Tag Archives: Royal Garden Blues

THE PURSUIT OF SWEETNESS, OR, LIFE BEYOND “ROYAL GARDEN BLUES”: RAY SKJELBRED, MARTY EGGERS, JEFF HAMILTON, a/k/a “THE HOT CORNER” (September 15, 2019)

Hot Lips Page is supposed to have said, on the subject of repertoire one could improvise on, “The material is immaterial.”  Or, as a segment on the Benny Goodman Camel Caravan was headlined, “Anything can swing!”  Many jazz fans cling to a favored selection of songs, performed loud and fast — you know the tunes that the audience is ready to applaud even before a note is played, the lure and comfort of the familiar.  Not so here.  This is music for people willing to pay close attention, and to feel what’s being created for them.

Ray Skjelbred goes his own way, deep in the heart of melody, and we are glad.  Here he is with Marty Eggers, string bass, and Jeff Hamilton, drums, documented for all of us and for posterity by RaeAnn Berry.  Ray’s renamed this trio “The Hot Corner,” a reference to third base in baseball, but the music lives up to the name in very subtle ways.  In fact, it’s quiet and thus even more compelling, reminding me of the passages on 1938-40 Basie records where only the rhythm section is playing, quiet and even more quiet: enthralling!

Ray loves Bing Crosby, and Bing inspired some of the best songs, including his theme, a melody almost forgotten now:

Here’s what my dear friend Mike Burgevin would call “another Bingie,” this one best listened to over a dish of fresh — not canned — pineapple:

We wander from Bing to King — Wayne King, “the Waltz King,” that is:

Notice, please, the sweet patience of musicians who don’t have to jump into double-time, who can stay contentedly in three-quarter time, and it all swings so affectingly.  And here, just because technology makes it so easy, for those listeners who might not know the originals (and can now marvel even more at what Ray, Jeff, and Marty make of them), here they are.

Bing, with added attractions Eddie Lang and Franklin Pangborn:

and in a Hawaiian mood:

That famous waltz (which Bob Wills and Tamar Korn have also made their own):

and the Wills version, because why should I deny us the pleasure?

May your happiness increase!

A SHORT TRIP TO THE SWING SHRINE: THE EARREGULARS CREATE BEAUTY (JON-ERIK KELLSO, MATT MUNISTERI, SCOTT ROBINSON, ATTILA KORB, JANUARY 25, 2015)

Here are two glowing lessons on how to make the familiar brightly new: taught to us in the most endearing ways by Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Matt Munisteri, guitar; Scott Robinson, bass sax and taragoto; Attila Korb, trombone.  Vocal interjections by Barry Foley, the temporarily landlocked pirate of Soho.

All of this beauty took place on January 25, 2015, at the Swing Shrine — The Ear Inn, 326 Spring Street, Soho, New York, where the EarRegulars uplift us on Sunday nights from 8-11 PM.

ROYAL GARDEN BLUES:

DINAH:

If you want to observe virtuosic solo playing; it’s all here.  If you want to marvel at a small community of like-minded souls who work together to make orchestral joy, that too.

A few other blissful moments from this session can be found here and here.

Bless these musicians for bringing swing to us.   And it continues.  Find your way to The Ear Inn on a Sunday night while these miracles can be experienced first-hand.

May your happiness increase! 

THE VIEW FROM TABLE 3 WAS GRAND; THE MUSIC, GRANDER: BEN POLCER, DAN BARRETT, ALLAN VACHÉ, JOHN COCUZZI, NICKI PARROTT, DANNY COOTS at the ATLANTA JAZZ PARTY (April 18, 2015)

I’m still grinning when I think of all the good music created last weekend (April 17-19) at the 26th Atlanta Jazz Party.

Here’s another leisurely sample, performed by Ben Polcer, trumpet; Allan Vaché, clarinet; Dan Barrett, trombone; John Cocuzzi, piano; Nicki Parrott, string bass; Danny Coots, drums.

It’s the ROYAL GARDEN BLUES.  Now, if I could see you, I would catch some of my readers in mid-wince.  “God, not that song again!  That’s what’s wrong with ‘traditional jazz’!”  Even I have been known to think and say, “I wish I could have a moratorium on ROYAL GARDEN,” but this performance reminds me again how little the repertoire has to do with the beauty created:

Although they play the song with the correct conventions, the appropriate gestures, there’s nothing locked-in here.  Once those gavottes are accomplished, you can feel the musicians relaxing into a medium-fast twelve bar blues . . . and each one has a beautiful story to tell.  Pay particular attention to that rhythm section!  And you all know and admire Messrs. Vaché and Barrett, but one of the great lyrical surprises of the AJP was Ben Polcer — who is so much more than just “Ed Polcer’s kid” — an easy, hot player with a fine range who knows the twists and turns but also has a swing feel . . . now and again reminding me of Buck Clayton, and that is high praise.

This performance was only one of more than a hundred at the AJP — and it is by no means the only standout.  Next year, the Party will be on April 15, 16, and 17. I hope to be there, and at Table Three.  My jazz home away from home for three days.

May your happiness increase!

SASSENHEIM SWING: THE UNACCOUNTED FOUR (October 26, 2014)

My European geography is scant, so I had to look it up myself.  Wikipedia states, “Sassenheim . . . is a town and former municipality in the western Netherlands, in the province of South Holland. . . . The name Sassenheim consists of two parts; the first (Sassen) means Saxons, and the second portion (heim) is Old Frankish for “home”. And here’s a pretty postcard:

Sassenheim Hoofdstraat 197 01

Class dismissed!  Now for some music.

It was a delightful surprise to learn that there was The Classic Jazzclub in Sassenheim, and that they featured the Unaccounted Four (Menno Daams, cornet; David Lukacs, clarinet and tenor; Martien Oster, guitar; Joep Lumeij, string bass) on October 26, 2014.  Even better: the CJC has created high-quality videos and they are being shared on YouTube: here is the treat of the day / week / month / year, Menno’s nifty Art Deco arrangement of ROYAL GARDEN BLUES (where Basie and the Miles Davis nonet are the best of friends) performed in front of a perfectly attentive audience — with one, only one, cough-rimshot at about :47:

The Classic Jazz Concert Club has created fifteen videos, featuring Stephanie Trick and Paolo Alderighi, Martin Seck, Leroy Jones, Robert Veen, and an intriguing band called TWO HONEYMOONS AND A CANDLE — which looks very much like a cousin of the Jazzicots or Les Red Hot Reedwarmers, with Aurelie Tropez and Stephane Gillot (details, anyone, especially of an etymological kind?).  I subscribed to this YouTube channel immediately, and suggest you might want to click here too.

And if you are saying, “Wow!  Who is or are The Unaccounted Four?” then I have good news for you.

May your happiness increase!

LISTENING, ACTUALLY

Ear-FX

Music is so pervasive that I wonder that we ever hear any of it.  For this post, I am even ignoring the phenomenon of everyone-wearing-earbuds-all-the-time.

But when we tell ourselves we are listening to music, what are we really doing?

The act of listening — immersing myself in — a particular recording has been a salvation for me for the past five decades.  And people who were dead years before I was born, people whom I never got to encounter, have become familiar friends.  Sitting down and doing nothing else but hearing what’s there is a deep pleasure.

But even I have to remind myself to slow down and focus on the sound, rather than playing the CD while driving, while writing emails, while cooking.

Even when we get rid of the pretense of multi-tasking (for the neurologists tell it is nothing but pretense) listening is not something we are accustomed to.

When I sit down to listen to a cherished recording — say, the 1940 Benny Goodman – Charlie Christian – Cootie Williams – Count Basie – George Auld – Artie Bernstein – Harry Jaeger ROYAL GARDEN BLUES — all sorts of unrequested associations come into my mind.

Personal: recalling the feel and heft of the original recording; what it was like to be in my upstairs bedroom listening to this; memories of discovering Charlie Christian’s music.

At the same time, there is a clamor of anecdotes and personalities: Goodman, scrambled eggs and catsup; Christian, tuberculosis, the rumor of odd clothing, eyeglasses; John Hammond, and so on.

Then there is the mind classifying and “analyziing”: how this ROYAL GARDEN sits in the long history of performances of this blues; its tempo; how Basie shapes it into one of “his” performances; Auld’s absorption of Ben Webster, and more.

It’s remarkable that the music — remember the music? — has a chance of getting through this amiable mental clamor, the “thought” equivalent of the puppy room at the animal shelter.  Can we actually hear what Charlie Christian is playing, given the amount of yapping and frisking around that the mind is doing at the same time?

So I would propose an experiment.  It isn’t a Down Beat Blindfold Test, because so much of that “test” was based on Being Right, as if listening was a quiz show.

I would ask JAZZ LIVES readers, whenever they can, to actually do the unfamiliar: to take a recording that they believe they know well and sit down and listen intently to it as if they had never heard it before.  If what we call “thoughts” come in, push them away and start the recording over.  I think I can guarantee that the experience will not simply be familiar, but deep and in some ways new, that layers and aspects of that recording, subliminally taken in but never really heard before, will spring to life.

Here’s ROYAL GARDEN BLUES, if you’d like to try it out:

(I purposely picked the video of the spinning red-label Columbia 78 for sentimental reasons.  Of course you can listen to it in the highest fidelity possible . . . )

If we could actually listen to the music we so love, as opposed to trotting out our familiar associations, what wonders might we hear?

May your happiness increase!

FOR EDDIE at 105

That’s Eddie Condon, born 105 years ago today. 

This filmed performance of ROYAL GARDEN BLUES — from the 1964 ABC-TV show, SALUTE TO EDDIE CONDON — doesn’t harm anyone, even though Eddie was present only in spirit.  The celebrants are Wild Bill Davison, cornet; Ed Hall, clarinet; Cutty Cutshall, trombone; George Wettling, drums; Willie “the Lion” Smith, piano, cigar, and derby; Al Hall, bass:

And another fast blues — this one from 1938 with Bobby Hackett, cornet; George Brunis, trombone; Pee Wee Russell, clarinet; Bud Freeman, tenor; Jess Stacy, piano; Eddie, guitar; Artie Shapiro, bass; Wettling, drums:

To be remembered with affection is a great thing, and it’s how we feel about Eddie and the musical worlds he created.

SIDNEY CATLETT AT 100

A  jazz blog like this one might easily become necrological– mourning the deaths of musicians and jazz scholars or sadly celebrating players who have been dead a long time.  It’s a battle to tear one’s eyes away from the rear-view mirror and focus on the present.  But since I do not expect to see the celebrations for Big Sid Catlett’s two-hundredth birthday, readers will forgive me. 

Sidney Catlett was born on January 17, 1910 and died before I was born.  I don’t believe in “the best,” but Big Sid might well be The Master — at least Max Roach thought so, as did Jo Jones.  Beyond legend, there is the recorded evidence: he could play propulsively and eloquently with Benny Goodman, Louis Armstrong, Charlie Parker, Don Byas, James P. Johnson, Sidney Bechet, Mildred Bailey, Art Tatum, Oscar Pettiford, Buck Clayton, Ben Webster . . . and those are only the recorded performances I can call to mind.

Ruby Braff remembered that when he listened to Louis Armstrong’s records with their creator, Louis said to him, “There’s that Catlett again!  Seems like he was on every swinging record I ever made.” 

But being versatile, in itself, is not enough: many musicians have been versatile without being particularly distinguished.  What made Sidney Catlett so special? 

For one thing, his instantly recognizable beat.  Even simply keeping time — using one of his seemingly numberless varieties of wire-brush sweep or playing the hi-hat — his time is identifiable.  Whitney Balliett, who first helped me to listen so closely to Sid, noted that Catlett played a fraction ahead of the beat — many drummers find the best and sit right down on it — but Sid’s time seemed to urge the band forward in the most jubilant way, although he didn’t ever rush.

Along with that beat there is his gallery — or galaxy — of sounds.  His drums sound alive.  The snap of his closed hi-hat.  The seductive come-with-me of his brushwork.  The thump of his tom-toms.  The masterful NOW! of a Catlett rimshot.  Drummers of the Forties and beyond tried to copy him and some came close to capturing the broadest outlines of his style — J.C. Heard for one — but their sounds are somehow flatter, narrower, more monochromatic.  So his sound is immediately identifiable — dance music, no matter what the context. 

As with all the great artists, much of Sidney’s mastery is not just in what he did — but what he wisely chose not to do. 

Many drummers, then and now, play at the same volume as the horns.  Sidney knew how to play very softly — which made his thundering climaxes so impressive.  Some drummers insist on filling up all the spaces.  Or they accent every note, enthusiastically but unthinkingly.  The result gets tiresome before a chorus is over, rather like a forest of exclamation marks or someone with a point to make who emphasizes every word. 

Sidney knew when not to play, when not to dramatize, when not to continue the pattern.  There were exceptions: I think of Lou McGarity’s bridges on Benny Goodman records, where Sidney, either enjoying McGarity’s exuberance or wanting to push him along, drives the rhythm section along with relentless accents that could fell a sequoia.  But Catlett understood space and variety, and surprise.  He was a great dramatist behind his drums. 

So his percussive world sounds undated — springy, elegant, and funky.  The listener says, “That’s Big Sid!” but that awareness isn’t because Catlett thrusts himself to the forefront; rather, it was because he makes his fellow musicians sound better than they themselves thought possible.

I’ve been admiring his playing for as long as I can remember — one of my earliest musical experiences was hearing Louis’s RCA Victor TOWN HALL CONCERT PLUS, and delighting in the way Sid pushed everyone along on AIN’T MISBEHAVIN’.  Later, I heard him with the Blue Note Jazzmen and every jazz group I could find.  But he continues to amaze.

“Amaze?” you say.    

As an experiment, take any record on which Sid plays a particularly engaging, swinging part (that would be ALL of them) and listen to it once.  Admire the sounds he makes, the comments he provides, the support he gives to the band.  Then, play it again, and try to anticipate his shifts, his accents.  Experienced listeners will be able to divine some of the general motions — here, Sid will shift to the hi-hat; here’s a break coming up.  But if you try to play his accents along with him, it’s nearly impossible.  Sid’s pulsing work, his amazing accompaniment, is never rote.  I would suggest ROYAL GARDEN BLUES by Edmond Hall and the Blue Note Jazzmen — his playing is stirring, as is his work on the recently discovered 1945 Town Hall concert with Bird and Diz. 

His music is amazingly generous.  He lived a very short life and his recorded career is only slightly over two decades.  But he gave so much to his fellow musicians and to us that it seems as if he played more — and at a higher level — than the musicians who lived longer.

And he mastered the problem of being a forceful individualist while serving the community with every breath.  A question of Ego, if you will.  Catlett shouts for joy, but he does it so the band is even more joyous as a result.   

He died backstage at a concert, his arms around Helen Humes, telling her a funny story.  An admirable death, I think.  A a life well-lived. 

Jim Denham, on his fine blog, SHIRAZ SOCIALIST, has just written a tribute to Sidney: http://shirazsocialist.wordpress.com/2010/01/16/big-sid-b17-jan-1910-d25-march-1951/

Ricky Riccardi really understands the majesty of Sidney: http://dippermouth.blogspot.com/2010/01/celebrate-big-sid-catletts-centennial.html

And, or those seeking legal ecstasy, there’s a live ROYAL GARDEN BLUES from 1948:

http://dippermouth.blogspot.com/2009/09/one-hot-garden.html

Ricky also sent this from British jazz drummer John Petters — information about BBC radio programs about Sidney:

 Here are two programmes about this sensational musician this Saturday:
The Late Paul Barnes @ 23:00 on BBC Cambrideshire, Essex, Kent, Norfolk, Northampton, Suffolk & Three Counties. (Paul celebrates the
Django Reinhardt Centenary next week)

The live link on line will be:
http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/playlive/bbc_radio_norfolk/

and from Sunday until the following Saturday on Iplayer:
http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p002mhdx

And Alyn Shipton discusses Big Sid with drummer Richard Pite on ‘Jazz Library’ on BBC Radio 3 at 16:00 on Saturday. This is from the Radio 3 website:
http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00ps0sk

The show will be on the BBC iplayer following the broadcast

Big Sid Catlett was arguably one of the most naturally talented percussionists in jazz history. To celebrate Catlett’s centenary in January 2010, Alyn Shipton is joined by drum expert Richard Pite to pick the highlights of a recorded catalogue that includes work with the swing orchestras of Fletcher Henderson and Benny Goodman, the modern jazz of Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie, and the original Louis Armstrong All Stars.

Big Sid Catlett – born 17 January 1910, Evansville, Indiana, USA, died 25 March 1951.

Coda: A word or two about the audio-visual aids.  The Drumerworld video (posted on YouTube, of course) brings together Sidney’s three main filmed appearances (leaving aside JAMMIN’ THE BLUES) — two quickly-made films from 1946-7, SEPIA CINDERELLA and BOY! WHAT A GIRL, with a guest shot by one Gene Krupa, as well as a Soundie of YOU RASCAL YOU by Louis.  I treasure these film clips but find that they need to be absorbed on two levels.  Since musicians were required to pre-record their music and then mimic playing it for the camera, what one hears and what one sees are always slightly out of step . . . so one must be able to adapt to this.  But the games Sidney and Charlie Shavers play . . . !  I have also liberally seasoned this blogpost with what might seem an odd phenomenon: YouTube videos of famous jazz records a-spinning.  For those who did not grow up with vinyl or shellac records, what could be more dull?  But I find it nostalgic in the best way — because I spent so many hours of my childhood and youth staring at the spinning label in a kind of happy trance while the music poured out of the speakers . . . very life-enhancing, and a way of getting Sidney’s sound into this post.