Lucy Yeghiazaryan was celebrating her birthday at Mezzrow on West Tenth Street at the very end of January. She turned 29 on the 29th, a gentle embrace of the spheres. But don’t let her youth fool you into thinking she is merely skating along on the surface of her songs: she feels the music. . . . when she sings of passions, it doesn’t sound as if she’s texting us a message. And she doesn’t stand at an ironic distance from the song and view it skeptically as an ancient artifact.
Lucy at Mezzrow 1.28.20. Photograph by Jon De Lucia.
At her performance, she created many little worlds, inhabited by cats and rabbits, with plates of mashed potatoes, among other bits of set design, but her intense yet controlled reading of PRISONER OF LOVE left me open-mouthed (and, no, that wasn’t my sneeze you’ll hear). I associate this highly-charged song with Russ Columbo, Perry Como, and Lester Young — his 1956 recording remains a touchstone for me — but Lucygently moved into the song and made it completely hers, with lovely accompaniment from Stefan Vasnier, piano; Greg Ruggiero, guitar; Vince Dupont, string bass. Join me in the experience:
I’ve written about Lucy here recently, but you can expect to see more of her work on this blog. And you should bask in the emotional experiences she creates — some salty, some tender, some playful — first-hand. Or if you live far from her gigging orbit, her first CD is available here and all the usual places. (Thanks to Matt Rivera for making this encounter not only possible but inevitable.)
I was very moved by the duet Marc Caparone, cornet, and Conal Fowkes, piano, created on November 24, 2018, at the San Diego Jazz Fest — a passionate improvisation on Russ Columbo’s PRISONER OF LOVE. And I wanted to share it with you.
But first I have to say, with a grin, that the internet teaches you things you didn’t expect: the title PRISONER OF LOVE brings up a variety of tattoos, a book by Jean Genet, recordings by Perry Como, Coleman Hawkins, James Brown, Billy Eckstine, and Tiny Tim . . . when all I wanted was this, first the Columbo version so you could hear the lyrics.
The magnificent 1956 Lester Young – Teddy Wilson – Gene Ramey – Jo Jones recording you can and find for yourself.
Incidentally, Columbo is listed as sole composer on the HMV issue above, but Leo Robin is also credited with the rather masochistic lyrics, and I’ve seen the name of Clarence Gaskill added as well:
How lovely he sounds! (I wonder which version Lester was inspired by.) But here are Conal and Marc, creating another passionate expression of what Louis called “Tonation and Phrasing”:
Their version is absolutely beautiful: a small triumph of passion and control, of empathy and expertise.
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.
I spent some time yesterday morning trying to find in tangible shape what I could hear in my mind’s ear — a complete recording of what was a new song in 1933 — lyrics by E.Y. Harburg and perhaps Billy Rose, music by Harold Arlen — IT’S ONLY A PAPER MOON, sung and played by Cliff Edwards with accompaniment by Dick McDonough, guitar. Yes, it’s on YouTube, but because reissues removed the verse, those video postings are unsatisfying.
Since the Forties, the song has been performed without the verse, as above, and in the most famous recordings by Sinatra / Nat Cole / Ella / Goodman, at a swinging medium-up tempo, which to me undermines its sweet flavor. The version I present here is a tender love ballad, hopeful rather than swaggering.
The Wikipedia entry notes, “It was written originally for an unsuccessful Broadway play called The Great Magoo, set in Coney Island. It was subsequently used in the movie Take a Chance in 1933.” Wikipedia doesn’t add that there seem to have been two films released that year with that title; the other one with James Dunn and Buddy Rogers, the one song in the film by Vincent Youmans. In his book AMERICAN POPULAR SONG, Alec Wilder notes that in its first incarnation it was called IF YOU BELIEVE IN ME, a much less lively title than the one we know.
The composer credits intrigue me: Arlen’s melody, of course, souunds so simple but that simplicity has made it memorable (thus the appeal of the song to instrumentalists). He didn’t write dull songs.
As to the lyrics, I wonder what, if anything, Billy Rose contributed to the song. Did he say to a stagehand, “Don’t drop that! Yeah, it’s only a paper moon, but it costs more than your salary!” Or is it a quiet reference to the wonderful prop in photo studios of the preceding century, where couples could snuggle in the crescent curve, pretending to be miles aloft because of love?
Yip Harburg’s lyrics are a marvel, bridging contemporary and eternal in the most moving yet casual way. Leave aside “bubble” and “rainbow,” which were cliches even then, but savor “a temporary parking place,” “a canvas sky,” — and the entire bridge, which is beautiful, affecting and sharp, ” “Without your love, it’s a honky-tonk parade. Without your love, it’s a melody played in a penny arcade.” Urban folk poetry at the highest level. (Wilder calls the lyrics “innocent,” which is puzzling, but he admires Arlen’s bridge . . . .) In Harburg, I hear his sense of a whole world no more grounded than a series of stage props, created to fool an audience but clearly unreal. His words are Manhattan-tough but the toughness is there only to convey great wistful feeling. You’d have to live in the city to understand the resonance of a temporary parking place; not only might it disappear, but you might be punished by the authorities.
A few sentences about Cliff Edwards, who seems a sculpture with so many surprising facets that when he is looked at from different angles, he is unrecognizable each time.
There’s Jiminy Cricket. There’s the goofily appealing Twenties vocalist, ukulele player, and scat singer — “eefin'” his way through one “novelty” chorus after another, often on dim-sounding Pathe 78s. (I suspect that if Edwards had come to prominence ten years later and had had no ukulele, he would be much better known and regarded today.) A comic film actor. There are the party records: I LOVE MOUNTAIN WOMEN comes to mind, and, yes, you can imagine the lyrics. Later, there’s the unstable older man capering around with the Mouseketeers, and what we know of as the terrible husband and self-destructive alcoholic who dies in poverty.
But what I’ve consciously left off of that ungenerous list is Edwards the truly convincing ballad singer, someone whose wistful voice and sweet delivery stays in my ear. He never got the attention or opportunities to woo audiences, perhaps because he had natural comic talents, but more, I think, because he wasn’t perceived as sufficiently handsome. He could not rival Bing or Russ in erotic power, so in films and on records he was rather a light-hearted comic foil instead of the leading man. Alas, audiences in the Twenties and Thirties — as they do today — tend to listen to singers with their eyes rather than their ears. I suppose that becoming Jiminy Cricket was a great thing for Edwards’ career, but being invisible and an animated insect did not help him as a romantic singing star.
I’ve left the whole ungainly web address visible so that if the link doesn’t work for you, I encourage you to go to the archive.org site for Edwards and hear IT’S ONLY A PAPER MOON and more.
I think this performance is a model of the most endearing singing — he means every word, and it’s not by rote. It’s also the gentle tempo that I hear PAPER MOON at. I haven’t analyzed these records nuance by nuance because they work their way into the heart instantly. Or, if they don’t for you, listen intently, without distractions or preconceptions, from the rubato verse to the hip little ending.
In preparing this post, I shared these two sides with the fine guitarist and scholar Nick Rossi, a solid sender from San Francisco, who admires Dick McDonough as I do, and he wrote, “What a masterclass it is in sensitive guitar accompaniment to a vocal.” And — we might add — in McDonough’s staying out of the way yet never upstaging Cliff’s ukulele.
But I keep coming back to the affectionate hopeful totality of Edwards, Arlen, Harburg, and even Billy Rose, who in these recordings say — no, sing — to us, “Love miraculously transfigures artifice,” which is a wondrous thought. Cherish its power to create new realities.
JUST FRIENDS — when it was originally performed in 1931 — was a sad love ballad, appropriate to the beautifully mournful tones of Red McKenzie — and notice how hip and expansive his second chorus is. He had known and heard the Chicagoans, Jimmie Noone, and of course Louis:
If you prefer the 1932 Russ Columbo version, it’s beautiful also.
At some point, JUST FRIENDS was treated less as a lament and more as a song to play on. (One could point to the Charlie Parker with Strings recording in 1949, and subsequent performances, but Bird often treated it as a medium-tempo ballad.) And that tradition — swing rather than sobbing — prevails today.
I present an extended swing meditation on this song, performed on Thursday, September 10, 2015. The participants, the creators, are Ehud Asherie, piano; Frank Tate, string bass; Pete Siers, drums; Howard Alden, guitar; Bill Allred, trombone; Randy Reinhart, cornet; Dan Block, tenor saxophone.
That is the sort of wonderful music that happens every year at this party, whether it’s at the informal jam sessions of Thursday night or the sets on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. This year, the Party takes place from September 15 to the 18th.
A word about names. When I started attending this party, it was held in Chautauqua, New York, and was called Jazz at Chautauqua; then it moved to Cleveland and temporarily was called the Allegheny Jazz Party; now it has become mature and changed its name to the Cleveland Classic Jazz Party. You can find out more details here, on Facebook, or at the Party’s www.alleghenyjazz.org, or even by calling 216.956.0866.
The Party takes place at the InterContinental Hotel and Conference Center, 9801 Carnegie Avenue, Cleveland, OH 44106. You can call 216.707.4100 or 855.765.8709 to make reservations, but be sure to use the Group Code YOO when you call or reserve online.
Musicians who will be there . . . are the Faux Frenchmen, Rebecca Kilgore, Wesla Whitfield, Andy Stein, Hal Smith, Pete Siers, Ricky Malichi, Frank tate, Kerry Lewis, Jon Burr, Rossano Sportiello, Mike Greensill, James Dapogny, Ehud Asherie, Marty Grosz, Howard Alden, Bill Allred, Dan Barrett. Scott Robinson, Dan Levinson, Dan Block, Harry Allen, Jon-Erik Kellso, Andy Schumm, Randy Reinhart, Duke Heitger.
Come by, hear some wonderful music, eat and drink, and make friends.
This is not in the order you might expect, but all will be revealed.
Zeppo in a Russ Columbo mood, with time out for toast and jam delightfully consumed by Miss Todd, then the equestrian version with a modernized banana:
Groucho with a guitar and some Perelmanesque byplay that references Theodore Dreiser:
And more variations on this pretty theme, audio only:
with a return to the 2015 version, a triumph of passion and control:
I always thought this song had a simplistic melody — lines that one might have played with one finger on a piano keyboard in C, ascending and descending. But the 2015 version presented here, by Marc Caparone, cornet, and Ray Skjelbred, piano, at the San Diego Jazz Fest, shows me that it’s not only the clever lyrics by Kalmar that make the song memorable. However, those lyrics — sung sweetly by Zeppo, sung in his own faux-Italian vaudeville fashion by Chico, whistled by Harpo — stay in our minds. When Groucho demolishes them in the canoe, world-wearily suggesting that love is resistible, “just inviting trouble for the poor [s]ucker who . . . ” the effect is powerful, even before we get to the duck, the oar, and more. Incidentally, Groucho’s take on romance — sour as it is — is what we could expect from a motion picture whose title everyone would recognize as a polite version of HORSE SHIT?
But I digress. Beautiful melodic improvisations don’t need sophisticated material. It’s what you do with it that counts.
I prize books that offer new information, solidly documented, instead of conjecture and syntheses of well-known data. Books about departed jazz musicians often have trouble presenting new information or new interpretations of already-established information, because many musicians received little press coverage in their lifetime, did not leave behind correspondence. So the subjects take their mysteries with them, leaving us to speculate.
After much investigation, we can be reasonably certain why Lester Young quit the Count Basie band in 1940. We know much more about the last days of Bix Beiderbecke, Billie Holiday, Jimmie Blanton; we’ve learned much about the private life of Louis and Lucille Armstrong.
The Sisters when young.
But one mystery has only been nibbled at — why the glorious Boswell Sisters separated after national and international success. A new, invaluable book, THE BOSWELL LEGACY, written by Kyla Titus, granddaughter of Helvetia “Vet” Boswell, from research and information gathered by Chica Boswell Minnerly (mother of Kyla, daughter of Vet) is a prize.
The mysteries that surround the Boswells is not what we expect of other revered artistic figures. During their very short heyday, they were more in the public eye than, let us say, almost any brilliant African-American musician. (Who interviewed Herschel Evans, for example?)
But for all the newspaper coverage and media attention, the Sisters had been raised early to follow “the Foore Code,” “Foore” being a family name. The Code had many positive aspects: self-reliance; kindness; decorum . . . but it also emphasized privacy and strongly-stated boundaries. “Never expose private family business to anyone outside the family.”
Even though Connie lived until 1976 and Vet to 1988, they kept the Code in place, gently turning aside the question, “Why did the Sisters break up?” as if indiscreet. So Boswell admirers like myself could chart the trio’s ascent from 1925 to 1936 through their recordings, radio broadcasts, film appearances, and paper ephemera, but we had no insight into the transformation. Some may have surmised that Connie’s career was so successful that she and her manager / husband intended that she be a solo attraction. In addition, the Sisters married in the last years of their stardom. But the separation continued to puzzle and irk us, especially because we want to know more about the lives of the people we admire.
THE BOSWELL LEGACY does the best job possible of making the mysterious accessible. And it does so from the inside, rather than assembling rumors and constructing hypotheses. It has the depth and intelligence of a scholarly biography with no academic dryness. Rather than start as so many biographies do, with the birth of the subjects’ ancestors, this book starts at a place few will be familiar with — Jimmy Fazio’s Supper Club in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, on August 29, 1955 — with the Sisters assembling on stage for an impromptu reunion during Connie’s engagement (singing HEEBIE JEEBIES as if they had never stopped performing).
(I thought at this point — and I cannot have been alone — of all the stars of the Twenties and Thirties who continued to appear on television in the Sixties and Seventies, and wished for an alternate universe where we could have seen the Sisters on THE HOLLYWOOD PALACE or THE MIKE DOUGLAS SHOW.)
The book then shifts back to the past, exploring the family as far back as the start of the nineteenth century . . . then to their eventual move to New Orleans and their involvement in music there. The book takes on its true strength as the pages turn, and that strength is in well-utilized first-hand evidence, particularly correspondence. We do not get long letters, which might stall the narrative, but we get dated excerpts in proper contexts. Thus we hear, as well as we can, the vivid voices of the participants.
I commend Kyla Titus’ honesty throughout. One of the inescapable facts of Connie Boswell’s life was that, although able, she could not walk. No single clear explanation of this exists, and Titus handles the two hypotheses — a childhood accident or polio — gracefully and candidly. When we finish reading her presentation of the evidence, we may feel that the answer remains elusive, but we never feel that the author is ill-informed or keeping anything from us.
The book begins to move rapidly through the Sisters’ musical education, Martha’s deep love for the short-lived cornetist Emmett Hardy (dead at 22), and the gestation of the Sisters as a trio. Success mounts steadily — at their first New York City record date, the musicians stand up and applaud when their first successful take is concluded. They appear on radio, in film, and on a 1931 experimental broadcast of that new invention, television. But even at that point, a reader can see tension as the Sisters’ manager, Harry Leedy, is also Connie’s manager, with conflicting allegiances. The Sisters cross paths (and sometimes work with) luminaries Bing Crosby, Kate Smith, Russ Columbo, the then-unknown comedian Bob Hope, Paul Whiteman, Duke Ellington, Cab Calloway, Louis Armstrong; they tour England and Holland, triumphantly.
But by 1936, the Sisters — as if by erosion rather than by a definite blow — have become three separate married women. And although they speak happily of this in public, it appears that Martha and Vet wait for a reunion, which becomes less likely . . . returning the book to the one song in Milwaukee in 1955.
At the end of the saga, it is not entirely clear what happened. Was it Connie’s steely ambition, her desire to be a star on her own, that cracked close harmony into three pieces? Was it the divided loyalty of Harry Leedy? Once again, I admire Titus’ refusal to force the conflicting evidence into one answer, and I think her fairness admirable, her unwillingness to assign the actors in this play roles as Victims and Villains.
Although the breakup of the group is perhaps the single greatest mystery for us, the book is not obsessed throughout with the collapse of Sisters as a trio; that occupies us for the last segment. It is ultimately a loving look at three innovative, independent women who made their own way, both as individuals and as musicians, at a time when women were not thought to influence the men in their field to any great extent.
The book is wisely titled THE BOSWELL LEGACY, and Titus balances her and our sadness at the end of the Sisters’ career with our awareness that the “three little girls from New Orleans” left us so much — not only in recordings, airshots, and film appearances, but a living tradition for swinging, inventive close harmony groups. To some, they live on in the energetic, witty, sweet voices of new generations. I found the book’s ending melancholy, but I am looking forward to the film documentary about the Sisters, CLOSE HARMONY (here you can view the trailer) as an emotional corrective.
THE BOSWELL LEGACY is a large-format paperback, nearly two hundred pages, clearly written, generously illustrated with rare photographs and documents. Anyone who has gotten a thrill from “Shout, Sister, Shout” will find this book essential. I don’t think a better or more informative book on the Boswells can be written.
Here you can read the introduction to the book by Boswell scholar David McCain, and the preface by Kyla Titus, and here you can buy a copy of the book ($21.95 USD including shipping.)
Enough words. Here are the Sisters in their first film appearance, CLOSE FARMONY:
Thanks to the splendid pianist Michael Kanan, I am very proud that I was captivated by the singer Marianne Solivan as far back as the spring of 2011. Here are Ms. Solivan and Mr. Kanan in performance then:
Notice her delicate intensity, her strength of conviction — authentic rather than put-on-for-effect — her witty tenderness, her elastic yet perfectly respectful phrasing . . . Marianne is a model of joyously inventive improvisatory singing, her sweet candor transforming any song.
Her belief in the lyrics, her immersion in the emotions of the song, her courageous yet friendly bending of the original melodic line — all of these virtues make her singing entrancing.
Here is a later Solivan-Kanan medley about enduring romance:
I followed Marianne to a number of gigs at Smalls and Iridium in those years, and I continue to take pleasure in her first CD, PRISONER OF LOVE. Here is the title track (a song I love, thanks at first to Lester Young and Russ Columbo):
You might not initially notice that the “new” verse, perfectly appropriate and deeply felt, is Marianne’s own composition — which points to another talent.
Hearing these venerable songs, treated as if they were new, one might be tempted to assign Marianne her own little cubbyhole: “She sings the Great American Songbook with a twist.” But she is and does more than that. (Although I have heard her perform Annie Ross’ TWISTED, which may count for something in the imagined taxonomy.)
This year, she created and produced her second CD, SPARK (Hipnotic Records) — compelling yet light on its feet. Here’s a video that will give you a taste of the disc’s riches. One of the songs is THE HUMDRUM BLUES, but nothing about this effort is in the least monotonous.
Although I’ve heard Marianne favor dark, pensive songs, SPARK is lively and energized. She has power, but it’s never being wielded against an audience.
SPARK starts off immediately at a high level — with the title song, which Marianne created, words and music. Unlike many singer-songwriters, she is not attempting to fit words and notes into a conventional box. Her songs sound much more like conversations with an audience — or the listeners — or someone being wooed. Her lyrics might use conventional phrases, but they are always arranged in new ways, without formal reliance on end-rhymes.
The song SPARK depicts the heady beginning of a romance; FIRST DESIRE (Marianne’s setting for the Lorca poem) is a rumination, full of images and evocations, music and lyrics evoking exalted states. IF I WERE TO LOVE YOU is a paean to love’s magic in the natural world, although voiced in the subjunctive. ON A CLEAR NIGHT meditates on a love affair tenuously balanced between past happiness and present erosion. THE DOVE, a collaboration between Marianne and pianist Xavier Davis, seems a twisting, intense carpe diem — don’t neglect love! Marianne’s compositions do not reveal themselves immediately, but each re-examination offers new levels of emotion and intelligence.
The other songs on this disc are wonderfully varied. There’s Oscar Brown, Jr.’s sharp-edged HUMDRUM BLUES (which has a touch of hope if one gets through the complaints of the lyrics); Francesca Blumenthal’s darkly ambivalent THE LIES OF HANDSOME MEN.
Marianne also gives her own singular transformation to songs associated with others: the sardonic modern folk song TENDER AS A ROSE (Abbey Lincoln), which sits somewhere between an unwritten PORGY AND BESS song and FRANKIE AND JOHNNY; I WANNA BE AROUND (Tony Bennett) which has a violent swinging energy, suggesting that Marianne could be dangerous if crossed, although she’d never diminish her rhythmic energy in the midst of taking revenge; a very brisk THIS IS NEW, rescued from those singers who have turned it into a moony dirge in opposition to the exultant lyrics. Ruben Blades’ EL CANTANTE (THE SINGER) is beautifully sung in Spanish — truly evocative — and Marianne explains the lyrics in part in the video.
Singing Loesser’s WHAT ARE YOU DOING NEW YEAR’S EVE? she rescues this song and brings a tender sweetness to the title — making the question vibrant yet fragile. OOH, WHAT’CHA DOIN’ TO ME, by Timmie Rogers, is a Forties trifle that offers Marianne the opportunity to play — she never copies Billie, early or late, but I think of WHAT A LITTLE MOONLIGHT CAN DO as the only parallel to Marianne’s evident delight.
SPARK is buoyed by Marianne’s joy in the music, but also by the evident joy in the studio, as Marianne and her working band take pleasure in creating together. They are Xavier Davis, piano; Matthew Parrish, string bass; Gregory Hutchinson, drums. The instrumental settings are fresh: one never thinks of “singer plus rhythm trio,” but rather of four musicians on an equal footing. The CD is splendidly recorded by Joe Marciano and Max Ross, with excellent liner notes by drummer Lewis Nash.
SPARK is never formulaic, but it is not oddly or whimsically “innovative” in offputting ways. Marianne’s inventiveness is refreshing throughout, but her music will not scare anyone off. She always sounds like herself, which is delightfully reassuring. I am happy to experience her blossoming creativity, and I look forward to more surprises.
SPARK is available in all the old familiar places: CDBaby, Amazon, iTunes, but I suggest you begin your investigation here— you can learn more about Marianne, keep up with her schedule, perhaps take a class with her (she is a most respected and beloved teacher of singers), and more.
Here and hereare Facebook pages where you’ll find Marianne . . . but the best way to experience her magic is to buy her CDs and meet her at a gig. Whichever comes first or is more convenient is the one I recommend to you. Don’t wait until she is booked into huge concert halls and the security prevents your getting close to the stage . . . catch her now.
Thomas “Spats” Langham is one of the great romantic singers of our time. Every year at the Whitley Bay Classic Jazz Party he moves me to tears. I do not write those words lightly. He can perform his deep emotional magic on a love song like GUILTY (you can find it here) but his wizardry is not restricted to amorous crooning. No, it’s even deeper and less conventional, as he demonstrated on the evening of November 7, 2014, in his performance of a song associated with Cliff Edwards, “Ukulele Ike” to those on close terms.
NIGHT OWL is a captivating song — music and lyrics by Herman Hupfeld — with a melody that, once heard, refuses to leave, and lyrics that move from the poetic wordplay of “I make light of the darkness” to the time-filling repetition of “hooting” . . . but it casts its own spell, verse and chorus.
I think Mr. Langham’s mastery comes from a double sensibility. You can see him give himself utterly to the song and its romance, yet, at the same time, there is a hint of amusement: “These are the most important words in the world and I must make sure that you feel them deeply but I also know they are just a touch silly . . . and I love them for both reasons.” Imagine a huge heart and the slightest hint of a grin, simultaneously. His approach is subtle — not the let’s-have-a-ball ebullience of Fats Waller, nor the lush wooing of Russ Columbo, but it is its own splendid personal amalgam. There’s no one like him, and we are blessed that he exists.
Lester Young told Francois Postif, speaking about the music he was searching for, “It’s got to be sweetness, man, you dig?” Lester would have enjoyed Spats Langham immensely. As do we:
Postscript: Some YouTube viewers are impatient creatures, so they will want to know that the musical part of this performance begins at 2:10, but if you skip forward you will miss Mr. Langham’s narrative about the intriguing-looking, rare and precious musical instrument he is holding (and playing expertly). It’s a novella in itself.
I could easily have titled this blogpost ‘S’WONDERFUL, the title tune and an apt capsule review of this performance by the Reynolds Brothers. In case you’ve just come to this party, the Reynolds Brothers are John Reynolds (guitar, banjo, vocal, whistling); Ralf Reynolds (washboard, vocal, keeper of the peace); Marc Caparone (cornet, vocal); Katie Cavera (string bass, vocal); guests and friends Clint Baker (trombone); Pieter Meijers (clarinet). Here they are at the 2012 Sacramento Music Festival, spreading all kinds of joy.
GOT A BRAN’ NEW SUIT, that sweetly joyous 1935 song recorded by both Fats and Louis. And it’s a “Tecla pearl” in the lyrics, something that I need more information about:
“Fetch me that gin, son.” Hoagy’s ROCKIN’ CHAIR:
NEVER SWAT A FLY (with lyrics that should be common knowledge in most educational endeavors):
OUT OF NOWHERE (thanks to Bing, Russ, Don Byas, and many others):
Feeling peckish? Beans and cabbage, but I like PEPPER STEAK:
Having eaten, we feel remorse. And the question becomes WAS THAT THE HUMAN THING TO DO?:
Carpe diem, Sisters and Brothers — grab someone while you’re still YOUNG AND HEALTHY:
Even if you’re no longer young and healthy, LOVE IS JUST AROUND THE CORNER:
And to close, this swing affirmation, ALL GOD’S CHILLUN GOT RHYTHM:
If you were to ask, “Ten easy lessons in what, Michael?” the answers come out in a rush: How to swing. How to let the heroes of the past live through you. How to create a warm sound and a warm rapport with the audience. How to make people feel happier than they were an hour earlier. How to play and sing with heart, mixing precision and abandon. But you can add your own responses to my list.
Marianne Solivan is not only an affecting singer but an affecting artist. I know that her approach to the audience and to her songs — so candid, so deep — is the result of hard work at her craft — but she makes it seem new, fresh, unstudied. She isn’t “acting,” but exploring, finding her way through the notes and pauses, the facts of the words and the sweep of the music — to create something moving in each phrase.
Even on songs that I have heard for thirty years or more (I’LL NEVER BE THE SAME is one example) Marianne manages to strip away the accretions of familiar expectations to reveal the heart of the music living underneath. Her candor is remarkable, as she balances power and delicacy, performing without seeming to perform. Her music is intense but never melodramatic, and she takes us with her.
She proved this once again at Iridium on May 22, 2012, with three special players — each one a poetic sound-painter — who accompanied her on her quests: the pianist Michael Kanan, bassist Marco Panascia, and drummer Michael Petrosino.
The hour-long set made me think, not for the first time, “It is a privilege to hear these musicians.” I hope you feel the same way!
You’ll have to take this one on faith, but it’s absolutely true. Marianne and the band decided, wisely, to do a sound check before beginning their performance. She alerted the audience and the band embarked on a brief LOVE WALKED IN. When it was over, the crowd at the Iridium applauded. Not noisily, as at a rock concert, but with real appreciation. They knew what was happening onstage!
Marianne began with a puckish Declaration of Independence, smiling all the way through, I CAN’T HELP IT (she says she likes the lyrics, and no wonder):
Marianne often begins her sets with IN LOVE IN VAIN — one of the darkest songs I know, and that is including GLOOMY SUNDAY — but she takes it into a brisk medium tempo, somewhat undercutting the sadness. Although I’ve heard her perform it more than a half-dozen times, each version is new and affecting:
I hadn’t heard Marianne perform I’LL NEVER BE THE SAME . . . but I admire so how she sidesteps the Holiday trap: that is, the temptation to meow and slither as Billie did so memorably. This performance, like every other Solivan exploration I know, is all hers:
Another song with a somber title, THE LONELY ONES, a rare Ellington-Duke Jordan (!) collaboration, makes Marianne sing it with perverse enthusiasm and delight . . . if it weren’t such a cliche, I would write that she has a twinkle in her eye. Perhaps a permanent gleam?
Without trying hard or showing off how hard she’s working, Marianne makes even the most familiar songs shine — we hear them for the first time. For me, PRISONER OF LOVE summons up Lester Young – Teddy Wilson and Russ Columbo (in that order). But I have added Marianne’s approach to that pantheon:
I would bet that Michael Kanan, that conoisseur of rare beautiful music, brought MOON RAY to everyone’s attention — it’s one of the unusual tunes written by Artie Shaw, and the band does it beautifully:
Forthright and heartfelt — I WISH I DIDN’T LOVE YOU SO:
What other singer would fuse Alec Wilder’s MOON AND SAND and the somewhat obscure French IF YOU GO?
Another moving experience — watching these four musicians proceed bravely through the possibly over-familiar MORE THAN YOU KNOW — making it fresh at every turn:
What Marianne calls “their hit,” the elusive sweet-sour GUESS I’LL HANG MY TEARS OUT TO DRY . . . is it an affirmation or a despairing resignation or both? You decide:
And — to close — an exultant DAY IN, DAY OUT:
I haven’t said anything about Michael Kanan, Marco Panascia, and Michael Petrosino. What do you say about beautifully intuitive players who know when you whisper and when to propel, who know how to blend and support, who make just the right impressionistic clouds of sound throughout an evening? Why can’t all accompanists be this wise, this brave, this subtle? Their generosity to Marianne, to the music, and to us, was heartening.
The family that plays together . . . creates beautiful music. Here are some more performances by the Au Brothers Jazz Band from their October 28, 2011, appearance at the Pismo Beach “Jazz Jubilee by the Sea”: for this occasion, the band was Gordon Au, trumpet; Justin Au, trumpet; Brandon Au, trombone / English baritone; Howard Miyata, tuba. (That’s “Uncle How” to those in the know.) The friends were Katie Cavera, banjo / guitar; Danny Coots, drums — with a few added surprises.
Let’s start with Gordon’s own PISMO BEACH PARADE — a rollicking march which keeps its flavor no matter if it’s performed far from Pismo — say in Brooklyn, New York:
The Brothers welcomed the hot pianist Jeff Barnhart for a little meteorology in PENNIES FROM HEAVEN — sweetly expounded by Uncle How:
I WOULD DO MOST ANYTHING FOR YOU was an occasion to welcome other playful folks to the stand: Bob Draga and Peter Meijers, clarinet; Jeff Beaumont, alto sax — a reed section to match the Au / Miyata brass:
Two satires follow — a slightly modified version of ROCKIN’ CHAIR (“Fetch me that ginseng,” is what I believe we hear):
and I’M GONNA SIT RIGHT DOWN AND WRITE MYSELF A LETTER, its Thirties lyrics updated and reconfigured:
Here’s a groovy SHE’S CRYING FOR ME — with an unidentified young washboardist, stage right, in dialogue with Gordon:
In memory of the Eddie Condon Town Hall concerts, a key-changing OLE MISS:
Although this is a thoroughly mischievous band, they play KEEPIN’ OUT OF MISCHIEF NOW (beginning with the tender verse). And, as for the vocal, it’s Crosby, Columbo, and Miyata:
Let’s conclude with a mellow Fiesta for Brass on the theme of STARDUST:
I doubt that I will ever organize a jazz festival in this life — but this band seems supremely good music and good value. Is anyone listening?
All these nice videos were created by Gene Mondro: thanks and applause to Gene! The comings and goings of the Au Brothers are ly documented here on “Dolphinhunter,” their YouTube channel.
Here are the very exciting results of our trip to an antique store in Vallejo and a community thrift store in Benicia — both less famous towns in California.
I know this isn’t a terribly rare piece of sheet music: it was a hit in 1920 and people still request it today. But I love the Art Deco cover, and I had never heard anyone sing the verse. That verse intrigues me because of its indirection. The singer doesn’t say, “I’ve got a girl named Margie, and she’s great,” etc. No, there’s a little story:
One: You can talk about your love affairs,
Here’s one I must tell to you;
All night long they sit on the stairs,
He holds her close and starts to coo:
Two: You can picture me most ev’ry night,
I can’t wait until they start;
Ev’ry thing he says just seems all right,
I want to learn that stuff by heart:
Thus the setup for the chorus is coming from an eager but less-sophisticated young man who wants to take Lessons in Love. Who would have guessed it?
Not jazz by any means, but captivating.
I hadn’t known that Russ Columbo was RADIO’S REVELATION. Having bought the sheet music for YOU CALL IT MADNESS, BUT I CALL IT LOVE, I’ve learned something both new and essential.
I had never heard or heard of this 1929 song (lyrics by Charles Tobias and Sidney Clare, music by Peter DeRose). By no means is it an unknown classic, but here are the lyrics to the bridge: “He plays most everything the masters wrote / He plays them heavenly and doesn’t read a note.” Hot enough for me.
This one is a treasure for obvious reasons and more. I knew this lovely song from Bing’s 1931 recording, but had no idea that it has been associated with Miss Connie Boswell. And it has a personal meaning for me. My father was born in 1915, and the songs of his childhood became the songs of mine, even though I didn’t exactly know the titles or the complete versions. He is dead almost thirty years, and I can still hear him singing, “Leaves come tumbling down / ‘Round my head / Some of them are brown / Some are red,” although I don’t think he ever got as far as the bridge. I think he also sang it to his granddaughters, several of whom might remember the tune.
Since I mentioned Harry Lillis Crosby, I shall bring forward one of the real gems of my paddling through cardboard boxes of shredding sheet music (invariably on my hands and knees). I have only the cover of this song, but I think it’s a worthwhile find:
Handsome young fellow, isn’t he? (Even with that hairpiece.) I think he has a real future, than Bing. With or without the other Two Rhythm Boys. (Incidentally, if you haven’t heard John Gill’s Bing tribute — with his Sentimental Serenaders — recorded for Stomp Off — you’re denying yourself pleasure.)
And since nothing beats an unusual 78 rpm record in mint condition, let me share this one with you. It looks anything but interesting, but I have hopes:
Now, John Conte was not a pseudonym for Red McKenzie or Boyce Brown, and the other side looks just as far away from hot jazz as the first. But the TEEN TIMER label stopped me from going on to the next record. Perhaps twenty-five years ago, the musician and scholar Loren Schoenberg (who now heads the Jazz Museum in Harlem) had a weekly radio program on Columbia University’s WKCR-FM, and one of his august guests was the tenor saxophonist Jerry Jerome. Jerry brought along a number of rarities, and one of them sprang from a radio program (circa 1944) for which he led the house band. The TEEN TIMERS orchestra was an astonishing collection of the best New York City studio players / hot soloists. I remember Chris Griffin and Will Bradley, Hymie Schertzer, Johnny Guarneri, Eddie Safranski, and Dave Tough were in the band — identifiable not only by their sound, but because that day the program might have run short, so the players were allowed to stretch out on a ONE O’CLOCK JUMP where they were identified by name. (I learned online that it was a Saturday morning show on NBC; the singing star was Eileen Barton — later to have a big hit with IF I KNEW YOU WERE COMING, I’D A BAKED A CAKE) and the announcer was Art Ford — late 1944, early 1945. So TEEN TIMERS — perhaps a hopeful effort by Apollo Records (for whom Jerry did some producing of sessions) to attract the bobby-soxers — has the possibility of a hot obbligato or a lovely ballad interlude on this disc. Or perhaps a Dave Tough cymbal accent. We live in hope.
Are there any JAZZ LIVES readers who recall this radio program?
Finally, you might be able to intuit how pleased I am with my finds. They didn’t cost much; they don’t weigh a great deal; they are filled with sentiment. But perhaps I should let Stuff Smith indicate the state of my emotions?
P.S. A note on what some folks call “provenance”: most of the music above (and some I didn’t photograph — a Frank Crumit comedy song called I MARRIED THE BOOTLEGGER’S DAUGHTER) came from the collection of one musical young woman. I could trace some parts of her life: in one phase, she was Stella Carberry (in block capitals); in another, she signed in lovely cursive Stella Maria Pisani. The copy of MARGIE belonged to Stella’s sister or even sister-in law (I am assuming) Tessie M. Pisani. Objects have their own lives and they reflect the people who once owned and loved them.
Ted Brown (tenor), Michael Kanan (piano), Murray Wall (bass), and Taro Okamoto (drums) proved that they knew how — masterfully. Here are three ballad performances from Ted’s appearance at the Hotel Kitano — his first New York gig as a leader in forty years, if I remember correctly — where everyone is singing.
HOW DEEP IS THE OCEAN?
GONE WITH THE WIND:
and (my idea of a poignant masterpiece) a tenor-piano duet on PRISONER OF LOVE, recalling not only Russ Columbo and Perry Como but Lester Young, Teddy Wilson, Gene Ramey, and Jo Jones one peerless day in 1956:
Especially on the last performance, the deep feeling is almost too much to bear: Ted’s narrow tone, his hesitant, halting approach to the melody is the sound of a man reaching deep into his heart for his emotions. And Michael’s piano is the pure expression of knowing love: your best friend and truest comrade at the keyboard, saying, “It’s all good. Go on, tell me more!” (My sources tell me that Michael will be playing a solo gig at Smalls on March 31, and will be working with my hero Joel Press on May 13 . . . mark those calendars!)
Incidentally, the shouts of delight that seem to emanate from behind my camera are coming from another deep place: rare pianist Pete Malniverni was behind me, reveling in the beauties being created, especially by his pal Kanan.
And we can’t forget Murray Wall, eloquent melodist, and Taro Okamoto, master of listening propulsion. Thanks also go to Gino Moratti — gruff but generous — for allowing me to videorecord this session and for keeping the patrons in a properly reverent hush.