of fine taste:

John Clayton, Jr. (b); Bob Haggart (b); Milt Hinton (b); Kenny Davern (cl); Peanuts Hucko (cl); Bob Wilber (cl); Jake Hanna (d); Gus Johnson, Jr. (d); Butch Miles (d); Herb Ellis (g); Bucky Pizzarelli (g); Dick Hyman (p); Paul Smith (p); Ralph Sutton (p); Scott Hamilton (ts); Flip Phillips (ts); Marshal Royal (as); Buddy Tate (ts); Al Grey (tb); George Masso (tb); Bill Watrous (tb); Ed Polcer (co); Warren Vaché (co); Snooky Young (t).

Some of those heroes are gone, but the 2014 list of players and singers is just as inspiring: Harry Allen, John Allred, Dan Barrett, John Cocuzzi, John Eaton, Eddie Erickson, Rebecca Kilgore, Mundell Lowe, Ed Metz Jr., Butch Miles, Nicki Parrott, Houston Person Jr., Bucky Pizzarelli, Ed Polcer, Chuck Redd, Antti Sarpilla, Richard Simon, Bria Skonberg, Rossano Sportiello, Dave Stone, Johnny Varro, Jason Wanner.

On that list, players born in 1922 and 1926: will we have decades to see their like again?  And — to balance it all out — there are Youngbloods born in 1978 and only a little earlier.  Men and women, American and European, a lovely diversified mix — but with one common goal, to swing memorably and melodically.

And when you look here, at the lineup — how the sets have been planned — you can see how intelligently this Party has been laid out. All the music is in one ballroom of what I see is a comfortable hotel (so no rushing from room to room); the music runs from late afternoon Friday to late afternoon Sunday with breaks for meals, and the layout of who-plays-when is wise and sensible. Some parties put one seven-piece band (three or four horns with rhythm) on after another and the results can seem similar.

At this Party, there’s a very comforting awareness of an audience’s need for dynamics, for variety, so solo piano sets and duos for piano, for guitar, alternate with quartets and quintets; there’s only one eleven-person blowout and that is appropriately on Saturday night.

As to those important questions, “Can I / we get there?” “Can I / we afford it?” you’re on your own and only by visiting the site can you find answers to the second question. I do think that a weekend like this is worth its weight in YouTube videos and CDs, but that’s me.

What follows might seem overly gloomy, but it’s no less true.  Many fanciers of the music who have long memories spend much energy lamenting What Was.  “Were you there at the sessions when Big Barko and his Leash-Pullers used to play IN A MELLOTONE (or UNDER THE BAMBOO TREE) for forty-seven minutes?  That club / festival / party is now gone and I miss it so.”

I miss it too.  But I know why it’s no longer here, and so do you.

As Eleanor Roosevelt or perhaps Eddie South used to say, “It is better to write a check, make a hotel reservation, and be there now than to sit in your living room lamenting that The Great Things are here no more.  The Great Things need you to preserve them.”

See you at San Diego on February 21st! Details here.  And if you want to tell them, “I only did it to stop that nagging JAZZ LIVES from plucking at my sleeve and whispering “Carpe diem!” in my ear, I will bear the emotional burden.

May your happiness increase!

UNDER WESTERN SKIES, JAZZ HORIZONS

Long-Beach-California-Sunrise

With great pleasure, I have transplanted myself from one coast to the other, from suburban New York to Marin County in California, where I will be for the next eight months.  So what follows is a brief and selective listing of musical events the Beloved and I might show up at . . . feel free to join us!

Clint Baker and his New Orleans Jazz Band will be playing for the Wednesday Night Hop in San Mateo on January 8: details and directions here.

Emily Asher’s Garden Party will be touring this side of the continent in mid-January, with Emily’s Hoagy Carmichael program.  On January 16, she, friends, and sitters-in will make merry at a San Francisco house concert: details here.  On the 17th, the Garden Party will reappear, bright and perky, at the Red Poppy Art House, to offer another helping of subtle, lyrical, hot music: details to come here.

Clint and Friends (I don’t know the official band title, so am inventing the simplest) will be playing for the Central Coast Hot Jazz Society in Pismo Beach on January 26.  Details are not yet available on the website, but I have it on good authority that the band will include Marc Caparone, Dawn Lambeth, Mike Baird, Carl Sonny Leyland, and Katie Cavera.

A moment of self-advertisement: I will be giving a Sunday afternoon workshop at Berkeley’s The Jazz School  — on February 9, called LOUIS ARMSTRONG SPEAKS TO US.  Details here.’

And, from February 21-23, the Beloved and I will be happily in attendance at the San Diego Jazz Party — details here — to be held at the Del Mar Hilton, honoring guitar legend Mundell Lowe and featuring Harry Allen, John Allred, Dan Barrett, John Cocuzzi, John Eaton, Eddie Erickson, Rebecca Kilgore, Ed Metz, Butch Miles, Nicki Parrott, Houston Person, Bucky Pizzarelli, Ed Polcer, Chuck Redd, Antti Sarpila, Richard Simon, Bria Skonberg, Rossano Sportiello, Dave Stone, Johnny Varro, Jason Wanner.  The sessions will offer solo piano all the way up to nonets, with amiable cross-generational jazz at every turn.  In a triumph of organization, you can even see here who’s playing with whom and when, from Friday afternoon to Sunday farewell.

In March, the Jazz Bash by the Bay in Monterey . . . make your plans here!

And — a little closer to the here and now — if you don’t have plans for a New Year’s Eve gala, check out ZUT! in Berkeley.  Good food — and Mal Sharpe and the Big Money in Jazz (with singer Kallye Gray) will be giving 2013 a gentle push at the stroke of midnight.  Details here.

We hope to see our friends at these events!

May your happiness increase!

THE JAZZ BOOKSHELF: “JAZZ BEAT: NOTES ON CLASSIC JAZZ” and “MR. B”

A quarter-century ago, in actual bookstores, I could find shelves devoted to books on jazz.  That reassuring sight still exists (I saw it in the Strand in New York last week) but the great era of print publishing is, understandably, over. Thus it’s always a pleasure to encounter new books on jazz, and the two below are quite different but will both reward readers.

Jazz-Beat-review--195x300

JAZZ BEAT: NOTES ON CLASSIC JAZZ, by Lew Shaw (AZtold Publishing) is a very amiable collection of profiles written by an admiring, long-time fan and former sportswriter.

What makes these brief affectionate portraits different from the norm is that all (except one) the musicians in this book are living.  Not all of them are stars, but they have devoted followings — from the youthful Jonathan “Jazz” Russell, Pete and Will Anderson, Josh Duffee, Michael Kaeshammer, Ben Polcer, Molly Ryan, Bria Skonberg, Andy Schumm, Stephanie Trick, to the veterans Bill Allred, Jim Cullum, Bob Draga, Yve Evans, Chet Jeager, Flip Oakes, Bucky Pizzarelli, Richard Simon, Mike Vax, Pat Yankee, and Ed Polcer — the book’s inspiration, whose picture is on the cover.

Shaw also profiles other regulars on the festival circuit, Tom Rigney, the Uptown Lowdown Jazz Band, the Natural Gas Jazz Band, the New Black Eagles, Igor’s Jazz Cowboys.

His emphasis is on musicians exploring older jazz forms and repertoire, but the book is happily free from ideological bickering (with one exception, and the words aren’t the author’s*.  The book is comfortable and easy: I sense that the musicians are delighted to find someone sympathetic, interested, willing to get the facts right for publication.

I was pleased to find a number of my jazz friends and heroes profiled, among them Clint Baker, Kevin Dorn, Banu Gibson, Nicki Parrott, Carl Sonny Leyland, Randy Reinhart, Hal Smith, Rossano Sportiello, and the late Mat Domber.  I know I’ve left several people off this list, but readers will have fun seeing some of their favorites here.

Shaw’s method is simple: he establishes the musician’s place in the world of contemporary traditional jazz, constructs a brief biography — a story rather than a collection of dates and a listing of names and places.  Some comments from a writer or blogger offer different insights (I’m even quoted here a few times) and the musician speaks for him or herself.  The result is a fast-moving collection of short pieces (somewhere between journalistic features and extensive liner notes) that capture their subjects’ personalities in only a few pages.

Shaw is frankly admiring — from a literate fan’s perspective.  For instance (I picked this at random), the opening of his piece on Bob Draga: “Clarinetist Bob Draga is considered the consummate entertainer, having mastered the art of pleasing an audience with musical talent, classy appearance and entertaining repartee.”  That’s Bob, to the life.

One particularly moving episode in this book is the profile of drummer Joe Ascione — and his life with multiple sclerosis since 1997.  If Shaw had done nothing but allow Joe to speak for himself, JAZZ BEAT would still be well worth reading. Many fans come up to musicians at gigs, concerts, and festivals, and ask questions; it is reassuring to see that Lew Shaw has willingly shared his energies and research with us.  The 211-page book is nicely produced with many black-and-white photographs, and copies can be ordered here.

*Chet Jaeger, of the Night Blooming Jazzmen, told Shaw about playing in a Disneyland marching band when Dizzy Gillespie was also performing there, and his reaction: “I decided I would attend and try to learn something about modern jazz, but I gave up after a few numbers.  I always say that when I hit a bad note, everyone knows it’s a bad note. When Miles Davis hits a bad note, people will say, ‘Isn’t that creative.'”

MISTER B

Cary Ginell, author of a fine book on the Jazz Man Record Shop (reviewed here) and a rewarding biography of Cannonball Adderley (here) has produced another first-rate book in the same series: MR. B: THE LIFE AND MUSIC OF BILLY ECKSTINE (Hal Leonard, 228+ pages).  Ginell may turn out to be this generation’s model for jazz biography, for he doesn’t indulge in pathobiography (chronicling every time his subject is supposed to have left no tip for a waitperson or some other example of bad behavior) and he isn’t a secret Destroyer (appearing to write admiringly of the subject then deflating the Hero(ine) chapter after chapter).

His books are tidy, graceful, compact affairs — full of stories but never digressive, sticking to chronology but never mechanical.

Eckstine has been treated gingerly by the jazz community: yes, he was Earl Hines’ band vocalist, bringing the blues to a larger audience with JELLY, JELLY, then someone given credit for his “legendary” band featuring Dizzy, Bird, Fats Navarro, Art Blakey, and others . . . but once Eckstine comes to even greater prominence as an African-American balladeer (think of I APOLOGIZE), the jazz audience loses interest and the naughty word “commercialism” enters the dialogue.

Ginell doesn’t over-compensate, and he — unlike Mister B — doesn’t apologize, but he makes a serious case for Eckstine being one of the important figures in the slow struggle for White Americans to respect people of color.

One of Eckstine’s sons remembered, “Until the day he died, whenever he ordered a sandwich, he always separated the two pieces of bread and gently ran his fingers over the meat, because on a number of occasions while touring the South, they would send the band boy. . . to pick up food from a white restaurant. When they got the sandwiches, they would discover finely ground glass, or vermin feces mixed in with the tuna, chicken, egg, or potato salad.”  We also learn about the repercussions of a LIFE magazine photograph where Eckstine was captured amidst young White female fans — a horrifying example of racist attitudes in 1950. Stories such as that are invaluable, and make a book both readable and memorable, no matter who its subject might be.

The band business was difficult even when the enemy wasn’t trying to poison you so directly; Ed Eckstein also recalled that the critic Leonard Feather subtly attacked his father’s band because Eckstine refused to record Feather’s compositions.  Eckstine and Dizzy Gillespie created a parody — sung to the tune STORMY WEATHER, with these lyrics:

I know why, we can’t get a gig on Friday night, / Leonard Feather / Keeps on makin’ it hard for me to keep this band together, / Talkin’ shit about us all the time . . .  

We learn about the relationship between June Eckstine and the promising young Swedish clarinetist Stan Hasselgard; we learn of Eckstine’s close friendship with Dr. King, his devotion to his fans, his generosities.  And as for Eckstine’s apparent “selling-out,” he had this to say, “Some creeps said I ‘forsook’ jazz in order to be commercial. So I saw one of these creeps, a jazz critic, and I said, ‘What are you, mad at me because I want to take care of my family?  Is that what pisses you off? You want me to end up in a goddamn hotel room with a bottle of gin in my pocket and a needle in my arm, and let them discover me laying there? Then I’ll be immortal, I guess, to you . . . It ain’t going to work that way with me, man. I want to take care of my family and give them the things that I think they deserve.'”

And we learn that Eckstine’s last word was “Basie,” which should go some distance in supporting his deep feeling for jazz.

It’s an admirable book.  Although nearly everyone who worked with Eckstine is dead, Ginell has had the cooperation of the singer’s family and friends; he has done thorough research without allowing minutiae to overwhelm the narrative, and the book moves along at a fine 4 / 4 pace.  With rare photographs, as well.

Ginell’s work — and this series in general — is very fine, and these books fill needed spaces in jazz history.  Who’s next?

May your happiness increase!

THE STEM, THE MOOD, THE NEST at ATLANTA 2012: CHUCK REDD, HARRY ALLEN, ROSSANO SPORTIELLO, RICHARD SIMON, ED METZ (April 21, 2012)

A simple set: celebrating New York as jazz’s central heating system; amorous feelings; the comforts of home.  By that I mean Ellington’s MAIN STEM, the Fields-McHugh I’M IN THE MOOD FOR LOVE, and Sir Charles Thompson’s tribute to disc jockey and friend of jazz Fred Robbins, ROBBINS’ NEST — all performed with grace and style by Chuck Redd, vibraphone; Harry Allen, tenor saxophone; Rossano Sportiello, piano; Richard Simon, string bass; Ed Metz, drums — at the 2012 Atlanta Jazz Party.

MAIN STEM:

I’M IN THE MOOD FOR LOVE, featuring Harry, Rossano, Richard, and Ed:

ROBBINS’ NEST:

May your happiness increase.

ATLANTA 2012: CHUCK REDD, HARRY ALLEN, MARK SHANE, RICHARD SIMON, ED METZ (April 21, 2012)

Vibraphonist and percussionist Chuck Redd has fine taste, whether he’s leading a small group at the 2012 Atlanta Jazz Party or — more informally — keeping time on the paper tablecloth with his wire brushes at The Ear Inn.  Here’s a sample of the former — with saxophonist Harry Allen, pianist Mark Shane, bassist Richard Simon, and fellow percussionist Ed Metz.  On the menu, a Rodgers and Hammerstein ballad from ANNIE GET YOUR GUN, a swing perennial that I associate with Lester Young, a Cole Porter love-in-swingtime song from HIGH SOCIETY (Bing sang it to Grace Kelly while Louis played a memorable obbligato . . . Ruby loved it, too), and a hard-bop version of the everlasting blues.  Hear for yourself.

THEY SAY IT’S WONDERFUL:

JUST YOU, JUST ME:

I LOVE YOU, SAMANTHA:

Billy Strayhorn’s THE INTIMACY OF THE BLUES:

May your happiness increase.

ATLANTA 2012: BOB SCHULZ and FRIENDS: “RIVERBOAT SHUFFLE”

Good stuff.  The real thing.  Beyond category.  Too good to ignore.

Bob Schulz, cornet; Russ Phillips, trombone; Allan Vache, clarinet; Mark Shane, piano; Richard Simon, string bass; John Cocuzzi, drums.

May your happiness increase.

ATLANTA 2012: DUKE HEITGER, JON-ERIK KELLSO, JOHN ALLRED, ALLAN VACHE, ROSSANO SPORTIELLO, RICHARD SIMON, CHUCK REDD (April 22, 2012)

If you remember depictions of jazz in classic films, competition is always key.  One trumpet player plays higher, faster, louder: he is crowned the New King of Jazz and the pretenders to the throne slink away into the night.  Some of the greatest players saw the bandstand as a place where they could prove themselves Reigning Monarch.  Wiser ones understand that harmony is the key: beautiful teamwork makes for beautiful music.

This friendly enlightenment was enacted in front of our eyes on Sunday morning, April 22, 2012, at the Atlanta Jazz Party — at an hour that most musicians only recognize under certain kinds of duress.  But everyone played angelically. . . and brotherly love came out through their instruments.  No cutting contest here between trumpeters Duke and Jon-Erik, friends for a long time, and the rest of the band followed suit:

An easy-rocking YELLOW DOG BLUES:

I GOT IT BAD — music for the ages:

TIGER RAG, not too fast:

Beyond category, beyond commentary, a community of eloquent souls.

May your happiness increase.

ATLANTA 2012: BOB SCHULZ and FRIENDS SPREAD THE TRUTH (April 20, 2012)

I take my title from the story that Wingy Manone, at the height of the “jazz wars” of the Forties, had a sign made for the club he was playing in, COME IN AND HEAR THE TRUTH.  It’s not that there is only one Truth (heaven forbid!) but the Condonite variety with roots both in 1924 and in 2012 is a very attractive thing.

Cornetist Bob Schulz knows all about that Truth, and he embodies it, too.  Here he is amidst congenial swingers at the 2012 Atlanta Jazz Party — Russ Phillips, trombone / vocal; Harry Allen, tenor saxophone; Rossano Sportiello, piano; Richard Simon, string bass; Chuck Redd, drums — and here are three versions of Hot Veritas for all of us to enjoy.

BEALE STREET BLUES summons up W.C. Handy, Louis, Condon, and several fine mid-Fifties Columbia sessions made possible by the master, George Avakian, happily still with us:

When Rossano started off SOMEDAY SWEETHEART (with or without the comma), I relaxed into my chair: good things were going to happen!  And they did:

And here’s Russ to sing about how one gets Spiffy when one’s Squeeze (in this case, Lulu) is back in town:

After BEALE STREET, Bob said, “That was fun,” and he wasn’t being immodest, just accurate.

May your happiness increase.

ATLANTA JAZZ PARTY 2012: ALLAN VACHE AND FRIENDS PLAY BENNY GOODMAN (April 20, 2012)

This wonderful quintet session took place on the first day of the 2012 Atlanta Jazz Party — April 20 — and it honored the King of Swing.  The living practitioners of the jazz art on the bandstand were swing kings in their own right: Allan Vache, clarinet; Rossano Sportiello, piano; Bucky Pizzarelli, guitar; John Cocuzzi, vibraphone; Richard Simon, string bass; Chuck Redd, drums.

Ruby Braff once told an interviewer (I am paraphrasing here) that after the world ended, there would still be two men sitting on an island telling Benny Goodman stories.  And it’s true much of the posthumous attention paid to BG has been for his odd, often unappealing personality traits.  But the music is what remains, and I wonder if it were possible to listen to some of his great melodic improvisations without a heavy layer of preconceptions (not only was he eccentric, but he was famous, Caucasian, Jewish, successful, popular — someone to be viewed with distrust in certain academic circles as being both an exploiter and a thief) would they not rank alongside, say, Benny Carter and Teddy Wilson, among others, for their beauty and clarity?

The music for this set came for the most part from the period in Goodman’s life when Charlie Christian was a transforming force.  It amuses me that the people who decry post-1945 jazz as too ornate, too intellectual, too fast (think of Bird and Dizzy) don’t usually acknowledge that the very fast original lines the Goodman Sextet played in the years 1939-1945 lead directly into the “excesses of bebop.”  (Blame John Kirby, too, while you’re at it.)

But music is more durable than the whims of its creators, the fictions created by ideologues, the dividing lines drawn by academics.  Here is 2012 swing with a fine awareness of the past co-existing with its contemporary enthusiasm.

Variations on SLIPPED DISC, a title saying something about Goodman’s quite painful sciatica:

A SMOOTH ONE, the aptly titled line over LOVE IS JUST AROUND THE CORNER:

STEALIN’ APPLES, which owes its existence to both Fats Waller and Fletcher Henderson:

A feature for jazz master Bucky (a mainstay of later Goodman groups), Richard Simon, and Chuck Redd: Edgar Sampson’s STOMPIN’ AT THE SAVOY:

And a rousing THE WORLD IS WAITING FOR THE SUNRISE:

May your happiness increase.

THE 2012 ATLANTA JAZZ PARTY WAS GREAT FUN: RUSS PHILLIPS and FRIENDS, “YOU TOOK ADVANTAGE OF ME”

I will have more to say about the delights of the 2012 Atlanta Jazz Party — wonderful musicians, a pleasant setting, nice people making everything happen, meeting old friends and making new ones — as I share more videos.

But right now I thought I would let the music speak for itself, as it does so sweetly and eloquently.  On the first evening of the party, April 20, 2012, trombonist Russ Phillips took the stand with a small assemblage of creative fellows who know how to make the music soar without making too much of a show: Jon-Erik Kellso and Duke Heitger on trumpets; Allan Vache, clarinet; Mark Shane, piano; Richard Simon, string bass; Chuck Redd, drums.  They floated their way with great ease through YOU TOOK ADVANTAGE OF ME — and pay special attention to the philosophical dialogue for trumpets in the middle.  Delicious conversational utterances in the middle of a splendid performance:

Was ever the idea of being taken advantage of so tenderly dramatized?

For those of you who are — as I was — gently swept away by the sounds, I encourage you to click atlanta and learn more about the 2013 party.  Being there is even better than watching the videos, I assure you.

May your happiness increase.

GEORGIA ON OUR MINDS: THE ATLANTA JAZZ PARTY 2012 IS COMING!

Forgive me for pulling at your coat or plucking at your sleeve, but a gentle reminder is in order.  If you haven’t bought your tickets for the 2012 Atlanta Jazz Party, the twenty-third, which takes place April 20-22, 2012, what in the name of W.C. Handy might you be waiting for?

I don’t want to be excessively grim, but my Latin friends CARPE DIEM and TEMPUS FUGIT make their presence known as I write this.  And at my back I always hear Time’s swinging chariot drawing near . . . which is to say (more plainly) that parties and festivals don’t always return year after year, nor do the participants.  There!  Now that the ominous murmurings are over, we can return to our regularly scheduled program of lifting the spirit.

Many jazz parties (I say this quietly) tend to rely on the same circle of artists — not necessarily a terrible thing: why choose novelty for its own sake?  But the AJP has some special added attractions.  One of them is singer / pianist Freddy Cole.  Some know Freddy only as Nat’s younger brother — this is accurate but quite limiting.  Freddy is a fine sinuous singer and swinging pianist — both facets evident in this romantic 2008 reading of FLY ME TO THE MOON.  The applause at the end is well-deserved, and since some parties and festivals specialize in Fast and Loud, a swinging crooner is always welcome.  And just in case you were wondering, he isn’t his Brother:

Here’s the eternally vigorous Bucky Pizzarelli — at 85! — in March 2011, with guitarist Ed Laub, paying tribute to Les Paul:

Even at this easy tempo, Bucky’s essential swing is as natural to him as breathing.  Will you be swinging this expertly at 85 . . . ?

Sometimes virtue is rewarded while it’s still around to hear the cheers: at the 2012 AJP, cornetist / bandleader Ed Polcer will be given a richly-deserved Lifetime Achievement Award.  I don’t know if you first heard Ed as a swinging Princetonian, at a long string of Atlanta Jazz Parties, at Eddie Condon’s (which is where I first heard him, in 1975, standing next to Ruby Braff and Vic Dickenson) and other parties and clubs all around the world.  Like Bucky, Ed always swings.  Here he is only a year ago, amidst West Coast friends, playing MOTEN SWING:

And there’s something new and exciting — Joe Gransden and his sixteen-piece big band.  Dance music of the highest order!  Here they are in 2011, sweetly moving through NIGHT AND DAY:

All of this will take place on the weekend of April 20-22, 2012, starting Friday evening and continuing until Sunday afternoon.

But wait!  There’s more!

How about a brass section to impress Gabriel: Jon-Erik Kellso, Duke Heitger, Ed Polcer, Bob Schulz, Joe Gransden, John Allred, Russ Phillips?

Reeds by Allan Vache, Harry Allen; John Cocuzzi, Freddy Cole, Mark Shane, Rossano Sportiello, piano; Ed Metz, Chuck Redd, percussion; Matt Munisteri, Bucky Pizzarelli, guitar; Richard Simon, Frank Tate, bass; John Cocuzzi, Becky Kilgore, Freddy Cole, Francine Reed, Bob Schulz, vocals.

I can already imagine the bands I would like to hear, and one of the nice things about the AJP is that everyone gets a chance to lead sets.  I know who my favorites are and expect to be exhausted by pleasure on Sunday night.

The 23rd AJP will take place at the Westin Atlanta North — clean and friendly — and there will be a cornucopia of hot jazz, tender ballads, and good feeling.  I know from experience.  I guarantee it!

You can purchase tickets here — either online or fill out the form and mail it in.

I believe that the best seats go to those who sign up early . . . so don’t wait for the middle of April to make up your mind.  Here’s a 2011 video with highlights — exuberant ones! — from the AJP:

APRIL IN ATLANTA! (April 20-22, 2012)

You need more for a great party than a football game and nachos.  Remember the guests make the occasion.  And the music . . . .

Just a reminder that the Atlanta Jazz Party is going full speed ahead — the great jazz artists there will include Rebecca Kilgore, Freddy ColeRichard SimonJohn AllredRuss Phillips, Chuck Redd, Harry Allen,Ed Polcer, Bob Schulz, Jon-Erik Kellso, Duke Heitger, Allan Vaché, , John CocuzziMark ShaneRossano SportielloMatt MunisteriBucky PizzarelliEd Metz Jr..  Add to this the Joe Gransden sixteen-piece big band . . . and you have a Party

I’m already arranging imaginary set listings in my head. 

Visit the AJP website  to learn more, make reservations, to get excited about what’s coming — this, the 23rd AJP.  So they know how to do it correctly to make sure everyone’s glowing.

THE ATLANTA JAZZ PARTY (April 2012) IS ON THE WAY!

It’s only the beginning of December 2011 but I am fortunate enough to know where I will be on the weekend of April 20-22, 2012.  The 32nd Atlanta Jazz Party!

If you need to ask WHY . . . .

How about this brass section: Jon-Erik Kellso, Duke Heitger, Ed Polcer, Bob Schulz, John Allred, Russ Phillips; Allan Vache, Harry Allen, reeds; John Cocuzzi, Freddy Cole, Mark Shane, Rossano Sportiello, piano; Ed Metz, Chuck Redd, percussion; Matt Munisteri, Bucky Pizzarelli, guitar; Richard Simon, Frank Tate, bass; John Cocuzzi, Becky Kilgore, Freddy Cole, Ashley Locheed, Bob Schulz, vocals.

I can already imagine the bands I would like to hear, and one of the nice things about the AJP is that everyone gets a chance to lead sets.

It will take place at the Westin Atlanta North — clean and friendly — and there will be a profusion (or perhaps a satiety) of hot jazz, tender ballads, and good feeling.

You can purchase tickets here — either online or fill out the form and mail it in.

My own story is that I have a deeply sentimental attachment to the AJP: the first time I went there was in 2007, because many of my heroes were playing.  I got to meet Eddie Erickson face to face (and of course receive the first of many hugs) and to hear the world-shaking rhythm quartet of Mark Shane, Matt Munisteri, Vince Giordano, and Kevin Dorn.  But I have personal, romantic memories of my Atlanta experience.  I had met the Beloved about three weeks before and recognized that she was far beyond the ordinary.  And of course she liked jazz.  So one of our nice early shared memories was my opening my cellphone during a Becky Kilgore set so that the Beloved could come home, check her voicemail, and hear Miss Kilgore sing ALL I DO IS DREAM OF YOU.  Right place, right time.  Amor vincit omnia, you cats!

Oh.  I will be bringing my camera, but don’t let that stop you.  I believe that the best seats go to those who sign up early . . . so don’t wait for the end of March to make up your mind.  I didn’t.

And as for the ATLANTA BLUES — I don’t expect to have them at all.  The Westin is very plush: no pallets on the floor for us!

“ROYAL GARDEN BLUES”: A GRAND FINALE: SWEET AND HOT 2011

Everyone on stage!

This ROYAL GARDEN BLUES, a hilarious jazz extravaganza, closed the festivites at the 2011 Sweet and Hot Music Festival.  You’ll have to navigate the solo order yourself, but the participants (more or less) include the guiding genius of festival, Wally Holmes.  Then you’ll encounter John Sheridan, piano; Allan Vache, Bob Draga, clarinet; Richard Simon, bass; Connie Jones, cornet, Jennifer Leitham, Nedra Wheeler, bass; Jim Galloway, reeds; Ed Polcer, Corey Gemme, Randy Reinhart, cornet; Tim Laughlin, Dan Levinson, reeds; Russ Phillips, John Allred, Dan Barrett, trombones; Mark Shane, Johnny Varro, piano; Howard Alden, guitar; Dick Shanahan, Frank DiVito, drums . . . and perhaps some unidentified flying swingers in the background as well. 

When the applause had died down, I heard a woman near me say happily, “Boy, that was fun!”  Absolutely right, ma’am.  I never thought I would want to spend Labor Day weekend in Los Angeles, but I’ve already (mentally) marked my 2012 calendar.  You come, too.

FLOATING LYRICISM: TIM LAUGHLIN, CONNIE JONES, CLINT BAKER, CHRIS DAWSON, MARTY EGGERS, KATIE CAVERA, HAL SMITH at SWEET AND HOT 2011 (Sept. 5, 2011)

The renowned jazz reedman Joel Press made a point last night at Smalls, in between-set conversation, of praising the clarinetist Tim Laughlin — someone whom I hadn’t heard in person before the Sweet and Hot Music Festival this last September.  And I agreed, enthusiastically.

“Tonation and phrasing” is how Louis described the ideal: that the sound coming out of someone’s horn, the audible beauty of someone’s vocal sound, is as important as the notes played.  Music, said Eddie Condon, should come in the ear like honey.  Tim understands that so well and puts it into practice: the simplest melody statement gleams.  And as for “phrasing,” he’s a master at taking his time, making space so that those notes resonate in our ears and hearts.  Not surprisingly, his partners in the band are great lyrical players.  I’ve praised them before and this time will let the music speak for itself — and will only, as Yeats wrote, murmur name upon name: Connie Jones, cornet and sky-architecture; Clint Baker, trombone and funk; Chris Dawson, piano and elegance; Katie Cavera, guitar and automatic transmission; Marty Eggers, string bass and solid rock; Hal Smith, drums and sound-sculptures.  And late in this set they were visited by the slippery and thoughtful trombonist Russ Phillips. 

Oh, play those things!

They began the set with a nice easy version of SHINE — a song looked on with some disapproval for its lyrics, but once you move the difficult words aside, the melody rings beautifully.  It’s one of those classic-but-neglected songs I could hear much more often:

Then a real surprise — Tim loves pretty melodies, which is appropriate, so he called for IF YOU WERE THE ONLY GIRL IN THE WORLD, which rises to sweet splendor early on:

If you think only of the lyrics, I CRIED FOR YOU strikes a more unhappy note, but jazz players and singers have been ignoring its potantial vindictiveness since the middle Thirties — as the band does here:

Then came one of the high points of the festival — Connie Jones’ absolutely heartfelt performance of a song Louis Jordan recorded, NEW ORLEANS AND A RUSTY OLD HORN, which sums up a good deal of Connie’s love for that city, the music, and how they intertwine.  It’s also a song Connie recorded with Tim on their latest CD (visit http://www.timlaughlin.com. for the details):

Russ Phillips came onstage (always something to celebrate) and the band swung out into the old Berlin favorite, ALL BY MYSELF:

And they ended the set with a good old good one, evoking what Louis would have called a street parade in his home town, HIGH SOCIETY:

Here’s a bit of what they call laginappe — something extra and extra-special — as they call it in New Orleans: a Connie Jones / Tim Laughlin / Corey Gemme / John Sheridan / Richard Simon / Frank DiVito gift from the last set of Sweet and Hot: MAMA’S GONE, GOODBYE (listen closely to Connie’s generous, pensive obbligatos to Corey’s lead):

I’m very sorry that these are the last videos of the Laughlin – Jones band I have from Sweet and Hot 2011, but thrilled to be able to share them with you.  This band — almost identical except that Bob Havens will be playing trombone — will be featured at the San Diego Dixieland Festival this coming November.  Maybe Clint (who will be playing with two other bands at that festival — trumpet with Grand Dominion and tuba with the Yerba Buena Stompers — will come and make himself to home with Tim and Connie, too.  I’ll be there.

JOHN SHERIDAN KICKS IT (Sept. 5, 2011)

Underestimate pianist / composer / arranger John Sheridan at your peril.  Neatly dressed, apparently serious-minded, he is really a volcanic eruption of swing just waiting for the proper moment.  Yes, he can play the most delicate traceries behind a soloist or our Becky Kilgore, and when he sits down at a new piano he is more likely to venture into IN A MIST than HONKY TONK TRAIN BLUES (although his version of the latter song is peerless).  But he’s a Force of Nature when seated at the piano.  No cascades of notes; no violent runs up and down the keyboard; no “displays of technique”: John simply starts plainly and builds and builds — at these times, the pianist he summons up most is the much-missed Dave McKenna, without consciously aping the Woonsocket, R.I. master’s locomotive patterns.

Sheridan remains Sheridan, and that’s a good thing.

Here he is (with Richard Simon, bass; Dick Shanahan, drums) in the final set of the final afternoon of the 2011 Sweet and Hot Music Festival.  All the musicians and the varied audiences were in a state of Jazz Satiety: whatever could have been played or heard was in the preceding four days.

So wily Mr. Sheridan eschewed his stride extravaganzas and tender ballads: instead, he suggested something both elementary and profound, Sonny Rollins’ calypso ST. THOMAS.  And from those simple chords and potentially repetitive rhythmic patterns he built a powerful edifice — a masterpiece of variations on themes, of creative improvisation.  And it rocked the house there — as I think it will do for yours now:

Another winning play from John Sheridan, man of many surprises!