Tag Archives: Scott Hamilton

HAPPY 95th BIRTHDAY, GEORGE WEIN!

In front, Bobby Hackett, Louis Armstrong, George Wein; behind them, Joe Newman, Dizzy Gillespie — at the July 1970 celebration of Louis at the Newport Jazz Festival.

I saw the pleasing news on Facebook — and in an online source called CELEBRITY ACCESS, which summed it all up with a video and these words (if the New York Times had a front-page story, it eluded me, alas):

NEWPORT, RI (CelebrityAccess) — George Wein, the legendary pianist, jazz and festival promoter, turned 95 on Saturday.

Wein, who founded the Newport Jazz Festival and co-founded the Newport Folk Festival, also played a key role in the creation of the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival.

Wein’s birthday was marked by tributes from the likes of James Taylor, Senator Jack Reed, Dianne Reeves, Jason Moran, Nate Smith, and Ben Jaffe.

George deserves a little more fuss.

The Newport Jazz Festival, which he founded in 1954 — and is still a going concern — featured everyone.  The Preservation Hall Jazz Band to Archie Shepp. Duke, Louis, Miles, Trane, Dizzy, Monk, Hamp, Benny, Billie, Roy, Hawk, Pres, Ben.  What other festival featured both Donald Lambert and Sonny Rollins?  If you didn’t appear at Newport — in its now sixty-six year span — you had died before it began [Bessie Smith, Charlie Parker, Frank Newton, Hot Lips Page] or you had missed your set.  George’s reach was extensive and his tastes heroically inclusive.  Those who never got to Rhode Island were nourished by recordings and performance film footage; George created tours — Europe and Japan — that brought the music to eager audiences who would otherwise not have partaken of it first-hand.

Before Newport, George had clubs in Boston: Storyville and Mahogany Hall, where you could enjoy Sidney Catlett, Stan Getz, Sidney Bechet, Lee Konitz, Erroll Garner, and other deities.  When the Newport Jazz Festival took a brief trip to New York, as the Kool Jazz Festival or the JVC Jazz Festival, I was able to see Benny Carter, Allen Eager, Charles Mingus, Lee Wiley, Gene Krupa and others who gladden my heart.  In the early Fifties, George also had a record label — Storyville — where you could hear Milli Vernon and Beryl Booker, Ruby Braff, Teddi King, Ellis Larkins, Johnny Windhurst and Jo Jones.  I’m also reasonably sure that George’s generosity — not publicized, but apparent — kept some musicians in gigs and dinner for long periods.

Incidentally, I am doing all of this delighted salute from memory: George’s 2004 autobiography, MYSELF AMONG OTHERS, is a much more detailed view at almost six hundred pages, so I know I have left out a great deal for which George deserves praise.

George also loves to play the piano and to sing, and although I think those activities have slowed down or ceased in recent years, his pleasure in these activities emerged most fully in the Newport All-Stars, a group that at various times featured Tal Farlow, Pee Wee Russell, Buzzy Drootin, Stephane Grappelli, Joe Venuti, Red Norvo, Norris Turney, Scott Hamilton, Warren Vache, Bud Freeman, Slam Stewart, and others: George’s discography begins in 1951 and its most recent entry is 2012.

I’d like to offer some swinging evidence of George as pianist: not at his own festival in Newport, but at the Grande Parade du Jazz in Nice, in July 1977: a nearly nineteen-minute jam on TAKE THE “A” TRAIN, nominally under the leadership of clarinet legend Barney Bigard — featuring Jimmy Maxwell, Joe Newman, trumpet; Clark Terry, trumpet and flugelhorn; Eddie Daniels, tenor saxophone; Slam Stewart, string bass; Bobby Rosengarden, drums.  Notice the atypically expansive piano solo that George creates at the start: percussive, surprising, mobile . . . and watch Barney Bigard’s delighted face at the end.

Happy birthday, George!  Our lives would be much poorer had you chosen another career.

May your happiness increase!

SHOOT FIRST. ASK QUESTIONS LATER.

Zoot, riding the range.

The splendid people at jgautographs (on eBay) have reached into the apparently bottomless treasure chest and come up with an assortment of photographs for sale.  The auction has a time limit, so don’t (as we say) dither.

Bill, Kenny, and Bob, also riding the range, although dressed like city slickers.

Question: what do Bobby Hackett, George Barnes, Flip Phillips, Bob Wilber, Bud Freeman, Connie Jones, Max Kaminsky, Joe Venuti, Lou Stein, Joe Wilder, Zoot Sims, Ralph Sutton, Kenny Davern, Dick Wellstood, Scott Hamilton, Milt Hinton, Bucky and John Pizzarelli, Greg Cohen, Dick Hyman, Urbie Green, Trummy Young, Vic Dickenson, Hank Jones, Bob Haggart, Dick Cathcart, Jess Stacy, Joe Bushkin, Dave McKenna, John Best, Franz Jackson, Wild Bill Davison, Butch Miles, Jack Lesberg, Dick Johnson, Bob Havens, and a few others have in common . . . . aside from their musical glories?

Urbie, the one, the only.

Answer: They were all caught in performance by Al White and his roving camera (many of them at Dick Gibson’s Colorado jazz parties) — asked to sign the photos — the ones I’ve seen have all been inscribed to Al — and these 8 x 10″ black and white beauties are now being offered at the site above.

In 2000, Al and Ralph Sutton’s biographer James D. Schacter created a large-format book, JAZZ PARTY, with over a hundred of these inscribed photographs, but that book is now out of print, although copies can be found.

Al started life as an amateur drummer and jazz fan, then put on concerts and parties in Arkansas . . . . and at some point began to specialize in candid shots of the musicians he admired.

The noble Dick Cathcart.

The photographs offered on eBay have, for me, a special resonance.  For a moment in time, Bobby or Urbie had to touch this piece of paper to sign it, so they are beautiful artifacts or relics or what you will.

I’ve been running out of wall space for some time now (and it would be disrespectful as well as damp to start hanging photographs in the bathroom) so the field is clear for you to visually admire and place bids, even though I might be tempted in two days and twenty-something hours.

I thought you might like some jazz-party-jazz, so here is the priceless 1977 color film (102 minutes) of the Dick Gibson party, “The Great Rocky Mountain Jazz Party,” featuring everyone:

May your happiness increase!

“AND THE ANGELS SWING”: THE DAN BARRETT – ENRIC PEIDRO QUINTET

Swing is hard to define, but it’s the difference between ripe cherries and a cherry candy “with natural flavors” synthesized in a laboratory.  I’m happy to report that the CD that pairs tenor saxophonist Enric Peidro and trombone legend Dan Barrett is satisfying swinging jazz throughout.  In fact, it reaches new heights in the most refined yet impassioned ways.

Let’s start at the back of the bandstand, or the bottom of the band (no offense intended), the fine rhythm section.  I didn’t know pianist Richard Busiakewicz, bassist Lluis Llario, or drummer Carlos “Sir Charles” Gonzalez before this recording, but I love them.  Their swing is unforced and easy; they know how, what, when, why, and when not to . . .

But before I write more, here’s a sonic sample, celebrating both Vic Dickenson (the composer) and his horticultural endeavors:

The question of what is “authentic” is treacherous, because we defend our subjectivities with a lover’s defensive ardor, but that performance feels both expressive and controlled in the best ways.  Forget for a moment the warm twenty-first century recording technology.  If I heard that track, coming after a 1945 Don Byas-Buck Clayton Jamboree 78 and a Mel Powell Vanguard session, I would not think VIC’S SPOT an impostor.  Swing is more than being able to play the notes or wear the hat; it’s a world-view, and this quintet has it completely.

Barrett remains a master — not only of the horn, but of what I’d call “orchestral thinking,” where he’s always inventing little touches (on the page or on the stand) to make any performance sound fuller, have greater rhythmic emphasis and harmonic depth.  I’ve seen him do this on the spot for years, and his gentle urgency makes this quintet even more a convincing working band than it would have been if anyone took his place.  And as a trombonist, he really has no peer: others go in different directions and woo us, but he is immediately and happily himself, totally recognizable, with a whole tradition at his fingertips as well as a deep originality.

But Dan would be the first one to say that he is not the whole show: this CD offers us a swinging little band.  We’ve all heard recordings, some of them dire, where the visiting “star” is supported by the “locals,” who are not up to the star’s level: many recorded performances by Ben Webster immediately come to mind.

AND THE ANGELS SWING is the glorious countertruth to such unbalanced affairs, because Enric Peidro, who was new to me before I heard this CD, is a masterful player.  He’s no one’s clone — I couldn’t predict what his next phrase would be or where his line of thought would go — and although he is not cautious, he never puts a foot wrong.  You can hear his gliding presence on the track above, and for me he summons up two great and under-praised players, primarily Harold Ashby, but also a cosmopolitan Paul Gonsalves with no rough edges.  He is a fine intuitive ensemble player, with an easy sophistication that charms the ear.  I think of the way Ruby Braff appeared in the early Fifties: someone not afraid to play the melody, to improvise in heartfelt ways, to eschew the harder aspects of “modernism” without being affected in any reactionary ways.

Add to this a set of delightful song choices, with a great deal of variety but not so much that the ear is startled when track 4 becomes track 5, and you have a delightful session.  The tunes are: I CAN’T BELIEVE THAT YOU’RE IN LOVE WITH ME into KANSAS CITY STRIDE / ‘DEED I DO / LIMEHOUSE BLUES / AND THE ANGELS SWING / SERENADE TO SWEDEN / IF I DIDN’T CARE / MY BLUE HEAVEN / VIC’S SPOT / SULTRY SERENADE — you’ll hear echoes of 1939 Basie and Ellington, but there’s no attempt to “reproduce” — just to play with ease, warmth, and wisdom.

If you need any more verification, know that Scott Hamilton approves of Enric!

You can learn more about Enric and his love of swing here — where I just learned that he and Dan have a new CD coming out this October, called IT GOES WITHOUT SAYING . . . what fun!

And here’s another taste from AND THE ANGELS SWING:

Let us — metaphorically at least — carry this band around the room on our shoulders.  Or we can strew flowers at their feet, whichever is easier.

May your happiness increase!

A CHRISTMAS PRESENT FROM GUILLERMO PERATA and FRIENDS (thanks to JULIO)

I don’t come from the tradition of presents under a tree, but it’s always lovely to be surprised by something delightful.  Although what follows needs no unwrapping, I know you’ll enjoy it.  Explication follows:

Your ears will tell you what — easy unaffected swing in the best Ruby Braff / Scott Hamilton manner, improvisations on a song that no one plays anymore (Vic Dickenson loved it).  But who are these youthful masters?  Guillermo Perata, cornet; Guido Baucia, tenor saxophone; Fili Savloff, guitar; Diego Rodríguez, string bass; Eloy Michelini, drums.  And this was recorded in Buenos Aires a mere four days ago, on December 21.  Dee-lightful, to quote Louis.

I can’t take any credit here: my friend Julio Schwarz Andrade laid the good sounds on me this very morning via Facebook.  Bless him, and bless these fellows.  And a personal / sentimental note: I heard this song in my childhood from my father, born in 1915.  He’s no longer in this neighborhood, but I think he would have been pleased by this rendition and would have sung along.  And tomorrow, the 26th, was his birthday.  So there’s a lovely long tangled skein of father-son love and memory along with the music.  As it should be, perhaps.

Theme music for my own sentimental journey, and maybe one of yours:

The two other creators in this video are Natalio Sued, tenor saxophone; Luri Molina, string bass.  What splendid music!

And the cyber-details so essential these days: here‘s Guillermo’s Facebook page, and here‘s his YouTube channel, to which I’ve subscribed.  I always have room in my heart for lyrical melodic swing like this.

May your happiness increase!

I CALL ON MICHAEL HASHIM, PART TWO (July 19, 2017)

Because he is justifiably one of the most busy musicians I know, it was hard to find a time when saxophone master and master raconteur Michael Hashim and I could sit down and talk at leisure.  And because Michael is so busy gigging, it was hard to find a photograph of him without a horn attached to him, but I did.  (I love the dashing color palette here.)

Michael and I had a long afternoon’s conversation last July, the first two segments of which I posted here.

Now, throwing caution to the winds — or another apt cliche — I offer the four remaining segments of our talk.  And, as you’ll hear, Michael is one of those rare creatures who can speak beautifully, extemporaneously, without hesitation: lovely long sentences, full of information, feeling, and wit, come tumbling out.  A master of improvised prose as well as one of improvised music.

Three.  In which Michael speaks so well and affectionately of Jimmy Rowles — the pianist, the man, and the artist — with side-glances at Robert Mitchum, Henry Mancini, and The Fifth Dimension, Tommy Flanagan, Phyllis Diller, Benny Carter, Michael’s own recording with Rowles, Ray Brown, and some comments on race:

Four.  In which Michael tells anecdotes of encounters with heroes in New York, saxophonist Pony Poindexter, trombonist Benny Morton, as well as jazz clubs Eddie Condon’s and Jimmy Ryan’s, with memories of Red Balaban, Jo Jones, Bobby Pratt, Tony Bennett, Joe Muranyi, Artie Baker, Roy Eldridge, Scott Hamilton, Lou Donaldson, Freddie Freeloader, and others:

Five.  In which Michael remembers not only individual musicians but the feeling and understanding of their art that they embodied, including Cab Calloway, the Widespread Depression Orchestra, Eddie Barefield, Sammy Price, Jerry Potter, Earle Warren, Phil Schaap,Toots Mondello, Percy France, Doc Cheatham, Scott Robinson, Roy Eldridge, Ornette Coleman, Cecil Taylor, Lester Bowie, Haywood Henry:

Six. In which Michael lovingly speaks of the importance of the drums and remembers memorable percussionists and the players surrounding them, including Buddy Rich, Philly Joe Jones, Eddie Locke, Ray Mosca, Oliver Jackson, with a special pause for the master Jo Jones, for Sonny Greer, Johnny Blowers, Brooks Kerr, Russell Procope, Harold Ashby, Aaron Bell, Sidney Bechet, Charlie Irvis, Bubber Miley, Elmer Snowden, Freddie Moore, Eddy Davis, Kenny Washington, Billy Higgins, Wynton Marsalis, Branford Marsalis, George Butler, Jazz at Lincoln Center, Joe Henderson:

What an afternoon it was, and what a person Michael Hashim is.

May your happiness increase!

“SEMPLICEMENTE PERFETTO!”: MATTEO RAGGI, PAOLO ALDERIGHI, DAVIDE BRILLANTE

We live in a clangorous world.  You don’t have to live across the street from a dance studio specializing in zumba (as I do) to know this.

The collective tempo we have created for ourselves is very quick, the volume level is high, the intensity is fierce.  Often all I want to hear is the sound of people singing through their instruments, leaving those rapid-fire flurries of notes for another time.  I don’t mean “smooth jazz”; rather, Ben Webster or Teddy Wilson playing a ballad; the Basie rhythm section; a Herb Ellis blues.

This is not a grumpy complaint about these dratted Modern Times, for many living musicians understand and exemplify this principle in their art, in the face of the tyrannical sixty-fourth note.

Matteo

A new CD — two sets of duets by three masterful musicians, recorded in 2013 — is one answer to this hectic world, evidence that swinging beauty is still within reach. It is simply perfect — hence my title.

Here’s a sample, Cole Porter’s I LOVE YOU, SAMANTHA (think of Bing, Grace Kelly, and Louis):

and the leisurely swinging EV’RYTHING I’VE GOT BELONGS TO YOU:

Sounds beautiful.

The tenor saxophonist is MATTEO RAGGI; the pianist is PAOLO ALDERIGHI; the guitarist DAVIDE BRILLANTE.  (I’ve had the immense good fortune to meet and record Paolo and Davide — Mario and I remain separated by several thousand miles, but this CD is as good as having him come to visit.)  You can hear more of Matteo on YouTube — he’s on there alongside Scott Hamilton, which is a high peak to be standing on — as well as Davide and Paolo, but this disc is special.

Each of the three is a lyrical player, a melodist at heart.  As you’ve heard, each one is skilled in constructing logical solos on his own, and masterful in the delicate art of duet playing — more subtle than verbal conversational dances but built on the same principles of individuality giving way to harmonically sensitive teamwork.  The music is the very opposite of soporific, because something is always happening rhythmically, even on the slowest ballad, but it will not make you feel as if you have stepped into the supercharged urban world.

Lester Young would have loved these sessions, and no one here is copying him, but the spirit is much the same.  (On that note: those readers who listen and want to play what Barbara Lea called “the game of Sounding Like” can get ready with their names.  Matteo sounds just like A, or perhaps B; Paolo like C or D; Davide like E or F — definitely!  But why not listen to these players on their own, rather than painting them as small living figures in the shadows of dead giants?)

Half of the ten selections are duets with Paolo (CHINATOWN; GHOST OF A CHANCE; I LOVE YOU, SAMANTHA; I’M PUTTING ALL MY EGGS IN ONE  BASKET; ON THE ALAMO); half with Davide (THE RED DOOR; COME RAIN OR COME SHINE; JITTERBUG WALTZ; POW-WOW; EV’RYTHING I’VE GOT BELONGS TO YOU).

Beautiful recorded sound (much better than on the YouTube videos) and casually erudite notes.  Now all that’s left to do is for you to find out more about Matteo and to buy the CD.  Try here!

Fratelli, grazie — for the fine sweet floating music.

May your happiness increase!

DON’T MISS THIS! BECKY, DAN, and PAOLO: “CLASSIC JAZZ AT CLASSIC PIANOS” in PORTLAND, OREGON (Thursday, December 5, 2013)

Mildred Bailey once sang, “If you miss me, you’ll be missing the Acme Fast Freight.”  I don’t know enough about railroad / steam train mythology to even pretend to interpret the seriousness of that metaphor, but I do know this.

On Thursday, December 5, in Portland, Oregon, a remarkable small jazz happening is going to take place at Classic Pianos: a concert by the peerless singer Rebecca Kilgore, trombone / cornet master / arranger / composer / singer Dan Barrett, and pianist Paolo Alderighi.  

This trio will be performing songs that will appear on their next CD.  Classic Pianos (the space) is an intimate room and a good number of tickets have already been sold.  

If this sounds to some like more JAZZ LIVES shameless sleeve-tugging, you can take it as such if you choose.  But if three of the finest musicians now improvising were going to give a quiet concert . . . and you found out only when it was over, wouldn’t you be annoyed?

So I am trying to save you such irksome moments of kicking yourself (always a nasty business, whether you connect or not) and encourage you, if you live within reach of 3003 SE Milwaukie Ave, Portland, Oregon 97202, to join in on the pleasure.  From what I have heard, this concert will sell out.  The doors open at 7 PM; the concert begins at 7:30 PM.  Tickets are $15 apiece (less than a CD) and can be purchased online here.

And here is the Facebook page for the event.  And an Event it is.  If I have to explain to JAZZ LIVES readers who Miss Kilgore, Mister Barrett, and Mister Alderighi are . . . some of you have not been taking proper notes!

This version of the Rebecca Kilgore Trio is making a rare Portland appearance, but any appearance by these three inventive musicians is a delight.  Rebecca calls Portland home, but Paolo has traveled from Milan and Dan from southern California for this.  (Me, I have traveled from New York by way of Novato and San Diego but I would not miss this concert.)

Paolo has performed all over the world and is admired by many jazz greats including Ken Peplowski and Bucky Pizzarelli.  He is an astonishing musician, as I have written here.  Dan Barrett has been amazing and reassuring us since the late Seventies — with Benny Goodman, Ruby Braff, Howard Alden, Scott Hamilton, Rosemary Clooney, Joe Bushkin, Buck Clayton and Bobby Short. Rebecca was a wellspring of sweet swinging melody when I first heard her at the end of the last century and she keeps getting finer.  Usually she’s at Carnegie Hall or in Europe: this is a rare chance to catch this trio in a small quiet room, making small-group swing music come alive with love and wit.

For more information, contact Peggie Zackery at Classic Pianos:

Phone: (503) 546-5622 or Email: peggie@classicportland.com

May your happiness increase!

SCOTT HAMILTON and his AMICI in BOLOGNA, ITALY (May 22, 2013): THE UNIVERSAL LANGUAGE OF SWING

The brilliantly lyrical tenor saxophone Master, Scott Hamilton, is joined here by brilliantly lyrical Italian friends only a few days ago (when it works towards such results, technology is perfection): Matteo Raggi, tenor saxophone; Davide Brillante, guitar; Luciano Milanese, string bass; Carlo Milanese, drums — for five selections.  A few of the videos are incomplete, but that’s due to technical limitations rather than musical ones, as you’ll see and hear:

BACK HOME IN INDIANA:

DREAM DANCING:

BLUE CAPER:

Recorded live at the Cantina Bentivoglio, in Bologna, Italy.  And we must thank the devout, intrepid nickingos of YouTube fame for the videos!

There is also a version of COCKTAILS FOR TWO and an absolutely gorgeous reading of I CAN’T GET STARTED — with Scott playing the verse a cappella — which you can find easily on the YouTube channel noted above.

With all due respect to the blessed Mister Hamilton, I wouldn’t mind hearing a CD or a live session by Signores Raggi, Brillante, Milanese, and Milanese.  Lyricism, swing, precision and abandon personified here.  These musicians dance on the head of a pin, balancing in the present between the Idealized Past and the Exciting Future.

May your happiness increase!

UNCLE JAKE IS WITH US: “JAKE HANNA: THE RHYTHM AND WIT OF A SWINGING JAZZ DRUMMER,” by MARIA S. JUDGE

Maria S. Judge’s book about her Uncle Jake — one of the most swinging musicians ever — JAKE HANNA: THE RHYTHM AND WIT OF A SWINGING JAZZ DRUMMER — is irresistible.

I write this in all objectivity, even though I have a connection to the book.  When Maria let people know that she was collecting stories about Jake for this group memoir / portrait, I sent her my recollections of an hour spent with Jake before Sunnie Sutton’s 2006 Rocky Mountain Jazz Party.

I don’t mean to inflate my own importance by this: I am not sure Jake knew who I was before, during, or after his recital, but he HAD to tell stories as  dogs have to bark and cats meow.  So I was the delighted recipient of some of his best tales — affectionate, scurrilous, sharp, verifiable.  My only regret is that I didn’t have my little digital recorder concealed to get Jake’s delivery — a Boston Irish W.C. Fields with expert comic timing — for posterity.  I contributed a paragraph about that encounter, and I read the manuscript before it went to press.

But when a copy came in the mail two days ago I thought, “Oh, I know all this already,” and was ready to put the book on the shelf unread.

But Jake’s powers extend far beyond the grave, and I opened it at random.  An hour went by as I stood in the kitchen reading, laughing, feeling honored to have met Jake and heard him play.

The book follows Jake from his family and birth in Dorchester, Massachusetts (1931) to his death in 2010.  The family narratives are fascinating, because all of the Hannas seem to have been engagingly larger-than-life and the book begins not with serious historical heaviness but with the genial mood of a Frank Capra film.  Here’s Jim McCarthy, a younger friend from the neighborhood:

We lived . . . two blocks away from the Dorchester District Courthouse. . . [which] was surrounded by a granite wall about two feet high that the guys used to sit on.  When Jake sat there he’d straddle the wall and hit on it with his drumsticks.  My mother and I were walking past the courthouse one day when we saw Jake playing the wall.  “Is that all you have to do?” my mother asked him.  “Just beat those sticks?”  “Hi, Mrs. McCarthy,” Jake said.  “Someday they’re going to pay me to beat those sticks.”

There are tales of Jake’s army service, his first meeting with Charlie Parker, “the nicest guy I ever met in my whole life,” working with Jimmy Rushing, Marian McPartland, Maynard Ferguson, and Harry James.  Here’s drummer Roy Burns:

When Jake was playing with Harry James, Harry used to go “one, two, one, two, three, four,” with his back to the band, but his shoulders were slower than the tempo.  So Jake finally asked him, “Harry, should I take the tempo from your shoulder, from the piano, or just play it at the tempo we usually play it?”  Harry said, “Jake, you’re the leader.”  Jake said, “Do you really mean that?”  Harry said, “Yes.”  Jake said, “OK, you’re fired.”  

There are many more funny, smart, naughty stories in this book — but it is not all one-liners and smart-alecky.  Jake comes across as deeply committed to his craft and to making the band swing from the first beat.  And for someone with such a razor-sharp wit, he emerges as generous to younger musicians and his famous colleagues, affectionate and reverential about those people who epitomized the music: Count Basie, Bing Crosby, Rosemary Clooney.  We read of  his work with Woody Herman, on television with Merv Griffin, in Russia with Oscar Peterson, Supersax, the long run of jazz albums for the Concord label, a sweet sad encounter with Chet Baker.  There are long lovely reminiscences by John Allred and Jim Hall, by Dan Barrett, and Jake’s wife Denisa — plus memorable stories from Scott Hamilton, Hal Smith, Charlie Watts, Rebecca Kilgore, Warren Vache, Jim Denham, and dozens of other musicians and admirers.

Uncle Jake is still with us — not only on the music, but in these pages.  “Pay attention!” as he used to say.

Here’s one place to buy the book — JAKE — and you might also visit Maria’s Jake Hanna blog here.

May your happiness increase.

BORN TO PLAY: THE RUBY BRAFF DISCOGRAPHY and DIRECTORY OF PERFORMANCES

THIS JUST IN (Sept. 8, 2012): BORN TO PLAY is available at a special discount price.  I feel honored — this is the first official JAZZ LIVES promotional code!

JAZZ LIVES SPECIAL PRICE: Available directly from the publisher with 25% discount ($71.25 + $5.00 shipping): https://rowman.com/ISBN/9780810882645 and enter special Jazz Lives promotion code in shopping cart: 7M12BTPRB

I’ve been waiting for this book for a long time, and it’s even better than I anticipated.  It is the latest volume in the Scarecrow Press “Studies in Jazz” series, nearly 750 pages of information about the late cornetist.

Its author, Thomas P. Hustad, knew Ruby, spoke with him, and had Ruby’s full cooperation and enthusiastic advocacy.  Although the book isn’t a biography, nearly every page offers a deeper understanding of Ruby, musician and personality, and the contexts within which he operated.

Ruby would have been a challenging subject for a typical biography.  For one thing, although jazz musicians seem to lead unusual lives (nocturnal rather than diurnal hours, for one thing) they take their work with the utmost seriousness, and their daily responsibilities are not much different from ours.  A diary of what Ruby, for instance, accomplished when the horn was not up to his lips, might not be particularly revealing.  And Ruby’s strong, often volatile personality might have led a book astray into the darker realms of pathobiography: a chronological unfolding of the many times Ruby said exactly what was on his mind with devastating results would grow wearying quickly, and would leave even the most sympathetic reader with a sour impression.

No, Ruby wanted to be remembered for his music, and Tom honored that request.  So there is no psychoanalysis here, in an attempt to explore why Ruby could be so mercurial — generous and sweet-natured to some, vocal in defense of his friends, furious at injustice, fiercely angry without much apparent provocation otherwise.  True, the reader who peruses this book for tales of inexplicably bad behavior will find some, but BORN TO PLAY offers so much more.

Its purpose is to celebrate and document Ruby’s playing and recording over more than half a century.  What a body of recordings he left us!  From the earliest Boston broadcasts in 1949 to his final August 2002 appearance in Scotland with Scott Hamilton (happily available on an Arbors Records 2-CD set), Ruby played alongside the greatest names in jazz history.

Without looking at the book, I think of Pee Wee Russell, Vic Dickenson, Jo Jones, Nat Pierce, Dave McKenna, Freddie Green, Milt Hinton, Walter Page, Buck Clayton, Buddy Tate, Dick Hafer, Scott Hamilton, Jon-Erik Kellso, Scott Robinson, Dick Hyman, Teddi King, Lee Wiley, Ellis Larkins, Mel Powell, Oscar Pettiford, George Wein, George Barnes, Michael Moore, Ralph Sutton, Kenny Davern, Bobby Hackett, Jack Teagarden, Howard Alden, Frank Tate, Jack Lesberg, John Bunch, Sir Charles Thompson, Trummy Young, Bob Wilber, Woody Herman, Benny Goodman, Dan Barrett, Tony Bennett, Coleman Hawkins, Lawrence Brown, Ernie Caceres, Bob Brookmeyer, Benny Morton, Roy Eldridge, Jimmy Rushing, Urbie Green.

BORN TO PLAY is more than a straightforward discographical listing of Ruby’s issued recordings (although even there I found surprises: Ruby’s sessions with the Weavers, a final unissued Vanguard session, work with Larry Adler, Lenny Solomon, and others).  From his earliest appearances, listeners noticed that Mr. Braff was something special.  Jazz critics made much of him as an “anachronism,” someone whose style came out of Louis Armstrong rather than Miles Davis, but such assessments missed the point.

Ruby was one of the great romantics and improvising dramatists: he could take the most familiar melody and find new lyricism in it, singing it out as if he had become Fred Astaire or Judy Garland or Chaplin in CITY LIGHTS rather than “a saloon entertainer with a bit of tin in his hand.”  Ruby’s playing touches some hidden impulses in us — our need to express emotions without holding back — but his wasn’t the “barbaric yawp,” but quiet intensity with many surprises on the way.

His admirers (among whom I count myself) paid tribute to their hero by recording his performances whenever possible — the chronicle of private recordings begins in 1949 and continues to the end.  Those private recordings are  more than tantalizing: Ruby’s encounters with Louis, Lester Young, Ben Webster, Gerry Mulligan, Pepper Adams, Buddy Rich, Danny Moss, Sidney Catlett, Benny Carter . . .as well as his day-to-day gigs with musicians both famous and little-known across the globe.

One of the surprises in this book is that Ruby worked so often: before he became known for his singular approach to melodic improvisation, he was a diligently gigging musician.  (In print, Ruby sometimes complained about his inability to find congenial work: these listings suggest that aside from some early stretches where it was difficult to get gigs, he was well-employed.)

BORN TO PLAY also contains rare and unseen photographs, and the text is interspersed with entertaining stories: Nat Pierce and the sardine cans, Benny Goodman and the staircase, and more.

What this book reminds us of is the masterful work of an artist performing at the highest level in many contexts for an amazing length of time . . . all the more remarkable when you recall that Ruby suffered from emphysema as early as 1980.  Without turning his saga into a formulaic one of the heroic artist suffering through disabling illnesses, Hustad subtly suggests that we should admire Ruby much more for his devotion to his art than stand back in horrified wonder at his temper tantrums.  And Tom is right.

Ruby emerges as a man in love with his art, someone so devoted to it that the title of the book becomes more and more apt as a reader continues.  I have only read it intermittently, but find it both entrancing and distracting.  Much of this is due to Tom Hustad: a tireless researcher (still finding new information after the book’s publication), a fine clear writer, and someone Ruby trusted . . . so the book floats along on a subtle friendship between subject and chronicler.  And Tom was there at a number of sessions, providing valuable first-hand narratives that enlighten and delight — especially telling are his stories of relationships between Ruby and his champions: John Hammond, George Wein, Hank O’Neal, Tony Bennett, Mat and Rachel Domber, and others.

And the little details that make a book even better are all in place: a loving introduction by one of Ruby’s long-time friends, Dan Morgenstern; a cover picture showing Ruby and Louis (the photographer another great friend of the music, Duncan Schiedt) . . . and orange was Ruby’s favorite color — one he associated with the aural experience of hearing Louis for the first time, his sound blazing out of the radio speaker.  The layout is easy on the eye, all in nicely readable type.

In the interests of full disclosure (as the lawyers and politicians say) I should point out that I admire Ruby’s playing immensely, met him in 1971, spoke with him a number of times, saw him at close range, and contributed information about some private sessions that I recorded to this book.

BORN TO PLAY is a fascinating document, invaluable not only for those who regarded Ruby as one of the marvels of jazz — it is also a chronicle of one man’s fierce determination to create beauty in a world that sometimes seemed oblivious to it.  Many large-scale works of scholarship are thorough but cold, and the reader feels the chill.  Others have adulation intrude on the purpose of the work.  Tom Hustad’s book is an ideal mixture of scholarship, diligence, and warm affection: its qualities in an admirable balance.  I think the only way this book could have been improved would have been for Ruby to continue on past 2002 and the book to follow him.

Click here to purchase a copy.

And here’s something to beguile you as you click — the Braff-Barnes Quartet of 1974 (Ruby, George Barnes, Wayne Wright, Michael Moore) sauntering through LIZA:

May your happiness increase.

MR. MASSO CAME TO TOWN (March 6, 2012)

I would have been eager to visit clarinetist Ron Odrich’s monthly session at San Martin on East 49th Street, New York City (it happens the first Tuesday of each month) for his swooping playing — and the lovely work of his colleagues James Chirillo (guitar); Gary Mazzaroppi (string bass); “Cenz” (drums).  But last Tuesday’s session was even more special because it allowed me to hear one of the quiet masters of jazz in person.

I refer to trombonist George Masso: veteran of the late Forties Jimmy Dorsey band (a band whose trumpet section had Charlie Teagarden and Maynard Ferguson!) and then right-hand man to Bobby Hackett, Ken Peplowski, Barbara Lea, Spike Robinson, Harry Allen, Wild Bill Davison, the World’s Greatest Jazz Band, Warren Vache, Ed Polcer, Joe Wilder, Urbie Green, Helen Ward, Al Klink, Scott Hamilton, Ruby Braff, Tom Pletcher, Maxine Sullivan, Mike Renzi, Kenny Davern, Carl Fontana, Dave McKenna, Eddie Higgins, Randy Sandke, Charlie Ventura, Dan Barrett, Dick Hyman, Bob Wilber, Lou Columbo, Ralph Sutton, Jake Hanna, Woody Herman, and the King of Swing himself.

Obviously, if all those people had called upon Mr. Masso, he was special: this I already knew from the recordings: his accuracy and fine, broad tone — his remarkable combination of swing-time and ease with a broad harmonic palette and astonishing technique, always in the service of melody and logical improvisations.

Two additional facts you should know before you watch the videos that follow (featuring superb playing by everyone in the group).  George Masso is one of the most gentle, humble people it will be my privilege to know — so happy that a fan (myself) would make a small pilgrimage to hear and capture him (his lady friend June is a dear person too, no surprise).

Mister Masso is eighty-five years old, obviously one of the marvels of the age.  Cape Cod and Rhode Island must agree with him.  And his playing certainly agreed with everyone there.

They began their set with TANGERINE:

I’M OLD-FASHIONED, taken at a walking tempo:

BLUE BOSSA, lilting and graceful:

A romping I FOUND A NEW BABY:

And — not dedicated to anyone in the room! — George’s ballad feature on OLD FOLKS:

Masterful.

P.S.  I hope George comes back to New York City — with his trombone — soon!  In April, Ron’s guest star will be baritone saxophone wizard Gary Smulyan.

HARRY ALLEN’S JOYOUS FIRST MONDAYS at FEINSTEIN’S

The good music that the Beloved and I heard and saw on the first Monday in December, 2011, still rings in our ears.  And there’s more to come.

The first Monday night of every month has taken on new significance since Harry Allen and his world-class musical friends (courtesy of Arbors Records) have been appearing at Feinstein’s at Loews Regency in New York City (540 Park Avenue (at 61st Street, 212-339-4095).

The December show was Harry’s Christmas extravaganza — with notable musicians to keep hackneyed tunes at a safe distance.  For those who dread “New York night clubs” because of imagined high prices, the cover charge for Harry’s Monday nights is twenty dollars a person, and it’s a very warm, unstuffy place — comfortable and friendly.  An excellent value: three hours of totally acoustic jazz.

The first set was devoted to Harry’s quartet, with Rossano Sportiello, piano; Joel Forbes, string bass; Chuck Riggs, drums.  Everyone was in superb form, and the program floated from a trotting PEOPLE WILL SAY WE’RE IN LOVE to a deeply yearning OVER THE RAINBOW with Harry’s astonishingly yearning Judy Garland coda.  Then came a faster-than-light WHIRLY BIRD, distinguished by Rossano’s playing,mixing Bud Powell and super-stride.  THE TOUCH OF YOUR LIPS went from romantic to raunchy in only a few minutes, with honors going to Joel Forbes, exploring the mysterious depths of the harmonies, and the set ended with an exuberant tribute to Johnny Burke and Jimmy Van Heusen in IT COULD HAPPEN TO YOU, capped with a Riggs snare-drum solo.  This is a working band, and they were having a fine time.

After a brief break, Harry called some friendly luminaries to the stand for a delightful concert in miniature, adding James Chirillo on acoustic guitar to the original rhythm trio.  Chirillo’s sound (to borrow Whitney Balliett’s words for Freddie Green, “bells and flowers”) was a sweet highlight.  Bob Wilber, in New York for a visit, led off with a medium-tempo OLD-FASHIONED LOVE, beginning with an a cappella reading of the verse, then offered LOVE FOR SALE.  Wilber showed that his incredible tone — on his curved soprano — is still glossy: he didn’t miss a step.

Two brothers-in-swing, Jon-Erik Kellso and Randy Sandke, took Wilber’s place to roam through WINTER WONDERLAND, exchanging epigrams and commentaries in the most affectionate, swinging ways.  A tenor trio of Harry, Dan Block, and Scott Robinson had a delightful romp through BLUES UP AND DOWN, each player displaying his singular approach to the blues, with John Sheridan taking Rossano’s place at the piano.  Trombonists John Allred and Tom Artin thought about holiday travel on LET’S GET AWAY FROM IT ALL, with Allred quoting AIN’T CHA GLAD early in his solo.  Harry gathered the troops for an eight-horn PERDIDO that brought back the Buck Clayton Jam Sessions right in front of us.

The closing set, led by John Sheridan, drew on his most recent Dream Band project — also available on an Arbors Records CD, HOORAY FOR CHRISTMAS — that depicted the many moods of the holiday — adding Becky Kilgore to the top of the tree.  She began with three less-heard celebrations: Don Sebesky’s HOORAY FOR CHRISTMAS, Carroll Coates’ A SONG FOR CHRISTMAS (done as a bossa nova), and a swinging version of Kay Thompson’s THE HOLIDAY SEASON.  Sheridan’s own CHRISTMAS WILL BE A LITTLE LONELY THIS YEAR was a melancholy triumph — the room was hushed and silent, a great tribute.

Becky then called on the masters of holiday music, Irving Berlin and Bing Crosby, for a song originally meant for Thanksgiving but apt all year round, I’VE GOT PLENTY TO BE THANKFUL FOR (her singing so graceful that Scott Robinson stood there, his arms akimbo, admiring every nuance); Scott brought his bass clarinet for a pretty Harry Warren ballad, I KNOW WHY (AND SO DO YOU), which led into an exuberant dismissal, LITTLE JACK FROST GET LOST, and a moody THE DIFFICULT SEASON (an instrumental with touches of the Alec Wilder Octet), and a closing jaunt through SANTA CLAUS IS COMING TO TOWN.

If you weren’t there, there are a few tangible ways to capture part of the delicious music.  One is John Sheridan’s Arbors compact disc HOORAY FOR CHRISTMAS.  Another is a new du0 of Harry Allen and Rossano Sportiello devoted to the music of Johnny Burke, a friend of Harry’s father.  Burke was the lyricist — but he collaborated on some of the finest songs of the twentieth century, including PENNIES FROM HEAVEN, MOONLIGHT BECOMES YOU, and OH, YOU CRAZY MOON (the last two given heartbreaking depth on this disc).  The disc is called CONVERSATIONS, and so far it’s available only at live performances, which is a good thing — an inducement to search out Harry and Rossano in person.

You’ll have twelve more chances at Feinstein’s in 2012, because the series will run throughout the year.  The January program will showcase Harry’s “Four Others,” a saxophone quartet inspired by Woody Herman’s “Four Brothers.”  Harry’s original band features three other swinging modernists, Eric Alexander, Grant Stewart, Gary Smulyan, plus his original rhythm trio of Rossano, Joel, and Chuck.  The February gala will bring Scott Hamilton to Harry’s side.  Great value and great jazz!

“MESSAGE FROM MARS”

No, the aliens haven’t landed.  And this isn’t a detour into NASA’s territory or a nostalgic trip back to the Mickey Mouse Club (although I haven’t been able to get one ancient “The Martians come to New York” joke out of my head*).

MESSAGE FROM MARS is the name of a splendid new disc by Echoes of Swing, a world-class band that lives up to its name and more.  While retaining its essential identity — flexible and convincing — this quartet can sound like a much larger unit, and the disc is characterized by a delightful variety in mood, tempo, and approach.  The players are superb chameleons who remain true to themselves: Chris Hopkins (himself a superb pianist) on alto sax; Colin T. Dawson on trumpet and vocal; Bernd Lhotzky on piano; Oliver Mewes on drums.

Each of those musicians savors the past and does it personal homage: Mewes suggests Catlett and Jones; Lhotzky celebrates Waller and Nat Cole; Dawson evokes Eldridge and Emmett Berry; Hopkins summons up Pete Brown and Carter.  But this isn’t a repertory effort: the music produced here is both profound and hilariously flightly, skittering from surprise to surprise.

On the surface, Echoes of Swing might sound like a John Kirby Sextet spin-off, with tightly voiced ensembles and an affection for “jazzing the classics.”  But they avoid the potential claustrophobia of these categories by being very eager to play hooky: you’ll hear echoes of many other styles and hints of other approaches, all fused delightfully into something both nostalgic and startling.

But don’t take my word for it.  Here are Echoes of Swing performing James P. Johnson’s SWINGA-DILLA STREET (recorded only by Fats Waller and his Rhythm before this):

And here’s a Lhotzky original, HIS HONOUR AND THE VERMIN (FLEAS IN MY WIG):

MESSAGE FROM MARS offers a deliciously subtle and witty tasting menu of music — a disc you could listen to all the way through without the slightest hint of monotony; at the same time, you could savor each of the sixteen miniatures for its own surprises without ever getting tired.  There I saw this group for the first and only time in Germany in 2007, thanks to Manfred Selchow, and found them exciting and deep: the disc captures their subtleties and drive wholly.  It’s beautifully recorded and (as a bonus) has expansive notes by our own Dan Barrett.

The songs are SHAKE IT AND BREAK IT /  MESSAGE FROM MARS (groovy and futuristic by Sid Phillips) / THE GHOST OF MARSDEN GHETTO (an atmospheric piece by Colin T. Dawson) / DON’T EXPLAIN / BUTTERFLY CHASE (Lhotzky-Chopin) / THE GOON DRAG (Sammy Price) / DELIRIUM (Arthur Schutt) / HIS HONOUR AND THE VERMIN / MOONLIGHT FIESTA (also known as PORTO RICAN CHAOS) / LIEBESLIED (Kreisler) / TWILIGHTNIN’ HOPKINS (by Chris) / DON’T SAVE YOUR LOVE FOR A RAINY DAY (an obscure Harold Spina pop tune) / ODEON (Ernesto Julio Nazareth) / BUGHOUSE (Red Norvo – Teddy Wilson) / SPRING IS HERE / GAVOTTE (Shostakovich).

Here’s what Scott Hamilton said about this band:

I’ve been listening to these guys for a few years now, and they’re always full of surprises.  This CD is their best yet.  They all have a deep understanding of the literature, and they play from inside.  How they do it all with four instruments is beyond me.

But fortunately the CD isn’t beyond our reach: visit http://www.EchoesofSwing.com. for more information.

[*The Martians land in New York.  They’re friendly interstellar tourists who want to learn everything about us — to swap information and customs.  A curious New Yorker hands one of the Martians a toasted bagel to see what the alien might make of it.  The Martian, to everyone’s surprise, sniffs the bagel, inserts it into where his jaws might be, chews it a bit, and says (through simultaneous translation), ‘Mmmmm.  This would go great with cream cheese and lox.'”]

A SPLENDID TRIO, A HOT QUARTET

Two new CD releases from Arbors Records live up to their titles. 

A SPLENDID TRIO brings together Scott Hamilton, tenor sax; Howard Alden, guitar; Frank Tate, string bass, to play THERE’LL BE SOME CHANGES MADE / THE DUKE / GUESS I’LL HANG MY TEARS OUT TO DRY / I WON’T DANCE / SWEDISH PASTRY / UPPER MANHATTAN MEDICAL GROUP / WITH SOMEONE NEW / RUSSIAN LULLABY / CHANGES / JUST ONE MORE CHANCE / INDIAN SUMMER. 

THE INTERNATIONAL HOT QUARTET combines Duke Heitger, trumpet; Paolo Alderighi, piano; Engelbert Wrobel, reeds; Oliver Mewes, drums, for HAVIN’ A BALL / SIDEWALK BLUES / LINGER AWHILE / WHEN DAY IS DONE / OPUS 1/2 / LOCH LOMOND / CHEVY CHASE / PEE WEE’S BLUES / FOUR BROTHERS / WOKE UP CLIPPED / DYNAFLOW / PENTHOUSE SERENADE / KING PORTER STOMP / WHEN YOU WISH UPON A STAR / SLEEP.

Decades ago, jazz fans and journalists divided themselves into “schools” and “camps” — words harking back to childhood — for battles that seem truly childish now.  If you admired Jelly Roll Morton’s 1926 Victors, then you railed against the corrupting influence of Swing and hid under the bed when someone played a Dial Charlie Parker 78.  Some of this was heartfelt; some of it musicians defending their little slice of the jazz turf, some of it now seems just efforts to get journalists to pay attention.   

But since the Feathers and Bleshes and Ulanovs are no longer with us (although some musicians still bristle at jazz that doesn’t sound exactly like their ideal), we can relax into a musical continuum that goes back to ragtime and forward to post-war Mainstream . . . in fact, all the way up to 2011 and beyond.

So the first thing to notice about these two discs is the happy breadth of repertoire: Strayhorn and Giuffre hang out with Morton and Eubie; Twenties and Thirties pop songs sit neatly next to more “modern” lines by Kessel and Sir Charles; Bix and Brubeck, Disney and Ben Webster get along just fine.

This ecumenical understanding — that beauty is beauty, no matter what its source might be — doesn’t become a flattening sameness, where every performance sounds alike.  The International Hot Quartet harks back to the John Kirby Sextet, Fats Waller and his Rhythm, Maxine Sullivan, Louis, and many other small groups — but it’s not a repertory project.  And the Splendid Trio (musicians who worked with and learned from Ruby Braff) is another marvel of ensemble cohesion and individual sounds.  Neither CD is a ragged blowing-session; both benefit greatly from subtle arranging touches: my favorites (as of this afternoon’s playing) are the DICKY’S DREAM introduction to RUSSIAN LULLABY on the Trio CD, and the sweet waltz-time ending to SLEEP by the Quartet.

The solo playing throughout is special: even Alderighi, the youngest player of all (he’s not yet thirty) shows his maturity.  What that sounds like is a graceful naturalness, melodic invention, deep unforced swing at any tempo.  Tere’s great passion here, and I found myself returning to the ballads: GUESS I’LL HANG MY TEARS OUT TO DRY and WHEN YOU WISH UPON A STAR — but each CD is a complete, beautifully-programmed little concert on its own.     

I dream of a concert tour for these two groups — each featured and then coming together for a collective session.  But until that day comes, I’ll content myself with these two delightful CDs.  Visit http://www.arborsrecords.com. for more good news.

MICK CARLON RECALLS RUBY BRAFF, BEAUTIFULLY

Reprinted from JAZZ TIMES, May 2011:

05/04/11 • By Mick Carlon

Ruby Braff: The Beauty in Music

It’s 1999 and I’m watching a PBS special on Mark Twain. The phone rings. It’s Ruby Braff. “Are you watching the show about Twain?” he asks. “It’s superb. The man was one of our nation’s greatest geniuses.”

I agree. “Too bad Twain didn’t live to be one hundred,” I say.

“Why?” asks Ruby.

“Because then he could’ve heard Louis Armstrong’s Hot 5 and Hot 7 recordings and we’d have Twain’s reaction to them.”

I hear an intake of breath. “Why the (bleep) would you care about that? Why would anyone want to know how Mark Twain felt about Pops? What a (bleeping) stupid thing to say.”

Not taking Ruby’s insults personally (for some reason, I never did), I reply, “Well, I think it would have been interesting.”

“That’s because you’re a (bleep),” and, once again, Ruby Braff hangs up on me.

For the past quarter century, I’ve lived on Cape Cod. Believe it or not, this sandy peninsula, about an hour south of Boston, was once a garden of jazz delights. Although his fans in Japan and Denmark stood in line to buy tickets to his gigs, Dave McKenna’s local gigs were ridiculously easy to attend. My wife and I would simply stroll into Hyannis’ Road House Café to delight in the world-class sounds of Dave on his “saloon piano”—for free.

And we could hear Ruby Braff, playing the most gorgeous cornet in the world–with a sound redolent of summer dusks and autumn wood-smoke—often with McKenna and bassist Marshall Wood.

I met Ruby through Jack Bradley, his old friend who had once actually saved Ruby’s life. In the depths of a three day coma, Ruby was responding to nothing and nobody. Deciding to visit Ruby at Cape Cod Hospital, Jack brought along a cassette player and a Louis Armstrong tape. He pressed play and the sound of Pops playing “I’m In the Mood For Love” filled the hospital room. Amazingly, Ruby’s eyelids began to flutter. The color returned to his cheeks. A few moments later, his eyes opened. “Hey,” he said in his Beantown Dead End Kid voice, “that’s not the 1935 version.”

“Nope,” replied Jack. “It’s from ’38—Pops with the Dorsey band.”

A few minutes later, now fully awake, Ruby said, “You know, that’s the second time Pops saved my life.”

“When was the first?” asked Jack.

“The first time I heard him.”

Ruby, of course, was a graduate of the Louis Armstrong School of Music. “It doesn’t matter what instrument you play—you’re supposed to be listening to Louis Armstrong. It doesn’t matter whether you write, sing, dance, or anything. If you haven’t listened to Louis Armstrong, there’s nothing, nothing going to come out of your playing that will ever please me. I can tell you that.”

And Ruby would tell you. When I once mentioned a young hot-shot trumpeter, Ruby scoffed, “He can’t play (beep). And you know why? He’s never listened to Louis. I can tell.”

However, one time the young hot-shot trumpeter I admired was Ruby himself. “I love those albums you made with Dave McKenna in 1956,” I said.

“What? Are you nuts?” Ruby thundered. “Do you have ears? I couldn’t play worth crap back then. Only an ignorant fool would like that playing. Dave’s the only reason to listen to those pieces of (beep). I thought you had more sense than that!”

I guess I didn’t. I stand by my high opinion of Ruby’s 1950s music. But his later work, recorded when he was often breathless with emphysema, is among the greatest jazz of the past thirty years: On the Arbors label: Variety is the Spice of Braff; Being With You (Ruby’s lovely Pops tribute); Live at the Regattabar; Music for the Still of the Night; Controlled Nonchalance at the Regattabar I and II (with Dave McKenna and Scott Hamilton). On the Concord label: Ruby Braff and His New England Song Hounds I and II (once again with McKenna and Hamilton, along with Howard Alden; Frank Tate; and the immortal Alan Dawson). I also have big eyes for The Ruby Braff/George Barnes Quartet Live at the New School album (Chiaroscuro) and (sorry, Ruby!) his 1956 duets with Ellis Larkins (Vanguard).

My friend rarely had a good word to say about anyone—myself included—but I never heard him say anything negative about a fellow he had known since boyhood in Roxbury: Nat Hentoff. “That man,” said Ruby one evening, “has never written one phony word in his life. God knows how many bum notes I’ve hit over the years—but as a writer, Nat has never hit a bum note.”

When illness struck again, in the autumn of 2002, I visited Ruby often at Cape Cod Hospital. Strangely, amazingly, he was now always kind, with never a negative word for anyone. It worried me. “I don’t think I’ll ever play my horn again,” he said one rainy November afternoon. I kept quiet. With Ruby, phony optimism would’ve rung false—a bum note.

He died on February 9, 2003, a month short of his 76th birthday. Cape Cod has been one quiet place since.

I’ll let Ruby himself take one last word-solo. In 1979 he told Wayne Enstice: “I believe in beauty, and there’s got to be nothing but beauty in music. And if you’re not playing beautiful music that takes people to another plane, to a delicious place that they can’t ordinarily get to in their own lives, then you’re producing nothing. I want delicious sounds…that’ll take me away on a dream.”

Thanks, Ruby. You gave the world countless such delicious sounds.

P.S.  I hope that neither JAZZ TIMES nor Mick Carlon mind my reprinting this delicious piece that catches Ruby whole.  I, too, loved his music and followed him around with a camera (once) and a cassette recorder (many times) to be closer to the source of that wonderful sound.  And who’s Mick Carlon, aside from being a good friend and a fine writer?

Mick Carlon is a 27- year veteran public school teacher.  His young adult novel, Riding on Duke’s Train, starring Duke Ellington and His Famous Orchestra, will be published in December by Leapfrog Press.  Says Nat Hentoff: “I knew Duke Ellington for over 25 years.  He was my mentor.  The Ellington in Carlon’s book is the man I knew.”  In 2014, Leapfrog will publish Carlon’s young adult novel on Louis Armstrong, Little Fred and Louis.  Carlon lives on Cape Cod with his wife Lisa and his daughters, Hannah and Sarah.

HOW I WOULD SPEND MY SUMMER VACATION . . .

If I had what W.C. Fields used to call “the spondulics,” mountains of them, (“bucks,” for the uninitiated), I’d be following these bands around Europe.  I especially pant for the Schloss Elmau Swing Festival, which collects some of the finest musicians I’ve ever seen, many of them who have not made many American tours.  To see the gorgeous hotel, click here:

SCHLOSS ELMAU Swing Festival (“The Musicians’ Party”)

 Musical director: BERND LHOTZKY  

 May 27th – June 4th, 2010

Shaunette Hildabrand (voc), Scott Hamilton (ts), George Washingmachine (vio/voc), Duke Heitger (tp), Menno Daams (tp), Chris Hopkins (p/as), Frank Roberscheuten (cl/sax), John Allred (tb), Howard Alden (g), Bernd Lhotzky (p), Joel Forbes (b), Eddie Metz (dm), Michael Keul (dm).

 27.05.10: “The Grand Opening” | 28.05.10: “Moon Songs” | 29.05.10: “Dancing on the Ceiling – A Caribbean Affair” | 30.05.10: “George Gershwin Night” | 31.05.10: “Scott Hamilton” | 01.06.10: “The Various Talents of Mr. Daams” | 02.06.10: “Frank Roberscheuten’s Hiptett” | 03.06.10: “Metzo Forte” | 04.06.10: “Vive Le Hot Club De France – A Joyful Celebration of Django Reinhardt’s 100st Birthday” |

Information and booking: Schloss Elmau, 82493 Elmau / Bavaria (Germany), Tel.: D – 08823 / 18-0.  http://www.schloss-elmau.de

Special swing festival package – 7 nights // Special short stay saver – 5 nights

ECHOES OF SWING

Colin Dawson, Chris Hopkins, Bernd Lhotzky, Oliver Mewes  >4 Jokers in the Pack – and more!<

Their recent album was awarded the “Grand Prix du Disque de Jazz” du Hot Club de France

19.04.10 (20:30), NL-5691 Son, De Zwaan, NL – 0492 / 599890  //  20.04.10 (19:30), D-51399 Burscheid, Kulturscheune Dierath, D – 02174 / 81 47  // 21.04.10 (19:30), D-46236 Bottrop, Kammermusiksaal, D – 02041 / 3 40 18  // 22.04.10 (20:00), D-33102 Paderborn, Kulturwerkstatt, D – 05251 / 3 17 85 //  23.04.10 (20:30), B-4800 Verviers, Königl. Stadttheater, B – 087 / 64 72 67  //  24.04.10 (20:00), D-48249 Dülmen, Aula des Cl.-Brentano-Gymnasiums, D – 02594 / 12400  //  25.04.10 (11:00), D-42699 Solingen, Rheinisches Industriemuseum, D – 0212 / 23 24 1-12  //  26.04.10 (20:00), D-90523 Wendelstein, Jegelscheune, D – 09129 / 90 97 87  //  27.04.10 (19:30), D-97877 Wertheim, Arkadensaal im Rathaus, D – 09342 / 219 11  //  08.05.10 (19:30), D-86911 Dießen/Ammersee, Theatersaal im Augustinum, D – 08807 / 70115  //  09.05.10 (20:00), D-85591 Vaterstetten, Rathaus, D – 089 / 90 90 11 86  //  26.05.10 (20:00), A-6840 Götzis (Voralberg), Kulturbühne Ambach, A – 05523 / 54949  //  18.06.10, D-45127 Essen, Kulturpfadfest, Lichtburg, D – 0201 / 88 45045  //  27.06.10, D-82493 Elmau, Schloss Elmau, D – 08823 / 18-0  //  28.06.10, D-82493 Elmau, Schloss Elmau, D – 08823 / 18-029.06.10, D-82493 Elmau, Schloss Elmau, D – 08823 / 18-0  //  30.06.10, D-82493 Elmau, Schloss Elmau, D – 08823 / 18-0  //  08.08.10 (11:00), D-65343 Eltville am Rhein, Schloss Reinhartshausen, D – 01805 / 74 34  //  30.09.10 (20:30), D-86156 Augsburg, Spectrum Club, D – 0821 / 257 28-28  //  01.10.10 (20:00), D-84508 Burgkirchen, Bürgerzentrum, D – 08679 / 91503-210  //  14.10.10 (19:30), D-81375 München, Theatersaal im Augustinum, D – 089 / 1893799-24  //  15.10.10 (20:00), D-82380 Peißenberg, Tiefstollenhalle, D – 08803 / 63 23 03  //  16.10.10 (20:00), D-82229 Seefeld, Schloss Seefeld, D – 08152 / 98 08 97  //  29.10.10 (20:00), D-53925 Kall, Kulturraum der KEV, D – 02441 / 82300  //  30.10.10 (20:30), D-55218 Ingelheim am Rhein, Weiterbildungszentrum, D – 06132 / 89 71 24  //  04.11.10 (20:00), D-49716 Meppen, Theater im Windthorst-Gymnasium, D – 05931 / 15 33 78  //  05.11.10 (20:30), D-26871 Papenburg, Forum Alte Werft, D – 04961 / 82337  //  06.11.10 (20:00), D-24306 Plön, Aula am Schiffsthal, D – 04522 / 8187  //  04.12.10 (20:30), D-63322 Rödermark, Jazzclub Rödermark, D – 06074 / 93200  //  06.12.10 (20:00), D-47051 Duisburg, Theater ‘Die Säule’, D – 0203 / 20125  //   

David Lukács – Menno Daams Orchestra feat. Frank Roberscheuten, Chris Hopkins a.o.

28.04.10 (20:00), NL-1018 Amsterdam, Hermitage Amsterdam, NL – 020 / 530 87 51

The THREE TENORS OF SWING feat. Antti Sarpila, Frank Roberscheuten, Engelbert Wrobel   

24.04.10 (14:00), NL-4201 Gorinchem, Jazzfestival, NL – 0183 / 62 52 58  //  25.04.10 (18:00), D-53111 Bonn, Collegium Leoninum, D – 0228 / 94 92 6-0  //  26.11.10 (20:30), D-73257 Köngen, Schloss Köngen, D – 07024 / 86730  // 

INTERNATIONAL STRIDE PIANO SUMMIT  >virtuoso classic jazz performed on two grand pianos<   

feat. Chris Hopkins, Louis Mazetier, Bernd Lhotzky & Paolo Alderighi:

10.06.10 (20:00), D-59439 Holzwickede, Wasserburg Haus Opherdicke, D – 02303 / 27 25 41   

feat. Bernd Lhotzky, Paolo Alderighi, Ehud Asherie, Chris Hopkins:

21.10.10 (20:00), D-85045 Ingolstadt, Audi Forum, D – 08431 / 4 12 33

feat. Ehud Asherie, Bernd Lhotzky, Rossano Sportiello, Chris Hopkins, Louis Mazetier, Stephanie Trick & Nicki Parrott (bass):

23.10.10 (19:00), CH-5623 Boswil (Zürich), Alte Kirche, CH – 056 / 634 31 32

24.10.10 (17:00), CH-5623 Boswil (Zürich), Alte Kirche, CH – 056 / 634 31 32

Engelbert Wrobel’s Swing Society feat. Chris Hopkins, Rolf Marx, Henning Gailing, Oliver Mewes   

04.07.10 (11:30), D-45964 Gladbeck, Mathias-Jakobs-Stadthalle, D – 02043 / 2 26 74

25.07.10 (11:00), D-53113 Bonn, Bundeskunsthalle, D – 0228 / 66 88-242

21.09.10 (20:00), D-59348 Lüdinghausen, Burg Lüdinghausen, D – 02591 / 926 176

26.09.10 (11:30), D-40764 Langenfeld (Rheinland), Stadthalle Langenfeld, D – 02173 / 794 926

05.10.10 (19:30), D-58511 Lüdenscheid, Kulturhaus Lüdenscheid, D – 02351 / 171 299

07.11.10 (19:00), D-51379 Leverkusen, Scala, D – 02171 / 76 79 59

JAZZIN’ JULY WORKHOP July 5th – 11th, 2010

NL-5595 LEENDE (Nähe Eindhoven), Golden Tulip Jagershorst, Valkenswaardweg 44

Teachers: Shaunette Hildabrand (vocal), Colin Dawson (trumpet), Dan Barrett (trombone), Frank Roberscheuten (saxophone/clarinet), Engelbert Wrobel (clarinet/saxophone), Chris Hopkins (piano/saxophone), Bernd Lhotzky (piano), Howard Alden (guitar/banjo), Karel Algoed (bass), Oliver Mewes (drums).

Information & Booking: +32-11-515326 (Frank Roberscheuten, director)   

More Info: http://www.swingcats.nl/workshop2010

Flyer-Download: JazzinJulyWorkshop2010

Chris Hopkins meets his Piano Friends: Louis Mazetier (Paris)

>virtuoso classic jazz performed on two grand pianos<

16.09.10 (19:00), D-53229 Bonn, Klavierhaus Klavins, D – 0228 / 94 92 6-0

17.09.10 (19:30), D-44869 Bochum, Kunstwerkstatt am Hellweg, D – 01805 / 00 18 12  (14 Ct./Min.)

18.09.10 (20:00), D-58332 Schwelm, Kulturfabrik Ibach-Haus, D – 02336 / 990 540

19.09.10 (16:00), D-44869 Bochum, Kunstwerkstatt am Hellweg, D – 01805 / 00 18 12  (14 Ct./Min.)

For more Information please  visit these websites.

info@hopkins.de

http://www.hopkins.de

info@EchoesOfSwing.com

http://www.EchoesOfSwing.com

HUMPHREY LYTTELTON’S NOBLE SIMPLICITY

Had you asked me my opinion of the song MAIRZY DOATS, I would have been quick to call it an exquisitely stupid song.  And I still hold that opinion.  But great art has transforming force. 

Observe:

That’s the last song of a televised performance by the late Sir Humphrey Lyttelton and his band at the Brecon Jazz Festival — sharp eyes will note Scott Hamilton as part of that reed section.  And the personnel rolls by at the end.

But my eyes and ears are drawn to the aging — indeed, the aged Lyttelton — who had long since learned the lessons of beautiful earnestness, simplicity, and emotional directness.  All of that made his choice of material an irrelevancy, as he was busy wearing his heart on his sleeve, convincing an audience by passionate example that the notes he was playing at that very moment were the most crucial and moving notes in the world.  His art was stripped down to its barest — and most essential — things, in the manner of another trumpeter, someone named Louis. 

This performance also proves one of my theories — learned by listening to Ruby Braff — that most melodies emerge as wondrous things when slowed down to ballad tempo.  Most jazz players accelerate their repertoire through the years, the opposite of what they might learn to do. 

If you don’t find this a very moving two minutes — not because of infirmity to be pitied, but for majesty –I implore you to watch it once again.  I am awe-struck by what Sir Humphrey does here.  It will stay with me a long time.

ONE LAST LOOK, PERHAPS?

In the great stories, looking back over your shoulder is emotionally understandable.  But it often ends up badly.  Ask Eurydice; ask Lot’s wife. 

But I am having a hard time parting from my videos of the 2009 Jazz at Chautauqua, so I thought I would post yet another set, recorded at 10:30 Sunday morning, undiscovered territory for most jazz musicians, nocturnal by occupation and habit.  Some of the players look unusually impassive, but even in the unaccustomed bright light, the set has an undeniable casual splendor.

On the stand were Duke Heitger, Andy Schumm, Dan Barrett, Scott Robinson, Bob Reitmeier, Ehud Asherie, Marty Grosz, Frank Tate, and Pete Siers — gathered together for a medium-fast one, a ballad medley, and a short romp through an ancient Good Old Good One.

Here they are, caught a few bars too late, into LINGER AWHILE, a song I always associate with the 1943 Dicky Wells recording featuring Bill Coleman, Lester Young, Ellis Larkins, Al Hall, and Jo Jones.  You’ll admire Pete’s splashing cymbal work, the neatness of Dan’s solo, Scott’s winding lyricism, and the way a hidden Andy comes from nowhere:

One of the highlights of Jazz at Chautauqua is the opening ballad medley, where just about everyone is asked to play one chorus at a slow tempo of a ballad — the musicians climb on and off the stand, the rhythm section learns at short notice that the next endeavor is, say, SKYLARK in F, and everyone handles it magnificently.  (It’s so much more rewarding than asking everyone to play BODY AND SOUL for twenty minutes.)  Duke decided to repeat this treat in miniature, beginning with his own MEMORIES OF YOU, followed by Bob playing STARDUST, Scott weaving his way through PRELUDE TO A KISS, Andy recalling Willard Robison on OLD FOLKS, and Dan Barrett bringing everyone together to intone IF I HAD YOU.  But the bad news is that YouTube wouldn’t let me post it: it ran longer than ten minutes.  Grrrr.  But here’s some consolation — an ideal get-off-the-stage performance, a brisk CHINA BOY, compact and hot:

How many days is it till Jazz at Chautauqua 2010?

EDDIE HIGGINS (1932-2009)

My good friend Bill Gallagher was lucky enough to know the late pianist Eddie Higgins.  With Eddie’s help, Bill became his discographer as well.  Here is Bill’s beautiful elegy for Eddie:

Eddie Higgins: 2/21/1932 – 8/31/2009

The world of jazz has lost one of its most talented pianists and I have lost a good friend.  Eddie Higgins’ life was brought to an end by complications of lymphatic and lung cancer, an event that seemed to have developed in a matter of a few months.  I had seen Eddie perform in Sacramento in late May, had dinner with him, and he showed no evidence or indication of what was to come in a few brief months.

Eddie was a generous and talented person in so many ways.  He not only played great piano, but he could write well and discuss matters outside of music in ways that were thoughtful and revealing.  Although he could be generous with his time, it took a while to crack the veneer of New England reserve that was part of his persona.  But the effort and the result was worth it.  Underneath was a man who was a gentleman in every sense of the word, a man of taste, a highly developed wit, and one hell of a pianist.

His career was established in Chicago during the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s where his longest running gig was a 12 year stint as the resident trio at the London House.  Eddie could play just about anything and with anybody, but he mainly stuck to Mainstream.  He once described Free Jazz as sounding like “a fire in a pet store.” Over the course of a number of years, he played with Stan Getz, Dizzy Gillespie, Coleman Hawkins, Jack Teagarden, Freddie Hubbard, Lee Morgan, Wayne Shorter, Al Grey and Eddie South. And that’s just the short list. Other well known piano trios that performed at the London House were intimidated by Eddie’s group. Some of the tales that came out of his London House experience were more than entertaining, such as the one involving Buddy Rich. Buddy was drumming like crazy but the customers were leaving because of the volume. The manager asked Eddie to turn down the amplifiers before everyone had left and Eddie did so – but Buddy caught him at it. Accusations were hurled at Eddie, Buddy drummed louder and threatened to get Eddie after the set. Sure enough, he came after Eddie and Eddie hightailed it into the restroom and locked himself in a stall. Buddy found the locked stall and proceeded to do a limbo under the door while Eddie vaulted over the top of the door and out the building. Later, each would avoid bringing up the event when their paths crossed.

Also during his Chicago years, Eddie was invited by Art Blakey to join his Jazz Messengers. Eddie refused because he had two young children at the time and it wasn’t a good time to go on the road. He also had an offer to become Carmen McRae’s accompanist but he turned down the opportunity for the same reasons and the job went to Norman Simmons. When further pressed for his reasons for turning down Blakey, he said that he didn’t want to be the odd man in the group. Eddie would have been the only white musician, the only non-user and Blakey had a habit of paying his connections before he paid his musicians.

Eddie’s versatility was amazing. During the 70’s he was exposed to some of the early recordings coming out of Brazil and was taken by the new rhythms of the Bossa Nova. Many of his albums include a track or two of a South American composition, but he also produced one of the finest albums of Jobim compositions that exists, “Speaking of Jobim.” If you haven’t heard it, you must.

There will be some who read this who will have no idea who Eddie Higgins was or how brilliantly he played. This won’t surprise me because Eddie traveled in certain jazz circuits and was probably better known in Japan and Korea, where his recordings on the Japanese Venus label are among the top jazz sellers. However, Eddie enjoyed deep respect among fellow musicians who admired him as a consummate professional. So, to those who might say, “Eddie, we hardly knew ye,” I understand. But to those who did know him, he was a national treasure and will be missed more than words can express.

Bill and Eddie at Sacramento

Bill and Eddie at Sacramento

About Eddie: he was one of those rare musicians who can make a melody, apparently unadorned, sing.  Any of his Venus recordings (solo, trio, or quartet) demonstrate that he was someone working beneath the surface of the music, giving himself fully to the song.  I also can testify to his gracious nature: having reviewed a Venus CD in Cadence (I believe it was his quartet with Scott Hamilton) I got a letter from Eddie, thanking me for what I had written in the most perceptive way.  I hope that more people come to his music as the years pass.

Jazz photographer John Herr, another Higgins devotee, captured Eddie at the leyboard during the April 2006 Atlanta Jazz Party:

Eddie Herr 406

Eddie’s widow, the singer Meredith D’Ambrosio, sent along this piece on Eddie from the Chicago Tribune — http://www.chicagotribune.com/entertainment/music/chi-obit-ed-higgins-02sep02,0,1489219.story — a fitting tribute to a man who brought so much music to that city.  We send our condolences to Meredith and to Eddie’s family.  Thanks to Judith Schlesinger, Bill Gallagher, and John Herr.

MOURNING JOEL HELLENY (1956-2009)

The news of anyone’s death reminds us of how insufficient language really is.  I learned of trombonist Joel Helleny’s death last night at The Ear Inn. 

Helleny was one of those musicians I didn’t have the good fortune to hear in perfomance, which means I missed a thousand opportunities, because he performed with Dick Hyman, Buck Clayton, Randy Sandke, Frank Wess, Benny Goodman, Scott Hamilton, Warren Vache, Roy Eldridge, Vince Giordano, Eddy Davis, Jon-Erik Kellso, Marty Grosz, and many other luminaries.  But I heard him subliminally on the soundtrack of two Woody Allen films, and I have a good number of CDs (Arbors, Concord, Ney York Jazz, Nagel-Heyer, and others) on which he shines.  This morning I was listening to his work on Kenny Davern’s EAST SIDE, WEST SIDE (Arbors) and marveled once again: he could do it all: purr, shout, cajole, sweet-talk or say the nastiest things . . . all through his horn. 

He played beutifully; he had his own sound.  And he’s gone.  

Marty Elkins knew him well, and wrote to say this:

I got the news from Murray Wall. We were both old friends of Joel’s, and we are very sad about his death. Joel was a super smart, very talented guy, at the top of his field back in the 80’s and 90’s – doing gigs with Dick Hyman, the Carnegie Hall Jazz Orchestra (where he was a featured soloist), he was a member of George Wein’s New York All Stars and played on sound tracks for Woody Allen films, among other credits. He even toured with the OJays. He was a very loyal and devoted friend, also one of the only people who talked faster than I do!

He and I were really close around the deaths of our parents in the 90’s – providing a lot of support for one another. Joel was an only child and really attached to his folks.  He leaves a lot of saddened friends and an empty space in the jazz community. He will be remembered.

 But if you never heard Joel play, all this might seem only verbal gestures.  Here’s Joel in what I believe is a 1992 television appeance with clarinetist Walt Levinsky’s “Great American Swing Band,” including trumpeters Spanky Davis, Randy Sandke, Glenn Drewes, and Bob Millikan; trombonists Eddie Bert and Paul Faulise; reedmen Mike Migliore, Chuck Wilson, Frank Wess, Ted Nash, and Sol Schlinger;  pianist Marty Napoleon, bassist Murray Wall; drummer Butch Miles. 

Joel Helleny will be remembered. 

TAKE TEA AND SEE

This YouTube gem is taken from an appearance (on French television?) in 1980 by the Concord All-Stars: Warren Vache, Jr., on cornet and flugelhorn; Scott Hamilton, tenor; Dave McKenna, piano; Cal Collins, guitar; Michael Moore, bass; Jake Hanna, drums.  Their TEA FOR TWO turns into a late-swing line by Coleman Hawkins (its name eludes me — is it BEAN SOUP or BEAN STALKIN’?).  What impresses me here is how young everyone once was.  The living members of this combo (McKenna and Collins having left us) are still sustaining us, fortunately.

DIAL B FOR BEAUTY, T FOR TARDO

One of the pleasures of writing for the journal Cadence is in working with its editor, Bob Rusch, who has great faith in his reviewers’ intellectual elasticity, their ability to consider art that falls slightly outside their accustomed orbit.  Although I could be happy listening to James P. Johnson until the day of doom, Bob has asked me to listen closely and think about recordings I wouldn’t have ordinarily purchased, artists I wouldn’t have otherwise known.  One such CD was a trio recording on the Sharp Nine label (its title an emblem of witty hipness) featuring the pianist Tardo Hammer, bassist Dennis Irwin, and drummer Jimmy Wormworth, Tardo’s Tempo.  I thought it a remarkable recording because of Hammer’s beautiful touch, his unhurried melodic sense, the way the trio worked together, and (no small matter) the beauty of the recorded sound.  Although Hammer might have been classified superficially as a boppish pianist of the Bud Powell persuasion, he has and had a thoughtful restraint, his lines distilled musings rather than violent displays of pianistic ferocity.

Then Tardo surfaced on a particularly moving quartet effort by saxophonist Grant Stewart, Young At Heart, and a live session featuring Stewart and the trumpeter John Marshall, Live at Le Pirate.  I confess that all of his fine playing on these discs did not add up to a conversion experience.  That took place when I heard his latest recording, Look   Stop   Listen: The Music of Tadd Dameron, also on Sharp Nine.  It features Tardo, John Webber, and Joe Fransworth, a truly empathetic trio.  All of their virtues are even more beautifully on display here.  Because Dameron created ringing, mournful melodies, Tardo has wonderful material to explore, and he is someone who (in Eubie Blake’s phrase) knows how to make the piano sing.  He takes his time, he considers the implications of each note without ever getting bogged down in his own cogitations; his tone is like nothing so much as a fine cognac.  Listen to his thoughtful exploration of something as well-worn as “Hot House,” made into a headlong rush by generations of eager emulators of Bird and Diz; hear the pearls he creates out of “Dial B for Beauty” and “If You Could See Me Now.”  Webber is every pianist’s dream: solid but supportive, his focused sonority relaxed yet pulsing.  And Farnsworth (especially on brushes) urges and comments without changing the tempo a hair.  It is one of those sessions that without being in the slightest bit backwards-looking, summons up all the glories of the past without imitating anyone’s familiar gestures.

Because I organize my compact discs alphabetically, Hammer will now have his own section among Ed Hall, Scott Hamilton, Lionel Hampton, Annette Hanshaw, Michael Hashim, and Coleman Hawkins — a set of great melodists.  Those players will welcome him; he’ll be right at home.

Visit Tardo’s website and Sharp Nine’s:http://home.earthlink.net/~tardo/ and http://www.sharpnine.com.

tardo-2-jpeg