Tag Archives: Roswell Rudd

TWO GENTLEMEN OF THE LYRICAL BRASS FRATERNITY: JOHN BUCHER, PETER ECKLUND

I’ve been putting off this post because it makes me sad to write about these fine musicians I won’t encounter face to face again: I didn’t know either of them well, but felt that we had connected in various ways.  But it would be worse than my sadness to let their beauty be forgotten in the relentless howl of the news.  And although I cannot assume that John and Peter were close friends, their characteristic graciousness suggests to me that they would have known and admired each other.  So I trust they won’t mind the propinquity of this blogpost.

John Bucher, some years ago, photograph courtesy of The Syncopated Times

John Bucher moved on — to “go home,” in his own words, on April 5: he was 89 and had a long-time cardiac condition.  Peter Ecklund, who had dealt with Parkinson’s disease for a long time, moved to his own destination in another neighborhood on April 8: he was 74.

Peter Ecklund, photograph by Lynn Redmile

I didn’t know either of them well enough to have extended conversations, but I believe they both — in the past two decades — recognized me as being on their side, whether I was writing for The Mississippi Rag or another periodical, or, eventually, carrying a camera and a notebook for JAZZ LIVES.  Peter was gracious to me but terse in all communications — in person or in email — but I was aware that his health was a burden to him and perhaps, although I could publicize a gig, I might also capture his playing in ways that did not show him in the best light.  (In both Peter’s and John’s case, I did get permission to make any video public, and would have honored their wish to delete a performance.)  John would give me a substantial grin when I greeted him; circumstances never allowed us to sit down and talk, but he made me very welcome.

My awareness of Peter goes back before I met him in person, to recordings he made in 1987 for the Stomp Off label — one under Marty Grosz’s name (“The Keepers of the Flame”) and one session that Peter led (“Melody Makers”) — brilliant recordings that I played and replayed.  I may have found them at the Corner Bookstore in East Setauket, run by Nancy Mullen: Nancy and Frank were serious jazz fans who had celebrated their engagement at the bar at Lou Terassi’s in 1951 or 2, with Hot Lips Page and Zutty Singleton adjacent to them.  That, I point out, is the way to do it, although you’d have to find other comrades today.

In 1990, Nancy and Frank invited me to join them for a concert given by the Long Island Traditional Jazz Society in North Babylon, if I have the name right — Marty Grosz, Peter, Dan Barrett, Joe Muranyi, perhaps Greg Cohen and Arnie Kinsella — memorable to me now, thirty years later, for Muranyi singing LOUISIANA FAIRY TALE and interpolating, “Can it be NORTH BABYLON at last?”  I bought all the Stomp Off records and, later, the Arbors Records and Jazzology CDs on which Peter appeared, often as a key player in Marty Grosz’s Orphan Newsboys.  Peter had incredible leaping facility — romping through Jabbo Smith’s JAZZ BATTLE at top speed — but he was also a lyrical swinger who could create a memorable short story in a four-bar break.  When I heard him in person, he reminded me of Doc Cheatham — the light-footed dancing in air quality, a man with many delicate ideas to offer us in a chorus.

I met John in person for the first time in 2005, I think, at the Cajun — and admired him instantly.  Like Peter, I had heard him first, but in John’s case, not known his identity: John played on the soundtrack of Woody Allen’s SLEEPER, which was a hit at the movie theatre where I worked as a doorman (“Good evening,” tearing the paper ticket, then returning it with “Thank you.”)  so his firm swinging lead on CANAL STREET BLUES impressed me over and over.  I wish I’d known that he was playing so I could have told him this story when we met, nearly a quarter-century later.  But he knew how much I enjoyed his playing — whether at the Cajun, in a trio with Marty and John Beal at Charley O’s in midtown, or sitting in with the EarRegulars at the Ear Inn.  John was a thoughtful “singing” player who never hurried or missed a step, but he was never stiff.  A favorite quote, inserted neatly, was COLUMBIA, THE GEM OF THE OCEAN, which always made me laugh with pleasure.  He stayed in the middle register, but occasionally would end phrases with a growl or find a mute he liked to vary his sound.

Roswell Rudd once told me, “You play your personality,” and both of these gentlemen did just that.  Peter’s playing could be heated and impetuous, rounding the corner of a hot chorus, but he was poised and epigrammatic in person.  John, who made his living as some variety of stockbroker (he told his colleague and my friend Dick Dreiwitz that it was a career where he could go to work at 10 and stop at 3) was beautifully dressed; he sat up straight when playing.

After all those words, here is some lovely music.  I video-recorded John at the Cajun in 2006 (a whole evening) and when he visited The Ear Inn in 2010.  All the details are in the blogposts.

John at the Cajun, June 24, 2006: one and two, and at The Ear Inn, March 21, 2010: one and two.  Peter, sitting in at Radegast, whistling and ukulele, December 13, 2011: here.

It distresses me to realize that I and my camera came along too late in Peter’s playing career to have rewarding video-footage of his beautiful hot cornet playing, so I will include these performances, knowing that John would not feel slighted in the least.

and something for Bing (with a distinct Davison flavor):

I write this at the start of May 2020, having mourned a number of completely irreplaceable musicians — and people — whom I knew as well as heard.  I feel unequal to the task of mourning John and Peter adequately.  I also hope they sensed — when we did encounter each other — how much joy it brought me to see them on the bandstand, a pleasure that sustained itself through the evening and does so, years later, in memory and in video.

Blessings on you, inventive gentlemen of brass.  You can’t be replaced.  And I invite those readers who knew and admired John and Peter to chime in.

May your happiness increase!

“LOVE THEM MADLY”: KANAN, FOSTER, & ARNEDO TRIO PLAYS ELLINGTON AND STRAYHORN

Some music you have to work hard to embrace, and many listeners relish the labor.  But other music, no less subtle or rewarding, opens its arms to you in the first four bars.  A new CD by Michael Kanan, piano; Dee Jay Foster, string bass; Guillem Arnedo, drums, is a wonderful example of love made audible.

If these names are new to you, please put down whatever you’re attempting to multi-task (on or with) and listen to this leisurely reading of ALL THE THINGS YOU ARE from a live performance in 2017:

This trio also knows how to relax, thus, that rarity, a picture of jazz musicians taking their ease outdoors:

You might know that Michael Kanan is one of JAZZ LIVES’ heroes, not only in this country, but internationally.  And the lineage is very pleasing: the saxophone master Joel Press introduced me to Michael, and (aurally) Michael introduced me to Guillem and Dee Jay.  For the past decade, Michael spends part of each summer as artist-in-residence at the Begues Jazz Camp, where he’s forged deep musical relationships with these two musical intuitives.  The CD came out of a series of concerts the trio did.  As Michael says, “There is space, swing, surprises and lots of love. We have tried to capture the spontaneity of the moment in time – a good conversation between the three of us.”

Instead of the usual liner notes, the CD offers splendid artwork by Maria Pichel, who combines bright colors and delicacy to mirror the music within.  So here are a few (unsolicited) lines from me.

The late Roswell Rudd told me in 2012, “Playing your personality is what this music is all about. . . . You know, this is a music where you are playing off other people, and you really have to be listening and responding and respecting and complementing what’s going on around you.”

The personalities that come through so clearly here are gentle and intense at once: musicians inspired by the originals but aware that reverent innovation is the only tribute.  The magnificent Ellington and Strayhorn compositions are an indelible offering.  They aren’t obscure or at least they shouldn’t be, and that asks contemporary artists the question, “All right — what are you going to say about these pieces?”

One approach is reverence taken all the way: a 2018 piano trio could do its best to replicate Ellington, Blanton, Greer, or Strayhorn, Wendell Marshall, Woodyard.  Conversely, the improvisers could take the originals and, after one reasonably polite chorus, jump into outer space, perhaps never to return.  The Kanan, Foster, Arnedo trio modifies these extremes by creating statements showing their affection for the strong melodies, harmonies, rhythms — but they know that “playing their personalities” is what Ellington and Strayhorn did, and would approve of.  So the CD is a series of sweet variations on themes, where (to borrow from Teddy Wilson), “it’s the little things that mean so much.”

In the quiet world of this CD, even a slight tempo change means that listeners have found themselves in a new space, as if you’d come home to find that your partner had repainted the light-gray living room walls a gray with a blue undertone.

What I hear on this disc is the confident playful assurance of musicians who know each other well, are respectful but also relaxed and brave.  Michael, Dee Jay, and Guillem are melodists who work together in kind fraternal fashion, so the lead gets passed around, one player moves into the spotlight and the others are happy for him to shine.  No cliches; no showboating; no tedious quoting; no formulaic playing or threadbare trademarks; the total absence of post-modern irony; no sense that swing is out of date.

The result is a series of sustained explorations that are full of sweet surprises: the wonderful swinging assertiveness with which C JAM BLUES starts; the touching coda to ISFAHAN; the slightly faster tempo for I LET A SONG that neatly contradicts the self-pitying lyrics; the exposition of LOTUS BLOSSOM would make anyone want to listen with bowed head, and the slightly altered rhythmic pulse that follows made me hear it as if for the first time; JOHNNY COME LATELY is perfect dance music — I defy anyone to stay motionless, even if the dance is happy nodding one’s head in time; Michael’s solo ALL TOO SOON is half-lullaby, half question yearning to be answered; the faster-than-expected I’M BEGINNING TO SEE THE LIGHT reminds me happily of Fifties Jo Jones with Ray and Tommy Bryant, for the trio’s swing is light yet insistent, and the rocking mood continues on through LOVE YOU MADLY; DAY DREAM, the concluding track, also seems a series of questions, some of them with answers.

I would tell any listener, “Play the disc over again, after you’ve let it settle in your mind, take up a comfortable space in your heart.  Play it for people who have ears.  Let them share the pleasure, the loving inquisitiveness.”

Because I have admired Michael’s playing for some time, I might have over-emphasized his contribution, but Dee Jay and Guillem are the equal of anyone with a more famous name, whether Elder or Youngblood: they play their instruments with honor and grace, avoiding the excesses that lesser players fall into.  Forget the snide jokes about bass solos; Dee Jay’s phrases are deft and logical, his time and intonation superb; Guillem, for his part, has such a swinging variety of sounds throughout his kit that he is marvelously orchestral without ever being overwhelming. The beautiful recorded sound, thanks to David Cassamitjana, is reassuringly warm and clear, putting us there, which is where we want to be.

You can hear the music here, on Spotify or iTunes, or purchase that endearing archaic object, an actual physical disc by clicking on “TIENDA” at the same site.

Even if you have as complete an Ellington-Strayhorn collection as possible, this is an essential disc: warm, candid, and gratifying.

And if you’d like to hear more from Michael, Dee Jay, and Guillem in a different but quite uplifting context, visit here also.

May your happiness increase!

DAN MORGENSTERN RECALLS MUGGSY SPANIER, GEORGE BRUNIS AND THE ELEPHANT, EDDIE CONDON and FRIENDS (April 21, 2017)

Still more from our friend and hero Dan Morgenstern, recalling those days when the boundaries between “styles” weren’t quite so high or solidly built: the “Dixieland” scene in New York of the late Forties and the Fifties, with quick portraits of George Brunies (or Georg Brunis) but also Steve Lacy.

Brunis is legendary — from the New Orleans Rhythm Kings to Ted Lewis to Muggsy Spanier’s Ragtime Band and Eddie Condon, as well as his own groups, but he’s not often heard.  Here he is in concert in 1947 — his own blues, which gives a very good idea of his ebullient personality (along with Joe Sullivan, Pops Foster, and Baby Dodds):

Here’s Brunis’ “two Irishmen” version of IN THE SHADE OF THE OLD APPLE TREE, featuring Max Kaminsky:

YouTube offers videos of Brunis with Art Hodes in 1968 and with Bobby Hackett, Eddie Condon, and Pee Wee Russell thirty years earlier.  But enough prelude: here’s Dan:

The segment ends incompletely, which is my fault, but it means that when Dan and I meet again I will ask him about Cecil Scott, a hero of mine.  And of his.

May your happiness increase!

OUT OF TOWN, FOR THE BEST REASONS (July 25-29, 2017)

Last week I left my comfortable suburban burrow to travel to what turned out to be a very rewarding city:

No, JAZZ LIVES has not gone country.  Rather, I came down for a record date featuring these fellows.

Marc Caparone, cornet; Steve Pikal, string bass; Danny Coots, drums; Brian Holland, piano;  Evan Arntzen, clarinet and tenor (rear); myself (front); Derek Garten (recording engineer). Photograph by Amy Holland.

and, just because it exists, another photograph:

This session was to create a CD — their debut on disc — of the Holland-Coots Quintet, a group that had already appeared with great success at the Durango Ragtime Festival.  Here — with videos captured by Judy Muldawer — is my post about this glorious band.  I spent two happy days in the studio — a place of music, insights, deep feeling, and laughter, overseen by the masterful engineer / all-round whiz Derek Garten — as the band made magic happen, song after song.

The theme of the CD (which doesn’t yet have a title) was the music of Fats Waller, and the music associated with him.  Experienced listeners know that people have been paying tribute to Fats for more than eighty years now, which means they were doing it at the same time HE was doing it, if that logical turn isn’t too annoying.  (Think of Bob Howard and Putney Dandridge, and later Pat Flowers and Johnny Guarnieri.)

But many musicians and bands (1934 to the present!) have taken the easy way out, walking off with the most obvious superficial mannerisms: stride piano at a fast tempo, a half-dozen Waller phrases thrown in at random, AIN’T MISBEHAVIN’, HONEYSUCKLE ROSE, YOUR FEETS TOO BIG, the illusion of eyebrows moving up and down in time, ad-libs that are no longer improvised, and so on.  The most studied tributes have a trumpet player who has studied Autrey, a reed player deep into Sedric, and if the budget allows, an acoustic guitarist who has done post-doctoral in Casey.

Add gestures, stir lightly, and you have a recognizable product that people who don’t know the musicians will pick up off the table, and, with luck, purchase. Microwave-Fats.

This CD is fresh, not frozen.  It captures Fats’ deep soul in all its aspects.

This quintet rejected shallow caricature in favor of music that is light-hearted but full of feeling, swinging without artifice.  For one thing, song choices that showed a deep understanding of Fats and his world.  A few volcanic explosions (MINOR DRAG, I WOULD DO ANYTHING FOR YOU), a nod to a classic Waller-Razaf standard (KEEPIN’ OUT OF MISCHIEF NOW), one to James P. Johnson (IF I COULD BE WITH YOU),  some Fats songs that don’t get played (MOPPIN’ AND BOPPIN’, THIS IS SO NICE IT MUST BE ILLEGAL, LONESOME ME, LIVER LIP JONES), several from the early, dewy Rhythm sides (WHOSE HONEY ARE YOU, I BELIEVE IN MIRACLES, I’VE GOT MY FINGERS CROSSED), and a romantic ballad — Fats was a deep romantic — composed by Russ Columbo and two people I’d not heard of, and gorgeously sung by Evan, LET’S PRETEND THAT THERE’S A MOON, which is my new favorite recording.

The music is sincere but never self-consciously so; no one is “acting” a part, but in Roswell Rudd’s words, they are playing their personalities.  I will let you know more about the CD as it comes up to the surface, ready to be bought and loved.

I can’t share the music from the CD with you: that will come in due course.  (I will be writing about the new Holland-Coots duet CD, SWINGIN’ FOR THE FENCES, soon.)  But I have something to enthrall and delight.  I’d asked Brian if he and the band would consider, when the session was over, performing something for my camera, so that I could share it with the JAZZ LIVES audience as a token of generosity (the band’s) and a hint of things to come.  It’s ragtime via the DeParis Brothers’ band, RUSSIAN RAG, and it’s a wow:

Festival producers, take note!

(The sound of the video is captured by the RODE microphone on top of my camera; the CD’s sound is light-years better, but I wanted people to hear this joyous expert outburst now.)

Blessings and gratitude to Danny, Brian, Marc, Evan, Steve, Derek, Kimberly C, Bella C, Hannah C, Amy G, Amy H, Cheryl P, Rona from Waffle House, and Miss Rose from Kroger — not only for the music but for the encompassing warmth.

May your happiness increase!

HOD O’BRIEN, WRITER

Hod O'Brien and wife, singer Stephanie Nakasian

Hod O’Brien and wife, singer Stephanie Nakasian

Pianist Hod O’Brien is a master of melodic improvisations.  If you missed his July 2015 gig at Mezzrow with bassist Ray Drummond, the evidence is here.

But here’s the beautiful part.  Some jazz musicians keep words at a distance and their expressiveness comes out through the keyboard, the brass tubing, and so on.  But Hod has written a pointed, light-hearted memoir that operates the way he plays.  His words seem simple, his constructions are never ornate, but he gets to the heart of things and leaves the reader enlightened, renewed.

HOD BOOK

The first thing to say about this book is how pleased I am to read a book by someone who, like Hod, has been an active part of jazz for six decades.  It’s not “as told to,” nor is it embellished by a jazz scholar as a posthumous tribute.  Here is part of  Hod’s preface, which reveals much about his character:

“This book is not intended to be a strictly biographical text, but, rather a collection of funny, little incidents and stories I’ve witnessed and heard along my way, on my path as a freelance jazz musician over the past 60 years of my professional life.

It’s intended mostly for fans of mine, whomever and wherever you all are, and fellow musicians, who might be interested in hearing a little bit more about me from another perspective, rather than from just my music and recordings alone. . . . The jazz community is a small, but hip part of the world, of which I’m happy and proud to be a member, and to whom I wish to express my deep gratitude — to those of you in it and interested in my work.”

I was immediately struck by Hod’s self-description as “happy and proud,” and the book bears him out.  “Proud” doesn’t mean immodest — in fact, Hod constantly seems delighted and amazed at the musicians he’s gotten to play with, but his happiness is a great and reassuring undercurrent in the book.  (When was the last time you met someone deeply nourished by his or her work?  Hod is that person.)

His  book moves quickly: at the start he is a child picking out one-finger melodies on the piano, learning boogie-woogie, hearing JATP and bebop recordings; a few pages later it is 1955 and he filling in for Randy Weston at a gig in Massachusetts, hearing Pepper Adams, getting threatened by Charles Mingus, meeting and playing with Zoot Sims and Bob Brookmeyer.  Oscar Pettiford (called “Pet” by Thad Jones) gets a longer portrait.  The O.P. portrait is so good that I won’t spoil it, but it has cameo appearances by Bill Evans and Paul Chambers, Chet Baker, and Philly Joe Jones.  In case you are realizing that Hod has managed to play with or hear or meet many jazz luminaries in the past sixty years, that alone is reason to buy the book.  There’s J.R. Monterose and a defective piano, a compromised Wilbur Ware, friendliness from Max Roach and Arthur Taylor.

The book (and Hod’s life) takes a surprising turn with Hod losing interest in his jazz career, studying with Charles Wuorinen, and delving into physics, higher mathematics, and early computer programming.  But a reunion with his old friend Roswell Rudd moves him back to performance and the club scene.

Interruption: for those of you who can only read about doomed heroic figures, victims, or the chronically self-destructive, this is not such a book.  Hod has setbacks but makes friends and makes music; he marries the fine singer Stephanie Nakasian, and they remain happily married, with a singer in the family, daughter Veronica Swift (born in 1994) — who just won second place in the Thelonious Monk jazz competition.  Now back to our regularly scheduled narrative.

Hod’s experiences as a clubowner are somewhere between surreal, hilarious, and sad — but his reminiscences of Sonny Greer (and a birthday gift), Joe Puma, Chuck Wayne, Al Haig, Stan Getz, and the little East Side club called Gregory’s (which I remember although I didn’t see Hod there).  There’s  Hod’s playing a set with Dizzy, Ornette, Ed Blackwell, and Teddy Kotick . . . and much more, including more than fifty photographs, a discography, and a list of Hod’s compositions: very nicely done at 122 pages.

You can buy it here — and you can also find out more about Hod . . . such as his return to Mezzrow on March 18-19, 2016. But until then, you can entertain yourself with a copy of HAVE PIANO . . . WILL SWING! — a book that surely lives up to its title.

May your happiness increase!

BOB MERRILL’S CHEERFUL MISSION

Bob Merrill CUTU

If anyone can improve the cosmic disposition, trumpeter / singer / composer Bob Merrill has a good shot at it.  He has the right attitude for sure.  On his new CD, he’s got the happy assistance of pianists John Medeski, Matthew Fries, and John Van Eps; guitarist Drew Zingg, string bassist / vocalist Nicki Parrott, drummer George Schuller, percussionist Vicente Lebron, reedman / flautist Russ Gershon, and special guests: tenorist Harry Allen, the legendary trombonist Roswell Rudd, and singer Gabrielle Agachiko.

I’ll let Bob sing, play, and comment here —

The CD itself is a fascinating hybrid — part post-bop Blue Note jazz with its rough edges smoothed off, part cheerful high-level vintage pop that would have sold millions in its own time and will no doubt attract new listeners in 2015.  The range is deliciously broad, the results convincing — from Paul Simon’s FEELIN’ GROOVY (a sweet witty duet for Bob and Nicki) to James Taylor and Randy Newman . . . and the only jazz version of Pharell Williams’ HAPPY that I expect to have on my shelves.

Bob explains this repertoire convincingly: “Most of the songs on this album entered my consciousness during adolescence. Some made me laugh and others made me cry.  All filled me with joy, and perhaps not coincidentally, they all achieved a great measure of popularity as bona fide hits on their respective charts.  Interpreting them in a personal way from a jazz perspective had been a labor of love.”

There are some delicious surprises here — triumphs of imagination.  I won’t spoil all the surprises, but my current favorite is a sharp-edged version of Randy Newman’s POLITICAL SCIENCE (LET’S DROP THE BIG ONE) that features Roswell Rudd, mock antique honky-tonk piano flourishes from Medeski, as Bob croons the dire lyrics over a twenty-first century “Dixieland” frolic.  It made me think, “What if Tom Lehrer had had the chance to record with George Wein’s Storyville band, say, Doc Cheatham, Vic Dickenson, and Pee Wee Russell?” Now, there’s an auditory miracle we can only imagine — thank you, Bob!

Bob is no popularizer, no jokester offering a buffet table of vintage pops played jazzily: even at its most light-hearted, this is a project based on heartfelt conviction: “We hope our music will offer cheer to you and any other beings in the universe capable of entering these sounds into their auditory senses.”

Even if the reach of this CD is narrower, and it cheers up only terrestrial listeners, it’s still a worthy enterprise.  Reach for this CD in the morning instead of your smartphone, perhaps.

Here (that’s Bob’s website) you can hear sound samples, check out Bob’s other CDs, and — cosmically — purchase this one.

You can follow Bob and learn more about his music here and here.

ESCAPING THE BOX

William Carlos Williams: “Forcing twentieth-century America into a sonnet—gosh, how I hate sonnets—is like putting a crab into a square box. You’ve got to cut his legs off to make him fit. When you get through, you don’t have a crab any more.”

Robert Frost: “Writing free verse is like playing tennis with the net down.”

Younger, I would have sided with Frost: too much freedom leads to chaos. But I celebrate Williams’ position (even though his metaphor makes me wince) more as I age, feel, and listen.  Tidiness is a wonderful thing in the kitchen cabinets, but it might lead to the slow death of creative improvising.

In that spirit, I present the latest works of saxophonist / composer / historian / scholar / seeker Allen Lowe, a four-CD set of original compositions with one exception, a spoken-word piece by the novelist Rick Moody.

field recordings cover bc

JAZZ LIVES readers will be familiar with many of the names on that cover; others will provide engaging and sometimes quizzical surprises in listening and emotion.

Lowe’s works don’t seek to present snapshots of particular eras; they don’t offer “styles or schools.” Rather, his imaginations are intense, deep, yet unfettered. FIELD RECORDINGS, Lowe says in his liner notes, grew out of an argument he had with Wnton Marsalis — during Lowe’s attempt to interview Marsalis.  Disagreeing about “minstrelsy,” Marsalis characterized Lowe — in Lowe’s words — as “merely another in a long line of deluded white academics.”

Lowe spent the next six years immersing himself in “early entertainments of every racial persuasion,” which led him to compositions — song forms — that reflected what he had heard and experienced.  He also plays and improvises on many of these performances heard in this CD set.  More details here.

Lowe writes, “There is a tradition in certain kinds of writing in which the writer takes past works and puts them to his own use for very specific philosophical and artistic reasons. Brecht called this copien, as in the use of older texts as a means to something new and different, as a method from which to challenge prior ideas and forms. This project was done in exactly this spirit, as a way of altering certain received ideas of popular and jazz song. It is also a challenge to certain formal and intellectual assumptions.”

I haven’t heard more than one quarter of the set, but found the music so inspiring that I wanted to spread the word about it.   The performances weren’t always easy to listen to — Lowe, as composer and player, doesn’t shy away from improvisation’s rough edges, but he doesn’t run into harshness for its own sake.

What I appreciate most about the music — I was listening both with and without the benefit of Lowe’s commentaries — was its depth of feeling and innate ability to surprise.  The surprises weren’t ones I could predict (I know that sounds like an illogical paradox, but listening to many of the great musicians, I feel I know “where (s)he might be going” in the next chorus).

Rather, I felt the ground shifting under me in the best sense of the metaphor. Over and over, I felt beautifully startled, gently lifted out of my expectations and planted somewhere else, experiencing the sounds from a different perspective.  Each voyage was a fascinating series of what Emerson calls “zig-zag tacks.”  I heard echoes of New Orleans polyphony and street parade, dark unrequited blues, ensemble questing that echoed Mingus and freer improvsations, with searching, winding melodic lines, unpredictable harmonies that felt good as soon as they found my ears.

Language has a hard time describing music in the best of circumstances, and words are particularly inadequate here. One must be a creative listener to feel Lowe’s many musics, but they are well worth the investigation.  He is honest, inquiring, and sly — as is his work on these four CDs.  But beware!  This set is not ear-cushioning, to be listened to in conjunction with household chores, nor is it meant to be heard as one hears some discs: seventy-five minutes of supple protection from the world.  I predict that the listener wise and brave enough to purchase the FIELD RECORDINGS will approach the music as one does a new book of poems: a poem or two at a time, rather than as an artistic devouring of it all.

As a measure of the breadth and often witty depths of Lowe’s imagination, I would list some of the names he calls in his notes and compositions: Bunk Johnson, Tony Jackson, Roswell Rudd, Ernest Hogan, Mantan Moreland, Willie “the Lion” Smith, Lennie Tristano, James Reese Europe, Wilbur Sweatman, Thelonious Monk, Zora Neale Hurston, Jelly Roll Morton, Blind Lemon Jefferson, Varese, Dave Schildkraut, Bud Powell, W.E.B. DuBois, Frank Melrose, Paul Whiteman, Bill Challis, Harry Barris, George Bacquet, Harriet Beecher Stowe, James P. Johnson, Albert Ayler, Ran Blake, Henry Mancini, Sun Ra, Mezz Mezzrow, Pete Daily, Allen Tate, Robert Lowell, Bill Triglia, George Gershwin, Frank Teschemacher, Jess Stacy, Bix Beiderbecke, Arizona Dranes, Bert Williams, George Wheeler, Barbara Payne, Clyde Bernhardt, Ma Rainey, Anthony Braxton, Joe Jordan, Jaki Byard, Fess Manetta, Lester Young, Duke Ellington . . . and more.

The curious — and I hope there are many — will listen to samples here and then plunge in — this set costs less than two CDs and is wonderfully lively. You can also learn more at Allen’s website and blog (called EVERYTHING ELSE IS POST MODERNISM) — where Frankie “Half-Pint” Jaxon and Norman Mailer, compelled to share a subway seat, eye each other with suspicion.

I admire Allen Lowe’s courage, range, and audacities. The music is often, on first hearing, “weird,” but that’s a compliment. A little weirdness is like good seasoning: so much missed in the music we are sold, so richly enhancing in the right proportions.

And to return to the austere Robert Frost.  My letter to him, unsent and unread, is as follows:Dear Mr. Frost. If you removed the net, you might not have tennis, but you certainly would have an engaging dance.”

May your happiness increase!

SEATTLE SUNSHINE: THE RAIN CITY BLUE BLOWERS (March 16, 2012)

Image courtesy of SWING FASHIONISTA (www.swingfashionista.com)

You’ll need these to watch the videos below.  Now, don’t fuss.  Put them on.  There!

I now have yet another Favorite Band.  In case you wonder, one can have a whole cornucopia of Favorites — and the Rain City Blue Blowers are just another example of what Roswell Rudd calls “playing your personality.”  The videos below come from their appearance at the Seattle Jazz Party on March 16, 2012.

Here they are, tenderly (but with a beat) exploring the possibly dark Jimmie Noone classic READY FOR THE RIVER:

Who ARE these gently brilliant folks?

Closest to us is the absurdly talented Steve Wright (cornet, trumpet, clarinet, vocal).  Hidden behind a forest of reeds is the delightful Paul Woltz (clarinet, soprano, tenor, alto, bass sax, vocal); the inquisitive Ray Skjelbred (piano); the unerringly rhythmic Candace Brown (banjo, guitar); the Swing Superhero Dave Brown (string bass, vocal); the rocking Mike Daugherty (drums, vocal).

An ebullient reading of one of my favorite songs — the happy shade of Louis stands behind it always — SWEETHEARTS ON PARADE, with the rhythm section romping like the Luis Russell band, 1929:

Since humility and a readiness to admit you’ve made an error are among the most prized virtues, how about a smoothly hot I MAY BE WRONG to keep us in the mood?  It was the theme song of the Apollo Theatre when it opened in 1934, and the RCBB bring us back there with no hint of museum-stuffiness:

MY HONEY’S LOVIN’ ARMS is or are the place I wish I was right now, even if her embrace would slightly impede my ability to type and blog.  Sing it, Mister Woltz!:

Truly wonderful!  In the groove, too: ARKANSAS BLUES:

I’ve been humming this tune all morning: no reason why you shouldn’t join in the cyber-chorus.  It’s MY SYNCOPATED MELODY MAN (think 1929, Lang, Venuti, and Red McKenzie, if you will):

One more — let the RCBB whisper swing in your shell-pink ears with WHISPERING.  (The front line knows the old trick of having one horn play a swinging version of the melody while the other horn dances around it — exhilarating!):

And just because we tend, naturally, to focus on the brilliance of the soloists — horns and reeds are shiny and catch our attention as if we were children in a toystore — may I quietly point out that the beauty of the RCBB starts in the rhythm section?  I have heard Paul and Steve generously and mightily lift bands where not everyone was on the same spiritual or rhythmic wavelength, so I greet them as epic heroes of hot jazz.

But what Candace, Dave, Mike, and Ray do on each number here is frankly magical.  “A house without a strong foundation cannot stand.”  It may be coarse of me to say that this rhythm section could “swing the dead,” but that is how I feel.  As an experiment in Rhythm, may I urge my readers to revisit the video they liked best — if they can make such hard choices — and listen hard, all through it, to The Groove that this foursome creates?  Better than a Master’s in Jazz Studies, I think.

The city that is home to such a band can’t be quite so damp and foreboding as popular myth would have it.  When the RCBB plays, the sun blazes.  A nice coat of sunscreen wouldn’t be a bad idea, either.

And there’s more!  Visit swr2408018 for more meteorological wonders.

P.S.  If I were in charge of a jazz festival, I would be tripping over myself in my eagerness to book this band . . . am I being sufficiently subtle?  Please consider it!

May your happiness increase.

ROSWELL RUDD’S NEW PROJECT: BEAUTIFUL STANDARDS

Roswell Rudd — eminent jazz trombonist and composer — might seem an unusual figure to be in JAZZ LIVES, but he has deep roots: early work in Eli’s Chosen Six, improvising with Steve Lacy, and more.  In fact, Roswell and I have been delving into a period in his life, around 1960, when he played in an Eddie Condon unit that broadcast from the London House in Chicago.  His colleagues?  How about Pee Wee Russell and Johnny Windhurst?  More to come . . .

But right now, I would like to alert you to Roswell’s newest project, TROMBONE FOR LOVERS.  Here’s what he has to say:

Hello Friends, Family, Fans and Music Lovers …

I am writing you with some very exciting news. As of today, I have officially launched a campaign to fund the recording of my next album, a collection of standards entitled “Trombone For Lovers”.

For this project, I am using Kickstarter.com, a well-known website used for raising money for artistic projects of all kinds. Kickstarter’s website explains everything in detail, but basically, it’s a system where sponsors support projects at different levels in return for “rewards.” Among other perks, I am offering up private trombone lessons and live performances in return for your generous donations.

At this time in my life I am particularly interested in the great STANDARDS … Songs we all know that mark moments in our lives. I am currently arranging a number of tunes that are classics of American jazz, folk, roots, gospel, country and soul … Timeless compositions from the likes of Duke Ellington, Ray Charles, Sam Cooke, Bob Dylan and Brian Wilson. And I promise we’ll have some beautiful surprises for you!

For this album, I will be collaborating with the young producer Ivan Rubenstein-Gillis. We recently worked together on a version of “Feeling Good”, the lead track from my latest CD, “The Incredible Honk”. Things went so well that we want to keep those good feelings going. We will be joined by the dynamic rhythm section of drummer Aaron Comess and bassist Richard Hammond, as well as some wonderful guest singers and instrumentalists from my distinguished list of musical associates. If we raise enough money, I plan to record several tunes with a string section, in lush and full arrangements.

We have set our fundraising goal at $20,000. This will cover the bare bones, essential costs associated with producing the album, including rehearsing the musicians, time in the recording studio, mixing and mastering. However, it goes without saying that the more money we can raise, the greater options we will have, and the more expansive our project ultimately can be.

Please check out my fundraising page which contains many more details about this project. If you have any questions please send me a personal email and I would happy to discuss. Also, please pass this email along to any friends/fans/music lovers who might be interested in helping out!

So many of you have been so supportive of my music over the years.

WITH YOUR HELP, WE CAN MAKE CONTINUE TO MAKE GREAT MUSIC HAPPEN!!!     THANK YOU FOR YOUR GENEROSITY!!!  I  AM READY TO TACKLE THE STANDARDS!!!

Roswell Rudd

http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1554876228/roswell-rudd-records-an-album-of-standards

ROSWELL RUDD: INSPIRED BY LOUIS

The “avant-garde” trombonist and composer had this to say to Thomas Pena in an October 2008 interview, printed at http://www.jazz.com/features-and-interviews/2008/10/11/in-conversation-with-roswell-rudd

Getting back to the moment when you were inspired to become a musician. . .

When I first heard Louis Armstrong. I went to a private school in upstate New York where most of the kids were New Yorkers who were farmed out to private schools.  They used to bring me down to these clubs and concerts in New York. One day a school buddy took me to hear Louis Armstrong at a movie theater just off Times Square.  At the time Louis performed between films, so I had to sit through the film, The Crimson Pirate, three times to see him again!  It was a commercial thing but Louis radiated so much warmth, creativity and inspiration that I just melted.  I shook his hand and he said some beautiful things to encourage me. I believe it all started with him.

How old were you at the time?

I was probably fifteen.  There was another time in 1948.  The first live jazz band I ever heard was a pick up band from New York City; they were handsome, spectacular guys.  There was James P. Johnson on the piano and a bass player named Pops Foster.  These guys stomped!  I think I was about 12 years old at the time, but it was Louis Armstrong that really compelled me.  After I met him I thought to myself, “I want to do for someone what Louis did for me.”

Note: The Crimson Pirate, starring Burt Lancaster, was playing in New York City in late August 1952 — so Rudd surely saw the All-Stars.  His understanding of the music and growth was phenomenal: perhaps seven years later, Rudd was gigging with an Eddie Condon sextet in Chicago — alongside Pee Wee Russell and Johnny Windhurst, and the broadcasts show him to be a fully-developed player.

A THREE-WEEK GIG

Jim Eigo (of Jazz Promo Services) sent this along — from 1973, by Stan Hunt in THE NEW YORKER:

HERBIE NICHOLS: A JAZZIST’S LIFE

Two biographies of jazz musicians have recently gotten much well-deserved media attention: Robin G. Kelley’s study of Thelonious Monk, Terry Teachout’s Louis Armstrong book. 

The Mercury Press has just published jazz scholar Mark Miller’s biography of pianist-composer Herbie Nichols.  It’s a small paperback, 224 pages, without accompanying fanfare. 

But HERBIE NICHOLS: A JAZZIST’S LIFE is, in its own quiet way, equal and perhaps superior to the larger competition.  It could fascinate a reader who had never heard Nichols on record or in person: Miller is that fine a writer and researcher. 

At this point, “full disclosure” is essential: I have admired Miller’s books before; my praise of his Valaida Snow biography is on the back cover here; I also tried to help him speak to New York musicians who might have played alongside Nichols, among them Leroy “Sam” Parkins and Joe Muranyi.  But if I had received a copy of this book with its author’s name erased, I would have been mightily impressed. 

But more about that later.  Who was Herbie Nichols?  “Dead at 44 of leukemia” is one answer.  “Brilliantly original but underacknowledged in his lifetime.”  “Peer of Monk, not a disciple.”  “Inimitable pianist and composer.”  “He could work with Danny Barker and Roswell Rudd and please them both.” 

Nichols rarely made his living playing the music he had created.  The paying gigs were with rhythm and blues bands or playing for cabarets, chorus lines, and shows, and most often “Dixieland.”  In fact, I first heard him on records with Rex Stewart and Joe Thomas.  (Nichols’ last record was the Atlantic MAINSTREAM session.) 

But Nichols knew a wide variety of music, and didn’t bring his own ideology to the gig, even though the jazz critics were busily pitting “Dixieland” against “modern.”  He was a fine stride pianist, choosing Jelly Roll Morton’s THE PEARLS as his feature when he played with a traditional band. 

But he retained his identity, and the players who worked with Nichols understood that he was going his own way in the traditional ensembles of the time, not always easily.  Dixieland gigs proliferated, even though writers might now see the Fifties as the era of cool jazz or hard bop.  He worked in bands led by drummer Al Bandini (a friend of Pee Wee Russell) at the Greenwich Village club The Riviera, which may still be active, although without music, on Seventh Avenue South.  Buell Neidlinger recalled what I hope wasn’t a typical scene: “I can’t tell you the number of times I trudged over there with my bass just to get a chance to play with Herbie, even with Al there — just to make Herbie feel better.  Al was nasty to Herbie.  Herbie’d be playing one of his tunes and Al would say, ‘Let’s stop that shit now!  Right in the middle of the tune!  Let’s stop that shit now.  Let’s play When the Saints Go Marching In.‘ He’d say that real loud and the audience would scream, ‘Yeah!  Go, man, go, go, go!” 

Nichols’ brief life, the scant recognition he got, and such scenes might encourage a writer to depict him as a victim.  One imagines the Down Beat headline: JAZZ MODERNIST FORCED TO PLAY “ROYAL GARDEN BLUES.”  Intrigued by Nichols the man, Miller avoids the conventional portrait of the suffering jazzman, and shows us that Nichols — refiined, intellectual, chess-player, poet, and painter — was not self-destructive, an alcoholic, an addict.  African-American, he was not victimized by racism — no more than any man of his race in those decades.   

Rather, Miller is sympathetic without being idolatrous, candidly describing the missed chances, the system of jazz-stardom that put Thelonious Monk on the cover of TIME but had Nichols playing the piano for female impersonators.  Nichols is a particularly challenging subject for a biography because the evidence that exists nearly forty-five years after his death is slim. 

However, readers who are intrigued by famous names and the people a working musician might encounter will be delighted by the players Nichols worked with or knew: Louis Armstrong, Jack Teagarden, Sidney Bechet, Dick Rath, Ed Polcer, Conrad Janis, Wilbur deParis, Illinois Jacquet, John Kirby, Charles Mingus, Roswell Rudd, Sheila Jordan, Dave Frishberg, Cecil Taylor, Max Roach, Art Blakey.  We find him on a Turkish cruise ship playing traditional jazz with Steve Swallow.  A Nichols melody caught Billie Holiday’s ear and was retitled, with lyrics, LADY SINGS THE BLUES.  He helps a ten-year old Phil Schaap negotiate the New York subway system. 

Miller knits together all these incidents, bits of hearsay and anecdotage without making his book seem like a banquet of crumbs.  The biography moves chronologically, but Miller isn’t tied to the calendar (some jazz books read as if the author wanted to follow the subject gig by gig, month by month); Miller is both expert and free, so the book moves sideways when the material needs it, without losing the thread.  The biography is compact (Miller considers that not every artist needs a five-hundred page monograph) but it is both dense and quickly-paced. 

And in the essential small things, Miller is splendid: he has a fine emotional intelligence that allows him to be fond of Nichols (as everyone except Bandini was, apparently) without idealizing him.  Although the evidence is often sketchy, Miller doesn’t hypothesize excessively; he avoids psychoanalyzing his subject; he doesn’t get irritated by Nichols, nor does he pad the biography by quoting large excerpts from Nichols’ prose.  His musical analysis is pointed but not over-technical; Miller captures the flavor and sensibility of Nichols playing, composing, and imagination.

Another writer might have made himself the subject of the book: “Look how much detective work I had to do to find out this shred of information about that neglected pianist — I forget his name.”  Someone might have shaped the facts of his subject’s life to fit a particular ideology.  Because Miller illuminates Nichols and gently stays out of the way, his subject’s personality shines through, even when the evidence is most thin.  I began the book with great eagerness because I admire Miller’s writing, his perspective, and his research — but very soon I was forcing myself to read it more slowly, because I did not want it to end.  That may be the best tribute a reader can pay — to Nichols and to his chronicler.       

COPYRIGHT, MICHAEL STEINMAN AND JAZZ LIVES, 2009
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