Tag Archives: Sofia’s

“VINCE GIORDANO: THERE’S A FUTURE IN THE PAST”

vincegirodano_poster

About seventy-five minutes into this gratifying portrait of Vince Giordano and the Nighthawks, trombonist and keen observer Jim Fryer describes its subject as “an intense man . . . a driven man . . . consumed” by the ideals he’s devoted the last forty years to.  And his goal?  As Vince says in the film, it is “to get the great music out there for the people.”

From his early introduction to the music — the hot jazz 78s on his grandmother’s Victrola — to the present moment, where he is the inspired creator of a ten-piece Jazz Age big band possibly without equal, Vince’s ideal has been complex. Reproduce live the sound, accuracy, and vitality of the music he heard on the records, and add to that repertoire by playing, vividly and authentically, music that never got recorded. His quest has been to have a working band, the contemporary equivalent of the great working bands, sweet and hot, of the Twenties and Thirties, visiting the Forties on occasion. Add to this the constant schlepping (you could look it up) of the equipment for that band; finding a new home after Sofia’s could no longer stay open; finding gigs; keeping this organization running against the odds.  The film wholly captures how difficult Vince’s consuming obsession is to accomplish, and to keep afloat day after day.

Many readers of JAZZ LIVES are fervent Giordanians or perhaps Vinceites, and we crossed paths for years in the darkness of Sofia’s, at the Christmas teas.  I have a long history with this band, going back to a Nighthawks gig in the preceding century, in the eastern part of Long Island, New York, where the night sky darkened, the thunder rumbled louder than Arnie Kinsella’s drum set, lightning flashed, but the band kept playing until the last possible minute before the deluge.  So I’ve experienced Vince’s dedication firsthand.

Here’s the film’s trailer — a delightful encapsulation that doesn’t give away all the surprises:

The narrative follows Vince and the band over two years and more, from Sofia’s to Wolf Trap for PRAIRIE HOME COMPANION with Garrison Keillor, to Aeolian Hall with Maurice Peress for a recreation of Paul Whiteman’s presentation RHAPSODY IN BLUE — the opening clarinet solo brilliantly played by Dan Block — to the Nighthawks’ search for a new home, which they found at Iguana.  The film brings us up in to the present with the New York Hot Jazz Festival and a band led by Nighthawk Dan Levinson (his “Gotham Sophisticats”) as well as a new generation of musicians inspired by Vince, who has shown that it is possible to play hot music at the highest level with accuracy and spirit.

So much credit for this beautifully-realized film, must, of course, go to its intensely-charged subject, the Nighthawks, and their music. But filmmakers Dave Davidson and Amber Edwards are expert visionaries.

Even given this vibrant multi-sensory material, formulaic filmmakers could have created something dull.  They might have been satisfied to simply document performance: aim cameras at the Nighthawks and record what they play, as videographers like myself have done, which would have been accurate but limiting as cinema. Or, given the many people willing to talk about Vince and the Nighthawks, Edwards and Davidson could have given us a pageant of New York’s most erudite talking heads, some of whom would have been happy to lecture us.

Instead, by beautifully combining both elements and adding some surprises, they have created a wholly engaging, fast-moving portrait of Vince, the Nighthawks, and their world.  THERE’S A FUTURE IN THE PAST never seems to stand still, and the cameras take us places that even the most devoted fans have never gone.  We get to peek in at Terry Gross’s interview of Vince, to travel downtown for a Nighthawk-flavored session of the EarRegulars at The Ear Inn and a recording session for BOARDWALK EMPIRE.

One of the film’s most pleasing aspects is candid, often witty commentary from people who know — the musicians themselves. Edwards and Davidson have fine instincts for the telling anecdote, the revealing insight.  We see and hear Jon-Erik Kellso, Dan Levinson, Mike Ponella, Mark Lopeman, Peter Yarin, Andy Stein, Cynthia Sayer, Jim Fryer, and others, people who have worked with Vince for twenty-five years and more, and their stories are as essential to the film as is the music.

Edwards and Davidson quietly capture telling details, visual and otherwise: the box of doughnuts brought on the bus; the rivets on Vince’s aluminum double bass; Jon-Erik Kellso’s hand gestures — contrapuntal choreography — during SHAKE THAT THING; the voices of the Nighthawks joking about being fired as they head into a band meeting.  The film is admiring without being obsequious, so we also see a short, revealing episode of Vince losing his temper. But the details ever seem excessive.  In this era of fidgety multi-camera over-editing, the film’s charged rhythm — appropriately, a peppy dance tempo — is energetic but never overdone, never cleverly calling attention to itself.

There’s vivid photographic evidence of the spectacle at Sofia’s and the Iguana: the tuxedo-clad Nighthawks not only playing hot but enacting it; the dancers jubilantly embodying what they hear in ecstatic motion.  A documentary about Vince would be empty without the music.  I noted SUGAR FOOT STOMP, THE MOON AND YOU, PUBLIC MELODY NUMBER ONE featuring Catherine Russell, WHITE HEAT, SWEET MAN, Kellso burning up the cosmos on SINGING PRETTY SONGS, THE STAMPEDE, ONE MORE TIME, YOU’VE BEEN A GOOD OLD WAGON, even BESAME MUCHO at a rainy Midsummer Night Swing at Lincoln Center.  And the sound recording is just splendid.

One of the secret pleasures of this film, for the true believers, is in spotting friends and colleagues: Matt Musselman, Will Friedwald, Tina Micic, Jim Balantic, John Landry, Molly Ryan, Sam Huang, Chuck Wilson, and a dozen others.  (I know I’ve missed someone, so I apologize in advance.)

In every way, this film is delightful, a deep yet light-hearted portrait of a man and an evocation of a time and place, a casual yet compelling documentary that invites us in.  First Run Features is presenting its New York theatrical premiere at Cinema Village on January 13, 2017, and I believe that Vince and the filmmakers will be present at a number of showings.

May your happiness increase!

“EACH DAY IS VALENTINE’S DAY”: LARRY HAM, CHRIS HANEY, KLAUS SUONSAARI (Feb. 10, 2012)

Although I am seriously romantic, I am not terribly interested in the flurry of gas-station roses and GMO candy that marks February 14 as Valentine’s Day.  But I do love MY FUNNY VALENTINE, and I thought it very sweetly appropriate that pianist Larry Ham, bassist Chris Haney, and drummer Klaus Suonsaari played it at Sofia’s several nights before it would be the anthem du jour.  Here is their soulful rendition, with Larry’s fascinating harmonies reminding me of Jimmy Rowles; Chris spinning quietly eloquent lines; Klaus making those wire brushes whisper and cajole.  Great music for romantics any day in the year!

Song scholars will know this, but MY FUNNY VALENTINE was originally performed in the Rodgers and Hart musical BABES IN ARMS . . . sung to “Val,” or Valentine — by the young woman who cheerfully enumerates his flaws but wants him to keep them.  I didn’t know that “Valentine” was originally played by Ray Heatherton, famous in my time as someone appearing on children’s records and later as the MC of the Long Island, New York BREAKFAST CLUB.  If only I had known about his past lives when I encountered him in 1974, I could have asked him . . .

This one’s for the Beloved, who occupies the position of Valentine so securely that I cancelled any other auditions shortly after we met . . .

BEAUTY IN THE CORNER: ROSSANO SPORTIELLO and NEAL MINER (Jan. 25, 2012)

Harold Ross, who edited THE NEW YORKER, once wrote, “Talent doesn’t care where it resides.”  I think of jazz improvisation as a secret beautiful art.  Although the players are happy to have a receptive audience, often the audience’s inattention matters not at all, for the players are creating something that we happen to eavesdrop on. 

This was the feeling that the Beloved and I had listening to pianist Rossano Sportiello and string bassist Neal Miner last Wednesday, Jan. 25, 2012, at Sofia’s Ristorante (211 West 46th Street).  I had originally entertained thoughts of going there as a civilian — an ordinary listener with nothing more complicated in his hands than his drink, but the music was so quietly eloquent that I started videotaping and then asked permission of Rossano and Neal when they took a breather.

Photograph by Lorna Sass. All rights reserved. Copyright 2012.

Listening to Rossano, one hears his delicate touch, his rhythms (romping or subtle), his orchestral sense of the piano balanced with crystal-clear lines, his unerring ear for what Coleman Hawkins called “the choice notes.”  And Neal Miner embodies swinging persuasiveness.  Bass players usually get less attention than people with shiny horns.  Understandable in a way: the bass is in the lowest register and it stands to the rear of the background.  But the horn players I know admire the shape and scope of Neal’s lines and would be delighted to have invented them. 

On some of these performances, the audience is somewhat interactive.  You’ll hear someone’s comment when Rossano began to play a dreamy Liszt piece, “What is this, classical music?”  Yes, sir.  Classical and classic in the best senses of the words.  And rather than be annoyed at the people who chatted while the music was being created, I would simply hope that they went home subliminally elated by the fine loving sounds.  Maybe, with luck, someone might think, “At that bar there’s really nice background music . . . ” 

Early in the evening, a breezy optimism prevailed — even in the face of current economic reality, as the duo swung into THE BEST THINGS IN LIFE ARE FREE:

A Basie improvisation on I GOT RHYTHM changes that began as JUMPIN’ AT THE WOODSIDE and then went its own merry ways:

Indecision was never so pleasantly propulsive as in this UNDECIDED:

And the unexpected high point of the two sets — Liszt’s CONSOLATION # 3 in Db . . . a sweet musing exploration . . . then Rossano took a breath and turned the corner with Neal — uptown — to STOMPIN’ AT THE SAVOY:

And this set concluded with Tadd Dameron’s GOOD BAIT:

Talent, taking up temporary residence on 46th Street.  Beauty in the corner.  Much to be thankful for.

A ROBOTIC REMINDER, or DON’T MISS THESE GIGS!

If the mechanical men know about Michael Kanan, Joel Press, Joe Hunt, Lee Hudson, Sean Smith, and the wonderful jazz they will be creating this weekend at Smalls (138 West 10th Street, New York City, Friday night, May 13) and at Sofia’s (211 West 46th Street, NYC, Saturday night, May 14), shouldn’t you?

There will be room for everyone — interplanetary and terrestrial — I guarantee.  Bring your Beloved!

COMING SOON: TED BROWN AND BRAD LINDE (Feb. 5, 2011)

Wonderful things can happen at a jazz gig before a note has been played. 

That was the case when the Ted Brown Quartet performed at Sofia’s on Jan. 13, 2011. 

I had gotten there very early (my anxious parents always left the house too far in advance and arrived everywhere too early) and fell into conversation with a bespectacled young man seated at the bar.  We spoke of the musicians and the music, and he extended his hand and introduced himself.  “I’m Brad Linde,” he said. 

I am embarrassed to say that I didn’t have an instantaneous flash of recognition, but as we talked I thought, “He knows his stuff; he’s a real player with a deep awareness of the music.”  And then I said, “Do you have any CDs out?”  He said, “Yes, one, it’s called FEELING THAT WAY NOW.” 

As they say in the United Kingdom, the penny dropped, and I said — right off.  “My God!  I reviewed that CD for CADENCE and I loved it!”  And everything was hilariously in balance: I hadn’t recognized him but I was able to bring him good news: he had not seen the review.  A delightful interchange, wouldn’t you say? 

And it was even more delightful when young Mr. Linde did two things. 

It was his gentle urging that got Lee Konitz to walk in and sit at the bar to hear the music — making me think that we were in the presence of greatness.

And when Brad took out his tenor, I was warmed by the music he and Ted made — a series of heartfelt, friendly, apparently casual conversations.  Not a Hollywood cutting contest, certainly not Young Warrior overpowering Old: more like father and son chatting about things that mean so much.  (Brad has a loving reverence for his Jazz Fathers — performing with Butch Warren and Freddie Redd, for example!) 

Here’s a sample of what Ted and Brad created on YOU STEPPED OUT OF A DREAM:

I’m writing this post not only to celebrate the cheerful, humble, expert Mr. Linde and his many endeavors — but to let New Yorkers know that more of this splendid music is coming our way in one week. 

On Saturday, February 5, 2011, a quartet of Brad, Ted Brown, bassist Joe Solomon, and drummer Taro Okamoto will be playing from 9:30 PM to 1 AM at Tomi Jazz — that’s 239 East 53rd Street (lower level), between Second and Third Avenues.  646-497-1254 or http://www.tomijazz.com/. for more information.  I have it on good authority that the delightfully gifted tenor saxophonist Lena Bloch, who played so beautifully at Sofia’s, will be there, too.  Perhaps Mr. Konitz will come in and oversee everything as he did, as well. . . .  You come, too!

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FEEL THE WARMTH: TED BROWN AND FRIENDS AT SOFIA’S (Part Two: Jan. 13, 2011)

In reading about tenor saxophonist Ted Brown and his connections to Lennie Tristano and what is characterized as “the Tristano school,” I kept finding the words abstract, intellectual, cool. 

It intrigues me to see those terms used as faint praise, as if anyone who ever had contact with Tristano was suddenly transformed into a snow creature.  I didn’t hear that in Ted’s playing. 

And even though I come from the world of HOTTER THAN THAT and STEAMIN’ AND BEAMIN’ (you could look those up), I heard the music that Ted and friends played on that snowy night as lyrical, song-based, not a series of chilly mathematical puzzles.

The participants that night at Sofia’s (221 West 46th Street, New York City) for these performances were Ted on tenor; Lena Bloch, tenor; Bob Arthurs, trumpet; Michael Kanan and / or Sacha Perry, piano; Murray Wall or Stephanie Greig, bass; Taro Okamoto, Hyland Harris, or Mark Wadsworth, drums. 

Listen and observe for yourself!

Here’s SUBCONSCIOUS-LEE, an improvisation on WHAT IS THIS THING CALLED LOVE?  — with its eminent creator, Lee Konitz, sitting at the bar, sipping his beer, listening closely to what his friends (Ted, Bob, Michael, Murray, and Taro) were creating.  (Perhaps some of my more “tradition-minded” readers will find the opening chorus a little startling.  Have faith: this music won’t bite you!):

DIG IT!  — now there’s a title to conjure with.  Ted, Michael, Murray, and Taro ride the lovely up-and-down contours of this loping line with grace and wit:

Another apt title — THE THINGS I LOVE — is a sweet saunter through romance and romanticism worthy of late-period Lester Young and his friends Jimmy Rowles, Ray Bown, and  Jo Jones.  These players certainly have heartfelt stories to share with us.  And I thought again of Pete Malinverni’s assertion, “It’s melody, man!”  Yes, it is!:

For I REMEMBER YOU, some new friends came to play: Lena on tenor (two tenors doesn’t have to mean JATP); Stephanie on bass, and Hyland on drums.  Thanks for this memory!:

And the closing music honored Bird — in the same melodic, lazily intense way.  First, YARDBIRD SUITE, with Ted, Lena, Stephanie, Hyland (swinging that hi-hat and brushes in the noble manner), and Sacha:

And, to close off this rewarding evening, SCRAPPLE FROM THE APPLE, featuring Ted, Murray, Michael and Sacha, and Mark.  That personnel listing might seem a mistake, but watch closely.  Sacha is a wondrous pianist (as is Michael) and he had played on YARDBIRD — but you can see him politely hoping that another chance to play might happen before the evening came to an end.  In the most gracious way, the two pianists switch seats slightly more than halfway through the performance — true gentlemen as well as swinging improvisers!:

Abstract, intellectual, cool?  Hardly! 

And I hope to be watching Ted, Brad Linde, Joe Solomon, bass, and Taro create more of the same delicious music on Saturday, Feb. 5, 2011 from 9:30 to 1 AM at Tomi Jazz in New York City: 239 East 53rd Street (lower level) between Second and Third Avenues.  Their phone is 646-497-1254; their website is http://www.tomijazz.com.

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TED BROWN AND FRIENDS (Part One): SOFIA’S, JAN. 13, 2011

To me jazz is still such a surprising expansive field — a huge meadow, in fact — that there are wonderful players I have never heard. 

I am trying to make up for these lapses, though. 

I confess that the tenor saxophonist Ted Brown, now 82, was only a name on the back of a record cover until he came to sit in on a Joel Press – Michael Kanan quartet gig at the very end of June 2010.  I already admired Joel immensely, and I could add Ted to the list of musicians whose playing spoke to me.

Ted came back to play gigs in New York City this month — the first one on Jan. 12, 2011, at the Kitano Hotel, with Michael Kanan, Murray Wall, bass, and Taro Okamoto, drums.  I hope to have some performances to share with you from that night.

But the next night (it was still dreadfully cold and snowy) Michael surprised all of us by saying that the quartet was going to be appearing at Sofia’s.  I had other non-musical obligations for the evening, which I quickly sloughed off so that I could see this quartet again.  And I am delighted that I did so!

Where the Kitano gig was lovely and serene, Sofia’s was much more like a convocation of friends.  Not exactly a jam session, but a sweet series of “Come on, join us!” as the evening progressed. 

After a first set by the quartet, a number of jazz-pals brought their horns and sat in for a number or two, with fine results.  No one tried to outdo anyone, no solos went on for long, but it gave me the feeling that I do not always have in jazz clubs, “This is the way the musicians would be playing if they were alone!”  A rare sensation.

I wouldn’t presume to point out highlights from each performance, but I would ask listeners to pay particular attention to Ted’s dry, sometimes hesitant, questioning sound and approach.  It isn’t a matter of physical inability: his powers are intact.  Rather it is a kind of focused purity, of paring-away the inessentials in the manner of late Lester Young, not running through long-held figures and phrases but choosing the two notes, perfectly placed, that have greater impact.  Ted’s spaces and pauses are as beautiful, architecturally, as the notes he plays. 

Michael Kanan is, quite simply, a great pianist, someone who nibbles away at the edges of a song — its melody, its harmony, displacing its familiar rhythms, setting up teasing tensions between left and right-hand lines and accents.  He reminds me of Jimmy Rowles, in the surprising, sometimes intentionally asymmetrical castles he builds in the music. 

Murray Wall is at one with the beat: see him rock with what he plays, bringing enthusiasm and precision to those notes, that pulse.  And Taro Okamoto has a ringing sound and great variety, no matter what parts of his drum kit he is experimenting on at that moment. 

And the delightful guest stars were up to their level: tenor saxophonist Brad Linde, a husky other-voice responding affectionately to Ted’s lines; the young trumpeter Felix Rossy (he and his father, drummer Jorge, hail from Barcelona) who recalls a young Miles, bassist Stephanie Greig, energizing the band with her rhythmic propulsion; trumpeter Bob Arthurs, cool yet impassioned.  And more to come!

The quartet began the evening with an easy melodic choice — Gershwin’s SOMEBODY LOVES ME taken at a fast clip:

SWEET AND LOVELY, its harmonies more complex, brought out the inherent striving lyricism not only in Ted but in the other players:

Michael suggested to Ted that they do the latter’s line SMOG EYES (a play on STAR EYES and Ted’s comment on the climatological burdens of Los Angeles, where he had moved from New York City — and an improvisation on the chord changes of THERE WILL NEVER BE ANOTHER YOU):

Then Felix Rossy, tentative in posture but not approach, joined in.  Felix has his back to the camera, but his sound — reminiscent of Tony Fruscella — comes through!  His father told me that Felix was 16 (he’ll be 17 on April Fool’s Day) and when I said to Jorge, “You did a good job!” Jorge grinned and blushed but said, “Thank you, but he did it himself,” which is a lovely compliment to them both.  The quintet embarked on a long exploration of ALL THE THINGS YOU ARE:

Someone suggested LESTER LEAPS IN (the spirit of Pres is never far when Ted is playing) but Michael wanted to make the tempo much less frenetic than it might have been, calling this version LESTER REASONABLY STROLLS IN, with Murray giving his bass over to Stephanie, who plays jauntily:

At Brad Linde’s telephonic urging, a true star walked in — raincoat tightly belted around him, his hair in a near crew-cut, said hello, made himself comfortable at the bar, ordered a Corona, and listened intently.  It was Lee Konitz, whose presence you must imagine through the next performances.  With his august (perhaps austere) presence, the second set ended with RELAXIN’ AT CAMARILLO, the Bird blues, with Felix sitting out, Stephanie remaining:

After a break, Brad Linde joined the quartet for a splendidly evocative YOU STEPPED OUT OF A DREAM — the two tenors graciously making way for one another, their sounds distinct but never clashing:

And the momentum of that DREAM carried them through an equally leisurely investigation of I’LL REMEMBER APRIL:

Then Bob Arthurs took Brad’s place for the Lennie Tristano 317 EAST 32nd STREET (Tristano’s address at the time), an improvisation on OUT OF NOWHERE:

Six more lengthy performances remain in this most fulfilling evening.  Join me for Part Two!

THE ARTS OF THE PIANO TRIO (Sofia’s, Dec. 4, 2010)

Michael Kanan is not only a superb pianist.  He knows how to organize a jazz performance.  And he has the finest friends I could imagine. 

I first came to hear Michael when he played two nights at the end of June with the brilliant saxophonist Joel Press: musical events one can find on JAZZ LIVES.  Michael was and is a melodic player with a fine rhythmic surge, creating lines that move into spaces and places I didn’t expect: not esoteric or counterintuitive, but original. 

So when Michael mentioned that he was bringing three pianist friends — Tardo Hammer, Pete Malinverni, and Larry Ham — along with bassist Neal Miner and drummer Eliot Zigmund to the street-level Sofia’s (in the Hotel Edison, 221 West 46th Street) for a Saturday session of piano trios, I was extremely excited.  With video camera, new Rode microphone, and tripod, I made myself as small as possible in the only available space, next to a mirror, which accounts for some interesting doubling-phenomena. 

Michael also did something simple and imaginative: rather than have lengthy sets for each of the players, each pianist played two songs in turn, then made way for the next person.  It was wonderful to watch Tardo, Pete, and Michael intently absorb what Larry was playing — and if you switch the names around, you get a sense of the evening. 

I won’t comment at length on the players, except to say that I had heard Larry Ham as a member of Dan Block’s “Almost Modern” band, both live and on CD, as well as on a fascinating recital for the Arbors label.  Tardo Hammer didn’t know me (which is understandable) but I had admired his LOOK STOP LISTEN (Sharp Nine) as well as his work with the Warren Vache-John Allred quintet.  Pete Malinverni was someone new to me, which I regret, but his playing made a deep impression.  Pete, incidentally, summed the evening up for me when we spoke at the end: “It’s melody, man!”  Appropriately, many of the songs played that night harked back to the singers Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, and Billie Holiday. 

Aside from being a splendid videographer, Neal Miner is a resoundingly rewarding bassist — in many contexts — as well as a composer.  And Eliot Zigmund showed himself a master of sounds: not simply sticks on the cymbals, but the many varieties of padding and urging that the wire brushes can afford. 

Here are an inspiring dozen from that night, studies in jazz empathy:

Tardo’s A NIGHTINGALE SANG IN BERKELEY SQUARE:

Pete’sYOU DON’T KNOW WHAT LOVE IS:

Michael’s DOGHOUSE BLUES (composed by nimble Neal Miner):

Michael’s WHILE WE’RE YOUNG:

Larry’s FALLING IN LOVE WITH LOVE:

Larry’s THE RING:

Tardo’s SOCIAL CALL:

Tardo’s GUESS I’LL HANG MY TEARS OUT TO DRY:

Pete’s GOOD QUESTION (his exploration and response to WHAT IS THIS THING CALLED LOVE):

Michael’s I’M THROUGH WITH LOVE:

Tardo’s MY OLD FLAME:

Mathematically-minded readers will notice that the division of four players and a dozen selections is not quite even: no disrespect meant, just a matter of room acoustics and the like.  There were almost as many stellar performances that night that do not appear here.  Those who find the occasional surges of conversation difficult to tolerate are asked to read my prior posting, A LITTLE SOFTER, PLEASE? 

I have refrained from commenting on individual performances, but a few words might be in order.  Notice that all of these players have mastered the subtle arts of deep harmonic exploration while keeping that rhythm going.  No Monk cliches, no tired Basie-isms, no cocktail piano rhapsodies.  Yes, pianistically-allied readers can (if they like) Trace Influences and Chronicle Echoes, but I’d rather listen to the musical cathedrals these players build — in midtown, yet. 

Most of the songs deal — at least in their lyrics — with love.  Found, lost, rejected, endured, celebrated.  But the love celebrated here is not just romantic: these players not only love but embody the great spirit of creative improvisation.  I can’t wait until Michael’s next piano effusion!

MOLLY RYAN SINGS SWEETLY (Sept. 21, 2010)

Being at Club Cache (Sofia’s Ristorante) in the Hotel Edison is a very good thing on Monday and Tuesday nights when Vince Giordano and the Nighthawks are playing.  It was especially good this past Tuesday when Bob Barnard came and sat in. 

But the surprises didn’t end when Bob sat down.  Vince called on the fine singer Molly Ryan to do an impromptu number.  Her choice was I CAN’T GIVE YOU ANYTHING BUT LOVE — with an appropriate full-chorus solo from a tall fellow in the reed section standing up next to the EXIT sign, one Dan Levinson, who also happens to be Molly’s husband.  A sweet moment, musically and otherwise:

Thanks to Molly, Dan, Vince, and the Nighthawks (Mike Ponella, Jon-Erik Kellso, Jim Fryer, Will Anderson, Peter Anderson, Andy Stein, Conal Fowkes, Ken Salvo, and Arnie Kinsella) for this!

COMING SOON: TENORS BLOSSOMING

It might seem to some loyal readers that this blog has already gone on vacation — not so.  I have been busily listening and video-recording without time to post the results, but wonderful music is on the way. 

For whatever reasons (cosmic alignment, good fortune) there has been a splendid confluence of tenor saxophone majesties in the New York City area. 

On Sunday, June 27, the EarRegulars (renamed “the Irregular EarRegulars” by bassist Greg Cohen) were Greg, saxophonists Harry Allen and Scott Robinson, with young Eric Schwam sitting in, guitarist James Chirillo, with a guest appearance by violinist Valerie Levy.  On Tuesday, June 29, piano master Michael Kanan organized a session at Smalls featuring one of my heroes, Joel Press, on tenor and soprano sax, with bassist Pat O’Leary and drummer Joe Hunt.  The next night, Wednesday, June 30, Michael, Joel, and Joe Hunt reassembled at Sofia’s and were joined by bassist Neal Miner and — for one set — the legendary 82-year old Ted Brown, also on tenor. 

No histrionics or walking the bar — just swing, deep feeling, and thoughtful musical conversations.  Stay tuned!  Coming soon to a computer near you!

JUNE NIGHTS with MICHAEL KANAN and JOEL PRESS

Here’s a last-minute notice about two New York City gigs that promise extraordinary music. 

On Tuesday, June 29th, at Smalls Jazz Club, from 10 PM to 12:30 AM, the Michael Kanan Quartet will be playing.  Michael is the pianist whose beautifully subtle work stopped me cold on Dan Block’s Ellington tribute CD.  Some contemporary musicians don’t like being compared to their jazz ancestors, but I thought of Ellis Larkins and Hank Jones — Mike is just that compelling and delicate. 

And I’ll get to meet the wonderful Joel Press, tenor sax (I decided that he was “the Swing Explorer”) face to face.  Joel is both traditional and unclassifiable in the best ways.  I’ve heard him experiment with standard repertoire without obliterating it, arriving at surprising places in the course of a performance.  And he knows how to swing while he’s exploring.  

What could be better?  How about Pat O’Leary on bass and Joe Hunt on drums?  

Smalls is located at 183 West 10th St in Greenwich Village, and a $20 cover is good for a full night of music.  

And for those who can’t get enough, like myself, the next night, Wednesday, June 30, Michael, Joel, bassist Neal Miner, and Joe Hunt will be appearing in the cozy ground-floor space of Sofia’s (221 West 46th Street) from 7-10:30 pm.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to charge my batteries (both electronic and physical) in advance. (A reasonable man would be sleeping and packing, but I can sleep on the plane.)   See you there!

VINCE, GREAT NEWS, HOT MUSIC, SWING DANCERS! (May 24, 2010)

Last night, Monday, May 24, 2010, I went to Club Cache, which is part of Sofia’s Ristorante, in the lower level of the Hotel Edison, 221 West 46th Street, New York City — to hear Vince Giordano and the Nighthawks, who play there every Monday from 8-11. 

The GREAT NEWS is that beginning June 1, Vince and the boys will be playing at Sofia’s not only Monday but TUESDAYS . . . giving us two chances to hear their wide repertoire.  Double your pleasure, double your fun . . .

The HOT MUSIC and SWING DANCERS follow below.  The first was provided, lavishly, by Vince himself, Jon-Erik Kellso, Mike Ponella (trumpets), Harvey Tibbs (trombone), Dan Levinson, Mark Lopeman, Andy Farber (reeds), Andy Stein (violin), Pater Yarin (piano and celeste), Ken Salvo (banjo and guitar), and Arnie Kinsella (drums).  And the accompanying dancing was made possible by Scott McNabb and Cheryll Lynn; Eric Schlesinger and Joan Leibowitz; Ruthanne Geraghty and James Lake — as well as other stylish sliders whose names I didn’t get.  I was in the back of the room amidst Jackie Kellso and Molly Ryan; other notables scattered around included Rich Conaty, Lloyd Moss, Joan Peyser, Frank Driggs, Sandy Jaffe, Barbara and Dick Dreiwitz.

Here are four performances, recorded from the back of the room to capture the entire ambiance, both frisky and musically immensely rewarding:

SAY YES TODAY is an even more obscure song — circa 1928, summoning up the sound of the Roger Wolfe Kahn band in an Arthur Schutt arrangement:

What would a jazz evening be without a little Morton?  Here’s LITTLE LAWRENCE, one of Jelly Roll’s later Victor efforts, transcribed by Jim Dapogny, a peerless Morton scholar and pianist himself:

LAZY RIVER, written by Hoagy Carmichael and Sidney Arodin, is an opportunity for some hot small-band improvisation by Jon-Erik, Harvey, Dan, and the rhythm section:

And I HEARD (a mock-stern sermon about the wickedness of gossip) is taken twice as fast as the original Don Redman chart:

Irreplaceable, wouldn’t you say?  (And on Tuesdays, too, Toto!)

THE NIGHTHAWKS ARE FLYING! (April 19, 2010)

Here are two wonderfully acrobatic performances by Vince Giordano and the Nighthawks that I recorded at Sofia’s in the Hotel Edison one week ago.  My nomination for Olympian here is trombonist Jim Fryer, but he has stiff competition!  On that Monday night, the Hawks were Vince (vocal, bass sax, tuba, string bass); Kenny Salvo (banjo, guitar); Peter Yarin (piano); Arnie Kinsella (drums); Jon-Erik Kellso, Mike Ponella (trumpets); Dan Levinson, Dan Block, Mark Lopeman (reeds); Andy Stein (violin / baritone sax). 

The Nighthawks pay tribute to a 1930 West Coast band, Paul Howard’s Quality Serenaders, with a TIGER RAG variant called CHARLIE’S IDEA that originally featured Lawrence Brown and Lionel Hampton.  You’ll see what I mean about a leaping Jim Fryer as well as the dancers on the floor and Jon-Erik’s version of HOTTER THAN THAT, another ragged tiger:

And here’s a hot jam session on EVERYBODY LOVES MY BABY, with a pair of slow-motion dancers and a positively demonic solo from Arnie Kinsella (and some calmer excursions from Dan Levinson, Andy Stein on the Stroh phono-violin, among others):

And this virtuosity takes place every Monday from 8-11 PM at 211 West 46th Street!

GET ‘EM WHILE THEY’RE HOT! (NOW!)

I’m very excited about some wonderful jazz in New York City tomorrow, Sunday, April 17, 2010, and Monday, April 18, 2010.

My friends Dawn Lambeth (a delightful sweet-hot singer) and her husband Marc Caparone (a trumpeter who understands Louis, Red Allen, and Jim Goodwin) have come to New York City for a brief visit . . . and we’ve worked out some opportunities to spread bicoastal joy.  SITTING IN is very much on the menu!

On Sunday, we’ll be making our way down to Fat Cat to visit with pianist Ehud Asherie and his little group — 75 Christopher Street.  The session begins at 6 PM.

We’ll race down to The Ear Inn (326 Spring Street) to hear the Ear Regulars: Jon-Erik Kellso, Matt Munisteri, Harvey Tibbs, and Jon Burr: an 8 PM start. 

Then, we’ll rest.

On Monday, Dawn, Marc, the Beloved, and I will head to Sofia’s in the Hotel Edison (221 West 46th Street) to hear Vince Giordano and the Nighthawks, again at 8 PM.

Everyone’s prepared.  I’ve charged three batteries for my video camera.  Dawn has brought a thermos of hot tea and honey all the way from California, and Marc is so well-stocked with valve oil that he could have slid past the TSA inspectors, should he have chosen to do so.

I know this post is short notice for some of my readers, and some of you won’t be able to make it here in time — don’t fret, I’ll record what I can and share it with you — but it would be nice for those of you in the New York City area to come witness another delightful example of West Meets East.

Here’s Dawn on her April 2009 New York visit — sweetly singing THEM THERE EYES with the very same Nighthawks:

And Marc and Dawn, swinging out with the New El Dorado Jazz Band in February of this year (that’s Clint Baker, clarinet; Hal Smith, washboard; Howard Miyata*, trombone; Carl Sonny Leyland, piano; Katie Cavera, banjo; Georgia Korba, bass):

And, to quote Clarence Williams, “Won’t you come over and say hello?”

*Howard Miyata is Gordon Au’s “Uncle Howie,” bless him.

2010 HAS BEGUN: VINCE, HEIDI, and THE NIGHTHAWKS

Video reporter George Whipple took a camera crew down to Sofia’s last Monday — that’s where Vince Giordano and the Nighthawks tear it up for three hours of hot jazz, sweet romance, and expert dancing every Monday night.  Whipple captured a bit of the ambiance: that’s Sol Yaged at the start, nimble Heidi Rosenau in the rust-colored dress, Jon-Erik Kellso working his plunger mute, Dan Levinson, Mark Lopeman, and Dan Block on reeds, Harvey Tibbs on trombone, and the usual glittering suspects: Alex Norris on trumpet, Arnie Kinsella on drums, Andy Stein on violin, Ken Salvo on banjo/guitar, and Peter Yarin on piano.

http://ny1.com/6-bronx-news-content/ny1_living/whipples_world/

It’s a pleasure to watch this clip . . . but a greater pleasure to be there!

DUKE HEITGER’S ON HIS WAY (October 2009)

What, I ask you, could be simpler or more pleasing?  Duke will be here for a whirlwind tour where every day’s a holiday:

Sunday,  October 4: at The Ear Inn with Anat Cohen, Matt Munisteri, bassist and friendly sit-ins to be arranged.

Monday, October 5: Duke will be part of the trumpet section with Vince Giordano and the Nighthawks, which is always a treat to hear.  (Sofia’s Restaurant in the Hotel Edison in midtown, of course.)

Tuesday, October 6: Duke and Ehud Asherie will play duets (and perhaps more) at Roth’s Westside Steakhouse (on Columbus Avenue on the Upper West Side).

Wednesday, October 7: Duke will sing out with David Ostwald’s Louis Armstrong Centennial Band at Birdland (5:30 PM).

Thursday, October 8: He will be one of the stars at Jack Kleinsinger’s HIGHLIGHTS IN JAZZ concert, bringing together Ehud, Anat, George Masso, Jackie Williams, and many others.

I’ve skimped on the details on when and where — but all of these sites have their necessary information on the blog.  Yours in haste – – –

KEEP LIVE JAZZ ALIVE!

nicksChecking this blog’s stats this afternoon, I note with pleasure that the preceding post, featuring live video of Jon-Erik Kellso, Chuck Wilson, Ehud Asherie, Kelly Friesen, and Andy Swann, has broken records.  More people have seen this post than any I’ve ever created.  I don’t take credit for this.  Credit belongs to the musicians and to Sweet Rhythm for providing a place for them to create magic on Sunday afternoons.

But I also hope that the people who, like me, are glued to their computers, actually get out and hear jazz live.  That’s one part of the punning title of this blog.  Enjoy this video.  Come up and see me sometime.  I send you a cyber-embrace and real gratutude.  But live jazz has qualities that equal and surpass the finest recordings.  And we need to support it tangibly so that it continues, even flourishes.

Club owners are unmistakably pragmatic.  They will hire those musicians who bring people into the club (people who also spend a dollar or two, if at all possible).  When the musicians outnumber the audience, club owners just turn up the sound on the large-screen televisions mounted over the bar.

So please visit the sites where jazz is being kept alive.  In a random list, they include Sweet Rhythm, Smalls, The Ear Inn, Sofia’s, Birdland, Arthur’s Tavern, Roth’s, Fat Cat, Banjo Jim’s, Cafe Steinhof, the Garage, the Telephone Bar, Moto, Harefield Road, the National Underground, Iridium, the Blue Note . . . and so on.

Nick’s, the home of hot jazz and sizzling steaks, became Your Father’s Mustache, and is now a Gourmet Garage.  As much as I admire the fresh produce and farmhouse cheddars on sale there, I would trade it all for one more thriving jazz club.  We can’t bring back the lost Edens: the Onyx Club, the Half Note, or any of the clubs once called Eddie Condon’s.  But we can keep alive what we have now.  There!  I’ve said it.  See you soon, in the flesh.

GOOD OLD NEW YORK

New York City can be irritating: the subway system is bound and gagged by repairs every weekend; a quart of milk is $1.45 at the corner bodega; the ticket I just received for double-parking will cost $115. “Officer, I was only there for thirty-two bars!” didn’t mitigate my criminality.

But it is possible to immerse yourself — no, drown yourself — in fine live jazz here. Consider this past week, if you will:

On Wednesday night, the Sidney Bechet Society hosted two concerts at Symphony Space, honoring Kenny Davern and Bob Wilber. Dan Levinson ran the shows, with Wilber himself, Dick Hyman, Nik Payton, Alex Mandham, Matt Munisteri, Vince Giordano, and Kevin Dorn. I’ll have more to say about this one soon — but it was as rewarding as the names suggest.

The next night, I went to hear Ehud Asherie play duets with Jon-Erik Kellso at Smalls. Wonderful, intimate, thoughtful jazz. Tamar Korn and Jake Sanders of the Cangelosi Cards were in the audience, happily taking it all in.

On Friday, we were lucky enough to go to the Rubin Museum of Art for another of their “Harlem in the Himalayas” series, featuring the irreplaceable Joe Wilder and Loren Schoenberg, Steve Ash, Yasushi Nakamura, and Marion Felder.

I’m writing about the Wednesday and Thursday gigs for the justly famous jazz magazine CODA (http://www.coda1958.com) — a new association I’m very proud of — so these pieces will appear in their “Heard and Seen” pages.

Not sated, we made our Sunday pilgrimage to The Ear Inn to catch the Earregulars (variant spellings proliferate*). The first set featured Kellso, John Allred, Joe Cohn, and Frank Tate. Then the ranks were swelled, and nobly so, by Dan Tobias, Ken Peplowski, David Ostwald, and Bob DiMaio.

My ears are ringing, my eyelids are drooping, but what a blessed cornucipa of jazz!

P.S. Tonight, you could go to hear the Grove Street Stompers at Arthur’s Tavern on Grove Street, or hear Vince and the Nighthawks at Sofia’s . . . . and on and on. I’ll be trying to catch up on my sleep, but that’s no reason you should deny yourself such pleasures.

P.P.S. *This just in! Jon-Erik, Prince of Musical Passions, informs me that the approved spelling is “EarRegulars.” Lexicographers and media please note.