Tag Archives: solo piano

JIMMY ROWLES, SOLO

Jimmy Rowles — a painter, sly and romantic, who sat on a piano bench — was not often recorded as a solo pianist.  Whether by choice or circumstance, I don’t know, but most often he was captured with a string bassist and drummer.  The bassists and drummers were always superb, but the half-dozen recordings of  Rowles unadorned are something extraordinary.

One can hear his chord voicings, his approach to playing in and out of time, his love for the melody.  I think his 1982 performance of HOW DEEP IS THE OCEAN, part of a collective tribute to Bill Evans, is subtle, sad, and quirky all at once, with touching nods to WHAT IS THERE TO SAY? and THERE WILL NEVER BE ANOTHER YOU as poignant salutes:

and a year earlier, for an Ellington-Strayhorn tribute, JUMPIN’ PUNKINS, where Rowles becomes the whole 1941 Ellington orchestra:

He remains a marvel, no matter how many times you hear a performance.

May your happiness increase!

A FEW WORDS ABOUT ART METRANO, THEN THREE CHORUSES OF BEAUTY: JAMES DAPOGNY at the PIANO (Cleveland Classic Jazz Party, Sept. 16, 2016)

James Dapogny at Jazz at Chautauqua, September 2014. Photograph by Michael Steinman.

Jim Dapogny’s absence in my world is a tangible thing, as solid as any object I might stumble over or into on my path through my hours.  But his presence is even more solid: his voice, his gestures, his puckish surprising off-handed self.  And the sounds he created at the piano, a simple phrase articulated so memorably that the notes sound like a joke for us.  I bless recording equipment: imagine if Jim had been Buddy Petit, someone recalled but never heard.

At fast tempos, Jim’s playing was raucous, exact, and astonishing: here comes the band!  I knew it would take a lifetime of concentrated practice to come close to a bad imitation of what he could do, so my reaction was always, “Did you hear what he just did there?”  On a slow blues or a rhythm ballad, he created the momentary illusion: I would think, “I could do that if I really worked at it,” which of course was a delusion, but Jim was, in his own way, strolling along in the way Bing sang.  As Fats told Joe Bushkin, “It’s so easy when you know how.”

Jim knew how.

Here he is, very relaxed, at the piano at one of the short solo interludes that were a delight at the Cleveland Classic Jazz Party: the piano situated informally in a large open area, a small attentive quiet audience.  I knew I was in the presence of something and someone magical: I hope everyone felt as I did.  And do.

This video begins with the tail of Jim’s previous performance of musings on FINE AND DANDY, rather like a glimpse of a cat going in to another room.  (I hope to be able to share those musings someday.)  And what follows is playing that sounds like relaxed speech or song, but is anything but easy.  It’s a 1938 rhythm ballad, IF I WERE YOU, which Billie and others sang, and I think of it as a Brill Building song coming from a familiar phrase, as so many did.

The first sixteen bars might seem only a straight exposition of the melody, stated clearly in bright colors.  But listen to the sound, Jim’s definite but never abrupt attack, his touch, and then, as he begins to explore the bridge, even more shadings emerge. His distinctive harmonic flavorings, the elasticity of his time (the way his left hand is steadily keeping the danceable tempo while the rhythmic placements of his single notes and chords is not locked in to four-beats to the bar), the very slight grace-note dissonances that are here and gone.  There’s enough in that “straight” first chorus to keep me happy for years.

The second chorus is freer, more expansive, although the melodic thread isn’t lost in the suspensions, the hesitations between chords, the sweet emphases.  In the manner of the greatest players (think Morton, Louis, Sullivan, Hodges) Jim plays a phrase, considers it, plays a variation on that phrase, and then another, before moving on to the next idea — we see the structures being sketched in the air before the artist’s hand moves on.  In real life, as I wrote above, I would be thinking, “WHAT was that?”  Thank goodness for video: I can return, and you can too, to examine a particular aural jewel.  The bridge of the second chorus, for example — four-dimensional tap dancing.

The third chorus seems more abstract, with dancing single-note lines, but Jim tenderly returns to melodic cadences as if embracing an old friend once again.  Catch the rocking-rowboat phrase with which he ends the bridge, and the gentle tag with which the whole performance closes.

A quiet marvel, and he performed like this for more than fifty years.  How fortunate we are that we shared the planet with Professor Dapogny:

I imagine a reverent pause here.  You will have to create one for yourselves, or perhaps play this video over again.

A conversation with Jim was always animated by reminiscences of some fairly obscure comedian’s bit, a theatrical world rather than “a joke” — re-enacted at the table, over the lamb vindaloo, so here are two brief videos devoted to the remarkable Art Metrano, whom Jim delights in at the start of his performance:

Moving Art closer to current times — he is still with us, at 83:

This posting is for Jim, the complex marvel whom some of us got to know and others simply can hear, and for those of us who miss him deeply.  You know who you are.

May your happiness increase!

JAMES DAPOGNY IN RECITAL (Jazz at Chautauqua, September 20, 2013)

James Dapogny at Jazz at Chautauqua, Sept. 2014. Photograph by Michael Steinman.

During the annual jazz weekend that was once Jazz at Chautauqua, Friday afternoon sessions in the lobby of the Athenaeum Hotel were devoted to compact piano (and once, guitar) recitals.

Now that James Dapogny is no longer with us, this two-part serenade from 2013 is infinitely precious.  To be accurate, it was precious then, but our assumption that we would always have the Prof. with us, to entertain and enlighten, may have shaped our judgment.  Now we know.

Perhaps only those people who knew Jim, even slightly, will recognize what a treasure this video-capture is; for the rest, it will be another jazz pianist exploring the world of music in his own terms — which, in its own way, is also irreplaceable.

To the music.  Jim’s “fooling with an old tune” was an improvisation on LINGER AWHILE, that finally got written down as I CAN WAIT in late 2018 (Jim told my dear friend Laura Wyman that it had been percolating for a long time, and he wanted to get it down on paper before he died).  In my mind’s ear I hear I CAN WAIT arranged for Teddy Wilson-style small group — although no orchestra is needed here because Prof. Dapogny’s piano playing is so richly layered.

Then, an extended improvisation on William H. Tyers’ MAORI (which only Ellington and Soprano Summit ever performed: Tyers is famous as the composer of PANAMA).  This performance is hypnotic in the way some of Morton’s Library of Congress work is — subtly building layer upon layer:

Part Two is a beautiful omnibus tribute to Fats Waller, including meditations on HONEYSUCKLE ROSE, MY HEART’S AT EASE, I’VE GOT A FEELING I’M FALLIN’, I’M NOT WORRYIN’, AIN’T CHA GLAD?, then a song whose title eludes me, Stephen Taylor, Mike Lipskin, and Louis Mazetier — but Laura Wyman pointed out that it was a Dapogny favorite, BABY, THOSE THINGS DON’T MATTER TO ME, by J. Lawrence Cook (not Waller), and then IF IT AIN’T LOVE:

This isn’t the usual Waller presentation — a pianist mingling MISBEHAVIN’, YOUR FEETS TOO BIG, and HANDFUL OF KEYS — it honors Fats as a composer of melodies, that once heard, stay.  Notice the rapt attention of the audience, broken only now and again by the creaking of our wicker chairs.

Jim could enthrall us, and he continues to do just that.  And I tell myself he isn’t dead as long as we can hear him.

May your happiness increase!

HERE, BUT NOT HERE: JAMES DAPOGNY at the PIANO (Cleveland Classic Jazz Party, September 29, 2014)

James Dapogny, in thought, at Jazz at Chautauqua. Photograph by Michael Steinman.

James Dapogny’s corporeal self left us six months ago, and we cannot dispute it, although his absence is painful, impossible to accept. But I tell myself he is still here with us in particularly odd and generous ways — appropriate to the man himself, surprising, unpredictable, warm, lively.

When an interviewer talked to Bobby Hackett after Louis’ death, Bobby said that Louis wasn’t dead because we could still hear him, and in some ways that is a consolation.  I will leave it to you whether a collection of recorded music adds up to the whole person or is simply a slice of the pie: I lean to the latter, although I treasure the evidence.  And I know I’ve drawn spiritual nourishment from immersing myself in the art of people who died before I was born.  Still, the loss of the Prof. is too much to rationalize.  So all I can do is offer you the following, Jim warming up the piano by playing his own blues, a video not seen or heard before:

Chris Smith, Jim’s deep friend and co-leader of the band PORK, says this of the video: As you can imagine, I heard Jim do this sort of playing countless times. Just playing the blues in many keys. There is a spiritual aspect to it, that is obvious. But he was also doing the real work of a musician that involves touching on those corners of the music that sometimes trip us up in performance (hitting the V/V, etc.). Playing the blues is good for us in so many ways. And yes, it is really funny that we don’t see him until the very last second.

I feel that Jim would be amused by this video, perhaps touched by how much I and others cherish it.  And him.  When the invisible pianist can make sounds that move us, does he remain invisible?  I don’t know.  And I must muse over Jim as he mused over the piano.  All he gave — and gives — us is precious.

I omit the usual closing.  It will reappear, but it’s not in the right key here.

ZIGZAG BEAUTIES: RAY SKJELBRED at the PIANO (San Diego Jazz Fest, Nov. 27, 2016)

Ralph Waldo Emerson would have admired Ray Skjelbred, who trusts himself, listens to his own heart, knows the sources and honors them but goes his own beautiful zigzag ways.  Soulful, whimsical, making the piano sing songs it didn’t know it could sing.

Here are four solo transformations created by Ray at the 2016 San Diego Jazz Fest.  How lovely and how surprising they — and he — are!

K.M.H. DRAG, in honor of Max Kaminsky, Freddie Moore, and Art Hodes:

You may call it MUSKRAT RAMBLE or SAVOYAGER’S STOMP.  Either will receive full credit:

Ellington’s 1933 BUNDLE OF BLUES (“from the motion picture of the same name”) — melodic and quixotic both:

I don’t think that there’s an alternate title for STRUTTIN’ WITH SOME BARBECUE, but please notice the cheerful subversions Ray works on it from the inside . . . laproscopically, perhaps?

When Ray sits down to the piano, beautiful memorable surprises spring up.

May your happiness increase!

LOVE NOTES FROM RAY SKJELBRED (San Diego Jazz Fest, November 27, 2016)

First, Ray makes friends with the piano, then says quietly, “Well, I’m not going anywhere, so I’ll play something I like,” or words to that effect.

He does and we do.

THE ONE I LOVE is not only a memorably catchy Isham Jones tune, but it’s famous in jazz history as the first song Louis Armstrong and Earl Hines improvised on together, at their first meeting at the musicians’ union.  I hear their approving phantasmal selves in Ray’s version:

Like AIN’T MISBEHAVIN’, PENNIES FROM HEAVEN has become victim to people who race through it and make its lovely contours mechanical.  Knowing, as I do, the memorable versions by Bing Crosby (1936) and Louis (1947), who treated it as a rhythm ballad, I’ve come to dread it in performance.  But Ray’s tender version, starting with the verse, is what the song is all about: gently swinging optimism, a view of the world where wonderful surprises are still possible:

Here’s James P. Johnson’s hymn of praise to the gentle loving ways that we all might recall and even enact, OLD FASHIONED LOVE:

Finally, a reminder that even when love affairs implode, the subject is still good for beautiful music: I COVER THE WATERFRONT (“We like it!  We like it!”):

Ray Skjelbred doesn’t cater to his audiences; he doesn’t woo us.  But he continues to delight, to amaze, with his love for the piano, the songs, and the great traditions.

This post is for my faraway and well-remembered friend Donna Courtney.

May your happiness increase!

DALTON RIDENHOUR, POET-NAVIGATOR (Scott Joplin International Ragtime Festival, May 31, 2018)

Dalton Ridenhour, photograph by Aidan Grant

I’ve heard the splendid pianist Dalton Ridenhour several times in New York City, although most often as a member of an ensemble — where, Hines-like, he glitters and surprises.  But this year’s Scott Joplin International Ragtime Festival (in Sedalia, Missouri) offered more opportunities to savor his exceptional solo and duo playing — both deeply rewarding.

I said to him that he reminded me, at the keyboard, of a man who had built his own idiosyncratic, beautiful house, and was gently exploring it in the dark.  And, of course, inviting us along for the journeys.  He said the metaphor was about right.

Dalton can frolic and stomp, but he can also muse, and his playing is always animated by wonderful rhythmic impulses.  He takes familiar repertoire and through slight shifts — he’s never cliched — we visit old songs and hear them, tenderly liberated from decades of routine.  He doesn’t covet “innovation” for its own sake, but his performances reflect his deep self, no matter what the tempo.  Here he guides us, gently but with swinging intent, through four compositions either by or associated with Fats Waller.

I find it so reassuring to know that he and his music exist, and hope you share my delight.

Here’s MARTINIQUE, from Fats’ last show, EARLY TO BED.  I envision it as a hip-swinging chorus line dance: admire how Dalton’s variations within the form expand and extend it without ever undermining it:

SWEET SAVANNAH SUE begins close to the 1929 Waller version, but becomes even more spirited and playful as it goes along:

Another kind of sweetness, the Harry Warren SWEET AND SLOW, as a change of pace.  I love this song dearly, and hear Al Dubin’s always-clever lyrics in my head:

Finally, the Waller classic so often obliterated into a series of chords — but not here — HONEYSUCKLE ROSE, which Dalton turns into a stroll through familiar fields yet with surprising vistas.  And his shift into Uptown tempo halfway through still makes me feel uplifted:

How that young fellow can play!  And his imagination is broad and unfettered.

May your happiness increase!

DALTON RIDENHOUR PLAYS THE BLUES, or “KEEP OUR CITY CLEAN,” (Scott Joplin International Ragtime Festival, June 1, 2018)

Dalton Ridenhour, photograph by Aidan Grant

Dalton Ridenhour is a genuine improvising musician, but someone whose subtleties might get taken for granted because he is so good at so many things.  And he doesn’t self-congratulate as he plays, as some do, turning their head to the audience as if to say, “See how impressively I played that last little thing there?  Time to break into spontaneous applause!”

He has the confidence and steadiness to go his own way within a song or a performance, creating structures of sound that aren’t flashy but that are terribly moving.  I came away from Dalton’s solo performances at the Scott Joplin International Ragtime Festival feeling that I’d witnessed someone brave and patient, balancing the familiar and the inherently personal.  I told him after one set that I thought he had built his own house and was roaming around inside it, and the metaphor seemed to please him.

His SEDALIA BLUES pleased us so much more.

Around the three-minute mark in this leisurely performance, a while city sanitation truck came to a stop on the street (out of camera range but nearby) and began doing what such trucks do.  It had “Keep Our City Clean” painted in green letters on its side, and for a moment I thought of titling this improvisation “KEEP OUR CITY CLEAN BLUES,” but it isn’t my place to do so.  My place is to celebrate Dalton Ridenhour, splendid quiet explorer of heartfelt music.

Here’s SEDALIA BLUES.  Underestimate it, and Dalton, at your peril.

I will post more from Dalton, in solo and duo, for certain.

May your happiness increase!

CINEMA FORRESTER: JOEL FORRESTER at JULES (May 6, 2018)

JOEL FORRESTER, photograph by Metin Oner

Pianist, composer, writer Joel Forrester invents scores for silent films and has done so for decades.  But we don’t associate him with the megaphone and director’s chair, nor does he have credits as a producer or director.  Yet I’ve come to think of some of Joel’s more evocative compositions and performances as the scores for films that have not made it to the screen.  Soundtracks to our own imaginings.

Here are three such cinema-without-cinema creations, invented and re-invented on Sunday, May 6, at the delightful French bistro / jazz club JULES (65 Saint Marks Place, an easy walk from several subways).  Joel is playing at Jules every Sunday this summer from 4-6:30, sometimes solo, sometimes with guests / friends: a day ago, he had a trio of himself, David Hofstra, string bass; Vito Dieterle, tenor saxophone.  JULES is lovely, by the way — good food, interesting wines, and a truly friendly staff.  And the latter means more to people like me than I can say.

From May 6.  Close your eyes and imagine the film — this one is easy, because it is Joel’s idea of music to be played while the credits roll:

This Middle Eastern sound-portrait is named for Joel and Mary’s son, the illustrious Max.  I met him — not in the desert — and he deserves this song:

Finally, one of Forrester’s many selves, among them the swing pianist, the eccentric / novelty / stride pianist, the Powell-and-Monk through a bright prism, and the 1933 Chicago blues pianist, half in the dark, a half-finished beer on top of the piano which is of course a little assertive in the upper octaves:

Did you like Cinema Forrester?  More to come.  And come visit Joel at Jules.

May your happiness increase!

THE MANY LIVES OF THE BLUES: RAY SKJELBRED, SOLO PIANO, AT THE SAN DIEGO JAZZ FEST (Nov. 25, 2016)

Yesterday I posted two duets between pianist Ray Skjelbred and cornetist Marc Caparone, and encouraged my viewers to take a chance by watching and listening — even if they’d never heard either player — and some people did.  One of them wrote to me and asked if I could post some more of Ray.  Nothing simpler and nothing more gratifying, so here are a bundle of blues and blues-related solos from a set Ray did at the San Diego Jazz Fest on November 25, 2016.  He introduces them, so you won’t need explanations from me:

Dr. Bunky Coleman’s BLUE GUAIAC BLUES [medical explication, not for the squeamish*]:

Jimmie Rodgers’ TUCK AWAY MY LONESOME BLUES:

Ray’s own SOUTH HALSTEAD STREET, for Jane Addams and Art Hodes:

THE ALLIGATOR POND WENT DRY (for and by Victoria Spivey):

SUNSET BOOGIE (for and by Joe Sullivan):

Ray Skjelbred is a poet — also when he gets up from the piano bench — of these shadings and tone-colors, of the rhythms of the train heading through the darkness.  We are fortunate to live on his planet.

May your happiness increase!

And the promised medical bulletin: [*guaiac is a resin found i our happiness increase!n certain trees, and it is used in medical testing to check for blood, otherwise invisible, in one’s stool.  If the guaiac turns blue, one has that problem described above.  Now you know.]

THREE SOLO MASTERPIECES BY DICK HYMAN (PIEDMONT PIANO COMPANY, August 9, 2014)

Dick Hyman was born on March 8, 1927, which makes him just shy of 87 1/2 years of age on August 9, 2014 performances at Piedmont Piano Company in Oakland, California — part of Mike Lipskin’s Stride Summit, a generous tradition.  Mr. Hyman remains a marvel of consistently surprising creative joy.

A little cosmology, with HOW HIGH THE MOON:

Jerome Kern’s YESTERDAYS:

For Mister Waller, YACHT CLUB SWING:

May your happiness increase!

LOVE IN BLOOM: RUMINATIONS by RAY SKJELBRED (July 8, 2014)

Creating beauty is not easy. In surroundings that may be hostile to it, the energy necessary for creation requires a particular focus and perseverance. The act of creation may seem quietly defiant. In their diligence, the artists tell us, “We don’t really need you all to sit in rapt silence; we will keep on our own paths — doing what we know how to do, doing what we live for — even if you don’t notice.”

Such was the case when Ray Skjelbred played solo piano last month at Pier 23. And since “jazz” is often characterized as rhythmically propulsive, engaging our senses through hectic energy, I offer Ray’s musings on three pieces that are, like the voice of Cordelia, “soft and low.” Two are defined as love songs; the third sounds like one as well, even though its title has no romance in it.

Listen closely. Beauty never goes out of fashion.

MARY’S SPECIAL (for and by Mary Lou Williams):

YOU CAN DEPEND ON ME (with echoes of Earl Hines, Louis Armstrong, Jimmy Rushing, Lester Young):

LOVE IN BLOOM (for Bing Crosby and Jack Benny):

When I sent these three videos to Ray for his comments, he wrote back, “Many years ago when I first started playing piano and visiting Berkeley I used to stay with Dick Oxtot and I learned later that his daughter would quietly stand behind me while I played, look at the pattern in my Hawaiian shirt, then imagine stories that went with the music and the pattern. Your point of view reminded me of that.”

I encourage you to invent their own sweet narratives while Ray creates his own variations on love in bloom, a garden of sounds.

May your happiness increase! 

BEAUTIFUL, ELUSIVE, GONE: CLARENCE PROFIT (1912-1944)

By any estimation, the pianist Clarence Profit (June 26, 1912 – October 22, 1944) was immensely talented and short-lived. People who heard him play live, uptown, said he was a match for Art Tatum. He was proposed as a replacement for Teddy Wilson with Benny Goodman in 1939; Profit’s sleek drumless trio may have inspired Nat Cole’s.  Although his approach was spare rather than exhibitionistic, his harmonic subtleties were remarkable for their time, and his gentle touch and elegant playing are remarkable today. clarenceprofit One could collect every recording he made (fewer than fifty three-minute sides, less than half of them under his own name) on two compact discs, and his recording career was exceedingly brief: dates with the Washboard Serenaders, the Washboard Rhythm Kings, and Teddy Bunn in 1930 and 1933, then Profit’s own piano trio (guitar and bass) and piano solos in 1939 and 1940. John Chilton’s WHO’S WHO OF JAZZ (1978) sums him up in a paragraph:

His father, Herman Profit, was professional pianist; his cousin was pianist Sinclair Mills. Played piano from the age of three, led own 10-piece band during his teens including Bamboo Inn, Renaissance, and the Alhambra. In 1930 and 1931 worked with Teddy Bunn in the Washboard Serenaders. In the early 1930s visited his grandparents in Antigua, remained in the West Indies for a few years, led own band in Antigua, Bermuda, etc. Returned to New York in November 1936 and began leading own successful trio at many New York clubs including George’s Tavern (1937-9), Ritz Carlton, Boston (1938), Yeah Man Club and Cafe Society (1939), Village Vanguard (1940), Kelly’s (1940-3), Performers and Music Guild Club (1942), Village Vanguard (1944). Was part-composer (with Edgar Sampson) of “Lullaby in Rhythm.”

I knew Profit’s work — solo, trio, and as a band member — for many years, but he has come back to my mind and ears because of a purchase made a few nights ago at the Haight Street Amoeba Music in San Francisco: a red-label Columbia 78 of BODY AND SOUL (take B) / I DIDN’T KNOW WHAT TIME IT WAS, both Profit solos. I was so taken with them that I had to share them with you.

Each of the two performances begins with an exposition of the theme — simple yet quietly ornamented, with a spareness that is masterful, a peaceful, almost classical approach to the melody (but with elegant, often surprising harmonic choices beneath). He is patient; he doesn’t rush; he doesn’t attempt to impress us with pianisms. His playing verges on the formal, but it is based on a serene respect for the melody rather than a tied-to-the-notes stiffness.

Then, Profit moves into a more loosely swinging approach, which superficially sounds much like Wilson’s or a pared-down Tatum, but his choices of notes, harmonies, and his use of space are all his own. (There are suggestions of Waller in the bridge of the second chorus of I DIDN’T KNOW, but it is a cerebral, yet warm version of the stride motifs Waller tossed off to amaze and delight.)

Listen for yourself. The beauties of his style will not fully appear on one listening):

BODY AND SOUL:

I DIDN’T KNOW WHAT TIME IT WAS:

I know nothing of Profit’s early death, and can only speculate. Did he, like so many musicians of the time, succumb to tuberculosis or pneumonia?  I am not simply asking a medical question here, but a larger one: where did Clarence Profit go?  How could we lose him at such a young age? How many pianists under the age of sixty have heard these recordings? He left a void then, and it remains unfilled today.

Perhaps some readers have the Meritt Record Society issue above, or the Memoir CD devoted to Profit’s work, and can offer more information.

My own story of his elusiveness comes from this century. The parents of one of the Beloved’s New York friends had frequented Cafe Society and Fifty-Second Street.  Oh, yes, they had seen Clarence Profit — the name supplied voluntarily by the friend’s octogenarian mother — but it was so long ago she didn’t remember any details.  Like the jazz Cheshire Cat, all that remained was her smile as she said his name.

May your happiness increase!

FOR CAREN BRODSKY, A SMALL SWING ADIEU: JOHN SHERIDAN, SOLO (September 20, 2013)

I just learned yesterday of the death of Philadelphia-based jazz fan Caren Brodsky, someone deeply in love with the music. She died in her sleep on January 31.

Caren loved the hot jazz of the Twenties and the swing of the Thirties and Forties; her heroes were Marty Grosz and Vince Giordano. I believe I first met her at a Jazz at Chautauqua weekend. I am grieved that she left us so young.

Somehow, this sweet adieu — a farewell, for now — seems the right music.

The song is I HATE TO LEAVE YOU NOW (our man Thomas Waller, with lyrics by Harry Link and Dorothy Dick), played with great sweetness by John Sheridan, with a rapt audience at the 2013 Jazz at Chautauqua (now the Allegheny Jazz Party) on September 20, 2013:

Two choruses, a key change, and an extended ending, conjuring up a beautiful world in under three minutes.

The unseen musical figure here is Louis, who recorded this lovely song in 1932.  Click here and be transported, thanks to Louis, Chick Webb, Mezz Mezzrow, and Ricky Riccardi.

Caren was a true enthusiast.  I post this in her honor, and send my sorrow to her husband Chris and her family.

Friends and family will be celebrating Caren’s life at Goldsteins’ Rosenberg’s Raphael Sacks memorial chapel, at 310 Second Street Pike, Southhampton, Pennsylvania 18966. It will be conducted on Sunday, February 9 at 3 pm.  Memorial contributions can be made to House Rabbit Society, Southeastern Pennsylvania and Delaware Chapter, 478 East Ayres Street, Newport DE 19084-2503, or Little Furries Rescue & Referral, 154 Newton Street, Browns Mills NJ 08015.

Caren, we will miss you.

BLUES BY BUTCH (at the 2013 STEAMBOAT STOMP in NEW ORLEANS)

I think of the slow (or medium-slow) blues, too rarely performed these days, as homeopathic medicine for our own ills.  If you listen to something serious and sad, pensive music with its own rhythmic momentum, a few clouds of your own might lift.

Here are two classic blues performances by a master of jazz improvisation with a steady lilt, someone who understands “sweet, soft, plenty rhythm” deeply — Butch Thompson.

I had the honor of meeting Butch for the first time last October at Duke Heitger’s inaugural Steamboat Stomp in New Orleans.  Of course, like many others, I felt as if I’d known Butch for years through hearing his live performances and beautiful recordings — but the man in person was even more delightful: serious, light-hearted, and generous all at once.  (A good unofficial guardian, and a fine man to share late-night red beans and rice with!)

WORKING MAN’S BLUES:

HOW LONG (BLOOSE):

And a bit of New Orleans laginappe — Butch says a few words about the amazing player and teacher Manuel Manetta, who later opened a teaching studio at his Algiers, Louisiana home and had a tremendous influence on generations of players:

May your happiness increase!

LIFE, MEMORIES, YOUTH, HAPPINESS: DUNCAN SCHIEDT AT THE PIANO (September 2013)

Even if many jazz fans don’t know his name, we’ve all seen the photographs of Duncan Schiedt, who began chronicling the music in 1939.

I’ve been encountering Duncan at the Athenaeum Hotel — for the annual September Jazz at Chautauqua (now the Allegheny Jazz Festival) — for the past nine years, and have always enjoyed his impromptu solo piano recitals in the parlor.

Undismayed by whatever might be going on around him — consider the wedding party trotting through the scene during YOUTH — Duncan moves easily from one song to another, keeping his left hand gently moving, modestly embellishing the melodies as he goes, making the piano sing in an understated way.  I had my camera with me this last September, and at the Beloved’s urging, I recorded a few minutes of an informal Schiedt recital.

Piano aficionados will hear the kind of sweet melodic homages we associate with Jess Stacy and with the more obscure Chicagoan Jack Gardner (with touches of Bix and Joe Sullivan also!) — a style that is tenderly respectful yet always moving along. I like to imagine that Duncan, without camera or notebook, himself embodies a great tradition by playing piano the way it used to be played, the common language of song in motion.

AS LONG AS I LIVE / MEMORIES OF YOU:

BLAME IT ON MY YOUTH:

SOMETIMES I’M HAPPY:

Now, knowing that Duncan goes back to 1939 in his jazz photography, one might guess that he is an Elder of the Tribe, and we know him to be an honored one.

But I offer him as proof that music — making it or being absorbed in it wholly — is a sure way to stay young.  The man at the piano was born in 1921, which would make him 92, more or less, at the time of these performances.

And whether subliminally or intentionally, his song choices come back to the verities of our and his existence: Life, Memories, Youth, and Happiness.  Thank you, Duncan, for reminding us of the beauty that never grows old.

May your happiness increase!

EHUD ASHERIE’S NEW GIG!

Ehud Asherie is one of my favorite pianists — with a deep inventive swinging sensibility.  He knows many more intriguing songs and is a sensitive accompanist and ensemble player as well as a hot soloist.  He isn’t limited by one narrow conception: in his heart, Bud Powell and Willie the Lion Smith talk amicably about where they get their suits and what Chinese restaurants they like.

Ehud has a new New York City gig!

He will be playing (solo with guests) Tuesday and Wednesday (Sept. 10 / 11) from 9:30 – 12:30 PM at the Knickerbocker — 33 University Place at Ninth Street.  Ehud says, “This might become a weekly solo gig so come on down! Musicians are welcome to sit in — please come! I get so lonely when I play solo.”

Here’s a sample of what Mr. Asherie accomplishes with such grace:

If you visit here and click SCHEDULE, you can keep up with his September gigs (solo, trio, with Wycliffe Gordon, Hilary Gardner, and more).  And if you see a man listening and watching intently at the Knickerbocker, with or without camera . . . it might be your faithful blogger, enjoying himself.

May your happiness increase!

A MUSICAL TREASURE FROM DECEMBER 26, 1941, THANKS TO MEL POWELL AND HIS DAUGHTER KATI

Kati Powell, daughter of Mel Powell and Martha Scott, has already graced JAZZ LIVES with generosity of spirit and wit.  If you don’t know what I’m referring to, I propose that you might click here.

But Kati has other treasures for us.  It’s one thing to recount tales of Melvin Epstein, Louis Armstrong, Babe Ruth, Bill Dickey, and other luminaries.

Hearing Mel Powell, solo, in his prime, presumably at home, is something — as the Irish might say — “beyond the beyonds.”

Kati very generously allowed me to video-record this astonishingly rare recording and to share it with my readers and viewers.

I suspect that Mel had received or had purchased a home recording unit for the holidays (this recording is dated December 26) and he was relaxing at the piano.  I don’t know if the voice we hear is his: I doubt it, but other music scholars have said they think it is him, speaking.

Mel was then a member of the Benny Goodman Orchestra, and thanks to David Weiner and David Jessup, I can tell you that the band was playing at the Hotel New Yorker during that period.  The Sextet had a recording date for Columbia on the 24th and there are airchecks from the 27th, but nothing from this date, so I am sure this is a home recording, not a recording of a radio broadcast.  It’s glorious, no matter what the details are!

One:

Two:

Thanks and blessings to Melvin Epstein and Kathleen Powell!

May your happiness increase!

ALL BY HIMSELF, CARL SONNY LEYLAND ROCKS MONTEREY (March 2, 2013)

Although he is politely amused, never aggressive, pianist / singer / composer Carl Sonny Leyland is obviously a powerful force — for good.

This is especially true when he sits down at the piano, as he did in a rare solo session at the 2013 Dixieland Monterey Jazz Bash by the Bay.  It was also refreshing to see Carl in front of an audience of devout fans, who knew his compositions and wanted to hear them. Their enthusiasm made it possible for everyone in the room — and now everyone reading this blogpost — to hear more of Carl’s own compositions, which are (like their composer) spicy, surprising, and anything but formulaic.

Here comes Father Leyland!

ALMOND JOYS (with delighted dancers — a serendipitous echo of JAMMIN’ THE BLUES):

ARGYLE AVENUE BREAKDOWN:

BLUES IMPROVISATION:

WILLIE THE WEEPER:

ATLANTA BLUES:

FAST BOOGIE:

RAT CATCHER’S BLUES:

WITCHES’ KITCHEN:

FOX TAILS:

Thank you, Carl, for that seismic motion that cheers us.

May your happiness increase!

THE ASTONISHING WORLDS OF TEDDY WILSON

For some, my title may sound hyperbolic — a sideways glance at a Fifties science-fiction anthology.  But it represents accurately the way I feel about Wilson’s best playing.

In a jazz landscape that occasionally seems dominated by the Coarse (showy playing and singing for effect), Wilson’s solo recordings seem the lyrical embodiment of delicacy.  By that I don’t mean effete playing, a series of tiny gestures, the aural equivalent of someone hunched over the harpsichord keyboard, making almost no sound.

Wilson was clearly a definite player: his rhythms move; his single-note lines gleam; he swings from start to finish at any tempo.  But he doesn’t come out in clown costume and wave his arms wildly for our attention.  His lovely multi-layered playing is there for us, should we choose to give it our ears and hearts and minds.

Teddy Wilson was a man of astonishing gifts, although he offered them in the middle register; he was soft-spoken in person and in his playing.  A YouTube benefactor named sepiapanorama has quietly been very generous — creating two videos that offer eighteen pearly Wilson solos from his great period.  Here are the first ten “issued” performances:

and eight alternate takes:

For those readers who think, “Where did this music come from?” here is an answer.

In the Twenties and beyond, music publishers saw that there was a market for music books that would help you play more like Red Nichols, Jimmy Dorsey, Eddie Miller, Art Tatum, Louis, and so on.  You can find them on eBay.  (I wish you good luck — both in the quest to find these books and then to absorb their knowledge.)  Wilson had published one such collection in 1937 — a series of transcribed solos — but he then had the bright entrepreneurial idea of creating the “Teddy Wilson School for Pianists”: a business located in midtown Manhattan — probably simply an office where someone received checks and sent out packages.

What seems to have happened was that Wilson went into the Brunswick studios — the company for whom he was already recording — or stayed there after a Billie Holiday date was over — and recorded several solo improvisation on classic pop songs.  They were not issued by the company for general purchase, but given a special yellow label.  These 78s are now exceedingly rare.

One could become a student at the School (details unknown) and receive a record of, say MY BLUE HEAVEN and one other song — along with printed commentary on what to listen for in the performance.  I once thought that complete transcriptions of the solos were offered, but have been told that I was misinformed.  The School didn’t last long, but those chroniclers who champion the efforts of musicians, twenty years later, to form their own record labels and publishing companies, to take charge of their own economic destinies, should look to Teddy Wilson as an early prescient pioneer in this.

In the Seventies, I found a copy of a bootleg 10″ lp on the Jolly Roger label which contained Teddy Wilson performances I had never heard of before — WHEN YOU AND I WERE YOUNG, MAGGIE stands out in my memory — and I bought it.  I then learned that the eight sides were from the School.  Later, Jerry Valburn issued a Merrit Record Society of all eighteen sides, and even later they came out on three European CDs (Classics and Neatwork).

Some friends have suggested that Wilson “simplified” his style for the prospective students.  I don’t know — these seem like incredibly complex recordings, and I think they would be difficult to imitate.  For myself (a very amateurish pianist) I listen to and marvel at the apparent simplicities of Wilson’s melody statements — say, the first eight bars of I’LL SEE YOU IN MY DREAMS — and think that these performances are marvels: intricate, delicate, beautifully crafted.

These sides make me very happy and I hope they do the same for you.  And each one is the result of a long period of study, so try to listen to them one at a a time — otherwise they might become glittering Swing background music.

May your happiness increase.

A SWING TIME WAS HAD BY ALL (Part One): ROSSANO SPORTIELLO, STEPHANIE TRICK, NICKI PARROTT, HAL SMITH (Dominican University, San Rafael, California: July 28, 2012)

The pianist Rossano Sportiello is a consistent delight as a musician and as a gracious, witty person — someone I’ve admired since I first heard him play and met him in autumn 2004.  And he has good taste in musical friends / colleagues / accomplices: witness the first set of this concert from Saturday, July 28, 2012, at Dominican University in San Rafael, California, produced by Paul Blystone.

Rossano was joined by the expert drummer Hal Smith, the strong bassist and charming singer Nicki Parrott, and the young piano phenomenon Stephanie Trick.

The concert at Dominican University took place in the beautifully old-fashioned Angelico Hall — great acoustics — and these four players obviously took Jake Hanna’s advice: “Start swinging from the beginning.  If you’re not swinging, what are you there for?” to heart from the first note.

Every solo passage was beautifully shaped, but the generous interplay among the four musicians was even more rewarding.  Duo-piano concerts sometimes become an overwhelming tidal wave of notes, but Rossano, Stephanie, Nicki, and Hal were gracious swing conversationalists, politely leaving the other players (and the audience) room to breathe.

They began with a sentimental favorite (often used to end the dance!) that became a swing classic in the Thirties, I’LL SEE YOU IN MY DREAMS:

Since everyone except Nicki was already seated, it was perhaps logical to play I’M GONNA SIT RIGHT DOWN AND WRITE MYSELF A LETTER — and it honors Mister Waller, always a good idea:

I NEVER KNEW brings back the 1933 Benny Carter recording with Teddy Wilson as well as the irreplaceable Keynote session with Lester Young, Slam Stewart, Johnny Guarneri, and Sidney Catlett:

Stephanie took the stage for a leisurely AIN’T MISBEHAVIN’:

Here she rocks SHOUT FOR JOY:

Willie “the Lion” Smith’s early KEEP YOUR TEMPER:

Nicki turns romantic with a pretty EAST OF THE SUN:

Ms. Parrott raised the temperature in the hall considerably with her rendition of Peggy Lee’s FEVER:

And the foursome closed the first half with a dual homage — to the Benny Goodman small groups and the stride master James P. Johnson, who composed RUNNIN’ WILD:

More to come.

May your happiness increase.

EV’RYTHING WE LOVE: CHRIS DAWSON at the PIANO

I wrote recently in praise of the Teddy Wilson School for Pianists.  Chris Dawson is a wonderful embodiment of that tradition — with his own special touches.  Here he plays Cole Porter’s EV’RYTHING I LOVE . . . music that lives up to its title.  Delicacy, strength, gentleness, melodic and harmonic subtleties all blossom forth here:

I would contribute to the Chris Dawson School for Pianists — in the name of the best, most enlightening kind of higher education — watch this and see if you don’t agree!