Tag Archives: Ron Hockett

A FEW WORDS FOR OUR FRIEND RON HOCKETT

I only had the good fortune to meet Ron Hockett in person once — at a John Sheridan Dream Band session for Arbors Records at Nola Studios in Manhattan. Of course I’d heard him play before, so it was a pleasure to speak to him, but even more than his playing, I was impressed by his easy kindness, the quiet spirituality he brought in to the room, even when he was sitting silently, listening to a playback.

In case his sweet lucid sound isn’t familiar, here he is (with John Sheridan, James Chirillo, Phil Flanigan, Jake Hanna) on IF DREAMS COME TRUE:

Dreams coming true — and needing to come true — are the subject of this post.  Recently, Ron’s friend and mine, Sonny McGown, contacted me to say that Ron’s health was deteriorating.  Here’s the news from Alex, Ron’s stepdaughter:

In February, Ron received a diagnosis of idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, which is a chronic and progressive scarring of the lungs which eventually leads to respiratory failure. There is no cure, the only real treatment is a lung transplant. He is now a patient at Duke . . . and if all of the testing/evaluations/pulmonary rehab goes well, he will be listed for transplant. He has a five day evaluation in August. He is on supplemental oxygen with exertion but he can still play the clarinet thus far! It is our biggest hope that all of this will happen and that he will be healthy, will once again be able to travel and play larger gigs, see his friends, and of course be able to breathe! As you can imagine, the cost is enormous and he and my mom will be forced to relocate for a year or so.  I’ve just started a fundraising campaign on GoFundMe.

Here‘s the link.

And here’s some lovely music that I hope will evoke generous feelings and actions.  Let us do a friend a favor.

May your happiness increase!

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“MAGIC FINGERS”: JIM TURNER’S TRIBUTE TO JOHNNY GUARNIERI (Solo Art SACD 172)

Here’s a sample of the technically inspiring, elegant music that pianist-composer Johnny Guarnieri created for half a century:

and one of his many other sides — the quietly irrepressible swinger:

and then there’s the audaciously gifted stride pianist:

and his variations on and venerable pop tune:

Guarnieri could marvelously become Fats, Tatum, Teddy Wilson, James P., Basie — all at once or in lovely little interludes — but after a few bars on any recording, you knew it was Johnny, which (to me) is the summit that improvisers strive for, influences melded into a recognizable self.

He started at the top, as they say, in 1939 as a member of the Benny Goodman band and the sextet with Charlie Christian, then as the harpsichord player with Artie Shaw’s Gramercy Five as well as with the band, then numberless sessions with Ziggy Elman, Cootie Williams, Slam Stewart, Sammy Weiss, Lester Young, Roy Eldridge, Cozy Cole, Jerry Jerome (in the early Forties, Guarnieri seemed to be the house pianist for Keynote, Savoy, and other small labels) Yank Lawson, Ben Webster, Benny Morton, Coleman Hawkins, Rex Stewart.  He’s the pianist on the V-Disc sessions that brought together Louis, Lips Page, Bobby Hackett, Billy Butterfield, Jack Teagarden, Lou McGarity,Nick Caiazza, Ernie Caceres, Herb Ellis, Al Hall, Cozy Cole, Specs Powell; more sideman work with Don Byas, Joe Thomas, Buck Clayton, Hank D’Amico, Ike Quebec, Flip Phillips, J. C. Heard, Sidney Catlett . . . . and this recital of famous associations is only up until the end of the Second World War.

Guarnieri wasn’t famous, necessarily, in the way that Teddy Wilson was, but he had the respect of the best players, singers, and record producers in the music business.  And the long list of names — did I leave out Sinatra, Rosemary Clooney, June Christy, or Dick Haymes? — means that if you have a favorite jazz or swing record from this period, chances are that Johnny was the pianist on it. In the Fifties and beyond, he went for himself as a soloist or led a piano trio or quartet, for the next thirty years, although he participated in the great revival of interest in the masters of the Swing Era, and could be found alongside Ruby Braff, Vic Dickenson, Doc Cheatham, Buddy Tate, Slam Stewart, and others.

Perhaps because of his swing and his dazzle (stride faster than the speed of light, improvising in 5/4 and other eccentric meters) Guarnieri has been admired but never approached.  That is, until Jim Turner‘s new CD, in tribute to Johnny, Jim’s mentor and friend, aptly called MAGIC FINGERS.

Jim Turner

Jim hasn’t had the benefit of Guarnieri’s visibility and name recognition, but I knew of him for years as a convincing, graceful stride and swing pianist.  And anyone who begins his recording career in duet with Knocky Parker and has played concerts with Dick Hyman has to be taken seriously.

Here’s some evidence: POET AND PEASANT OVERTURE, performed in June 1986.  The video is murky, but the music is wonderful: we could have taken Jim uptown and he would have impressed the titans.  Better, he impresses now:

and here’s Jim beautiful version of James P. Johnson’s CAPRICE RAG:

What makes his playing remarkable is not its speed, but his gorgeous marriage of accuracy and warmth, his rollicking swing.  As fast as this performance is, it never feels mechanical (beautiful dynamics!) and it never outraces its jubilant rocking motion.

One more, because I can’t resist.  You might need to increase the volume, but it will be worth it:

But to the subject at hand, MAGIC FINGERS.

A tribute to Johnny Guarnieri by another pianist might get bogged down in layers of emulation, where the second artist, let us say, might decide that Johnny’s choruses on I NEVER KNEW or EXERCISE IN SWING were so fulfilling that the only thing one could do, as if they were a Chopin etude, would be to reproduce them beautifully.  But a CD of copies would not, I think, serve Johnny’s spirit and legacy all that well, especially since Johnny was always being his singular self even while some listeners might say, “That’s a Fats phrase! That’s some Basie!” — as if they were walking the beach with a metal detector looking for identifiable treasures.  (Incidentally, the perhaps apocryphal story is that when Johnny would launch into these pitch-perfect impersonations as a sideman with Benny Goodman, the King would tell him vehemently, “STOP THAT!” and Johnny would, although perhaps not as quickly as Benny wanted.)

The brilliance of MAGIC FINGERS lies, of course, in Jim Turner’s deep understanding of Johnny’s musical selves, and in Jim’s choice to create a disc devoted to his mentor’s ingenious, restorative compositions.  Each of the originals (well-annotated by Jim in his notes) has its own life, with great variety in tempo, key, rhythms, and approach.  A number of the pieces were written with a specific individual in mind — thus a tribute that collects many tributes! — and the ear never gets tired.

At no point in my multiple playings of this disc did I feel the urge to shout at the speakers, “STOP THAT!”  Quite the opposite: from the opening notes of GLISS ME AGAIN, I settled down in comfort for a series of endearing adventures — seventeen selections, all but three by Guarnieri.  Beautifully played and beautifully recorded — the real sound of a well-maintained piano in a large room.

I admire how Turner has not only managed to reproduce the wonderful features of his inspiration’s playing — the great glide of his swing, the impish romping, the energetic and varied stride — but has made them entirely personal and rewarding.  I’ve chosen to avoid a track-by-track explication (discover these pleasures for yourselves!) except to say that the closing track, THE DAZZLER, is a duet for Turner and the singularly eloquent clarinetist Ron Hockett.

I can’t offer the usual tech-inducements of seventeen sound samples or the like, but I assure you that this disc, as they used to say, satisfies.

A closing thought.  I recently had a conversation in cyberspace with a respected musician who plays “traditional jazz,” who lamented that this music was “a language” that modern audiences would not hear and, if they did, might not understand.  Maybe his dark assessment is right, but I would use MAGIC FINGERS as a test case: anyone who purchases this disc might feel encouraged to play one of the more leisurely pieces and then a romp for someone who didn’t know this music but was open to other genres.  I’d hope that the listener would say, “That’s really pretty,” of the slower piece and “That pianist really can play!” of the more acrobatic one.  I have faith in the music and in this CD — and, if it isn’t clear by now, in Jim Turner and in Johnny Guarnieri and the gifts that each offers so generously.

May your happiness increase!

LOOK WHO’S IN TOWN!

Dan Barrett, trombonist, cornetist, bandleader, arranger, composer, singer, musical sparkplug (and one-third of “A Wondrous Trio” on this blog) — is coming to New York and New Jersey for a too-brief season of gigs and recording.  Here, verified and straight from the source, is his itinerary, minute-by-minute. 

Tuesday, 13 Oct 2009:  Dan arrives EWR at 3:59pm. (Dan will probably go down to Arturo’s and see pianist Harry Whittaker and bassist Pat O’Leary).

Wednesday, 14 Oct: Dan @ Ocean City Library, Toms River with Danny Tobias, Joel Forbes, Ehud Asherie, et. al

Thursday, 15 Oct: Dan @ Small’s 7:30-9pm w/Ehud Asherie, others (Dan will dash over to Sofia’s in the Edison Hotel, to hear Rossano Sportiello after Dan finishes at Small’s. Rossano plays until 11pm).

Friday, 16 Oct: Dan @ Roth’s Westside Steakhouse 7-10pm w/ Ehud, others

Saturday, 17 Oct: Dan has a free night… 

Sunday, 18 Oct: Dan @ Ear Inn 8-11pm w/ Jon-Erik Kellso, others…

Monday, 19 Oct: Dan @ Bickford Theater, Morristown, w/ Danny Tobias, Ehud, Joel Forbes, and Kevin Dorn.

Tuesday, 20 Oct: Dan, Rebecca Kilgore, Eddie Erickson, Jake Hanna, Warren Vache, Scott Robinson, Dan Block, Ron Hockett, others @ NOLA Studios; (John Sheridan’s “Dream Band” recording for Arbors Records).   

Tuesday, 20 Oct: Dan @ Little Branch 10:30-12:30pm w/ Ehud (after Arbors recording)

Wednesday, 21 Oct: more recording at NOLA as above (Dan is free in the evening after the recording session)

Thursday, 22 Oct: Dan leaves EWR at 12 Noon

Here are details for the Ocean County Library (Toms River) and Bickford Theatre concerts: 

The Bickford Theatre/Morris Museum: On Columbia Turnpike/Road (County Road 510) at the corner of Normandy Heights Road, east of downtown Morristown. Near Interstate 287 and the Route 24 expressway. This is a 300-seat hall with generous parking on site. Wheelchair access. Weeknight concerts are one long set (8 to 9:30 PM). Tickets are generally $15 in advance, but $18 at the door. Tickets may be purchased via credit card over the phone by calling the box office at (973) 971-3706. The box office can also provide information, directions or a simple “jazz map.”

Ocean County College: Midweek Jazz concerts are held on Wednesday evenings (normally at their comfortable Fine Arts Center). Concerts begin at 8 PM and run as one extended set until about 9:30 PM. Tickets are $13 in advance, but $15 at the door. Call their Box Office at (732) 255-0500 for information, credit card purchases (no fee) or driving directions, which are also available from their web site: www.ocean.edu.  In recent months, MidWeek Jazz has moved to a temporary home at the Ocean County Library in Toms River while their building is renovated. The OCC Box Office will continue to sell the tickets, and has easy driving instructions to the Library, just 4 miles from the OCC campus and less than a mile from Parkway exit 81, either direction. The Library’s street address is 101 Washington Street, 08753 if you are using a navigator, but the Library itself does not sell the concert tickets. 

(Email Don Robertson at Jazzevents@aol.com to get on his email list for regular jazz updates.)