Tag Archives: Sam Rocha

“JOHN PAUL GEORGE AND DJANGO”: THE HOT CLUB OF SAN FRANCISCO

2016hcsflivingroom

I think I am older than Paul Mehling, but we both came up in a time when the Beatles were not only the sensational mop-tops who had made all the girls scream at concert performances but when their songs were the ubiquitous popular soundtrack.  I can remember buying each new album as it came out and listening avidly.  Of course, both Paul and I felt drawn to a different kind of music, as he writes in the brief notes to this new CD:

The idea that Django Reinhardt would have played the Beatles’ tunes has haunted me ever since I took up the guitar.  Like so many of my generation who were galvanized by their appearance on the Ed Sullivan show in 1964, I became part of the ‘culture of guitar’ and never looked back.  But unlike my guitar brethren who stayed on for sex, drugs, and/or rock ‘n’ roll, I was devastated by the breakup of the Beatles and I quit listening to rock entirely, foolishly believing that the best was now over.  Luckily, I was already deeply inspired by traditional jazz — Goodman, Bechet, Dorsey, Shaw, & others of the swing era, especially Django.  This record was inevitable in that regard.

johnpaulgeorgedjangocdcover

For those impatient with words, here you can hear sound samples, learn more about the Hot Club of San Francisco, and purchase the music.

The HCSF is a venerable band — much of its personnel staying the same for a long time — and it has the ease and intensity of a working band.  The players are Paul Mehling, Evan Price, SAm Rocha, Iabelle Fontaine, Jordan Samuels, with guests Jeff Hamilton, Nate Ketner, Jeff Magidson, Michel Saga.

The repertoire neatly balances the familiar (going all the way back to 1964) and the less well-known: ALL MY LOVIN’ / BECAUSE / MICHELLE / I WILL / HERE THERE AND EVERYWHERE / YOU WON’T SEE ME / THE FOOL ON THE HILL / IF I NEEDE SOMEONE / JULIA / YOU CAN’T DO THAT / FOR NO ONE / DON’T BOTHER ME / HEY JUDE – DUKE & DUKIE / THINGS WE SAID TODAY / YELLOW SUBMARINE.  Because Mehling is a gleeful subversive, there is a French group vocal, visits from musical saw, banjo, melodica, and barrel organ. It isn’t the Beatles on hallucinogens visiting an abandoned gypsy caravan, but it has immense wit, verve, and variety.  As impatient as I can be, I listened to this CD without a break many times.

In the Sixties and beyond, there were many recordings of Beatles “covers”: the Hollyridge Strings Play Lennon and McCartney; Nelson Eddy Sings the Beatles; Wilbur Sweatman Plays the Hits of Today (seriously, both Basie and Ellington attempted this, and Louis sang — most convincingly — GIVE PEACE A CHANCE).  In general, these recordings were often an attempt to bridge the generations and to give record buyers senior and junior something to purchase. But the end result was often watery.

Not so the HCSF CD.  Each song is quietly linked to the ones before and after — so the end result is a charming Beatles suite, a too-brief immersion.  But it’s also a brightly colored journey, with each track exhibiting its own glowing personality: brilliant and sometimes surprising arranging makes this delightfully possible.  And if you are worried about such things, the session swings mightily and is wonderful dance music. To describe this CD track-by-track would be to spoil the fun, but I can see why devoted fans of the HCSF had been after Paul to make a CD like this.

May your happiness increase!

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THE JIMMY GRANT ENSEMBLE: “LYNN’S BLUES”

JIMMY GRANT photo

I met guitarist Jimmy Grant on one of my California sojourns, and was impressed immediately by the way he comfortably moved in and out of the predictable.  He is a superb Django-style player, someone who understands the master’s inherent lyricism, creating resonant melodies full of memorable phrases that don’t overwhelm the listener with notes.  (Many contemporary Django-emulators have innocently thought that the way to both be and outdo their inspiration was to play everything twice as quickly, to aim for powerful density, never realizing that Django’s masters — among them Louis — let their phrases breathe.  Jimmy knows this well.)  But Jimmy has also listened deeply to other kinds of improvised syncopated dance music that didn’t have to come out of a gypsy caravan.

JIMMY GRANT ENSEMBLE YT

Thus his new CD, LYNN’S BLUES, doesn’t sound like the QHCF in improved sound, able to play longer than an Ultraphone 78 side. Yes, there’s ROSE ROOM, TEARS, and J’ATTENDRAI (none of which I object to) but also several of Jimmy’s surprising, twisty originals, greatly pleasing on their own.  The members of the Ensemble are Javi Jiménez on guitar, Hanna Mignano on violin, and Jamie Mather on bass, with guest appearances by Bay Area luminaries Evan Price, violin, and Sam Rocha, string bass.

JIMMY GRANT ENSEMBLE CD pic

The music of the Ensemble is rewarding precisely because it is slippery, but in a very friendly way.  It is never museum-piece Hot Club recreation, but it is also not abruptly and self-consciously “postmodern.”  The venerable songs are outfitted with small pleasing touches — introductions and codas, playful shifts of instrumentation, and their firm tangible melodic strengths sing out proudly. Jimmy’s originals are indeed original — rather than being thin melodic constructs — but they embrace at the same time they enliven.

Here’s an audio-visual sample of one of Jimmy’s originals, BUNICAL, which is also the opening song on the CD:

And a version of Jimmy’s DRUNK, performed out-of-doors:

The Ensemble’s Facebook page is here, and Jimmy’s website is here.

Jimmy and friends create light-hearted music that is seriously worth investigating.

May your happiness increase!

THEY’RE WONDERFUL: THE IVORY CLUB BOYS at ARMANDO’S (May 31, 2014)

This is more joyous evidence from a great evening of music created by the Ivory Club Boys — this time at Armando’s in Martinez, California, on May 31, 2014.

The ICB are devoted to the hot and sweet swing music often associated with Stuff Smith and his Onyx Club Boys — a Fifty-Second Street small jazz group of the middle Thirties, featuring Jonah Jones and Cozy Cole among others.  Their twenty-first century incarnation includes Paul Mehling, guitar / vocal; Evan Price, electric violin; Isabelle Fontaine, guitar / vocal; Sam Rocha, string bass / vocal.  This night, sitting in for Clint Baker, we had Marc Caparone, cornet, who will be familiar to readers of JAZZ LIVES.  I’ve posted other music from this evening in half a dozen posts — this is a special favorite of mine.

But here are two more: a sweet one (written by Stuff) and a hot one (written by several people including Puccini).

IT’S WONDERFUL:

AVALON:

The Ivory Club Boys gig here and there, hither and yon — most recently in Santa Cruz, which I couldn’t get to.  I dream of regular gigs, a CD, a DVD, and more.

“Ask for them by name!  Accept no imitations!”

May your happiness increase! 

SAY FORWARD, THEY’LL SWING: MORE FROM THE IVORY CLUB BOYS AT ARMANDO’S (MAY 31, 2014): PAUL MEHLING, EVAN PRICE, MARC CAPARONE, SAM ROCHA, ISABELLE FONTAINE at ARMANDO’S

A New York jazz friend just wrote me, “Michael, are there any more videos from that Ivory Club Boys gig you posted from May 2014?  That is such a great band!”

Happy to oblige, dear NYJF, with more from that spectacular evening at Armando’s in Martinez — featuring Paul Mehling, guitar, vocal; Evan Price, electric (and electrifying) violin; Marc Caparone (sitting in for Clint Baker), cornet; Sam Rocha, string bass, vocal; Isabelle Fontaine, guitar, vocal.  They paid tribute, in their own way, to the mighty swing and joyously eccentric humor of Stuff Smith and his Onyx Club Boys.

One kind of crazy?  Yes, a second take of CRAZY RHYTHM:

Something searching and melancholy, I COVER THE WATERFRONT:

And another type of crazy, as in YOU’RE DRIVING ME CRAZY / MOTEN SWING:

And here, for those of you unaware of the ICB, here are the other selections from that night that I’ve posted on JAZZ LIVES:

endless-summer-in-swing

double-your-fun

rhythm-crazy

from-spiritual-to-swing

bugle-call-rag

Forget the morning news for a moment.  It’s a benevolent world that has this music in it.

May your happiness increase!

“NOW IT’S A CRAZE, THE NEW SENSATION.”

MUGGIN’, in the Stuff Smith opus, I’SE A MUGGIN’, had nothing to do with violent surprise attack, and everything to do with gaining a heightened state of enlightenment and bliss through what were then not controlled substances. You’ll figure it out.  And while you are musing, listen to and watch the Ivory Club Boys at Armando’s in Martinez, California, on May 31, 2014, as they have a good time. Muggin’ lightly, obviously.

The Ivory Club Boys evoke the hot music of Fifty-Second Street in New York City, and specifically the fierce jazz of violinist Stuff Smith and his Onyx Club Boys.  For this occasion, they were Paul Mehling, guitar and vocal; Evan Price, violin; Sam Rocha, string bass and vocal; Isabelle Fontaine Magidson, rhythm guitar and vocal; Marc Caprarone, cornet (sitting in for Clint Baker that night).

Mug on!

More to come.

May your happiness increase!

KATIE AND FRIENDS PLAY FATS AND FRIENDS! (KATIE CAVERA, CHRIS CALABRESE, MARC CAPARONE, CLINT BAKER, SAM ROCHA): Hot Jazz Jubilee, August 30, 2014)

FATS 1939 Howard Theatre Shep Allen Scurlock Studio

Fats Waller created joy.

In the 1939 photograph, he is with his manager Shep Allen at the Howard Theatre: credit to Scurlock Studios and thanks to Chuck Slate.

Although Fats has been elsewhere for almost sixty-five years, he continues to inspire. One example is this sweetly energetic session recorded by the ubiquitous, diligent Rae Ann Berry (all hail!  all hail!) at the second annual Hot Jazz Jubilee in Rancho Cordova, California.

This energized band — titled JUST KATIE AND FRIENDS — was, for this wonderful gathering, our Miss Cavera, guitar, vocal; Marc Caparone, cornet, vocal; Clint Baker, trombone, clarinet, vocal; Chris Calabrese, piano; Sam Rocha, string bass, vocal.

Their repertoire for this set was primarily Fats — songs composed / featured by him — as well as by fellow pianists Claude Hopkins and Earl Hines. A ringer, WAITING AT THE END OF THE ROAD, is by Irving Berlin — but both Fats and the Paul Whiteman band recorded it.

Notice that JK&F doesn’t aim to reproduce the Waller-Autrey-Sedric-Casey ambiance; there is a welcome absence of “Wallerisms,” either in rapid tempos or shouts by the ensemble. Chris Calabrese, bless him, can hold his own in any stride session, so the relaxed approach is everyone’s choice.

What you will experience is a congenial group of swinging pals, and you might hear echoes of Henry “Red” Allen, Mouse Randolph, J.C. Higginbotham, Al Morgan, Carmen Mastren, James P. Johnson, Albert Nicholas, Count Basie, the Rhythmakers — an aesthetic roundtrip between 1936 and 2014 — but the individual resonances and loving nods coalesce into a joyous whole.

THAT RHYTHM MAN:

HOW CAN YOU FACE ME? (with Katie’s rather plaintive inquiry):

FAIR AND SQUARE (in memory of Lueder Ohlwein and the Sunset Music Company as well as Fats, with an egalitarian vocal by Marc):

UNTIL THE REAL THING COMES ALONG:

LONESOME ME (a feature for the extremely talented Mr. Calabrese):

WAITING AT THE END OF THE ROAD (with hopeful vocalizing by Clint):

ROSETTA (sung by our Sam, with echoes of THE SOUND OF JAZZ):

BABY BROWN (by Alex Hill, who is reputedly the true composer of the next tune as well):

I WOULD DO ANYTHING FOR YOU, an earnest assertion from Clint:

Fats gave us everything he had, and we are still smiling at what (Just) Katie and Friends have made from his inspirations.

We don’t have to wait for The Real Thing To Come Along. Surely it’s here.

Ms. Berry is essential to our edification, for here  is her regularly-updated list of San Francisco / Bay Area hot jazz attractions; here  is her YouTube channel, where she has nearly a thousand subscribers (she’s been posting videos since March 2008).

And she’s had a direct influence on my life, because I saw all there was to see of hot California jazz through her efforts, and you know the rest.  She’s also on Facebook, displaying the same energies as her improvising heroes.

May your happiness increase!

ENDLESS SUMMER IN SWING: THE IVORY CLUB BOYS at ARMANDO’S (May 31, 2014): PAUL MEHLING, EVAN PRICE, MARC CAPARONE, ISABELLE FONTAINE, SAM ROCHA

Feeling low because summer’s lease hath all too short a date? When you go into Target and see the pencils and notebooks and back-to-school sales, do you feel blue?

Music can’t make the calendar stay in some desired place forever, but it can lift the spirits.  To that end, I offer a swinging composition by violinist / singer / bandleader Stuff Smith — rendered beautifully by the IVORY CLUB BOYS, Paul Mehling’s evocation of Stuff Smith’s delicious swing on Fifty-Second Street circa 1936-45. Paul, guitar; Evan Price, violin; Marc Caparone, cornet (subbing for Clint Baker); Sam Rocha, string bass; Isabelle Fontaine, guitar. This was created on May 31, 2014, at Armando’s in Martinez, California, and it made me happy to be there and equally happy to share it with you.

So (as the song title says), STOP.

LOOK:

May your happiness increase!