Tag Archives: Seattle

“SYNCOPATED CLASSIC”: GREG RUBY AND THE RHYTHM RUNNERS PLAY FRANK D. WALDRON

Frank D. Waldron wasn’t well-known outside the Seattle area, but the music he composed nearly a century ago is memorable.  Greg Ruby and the Rhythm Runners have brought Waldron’s quirky, lively music to life on a new CD.

As Greg tells us in the video above, Waldron’s music is an unearthed treasure. And the band he assembled to play it is superb: Gordon Au, Dennis Lichtman, Charlie Halloran, Cassidy Holden, Julian MacDonough, and himself — with Mike Marshall as a guest on two tracks.

As you’ve gathered from Greg’s video, the project needs funding to reach completion: see here or visit Kickstarter here — where you can contribute the smallest amount and get a tangible reward.  “Every dollar helps a lot.”

I am writing this post for reasons both selfish and altruistic.  First and perhaps most plain: the music is rewarding as a series of surprises: truly idiomatic previously-unheard compositions.  Of course there are Twenties and Thirties songs we haven’t heard before, but people deeply involved in this music know a wide range of compositions.  Waldron’s music has what they would have called “pep,” and it’s not a matter of being a series of rapid one-steps.  Rather, his compositions have memorable melodies, unpredictable turns, and multiple strains.  This CD is the equivalent of finding a folio of new Morton or Parham songs.

And, as I’ve written here, since there are few working bands with fixed personnel these days, the repertoire has understandably narrowed to “something everybody knows,” and that can make for monochromatic performances.  I dream that Greg’s work will stimulate a Waldron revival.

Second, music is more than its notation.  Greg’s Rhythm Runners are a superb group — musicians who respect the compositions but let their individual personalities come out sweetly and convincingly.  I was delighted by Greg’s first CD, WASHINGTON HALL STOMP, which I wrote about about here (and the personnel on that CD is the same as on SYNCOPATED CLASSIC).  I’d like to see this band prosper.

New music, estimable young musicians, a delightful — and well-recorded / well-produced new CD.  I encourage you to support this project.  And Frank D. Waldron thanks you as well.

May your happiness increase!

Advertisements

“RELENTLESS JOY”: GREG RUBY and THE RHYTHM RUNNERS

GREG RUBY RHYTHM RUNNERS

In this century, ensembles devoted to the music so popular in the Twenties and Thirties have several choices as far as repertoire.  One is plain: take the most-loved songs, those most closely associated with the idiom, and whether the band’s approach is reverent or extravagant, the songs are waiting.  ROYAL GARDEN BLUES, JUST A LITTLE WHILE TO STAY HERE, SINGIN’ THE BLUES, STRUTTIN’ WITH SOME BARBECUE, MILENBERG JOYS, and so on. Audience recognition comes along with this repertoire, although so does the possibility of comparison.  And there is the possibility of over-familiarity, although as Doctor Johnson said, “When a man is tired of TIGER RAG, he is tired of life.”  Or words to that effect.

The second choice requires more digging: going back into the Twenties and Thirties repertoire for songs both beautiful and possibly obscure: TWO TIMES, CROCODILE CRADLE, CAFE CAPERS, CLOUDY, WHEN YOU LEAVE ME ALONE TO PINE, and a thousand others. One might have to take a minute to instruct an audience, and some audiences weary quickly of the necessity of listening closely, but this broadens the repertoire.  (There are fascinating treasures to be found here . . . read on.)

A third choice (and there might be a fourth and fifth) is to compose new songs with all the delightful flavor of the era being celebrated.  When this is done superficially, the results are forgettable; when it’s done well, it’s delightful on several levels.  Gordon Au has succeeded here, and now Greg Ruby is doing a lovely job of merging 2016 and the Twenties.  Greg is a fine acoustic guitarist, creating memorable solos and gently driving any band with great rhythm playing.  And here’s his debut CD as a leader of the Rhythm Runners.

It might be too unsubtle at this point to write, simply, BUY IT, so I will offer more evidence.

GREG RUBY cover one

The evidence is here, in a very pleasing March 2016 KPLU-FM interview and performance by the Rhythm Runners who are Greg, guitar / arrangements / compositions; Gordon Au, trumpet; Charlie Halloran, trombone; Dennis Lichtman, clarinet; Cassidy Holden, string bass; Julian MacDonough, drums.

If those names are familiar, you have been doing your JAZZ LIVES homework. If not, there’s always remediation.

Listen and be delighted.  (The only thing missing in this audio gift is the name of the host, who is certainly hip and knowledgeable.  Bravo to him and to the band.)

And you can hear more sound samples from the actual (beautifully-recorded) CD Sound samples: here.

That would be enough to please me: a great band playing new songs that sound comfortably “vintage” with no hint of artifice or superficiality.  But there’s more. If you hail from any place that isn’t Seattle, I’d guess you’ve never heard of Franklin D. Waldron, multi-instrumentalist and the early teacher of Quincy Jones and Buddy Catlett, among others.  Waldron, legendary and obscure, never recorded: record companies didn’t know there were musicians in Seattle worth the trip until the Forties.  Below is a photograph of Waldron, on cornet, circa 1915, with the Wang Doodle Orchestra (courtesy of the Black Heritage Society.)

Greg explains in the interview how he’d come to learn about Waldron, and about SYNCOPATED CLASSIC, Waldron’s 1924 book of original compositions for saxophonists — and how he ended up with a copy of that book.  If this is sounding a little like someone’s dissertation, be not alarmed — for three of the songs on the CD are Greg’s reimaginings of Waldron lines for band, and they are quite refreshing.  Greg plans to do more with the Waldron book, and I look forward to the musical results: hot lively compositions from 1924 that have instant validity and (in Greg’s hands) delicious energy.  Here‘s more about the Waldron project.

Wang_Doodle_Orchestra_Seattle_ca_1925-610x445

That’s all you need to know.  The CD is joyous, with world-class players and swinging originals; it truly expresses “relentless joy,” a coinage of Greg’s (at 29:45).

Greg, when and if you come to New York City again, do let me know.  I’d be honored to salute you in person.  And for the rest of you, check Greg’s site to find out when and where his groups are playing.

May your happiness increase!

GOOD FOR WHAT AILS YOU: STEVE WRIGHT, RAY SKJELBRED, DAVE BROWN, MIKE DAUGHERTY (January 24, 2015)

I am sitting in my suburban New York apartment awaiting a predicted blizzard, which means reacquainting myself with my essential inanimate pals, Ms. Down Parka and Mr. Snow Shovel.  The thought fills me with dread and gloom.

But there are always palliatives, and what I offer you requires no prescription, no copay, no trip to the pharmacy.  And it works just as well if the sun is blazing in through your windows.

Hot jazz — performed and recorded in this century — is the organic remedy offered here.

The thermodynamic healing practitioners are known both as the First Thursday Band and the Yeti Chasers: Ray Skjelbred, piano, vocal, leader; Steve Wright, cornet, clarinet, alto and soprano saxophones, vocal; Dave Brown, string bass, vocal; Mike Daugherty, drums, vocal.  They created these sounds at the Royal Room in Seattle, Washington.

CARELESS LOVE is often performed as a dirge — a cautionary tale, “You see what careless love can do / has done?” but here it’s a swinging romp, with no weeping or moaning:

Another romp built on the threat of impending doom (thanks to Henry “Red” Allen for this and so many other inspirations), YOU’RE GONNA LOSE YOUR GAL.  Watch out for that cymbal (Mike’s performance-art piece in tribute to Zutty Singleton, 1928)!

And another tribute to the Red Allen small-band recordings, ROLL ALONG, PRAIRIE MOON, which is the only song that can make me think of J. C. Higginbotham and Bob Hoskins at once.  Steve Wright reminds us that this approach to the alto saxophone, so satisfying, did not utterly vanish in 1945:

Improvisers have always loved the subversive challenge of taking apparently inappropriate material (sweet love ballads) and making them swing.  Here’s a fine example: the Yeti Chasers’ LOVER, COME BACK TO ME:

In honor of Mister Morton, who didn’t like snow either, the BLUE BLOOD BLUES:

Andy Razaf had it right — the world can’t do without THAT RHYTHM MAN (especially when he uplifts us at such a swinging tempo):

THE TORCH — evoking memories of Turk Murphy (commentary below*). It sounds as if it was written in 1885 to be performed in a barroom, which is emotionally although not factually correct:

Say the word.  You’ll be heard.  Ray’s always touching performance of ANY TIME, ANY DAY, ANYWHERE:

My favorite DIGA DIGA DOO, with a lovely leap into its second chorus before Ray’s Stacy ecstasy:

Finally, SKID ROAD BLUES, which I hope isn’t prophetic for future driving:

I don’t think this band needs a serious explication of its virtues, individual and collective.  Don’t they sound fine?  I feel better, and hope you do, too.

*Thanks to generous and erudite Bill Haesler, I now know everything worth knowing about THE TORCH:

“The song is called variously:
The Torch That Didn’t Go Out
The Kansas City Torch
The Torch of Kansas City
When You Carry The Torch
and was, allegedly, taught to Turk Murphy by Patsy Patton (cabaret
singer and wife of banjo player Pat Patton. We know him from when he
came to Sydney on the Matson Line ships). The first ‘jazz’ version was recorded by Turk Murphy for a Columbia LP on 19 Jan. 1953. The notes by George Avakian to that ‘Barrelhouse Jazz’ LP says that Turk came to it from the Castle Jazz Band (who recorded it later in Aug 1957) via Don Kinch and Bob Short, ex Castle band members).

It was composed (music and lyrics) in 1928 by the great Harry Warren
(we all know him) using the name Harry Herschel and originally
published by Robbins Music Corp.

WHEN YOU CARRY THE TORCH
[Verse]:When the gang has turned you down,
And you wander ’round the town,
Longing for someone in sympathy.
As you go from place to place,
Looking for some friendly face,
You can hear the old town clock strike three;
Then you wish you had your old gal back again.
You’re lonesome, oh, so lonesome,
And your poor hear cries in vain:

[Chorus]:
Oh, gee, but it’s tough,
When the gang’s gone home;
Out on the corner,
You stand alone;
You feel so blue
With nothing to do;
You’re cravin’ someone’s company.
The gang leaves you there
With an old time stall,
While you go home and gaze
At the four bare walls.
Ev’ry tear seems to scorch,
When you carry the torch
And the gang’s gone home.

[2nd Verse]:
When you haven’t got a friend,
And your worries never end,
When the future doesn’t look so bright.
As you sit there in the gloom
Of an empty silent room,
As the hallway clock ticks through the night,
Then you long to hear a knock upon your door.
You’re weary, oh, so dreary,
And your poor heart cries once more:

[Chorus]”

May your happiness increase!

MUSIC IN THE AIR: STEVE WRIGHT, RAY SKJELBRED, CANDACE BROWN, DAVE BROWN (October 3, 2013)

Thirty years ago, if you had told me that a quartet — Steve Wright (cornet, reeds), Ray Skjelbred (piano), Candace Brown (banjo, guitar), Dave Brown (string bass) had performed in a restaurant in Washington (a place beyond my reach at the moment), my thoughts would have run something like this, “Oh, I wish I had been there.  I wish I had heard them play.  Maybe someday they will make a record together and I can purchase it?”

The technology that we take for granted in this century, which can be so irritating at its worst, has made my wistful questions irrelevant.

Here are video-recordings of this delightful hot band on the job on October 3, 2013: the First Thursday Jazz Band at the New Orleans Creole Restaurant in Seattle, Washington.  The associations reach far and wide: a jealous lover bent on vengeance, a Southern railroad line; Sigmund Romberg, Red McKenzie, Pee Wee Russell, boogie-woogie, Bing Crosby, Bix Beiderbecke, Irving Berlin, Earl Hines, King Oliver, and many other mythical figures — who come to life in the sounds of this quartet.

HELLO, LOLA:

LOVER, COME BACK TO ME:

A very sweet WAITING AT THE END OF THE ROAD:

Asking the perennial question, HAVE YOU EVER FELT THAT WAY?:

A thoughtful BLUES IN THIRDS:

Ray plays Mary Lou Williams’ OVERHAND:

A romping YELLOW DOG BLUES:

The generous Mister Wright has also posted other videos on YouTube — see them here and on his Facebook page.

May your happiness increase!

CHICK WEBB, “THE SAVOY KING”: SWING SPIRITS HAUNT SEATTLE

The fine writer and musician Candace Brown attended the premiere of the new feature film, THE SAVOY KING: CHICK WEBB AND THE MUSIC THAT CHANGED AMERICA.  (You may know Candace through her perceptive, heartfelt blog, GOOD LIFE NORTHWEST — and if she’s new to you, you will want to make her acquaintance here.)

Here’s her review (interspersed with clips from THE SAVOY KING).  I can’t wait to see the film for myself!

Spirits haunt the Harvard Exit Theatre, some Seattleites say.  I do know that the spirit of Swing era drummer and band leader William Henry “Chick” Webb visited this 1925 building recently and played to a packed house.  While there for the Seattle International Film Festival (http://siff.net), I felt surrounded by his presence, his zest for life, and his passion for the music on which he left his mark, as I watched the world premiere of a film called “The Savoy King: Chick Webb and The Music That Changed America.”

The film’s writer, director and producer, Jeff Kaufman, described that music as “incredibly hot”during an interview on KUOW radio. “The music was made to light a fire inside of people and to charge a dance floor,” Kaufman remarked.  Chick Webb, as much as anyone, struck the match that lit that fire.  No wonder drummer Louie Bellson called him “the Louis Armstrong of drums.”

The film begins with the words “Giants come in all sizes.”  Chick Webb was indeed small.  He broke his back in a fall during childhood and never grew any taller, remaining under five feet. Compounding the crippling aftermath of his accident, he developed tuberculosis of the spine, which caused him to have a hunched back, limited use of his legs, and chronic pain.  Advised to take up drumming as a form of therapy, Webb found his life’s passion.  Then the world of Swing found him. Soon Louis Armstrong heard, and hired, the sensational young drummer, and they toured together with the musical HOT CHOCOLATES.

During a life that would last not much more than three decades, Webb came to be the father of modern jazz drumming.  He mentored Ella Fitzgerald.  He led the first black band to play in a number of white hotels, the first black band to host a national radio show.  He earned the title “King of the Savoy Ballroom” with his steady gig there leading the house band.

The story of this “King” and his ballroom go hand in hand and the film weaves the two together with a firm grip.  On opposing stages, bands battled in popular “cutting contests.” Webb’s band beat, among many others, those of Count Basie and Benny Goodman, defeated only by Duke Ellington.  And it was here that drummer Gene Krupa bowed to the “King” and told him, “I was never cut by a better man.”

The Savoy Ballroom, the first integrated music venue in America, opened in Harlem in 1926.  Reputed to be the world’s best, it attracted crowds of 5,000 to 6,000 dancers.  Kaufman recreates that scene through vintage film footage, computer wizardry, and quotes.  A Jewish man, Moe Gale, owned it and a black man, Charles Buchanan, ran it. Kaufman said, “It was sort of the Rosa Parks bus of music of the 1930s, and you can’t underestimate the impact that had.”  His amazement over how the Savoy brought people together helped drive the project.

Because so little footage of Webb exists, “The Savoy King” tells its story mostly through countless photos, filmed interviews, and old clips backed with narration, sometimes in the form of voice-overs by several of today’s celebrities reading quotes from Webb’s contemporaries.  Janet Jackson speaks the words of Ella Fitzgerald, Ron Perlman reads Gene Krupa, and Bill Cosby gives voice to Webb himself.  Kaufman included filmed interviews with several people who knew Webb personally, such as Louie Bellson, Lindy Hop dancers Frankie Manning and Norma Miller, playwright and actress Gertrude Jeanette, and others.  Fitzgerald’s son, Ray Brown Jr., shares his mother’s memories of Webb.

Kaufman devoted months, sometimes years, to finding and connecting with his interviewees and he has my gratitude. Priceless film footage of Gale’s son, Dr. Richard Gale, recalling stories and describing the intensity of his father’s grief over Webb’s death, underscores one of the major points of this film, that whatever degree of racial equality we now have in America was hard won, and music played a part.  The blunt portrayal of racial prejudice, through eyewitness accounts, could shock even those who consider themselves aware.  But that prejudice ended at the edge of the dance floor, where all that mattered was the feeling of swing.

“The Savoy King” should go down on record as one of the most important films shown at the 2012 Seattle International Film Festival because of its significance to not only music history, but American history.  It goes far beyond documenting the life of one musician—no matter how influential he was.  The film offers lessons and inspiration.  It shows how America has changed, how a person can overcome incredible hurdles to reach their dreams, how one person can make a difference.

In his radio interview, Kaufman described Chick Webb as “the first drummer to drum with emotion.”  Webb died 73 years ago, on June 16, 1939, but that emotion lives on.  I heard it in the music and in the voices of those who knew him, and I felt it when the film’s audience gave a standing ovation.  I hope the presence of Chick Webb’s spirit added to the vibe at the Harvard Exit.  Maybe late at night, when the lights go out, the ghosts dance the jitterbug.  And I hope that vibrant energy will reverberate in my own soul forever.

The film’s website can be found here.

May your happiness increase.

SEATTLE SUNSHINE: THE RAIN CITY BLUE BLOWERS (March 16, 2012)

Image courtesy of SWING FASHIONISTA (www.swingfashionista.com)

You’ll need these to watch the videos below.  Now, don’t fuss.  Put them on.  There!

I now have yet another Favorite Band.  In case you wonder, one can have a whole cornucopia of Favorites — and the Rain City Blue Blowers are just another example of what Roswell Rudd calls “playing your personality.”  The videos below come from their appearance at the Seattle Jazz Party on March 16, 2012.

Here they are, tenderly (but with a beat) exploring the possibly dark Jimmie Noone classic READY FOR THE RIVER:

Who ARE these gently brilliant folks?

Closest to us is the absurdly talented Steve Wright (cornet, trumpet, clarinet, vocal).  Hidden behind a forest of reeds is the delightful Paul Woltz (clarinet, soprano, tenor, alto, bass sax, vocal); the inquisitive Ray Skjelbred (piano); the unerringly rhythmic Candace Brown (banjo, guitar); the Swing Superhero Dave Brown (string bass, vocal); the rocking Mike Daugherty (drums, vocal).

An ebullient reading of one of my favorite songs — the happy shade of Louis stands behind it always — SWEETHEARTS ON PARADE, with the rhythm section romping like the Luis Russell band, 1929:

Since humility and a readiness to admit you’ve made an error are among the most prized virtues, how about a smoothly hot I MAY BE WRONG to keep us in the mood?  It was the theme song of the Apollo Theatre when it opened in 1934, and the RCBB bring us back there with no hint of museum-stuffiness:

MY HONEY’S LOVIN’ ARMS is or are the place I wish I was right now, even if her embrace would slightly impede my ability to type and blog.  Sing it, Mister Woltz!:

Truly wonderful!  In the groove, too: ARKANSAS BLUES:

I’ve been humming this tune all morning: no reason why you shouldn’t join in the cyber-chorus.  It’s MY SYNCOPATED MELODY MAN (think 1929, Lang, Venuti, and Red McKenzie, if you will):

One more — let the RCBB whisper swing in your shell-pink ears with WHISPERING.  (The front line knows the old trick of having one horn play a swinging version of the melody while the other horn dances around it — exhilarating!):

And just because we tend, naturally, to focus on the brilliance of the soloists — horns and reeds are shiny and catch our attention as if we were children in a toystore — may I quietly point out that the beauty of the RCBB starts in the rhythm section?  I have heard Paul and Steve generously and mightily lift bands where not everyone was on the same spiritual or rhythmic wavelength, so I greet them as epic heroes of hot jazz.

But what Candace, Dave, Mike, and Ray do on each number here is frankly magical.  “A house without a strong foundation cannot stand.”  It may be coarse of me to say that this rhythm section could “swing the dead,” but that is how I feel.  As an experiment in Rhythm, may I urge my readers to revisit the video they liked best — if they can make such hard choices — and listen hard, all through it, to The Groove that this foursome creates?  Better than a Master’s in Jazz Studies, I think.

The city that is home to such a band can’t be quite so damp and foreboding as popular myth would have it.  When the RCBB plays, the sun blazes.  A nice coat of sunscreen wouldn’t be a bad idea, either.

And there’s more!  Visit swr2408018 for more meteorological wonders.

P.S.  If I were in charge of a jazz festival, I would be tripping over myself in my eagerness to book this band . . . am I being sufficiently subtle?  Please consider it!

May your happiness increase.

CRAZY RHYTHM and MORE: CASEY MacGILL’S BLUE 4 TRIO

Mike Daugherty, Matt Weiner, Casey MacGill

A band that calls itself “the Blue 4 Trio” has a touch of surrealism about it — reminiscent of the Magritte painting of a pipe that is subtitled “This is not a pipe.” But don’t let the quartet-that’s-really-a-trio disconcert you.

Casey MacGill and his colleagues make delicious music — in the best old-fashioned ways without being a “repertory orchestra” devoted to copying vintage 78s.

Casey, Matt, and Mike all sing — in that infectious way that recalls the Mills Brothers, the Spirits of Rhythm, the early King Cole Trio, Duke Ellington’s 1937 vocal trio, Slim and Slam, the Cats and the Fiddle, with touches of Fats, Louis, and Bing added to the mix.

Instrumentally, Casey is a fine pianist, ukulele player, and a heartfelt middle-register cornet serenader.  You’ve heard Mike Daughterty swing the First Thursday Jazz Band; here he gets many opportunities to show off his skill on the wirebrushes; bassist Matt Weiner who would make Milt Hinton proud.

I stress the inherent musicality of the B4T because many groups across the country market themselves as “swing bands” offer a rigid, by-the-numbers version of swing.   Sartorially, they are perfect: the hats, two-tone shoes, suits, but their music is rigid and limited.  Not this little band.

I listened to the Blue 4 Trio at length — two CDs worth — while driving back and forth to work.  I would testify under oath in Jazz Court that they swung, that every track lifted my spirits.

There’s no postmodern irony here, no “distance” from the material: their readings of I FOUND A MILLION DOLLAR BABY or I AIN’T LAZY, I’M JUST DREAMIN’ (memories of Jack Teagarden in 1934) are deep inside the song.  I now know the verse to CRAZY RHYTHM, which is no small boon.

Here’s a three-minute video portrait of these fellows and the band — created in Casey’s Seattle living room by filmmaker Keith Rivers:

Although the Trio’s repertoire is drawn from the Swing Era, they aren’t prisoners of 1936: their CDs and performances feature a few idiomatic originals and some more recent material: DAYDREAM (by John Sebastian) and the Leiber-Stoller THREE COOL CATS.

Visit here to hear music samples, keep up with the band’s gig schedule, and more.

And if you visit here and click at the top of the page, you can hear Casey and Orville Johnson play and sing ALOHA OE BLUES . . . a pleasure.

The two CDs I got so much pleasure from are THREE COOL CATS (which has guest appearances from guitarists Orville Johnson and Del Ray, as well as tenor sax and clarinet from Craig Flory).  The songs are GANGBUSTERS / THREE COOL CATS / I FOUND A MILLION DOLLAR BABY / LULU’S BACK IN TOWN / SUNNY AFTERNOON / UP JUMPED YOU WITH LOVE / THE SPELL OF THE BLUES / EVERYTHING BUT YOU / IT’S MY LAZY DAY / LOVE IS JUST AROUND THE CORNER / CHICKEN DINNER / DAYDREAM.

and the newest one, BARRELHOUSE (a MacGill original with clever lyrics), features the Trio plus Orville Johnson, Hans Teuber on tenor sax and piccolo, and New York’s own guitar master Matt Munisteri.  It begins with the title tune, and goes on to PALM SPRINGS JUMP / CHANGES / ME AND THE MOON / OUT OF NOWHERE / SMALL FRY / CRAZY RHYTHM / COW COW BOOGIE / I AIN’T LAZY, I’M JUST DREAMIN’ / I’VE GOT TO BE A RUG CUTTER / BLUE BECAUSE OF YOU / WARM IT UP TO ME.

They are the real thing.  Accept no substitutes!