Tag Archives: Robert Johnson

ROCKING THE COSMOS: IDA BLUE SINGS THE BLUES AT JOE’S PUB, PART TWO (with JOHN GILL, KEVIN DORN, EVAN ARNTZEN, DAN BLOCK, JAY RATTMAN: August 29, 2015)

IDA BLUE. Photograph by Philip Schnell

IDA BLUE. Photograph by Philip Schnell

A little poem: She / and they / just blew me away.

I’m speaking of Ida Blue’s recent appearance at Joe’s Pub, which was a phenomenon rather like the Aurora Borealis as redesigned by Robert Johnson, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, and a dozen others.  With Ida at the helm: she is not simply someone who is producing microwave renditions of old records.

And then there was the band: Kevin Dorn, driving it all with subtlety and ferocity mixed, drums; John Gill, National steel resonator guitar, played as only he can; three reed virtuosi: Dan Block, baritone sax, bass clarinet; Evan Arntzen, clarinet, tenor sax; Jay Rattman, bass sax.  Dan Block said of this band, after the fact, “We were like three 747’s!” — no collisions, but much delightful polyphony and energy.  Here’s what I wrote about the evening when it happened.

And here are the first six songs Ida and the band performed that rocking evening, in case you missed the earlier posting.

Now, for those who have been patiently or eagerly waiting (or both), more. Seven more, making lucky thirteen.

Pigmeat Terry’s BLACK SHEEP BLUES:

Robert Johnson’s COME ON INTO MY KITCHEN:

Sister Rosetta Tharpe’s STRANGE THINGS HAPPENING EVERY DAY:

Victoria Spivey’s IT’S EVIL HEARTED ME:

MR. FREDDIE’S BLUES:

Sister Wynona Carr’s touching I’M A PILGRIM TRAVELER (for me, one of the evening’s most memorable performances — very tender and candid.  We are all pilgrim travelers):

Robert Johnson’s 32-20 BLUES:

Now, let’s assume you’ve enjoyed this dazzling show — albeit through my video camera — for free.  How could you repay and support these musicians?  One way would be to actually attend some live music in your neighborhood, which doesn’t have to be New York.  You could also keep track of Ida Blue and friends here or here or show your love here.  I know I provide music free for those miles away from it . . . but a group of people sitting in front of their computers and doing nothing else in the way of active support will mean that this art form has a harder time.  End of sermon.

May your happiness increase!

ROCKING THE COSMOS: MARA KAYE SINGS THE BLUES AT JOE’S PUB, PART ONE (with JOHN GILL, KEVIN DORN, EVAN ARNTZEN, DAN BLOCK, JAY RATTMAN: August 29, 2015)

IDA BLUE. Photograph by Philip Schnell

MARA KAYE. Photograph by Philip Schnell

A little poem: She / and they / just blew me away.

I’m speaking of Mara Kaye’s recent appearance at Joe’s Pub, which was a phenomenon rather like the Aurora Borealis as redesigned by Robert Johnson, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, and a dozen others.  With Mara at the helm: she is not simply someone who is producing microwave renditions of old records.

And then there was the band: Kevin Dorn, driving it all with subtlety and ferocity mixed, drums; John Gill, National steel resonator guitar, played as only he can; three reed virtuosi: Dan Block, baritone sax, bass clarinet; Evan Arntzen, clarinet, tenor sax; Jay Rattman, bass sax.  Dan Block said of this band, after the fact, “We were like three 747’s!” — no collisions, but much delightful polyphony and energy.  Here’s what I wrote about the evening when it happened.

And here are highlights from the first half of this delightfully seismic event:

LITTLE DROPS OF WATER (originally recorded by
Edith North Johnson):

Memphis Minnie’s I’M NOT A BAD GAL:

W.C. Handy’s YELLOW DOG BLUES:

SKINNY LEG BLUES (by the elusive Geeshie Wiley):

Something different but entirely apropos, Mitchell’s Christian Singers’ YOU GOT TO MAKE A CHANGE:

Chippie Hill’s SOME COLD RAINY DAY:

What joy — even in sadness — and what beautifully focused, expertly powerful emotional intensity.  A second half of this program will arrive soon.  Until then, feel the oceanic surges.

May your happiness increase!

“WE’RE HERE FOR THE BLUES!”

For about seventy-five minutes last night, Ida Blue showed great passionate artistry once again.  The occasion was her evening of blues — riotous, carnal, spiritual, hushed — performed at Joe’s Pub:

Ida Blue Joe's Pub cover

and here’s Ben Guthrie’s photograph of the Blues Debut as it was actually happening:

Ida Blue Joe's Pub Ben Guthrie

Usually, when I attend a music event that I plan to write about, I make notes. You may have seen me writing: song titles, distinctive things that happened during a particular performance, my own critical shorthand of checks and question marks, of YES, NO, and WOW.

My notes from last night are a delighted mess, because I was having such a wildly good time that the idea of leaning forward attentively to catch when Ida identified the song title and the famous blues performer it was associated with soon became an idea whose time had not come.  Early on in the evening, I gave up the idea of being the careful archivist.  Instead I chose to write down phrases that struck my fancy — from the lyrics and from Ida’s interchanges with her audience.

I can tell you this: the exuberant young woman — The Lady in Red — who took the stage and told us all that she was sweating (out of emotional enthusiasm, for it wasn’t necessarily warm in Joe’s Pub) won us over time after time.  As did her band: a glorious quintet, the likes of which I’d never seen together: Kevin Dorn, drums; John Gill, National guitar; Dan Block, bass clarinet / baritone saxophone; Jay Rattman, bass saxophone; Evan Arntzen, clarinet / tenor saxophone.  That band rocked.  And it wasn’t a matter of volume or bar-walking. Rather, each of the musicians showed the finest subtlety — as soloist, and even more as an essential part of an ensemble, organically shape-shifting as the mood struck them.  So the saxophones hummed behind Ida or a guitar solo, or they took solos, or there were gloriously happy dialogues between two and three, phrases traded — in the best New Orleans / Memphis / New York City traditions, traditions being created on the spot in Joe’s Pub.

For her part, Ida was having a wonderful time and shared her joys with us.  No matter what she was singing — songs associated with Memphis Minnie, Robert Johnson, Sister Wynona Carr, Victoria Spivey — her delight came through even when the lyrics were grim.  (That’s what I think of as the Basie paradox: “Look! I’m having such a good time playing these sad, dark blues!  I can’t believe how good this misery makes me feel!”)

Ida’s voice was entirely at her command, and her improvisatory courage utterly commanded the audience.  She sang lyrics with the force of a cornet; growled and moaned, even offering a cantorial cadenza.  Sometimes she sounded on the edge of tears; sometimes she boldly told us something naughty with a great wink. Some lines, although the words weren’t necessarily funny in themselves, became small comedies; other times, she resorted to her own stutter-phrasing, repeating a word or a syllable five or six times for emphasis (as if Kevin was hitting the snare with pistol-shot force).

And, as always, she was in motion.  Hands held high above her head; dancing as wildly as she could on the small stage; ruffling her hair violently; grinning, laughing, having herself a fine time.  She looked out into the audience, saying with great pleasure, “I KNOW you!  I KNOW you too!” She wished her friend Sunny (of Sunny’s Bar in Brooklyn) a happy eighty-first birthday, and asked us all to raise our glasses.  We could refuse her nothing, and we followed suit.  She kicked off each song at a particularly groovy tempo, and although the repertoire was primarily twelve-bar blues, one song did not feel like its predecessor.

Although the mood was often lovelorn, Ida performed a few blues hymns — I’M A PILGRIM TRAVELER (which has “I’ll make it if He holds my hand” as a particularly moving affirmation).  And when she sang “It keeps me singing in my soul,” I felt as if she’d made 425 Lafayette Street into a pop-up revival meeting.

To give you a flavor of the evening, here are a few phrases from assorted lyrics:

I got those itty-bitty legs!

When you see me comin’, pull down your window blind.

Some cold rainy day.

Lord  have mercy on me.

I took his last nickel.

EVERY DAY!

My man’s done evil, and I’ve done evil too.

Buy me a shotgun.

I’m going to shoot my pistol.

Where did you stay last night?

I could make a case that all human experience could be encapsulated in those words — and others — that Ida delivered with such fervent honesty last night.

After the show, when photographer Ben Guthrie and I were standing outside the Public Theater, I said to Ben — fully aware that it was both the truth and a terrible cliche, “When PBS comes around, if we’re still here, we’ll be able to say, ‘We saw her when . . . ‘”

Some ecstatic evening, it was.

May your happiness increase!

DOUBLE YOUR PLEASURE: DENNIS LICHTMAN / MISS IDA BLUE (August 29, 2015)

Just hold on a moment.  Before you start packing the car to flee somewhere pastoral for the final weekend of August, may I inform you of two delightful reasons to stay in (or visit) New York City on Saturday, August 29, 2015?

The first concerns our friend Dennis Lichtman — virtuoso on clarinet, fiddle, and mandolin.  I first heard and met Dennis in 2009 when he was a member of the Cangelosi Cards, then heard him in other contexts around the city — always playing marvelously, with a bright sound and memorable creativity, whether sitting in with a hot band or leading his own group, the Brain Cloud.

Photograph by Bobby Bonsey

Photograph by Bobby Bonsey

At 2 PM on Saturday, Dennis will be celebrating his tenth year as a resident of the borough of Queens, New York — in music.  He and a great band will be offering a concert celebrating the history of jazz in Queens . . . the result of his first grant project, “Queens Jazz: A Living Tradition.”  Thanks to the Queens Council on the Arts, he will be presenting “original music inspired by this borough’s jazz heritage.” In addition, there will be classic songs associated with Queens jazz masters of the Twenties to the Forties. (Think of Clarence Williams and Fats Waller, among others.)

The concert — the FREE concert — will take place at the Louis Armstrong House Museum, 34-56 107th Street, Corona, New York, (718) 478-8274.  In case of rain, it will be held at the Queens Public Library, 40-20 Broadway, Queens, New York.

Lichtman Queens Jazz

Dennis has assembled a wonderful band: Gordon Au, trumpet; J. Walter Hawkes, trombone; Dalton Ridenhour, piano; Terry Wilson, vocal; Nathan Peck, string bass; Rob Garcia, drums.  You can keep up with Dennis here and here is the Facebook event page for the concert.

But that might leave you at liberty in mid-afternoon on a beautiful Saturday.  What to do?

I will be heading towards lower Manhattan for evening music of a most soulful kind: Miss Ida Blue and friends (including Dan Block, reeds, and John Gill, guitar) will be hosting an evening of the blues at Joe’s Pub.  The photograph below also shows Andrew Millar, drums, and a figure I assume to be the heroic Brian Nalepka — you hear his sound even when you can’t see him.

Photograph by Steve Singer

Photograph by Steve Singer

Here is the Facebook event page for this concert.  It’s a one-hour gig, starting at 9:30.  And Miss Ida and Joe’s Pub go together spectacularly, as I have written here about her triumphant May 15 gig.  I first heard her delivering the blues like a superb short-order cook — hot and ready — with the Yerba Buena Stompers, and I look forward to more of that spicy cuisine at this year’s Steamboat Stompwhich will begin in New Orleans a little more than a month from this posting.

Miss Ida Blue debut blues

I note with pleasure that Miss Ida has two pairs of dark glasses in this photograph.  Obviously the energy she unleashes is so powerful that wise listeners might want to bring extra protection — aural sunscreen.  But don’t be afraid: her power is a healing joyous experience.  And you might hear songs associated with blues monarchs Memphis Minnie, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Robert Johnson, Sister Wynona Carr, and others, all performed with conviction, invention, and ingenuity by our own Ida.  To purchase tickets ($15), click here.

Now you know it all, and can make plans.  For me, a suburban New Yorker who commutes to Manhattan and Brooklyn for pleasure, I can occupy my spare moments in the next two weeks with the philosophical calculus of transportation: drive to Corona in the morning, enjoy the concert, then choose — take my car into lower Manhattan on a Saturday night and attempt to find street parking, or go home after Corona, take the commuter railroad in . . . matters of time, finance, ease.  Such things should be my (or your) largest problems.  I hope to see friends at both concerts!

May your happiness increase!

(CAFE) DIVINE MUSIC (Part Two): LEON OAKLEY and CRAIG VENTRESCO (with MISS MEREDITH AXELROD)

Just beautiful.  Leon, cornet; Craig, guitar; guest star Meredith, vocals — at Cafe Divine (a fine restaurant at 1600 Stockton Street in San Francisco). Leon Oakley and Craig Ventresco play there on the third Sunday of every month, and this session — in two parts — took place on May 18, 2014.

A caveat to start.  Leon and Craig play without amplification, and Cafe Divine is a restaurant, not a concert hall, so you will hear the conversation of the diners. I don’t think that the Savoy Ballroom was reverently still, or the dinners at which Bach and Mozart swung out with their latest compositions.

Their intoxicating music soars.  I told Craig after the first set that he and Leon had performed time-and-space-warping magic: they had made 2014 North Beach into 1928 Chicago, and he agreed: that was their intention!

Here is the second of two tasting menus offered for your delectation. (And here is the first, in case it passed you by.)

SEE SEE RIDER:

TOO BUSY (with Meredith evoking Lillie Delk Christian):

A sweet KEEPIN’ OUT OF MISCHIEF NOW at the most sweetly romantic tempo imaginable:

The rarely played CHERRY:

Meredith goes south with I’M COMIN’ VIRGINIA:
And I ask you.  Did you ever hear the story of WILLIE THE WEEPER?
I look forward to sessions in the months to come.
May your happiness increase!

(CAFE) DIVINE MUSIC (Part One): LEON OAKLEY and CRAIG VENTRESCO (with MISS MEREDITH AXELROD)

Just beautiful.  Leon, cornet; Craig, guitar; guest star Meredith, vocals — at Cafe Divine (a fine restaurant at 1600 Stockton Street in San Francisco). Leon Oakley and Craig Ventresco play there on the third Sunday of every month, and this session — in two parts — took place on May 18, 2014.

A caveat to start.  Leon and Craig play without amplification, and Cafe Divine is a restaurant, not a concert hall, so you will hear the conversation of the diners. I don’t think that the Savoy Ballroom was reverently still, or the dinners at which Bach and Mozart swung out with their latest compositions.

Their intoxicating music soars.  I told Craig after the first set that he and Leon had performed time-and-space-warping magic: they had made 2014 North Beach into 1928 Chicago, and he agreed: that was their intention!

Here is the first of two tasting menus offered for your delectation.

The Hot Five’s ONCE IN A WHILE:

A very moving MEMORIES OF YOU:

Robert Johnson’s HOT TAMALES (THEY’RE RED HOT) which at first I mistook for HOW’M I DOIN’? — being more familiar with Redman than Johnson:

A song I didn’t know, from Amanda Randoph’s repertoire, here sung by Meredith, HONEY, DON’T YOU TURN YOUR BACK ON ME:

A highlight: MABEL’S DREAM:

Meredith offers I’M A LITTLE BLACKBIRD from the Clarence Williams book:

And we close with a spicy MESSIN’ AROUND:

Other bands are playing these songs, and beautifully, too, but no one else is making music quite like this in 2014, I propose. I’ve marked my calendar for the Oakley-Ventresco magical appearances at Cafe Divine, a place that lives up to its name.

May your happiness increase!

May your happiness increase!