Tag Archives: Silas Irvine

LARRY McKENNA INVITES US TO DREAM (SILAS IRVINE, JOE PLOWMAN, DAN MONAGHAN: Rowan University, Glassboro, New Jersey, May 22, 2022)

What follows is the center, the heart, you might say, of the LARRY McKENNA WITH STRINGS project, one that is making progress towards completion. So when you hear the quiet interludes in this performance, you may imagine them filled with strings, English horn, harp, and more — arrangements by Larry and Jack Saint Clair.

But when I was sitting in the studio at Rowan University on May 22, 2022, marveling, I didn’t feel the need to imagine anything. Larry; Silas Irvine, piano; Joe Plowman, string bass; Dan Monaghan, drums, invited me to make myself comfortable in a dream in sound, and I am so grateful.

I am not an insistent person, but I insisted that I be allowed to share this interlude, this dream-vision in sound and textures, so that my readers could come along as well.

DREAMSVILLE, incidentally, is by Henry Mancini, and first appeared as part of the music for the television series PETER GUNN. But there’s nothing noir about the quartet’s interpretation:

Isn’t that lovely?

I can’t wait for the project to reach fruition.

May your happiness increase!

FIVE BY FIVE (Part Two): JOE PLOWMAN and his PHILADELPHIANS at the 1867 SANCTUARY: JOE PLOWMAN, DANNY TOBIAS, JOE McDONOUGH, SILAS IRVINE, DAVE SANDERS (February 8, 2020)

This is the second half of a wonderful afternoon concert that took place at the 1867 Sanctuary in Ewing, New Jersey — Joe Plowman and his Philadelphians, featuring Joe on string bass; Danny Tobias on trumpet, flugelhorn, and Eb alto horn; Joe McDonough on trombone; Silas Irvine on piano; Dave Sanders on guitar.

You can enjoy the first half here — the songs performed are COTTON TAIL, WHO CARES?, JUST ONE OF THOSE THINGS, SUNNY SIDE OF THE STREET, and THE SONG IS ENDED.

And below you can hear and see performances of MY FUNNY VALENTINE, WHY DO I LOVE YOU?, THE FRUIT, WHAT’LL I DO?, and I NEVER KNEW.

When everything is once again calm, you might make a trip to the Sanctuary (101 Scotch Road in Ewing) for their multi-musical concert series: it is a lovely place.  But the vibrations in that room were particularly lovely on February 8, 2020.

Since it was less than a week before Valentine’s Day, Richard Rodgers’ MY FUNNY VALENTINE was not only appropriate but imperative: Danny offered it (with the seldom-played verse) on flugelhorn:

Jerome Kern’s WHY DO I LOVE YOU? — following the amorous thread — was another feature for the melodic Joe McDonough  — with beautiful support from Messrs. Sanders and Irvine in addition to the leader:

Joe (Plowman, that is) explored Bud Powell’s twisting THE FRUIT with Silas right alongside him at every turn:

Irving Berlin’s mournful elegy, WHAT’LL I DO? reassembled the quintet:

And a final jam on I NEVER KNEW — a song musicians have loved to play since the early Thirties — closed the program:

Beautiful, inspiring music: thanks to this quintet and Bob and Helen Kull of the     1867 Sanctuary.

May your happiness increase!

FIVE BY FIVE (Part One): JOE PLOWMAN and his PHILADELPHIANS at the 1867 SANCTUARY: JOE PLOWMAN, DANNY TOBIAS, JOE McDONOUGH, SILAS IRVINE, DAVE SANDERS (February 8, 2020)

Pay no attention to ENGER D OP OFF — they were last week’s band.

Here’s another in the series of intimate, swinging jazz concerts that take place at the 1867 Sanctuary on Scotch Road in Ewing, New Jersey: others have featured Phil Orr, Joe Holt, Danny Tobias, Warren Vache, Larry McKenna.

The most recent one was a showcase for string bass virtuoso Joe Plowman (friend of Larry McKenna and Marty Grosz, so that should tell you something about his authentic credentials — with Danny Tobias on various brass instruments, Joe McDonough, trombone; Silas Irvine, piano; Dave Sanders, guitar.  As you’ll hear immediately, these five friends specialize in lyrical melodic swing — going back to Irving Berlin classics — without a hint of the museum or the archives.  Their pleasure in making song was apparent all afternoon, and we shared it.  And just as a comment on the leader: notice how quiet the crowd is when he solos, maybe because he creates long arching melodic lines with a beautiful sound and wonderful intonation.

At times, I was reminded of a group I saw for half an hour at the old Michael’s Pub — the front line was Bobby Hackett and Urbie Green, and what delightful sounds they made. (The digressive story of that evening I offer below as a postscript.*)

Here are five highlights from the brilliant afternoon’s play.

Everyone’s “got rhythm” so why not Ellington’s COTTON TAIL?:

The Gershwins’ WHO CARES? — with a touch of Tobias-humor to start:

Porter’s JUST ONE OF THOSE THINGS:

ON THE SUNNY SIDE OF THE STREET, featuring expressive Mr. McDonough:

Berlin’s THE SONG IS ENDED, which announcement was premature, since there was another half-concert to follow:

You see why the trip to Ewing, New Jersey, to 100 Scotch Road, is essential to my well-being and that of the larger audience.

*Now for my self-indulgent story, which took place before either Joe was born.  I’ve never told it before and it is true.

Bobby Hackett was and is one of my greatest heroes, and when he appeared in New York City between 1971 and 1976, I tried to go see him.  However, I was a shy college student, working a part-time job that paid $1.85 / hour, so some gigs were beyond me.

Michael’s Pub was a restaurant-bar-with music on the East Side of Manhattan, in the Fifties, that offered excellent jazz in hostile surroundings.  (To be fair, I did not appear as a well-heeled customer to even the most inexperienced waiter.)  They had a bar where one could sit and have a single drink without being chased for perhaps thirty minutes, but the view of the music room was very limited.  When I learned of a Hackett-Urbie Green quintet gig, I gathered up the shreds of my courage, put on my sportsjacket and my Rooster tie, and went.

I think I made a reservation for two: that was my cunning at work.  I was guided to a table, a menu was thrust in my face, and I said, “I’m waiting for my date.  A vodka-tonic, please,” and the waiter went away, returning in seconds with my drink.  The music began and it was of course celestial.  I nursed my drink, ate the rolls in the bread basket one by one, and fended off the waiter, who was more insistent than any date I’d had up to that point.  Finally, somewhere in the first set, when the waiter had become nearly rude, I looked at my watch, and said grimly so that he could hear, “Damn.  She’s not coming.  I’ll take the check, please,” paid and left.

I can now say that I heard Bobby and Urbie, but the sad part is that I can’t remember a note because it was completely blotted out by the sense of being unwanted.  But, in a pinch, vodka-tonic, buttered rolls, and a divine soundtrack are nutritious enough.  And memory is soul food.

May your happiness increase!  

MELLOW TONES: DANNY TOBIAS, PAT MERCURI, CHRIS BUZZELLI (1867 Sanctuary, January 4, 2020)

On January 4, 2020, Danny Tobias (trumpet, flugelhorn, Eb alto horn), Pat Mercuri, and Chris Buzzelli (guitars) assembled at the 1867 Sanctuary, 1o1 Scotch Road, Ewing, New Jersey, for a wonderfully mellow session of music.  What they created, reminiscent of the Braff-Barnes Quartet, requires no complicated explication: it’s melodic and swinging, a splendidly egalitarian conversation among three masterful improvisers.  Pat’s on the viewer’s right in gray blazer; Chris has a maroon shirt.

Here’s the first half.

Arlen’s AS LONG AS I LIVE, a declaration of devotion:

CHEEK TO CHEEK, Berlin’s description of bliss in motion:

Van Heusen’s POLKA DOTS AND MOONBEAMS (and I still like Johnny Burke’s lyrics, unheard here, although some poke fun at the “pug-nosed dream”):

Ray Noble’s steadfast assertion, THERE IS NO GREATER LOVE:

Sonatina for Two Guitars, Ellington’s IN A MELLOTONE:

Gershwin’s yearning SOMEONE TO WATCH OVER ME, featuring Danny on his third or fourth brass instrument, the Eb alto horn:

If you missed this concert, you have a chance to restore and redeem yourself: on February 8, 2020, Joe Plowman and his Philadelphians will be playing: that’s Joe on string bass and perhaps arrangements / compositions; Danny Tobias; Joe McDonough, trombone; Silas Irvine, piano; Dave Sanders, guitar.  Details here. Why miss out?

May your happiness increase!

BLISS (Part Two): DANNY TOBIAS, LARRY McKENNA, SILAS IRVINE, JOE PLOWMAN (1867 Sanctuary, Ewing, New Jersey, Sept. 21, 12019)

I saw the sign, and stopped for it.

Here is the first part of BLISS, and you will hear I don’t exaggerate: four songs performed by Danny Tobias, trumpet, fluegelhorn; Larry McKenna, tenor saxophone; Silas Irvine, piano; Joe Plowman, string bass, at the 1867 Sanctuary in Ewing, New Jersey, on September 21, 2019.

Celestial music, to be sure.

Here are some still photographs of the four illuminators, thanks to Verizon:

and

and

and

You’ve been patient.  Now for the moving pictures (with sound, too)!

Gershwin and Gershwin:

Rodgers and Hart:

Edgar Sampson:

Lerner and Loewe:

Youmans and Caesar:

What lovely unaffected music.  I can’t wait for this quartet’s return engagement.

May your happiness increase!

BLISS (Part One): DANNY TOBIAS, LARRY McKENNA, SILAS IRVINE, JOE PLOWMAN (1867 Sanctuary, Ewing, New Jersey, Sept. 21, 12019)

Everyone’s bliss is different.  But for me, one version is being close to and recording a small group of creative musicians playing splendidly, listening attentively to one another in a quiet space in front of a rapt audience.  It’s bliss when it happens, and also because it happens so rarely.

But it did happen in the lovely 1867 Sanctuary in Ewing, New Jersey, for two hours on September 21, 2019.  The noble creators were Danny Tobias, trumpet, fluegelhorn, and Eb alto horn; Larry McKenna, tenor saxophone; Silas Irvine, piano; Joe Plowman, string bass.  And here’s their first set: lyrical, controlled, passionate, swinging, deeply melodic.

Larry McKenna

They began with I’LL ALWAYS BE IN LOVE WITH YOU, which although it did not begin life as a swinging tune, Count Basie made it so — as do they:

What followed continued to make me and the rest of the audience happy, but if this quartet had decided that enough was enough with this single performance, I would have been satisfied.  Slightly mystified, but smiling.  But I am thrilled they continued.

The lovely MY IDEAL (check out the lyrics if you don’t know them):

Danny picked up his new / old Eb alto horn for MOOD INDIGO.  Wait until the end, after the last notes, for his musicological commentary and a patented Tobias comic flourish:

Danny’s own HOW’S IT GO? — based on chord changes that were part of the common language when there was one:

Get up, stretch, find some snacks, and the second half will be posted shortly. I bless these four creators and thank them as well.  Thanks also to Bob and Helen Kull, for making the 1867 Sanctuary a shrine for wonderful art.  This post is for John Scurry, John Herr, Sam Taylor, Melissa Gilstrap, and R1, of course.

May your happiness increase!

MUSIC THAT FALLS KINDLY ON THE EAR: DANNY TOBIAS, JACK SAINT CLAIR, SILAS IRVINE, SAM HARRIS at the 1867 SANCTUARY (Ewing, New Jersey: April 6, 2019)

Some of the most memorable sessions — improvising without arrangements — are marked by a delightful ensemble tension coming out of competitiveness.  Think of almost any date Roy Eldridge played on, for an example close to hand.  Others are marked by an equally pleasing calm friendliness: we’re all here for the same purpose, and let’s have a good time.  A collective hug rather than head-cutting.

The quietly impressive group that Danny Tobias — master of various brass instruments — brought to the 1867 Sanctuary in Ewing, New Jersey, on Saturday, April 6, really exemplified the affectionate community of the second example.  Danny assembled very gifted young men from Philadelphia: reedman Jack Saint Clair, here solely on tenor; pianist Silas Irvine, and string bassist Sam Harris.  Here’s their sweet version of CHEROKEE — not at a racetrack tempo, but as a waltz:

And the Rodgers and Hart SPRING IS HERE, wistful, pensive, still swinging:

Danny’s secret indulgence (one that makes me particularly glad) is the Eb alto horn — beloved of Dick Cary and very few others.  This particular specimen, Danny notes, was a gift from his friend, the very fine trombonist Gil Toth, who was in the audience.  (Also in the audience were dance luminaries Lynn Redmile and Renee Toplansky.)

What better way to say “Thank you” to Gil and all of us than with this heartfelt rendition of SOMEONE TO WATCH OVER ME?

Every jazz concert needs a song with disputed authorship, so here’s DIG, a line on SWEET GEORGIA BROWN, that Miles Davis took credit for:

Even if your idea of paradise is King Oliver 1923, I hope you can hear the sweet floating beauties on display here.  And let’s not forget Jack Saint Clair’s melancholy-uplifting solo feature, posted earlier.

It was a wonderful afternoon at the 1867 Sanctuary — where art flourishes — and Danny, Jack, Silas, and Sam gave us great gifts.

May your happiness increase!

MAKING MELODY COME ALIVE: JACK SAINT CLAIR, SILAS IRVINE, SAM HARRIS (April 6, 2019)

I knew something of young Philadelphia reedman Jack Saint Clair before I heard him — on a Danny Tobias gig last Saturday — by implication, because Danny has excellent taste.  And Jack has been part of the Marty Grosz Repertory Company that appears at the Mermaid Inn in Chestnut Hill, Pennsylvania.  Later, I saw Jack get the coveted Larry McKenna Seal of Approval . . . if there is a higher honor I don’t know it.  But I was delighted and moved by his playing at that concert (with Silas Irvine, piano, and Sam Harris, string bass) so I think you should meet him too, doing what he does beautifully: making melody come alive, airborne, quietly compelling.

The song is SPRING CAN REALLY HANG YOU UP THE MOST, lyrics by Fran Landesman, music by Tommy Wolf — their 1955 variation on Eliot’s “April is the cruelest month.”  Or close enough.  Only 33 years separate Eliot and Landesman, proof of how quickly language moves and changes.

But there’s nothing cruel in Jack’s lovely consideration of this pastoral lament:

Anyone who has sung or played an instrument will know just how difficult it is to make melody come that alive.  For those of you, and you know who you are, who leap to Compare, whisper the comparisons to your coffee and don’t send them here . . . . Jack sounds exactly like himself, and we are glad of it.

May your happiness increase!