Tag Archives: Russ Phillips

THEM THERE BOYS: THE CHICAGO CELLAR BOYS at the SAN DIEGO JAZZ FEST: ANDY SCHUMM, JOHN OTTO, PAUL ASARO, DAVE BOCK, JOHNNY DONATOWICZ (November 24, 2018)

They’re back!  And below I’ll have news of their appearance at a one-day Midwest festival on March 30, 2019.

The Chicago Cellar Boys made beautiful music at the 2018 San Diego Jazz Fest, and I caught as much of it as I could.  (Type in CELLAR on the search bar and see for yourself.)

Here is part of a set that I recorded on November 24.  The CCB are Andy Schumm, cornet, tenor saxophone, clarinet; John Otto, alto saxophone, clarinet; Paul Asaro, piano, vocal; Johnny Donatowicz, guitar, banjo; Dave Bock, tuba.  Dee-lightful.

INDIAN CRADLE SONG (in honor of the Dorsey Brothers and, faintly, Louis Armstrong).  Andy told me that he had hidden another song in the “chorale” section, but he’s too smart for me.  Maybe you’ll recognize it?:

BOSTON SKUFFLE (something for and by Jabbo Smith):

HOME, CRADLE OF HAPPINESS (a song popular in the early Twenties, recorded by a Sam Lanin group and by Ethel Waters):

FIDGETY FEET (a tribute to Bix and the Wolverines):

KING PORTER STOMP (the CCB’s homage to the 1924 Autograph duet session by King Oliver and Jelly Roll Morton — also the band-within-the-band):

Aside from their inspiring playing and singing, hot and sweet, there are the marvelous arrangements that make this two-horn quintet sound like a large group, and the positively exciting repertoire.  I know the music of this period fairly well, but I always go away from even one CCB set saying to myself, “I’ve never heard that wonderful tune before.”

And here — because listeners need to get away from their computers now and again (it’s good for us!) — is the festival they will be illuminating at the end of this month, along with Petra’s Recession Seven (featuring Petra van Nuis, Andy Brown, Russ Phillips, and other luminaries):

May your happiness increase!

HAIL AND FAREWELL: SACRAMENTO MUSIC FESTIVAL (a/k/a SACRAMENTO JAZZ JUBILEE) TO CLOSE AFTER 44 YEARS

More bad news for people who like their jazz in profusion over one weekend: the Sacramento Music Festival, once known as the Sacramento Jazz Jubilee, will not continue on next year. Here is the whole story.

An observant person could tell the reasons for this decision, and they are primarily financial: festivals are terribly expensive to run, and the ratio between costs and audience was not always encouraging.  I am sad to read this, because in the past six months a number of festivals have said goodbye.  I won’t mount the soapbox and harangue readers who had said, “Oh, I’ll go next year,” but the moral — carpe diem over a swinging 4/4 — is clear.

My videos — about one hundred and fifty — show that I attended the SJJ in 2011, 12, and 14.  It was an unusual event.  I seem to remember racing from one side of the causeway (if that is what it was called) to the other for sets, and scurrying (that’s not true — I don’t really scurry) from one venue to another.  There was an astonishing amount of good music in the years I attended, and some very lovely performances took place in the oddest venues.

Here are more than a half-dozen splendid performances, so we can grieve for the loss of a festival while at the same time smiling and swinging.

From 2011, TRUCKIN’ by Hal Smith’s International Sextet:

and one of my favorite 1926 songs, HE’S THE LAST WORD:

The Jubilee also made room for pretty ballads like this one, featuring John Cocuzzi, Jennifer Leitham, and Johnny Varro:

A year later, Rebecca Kilgore was HUMMIN’ TO HERSELF:

Marc Caparone doffs his handmade cap to Louis for HE’S A SON OF THE SOUTH:

Another pretty one — MORE THAN YOU KNOW — featuring Allan Vache:

and some Orientalia out of doors — SAN by the Reynolds Brothers and Clint Baker:

A nice medium blues by Dan Barrett and Rossano Sportiello:

THE BOB AND RAY SHOW in 2014 — Schulz and Skjelbred, performing SHOE SHINE BOY:

CAN’T WE BE FRIENDS, featuring Dave Stone and Russ Phillips with Vince Bartels and Johnny Varro:

and an extended performance by Ray Skjelbred and his Cubs from 2014:

One of my favorite stories — a Louise Hay affirmation of sorts — comes from the Sacramento Jazz Jubilee.  It was held over Memorial Day weekend, and there was riotous excitement on the days preceding Monday — but Sacramento on Memorial Day was one of the most deserted urban centers I’ve ever encountered. The nice Vietnamese restaurant I had hopes of returning to was shuttered for the holiday, the streets were quiet with only the intermittent homeless person taking his ease.  Since I have been a New Yorker all my life, the criminal offense termed “jaywalking” does not terrify me.  On one such Monday, the light was red against me but there were no cars in sight.  Full of assurance, I strolled across the street and made eye contact with a young woman standing — a law-abiding citizen — on the opposite curb.  When I reached her and grinned at her legal timidity, she looked disapprovingly at me and said, “Rule-breaker!”  I grinned some more and replied, “Free spirit!”

At its best, the Sacramento Jazz Jubilee inspired such free-spirited behavior, musical and otherwise — among dear friends.  Adieu, adieu!

May your happiness increase!

PETRA’S RECESSION SEVEN LIVE AT THE JAZZ SHOWCASE (July 31, 2017)

Make yourself comfortable.

Andy Brown, Petra van Nuis, Eric Schneider

What follows is rare and worth celebration.  On the face of it, it might seem unremarkable: a young singer leading a jazz septet through seven songs, several of them venerable but sounding fresh.  However, this performance by Petra van Nuis — leading “Petra’s Recession Seven” at Chicago’s Jazz Showcase on July 31, 2017 — is delightful simply because it is traditional without being dusty, original without being abrasive, simultaneously expert and free-floating.

The smiles on everyone’s face tell you that they know Music is being made.  Petra and her Seven exude the joyous confidence of people who know how to get inside the music in genuine ways.

The Seven is (are?) Andy Brown, guitar; Bob Ojeda, trumpet; Russ Phillips, trombone; Eric Schneider, reeds; Dan DeLorenzo, string bass; Bob Rummage, drums.  Before you venture into the delightful forty-eight minutes and twenty-four seconds of this video (accuracy is always desirable), the songs Petra and her band have chosen say a great deal about a deep immersion in music that has feeling, intelligence, and buoyancy — songs that deserve to be heard but are neither esoteric nor “chestnuts” too long in the fire.

Since women are still paid a serious percentage less than men, I applaud Petra’s taking on the Tiny Grimes – Charlie Parker opus, ROMANCE WITHOUT FINANCE, for her own, making it both straightforward and witty.  I don’t know if there’s a causal link to Morton’s SWEET SUBSTITUTE, which portrays the ideally devoted male partner: deciphering is up to you.  A jubilant EVERYBODY LOVES ME BABY is an even more solid affirmation, with Petra and the band essaying this Twenties romp with no condescension, no faux-Prohibition gestures.  IF YOU WERE MINE is just so tender (what a fine song it is!) but Petra’s approach is her own, deeply sinking into the lyrics without a hint of “homage” to Lady Day.  From Lady Day to O’Day — more pleasure in the trip UPTOWN.  SUGAR used to be a true standard, performed by everyone from Louis to Lee Wiley, but it’s now slightly neglected, a situation that I hope will soon be remedied. And an absolute highlight for me, Harry White’s EVENIN’ — again, a song that rewards us in many ways.  (And what a set closer!)

I haven’t said much about Petra’s singing: its virtues are evident from the first phrase: an irresistible swing, clear diction that isn’t obtrusively “correct,” a willingness to descend into the song rather than to make the song a showpiece for her, phrasing that sounds conversational but is full of small sweet improvisatory surprises, and a joyous confidence.  Like Petra, the Recession Seven never falters but it never sounds over-rehearsed and reheated.  The gratifying results come from devotion and earnest study, with musicians so expert that they thrive on risks and are happily loose.

Petra and Andy also have a new duet CD, LYRICAL LESSONS, which is an intimate, warm delight.

And you can click here to hear samples from it.

I will see Petra and Andy at the Cleveland Classic Jazz Party — September 14-18 — another reason to be there!  But if you can’t, you can hear and see them in all their unashamed glory on disc, on video, and in person.

May your happiness increase!

MUSIC THAT LASTS: RUSS PHILLIPS, DUKE HEITGER, BRIA SKONBERG, ALLAN VACHE, ROSSANO SPORTIELLO, SEAN CRONIN, DARRIAN DOUGLAS at the ATLANTA JAZZ PARTY (April 18, 2015)

Good music, like any good art, doesn’t grow old.  Here’s a venerable song — apparently composed in 1916, published in 1917, being performed ninety-eight years later at the Atlanta Jazz Party on April 18, 2015.  And meaning no disrespect to Mister Handy, it is more than possible that the song was accessible in parts long before 1916.

BEALE STREET BLUES

Good music is also flexible.  The venerable composition, so beloved of “Dixieland” players, gets a sweet Basie makeover here, at the hands of Russ Phillips, trombone; Duke Heitger, Bria Skonberg, trumpet; Allan Vache, clarinet; Rossano Sportiello, piano; Sean Cronin, string bass; Darrian Douglas, drums.

This is a rewarding interlude: I feel improved by its expert generous joys.

May your happiness increase!

COZY VIRTUOSI: RUSS PHILLIPS, DAN BARRETT, ROSSANO SPORTIELLO, NICKI PARROTT, ED METZ at the 2015 ATLANTA JAZZ PARTY (April 19, 2015)

How do we define virtuosity?  Is it blinding technical skill, amazing displays of bravado, playing higher, faster, in ways that dizzy and delight?  Sometimes, perhaps.  I think Louis’ 250 high C’s in performances in the early Thirties must have delighted audiences.  But the true virtuosity (to me) is subtler, quieter, more subversive: Louis’ melody statement and solo on THAT’S FOR ME comes to mind.  Dear and deep melodic improvisations that stick in the mind as much as the original song; tone and touch that come to us with the sweet clarity and intensity of beloved voices; unerring yet relaxed swing.

Russ and Dan at Atlanta

The three performances offered here are perfectly virtuosic, although the general approach is spiritual rather than calisthenic, people playing for the happiness of the band rather than for the loudest applause.

Five people joined forces on the spot — not an organized band — at the 2015 Atlanta Jazz Party: Russ Phillips, Dan Barrett, trombone; Rossano Sportiello, piano; Nicki Parrott, string bass; Ed Metz, drums.

I’ve already posted this quintet’s made-fresh-while-you-wait masterpiece, improvisations on Artie Shaw’s blues line for his Gramercy Five, SUMMIT RIDGE DRIVE, but it bears repeated watching and listening:

Lovely in a blue haze, but with a swing: MOOD INDIGO:

And EAST OF THE SUN, which Professor Barrett explicates for us as preface to the glorious cosmological explorations:

These cozy virtuosi (thanks to Cole Porter) indeed.

May your happiness increase!

COOTS IN CHARGE: ALLAN VACHÉ, TOM FISCHER, DUKE HEITGER, BEN POLCER, BRIA SKONBERG, RUSS PHILLIPS, DAN BARRETT, DALTON RIDENHOUR, PAUL KELLER, DANNY COOTS (ATLANTA JAZZ PARTY, APRIL 18, 2015)

Danny Coots, who lives the words on the sign above his head.

Danny Coots, who lives the words on the sign above his head.

Four delights and four comic interludes from the very lovable and talented Danny Coots, with Duke Heitger, Bria Skonberg, Ben Polcer, trumpet; Dan Barrett, Russ Phillips, trombone; Allan Vaché, Tom Fischer, reeds; Dalton Ridenhour, piano; Paul Keller, string bass: recorded at the 2015 Atlanta Jazz Party —

OLD-FASHIONED LOVE:

BEI MIR BIS DU SCHOEN:

MOTEN SWING:

PANAMA:

The 27th Atlanta Jazz Party will take place in you-know-what-city from April 22 to 24, 2016.  Details to come here.

May your happiness increase!

IN THE GROOVE AT ATLANTA: ALLAN VACHÉ, RUSS PHILLIPS, ROSSANO SPORTIELLO, CHUCK REDD, WAYNE WILKINSON, NICKI PARROTT, DANNY COOTS (April 17, 2015)

I was tempted to call this post TWO JUSTS AND A JIVE, but my legal staff talked me out of it.

It wasn’t formally billed as a Swingtet, but after sixteen bars you’ll know it couldn’t be called anything else. This romping set took place at the 2015 Atlanta Jazz Party, under the leadership of clarinetist Allan Vaché. The other notables on the stand are Rossano Sportiello, piano; Nicki Parrott, string bass; Danny Coots, drums; Wayne Wilkinson, guitar; Russ Phillips, trombone; Chuck Redd, vibes.

Cole Porter’s JUST ONE OF THOSE THINGS:

Harry “Sweets” Edison’s JIVE AT FIVE:

Jesse Greer’s JUST YOU, JUST ME (which goes all the way back to 1929):

The slightly unusual instrumentation is just delicious — what ensemble work and what solos!  In the groove for sure.

And the good news is that there is grooving planned at the 27th Atlanta Jazz Party April 15, 16, 17, of 2016.  “Good deal,” as one of my heroes was wont to say.

May your happiness increase!

SLIDING THE BLUES (RUSS PHILLIPS, DAN BARRETT, ROSSANO SPORTIELLO, NICKI PARROTT, JOHN COCUZZI at the ATLANTA JAZZ PARTY

When you’re sliding, the whole world slides with you.  Or we hope so.

These are trombonists I don’t mind encouraging, and a nifty medium-uptempo blues is a cure for many ills.

This one — the line Artie Shaw called SUMMIT RIDGE DRIVE after his home address of the time, recorded by the Gramercy 5 — is brought to swinging life by Russ Phillips (left), Dan Barrett (right), trombone; Rossano Sportiello, piano; Nicki Parrott, string bass; John Cocuzzi, drums.  One of the hundreds of sweet highlights of the 2015 Atlanta Jazz  Party.

And what a rhythm section.  Everyone‘s sliding, and not a cliche in sight.

May your happiness increase!

JAMMIN’ AT VINCE’S: VINCE BARTELS, DAN BARRETT, DAVE STONE, ALLAN VACHÉ, RUSS PHILLIPS, JOHNNY VARRO at SACRAMENTO (May 25, 2014)

Slightly less than a year ago I was a happy member of the throngs at the 2014 Sacramento Music Festival. I couldn’t make it there this year, but that’s no reason you and I can’t savor some wonderful music I recorded there. All but one performance is emerging from the JAZZ LIVES vaults (deep and extensive) for your listening, dining, and dancing pleasure.

Vince Bartels

The band here is led by drummer Vince Bartels — his All Stars — and they are accurately named.  Dan Barrett, cornet; Allan Vaché, clarinet; Russ Phillips, trombone; Johnny Varro, piano; Dave Stone, string bass.  The ambiance, for the most part, is an unabashed lovefest for the music Eddie Condon and friends made in the Fifties.  Not all the selections were in the Condon repertoire, but the band kicks along splendidly without any imitations.

SWING THAT MUSIC:

THE ONE I LOVE:

Condon Jam Session

THE SELFIE MEDLEY (which requires a little commentary. First, I think the selection of ballads — a beautiful thing — draws seriously on the Columbia recording of JAM SESSION COAST-TO-COAST, one of George Avakian’s nicest ideas.  I hadn’t known that Vince had a M.A. in improvisational theatre, but he puts it to good use here, asking the audience to come up, surround the band, take selfies of themselves and the band, put them on Facebook, send them to relatives overseas, or what you will.  Thus the visual is often a little obscured, but the music is delicious):

OH, BABY!:

CAN’T WE BE FRIENDS? (a heartfelt duo-feature for Russ and Dave):

MOTEN SWING:

JUBILEE:

Oh, joy was certainly spread in abundance.  More to come.

May your happiness increase!

CONFESS YOUR FEARS AND THEY MAY BE TRANSFORMED: DUKE HEITGER, BEN POLCER, RUSS PHILLIPS, TOM FISCHER, JOHN COCUZZI, PAUL KELLER, DANNY COOTS at the ATLANTA JAZZ PARTY (April 17, 2015)

I’M CONFESSIN’ (a song with an unusual history — written in 1929 and published with another title and lyrics, then recreated a year later with the same melody, new lyrics, and an entirely different set of composers credited) is a lovely durable melody . . . of course, first made immortal by Louis Armstrong, who sang and played it for the next forty years.  I couldn’t find a copy of the first sheet music, but here is a later version:

I'M CONFESSIN'Many bands pick this as a reliable rhythm ballad — and some race through it as if on jazz cruise control, taking it as an interlude between one punishingly fast / loud number and the next.

Happily, this was not the case with Duke Heitger, Ben Polcer, trumpet; Russ Phillips, trombone; Tom Fischer, clarinet; John Cocuzzi, piano; Paul Keller, strig bass; Danny Coots, drums, at this year’s Atlanta Jazz Party (this performance was only the second song of the three-day marathon).  These master musicians created something frankly alchemical, transforming sadness into joy:

Everything about this performance entrances me: the sweet steady tread of the rhythm section (a wonderful team saying with every beat to the horn players, “Create whatever is in your heart and we will be there to support you, to make you feel safe”) to the compact singing utterances of the horns — how to make those instruments speak in such heartfelt ways in sixteen bars!  (Sixteen bars go by so quickly.)  The variety of sounds!

And just as a self-referential digression: inspired by the song, I stopped writing and went twenty feet to the other end of this long room, where a cherished cornet rests on blue velour in its ancient case.  I picked it up and “played” the first sixteen bars of I’M CONFESSIN’ and reminded myself only how incredibly difficult making an instrument sing is.  Mine sang, but I won’t describe how or what it was singing.

From the title alone, one would think that I’M CONFESSIN’ would be an exultant outpouring of love, with the Lover offering feelings openly.  And that is indeed the case.  But the Lover here is both frightened and self-aware, wondering if those feelings will be reciprocated or discarded.  And the Love Object — the source of power in this interlude — is both inscrutable and ambiguous: the eyes embody one “strange” message; the lips offer another.

I think that JAZZ LIVES readers might need to hear the lyrics as well as the melody. And thanks to my dear friend Austin Casey, here is THE version of the century: Louis on the Frank Sinatra Show.

Gorgeous, light-hearted, and heartfelt.  I offer this as evidence to those who think Louis didn’t care about the lyrics: here he offers each word as if it had been written by Keats.  Tonation and phrasing for the ages.  I also offer this performance not as a diminution of the one created on April 17, 2015, but to show that the two stand side-by-side, our heroes in this century so completely lit from within by Louis’ blessed spirit.

A last word about the alchemy of music, of candor.  The musicians in Atlanta did the impossible by transforming unease and anxiety into something beautiful, in the spirit of Louis.  This transformation is not always possible in what passes for real life, but it is worth attempting.  Keeping one’s terrors to oneself is what we have been trained to do.  Adults don’t talk about what scares them: they might terrify the children.  But I wonder if we said out loud to ourselves, “I am deeply afraid that ___________ might happen,” that the fear, put into syllables we can hear ourselves saying, might be more manageable.  Saying to the Love Object, “I’m afraid some day you’ll leave me / Saying ‘Can’t we still be friends?'” is a true act of courage, because the Love Object can always say back, “Indeed, that was just what I was thinking this very moment,” but [hence the MAY in my title] it could provoke reassurance.

JAZZ LIVES offers no advice in relationships, and hence is held harmless from any liability.  But speaking what you feel, embodying what you feel is always courageous, no matter what the result.

Keep CONFESSIN’, I say.

May your happiness increase! 

JOY TO THE TENTH POWER: A GLIMPSE OF THE 2015 ATLANTA JAZZ PARTY (DANNY COOTS, PAUL KELLER, DALTON RIDENHOUR, ALLAN VACHÉ, TOM FISCHER, DUKE HEITGER, DAN BARRETT, BRIA SKONBERG, BEN POLCER, RUSS PHILLIPS, April 18, 2015)

C.S. Lewis never wrote a book called EXHAUSTED BY JOY, but I could do it for him — having just returned from the Atlanta Jazz Party, which ran deliciously through the weekend of April 17 through 19, 2015.  I will spare you the exuberant descriptions (because I still don’t have the energy) and just offer this: the closer from Danny Coots’ Saturday-night extravaganza, a splendidly compact and ebullient PANAMA. I’ve named the alchemists above, but in case you missed a turn, they are Danny, drums and instant planning; Dalton Ridenhour, piano; Paul Keller, string bass; Allan Vaché, clarinet; Tom Fischer, tenor saxophone; Dan Barrett, Russ Phillips, trombone; Ben Polcer, Bria Skonberg, Duke Heitger, trumpet:

All I know is that William H. Tyers just left a big LIKE on Facebook. If you find my title slightly inexplicable, just count the faces in the video.  And they were only part of the musical crowd.

You should have been there!  It’s happening next year on April 15-16-17.  Make plans.

May your happiness increase!

A REMINDER: THE ATLANTA JAZZ PARTY IS ALMOST HERE (April 17-19, 2015)

I am excited to be attending the 2015 Atlanta Jazz Party — a week away!  That’s April 17 through 19th in the very comfortable Grand Ballroom of the Westin Atlanta North at Perimeter.  It’s an incredibly lavish buffet of hot music: seven sets on Friday night, seven sets on Saturday afternoon, seven sets on Saturday night, and seven sets on Sunday. All performers are featured in each session. Atlanta Jazz Party Patrons and Guarantors get to attend all four sessions plus the exclusive Saturday morning jazz brunch!

And there’s something new and exciting: the new Jazz Dinner Buffets featuring surprise special guest performers on Friday and Saturday Night, in the newly created “Johnny Mercer Room” right across from the Grand Ballroom. This change is important to the Party’s survival.  And I know — don’t ask me how — that one of the “surprise special guest performers” is someone legendary.

Who’s playing and singing?  Ben Polcer, Duke Heitger, Bria Skonberg, Allan Vaché, Tom Fischer, Eddie Erickson, Darian Douglas, Sean Cronin, Dalton Ridenhour, John Cocuzzi, Johnny Varro, Rossano Sportiello, Dan Barrett, Russ Phillips, Nicki Parrott, Paul Keller, Danny Coots, Chuck Redd, Rebecca Kilgore.

Here’s Danny Coots and Ten at the 2014 AJP:

and since that sounds so good, let’s have another:

and the song that conveys the way I feel about the Party:

See you there, I hope.  It’s one of those enterprises that truly deserves your energetic support.

May your happiness increase!

SPORTIELLO-METZ, UNLIMITED (Atlanta Jazz Party, April 27, 2014)

Rossano Sportiello, piano, and Ed Metz, snare drum with wire brushes, made up a fully satisfying combo / band / orchestra in their morning set at the 2014 Atlanta Jazz Party.  The music they made has resonated happily in my memory, and now I have the pleasure of sharing it with you.

Rossano began the set with a heartfelt BLUE AND SENTIMENTAL — which had a Strayhorn coloration at the start.  In an age of bright colors and high volumes, it is so reassuring to hear a Maestro like Rossano play a ballad — not in any hurry to get through, to speed it up:

From Basie to his teacher, Fats, for HANDFUL OF KEYS, joined by Ed:

Then, a long interlude-concert which allows both players to shine as soloists and as part of a wondrous duo.  The selections are MISTY, IT’S THE TALK OF THE TOWN, CHINATOWN (with a hand-drum solo a la Jo Jones), LUCKY TO BE ME, Liszt’s CONSOLATION #3, SHOE SHINE BOY — a full circle back to Basie:

Throughout this morning serenade, I was reminded of the beautiful sound of Johnny Guarnieri and Sidney Catlett, and I marvel at Rossano’s beautiful precision and the astonishing variety of sounds and textures Ed gets out of this most minimalist drum kit — and the duo’s apparently indefatigable swing. Proof, once again, that you don’t need a lot of volume to swing.

All this happened at the April 2014 Atlanta Jazz Party, and I have every expectation that equally beautiful music will be created there again this April. Details and registration information here.  And since — as is the custom in most parties — the earlier you register, the better your seating . . . carpe diem in a big way.

The players this year will be Ben Polcer, Duke Heitger, Bria Skonberg, Allan Vache, Tom Fischer, Dan Barrett, Russ Phillips, John Cocuzzi, Rossano Sportiello, Johnny Varro, Dalton Ridenhour, Eddie Erickson, Nicki Parrott, Paul Keller, Sean Cronin, Danny Coots, Chuck Redd, Darrian Douglas, Rebecca Kilgore.  Quite a varied and energetic crew.

May your happiness increase!

DEEP FEELING: VINCE BARTELS ALL STARS at the SACRAMENTO MUSIC FESTIVAL (May 23, 2014: DAN BARRETT, RUSS PHILLIPS, ALLAN VACHE, JOHNNY VARRO, DAVE STONE)

Vince Bartels, a superb drummer, takes his inspiration as a bandleader from Eddie Condon — so his programs are varied in every way.  Where other bands opt for Fast and Loud, Vince has a deep romantic streak which he encourages in his colleagues.  Thus the Migrant Jazz Workers (the band name created by Eddie Higgins) often pause to look lovingly at the scenery. They aren’t ashamed of sweetness, and they strive to create memorable beauty.

These marvels happened regularly when Vince and his band played at the 2014 Sacramento Music Festival — the Workers were Dave Stone, string bass; Johnny Varro, piano; Allan Vache, clarinet; Russ Phillips, trombone; Dan Barrett, trumpet.

I offer three particularly deep performances — no self-consciousness, no dramatization . . . just beautiful music.

Their extraordinary, sensitive reading of the Ellington SOLITUDE:

Johnny Varro’s sparkling ONE MORNING IN MAY (which Hoagy Carmichael’s mother said was her favorite of her son’s songs):

Russ Phillips, singing and playing the Ellington AZALEA, inspired by Louis Armstrong’s memories of a New Orleans flowering bush that he could never forget.  (How beautifully Russ sings!):

Yes, “traditional jazz” can be sweet and lovely, too.  Thank you, Vince, for keeping this music alive.

May your happiness increase!

FRESH-SQUEEZED: VINCE BARTELS, ALLAN VACHÉ, DAN BARRETT, RUSS PHILLIPS, JOHNNY VARRO, DAVE STONE at the SACRAMENTO MUSIC FESTIVAL (May 23, 2014)

Mister Waller would be delighted.  And we were too.

Vince Bartels had assembled a truly all-star band in the Condon tradition for the 2014 Sacramento Music Festival, with himself on drums, Dave Stone, string bass; Johnny Varro, piano; Allan Vaché, clarinet, Russ Phillips, trombone; Dan Barrett, trumpet. And they performed SQUEEZE ME and got every drop of sweetly lascivious energy out of it — a memorable performance indeed:

I mean my fellow-listeners no disrespect, but that performance deserved much more applause than it got.  Perhaps everyone was stunned into silence.  You may applaud now, as loudly as possible.  If you are someplace where applause might not be appropriate, I will settle for loud grinning and sending this blogpost on to others who might like to have their spirits uplifted.  OK?

May your happiness increase!

OF COURSE WE CAN, or THE ANSWER IS “YES”: DAVE STONE, RUSS PHILLIPS, VINCE BARTELS, JOHNNY VARRO at the SACRAMENTO MUSIC FESTIVAL (May 25, 2014)

The song that follows was created in 1929 by Kay Swift and Paul James; I learned it first from the duet of Ella and Louis, then from the heartfelt early Crosby version and a later Sinatra one. But even though the lyrics speak of heartbreak, this quartet — captured live at the 2014 Sacramento Music Festival — is sweetly optimistic rather than self-pitying. Hear the subtle variations on this theme created by string bassist Dave Stone, trombonist Russ Phillips, with unerring support from drummer / leader Vince Bartels and the invaluable pianist Johnny Varro.

CAN’T WE BE FRIENDS?

Of course we can:

May your happiness increase!

THE GOOD NEWS FROM THE SACRAMENTO MUSIC FESTIVAL (May 2014)

It was oppressively hot last weekend at the Sacramento Music Festival, but the music itself made it all more than worthwhile.  Here’s one extended sample, nearly twelve minutes of beauty created by Vince Bartels and the All-Stars in honor of Eddie Condon, a medium-slow Bb blues that segues into OLE MISS.  The players are Vince, drums; Dave Stone, string bass; Johnny Varro, piano; Allan Vache, clarinet; Russ Phillips, trombone; Dan Barrett, trumpet:

And this wonderful sustained invention took place on May 23, 2014.

Vince and his colleagues here (the late Eddie Higgins, when he was originally part of this band — making their debut CD — called them the MIGRANT JAZZ WORKERS) are honoring, both in spirit and example, Eddie Condon.

What Eddie made happen on a regular basis is quite beautiful and he doesn’t get the credit he deserves: in my jazz pantheon, he is alongside the greatest figures.  He masterfully shaped any group of idiosyncratic eccentrics into a band, gave them an aesthetic (I would say “moral”) focus, and then let them find their own ways to the truth, individually and collectively.  There are and were and will always be marvelous improvisers, but there was only one Eddie, and it was very lovely to see his music being honored and illuminated in this way.  I just wish the Blue Network still existed, but I hope that (in my own way) that JAZZ LIVES spreads the word from Calcutta to Ketchikan. For all you G.I.’s and hot fans!

I will have more video dispatches from the SMF — featuring Vince, Ray Skjelbred and his Cubs, High Sierra, Bob Schulz, Eddie Erickson, and others — as the spring and summer unfold.

May your happiness increase!

MAY WE? THE SACRAMENTO MUSIC FESTIVAL IS COMING (May 23-26, 2014)

Although I’ve been coming to California on a regular basis only since summer 2010 (which hardly makes me a native plant) I’ve been attending the Memorial Day jazz weekend at Sacramento every year I could.

In fact, I seem to have brought my video camera and notebook with me in 2011 and 2012, too.  Evidence below.

But before any reader gets engrossed in Recent Glories, may I direct your attention — as the attorneys always say in courtroom dramas — to what is happening in May 2014?

Here is the Festival’s site.

Jazz purists, please don’t be alarmed if you don’t recognize all of the headliners: the SMF has taken a broader view of “Americana” and “roots music” than it did in earlier years, but there is a wide variety of pleasing sound for all.  The complete list of artists is available here.

I’ll simply note a few JAZZ LIVES’ favorites (in an ecumenical alphabetical order): the Au Brothers, Gordon Au, Bob Schulz Frisco Jazz Band, Clint Baker, Dave Bennett and the Memphis Boys, Eddie Erickson, the Freebadge Serenaders, Grand Dominion, High Sierra, Katie Cavera, Kim Cusack, Meschiya Lake and the Lil Big Horns, Marc Caparone, Midiri Brothers, Mike Daugherty, Pat Yankee, Ray Skjelbred and his Cubs, Red Skunk Gipzee Swing, Royal Society Jazz Orchestra, Stephanie Trick, Vaud and the Villains, Vince Bartels All-Stars . . . and more.

The thought of all that, even spread out over multiple venues from Friday through Monday, is both elating and exhausting.  While I lie down, perhaps you’d like to peruse Years Gone By . . .

Hal Smith’s International Sextet

 
 
 
 
 
Come celebrate at the Sacramento Music Festival with us this year.
May your happiness increase!

SACRAMENTO SWING: VINCE BARTELS, DAN BARRETT, ALLAN VACHE, RUSS PHILLIPS, NICOLAS MONTIER, JASON WANNER, JENNIFER JANE LEITHAM, JEANNIE LAMBERT (May 27, 2012)

This set — one of the last ones at the 2012 Sacramento Music Festival — was a lovely combination of modern ideas, rich swing and inventiveness, and a repertoire going back almost ninety years.  But there was no archaeology, no fancy business: playing the old tunes as they had been in their prime, or reinventing them according to some aesthetic principles.  No, this set was simply a gathering of people who had similar philosophies: swing is everything; sweet melodies uplift our hearts; go for yourself.

Leader / drummer Vince Bartels is a substantial man with a gentle touch on the drums, and he assembled a multifaceted band of like-minded musicians:  string bassist Jennifer Jane Leitham; pianist Jason Wanner; tenor saxophonist Nicolas Montier; trombonist Russ Phillips; clarinetist Allan Vache; cornetist Dan Barrett — with a special guest appearance by singer Jeannie Lambert.

SWING THAT MUSIC, both for Louis and as a statement of principles:

SUGAR:

I WOULD DO ANYTHING FOR YOU:

THE ONE I LOVE, that 1924 pop hit that jazz fans remember fondly because it was the first song — at the Chicago Musicians’ Union — that Earl Hines and Louis Armstrong played together:

BUT BEAUTIFUL, a feature for Ms. Lambert and Mr. Phillips — celebrating their twenty-eighth anniversary — is something special:

POLKA DOTS AND MOONBEAMS shows off Jason Wanner, living proof of how novices with the right stuff become young masters in jazz:

And a Condon-styled CHINA BOY, with Town Hall Concert breaks at the end:

May your happiness increase.

SWINGING OUT WITH PETRA’S RECESSION SEVEN: “LIVE IN CHICAGO”

I knew the fine singer Petra van Nuis and her husband, the splendid guitarist, Andy Brown, from their appearance at Jazz at Chautauqua a few years ago — and they’ve been favorites of mine: musicians who know what it is to let the music flow through them to us — whether on a sweet ballad or a hot uptempo number.  I’ve written here about their duet CD, FAR AWAY PLACES, but now there’s even more good news.  Petra’s been “the girl singer” with a swinging Chicago-based small band, whimsically yet candidly calling itself Petra’s Recession Seven, and they’ve been playing gigs regularly.  That in itself is excellent news for people who can get to Chicago.  For those of us who don’t get to make the trip, Petra’s Recession Seven has issued its new CD, LIVE IN CHICAGO.

The musicians who surround Petra are well-known players: Art Davis, trumpet; Kim Cusack, clarinet; Russ Phillips, trombone; Andy Brown, guitar; Joe Policastro, bass; Bob Rummage, drums.

“But how do they sound?” I would be asking at this point.

Here’s the opening track of the new CD — RUNNIN’ WILD — accompanied by photographs of the band by veteran jazz photographer Bill Klewitz.

Convinced?  To purchase the new disc, or Petra’s other recordings, click here.

All art thrives on the balance between contrast and restatement.  Petra’s Recession Seven is always moving in t the same direction, no matter what the tempo, with lovely melodic embellishments and admirable team playing over a rocking rhythm section.  Their ballads have their own rhythmic energy, and the fast tunes romp.  And even though the band is characterized as “trad/early swing,” there’s not a striped vest within ten miles of their bandstand.  Rather, their jazz is a kind of hot Mainstream that looks back to the great Thirties recordings of Billie and Mildred (and the later incarnations by Barbara Lea) but their musical cosmos is large enough to encompass the wider harmonies that made their way into the jazz vocabulary in the Forties.  In short, this is timeless music, where the songs themselves are honored and the improvisations are concise and memorable.

Having Petra as part of the band only enhances the collective pleasure.  She’s not a coloratura or Broadway belter who has come to jazz as a sideline; she feels the music in her bones and her delight in the pulse and the repertoire is obvious.  Her voice is lovely on its own, but I take special delight in her handling of lyrics.  Without dramatizing, she makes it clear that the words in the lyrics have something to tell us, and her phrasing subtly reveals their meaning.  Some singers, performing I’LL NEVER BE THE SAME, follow the notes, so that “I’ll never be the same / There is such an ache in my heart,” bounces along as if someone were ordering Thai takeout over the phone.  Petra has spent time, it’s clear, choosing songs that mean something to her and considering what the words and the notes have to tell us in 2012.  She and the band make familiar songs seem fresh; we hear their depth and spontaneity.

And the recording itself is beautifully done — with fine notes by jazz scholar and enthusiast Perry Huntoon.

About the band title (and here I quote): “Many have asked Petra, ‘What will you do when the recession is over?  The band’s name is cute, but it is quite topical and we surely hope the band continues long after the recession ends.’  This is when Petra smiles and reminds them that whatever happens to the economy in general, the jazz recession continues! And they play on….”

I don’t know.  I think of “recession” in the older sense of returning — the way the grade school orchestra plays a Recessional so that all the sixth-graders can file out of the gymnasium at the end of the ceremony.  Petra’s Recession Seven is, for me, a glorious return to the great principles of swinging jazz: “sweet, soft, plenty rhythm,” and “play yourself, “tell your story.”

Wonderful music.

May your happiness increase.

ATLANTA 2012: RUSS PHILLIPS, JOHN ALLRED, MARK SHANE, FRANK TATE, CHUCK REDD (April 22, 2012)

Not FLYIN’ HOME but its brass cousin — SLIDIN’ HOME as two of the best jazz trombonists show off their wonderful musical teamwork at the 2012 Atlanta Jazz Party.  Closer to my lens was John Allred, next to him (and at the microphone) was Russ Phillips; they were aided and abetted by Mark Shane, piano; Frank Tate, string bass; Chuck Redd, drums — a stellar rhythm trio.

We were more than satisfied!

The Rodgers and Hart classic THIS CAN’T BE LOVE:

Even more venerable, Isham Jones’ ON THE ALAMO:

An invitation to nocturnal spooning and the like, GET OUT AND GET UNDER THE MOON:

And, appropriately, Gordon Jenkins’ GOOD-BYE:

All this group needs is a nifty title or acronym.  JARP doesn’t convey their excellence sufficiently, nor does FSFT (Famous Sons of Famous Trombonists) but I am sure someone will suggest something better.

May your happiness increase.

ATLANTA 2012: ED POLCER, DUKE HEITGER, RUSS PHILLIPS, ALLAN VACHE, MATT MUNISTERI, JOHN COCUZZI, FRANK TATE, CHUCK REDD (April 21, 2012)

A set of hot music by Ed Polcer, cornet; Duke Heitger, trumpet; Russ Phillips, trombone; Allan Vache, clarinet; Matt Munisteri, guitar; John Cocuzzi, piano, Frank Tate, string bass; Chuck Redd, drums. Recorded April 21, 2012 at the Atlanta Jazz Party.

Ageless music — even if the repertoire comes from 1917-1935, the energy, wit, and passion are unabated.

ROYAL GARDEN BLUES (for Louis and Papa Joe, Bix and his Gang, Condon and his boys, whether at the Park Lane, the Newport Jazz Festival, 47 West Third Street, or the New School):

LOUISIANA FAIRY TALE (in honor of Fats Waller, Danny Coots’ “Uncle Fred,” and the crew of THIS OLD HOUSE):

FIDGETY FEET (recalling the Original Dixieland Jazz Band and the Big 72 and all the bands worldwide in between):

May your happiness increase.