Tag Archives: Sausalito

CONFESSIN’

Muggsy_Spanier

I just acquired the late Bert Whyatt’s bio-discography of Muggsy Spanier, THE LONESOME ROAD.  Published by Jazzology Press in 1995, it feels fresh.

I read non-fiction books haphazardly, especially when I know the shape of the narrative, but for some reason I began this one at the beginning, where Bert wrote of his connection with Ruth, Muggsy’s widow, and her wholehearted cooperation in the book, which combines his research with her unpublished memoir.

I found this passage on page 7 and think it moving beyond simple explanation. (Note: in his last years, the Spaniers lived in Sausalito, California, a town the Beloved and I came to know):

One evening, we [Bert and his wife and Ruth] returned to Sausalito from San Francisco and Ruth asked us to pull the car off the road which runs down from the north side of the Golden Gate Bridge.

“We often would stop here for a last cigarette after the Club Hangover had closed for the night,” she said.  “It helped Muggsy to unwind and we would usually sit quietly, saying little.  Sometimes he would seek reassurance that I loved  him. ‘I feel so lonely and afraid,’ he would say. I would remind him of the affection felt for him worldwide, of all his friends who loved him and, of course, that I did too.”

She paused and then said, “If we ever get that book finished, we should call it ‘Muggsy Spanier: The Lonesome Road.'”

My first reaction to this little tale was astonishment, then sorrow.  To think that a man so much at one with his art, after an evening of sharing joy through his music, could feel so desolate and frightened, was nearly shattering.

I then thought wryly that I had been wrong in assuming that playing hot cornet was armor against existential dread. . . . that a plunger mute could keep such essential anxiety at a distance.

But even as I felt sorrow and sympathy for Muggsy, I was flooded with pride and admiration.  He was born in 1901, and it might be cliched to write  that men of that generation were told it was unmanly to reveal their hearts with such openness, perhaps even to their wives.  Being male required staunchness and emotional reserve. Oh, one could say “I love you!” to one’s Beloved, one could woo the person one wanted to be intimate with by using words like those, one could say it to children.  But to say I NEED LOVE and I AM AFRAID was not something men were trained or encouraged to do. Candor like that might have seemed a confession of weakness.

But somehow Muggsy knew that his emotions were the magical element that made him able to play the blues, or the love song that he aimed directly at Ruth in their courtship, I’M CONFESSIN’. Love was at the center of his art.  And such heartfelt candid utterance.  And he found the courage to push aside his expected role and, in the darkness, speak his truths.

I celebrate Ruth also for creating an atmosphere where her husband could confess his inmost heart and receive reassurance and love, not dismissal or mockery.  She must have understood her husband’s need as genuine and commendable.  She didn’t say to him, “What is wrong with you, talking like that?”

Perhaps she knew that it takes a brave individual to openly say, “I am afraid,” an honest one to say, “I am lonely.”

Because of this anecdote, the man I admired as a jazz musician is now enhanced rather than diminished, a figure larger and more beautiful than an anxious man seeking reassurance.  Muggsy Spanier, perhaps an unlikely figure, is the embodiment of our deep need for love — a hero of that exalted emotion.  He seems to have known that without it, we wither.

His own road might have been lonesome, but I find his openness inspiring and brave.

May your happiness increase!

SIX SURPRISES: MAL SHARPE and BIG MONEY IN JAZZ at the NO NAME BAR in SAUSALITO (August 19, 2012)

Since the school year will soon be upon us, here is a one-question jazz quiz on the recent content of JAZZ LIVES.  Please turn your phones off — the answer won’t be found there — and those of you who have been paying close attention have nothing to worry about.

1.  On a Sunday afternoon at the No Name Bar in Sausalito (extra credit if you can accurately recall the street address and the hours that the band plays), when Mal Sharpe and the Big Money in Jazz Band take center stage, the results can best be described as:

a.     swinging

b.     hilarious

c.     unpredictable

d.     all of the above.

Make sure you’ve written your name at the top, and please hand them in.  The correct answer is D, although I will give partial credit for A, B, or C.  Extra credit?  757 Bridgeway, 3-6 PM.  I’ll see you all next week.

Mal and his Colleagues in Swing had a good time last Sunday and they shared the pleasure with us.  Mal offered some Dickensonian trombone asides, loose-limbed singing and comic commentaries; trumpeter John Dodgshon was mellow, on the horn and in his vocals; Tom Schmidt continues to delight and surprise on clarinet and Hodges-inspired alto (I think of Charlie Holmes, a real compliment) — he sang memorably,  too.  The rhythm section worked together splendidly, with Our Lady of the Trap Kit, sweetly pungent Carmen Cansino, tersely rocking Bill De Kuiper on guitar, and quietly eloquent Paul Smith (another videographer!) on string bass.

Here are six movements from the monumental Big Money in Jazz Suite, Opus 8.19.12.

Mal is the most generous of men, but this Sunday his resources might have been low, for he chose I CAN’T GIVE YOU ANYTHING BUT LOVE:

August 21 is a national holiday, although you didn’t see the appropriate sales in mattress stores — it’s Count Basie’s birthday.  Here’s a version of LADY BE GOOD that starts with a Kansas City Six rhythm section chorus:

John Dodgshon seemed entirely trustworthy, reliable to the end, when I spoke with him at the start.  Thus I believed him utterly when he sang YOU CAN DEPEND ON ME:

For Louis and Benny and Bing, SHINE, with special cadenzas for Carmen near the end.  And if you still think of that song as having deplorably racist lyrics, please read this:

I have noticed how most requests from audience members make the players sigh behind their affable smiles, so I try to restrain myself.  But when asked (as I was here) I will often propose SWEETHEARTS ON PARADE, perhaps because I’ve been so transformed by hearing Louis, Ruby Braff, and Doc Cheatham play it.  And Perry Como stayed quietly in the back room (the fans tend to mob him when he comes to the No Name Bar, so Nancy and Scarlet make him comfortable there):

There was a large and enthusiastic Texas contingent in the No Name Bar that Sunday, so perhaps this edged John Dodgshon away from the TIN ROOF BLUES to the 1918 DALLAS BLUES.  I didn’t know the verses that Tom Schmidt sang with such easy fervor. . . .thank you, Tom!  And pay special attention to Bill De Kuiper, the Troubadour of the Silver Subaru, as he takes an inspiring off-the-harmonies solo, immensely refreshing:

Now, don’t you wish you had been there?

May your happiness increase.

LAUGHIN’ IN RHYTHM: MAL SHARPE and BIG MONEY IN JAZZ at SAUSALITO (August 5, 2012)

Swing and improvised comedy have been the high points of my Sundays for the past two months, for I’ve been spending my afternoons (from 3-6) at the No Name Bar (757 Bridgeway) in Sausalito, California.  Mind you, I’m not a bar habitue — one drink is enough, two drinks is plenty.  And I’d rather have my calories in food.

But Mal Sharpe and his band, Big Money in Jazz, have been at the No Name Bar for years . . . and I can see why.  Even when the instrumentation is frankly improbable, relaxed swing fills the air — along with made-up-right-now comic vignettes, of which Mal is a master.

Last Sunday, the band featured three guitarists (“no waiting!”) — Denny Guyer, with the admirable summer hat; Bill De Kuiper, to his right, and Ken Emerson on lap steel guitar.  The eloquent Sam Rocha made it all right with his string bass; Roy Blumenfeld swung out on his drum kit; trumpeter Jim Gammon and Mal (trombone and vocals) were the front line.  Here are five highlights from that happy Sunday afternoon.

JUST A LITTLE WHILE TO STAY HERE is what I think of as a New Orleans carpe diem, but in Mal’s hands it seems a jocular way to begin his band’s weekly tenure at the No Name Bar, “Don’t be upset that we’re here and don’t object too loudly — we’ll be out of here in a few hours”:

Mal began the afternoon — it was warm — by telling the audience that what they were witnessing was NBC’s rebroadcast of the Christmas show (a nice absurdity on many levels) which then inspired Jim Gammon to lead the band into a funky, lopsided SANTA CLAUS IS COMING TO TOWN — as if Santa had been listening to Hot Lips Page rhythm and blues in his sleigh:

A vaguely Hawaiian-inflected BREEZE was a tropical delight, although the reasons behind this pineapple-flavored rendition are more than a bit puzzling to the anthropologists at the No Name.  Mahalo, you cats:

DALLAS BLUES is in part my responsibility.  I had been talking with the very entertaining Jim Gammon in the set break and had casually told him that Clint Baker (who has played with Mal’s bands) began his gig with a romping version of that song, one of my favorites.  When the next set began, I heard Jim suggest this song, “for Michael,” and I am delighted to have been the partial instigator of this song selection.  But I had no idea that one of Mal’s socio-political blues was in the offing: it will catch you by surprise, as will his surrealistic solo:

And, finally, LAUGHIN’ IN RHYTHM — courtesy of Slim and Slam or Sidney Bechet and Vic Dickenson.  It’s frankly goofy — I GOT RHYTHM with the giggles — but it sat just right:

Forget your troubles.  C’mon, get happy — some Sunday at 757 Bridgeway, Sausalito, from 3-6 PM.

May your happiness increase.

INDOOR SPORTS IN SAUSALITO: MAL SHARPE, LEON OAKLEY, RICHARD HADLOCK, BILL DE KUIPER, SAM ROCHA, CARMEN CANSINO at THE NO NAME BAR, July 22, 2012

Some pleasurable experiences evaporate almost as soon as they’ve ended.  But July 22, 2012, was our third consecutive visit to Mal Sharpe’s Sunday afternoon gig (3-6 PM) at The No Name Bar in Sausalito (757 Bridgeway) and the pleasure was as powerful as ever.

Mal remains a solid gutty player and his comedic improvisations (involving Thanksgiving, zippers, the NBC Red Network) are as fresh and unbalanced as ever.  But he shines greatly as a trombonist and lively singer.  Those who think of him only as a radio and television personality would be surprised at his deep immersion in hot jazz.

To Mal’s right was the jazz critic and reedman Richard Hadlock, floating behind the beat or keening on his straight soprano.  In the middle was the cornetist who could lead the troops into battle with never a qualm — someone capable of great subtleties and shadings, too — Leon Oakley.  In the back were swinging regulars Bill De Kuiper, guitar; Carmen Cansino, drums — with the eloquent bassist and eager swing singer Sam Rocha.  A band to conjure with!

After a holiday-themed introduction, the band swung into a version of LONESOME ROAD.  (It was a highly inappropriate soundtrack — the path to the No Name Bar was sunny, filled with people, and one could feast on Thai or Mexican cuisine, fish and chips, ice cream, or my choice — spicy nasturtium blossoms.  I saw no one trudging under a heavy load, but it was still a good opener.)

A nearly perverse defiance seemed behind the second song choice, too.  July, warm, sunny?  No, SEPTEMBER IN THE RAIN:

Some people in the audience were visiting from Indiana, and I had hopes that Mal would call ALABAMMY BOUND or THE YELLOW ROSE OF TEXAS, but all turned politely respectful as the band swung into BACK HOME AGAIN IN INDIANA:

Laying bare his soul (but keeping his green hat on), Mal called for I’M CONFESSIN’:

If Mal could Confess, it was only right that Sam could sing about ROSETTA:

The No Name Bar serves drinks that are some distance from a pot of Earl Grey, but Mal’s version of WHEN I TAKE MY SUGAR TO TEA was suitably hot and sweet:

YELLOW DOG BLUES connected neatly with Leon’s deep interest in steam trains:

One of the young women in the audience who had come from the Canary Islands, directly, it seemed, to 757 Bridgeway, was named Maria: a good reason to call Berlin’s MARIE, even if Bunny was not in the house:

Everyone got serious for an impassioned BLACK AND BLUE, so strongly identified with Louis, Fats, and Andy Razaf:

The somber mood was quickly dispelled by Mal’s romping though an accusatory YOU RASCAL YOU, called late enough in the session so that none of the patrons would stalk out into the sunlight, offended, too early:

And Mal and the Big Money in Jazz Band told us it was time to go home with another Berlin classic, THE SONG IS ENDED:

But only for a week, as Fred Robbins used to say at the end of the 1944-45 Eddie Condon Town Hall broadcasts.  And Mal brings the Big Money in Jazz Band to the Savoy Tivoli in San Francisco every Saturday afternoon, and there’s a once-a-month Thursday gig at Armando’s in Martinez . . . as well as other spectaculars unknown to JAZZ LIVES but worth investigating.

May your happiness increase. 

(ANOTHER) SUNDAY IN SAUSALITO WITH MAL (July 15, 2012)

It was a sunny afternoon in Sausalito, California, Sunday, June 15, but I and enlightened souls chose the semi-darkness of the No Name Bar (757 Bridgeway) from 3-6 PM for the good hot music and sweet ballads and occasional hijinks of trombonist / philosophical wanderer Mal Sharpe and the Big Money in Jazz Band.  It was fun, and often even more memorable than that.

Incidentally, yelp.com lists the No Name Bar as a “dive bar,” but as one of the patrons said, “I know dive bars, and this is no dive bar.”  The No Name is rather too clean and congenial to qualify . . . sorry!

Mal had with him Paul Smith, string bass; Carmen Cansino, drums; Si Perkoff, keyboard and vocals; Tom Schmidt, clarinet, alto, and vocal; Andrew Storar, trumpet and vocals: a very cohesive group, as you will shortly find out.

People who might only know Mal from his many public lives might be unaware of his work as a jazz trombonist and singer.  In the first of those roles, he is a fine ensemble player — simple, uncluttered, propulsive; as a soloist he emulates Vic Dickenson and Dicky Wells, happily!  Paul Smith is a subtle bassist whose time and taste are delightful; his solos are concise and tasty, and the band rests easily on his foundation.  Drummer Carmen Cansino was new to me, but she’s a wonderfully attentive drummer who catches every musical cue and never gets in the way: her solos have the snap of Wettling or Leeman — a series of well-placed epigrams.  Si Perkoff’s harmonies are supportive, his improvisations eager but never garrulous: he’s a witty, relaxed player with Monkish edges.

The clarinet, by its very nature, inspires some of the most experienced players into unedited exuberance.  Tom Schmidt’s phrases are neat constructions; his sweet / hot alto playing would make Charlie Holmes very happy.  I knew Andrew Storar as the lead trumpet in Don Neely’s Royal Society Jazz Orchestra, but was unprepared for how fine a small-band soloist he is — with a graceful, stepping approach and a burnished tone reminiscent of Doc Cheatham.

Andrew, Sy, and Tom are also first-rate singers . . . with markedly different styles.  These six players blend marvelously as a unit — the band rocked through three sets without a letup.

Mal is a sharp-edged improvisatory comedian (he doesn’t tell jokes; he invents situations and then builds them into wonderfully unbalanced edifices) who plays with and off of the crowd.

Here are some of the highlights of another Sunday in the bar with Mal.

A strolling ROYAL GARDEN BLUES, with a vocal that emphasizes the importance of proper refuse recycling:

Mal had created an extended comedy about one Randy Mancini, and other unrelated Mancinis were in the house (that’s Virgina having her photo taken with the band) so MOON RIVER, with a sweet vocal from Andrew, was just the ticket:

Take you down to New Orleans!  BOURBON STREET PARADE:

And Si reminds us that most everyone Wants A Little Girl.  Or boy.  Or someone to share popcorn with:

Keeping the romantic mood, Mal offers SWEET LORRAINE in honor of Nat and Maria Cole:

More New Orleans cuisine — although not for the lactose-intolerant — ICE CREAM:

A hot version of DINAH:

Andrew Storar favors the singing of Dean Martin, and honors him without copying, on EVERYBODY LOVES SOMEBODY:

Turning the No Name Bar into Rick’s wasn’t easy — the carpenters had to work feverishly — but Si delivers AS TIME GOES BY in a more jocular fashion than the last Dooley Wilson:

And to send everyone out into the sun with just a tinge of harmless malice (Lorna in the audience jumped when Mal said those dark words to her . . . ) here’s YOU RASCAL YOU, sung by Tom and Mal:

I know where the GPS will be pointing me next Sunday.  In fact, I think I already know how to get to 757 Bridgeway without the GPS, and given my directional skills, that is the highest tribute I can pay Mal and the Big Money in Jazz All-Star Orchestra.  And don’t forget to say GOOD NIGHT, PROVINCETOWN.  We are, after all, on the air.

May your happiness increase.