Tag Archives: scat-singing

NANCY ERICKSON’S SPLENDID STOCK COMPANY: “HERE & NOW”

Nancy Erickson is a superb singer.  If you haven’t heard her because she is nicely tucked away in the Pacific Northwest, you will be rewarded once you do.

Nancy’s new CD, recorded live, is HERE & NOW, which is an accurate title.  You can hear sound samples and purchase one (or several) here.  I’ve liked her work since I heard her own composition “New Year’s Eve” and wrote about it here in December 2015, and then I was delighted by her then new CD,WHILE STROLLING THROUGH THE PARK, which you can read about here.

As an antidote to the profusion of hyperlinks above, some words.  A few years ago, I would have been embarrassed to quote from myself, but we are now so deeply in the “selfie” age that I trust readers will forgive me: “With this CD, I think Nancy Erickson deserves our very close attention as a fully-formed artist, one of our best contemporary singers — full of feeling, wit, affection, reverence for tradition and a thoroughly winning originality.”

I believe those words even more, listening to HERE & NOW. I should first say that it is a live session before a clearly attentive (even reverent) audience, but that recording “live” is a testament to courage and candor.  No Autotune, no punches, inserts, or other recording-studio dark magics.  Beautiful, satisfying singing, with very fine instrumental accompaniment from the 200 Trio — Cole Schuster, guitar; Greg Feingold, string bass; Max Holmberg, drums, and Alex Dugdale, saxophone.  Nancy has a splendid vocal range, although it never seems she is doing tricks to impress us; her voice pleases in all registers without strain; her diction is flawless; her swing likewise, and her scat-singing is quite delightful.  And when she’s tender, or sharp-edged, or playful, she always swings.

Now, what do I mean by Nancy’s “stock company”?  I don’t mean that she is an expert jazz impersonator — she isn’t Rich Little, and she doesn’t do the police in different voices.  But to me, a stock company is a small collection of highly trained versatile actors: one night, an actress is Ophelia, tender, doomed, fragile; the next night, Goneril or Regan, furious, dangerous, scheming; later on in the week, the angry middle-aged wife in an Albee play, or, hat cocked to one side, the lead in SUMMER STOCK.

Nancy is not an “actress” in the banal sense, and she doesn’t suffer from multiple-personality disorder, but she does morph from song to song so that we hear her beauty, dramatic power, and precision from different angles.

So the tender welcome she offers us in GENTLE RAIN, “There’s a hand for your hand,” which just about made me stop typing so that I could reach out one or both of mine to the speaker, is no longer there on the second track, IF I TELL YOU I LOVE YOU — the rest of the title being “I’m lying.”  This singer is darker-voiced; she is sharpening her scimitar as she sings, each cadence matched to the blade getting more lethal.  She is, as a friend of mine once said, not someone you’d argue with over whose chicken wings those are in the refrigerator.  The darkness lifts a bit — or at least its sunset-shade changes — with a film noir BLACK COFFEE, a period piece whose lyrics might need a dusting.  (No wonder the singer is gloomy and jittery: nicotine, caffeine, and her “oven” don’t add up to a healthy diet.)

A forcefully rollicking MY SHINING HOUR is exultant (and expertly navigated), including Nancy’s scatted exchanges with the drums.  I played this track for a friend, without comment, and the reaction was “Who is that?  She’s got mega-chops,” which I second.  NIGHT IN TUNISIA is easily swinging, and Nancy’s reading is the first where the lyrics have seemed meaningful, and her handling of the instrumental interlude is equally satisfying.  IT’S YOU I LIKE — yes, Mister Rogers’ heartfelt paean to complete uncritical acceptance — begins as a rubato duet for voice and guitar.  Extremely touching, I assure you, and not just for children.  If there was such a thing as radio airplay anymore, this would be a hit, and not just because we need its message.

Nancy’s own LET LOVE BEGIN — a dark yet hopeful invitation to romance — follows, and both singer and song seem fully engaged in the honest appeal, without guile of subtext.  Guile is, however, what WHATEVER LOLA WANTS is all about: the love song of the praying mantis on the honeymoon, perhaps, if I have my insects correct here.  (I grew up with the score of DAMN YANKEES, so listening to LOLA for the first time, when it was over, I thought wistfully of hearing Nancy sing YOU’VE GOTTA HAVE HEART as a ballad.  I don’t know if it’s a good idea, but if anyone could do it, she can.)

Sting’s FRAGILE was new to me (I don’t always take up residence in the modern world) but Nancy’s reading of “How fragile we are” haunted me for days after my first listening.  HOT HOUSE begins with a light-hearted, almost girlish scat reading of the melodic line, which becomes a virtuoso wordless exploration, worthy of a fine bebop instrumentalist.  HONEYSUCKLE ROSE, initially scored for voice and walking bass, feels new — not ninety years old.  Hear Nancy essay “touch my cup” and shift the syllabic emphasis ever so slightly — to great effect.  What she does with “You’re confection, goodness knows!” is hilarious and expert.  And as a gentle embracing coda, there is a two-minute LA VIE EN ROSE: it begins as a duet for voice and bass, and then becomes a sing-along, with Nancy leading the room in the melodic line reduced to “la-la” syllables.  Rather than being a gimmick, it succeeds completely: we hear the room following her, obediently and with affection.  Magic!

Twelve songs, fifty minutes.  A singer you might not have heard of.  But I assure you, the experience of this CD is rather like the most subtle compelling one-woman show you could imagine.  Again, I urge you to visit here for samples: you will not be disappointed.

May your happiness increase!

MONSIEUR HUCK, AVIATEUR

I don’t know if Daniel Huck, alto saxophone, vocal, has a pilot’s license.  But he can certainly soar, do loops and rolls like no one else.  The cheerful-looking man in the mauve shirt, his reading glasses perched on his nose, has surprises for those unacquainted with him.  (As an aside, I know some finicky readers will turn away from this post.  “Who is that?  I never heard of him.”  Too bad.)

This band is called (I believe) JAZZ A BICHON, and these nice videos (there are more) were recorded by the musician-videographer Jeff Guyot at the Hermes Jazz Festival in Frejus, France, on June 10 of this year.  The personnel is Shona Taylor, cornet, vocal; Guy Champeme, clarinet, alto; Marc Bresdin, clarinet, alto, tenor; Philippe Anhorn, piano, vocal; Jean-Pierre Dubois, banjo, tenor guitar; Eric Perrion, tuba; guest star Daniel Huck, alto, vocal.  I knew M. Huck’s work from the Anachronic Jazz Band, but these videos are a special pleasure, building from peaceful to electrifying by my choice.

Here’s a very sweet introduction to M. Huck, on the irresistible tune HONEY.

But wait!  There’s more!  A performance that reminds me of Lillie Delk Christian’s TOO BUSY:

That wonderful one-chorus explosion makes me think of Little Louis — as well as Leo Watson and the recent vocals of Lee Konitz (since time is a field and not a series of beads on a string).  If you can watch it just once, without bobbing your head, you are made of genetic material unlike mine.

And the roaring finale — hilarious and astounding all at once.  Two choruses on SUSIE, from the Wolverines by possibly circuitous routes:

Isn’t M. Huck splendid — singing lines that others couldn’t sing or play — rambunctious, joyous, and precise as well.  It’s a very cloudy day here, with rain predicted, but the sun is out because of him.  Thanks to Jeff Guyot for the videos.  You might want to subscribe to his YouTube channel: it’s better than pharmaceuticals.

May your happiness increase!

“FUZZY KNIGHT AND HIS LITTLE PIANO” (1928)

I’d never heard of John Forrest “Fuzzy” Knight (1901-1976), perhaps because I’d rarely watched Westerns, in theatres or on television. (He had a long career playing the hero’s friend.)

But when Jeff Hamilton nudged me towards this short film on YouTube, from 1928, I was immediately captivated by Fuzzy (so nicknamed because of his soft voice). He is s delightfully absurdist comedian, someone who swings from first to last, whose scat singing is hilariously unfettered (I think of both Harry Barris and Leo Watson) . . . and whose habit of singing into the piano is making me laugh as I write these words.

I can’t suggest even a hint of FUZZY KNIGHT AND HIS LITTLE PIANO by writing about it. You’d better try it for yourselves:

If you are wondering, “Ordinarily I comprehend Michael’s taste, or some of it.  Why is FUZZY KNIGHT AND HIS LITTLE PIANO appearing on JAZZ LIVES?  Are we going to be told that the Dorsey Brothers are hidden in the backing orchestra?”

Maybe they are, but that’s not the point.

This short subject is evidence to me of the cross-fertilization of hot music with more sedate forms of art by 1928. Whether Fuzzy was influenced by scat choruses on hot recordings — the Rhythm Boys or Louis Armstrong — I can’t say.  (But in your mind, put Fuzzy near to Eddie Condon in the 1929 Red Nichols short, and you’ll see the resemblance — not influence, but something more tenuous.)

He seems to be operating on his own energetic impulses, while pretending to be a full band when the mood strikes, and his unaccompanied interludes swing as well as any hot soloist.

To me, the film also says that the people who divide music into “art” (serious) and “showmanship” (low and banal) might be in error. Fuzzy Knight didn’t make Fats Waller possible, but some of the same riotous feeling is there, however transmuted.

Ultimately, the film delights me. May it please you, too.

I find it sad that John Forrest Knight is buried in an unmarked grave. But no one this lively and memorably himself as Fuzzy Knight, with or without his Little Piano, is ever dead.

May your happiness increase!

MUSIC FOR JUNE 16: “THANK YOUR FATHER”

From Ben Selvin, 1930, with surprises from Jack Teagarden (twice), Jimmy Dorsey, and a beautiful hot dance orchestra, composed of Fuzzy Farrar, Bob Effros, trumpet; Jack Teagarden; Jimmy Dorsey, Louis Martin, Joe Dubin, reeds; Al Duffy or Mac Ceppos. violin; Rube Bloom, piano; Carl Kress, banjo; Norman McPherson or Hank Stern, tuba; Stan King, drums, kazoo; Smith Ballew, vocal.  New York, January 27, 1930:

But you’d like to hear the lyrics to this flip, almost naughty love song?

That band is credited as the “Majestic Dance Orchestra,” and the vocal may be by Scrappy Lambert.

Happy Father’s Day, all of you!

May your happiness increase!

IF SOMETHING’S WRONG, THIS WILL FIX IT. GUARANTEED OR YOUR MONEY BACK!

Do you have food allergies?  Night terrors?  Has your psychic armor been attacked by moths?

Do you suffer from timor mortis, tempus fugit, or do you feel like terra incognito?

A cure is within your reach– locally sourced, grain-fed, definitely not approved by the FDA, organic, and swinging.

Doctors Ralf and John Reynolds, Katie Cavera, and Marc Caparone are in their office, waiting to take your call:

The Ellis Island Boys (and an E.I.Girl) performing THE SCAT SONG at California Adventure Disney on January 15, 2011 — recorded by recusatio

Take as often as needed!

MEET CLAIRE DICKSON: “SCATTIN’ DOLL”

I had never heard of Claire Dickson, but she can sing.  She’s got IT, however you define that pronoun, proven throughout her new CD.

Claire has a bright, clear voice; her phrasing is simple but easy, flexible.  The improvisatory chances she takes work.  Her scatting doesn’t grate on the nerves, and although she has listened closely to Ella, she inhabits the great Fitzgerald mansion with ease, making it her own.

Claire doesn’t go for the dark depths of GLOOMY SUNDAY, so the world-weariness of BLACK COFFEE is slightly beyond her, but that only suggests a more sunny world-view.  I am suspicious of contemporary pop songs brought into a jazz context, but her PHANTOM DOLL is convincing throughout.  Her arching MY MAN’S GONE NOW, a song I would have thought too dark for her, is quite touching: rather than aiming for dark majesties, she sings with a clear, simple intensity.

Hear for yourself.  On Claire’s MySpace page, she swings through CONFIRMATION, LOVE ME OR LEAVE ME, IF I WERE A BELL, and MIDNIGHT SUN.

http://www.myspace.com/clairedickson

Now for the surprise: wanting to know more of Dickson, I went online and found that she had recorded these two sessions on SCATTIN’ DOLL when she was twelve and thirteen years old. There is no sense of a precocious moppet singing grownup songs here!  I think that she is a young woman with a startling talent.

Claire, performing a Ryles Jazz Club

NEW OLD JOYS in BROOKLYN (April 21, 2011)

In the short time I’ve known them, I’ve come to trust trumpeter / composer / arranger Gordon Au and singer / Mills Sister  / air-fiddler / Tamar Korn as artists whose path leads to valuable, inquisitive music that embraces the old (whether that’s embodied by Connee Boswell or Bob Wills) and the new (original approaches to their material, original compositions, or reinventing a wide variety of songs).

So when I found out that they would be one-half of a group led by five-string fiddler Rob Hecht, with bassist Ian Riggs, I made another journey to Williamsburg, Brooklyn — to Teddy’s, a restaurant / bar / music room [fine food, delightful Pilsner, delightful staff] situated at 96 Berry Street — with video camera and tripod.  The results appear below!

Stuff Smith and his Onyx Club Boys have been gone for about seventy-five years, but the combination of violin and trumpet, swinging out, is still intoxicating.

But first: the quartet was mostly unamplified, and listeners easily unnerved might at first find the balance between music and conversation not to their liking.  See my postscript below for further ruminations on this subject.

Here’s the Rob Hecht Quartet, featuring Gordon Au, Tamar Korn, and Ian Riggs.

They began with what might seem an odd choice for an opening song, WHEN DAY IS DONE — but the sun had set a few hours ago, and the song is one of those that blossoms at a variety of different tempos:

Then, everything locked into place with that 1929 assertion of Love on Good Behavior, AIN’T MISBEHAVIN’:

How about another love-affirmation: you’re the Beloved my mother told me to wait for?  Or, to put it another way, EXACTLY LIKE YOU:

I think the river closest to Teddy’s would be the East River — not exactly what Hoagy Carmichael may have in mind as a pastoral spot, but it would do as an inspiration for this rendition of LAZY RIVER:

The hopeful optimism of Dorothy Fields and Jimmy McHugh in ON THE SUNNY SIDE OF THE STREET is always welcome:

Tamar sat out for an enthusiastic trio reading of LIMEHOUSE BLUES:

If you listen closely to the lyrics, SOME OF THESE DAYS is one of the most finger-waggling of songs: YOU BE GOOD OR ELSE YOU’RE GOING TO WAKE UP ALONE!  I hope no one in the JAZZ LIVES audience has to hear it sung to him or her for real — but we can be safe with this rocking version:

GIVE ME A KISS TO BUILD A DREAM on comes from a rather patchy movie, THE STRIP — but when your pretty song is introduced by the Great Romantic, Louis Armstrong, how could anything possibly go wrong?  And Tamar offers it in her most tenderly hopeful way:

Another superbly uplifting song about the possibilities of imagining a way out of your troubles is Harry Barris’ classic WRAP YOUR TROUBLES IN DREAMS — I believe in this song, especially when Miss Korn so earnestly tells us it’s all possible:

Although we cherish everything that is NEW and IMPROVED, what is better than OLD-FASHIONED LOVE, however you might define it?:

And something else sweetly and enduringly old-fashioned: a bounding rendition of WHEN YOU WORE A TULIP (And I Wore A Big Red Rose), which will keep me elated for a long time.  You too, I hope:

P.S.  Although the crowd at Teddy’s applauded in the right places and no one shouted at the television sets over the bar in response to someone scoring a goal, the sound of their conversation is noticeable.  But someone who wishes to do so can, as I did, concentrate on the music, which was varied and lovely.  And my new line of response to people who complain about inattentive audiences will be, “Yes, I know.  If you and your friends had been there, listening, there would have been that much more delighted attentive silence in the room.  Come on down!  Join us next time!  Or, as Eleanor Roosevelt never said, ‘Better to go to a jazz club and swell the ranks of the inspired than sit at home and complain about the unenlightened.”

“OH, PLAY THOSE THINGS!” (April 7, 2010)

The Beloved and I haven’t been to Birdland for the early-evening Wednesday gig of David Ostwald’s GULLY LOW JAZZ BAND (a/k/a LOUIS ARMSTRONG CENTENNIAL BAND) for some time.  The music we heard there tonight convinced me that we — and everyone else — should show up far more often. 

For those of you who don’t know the place or the circumstances, Birdland is on 44th Street in New York City between Eighth and Ninth Avenue, and David’s band will be celebrating its tenth anniversay there this May — a remarkable achievement in these times or in any times.  Speaking of times, the band plays two sets — from 5:30 to 7:15 — convenient for an early dinner or a pre-theatre visit.  The cover is $10 / person — less than a movie!

This edition of the GLJB was made up almost entirely of leaders, but it was delightful, rather than a disharmonious ego-scuffle.  Here are four highlights in an evening devoted to the music of Louis, early and late.  In addition to David, the band featured Marion Felder on drums (swinging his snare drum in a manner that suggested New Orleans street parades as well as Baby Dodds and Zutty Singleton), Vince Giordano on banjo, vocals, and two spots on piano; Gordon Au on trumpet, characteristically eloquent; Jim Fryer on trombone and vocals, playing masterfully; Dan Block, fervent as always on clarinet and tenor sax. 

First, a tender, earnest, and swinging version of I CAN’T GIVE YOU ANYTHING BUT LOVE, sweetly sung by Vince.  After the first set, he spoke disparagingly of his singing, which I flatly refused to countenance: it’s the heartfelt, casual style so prevalent in the Thirties, and so appropriate:

Then, a chugging BEALE STREET BLUES which owed just as much to a 1953 Eddie Condon session as to Louis’s performance, slightly later.  A highlight for me (and the other people at Birdland) was the entirely unexpected scat battle between Vince and Jim — priceless fun:

Then it was time for beauty — IN MY SOLITUDE.  How many people recall Louis’s lovely 1935 Decca recording, with vocal?  This performance, although instrumental, is entirely in the right spirit — both hushed and emotionally forthright:

Finally, a romp through DIPPER MOUTH BLUES . . . from which I take my title:

There were distinguished guests in the audience, too: broadcaster and writer Lloyd Moss, trumpeter Charlie Caranicas, acupuncturist Marcia Salter.  See you there some Wednesday!  Worth every penny!

THE REYNOLDS BROTHERS IN HIGH STYLE, 2010

Living on the East Coast, I only knew about the Reynolds Brothers (that’s Ralf on washboard; John on National guitar; both sing; both are grnsdons of the legendary screen star ZaSu Pitts) through finding them on YouTube — a live session with singer Dawn Lambeth, trumpeter Marc Caparone, and plectrist Katie Cavera on her new triple, the string bass. 

I was both amused and elated: they were very funny, often sweet, but they swung very hard without raising their volume. 

Now, they have a new CD, and it’s is a corker.  A pip.  A honey.  A dazzler.  You find the appropriate adjective for “must-have.”

This CD features a beautifully-recorded, energetically hot quartet — with John taking most of the vocals, but with Ralf, Marc, and Katie having their own specialties.  What does a quartet of trumpet, amplified National guitar, string bass, and washboard sound like?

Listen (you can watch, too!): here are two performances by this very group recorded at the Steve Allen Theatre in Hollywood, California, on January 13, 2010 (courtesy of Katie Cavera’s YouTube channel, “kcavera”).

Let’s start with a brief incendiary exercise, FUTURISTIC JUNGLEISM:

And here’s something more tender (the Boswell Sisters did a lovely version of it), WAS THAT THE HUMAN THING TO DO?:

This band harks back to an almost-forgotten series of recordings by one of the great Hot organizations of the early Thirties, the Washboard Rhythm Kings.  If you didn’t have money for a trap set (and who did, during the Depression?) you could outfit what was then a common item, a laundry washboard, with a cymbal, a cowbell, perhaps other percussive side-dishes, find some thimbles, and wail away.  A great washboard player (ask Doug Pomeroy about this art: he knows) would not only be an adequate replacement for a swinging drummer with a full kit, but could outswing one.  Those recordings — sometimes at slow and medium tempos — had a wonderful momentum, and the really Hot numbers are astounding.  Famous names played with those bands — trumpeter Taft Jordan, pianist Clarence Profit, and singer Leo Watson among them. 

Now the washboard is usually relegated to truly traditional “trad” bands: in Ralf’s hands, it’s a full percussion orchestra, and he is a pleasure to watch . . . his hands swooping and diving in mid-air.  John is an engaging singer, gentle and sly — approaching music and lyrics with great casual-sounding skill.  His solos make melodic sense; his rhythm playing is a model of the art.  Katie is a fine propulsive bassist — bringing the same accuracy to this instrument that she has brought to all her banjos and guitars.  And she is a very sweet (but never sugary) singer: you believe her!  Marc Caparone, I submit, has never sounded so electrifying as he does on this CD and these clips.  I thought of what the National Forest Service calls “a controlled burn” — an intensely Hot fire that is, however, always precisely focused on its musical objectives.  And the band is more than a collection of individualists: they rock, joyously, together. 

The best way to but the CD is through the brothers’ site — (http://reynoldsbrothers.net/recordings.html) but those who prefer to use credit cards can order through CDBaby: http://www.cdbaby.com/Artist/ReynoldsBrothers.  And if you’re sufficiently captivated, this quartet is “accepting engagements,” as the saying goes.  I am sure that the Brothers could add to this band to suit anyone’s desires.  

If you would like to hear more while you are waiting for your mail carrier to deliver the CD, Katie has posted a few more clips from this concert (as well as her own expert and witty short films).

“TOM-TOM, THE ELEVATOR BOY”

I admit that it is hardly a promising title. 

But I just stumbled upon this clip — the only video I know of Leo Watson, Teddy Bunn, and two other musicians who form the Spirits of Rhythm.  And Leo Watson scats!  The bad news is that the YouTube clip is moderately out of synch, so it takes an optimistic effort to get beyond the lapse between what Watson mouths and what we hear — or it could simply be that he is miming to a prerecorded track. 

The performance — a sublimely forgettable novelty number — comes from a forgotten 1941 Columbia Pictures college musical, SWEETHEART OF THE CAMPUS, starring Ruby Keeler in her final major screen appearance, alongside Harriet Hilliard and Ozzie Nelson.  The film was directed by Edward Dmytryk, whose reputation surely doesn’t rest on this.

But I thought I would never see film or television footage of Leo Watson.  Now if some film archivist will uncover more of James P. Johnson (besides THE EMPEROR JONES and ST. LOUIS BLUES, where he is heard but not seen) and some Lee Wiley and Mildred Bailey, I’ll be content.

And for the scholar-readers out there: the other tipple player seems to be genuinely playing, but I wonder about that bassist.  He doesn’t look like Wellman Braud to me!