Tag Archives: Satie

“DUETS”: BOB BARNARD and JULIAN LEE (1989)

Music first, then a story. Several stories.

The composition is Maurice Ravel’s PAVANE FOR A DEAD PRINCESS, transformed into popular song under the title THE LAMP IS LOW, performed by Bob Barnard, cornet; Julian Lee, electric piano here.

(A note to pedants: I may be wrong about both identifications: Bob may be playing trumpet; Julian, synthesizer. I will correct them if so.)

Years ago, perhaps 1969, John S. Wilson, the New York Times‘ jazz critic had a weekly radio program, and he told this story. Steve Smith, who created the Hot Record Society series of recordings, felt that only Louis Armstrong had the majesty to properly interpret Bach’s second Brandenburg Concerto, and he took this novel idea to the major record companies, who turned him down without a thought.

Now, in our lifetimes, we can hear Bob Barnard honor and embellish classical themes.

Bob Barnard was a true hero to everyone who heard him. In his playing, there was an unassuming casualness — he went against Louis’ advice to Erskine Hawkins, “Make it look hard!” — as he scaled mountains with the greatest of ease, his tone always golden, his harmonic sense always dazzling. A solo of his was like a series of small jewels, amazing to hear as they happened, even more so when considered at leisure. He never fell back on cliche, his own or anyone else’s, and he trusted the melody so deeply that he stood back from it and reverently allowed it to gleam. In this, he was a true successor to Louis, Bobby, Bix, Buck — with his own wondrous swing and dash.

I encountered him a half-dozen times on his visits to New York, Denver, and Chautauqua, alongside Kenny Davern, Bobby Gordon, Vince Giordano and the Nighthawks, Scott Robinson, and others, and in person he was just as rewarding: witty, friendly, and warm. I was first “a fan,” then someone with a video camera, but Bob never viewed me from a height or at a distance.

As a player, he was utterly courageous — play thirty-two bars of his work for any brass player if you think I overstate — with a certain gentle audacity when it came to his colleagues on the stand. I am thrilled that the CD includes BOULEVARD OF BROKEN DREAMS, because it is one of my favorite Barnard moments. He appeared a few times at Jazz at Chautauqua over a decade or so of my being there. The creator of that jazz weekend, Joe Boughton, deplored what he saw as musicians’ lazy reliance on over-familiar repertoire, and encouraged people to bring and perform lesser-known gems. Bob was on stage once with a band of true professionals, and called BOULEVARD as the next tune, told everyone the key, set a tempo, turned to the pianist for a four-bar introduction, and led the way. It was not an easy tune nor a familiar one, but Bob led the way, clearly establishing the melody and harmonies for the players who might have only remembered it dimly. By the end of his second chorus the musicians were playing it as if it had been SWEET GEORGIA BROWN: he was that compelling and assured a leader as well as everything else.

Now, if someone can find a recording of Bob performing (perhaps singing also?) A BROWN SLOUCH HAT, my life will be even more complete. (He performed it at Chautauqua also.)

I had known nothing of Julian Lee, but here you can find out about this amazing man, who died in 2020 at 97. Bob had always wanted to record with him, and his inventive intuitive playing, in solo and accompaniment, says it all.

The CD that is the subject of this post, DUETS, captured Bob and Julian in 1989 in Sydney, Australia, and is now issued for the first time on Bandcamp by Bob’s son Tony, himself a stellar guitarist. The fourteen tracks are divided equally between “classical” and “popular,” although as Bob’s Louis-inflected improvisations on the Ravel theme show, those boundaries are completely artificial and tissue-thin.

They are PAVANE FOR A DEAD PRINCESS / GYMNOPEDIES / THE GIRL WITH THE FLAXEN HAIR / Adagio from CONCERTO DE ARANJUEZ / PATHETIQUE Sonata / PAVANE FOR A SLEEPING WOOD NYMPH / MY MAN / NUAGES / BORSALINO / BOULEVARD OF BROKEN DREAMS / THE WINDMILLS OF YOUR MIND / GIGI / AUTUMN LEAVES.

I think this is thrilling music, and I am so glad that it was recorded for all of us.

Listen and purchase here.

ROBERTA PIKET, “SOLO”: SWEET PUNGENCY

Although others have justly celebrated her, I was unaware of pianist Roberta Piket until she sat in on a Lena Bloch gig at Somethin’ Jazz at the end of April 2012.  Then I heard the lovely, inquiring sounds that she made: she appears on the final two performances here.

ROBERTA PIKET Solo

I am even more impressed by her latest CD, called simply SOLO.

My early introductions to solo piano were, not surprisingly, based in swing: Waller, Wilson, James P., Hines, Williams, Tatum, and their modern descendants — players who appropriately viewed the instrument as orchestral, who balanced right-hand lines against continuous, sometimes forceful harmonic / rhythmic playing in the bass.  I still admire the Mainstream piano that encompasses both Nat Cole and Bud Powell, but I no longer feel deprived if I listen to a solo pianist who approaches the instrument in a more expressive way, freeing both hands from their traditional roles.  To me, James P. Johnson’s IF DREAMS COME TRUE, Wilson’s DON’T BLAME ME, Tatum’s POOR BUTTERFLY, and almost anything by Jimmie Rowles scale the heights. But I know there are fresh fields and pastures new beyond those splendid achievements.  And players who are willing to explore can often take us on quite rewarding journeys.

Roberta Piket is on her own quest — although she notes that SOLO was, in some ways, a return to her own comfort zone.  But within that zone she both explores and provides comfort for us.  For one thing, her choices of repertoire are ingenious and varied: Arthur Schwartz, Monk, Strayhorn – Ellington, Bruno Martino, Wayne Shorter, Sam Rivers, Chick Corea, Marian McPartland, and Frederick Piket.

Her work surprises — but not for novelty’s sake alone — and whose variety of approaches is intuitively matched to the material she has chosen.  Some solo artists have one basic approach, which they vary slightly when moving from a ballad to a more assertive piece, but the narrowness of the single approach quickly becomes familiar and even tiresome.  SOLO feels more like a comprehensive but free exploration of very different materials — without strain or pretension, the result feels like the most original of suites, a series of improvised meditations, statements, and dances based on strikingly chosen compositions.

The first evidence of Piket’s deep understanding of line and space, of shade and light, comes almost immediately on the CD, as she approaches the repeated notes of I SEE YOUR FACE BEFORE ME with a serious tenderness reminiscent of a Satie piece, an emotion that echoes in its own way in the final piece.  (I hope Jonathan Schwartz has been able to hear this: it is more than touching.)

Then, as soon as the listener has been sweetly and perhaps ruefully lulled, two strong, almost vigorous improvisations on Monk themes follow.  Many pianists have reduced Monk to a handful of by-the-numbers dissonances; not Piket, who uses his melodic material as a starting point rather than attempting to show that, she, too, can “sound Monkish.”

Lovely songs by Strayhorn (SOMETHING TO LIVE FOR) and McPartland (IN THE DAYS OF OUR LOVE) are treated with sincerity and reverence, but Piket does far more than simply play the familiar melody and chords: her voicings, her touch, illuminate from within.  ESTATE shows off Piket’s easy versatility, as she places the melody in the bass and ornaments in the treble during the performance.  Roberta’s precise power and energetic technique are shown in the uptempo original CLAUDE’S CLAWED, Shorter’s NEFERTITI, and Corea’s LITHA — at times powerful investigations that bridge post-bop jazz and modern classical, at times a series of unanswered questions.

The disc ends as it began, with tenderness — Sam Rivers’ BEATRICE,  an easy swinger that seems light-hearted without losing its essential serious affection.  And there’s a prize.  I didn’t know about Roberta’s father, Viennese-born composer Frederick Piket (whose life and work is examined here).  Although he wrote much “serious” music — secular and religious — IMPROVISATION BLUE is a lovely “popular” song I kept returning to: its melody is haunting without being morose, and I imagined it scored for the Claude Thornhill band in a Gil Evans chart.  It should have been.

SOLO begins sweetly and tenderly and ends the same way — with vigorous questioning and exploring of various kinds in the middle.  Roberta is an eloquent creator who takes chances but is true to her internal compass, whichever way it might point for a particular performance.

You can hear some of SOLO at Roberta’s website and at CDBaby.

On Facebook: Roberta Piket’s Music and Roberta Piket.

And this January 31, you will be able to hear Roberta, the inspiring percussionist Billy Mintz (he and Roberta are husband and wife, a neat match), celebrating tenor saxophonist Lena Bloch’s birthday — with bassist Putter Smith and legendary saxophonist John Gross.  Fine Israeli food and wine are part of the party at the East End Temple.  Tickets are $18 in advance, $22 at the door; $15 for students: click here to join the fun.

May your happiness increase.

TWO’S COMPANY: KATIE CAVERA and CLINT BAKER: “Who’s Foolin’ Who?”

Katie Cavera is a woman of many talents: she can play anything with strings (a variety of banjos, guitars, and string basses).  Her ideal is Freddie Green, which should tell you something about her taste and swing.

She is also a sweetly unaffected but convincing singer, able to create delightful variations.  (She played trombone in high school and is currently picking up the trumpet to fill in for a scarcity of trumpet players in her area: very little holds Katie back!)

Katie is also a nifty creator of short films that are both funny and sweet, some starring Tofu, the naughty Sock Monkey, who goes everywhere and breaks the rules wherever he goes.  More about that in a minute.

Clint Baker can do it all: he can lead a band gently but effectively.  He can write arrangements or create head-arrangements on the spot; he’s a good down-home singer, a hot cornetist, drummer, trombonist, reedman, guitarist, banjoist, bassist, tubaist, washboardist.

Katie and Clint made a CD.  It’s a doozy, a honey, a wow, the cat’s whiskers / pajamas / meow.  (Translation: I won’t be parted from my copy.)

Before we move on to the details, here’s a sample (courtesy of my pal Rae Ann Berry) of Katie and Clint — with Ray Templin at the piano — romping through TOO BUSY in 2009.  (Katie likes the approach and repertoire of Lillie Delk Christian, and this performance is a particular favorite.)

The CD Katie and Clint collaborated on is called WHO’S FOOLIN’ WHO? — but the title doesn’t mean that you will be taken in if you purchase it.  Oh, no — quite the contrary.  Aside from a guest appearance by Monte Reyes on tenor banjo (on one track) and a piano feature for Robert Young on a rag Katie composed — which combines Satie, Joseph Lamb, and Spike Jones — the CD is entirely given over to Katie and Clint.  “Uh oh.  Banjo and cornet, maybe, for an hour?” I hear some of you muttering.

No.  Through the magic of beautifully-done overdubbing, it’s a full hot band.  Katie sings and plays five instruments; Clint plays ten.  I know that overdubbing doesn’t always work.  Sidney Bechet’s One-Man-Band worked because it was Bechet (a matter of sheer passion); George Avakian’s cut-and-paste experiments with Louis Armstrong were miraculous because they allowed us to hear Louis accompany Louis.  (Is there anything finer?)

But the Katie-Clint endeavor works so well because the recording was done by Monte Reyes, who knows how jazz should sound, and because Katie and Clint are on the same wavelength.  So the result swings most enchantingly — a nice mix of standards and a few originals.

I must report that one of the originals, YOU’VE BEEN A NAUGHTY BOY — somewhere between Annette Hanshaw and Mae West — so captivated me that I played it over and over in the car, grinning as I drove.

I have little patience for Christmas songs — especially at the end of March — but this Christmas song promises something sweetly, tenderly romantic as a present, and it rolls along irresistibly.  But you don’t have to take my word for it.

Fortunately for us, Katie used her song — in this version– as the soundtrack for one of her “silent” films, where she reveals yet another talent . . . as subtly funny philosopher.  The film features Katie’s husband, magician Woody Pittman, in a starring role:

To find out more about the CD (such as the important question: How can I buy several?) visit http://www.katiecavera.com/disc.html and find out all the answers.

And — just in a musing way — I think the moral of the film, tenderly enacted, is that our life’s pleasures are often under our noses, so much so that we take them for granted.  (You may begin to hum BACK IN YOUR OWN BACKYARD at this point.)  I feel this way about Katie and Clint’s CD: once you have a copy, you will wonder how you got along without it to listen to.