Tag Archives: Ringside at Condon’s

RINGSIDE AT RANDY’S: JAZZ AT CHAUTAUQUA (Sept. 18, 2010)

Here’s another tangible reminder of how wonderful the 2010 Jazz at Chautauqua experience was.  

In four songs, cornetist Randy Reinhart created a rewarding reflection of the jazz played by Eddie Condon and friends.

I can’t say for sure that Randy had this theme in mind at all.  Perhaps he thought, “OK, here’s the band I’ve been asked to lead — great soloists and a cooking rhythm section.  Let’s make it easy for the guys to have fun and the audience, too — a reliable swinger to start with, a pretty change of pace, a feature for someone, and a hot one to go out on!” 

But much more happened on that bandstand.  First off, Randy had prime melodists and swingers around him: Bob Havens, trombone; Bobby Gordon, clarinet; John Sheridan, piano; Marty Grosz, guitar; Vince Giordano, string bass and bass sax (Vince never sidled over to the tuba on this set); Arnie Kinsella, drums. 

A band like that can do anything — especially with a leader who has the good sense to keep things reasonably uncomplicated (save the fugues for later) and to give his players — almost all of them leaders on their own — space to invent.

Randy began his set with a Gershwin classic, another piece of music whose title is a witty affirmation, ‘S’WONDERFUL, and kicked it off at a nice tempo, not too fast.  You’ll notice that although no one is consciously “modernistic,” the harmonic vocabulary here hasn’t stopped at 1936.  Hear the wonderful teamwork between Bobby and Marty when Bobby takes his winding, musing solo.  Bob Havens here reminds me of the great and under-celebrated Lou McGarity, and Vince (in his own way) summons up both Adrian Rollini and Ernie Caceres in his bass sax solo.  Everyone gets aphoristic in the four-bar trades that follow before the final sauntering ensemble:

Randy featured himself — but in a very modest fashion — in duet with the thoughtfully swinging John Sheridan on something that was the very opposite of formulaic: a wonderful song from the 1933 Bing Crosby book, LEARN TO CROON — and the duet showed that they, too, had already passed the graduate course with honors: Randy’s ringing tone, John’s harmonic subtleties show that they’ve eliminated each rival immediately:

Turning to one of the sidemen and saying, “Here’s your turn; do whatever you’d like,” might lead even the most creative musician into His or Her Feature.  Vic Dickenson played MANHATTAN for years, alternating with IN A SENTIMENTAL MOOD; Jack Teagarden had his half-dozen specialties. 

Bob Havens always surprises — not only with his super-gliding technique — but this choice was extra-special: BY THE LIGHT OF THE SILV’RY MOON, a pretty song that used to be part of the American musical landscape (and was parodied in cartoons) before lesser music came along.  I suspect that Bob, a solid product of the sweet Midwest, had heard, sung and played the song, through childhood and adulthood.  And what he and the immensely melodic Mr. Giordano did here is priceless and touching.  I only regret that there wasn’t time for us all to sing along, two choruses — one to fumble, one to sing out now that everyone had recalled the words.  No matter: you can harmonize with the video; thinking of people here and there singing along with Bob and Vince will please me for a long time.  Even Arnie’s train whistle doesn’t intrude on the sweet moment.  And for those who are taking notes, Bob had turned eighty a few months before, which makes his continued mastery an astonishment:

Affirmation, crooning, sweet sentimentality . . . how to conclude this session?  How about a hot Chicago-style paean to the beauty and charms and fidelity of one’s Beloved — EVERYBODY LOVES MY BABY (But My Baby Loves Nobody But Me):

Early in this posting, I mentioned the name of Eddie Condon.  I don’t want that man and his music ever to be forgotten, or for our recollection to be eroded by time and inaccurate recollection.  Watching these videos again, I thought how well — and without fanfare — Randy and his friends had made the spirit of Condon alive and vigorous: tributes to friends George and Bing, to Louis and Bechet, to sweet sentimental music.  

And the ambiance — hot playing, correct tempos, sweet melodies, easy improvisation — brought back the various Condon clubs, Commodore Records, Town Hall, the Floor Show, the Deccas and Columbias. 

To paraphrase Eddie, whose understatements were high praise, that set didn’t harm anyone!

RINGSIDE AT KEVIN’S: Feb. 5, 2010

My readers will catch the reference in the title to one of the great recordings of the early LP era (some might say one of the great recordings of all time) RINGSIDE AT CONDON’S, a collection of live performances by Eddie Condon’s 1951-52 band at the club named for him.  The music is precise but utterly spirited, a collection of great idiosyncratic soloists forming a cohesive ensemble unit.

Drummer Kevin Dorn doesn’t have his own club, and he probably wouldn’t want one — but the music he and his band, THE BIG 72, played last night at The Garage (Seventh Avenue South in Greenwich Village, New York City) evoked the Condon band of the Fifties in the best way.  Not as a repertory exercise (although listeners with long memories might hear a respectful nod to a famous recording here or there during the set) but as a Condon-inspired exercise: hire the best players, let them have space to blow on good, sometimes less-heard songs, and enjoy the jazz.

The crowd did.  (As an aside, I have to say that The Garage has the most mobile — or perhaps fidgety? — audience I’ve ever seen in a club: an apparently steady stream of people who had come in for a drink, a chat, or one song, entering and leaving.  Come and meet / those tramping feet — about two miles south of Forty-Second Street).  Hear a woman in the audience, who had been dancing wildly to the music, shout out “We love you!” before the band sails into HOW COME YOU DO ME LIKE YOU DO?

And that band.  Kevin, summoning up the driving energy of Cliff Leeman, Buzzy Drootin, George Wettling — while listening to and supporting the band, varying his sound as the music demands.  Bassist Kelly Friesen, a rhythmic rock, whether walking the chords, slapping, or even bowing the bass — he cut through the chatter and lifted everyone up.  Jesse Gelber at the piano, talking to it as a man inspired, grinning enthusiastically at the keyboard.  Trumpeter and sometime vocalist Simon Wettenhall, fervent and animated but subtle, turning curves like a race-car driver.  Michael Hashim, mixing a gentle Hodges-approach with a violent rhythm-and-blues side, always enjoying himself.  And my hero of the night, clarinetist Pete Martinez, who was in full flower with his patented version of Ed Hall’s inspired rasp in his tone.  And, in the fashion of the great informal aggregations of jazz, each of them is a particularly stubborn (although mild-mannered in person) individualist who keeps his identity safe while playing for the glory of the ensemble.  What a band they are!

People in the know are accustomed to seeing and hearing this aggregation under the heading of the TRADITIONAL JAZZ COLLECTIVE.  Kevin and colleagues have taken on a new name, somewhat mysterious — THE BIG 72.  To find out what it means, you’ll have to ask Kevin at a gig. 

Here they are on Friday, February 5. 2010:

Paying homage to Bix Beiderbecke (and to Condon’s BIXIELAND sessions) they began with a quick I’LL BE A FRIEND WITH PLEASURE, capped by Simon’s derby-muted improvisation on Bix’s recorded solo:

Then, perhaps in tribute to the huddled masses yearning to breathe free, wherever, who formed the mass of the audience, they launched into a rocking FIDGETY FEET:

The aforementioned question (sometimes unanswerable) that reminded me of JAMMIN’ AT CONDON’S: HOW COME YOU DO ME LIKE YOU DO?:

Another Bix-inspired homage, although he never knew the song, composed later by Hoagy Carmichael: SKYLARK, with a rough-toned but convincing vocal by Simon:

And finally, in honor of Mr. Hall and perhaps Oran “Hot Lips” Page, here’s THE SHEIK OF ARABY, complete with verse:

I had a wonderful time listening to this band.  And — don’t keep it a secret — they have a steady gig at the Garage, late night sessions two Fridays every month.  You should see what they’re like live: I plan to!

KEVIN DORN AND FRIENDS (Dec. 18, 2009)

I originally called this post RINGSIDE AT THE GARAGE, homage to one of the great recordings: a series of live performances by Eddie Condon and his band in 1951-2, taken from the Doctor Jazz radio broadcasts and packaged (by Savoy Records in their characteristic slippery fashion) as if they were live recordings captured on the spot at Condon’s club.  Exuberant and stylish, these performances feature Wild Bill Davison, Cutty Cutshall, Ed Hall, Gene Schroeder, Bob Casey, and George Wettling (although Buzzy Drootin or Cliff Leeman might be in there as well.  

The drummer and deep thinker Kevin Dorn has led the Traditional Jazz Collective for several years; I first heard the TJC at the Cajun five years ago, where they had the Monday-night slot, although I had already been delighted by Kevin’s playing with other bands.  Although Kevin reveres the Condon band of the Fifties, he would sooner give up playing than imitate a note on those recordings.  What he aspires to is an energetic, self-reliant creativity.  I saw and heard it in action at the downtown New York club “The Garage” on Friday, December 18, 2009.   

Kevin’s band is doubly satisfying.  For one, when he can, he hires people who are not only fine musicians but also people who like each other.  So the atmosphere on the stand is friendly.  This doesn’t translate into hi-jinks to please the crowd, but the happiness on the stand permeates the music, which isn’t always the case.  And my thinking about the cheerful atmosphere he and his friends inspire gave me what I think is a more appropriate title, not only for this post, but for the videos that follow below. 

For this gig, he had the splendidly energetic trumpeter Simon Wettenhall, who can climb mountains on his horn but also deliver a forceful lead in the manner of Fifties Louis.  Next to Simon (in a delightfully retro cardigan sweater) was the multi-talented J. Walter Hawkes, composer, trombonist, and singer — also a ukulele player of note, but he left his four-stringed buddy home on Friday.  Walter is a virtuoso brassman: someone who can shout, whisper, and croon in the best high-register Tommy Dorsey manner.  His playing is the very opposite of “Dixieland” formulaic: no tailgate cliches.  He’s harmonically sophisticated, rhythmically subtle, and a fine ensemble player – -someone who’s absorbed more modern styles (he admires Bennie Green) without sticking out of a free-wheeling band like this.  And he’s a remarkable singer — engaging, wheedling, sincere without being sticky.  The TJC usually has a pianist, but this edition had the nimble Nick Russo on banjo and guitar, filling the gaps, adding harmonies, driving the rhythm.  Nick’s banjo playing is powerful without being metallic; his guitar lines entwine and support.  Doug Largent, one of the TJC’s charter members, is a little-known wonder: New York City is full of bassists, and Doug is one of the best . . . although he doesn’t always get the credit he deserves.  Steady time, beautiful intonation, lovely plain-spoken phrases.  George Duvivier would approve.  I’ve written a good deal in praise of Kevin — as drummer and leader — so I will only say that the great individualists of the past live through and around him, but the result is personal rather than derivative.  Although he might hit a Krupa lick on the cowbell, he knows about being in the moment, and the moment is always NOW, even when it is informed by the past. 

This gig was also a quiet welcome-back to the clarinetist Pete Martinez, who’s returned from another tour of duty in the military.  I am thrilled he is back and playing: he is a technically brilliant player who avoids the usual Goodmania or the fast-high-loud tendencies lesser musicians favor.  Pete, who is quiet by nature, looks to the mercurial Edmond Hall for inspiration — and he has captured all the shadings of Hall’s tone, from rough-hewn to subtone caress, as well as the cascading phrases Hall pulled out of his hat without fanfare.  Pete is also a wonderful guide: he sets riffs for the front line, and (although I didn’t see this happen at the Garage) he is a jazz scholar whose arrangements and transcriptions are peerless.  Welcome back, Pete! 

And there were musical guests in the audience: the sweetly compelling singer Barbara Rosene, who whispered to me that she had a new CD ready to emerge — where her cohorts were people like Wycliffe Gordon, Randy Sandke, Howard Alden, James Chirillo: the best we have.  And the joint was jumpin’ with singers, as the wistful Molly Ryan came up to sing a few tunes as well.

Here are two sets (of a possible three) that I captured at the Garage.  Never mind that many of the people were there for reasons that had nothing to do with the TJC’s cheerful brilliance: perhaps they could absorb beauty, heat, and musical intelligence through a kind of subliminal osmosis.  I hope so.

Kevin kicked things off with a rousing EVERYBODY LOVES MY BABY:

Then, what used to be called a “rhythm ballad” — a romantic song with a swinging pulse — IF I HAD YOU:

The TJC version of HINDUSTAN reminds me happily of the good times that Hot Lips Page and Specs Powell had on their V-Disc version of THE SHEIK OF ARABY:

A version of Carmichael’s ROCKIN’ CHAIR that lives up to its name:

In honor of Bix and Hoagy, in honor of Eddie and the Gang, RIVERBOAT SHUFFLE:

To some, BLUES MY NAUGHTY SWEETIE GIVES TO ME summons up the Jimmy Noone-Earl Hines recording, but the TJC’s outing is straight out of Columbia’s Thirtieth Street studios:

I’ve had the good fortune to hear Barbara Rosene sing I’M CONFESSIN’ many times in the recent past, but this rendition impressed me even more with its deep feeling:

I don’t know what — if any — emotional scenario Barbara had in mind.  It could simply have been “ballad, then an up tune,” but after confessing her love, she is ready to switch everything around: THERE’LL BE SOME CHANGES MADE:

It’s always fascinating to stand with a video camera in a New York City club, and SOMEDAY SWEETHEART captures several fascinating moments.  Fortunately, the music continues even when the screen goes dark — a large young man in a down jacket stood in front of me, amiably unaware until another observer suggested he might move over.  That he did, politely, but not before pointing out that the back of his head and of his coat were now in my video, and that he would like to be properly credited.  All I could think was, “Someday, sweetheart!”:

In honor of the season (and perhaps anticipating the snow that covered New York City twenty-four hours later) Molly Ryan offered WINTER WONDERLAND:

And Molly closed the second set with her version of the 1930 song I always think of as ‘ZACTLY, but the sheet music properly titles it EXACTLY LIKE YOU:

I’m so glad I made it to “ringside” to hear Kevin and his friends — energetic, fervent, and hot.

COPYRIGHT, MICHAEL STEINMAN AND JAZZ LIVES, 2009
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