Tag Archives: Sammy Cahn

BRIGHT SPARKS, DEEP SHADOWS: JON-ERIK KELLSO, ROSSANO SPORTIELLO, TAL RONEN at MEZZROW (Sept. 16, 2019)

This sign is catnip to me and to other cats — so much so that we were standing in line (in a drizzle) outside of Mezzrow long before the Powers would open the door.  But our perseverance was well rewarded, that night of September 16, when Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Rossano Sportiello, piano; Tal Ronen, string bass, got together for a vibrant imaginative session.  Here are a few highlights.

Rossano’s musical beverage, TEA FOR TWO:

Honoring Fathahood, MONDAY DATE:

ALL THE THINGS YOU ARE (featuring Tal):

I’M CRAZY ‘BOUT MY BABY, echoing not only Fats but also Ruby and Ralph:

Rossano’s marriage of Sammy Cahn, Saul Chaplin, and Fred Chopin, in SHOE SHINE BOY / Waltz, Opus 69, No. 1:

And Jon-Erik’s suggestion that we not leave, STICK AROUND:

Brilliant solo voices, rewarding thoughtful ensemble interplay.  Yes, it happened.

May your happiness increase!

“EVERY DAY’S A WORKING DAY FOR YOU”

How do you recognize wealthy people?  They go on vacation with more possessions than they can carry, and they hire someone to do the work for them.

“Red cap” or “redcap,” now archaic, dates back to when people traveled by train, when suitcases did not have wheels, so passengers would need help with their luggage, and would summon a railway porter.

Here is a 1983 news story, “The Top Redcap,” which explains it in greater depth.  I believe that the redcaps were hard-working men of color who may not have been treated well by affluent passengers.  One of the sadnesses of this life is that people who perform low-status jobs become servants and are thus invisible.

If you wonder at the photographs — figurines carrying suitcases and golf clubs, my intent is not to demean these diligent laborers, but these objects turned up online, described as “REDCAP W/ LUGGAGE, STANDARD GAUGE MODEL TRAIN PLATFORM FIGURE, NEW/REPRODUCTION” — produced for people who wanted the landscape of their model train layout to be realistic.  “Look.  Servants, too!”

The description reads: “This is a Standard Gauge figure of a redcap/train porter carrying luggage. It is a reproduction cast in tin from a Lionel antique original and is hand-painted by Leddy & Slack. Lionel’s six-piece set #550 of Standard Gauge figures was manufactured from 1932-1936. The redcap is 3″ tall and wears a dark gray uniform. The suitcase in his left hand is detachable. . . . Suitcases are also available separately to replace a lost piece of luggage on an old figure; please inquire.”  It’s significant that this piece of miniature art dates from 1932-36.

But JAZZ LIVES has not turned into a cultural studies explication of Lionel train figures.  It’s all a prelude to the music, which touches us through the decades.

In 1937, Louis Armstrong and Ken Hecht collaborated on a song, RED CAP.  Everyone, including me, thinks the Hecht referred to was BEN — he’s even credited in the Mosaic set — but it’s  KEN.  See below for Dan Morgenstern’s correction.

Louis had traveled coast-to-coast many times by 1937, so he had first-hand experience of the amiable fellows who helped you and your bags off the train.  Ricky Riccardi, my brother-in-Louis, told me something I hadn’t known, that Louis refused to put his name on songs he had no part in writing.  But there’s an even stronger story behind RED CAP.

Louis grew up in poverty, knew what it was like to hunt through garbage cans for food, was contemptuous of the “lazy,” and held hard work for a goal as the greatest good.  He also was generous, and I would bet that when Louis and his band came into town, he was a hero to the red caps and more.

A year before RED CAP, Louis had a great hit with SHOE SHINE BOY, by Sammy Cahn and Saul Chaplin (Cahn wrote about Louis in his autobiography, and I posted this cameo in 2009).  If you don’t know the song, or know it only through the instrumental versions by Count Basie, Lester Young, and Jo Jones, listen to this touching December 1935 performance:

So: a song celebrating the working man (or child) invisible to the higher classes, directed at him (as in “you” rather than “he”) and predicting a hopeful future, upward economic mobility.  As you’ll hear, RED CAP has one extra touch that SHOE SHINE BOY doesn’t: it ends with the notion that the man working so hard hustlin’ and bustlin’ other people’s suitcases will someday be able to take a vacation and call for a red cap as well.  A dream worth dreaming!

It’s easy to imagine the dialogue between Louis and Hecht about writing a song in praise of the unseen but invaluable red caps, no matter who started the conversation. Louis usually worked with Horace Gerlach,  but you are free to let your imagination wander as to the genesis of RED CAP.

My imagination wanders to this wonderful 2003 performance now accessible on YouTube, from Scott Robinson’s eloquent spacious Louis tribute.  Here Scott plays C-melody saxophone alongside another hero, Mark Shane, irresistible both as pianist and singer:

and from five years ago (can it be that long?), our friend Daryl Sherman, vocal and piano; Scott, taragoto; Harvie S, string bass:

And the Master comes last:

I write these words a few days before Labor Day — thus “Perhaps some day you may be shouting, ‘Red Cap!’ too!” — has much hopeful significance to me: people’s dreams can still become realities.

And this, a gift from the Big Dipper, which says so much:

THIS JUST IN, from Dan Morgenstern, whom I trust!

Alas, I too thought how wonderful that Louis and Ben Hecht, of whom I was and still am a great fan, should have collaborated, and on a theme fitting with Hecht’s ideology . But I was not convinced that Ben and Louis had ever been connected. Sure enough, the Red Cap lyric is by KEN Hecht, writer of special material for many comedians and such entertainers as Belle Baker and Rose Marie. None of his other songs is near Red Cap. As for Ben, his most famous work is the play “The Front Page” a big 1928 Broadway hit twice filmed with success, first with the same title and later as “His Girl Friday” with which anyone at all into vintage films will know. Hecht’s partner was Charles Macarthur with whom he screenplayed “Scarface”, “Twentieth Century”, “Nothing Sacred” and, for Noel Coward’s first major film role, “The Coward”, all that plus making the twosome major league screenwriter. Hecht was one of the major advocates for the creation of Israel, among other causes. His 1926 novel “Count Bruga” is a sui generis satire that should be rediscovered. I don’t know if he was a Louis fan but glad this brought him up. His dates are 1894-1964.

AND a wonderful postscript, just in, from the wise Paige VanVorst:

One of my longtime idols, Natty Dominique, who’s on as many classic jazz records as Bix (As Wayne Jones used to say, “but they don’t buy them for Natty’s playing”), worked much of his life as a redcap at Chicago’s Midway Airport. People loved him, and he told stories of the early days of jazz to the people he served. He had a very nice retirement- he had a nice apartment with everything he needed, a wife who was an excellent creole cook, and he’d tell you it was all from his work as a redcap.

May your happiness increase!

A MEETING OF KINDRED SOULS: KRIS TOKARSKI, HAL SMITH, JONATHAN DOYLE, LARRY SCALA, NOBU OZAKI at the SAN DIEGO JAZZ FEST (Nov. 24, 2017)

Kris Tokarski, piano; Larry Scala, guitar; Nobu Ozaki, string bass; Hal Smith, drums; Jonathan Doyle, clarinet / tenor sax, with guest Katie Cavera, guitar and vocals. San Diego Jazz Fest, Nov. 2017

In the words of Sammy Cahn, “I fall in love too easily,” but not when the Love Object is a great artist or a collection of them.  There my devotion rarely plays me false.  This band, led by the quiet virtuoso Kris Tokarski, gave extraordinary pleasure at the November 2017 San Diego Jazz Fest.  I followed them happily and recorded (I think) five hour-long sets of the six they played.  Glowing music: heartfelt but beautifully expertly executed.  Somewhere Milt Gabler, Alfred Lion, and John Hammond are happily in the groove with all of us.  Here are the six posts I have already offered of the band’s great joyous surge — with guests Katie Cavera, Marc Caparone, and Dawn Lambeth: one and two and three and four and five and six.  (I did all that annoying hypertexting because I love my readers and I don’t want you stumbling around in the dark reaches of cyberspace.  Enjoy yourselves!)

Here are four brilliant performances from the band’s very first set at San Diego.  The first is a Jonathan Doyle original from 2016, called BATS ON A BRIDGE, dedicated to an Austin, Texas nature phenomenon, described here.  Jonathan has, to me, no peer at creating winding, clever witty lines based on the harmonies of “jazz standards,” and sometimes his lines are so irresistible on their own that I’ve found it hard to dig beneath to find the familiar harmonies. I’ll help you out here: the title of the song is exactly what Bithiah, otherwise known as Pharoah’s daughter, exclaimed when she saw the infant Moses in the bulrushes:

Next, a rarity at “trad” festivals, a purring reading of a ballad: in this case, YOU GO TO MY HEAD, which I believe Jonathan knew but had never performed in public.  Isn’t he marvelous?

Another Doyle original, from 2017, LONG DISTANCE MAN, whose source we get from the wise and observant Larry Kart — a story of the clarinetist Frank Chace’s meeting with Lester Young: [Chace] also told a very “Frank” story about his encounter with Lester Young in 1957 in Pres’s hotel room in (I think) Indianapolis, where Frank was playing at a club and Pres was in town with a non-JATP package tour. The drummer in the band Frank was part of, Buddy Smith, suggested that they pay Pres a visit after the gig, and when they got there, Frank (“I’m shy,” he said), hung back while the other guys gathered around Pres. Having noticed this bit of behavior, Pres beckoned Frank to come closer, addressing him softly as “long-distance man.” Probably a meeting of kindred souls.

The “kindred souls” create one of the finest blues performances I’ve heard in this century, beginning with Jonathan’s barks — part schnauzer, part Henry “Red” Allen, part walrus.  The only complaint I have here is that I wish the band had jettisoned the set list and just kept playing this, just kept on exploring the infinite spaces between the three chords, the tonalities, the steady swing:

As a set closer, the down-home classic, BACK HOME AGAIN IN INDIANA:

You’ll notice I’ve avoided the game of Sounding Like (all praise to the late Barbara Lea for putting it so pungently): I hear murmurs from the admiring ghosts of Sidney Catlett, Walter Page, Teddy Wilson, Earl Hines, Charlie Christian, Lester Young, Frank Chace, Omer Simeon, Pee Wee Russell, Eddie Miller, Bud Freeman, Ike Quebec and others I haven’t named.  But they are quietly present.  The real and the truly brilliant voices I hear come from Tokarski, Doyle, Scala, Ozaki, and Smith.  And what glorious music they make. There will be more to come.

Festival promoters and concert bookers looking for noise and flash, circus acts and Vegas Dixieland, pass this band by with my blessings.  People who want to give genuine jazz and swing a venue [think of the San Diego Jazz Fest!], consider these heroes.

May your happiness increase! 

“MY DREAMS ARE ON PARADE”: DAWN LAMBETH, KRIS TOKARSKI, LARRY SCALA, MARC CAPARONE, HAL SMITH, NOBU OZAKI at the SAN DIEGO JAZZ FEST (November 26, 2017)

“A tender plea” is what the fine writer Harriet Choice calls this Sammy Cahn / Saul Chaplin song.  PLEASE BE KIND speaks of the vulnerability of love — the way we say “Here is my heart” to the person whose love we gently ask for.  When the plea doesn’t work, we could feel as if we’d painted an archery target on our t-shirt.

But when neither person has arrows or bow, happiness is possible, blossoming out of mutual understanding.  Kindness becomes the common language, enacted more than spoken.

I’d heard many great versions of this song, by Mildred Bailey, Frank Sinatra, Carmen McRae — but this version, performed at the San Diego Jazz Fest just a few days ago (November 26, 2017) is slower, more tender, and infinitely more touching than any of the more famous ones.

Dawn Lambeth sings it from her heart, as if it mattered, which of course it does.

I’ve known Dawn’s music for nearly fifteen years, thanks to the blessed and much-missed Leslie Johnson, of The Mississippi Rag, who offered me a copy of her first CD, MIDNIGHT BLUE, to review.  And from the first notes of “If I Were You,” I knew I was listening to a splendid artist: someone who understood the words, who knew how to swing, whose voice was a gentle warm embrace of the song and the listener.  And although it might be rude to speak of an artist “improving,” the emotional riches Dawn offers us now are lasting gifts.

Pianist Kris Tokarski’s little band is just spectacular — Kris on piano, Larry Scala (who set the magnificent yearning tempo) guitar; Jonathan Doyle, tenor saxophone — showing his heart utterly as well; Nobu Ozaki, string bass; Hal Smith, drums; Marc Caparone, trumpet.

I know that comparisons are precarious, but this performance hits me gently where I live — as Louis and Lester do.  Allergies are not the reason my eyes are suddenly damp.

This performance quietly says to me that even in the darkest moments, when I might think all is harsh and hard, “No, kindness and beauty and subtlety have not been lost and will not ever be lost.”

I hope you watch and re-watch this performance, that you go away with words and melody in your mind and ears, and that you, too, make the choice to be kind. It always counts.

May your happiness increase!

“RADICAL SWING TRIO”: TAD SHULL, ROB SCHNEIDERMAN, PAUL GILL at MEZZROW (September 3, 2017): THE SECOND SET

On September 3, I had the immense pleasure of visiting Mezzrow, that shrine for fascinating rhythms and floating melodies, to hear two sets by tenor saxophonist Tad Shull, pianist Rob Schneiderman, and string bassist Paul Gill.  Ted called the group his “Radical Swing Trio,” which to him means a return to the roots: strong melodies, logical emotive improvisations, lovely ballads.  And, as I said the first time, don’t be put off by “Radical”: this trio would have been forward-looking but comfortable in the fabled New York jazz past, although they are far from being archaeologists.  Listen, and be delighted.

Here ‘s their first set.

Tad began the second set with Dizzy Gillespie’s onomatopoetic OO-BOP-SH’BAM from 1946:

Harold Arlen’s lovely ballad, OUT OF THIS WORLD, with Latinate roots:

Tadd Dameron’s GNID — one of those whimsical titles invented in the recording studio (I would guess) for an endearing melody:

The gorgeous ballad by Jule Styne and Sammy Cahn, only sixteen bars, which in some way belongs to the youthful Sinatra — I FALL IN LOVE TOO EASILY:

Wayne Shorter’s BLACK NILE:

And the justly famous blues line (think of Miles, Lucky Thompson, Gene Ammons), WALKIN’:

Very rewarding music — in the tradition but original and lively.

May your happiness increase!

THE ROMANCE OF SUMMER: HARRY ALLEN / EHUD ASHERIE (CLEVELAND CLASSIC JAZZ PARTY, SEPT. 13, 2015)

For readers many born before this century, THE THINGS WE DID LAST SUMMER (1946) might well be part of our emotional landscape.  How could it be otherwise with music by Jule Styne and lyrics by Sammy Cahn?

SUMMERI can’t be sure if it is because summer’s “lease hath all too short a date,” or because we have all had a romance that was too brief.  But the song is inescapably memorable.  If examined coldly, the melody is simple, yet combined with the simple-yet-evocative lyrics it causes me to imagine summers and summer romances I didn’t actually have but still seem real yet off in the distance.  “We never could explain / That sudden summer rain / The looks we got when we got back.”  The lyrics approach remembered elation and present loss indirectly.  Cahn never states openly, “You broke my heart.  Where did you go?” but offers a catalogue of pleasures experienced, now  gone.

But enough of memories, of sunscreen, watermelon, lemonade, bathing suits.

Instead, evocative music created for us by Harry Allen and Ehud Asherie, masters of emotion in swing, performed at the Cleveland Classic Jazz Party (the party formerly known as Allegheny) on September 13, 2015:

Ah, summer.  Ah, romance.  And the imagined past, possibly more real than the experienced one.  And — for some of us — the music that will happen at the 2016 Party, something to look forward to.

May your happiness increase!

“A VINTAGE SOUND THAT’S ALWAYS FRESH”: THE MINT JULEP JAZZ BAND’S NEW CD

MINT JULEP in action

Jake Hanna would often say, “Start swinging from the beginning!”  He would have loved the Mint Julep Jazz Band and their new CD, BATTLE AXE.  Jake isn’t around to embrace them, but I will and do.

Web

Hear and see for yourself: OLD KING DOOJI, live, from June 2015:

ROCK IT FOR ME, from the previous year:

The musicians on this CD are Paul Rogers, trumpet;  Keenan McKenzie, tenor saxophone/clarinet/soprano saxophone;  Aaron Hill, alto saxophone/clarinet; Aaron Tucker, drums;  Jason Foureman, string bass; Ben Lassiter,  guitar; Lucian Cobb, trombone; Laura Windley, vocal.

Why I love the Mint Julep Jazz Band (unlike a Letterman list, there are not ten items, and they are presented here without hierarchical value):

One.  Expert, accurate, relaxed swinging playing in solo and ensemble.  No matter how authentic their vintage costumes; no matter how gorgeous they are personally, for me a band must sound good.  I can’t hear cute.

The MJJB has a wonderful ensemble sound: often fuller than their four-horn, three rhythm congregation would lead you to expect.  Their intonation is on target, their unison passages are elegantly done but never stiff.

And they swing.  They sound like a working band that would have had a good time making the dancers sweat and glow at the Savoy or the Renny.

They are well-rehearsed but not bored by it all. They have individualistic soloists — the front line is happily improvising in their own swinging style always.  And a word about “style.”  I’ve heard “swing bands” where the soloists sound constricted: Taft Jordan wouldn’t have played that substitute chord, so I won’t / can’t either — OR — let me do my favorite 1974 Miles licks on this Chick Webb-inspired chart.  And let me do them for four choruses.  Neither approach works for me, although I am admittedly a tough audience.  Beautiful playing, folks.  And a rhythm section that catches every nuance and propels the band forward without pushing or straining.  I never feel the absence of a piano.

Two.  Nifty arrangements.  See One.  Intriguing voicings, original but always idiomatic approaches to music that is so strongly identified with its original arrangements.  I played some of this disc for very erudite friends, who said, “Wow, a soprano lead on that chorus!” and other such appreciative exclamations.  Sweet, inevitable surprises throughout — but always in the service of the song, the mood, the idiom.

Three.  Variety in tempos, approaches, effect.  When I listen to BATTLE AXE, I’m always startled when it’s over.  Other CDs . . . I sometimes get up, see how many tracks are left, sigh, and go back to my listening.

Four.  They honor the old records but they do not copy them.  They do not offer transcriptions of solos, although a listener can hear the wonderful results of their loving close listening.

Five.  Unhackneyed repertoire: YOU CAN’T LIVE IN HARLEM / DUCKY WUCKY / SIX JERKS IN A JEEP / SWINGTIME IN HONOLULU / OLD KING DOOJI / EXACTLY LIKE YOU / THAT’S THE BLUES, OLD MAN / NIGHT ON BALD MOUNTAIN / TWO SLEEPY PEOPLE / WHEN I GET LOW I GET HIGH / EVERYTHING’S JUMPIN’ / SAY IT ISN’T SO / BETCHA NICKEL / BATTLE AXE — affectionate nods to Sammy Cahn and Saul Chaplin, Noble Sissle, the Andrews Sisters, small-band Ellington (yes!), Artie Shaw, Lunceford, young Ella, and more. But obviously chosen with discernment.  And the originals by Keenan McKenzie are splendid — idiomatic without being pastiche, real compositions by someone who knows how to write singable melodies and graceful evocative lyrics: TREBUCHET and THE DWINDLING LIGHT BY THE SEA.

Six.  Laura Windley.  There are so many beautiful (male and female) earnest almost-singers in the world.  Audiences admire them while they are visually accessible.  I listen with my eyes closed at first.  Laura is THE REAL THING — she swings, she has a splendid but conversational approach to the lyrics; her second choruses don’t mimic her first.  And her voice is in itself a pleasure — a tart affectionate mixture of early Ella, Ivie, Jerry Kruger, Sally Gooding.  I think of her as the Joan Blondell of swing singing: sweet, tender, and lemony all at once.  And once you’ve heard her, you won’t mistake her for anyone else.

Here is the band’s website — where you can purchase BATTLE AXE, digitally or tangibly.  And their Facebook page.

And I proudly wear their dark-green MINT JULEP JAZZ BAND t-shirt (purchased with my allowance) but you’d have to see me in person to absorb the splendor.  Of the shirt.

Here‘s what I wrote about the MJJB in 2013.  I still believe it, and even more so. BATTLE AXE — never mind the forbidding title — is a great consistent pleasure.

May your happiness increase!

“JUST IMAGINE: CLASSIC JAZZ AT CLASSIC PIANOS”: REBECCA KILGORE, DAN BARRETT, PAOLO ALDERIGHI

Stampa

I am very happy to announce a new CD by the Rebecca Kilgore Trio (Rebecca, vocal and rhythm guitar; Dan Barrett, trombone, piano, arrangements; Paolo Alderighi, piano) — on Blue Swing Fine Recordings 014.  Recorded at the end of 2013 in Portland, Oregon, it’s called CLASSIC JAZZ AT CLASSIC PIANOS, the latter half of that title referring to the congenial place where the Trio performed and where the disc was masterfully recorded by Randy Porter.  Click here to hear samples.

It’s a delicious session, with Rebecca singing (and playing rhythm guitar on a track or two), Dan on trombone, piano, and providing arrangements, Paolo holding everything together on piano for these selections: OH, LOOK AT ME NOW / DADDY, WON’T YOU PLEASE COME HOME? / JUST A LITTLE BIT SOUTH OF NORTH CAROLINA / SONG OF THE BLUES / JUST IMAGINE / THIS IS MY LUCKY DAY / ALMOST IN YOUR ARMS / I’M IN A LOWDOWN GROOVE / I’M RHYTHM CRAZY NOW / THREE COINS IN THE FOUNTAIN / CRY ME A RIVER / SERENADE TO SWEDEN / SOFT WINDS / MIS’RY AND THE BLUES.  Connoisseurs of Song will note the wonderfully varied repertoire, with loving connections to Billie Holiday, Sammy Cahn, Jack Teagarden, Charles LaVere, Annette Hanshaw, Jean Goldkette, Joe Bushkin, Frank Sinatra, Lester Young, Anita O’Day, Sophia Loren, Fletcher and Horace Henderson, Julie London, Jim Goodwin, Duke Ellington and more, but this isn’t a history lesson.  Rather it is fresh buoyant Music — a rare commodity.

I was doubly privileged to be at the recording session and to be asked to write something for the CD, which also has notes by Dan and Becky. Here’s what I wrote:

More often than not, jazz is asked to blossom forth in inhospitable places: the noisy club where musicians must compete with the bartender’s blender, or the recording studio, a maze of headphones and wires. Imagine a quiet room, shaded as if an Edward Hopper nightscape, with three musicians, two grand pianos, the only other people a recording engineer, himself a musician; another man taking notes. It was no fantasy, for this all happened during two December 2013 sessions in Portland, Oregon, in a back room at CLASSIC PIANOS, where three friends gathered for warm, intimate musical conversations in the name of classic jazz.

Becky, Dan, and Paolo believe that music, created on the spot, can bring joy in the moment and renew us in the future. They gave each of the songs they had chosen its own life, reflective or ebullient: the poignancy of DADDY, the bounce of CAROLINA, the swagger of RHYTHM CRAZY, the romance of COINS, the melancholy of MIS’RY AND THE BLUES. Many of the songs have associations with Annette Hanshaw, Anita O’Day, Jack Teagarden, Julie London, Billie Holiday, Ellington, Charlie Christian, Trummy Young, Sophia Loren, Joe Bushkin, Lee Wiley, Fletcher Henderson. But these sessions were no “tribute,” no “repertory” re-creation, for the musicians brought their own personalities to this project, adding new melodies to the ones we know.

When Becky sings, we hear a gently compelling honesty. Yes, we admire the way she glides from note to note, the creamy naturalness of her voice, the way her smallest melodic embellishments enhance the song, her infallible swing. But what sets her apart is her quiet determination to share the song’s emotional message candidly, fully. Becky doesn’t overstate or dramatize. She doesn’t place herself in front of the material, but she opens the song for us, so that we feel what its creators hoped for.

Hearing Dan, I think, “That is how any creative player should sound: forthright, assured, subtle, inventive.” Like a great musical conversationalist, he always knows the right epigram to add at the right time. I can guess what some other musicians might play in their next phrase, but Dan’s imagination is larger and more rewarding than we expect. His reading of a melody is a joy; his improvisations are witty, pungent. The trombone can be a buffoon or a bully; in his hands it can be divinely inspired, even when Dan’s aural messages are earthy indeed.

Becky and Dan could float or soar all by themselves, and they’ve proved that many times in concert and on recordings since they first met in 1994. CRY ME A RIVER on this disc, majestic and mournful, is proof. But recently they have called in an Italian sorcerer, Paolo Alderighi, who generously spreads rich sound-weavings, Garneresque threads glittering – lovely orchestral tapestries, neither formulaic nor overemphatic. His solos gleam and chime.

In duet, Dan and Paolo are a model of creative conversation in jazz – empathic, intuitive, concise yet fervent. And when they sat down at the two pianos to accompany Becky for MIS’RY AND THE BLUES their contrasting textures were a delight. Completely original, too – neither Evans and Brookmeyer nor Ferrante and Teicher, but splendidly themselves.

What we call The Great American Songbook sometimes weaves helplessly towards songs that, if their lyrics were actual speech, would be legal documentation of domestic abuse, self-inflicted destruction. Over time, Becky has turned away from these famous masochistic outcries. But this disc shows her playing bravely in the dark, getting in a lowdown groove, calling out to an absent lover, creating rueful and vengeful tears. This isn’t a major life-shift in all things Kilgore, but a willingness to expand her repertoire into classic songs based on real life-experiences. She is having a good time being so sad for a few minutes: like Basie, she keeps the blues at bay by playing them. Or it might be her own particular jazz homeopathy practice, where dark cures dark.

These sessions produced lasting music, the rare kind that emerges from a devotion to the art. What a gift to us all!

JUST IMAGINE is now available here.  You can also purchase copies directly from Becky, Dan, or Paolo at their gigs — the most personal way to do it.  I’ve seen them with Sharpies after a session, so going home with an autographed copy is a real possibility.

I understand that JAZZ LIVES readers sometimes skip the text and look for the tasty music video. In this case, the sound that Randy Porter recorded of Rebecca’s floating voice was so lovely that it would do everyone a disservice to post one of my session videos.  But I think I will be forgiven if I post Dan and Paolo’s memorably dark and lovely SERENADE TO SWEDEN as a musical appetizer.  Thanks to Randy, it sounds even more glorious on the CD:

Intimate, refreshing, and warm music.

May your happiness increase! 

DOIN’ THE HORTICULTURAL: EMILY ASHER’S GARDEN PARTY LIVE IN SAN FRANCISCO, JANUARY 16, 2014: PART ONE

A good time was had by all.

Emily Asher’s Garden Party — captured here nearing the end of their 2014 West Coast Tour (historians take note).  Here they are at a very rewarding house concert in San Francisco, hosted by Daniel Fabricant and Vic Wong, offering good-old-good ones, Hoagy Carmichael, music associated with Louis Armstrong, and a few locally-sourced originals.

The GP in these videos is Emily, trombone, vocals, arrangements / compositions; Mike Davis, trumpet, vocal; Tom Abbott, reeds; Nick Russo, banjo, guitar; Rob Adkins, string bass; Jay Lepley, drums. (My videos are a little dark but the music blazes brightly.)

For Ella, the Mills Brothers, Sammy Cahn, Saul Chaplin, and the elusive Hy Zaret, DEDICATED TO YOU:

Emily’s original, dedicated to a clamorous stretch of road in her home town, EAST MERIDIAN:

TWO SLEEPY PEOPLE, a sweet bit of Carmichael voiced for Asher and Davis, soft-shoe tempo provided by that nimble rhythm section:

Appropriate for a Garden Party, WHEN YOU WORE A TULIP:

Thinking again of Ella and Chick, the band shouts HALLELUJAH!:

A small Louis-Jack trilogy (catch Mr. Davis’ beautiful sound here) STARS FELL ON ALABAMA:

From ‘way out West, BIG BUTTER AND EGG MAN:

At a nice tempo, MUSKRAT RAMBLE:

Emily’s original, for her flowering niece, SWEET PEA:

Music in blossom, with more to come!

May your happiness increase!

OUT OF THE CRADLE, ENDLESSLY ROCKING: MATT MUNISTERI at CORNELIA STREET CAFE (MATT RAY, DANTON BOLLER, Oct. 3, 2013)

More evidence of what everyone should know: that guitarist / singer / composer / arranger Matt Munisteri is blazingly yet subtly inventive in many kinds of music, transforming everything he touches into something sharp and new yet always full of the deepest human spirit.
Here he is with bassist Danton Boller and pianist Matt Ray at the Cornelia Street Cafe in New York City on October 3, 2013.
Much of the music performed that night was composed by Willard Robison — someone who, like Matt, turns a satiric eye on our rush to delude ourselves while offering us comfort in his melodies and hope that happiness and enlightenment are possible.
But the show wasn’t an archivist’s self-indulgence immersion in “the old stuff,” reproduced exactly from aged discs and crumbling pages.
Matt is far too imaginative for that, so each of the Robison songs was like a jewel in a new setting: I knew the melodies, but thought, “Wow!  I have really never heard that song before.”
The same was true for Nick Lucas’ PICKIN’ THE GUITAR, reminding us how brilliantly Matt plays that much-abused instrument.  The Sammy Cahn-Saul Chaplin GET ACQUAINTED WITH YOURSELF (which we usually associate with Willie “the Lion” Smith and O’Neil Spencer) receives a sharp modernist edge thanks to the new lyrics from Rachelle Garniez and Matt.
Matt was beautifully and wittily accompanied by pianist Matt and bassist Danton.  They swung and provided just-right commentaries and eloquent solos: this wasn’t three musicians together for the night behind their music stands, but a true band, a conversation among equals, rocking us towards deeper insights.
(WE’LL HAVE A NEW HOME) IN THE MORNING:
COUNTRY BOY BLUES:
GET ACQUAINTED WITH YOURSELF:
PICKIN’ THE GUITAR:
STILL RUNNIN’ ROUND IN THE WILDERNESS:
I HEARD A MOCKING BIRD SINGING IN CALIFORNIA:
REVOLVING JONES:
DEEP ELM:
‘T’AIN’T SO, HONEY, ‘T’AIN’T SO:
Walt Whitman would have approved: Matt’s spirit is expansive, fluid, encompassing us all.
May your happiness increase!

HEALING VIBRATIONS: THE REYNOLDS BROTHERS and CLINT BAKER at the SACRAMENTO MUSIC FESTIVAL (May 27, 2012)

I’ve tried fish oil capsules and probiotics, saw palmetto and niacin, magnesium and multivitamins, goldenseal and Bach flower remedies.

But nothing gives me the lift of a Reynolds Brothers set — and one with Clint Baker (trombone, clarinet, occasional vocal) is even more potent.  Take as directed: like homeopathy, the smallest dosage is transformative.

The RB are, as always, Ralf (washboard); John (guitar, whistling); Marc Caparone (cornet); Katie Cavera (string bass) — all four have been known to break into song when the moment is ripe.  See for yourself in this delightful long set recorded at the 2012 Sacramento Music Festival (at the Railroad Museum on May 27, 2012, for the record-keepers).

Alex Hill must have been especially willing to please when he wrote I WOULD DO ANYTHING FOR YOU, and Claude Hopkins suggested that his whole band was equally cooperative:

Sung by Bing.  Who needs more?  LOVE IS JUST AROUND THE CORNER:

THREE LITTLE WORDS (but not with the variant Turk Murphy text):

For Bix and Tram, BORNEO:

Come to Camden, New Jersey — I hear the Bennie Moten band is cooking up something good on BLUE ROOM:

Sweet and sassy, Sister Katie invites us to join her in films, with YOU OUGHTA BE IN PICTURES — and John whistles the theme so engagingly:

Mister Berlin must have liked a drop of schnapps once in a while, thus I’LL SEE YOU IN C-U-B-A — sung with spice and wit by Senorita Cavera:

From the Cotton Club Parade of 1935 (by Ted Koehler and Rube Bloom)  — I just found a copy of the original sheet music: now I’m ready to start TRUCKIN’:

A beautiful excursion into Louis Armstrong – Sammy Cahn – Saul Chaplin democrary in SHOE SHINE BOY.  That Caparone fellow didn’t study at the Waif’s Home, but he sure gets Louis:

If I could wire my refrigerator so that it played FAT AND GREASY when I opened the door, perhaps I would be back to my middle-school weight.  of course having Fats Waller sing and play it does lend a certain ironic twist.  Rockin’ in rhythm:

And the National Anthem of what Eddie Condon called “music,” Louis’ SWING THAT MUSIC:

Feeling better?  I know I am.  (And that’s not my medicine cabinet, in case you were wondering.)

May your happiness increase.

RHYTHM IS THEIR BUSINESS: DUKE HEITGER’S SWING BAND (with BECKY KILGORE) at JAZZ AT CHAUTAUQUA 2011

Sometimes the best things happen when the more moderate types have gone to bed.  Here’s “Late Night Swing” from Jazz at Chautauqua (Sept. 16, 2011), featuring a hot swing band and singer in peak form.

Duke Heitger’s Swing Band featured the man himself on trumpet and vocals; Dan Barrett on trombone and arrangements; Dan Block, Scott Robinson, reeds; John Sheridan, piano and arrangements; Howard Alden, guitar; Glenn Holmes, bass; Pete Siers, drums; Becky Kilgore, vocals.  It was a twenty-first century version of the band that recorded a Fantasy CD (9684-2) which I hope you’re still able to find:

Here’s a link: http://www.amazon.com/Rhythm-Business-Duke-Heitger-Swing/dp/B00004SAZ8

But what we enjoyed at Chautauqua was more than sound coming out of speakers: catch the happy expressions on the musicians’ faces as they listened to these swinging arrangements and to Ms. Kilgore.

The set began with one of the best Thirties let’s-introduce-the-stars-in-the-band songs (courtesy of Sammy Cahn, Saul Chaplin, and the Jimmie Lunceford Orchestra), which Duke sang, RHYTHM IS OUR BUSINESS:

Then something for Louis and for Billie, YOURS AND MINE, again with a lovely Duke vocal.  (What a fine singer he is — on his horn or his vocal chords!):

A little Ellington excursion (thanks to Cootie Williams and his Rug Cutters, Master Records, and the Irving Mills complex), the wittily-titled SWING PAN ALLEY.  Remember to open up Letter B:

More Ellington (of a romantic tendency) from Becky, JUST SQUEEZE ME:

And for those who need the etiology of Swing explained to them, here is the big hit of late 1935, THE MUSIC GOES ‘ROUND AND ‘ROUND, made perfectly clear by Becky:

Memories of the Goodman band, thanks to arranger John Sheridan, and a lilting I’LL ALWAYS BE IN LOVE WITH YOU.  It’s hard to see Duke at the start, but his sound is unmistakable:

And a hot salute to Sweets, Pres, Jo, Sidney, Illinois, Gjon, Norman, and the Brothers Warner, in JAMMIN’ THE BLUES.  (Thank you, Pete Siers!):

“Business sure is swell!”

THE HEART OF THE SONG: ABIGAIL RICCARDS and MICHAEL KANAN (June 12, 2011)

Abigail Riccards and Michael Kanan inspire awe and wonder.

I experienced this first-hand in a small Brooklyn studio last Sunday, June 12, 2011, and share the music with you here. 

These two artists created music full of feeling but never “dramatic.”  Each song had its own pliant shape, with unaffected casual intensity and splendor. 

Abigail has a speaking directness.  Her mobile voice arches into long tones and soaring phrases; she lives within the lyric and the melody she is singing.  She makes each song full of small peaks of intelligence and emotion. 

Hear, for instance, how she handles the words “drop a line” in Wilder’s I’LL BE AROUND.  Her TOO LATE NOW is almost unbearably poignant yet it doesn’t whimper or carry on.  Her approach is at once serious and joyous.  BLUE SKIES cavorts. 

And although these songs are not new — each one has powerful ghosts standing behind the curtain to upstage the living artists — Abigail takes her own small liberties and makes them work, turning IN LOVE IN VAIN (one of the saddest songs I know) into something a little more resilient, in the same fashion that Billie Holiday recreated TRAV’LIN’ ALL ALONE as her own nearly defiant statement. 

Abigail’s singing touched everyone in the room: even in the videos here, you can feel their powerful quiet empathy and delight.  I hear a great artistry.

Michael is a poet at the keyboard with none of the pretense some have brought to that role.  I think often of Jimmy Rowles when he plays, and at times of the witty, pointed spareness of John Lewis.  Like Abigail, he never overacts, never calls attention to himself in some look-at-me way, but you can’t help but pay attention — both to what he is creating and what trodden ways he is wisely avoiding. 

His sound is lucent; his pauses are knowing and subtle; he is a master of light and shade and shadow.  At its most serene and quiet, his playing is resonant. 

The art of accompaniment might be the most arduous of endeavors, and Michael is the most generous of partners, sweetly creating just the right sound-shape to make the singer or players around him seem even better. 

And these two artists create a delicate yet powerful musical world in duet — their playful energies complementing each other.  They are gracious; they are polite; they don’t interrupt each other’s sentences, but together they make something wise and subtle and rich that wasn’t there a minute before. 

They offer and enact deep calm and brave experiment.

LUCKY TO BE ME:

TOO LATE NOW:

YOU’D BE SO NICE TO COME HOME TO:

IN LOVE IN VAIN:

THE MORE I SEE YOU:

I’LL BE AROUND:

I’M OLD-FASHIONED:

ALL THE WAY:

BLUE SKIES:

EV’RY TIME WE SAY GOOD-BYE:

Throughout this performance, I kept feeling it was an honor to be in the same room, a privilege to witness and record such art.  I still do.

DELICIOUS GOOD FORTUNE

Ruby Braff wasn’t terribly interested in what was on his plate — the way others obsessively considered their food bored him, but one of his favorite words of praise was DELICIOUS.  It applies to the video below, courtesy of Bob Erwig:

He would have told you that Louis, Lester, and Billie were his deities — so YOU’RE A LUCKY GUY resonated with him as one of the handful of songs recorded by all three of them. 

In this nice little band — loose and focused at the same time — are Gray Sargent and Howard Alden on guitar; Eddie Jones on bass; Oliver Jackson on drums.  And Ruby, his hair mussed, in wonderful form. 

Although Ruby was classified as “retro,” looking back when everyone else was looking forward to Miles, there is an intriguing balance here.  Yes, you will hear Louis-intensity, Billie-cool, Lester-space, but there are many Bird and Dizzy phrases in Ruby’s 1989 vocabulary.  And he was never in the position of trying to steal anyone else’s stuff to improve his identity, so the wide emotional and stylistc range is evidence of his mastery.

No one can deny!

OUR GOOD FORTUNE!

Very simple, beautiful, swinging, and uplifting: a kind of SUNRISE SEMESTER in jazz.

The easy floating and unaffected sincerity (and understatement) of Miss Maxine Sullivan in Bern, 1986.

She’s singing one of my favorite songs;  even when the lyrics are a bit thin at points, the sunny affirmation is worth hearing.  It’s the Sammy Cahn – Saul Chaplin YOU’RE A LUCKY GUY, from a Cotton Club show that featured both Maxine and that Louis fellow.  (His Decca recording of the song has a wonderful J.C. Higginbotham break and Sid Catlett accent that I can hear in my head right now.)

And alongside Maxine — as we say, “Couldn’t they get anyone good?” — a perfect rhythm section: Jack Lesberg on bass, Dick Hyman on piano, and Uncle Jake, Jake Hanna, on the drums.

Thanks to Bob Erwig for sharing this.  Breathing?  Have music?  We’re lucky!

“EVERY NICKEL HELPS A LOT” (THREE VERSIONS)

Sammy Cahn, Saul Chaplin, 1936 — written for Mr. Strong:

Four Boys and a Guitar:

Lester Young, Count Basie, Carl Smith, Walter Page, Jo Jones:

EVERY NICKEL HELPS A LOT!  ALL MONEY COLLECTED GOES TO THE MUSICIANS.

 https://www.paypal.com/cgi-bin/webscr?cmd=_s-xclick&hosted_button_id=VBURVAWDMWQAS

SELDOM EVER BLUE

Here’s a delightful performance of SHOE SHINE BOY by the Copenhagen Washboard Five:

They have the right spirit, don’t they?  (Almost as if Louis and Sidney had gotten together in 1940 to record a relaxed version of this pretty Cahn-Chaplin song.)  And the vocal needs no translation. 

The Five are Mikael Zuschlag (cornet); Erik Spiermann (soprano saxophone); Jonas Winding (banjo /vocal); Hans Kofoed-Nielsen (sousaphone); Knud Andersen (washboard and vocal).  The performance was recorded on November 7, 2009, in the John F. Kennedy Pub & Jazzlounge, Torvet 4, Hillerød, Denmark. 

And Mikael’s YouTube channel is “lic62,” where he’s posted more than one hundred and fifty jazz performances by a variety of bands.  The most recent set brings together the Jelly Roll Morton-inspired pianist Bob Greene and the Peruna Jazzmen, with Bob playing TIGER RAG on a Roland keyboard with the band.

LOUIS and FATS, by SAMMY CAHN

Sammy Cahn

When I was a young boy Louis Armstrong was already a legend.  All these rumors that he was not allowed in the country, that he was a junkie, that he’d married a white (gulp) woman.  Louis Armstrong?  There was no Louis Armstrong.  He was a trumpet and a voice you heard on a record in the middle of the night.  I would listen and listen to those records.

One day Connie Immerman of the Cotton Club — also famous for Immerman’s Hot Chocolates — said he wanted to introduce me to Louis Armstrong.  Connie took me to the Cotton Club, and when I walked in and saw Louis I just gasped.

The first thing Armstrong said to me was, “When were you born?”  I said June 18.  He whipped out this book he had and flipped through the pages to that date.  He turned the book around and showed me the names of other people — famous people — who had been born on June 18.  I hoped some of it would rub off on me.

I found out that Louis was terribly weak at memorizing lyrics.  His wife would place lyrics all over the house — in his socks, in his shoes, any place he couldn’t miss and so at least would have to look at them a lot.

At the Cotton Club most of the songs were written to help work out a piece of business in the show.  They had a little boy for an act and needed a way of getting him into the show.  I had the idea of a shoeshine boy coming forward through the tables — which is how “Shoe Shine Boy” got written.  I wrote a number for Sister Rosetta Tharpe, “I Bring You Religion On A Mule.”  They hired a little white mule.  She came riding in on it.  Two days later Connie Immerman said to me, “You and your ideas!”  I said, “Isn’t the song stopping the show?”  Connie said, “Sure it’s stopping the show.  Everybody’s quitting.  Somebody found out the mule is getting more than the chorus girls.”  I’ve never suggested an animal act since.

I became close to Louis Armstrong.  One night we covered ten joints in Harlem, and each place somebody was doing Louis Armstrong.  In the tenth and last one it was a really terrible imitation.  I said, “Louis, why are we here?  This man just tries to do everything you do.”  Louis said, “He may do somep’n I don’t do.”

I learned that Armstrong’s solos never varied, and I asked him why.  He said, “Is it good?”  I said yes.  “So?”  No argument.

Once I saw Fats Waller at a rehearsal with a quart of gin on the piano.  “That’s a funny way to run a rehearsal,” I primly said.  He answered just fine: “Hey, I get four arrangements to a quart.”

Louis Armstrong, Fats Waller.  Can you top them?

[From I SHOULD CARE: THE SAMMY CAHN STORY, by Sammy Cahn, pp. 223-24.]