Tag Archives: saxophone

THE RETURN of MIKE and MIKE (LIPSKIN and HASHIM, Smalls, April 28, 2015)

Jazz thrives on individuality.  The Ancestors always emphasized that a musician’s sound had to be as personal as a voice, instantly recognizable. Ben Webster spent the early part of his career trying to sound like Coleman Hawkins — a necessary stage in the development — then he realized it was time to be Ben Webster.

Two staunch individualists, happily thriving and playing, are swing piano master / singer / composer Mike Lipskin and saxophone master (here on alto and soprano) Mike Hashim.  And here are five beauties from their most recent New York City duo-recital, performed for an attentive international audience at Smalls on West Tenth Street in Greenwich Village.

I could have called this post THREE SLOW, TWO ROMPING, but you’ll discern such qualities for yourself as you watch and listen.

James P. Johnson’s wistful love poem, ONE HOUR:

Billy Strayhorn’s reverie, DAY DREAM:

I DON’T STAND A GHOST OF A CHANCE WITH YOU, that lovely ballad, has nearly vanished from the jazz repertoire.  I’m glad that Mike and Mike have good memories:

For Bix and the Louisiana Sugar Babes, an affirmation, THOU SWELL:

And for Fats.  The history’s inaccurate but the music is on course. CHRISTOPHER COLUMBUS:

Thank you, gentlemen!  Come back soon.

May your happiness increase!

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“WHAT IT IS: THE LIFE OF A JAZZ ARTIST”: DAVE LIEBMAN in conversation with LEWIS PORTER

I expected to dislike this new Scarecrow Press because it chronicles a jazz player whose musical vision begins where mine ends.  Liebman worked and recorded with Elvin Jones and Miles Davis in the Seventies and has gone on into a variety of free jazz / electric jazz projects.

I began reading as an obligation but found myself fascinated by the development of an improvising artist — a bright Jewish Brooklyn boy stricken with polio before he had entered school, receiving piano lessons because they were a mark of upper-class cultured life, becoming a saxophonist gigging in Catskills resorts at fourteen, discovering John Coltrane live at Birdland in 1962 . . . .

Unlike some musicians whose energy seems primarily musical, Liebman has sharp recall (or novelistic skills), a sense of humor, and the ability to articulate his perceptions.  Thus there are strongly-realized portraits of Elvin Jones and “the Prince of Darkness,” Miles — who, at one point, had a large 1970 photographic portrait of himself and Louis hung over his couch.  (Liebman’s insights into Miles are intriguing: he portrays Miles as bored and even shy . . . which will give the Davis-idolators something to ponder.)

Liebman has a good deal to say about his colleagues — occasionally unsparing, although he is candid about his own shortcomings.  He is perceptive about the Masters — Lee Konitz, Phil Woods, and Cannonball Adderley are summed up in several thoughtful, witty pages, once again proving that musicians are often the best critics of their own art.

I came to admire the book as I read, and I am paying it the best tribute I can by giving it away — to a new young friend, a saxophonist from Santa Cruz, who will also — as I did — learn from Liebman.  I applaud Scarecrow for publishing such an in-depth portrait, and only wish (wistfully) that someone had been able to sit down with, say, Brew Moore or Benny Morton or a hundred others.  But this book is a model of what can be done to illuminate jazz from the inside as well as chronicling one artist’s passage through it.

Here you can find out more about WHAT IT IS, which I am sure is available in the usual online places.

JUST SAY YES: JOEL PRESS and SPIKE WILNER at SMALLS (July 7, 2011)

Joel Press (tenor and soprano saxophone) and Spike Wilner (piano) created life-affirming music at Smalls (138 West 10th Street, New York City) on July 7, 2011.  Joel and Spike had played together once before, but this was their first official performance — and we hope it’s the first of many. 

Both Joel and Spike love to create energetically rollicking melodies — theirs is true playfulness.  And the ideas that come from one are heard and bounced back by the other.  Although Joel says he’s only a Boston boy, I hear a true Southwestern depth of feeling in his playing, with Herschel Evans sitting alongside Lester Young and Charlie Parker . . . although what comes out is unmistakably Joel, from those mobile knees on up.  I first heard Spike six yers ago and admired his playing — orchestral but incisive, making space for Cliff Jackson and Bud Powell.  Now, in 2011, he has grown so much more into himself, with a joyous inventiveness that inspires both Joel and hearers from the first note. 

See and hear for yourself!

IT’S YOU OR NO ONE:

For Bing Crosby, Louis Armstrong, and Lester Young, PENNIES FROM HEAVEN:

A SLOW BOAT TO CHINA taken at a hilariously brisk tempo — are we in Beijing already, Captain?

A GHOST OF A CHANCE, explicitly for Lester:

Charlie Parker’s DEWEY SQUARE, complete with geo-historical commentary by Joel:

I REMEMBER YOU, with a lovely rubato beginning:

BLUES IN B FLAT:

THREE LITTLE WORDS:

Fats Navarro’s line on OUT OF NOWHERE changes, NOSTALGIA:

Finally, YOU STEPPED OUT OF A DREAM:

Thanks to Joel and Spike for such joyous surprises, and to Doug Panero and Louise Farrell for just the right kind of moral support!

POETIC (The Second Set): MICHAEL KANAN, JOEL PRESS, SEAN SMITH, JOE HUNT (Smalls, May 13, 2011)

Michael Kanan, piano; Joel Press, tenor / soprano saxophone; Sean Smith, string bass; and Joe Hunt, drums, created a memorable first set at Smalls jazz club on May 13, 2011.

Happily for us, their sustained creativity lit up the second set as well.  The music was easy, thoughful, emotionally intense but never losing its cool.

Monk’s HACKENSACK:

YOU’D BE SO NICE TO COME HOME TO, with Michael’s lovely rubato reading of the verse:

I HEAR A RHAPSODY (which could stand as a title for my postings of this group):

SOPHISTICATED LADY — with a floating duet for tenor and piano:

and the closing RED TOP (in F):

Joel plans to be back in New York City from June 23d through July 7th.  And on the 7th, he will be playing duets at Smalls with the excellent pianist Spike Wilner.

“THE LAST WORD IN HOT”: FROM THE McCONVILLE ARCHIVES (Part Eight)

New tidings from the world of McConvilliana — always delightful and surprising!

Leo Jr. told me at our last meeting that his father was famous not only for his beautiful lead playing but also for his mastery of half-valve playing!  Who would have thought Leo McConville a precursor of Rex Stewart’s BOY MEETS HORN?

And — on a more personal note — Leo Jr. said that his father had a substantial and beautiful HO train layout, complete with wooden houses, in a large upstairs room in their three-story house.  Leo Sr. was so proud of his autographed photographs that he had built picture molding for top and bottom, up at the ceiling and running around the four walls of the room, his pictures there on display.

Thus I am happy, in some small way, to recreate that display in installments on JAZZ LIVES.

A less happy story concerns Leo Sr.’s terror of bridges (I’ve also heard that his fears included high buildings) — so much so that his fellow passengers would have to lock him in the car trunk when they went over a bridge.  The solution seems as painful as the problem, but I can’t say — bridges aren’t one of my phobias.  It is possible that the only way Leo could endure going over a bridge would be in an utterly dark place where he couldn’t see what terrified him.

But enough of such matters.

Here’s another half-dozen friends of Leo — some famous, some whose name in the autograph calls up some dim recognition, some obscure.

Let’s start with someone who used to be famous, although you’d have to be a film buff or of a certain age to recognize him instantly:

The publicity still is from later in Powell’s life — did Leo meet him while playing in a radio orchestra, or had their paths crossed earlier, when Powell was a hot banjoist / guitarist (and perhaps cornetist, saxophonist) and singer in hot dance bands — including the Royal Peacock Orchestra and the Charlie Davis Orchestra?

Next, someone far less well-known these days:

The man above is Canadian-born, a saxophonist and bandleader — someone Leo would have known in radio.  He had connections to Sam Lanin and Bing Crosby, and made a few records with an all-saxophone ensemble that backed Seger Ellis on disc.  Or so I think — but there’s another man with the same name, born in 1897, died in 1978, whom I’ve read was “born in Watertown, New York.  Attended Clarkson Institute of Technology.  Teacher of Larry Teal. First American saxophonist to teach regulated vibrato and founder of the New York school of saxophone playing.”

Please advise!

How many readers have heard anything by the tenor saxophonist Jim Crossan (one of the section on a number of OKeh hot dance recordings) much less seen a portrait of him?

Frank Parker — radio singer!  Is this the Irish tenor associated with jack Benny, Harry Richman, and Arthur Godfrey?Now, “the last word in hot” — that’s more like it as a Homeric epithet for our Leo!  The handsome tenor saxophonist here is Dick Johnson — someone who played clarinet with Red Nichols and the Red Heads.  (Obviously “good-fellowship” in those days meant that trumpet players hung out with saxophone players: Leo Jr. remembers meeting Jimmy Dorsey, who was an old friend of his father’s.)

For a perceptive piece on the Red Heads, see Andrew Sammut’s review of the Jazz Oracle reissue: http://www.allaboutjazz.com/php/article.php?id=39412

Perceptive readers will notice that Johnson autographed his photo to “Wilbur,” which Leo Jr. said was a teasing name for his father.  I imagine (it is speculation) that Leo Sr. made it known to everyone he talked to that he really wanted to leave the music business, buy some land, and have a chicken farm.  “Wilbur” must have been the sharply-dressed New Yorkers’ nickname for a deep-down hick.

And someone I really knew nothing of:

My friend Rob Rothberg — deep jazz scholar and long-time collector — helped me out here, “The face is unfamiliar, but there was a Cecil Way who played trumpet in Charlie Kerr’s band in the mid-twenties;  I’m not sure what happened to him after that.  Leo and Cecil played alongside an up-and-coming banjoist named Eddie Lang in Kerr’s band in the early twenties.  I think I see some lip muscles, so I’ll vote for that Way.”

We are indeed known by the company we keep, and Leo had a wide range of musical friends!  Not all of them had lip muscles, but Leo was an easy-going fellow. . . .

TEARING IT UP! (Vic Berton and Friends, 1928)

Walt Roesner and his Capitolians — the large all-star all-purpose orchestra that appeared at the Capitol Theatre in New York City — made a Vitaphone short film in 1928.  Two-thirds of the film is given over to 1) an impassioned tenor singing O SOLE MIO, and 2) an impassioned tenor singing ANGELA MIA.  Although these specialties are beautifully performed, they lack a certain savor or liveliness. 

But the last number by the orchestra is Hot, truly so.  And members of the band get to show off their considerable (sometimes quirky) solo talents in brief outings — with some of the most famous names in jazz doing their bit: how about Jimmy Dorsey, Arthur Schutt, Rube Bloom, Miff Mole, Leo McConville, Bruce Yantis, Vic Berton, Nat Brusiloff, Jimmy Lytell . . . ?!

I would not have posted this for the famous names alone — but I saw the entire short film recently for the first time and found myself watching the last number several times in a row, delighting in the music and the smiles on the faces of the musicians while their fellow players went at it.  And I found myself insisting that the Beloved watch Rube Bloom and vic Berton in tandem — and that pleased her, too.  I found this segment posted on Dailymotion with very accurate identifications, thanks to  somename who goes by the alias “lordlister.” 

So here it is, with commentary:

 

The eye is at first struck by the sheer number of beautifully-dressed men on the bandstand: twenty-five, perhaps, all with white flowers in their buttonholes.  Two pianos, a plethora of violins, bowed string bass, bowed cello.  Drummer Vic Berton standing in the rear amongst a good deal of percussion, including tympani.  Roesner opens this number with the cheerful explanation that his musicians have had an appropriately “heated argument” about which one of them is the hottest man in the band.  Not a bad idea.  The bouncy tune that opens the proceedings is I’M MORE THAN SATISFIED by Fats Waller and Jo Trent (a song, which, like many famous hummable Waller tunes, repeats one catchy phrase often as a melody line) — recorded most memorably in this period by two fellows named Beiderbecke and Trumbauer, as “The Chicago Loopers.”  Berton is particularly marvelous to watch, keeping time on the tympani with one hand while accenting a choked cymbal, sometimes visiting the head of his huge wooden bass drum — his legs spread to allow him to reach both places, raher like a wooden soldier in those white trousers.  I would have been very happy for the band to explore this tune at this tempo for the rest of the film, but the premise moves into a solo features, which allow us to see these musicians on camera in their prime rather than as faces in the ensemble.  (Many of them look particularly dark around the eyes: whether this was cinematic makeup or lighting of the time or a lack of sleep, I am sure one of my readers knows.)  And the cameraman seems reasonably content with having one-half of an additional musician in the frame, and neatly lopping off the head or hairline of a soloist — but he seems to know what’s going on and to go in for a close-up before everything has concluded. 

Up first after a piano modulation, Jimmy Dorsey on alto saxophone offers one of his particularly virtuosic solo choruses (in a manner beloved of Frank Trumbauer and Rudy Wiedoeft) showing off his incredible technique instead of hot improvisation.  This kind of playing — here superimposed over TIGER RAG — was a JD specialty (hear OODLES OF NOODLES, for one example).  Violinist Nat Brusiloff, next to Dorsey, is enjoying the chorus immensely.  And JD must have been famous by this time; he is announced by name.

Then, showing that you don’t have to go fast to play Hot, we have a memorable twenty or so seconds of one of jazz’s most forgotten men, trombonist Miff Mole, offering a chorus of HOW COME YOU DO ME LIKE YOU DO? complete with breaks (Berton has switched to wire brushes, as we see).  From this distance, Miff no longer seems as radical, as dashing as, say, Jack Teagarden or Dicky Wells, but his solo is masterful: the variations in tone and the way he gets gracefully but precisely from note to note, vocalizing the melody beautifully — and adding that lovely coda.  It sounds very simple but it’s an example of how much he must have amazed all the musicians, Hot and legit, for a long time.   I call your attention to Miff’s easy command of the horn and especially his glistening upper register, not the usual realm for most Twenties trombonists.

Violinist Nat Brusiloff (famous in radio as a conductor and for his early work with Kate Smith — his grandson is trombonist David Sager) offers more variations on the same theme . . . on what sounds like an intensely scratchy violin, with no apparent bow.  I’m told he is playing a “single-hair” solo, which I assume is one hair taken from his bow, but the physics of the whole thing are beyond me, in a good way.  Tell me where the other end of the single-hair is, please?  And at the very end of the solo, Brusiloff permits himself the slightest glimmer of an impish grin, “Geez, I pulled that one off, didn’t I, now?”  More violin acrobatics will follow. 

Banjoist Lou (Luigi) Calabrese, who might have been noticeable from the start for the way he has stretched his legs out in front of him, then plays an incredibly fast and stunning chorus of IDA, romping in what seems like double double time over ensemble chords, his fingers flashing over the frets more quickly than anyone would expect them to — and not a note smudged or smeared.  Something pretty follows (it would have to):  clarinetist Jimmy Lytell, looking shlyly sideways, gently swaying his body, pensively ambling through the melody of his own A BLUES SERENADE (composed with pianist Frank Signorelli), the reed player to his right curiously impassive through it all.  (Lytell gets lovely backing from the bowed bass seen to his right and from Berton’s tympani.)

What happens next is a highlight.  Pianist-singer-composer (DON’T WORRY ‘BOUT ME) Rube Bloom gets up from the piano for his limber almost-comic turn on DINAH.  He isn’t a splendid singer, but he’s got a rocking rhythmic engine reminiscent of Harry Barris, and he’s clearly having a fine time.  The long shot allows us to notice Berton, shifting around his set with tympani mallets, but then, halfway through, our attention shifts to Berton, who is “tearing it up” in a way that goes beyond the hip cliche — he’s actually tearing strips off of something (a square piece of fabric?) with each tear a rhythmic accent like a tap dancer or a sand dancer.  And the cameraman is sufficiently entranced eventually to move in for a close-up of this hilarious and marvelous rhythmic feat, remembering at the end that Bloom is supposed to be the headliner, even though he has had the spotlight stolen away from him.  (Incidentally, the much more sedate second pianist to the right is Arthur Schutt.) 

But violinist Bruce Yantis (someone I know only from a few late-Twenties sides with Eddie Condon, Red McKenzie, and Gene Krupa) is ready to follow Berton and Bloom with his violin solo a la  Joe Venuti, his bow disassembled and strapped around his violin so that the hairs play all four strings at once — it looks like fun but it isn’t easy to do well.  Luigi Calabrese has clearly heard Eddie Lang, as he should have. 

Before the ensemble gets itself together (we never find out who the hottest man in the band is or was, although my vote is split between Miff and Vic Berton) trumpeter Leo McConville, usually hidden next to Red Nichols, gets off with a very brief Hot solo (a half-valve flourish at the end?)  on the closing I’M MORE THAN SATISFIED.

This short seems an ideal window into the best of the Hot late Twenties: that decade’s version of the 1938 Randall’s Island footage, but with sound and close-ups.  A ripping yarn!