Often, the best music doesn’t get the most intense publicity. This is especially true for Chris Tyle’s Silver Leaf Jazz Band — a flexible down-home band that could play hot and sweet, and specialized in music that was authentically from the heart — not from someone else’s recordings. If you don’t know Chris, you’ve missed out on a great deal of memorable jazz: he is one of the finest hot cornetists on the planet, a gutty singer, a splendid clarinetist, and a drummer other drummers speak of admiringly. He’s also a fine scholar and researcher, so his music projects are based on a deep love of the music rather than simply getting a group together in the studio and saying, “What’s next?”
The compact discs his Silver Leaf Jazz Band recorded are among the most refreshing I know . . . but not enough attention has been paid to them. I recall, some years ago, being in the car with a musician-friend, who said, “Listen to this and tell me what you think . . . don’t try to identify the musicians, just enjoy the sounds.” By the time the band was sixteen bars in, I was hooked.
I think JAZZ LIVES readers should be, too.
One of the ironies of the “jazz audience” is that often it gravitates to the Officially Old — those Sam Morgan or Ellington-Blanton discs, or the Brand New — Exx Why and her Girls, recorded in 2012 . . . and what’s in the middle gets forgotten, even by listeners with a wide reach. This would be a wrong turn . . . !
The first CD I would draw your attention to is by the smallest group: a quartet of Chris, clarinetist Orange Kellin, pianist Steve Pistorius, and drummer John Gill — everyone also takes a turn at the vocal microphone except Orange. The disc is called NEW ORLEANS WIGGLE (GHB BCD-347) and it features good songs that haven’t been exhausted through overexposure, including a substantial portion of music associated with Armand Piron, Lovie Austin, Jelly Roll Morton, King Oliver, Dick Oxtot, and others: NEW ORLEANS WIGGLE / ST. LOUIS BLUES / STOCKYARDS STRUT / RED MAN BLUES / TAKE ME TO THE LAND OF JAZZ / PONCHARTRAIN / HERE COMES THE HOT TAMALE MAN / AIN’T NOBODY GOT THE BLUES LIKE ME / YEARNING (JUST FOR YOU) / MESSIN’ AROUND / NEW ORLEANS BLUES / DOWN WHERE THE SUN GOES DOWN / BOUNCING AROUND / MAMMA’S GONE, GOODBYE / MANDY LEE BLUES / STEPPING ON THE BLUES.
A quintet is featured on STREETS AND SCENES OF NEW ORLEANS (Good Time Jazz GTJCD 15001-2): Chris, Jacques Gauthe, clarinet; Dave Sager, trombone; Tom Roberts, piano; John Gill. They play CONGO SQUARE / SILVER LEAF STRUT / FAREWELL TO STORYVILLE / WEST END BLUES / WAY DOWN YONDER IN NEW ORLEANS / WHY DON’T YOU GO TO NEW ORLEANS? / PERDIDO STREET BLUES / GALLATIN STREET GRIND / BLUES FOR RAMPART STREET / NEW ORLEANS HOP SCOP BLUES / BORDER OF THE QUARTER / DECATUR STREET BLUES / WE SHALL WALK THROUGH THE STREETS OF THE CITY / TIN ROOF BLUES / CANAL STREET BLUES / BASIN STREET BLUES / GRAVIER STREET BLUES / BACK O’TOWN BLUES / DO YOU KNOW WHAT IT MEANS TO MISS NEW ORLEANS? / SOUTH RAMPART STREET PARADE. Some familiar tunes here, but none of them rendered in a formulaic way — along with less-played compositions associated with Johnny Wiggs, Johnny Dodds, Ida Cox, and others.
On GREAT COMPOSERS OF NEW ORLEANS JAZZ (Good Time Jazz GTJCD 15005-1), Chris and a larger ensemble offer the most entertaining history lesson I can imagine. The band is Chris, Mike Owen, trombone; Orange Kellin, Steve Pistorious, piano; Craig Ventresco, guitar / banjo; Marty Eggers, string bass; Hal Smith, drums / washboard — with guest appearances from Duke Heitger, trumpet, and Tom Fischer, clarinet / alto sax. The tunes are a wonderful education in hot jazz: PAPA’S GOT THE JIM-JAMS / WEARY CITY / SHIM-ME-SHA-WABBLE / YOU CAN HAVE IT / GHOST OF THE BLUES / ISN’T THERE A LITTLE LOVE? / EVERYBODY LOVES SOMEBODY BLUES / KLONDYKE BLUES / IT ALL BELONGS TO YOU / RAMBLING BLUES / NUMBER TWO BLUES / I MUST HAVE IT / PECULIAR / COOKIE / PAPA, WHAT YOU ARE TRYING TO DO TO ME I’VE BEEN DOING IT FOR YEARS — music composed by Alcide “Yellow” Nunez, Wingy Manone, Sidney Bechet, Larry Shields, Nick LaRocca, King Oliver, Sharkey Bonano, and a young fellow named Armstrong.
By the time I came to Chris’ Jelly Roll Morton tribute, I had heard a great many of them . . . some stiffly “correct,” others weirdly “innovative.” But JELLY’S BEST JAM (Good Time Jazz 15002-1) lives up to its name, with Chris, Orange, John Gill (on trombone this time); Tom Roberts, Vince Giordano, string bass, and Hal Smith. Interspersed among the band performances are four solos Jelly Roll recorded in 1938: CREEPY FEELING / FINGER BUSTER / WININ’ BOY BLUES / HONKY TONK MUSIC. The band sides are EACH DAY / THE PEARLS / IF SOMEONE WOULD ONLY LOVE ME / MAMA’S GOT A BABY / JELLY ROLL BLUES / SHREVEPORT STOMP / BLUE BLOOD BLUES / KING PORTER STOMP / MISTER JOE / BIG FAT HAM / JUNGLE BLUES / GOOD OLD NEW YORK — all performed with a flair and imagination that Jelly Roll himself would have enjoyed. For myself, I can testify that this CD is dangerously swinging: I got caught up in KING PORTER STOMP while driving to see the Beloved and missed my exit completely . . . still, it was worth it.
Recently, I asked Chris to tell us something about the birth of this band:
I started working at the Can-Can Cafe, in the Royal Sonesta Hotel [in New Orleans], in early 1992. I was playing trumpet with clarinetist Barry Wratten’s band. Barry’s band was there for a few months, was laid-off, then Clive Wilson came in. After a few months they were laid off.
After Barry’s band got their walking papers, I went to the management and mentioned I had led bands in the past and would be interested in the job if they ever wanted to make a change. In October, 1992, I got the call to start working there, six nights a week.
I wanted the band to be a success, not only with the public but also with the management. Luckily, managment were pretty much “hands-off,” leaving me to run things as I thought appropriate. My vision was for the band to be a “classic” jazz group, not a Bourbon Street dixieland band. Bearing the latter in mind, however, when we had tour groups I tailored our repertoire to the chestnuts: Bill Bailey, Muskrat Ramble, Saints, etc. But we played these things in our style, and the people I hired were on the same page as myself, musically. The tourist set(s) aside, there was an incredible amount of quality music played there. Once the tour group sets were over, we played music written or recorded by King Oliver, Louis, Jelly Roll Morton, the ODJB. I love obscure pop songs of the 1920s and 1930s, so we’d do those, too.
George Hocutt, a producer who had been involved with the record business for decades, liked the band and encouraged Fantasy Records in Berkeley to ressurect the Good Time Jazz label for new recordings. Fantasy had been issuing material from the Good Time Jazz catalog for awhile. So George talked them into recording the Silver Leaf Jazz Band. We ended up doing three recordings, and George also recorded cornetist Scott Black, clarinetist Tim Laughlin, and clarinetist/soprano saxophonist Jacques Gauthe’.
The band at the Can-Can was always a quartet – which was all the hotel could budget. But I’d add players for the recordings. The first, “Street and Scenes of New Orleans”, was the regular band plus trombonist David Sager. With the Jelly Roll Morton tribute we did a six-piece band, and a seven piece band for the “Great Composers of New Orleans Jazz” CD.
The “Composers” cd is my favorite – mainly for the selection of tunes but also for the playing of the other musicians. That’s not to say the others aren’t good – they are, and they all got excellent reviews when they were released.
We also did some nice recordings for Stomp-Off and for George Buck’s label, GHB. The one we did for George got an incredible rating from the Penguin Guide to Jazz. There’s only a few recordings in the book that get a special “rosette.” So our recording, with a quartet, was given the same rating as “Kind of Blue” by Miles Davis and “A Love Supreme” by John Coltrane. A few years ago Concord Records bought Fantasy, and even though the Silver Leaf Jazz Band is listed on their website, the CDs are out-of-print.
Fortunately, these four superb discs are still available through Chris — and buying discs direct from the artist is the method I recommend!
They can go to my site – www.tyleman.com, and click on the CD photos. It will take them to Paypal. If they want to pay some other way, like check or money order, they can just send me an email: email@example.com. I’m asking $14.95 each, but it they order three or more I’ll send the CDs post paid. They would need to contact me for the “special offer.”
I urge you to get these good sounds!
May your happiness increase.