So much heat in a small space. No, I’m not referring to some stove or portable heater, but this new group, the VIPER CLUB 4: Dave Kelbie, guitar; Tcha Limberger, violin and vocal; Jerome Etcheberry, trumpet; Sebastien Girardot, string bass. Think of Stuff Smith and Jonah Jones, Frank Newton and Teddy Bunn.
And you don’t have to imagine what this summit meeting of European swing stars sounds like, because Dave Kelbie has generously posted three videos. These three wonderful performances were done — in rehearsal, which accounts for the comfortable clothes and the splendid relaxation — on November 22, 2022, and the superb video work is by Francesca Musetti @Fra.
‘T’AIN’T NO USE:
ONYX CLUB SPREE:
I’M CRAZY ‘BOUT MY BABY:
And it’s so nice: they have a touring schedule, which you can read about here, also with biographies of the four players and many photographs. AND the site also has new issues by Martin Wheatley and Thomas (a/k/a “Spats”) Langham, Andrew Oliver, David Horniblow, Don Vappie, and other luminaries. Fascinating music on all sides. (I am writing a post about the memorable CDs by the Wheatley-Langham duo, so delicious.)
I know this group will find the audiences its swinging good humor deserves.
I’m pleased to share with JAZZ LIVES’ readers (and watchers) a complete set from a few years ago — from only my second trip to Germany. Both times I ventured out of my nest because of the kind urgings of Manfred Selchow, concert producer extraordinaire. Even if you’ve never been to one of Manny’s concerts, perhaps you’ve heard the results as issued on a long series of irreplaceable all-star Nagel-Heyer CDs. He created a weekend of rewarding jazz concerts in “the Town Hall,” which carries with it a wonderful resonance of Louis and Eddie Condon and many others in performance.
And here is a very recent photograph of Manfred and his wife Renate with the wonderful drummer Bernard Flegar:
This little band features Stephanie Trick and Paolo Alderighi, piano; Engelbert Wrobel, clarinet and saxophones; Nicki Parrott, string bass and vocal; Bernard Flegar, drums. And the program is so delightfully varied: no one could say these songs are new, but the energy this band brings to them, the cohesive joy, is very special. I’m grateful to the musicians for their for their generous music (and permission to share this set) and to Eric Devine for technical wizardry.
Before we move to the music, a few words. I’m always pleased when jazz fans go beyond their love for “the locals” which can, at worst, become provincialism, to discover worthies who don’t live ten miles away. Nicki, Stephanie and Paolo, and Engelbert (known as “Angel” to his friends and for good reason) all have their enthusiastic constituencies: some of this due to excellent recordings, often on the Arbors Records label, some due to what I would guess are exhausting touring schedules.
But Bernard, who has visited the US but not toured there, might be less well known, and this is a deficiency to be immediately remedied.
He is what the heroes of our jazz past would call someone who kicks the band along — but he is not a noisemaker. Ask Dan Barrett, Allan Vache, Menno Daams, Chris Hopkins, and others and they will tell you how sympathetically he listens, in the grand tradition, how he seamlessly merges what he has studied of the great percussive history into his own sound and approach, and how gloriously he swings.
You’ll hear for yourself, but if you ever begin to lament that the great drummers are gone or aging, explore Bernard’s work as documented on CD and video — and he is now an essential part of a new band, Armstrong’s Ambassadors, also featuring Angel (Matthias Seuffert is in the 2020 video), Colin Dawson, and Sebastien Giradot. (The band name should tell you all you need to know about their affectionate reverence for a certain Mister Strong.)
But let’s go back to 2016 for some elegant hot diversions.
A very Basie-ish BLUE SKIES, featuring Nicki, Paolo, Angel, and Bernard:
Stephanie joins in the fun for HONEYSUCKLE ROSE:
A band-within-a-band — Paolo, Nicki, and Angel — for OVER THE RAINBOW:
THE MEN I LOVE, announces Nicki — with happy glances at Paolo, Bernard, and Angel:
and finally, a swing declaration of intent, with everyone playing AMEN — I WANT TO BE HAPPY:
And to move us forward to the present and future, here’s an almost nine-minute sampler of how splendidly the new band, Armstrong’s Ambassadors, pays swinging homage:
Wonderful music from Nicki, Stephanie, Paolo, Angel, and Bernard — all of them still flourishing and expressing themselves so well — and from this new band. Hope springs, doesn’t it?
I am a relentless optimist — otherwise I wouldn’t be typing now — but there’s not much even I can muster up about the recent past and the continuing present. My arms get tired. But “we need to have something to look forward to,” wise words said by a friend. So even though my hope for the future might be built on something more delicate than empirical evidence, I offer it to you.
This journey into the future starts in the summer of 2007. It is not a lamentation, an elegy for what was lost. Rather it is a celebration of joys experienced and joys to come. With music, of course.
The Ear Inn, 2012 Photograph by Alexandra Marks
My involvement with this place — which looks like a bar but is really a shrine — goes back to the summer of 2007, before JAZZ LIVES existed. Jon-Erik Kellso (friend-hero) whom I’d first met at Chautauqua in September 2004, and later at The Cajun in 2005-6, told me about a new Sunday-night gig at The Ear Inn, a legendary place I’d never been to. I think I made the second Sunday, where he, Howard Alden, and Frank Tate played two very satisfying sets.
Incidentally, 326 Spring Street is a minute’s walk from the corner of Spring and Hudson, where the Half Note once stood. There, in 1972, I saw Ruby Braff, Jimmy Rushing, and Jake Hanna one night. Finest karma, I would say.
The band at The Ear Inn (not yet named The EarRegulars) — a collection of friends, eventually Jon and another horn, two rhythm, most often Matt Munisteri, guitar, and someone equally noble on string bass, held forth from around 8 to 11 PM. Because I knew the musicians (or could introduce myself to them as Friend, not Exploiter) I could bring my Sony digital recorder, smaller than a sandwich, place it on a shelf to the rear of the band, record the sets and transfer the music to CDs which I would then give to the musicians when I saw them next. The food was inexpensive, the waitstaff friendly, and I could find a table near the band. It was also no small thing that the Ear was a short walk from the C or the 1; if I drove, I could park for free. These things matter.
I thought it then and still do the closest thing to a modern Fifty-Second Street I had ever encountered. Musical friends would come in with their instruments and the trio or quartet would grow larger and more wonderful. Although I was still teaching and went to my Monday-morning classes in exhausted grumpiness (“This job is interfering with The Ear Inn!”) these Sunday-night sessions were more gratifying than any other jazz-club experience. The emphasis was on lyrical swing, Old Time Modern — a world bounded by Louis, Duke, Basie, Django, and others — where the Fellas (as Nan Irwin calls them) came to trade ideas, where musicians hinted at Bix, the ODJB, Bird, and Motown.
When this blog came to be, I started writing about nights at The Ear — rhapsodical chronicles. I’m proud that only the second post I wrote, DOWNTOWN UPROAR, was devoted to the seven months of happy Sundays at 326 Spring Street. Again, I wrote about it EVERY SUNDAY AFTERNOON, WE FORGET ABOUT OUR CARES— a musical reference you’ll figure out. In late April 2008, I could depict in words the session where a lovely graceful couple danced balboa in between the tables (the Ear, as you will see, got many people into a small space) and was my first chance to hear Tamar Korn, that wonder — FEELING THE SPIRIT. And in all this, I had the consistent help and encouragement of Lorna Sass, who has not been forgotten.
Those who know me will find it puzzling, perhaps, that there has been no mention of my ubiquitous video camera, which I had been using to capture live jazz as far back as 2006. For one thing, the Ear’s tables were close together, so there was little or no room to set up a tripod (videographers must know how to blend in with the scenery and not become nuisances: hear me, children!) Darkness was an even more serious problem. I had shot video in places that were well-lit, and YouTube allowed people to adjust the color and lighting of videos shot in low light. The results might be grainy and orange, but they were more visible. Early on, YouTube would permit nothing longer than ten minutes to be posted, so the lengthy jams at the Ear — some running for thirteen minutes or more — had to be presented in two segments, divided by me, on the spot. But I am getting ahead of myself.
Rereading my descriptions I am amazed: “I was there? That happened?” as in the presence of miracle, but something that I didn’t do and can’t take credit for changed my life — a video of the closing ten minutes of an October 2008 YOU’RE DRIVING ME CRAZY posted by Howard Alden, who was playing rather than holding a camera, alongside Jon-Erik Kellso, Danny Tobias, Harvey Tibbs, Evan Christopher, Dan Block, Sebastien Giradot, Chuck Redd:
Obviously The Ear Inn would never double as a Hollywood soundstage, but I posted this video on JAZZ LIVES. I thought, “Let me see if I can do this also.” But it took until June 7, 2009, for me to put my Great Plan into action, finding a camera (with the help of Jerome Raim) that would penetrate the darkness. Here are the first two results, the first, featuring Jon-Erik and Duke Heitger, trumpets; Matt Munisteri, guitar; Neal Miner, string bass:
That is my definition of stirring music, and so is this — MOONGLOW, with Tamar Korn, voice; Dan Block, clarinet, Harvey Tibbs, trombone, sitting in, all creating a galaxy of sounds:
That’s slightly more than a decade ago. There are currently no Sunday-night sessions at The Ear Inn. But this post is not to mourn their absence.
I write these words and post these videos in hope for a future that will come again. I have no date to mark on my kitchen calendar, but, as I wrote at the start, I am an optimist. And I think regular Sunday-postings of music from the Ear will remind those of us who were there and enlighten those who were not. Between June 2009 and late 2019, I compiled around 400 videos, and I plan to create regular Sunday experiential parties to which you are all invited. It is not precisely the same thing as being there, saying hello to Victor or Barry or Eric, hugging and being hugged, ordering dinner and ale, waiting, nearly trembling with anticipation for irreplaceable joyous music . . . but I offer it to you in love, in hope that we will all be ready when the great day comes:
It is nearly three o’clock on a sunny Sunday afternoon. In the ideal world, which can return, I would be putting my camera, batteries, and notebook into my knapsack, ready — too early, as is my habit — for a night at The Ear Inn. I’m ready.
The way art is perceived, explained, and marketed can be distant from the art itself. Some critics and fans pounce on an artist, decide that (s)he does one thing superbly, and make that an identity. Dick Wellstood = Stride Pianist. Vic Dickenson = Dixieland Trombonist. Gerry Mulligan = Modernist. And so on. However, artists find these identities imposed by others are rather like clothes two sizes too small. Happily, through the history of jazz we find musicians who can and want to do more than their “role” asks of them.
One such person is the reed virtuoso, composer, and singer Evan Arntzen.
Evan Arntzen, photograph by Tim Cheeney
This modern age being what it is, I believe I first encountered Evan through video and compact disc before I met him face-to-face in New York, but I admired his deep swing, cheerful musical intelligence, and deep feeling in all the media I saw and heard. And since I’ve had many more opportunities of late to savor his work because of the Holland-Coots Jazz Quintet, I have come to value him all the more. He can easily play alongside Terry Waldo in the darkness of Fat Cat, read the notes flying by as a member of Vince Giordano’s Nighthawk rhythm section, fit right in with the EarRegulars . . . as well as being a shining light of a dozen other bands, including his own (one such aggregation was called the Scrub Board Serenaders and may now be called the Animule Dance). And he’s a compelling singer (hear I’LL GET BY) that had he been born decades earlier, we’d be reading about girls swooning at the Paramount. This new CD, recorded in France in January 2017, is a marvel because it shows how well he can be himself in many ways, all rewarding.
Here’s Chris Smith’s venerable BALLIN’ THE JACK from this CD:
Some of you might think that is heretical, and you are welcome to do it, because it doesn’t follow the paths you hear in your head, those strictures created by famous records — but it sounds like fine inventive witty music to me. I know, as do you, how BALLIN’ THE JACK is “supposed” to sound — a performance should, by the laws of whatever Deity you like, start with an ensemble version of the last eight and then go right in to it. None of this Fifties television mood-setting vamp, no Second Line beats, no exploration, right? I much prefer these four fellows finding joy in the mildly unexpected and sharing it with us.
“La Section Rhythmique” is not simply your average pianoless trio, but a small stellar musical attraction on its own, lyrical, inquisitive, and impassioned. They know the past but they live in the present, which I commend.
And this quartet creates immensely pleasing variations on the familiar — Evan’s sweetly intense vocal on MISTER JELLY LORD (is it sincerely audacious or audaciously sincere?); a hip serpentine line on I ONLY HAVE EYES FOR YOU called HALF EYES (wordplay worthy of Mel Brooks); a clarinet-guitar duet on ISN’T IT ROMANTIC, taken a little faster than usual, perhaps in the name of Modern Romance; a glorious TICKLE-TOE that summons up, without imitation, the blessed Lester Young – John Collins live version; a tender PLEASE that begins with a questing improvisation, perhaps to keep the listener from falling into complacencies; a LITTLE WHITE LIES that tips its 1945 fedora to Don Byas; AFTERTHOUGHT, a happy improvisation on a jazz standard with a similar title that works its way in from the outside; I’LL GET BY that so tenderly explores this dear song in a multiplicity of ways, vocally and instrumentally; a TWELFTH STREET RAG that would have made Milt Gabler very happy; the concluding LOTUS BLOSSOM, deeply reverent, quietly emotional.
Evan, in addition to his other talents, is a marvelous bandleader, someone devoted to getting the most out of the other people on the stand. A musician with a much more limited vision would see himself as The Star and the others as The Supporting Cast, thus performances would be Ensemble-Solos-Ensemble or some other formula. Evan is untrammeled by conventions unless the conventions work in gratifying ways: like my hero Ruby Braff, he views a quartet as four equal voices, with imaginative possibilities resounding. If you sit down with one track that especially pleases you and chart who’s-doing-what-now for the three or four minutes, you will be pleasantly astounded at the richness and variety.
If it isn’t clear by now, I think this disc is a treasure.
You can buy a digital download ($10), an actual disc ($15), and hear sound samples here. Although it’s only by purchasing the disc — how archaic to some! — that you can read the typically splendid notes by Dan Morgenstern.
Here’s a delightful example of the multiculturalism that jazz embodies.
What could be more expansive than a band of French musicians (with an American pianist sitting in) playing music created by a mixture of races and ethnicities in New Orleans?
They’re playing a Hawaiian pop song (or at least its subject is Hawaii) recorded by an African-American trumpet player and singer — and my friend Melissa Collard, too.
And they’re playing it in Hungary.
Call that narrow or insular at your own peril!
The Night Owls, from Paris, play a leisurely ON A COCONUT ISLAND, at the 20th International Bohém Ragtime and Jazz Festival in Kecskemét, Hungary, March 26, 2011. The Owls are Jerome Etcheberry, trumpet; Christophe Deret, trombone; Enzo Mucci, banjo; Sebastien Girardot, string bass; Guillaume Nouaux, drums. And the meditative-looking fellow at the piano is none other than Butch Thompson!
Maggie Black, whom I met at the 2010 Whitley Bay International Jazz Festival, sends word of jazz gigs that will surely interest JAZZ LIVES readers holidaying in the UK.
Maggie Black Presents:
May 9: The Pheasantry, 152 King’s Road, SW3 4UT.
JEFF BARNHART (stride/piano/singer), ANNE BARNHART (flute), DAN LEVINSON (clarinet), STEPHANE SEVA (washboard). £15: 8.30pm.
May 26: Bloomsbury Theatre, 15 Gordon Street. £20 £15-concs. 8pm. Bookings: 020 7388 8822.
DJANGO A LA CREOLE: EVAN CHRISTOPHER (clarinet), SEBASTIEN GIRADOT (bass), DAVE BLENKHORN, DAVE KELBIE (guitars).
FREE DAYTIME JAZZ at Neal’s Uard (off Short’s Gardens) Covent Garden WC2.
JEFF BARNHART and ANNE BARNHART: “IVORY and GOLD”
Oct. 28: Bloomsbury Theatre, 15 Gordon Street
PARIS WASHBOARD: £20 8pm Tickets 020 7388 8822
Wimbledon Music Festival presents:
CLAUDE BOLLING, Ellington’s friend and disciple, his trio and THE Lebanese flautist, Wissam Boutany, playing the ‘Suite for Piano and Flute’ that Bolling co-composed with Rampal- which topped the charts every week for over a year!
Nov 14 @ Royal Wimbledon Golf Club £50.
For more information, contact Maggie Black at Maggie Black Presentations, Flat 6, Turner House, 2 Exchange Court, London WC2R 0PP. UK — or visit maggieblackjazz.co.uk, or www.travelsandjazz.co.uk. Phone 020 7240 8866 (home/work) or 07891 602 878 (mobile), 06 33 74 22 01(France)
Courtesy of Howard Alden, Jon-Erik Kellso, Danny Tobias, Harvey Tibbs, Evan Christopher, Dan Block, Sebastien Giradot, Chuck Redd, and a receptive crowd — here’s a stirring jam session at the Ear Inn on Walter Donaldson’s wonderful song. Don’t tune out before the final chorus, which is explosive and impassioned — the reason that wise jazz listeners make pilgrimages to 326 Spring Street every Sunday night.
My title comes from the musicians’ expression for starting a song without an introduction, rather than easing their way in with a four-bar piano passage or eight bars of hi-hat cymbal from the drums. And it’s the way that clarinetist Evan Christopher began the first song at the September 15 Sidney Bechet Society concert at Symphony Space. Evan brought a cross-cultural version of his new group, “Django A La Creole,” with guitarists Pete Smith and Matt Munisteri, string bassist Sebastien Giradot, and trumpeter Jon-Erik Kellso. This little band loosely followed the post-Stephane Grappelly instrumentation of Django Reinhardt’s Quintette of the Hot Club of France. But Evan had more in mind that simply producing another version of Gypsy jazz: he is interested in the cross-currents between New Orleans jazz (with its Creole roots, drawing on Spanish, French, and Cuban rhythms) and Django’s music.
We attended the early show — for jazz musicians, a 6:15 concert is quite early. Jazz players take a bit of time to warm up, even when their instruments are checked, tuned, oiled, and aligned backstage. That warming up is not a matter of valves and reeds, but of comfort, individual and collective. Artists have to be balanced midway between tension and relaxation; they have to get the feel of the hall, of the audience, of the lights, of their fellow players. This is rarely accomplished on the first selection. There wasn’t a note out of place in the opening performances, but the band took its time to be truly inspiring. And the group grew more inventive, more playful, with each succeeding song.
Evan is someone to watch. He has characterized himself as a New Orleans clarinet player, someone who knows and loves the tradition. But that doesn’t mean he offers pastiches of what his forebears have already played. A completely assured instrumentalist, he takes risks; his soaring lines dance. So, as a matter of fact, does he; he never keeps still. If you could only see him (as in a silent film) you would guess that he was putting his heart into his music and having a fine time doing so. Unlike some other players, he is also comfortable when talking about the music, and last night he offered witty, engaging commentary on the proceedings.
Witty, dancing versions of “Flee As A Bird – High Society” and Jelly Roll Morton’s “Mamanita” opened the program, making it clear to listeners that there would be genre crossing from funeral music to street parade anthems to Creole – Spanish jazz. Pete Smith, who seemed to have broken his foot (it was in a cast) turned in ringing single-string solos with some of Django’s declamatory fervor.
Evan turned the stage over to Jon-Erik, announcing his feature as “a romantic ballad.” That was a fine joke, since the song was called “Funky Butt” when Buddy Bolden played it, cosmeticized into “I Thought I Heard Buddy Bolden Say” for Morton’s Victor recording. Two of the Ear Regulars (or Earregulars, depending on whether you’re Reform or Conservative) heated things up immensely. Matt Munisteri, who always comes to a gig ready to play, was in wonderfully intense form. I think of his work as No Note Left Unbent, and he dug deep. For his part, Jon-Erik was vividly inspired, working hard behind his plunger mute, rendering this naughty song as a quiet, growling lullaby full of ascending runs and vocalized cries, protesting and cajoling. It was an Oscar-winning performance without words and without a script. The first set closed with a train-inspired “Farewell Blues,” Matt harking back to Django’s “Mystery Pacific,” in a performance that merged a Basie small group, the Hot Club Quintette, and a Wellman Braud solo from Giradot. An intermission followed: we needed one.
The second half of the concert focused primarily on the magical jazz recorded in 1939 when Rex Stewart, Barney Bigard, and Billy Taylor (the bassist), then members of the Duke Ellington band touring Europe, met up with Django Reinhardt. I heard the original 78s for the first time around 1970 and they are still thrilling recordings. On the moody “Low Cotton,” the thoughtful, lowdown “Solid Old Man,” and a romping “I Know That You Know,” the band outdid itself. And Evan, telling the story about Django meeting the Ellingtonians, was as happy as he could be. (He has adopted some of Ed Hall’s nearly violent lyricism in the 1939 numbers, to great effect.) The concert closed with a truly joyous romp on “Hindustan,” with the musicians changing key on every chorus, alternating between C and Eb, something they had done on their Arbors CD, BLUE ROOF BLUES, a classic recording. (I learned some days later that they had done the title song, a Kellso composition about what Katrina and the U.S. government had done to New Orleans, at the second concert. I’m sorry that I missed it, but urge readers of this blog to check out the CD.)
The good news is that another Sidney Bechet Society concert is around the corner on Monday, September 15. There is no bad news.
Evan Christopher is back in town, heading a new small group, “Django a la Creole,” which combines the all-strings instrumentation of the QHCF with Evan’s deep New Orleans roots. Evan will be playing alongside guitarists Matt Munisteri and Pete Smith, and bassist Sebastien Giradot. And, if that were not enough, the special guest star is Jon-Erik Kellso. (Evan, Jon-Erik, and Matt are a wonderful team, as the Arbors CD BLUE ROOF BLUES proves.)
The concerts will take place at 6:15 and 9 PM at Symphony Space (2537 Broadway at 95th Street). Tickets are $25 for Bechet Society members, $30 in advance, $35 the day of the concert. The hall has excellent acoustics and good sightlines. Evan’s 2006 and 2007 concerts sold out; this one will too. To order tickets, visit the Bechet Society website at www.sidneybechet.org.
Even though it’s only a fragment, I was delighted to see this YouTube clip of Evan and a version of this admirable small group. Here, they play a wistful version of “Way Down Yonder in New Orleans,” making yearning, intimate jazz. Evan’s delicacy reminds me of late Pee Wee Russell, a great compliment.