Tag Archives: Sam Taylor

FOR PRES (Part Three): MICHAEL KANAN, LARRY McKENNA, MURRAY WALL, DORON TIROSH (Sept. 1, 2018, University of Scranton, PA)

Michael Kanan, Larry McKenna, Murray Wall, Doron Tirosh at the University of Scranton, Sept. 1, 2018. Photograph by John Herr.

 

Here are the closing three selections from a wondrous evening of music devoted to the sacred memory of Lester Young.  By “sacred memory” I mean the living presence of that great man, so ebullient, so tender.  And in proper Lester-fashion, everyone in the quartet sang his own song.

Here you will find Parts One and Two of this concert, which delighted me then and uplift me now.

The concert was, to me and others in the enthusiastic audience, a series of highlights, one quietly dazzling gem after another.  I have a special love for the blues in G, POUND CAKE, that appears in Part Two.  And the version of ALL OF ME that follows is tremendously touching.  Billie and Lester recorded it as a sweet ballad — in opposition to the bouncy versions that got faster and faster after its initial appearance a decade earlier.  This performance is like a caress:

LOVE ME OR LEAVE ME, happily inspired by the 1956 quartet session of Lester, Teddy Wilson, Gene Ramey, and Jo Jones (originally issued as PRES AND TEDDY on Verve):

Finally, Lester’s TICKLE-TOE, which is sheer fun, an audible evocation of joy:

You don’t need me to tell you that this concert was a transcendent experience.  Blessings on these four players and on the people who made it possible.

And a few words about Larry McKenna, whose circle of admirers is expanding rapidly.  Larry and fellow Philadelphia tenorist Bootsie Barnes have made a CD, called THE MORE I SEE YOU.  One set of tantalizing little sound samples can be found here, and here’s a brief rewarding video:

And rather my praising this CD, I offer the notes written by Sam Taylor — a deep admirer of Larry’s and also a wonderful tenor player:

What defines the sound of a city? Ask three Philadelphians and get four opinions, as the joke goes. The people, their collective spirit both past and present, is a good place to start. Philadelphia, a city overflowing with history, is home to a proud, passionate, willful, and fiercely loyal people. The city’s jazz legacy is no different and has always been a leading voice. Shirley Scott, McCoy Tyner, Benny Golson, Trudy Pitts, Lee Morgan, the Heath Brothers, Stan Getz, Philly Joe Jones and countless other Philadelphia jazz masters are bound together by the same thread. These giants played in their own way, without concern for style or labels. They had an attitude; an intention to their playing that gave the music a feeling, a rhythm, a deep pocket. In Philadelphia today, there is no question who preserves that tradition, embodies that spirit and who defines the “Philadelphia sound”: Bootsie Barnes and Larry McKenna.

Now elder statesmen of the Philadelphia jazz community, Bootsie Barnes and Larry McKenna were born just a few months apart in 1937. The times in which they lived often dictated their career paths, but no matter where their music took them Philadelphia was always home.

Bootsie Barnes credits his musical family as the spark that began his life in music. His father was an accomplished trumpet player and his cousin, Jimmy Hamilton, was a member of Duke Ellington’s band for nearly three decades. “Palling around with my stablemates, Tootie Heath, Lee Morgan, Lex Humphries” as he tells it, Barnes began on piano and drums. At age nineteen he was given a saxophone by his grandmother and “knew he had found his niche.” Over the course of his decades long career, Barnes has performed and toured with Philly Joe Jones, Jimmy Smith, Trudy Pitts and countless others, with five recordings under his own name and dozens as a sideman.

Mostly self-taught, Larry McKenna was deeply inspired by his older brother’s LP collection. It was a side of Jazz at The Philharmonic 1947 featuring Illinois Jacquet and Flip Phillips that opened his ears to jazz. “When I heard that I immediately said: ‘That’s what I want to play, the saxophone,’” McKenna recalls. Completing high school, McKenna worked around Philadelphia and along the East Coast until the age of twenty-one, when his first big break came with Woody Herman’s Big Band. McKenna has played and recorded with Clark Terry, Frank Sinatra, Rosemary Clooney, Tony Bennett and countless others. He has four recordings under his own name, with extensive credits as a sideman.

Their resumes are only a shadow of who these men are. To really know the true Larry McKenna and Bootsie Barnes, you have to meet them. They are as men just as their music sounds: giving, open, genuine and deeply funny. Working nearly every night, Barnes and McKenna are consistent, positive forces on the scene. Deeply admired by younger generations of musicians, they show us that a life in music should be led with grace, joy and honesty.

The first time I heard Barnes and McKenna together was at Ortlieb’s Jazz Haus in the mid 1990s. As an eager but shy young musician of about fourteen, I somehow found my way to the storied club on Third and Poplar Streets. A sign out front proudly stated “Jazz Seven Days” – the only place in the city boasting such a schedule. The bouncer working that night took one look at me and with what I can only imagine was a mix of pity and amusement, hurriedly waved me in. Eyes down and hugging the wall, I made my way along the long bar, past the mounted bison head’s blank stare, towards the music. My go-to spot was an alcove next to the bathroom: a place just far enough from the bartender’s gaze so as not to be noticed, (did I mention I was fourteen?) but close enough to the stage to watch and listen. The house band was the late Sid Simmons on piano, bassist Mike Boone, and drummer Byron Landham. (Anyone who was there will tell you: this was an unstoppable trio.) Barnes and McKenna were setting the pace, dealing on a level only the true masters can. The whole room magically snapped into focus: the band shifted to high gear, the swing intensified and the crowd had no choice but to be swept up in the music. They had a story too incredible to ignore. I sat there in disbelief at the power and beauty of what they were doing. It is a feeling that has never left me.

How they played that night at Ortlieb’s those many years ago is exactly the way they play today. In fact, they are probably playing better than ever. The track Three Miles Out is a shining example. Barnes solos first, hitting you with that buttery, round tenor tone with a little edge as he gets going. His ideas are steeped in the hard-bop tradition delivered with a clear voice all his own. There is no ambiguity, no hesitation, just pure, joyful, hard-swinging tenor playing. McKenna follows, with his trademark tenor tone, both beautiful and singing, strong and powerful. He swings with natural ease, a wide beat and always makes the music dance. He has what I can only describe as a deep melodic awareness thanks largely to his mastery of the American Songbook. McKenna is unhurried and speaks fluid bebop language. This is classic Barnes and McKenna.

The most challenging thing to describe is the way someone’s music touches your heart. I hope my fellow native Philadelphians will allow me to speak for them when I say we are all forever in the debt of Bootsie and Larry. May we live and create in a way that continues to honor them and their music.

I can’t wait to hear what they play next.

Sam Taylor
New York City, July 2018

May your happiness increase!

Advertisements

FOR REAL: “ALONG THE WAY”: SAM TAYLOR QUARTET with guest LARRY McKENNA (JEB PATTON, NEAL MINER, PETE VAN NOSTRAND)

I alphabetize my CDs by artist (with shelves for the unclassifiable) so that young tenor saxophonist Sam Taylor’s two discs — one from 2015, MY FUTURE JUST PASSED, and the new one, ALONG THE WAY (both for the Cellar Live label) sit comfortably between Eva Taylor and Jack Teagarden.  And everyone’s happy, because those three musicians place great emphasis on clear, personal delivery of melodies, staying true to the composers’ intention, no matter how intriguing the harmony might become.

If you know the work of Sam, Larry, Jeb, Neal, and Pete, I need say no more: swinging lyricism, never formulaic.  But perhaps young Mr. Taylor is new to you. Prepare to be delighted.  Here’s a taste of ALONG THE WAY:

Sam Taylor is a young man according to the calendar, but already a mature artist with a deep feeling for his art.

A friend encouraged me to listen to his first CD, MY FUTURE JUST PASSED — even given the dark title (it’s a wonderful song from 1930) and I was fascinated — as I wrote here.  Sam is that rare player willing to take his time to sing his own song.  And songs meant more to him than dots on the page or the secret knowledge of harmonies, bent and stretched: they are narratives of feeling, even with their words unstated.  In 2015, I was fortunate enough to see and hear Sam live a few times — one of which I documented here.

I knew about the most respected Larry McKenna, now 80, the splendid player based in Philadelphia, so when Sam told me that his next project would be with Larry, I was excited.  And as you have heard from the clip above, it is not following any two-tenor formula.

No “En garde!” and certainly not “Gentlemen, start your engines!”  No cutting, no bloodletting — rather a deep dear brotherly conversation between two players who know the true center of their music.  It isn’t even the Young Man and the Venerable Sage: rather, it sounds as if Sam and Larry have transcended the clock and the decades to be fraternal, sweetly discoursing on common themes.

And those themes are memorable ones.  The asterisk indicates those selections on which Sam and Larry play: MAKE SOMEONE HAPPY* / FATS FLATS* / ON THE TRAIL / WHERE ARE YOU? / PEOPLE WILL SAY WE’RE IN LOVE / THE CLOSE  THINGS (a McKenna original)* / THERE’S NO YOU* / WILD IS LOVE* / I WANT MORE.  Although there are several uptempo performances, the overall mood is mellow — which is not to say dozy or “Easy Listening,” but a lovely pensive swing feel.

Listen to some excerpts here — about ninety seconds taken from each track, surely enough to whet a listener’s appetite.  Incidentally, if you wonder “Who’s playing now?” I confess with amusement that at first I didn’t know . . . even though I have heard both players, Sam live and Larry on record and video.  But as I thought of it, it seemed more evidence of musical brotherhood than anything else: two lyrical players in the same groove.  Sam plays the melody on MAKE SOMEONE HAPPY with Larry weaving beautiful lines behind him, and he solos first; on FATS FLATS Sam goes first; on THERE’S NO YOU,  Larry plays the bridge and solos first; Larry solos second on I WANT MORE.

And listeners who are truly listening will have delighted in this rhythm section AND in the beautiful recorded sound.  Sam’s notes are a wonderful heartfelt tribute to Larry and to Sam’s first teacher — who steered him towards Bird and McKenna, wise choices.

Some people with long memories and substantial record collections may be saying to themselves, “I hear Zoot and Al!  I hear Lucky Thompson!  I hear Sonny!”

Me, I hear Taylor and McKenna, and am thankful for them and for this CD.

Here is the best place to purchase a disc or download (at quite surprisingly low prices) and to support the Cellar Live label.  Buy some copies (note the plural!) so that we can have a Volume Two.

May your happiness increase!

WITH TENDERNESS: THEN, NOW, SOON (JOEL FORRESTER, VITO DIETERLE, MATT GARRITY, DAVE HOFSTRA)

JOEL FORRESTER, photograph by Metin Oner

Some more music from my hero Joel Forrester, captured live at Cleopatra’s Needle on August 3, 2017, which is the THEN of the title.  Joel brought with him Vito Dieterle, tenor saxophone; Dave Hofstra, string bass; Matt Garrity, drums (and other noble participants, their identities to be revealed in future JAZZ LIVES’ posts).

Two selections struck me most strongly as wordless evocations of tenderness, overlaid with grief.  The first, YOUR LITTLE DOG, Joel’s elegy for a beloved pet, is incomplete: I arrived late to this Musical Offering and the quartet was taking its leisurely melancholy route through this composition, one of Joel’s that is most dear to me. Here is the closing minute.  I wish I’d arrived earlier, but this minute-plus remains emotionally powerful:

Later in the evening, Joel and the quartet offered a slow ballad, ABOUT FRANCOISE, which has much of the same mood:

I’ve lingered over these two performances because they present a sound, a mood, a tempo that I don’t always encounter, in a world where some musicians feel pressured to be brighter, quicker, more attention-getting.  Joel and friends know that music that mourns can also elate and uplift, and I hope you feel those emotions here.

That was THEN, as they say.  The NOW is, of course, the minutes you are spending absorbing the sounds.

SOON is not yet here as I write this, but it will come  . . .  you know the rest.

Joel, Vito, and Dave have a new trio gig in Riverdale, New York, this coming Sunday, which is September 10, from 3 to 7 PM, at MON AMOUR, a coffee-and-wine cafe at 234 West 238th Street, two doors to the east of Broadway.  Take the #1 train to 238 (its penultimate station stop) and you are THERE. No cover or music charge. 

And Joel has promised me a full version of YOUR LITTLE DOG for my camera and my audience.  You could spend Sunday afternoon searching for your autumn-winter wardrobe, but that can wait a few days.

Something relevant and perhaps not coincidental: I am reading with great pleasure OPEN CITY, the 2011 debut novel by Teju Cole — the book a gift from tenor saxophonist Sam Taylor, and after beginning this blog, I had to leave my computer but could take the book with me.  The narrator says, early on, of a younger friend in his neighborhood, “My friend was especially passionate about jazz. Most of the names and styles that he so delighted in meant little to me (there are apparently number of great jazz musicians from the sixties and seventies with the last name Jones).  But I could sense, even from my ignorant distance, the sophistication of his ear.  He often said that he would sit down at a piano someday and show me how jazz worked, and that when I finally understood blue notes and swung notes, the heavens would part and my life would be transformed.  I more than half believed him . . . ” (24-25).

Cole’s words echo Forrester’s “tunes.”

May your happiness increase!

“SOME TUNEFUL CATS”: STREET OF DREAMS (SAM TAYLOR, GREG RUGGIERO, AIDAN O’DONNELL, BEN CLINESS)

STREET OF DREAMS one

A musician friend I respect told me about this new quartet — called, sweetly, STREET OF DREAMS, and I was instantly pleased by the videos below.  When I shared them with another jazz fancier — like me, a devotee of melodic improvisation — I got back a near-instant response, “Those are some tuneful cats!”  I completely agree, and think you will too.

STREET OF DREAMS two

That’s Sam Taylor, tenor saxophone; Greg Ruggiero, guitar; Aidan O’Donnell, string bass; Ben Cliness, drums.  (I’ve met and video-ed three of the four [so far Ben has been safe from me] and I am proud to know them.)

YOUNG AT HEART:

CLOSE YOUR EYES:

CORCOVADO:

DON’T GET AROUND MUCH ANYMORE:

AFTER YOU’VE GONE:

Melodists, making danceable music that is both deep and gossamer.  Those among us who play or sing know that making melody come alive is not easy. Ask Louis, ask Lester, ask Monk.  And I know that some devout jazz listeners might say that this band is less “innovative” or “adventurous” than they prefer, and I leave them to their search for what they like.

But beauty never has to innovate.  It just is.

To book this group — very new but by no means immature (!) — click here.

May your happiness increase!

TAKING ROOT IN OUR HEARTS: SAM TAYLOR, AIDAN O’DONNELL, TARO OKAMOTO (OCTOBER 15, 2015)

In his liner notes to his debut CD, MY FUTURE JUST PASSED, Sam Taylor, a tenor saxophonist who creates subtle, searching music that resonates long in the mind, has written this brief credo:

Sometimes, a song enters our life at the perfect moment. It gives clarity and meaning to seemingly random events. It speaks and gives voice to our feelings of love, heartache, joy and jubilation. It taps into our memories, both personal and collective, taking root in our hearts, stirring our imagination.

In August 2015, I heard Sam’s CD and was immediately captivated by what he did — and didn’t — do.  Here‘s what I wrote (under the title of BRAVE, PATIENT BEAUTY).

I was more than a little excited to learn that Sam, bassist Aidan O’Donnell, and drummer Taro Okamoto — the trio on this CD — would be giving a CD release concert on October 15th (at the beautifully welcoming Marc A. Scorca Hall at Opera America, 330 Seventh Avenue).  Sam graciously welcomed me and my camera, and here are a few highlights of that evening of wonderfully rewarding music.

But first.  Many musicians — for whatever reasons — fill the air with notes.  This isn’t, in itself, wrong or offensive.  But the masters, to my way of thinking, use fewer notes to sing their song, to tell their story.  At first, Sam’s playing may seem spare, restrained.  But then, if you are willing to follow him, you realize that his approach is that of a great artist who has refined and pared down what he offers.  It’s like having a conversation with someone who so beautifully self-edits speech that the two sentences you hear are forever memorable.  Sam’s playing rings in my ears and continues to do so as he sculpts his solos, offering deep candor, heartfelt truths.

EVERYTHING I LOVE:

YOU ARE TOO BEAUTIFUL:

MY FUTURE JUST PASSED:

SHE’S FUNNY THAT WAY:

Hearing Sam, Aidan, and Taro, I am in the presence of great beauty, serene yet intent, beauty that does not need to blind us with flourishes and special effects, a wise, poised art that never needs to raise its voice to be heard and felt.

May your happiness increase!

BRAVE, PATIENT BEAUTY: SAM TAYLOR, “MY FUTURE JUST PASSED”

Possibly you haven’t yet heard of the tenor saxophonist Sam Taylor.  But I guarantee you will.  He has a rare gift.

When I was opening the plastic wrapping enclosing Sam’s debut CD, I confess I was expecting more-of-the-same: in this century, many young musicians are technically gifted in ways that would astonish the Ancestors.  There isn’t anything they can’t play.  Complex harmonies at top speed, chorus after chorus, are their basic vocabulary.  They often make Bird sound like Honore Dutrey. They have spent their youth practicing, and it shows.  And that in itself is a wonderful accomplishment — if technique is your primary goal.  But often it is cold — music that doesn’t ring in the listeners’ hearts.

I come back to what I think of as the basic ideal of instrumental music: to communicate something, without words, that makes us feel and reflect.  To “tell a story.”  To “sing on your horn.”

I knew Sam Taylor had a good chance of being different — of reaching our hearts — when I saw the song he had chosen as the title of his CD, a beautiful obscure 1930 song.  Not an original, although full of original sentiment.

SAM TAYLOR cover 700

Here are two versions of MY FUTURE JUST PASSED.  The first, by Annette Hanshaw, is hopeful rather than morose:

I know that the lyrics of the verse (George Marion, Jr.) suggest a certain light-heartedness (rhyming “not less” and “spotless” but the melody is haunting, especially the bridge — thanks to Richard Whiting.

Here is the 1963 version by Shirley Horn (gorgeous arrangements by Jimmy Jones) at a heartfelt tempo:

Beautiful — and I admire her willingness to take her time, to let the song unfold.

Now, listen to this — and understand why I think so highly of Sam Taylor:

If your first reaction is, “Oh, he’s only playing the melody,” I offer two options. The more polite one is, “Please listen again,” and the less is, “Please go away.”

I think of a comment (reported by Nat Hentoff, I believe) of Bobby Hackett listening to Louis Armstrong, “Do you know how hard it is to make melody come that alive?”

In Sam’s playing I hear the great melodists — Louis of course, but also Bing and Sinatra, Ben, Hawk, and Pres — but he sounds like himself as he patiently and lovingly devotes himself to the song.  No self-referential playing (those quotes that show us “ingenuity” and no ostentatious “virtuosities”) — nothing but rapt attention to the song, to melody, to the way a great artist can make us feel.  I admire his ease but also his patience, as if he is saying to us through his horn, “I have something to tell you, but it is at once both very simple and too deep for words.  It is a story of hope, but hope tinged with melancholy and risks that might not come off.  Please sit down, shut off your phone, join with me in the great ritual of music-making and truth-exploring.”

You can find out more about Sam Taylor here, and you can also download the CD.   Of course you should search out Sam at a gig and buy a copy directly, but it can also be ordered from CellarLive.comIt will soon be available on Amazon as well.

I like my CDs physically tangible, especially in this case where Sam has written the notes himself — simple, full of feeling.  Here are his opening lines:

Sometimes, a song enters our life at the perfect moment.  It gives clarity and meaning to seemingly random events.  It speaks and gives voice to our feelings of love, heartache, joy and jubilation.  It taps into our memories, both personal and collective, taking root in our hearts, stirring our imagination.

And the music on this CD exemplifies this philosophy, both simple and deep. Sam is wonderfully assisted by bassist Aidan O’Donnell and drummer Taro Okamoto — who do not fade into the background nor do they overpower.  This trio has the balanced lightness and weight of the trio sessions Lucky Thompson did with Oscar Pettiford and Skeeter Best, yet it sounds entirely fresh, not a “recreation.”

The songs reflect Sam’s love for lasting melodies: LOVE ME OR LEAVE ME / MY FUTURE JUST PASSED / DO SOMETHING (based on a Cole Porter melody) / SHE’S FUNNY THAT WAY / WHY DON’T I / MEAN TO ME / ERONEL / YOU ARE TOO BEAUTIFUL / T.O.’S BLUES.

I am certain you will welcome him as someone not afraid to create beauty.

May your happiness increase!