Tag Archives: scat-singing

“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!

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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!