A two-person dream band is what I call it. And the two majestic persons are Menno Daams, cornet, and Rossano Sportiello, piano.
They play I GOT RHYTHM. “Oh,” I can hear some saying. “That old thing?” YES. In all twelve keys, gently ascending without a misstep or a failure of swing and lyricism. At once it is a history of jazz; at once it is a compact dance party; at once it is brilliant virtuosity that is never self-conscious. I could go on, but you should stop, look, and listen.
AND a thousand thanks to expert videographer Werner Sutter, without whom this would be merely the stuff of oral history. Bless you, all three of you:
When does the world tour start? I want to be there to relieve Werner when his arm gets tired. These are my heroes, in whatever key.
A wonderful interlude given to us by Harry Allen and Houston Person, tenor saxophones; Rossano Sportiello, piano; Nicki Parrott, string bass; Chuck Redd, drums, at the 2014 San Diego Jazz Party. The program, as announced by Houston, is YOU ARE TOO BEAUTIFUL (Harry) / MISTY (Rossano, Nicki) / AS TIME GOES BY (Houston):
Lovely sounds, spiritual medicine. Good for what ails you.
You’d better dig that JAZZ BAND BALL. As Johnny Mercer told us, “It’s the ball of them all.”
Here the venerable jazz standard gets up on its hind legs and romps around the stage — thanks to leader / trombonist Russ Phillips; Bria Skonberg, Duke Heitger, trumpet; Allan Vache, clarinet; Rossano Sportiello, piano; Sean Cronin, string bass; Darrian Douglas, drums. Never mind that the song was almost a century old, composed by two members of the Original Dixieland Jazz Band: it’s completely at home in 2015. And in 2022.
This joy comes to us thanks to the much-missed Atlanta Jazz Party, where so much good music happened. I know; I was there, as you can guess from the video.
Rossano Sportiello’s latest CD, THAT’S IT! (Arbors Records) came out this year, and it’s a delight. That should be enough psychic catnip for anyone who admires Rossano, as I devoutly do, but perhaps some readers aren’t quite so well-informed. He describes it this way: “This brand new album contains a collection of Rossano Sportiello’s Solo Piano thoughts. It incorporates elements of bebop, stride piano, classical and swing into a mixture that blends completely together into something new. About 70 minutes of music, 17 tracks, with 12 standards and 5 originals. That’s it!” (This comes from Rossano’s website, a treasure chest of sounds, words, and thoughts: visithere for more pleasures.)
But perhaps this will do the trick where words cannot:
In some ways, those sounds — whether raucous or delicate — transcend explanation, but I will attempt some. I’ve been awe-struck by Rossano for fifteen years and more (and, not incidentally, he is one of the most gracious people I know) because he is a virtuoso who never lets virtuosity intrude on the music. He can cover the keyboard but he knows the value of a single note — he understands Tatum, Fats, Basie, and Monk . . . but he is himself. Another way to say it: Rossano, and others like him, stand in front of a century of improvised music; he and they have internalized it but know the artist’s responsibility is to (respectfully) smash the past into little pieces to create their own personal right-now mosaic.
He creates just such a mosaic on THAT’S IT! There are classics by Kern, Whiting, Gershwin, Rodgers, and Waller, as well as more ephemeral pop tunes of their day (GUILTY; I DIDN’T SLEEP A WINK LAST NIGHT) rendered beautifully — Rossano loves ballads and rhythm ballads, as you’ll hear. There are moments that suggest Ellis Larkins and Teddy Wilson, Dave McKenna’s locomotive-roaring-at-us ferocities, as well as an overall harmonic and rhythmic playfulness that, as always, shows us the depths of Rossano’s romantic, thoughtful spirit. I can’t predict where his motorcar is going to take me, but the view is always beautiful.
And there are five of his own compositions, which often suggest the great masters of the Thirties who could take a melodic phrase, turn it this way and that, and make it into a song we didn’t forget.
I can’t resist:
Tell me there’s something that Maestro Rossano can’t do at the keyboard. (An appropriate pause.) Pencils down, please.
You can purchase the disc or download the music at the usual cyber-oases, or, for something special, acquire a signed copy from the Maestro at his website.
For those of you muttering in the background, “I can’t buy one more CD, but I surely like that Rossano fellow’s music,” know that Rossano has created streaming sessions from his apartment (with guests and the occasional invisible cat) called “Live at the Flat in Greenwich Village,” and tomorrow’s episode — that’s Tuesday, September 28, at 6 PM, New York time — will feature instrumentalists Scott Robinson and Danny Tobias, who also have appeared with Rossano on Danny’s new CD, SILVER LININGS. And the previous fifty episodes (!) can be found on YouTube and Facebook, with appropriate links for those who put their money where their love is.
But I hope you’ll investigate and support all of Rossano’s enterprises. He brings joy to those who can hear.
Roswell Rudd said, “You play your personality,” and in the case of Danny Tobias, that is happily true. Watch him off the stand: he’s witty, insightful, but down-to-earth, someone choosing to spread love and have a good time. And when he picks up the horn (cornet, trumpet, Eb alto horn) that same hopeful sunniness comes through. He can play a dark sad ballad with tender depths, but essentially he is devoted to making music that reminds us that joy is everywhere if you know how to look for it.
Danny’s a great lyrical soloist but he really understands what community is all about — making connections among his musical families. So his performances are never just a string of solos: he creates bands of brothers and sisters whenever he sits (or stands) to play. His jazz is friendly, and it’s honest: in the great tradition, he honors the song rather than abstracting the harmonies — he loves melodies and he’s a master at embellishing them. When I first heard him, in 2005 at The Cajun, I told him that he reminded me of Buck Clayton and Ruby Braff, and he understood the compliment.
But enough words. How about some 1939 Basie and Lester, made fresh and new for us — with a little spiritual exhortation in the middle:
Now, that’s lovely. And it comes from Danny’s brand-new CD with his and my heroes, named above. My admiration for Danny and friends is such that when I heard about this project, I asked — no, I insisted — to write the notes:
What makes the music we love so – whatever name it’s going by today – so essential, so endearing? It feels real. It’s a caress or a guffaw, or both at once; a big hug or a tender whisper; a naughty joke or a prayer. The music that touches our hearts respects melody but is not afraid of messing around with it; it always has a rhythmic pulse; it’s a giant conversation where everyone’s voice is heard. And it’s honest: you can tell as soon as you hear eight bars whether the players are living the song or they are play-acting. If you haven’t guessed, SILVER LININGS is a precious example of all these things.
I’ve been following all of these musicians (except for the wonderful addition to the family Joe Plowman) for fifteen years now, and they share a common integrity. They are in the moment, and the results are always lyrical and surprising. When Danny told me he planned to make a new CD, I was delighted; when he told me who would be in the studio with him, I held my breath; when I listened to this disc for the first time, I was in the wonderful state between joyous tears and silly grinning. You’ll feel it too. There’s immense drama here, and passion – whether a murmur or a shout; there is the most respectful bow to the past (hear the opening of EASY DOES IT, which could have been the disc’s title); there’s joyous comedy (find the YEAH, MAN! and win a prize – wait, you’ve already won it). But the sounds are as fresh as bird calls or a surprise phone call from someone you love. Most CDs are too much of a good thing; this is a wonderful meal where every course is its own delight, unified by deep flavors and respect for the materials, but nothing becomes monotonous – we savor course after course, because each one is so rewarding And when it’s over, we want to enjoy it again.
I could point out the wonderful sound and surge of Kevin Dorn’s Chinese cymbal and rim-chock punctuations; the steady I’ll-never-fail-you pulse of Joe Plowman; Rossano Sportiello’s delicate first-snowflake-of-the-winter touch and his seismic stride; Scott Robinson’s gorgeous rainbows of sounds, exuberant or crooning, and the man whose name is on the front, Danny Tobias, who feels melody in his soul and can’t go a measure without swinging. But why should I take away your gasps of surprise and pleasure? This might not be the only dream band on the planet, but it sure as anything it is one of mine, tangible evidence of dreams come true.
They tell us “Every cloud has a silver lining”? Get lost, clouds! Thanks to Danny, Joe, Scott, Kevin, and Rossano, we have music that reminds us of how good it is to be alive.
The songs are Bud Freeman’s THAT D MINOR THING; Larry McKenna’s YOU’RE IT; EASY DOES IT; Danny’s GREAT SCOTT; DEEP IN A DREAM; LOOK FOR THE SILVER LINING; I NEVER KNEW; Danny’s gender-neutral MY GUY SAUL; YOU MUST BELIEVE IN SPRING; OH, SISTER, AIN’T THAT HOT!; I’VE GROWN ACCUSTOMED TO HER FACE; PALESTEENA; Danny’s BIG ORANGE STAIN; WHY DID I CHOOSE YOU?
On the subject of choosing. You could download this music from a variety of sources, but you and I know that downloading from some of those sources leaves the musicians with nothing but regrets for their irreplaceable art. Danny and his wife Lynn (a remarkable photographer: see above) adopted the adorable Clyde Beauregard Redmile-Tobias some months ago:
I know my readers are generous (the holidays are coming!) so I urge them to buy their copies direct from Danny, who will sign / inscribe them. Your choice means that Clyde will have better food and live longer.
I learned about this video of the Friday-night concert of the 2021 West Texas Jazz Party from my friend, the great drummer Ricky Malichi — and I settled back into fifty-eight minutes of pleasure . . . not the least of it being that the video was professionally shot and edited (beautifully) and I could be a delighted spectator for once. To explicate the twenty names above, although few of them need identification . . . Warren Vache, cornet; Randy Sandke, trumpet; Dan Barrett, John Allred, Russ Phillips, trombone; Harry Allen, Peter Anderson, Will Anderson, reeds; Nate Najar, guitar; Daniele Soledad, vocal; Rebecca Kilgore, vocal; Nicki Parrott, vocal and string bass; Frank Tate, Richard Simon, string bass; Rossano Sportiello, Johnny Varro, Brian Piper, piano; Chuck Redd, drums and vibes; Ricky Malichi, Eddie Metz, drums.
These selections from Friday night at the Ector Theatre are so beautifully polished, testifying to the immense professionalism of the musicians at the Party: without any commercial interruptions, it’s a wonderful advertisement for the 2022 and future WTJP!
You’ll see it’s not just a casual blowing session — there are some clever charts (who did them?) but the swinging cohesion is both typical and admirable.
Here’s the menu:
LIMEHOUSE BLUES: Sandke, Allen, Will Anderson, Varro, Tate, Redd
IN A MELLOTONE: Barrett, Allred, Phillips, Piper, Simon, Malichi
A LITTLE GIRL FROM LITTLE ROCK and LIKE THE BRIGHTEST STAR: Kilgore, Parrott, Allen, Sportiello, Metz, Redd
THEY CAN’T TAKE THAT AWAY FROM ME and IT’S YOU OR NO ONE: Vache, Allred, Peter Anderson, Piper, Simon, Malichi
DOUBLE RAINBOW: Najar, Soledade
JUST FRIENDS and AFTERGLOW: Sandke, Barrett, Allen, Will Anderson, Varro, Tate, Metz
A delightful offering, and so well-produced. And thanks again to Ricky Malichi, who swings even when away from his kit.
Some nine years after this performance, I think of my immense good fortune at being “there,” and being able to document these moments. In those nine years, I thought now and again, “I’m going to save these for my retirement,” and now I can say, “Hey, I’m retired! Let the joys commence.”
These two performances — perhaps from a SONGS OF 1928 set? — are accomplished, joyous, and hilarious — created by musicians who can Play while they are Playing and nothing gets lost, nothing is un-swung. For instance: the bass clarinet and taragoto figures created on the spot by Scott Robinson and Dan Block behind Dan Barrett’s DIGA solo — Louis and Duke applaud, but so does Mack Sennett. The jubilant expert Joy-Spreaders are Marty Grosz, guitar and arrangements; Jon Burr, string bass; Pete Siers, drums; Rossano Sportiello, piano; Duke Heitger, trumpet; Dan Barrett, trombone; Scott Robinson, tenor saxophone, taragoto; Dan Block, clarinet, bass clarinet.
Ask yourself, “Who’s wonderful? Who’s marvelous?” and the answer is of course MISS ANNABELLE LEE:
and another hit (I hear Irving Mills’ vocalizing) DIGA DIGA DOO:
I feel better than I did ten minutes ago. You, too, I hope. Marty and everyone else in these performances are still with us: talk about good fortune, doubled and tripled.
The last song of the night, when both musicians and the audience are drained, is traditionally a rouser. When everyone is overwhelmed by an evening of sensations, the leader might call for SWEET GEORGIA BROWN, or JUMPIN’ AT THE WOODSIDE to send the crowd to their rooms feeling exhilarated, feeling that they’ve got their money’s worth. In truth, some of these spectacles seem formulaic, seasoned lightly with desperation: I would imagine that the last thing the band wants to do is to play Fast and Loud through weary lips and hands, but it’s expected of them.
I always think that calling AFTER YOU’VE GONE is an inside joke — a hot way of saying, “Could you go away, already?” to an audience that surely has had its fill. (Audience members sometimes stand up and shout “MORE! MORE!” although they’ve been well and over-fed, and perhaps have talked through the last set.) For Duke Heitger to call SLEEP as a closing tune is a nice bundle of ironies: it doubles as the kind suggestion, “Go to bed, so that we can stop playing and relax,” but it’s also a high-energy, spectacular jazz performance. The song didn’t begin that way. Here’s Fred Waring’s first recorded performance of it (he took it as his band’s theme):
So it began as lulling, soporific, but since 1940 (Benny Carter’s big band) and 1944 (Sid Catlett – Ben Webster) the song SLEEP has often been a high-powered showcase . . . as it is here, featuring Duke Heitger, Bria Skonberg, trumpet; Allan Vache, clarinet; Dan Block, tenor saxophone; Bob Havens, trombone; Rossano Sportiello, piano; Bucky Pizzarelli, guitar; Paul Keller, string bass; Eddie Metz, drums.
Please note all the fun these possibly-exhausted musicians are having: the glance Bucky gives Rossano when the latter begins the performance, “Oh, so THAT’s the tempo?!” and the delightful hi-jinks between Eddie, Paul, and Rossano (Eddie, especially, is the boy at the back of the classroom passing notes while Mrs. McGillicuddy is droning on about the Pyramids) — they way the horns float and soar; Duke’s idea of having an ensemble chorus in the middle of the tune (no one else does this); Bucky’s super-turbo-charged chord solo, Paul and Eddie taking their romping turns, all leading up to a very tidy two-chorus rideout.
On the basis of empirical observations made over the last fifteen years, I would state without fear of contradiction that Rebecca Kilgore, residing in Portland, Oregon, is a recognizable member of our species, genus, phylum, etc. I’ve seen her drink cranberry juice, check her iPhone, write something down with a pen, eat Thai food, and so on. Once, she picked me up at the airport in a little white car, a great honor.
Yet something magical that I can’t explain happens when she sings in front of an ensemble. She doesn’t grow larger or louder, she has no magic wand or pointed hat, and if she has a cauldron it’s out of sight behind the stage. She entrances us. She doesn’t make us meow or bark or do silly things for the mocking amusement of others, but we fall under her spell — musical and emotional.
If you think I exaggerate, I present nearly seven minutes of magic (on the second or third viewing, look at how happy the band is!) created by Rebecca on a 1945 pop hit by Billy Reid — we know it, probably, from the recordings by Louis Armstrong and Charlie Parker. This performance, created on the spot at the 2014 Atlanta Jazz Party, finds Rebecca among friends and magicians Ed Metz, drums; Paul Keller, string bass; Rossano Sportiello, piano; Dan Barrett, trombone; Dan Block, tenor saxophone; Duke Heitger, trumpet. Entrancing.
Don’t go back to preparing dinner or that Zoom call too quickly — an abrupt descent from the sublime to the mundane could have damaging side-effects. If you’re like me, one visit to THE GYPSY as imagined by Becky and friends won’t be enough.
That was seven years ago. Rebecca, pianist Randy Porter, and string bassist Tom Wakeling (“the Rebecca Kilgore Trio”) have recorded a new CD — a mixture of wonderful songs, many new to me, all equally entrancing. It’s not released yet, but you will be able to find out more about it and Rebecca’s other recordings here.
I was there, among admired friends. And the music was spectacular.
In German, it’s JAZZ IM RATHAUS — Jazz at the Town (City) Hall — but given that Louis’ 1947 Town Hall Concert shaped my life, I realign the words as tribute. The Dramatis Personae is on the green cover.
April 9, 2016. Photograph by Elke Grunwald
This was the thirtieth annual concert, a series featuring, among others, Wild Bill Davison, Kenny Davern, Marty Grosz, Ralph Sutton, Jon-Erik Kellso, Dan Barrett, Randy Sandke, Warren Vache, Bob Haggart, Mark Shane, Danny Moss, Chris Hopkins, Jake Hanna, Rossano Sportiello, Antti Sarpila, Butch Miles, Ken Peplowski . . . . All of this happened because of Manfred Selchow, known to his friends as Mannie, a deep jazz-lover, author of beautifully comprehensive studies of Ed Hall and Vic Dickenson. He’s the serious man below with both hands on the check, but don’t let that somber visage fool you: he is a warm and easy fellow.
But music is what we’re here for — two rousing selections from the final concert of the April 8-10 jazz weekend at the Rathaus. The first, LADY BE GOOD, is full of gratifying solos, ensemble telepathy, uplifting surprises. That’s Matthias Seuffert, Engelbert Wrobel, tenor saxophones; Helge Lorenz, guitar; Bert Boeren, trombone; Menno Daams, cornet; Rico Tomasso, trumpet; Bernard Flegar, later, Moritz Gastreich, drums; Nico Gastreich, string bass; Niels Unbehagen, Stephanie Trick, Paolo Alderighi, piano — doing crowd-pleasing handoffs. AND 1936 Lester! (Wait for it, as they say.)
The encore, PERDIDO, evokes JATP, with Matthias, Engelbert, Helge, Nicki Parrott on string bass; Bernard, Niels, Stephanie, Paolo, Rico, Menno, and Bert:
Someday, sweethearts, we shall meet again. And thanks for the lovely sounds.
Although the idea of stride piano is that the singular player on the piano bench is able to simulate the depth and textures of a larger ensemble in their solo playing, I recall very clearly that my earliest exposure to stride playing was in hearing duets between piano and drums: James P. Johnson and Eddie Dougherty (and Sidney Catlett’s work with James P. as part of a rhythm section), Donald Lambert and Howard Kadison . . . later, Willie “the Lion” Smith and Jo Jones — and of course, Fats Waller with Al Casey, bass, and drums. So there is a real tradition, and an intuitive percussionist is a bonus rather than an intrusion.
Guillaume Nouaux is such a player, and his new CD is wonderful. But you don’t have to take my non-playing word for it: I shared it with Mr. Kadison, the man about whom Donald Lambert said, “That’s my drummer!” and Howard was delighted by it.
“Delight” is appropriate here, because listening again to the CD — once won’t be enough for anyone — I was reminded of one of the stories I’ve probably told too often here, my feeling when Jo Jones came and sat in with Ellis Larkins and Al Hall. Guillaume is just that kind of player: varied, intuitive, swinging, always making great sounds, adding some flavors that increase our aural joys. He is a wonderful accompanist — like a great witty conversationalist who always knows the right thing to say, or perhaps a sly supple dance partner — but also a splendid melodic soloist, someone whose terse outings are shapely and welcome. I can’t emphasize enough the glorious variety of sounds he gets out of his kit, although he’s not fidgety (some drummers won’t stay in one place for more than four bars) so he’s not restricted to one approach. He can be very gentle, but he can also create great joyous noises. (Hear his MOP MOP on this disc.) And neither he nor his great collection of pianists is aiming for the consciously archaic: the music on this disc isn’t trying to wear the same trousers it wore in adolescence, if you get the metaphor.
Each of the seven pianists (some very well-known to me, others new marvels) has two selections — loosely speaking, one up and one down — which is to say one a quick-tempoed stride showcase, the other more ruminative, which makes this disc so refreshing. The songs are HARLEM STRUT / DROP ME OFF IN HARLEM / I WISH I WERE TWINS / WILLOW WEEP FOR ME / RUNNIN’ WILD / JITTERBUG WALTZ / CHEROKEE – SALT PEANUTS / WHY DID YOU TELL ME “I LOVE YOU”? / HANDFUL OF KEYS / OVERNIGHT / MOP MOP (For Big Sid) — Guillaume’s brief solo feature / TEA FOR TWO / WHEN I GROW TOO OLD TO DREAM / THE LADY IS A TRAMP / OVER THE RAINBOW.
Before you read a syllable more: discs and downloads can be obtained through Bandcamp here. It’s also one of those rare discs — because of its premise (a rainbow of artists) that I play all the way through with pleasure. And I believe you can hear some of the music for yourself there. But if you need sonic breakfast-in-bed, here are Guillaume and Louis Mazetier trotting deliciously through DROP ME OFF IN HARLEM:
You can find out more about Guillaume and his imaginative projects here.
I will leave it to you to decide who plays on which track — it would make a very sophisticated Blindfold Test even for those who consider themselves stride experts.
Several other things need to be said. The recorded sound is lovely (the piano is well-tuned and the balance between piano and drums, ideal). You might think this is overly finicky of me, but one of my favorite sessions ever is the 1956 PRES AND TEDDY, where — I believe — the piano could have been tuned again before the session: I hear its glassy-tinkly upper registers and wince. Not so here.
The repertoire is in part familiar, but hooray! no AIN’T MISBEHAVIN’, no HONEYSUCKLE ROSE. And although both stride piano and jazz drumming are, even at slow tempos, displays of athleticism (try tapping your finger for three minutes and keeping steady time), this isn’t a collection of fifteen kinds of Fast and Loud. Oh, there’s dazzling playing here . . . but there are also caresses and meanders of the best kind. And each of the pianists brings his own particular approach to the material. The CD delights me, and I think it will do the same for you.
Fats would have called it “a killer-diller from Manila.” Don’t be the last one on your block to be grinning.
This fellow is little known except to connoisseurs of late-Twenties jazz. He was a wonderful reedman, imaginative arranger, composer of modernistic melodies, but perhaps more people know Fud Livingston because of one mournful song:
Here’s our Becky — Rebecca Kilgore to those who haven’t yet taken her to their hearts — with Dan Block, tenor saxophone; Rossano Sportiello, piano; Frank Tate, string bass; Pete Siers, drums, performing this lament at the 2011 Jazz at Chautauqua weekend:
Performances like this — consistently for several decades — are why, when someone says, “Have you heard the new singer _____? She’s great!” I often say, “Before you launch someone at me, do you know Rebecca Kilgore’s work?” Becky’s individual mix of delicacy and intensity here is so touching — her quiet emotional fervor, her beautiful natural-sounding phrasing and diction. She’s it. Dan Block matches her in feeling: his vocalized sound is close to tears. And that rhythm section: the very soul of soulful understated support. Watching this, I feel so fortunate that I was there to witness this music and how glad I am to be able to share it with you.
A relevant postscript from our Jazz Eminence, Dan Morgenstern, who, in the late Fifties, was “in between,” and working at Colony Records in midtown New York City, the hours 7 pm to 4 AM:
A sad note: Fud Livingston, not quite sober, with a guy he wanted to show how many recordings there were of his “I’m through with Love” which I looked up for him in that big Phonolog. He was gassed that I knew who he was, or had been. Wanted to do an interview but didn’t connect…he was in twilight zone. (This would have been before March 25, 1957, when Livingston, fifty, died. I hope he made a good deal of money from the song’s appearance in SOME LIKE IT HOT, sung with breathless ardor by Marilyn Monroe.)
I can promise you more treasures created at Jazz at Chautauqua, although this one is singular in its art and feeling.
Another of the wondrous ballad medleys that used to begin and end the splendid jazz weekend, Jazz at Chautauqua: here, from 2013. And, because it’s daylight, it was the medley that sent us all home, exhausted by pleasure, on a Sunday afternoon.
The roadmap: After a few of the usual hi-jinks, the rescue squad finds a second microphone for Marty Grosz, Harry Allen plays EASY LIVING; Dan Block, DAY DREAM; Bob Havens essays CAN’T HELP LOVIN’ THAT MAN; Duke Heitger finishes off this segment with I KNOW WHY (And So Do You):
I had to put a new battery in at this point, so I missed a few choruses (you’ll see Dan Levinson leaving the stage — my apologies to Dan and the other musicians I couldn’t capture).
Then, Randy Reiinhart plays MY FUNNY VALENTINE; Andy Schumm follows, politely, with PLEASE; Andy Stein calls for LAURA; Marty takes the stage by himself for the Horace Gerlach classic IF WE NEVER MEET AGAIN; Rossano Sportiello plays SOPHISTICATED LADY, so beautifully:
Those would have been the closing notes of the 2013 Jazz at Chautauqua: another unforgettable interlude of music and friendship. Bless the musicians, bless the shade of Joe Boughton and bless his living family, bless Nancy Hancock Griffith and Kathy Hancock. Those experiences are unforgettable evidence that once, such things were beautifully possible, and we witnessed them — me, with a video camera. How fortunate we were!
Yes, the ceilings leaked at the Athenaeum Hotel in Chautauqua, New York, and every year there were new Rorschach-blot patterns (is that a bird, a monkey, or a shapely leg?) above me. The venerable elevator provoked anxiety. But inside this hotel, one September weekend, starting for me in 2004, some of the best music I’ve ever witnessed was created for us, thanks to a stunning assortment of musicians. Here’s a lovely interlude; watching it, I rub my eyes: did such things happen? Well, thank the Goddess for video evidence that I can share with you.
There will of course be debate over Jelly Roll Morton’s birthdate — September or October 20? — but there should be no debating the beauty of this performance, another treasure from the 2020 JAZZ LIVES Archaeological Dig. Here’s our Becky — Rebecca Kilgore — subtly embracing the song as only she can — with the noble help of Ricky Malachi, drums; Kerry Lewis, string bass; Howard Alden, guitar; Rossano Sportiello, piano; Scott Robinson, clarinet; Dan Barrett, trombone; Duke Heitger, trumpet.
Don’t want no regular!
Thanks not only to the musicians, but to the Emperor of it all, Joe Boughton, his family (hello to Sarah, Bill, and David!) and his friendly Chiefs of Staff and Official Diplomats, Nancy Hancock Griffith and Kathy Hancock. Moments like this vibrate in the memory.
I offer you the second part of a glorious informal session from Thursday night, September 17, 2009 at Jazz at Chautauqua — a quartet of lyrical melodists: Joe Wilder, trumpet and flugelhorn; Harry Allen, tenor saxophone; Rossano Sportiello, piano; Jon Burr, string bass. Hereis the first part of the evening’s festivities: DON’T BLAME ME, ‘DEED I DO, and JUST SQUEEZE ME.
Mr.Wilder, himself: characteristically cheerful and beautifully dressed:
Messrs. Allen, Burr, and Wilder. You’ll hear Fratello Sportiello soon:
Here is music to delight the angels, Joe’s EMBRACEABLE YOU:
and the Basie-flavored protestation of good humor, I AIN’T MAD AT YOU:
How fortunate I was to be there, and (without self-congratulation, I hope) how fortunate that I had a camera. Bless these four brilliant modest luminaries. In my thoughts, I embrace them all.
I could introduce this post in several ways: a reference to Irving Berlin’s THE SONG IS ENDED in my title, a memory of Faulkner’s character Gavin Stevens, “The past isn’t dead; it’s not even past,” or perhaps Shelley:
Music, when soft voices die, Vibrates in the memory—
All true. But I’d prefer to start with the mundane before presenting magical vibrating sounds. I have spent more than a month in the emotion-charged task of tidying my apartment. No sandwiches under the bed — in my world, food gets eaten — or inches of dust, since I do know how to use standard cleaning tools (even when I neglect to). It is more a matter of sifting through things that had been put into piles “for when I have time,” which I now do. And I was rewarded by objects I once thought lost coming back to me of their own accord.
One such delight is an assortment of videos, created but now often forgotten, that I had shot at Jazz at Chautauqua: I’ve shared some of them already: fourteen such postings since February 2018: search for “Chautauqua” and they will jump into your lap.
But here are three “new” previously unseen masterpieces from the informal Thursday-night session at Chautauqua — by a quartet of subtle wizards of melody, Harry Allen, tenor saxophone; Rossano Sportiello, piano; Jon Burr, string bass. And Joe Wilder, not the young hero of the Fifties but — if possible — more subtle, more deep, more able to touch our hearts.
The videos aren’t perfect. The piano could have been tuned more recently. Heads are in the way, some famous, and the image I achieved with that camera is not perfectly sharp. DON’T BLAME ME ends abruptly and incompletely — my fault. But I marvel at the music and hope you will also.
‘DEED I DO, where Joe leaps in exuberantly:
JUST SQUEEZE ME:
I am saving the closing two performances from this session for another post: it would not be right to choke you with an excess of beauty all at once. And when I think about the blessings of the second half of my life, I include the friendly respect of the musicians here — the gracious living trio and Joe. When I think that Joe spoke to me, wrote to me, and laughed with me, my joy and awe are immense . . . but he extended the gift of his warm self to so many, I know I am not unique.
This post is sent as a gift to Solveig Wilder. And it is dedicated to the memory of Ed Berger and Joe Boughton, each of whom made beauty possible.
We all know what a ballad is — a rhapsodic experience, possibly melancholy, played or sung slowly. But a “rhythm ballad” is something created in the Thirties: a sweet ballad played at a danceable tempo, so that you and your honey could swoon while doing those steps you had practiced at home. Even when the lyrics described heartbreak, those performances had a distinct pulse, or as Marty Grosz says below, “I gotta wake up.” Here are some moving examples of the form, performed during the closing ballad medley at Jazz at Chautauqua in September 2012. First, Marty evokes 1931 Bing Crosby, then Rossano Sportiello honors Hoagy Carmichael, and Dan Barrett tenderly expresses a wish for gentle romantic possession:
Howard Alden’s melodic exposition of an early-Fifties pop hit:
Finally, Dan Block — incapable of playing dull notes — woos us in a Johnny Hodges reverie over imagined real estate:
It’s appropriate that this post begins with THANKS — words cannot convey my gratitude to these artists who continue to enrich our lives. And I am particularly grateful to those who allowed me to aim a camera at them . . . so that we can all enjoy the results.
I think WHO’S SORRY NOW? (note the absence of the question mark on the original sheet music above) is a classic Vengeance Song (think of GOODY GOODY and I WANNA BE AROUND as other examples): “You had your way / Now you must pay” is clear enough. Instrumentally, it simply swings along. It seems, to my untutored ears, to be a song nakedly based on the arpeggiations of the harmonies beneath, but I may be misinformed. It’s also one of the most durable songs — used in the films THREE LITTLE WORDS and the Marx Brothers’ A NIGHT IN CASABLANCA — before being made a tremendous hit some twenty-five years after its original issue by Connie Francis. Someone said that she was reluctant to record it, that her father urged her to do it, and it was her greatest hit.)
Jazz musicians loved it as well: Red Nichols, the Rhythmakers, Frank Newton, Bob Crosby, Lee Wiley, Sidney DeParis, Wild Bill Davison, Harry James, Benny Goodman, Benny Carter, Eddie Heywood, Woody Herman, Buck Clayton, Sidney Bechet, Paul Barbarin, George Lewis, Big Bill Broonzy, Archie Semple, Charlie Barnet, Raymond Burke, Rosy McHargue, Oscar Aleman, the Six-and-Seventh-Eighths String Band, Kid Ory, Teddy Wilson, Earl Hines, Miff Mole, Hank D’Amico, Teddi King, Kid Thomas, Bob Scobey, Franz Jackson, Chris Barber, Matty Matlock, Bob Havens, Ella Fitzgerald, Armand Hug, Cliff Jackson, Ken Colyer, Jimmy Witherspoon, Jonah Jones, Capt. John Handy, Jimmy Rushing, Tony Parenti, Claude Hopkins, Jimmy Shirley, Bud Freeman, Ab Most, Benny Waters, Peanuts Hucko, Billy Butterfield, Kenny Davern, Humphrey Lyttelton, Bill Dillard, New Orleans Rascals, Barbara Lea, Allan Vache, Paris Washboard, Bob Wilber, Lionel Ferbos, Rosemary Clooney, Rossano Sportiello, Paolo Alderighi, Vince Giordano, Michael Gamble . . . (I know. I looked in Tom Lord’s online discography and got carried away.)
Almost a hundred years after its publication, the song still has an enduring freshness, especially when it’s approached by jazz musicians who want to swing it. Here’s wonderful evidence from Cafe Bohemia (have you been?) at 15 Barrow Street, Greenwich Village, New York, one flight down — on November 22, 2019: Ricky Alexander, tenor saxophone; Chris Gelb, drums; Daniel Duke, string bass; Adam Moezinia, guitar, and special guest Dan Block, tenor saxophone:
That was the penultimate song of the evening: if you haven’t heard / watched the closing STARDUST, you might want to set aside a brief time for an immersion in Beauty here. And I will be posting more from this session soon, as well as other delights from Cafe Bohemia. (Have you been?)
This sign is catnip to me and to other cats — so much so that we were standing in line (in a drizzle) outside of Mezzrow long before the Powers would open the door. But our perseverance was well rewarded, that night of September 16, when Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Rossano Sportiello, piano; Tal Ronen, string bass, got together for a vibrant imaginative session. Here are a few highlights.
Rossano’s musical beverage, TEA FOR TWO:
Honoring Fathahood, MONDAY DATE:
ALL THE THINGS YOU ARE (featuring Tal):
I’M CRAZY ‘BOUT MY BABY, echoing not only Fats but also Ruby and Ralph:
Rossano’s marriage of Sammy Cahn, Saul Chaplin, and Fred Chopin, in SHOE SHINE BOY / Waltz, Opus 69, No. 1:
And Jon-Erik’s suggestion that we not leave, STICK AROUND:
Brilliant solo voices, rewarding thoughtful ensemble interplay. Yes, it happened.
Who knew such a sad subject could be so pleasingly swung?
Rebecca Kilgore, Rossano Sportiello, Dan Barrett, Jon Burr, Ricky Malachi at Jazz at Chautauqua 2012.
Walter Donaldson’s LITTLE WHITE LIES has a brief verse detailing a romance-dream smashed because of untruths . . . which would lead us to expect a soggy morose song to follow (check out the Dick Haymes / Gordon Jenkins version on YouTube, for confirmation) but Ms. Kilgore doesn’t go in for masochism in song, so her version (with Rossano Sportiello, piano; Dan Barrett, trombone; Jon Burr, string bass; Ricky Malachi, drums) makes light of heartbreak:
Particular pleasures are Becky’s first sixteen bars — a cappella — and the joyous looseness of her second chorus. And the swinging support from this group!
Hereare two more delights from this session. More to come from Chautauqua.
And a reminder: No matter how encouraging the moonlight, aim for candor.
There are maladies everywhere, but there are also cures. You could see your doctor and get a prescription designed to take care of angst, malaise, and ennui; it would be a little plastic vial with a long name that would surely upset your stomach. Or you could simply click on the two videos below, never before seen, and wait for the results . . . with no side-effects. Music hath charms, indeed.
Rebecca Kilgore, Rossano Sportiello, Dan Barrett, Jon Burr, Ricky Malachi at Jazz at Chautauqua 2012.
These two performances took place at the Jazz at Chautauqua weekend in September 2012, and they bring joy. Specifically, Rebecca Kilgore, Rossano Sportiello, Dan Barrett, Jon Burr, and Ricky Malachi — vocals and guitar, piano, trombone, string bass, and drums — do that rare and wonderful thing.
Here’s a burst of optimism in swing, the 1939 pop hit above, which has been so completely overshadowed by WHAT A WONDERFUL WORLD and IT’S A BIG WIDE WONDERFUL WORLD that I am immediately grateful to Becky and friends for singing and playing it:
And resilience added to optimism, in a song associated with the unlikely spectacle of Fred Astaire having trouble mastering a dance step.
This Kern-Fields beauty occasionally gets mixed up with the Berlin LET YOURSELF GO, perhaps the same principle, but one is about recovery (even a triumph over gravity) — the other, release:
These performances are from seven years ago, but Becky and friends are currently performing their magic in various ways and places. You can find out her schedule here, and there is her seriously beautiful new CD with Echoes of Swing (Bernd Lhotzky, Colin T. Dawson, Chris Hopkins, and Oliver Mewes) called WINTER DAYS AT SCHLOSS ELMAU, about which I’ll have more to say soon. Rossano’s globe-crossings are documented here; Jon Burr’s many adventures here and Dan Barrett’s here.
You wouldn’t imagine that the serious man (second from left in the photograph, holding a corner of the check) could inspire such joy, but it’s true. That fellow is my friend and friend to many, Manfred “Mannie” Selchow, jazz concert promoter, jazz scholar, enthusiast, and so much more. He even has his own Wikipedia page that gives his birthdate, his work history, and more — but it also says that he has organized more than thirty concert tours of Germany that have resulted in many joyous concerts and CDs from them (released on the Nagel-Heyer label) featuring Ralph Sutton, Marty Grosz, Harry Allen, Randy Sandke, Eddie Erickson, Menno Daams, Jon-Erik Kellso, Dan Barrett, Kenny Davern, Bob Wilber, Mark Shane, Rossano Sportiello, and hundreds more.
I first met Manfred through the mail: he had published a small but fascinating bio-discography of one of his great heroes, Edmond Hall (whom he heard in 1955 when Ed came to Germany with Louis). Eager as always, I wrote him to let him know about some Hall I’d heard that he hadn’t. We began corresponding and traded many tapes. The slim monograph grew into a huge beautiful book, PROFOUNDLY BLUE, and Manfred then began working on an even more expansively detailed one about Vic Dickenson, DING! DING! which I am proud to have been a small part of. In 2007, I visited him in his hometown for a weekend of music; I came over again in April 2016 for “Jazz im Rathaus,” which takes place in Imhove. This 2016 concert weekend was in celebration not only of thirty years of wonderful music, but of Manfred’s eightieth birthday.
The concert weekend was marvelous, full of music from the people you see below and others, including Nicki Parrott, Stephanie Trick, and Paolo Alderighi. However, one of the most satisfying interludes of the weekend took place near the end — a JATP-themed set led by Matthias Seuffert. And Matthias, who has excellent ideas, had this one: to play a blues for Mannie. Now, often “Blues for [insert name here]” is elegiac, since the subject has died. Happily, this isn’t the case. What it is, is a medium-tempo, rocking, cliche-free evocation of the old days made new — honoring our friend Mannie. The players are Bernard Flegar, drums; Niels Unbehagen, piano; Helge Lorenz, guitar; Nico Gastreich, string bass; Bert Boeren, trombone; Engelbert Wrobel, Matthias Seuffert, reeds; Menno Daams, Enrico Tomasso, trumpet. What a groove!
I think the world — in its perilous state — needs blues like this (homeopathically) to drive away the real ones we face, and this nearly ten-minute example of singular individuals working together lovingly in swing for a common purpose is a good model for all of us. Thanks to the always-inspiring Mannie for all he’s done and continues to do.
P.S. This post was originally prepared for the faithful readers and listeners shortly after the music was performed, but technical difficulties of a rather tedious sort interfered . . . and now you can see what we all saw a few years back. Thanks for holding, as they say in telephone conversations. And if Manfred is still somewhat computer-averse, I hope someone will share this post with him.