Tag Archives: Rossano Sportiello

THANK YOU, NANCY AND KATHY!

You might not think it from the picture, but two of these women have done the music we love an irreplaceable service, and not just once.

From the left, they are Kathleen Hancock, Abbey Griffith, and Nancy Hancock Griffith: grandmother, granddaughter, and mother.

What have they got to do with JAZZ LIVES, and with jazz?  Joe Boughton, hallowed and irascible, began a series of weekend jazz parties in the Eighties, which I encountered late in their existence, in 2004, as “Jazz at Chautauqua.” I’ve written elsewhere on this blog about these yearly ecstasies of music, friendship, coffee, Scotch, and music.  When Joe’s health began to fail, Nancy gently offered her assistance, both musical and practical — and she was quickly expert and invaluable in all things, from settling disputes about seating or who wouldn’t play with whom, and Chautuqua went on — even improved — after Joe died in 2010.

When the Allegheny Jazz Society moved itself to new quarters in Cleveland, Nancy and her mother, Kathy, took over the running of the Party.  Beautifully, without complaining about the year’s worth of labor such a weekend required.

I won’t go into the economics and logistics of running such a weekend, but even from my semi-outsider’s perspective, the work required had been massive.  And then there’s the financial balancing act.  Thus I was saddened but not entirely startled to read this letter from Nancy and Kathy on the 14th:

Cleveland Classic Jazz Party
All Good Things…

As they say,

— Go out on a high note.

So, after four years trying to make a go of the Cleveland Classic Jazz Party, we find we must take this advice. The 2017 Jazz Party was the best one yet, but unfortunately we find we cannot continue. We gave it our best shot.

This was a very hard decision for us, as we both dearly love this genre of music. We had hoped that we would be able to garner much more support in Cleveland for the Jazz Party, but we were never able to get to the break- even point — even with your generous donations. The costs involved in putting together the first-class productions we all appreciate are too high for us to absorb.

We are still trying to think of a way to continue to support traditional jazz in a small way, but for now, we find we need to disband the Cleveland Classic Jazz Party. We will always remember the wonderful friends we made, and the good times (and some of the challenges) we had along the way.

Many thanks to all of your for your support over the years. We hope to see you often at other jazz events and venues.

Warmest regards,

Nancy Griffith and Kathy Hancock

I could write many things here, but what needs to be said can best be said in music — in a performance from the 2015 Cleveland Classic Jazz Party, THANKS A MILLION, dedicated to Jon-Erik Kellso, by Duke Heitger, Rossano Sportiello, Scott Robinson, Nicki Parrott, and Ricky Malichi:

Nancy and Kathy gave time, energy, patience, good humor, and money — for years — to make these enterprises flourish.  Without them, my life would have been less gratifying.  Bless them! I send deep gratitude, and I know I am not alone.

May your happiness increase!

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MONK ROWE’S TREASURE CHEST

Marian McPartland and Monk Rowe, photo by Val DeVisser

A the end of the preceding century, while many of us were standing at Tower Records, considering which CD to buy, Monk Rowe — musician and scholar — was busy doing good work in the land of jazz.

Monk is a modest fellow, so he will probably protest all this praise aimed at him and say, “It’s not me . . . it’s the Filius Jazz Archive at Hamilton College,” but he will have to put up with the adulation for the time being.  Monk’s ongoing gift to is a series of video interviews done with jazz artists and luminaries from 1995 on.  More than 300 interviews have been conducted, and they are appearing — almost daily — on the Archive’s YouTube channel.  Most of the interviews run an hour, which is a wonderful visit with people you and I haven’t had the opportunity for such sustained conversations with.

I confess that I have been slow in alerting JAZZ LIVES’ readers to this magic toybox, because I feared for the collective health.  The interviews are wonderfully informative in a low-key, friendly way — Rowe does not obsess over musicological details but is interested in letting the artist speak — and they are devilishly addictive.  I’ve lost hours in front of the computer because of them, so don’t say I didn’t warn you.

And the interview subjects often are people who have not been fussed over in public — at all or in such gratifying ways.  Here are a dozen names: Manny Albam, Eddie Bert, Bill Charlap, Benny Waters, Keith Ingham, Jackie Cain and Roy Kral, Sherrie Maricle, Stanley Kay, Grover Mitchell, Rossano Sportiello, Ron Carter — and those interviews have been posted on YouTube in the past month.  Let that sink in.

Here’s Monk himself — in under two minutes — introducing the channel.  You can see how low-key and amiably focused he is.  He mentions the book that he co-authored, drawn from the interviews: I’ve written about it here.

Here are several interviews that will fascinate JAZZ LIVES’ readers.  prepare to be entranced, amused, moved, informed.

Monk talks to Tom Baker — someone we miss seriously — in 1997: it amuses me that this interview was recorded in a corner of the Hotel Athenaeum at Chautauqua, New York — the fabled home of Jazz at Chautauqua:

and the illustrious Marty Grosz in 1995:

Kenny Davern, Part One, in conversation with Dr. Michael Woods:

and Part Two:

and “just one more,” Nicki Parrott in 2010:

Set aside a few weeks: this is much more rewarding than several semesters deep in the Jazz Studies curriculum, I assure you.  And I haven’t even included Helen and Stanley Dance, Vi Redd, Ruth Brown, Jean Bach, Jerry Jerome, Chubby and Duffy Jackson, Ralph Sutton, Bob Wilber, Joe Wilder, Sweets Edison . . . . that you can do for yourself.

May your happiness increase!

HAL SMITH’S “PRETTY WILD”: A TRIBUTE TO WILD BILL DAVISON (Cleveland Classic Jazz Party, Sept. 16, 2017)

Ruby Braff, who could be ungenerous in his quick assessments of fellow musicians, said of Wild Bill Davison, “He had drama,” and he was right.  Even at the last stages of Bill’s life, when he was working his way through one time-tested solo after another, he was never lukewarm.  And it wasn’t simply a matter of volume or tempo, but an intensity that burned through the most romantic ballad he played.  And he inspired everyone around him.  I saw this in person several times in New York City in the Seventies, and those who saw Bill will agree.

For the 2o17 Cleveland Classic Jazz Party, drummer / jazz scholar Hal Smith realized a long-held dream, a Davison tribute band he has called PRETTY WILD, honoring the two sides of Bill’s musical personality and the album he made with strings.  This version of Hal’s band had Randy Reinhart, cornet (becoming Bill without resorting to copying or caricature); Dan Barrett, trombone; Andy Schumm, clarinet; Rossano Sportiello, piano; Howard Alden, guitar; Joel Forbes, string bass.  They rocked the ballroom in the best Davison-Condon tradition, playing themselves at all times.

Here’s the set.  Make sure your seat belt is securely fastened.  Have your fire extinguisher accessible.

I CAN’T BELIEVE THAT YOU’RE IN LOVE WITH ME:

SHE’S FUNNY THAT WAY, a ballad Bill loved to burn through:

A Commodore classic from the ODJB book, FIDGETY FEET:

BLUE AGAIN, Bill’s ballad feature (inspired by Louis):

A dangerously hot BEALE STREET BLUES (how I wish George Avakian, the guiding genius of so much hot music, could hear this):

Finally, a nearly violent THAT’S A-PLENTY (catch the trading of phrases among Randy, Andy, and Dan):

After Wild Bill and the band had burned through their first number, he would often take the microphone and leer at the audience, a gum-chewing W.C. Fields with a cornet, “I see that you like dinner music.”  Hal and PRETTY WILD make sure that dinner is always hot and ready.

May your happiness increase!

“IT’S THE TALK OF THE TOWN”: DUKE HEITGER, DAN BLOCK, ROSSANO SPORTIELLO, ANDY BROWN, JOEL FORBES, PETE SIERS (Cleveland Classic Jazz Party, Sept. 14, 2017)

In his seriously masterful AMERICAN POPULAR SONG, Alec Wilder was unkind to “IT’S THE TALK OF THE TOWN,” calling it “nostalgic,” but adding that “its melody simply isn’t that good.”  Songs have feelings, too, and I disagree.  I’ve never been jilted at the altar (or a week before) but I always find the song touching and it works well as a ballad or in medium tempo.  In my mind’s ear I hear Joe Thomas playing and singing it, getting particularly impassioned in the last eight bars.  I wish he’d recorded a long vocal version.  And that Louis had done so also.

First, the song as a new pop hit, performed by the marvelously emotive Connie Boswell (sweet and then swung gently):

Coleman Hawkins with Fletcher Henderson, 1933:

and with Sir Charles Thompson, 1945:

and from this century — September 14, 2017 — at the Cleveland Classic Jazz Party, a version nicely balancing melancholy and swing, by Rossano Sportiello, piano; Pete Siers, drums; Joel Forbes, string bass; Andy Brown, guitar; Dan Block, clarinet; Duke Heitger, trumpet.  Keynote / Vanguard style, with split choruses, easy rocking lyricism, climbing to the stars:

May your happiness increase!

HAL SMITH SWINGS BY: ROSSANO SPORTIELLO, FRANK TATE, DAN BLOCK, DUKE HEITGER, JOEL FORBES (Cleveland Classic Jazz Party, September 14, 2017)

Usually when I set up my video camera to record a band, I try to stay a safe distance from the percussionist — no matter how much I respect him or her — for simple matters of volume.  But at the informal Thursday night sessions at the 2017 Cleveland Classic Jazz Party, I found myself right near the drums, which was a good thing . . .

Hal Smith I can always trust to swing beautifully.  Here, in a piano trio, a clarinet quartet, and a two-horn quintet, he stayed on his brushes — mostly on the snare and hi-hat cymbal, with bass drum commentary — and the swing that resulted was subtle, reassuring, and immense.

It didn’t hurt at all (“it didn’t bother me”) that he was joined by Rossano Sportiello, piano, and Frank Tate, string bass — for the first number, WHO’S SORRY NOW?  Not Connie Francis, but James P. Johnson:

(I knew there was much exhilarating music to come, but after that performance I thought, “Well, I’m full.  Whatever else happens is a bonus.”)

Then, Rossano slowed the tempo down, and they began JADA.  A man walked in front of the camera at around twenty seconds, and ordinarily I find such walk-throughs irritating, but not when the man is my hero Dan Block, moving in to play with the irresistible trio:

To quote Alex Hill, AIN’T IT NICE?

And as a final bit of pleasure in this add-a-part informal set, Joel Forbes took over for Frank at the bass and Duke Heitger joined in for JUST YOU, JUST ME:

Did you ask me why I travel to the Cleveland Classic Jazz Party, or why I seek out gigs where these musicians play?  I think these videos will answer the [musical] question.  I plan to offer more videos from this weekend, as will Laura Wyman of Wyman Video, who has some delights for us as well.

May your happiness increase!

“JAZZ ITALIAN STYLE, FROM ITS ORGINS IN NEW ORLEANS TO FASCIST ITALY AND SINATRA,” by ANNA HARWELL CELENZA

“I prefer books that tell me things I don’t know,” said Mark Twain. Or if he didn’t, he should have.

JAZZ ITALIAN STYLE is such a book — wide-ranging, full of intriguing information, and refreshingly straightforward.

I will say that I thought I knew a great deal about the title and the subject.  After all, I know Rossano Sportiello, Marc Caparone, Paolo Alderighi, and Larry Scala. I have recordings by Frank Sinatra, Joe and Marty Marsala, Leon Roppolo, Louis Prima, Joe Venuti and Eddie Lang, Wingy Manone, Jimmy Durante, Tony Sbarbaro, Nick La Rocca, Marty Napoleon, Phil Napoleon, Lino Patruno, and others.  Years ago, I owned a vinyl anthology on Italian Odeon called ITALIAN JAZZ OF THE 50s, which had music from the Roman New Orleans Jazz Band and Romano Mussolini, with other bands I do not recall.  In the very early Seventies, I ate authentic Italian food at the Half Note, under the loving supervision of the Canterino family.  (All of the above is true, although not meant to be taken with the utmost seriousness.)

But the glory of Celenza’s book is the information it offers — subtle illumination of areas of the subject that I was ignorant of, and I am sure my ignorance is not my sole property.  And the fruits of her investigation are the substance of this appreciation of her book.

But first: we are told, even before the book starts, that Celenza is “the Thomas E. Caestecker Professor of Music at Georgetown University, where she teaches courses in music history, radio journalism, and the music industry.”  To some readers, those credentials will seem either the kiss of death or the black hand: another academic book, indigestible, a forest of footnotes, theoretical and ideological beyond endurance.  Calm yourselves.  Celenza is an engagingly straightforward writer, clear, candid, and witty.  (I saw the wit when I opened my copy at random and saw she had translated “Il Quattro Buffoni,” a band name on a record label, as “The Four Idiots.”

She doesn’t talk down to the general reader, and the book down’t labor under chunks of undigested digressive facts.  And leaving aside the useful documentation and index, the book is a compact 192 pages, because Celenza has not felt an obsessive need to include every fact that wanders by, and her chosen time period is under half a century.  It isn’t a book-length study of Sinatra, fascism, or every Italian who’s ever improvised, and that adds to its charm and effect.  Rather, like effective cultural studies, it traces the interweavings of many phenomena: radio and the growth of the recording industry, political struggles and performance, and much more.

As I promised above, I salute this book for adding information to my mental hoard.  Here are a number of things I didn’t know before reading JAZZ ITALIAN STYLE.

•     “The most horrific mass lynching in US history occurred in New Orleans in 1891, when eleven Italian immigrants were shot and strung up by an angry mob after a  jury found them innocent of assassinating the local police chief, David Hennessey.”

•     In 1919, Chevalier Bruno Zuculin wrote a description of the musical scene in New Orleans — and the music itself — for Italian readers.  The article was published two months before Ernest Ansermet’s famous celebration of Will Marion Cook’s Southern Syncopated Orchestra, which included the young Sidney Bechet.

•     “D. Onivas,” whose orchestra is on the reverse of some 78s by Cliff Edwards, is the pseudonym of Domenico Savino, composer and conductor.

•     Jazz first came to Italy with the USAAS (United States Army Ambulance Service) and its American Jazz Band landed  — and when members of the American and Italian armies recorded for Fonotopia in December 1918.

•     I had assumed that Mussolini, like Hitler, was hostile to jazz as decadent music: not so, in fact, Il Duce “embraced” it as an expression of the Futurist art he celebrated.

•     Josephine Baker, Herb Flemming, and Al Wynn visited and worked in Italy.  Louis Armstrong gave two concerts in Turin in January 1935 and wrote a detailed happy letter to an Italian fan and record collector.

•     I had never heard or heard of the female vocal trio, “the three graces of the radio,” the Trio Lescano — Alexandra, Judith, and “Kitty,” originally from the Netherlands, who became singing stars in Italy.

•  During the Second World War, when recordings by American artists were played on the radio, new Italianized names for the musicians were invented: Luigi Braccioforte, La Colema, Del Duca, and Beniamino Buonuomo.  (Answer key on request.)

•     Sinatra’s four trips to Italy, in 1945, 1953, 1962, and 1987 — and the audience’s elation when he described his Genoan heritage, then their silence when he revealed his family was also half-Sicilian.

These excerpts are, of course, not the substance of this book.  Celenza has a wonderful understanding of the widespread forces that go into the development and growth of jazz in Italy, and one will come away from this book with a much deeper understanding of the mingling of history, race, ideology, and politics — during war and in peacetime.

JAZZ ITALIAN STYLE is very rewarding, but never ponderous.  Here are the publisher’s resources for the book, and this is the link for the CD label offering for sale almost all the jazz described in the book.  And since a book like this cries out for a soundtrack, here is the one Celenza has generously created — 124 relevant musical examples that delight and illustrate.

May your happiness increase!

“MERVEILLIEUX!”

When I hear the voice of Rebecca Kilgore, I smile, even if the song is sad.  When I think of Rebecca Kilgore — who goes under various aliases to keep ahead of the law . . . Beck-a-Roo, Becky, Roo — I feel joyous.

With very few words, let me use JAZZ LIVES to share some of those good feelings.  Here’s a delicious sample of Rebecca — not only the singer, but the witty composer.  The song is THE DAY I LEARNED FRENCH.  Becky’s colleagues are Rossano Sportiello, piano; Nicki Parrott, string bass, and this was recorded at the 2014 Cleveland Classic Jazz Party:

And if you are close to New York City, Rebecca will be singing tomorrow — that’s April 29, 2017, at the International Women in Jazz Festival:

And if you can’t get to New York City tomorrow, you can follow Rebecca here.

May your happiness increase!