Tag Archives: Rob Adkins

SHE TAKES US ALONG ON HER JOURNEYS: EMILY ASHER’S GARDEN PARTY, “IF I WERE A WINDOW”

The inspiring and inspired Ms. Asher, in Oaxaca, Mexico.

Some new compact discs lend themselves to instant approving review; others, I love but have to take time to write about with proper appreciation.  Their impact has to sink in.

Emily Asher‘s latest, IF I WERE A WINDOW, is one of the second kind.  It’s not because I had to look under the bed to find the adjectives.  Rather, it is like a slim volume of short stories with each story so full of flavor, so different from its neighbors, so that I couldn’t read them all in one sitting.  The sensory offerings are so rich, each one its own multi-layered narrative, that I had to take my time and listen to at most two or three performances at a time.

If that has scared off prospective buyers (“Oh, no!  This sounds like work!”) let me assure you that this recording is fun and lively and full of good surprises.  You’ll be dancing in the kitchen as you carefully (with gloves) remove the seeds from the hot peppers that are going to be part of dinner.

I think I first encountered Emily a decade ago, sitting in at the Ear Inn — in itself a mark of achievement — and was delighted by this elegant young woman who got around the horn so nimbly but also understood the trombone’s less polite origins.  Later, I saw her with her own Garden Party and other assemblages, and she was a charming mixture of earnestness, playfulness, and deep feeling: playing, singing, composing.  As she is now.

You can read the names of the performers in the photograph below, but they are so admirable that I should write them again: Emily Asher, Mike Davis, Jay Rattman, James Chirillo, Dalton Ridenhour, Rob Adkins, Jay Lepley, Sam Hoyt. They are musical heroes to me, and if you’ve not made their acquaintance, be prepared to be impressed by them as soloists, as ensemble players, as thoughtful soulful artists.

Emily has described the CD as a mix of hot jazz and songs inspired by “the Southern Sun,” as she encountered it in her extended stay in Oaxaca, Mexico.  Let us start with some Davenport-infused hot jazz:

Emily’s done a good deal to celebrate the music of Hoagy Carmichael, so I couldn’t neglect her SMALL FRY:

Those performances of venerable tunes are what I would call Old Time Modern.  No dust on them but a frisky liveliness in the solos and Emily’s singing (how deftly she winks at us through the lyrics: her phrasing is a marvel) — music that says, “Come on in and make yourself comfortable.”

But Emily’s not content to sprawl on the couch and eat pistachios; she is a curious energized explorer.  Here’s CHICO MEZCALERO, explication below:

This song, and several of her intriguing compositions, were inspired by her late-2019 trip to Oaxaca to learn Spanish, and they have the psychic depth of the short stories I mentioned above.  CHICO MEZCALERO, “little boy mezcal maker,” came from her meeting just such a person at his family’s mezcal plant.  She told Brian R. Sheridan in the August 2020 The Syncopated Times, “After I got back to New York, I was thinking about every step of how the mezcal is made — where the boy picks up pieces of the agave plant and throws them into a big smoking fire.  I also thought about how his family makes their living, creating this spirit that is precious to the community there.  I just sat and listened for the melody of that little boy . . . . ”

Few CDs that I know take listeners on a journey so evocatively.

Here’s Emily’s pensive hymnlike melody I find irresistible, as is its wistful title:

That melody and that performance remind me so beautifully of the Gil Evans – Miles Davis collaborations of the Fifties, and I’ve returned to this song several times in a row.  I predict you will do the same with this CD and with the individual performances.  They offer delightful evidence of the feathery breadth of Emily’s imaginations, the musical community she has nurtured, and the varied, rewarding results.

You can purchase the music — digitally or tangibly — here.  This is a CD you won’t tire of.

And, in the name of self-indulgence, here are the Oaxaca Wanderers: I met them in 2008, and must ask Emily if she gigged with them.  I hope they haven’t bought identical brightly-colored polo shirts (the band uniform with appropriate OW logo) since then.

 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!

REMIX WELL! (Part Two): GORDON AU’S GRAND STREET STOMPERS at SWING REMIX (April 13, 2019)

Here’s the second part of a glorious evening of music and dance at Swing Remix, music provided and created by Gordon Au’s Grand Street Stompers — who were, for this gig, expanded: Gordon, trumpet, arrangements, compositions; Joe McDonough, trombone; Ricky Alexander, Matt Koza, reeds; Nick Russo, guitar and banjo; Rob Adkins, string bass; Rob Garcia, drums.  (R1 was there, stepping, twirling, and dipping, although my camera did not catch her in flight.)  It added up to great dance music, delightful small-band jazz, splendidly played, with inventive arrangements that make familiar songs seem new.

Here’s Part One.

Bechet’s SI TU VOIS MA MERE, featuring Matt Koza, in honor of Earl McKee:

From an elegy to an original by Gordon, dedicated to a wayward feline:

A classic from the time when people still carried nickels for the pay phone:

The lovely Harry Ruby – Rube Bloom paean to simplicity:

A nocturnal horror in Swing:

Let’s!

and an encore, from GUYS AND DOLLS:

May your happiness increase!

“MUSKRAT RAMBLE”: A NOBLE + WYLIE SHOWCASE (Part Two): EMILY ASHER’S GARDEN PARTY at the RUTGERS PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH: EMILY ASHER, MIKE DAVIS, JAY RATTMAN, DALTON RIDENHOUR, JAMES CHIRILLO, ROB ADKINS, JAY LEPLEY (January 7, 2019)

Emily Asher’s Garden Party, photograph by Renée Toplansky.

Here are more wonderful highlights from my first concert of 2019 (my first post, featuring the New Wonders, can be found here), a showcase for several bands under the brightly colored banner of Noble + Wylie, a musician-run enterprise that fills a real need, representing splendid traditional jazz performers, offering the best services to the artists and their audiences.  The co-founders are musicians Emily Asher and Katie Lee, who know the business from many angles.  You can read more about this promising company at the link above, but a few sentences from Emily give a taste of their forthright approach: “I see Noble + Wylie as an agency which elevates and celebrates excellence. By focusing on honesty and quality over chaos and hype, I look forward to fostering long-term positive relationships with diverse music venues, festivals, schools, and private clients in order to provide distinctive and creative music to audiences world-wide.”

(If you search for Noble & Wylie — connected by an ampersand — you’ll find only UK shoes, no music at all.  Caveat emptor.)

At the January 7 showcase, we (that’s R1 and me) had the opportunity to hear three groups represented by Noble + Wylie: The Ladybugs, the New Wonders, and Emily Asher’s Garden Party — and I brought back some tasty video evidence.  Here is the first set by the Garden Party, a versatile band playing hot and sweet, mixing jazz classics and memorable new compositions. For this occasion, they are Emily Asher, trombone, vocal, compositions; Mike Davis, cornet; Jay Rattman, reeds; Dalton Ridenhour, piano; James Chirillo, guitar; Rob Adkins, string bass; Jay Lepley, drums, with incidental singing by members of the band.  My videos came from an odd angle, but I hope all can be forgiven.  This friendly, warm band knows tempos: hear their easy rock!

MUSKRAT RAMBLE:

WHEN YOU WORE A TULIP, with a Second Line sashay and a glee club, too:

Hoagy Carmichael’s MEMPHIS IN JUNE, arranged by Rob Adkins, with Jay Rattman bringing Johnny Hodges into church:

Emily’s own AN OPEN INVITATION TO A RAINSTORM, in honor of Beth Campbell:

Her Carmichael-inflected PACIFIC LULLABY, which deserves your close attention until James Chirillo’s closing chime:

And the wry MY LIFE WOULD BE EASY:

I recorded more music from this concert, and it will appear in the near future. Thanks to these unpretentious gifted musicians, and of course to Noble + Wylie.

May your happiness increase!

AT THE BALL, THAT’S ALL (Part One): GORDON AU’S GRAND STREET STOMPERS at SWING REMIX (April 13, 2019)

Dance off both your shoes!  Who could do otherwise when Gordon Au’s Grand Street Stompers play for dancers?  This took place at Swing Remix on April 13, 2019. That’s Gordon, trumpet, compositions and arrangements; Joe McDonough, trombone; Ricky Alexander and Matt Koza, reeds; Nick Russo, guitar; Rob Adkins, string bass; Rob Garcia, drums; Molly Ryan, vocals.  R1 was there, too, which meant that the universe was properly aligned.

The usual caveats apply (not at all to the music!): I can’t shoot videos from the dance floor because of the eager traffic, people who have a right to be there and swing out.  So these videos were recorded from an upstairs balcony, and as a result the sound is somewhat distant . . . but it is what you would have heard if you weren’t fortunate enough to be dancing close to the wonderful band.  I also confess to some technical difficulties (a recalcitrant camera) so the sound is stronger in one channel than the other: no need for you to get a hearing test.  But it’s there. . . .

Here are seven bursts of instrumental pleasure from early in the evening:

Gordon’s own JUMP OUT AND GETCHA (perhaps because he is a connoisseur of things that go bump in the night?):

BLUE ROOM, with verse and clever arrangement:

Half of a new pair, PST (PACIFIC SWING TIME):

And a Grand Street Stompers’ classic, SWANG THANG:

The second half, EST (for EASTERN SWING TIME), a composition John Kirby would admire:

Gordon’s swinging and surprising  take on early bebop, GROOVIN’ HIGH:

and the attractive original NADINE:

There are more videos to come from this delightful evening.  But even better . . . see, hear, and dance to the Grand Street Stompers in person: follow them here.  See you on the dance floor (vertically, not horizontally).

May your happiness increase!

THE GRAND ST. STOMPERS: “DO THE NEW YORK”

do-the-new-york

Late last year, Gordon Au, — trumpeter, arranger, composer, bandleader, writer, thinker, scientist, satirist, linguist — sent me the digital files for the second CD by the Grand Street Stompers, DO THE NEW YORK, and I wrote back to him, “I am listening to DTNY (three tracks in, so far) and I love the mad exuberance and deep precision of the first track — a Silly Symphony, urban and hilarious and wonderfully executed. It’s a pity that the mobs no longer have transistor radios anymore, because each track could be an AM hit.”

Having listened to the disc several times by now, I stand by my initial enthusiasms.  But I wouldn’t want anyone to think that zaniness overrides music.  The compositions and performances are a lavish banquet of sounds and emotions: you won’t look at the CD player and think, “How many tracks are left?” at any point.

If you know Gordon Au, Tamar Korn, Molly Ryan, Kevin Dorn, Dennis Lichtman, Matt Koza, Matt Musselman, Nick Russo, Rob Adkins (and not incidentally Peter Karl, Kelsey Ballance, Kevin McEvoy, Barbara Epstein) you won’t need to spend a moment more on what I say.  Scroll down to the bottom of this long post and read Gordon’s notes, purchase, download: let joy be unconfined.

But I shall tell a story here.  Jon-Erik Kellso has been a very good guide to new talent: through him, for instance, I heard about Ehud Asherie.  In 2009, I arrived at The Ear Inn for a night of musical pleasure, and Jon-Erik told me he’d just finished “giving a lesson” to a young, seriously gifted trumpeter named Gordon who had wanted to study some fine points of traditional jazz performance practice from an acknowledged Master.  This young man would be at The Ear later.  And the prophesy came to pass.

Gordon’s trumpet playing was deliciously singular: he wasn’t a clone of one player or seven.  Climbing phrases started unpredictably and went unusual places; a solid historical awareness was wedded beautifully to a sophisticated harmonic sense, and everything made sense, melodically and emotionally.  He showed himself a fine ensemble player, not timid, oblivious, or narcissistic. When the set was over, we spoke, and he was genuinely gracious (later, in California, when I met his extended family, I understood why) yet with a quite delightfully sharp-edged wit, although he wasn’t flashing blades at me.

I began to follow Gordon — as best I could — to gigs: he appeared with Tamar Korn and vice versa; he took Jon-Erik’s place with the Nighthawks; he played with David Ostwald at Birdland . . . and soon formed his own group, the Grand Street Stompers.

(Gordon abbreviates “St.”; I spell it out.  My perversity, not his.)

Often I saw, and sometimes I videoed them at Radegast, then elsewhere — as recently as last year, when they did a remarkable session at Grand Central Station, surely their place on the planet.  Thus, as “swingyoucats” on YouTube, I’ve captured the band (releasing them, of course) on video for six years.

They are uniquely rewarding — a pianoless group that expresses its leader’s expansive, often whimsical personality beautifully.  Even when approaching traditional “traditional” repertoire, Gordon will take his own way, neatly avoiding piles of cliche in his path.  Yes, MUSKRAT RAMBLE — but with a Carbbean / Latin rhythm; yes, a Twenties tune, but one reasonably obscure, SHE’S A GREAT GREAT GIRL. Gordon’s compositions and arrangements always sound fresh — and they aren’t pastiches or thin lines over familiar chords — even if I’ve heard the GSS perform them for years.  And there are other wonderful quirky tangents: his love of Disney songs, the deeply refreshing ones, and his devotion to good yet neglected songs — the title track of this CD as well as WHILE THEY WERE DANCING AROUND on the group’s first CD.  And, I think this a remarkable achievement, with Gordon’s soaring lead and a beautifully-played banjo in the rhythm section, the GSS often summons up an early Sixties Armstrong All-Stars, all joyous energy.

A few more words about this CD.  Although one can’t underestimate the added frisson of hearing this band live — perhaps surrounded by dancers or dancing oneself, in a club, perhaps stimulated by ambiance, food, or drink . . . I think the experience of this disc is equal to or superior to anything that might happen on the spot.

Owing to circumstances, the GSS might be a quintet on the job; here it is a septet: trumpet / cornet; clarinet; soprano saxophone; trombone; banjo / guitar; string bass; drums; two singers.  This expansive array of individualists allows Gordon to get a more delightfully orchestral sound.  Even as a quintet, on the job, the GSS is a band and a working band at that: their performances are more than a series of horn solos, for Gordon has created twists and turns within his arrangements: riffs, backgrounds, trades, suets between instruments, different instruments taking the melodic lead — all making for a great deal of variety. Each chorus of a GSS performance feels satisfyingly full (not overstuffed) and delightfully varied.

And now I come to the possibly tactless part of the comparison between studio recording and live performance. With some bands, the studio has a chilling effect: everything is splendid, but the patient has lost a good deal of blood.  And the impolite truth is the a group like the GSS performs in places where alcohol is consumed, so the collective volume rises after the first twenty minutes.  Buy this disc to actually hear the beautiful layering and subtleties of the group that you might not hear on the job.  Or just check it out for the sheer pleasure of it all.

Sound samples, ways to purchase a physical disc or download one (complete or individual performances) here — and Gordon’s very eloquent and sometimes hilarious liner notes here.

Listen, read, enjoy, savor, download, purchase.  As Aime Gauvin, “Doctor Jazz,” used to say on the radio, “Good for what ails you!”

May your happiness increase!

BLISS AT 326 SPRING STREET: JON-ERIK KELLSO, DANNY TOBIAS, SCOTT ROBINSON, ADAM MOEZINIA, ROB ADKINS (August 14, 2016)

EAR INN sign

Nine minutes of the real thing, no side effects aside from possible stiffness from sitting on a barstool for longer than is doctor-prescribed.  Yours for the asking, created on Sunday, August 14, 2016, by the gracious and eminent EarRegulars du jour: Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Scott Robinson, tenor saxophone; Adam Moezinia (note his variations on AC-DC CURRENT), and Rob Adkins, string bass.  All this joy took place at The Ear Inn, 326 Spring Street, Soho, New York City, where such bliss is regularly offered on Sunday nights from eight to eleven o’clock, approximately.  But there’s nothing approximate about the on-the-spot riffing and solos that these brilliant players gave us.  The song?  AVALON, which dates back to 1920 and still sounds gorgeously fresh in 2016.

I’m posting this on the morning of Sunday, September 4, 2016.  If you read it early and are in the NYC area, this band — with Pat O’Leary in for Rob — will be playing at The Ear tonight.  Just leave me a barstool or two in front of the band so that I can capture some more joy for JAZZ LIVES, especially for the Brazilian contingent.

May your happiness increase!

A VERY SIMPLE REQUEST IN MUSIC at THE EAR INN: JON-ERIK KELLSO, SCOTT ROBINSON, ADAM MOEZINIA, ROB ADKINS (August 14, 2016)

BABY WON'T YOU PLEASE COME

Beauty never gets old.  Here’s a nearly-ancient jazz classic made new and wistful at a serenely floating tempo, performed by the EarRegulars at The Ear Inn (326 Spring Street, Soho, New York City) on August 14, 2016.  The EarRegulars, for this particular session, are Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Scott Robinson, tenor saxophone; Adam Moezinia, guitar; Rob Adkins, string bass.  And not only are the individual solos so richly personal, but this band — led by Jon-Erik — displays a true orchestral instinct, as evidenced in the hums and phrases played while Rob (eloquent Mister Adkins) is soloing.  Hear, see, and marvel:

This song, I am told, was composed in 1919 by Charles Warfield “and” Clarence Williams; the quotation marks are to suggest that Williams’ authorship is in doubt.  But enough legal prose.  I digress to write that I seem to be one of the few people — but don’t call me didactic or a grammarian — who write the title of this song with a comma after BABY and a question mark at the end.  Is their omission a matter of thrifty typography?  I don’t know.  But BABY WON’T YOU PLEASE COME HOME seems abrupt, too rushed, without the proper punctuation.  A sample label below (you can find the music on YouTube).

BABY Louis

But the music that the EarRegulars create doesn’t need any punctuation.  The most scrupulous English professor gives it the highest grades possible. (And, speaking of professors, this one is also dedicated to the glowing scholar from Bahia.)

May your happiness increase!

A LITTLE JAM AT THE EAR INN: DANNY TOBIAS, SCOTT ROBINSON, FELIX LEMERLE, JOANNA STERNBERG (Sunday, August 14, 2016)

EAR INN sign

Sometime in July 2017, the EarRegulars will celebrate ten straight years of improving the universe through swing on Sunday nights at The Ear Inn (that’s 326 Spring Street, Soho, New York City).  One of the conventions of their collective frolics is that the first set is usually devoted to the quartet — most often led by Jon-Erik Kellso, with guitarist Matt Munisteri the most Regular of the EarRegulars.  The second set welcomes approved musical guests who are invited to join in.  Last Sunday, the “house band” was Jon-Erik, Scott Robinson on wondrous reeds and brass — Eb clarinet, Eb alto horn, tenor saxophone — Adam Moezinia, guitar; Rob Adkins, string bass.

For the final performance of the night, Felix Lemerle took Adam’s place (and borrowed his guitar), and Joanna Sternberg did the same with Rob’s string bass. Jon-Erik ceded the trumpet chair to our friend Danny Tobias, trumpet.  And this happened.

“The Ear.  So dear,” is what I think.  See you there some Sunday or another!

This post is dedicated to the Professor from Bahia, the source of many goodnesses.

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!

THE GREAT AMERICAN JAZZBOOK: ROB ADKINS, EVAN ARNTZEN, DAN BLOCK, CHRIS FLORY at FRAUNCES TAVERN (May 7, 2016)

Fraunces TavernHere is the first part of a delightful Saturday afternoon of music performed at Fraunces Tavern by the Garden Party Quartet: this version being Rob Adkins, string bass; Chris Flory, guitar; Evan Arntzen, clarinet, alto saxophone, vocal; Dan Block, clarinet, tenor saxophone, on May 7, 2016.  Four more delicious performances follow below.

People who fear jazz — it makes them skittish — often say that they can’t recognize the melody.  For them (and for us) here are four standards, played and sung with loving swinging reverence by this melodic quartet.  You’ll hear the work of Hoagy Carmichael, Sidney Arodin; Alex Hill, Bob Williams, Claude Hopkins; Cole Porter; Harold Arlen, Ted Koehler.  And I daresay that the composers and lyricists would be pleased with the results.  You decide.

YOU DO SOMETHING TO ME:

LAZY RIVER:

I WOULD DO ANYTHING FOR YOU:

I’VE GOT THE WORLD ON A STRING:

Yes.  The real thing.  The good stuff.  Out there in public, too.

May your happiness increase!

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

Photograph by Jessica Keener

Photograph by Jessica Keener

On May 5, 2016, Gordon Au and the Grand Street Stompers played a free concert / swing dance session at the dining concourse of Grand Central Station in New York City. The Stompers are Gordon, trumpet, vocal, arrangements / compositions; Matt Musselman, trombone; Matt Koza, clarinet / soprano; Nick Russo, banjo / guitar; Rob Adkins, string bass.

But first, a relevant tale (impatient readers have already skipped to the videos, which is their privilege).  One of my literary heroes is the multi-faceted Irish writer “Frank O’Connor” — born Michael O’Donovan in Cork — who made a pilgrimage to James Joyce in Paris in the early Twenties.  In Joyce’s apartment, O’Connor noticed a beautiful antique print of Cork City in a frame whose material he could not recognize.  “What’s that?” he said to Joyce, pointing at the picture.  “Cork,” said Joyce.  “I know that,” said O’Connor.  “What’s the frame?” “Cork,” said Joyce.  “I had the greatest difficulty finding a French frame maker who would construct this.”

That story always amused me — although O’Connor also cited it as an example of Joyce’s peculiar associative mania — but it reverberated loudly in me when I had this rarest of opportunities to see and hear the Grand Street Stompers at Grand Central Station.  “Where are we?” “Grand.”  “Who’s playing?” “Grand,” and off into the darkness, although swinging mightily.

Grand Central dining

The Grand Street Stompers are a witty, light-hearted, versatile band.  The solos illuminate the room; the ensemble passages are charmed and charming; Gordon’s originals have the lilting energy of songs that you’re sure you’ve heard already.  At times, the GSS sounds like an ideal Louis Armstrong band — straddling 1925 and 1965 — in its sweet ebullience.  Gordon’s imagination is large and occasionally whimsical, so the band plays Fifties pop, Twenties hot tunes, Disney classics, Broadway melodies, and originals — all of them fresh yet instantly classic.

Here’s the first half of the doubly Grand Event:

Not just a twelve-bar blues, Louis’ MAHOGANY HALL STOMP has its own routines, which the GSS negotiates stylishly:

Gordon’s own hummable SUNSET SERENADE:

BELLA NOTTE, from LADY AND  THE TRAMP, music by Sonny Burke, lyrics by Peggy Lee — the image that comes to mind is two romantic canines delicately sharing a plate of spaghetti and meatballs:

Another Au hot tune, RIDGEWOOD STOMP:

WHAT A DIFFERENCE A DAY MADE, a song that everyone associates with Dinah Washington in the Fifties, but it is from 1934, originally in Spanish, by Maria Grever:

With Bechet in mind, Gordon’s SARATOGA SERENADE:

Frankie Valli’s CAN’T TAKE MY EYES OFF OF YOU:

BE OUR GUEST, from BEAUTY AND  THE BEAST:

The Stompers are a busy band — you can see and hear why — and they appear everywhere, but in New York, in May 2016, this appearance at a swing dance session in Bryant Park might truly be special.  Don’t miss a chance to hear them; as I write this, they will be lighting up the room at Radegast this very night.

And there’s a second eight performances from the Grand night of May 5, 2016, to come.

May your happiness increase!

A FROLIC AT FRAUNCES (Part One): ROB ADKINS, CHRIS FLORY, DAN BLOCK, EVAN ARNTZEN (May 7, 2016)

A good band is not hard to find in New York City.  One of the places I rely on is Fraunces Tavern at 54 Pearl Street for their Saturday jazz brunch (1-4) usually led by Emily Asher with her delightful small band that is the Garden Party Quartet.  Emily was on the road on May 7, 2016, but the joy continued unabated.

Fraunces Tavern

String bassist and band-wizard Rob Adkins assembled a wonderfully melodic quartet: himself, Chris Flory, guitar; Dan Block, clarinet and tenor saxophone; Evan Arntzen, clarinet and alto.  Oh, did they fill the room with good sounds!

Of course, fault-finding viewers will note that people are talking, eating, drinking, and moving, that the room is busy, but busy-ness keeps the Tavern able to pay for live music.  Without being too acrid, I say quietly that people who choose only to sit in front of their computers when there is live music to be had make it hard for musicians to survive.  To quote Arthur Miller, “Attention must be paid.”

On to happier matters.  This little ad-hoc band is not only composed of four wonderful soloists, but these players know the sacred value of ensemble playing — so lines intertwine, there’s counterpoint, riffs, backgrounds: all the collective joy one could ever hear.

I present these performances in the order they happened, as is my habit. I think they are each small complete masterpieces, to be savored rather than gobbled.  I hope you agree.  There’s more to come.

LINGER AWHILE:

THE BEST THINGS IN LIFE ARE FREE:

SOUTH:

Please find a way to support the music if you want it to continue.  That means going to a place where it is played, purchasing food and drink there, putting money in the tip jar, buying a CD from a musician . . . active rather than passive.  Very little is actually free in this world, the title of the third song notwithstanding.  And as a final irony, the people in this scene who are sitting at the bar, talking and drinking whiskey, are doing more by their presence to support the music they are ignoring than the most devoted “jazz fan” who lives solely off the Hot Internet.

May your happiness increase!

GLORIOUS LYRICISM: ROB ADKINS, EVAN ARNTZEN, EHUD ASHERIE at CASA MEZCAL (Feb. 7, 2016)

How do you honor the past?  By being yourself and letting the ancestral beauties and lessons flow through you.  Here are three young musicians who not only understand that deep truth but embody it: Rob Adkins, string bass; Evan Arntzen, tenor saxophone (and a surprise vocal on DREAMS); Ehud Asherie, piano.  I offer you two lovely performances recorded at Casa Mezcal on February 7, 2016.

WAS I TO BLAME

I knew this gorgeous song through Louis’ Decca recording, then through Ruby Braff and Scott Hamilton (separately) but it was a thrill to hear this trio explore it with such deep fwwling but such a light tread.  And its title — and unheard lyrics — ask the eternal question:

Then, a Swing Era anthem — beloved of James P. Johnson, Lester and Billie, and many more.  The sheet music below credits Benny Goodman and  Irving Mills along with Edgar Sampson, but I’d give the latter full credit.

IF DREAMS COME TRUE

Incidentally, I’ve left the Louis version of WAS I TO BLAME? and the James P. and Billie-Lester versions to those willing to embark on a few YouTube clicks. I revere those records and have done so for decades, but comparison is — not necessarily odious — to me, disrespectful.  We should honor the giants who walk and create among us, shouldn’t we?  And thank them, not posthumously, but now, for their gracious, eloquent playing and singing.

May your happiness increase!

HOW ABOUT THIS? PABLO, EVAN, and ROB at CASA MEZCAL (February 7, 2016)

how about you cover

I originally wanted to title this post THE THREE EXPATS — Pablo Campos (piano) was visiting from France; Evan Arntzen (reeds / vocal) hails from Vancouver, and Rob Adkins came south from Boston . . . but the JAZZ LIVES legal staff warned me against possible misrepresentation.

So all I will say is that these three gentlemen made delightful music on Sunday, February 7  (while Ehud Asherie was having a coffee at the other end of the room and relaxing) — on two classics that (ironically) don’t get played or sung as much as they might by jazz people.  I associate GONE WITH THE WIND with Ben Webster, either with Art Tatum or Jimmy Rowles; HOW ABOUT YOU? with Judy Garland and Becky Kilgore.  Here are some new and delightful 2016 versions.

GONE WITH THE WIND (which predates the motion picture):

HOW ABOUT YOU?:

Two more performances from this afternoon — with Ehud back on the bench — will appear soon.  For now, please learn more about the very gifted Pablo Campos here.

May your happiness increase!

EIGHT BY THREE AND SOMETIMES FOUR (ROB ADKINS, MIKE DAVIS, CRAIG VENTRESCO, and TAMAR KORN, JULY 25, 2015, Fraunces Tavern)

 

FRAUNCES larger

The title should tell it all, but if you’re new to the scene, it’s Rob Adkins, string bass and organizer; Mike Davis, cornet and sometimes trombone — evoking Sandy Williams as well as Rank and Miff — ; Craig Ventresco, guitar; Tamar Korn, vocals and theatre.  Recorded on Saturday, July 25, 2015, at Fraunces Tavern, 54 Pearl Street in downtown New York City.

SHINE:

(And if you believe that SHINE is a racist song, please read this and get enlightened.)

Tamar leaps in for CRAZY RHYTHM, verse and all:

Tamar performs LAZY RIVER, a song she’s been enjoying since I first heard her (and at a perfect tempo):

And some quartet optimism with a side of Higginbotham for SUNNY SIDE OF THE STREET:

One for young Bix, the NORK, and the Brunies brothers, ANGRY:

THAT’S A-PLENTY, dusted off and brought to vibrant life:

The lovely TISHOMINGO BLUES:

and what may not be the eternal question, IS IT TRUE WHAT THEY SAY ABOUT DIXIE?:

Notwithstanding the dim lighting and the talkative patrons, this was a glorious jazz session.  I recorded and shared thirteen other selections, which you can visit or revisit herehereherehere,here, and here (where I paired Mike with Connie Jones and Marc Caparone, and no one minded at all).

Some will wish to nominate the above effusion as Most Hyperlinking in a Jazz Blog for January 2016, but I hope you will click away, for rewards await.

May your happiness increase!

SLIDE AND SLIDE ALIKE // WHISTLE WHILE YOU . . . WORK?: MATT MUSSELMAN, RYAN SNOW, KRIS KAISER, ROB ADKINS at FRAUNCES TAVERN (August 1, 2015)

Trombone

Memorable music blossoms forth without fanfare when the right creative spirits come together.  And such music isn’t always created by Stars — people who win polls, who record CDs for major labels.  Two examples from a Saturday brunch gig in New York City follow.

Matt Musselman, welcoming us in

Matt Musselman, welcoming us in

The very perceptive Rob Adkins, string bassist extraordinaire, arranged this session on August 1, 2015 — Matt Musselman on trombone, Kris Kaiser on guitar. And they made lovely music.  But then someone came in — new to me but very talented: trombonist / jazz whistler Ryan Snow.

There’s a small tradition of two-trombone teams: Cutshall and McGarity, Johnson and Winding, Vic and Eddie Hubble are the first teams that come to mind.  And two trombones lend themselves to trading off: you play eight bars, I’ll play the next, and so on.

Matt and Ryan knew and respected each other, and everyone was eager to hear Ryan play.  So they began to trade phrases — on the one horn, passing it back and forth without missing a beat or smudging a note.  It was a lovely exercise in jazz acrobatics, but it was more — wonderful music.  I thought, at the end, “This is why I carry a knapsack full of video equipment to jazz gigs, because anything can happen and usually does.”

(If you can’t tell who’s who, Matt has a rolled-up long-sleeve white shirt; Ryan is wearing short sleeves.)

OUT OF NOWHERE:

And for the next number, I CAN’T GET STARTED, Ryan proved himself a superb jazz whistler:

Marvels take place amidst the hamburgers and Cobb salads, the gallons of beer and Diet Coke . . .

Since I’d never heard of Ryan, I asked for a brief biography.  You should know that his August 2015 visit to New York was prelude to his attending law school at the UVA School of Law in Charlottesville.  He will do great things . . . but I hope he visits New York again to play and whistle, to lift our spirits.

Here’s Ryan’s self-portrait:

Born and raised in Stanford, CA, child of two professors and avid music lovers, grew up surrounded by music in the home and going to see live music of all kinds. Started playing piano privately at 9 (hated it), trombone at 10 (loved it) playing in the school band. Parents gave me Blue Train, Kind of Blue, and a J.J. Johnson on Columbia album for my 12th birthday and I began listening to jazz obsessively, buying CDs and spinning them till I knew every note, then going to get more. That and being lucky enough to have a good jazz program in middle school and high school really developed my ears. I had fun playing in small combos with friends. I toured Japan four summers with the Monterey Jazz Festival High School All-Star Big Band, through which I connected with some amazing young players (including Ambrose Akinmusire, Jonathan Finlayson, Charles and Tom Altura, Justin Brown, Milton Fletcher, Ryan Scott, Bram Kincheloe to name a few); I learned a lot and caught a glimpse of professional music life on the road.

I went to Oberlin College and Conservatory to study jazz and political science, earning bachelor’s degrees in both. There I connected with a really strong community of improvisers (including Peter Evans, Matt Nelson, Nick Lyons, Kassa Overall, Theo Croker, Nate Brenner, and our friend Rob Adkins among others) and found myself pulled towards the avant-garde and to Brooklyn, where I moved after graduation in 2005. I knew at 22 that if I ever wanted to do serious work in music that I would need to start right away, and I’m very thankful I made that choice. I spent the next six years playing as much as possible and contributing to a vibrant improvised music community in Brooklyn, including curating and hosting a regular music series in my basement for two years. During this time I also helped found and build a soul-rock-funk band called Sister Sparrow & The Dirty Birds that quickly gained a strong following and began touring nationally in 2011. Three years, 200,00 miles and over 500 shows in 45 states later I found that my underlying passions had shifted, that I was spending my down time on the road reading about politics and public policy rather than working on my own music and setting up playing opportunities. I was making music that mattered to people, and having fun doing it, but part of me wasn’t fulfilled; however meaningful my music was to the audience and to my peers it wasn’t making a significant impact on their lives and opportunities, let alone those of the millions (billions) beyond earshot. I felt called, I felt at 30 about political action as had at 22 about music, that I needed to immediately begin working in service of my values and towards a government and a society that I believe in.

About whistling:

My dad used to whistle a lot when I was really young. I don’t remember learning it at any particular point, but when I began listening to jazz obsessively in middle through high school I got in the habit of whistling along just walking around with my Discman all day. So it just became natural to whistle bebop. I kind of had a running stream of quarter note swing going through my head in those days (still notice it at times now but it’s further in the background) and I would often start whistling lines out loud, just externalizing what I was hearing in my head. Plenty of complaints from mom and friends. Did this daily through college and while I never really whistled with other people I was whistling a lot. After moving to NYC I had some opportunities to whistle professionally, laying down a few studio tracks as a guest and busting it out every few shows with Sister Sparrow & The Dirty Birds, and have also done a few jam sessions where I’ve been just whistling. I think the best thing about it actually is being able to sit in credibly and comfortably in a jazz setting even if I don’t have my horn with me, it’s just really fun and freeing, and I’m always thankful for the opportunity to share it with people.

There are a lot of similarities with the trombone in that they’re both fretless instruments and so essentially require some kind of attack (air or tongue) to delineate individual notes, which can get tricky at fast tempos. But they’re also so different it’s fun to have both. I hope to continue to develop my whistling and ultimately make some recordings that I can share.

Thank you, Rob, Matt, Ryan, and Chris, for transforming a Saturday afternoon most memorably.

May your happiness increase!

DREAMS, A LAMENT, A WILD BEAST: ROB ADKINS, DAN BLOCK, EHUD ASHERIE at CASA MEZCAL (October 25, 2015)

Some performances are magical — so much so that I hate to see them come to an end.  But “an end” only means that there are no more video surprises to post; it also means that I have been able to share eleven leisurely delights from one Sunday afternoon at Casa Mezcal (86 Orchard Street, the Lower East Side of Manhattan) featuring Rob Adkins, string bass; Ehud Asherie, piano; Dan Block, clarinet and tenor saxophone.  Here and here are the first two helpings of delight from that day.

Now, I offer — with mingled joy and regret — the final three improvisations from that very rewarding afternoon: a swing classic by Edgar Sampson that brings Billie and Lester and James P. to mind; a melancholy, rueful tone poem from the late Twenties, originally called LITTLE BUTTERCUP and (I believe) premiered with lyrics by Mildred Bailey — but also memorable thanks to Lester and Billie; and the tale of a jungle beast running wild in the best New Orleans way, whether or not Jelly Roll Morton composed it by adapting part of a French quadrille.  All wonderful.  Thank you, gentlemen-magicians Rob, Ehud, and Dan.

tiger_rag_cover

IF DREAMS COME  TRUE:

I’LL NEVER BE  THE SAME:

TIGER RAG:

May your happiness increase!

SWING, BROTHERS, SWING: ROB ADKINS, DAN BLOCK, EHUD ASHERIE at CASA MEZCAL (October 25, 2015)

Dan Block, Rob Adkins, Ehud Asherie at Casa Mezcal, October 25, 2015

Dan Block, Rob Adkins, Ehud Asherie at Casa Mezcal, October 25, 2015

Rob Adkins (string bass and catalyst) brought two of his illustrious friends to Casa Mezcal on Orchard Street in New York City for a Sunday afternoon gig on October 25th — the inventive pianist Ehud Aherie and the very lyrical swinging reedman Dan Block.  Here‘s the first part of that afternoon’s Hymn to Beauty.

And four more.

WHO? (rarely played in jazz, but certainly linked to Lester via the odd and wonderful Glenn Hardman 1939 session):

I COVER THE WATERFRONT (from Louis to Billie to Lester to everyone):

BABY BROWN (written by Alex Hill but forever identified with Fats Waller):

I’M COMIN’ VIRGINIA (Tram, Bix, and many more, including Jimmy Rushing):

Couldn’t be better.

May your happiness increase!

FOR BIRD, BASIE, FATS, EUBIE: ROB ADKINS, DAN BLOCK, EHUD ASHERIE at CASA MEZCAL (October 25, 2015)

SHOE SHINE BOY

Certain combinations of musicians — and there are many variations on this theme — can make me shake off my sloth and move quickly to where they will be playing. One such trio is Rob Adkins, string bass; Dan Block, clarinet and tenor saxophone; Ehud Asherie.  These three wizards of swinging melodic improvisation got together last Sunday, October 25, 2015, for a party in a manner a la mode — at Casa Mezcal on Orchard Street — that’s the Lower East Side of New York City.

Here are four gems from early on in the program: old tunes played with such sweet fervor that they don’t sound old.

QUASIMODO, Charlie Parker’s winding line on the chord changes of EMBRACEABLE YOU:

SHOE SHINE BOY — via Jones-Smith, Inc., New York by way of Kansas City and Chicago.  Romping! —

UP JUMPED YOU WITH LOVE, a sweetly mobile swing paean by Fats:

I’M JUST WILD ABOUT HARRY, continued evidence that we need to listen much more closely to the music of Eubie Blake:

What a band, what musical sympathy and swinging empathy.  Timeless creativity.

May your happiness increase!

TWO BY THREE FOR BIX (July 25, 2015): ROB ADKINS, MIKE DAVIS, CRAIG VENTRESCO

I’ve been parceling out the musical delicacies from this Saturday-afternoon jazz festival (advertised as a brunch, but we know better) because they’re so good.  It was July 25, 2015, and the beautiful creators were Rob Adkins, string bass; Mike Davis, cornet and occasionally trombone; Craig Ventresco, guitar.  The site was Fraunces Tavern on Pearl Street in New York.

the-bix-beiderbecke-story

And the approving shade is one Bix Beiderbecke.

BALTIMORE:

BLUE RIVER:

Thank you so much, Rob, Mike, and Craig, for this  gorgeous hot lyricism. Beauty triumphs over chatter any day.

May your happiness increase!

WISTFUL, THEN HOT: ROB ADKINS, MIKE DAVIS, CRAIG VENTRESCO at FRAUNCES TAVERN (July 25, 2015)

String bassist Rob Adkins doesn’t hang out a sign that says BANDLEADER in large letters, but it’s one of his great talents.  Aside from being an uplifting musician, he assembles groups that work together splendidly.

Rob Adkins

Here’s another sample from one of his triumphant afternoons: the Saturday gig of July 25, 2015, that put together the guitar wizard Craig Ventresco and trumpeter / aspiring trombonist Mike Davis for a good time at Fraunces Tavern on Pearl Street.

I’ve posted good music from this gig before, hereherehere, and [in part] hereand I’m not through yet.  (That’s how much fun it was.)

Here are four more, harking back to Bix, Red Nichols, Miff, and other stars of the late Twenties.

SHE’S FUNNY THAT WAY:

ALICE BLUE GOWN:

LOUISIANA:

MY MELANCHOLY BABY:

Thank you, Rob, Mike, and Craig.  Age cannot wither nor custom stale this music.

May your happiness increase!