I especially admire musicians who know that there’s no race to get There, wherever There is. Sarah Spencer told me long ago that in New Orleans, proper tempo was a comfortable walking pace. Of course, some jazz tunes seem to require a sprint, but an easy saunter allows melodies to float in the air.
Hal Smith knows this, and his “On the Levee” band plays danceable New Orleans jazz, inspired equally by the later Kid Ory bands and the splendid individualists who make hot and lyrical sounds right now. Along with Hal on drums, there’s Joshua Gouzy, string bass; Alex Belhaj, guitar; Kris Tokarski, piano; Ben Polcer, trumpet; Joe Goldberg, clarinet; Charlie Halloran, trombone. Here’s a second helping of performances from a set that OTL played at the Redwood Coast Music Festival on May 12, 2019. And if you weren’t around for the first bowl of hot gumbo, hereit is.
Now, for more. This one’s always in honor of Hal’s and my Auntie, Ida Melrose Shoufler:
“CREOLE SONG,” with “the guest mystery vocalist”:
“SISTER KATE,” or “GET OFF KATIE’S HEAD,” your preference — or Katie’s:
and an ODJB classic that might require more vigorous leg motion:
More to come. I look forward to the days when I (and all of us) can see ON THE LEVEE with — as I am told they say in Maryland — “our own two lookin’ eyes” and when we can gather at the Redwood Coast Music Festival — that’s September 30 to October 3, 2021.
I know he’ll be embarrassed when he reads this, because for Jimmy Mazzy, any praise is overdoing it, but he’s one of my heroes: a man whose passion comes through whatever he does: telling a joke, discussing current politics, playing the banjo, or singing. Or both. So it’s an honor to share an otherwise unseen performance by Jimmy of Lonnie Johnson’s TOMORROW NIGHT.
There’s a story here, of course. My friend Sarah Spencer (UK-born, New Orleans-inspired tenor saxophonist, clarinetist, singer, lifter of spirits) went back home to care for her aging parents in the beginning of 2017. But before she left, she had a few remarkable gigs in Connecticut, where she was then living. One was at Sarah’s (yes) a lovely restaurant that also featured jazz. Our Sarah brought along some of her oldest and best musical friends: Bill Sinclair, piano; Art Hovey, string bass and tuba; the aforementioned Mr. Mazzy. At the rehearsal / soundcheck, Jimmy — entirely at ease with no audience to change the atmosphere — created a moving version of TOMORROW NIGHT that shook everyone in the room.
When the gig actually started (and you can see video from it at the end of this post) Jimmy did TOMORROW NIGHT again, and it was lovely. But it stayed in the JAZZ LIVES vault — the walk-in one — until recently, when I thought, “Do we want to let the slightest bit of Mazzy-alchemy go to waste?” and I shared it with Sarah, who agreed that it was, in Eddie Condon’s words, “too good to ignore.” See for yourself:
You can enjoy the rest of that gig (beginning with the alternate version of TOMORROW NIGHT) here and here and here.
Here’s Jimmy in 2019, at his induction into the American Banjo Museum, with his emotionally seismic rendition of the Ink Spots’ MY PRAYER:
and to change the mood back — so that we can proceed with our days and nights without being disabled by weeping — Professor Mazzy discourses on the Egyptian influence (from the August 2016 gig). The anguished reaction, even before he has concluded his peroration, is from Carrie Mazzy, his wife:
Ben Cohen Hot 7 at Bude 1998, courtesy of Alex Revell. L-R: Nick Ward, Terry McGrath, Alex Revell, Mick Clift, Ben Cohen, Geoff Over, Jon Penn.
I came very late to this particular party, but happily the party still rocks on in cyberspace. Let me explain. The searing yet also lyrical cornet player, singer, and bandleader Ben Cohen moved to another neighborhood in 2002, when he was 73. I didn’t take notice of his work until last year, when I heard him on a record featuring the late clarinetist Pierre Atlan, which also starred Humphrey Lyttelton — but one side of the disc was a 1987 session showcasing Ben, whose KNEE DROPS astonished me with its hot fluency and mastery. I regret that I can’t share this music, but the record is on eBay, like so much else (including two CDs featuring Ben, posthumously).
I contented myself with playing the record many times, then browsing through my shelves, where I found him appearing with Jean Francois Bonnel and Wally Fawkes, among other luminaries. I looked in Tom Lord’s discography and found that Ben had recorded widely from 1950 to 2000, a very long time to be in one’s prime.
And there the matter would have remained, were it not for the gracious fellow who calls himself JazzVideoMike on YouTube — the link will lead you to his channel, where you will find yourself enchanted. In real life, he answers to Mike Stevens.
I asked Mike to tell me something of his involvement with Ben, and Mike graciously wrote:
Ben Cohen played in Brian White’s Magna Jazz Band for many years right up to his passing. The Magna played weekly and from about 1990 I went weekly and got to know Ben. I started videoing jazz when I went to the French Quarter Festival in 1995 and bought my first camcorder on Canal Street. I then started going to the Bude and Keswick UK jazz festivals and making videos whenever possible, which I have continued right up to now.
I met Ben at these festivals and found that his style of playing with his Hot 5 & 7 was much more to my taste than his style with the Magna band. His early Louis style playing caused quite a stir, and admiration from many musicians. After 2000 Ben suffered several strokes, but he refused to stop playing and it was a more serious stroke which eventually brought him down.
Ben was a lovely man and greatly admired by many. [Sarah Spencer, below, says that Kenny Davern loved Ben.] Brian White still says he was the best trumpeter he ever had in his bands. Ben and Alex Revell were the front line along with Chris Barber in his amateur band before Chris made it a full time professional band. Ben was an engineer with his own business and remained a part time musician throughout his career. Alex was a also a noted engineer and designer, and they played together again in Ben’s Hot 5 & 7. Jon Penn was the pianist, and Nick Ward the drummer, both now at Whitley Bay every year.
And here is Mike’s splendid video (let us praise the man behind the camera!) of a ninety-minute plus live session at the Bude Jazz Festival:
Now for a rare treat – a new Ben Cohen Hot Five Seven concert never before published – Launched in 1993, Ben’s Hot Five caused an immediate sensation at the Bude festival that year, since when they have starred at major festivals all over the country. 1994 saw the launch of an even more exciting Hot Seven. Ben Cohen, hailed by Humphrey Lyttleton as today’s finest trumpeter in the “early Louis” style, leads Alex Revell (clarinet), Mick Clift (trombone), Jon Penn (piano), Geoff Over (banjo), and they are joined in the Hot Seven by Terry McGarth (sousaphone), and Nick Ward (drums) with special guest Norman Field (reeds).
Ben Cohen is one of the legendary backroom boys of British Traditional Jazz. He first came to notice in Chris Barber’s amateur band in 1950. He based his style on that of early Louis Armstrong and over the years developed a reputation as a powerful lead player in any band he was in. He stuck religiously to playing the cornet rather than the trumpet and was only ever semi-professional throughout his career. Ben was a popular figure on the UK Jazz scene and for many years led his Armstrong inspired Hot 5.
A brief guided tour: YOU MADE ME LOVE YOU (Ben, vocal); PAPA DIP; GULLY LOW BLUES (Ben, vocal); EAST COAST TROT (featuring Alex and Norman); NO ONE ELSE BUT YOU (Alex, vocal); TAKE YOUR PICK (featuring Geoff Over); an interlude where the band removed their jackets; MABEL’S DREAM; WEARY BLUES; SOME OF THESE DAYS (Ben, vocal); WILLIE THE WEEPER (Geoff Cole, vocal); I CAN’T SAY (Alex and Norman); ONCE IN A WHILE; ROCKIN’ CHAIR (Ben, vocal); BIG FAT MA AND SKINNY PA (Alex, vocal); KNEE DROPS; AFTER YOU’VE GONE (closing theme).
The band is marvelous. But I keep returning to Ben, who is — in the words of his friend and bandmate Sarah Spencer — “hot as heck.”
I am sorry that I never got to hear him in person, and — even more — tell him how much his music moves me. But here is evidence of gorgeous nimble heat in the best Louis manner. Thank you, Ben Cohen.
The late clarinetist Alan Cooper deserves to be better-remembered. Here he is in 1991 (courtesy of John Jamie Evans, who is not only the pianist in the photograph but also maintains the site devoted to Cooper and contemporaries, Alan Cooper Remembered.
To begin, here is Cooper’s obituary in The Guardian, by the fine jazz writer and scholar Peter Vacher:
The early 1960s was the era of the curious and brief British “trad jazz” boom. In those years the Temperance Seven, who played a version of 1920s white American dance music, achieved such success that in 1961 they had a British No 1 hit, You’re Driving Me Crazy, produced by George Martin in his pre-Beatles days. The follow-up, Pasadena. made No 4, and there were two other top 30 hits.
The clarinettist Alan Cooper, who has died of cancer aged 76, was a founder member of the group in 1957. Usually a nine-piece, and invariably billed as “one over the eight”, the Temps wore Edwardian clothes, played bizarre instruments, and projected vocals through a megaphone. Most of the band could play a variety of instruments, and Cooper – who arranged Pasadena – doubled on clarinet, bass-clarinet, soprano saxophone and the obscure phonofiddle. The band appeared on television shows such as ITV’s Thank Your Lucky Stars and a special featuring Peter Sellers – with whom they recorded. Cooper’s quirky playing style and wheezy sound were exactly right for the band. Even so, he left in 1962 after “internal dissensions”.
Born in Leeds, he fell in with traditional jazz at the city’s college of art, where aspiring guitarist Diz Disley was a fellow student. They played together in the college jazz band, the Vernon Street Ramblers, and were founder members of the Yorkshire Jazz Band, with which Cooper turned professional, recording in London in 1949.
After national service as a flying officer, Cooper moved to London in the mid-1950s. Initially a Royal College of Art student, he became a part-time lecturer at St Martin’s School of Art and at Chelsea Art School. He also performed in a quartet with bassist Bernie Cash and drummer Lennie Hastings, and recorded in 1958 with trombonist Graham Stewart’s Seven.
After the Temperance Seven, Cooper freelanced as a musician and lecturer, deputising in the Alex Welsh and Freddy Randall bands, and also appeared regularly with the Anglo-American Alliance alongside his old Temps bandmate John RT Davies (obituary, May 29 2004) and sundry Americans then resident in London, notably cornettist/journalist Dick Sudhalter. This informal outfit were the ideal backing band for the veteran blues singer Eva Taylor and former Paul Whiteman trombonist Bill Rank when they performed and recorded in London in the 1960s.
It was during this time that Cooper created his monument to Edwardian design and style with his three-storey house in Wandsworth. Formerly owned by the water-closet pioneer Thomas Crapper, it was taken over by Cooper on the understanding that it would be left untouched by modernity. He filled it with period artefacts and statues, vintage equipment including gramophones, and old instruments. He also kept open house for musician friends but moved, after a series of burglaries, to a tower in Hay on Wye, Herefordshire, which he restored, and where he recreated the Edwardian ambiance of his former home.
Cooper joined the revived New Temperance Seven in 1969 and recorded with them before working regularly with pianist Keith Nichols and touring overseas with drummer Dave Mills. He was also an occasional guest with Bob Kerr and His Whoopee Band, and led his own small groups.
He is survived by his second wife Jenefer and sons Boris and Rollo.
· Alan Swainston Cooper, musician, born February 15 1931; died August 22 2007.
An interlude for music and for a few words of my own. I first heard Cooper on several recordings featuring Dick Sudhalter and his father, with John R. T. Davies, Henry Francis, and others — issued as “Sudhalter and Son” on the “77” label and (perhaps without a band title) on Davies’ own “Ristic” label. [The Sudhalter and Sons records disappeared in one or another seismic life-change and I miss them.]
Cooper was impossible to ignore, difficult to describe, more eccentric than Pee Wee or Chace, often sounding as if he had sunk his clarinet into a bowl of soup and was playing the liquefied version. Gurglings, mutterings, and other sounds made perfect sense, and I remember feeling admiration and hilarity and befuddlement all at once. Bent Persson, who knows and feels the music deeply, has told me of his appreciation of Cooper’s true originalities.
Here, thanks again to Mr. Evans, is a sample of Coops at work on the closing choruses of BETWEEN THE DEVIL AND THE DEEP BLUE SEA:
Mr. Evans has posted seven such rare and delicious effusions hereon his YouTube channel, well worth subscribing to.
Effervescent tributes, the first by Ray Smith, from Just Jazz Magazine in November 2007:
Alan always answered the ‘phone, in a rather dignified voice, by stating simply: “Cooper”. He always signed his letters “Coops”. I once made the mistake of introducing him as “My old friend, Alan Cooper”; “I’m not old” came the reply. Indeed, he wasn’t ever old. “I don’t know what I’m going to do when I grow up,” was one of his observations during a discussion about young children. We were playing, as a duo, at a school in the Middle East. I don’t quite remember why we were without the other members of the British All-Stars, but we had to play for a half hour to 5-10 year-olds. At the end of the informal concert, the children’s appreciation was loud and long. I glanced at Alan, and I believe I saw tears glistening in his eyes. Warm-hearted wouldn’t begin to describe him, as any one of his many friends will confirm.
Spending time with Coops was always good value, and we had plenty of time on the various Middle-East tours that Dave Mills put together. There are dozens of stories…. Bruce Turner was guesting on one trip. It was like working with Jimmie Noone and Johnny Hodges in the front line. Alan’s feature number was Strangler on the Floor (with apologies to Mr. Acker Bilk). Resplendent in his white dinner jacket, black bow tie, etc., his attire was completed – for said solo outing – by a battered bowler-hat which perched on the top of his head, looking slightly embarrassed by being there.
The routine went something like this: The first chorus – in the key of Eb – was played most beautifully in tribute to the original version. In the second chorus, Alan changed to the key of E Major. However… the rhythm section section stood its ground, and continued on its way – in Eb. The effect of the resulting non-euphonious sounds registered disbelief on the faces of the audience. On completing the second chorus, the clarinet was building-up for the big finish, when Dave Mills – secreted in the audience with a bird call about his person – started twittering on that very instrument. Alan – head cocked to one side – twittered back. This went on for some time; most of the audience had realized by this time that it was a spoof. Cooper remained dignified, as always, even after the big-finish – or rather “the business” to quote a Cooperism.
Unfortunately, on one occasion, a member of the audience was a native of Pensford – Acker’s home town – and set about Alan verbally, accusing him of insincerity, amongst other things. He just wouldn’t listen to Alan’s reasoning – or ‘piff-paff’, as he would have described it. Bruce Turner was jumping up and down saying, “Hit him, Dad, hit him” to no-one in particular. I had affected a burnt-cork mustache for that particular evening. Alan pointed at said affectation. “Would you say that was displaying insincerity?” “Well no, I suppose not.” “I rest my case,” and so saying, Alan strode off in the direction of the bar. The following year, we toured in the summer time, which was stiflingly hot. Alan and I shared hotel room for four or five days in Abu Dhabi. Two single beds, one on either side of the room. The air-conditioning could be adjusted easily enough – there was a small light over the box on the wall – but knowing whether it should be left on… halfway… or turned off completely was a subject for experiment. On the first night, I adjusted the air-conditioning, and on the second night, Alan adjusted it. By the third night – my turn again – I forgot about until in bed with the lights out. I said something profane, and, without turning on the light, made my way noisily to the air-conditioning controls. Not being able to remember what the setting had been the previous night, I said, “Coops… did wehave it off last night?” There was a brief silence whilst we both thought about the question. Suddenly, a sort of gurgling noise issued from the direction of Cooper.. and then gales of laughter from us both. We didn’t actually stop laughing for an hour… Well, about twenty-five years really.
The following story illustrates the regard in which Alan was held by his fellow musicians… We visited the Pizza Express one evening to listen to Kenny Davern. Having found a seat not too near the orchestra, Kenny Davern saw Coops, and whilst announcing the next number, said “Ladies and Gentlemen, there is only one clarinetist in England who scares the hell out of me, and he’s here tonight. Sitting over there – Alan Cooper.” Alan raised his hand, and sort of wiggled his fingers in acknowledgement.
The voice at the end of the telephone is no more. Thankfully, Alan’s clarinet playing can be heard on a host of recordings. It’s safe to say that we will always remember him. God Bless, Coops.
And from Johannesburg.. (by David Mills)
On the 15 February, 1931, Gordon Alan Cooper, Alan Swainston Cooper, The Professor, and Coops – all one person – entered this world on the same day and year as Claire Bloom. Coops, as I remember him, brought with him a wealth of talent – as a painter, sculptor, teacher and musician, became one of the most original Classic jazz clarinetists in the UK and Europe – if not the World! I have very many fond memories of Coops and I list but a few. We formed the British All Stars Band in 1979, primarily to tour the Gulf States, the first time any British entertainers, let alone jazzers, had done this. Prior to that, Coops and I dreamed up the idea of taking The Temperance Seven on to Concorde, to be the first musicians to play at the speed of sound. In fact, Coops composed the Mach 2 March to celebrate this. After two years of planning and negotiating with BA, on the 31 March, 1976, we all boarded the BA Concorde flight to Bahrain and, an hour into the flight, the Chief Steward asked if the two of us would like to look at the flight deck. When Coops and I went to the flight deck, the Captain and Coops greeted each other: “Inky!” “Stinky!” Both had been pilots in the RAF at the same time, so Stinky asked Inky, “Would you like to fly us to Bahrain?” Coops took over, from Cyprus, and did! The following 25 years work in the Middle East was the result of that trip.
I’ll never forget in Muscat, Oman, on one occasion, when he rushed around all the band members’ rooms at the Ruwi Hotel saying, “Quick, quick, you must come. The Ruler is about to open the country’s first traffic light!”
Coops was a multi-talented, eccentric, loveable character whom no-one will forget, and whose presence made my, and many other lives much richer. Coops, we loved you and will continue to do so.
More music — the performance that sticks in my psyche as well as my ears and is the inspiration for this long tribute. It was recorded at the 100 Club in London on June 10, 1984, by Dave Bennett. The band, in addition to Coops, is Ken Colyer, trumpet; Graham Stewart, trombone and vocal; Johnny Parker, piano; Jim Bray, string bass; Dave Evans, drums; guests Wally Fawkes, clarinet; Diz Disley, guitar — and they embark on a leisurely GEORGIA GRIND. Not only do you hear Coops’ singular weird majesty on clarinet, entering through the window at :41, and he continues to enhance the solos and ensemble for the remaining eight minutes, masterfully:
In the past year, I’ve seen Coops’ house in Hay-on-Wye and had tea with his widow, the charming Jenny (thanks to Martin Litton and Janice Day) who showed me some intriguing Cooper-objects and told stories. I’ve learned even more from my dear friend Sarah Spencer, who knew Coops well, and I present these fragments.
Coops added “-iness” to words (hungriness instead of hunger and the like) and he used to say “Hem Hem,” which came from a book of tales of schoolboy mischief, when talking about anything of a slightly risque nature. He used to ingest Fisherman’s Friends lozenges by the handful constantly and so seemed, when his temperature reached that zone, to sweat or exude that scent from his pores. For those of us fond of Coops, the smell of Fisherman’s Friends may make us slightly nostalgic. For others, they may smell somewhat vile. I remember, with myparents being from Yorkshire (as was Coops), we took a trip ‘oop north’ to Sheffield and came back with some local candy. I brought him some. When he popped them into his mouth, the look on his face was one of utter nostalgia. “I doubted I would ever taste this again!” He played a Clinton system clarinet, a Boosey and Hawkes variant of the Albert system and practically unheard-of outside of the U.K. I have found it almost impossible to find photographs of them online.
Sarah told me, before I’d ever heard GEORGIA GRIND, that Cooper’s term of affection and esteem for men was “Dear Chap,” or sometimes “Dear Boy.”
Dear Coops, I am sorry that I never got to admire you at close range, in person. This blogpost will have to do as one tribute to someone who went his own way always and always spread joy.
My friend Sarah Spencer (tenor and soprano saxophone, clarinet, vocal) is an impeccable hybrid. London-born, New Orleans-sourced. Although her speaking voice and cadences are purest UK, her musical soul is situated somewhere on the Rue Conti. And, yes, she encountered Raymond Burke and Percy Humphrey and several dozen Masters, now-Ancestors in her musical and spiritual development.
On August 28, 2016, I had the very pleasant opportunity to hear and record Sarah and her Quartet (Jimmy Mazzy, banjo and vocal; Art Hovey, string bass and tuba; Bill Sinclair, piano and vocal) at the Jazz Masters Series at Sarah’s Wine Bar (an outgrowth of Bernard’s, a wonderful restaurant) in Ridgefield, Connecticut. (The Jazz Masters Series is held on the last Sunday of each month.)
Before we begin, here are two performances featuring Jimmy Mazzy from that evening. One is eloquently tender; the other ribald. You’ll be able to tell them apart.
And several emotionally energized highlights from the first set. (I’ve left the beginnings unedited, for the most part, so that you can see the endearing friendly exchanges among the quartet)
I had heard a great deal about the lyric troubadour Jimmy Mazzy (also a wonderful banjo player, raconteur, songhound, and more) but had never encountered him in person until late August. It was a phenomenal experience. No, it was two phenomenal experiences.
Jimmy was part of the Sarah Spencer Quartet: Sarah, tenor saxophone and vocals; Bill Sinclair, piano; Art Hovey, string bass and tuba — playing a gig at the wonderful Sarah’s Wine Barin Ridgefield, Connecticut. (Facebook calls Sarah’s a “pizza place,” which is like calling the Mona Lisa a smiling lady.) More about Sarah’s below.
And more about the saxophone-playing / singing Sarah Spencer in a future blogpost, with appropriate audio-visuals.
Sometimes the finest music is created when it appears no one is paying attention: the live recordings, the music that’s captured while the engineers are setting up or in between takes (WAITIN’ FOR BENNY and LOTUS BLOSSOM are two sterling examples that come to mind). In a few instances, I’ve brought my camera to the soundcheck or to the rehearsal because the “We’re just running this through” ambiance is a loose friendly one — shirtsleeves and microphone-adjusting rather than the musicians’ awareness of tables of expectant listeners. In that spirit, I offer Jimmy’s seriously passionate version of Lonnie Johnson’s TOMORROW NIGHT.
I think you see and feel what I mean about Jimmy as a passionate singer / actor / troubadour. If a maiden had Jimmy beneath her balcony, serenading like this, she would know that he was offering his whole heart to her with no restraint and no artifice yet great subtle powerful art. Those of us in the audience who aren’t maidens and perhaps lack a balcony can hear it too.
But Jimmy is a sly jester as well — totally in control of his audience (even though there’s a long, drawn-out “Ooooooh, no!” from Carrie Mazzy, Jimmy’s wife, at the start of this anthropological exegesis):
Jimmy Mazzy, two of a kind. And more. Irreplaceable.
And there will be more from this session. Now, some words about the delightful locale: Sarah’s Wine Bar in Ridgefield, Connecticut, features world-class jazz music on the last Sunday of every month. But that’s not the whole story: Ken and Marcia Needleman are deeply devoted to the art form, and they’ve been presenting it in style since 2009. Ken is a guitar student of Howard Alden’s, and he decided that he wanted to bring top jazz musicians to perform in an intimate setting (with excellent food and fine acoustics). They found kindred spirits in Sarah and Bernard Bouissou, restaurateur and chef of Bernard’s, one floor below the wine bar.
Thus the Jazz Masters Series began in February 2009, and I’ll mention only a double handful of the musicians who have played and sung to enthusiastic audiences: Howard Alden, Bucky Pizzarelli, Gene Bertoncini, Dick Hyman, Rossano Sportiello, Mark Shane, Frank Wess, Scott Robinson, Harry Allen, Warren Vache, Ken Peplowski, Dan Levinson, Jon-Erik Kellso, Rufus Reid, Jay Leonhart, Cameron Brown, Matt Wilson, Akira Tana, Joe LaBarbera, Mike Mainieri, Cyrille Aimee, Karrin Allyson.
The food critic who writes JAZZ LIVES wants to point out that the food was wonderful and the presentation delightful. Sarah’s Wine Bar would be a destination spot if the only music was the humming heard in the kitchen.
But right now I want to hear Jimmy sing TOMORROW NIGHT again.
I first met Sarah Spencer (tenor and soprano saxophones and vocal) slightly more than a year ago and was immediately impressed by her deep immersion in the music — more specifically, New Orleans jazz (think of Cap’n John Handy) with digressions into Red Allen and J. C. Higginbotham, Al Bowlly, and others far and wide. I wouldn’t get into a discussion of what “authentic” jazz is — too many potholes and roller skates left on the stairs — but Sarah played and sang in ways that seemed to come right from the heart, and she did her idols honor by evoking them while being herself.
Sarah had recorded several CDs but not much recently, so her new one — a selection of music recorded on location (Rochester, New York, October 18 / 19, 2015) is very much welcome.
and the other side:
I think the details are readable, but a few words about the music are apropos.
First off, it’s her TRANSATLANTIC BAND. Sarah was born in the UK, and trombonist / vocalist Mike Owen made the trip especially for the session. The other members of the ensemble live and work on the East Coast, from Connecticut to Massachusetts, and their names should be familiar to traditional jazz devotees in that “Northeast corridor.”
The band is a refreshing hybrid. I think that someone deep into the recorded legacy will recognize some respectful nods to legendary performances, but this is not an hour-and-change of “playing old records live.” It’s audible immediately that this is a band that values both individual expression and ensemble improvisation, and several performances absolutely get up and romp as they gain momentum. (It’s the kind of band where cornet and trombone both have metal derby mutes set up in front of them, if you get the reference.)
You can hear an enthusiastically involved audience, but no one claps along, whether on the beat or near it.
Sarah is distinctive — her rolling, bubbling tenor and soprano work goes in and out of the band (she thinks of herself often as a member of the rhythm section as well as a front-line soloist) and for all the people who come up to her after a set and say, “You really should listen to ______ or _______,” people she admires, she follows the more obscure but also satisfying path of Manny Paul. Her singing is truly gutty and rich, fervent and occasionally raw (when the material demands it) and she never stands at a distance from the song, but jumps right in.
Here are two samples from the sessions, with a slide show of the players.
One begins the CD (a bit of whimsy, perhaps?): GET OUT OF HERE AND GO HOME:
and here’s LOVE SONGS OF THE NILE (video first, sheet music cover below:
Other delightful vocal highlights on the disc come from Messrs. Mazzy and Owen, both deep into their own particular grooves.
The selections on the disc are wisely and sweetly arranged so that variety — not in some irritating way — is the principle. Tempos, keys, and approaches vary from song to song, and there are several performances that are slower than medium tempo (always pleasing) with a stomping samba, sidelong glances at NOLA street parade conventions, and some deep blues. The recording has some of the endearing imperfections that come with a live session (and I emphasize endearing) — all the things that I would rather have than the sometimes chilly perfection of a studio recording.
I’ve listened to the CD twice since its arrival yesterday, and I don’t see it as being shelved any time soon. It’s honest, juicy music. To get a copy for yourself, your friends, your extended family, email Sarah herself at firstname.lastname@example.org let her know your thoughts. The financial details are $20 for each disc (including postage and packing within the US); £15 (as above) in the UK. Other countries will have their own special economic deals, and I am sure that Sarah would listen intently to a conversation about quantity pricing for double-digit orders.
One recipe for happiness (there are many) follows below. Take a wonderful song by Harry Warren and Al Dubin — I know it first from the Jolson Decca — ABOUT A QUARTER TO NINE. Then, take one of my favorite singers, Banu Gibson, and match her with the swinging David Boeddinghaus at the piano in a 1990 duo-session:
Please listen closely — from the clock-chimes at the start to the delicious mixture of Banu’s warm but controlled voice (her lovely intonation and pitch and swing) and David’s rollicking piano. The only thing wrong with this recording is that it is the length of a 78. So I have to play it several times in a row.
I know there are many other recorded versions of this song — not only Jolson, but Dean Martin, Mavis Rivers, Susannah McCorkle, Bobby Darin, Chick Bullock, Wingy Manone, Ozzie Nelson, Combo De Luxe, Spats Langham / Keith Nichols, Sarah Spencer, John Sheridan, and others.
But the one that wins the prize for Decline of the West, 1962-style, is this classic by one Debby Woods, who flattens out the melody, rides right over the chord changes, and in general (although she may have been an adorable person) does unintended violence to what I think is a great song:
and the flip side of this 45 — what archaic terms those are now! — is a Woodsian rendering of this Thirties classic, JUST ONE MORE CHANCE, which I refuse to post here — even though it is more faithful to the original — out of respect to Bing and Hawk.
But now you know. When someone wants to argue with you over the thorny question, “WHEN does life begin?” you can answer “At eight forty-five,” smile and slip away unnoticed.
I think we might need to know more about the wonderfully talented Ray Noble — not only as bandleader, arranger, radio comedian, actor, occasional pianist — but as a composer: think of CHEROKEE, HANDS ACROSS THE TABLE, THE VERY THOUGHT OF YOU, and many others written and co-written by this rather elegantly sedate-looking man:
One of his evocative songs is THE TOUCH OF YOUR LIPS, which lends itself to many treatments — vocally and instrumentally:
But here I can offer you a sweetly swaying treatment of the song as a “rhythm ballad,” where sentiment and swing co-exist very pleasingly. This performance took place at the Allegheny Jazz Party on September 11, 2015: the magical strollers are Howard Alden, guitar; Dan Barrett, trombone; Harry Allen, tenor saxophone; Frank Tate, string bass; Ricky Malichi, drums:
And here is this band’s version of Coleman Hawkins’ STUFFY, which preceded TOUCH in the same set. Perhaps we’ll meet at this year’s Cleveland Classic Jazz Party (September 15-18) where such good music is created so easily.
And a linguistic after-dinner mint of the highest order. My dear friend Sarah Spencerpresented me with this little verbal gift some months ago, that she learned from the gracious and generous musician (piano and reeds) Gene Riordan: that Louis retitled this song THE LOP OF YOUR CHOPS. After that, nothing more need be said.
I can precisely document the time and place my admiration for Sarah Spencer began. The site was the second floor of Casa Mezcal(86 Orchard Street, on the Lower East Side of New York City) around 3 PM on Sunday, June 5 — an event I’ve documented here. Witnessing this was Tamar Korn (it was her gig), violinist / baritone saxophonist Andy Stein and pianist Ehud Asherie. Then, happily, Sarah brought her tenor saxophone to the Wednesday, June 10 gig of the Hot Jazz Rabbleat the Tryon Public House(4740 Broadway).
Her friends in the Rabble were Jim Fryer, trombone; Mike Davis, trumpet; Glenn Crytzer, banjo; Jennifer Vincent, string bass.
A word before readers jump into the videos. To tenor saxophone aficionados who have grown up on Hawk, Ben, Lester, and their modern descendants, Sarah’s playing may take sixteen bars to get used to. If, however, you know the New Orleans tradition of Cap’n John Handy and Emmanuel Paul, Sarah’s bubbling, exuberant work will make you feel at home immediately.
She told me that she doesn’t see herself as a member of the front line, alongside trumpet and trombone, but rather as part of the rhythm section, energizing it in naturally. What you’ll hear in her joyous ensemble playing sounds like a cross between water rushing over rocks and a very dark, ferocious Bud Freeman who’s been boling crawfish.
With that as preface, here she is on MARIE:
And here Sarah sings DOWN IN THE MOUF’ BLUES, which is a late Clara Smith performance. Please note that she does more than copy the recorded performance. Even better, she varies her phrasing from chorus to chorus with lovely shifts of emphasis and meter. There is the surface appearance of don’t-care roughness, but underneath there is many subtle variations on the simple theme:
Sarah’s authenticity and enthusiasm are very winning. Her personality doesn’t come through entirely in the videos, so you have to see and hear her for yourself. I think of her as a youthful Earth Mother of New Orleans stomp by way of the UK and Connecticut.
And she and her Transatlantic Band are playing a gig this June 20th: details here!
I wrote recently about a new scene for hot jazz— the late-Wednesday sessions led by Jim Fryer at the Tryon Public House, 4740 Broadway, a few blocks from the Dyckman Street station on the A line. The sessions run from 11 PM to 1 AM.*
Last Wednesday, intrepid and intent, I took the A all the way uptown and found the place — cheerful, run by nice people, full of friends: Michelle DeCastro, Ana Quintana, Stephanie Robinson, Peter Mintun, Bliss Blood, Charlie Levenson, Sarah Spencer . . . and the Hot Jazz Rabble: Jim, trombone, vocal; Mike Davis, trumpet, vocal; Glenn Crytzer, banjo; Jennifer Vincent, string bass (arco and pizzicato). Later, Sarah sat in for two fine numbers; then (after I left to go home to suburbia) Bliss, Jay Lepley, and Jordan Hirsch sat in.
The food looked good; the beer looked better; I was told there was parking on Broadway. No cover, no minimum, a yearning tip jar.
Musically, I had the time of my life.
Three glorious samples from the first set:
I FOUND A NEW BABY (hotter than the devil’s kitchen, even when someone trips over my tripod — and then apologizes, bless him — at about 3:40):
A great Tim Laughlin original with a delightful title, SUBURBAN STREET PARADE:
Mike Davis’ BLUE TURNING GREY OVER YOU, where he sounds nicely like the Master to Jim’s Mister Tea:
I’ll have two more visceral ones to post featuring Sarah Spencer, too.
This scene is really worth being a little sleepy on Thursday morning.
*And incidentally, if you have old-fashioned notions of “uptown” being “a bad neighborhood,” Broadway up there was brightly lit, populated by a charming mix of people — nothing to be afeared of.
I feel so fortunate to have met the delightfully authentic Sarah Spencerabout 72 hours ago.
Although Sarah didn’t bring her tenor saxophone to Tamar Korn’s Sunday afternoon soiree at Casa Mezcal, she did sit in and sing a 1928 Ma Rainey blues, HEAR ME TALKIN’ TO YOU. Her singing initially hits with the force of a phenomenon that should be reported on the Weather Channel, but those who listen closely will hear an entreaty, a tenderness beneath the seriously forthright power. She’s accompanied by Andy Stein, baritone saxophone; Ehud Asherie, piano (the latter bringing some Ellington and Hines down to New Orleans):
If you weren’t at Casa Mezcal, you have another chance right away to immerse yourself in Sarah’s swinging world — a Saturday-night gig on June 20 from 8 to midnight. It’s at the Windmill Tavern at 400 Hollister Street, Stratford, Connecticut. The phone number for reservations is 203-378-6886. No cover, no minimum.
Sarah explains, “The band is Sarah Spencer’s Transatlantic Band and we play New Orleans Music – from Piron to Professor Longhair (and always hot and dirty!) People can check out my website here. The personnel for the gig is Sarah Spencer, tenor sax and vocal; Fred Vigorito, cornet; Bill Sinclair, piano; Art Hovey, tuba and string bass; Molly Sayles, drums. It looks like there is a load of room to dance so people should come with their dancing shoes and be prepared to shake it in good New Orleans fashion (or any other way they see fit)!”
You know what to do. And obviously so does Sarah.
P.S. I told Sarah that her photograph was terrifying, and she grinned and said, “That’s my best butt-kicking, hard-blowing, get outta ma way cos I’m comin’ through photo — my cutting contest face. But I’m a big squishy inside.” She is both of those people, and I hope you get a chance to find out for yourself.
Jim Fryer has good taste — as trombonist, euphonist, trumpeter, singer, composer, bandleader, reader of big books . . . and he’s currently trying something heroic and lovely: starting a new hot jazz scene in an area that hasn’t had one for a long time.
The place is the Tryon Public House, every Wednesday night from 11 PM to 1 AM. It is genuinely “uptown,” 4740 Broadway, steps from the Dyckman Street stop on the A train. New York City, of course. Jim’s assembled a group he calls, demurely, the HOT JAZZ RABBLE. In addition to Jim, the participants are trumpeter / singer Mike Davis, plectrist / singer / composer Glenn Crytzer, a bassist of choice — that means a choice bassist [last week it was Peter Ford; this week it will be Jennifer Vincent]. And the gig has been attracting virtuous New York hot talents — last week trumpeter Jordan Hirsch, and the word on the hot grapevine is that Mike and Jordan wailed on CORNET CHOP SUEY. Dancing encouraged. I am told there are fine liquids for purchase. And I know there will be sitting-in. As Jim says, “Please help us get a scene going here in Manhattan del Norte!”
Because I’ve been Going to School all my life, I am a morning person — but I hope to make it to this Wednesday’s festivities. And I know that my friend Sarah Spencer, a stomping New Orleans tenor player and down-home singer, will be there as well.
And now comes the didactic part. Delicate readers may turn away or shield the children’s eyes. But because of the internet and the overwhelming accessibility of free live music, audio and video, many jazz fans no longer have to or no longer choose to leave their houses to support living musicians actually playing the music. Thrift, Horatio. But when there is no scene, it might be because some of the fans didn’t put their shoes on and visit it. Enough said.