Tag Archives: Smalls jazz club

IT’S MINNOW’S GIG

Sometimes the real power isn’t the person you’d expect.  Although royalty always wears a fur coat.  In this case, the ruling genius of Smalls (that wonderful jazz oasis on West Tenth Street in New York City) is Minnow, the resident Maine Coon cat — who surveys everything with a mixture of reserve and disdain.

I’m told that Minnow — after hours — has a Cecil Taylor conception at the piano — but I’ve yet to video one of her sessions.  She did make a cameo appearance with supporting players Ehud Asherie and Jon-Erik Kellso in this 2011 performance:

On September 10, 2013, I went to Smalls to hear and record three eminent humans — saxophonist Michael Hashim, pianist Spike Wilner, and string bassist Murray Wall.  But before the “jazz musicians” took the stage, Minnow decided to let everyone know — silently but powerfully — whose club, whose stage, whose gig it really is.  Local 802, take note.  The paparazzi certainly did:

All the cat joins in, or something like that.

May your happiness increase!

“UP JUMPED YOU WITH LOVE” and MORE: JON-ERIK KELLSO and EHUD ASHERIE at SMALLS (Jan. 20, 2011)

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The Beloved and I went to see two of our favorite musicians (and people!) in duet at Smalls (that’s 138 West 10th Street, New York City) on January 20, 2011.  Here are some of the songs they played — classics and rarities (many of the latter by Fats Waller and James P. Johnson, disciple and master). 

My title refers to the opening song — recorded late in Fats’s career — but also to a delightful happening that took place early in the evening.  But now, settle in to UP JUMPED YOU WITH LOVE, which has a deliciously unexpected bridge:

Then, moving more towards the familiar, Ehud and Jon-Erik settled on another Waller song, I’M CRAZY ‘BOUT MY BABY — which Ruby Braff always remembered as being titled WALKIN’ ON AIR, from the opening phrase of the verse.  Jon-Erik and Ehud remind me mightily of Ruby and Dick Hyman — listening, playful, balancing their individual styles to create something even more gratifying:

Another lovely obscurity (Ehud brings new tunes to gigs like this one, knowing Jon-Erik’s ears and bravery) was APRIL IN MY HEART — from 1939, recorded by Billie Holiday with an amazing band including Herschel Evans, Lester Young, Harry James, Benny Morton, Teddy Wilson, Jo Jones . . . a song written by Hoagy Carmichael and Johnny Mercer. 

That in itself would have been bliss — but someone from the club couldn’t stand being left out and, like Lester, leaped in, around ninety seconds into the performance.  You can’t miss her:

Let me introduce you to Minnow, the Maine Coon cat who lords it over Smalls.  She’s a “ham,” says Spike Wilner, “there are a million pictures of Minnow floating around the web,” but she wanted her place in the sun. 

Either Minnow wanted to be closer to the musical action (look how contented she is!) or she knows that my YouTube channel is called SWINGYOUCATS and felt it needed the real article.  One never knows, do one? 

If her timing had been better and she had entered the scene for UP JUMPED YOU WITH LOVE, I would have been even more astonished.

As a favor to JAZZ LIVES that costs nothing — if you know a cat-lover, send this clip out his or her way.  I want fame for Minnow!  (And do applaud my restraint.  I could have called this blogpost KITTEN ON THE KEYS or ALL THE CAT JOINS IN, but decided to err on the side of restraint and decorum.) 

Onwards!

PERDIDO (by valve-trombonist Juan Tizol) is in the odd position of being a jazz standard played and overplayed — now, as fashions change, it’s refreshing to hear it, especially by this duo:

James P. Johnson’s AIN’T CHA GOT MUSIC? is — in its lyrics — a faux-spiritual, but having heard Henry “Red” Allen and Dick Wellstood’s recordings of it, I treasure it — and having your life uplifted through music is an idea JAZZ LIVES seeks to embody.  In the second chorus, hear how Jon-Erik becomes a whole brass section, sermonizing, and Ehud’s beautifully varied striding would have pleased Jimmy no end:

Keeping James P. in mind, Ehud proposed a surprise — THE LOVE BUG — one of the Master’s unknown tunes (I think I’d only heard it from a piano roll).  No problem for our man Kellso here:

Now for three classics — a majestic reading of BODY AND SOUL, imploring and powerful; Ehud’s sophisticated wanderings reminding us that he knows Bud Powell’s world deeply and well:

And the perennially versatile ONE HOUR, again by James P., one of those songs that sits so well at a variety of tempos, its hopeful message intact:

And (to close this posting, although the music at Smalls went on for a long time), SWEET GEORGIA BROWN — once a well-known pop song, then a set of changes for jazz improvisers to float over, now, perhaps, nearly returning to obscurity unless you’re over fifty?  I don’t know — but this performance, beginning with variations on the original melody, is as charming as hearing the melody of I GOT RHYTHM nowadays:

Thank you so much, gentlemen, and Minnow (of course), who offered paws for the cause — not lightly and politely, but in the only we she could.  And when you hear the music, you know why Louis is grinning down on the stage.

COMING SOON: PETE MALINVERNI’S “INVISIBLE CITIES” Smalls, Feb. 4/5, 2011

Pete Malinverni is an inventive pianist and composer — someone I have had the good fortunte to hear and meet recently.  (My jubilation was initially mixed with sadness that I hadn’t had the pleasure twenty years earlier, but such things are beyond our powers to change.) 

Pete is hardly overexposed at New York City gigs, so I encourage my readers who can to visit Smalls on Friday, February 4, and/or Saturday, February 5, 2011 — both nights at around 10 PM and 11:30 PM — to see Pete and a quartet of high-level improvisers create paths to and through his “Invisible Cities.”

The “Invisible Cities” project showcases new arrangements of familiar compositions about cities — such as I LOVE PARIS and CHICAGO — as well as Pete’s own compositions.  His friends on the bandstand will be Scott Wendholt, trumpet; Rich Perry, tenor saxophone; Ugonna Okegwo, bass; Eliot Zigmund, drums.  Smalls is located at 138 West Tenth Street in New York City, just off Seventh Avenue South (a minute away from the subway stop for Christopher Street / Sheridan Square on the #1): it costs twenty dollars at the door to enter and stay for hours.  There’s a well-stocked and well-staffed bar, and (if you’re lucky) a beautiful Maine Coon cat, Minnow, will wander in and around.

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“LIVE” AT SMALLS JAZZ CLUB

Although occasionally jazz clubs are uncomfortable — hard seats, noisy patrons, people jammed in — they provide an immediacy of experience that is unmatched by even the finest compact disc or video clip.  But you would need to live in or near an urban center (in my case New York City), have an independent income, be able to be in two or three places at once, and have a strong immune system to experience even one-fourth of what is happening any evening (and some afternoons).  And you’d have to be nocturnal — with the opportunity to sleep during the day, as many musicians do.

In the belief, perhaps, that if you offer something for free, people who love it will then follow it to its source, the people who run Smalls Jazz Club (on West Tenth Street) have been offering live video and “archived” audio of jazz performances at http://www.smallsjazzclub.com/index.cfm?itemCategory=32321&siteid=272&priorId=0&banner=a.

What does that mean?  As far as I can tell, you could sit in front of your computer, click on the address above, and get to see and hear — in real time — what the musicians are playing at Smalls.  True, the video is somewhat limited in its visual range; the image is small.  And it can’t be recorded for playing at a later date.  

But it’s vividly there, and for free.

And the other half of the birthday-present-you-didn’t-know-about is that the site is also offering audio of past performances (by those musicians who don’t object to having their work distributed in this fashion).  I didn’t check everyone’s name, but I saw dates were available featuring Dan Block, Ehud Asherie, Jon-Erik Kellso, Randy Sandke, Terry Waldo, Orange Kellin, Joel Frahm, Ari Roland, Stepko Gut, Matt Musselman, Will Anderson, Dmitry Baevsky, Lee Konitz, Teddy Charles, Jesse Gelber, Charlie Caranicas, Kate Manning, Kevin Dorn, Danton Boller, Joel Forbes, Lee Hudson, Rob Garcia, Howard Alden, Neal Miner, James Chirillo, Chris Flory, Eddy Davis, Conal Fowkes, Scott Robinson, Steve Ash, John Bunch, Jay Leonhart, Dick Hyman, Ethan Iverson, Olivier Lancelot, Sacha Perry, Rossano Sportiello, Mark Lopeman, Michael Blake, Harry Allen, Andy Farber, Tad Shull, Grant Stewart . . . and these are only some of the names on the list I know.  So many pleasant hours of listening await you!  And everyone hopes that you will someday go to West Tenth Street and climb down the narrow stairway to Smalls.

CYNTHIA SAYER at the KNICKERBOCKER! (June 12-13, 2009)

Cynthia SayerCynthia Sayer, the banjo virtuoso, engaging singer and pianist, has been busy of late working on a variety of projects.  And that busy-ness has meant that she hasn’t taken as many gigs in New York City as she might . . . but that is about to be rectified in a most swinging way. 

Cynthia and the delightful pianist Mark Shane — justly celebrated in this blog — will be performing on June 12 and 13 (Friday and Saturday) at the Knickerbocker Bar and Grill, 33 University Place at Ninth Street.  (212.228.8490, or www.knickerbockerbarandgrill.com., you choose.)  The practical details?  The cover charge is modest (the last time Cynthia performed there, it was $5.)  The music will begin at 9:45. 

Cynthia says:

“Surprise guest players” have often stopped by to sit in for some tunes in the past.  Anything is possible!  

Knickerbocker gigs offer me the very rare opportunity to play duos with pianists.  I know that the whole banjo/piano duo concept is an old cliche so maybe it seems sort of funny how unusual it is for me, but it’s true. (Please visit my January 2009 YouTube clips from Smalls to get an idea of a typical line-up for me.)  I’m enjoying the change, not to mention working with various wonderful pianists.  My repertoire will include popular ’20s – ’40s tunes and some lesser known gems that I like, plus of course some features from Mark.  Some tunes I like are, of course,  “Them There Eyes,” “You Always Hurt The One You Love,” “Over The Rainbow,” “What’ll I Do,”  “Doin’ The New Low Down,” “The Glory Of Love,, “There Aint No Sweet Man (That’s Worth the Salt Of My Tears),”  “El  Choclo,” “Shakin’ The Blues Away,”  and “Give Me Liberty Or Give Me Love.”

I don’t see why anyone should need more information before marking their calendars, but if anyone does, why not visit Cynthia’s website, www.cynthiasayer.com.  (Incidentally, the portrait comes from the cover of her newest CD, ATTRACTIONS, which lives up to its name.)  This gig is something to look forward to!

SIXTY-MINUTE MEN

The title refers to a famous rhythm and blues hit by Billy Ward and his Dominoes — a song that celebrates the romantic expertise of one “Lovin’ Dan.”  Having spent a very rewarding hour last night at Smalls listening to the eloquent jazz duetting of pianist Ehud Asherie and trumpeter Jon-Erik Kellso, I award them the same praise — in musical terms. 

Jon-Erik and Ehud were supposed to play a set from eight to nine, but they got onstage ten minutes early.  That should tell you something about the pleasure these two friends take in their mutual improvisations.  And they began with a bouncy WHEN YOU AND I WERE YOUNG, MAGGIE.  Jon-Erik decided that the pastoral exploits of Maggie and her now ancient beau could only have been evoked accurately with plunger-mute growls and halloos.  We were off to a very eloquent start.  Ehud was in fine form, daring and playful, offering unexpected crashing chords and stabbing single bass notes that reverberated through the basement room.  Moving to the more tender Fats Waller composition, MY FATE IS IN YOUR HANDS, Ehud began with a thoughtful exposition of the verse.  Then they played the chorus, with Jon-Erik especially soulful on open horn.  On a jogging THREE LITTLE WORDS, Jon-Erik chose a metal mute and Ehud raised some eyebrows (happily) by referring to Bud Powell’s PARISIAN THOROUGHFARE. 

Ehud called for Eubie Blake’s LOVE WILL FIND A WAY, a truly delicate love song from the pioneering 1921 musical SHUFFLE ALONG.  (Incidentally, Ehud and Jon-Erik, who together know thousands of songs other players don’t or have forgotten, could plan a whole evening around the compositions of great jazz pianists.)  Eubie’s love song is often played at a nearly operatic tempo, but the duo gave it a Thirties bounce, as if imagining the recording that Mildred Bailey might have made of it in 1936.  (I imagine it as an unissed Vocalion side, myself.)

After a growly DROP ME OFF IN HARLEM (one of those Ellington songs everyone vaguely knows but few play), Ehud became “the band within a band” for a grieving, abstract reading of Billy Strayhorn’s A FLOWER IS A LOVESOME THING, with dark, affecting funeral-march chords in the bass clef. 

Jon-Erik returned for a trotting Burns-and-Allen LOVE NEST, homey and affectionate.  I NEVER KNEW had ornate trumpet lines weaving in and out of lush pianistic tapestries — Baroque music, swinging fiercely.  When it came time for the bridge of Jon-Erik’s second chorus, somehow BEI MIR BIS DU SCHOEN worked itself in there — a perfect fit, and Sholom Secunda would have been pleased indeed.  SOMEDAY SWEETHEART led to the closing song, Eubie Blake’s exultant I’M JUST WILD ABOUT HARRY.  Before embarking on this romp, Jon-Erik turned to Ehud and asked, “What key are we wild about in?” a question surely applicable to other contexts.  Ehud knows the verse and shared it with us in rhapsodic style — then the two players shouted and pranced.  Which Harry we were celebrating I do not know, but I hope he was near enough to Seventh Avenue South to enjoy the tribute.  

Ehud and Jon-Erik made this a memorable hour — moving from peak to peak, from mood to mood without faltering or running out of inspiration.  Every minute counted, memorably.

“DROP ME OFF IN HARLEM”

Last night (Thursday, February 12) was perilously windy, but Flip and I bundled up and made it downtown to Smalls to hear an hour of duets between Jon-Erik Kellso and Ehud Asherie.

The story goes that Duke Ellington was in a cab one night in the early Thirties with the newspaperman (and occasional songwriter) Nick Kenny.  The following dialogue (hardly Chekhov) ensued:

Kenny: “Where do you want to go, Duke?”

Ellington: “Oh, just drop me off in Harlem.”

( Scholars dispute whether it was IN or AT, but I leave that to those who argue about ON line or IN line.)

Jon-Erik and Ehud take this pretty song at one of many right tempos — a medium glide.  And, luckily, Jon-Erik was in the mood to unleash his Inner Puppy, a friendly mixed-breed that would characteristically lick your face but most often has a whole repertoire of growls to offer.  Listen to the vocalizing he gets here, and to Ehud’s mobile, listening playing.  Lovely, evocative music!

THURSDAY NIGHT AT SMALLS (October 16)

You won’t want to miss this triple-feature.  At 8, pianist Ehud Asherie and reedman Dan Block will embark on an hour of duets, introspective to fiercely swinging.

Visual aids: a photograph of Ehud at the piano, taken by your humble correspondent.  Dan Block and Harry Allen (in that order), photo by J. Elkins. 

At 9:30 and 11, “The Italians are coming!  The Italians are coming!”

Don’t be alarmed, though: these Italians are extraordinary jazz players, led by the inspiring pianist Rossano Sportiello — someone we hope to hear on a regular basis in New York City.  Rossano’s friends — as he tells me — are the noble bassist Joel Forbes (he’s the “silent J” of BED), Luca Santaniello on drums, and “two fantastic young Italian brothers, Luigi and Pasquale Grasso, alto sax and guitar.  They are only 22 and 20, but they play the most amazing stuff.  They are students of Barry Harris since they were babies!”

Smalls lives up to its name, so be sure to get there early.  It’s on 183 West Tenth Street, near Seventh Avenue South (www.smallsjazzclub.com).

And here’s Rossano Sportiello, characteristically cheerful, in a photo by Duncan Schiedt: